Monthly Archives: September 2013

Music and Money (and Buildings)

Published on Fuller Seminary’s Burner Blog for Pastors and Leaders.

Read the Article here

by Marcus J. Carlson

The Church M & M’s

I did not really grow up in the church, nor was my family particularly religious. Shortly after I came to know Christ, my dad was able to experience the same. He eventually became involved in his local church and served on a church board for a short time. I recall sometime during my college or ministry career he decided to give me some advice about the church. He said to me, “Marcus, always watch out for the church M&M’s.” I asked him what he meant and he replied, “music and money.” Years later, I find myself not only repeating that advice, but I continue to see it as well. I would probably amend it to add ‘building’ to the list as well.

Certainly in the church, we all have the issues we are passionate about, the ones that are the most important and meaningful to us. Additionally, we also seem to have things we are most passionate against, whether rooted in theology, personality or fear. Often times, we are known more for what we are against than what we are for, which is unfortunate.

I have always wondered what it is about these two or three things (music, money and buildings) that stirs up the most passion and conflict in the church. While Jesus spoke quite a bit about money, he did not address the other two much and the way he talked about money does not seem to relate to the issues we tend to have in the church around money. Certainly when it comes to money, we need to be good stewards and be sure to both spend and save wisely. In my own home, I know we have different budget priorities and sometimes disagree, but not at the same level that can occur in the church. I remember one member of a board guarding a building maintenance fund that was exceptionally healthy as if it were the last twenty dollars he had to live on. It is interesting that in the church we ask our people to be generous, but struggle with having a positive posture towards money.

I have seen more angst over music in the church than any other issue: conflict, pain, people leaving the church – all over music. It has also been the source of the most passive-aggressive behavior I have seen in the church: from controlling music directors to ornery ones and everything in between. Then there is the drama and disagreement that comes in contemporary worship, in the congregation and the teams. It is always shocking to me that one of the most worshipful acts in our services can so easily become a source of contention and a distraction. Certainly our worship matters, and I love music and those who lead it, but it might just be one of the most divisive aspects of church life today.

Buildings also seem to create a lot of passion, much as our own homes might. It is good to care for our buildings and make good decisions, but most issues in churches around the building have to do with where or where not to place chairs and where you can and cannot drink coffee. Sometimes we treat our churches more like a museum than a home, care or community center than they probably should be.

What are you passionate about in the church? Does it align with the priorities of Jesus? Are you reflecting scripturally and theologically about it? It might be good to examine our own priorities and places of passion, especially before being critical of others.

My Love-Hate Relationship with the Lectionary

Published on Fuller Seminary’s Burner Blog for Pastors and Leaders.

Read the Article here

by Marcus J. Carlson

My love-hate Relationship with the Lectionary

I have a confession. I have a love-hate relationship with the lectionary. I have served mostly in denominational churches and in the past decade I have had to develop a relationship with the lectionary to some level (whether completely or partially). I believe there are some benefits as well as some drawbacks to the lectionary, which combined with my own theology, personality, gifts and styles has led me to this love-hate relationship with the lectionary.

There are many benefits to the lectionary; the first benefit is that it helps a pastor and a church cover the whole breadth of scripture over several years. While it does not hit every verse, it is very comprehensive which is not easy to accomplish when planning on your own. It is easy to become monotonous or focus only on your favorite scriptures or topics, which is another benefit of the lectionary. The lectionary is also helpful because it is seasonal in the sense that it honors the church seasons and helps bring them to light. Unfortunately, have lost sight of many of the church seasons in a lot of churches. The lectionary also reduces the workload of choosing scriptures. Additionally, there is also the historical value of the lectionary, both in its formation and selection. We have a tendency to only value the new, which in the case of the church is a huge mistake, especially when we as individuals pick and choose what parts of our history as a church we pay attention to. The final benefit of the lectionary is the three-year rotation that allows you to visit some of the same scriptures. You might focus on a different lesson from the last time you preached it, but the word of God is alive and there is always something new to glean in a variety of seasons of life and ministry. This can be a problem if you end up repeating sermons over and over again, which I do not see as right, but have seen many pastors do. These are some of the reasons that I love the lectionary.

There are also some drawbacks to the lectionary; the first drawback is that it causes a lack of freedom for preaching, the pastor and the church. More importantly, it is not always contextual, meaning it does not always fit your context, the people of your church and community and what is happening at any given time in church or culture, not that this should always dictate the sermon. The lectionary can also be forced. I have had countless times while preaching the lectionary where I have found it very difficult to pick a lesson that I could preach with passion and make relevant, and so I probably did so with less quality. It can also create a sense of preaching laziness. I once had a teenager complain to me about the sermons at a church I served, saying, “I have been here my whole life and I have heard this same sermon three times.” I think this is unfortunate and wrong on many levels. The lectionary can lack freshness and relevance, which should not be too important, but should matter some as we lead our people into a deeper, life-changing relationship with God. The final drawback of the lectionary in my mind is that it can be too academic. It is rooted more in an academic and perhaps liberal approach to scripture than it is in a relational, transformative approach. This can be hard for congregations to find meaning in something they cannot understand.

At the end of the day, I have found it all depends on your context, but my personal approach is to use a combination of the lectionary and sermon series. I don’t pick and choose which scriptures to use each week, but I rather do it several weeks at a time to create connections and consistency. I think the lectionary is exceptionally helpful on special church days (Pentecost, Ash Wednesday etc) and during some of the special seasons such as Lent and Advent.

NIV Integrated Study Bible Review

Book Review

Published on Book Sneeze & Amazon

Book Review

NIV Integrated Study Bible

The NIV Integrated Study Bible is an interesting Bible that offers a fresh look at the story of God that unfolds throughout scripture. It takes a chronological approach, meaning it orders not only the books of the Bible in order of their historical occurrence, but also individual passages as well. The entire Bible is chronological.

This Bible will be especially helpful to those who want to engage in deeper study of the scriptures. The chronological approach is fascinating, because it puts books and passages in order of their occurrence, not necessarily their writing. It also splits books and passages to place them in their historical location. One of the most helpful and fascinating aspects of this Bible is that it also puts similar passages together. This is most noticeable and helpful in the gospels as similar or identical passages are listed side by side. In addition to this, you see passages from other books or even different testaments side by side when they are related or connected to one another. For me, this was the best feature of this Bible and the most enhancing to my onw study. One critique I would offer of this Bible is that it is called a study Bible, but does not provide a lot of points of information or study. Certainly its chronological approach aids study and the introductions to books and parts of this Bible are helpful, but I also would have expected some study points throughout.

I would recommend this Bible as a great resource for study for anyone who wants to dive deeper into the scriptures, especially those who are most interested in history and timelines. I would not recommend it as a first Bible, however as it is so different from the standard Bible that most may be used to.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the <> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Rev. Marcus J Carlson