Archive for February, 2014

The Public Invitation: Methodology, pt. 3

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by Dan Nelson, pastor
FBC Camarillo, Calif.

The answer to the question of a public invitation’s implementation is simple: Use the type of invitation that works the best in your situation. The needs of people in your area and the personality of the preacher have much to do with the way you give a call to commitment.

We looked at great evangelists and their invitation methods in our last post. However, most pastors do not preach to that many lost people every Sunday. Certainly, the call to come to Christ must be issued somewhere in the service. Yet, what about the other 95-to-98 percent of the people who are there? Do they have to sit this one out if you give an invitation to the small percentage of non-Christians in attendance? I think that we must earnestly survey our situations and determine what the Lord would lead us to do.

I favor the public invitation and believe there are common elements of the invitation that make good sense. We should endeavor to plan these carefully.

1. Vary the approach of the invitation from time-to-time.
When people share with me, they have had no public response to the invitation for weeks or even months, then other approaches need to be explored. I think the pastor and church need to be creative. Every pastor has a response to every message he preaches; but, he needs some public expression of what people decide to do based on what they have heard. Try to get people to share with the person next to them what they have decided to do because of what they have heard. Initially, this would seem to work in smaller groups on Sunday evenings. Offer a time to dialogue after the evening message for people to declare what they have decided in an evening service.

2. Offer an opportunity for people to make some response.
I’m not talking about cheapening the invitation to have everyone who loves their mother on Mother’s Day to come forward. I’m not really in favor of having everyone who wants to see revival in the opening service of a meeting to come forward in the invitation. Rather, challenge the people to do something in response to God. This can be done publicly or privately.
If the sermon is about mothers on Mother’s Day, then suggest a response that includes thanks to God and to mothers for the ways they have blessed others’ lives.

3. Pattern the invitation after the sermon preached.
I don’t think a person should preach on tithing and not mention something about it during the invitation. The transition to the invitation will be more natural when this way. While serving as pastor of a small rural church in Mississippi, I encountered the need to do this. The church had just completed its first Vacation Bible School in years. After my message on the home during family night, I asked families to come and pray for their family at the front with their hands on the big family Bible. It was a wonderful service. This may not work everywhere. Yet, the invitation just flowed naturally from the message.

4. Coordinate the invitation hymn with the sermon’s content.
Every hymn or chorus in the service should be centered on a certain theme. This should especially be true concerning the invitation song whether a contemporary chorus or traditional invitation hymn; it should reflect the theme of the service and sermon. Above all, there must be some coordination between preacher and music director. Vary the approach to music in the invitation. The congregation may want to sing, and then you may ask them to bow their heads and be in an attitude of prayer as the choir or praise team sings. Avoid the rut of routine.

5. Be prepared to extend an evangelistic invitation.
When the time comes to give an evangelistic invitation, do it confidently and positively. If you preach an evangelistic sermon, prepare and extend an evangelistic invitation. Don’t preach another sermon in the invitation. It has helped me to study the methods of visiting evangelists as they extend the public invitation. I believe it is good from time-to-time to ask for a show of hands, while heads are bowed, from those who know they are saved. Then issue the evangelistic invitation to those who could not raise their hand. You could lead them in a prayer of commitment right then. Explain exactly what the decision to come forward means, and inform them that spiritual counseling will be readily available. This is very important for those who may be new to your church.

6. Use trained counselors as part the public invitation.
This is a necessity. Counselors must be prepared for whatever decisions those coming forward may make whether for salvation, rededication, surrender to ministry, or other personal and/or spiritual matters and issues. There are many materials for training counselors. Every church, no matter how large or small should have trained counselors.

7. Find the best time for counselors to come forward.
Some churches have counselors come forward during a prayer before the invitation hymn. Some come forward as those who are making decisions for Christ also come forward. Others have counselors waiting in rooms adjacent to the worship center. Whatever the method, it should be employed reverently and with a minimum of distraction.

A young ministerial student told Spurgeon that he was having no response to his messages. Spurgeon asked, “Do you expect a response to them?” He said, “No not every time.” Spurgeon countered: “That’s your problem.”

(All comments are pre-moderated for propriety, relevance and general content.)

Big Men, Big Hearts: Criswell & Bisagno

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by Walker Moore
founder/president
Awe Star Ministries

I had the privilege of speaking at all three services at Houston’s First Baptist the first Sunday of January. I was familiar with this congregation largely because of its longtime pastor, Dr. John Bisagno. A while back, I spoke in the chapel for a youth missions conference. I could never have guessed that I would look out at the congregation to see Dr. Bisagno.

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Harvard Ph.D/TMC professor to lecture @NOBTS

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Event Announcement

The Faith Fabric of Creation and the Priority of the Word: A Case for Young Age Creationism

Presented by Dr. Kurt Wise, Professor of Natural History and Director of the Creation Research Center at Truett-McConnell College. Dr. Wise holds a Ph.D. in Paleontology from Harvard University, having trained under Dr. Stephen Jay Gould.

Co-Sponsored by the NOBTS Theological and Historical Division and the Baptist Center for Theology and Ministry.

Friday, February 21, 2014
3:00-4:00 pm
Room 219, Hardin Student Center, NOBTS

NOBTS to offer free, post-event, downloadable audio.

Is The Lego Movie Really All That?

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by Johnathan Pritchett,
contributing writer to SBCToday

First, I must make a confession. I am an AFOL (Adult Fan of Lego). Even if I didn’t have kids who love the little bricks, I’d still spend more disposable income than is reasonable on products from that wonderful company in Denmark. I’ve been playing with those toys since that Blue 1980-Something Space Guy was new. I still have four of them sitting on the same shelf where I stash my most frequently referenced biblical commentaries. Obviously, I am biased. I wanted to love this movie, and have been waiting for something like this movie for more than 30 years.

Yes, the movie is fantastic. It is fantastic for Lego fans, fantastic as far as kids’ movies go, and fantastic for films in general. The voice work is superb, and having an excellent screenplay helps to that end. The animation is spectacular. A Lego aficionado will marvel at some of the designs on film since literally everything in this film could be built from actual Lego bricks. It really is “all that” in terms of the buzz it has been getting?

However, it has received its fair share of commentary on the themes presented in the movie as well. The title is really asking whether The Lego Movie is “all that” with regard to what has been said about the movie. It has been labeled as “anti-capitalist” by Fox Business. It has also been called one long toy commercial, “Marxist,” “theological,” and the L.A. Times even called it “postmodern” for crying out loud.

Is it any of that? Not really.

The major themes are ultimately about the balance between teamwork and individual creativity, and how everyone is special in their own way. Most of these other ideas are read into the movie. Yes, it is subversive toward culture, but only in the sense of being clever, and at times, self-deprecating. It has no hidden message past the themes of balancing individuality and teamwork, creativity and following instructions. The subversiveness comes in the exploration of the theme itself through the setting. Yes, the Lego world in which the film is set has a fascist sort of leader in President Business. However, the fascism presented here is controlled by giving the people what they seemingly want. He keeps the people in line with overpriced coffee, inane sit-coms, and cheesy (but infectiously catchy) pop songs. So, it is commentary on American reality in that sense.

It also makes quite a bit of sport on the extreme “individuality” impulses in culture as well, especially at the expense of Batman, who is arguably the most popular and the most individualistic, self-absorbed, and narcissistic comic book character out there. Many people reviewing the film have overlooked this other aspect of the film. I didn’t, and I thought it was hilarious, too. In fact, the whole movie is hilarious. In any case, the film does not simply lampoon conformity in favor of extreme individuality.

Of course, it is important to credit the filmmakers for what they did; but unfortunately, people want to saddle films that have a lot of buzz with things the filmmakers either didn’t actually do, or only did superficially for sport, but certainly not for indoctrination. For instance, Fox Business can’t be serious when they accuse a movie made by a major film corporation, based on a huge toy corporation, for being anti-capitalist. Categories of either capitalist individuality versus Marxist leveling are not only too simplistic and reductionist, but too confined to a spectrum irrelevant to the film. Since when did communism or Marxism ever inspire or encourage creativity? Nations like China rip off far more patents than they are known for innovating and originating. President Business’ concerns in the film are not profits, but his idea of perfection. Seriously, it makes less fun of capitalism and more fun of how corporations who peddle pop-culture can turn people into drones, and, do so by seemingly giving people want they want. I don’t see Top 40 radio changing any time soon, especially given that the theme song to the movie that represents this very droning is now on it, and rightfully so. Again, it is an infectiously catchy song. My kids and I have been singing it for a week now.

So, how do Warner Bros. and Lego get away with all this? Well, I can’t speak for Warner Bros., but Lego has always been a corporation with high ethical values, good business sense, quality product, and dedication to creativity while giving people instructions to build the sets they sell. Yet, they also realize that they are in the business to sell products to make profits. The thing to be appreciated is that this is a good film product, based on a good toy product. That’s why they could get away with it, even if on some level, they also contribute to pop culture droning. That they remain self-aware of that, too, is a plus for them.

Is it postmodern? Hardly. That it is clever, self-deprecating, and ironic, contains social commentary, and doesn’t settle on the simplistic, but rather balanced view of individuality and teamwork, doesn’t make it postmodern. There is objective truth within the scope of this movie’s own “realities” (there is a meta-narrative in the film). Seeking to find a balance in the themes it explores is not the same as living with apparent contradictions (that aren’t there), “tensions” or “having it both ways,” as the L.A. Times supposes. Nor is there any of the relativistic jargon and goofiness here.

As for the film being theological, it is not. Well, at least, it is not in any classical sense of the word. It does touch on philosophy though; but unlike some other reviewers out there, I could not call it “deep” or anything. God is not mentioned in the film, though “the man upstairs” is. The “man upstairs” is not a god, and theology is the study of God. What is here, which seems lost on the L.A. Times for calling it postmodern, is that the movie is “worldview consistent.” The aforementioned meta-narrative speaks to this. It is hard to discuss it without spoiling the ending, so I recommend stop reading if you haven’t seen the movie and don’t like spoilers.

There is a meta-narrative in this film. Some of the characters are aware of a transcendent reality, which one character refers to as “the man upstairs.” Comparisons to The Matrix have been made, but only because that is the movie in everyone’s recent memory that has a similar concept of an awareness beyond the initial setting of the film. That’s a shame really, because theologians of all kinds have argued for millennia that everyone has an innate sense of transcendence generally, and the divine specifically. Nothing new here. It isn’t proper to call this movie “theological” in the technical sense anyway, but it does indeed point to something consistent with a robust theistic worldview. In similar ways to Toy Story, the toys both have a life of their own, as well as their world being ultimately the product of a mind, which directs the story, as the reveal in the end demonstrates. A child playing with toys is not “theological” in that sense, but it does present a worldview consistency for the film given that it is based on toys, and the events are the product of a kid’s imagination.

The reveal at the end is a welcome addition to the film because, outside of horror movies (of all things), there are rarely films that presuppose transcendent realities with any real consistency and stick to them throughout. What usually happens in movies that hint at transcendence is some sort of forced non-transcendent explanation for all the weird things that are happening, or end up just being woefully incoherent, like The Matrix. While I was highly entertained by The Matrix movies, the writers of those postmodern messes wrote those works into inconsistent, incoherent, and inescapable corners. That is not the case here. The Lego Movie just presupposes that the toys do exist within themselves, and that a kid is playing with them, and it sticks to that.

Given that transcendent awareness, and the reveal at the end in the film that follows through on its own presuppositions in a consistent manner, this provides parents with a springboard to use as an excellent opportunity to discuss with their children what, in recent centuries has been what John Calvin called sensus divinitatis (sense of divine), and that can only be a good thing.

Another aspect from the movie relevant for spurring discussion within the Church is the balance between individual creativity, teamwork, and following instructions, within a social context of pop culture droning. Everyone in the Church is “special” indeed, and gifted by the Spirit. However, the Church is also a corporate body, which is called upon by the Head, Jesus Christ, to perform certain tasks in and for the world. Working together is not optional.

Too often in the Church, we seek to parody the world in our endeavors rather than encouraging and promoting our own unique status within it. The Church also consumes a lot more than it creates in general (even if and when we are buying Churchy kitsch from LifeWay or Mardel), and this, too, is a shame. In The Lego Movie, in order to succeed, the heroes had to put their individual gifting and creativity toward a common goal. In a Church marketing culture where we riff on everything from Budweiser (“King of Kings” for example) to Apple (iLove, iPray, etc.), creating culture by tapping into our individual giftedness and talents, rather than simply consuming and copying culture, should be our priority. Doing so, though all the while not discounting what culture has to offer that contains elements of the good, true, and beautiful as well, like The Lego Movie itself, for instance. This is because those elements found in culture can be signposts and springboards to discussing the truth of the Gospel and thematic elements in Scripture. All of that is vitally important, while understanding that we must work together as a corporate body, conform to an objective standard, often follow instructions, and remember that God is a God or order and not chaos.

Why I Write as I Do / Unappreciated Pastor

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by Unappreciated Pastor
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One thing I am certain of is that I am a sinner. I struggle as a dad, husband, Christian and certainly as a pastor. I think a lot of folks struggle. I don’t live up to my own expectations, much less anyone else’s. The only thing that keeps me sane is a proper understanding of justification by faith through the finished work of Christ on the cross. Romans 5 changed my life.

I am not a very intelligent person, but I do have a quick wit of sorts and can express my thoughts in pithy ways. That’s not necessarily a good thing or a bad thing. That brings me to consider whether my parody account, “The Unappreciated Pastor,” is a good or a bad thing.

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