Category Archives: Church

Redundancy hurts comprehension

I got to discussing slide presentations with a group of friends on Facebook yesterday. Most of them are preachers, and we were commenting on an article about how the Google CEO does presentations (the link is in today’s Links to Go).

The discussion got me to reading again, reminding me of an idea that I sometimes forget when making presentations: redundancy hurts comprehension. I don’t mean the repeating of ideas; I mean the common practice of trying to present information via two channels at the same time. If the information is the same, the brain can’t deal well with the redundancy and copes by not processing the information as it would.

Where this affects churches is in this: if you read a passage of Scripture and project the text on the screen at the same time, people will understand less of what you read and not more.

Surprising, isn’t it? Yet studies have shown this to be fairly consistently true. You can read a fairly recent one here (; here’s an excerpt from the abstract:

The results show that whatever the type of text presentation (sequential or static), the duplication of information in the written mode led to a substantial impairment in subsequent retention and transfer tests as well as in a task in which the memorization of diagrams was evaluated.

Logic tells us that projecting a Bible passage while it is being read will allow people to choose to either listen or read. But if we think about it, we know that’s not true. It’s next to impossible to see text on a screen and not try to read it, just as it’s almost certain that we will try to understand something that we are hearing. As our brain tries to do these two things at the same time, it fails miserably.

It’s funny though; when asked if visual/auditory redundancy help them learn, most people respond “yes.” (Note this study on the National Institute of Health website:

So if your church puts Bible texts on the screen while they’re being read, I’d suggest that you speak up and suggest a change. Blame me. Or blame science.

Letting the arts come to church

pottery-makingI’m not a cultured person, at least when it comes to the arts. I’m not interested in ballet, nor opera. Most classical music leaves me cold; symphony tickets feel like an upcoming jail sentence. A visit to an art museum is typically wasted on me.

It doesn’t help that I come from a church tradition that downplays the role of artisic expression in worship. We tend to have utilitarian buildings, with little focus on aesthetic values. (Though it’s interesting that I grew up in a church that breaks from that mold and attend one that has a cathedral-like feel to the architecture). Historically, we have rejected the use of musical instruments and “special” music (choirs, solists, etc.). An artist finds little room for expression in most congregations within our fellowship. (Outside of children’s Sunday school, of course)

I think we need to recapture God’s love of beauty and creativity. We need to see that God’s Word addresses the senses and not just the mind. We need to find a way for individual Christians to share their artistic gifts with the rest of body; special times and spaces could be created for any such expressions that don’t fit our corporate worship time.

Even those with a lack of general culture can appreciate the giftedness of others in our midst. We can encourage them to use their talents for the glory of God, rather than making them feel that such things only belong to the world. Our churches will be all the richer for it.

Church like Christ

puzzle-pieceThe stated goal of the Restoration Movement is to restore Christianity to its earliest form. The more I think about it, the more I think we’ve gone about it wrong.

Restoring the plan of salvation is important, vitally important. But it won’t restore the church.

Eliminating manmade traditions and creeds helps us return to the beliefs of the early church, but it won’t bring us back to what that church was.

Fixing doctrine. Correcting worship practices. Correcting misused vocabulary. Good things in and of themselves, but they won’t get us to our goal.

I’ve come to believe that the most important thing we can do to restore the early church is to restore the goal of the early church: becoming like Christ.

We need churches that are growing to be more Christlike. In biblical terms, we need churches that are Christ in this world, that Christ is formed in them, and they are the body of Christ.

Our focus needs to be less on what and how and more on why. More on Who.

That’s what I want my focus to be: following Christ and helping others do the same.

There’s always another side to the story

US-00010-One_Cent_(1974)_AluminumAlong the lines of yesterday’s post, I need to say that every story has at least two ways of telling it. I hear elders talk about ministers that were lazy or manipulative. I hear ministers talk about elders that made decisions for no good reason. I hear church members say that leadership has chosen to abandon the Bible or chosen to appease complainers. And I know that there is another side to each of those stories.

Few ministers set out to shirk their duties or destroy the church. It’s rare that an eldership decides that a ministry is doing too much good for the Kingdom and must be stopped. The vast majority of those in church leadership want to do what’s right and best for the church.

There are evil people with bad intentions. Even good people can do things for the wrong reasons; I can look back and see times when I was motivated by jealousy or selfishness. But many times, conflict results out of a lack of understanding between the two parties involved, not any desire to cause harm.

If you set up a website asking women to tell how they’ve been mistreated by men, you’d have no trouble filling it with anecdotes of woe. If you asked men to tell of times when women have done wrong by them, you’d get an equally long list. Ask members to complain about ministers, ministers about elders, elders about staff… you’ll have no trouble determining that lots of Christians have grievances.

But don’t forget that there’s always another side to the story. If you hear it, you just might see things differently

Talking about body life in Church Inside Out

CIOChurch body life is a main focus of my new book, Church Inside Out. To give you a flavor, here are a few quotes on the topic

When Christians stay cooped up inside a church building, they grow frustrated. They complain. They argue. They “bite and devour each other,” as Paul told Christians in Galatia (Galatians 5:15).
When churches turn inward, infighting is the natural result. People begin to talk in terms of “us” and “them,” discussing how to get their own way so that “they” don’t take over the church. (pp.24-25)

Inward-focused churches miss out on today’s victories as they reminisce about yesterday’s successes. They fail to prepare for the future because they are too busy replaying yesterday’s mistakes. (p.26)

There’s a certain feeling of entitlement in the inward-focused church, especially among long-time members and affluent members. They feel that they’ve earned the right to have things their way, either through longevity or giving ability. That feeling isn’t bad in and of itself, but when people begin trying to leverage their position to get their way, the church suffers. (p.29)

I’m a member of the churches of Christ. We seek to honor Christ by referring to him when speaking of our church. But we fight a constant battle with the urge to put more emphasis on the church itself than on the owner of the church. We are truly Christ’s church when the world hears us talk about Christ more than we talk about the church. (p.32)

Like the inward-focused church, the members-only church pays little attention to the needs of those that come to visit. It’s assumed that these people should be in church, so the church is already providing a service. Why should it go out of its way to do more? (p.43)

We have made the Lord’s Supper about “me and God,” but the New Testament portrays it as a corporate time. What was the problem in Corinth, according to 1 Corinthians 11? The Christians were not being aware of one another. They were not waiting for one another. Their communion time was a reflection of the divisions within the church.
Christians break bread together. We wait for one another. We do it with an awareness of the gathered body, or we do it wrong. (p.44)

What we need are assemblies that please God, build members up, and attract outsiders. We don’t expect non-believers to perfectly understand everything that goes on; we do hope that what they see will convey a message of love and mutual edification. (p.45)

Tearing down is so much easier than building.
Paul writes the following to the Ephesian church:
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (Ephesians 4:29)
You can’t build by tearing down. Negative teaching won’t edify a church. Negative teaching won’t attract outsiders. Negative teaching doesn’t glorify God. (pp.61-62)

As people come out of the world and into the church, they will be a little rough around the edges. Just as we don’t expect non-Christians to behave like Christians, we can’t expect new Christians to know all of the things they should and shouldn’t do. We have to leave time for them to grow in faith and understanding. (p.100)

The church needs to develop an atmosphere where members can try new things; that’s the best way for people to discover their gifts. Service efforts are assumed to be spiritual endeavors until proven otherwise. Leadership should expect to be helping members carry out the things God has led them to do. (p.117)

People need to know that there is no shame in moving on from a ministry that is no longer fruitful or no longer needed.
People need to have the opportunity to try something and honestly evaluate the results. If what is tried doesn’t work, the church members must have the freedom to let it go. (p.118)

The process of acculturation in the kingdom of God is typically called discipling. In most churches, we do this through Bible classes and sermons. There’s an emphasis on information and knowledge. Although those things are important, they are rarely enough. People learn by hearing; they also learn by seeing and doing.
The best discipling approaches will offer information, but they will also allow the new disciple to work by the side of a mentor, a discipler. He will see what is done and have a chance to try to practice what he’s seen. (pp.170-71)

We should do our very best with the ministries that we do for the church, be it leading worship or cleaning communion trays. We should be as concerned about justice and truth and love inside the church as we are outside. Just as we seek to improve the lives of non-believers, we should try to make every encounter with other Christians an edifying one. We should make prayer a constant part of our church life, from Bible classes to ministry meetings, from youth activities to congregational work days. And we should be aware of each other’s spiritual needs, just as we watch the progress of non-believers. (p.189)

Remember that the power of God is at work in His church. This power can do much more than we can begin to dream of… so dream big dreams! Dream about glorifying God through your ministry. Dream about building the church through your ministry. Dream about impacting your community and your world through your ministry. (p.194)