Monday, July 23, 2007


I’ve been in pastoral ministry since 1974. A lot has changed during those thirty-plus years. The American church needs to continue to change, and it needs to change dramatically.

My church background is probably very similar to the backgrounds of most evangelicals who grew up in the 1960s. Our church had a giant plywood map of the world in the lobby and there were little red lights shining through the holes in the plywood in the places where we supported missionaries. There was also a huge rack in the lobby that held the most recent prayer letters from all of these missionaries. Every year we had a week-long missions conference. When I reached high school I was able to participate in short term “over the border” missions trips in the Mexicali Valley in Mexico. To the very best of my recollection that was the extent of the ministry our church had outside of the walls of our building.

I remember vividly the Sunday when a number of Jesus People showed up at our church. I don’t know why they came to our church. The guys had long hair. They all wore beat up jeans and many of them were barefoot. The best description of them would be hippies who had come to Christ. They were abundantly unwelcome by the leadership of our church. As I recall, it was rather an “incident.”

The first ten years of my ministry career pretty much reflected what I grew up with. I invested all my energy in providing programs for the people and youth of the church. Then in 1984 I was called to another church, a large church. I wasn’t there very long before I began to realize that I was expected to serve as chaplain to a congregation that was basically run by four or five founding families. There was no vision for ministry outside of the church. The people seemed far more concerned with remaining “separate” from the lost than seeing them come to Jesus. That’s when I began to sense the Holy Spirit moving in my heart and challenging me to focus the attention of the church on the community outside of our building.

When we started Shiloh Church three years ago our vision was rather simple. I publicly told the folks that Shiloh would never be a megachurch. We would be a community church that focused all of our attention on ministering to others, not ourselves. If we ever got as large as 250 or 300 people we would 50-100 people and start another church in another community. I insisted that we would not advertise to try to get people to come and try Shiloh. If we were going to grow, we would grow because our own people cared enough about their friends and neighbors to bring them along. And one of our stated purposes is to reach out and touch the “unclean” and “outcasts” of our culture; the poor, the prisoners, the broken people.

The term that is being used among the emergent group is “missional.” The church needs to be missional. It needs to see itself as a group of Christian people who focus their time, energy, and resources on reaching out to hurting people in their own community, not just supporting missionaries in foreign countries. World missions is a very critical part the church’s ministry as well! It’s just that the church has neglected the people next door and comforted itself by putting up world maps in its lobby. Local ministry is another thing the emergents are doing very well.

Saturday, July 07, 2007


When we finally decided to add yet another church to the greater Grand Rapids community one of the things that was weighing heavily on my heart was the subject of corporate worship. I had a passion to see a body of believers joining together in meaningful, participatory, corporate worship. I need to go back a little…

I grew up in a Conservative Baptist church in Southern California. I learned NOTHING about worship in all my years there. The message that came across at that church was that everything that happened before the sermon was the “warm up act.” It was the same every week. I used to joke that I could tell you exactly what time it was by what was happening on the platform. Yes, the congregation sang hymns but they seemed like time-fillers while we waited for the preaching. The rest of the time we watched. We watched the choir sing. We watched the special music. We watched the scripture reading. We watched! Then when the sermon came it felt like, “Heeeeeeeeere’s Bill!”

I’m not blaming anybody for my lack of understanding of worship. I honestly don’t think anybody knew any better. In fact, I went through my studies at Wheaton, Wheaton Grad School, and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and still knew nothing about worship! That’s nobody’s fault but my own!

All I know is that the church is supposed to gather for worship. Whatever we do when we’re together on Sunday morning or Saturday evening or whenever you gather with your congregation is supposed to be worship. In other words, in every part of the service the people should be able to see a connection between what we’re doing and the praise and adoration of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Which brings me to my major complaint about contemporary “worship.” Singing time is not necessarily worship. The best contemporary Christian music bands can be on the platform and it is possible that no worship whatsoever is going on. Before starting Shiloh we attended a Purpose Driven Model megachurch wannabe. The stated goal of the pastor was to have the best praise band in town. He actually said he wanted it to sound like a concert, much to the chagrin of the worship leader who genuinely wanted to do worship!
The band was great. People stood and clapped and listened and applauded. Hardly anybody sang.

So I wanted to make sure that we were going to worship at Shiloh. We have an odd combination of ancient and contemporary worship. The format is rather ancient, whether the Shilohfolks realize it or not. For example, we have a call to worship (often a responsive reading), we say the Apostles’ Creed, we have a prayer time (usually led by me), we say the Lord’s Prayer, we have scripture reading, we have preaching, and we have a formal benediction. Our music is contemporary in style but we maintain a mixture of great hymns. We try our best to create an atmosphere of worship which is rather difficult in an elementary school cafetorium. We have tables at the front with candles and crosses. The people often come forward to receive the Lord’s Supper.

That should give you a little idea of what goes on at Shiloh on Sunday mornings. I really appreciate the emphasis that the emergent types are putting on worship.