02 October 2007

Birthday Boy goes to church

by Dan Phillips

PREFACE: in the meta's for both "travelogue" installments one and two, there was some interest in my passing mention of my Depressing Church Experience 'way up high in Sierra Nevada. So... you ask, I give.

The Day. Candidly, my birthday is usually a sullen day for me. I'm lots and lots of fun to be around, that day. ("That day?" unkind readers retort.) I wouldn't even hang around myself that day, if I had a choice about it.

So here I am in the gorgeous Eastern Sierra on my birthday (9/23), with my dearly-loved delight of a son, Josiah, and an open agenda. What to do? Well, it's Sunday, so I figure we'll go to church. Perfect way to start the day. Worship the Lord, get the Word preached, focus my heart where it should be focused — ahh....

There's a church in the area which I've attended in the past. I won't name it. ("Ohh, this is going to be bad," the sage reader moans.) Each time I've attended before, I was blessed by the singing and the worship, and heard a good word from the Word. It wasn't Spurgeon; but then, who is?

So I told Josiah we were going, that the preaching has been good. Off we go.

We arrive, they're in a new building. OK, cool, maybe they're growing. It'd be great for a Bible-teaching ministry to grow in that town. We sit up towards the front as usual, and I lay down my convertible laptop pc, and prepare to worship.

The "worship band" assembles a bit late, starts testing equipment, has problems. Mph; oh well. Sometimes more rural towns have a more relaxed pacing. Isn't the First Church of Dan Phillips, thank God.

Leader tries to warm things up by making some lame cracks; oh well. Not everyone's a comedian, though too many try to be. Isn't necessarily a moral crime. (See? I am trying very hard to be fair-minded.)

Then they get going, with some upbeat "new" worship songs. The words are fine, but... well, it's too like a pep rally. It's as if the peppy, middle-aged song-leader is intent on making sure that everything is bouncy, trouncy, flouncy, pouncy Fun, fun, fun, fun, FUN!

What do I mean? Well, he liberally sprinkles everything with little exclamations. In between verses, he constantly sing/shouts out little tenor bursts of verbal joy ("Ho, yyyyyes! Lord!" — "Ha-that's h'all we h'wanna do, h'Lord!" — "Right-a-roonie, Ronnie-O!" [okay, I made that last one up]). That sort of thing.

Plus, the gent's evidently uncomfortable with any silences. All the pauses between songs are filled with holy ad-libs, or praise-libs. "Hallelujah, hallelujah," "Yes, Lord," "Praise You, Lord," and so on. Instant intensity, just add microphone. Does he talk like this off-mike?

Maybe it's my mood (which, actually, I thought was pretty good, considering; definitely positive towards the church)... but it seems so canned, so artificial, so clich├ęd. So trendy.

I suppose it's possible that the dear fellow is just intensely overflooded with instant-access feelings of transcendent worship. And I guess that's nice for him. But yow. The higher he got, the farther away I felt. The more intensely he performed, the more I sort of stopped even trying, and just gaped. (After writing this, I found that Libbie had expressed some similar thoughts with her characteristic lucidity.)

So, there are a lot of songs. Then he brings up the very young kids, pretty surely all single-digit. He sings a song with them. Actually, it was pretty fun. It was the best part of the service, maybe because it fit the audience at which it was directed.

Then he tells us all, "You know, people say that children are the church of future, but I say that children are the church of right now!"

And here, I find myself in full agreement. But probably not the way he meant it.

(Oh, and as he speaks, the young drummer punctuates what he says with a number of stings. This isn't helping me.)

Surely we must be nearing the sermon, right? Songs, announcements, prayer, offering. No Bible in sight yet, no word from God, except what's in the songs.

And through it all, there's a steady hum of conversation in the congregation. I literally almost turned to the lady behind me (who, I think, never stopped talking) and asked, "So, is this part not important?" But I thought of Josiah. Spared him. Sweet little guy, doesn't need Dad making a scene.

Then I see part of the explanation, maybe. They have a new pastor, younger guy. I read later he had attended a seminary I don't think much of (a-ha), and had ministered in a wide variety of disparate denominations and non-denominations (hm). Well, maybe it depends on what that means. I've certainly ministered across the board a bit, though my core convictions have not changed.

Today the church has a guest preacher, from a church they support in another country. Well, cool (I think to myself), a different perspective should be refreshing. Great! Not a product of American evanjellybeanism, perhaps. Less fooferaw, so maybe he just really is soaked in the Word itself. (See? Still truly working on that "good attitude" thingie.)

Ohhh, boy.

Well, the gent said he'd not preached in English before, but actually his English was not bad. I should speak so well in a foreign language.

The contents of the sermon, however...,

Well, for about fifteen minutes, he told jokes and stories. Period. Got a lot of laughs and applause.

Not a gram of Bible. Not a milligram.

Then, almost (it seemed to me) apologetically, he says he should do his sermon, and get to the Bible. (At this point, well over fifty minutes into the service, I do praise God, and hope begins to revive.) The man reads a single (1) verse, and then he talks about it for about twenty minutes.

Well, he sort of talks about it. He talks around it. He uses its words (almost coincidentally) to say things — but they're not about what the verse meant in context, why it was written, or much of anything but a free-association from what those words, isolated from the verse itself, mean to him.

I'm sorry; believe me, I really and truly am sorry to say this, but it was terrible. I thought part-way through, wonderingly, "This really could be Benny Hinn — except he's not knocking anyone over." He kept playing to the audience, giving cheap applause-lines (and getting applause), whipping everyone up, telling more jokes and stories.

The visiting pastor related how at one point he was about to give up ministry — but the Lord spoke to his heart. A Bible verse? Oh, no, of course not. Something not in the Bible. And that's what kept him in, extra-Biblical semi-hemi-demi-revelation. What God told him, privately, on the QT, as it were.

Again, how nice for him. Nothing for us. Well, except for what God told him.

At several points I was on the verge of walking out of church, for the first time in my life. But I didn't want to embarrass my son; and we were sitting up towards the front. In retrospect, I actually wish I had. It never got better.

After around twenty minutes abusing a text that (presumably) had never done him any harm, the preacher ceased.

(All this had me thinking about Phil, Frank and my experience at the GUTS church. Almost wistfully. How so? I don't know that the GUTS church ever represented any kind of Bible teaching. This church, at some point, did.)

Then the pastor got up and stressed how united his church is with the guest speaker's church in faith, hope, and love.

Well, I never really got my pace back that day. It just was so depressing to me. That church had once had a ministry of the Word. Now I come in, and find faddish entertainment.

Caveats and Disclaimers. This is based on one visit (under the new management), and a guest speaker. It would be unfair to judge everything they do, by this one visit. So I merely comment on this one visit. Maybe it was an "off" day. Maybe the pastor was appalled, too? (I've written, and asked him.)

What if he was? What was he supposed to do?

Well, theoretically, he could have thanked the man about five minutes in, bumped him out of the pulpit, and then given a Biblical sermon. Or he could never have invited him in the first place. He could have known something about him before unleashing him on his people. There could be a lot of backstory on which I'm clueless.

Of the effect on me, I'm not clueless. in fact, I'm very cluey.

So poor Josiah asks me afterwards what I thought and, poor boy, I tell him. Then I spend the rest of the day doing things I hope are fun for him, ending with our hosts very graciously serving up birthday cake.

Afterword. But how hard can it be, really? How complicated? "Feed my lambs," the Lord Jesus says. "Tend my sheep," "Feed my sheep" (John 21:15-17). Not entertain them, not whip them into a frenzy, not lead them in a cheer, or use cheap show-biz manipulations to get them to clap their hooves together. Feed them! Tend them!

"Preach the Word" the apostle says (1 Timothy 4:2). Herald it, proclaim it, sound it out with authority and truth. Not dance about it, not sideline it, not bury it, not use it to say what you want to say. Preach the Word. Preach the Word. Preach the Word!

All of this threatens to trigger another rant, which has been building up for some time.

Next post, Lord willing.

Dan Phillips's signature


FX Turk said...

As first to post here, let me say that one of the reasons I love Dan is that he knows his strength is in the Lord. Brilliant guy, funny, occationally a bit of an Eeyore emotionally -- who turns to God's word for solice and comfort and all the "upside" he needs for the day, the hour, the minute.

And I say that to say this: while I might complain when Scripture is absent, and have a nice argument or essay about whay that's a bad idea, Dan -feels- it pretty intensely. Because he relies on it so faithfully, when it's not there it's like somebody pulled the chair out from under him.

God willing we all learn to panteth like the deer for God's word the way Dan does.

Keith B said...

Dan thanks for your post. I appreciate your love for the worship and word of God. I can relate to your B-day experience and have had many friends who can as well.
What is sad though is when some of my friends drop out of church completely then blame it on being unable to find a church that is theologically straight or sing the right music in their area.
This keeps me wondering, where is the line of tolerance when the choices are limited?

James Scott Bell said...

It's sad, isn't it? Well meaning, I'm sure, but it truly is an affront to be given a single verse of Scripture and then not even have that expounded biblically. It's the people who suffer from this, even though they are entertained by the stories and jokes and come out feeling "good".

I think your instinct about not walking out was the right one, and taught your son a lesson. There will be times he may be in a church that is struggling like this, and it may be they need him to stick it out and work & pray to make things right. You showed a respect for THE church, the Body universal, which is a good thing (recalling Frank's series on this topic).

I do, however, recall a time or two I was tempted to walk out of a service. Once, a few years ago, the young trendy pastor led off with a top 10 list that had to do with various euphemisms for "booger." Oh yes, I was so close...

Colin Maxwell said...

I hope it wan't a Presbyterian church - John Knox would be spinning in his unmarked grave.

lee n. field said...


Assume you got to the right church. Assume this is the way they do things now. Question (rhetorically, because you weren't there to see it): how did it get from what it was to what it is?

Jake said...

common, but still sad. A major motivator I have to preach the Word is when I see a church that isn't... needless to say, I remain highly motivated. I believe the church in Corith would have had the same fate if Paul decided he was going to concern himself with pleasing men.

DJP said...

Thanks, Frank; you do express my stance very well.

Your comment reminds me of a speaker we had at chapel in Talbot, maybe 25 years ago. He was expounding 1 Corinthians 4:1f., and reflecting on the pastor's role. As a "steward," he said, it was our job to get the food from the kitchen to the table, hot and fresh and nourishing.

And so he made this application: it is our priority to get the Word out, to serve it up straight and pure and without embellishment. And then he added this, almost as a by-the-way rhetorical question:

"After all, what else do we have to give them?"

I found (and still find) that question so focusing, so clarifying, so crystallizing. I realize that, like any statement, folks can quibble. But after all the quibbling is done, he'll still be absolutely right.

What does God give for pastors to serve up? His Word. His sheep aren't (—or shouldn't be!) there to see how clever we are, how witty we are, what wonderful story-tellers and entertainers we are, how skilled we are at making them feel things. They are (—or should be!) there to hear the Word of God opened truthfully by a man who has opened himself to that Word.

It reminds me that we are not to preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus, and Him crucified. Our hearers need to encounter the living God, and this encounter is mediated by His word sent home to hearts by His Spirit to the glory of His Son.

As Stott said, the pulpit is a dangerous place for any son of Adam. Our only measure of safety lies in keeping the focus: we are there to preach Christ by preaching God's Word.

Oh, the speaker's name?

< drumroll >

John MacArthur.

< ba-dum-bum >

steve said...

After around twenty minutes abusing a text that (presumably) had never done him any harm, the preacher ceased.

Good line. Sad how some preachers/teachers put themselves in the way of allowing Scripture to feed and nourish God's people.

Ironically enough, the word verification for me to post this is...TRASH.

donsands said...

Thanaks for sharing. It is sad. I have a heavy, angry, and baffled heart when I here of church services like this.

It's a pop culture Christianity out there I guess.

I watched Joel Osteen speak before 30,000 people on a million dollar sound system about hanging your troubles on a trouble tree when you get home from work. (Imaginary trouble tree).
What a waste of a million dollars.

I thank the Lord for my church, and for my pastor, who is dedicated to exposit the Word of God for the people of God, and oversee and tend the church as a good under shepherd should.
It's all about God, and Christ being worthy. And the church has made it to be all about "me" and "you" and "us".

David Rudd said...

Right-a-roonie, Ronnie-O!


reminds me of Pastor Skip from "Saved"...

your whole post reminds me of Pastor Skip from "Saved"...

well done.

DJP said...

Well, Keith, you ask a very good question. Frank dealt with that really well in a series earlier here at Pyro, and my answer parallels his.

I very seriously doubt any American has a legitimate excuse for not being involved, personally, in a local church. It will never be perfect; or, if it was, then the moment you or I enter, it won't be perfect anymore.

We can't support heresy or apostasy. But that leaves a lot, and we will to one degree or another have to "settle."

Parenthetically, this minds me of idealists who announce that they will never vote for the lesser of two evils. In that case, they will never vote, for EVERY vote for a mere mortal is at best a vote for the lesser of two evils. And so every local church is less than perfect.

I should stress that we've both been there and done that. There was a stretch of years where we attended a church that was Biblically orthodox, but whose preaching was tepid and passionless and "safe," and whose fellowship we found impenetrable despite our best efforts. But our duty before God was to be in a church, and so we were. Imperfection does not constitute a note from your Mommy excusing you from participation.

Hope that's of some help.

DJP said...

And Frank, the "occasionally" is very kind. Thanks.


DJP said...

GOODNIGHTSAFEHOME, I don't even want to narrow it down that much. But I think it is safe to say that Knox is spinning, the Wesleys are spinning, Luther is spinning. Unless part of their heavenly bliss is being spared from seeing what their professed spiritual children are doing to the church.

Kim said...

This sounds like a great "homeschool moment" with Josiah. Something you could get a discussion going with.

Even though it was discouraging.

Hayden said...


I was listening to a sermon about preaching a couple of weeks ago that describes exactly what you experienced. It was called "What Happened to Expository Preaching?" by Alistair Begg and can be found on his website (for a $2.00 dowload. (I sure hope thsiis teh right one!) It is truly outstanding!! This will replace the time that you lost attending the other service. A MUST LISTEN!


PS I have sat under thousands of sermons and attended Grace Community Church for 4 years while in seminary and this was still one of the best sermons I have ever heard on preaching!!

candy said...

Dan. Hopefully you had a nice view out the window of the church to make up for the spectacle within.

leadsoldier said...

Dan, thank-you for taking the time and effort, which must have been like giving yourself a filling, to chronicle this event.

We are not going insane. This is really happening. Everywhere.

Here is a brief account of a recent encounter (leaving out a lot of background):

Ten minutes into the serm... mess.. tal... stream of consciousness blather, commun... a ceremony announcing that "I am moving torward God" took place. Folk were invited to form two lines and approach the front..

At this point I departed the sanct.. meeting room and sat, ennervated and discouraged, in a reclining leather chair and waited for my boys, 19 and 16 (the older, a drummer in the wors... opening act, to finish listening to the (emergent incantations) and take me home.

On the way home, I was silent. Tim, 19, started the conversation while we munched on the first nutritious substance of the day, chocolate croissants..."What did you think...?

As it turned out, David, 16, had escaped during the start of the communion melee, into the prayer garden. Tim had looked around, not expecting to find me, but alarmed at finding even David had departed. He did not take part in the "blasphemous" (his words) communion, and endured the group therapy session, but now we are all filtering this experience...

This church was once a signal Bible teaching church in a strong Canadian evangelical movement.. a few months ago :)

DJP said...

Not even that, Candy.

Oh, BTW, KeithB, I was thinking about Candy on the way to work, in response to your question.

Candy is one who drives, I think, 90 minutes, in order to get really sound preaching. It can be done; it may be inconvenient, but it can be done.

Even So... said...

I imagine this church is growing like a weed...think about that...

leadsoldier said...


Anonymous said...

Dearest Dan:

I can, unfortunately, feel your pain. My husband and I have spent 4 years looking for a church home and have found this entertainment-style service to be the norm rather than the exception. While the search itself has been discouraging it has also served to open our eyes to the desperate condition of the Western church.

Many Christians are blithely unaware of the fact that much of Western Christianity is languishing because they are happily ensconced in their little reformed church (no offense intended). Not until we venture out to test the waters can we grasp the depths to which the church has fallen nor can we apprehend the ever-widening influence of our media driven culture on those who stand in the pulpit.

Your illustration of the pastor getting the food from the kitchen to the table, hot and fresh and nourishing reminded me of a quote...

"You don't have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces - just good food from fresh ingredients." - Julia Child


DJP said...

Chuck, that's very funny, very sad, and makes my narrative look nice. But maybe that's because it makes the service I was at look good. This is very sad; you laugh or you cry, don't you? Or a little of both.

DJP said...


Oh dang, that is so much better than my title!

leadsoldier said...

Dan, don't underestimate how important a role work such as you have just done, plays in the lives of people you may never see; in encouraging us that we are not alone, that there is a fight to be carried and that we have no excuse..

"encourage one another daily"


leadsoldier said...

Maybe it would make a good pyro graphic or emergentsee poster? All yours...

Mike Riccardi said...


That story is almost too uncanny to be real. 9/23 is my birthday as well, and I spent pretty much all of the day pretty sullen myself. Why you ask? The same reason: not feeding the sheep and tending the lambs.

Granted, my experience was nowhere near as (don't know the word) aggravated as yours, but I just heard the pastor try to muster up all kinds of excitement about the Gospel and why it's GREAT NEWS!!! YAHOOOOO!!! but they never really told us why; i.e., that our sin had us condemned before a Holy God and we were without hope when Christ became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

No sin talk. Just great news!!! That kinda put me in a funk. I think you and I are similar in that we do "-feel- it pretty intensely" as Frank said. It's a shame that there are so many disobedient ministers in today's pulpits.

However, unlike you, I let it get to me to the point that I became edgy and clearly sinful... and that didn't make for a good birthday. So... props to you for shepherding Josiah even when you were deeply disappointed in what was going on. Pray that I'd learn that.

Thanks for sharing this, brother.

Sharon said...

Cent: God willing we all learn to panteth like the deer for God's word the way Dan does.

Interesting you should choose that verse. Our choir sang the beautifully written Mendelssohn version of that verse last Sunday--something you will never find in the ubiquitious RAH RAH churches today. More and more we who still present the lofty hymns and sacred classic music are "a voice crying in the wilderness." And that depresses me.

P.S. I would have walked out of that kind of church in a heartbeat. Wouldn't that have spoken volumes to your son?

James Scott Bell said...

That was brilliant, Chuck.

Like that tragedy in Spain when several people died trying to get out of a theater on fire, and one wag (Dorothy Parker?) said that should teach them not to put all their Basques in one exit.

Daryl said...

"that should teach them not to put all their Basques in one exit."

LOL...Thanks Johnny.

DJP said...

Sorry to hear it, Mike Riccardi. Didn't Frank express it perfectly?

Well, happy birthday anyway; I for one am glad you're around.

Joe Martino said...

I'm saddened by the fact that the guy couldn't preach. Maybe it isn't his strength? The music I'm not against, which makes the fact that he didn't preach all the worse.
If I went and didn't like all the noises between the songs but they preached the Word, I would just chalk it up to stylistic differences.
When a church fails to preach that stinks.

DJP said...

Yes, that's right, Joe; I totally expect to allow for differences of style, reflecting (and addressing) differences of temperament, culture, etc.

But the main thing's the main thing. If the steak's good, I don't care as much if the potato's a bit burnt. (I started to write something about salad, but then remembered the outrage over my steak & salad picture....)

FX Turk said...

I ... waitaminit ... I cited a verse of Scripture? I did? BUT THERE WAS NO VERSE LISTED?! How could somebody know that unless I tagged it with a verse?

Was it the KJV that gave me away? But the KJV says "hart" not "deer" -- who told? Who let the cat out of the bag?!

Sharon said...

Cent: I ... waitaminit ... I cited a verse of Scripture? I did? BUT THERE WAS NO VERSE LISTED?! How could somebody know that unless I tagged it with a verse?

'Cause we sang it last Sunday morning, and I recognized the verse!

P.S. It's Psalm 42:1

steve said...

P.S. I would have walked out of that kind of church in a heartbeat. Wouldn't that have spoken volumes to your son?

I did that once. While hunting for a church home when I first moved to the Great Northwest, I arrived right as the service started in one small, run-down church (not that appearances matter--they don't). This meant I had to stand in the back. The first 20 minutes of the service was even worse than what Dan endured. It was all human performance, with nothing that pointed to God. I left.

In my last year at Grace Community, I brought a friend a little early one morning before the service started. The choir was already setting the tone for worship, and my friend leaned over and whispered, "What a beautiful way to prepare people's hearts for the service!"

I'd gotten so used to it that I suddenly realized I'd been taking it for granted. Sixteen years later I've never forgotten his comment, and I always thank the Lord for a church in which true worship takes place.

Kay said...

I must concur with what everydaymommy said. You sat through one service like it, Dan, I've sat through hundreds before now.

It is just like being given a shedload of candy-floss when you know there's a feast right there in front of you, if only they will open up the Book. We're very spoiled at our current church, and I honestly don't think that some of the church members know that this sort of thing exists. My heart really and truly aches for people who are severely spiritually malnourished because of it.

*mumbles and blushes*

and thankyou for the links...

wordsmith said...

Spurgeon's question is ever relevant: Feeding Sheep or Amusing Goats?

Didn't really sound like the former.

Anonymous said...

Fun, Fun, Fun!

Father, please take the T-bird away.

Joe said...

I'm moved to tears,Dan.
I had the same conversation with my daughter two weeks ago. After church she told me she thought church was great(It had a lot of funny and no Biblical substance)and I said it was horrible. I apologized to her right away(I felt terrible), and then I told her why I thought it was horrible.
We trifled with God that morning and on any given Sunday we are doing it more often.
After spending the weekend at Pastor Piper's Conference I find my heart broken for what so many of our churches are doing and that encludes the church I attend. I thank God daily for my faithful Sunday school teacher. Thanks Dan for sharing. You ALWAYS have a wonderful way of putting it.

JackW said...

I also go to a lukewarm church and wish that there was something better, but know that I need to be involved in one and hey, it’s not up to the brick to decide which building to be placed in. But, later on Sunday afternoon I go to the Parkside Church website and watch the video of their morning service to get some real Bible teaching. I visited Parkside a couple of months ago and actually got to meet Alistair Begg and check out the fruit of that ministry. It almost makes me want to move there, but I have been place where I am and it’s not my will …

I think it would be interesting to discuss sometime the availability of sound teaching that is available today and how it affects the local churches. Is it fair for local teachers to be compared with a MacArthur, Piper, Begg?

Mike Riccardi said...


I've gotten that response about comparing lukewarm preachers to the greats of today. And I would say that no, that isn't fair. However, in my situation, no one's asking that my pastors become MacArthur or Piper, but what we are asking is that they preach the text, do justice by God's Word, and, as Dan said, actually feed the sheep and tend the lambs.

You don't need to be nationally acclaimed to be a good pastor. You just need to unleash the power of the Word by being faithful to it. And that's always going to mean getting yourself the heck out of the way.

Rick Holland said, in an exposition seminar at Shepherds last year, that the Holy Spirit is the preacher's audience. He's in the front row, and paying attention. There should never be a sermon that the Spirit hears and says, "Nope. Not what I meant when I wrote that." That result doesn't take being MacArthur or Piper... just a faithful expositor. I don't care how your day was, what you read in the newspaper or saw on TV... I don't care what happened to you on the way to the office. I care about what the text means, because that's what God speaks through, that's what changes hearts, that's what gives faith and strengthens believers.

Preach the Word.

::takes a deep breath and gets off of soap box::

Rachael Starke said...

One word for the antidote to random, stream-of-conciousness worship . . .



Rachael Starke said...

Oh, and my favorite Grace Community preaching memory - when I started attending there before God saved me, one of the most effective tools the Holy Spirit employed in my conversion was the sound of 1000+ people turning the pages in their Bibles each time John mentioned a verse....

DJP said...

Oh yes; meaning no disrespect whatsoever for those big names, I've no doubt whatever that there are preachers whose Spirit-breathed passion, holiness, power and truthfulness would rival or surpass MacArthur, Piper, Begg, or anyone else you care to name. (God would have to do the measuring, of course.)

The notion that "If you are faithful, God will bless you," in which (it is unexpressed) "bless you" = "give you a big happy church and a famous ministry," is a lie. In fact, the truth is sometimes the reverse. I don't doubt that some men would do just as well as MacA or anyone else, except they're in Olancha, CA (pop 50?), or Podunk, Iowa, being faithful and laboring hard in absolute obscurity. Or others are like the prophets who were broadly hated PRECISELY BECAUSE they were faithfully serving up the Word.

Anonymous said...

I'm new to your Blog, and have been learning alot, and also making myself aware of myself and my ministry. I am a full time youth pastor, with a church on its way to some rough waters. Your blog was def. a uplifter for me today in just ways you'll never know. Thanks

Strong Tower said...

Not nearly enough candles. This is Pyro, not Pyro/2...

Pryro fiddles with everything that's burning the church.

Where can I get one dose inflatachurch thingies. What a concept. Just add hot air, no need for preeeechin. With a little ruachhaha, a pneumatic trip upon a magic swirling ship.

Heh, my wife's Basque. French Basque, huba-huba.

Birthday's- funny how we came out crying about it- the dog and vomit thing, nah

Open bible, blank page, well the conversation is a journeyal, yuz no.

Beware, the one Scriptured man

I'd say I feel your pain but that would be contrary to Scripture- so I'll just say I've got enough of my own-


DJP said...

A word like that means an awful lot to me, Joshua. Thanks, and praise God.

Joe said...


Watch it with the Podunk Iowa comment....I live just over the hill from there.

steve said...

the sound of 1000+ people turning the pages in their Bibles each time John mentioned a verse

We spent 12 years there, and never grew tired of that sound. It was a real blessing.

DJP said...

I tossed up a link to the inflatable church, but Blogger ate it.

You can find it at www dot inflatablechurch dot com.

Strong Tower said...

It really is a actual site.

Man, you can get anything online.

Stefan Ewing said...

Jake wrote:

"I believe the church in Corinth would have had the same fate if Paul decided he was going to concern himself with pleasing men."

Very well put!

Jon from Bucksport said...

Dan: Thanks for sharing. This is important. I took my kids to a similar type of service and knew what I was getting into. But, the point is that we sanctified the Lord's Day even if no one else there did. We showed the people we were staying with that we were serious about worshiping God on His day. And lastly, I opened a dialogue with my kids about why our church is not like that one. All of these things are important. I still remember my dad taking our family to a couple of goofy churches when I was growing up because he was teaching us the same lessons. Are we really committed to worshiping God if we take a "pass" when we are out of town on vacation?

Unknown said...

'After all, what else do we have to give them?'

Perhaps the single most solid gut shot to self aggrandizement that exists.

2 WORDS: Clay Pot

Rose said...

Your description of the church that you went to is like practically every church that I've ever been to. I think that I've heard three real live (as in not on the internet) sermons in the entire time that I've been a Christian (10 years). Western Canada is in a bad place. I can count the number of sermons that I've heard about sin on one hand. I'm so close to pounding up my 95 theses. In the last church that I visited the pastor expounded nothing and even went so far as to tell the people that God doesn't want them to be perfect. Come again?! Try reading the sermon on the mount, or better yet the whole bible. I'm bitter. I long to see the truth prevail and God's bride be beautiful instead of sickly and scrawny like it is at the moment.

Stefan Ewing said...

Speaking of sound preachers in small churches, yes. I found the website for a tiny Free (evangelical Presbyterian) Church in a small town on a small Scottish island about a month ago, but man, the pastor's online Biblical studies (chapter by chapter, book by book) are some of the soundest and most concise teaching I've read, complete with application.

Stefan Ewing said...


Would it be giving too much away if you told us the verse used for the "sermon"? Just as a teaser....

Stefan Ewing said...

We are definitely in a minority. Of the worldwide Christian communion (broadly defined), how many are in churches that adhere to the tenets of historical, orthodox Protestantism? The mainline denominations that were its bastion have clearly by and large given up on preaching the Word of God, except in small pockets here and there.

DJP said...

I'd be interested to know more about the wee kirk on the isle. URL? Or email me, if you'd rather.

Stefan Ewing said...

Dan: I'll email you. Don't know if the church would want the publicity, or if their Web server could withstand the onslaught if I posted the URL here!

Jono Mac said...

This all reminds me of a thought I had a while back.

When I come across a Christian artist looking for something to do, hopefully they'll be up for this assignment:

From the point of view above a pulpit with a closed bible on it; paint on one side a flock of fattened goats, on the other some starving sheep. A sad description of many churches all over the world.

Fat goats, starving sheep, it must end!

I highly recommend Steve Lawson's book, Famine in the Land- A passionate call to expositionary preaching.

Stefan Ewing said...

I don't mind sharing, however, that I found that church's website through Monergism.com's most excellent resource, "Expository Sermons from Genesis to Revelation."

FX Turk said...


I have sympathy for the "liturgy" retort, but could you point out to me where the liturgy you practice is spelled out by Scripture?

Here's what I'm NOT saying: I'm NOT saying that your liturgy is unbiblical and sinful.

Here's what I AM saying: since we have some liberty in liturgy, we also have RESPONSIBILITY in liturgy for what we make of it. Thank God that, while we do not know what to pray for as we ought, the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. But liberty doesn't mean the LICENSE to make the worship all about ourselves.

Liturgy? Why yes -- I'll have some. One fixed and immutable liturgy? Fixed by who for what purpose to what end?

Chris H said...

Great post, Dan.

I attended a church that didn't welcome me, nor make me feel like anything except an outsider, for about 9 months (save for an outstanding pastoral staff, who went out of their way to spend time getting to know me), and I stayed because the preaching was sound, expository, and applicable. There was meat on the table every Sunday. That is worth more than the most welcoming group of people.

Caveat: I do not mean to suggest being friendly and welcoming is unimportant; it's just much more like having good friends to enjoy the hearty steak, which is really what brings me to the table.

DJP said...

Yep. Well-put, Chris. Right priority, and right caveat, I think.

Stefan Ewing said...

While we do not know what to pray for as we ought, the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

Any resemblance to Scripture is purely coincidental.

FX Turk said...


Dude -- at some point, if we don't have verse numbers, we have to admit we have no idea whether or not something is Scripture. If we don't have categories like that, people might just start using Scripture in everyday conversations and THEN -- THEN where will we be?

terriergal said...

Oy. I wish you would post the name of the church -- or at least the Seminary you aren't thrilled with!


It would be unfair to judge everything they do, by this one visit.

Wait a minute -- isn't that exactly what they want or at least expect you to do? This whole seeker-sensitive purpose driven paradigm is about catering to those who make snap judgements on the first visit, isn't it?

Stefan Ewing said...

Back in the 19th century, when people were actually capable of that sort of thing? (2 Spurgeon 5:76)

Stefan Ewing said...

Terriergal: Yeah, 'ceptin' they're not banking on Reformed believers being among the droppers-in....

Norman said...

You don't say where this preacher came from. It's clear you made no attempt to get to know him.
Assume he's from a non-Western country. He's probably had nowhere near the education adn training that we all have.
Yet you're willing to consider walking out on his sermon. (I realize you clearly said you were not judging the whole congregation on this one experience. But you were judging this one sermon and the man who preached it.).If you've had any experience in non-Western countries, then you know what disadvantages they can have.
Missionaries who live in these countries and sit under ministries there have to experience these things all the time and still learn to respect, build up relationships, and minister to and with people who don't have the theological, exegetical, or doctrinal advantages we all do.
I understand your frustration - as a missionary for 30+ years I know it well. But I also know we have to walk alongside and not out.
I find your reaction evidencing little Christian love for that man (brother in Christ) who may have found himself in an environment that blew all his fuses because of his background.

Rachael Starke said...

Cent -

Wow - you got all that out of one word? I had no idea I was so profound. :)

What I meant by my comment is that I wholeheartedly empathized with Dan on the issue of pointless / distracting emoting and random thoughts while strolling during the singing, prayer, etc. And I was using liturgy as a short hand to refer to the process of structuring the flow and content of each service to minimize human distraction or intrusion so that our attention can be optimally focussed on the One whom we are worshipping. e.g. At some churches we've been involved with, all of the elements of the service - the hymns, Scripture readings, prayer, etc. - all are tightly and thematically related to passage of Scripture being preached. It's been tremendously helpful to me. There is no harsh disconnect caused by a random collection of hymns/choruses, followed by a random prayer comprised of various spiritual phrases connected by various prepositions, followed by a sermon that has no connetcion with either of the previous. That's prolly not the classic definition of liturgy, but to be honest, underneath this mild-mannered mommy exterior beats the heart of a rabble rouser, so I was just curious what the reaction might be. :)

Stefan Ewing said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stefan Ewing said...

[My first deleted comment was a follow-up to my response to terriergal, but it showed up after Norman's comment and ended up looking too flippant. Hence the deletion.]

jmark said...

How about

"PYROMANIC BURNS CHURCH FIDDLES" (and guitars, drums and worship leader)

Ok - the last was a bit harsh.


Jim Crigler said...

It was interesting to compare this to my memory of Todd Wilken's visit to Lakewood (listen to the second and third hours). Jo-el wasn't preaching, but it was instructive nonetheless.

Keith B said...

Thanks for the advise and the leads to Frank's posts.
BTW your photo journal was very good and the pictures are a brilliant display of God's creative glory.

candy said...

Norman. One does not have to have seminary training to be sound theologically. It sounds like the preacher just knew to do topical teachings like he has experienced or been taught that numerous other churches do.

Spurgeon did not attend seminary. He read a lot and started his own Pastor's College.

It is a cop out to say that a person is at a disadvantage cuz they haven't had the same opportunities to get the same education.

donsands said...

"That is worth more than the most welcoming group of people."

Worth more to me as well, but for the majority today, you can put the steak back in the frig, and bring out the dessert.

Anonymous said...

I have had the privilege of being part of Bible preaching, Christ-centered churches for the entirety of my 17 years as a believer. And it is so easy to assume that all churches are the same. Sadly, as Dan has pointed out and as I am starting to understand, churches that proclaim the Word and the gospel are a rarity in postmodern evangelicalism.

Love the "Inflatable Church". Man, so many ideas for using this an an illustration come to mind...

ezekiel said...


"I think it would be interesting to discuss sometime the availability of sound teaching that is available today and how it affects the local churches. Is it fair for local teachers to be compared with a MacArthur, Piper, Begg?"

Good question. Answer...Yes, it is fair to compare.
They are all supposed to be preaching out of the same book...right? Same authority...right?

Let's put it this way, if 100 preachers got up and just read the WORD, wouldn't the message be the same? If 100 spirit filled preachers get up and preach the WORD, won't they witness the Christ?

The problem starts when we delve into entertainment. Not everyone is a movie star.....
Most of the folk watching don't all see the same in the entertainer either......

The real problem starts when the Holy Spirit teaches you via the written Word. Then anything you watch but full strength WORD comes off as a bad B movie.....

northWord said...

Happy belated birthday, Dan.

What a dissapointment about that church, even more so because you knew it to be solid and expected the experience to be a positive one.

I've enjoyed your words and pics of your travels with your son, especially the one about the snow, I'm a total snow lover and can hardly wait for those first flakes to fall...just love them.

Here's a small gift for you.

W. Ian Hall said...

A very sad report of what passes for worship in some places. May the Lord deliver us.


DJP said...

Oh, Northword, that's funny. Thanks. It's actually my first gift (except the cake), since the family celebration of both Josiah's and my birthdays is to be this Saturday.

DJP said...

So, Sewing — email me!


DJP said...

Norman, I'm actually (pleasantly) surprised that it took 60-70 comments for someone to toss what I said aside and judge my motives; so your comment only surprises me by its timing.

The visiting pastor could read, he had a Bible, he called himself a pastor. He has no excuse. What "training" did John Bunyan have? Yet the very scholarly John Owen said of him, "Could I possess the tinker's abilities for preaching, I would willingly relinquish all my learning." And where did I fault him for lack of training or scholarly acumen? The straw man lies dead at your feet, as I look on from over here.

So if you're suggesting that I should have gone up to him and rebuked him afterwards... maybe so. I have, as I said, written the church's pastor. (No response yet.)

In the meanwhile you'll have to pardon me for showing more love for the Lord, His Word, His glory, and His people, than you think I did for the man who squandered his opportunity.

Steve Lamm said...


Sad story, especially in light of the fact that the church was not so long ago a sound one!

I have to respond to Norman by saying this: the Pastor and church leaders bear the responsibility for what comes out of the pulpit. If they're even remotely qualified according to I Tim. 3 and Titus 1, they're supposed to protect their flock from stuff like this!

Look, I take my responsibility to teach very seriously. I am constantly aware of the warning James gives to those of us who teach that the Lord holds us to a high standard (James 3:1). The Word is a precious gift from God and deserves to be handled with care.

I also remember this: the people in my congregation take valuable time out of their Sunday to come and worship and hear the Word of God proclaimed. They deserve the best I can give them and they should have confidence that I have studied and prepared to the best of my ability.

So, I agree with Dan that there is no excuse for squandering an opportunity like that man had to teach the Word accurately. You don't need lot's of raw talent to do that. But you do need to be willing to work hard to prepare!

Stefan Ewing said...

Dan the Man: I did...at the email address you provide on your bibchr blog...did you not get it? I'll resend it.

Stefan Ewing said...

I even straight copied and pasted the "mailto:" address (minus the "mailto:").

DJP said...

It's a mystery. Yahoo! obviously ate the first sending; sorry. Thanks for the re-send!

Stefan Ewing said...

No need to apologize for Yahoo!(!)

Glad you finally got it.

Matthew Henry said...

Ok, now for the important question that everyone seems to have missed in this post. . . . What do you think of your convertible notebook? You like, dislike, wish-they-hadda?

Someone I know real well is thinking of getting one and I want to hear first hand info on this baby.

DJP said...

Oh, I like it very much. It's actually my second. First I had a Toshiba, much smaller. All in all I liked it, but twice it had an interface problem where the screen developed "dead areas" that didn't respond to the pen.

This Gateway is much more powerful, a good bit larger and heavier... and cost about HALF what the first one did. I'm not loving Vista, but it's not killing me. Everything I use works on it; it's a matter of getting used to it, mostly.

But this is more like a laptop and a convertible, whereas for me and my large hands, the other was a bit small.

That's my brief review. I like it a lot.

IB Dubbya said...



gratefulheart said...

If you are angry and depressed at this church experience because you didn't get what you want you are distinguishing yourself from what Jesus would do. He would also be angry because others were getting hurt. Somehow in your rant I heard you almost getting off on how bad it was and complaining about it rather than righteous indignation. There's a disconnect there but that just my oppinion. It's just too easy to bash a church. There are so many dead churches out there. It is sad but we must remember to be sad for others and not because we are not getting our own way. See the difference? Ultimately we as Christians want to be more like Jesus right?

Matthew Henry said...

Dan: thanks for those comments on the Gateway. I can hardly wait to get mine.....Plzzzzzzzzz hurry January (new budget year).

Gratefulheart: Wow, that is all I can say, wow! I love how anyone decides what Jesus would say or think beyond what the Scripture says.

TrothKeepr said...

If more folks would walk out of churches, then perhaps the vital message would be sent out: "The pulpit is not a popcorn machine!" I think part of the answer to the question "how did that church get that way" lies precisely in the mindless acquiescence that rules the congregations, that is, nobody will walk out. Nobody wants to rock the boat. (As a footnote to those who claim one should "stay and 'fix' things": how would that work with the Protestant Reformation? Should they then have tried to "fix" the RCC instead of turning their back on it?)

I myself have twice walked out of a service: once, 20+ years ago, when a PCUSA had a guest "reverend" who was a woman (I was searching for a permanent place to fellowship; needless to say, I did not return there); the other time, 5 years ago, when the brand new pastor @ a CMA (who had just gotten thru assuring us that his emphasis would be on expositing the Word, not upping the membership thru gimmicks) proceeded to spend 10 minutes straight starting his "sermon" out with vapid ramblings about the time he took a youth group to a sports game.

marie said...

If I weren't giggling so hard at your sarcasm, I might have something high-minded to say......BT, DT. I once heard a 25-minute sermon about....nothing. Nada. Zilch.

(You seriously bring a laptop to church?) LOL

DJP said...

Yep. Accustomed as I am to more substantial sermons, I have set it up to split-screen BibleWorks and some word processor type program.

DJP said...

And... "sarcasm"? Me?!

I'm shocked!