This blog is the combined effort of four senior pastors of different churches. Their desire is to point you toward living a God-centered, gospel-focused, Christian life.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The anatomy of a news story

The anatomy of a news story
1)      Go wall to wall coverage with big bold graphics and ominous music; get it out first, and worry about fact checking later.
2)      The President, in a pastoral role, must say appropriate words to comfort the nation.
3)      Government feels like it must make a response to the crisis.  Doing something by government is always to be preferred over doing nothing;
4)      Pundits evaluate the reasons behind the tragedy and evaluate government proposals;
5)      As the news story goes “old,” the attention shifts to psychologists, particularly on the question, “How do we explain this tragedy to our children?”
6)      As the story begins to fade, the last issue is media people interviewing other media people about how well the media covered the story.

We are currently at stage 4 and just about to enter stage 5 on the Newtown tragedy.  I wish this template were not so standard.  And I wish that seeking the Lord by prayer and fasting was reinserted into our national narrative of tragedy.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Tragedy and Repentance

I’m not sure whether the following will be helpful for you or not. Our needs as we respond to the tragedy in Newtown are varied. But it was helpful for me to think through again.

Early in 2012, we tackled some tough verses that are tragically relevant today as we mourn the victims and grieve for the families in Newton, Connecticut.

1 There were some present at that very time who told him [Jesus] about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” –Luke 13:1-5

As we looked at this passage, we first talked about two wrong responses to tragedy. The first wrong response is to conclude that those to whom tragedy occurs are somehow extra wicked and deserve it more than others. After natural disasters in recent years, or even 9/11, some comments by prominent Evangelical leaders are illustrative of this first wrong response.

Fortunately, such arrogant comments have not been made in connection with the tragedy in Newtown. The thought of young lives cut so short causes a reaction that is painful not just emotionally but physical. The thought of a six-year old child deserving such a fate is abhorrent.

A second wrong response to tragedy is to conclude that there is no relationship between sin and tragedy. Some naively deny the reality of evil or that God’s wrath will someday be poured out on the wicked. Or they speak of wickedness only in terms of a mental illness. Evil therefore seems clinical and physical and our culpability is lessened.

There are many right responses to what happened Friday. Mourning. Grief. Righteous anger. Yearning for justice.

One crucial response for each of us is repentance. What happened Friday is a vivid reminder that we live in a fallen world and need a Savior to deliver us from it. As we encounter tragedy, our response should not be that the “other” sinner deserves tragedy but instead an admission that I deserve God's judgement. Tragedy reminds us that God has graciously delayed our ultimate reckoning and today is a day for repentance and salvation.

Here are some suggestions for rightly responding to tragedy:

Understand that grief is not sin (Lk. 19:41). Don’t deny the hurt or the pain you feel. Don’t judge others for feeling deep, profound grief.

Acknowledge the reality and presence of evil in the world (Eph. 2:1-3). Evil is not an abstract concept but a real and present danger.

Acknowledge the reality and presence of evil in your own heart (Jer. 17:9). To simply see evil only as a force that is without instead of within removes our feeling of culpability and need to change.

Turn from sin and hope in God (Lam 3:19-24). Repentance in response to tragedy manifests itself differently than repentance to personal sin. Our response to tragedy must include a personal commitment to turn away from sin that God brings to our attention as we contemplate the reality of evil within us.

 Weep with those who weep (Rom. 12:14). As we encounter grief our response is empathy. Grief isn’t something you “fix.” It is something you experience with a hurting brother or sister in Christ.

Think biblically about the character of God (Col. 1:15-20). One of the dangers of responding to tragedy is that we say things that we think are helpful but are unbiblical when describing the character of God.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Eternity and the Jellyfish

Is the resurrection a myth, concocted by those who can’t stand the thought of nothingness after death?

Are we as humans simply hardwired to believe that there is—or should be—something more than our few nasty, brutish, and short lives?

It is certainly true that the quest for immortality is one that has attracted humanity for all of recorded history. Mythic heroes, gods and goddesses, and fountains of youth all reflect the reality that we want something more. Even among those who would claim to believe that there is nothing “more,” there is an attraction to ideas that suggest otherwise.

On Sunday, we’ll be looking at the challenge presented to Jesus by the Sadducees and His defense of the resurrection. His defense of the resurrection is based on appealing to a source that both He and the Sadducees believed to be authoritative: the OT writings.

Paul, when he defended the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 used an illustration from nature. Our bodies are like a seed that dies. The seed must die before new life can occur.

In a recent edition of the New York Times, we find another illustration from nature that gives us a picture of immortality. Nathaniel Rich writes about a species nicknamed “the immortal jellyfish” and their discovery by Chrstian Sommer in the late 1980s:

Sommer was conducting research on hydrozoans, small invertebrates that, depending on their stage in the life cycle, resemble either a jellyfish or a soft coral. Every morning, Sommer went snorkeling in the turquoise water off the cliffs of Portofino. He scanned the ocean floor for hydrozoans, gathering them with plankton nets. Among the hundreds of organisms he collected was a tiny, relatively obscure species known to biologists as Turritopsis dohrnii. Today it is more commonly known as the immortal jellyfish. 
Sommer kept his hydrozoans in petri dishes and observed their reproduction habits. After several days he noticed that his Turritopsis dohrnii was behaving in a very peculiar manner, for which he could hypothesize no earthly explanation. Plainly speaking, it refused to die. It appeared to age in reverse, growing younger and younger until it reached its earliest stage of development, at which point it began its life cycle anew. 
Sommer was baffled by this development but didn’t immediately grasp its significance. (It was nearly a decade before the word “immortal” was first used to describe the species.) But several biologists in Genoa, fascinated by Sommer’s finding, continued to study the species, and in 1996 they published a paper called “Reversing the Life Cycle.” The scientists described how the species — at any stage of its development — could transform itself back to a polyp, the organism’s earliest stage of life, “thus escaping death and achieving potential immortality.” This finding appeared to debunk the most fundamental law of the natural world — you are born, and then you die.
One of the paper’s authors, Ferdinando Boero, likened the Turritopsis to a butterfly that, instead of dying, turns back into a caterpillar. Another metaphor is a chicken that transforms into an egg, which gives birth to another chicken. The anthropomorphic analogy is that of an old man who grows younger and younger until he is again a fetus. For this reason Turritopsis dohrnii is often referred to as the Benjamin Button jellyfish. 

The rest of the article can be found here. I particularly like the part about the karaoke-singing scientist.  
God has designed our hearts to yearn for eternity. For those who are part of Bethany Community, come Sunday and be encouraged as we talk about the resurrection together.

By His Grace,


Monday, November 26, 2012

Wicked Tenants Post-Sunday App

Critical Thinking and the Christian

My friend recently sent me some information on “concept mapping.” For those unfamiliar with the, um, concept, here’s an example from NASA (original image can be found here):

Bryan Bradley at Brigham Young University describes a concept map as “a visual organization and representation of knowledge. It shows concepts and ideas and the relationships among them. You create a concept map by writing key words (sometimes enclosed in shapes such as circles, boxes, triangles, etc.) and then drawing arrows between the ideas that are related. Then you add a short explanation by the arrow to explain how the concepts are related.”

The concept map has many educational benefits. For instance, it allows students studying a specific scientific concept to visualize how that concept relates to other fields and disciplines. It also allows students to group seemingly divergent thoughts as they brainstorm.

Concept maps also assist people as they think through how their opinions have been formed. Check out this example dealing with the Iraq War (original can be found here):

This individual has stated her position in the central circle: "My position on the war is that I am in between." In the next ring of eight circles, she lists reasons for and against the war. Finally, she lists what was the primary influence for that reason (media, religion, etc.).

It is that last step that intrigues me. Training young people—and ourselves—to think critically is an essential task for the mature believer. We must know not only what we believe but why we believe it.

Remember what Paul tells Timothy as he encourages his young friend to remain faithful and not follow the path of self-loving false teachers:
14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.
The pedagogical goal of the church is not merely to convey information. Paul wants Timothy to recall the sources from which he received his convictions. They were trusted teachers and sacred writings. Timothy would do well to listen to their instruction instead of following the hedonistic lifestyles of the false teachers. 

We also want to equip ourselves and others to think critically about the information we know and how to apply it. Continue to hold fast to what you have known and firmly believed!

By His Grace,


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A New Tool

Pastor Ben Davidson is a great gift to Bethany Community Church. He is constantly thinking of ways to improve existing ministries and help us be more effective in our communication. I'm particularly excited by an idea he's had for awhile but we've just begun to implement this week.

Over the next few weeks, Bethany Community Church is testing out this new tool that is designed to help our church apply the truths of God's Word. It's called the "Post-Sunday App" and it is simply a short video where we talk about Sunday's sermon.

This excites me because I often hear comments after the sermon or questions at care group and think, "Wow, I wish I could address that issue with the whole church!"

We'll be recording these videos on Monday mornings, so for those who attend BCC, feel free to email any questions you may have had about the sermon on Sunday afternoon or evening. We may address them Monday morning.

Also, let us know if you find these helpful.

By His Grace,


P.S. Several people have asked how many takes this video took. My answer is that it took only one take but we did that one take three times due to technical issues!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Responding to Election 2012

I’d like to offer several logical options in responding to the election outcome.   Each of them have been taken before in American history.  The challenge is to find where we are in order to know the proper response.  Here are some previous American responses to political defeat.

--Revolution  Well, now, that’s an incendiary word, isn’t it?  But that is what the people did in 1776.  Consider the words from our Declaration of Independence: When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Those who would advocate revolution would say that the abuses and usurpations have grown so great that it is a duty to throw off such government.  More likely, however, men are willing, in the present situation, to be disposed to suffer, believing that the evils are sufferable.

The Christian, of course, is troubled by the idea of revolution, and he ought to be.  Pastors in the Revolutionary War period struggled with the scriptures on this topic.  John Wingate Thornton noted, “To the Pulpit, the Puritan Pulpit, we owe the moral force which won our independence.”For a good (and free) look at sermons from the period of the American revolution, go to:

My own view is that we are not at the point where revolution is even to be contemplated, but we are at the point where we ought to be students of those who went before us on this matter.

Partition—Hmm, this one is equally painful.  It is the path taken by the southern states in 1861 upon the election of Abraham Lincoln to the presidency.  There is rarely anything like consensus on the idea of partitioning a nation.  The ones who want to leave are always violently opposed by those who want to preserve a political union.  The present divide in our country, while roughly geographical, is not as precisely geographical as the one which led to the Civil War.  That war was particularly bloody, and the forces working to preserve the Union were every bit as determined as those working to defend their state (I am not saying that I agree with those Southerners in saying that they were working to defend their state.  I myself think that they were doing more than they thought that they were, which is why the Union was so determined.)  No, I see no good coming from a proposal of partition, unless there would be mutual agreement to it, which will never happen.  Still, it’s great idea for a novel, and if I ever write one, I think that I might do it based on such a scenario.  For a small list of the many sermons preached on both sides of the partition divide during the Civil War, see:

Departure—The idea of leaving where one is not welcome is as old as the book of Genesis.   It is what the Pilgrims did which separated and distinguished them from the Puritans.  Rev. John Cotton’s sermon entitled, “The Divine Right to Occupy the Land” is a good example of this view.  Go to:  A key question that all who advocate departure must answer is, “Where?”  Entire life savings were exhausted in the Pilgrim departure.  Freedom was loved more than life itself.  I’m not sure that one can advocate for departure until a place to land is located.  And, as history reminds us, there were displacements of other people groups associated with any group’s arrival.  It’s a messy thing.

Continued effort in the system—This has been the typical response of Americans, both Christian and otherwise, to political defeat.  We take our lumps and live to fight another day.  This means engagement in communication of our political message in new and creative ways.  It means crossing boundaries of traditional political segregation to persuade.  It is hard work, requires patience, and has no guarantee of success.  In fact, demographics and the increasing dependency of all citizens upon government largesse in one way or another seems to indicate that small government with little regulation is an idea which will never again dominate the American scene.  John Adams, our second President, predicted as much when he wrote, “To expect self-denial from men, when they have a majority in their favor and consequently power to gratify themselves is to disbelieve all history and universal experience;  it is to disbelieve Revelation and the Word of God, which informs us the heart is deceitful in all things and desperately wicked.”  I am not sure that the principles of freedom can be sufficiently communicated to the present generation in a persuasive enough manner.  This election saw three states embrace homosexual marriage, an open lesbian was elected to the US Senate, two senate candidates lost their races because they clumsily advocated for the right to life for those conceived via rape or incest, two states legalized the recreational use of marijuana, and on and on it goes.  How does one persuade against such world view dominance?  (One is tempted to quote Theoden here, "What can men do against such reckless hate?")

Acquiescence—This is the view which most people end up taking after all elections.  They simply say, “Ok, that’s over.  What’s for supper?”  Largely, a modified version is the main Christian response that I am reading this morning.  We acknowledge the election result; we stay kind; we pray for the elected leaders.  For an excellent example of this, see Russell Moore’s article:
There is biblical merit in such an approach, as Moore wisely points out.  However, as a few of the comments to Moore’s article point out, it seems unbiblical to stay silent and “supportive” in the face of pure evil.  If one believes that the present administration exhibits evidences of pure evil, it would not be charitable to the larger society to acquiesce.

Embrace a different world view—Evangelicals often face the temptation to be trendy or accepted by the culture at large.  In the face of serious and dominant cultural disagreements with the clear teaching of the Word of God, large numbers of evangelicals will be tempted to surrender biblical values and embrace the culture’s values.  My prediction is that this will be a response embraced by many, many evangelicals in the next two years.  As they say, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”  This is what happened to Congregationalism in the early 19th century and to the mainline denominations in the early 20th century.  Evangelicals seem to be next in line, and some have already crossed that line.

Preach the Word—In this response, the church holds up the authority of scripture, engages the culture, politely but relentlessly, and preaches the whole council of God.  This will make people angry, not the least of which are some folks within the church.  There are times where the preaching of the Word brings societal transformation (see the First Great Awakening or, to a lesser degree, the preaching of Billy Sunday).  But there are also times like Jeremiah’s where the preaching of the Word was met with little positive response, much resistance, and great opposition.  In any event, there is little fanfare, and most people do not even notice the effect of the Gospel.  When the government demands that the preacher’s message be changed, the preacher preaches that message all the more and willingly accepts the persecution that comes as a result.  This effort to “preach” is not borne only by the preachers, but by all who call themselves Christians, for the “preaching” is not only what is done in the pulpits but what is done in the neighborhood, in the workplace, and on the recreation field.  And true believers are willing to lose their jobs, their homes, their status, and even their lives to make Jesus Christ known.  The challenge with this position is to avoid developing one’s own spiritual ghetto.  The Essenes of old prided themselves on this position.  However, all they did was to create their little world and kept themselves as far from the larger world as they possibly could. A key distinction to avoid that is the importance of prayer and fasting in the fullness of the Holy Spirit.  I don't think it is possible to draw near to God in that way and not also be drawn to engage the world.

I’d be curious.  Which of the above resonate with you?  Why?  I confess that I find something attractive in all of them.  As a preacher, I am drawn to the last position, but the challenging question of how to engage the culture bothers me quite a bit.  In future posts, I hope to flesh out a bit more what my approach is and why.  The very fact that I am alive in this world means that I must make some further choices on these matters. 

And so must you.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Some Election Day Reading Material

After today, it will all be over. Or, at the least, this phase of the 2012 election will be over.

Here are some links to some articles you might find interesting today (HT: John Piper, for many of them):

1. I remain saddened by what seems to me to be a shift in our culture on life. Here are some strong, good words from John Knight that should motivate you  to keep up the good fight:

2. Am I willing to vote for a Mormon? Without a doubt. Am I saddened by the Mormon faith? Without a doubt.

3. Why Pastor Sam Crabtree is voting in favor of Minnesota's marriage ammendment:

See also this interview with Robert Gagnon:

4. Four years ago, Mr. Obama made a push for Evangelical votes. His rhetoric four years ago is in stark contrast to what the Democratic party is proclaiming today about morality and those who hold to a Biblical worldview.

Anthony Esolen rightly observes:
He [President Obama] could have reached out to evangelicals, of whatever race, to promote the virtue of chastity.  He could have roused the sluggardly mass media from its stupor and forced them to acknowledge how children suffer when they do not grow up with a married mother and father.  He could have visited prisons and interviewed the men about the homes where they grew up.  He did none of these things.  Instead he acted so as to inscribe the sexual revolution in granite, as a new Ten Commandments from on high.  In generations to come, this colossal cultural failure, this tremendous opportunity squandered, may loom larger than his economic failure. 
See the full article here:

5. According to this survey, most pastors have mentioned the need to vote, but not endorsed a particular candidate. That's probably wise. I feel very confident warning us against a candidate, but wary of endorsing the other.

Monday, November 5, 2012

You Insult My Intelligence Boss (Bruce Springsteen)

I have not blogged for some time.  I haven’t the time to blog today, with too many things to do in so short a time (sorry to my fellow bloggers for not carrying my share of this ministry).  But I was stirred to write by the sense of disgust that I have when Hollywood and Music Industry artists and legends attempt to sway me toward absolute insanity in my political decisions.  Remember the cliché-ish definition of insanity: repeating something over and over, and expecting different results - although I have found that insanity sometimes works with computers …

I suppose to be totally fair, I am not impressed when the candidate I support enlists some Rock n Roll legend, even actor, to increase my esteem of said candidate.  It insults my intelligence.  Or, perhaps, it tells me what these candidates feel about the intelligence of the electorate.  Although I do take solace today when some artists from the entertainment industry indicate that they, unlike their artistic colleagues, have not drank the Kool-Aid.

When I appreciated the Boss the most was during my college days, when I was least informed politically, also dead in my sins and transgressions.  As a long-distance runner, I loved the song Born to Run, sang it with all the angst and passion that the Boss sang with, but sensed that he was reflecting anxieties that I wasn’t relating to.  But it was a cool tune.  I loved the album The River, would sing long parts of it to my bride as we would drive long distances in the car, giving her the permission to sleep as long as she was an audience for me.  I have to admit, Boss, I sort of checked out from your music after that point, because you seemed to stray from your pure musical story-telling in order to crank out the more formulaic popular music that took you to mainstream stardom.  I liked your real life storytelling best.

But Boss, I care deeply about my country.  So much so, that I read publications that are far from popular and mainstream to inform my mind about foreign policy and other national and international interests.  Sometimes when I run I listen to books on economics, on Islamic history, on social behavior.  I have begun to read more widely on the history of our nation’s founding, and the moral, ethical and political concerns that shaped us. 

Boss, I’m deeply concerned about the fiscal policies and philosophies of any who govern our nation.  I’m deeply concerned that we take seriously the mantle that God has granted to us as a nation who would champion the individual freedom of peoples everywhere.  More than these concerns Boss, I’m deeply concerned about a government who begins to believe that it has the mandate to restrain religious freedoms of individuals and organizations in order to impose its own policies and agendas, and notably those that sanction murder of the unborn under the guise of women’s rights.  Boss, I don’t know if you remember, but in The River, when you got Mary pregnant, you didn’t abort, you did the honorable thing and married her.    

Boss, why would I possibly believe that you, or others who have made lots of money by entertaining, even entertaining me, have anything to say to me that would sway me to vote according to your own convictions.  You may possibly know as much as me in all these important areas, possibly more.  Yet I have no reason to suspect you do.  And I cannot, nor should I, simply assume that because you have tapped into a vein of common, shared experience with your music, that it logically follows that you know enough to be credible in speaking into the governance of my nation. 

Boss you tell me that I should hold out for hope and change with the current administration.  But I remember you reminding me that ‘everybody has a hungry heart’, and the reality is that they’ve gotten hungrier in many respect due to the last four years.  You want me to vote to protect women’s rights and health concerns, but you said it yourself that ‘two hearts are better than one’, so why should we so easily eliminate one of them through abortion?  Boss, you sang about that girl who gave up on all her dreams, simply to wait on a welfare check, and yet you seem to advocate an administration whose policies have actually made welfare more extensive and necessary.

So Boss, stop insulting my intelligence, and stick to entertaining.  I find you more credible in the latter.


Art Georges

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Vote on November 6th

I’ve said it before and I continue to believe it: for the Christian living in North America, voting is not only a right and a privilege, but also a God-given responsibility. God has sovereignly placed you in a unique position of authority. You decide who our leaders will be. You have the ability to affect who will lead you, your family, your children and your brothers and sisters in Christ. When you fail to exercise your right to vote, you are still morally culpable for the leaders who are voted in.

Therefore, I encourage you to vote next Tuesday, November 6. To assist you in that endeavor, here are a few tools to help you make an informed decision. 

First, here is a site that allows you to see what your ballot will look like: It doesn’t have all the candidates on the ballot, but most of the contested races.

Second, voting guides can be helpful. The Illinois Family Institute’s voting guide can be found here: (if Aaron Schock is your congressman, you are in Congressional District 18).

Finally, viewing endorsements of other groups can help you find out more about candidates. If it is important to you to find pro-life candidates, The Illinois Right to Life candidate information can be found here: If you like to read about candidates understanding of local issues, the Peoria-Journal Star’s endorsements can also be helpful: (these endorsements are provided for your research and should not be read as my own personal endorsement for any candidate).

May God bless you as you seek to glorify Him in the voting booth this next week!

By His Grace,

Pastor Daniel

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Emotionally-Manipulative Worship and Idolatry

“Is Megachurch Worship Addictive?” asks an article published in last month’s Christianity Today. The article was a response to a study conducted by researchers from the University of Washington. The study can be found here: 'God is like aDrug...': Explaining Interaction Ritual Chains in American Megachurches.

The researchers first note the way that megachurches have fundamentally altered the religious landscape of the North American church:

The total number of megachurches in the United States alone has increased from 350 in 1990, to over 600 in 2000, and there are now over 1,200,with no indication of slowing down (Hartford Institute for Religion Research). Although the median congregation size of the typical American church is 75, more than 50 percent of all churchgoers attend the largest ten percent of churches in America (Thumma and Travis 2007). While not a particularly new style of worship. . . this large, charismatic, stylistically avant garde, yet typically theologically and politically conservative church format has all but taken over the religious market in many parts of the United States (Miller 1997; Sargeant 2000; Ellingson 2008; Wellman 2008).

Megachurches have not only become potent players in American culture and politics. . . but also in their local religious markets, where they affect growth rates of nearby congregations (Eisland 1997;Wolleschleger and Porter 2011). In light of past research theorizing and documenting the negative effect of increasing congregational size on organizational vitality and various forms of member commitment (Pintoand Crow 1982; Finke 1994; Stark and Finke 2000; Dougherty 2004; Finke, Bahr, and Scheitle2006), the widespread success of megachurches requires further investigation. Moreover, considering the impact megachurches are having on American culture, politics, and local religious markets, it is important to understand why they have such a large appeal. Ellingson's(2010) review of the megachurch literature identifies two major limitations of previous research.

The authors argue megachurches offer high levels of emotional energy (EE) and ritual solidarity. “Megachurch worship services are intentionally orchestrated, complete with elements from pop-cultural sources, which are both entertaining and sensually stimulating. Participants come 'hungry' for EE and leave energized.”

This emotional high is not accidental. The elements of the service are designed to create an emotional impact: “The worship services, through their use of lighting, large screens at the front of the church, and images of others' religious experiences, help create a mutual focus of attention and a shared mood among the attendees, resulting in EE that remains with them even after the service ends.

The manipulation of emotions at the expense of intellectual engagement is not confined to the singing. After interviewing attendees of a megachurch service, the authors concluded: “Rather than complicated theological explanations or critical analysis of a biblical text, the interview responses suggest that the sermons are understood through the emotions.”

Before I make some observations, let me offer some caveats:

(1)   I don’t share the presuppositions of these researchers. I'm certainly not endorsing all of their research. They approach the megachurch phenomenon from a secular viewpoint. Their bias is anti-supernatural, a bias which I don’t share.

(2)   The manipulation of emotions is not a phenomenon exclusive to the megachurch movement. I’ve sat in the pew of a tiny country church and noticed subtle-and not-so-subtle—attempts at emotional manipulation.

(3)   Not all megachurches engage in this type of methodology. It is not an essential attribute of a megachurch that it engage in the type of activity described by these researchers.

(4)   Emotions are God-given and can be used by Him to elicit true, deep, abiding worship. In fact, if there is no emotion to our worship, something is wrong.

(5) I'm certainly not against "contemporary" (or "traditional") worship. 

With that said, here is what I find troubling: I want people to worship God and many churches subscribe to a methodology that undermines true, biblical worship.

I want people to worship God, not a soundtrack.

I want people to worship God, not a light show.

I want people to worship God, not pictures of nature.

When people respond on an emotional level with their highest affections to something that is not God, that’s not biblical worship.

Here’s a test: If your ability to experience "true" worship is dependent upon something stylistic—the lighting, the mood, the number of people, the style of music—you’re practicing idolatry. So, while I'm not against contemporary worship, I'm cautioning against a belief that only contemporary worship is "real" worship or even a belief that you need that style of music to truly "connect" with God. That's idolatry.

As we worship, we must be very careful about how we engage the text of Scripture and the way we encourage people to sing. At Bethany Community, we avoid pictures of nature or imagery on the slides during our time of worship that might distract people from the truths about God to which they should be responding—or, worse still, might cause them to engage in idolatry while in our church!

May our worship be emotional. May it lead to broken hearts and true repentance. But may it also be always and ever focused on God as He has revealed Himself in His Word.