It’s ok to pay non-Christians to play music in church services

One of the most bizarre discoveries for people is that Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City has paid non-Christian musicians to play music in their church services.

Most Australians I know really balk at this. It feels unspiritual. Mercenary. Selling out on the community of God’s people for the sake of quality. No only to have non-Christians… but to PAY them!?

I remember somewhere reading Tim Keller make a peculiar theological argument for how this was fulfilling in part the Old Testament prophecies about the Gentiles singing praises to the Lord. I read those prophecies as being fulfilled when the Gentiles come to put their hope the Lord.


I think there is a much more simple, historical justification: accompanying music is not that big a deal. Our conviction that the musicians must be Christian, it seems to me, is in part the fruit of the modern ‘worship’ movement.

It is not a big deal for an old traditional church to pay an organist to come in and play the organ for their services. Because it’s just a backing instrument. The congregational singing is the big thing. We might pay a non-Christian gardener or a non-Christian accountant. Why not a non-Christian backing musician?

It is in part that we have over-spiritualised and over-centralised the role of band in our church services that we find it strange to have non-Christians in the band and to pay them to do it.

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Spurgeon on suitability for full-time ministry

Here Spurgeon is speaking really of the role of solo pastor of a congregation. I don’t agree with his emphasis on ‘calling’ but this section from ‘Lectures to My Students on Preaching’ is great:

We must, however, do much more than put it to our own conscience and judgment, for we are poor judges. A certain class of brethren have a great facility for discovering that they have been very wonderfully and divinely helped in their declamations; I should envy them their glorious liberty and self-complacency if there were any ground for it; for alas! I very frequently have to bemoan and mourn over my non-success and shortcomings as a speaker. There is not much dependence to be placed upon our own opinion, but much may be learned from judicious, spiritual-minded persons. It is by no means a law which ought to bind all persons, but still it is a good old custom in many of our country churches for the young man who aspires to the ministry to preach before the church. It can hardly ever be a very pleasant ordeal for the youthful aspirant, and, in many cases, it will scarcely be a very edifying exercise for the people; but still it may prove a most salutary piece of discipline, and save the public exposure of rampant ignorance….

Considerable weight is to be given to the judgment of men and women who live near to God, and in most instances their verdict will not be a mistaken one. Yet this appeal is not final nor infallible, and is only to be estimated in proportion to the intelligence and piety of those consulted. I remember well how earnestly I was dissuaded from preaching by as godly a Christian matron as ever breathed; the value of her opinion I endeavoured to estimate with candour and patience-but it was outweighed by the judgment of persons of wider experience. Young men in doubt will do well to take with them their wisest friends when next they go out to the country chapel or village meeting-room and essay to deliver the Word. I have noted-and our venerable friend, Mr. Rogers, has observed the same—that you, gentlemen, students, as a body, in your judgment of one another, are seldom if ever wrong. There has hardly ever been an instance, take the whole house through, where the general opinion of the entire college concerning a brother has been erroneous. Men are not quite so unable to form an opinion of each other as they are sometimes supposed to be. Meeting as you do in class, in prayer-meeting, in conversation, and in various religious engagements, you gauge each other; and a wise man will be slow to set aside the verdict of the house.

I should not complete this point if I did not add, that mere ability to edify, and aptness to teach is not enough, there must be other talents to complete the pastoral character. Sound judgment and solid experience must instruct you; gentle manners and loving affections must sway you; firmness and courage must be manifest; and tenderness and sympathy must not be lacking. Gifts administrative in ruling well will be as requisite as gifts instructive in teaching well. You must be fitted to lead, prepared to endure, and able to persevere. In grace, you should be head and shoulders above the rest of the people, able to be their father and counsellor. Read carefully the qualifications of a bishop, given in 1 Tim. iii. 2-7, and in Titus i. 6-9. If such gifts and graces be not in you and abound, it may be possible for you to succeed as an evangelist, but as a pastor you will be of no account.

3. In order further to prove a man’s call, after a little exercise of his gifts, such as I have already spoken of, he must see a measure of conversion-work going on under his efforts, or he may conclude that he has made a mistake, and, therefore, may go back by the best way he can. It is not to be expected that upon the first or even twentieth effort in public we shall be apprized of success; and a man may even give himself a life trial of preaching if he feels called to do so, but it seems to me, that as a man to be set apart to the ministry, his commission is without seals until souls are won by his instrumentality to the knowledge of Jesus. As a worker, he is to work on whether he succeeds or no, but as a minister he cannot be sure of his vocation till results are apparent. How my heart leaped for joy when I heard tidings of my first convert! I could never be satisfied with a full congregation, and the kind expressions of friends; I longed to hear that hearts had been broken, that tears had been seen streaming from the eyes of penitents.

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How to plant a church from a mother church?

Great audio from a recent event in South Australia, where Clayton Fopp shares how they planted Trinity Mount Barker out of Trinity Hills.

Also from this event is a panel where three church planters give 3 core principles for church planting.

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Sermon Illustrations Part 2: Illustrations are unnecessary

You don’t have to use illustrations at all. You don’t need a catchy illustration at the opening. You don’t need to illustrate after you state and locate and explicate. You don’t need an Illustration File.

If you want to save time on sermon preparation, cut out all the time thinking about, researching and honing your pretty illustrations.

Much of the work illustrations can be done by good delivery, vibrant exegesis and concrete application.

And after you’ve gotten over the stagefright of public speaking, a trickle of illustrations will probably come to you on the spot, without careful planning and tweaking.

This is to some extent dependent on a mix of skill, personality and taste. So not everyone will be able to or want to take this advice on board, and that’s fine too.

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Stuff I learned from podcasts 3: Dave Lynch on friendship

My older brother Dave is the pastor of a church plant in a suburb south of Hobart. They do the ‘gospel community’ model in their small groups while running a larger Sunday gathering, together with ministries that run across the whole church.

In this recent sermon in their series on Proverbs, he speaks about friendship. There is lots of good stuff in here, including a challenge to men to invest in friendship.

He also talks about how Christians think that somehow we are meant to be equally friends with everybody and the difficulties that causes. EITHER we try to be equally friends with everybody and feel guilt and exhausted. OR we decide ‘If I can’t be friends with everybody I won’t be friends with anybody’ and retreat into a loving and kind acquaintanceship with everyone.

He also draws out a great definition of true friendship of Proverbs:

A real Proverbs friend tells you the truth in love, counsels you to do good and sharpens you. In other words, a real friend helps you grow. Real friends make you better.

How different is that to what many people might call ‘friends’ or ‘mates’!

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Church planting among working class and migrant communities

There’s lots of juicy stuff in these addresses by Ray Galea from Multicultural Bible Ministry:

  1. Reaching the Western suburbs Part 1

  2. Reaching the Western suburbs Part 2

The Geneva Push’s annual ‘Multiply’ church planting conference will be hosted by MBM this year, so you can hear more from Ray Galea and see a little bit of his ministry up close.

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Sermon Illustrations Part 1: The purpose of illustrations

Illustrating your main point is only one of the purposes of sermon ‘illustrations’:
  • They also give your listeners a ‘rest’ from the sermon. An opportunity to refresh and recharge their attention span.
  • They give additional emotional/aesthetic impact to the sermon. Tapping into the church’s emotions can be helpful no matter which emotion is aroused. How often has a preacher with a great sense of humour moved from jokes to challenging application in a short space?
  • To reveal something about the preacher or the church or Christians in general. It is a good getting to know you exercise.
  • To make an additional point: historical, ethical, theological, apologetic, cultural.
  • Outsource admin work? Outsource sermon research?

    Has anyone looked into this much? Or used it? What’s the reality like? What are the pros and cons? Legalities and ethics? Hints and tips?

    I have gotten to know an entrepreneur over the last year who has often pitched to me the value of offshore outsourced admin agencies such as Zirtual.

    And the other day, I laughed at the comment thread in this post. You see Mark Driscoll claims on Twitter to spend 1-2 hours on sermon preparation. But as someone in the comment thread clarifies:

    [Driscoll] has used Docent communications for years, which prepare sermon briefs. He does have a nearly photographic memory, but I know for a fact that he spends a lot of time reading and preparing for messages. He not only utilizes the research from Docent but he also uses much of what he’s reading that week. If he’s saying he sits down and takes 2 hours to write an outline, etc. maybe that’s what he means. But it’s not true that he only takes 2 hours to prepare for the sermon, because he not only has the help of Docent but he does take time each week to read and pray which is a part of the sermon preparation process.

    What do you think about outsourcing sermon research? Surely there is plenty of humdrum in sermon research preparation, that is not directly engaging with the text, or even theologians, but rather thumbing through dictionaries or Bible Software tabs…

    Maybe we can all outsource our ministry work to someone in Indian who outsources all their work to someone in Afghanistan?

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    About 10% of your church have the gift of evangelist

    I found myself in the tea hall of a church building. So I browsed through the bookshelf of old, so-dated-they’re-almost-cool-again 1960s and 1970s book covers. The Cross and the Switchblade. How To Be Born Again. No Compromise. That kind of thing.

    I skim-read a little book, I think by Peter Wagner, on church growth. He made observation that roughly 10% of any church has the gift of evangelism. Rather than trying to mobilise the entire church in evangelism, work hard at mobilising the full 10%.

    Insofar as this is true, it demonstrates one of the problems with trying to make small groups (or cell groups or life groups or gospel communities) missional/evangelistic.

    In a group of 8-12 you will be lucky to have ONE person with the gift of evangelism. And even if you do, you have to be confident that their particular gift suits the peculiar context and community of that small group.

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    Where we have redistributed staff energy after closing lunchtime campus meetings

    I blogged about this question a few months ago here.

    Here’s a bit of an update. Since we shut down the lunchtime campus meetings halfway through Semester 2, there wasn’t heaps of time left to deal with for 2013. But we made plans with an eye to the future, as well.

    Our main decisions was to re-deploy staff hours into visiting our small groups and provide encouraging, contact and coaching to our small group leaders. This is definitely an area that would benefit from more growth and encouragement.

    In 2014 we will continue to run with this coaching program for our small groups, and we will also work really had at developing a couple of new structures we launched this year:

    1. Faculty-level clusters of small groups. These groups organised social events twice a semester this year. But in 2014 we would like these clusters to organise a range of social events, training events and evangelistic events across the year.

    2. ‘Christianity 1A’ - a new evangelistic course that works through the Sermon On The Mount. This year we had 27 students attend, including 8 non-Christians. God-willing we will be able to run this course at least once each semester in 2014, with similar or greater numbers.

    And lastly, I would like us to develop some strategies to connect with a new clump of Christian students at the start of Semester 2, so that we are not relying simply upon a new clump of start-of-year contacts.

    Preaching platforms in 2014

    In 2014 our public preaching platforms will be:

    • Monthly at our Citywide Gatherings

    • Monthly at our student leadership breakfasts

    • 8 sermons at our Mid Year Conference

    • 3 sermons at our Pre-O-Week ‘Pre-Season Conference

    • 2 sermons at each of our mid-semester ‘Day Conference

    • 1 sermon at each of our student leaders vision days (start and end of the year)

    • Occasional sermons at various faculty-level events

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    Ouch!: Keller on why I might not want to be served in marriage

    Just started reading ‘The Meaning of Marriage’ by Tim Keller:

    I immediately realized, however, that I didn’t want to be served. I didn’t want to be in a position where I had to ask for something and receive it as a gift. Kathy was deeply disappointed and insulted that I had robbed her of the opportunity to do so. We drove home in angry silence as I tried to figure out what had happened.

    Finally I began to see. I wanted to serve, yes, because that made me feel in control. Then I would always have the high moral ground. But that kind of ‘service’ isn’t service at all, only manipulation. But by not giving Kathy an opportunity to serve me, I had failed to serve her. and the reason underneath it all was my pride.

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    Stuff I learned from podcasts 2: Alistair Bain on Jacob’s new birth

    In this sermon on Jacob wrestling with God, Al Bain (St John’s Presbyterian Church, Hobart) draws out parallels between Jacob’s birth and Jacob wrestling with God: Both involve some kind of struggle, both involve a new name, both involve a promise…

    It is as if in Genesis 32 we are witnessing the Jacob’s new birth!

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