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This right here is fun.  And tech-savvy.  And musically righteous.

Here’s the thing…  iPads and iPhones (a nod to modern culture) and funny hats (entertainment) and secular music (a nod to modern culture) and a sense of humor (entertainment) are a comfortable part of the Sunday Morning experience at North Point Community Church.  By their methodology, it’s easy to see they are intentionally creating an entertaining venue…  and it’s fun

So…  the question of the day…  Is that bad?

Attractive to “seekers,” or according to Northpoint, “a church for the unchurched.”  And I really need to press the point here…  Is that bad?

What caught my attention as I viewed this funkalicious Christmas tech-fest on You Tube was the “like-dislike” count at the bottom of the viewing window.  Sure, over 3,000 have given their virtual thumbs-up.  But I was more interested in the 100+ who voiced their red-thumbed “dislike.”

Triple digits worth of “dislike.”  For musical awesome sauce via gadgetry.  How can this be??  And yet, I get it.  Because church is about reverence.  And worship.  And worship is about giving of ourselves in grateful devotion to God.  Church services are not for our entertainment – and the mixing of penitent adoration of the Almighty with “funny hats” is not only inappropriate… it’s vulgar.  Maybe even blasphemous.   Further still, we do a deeply dangerous disservice to “seekers” when we lure them into church for more of what the world has to offer, don’t we?  More production and slick camera angles and lighting and “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.”  We’re missing our golden opportunity to share the deeply counter-cultural message of Jesus, humiliated on our behalf, and come to earth as an infant.  A breathtaking descent from glory… and we give lost sinners “Feliz Navidad” auto-tuned for a laugh?

That is bad.  Right?

Although comments have been disabled for this video, I have friends whom I’m sure would be quick to punch that little red down-turned thumb of disapproval.  Maybe you did.  If your reverence for the Lord just can’t stomach this kind of “fun” and “church” in the same space, I totally understand.  I think there is valid reason for concern.  Northpoint’s methodology says something about their theology… 

I just ask this of my red-thumb pushing friends…  Consider that what you THINK this video says about the theology of Northpoint Community Church may not actually be what this video says about the theology of Northpoint Community Church.

Assumption #1:  Northpoint doesn’t value reverence – they treat God and the Sabbath with casual indifference rather than pious humility and devotion.

Assumption #2:  Northpoint believes they need to pander to culture, rather than creating a counter-culture, in order to connect with the unchurched.

Assumption #3:  Northpoint displays a fundamental misunderstanding of worship when they mix “entertainment” into the church service.

I’m here to challenge all of those assumptions.

On the first point, I’ll submit the following alternative…  Could it be that Northpoint DOES, in fact, know how to lead their congregation into times of deep, reverent worship?  Is it possible that they have a VERY clear understanding of worship, and that it is a sacrificial offering of ourselves to the Lord?  Is it possible that Northpoint sets aside times for communication with God that are intensely personal and reverent, while having the freedom to laugh together and have fun in community at other times?  I can answer that… yes they do.

I have seen, heard, and participated in worship with the Northpoint community.  Their reverence for God runs deep.  He is exalted as sovereign over all.  Remember that this video was only 7 minutes long.  What did they do with the other 76 minutes they were together that morning?  I bet the truth of the Word was shared.  I bet there was a time for people to think, and listen to God, and respond.  I bet reverent worship happened in that space.  Maybe a better question… considering that we are called to worship as an ongoing state of being, is there really anything wrong with taking 7 minutes out of the 110,880 minutes we have each week to have a little fun?

In response to the second point, I’ll submit the following alternative…  Could it be that Northpoint does not “pander to culture” because they don’t believe that the Gospel is “enough” to win the spiritually skeptical, but instead they “become all things to all men” (like Paul on Mars Hill in Athens) and speak the language of the culture (like Jesus did, using present day analogies to communicate timeless truth through parables) in order to START the conversation… to get the unchurched neighbor in the door… in order that they might hear the life-saving message of the Gospel?  I can answer that… yes they do.

In but not of.  IN but not of.  IN THE WORLD, but not of it.  “I do not pray that you take them out of the world…” Jesus asked His Father on our behalf (John 17), “but that you would keep them safe from the evil one.”  Again, how will our neighbors come to faith if they never hear the truth?  And if an iBand video on YouTube brings some curious visitors in the door… in the door of a church… where the Gospel is preached…  Is that bad?

In response to the third point, I’ll submit the following alternative…  Could it be that Northpoint is not sinfully engaged in irreverent license here, but instead is joyfully reflecting the freedom we have in Jesus?

Um…  I actually can’t answer that one.  Not for sure.  But I give them the benefit of the doubt.  Here’s why:

And this one is actually a really big deal.  I’m a deep believer in allowing FUN in church.  We are commanded over and over again to rejoice in the Lord, and that the JOY of the Lord is our strength.  Further, we are set free for freedom’s sake in Jesus Christ.  FREEDOM and JOY.  I’d submit that a theology that does not allow fun within the walls of the church is not somehow more pious.  It’s just less fun. 

Because I have seen the clear preaching of Law and Gospel from Northpoint, and because many many many many souls have been saved through this ministry, I trust that this yuletide iBand is simply in keeping with their clearly stated calling as a church… to be a church for the unchurched.  I trust that they know full well the difference between entertainment and worship.  I trust that they have learned that flash and production values might pique an unbeliever’s interest, but only Jesus can save a soul.  Bottom line…  I trust that God is at work there.

I’m deeply concerned that we understand our place before a Holy God.  That we know what it means to fear Him as the Sovereign King.  But I think Northpoint understands that, too.  I think they just enjoy being alive.  Maybe where you fall on the thumbs-up/thumbs-down scale with this technogeek carol fest in church has less to do with your theology and more to do with your assumptions.  Or maybe it says a whole bunch about mine.

What do you think?

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“northpoint, ipads, and christmas cheer :: can fun and reverence coexist?” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

My smartphone is practically a Transformer.  Freaks me out.  If I program it correctly, it will get up before I do, put on a pot of coffee, and whip me up a nice plate of Eggs Bene (with scrambled eggs… poached eggs are gross) and a side of Hash Browns.
 
But with all that my phone can do, and all of it’s multi-media functionality, I still hold on to my trusty 3rd Gen clickwheel iPod to listen to music.
 
Why?  Because Apple flat out dominates the market when it comes to well-designed, high quality, easy to use, techno-magical user interface driven music players.  My Smartphone can play music.  It could crank out U2’s “Beautiful Day” as it gently browned my morning potatoes if it wanted to.  But it does so many other things that it is a little clumsy to use as a music player. For music, my iPod is magic.  It does exactly what it is designed to do very well.
 
Today the long awaited new Kindle from Amazon is slated to be released.  When specs for this next generation of the Kindle were released last month, technofiles watched closely for signs of video capabilities and a flashier, more interactive e-book experience.  In an online article from engadget.com, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos responded, “For the vast majority of books, adding video and animation is not going to be helpful. It is distracting rather than enhancing. You are not going to improve Hemingway by adding video snippets,” adding later, “there are going to be 100 companies making LCD [screen] tablets… why would we want to be 101? I like building a purpose-built reading device. I think that is where we can make a real contribution.”
 
I love that.  A clear, focused purpose.  A device designed to fulfill a specific mission.  We don’t need more bells and whistles.  We want to produce the best electronic device for reading e-books.  Ever.  That’s it.  There is no “cook me breakfast” app.  Streaming video, shmeaming video.  But if you want to read an e-book, let me tell you why this baby is the cat’s pajamas.
 
(As a side note, what does that MEAN?  Cat’s pajamas?)
 
But this post isn’t really about e-readers or music players.  It is about church.  It is about the value of a clear, focused purpose.
 
I think most churches would say they agree on WHAT we are called to do as a local church… and it probably sounds something like “Helping build a community of people who used to be far from God and now are growing into fully devoted disciples of Jesus.”  Basically, local churches look at the “big ones” from Jesus about our mission here on earth in Matthew 22 (“Love God. Love people.”) and Matthew 28 (“Go and make disciples…”), and try to word it in a unique way that fits on a t-shirt.
 
But God has uniquely wired your church, and my church, to reach specific people… in a specific way.  If you go to church, and your church family and leaders love Jesus, we probably agree on 99% of the WHAT.  But your church and my church NEED to listen to God on the SPECIFIC mission we are called to, in the community we are placed, with the specific mix of personalities and gifts that God unites in our congregation.
 
Without a clear, specific, focused purpose, many churches simply rely on what has been done before.  Others are innovation junkies, trying to stay just a step ahead of the Church of the Joneses across the street.  Others think the best way to accomplish the WHAT of Matthew 22 and Matthew 28 is to do more and offer more and be more…  They run the risk of becoming a “menu-of-ministries” church, driven either by the felt needs of the community, the whims of the crowd, or the personality of the pastor.  There’s nothing wrong, per se, with offering a long list of ministries, groups, events, etc… But when a local church UNITES around a common, God-given vision for accomplishing the big WHAT, there is energy in our synergy, there is clarity in our purpose, there is intention in our action, and there is a deep sense of community in the process.
 
When Jeff Bezos was asked about whether the new Kindle would offer more bells and whistles, he said no.
 
Does your church or ministry have a clear, focused purpose?  It will help you decide what God-stuff to embrace, and what good-stuff to say “no” to.
 
[For much more on this general theme, I highly recommend the book Simple Church by Thom Rainer and Eric Grieger.  You could read it on your Kindle…]
 
white space here

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“new kindle launches today :: yeah, but can it cook me breakfast?” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

I don’t have an iPad.  They are super-freak cool, don’t get me wrong.  But up until today they have seemed to be primarily designed as amazingly slick individual entertainment devices – at a pricepoint I can’t justify just yet.

But today I ran into this… Apparently the hipsters and techno-files are all a-flutter over a new iPad App called Flipboard.  I’m a little Twitterpated myself…

Flipboard bills itself as “Your own personalized social magazine.”  Drawing content from your friend networks on social media sites like Facebook an Twitter, its content is updated constantly and presented in a magazine publication design format.  Brilliant.  Custom content + social interaction.  This is the new interwebs, people!  Web 2.0 leaves isolation behind and trades it in for a shiny new “connected” experience where personalization and interactivity trump static content.

This is a big deal.  This is not your father’s internet… wait… your father’s internet was called “books.”  Too far back.  Um… this is not your older brother’s internet.  In other words, we have seen a tectonic shift in the way the internet functions.  This is a whole new era.  We need to change our thinking…

Bottom line:  the first decade and a half of the internet’s rise to prominence was marked by a presentational model of communication, developed and based in the linear paper-and-ink style.  Email, and most websites viewed by the general public, were set up in this way.  You would visit a site address and read what was presented to you.  Businesses set up their web sites like digital magazine ads.  Presentation.  As if what was on the screen was simply a digital reproduction of what we could just as well read or view on paper.

Visit any prominent organization or business’s website today and what do you find?  “Follow us on Twitter.  Join our fan page on Facebook.  15% Foursquare discount if you check in on site.  Check out our blog page…”

Interactive.  Personalized.  Communal.  Digital community.  So goes the web.

As a church leader, I see huge upside to being “connected.”  I see huge upside to making our church websites interactive… to harnessing the digital space on Facebook and Twitter to keep community interacting between weekend services or Tuesday night Bible study groups.

I get excited about a day when I open my Flipbook on my very own iPad, and it is filled with pictures, videos, and status updates from my church family…  links to articles they are reading, and threads of conversation about what has captured their attention this week.  I mean, we do that already, communicating with our tribe on Twitter and Facebook.  But I see the integration of connection, technology, and everyday life becoming more and more the norm.  Flipboard is representative of this change.  Connection is coming to us now.  Smart-phones an laptops and iPads make it possible (if you want to) to stay connected to a digital community from almost anywhere, at almost any time.

Of course, there are some dangers that accompany this new interconnected “life-streaming” technology.  Such is the case with EVERY technology.  The printing press first mass produced God’s word.  It also produced pornography.  Films like “Schindler’s List” inspire deep and important thoughts about life and faith.  But the same technology can be used to produce vile, life-sucking content.  Every technological advance comes with an upside, and its very own dangers.

As a part of the Church, I want to help embrace and harness the upsides of this social-media inter-connection for greater community and greater Kingdom impact.  We are God’s agents of redemption.  Let’s take that calling into digital culture and be a connected presence online, representing our King with humility, conviction, and honor.

Sure, I could just sit by myself watching Transformers 2 on a new iPad…  But apps like Flipboard remind me that there is far more value in “connection” that in “isolated distraction.”  Web 2.0, I say bring it on.

    

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“flipbook + ipad = yes :: connection is the new isolation” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

NEW Apple iPad unveiled today.  Here’s the promotional video from Apple:

Gadgets are a great distraction for the securely planted and the financially well-endowed.  As I am deeply happy but do not fit either of the above criteria, I’m just going to say this out loud…

I don’t want an iPad.

Now, just a minute.  Let’s say you had some inside hook-up with a guy at Apple, and you were currently in the middle of wrapping up a new iPad with my name on it, and you felt like a sandwich, so you turned to go toward the fridge when you saw your laptop and decided to check your email, only to be distracted by your RSS reader, in which you saw my blog had been updated, and you are just now reading this and are planning to return said iPad with my name on it… Don’t.  It’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.  Right up there with the birth of my children and the Hubble Telescope.

But lack of money realigns a person’s priorities.  Sure, receiving a free iPad in the mail would make me either blink repeatedly and vibrate in place or squeal like a third grade girl.  But God is allowing a season of stretched finances and refocused attention on what matters.  Family.  Time together.  Faith.  Purpose.  Having less in the bank means more dependence on God, and more contentment with less of the frivolous.

Even as I type, I recognize the “Americanization” of my viewpoint.  I’m wildly, abundantly, unbelievably rich by much the world’s standards.  Roof?  Check.  Meals?  Check.  Clean water?  Check.  Kids have a Wii?  Check.  Even though we stopped trying to keep up with the Jones family a long time ago, I’m grateful.  Just short on disposable income in this season.

So, Apple, here’s what I think about your latest iDoo-Haw…  I think it’s genius, beautiful, and truly revolutionary.  I think you will succeed in pioneering a whole new tier of gadgetry – filling the void between laptops and smart phones.  I believe everyone in America will soon see the “need” for (at least) one of these.  I believe they will fill school classrooms in the not-so-distant future.  I believe that I can hear the whoosh of intellectual energy being sucked further into the digital hinterland.

Because the iPad is perfect for individual entertainment.  Nice big screen – for one person.  Great for reading books, playing games, surfing the web, managing email – by yourself.  All beautiful, smooth, intuitive, and accommodating the individual.  It’s like a perfectly designed “leave me alone” machine.

Honestly, it’s more than the cold, hard fact that we can’t afford a new gadget right now that is making me eschew my normal Pavlovian response to cool techno-gadgetry.  It’s the fact that living tight on funds has changed my priorities.  I’ve enjoyed coffee more lately.  Savored it.  I like simple, real moments.  I enjoy wrestling my boys more.  Being home.  As I spend more time on side jobs to pay the bills, my “off” time is more precious.  I’m watching fewer movies.  I’ve given up novels (except on vacation… gotta have a book by the pool!).  And although the iPad legitimately may be the coolest advance in gadgetry in my lifetime thus far, I just don’t think there’s any way I can justify lusting over one.

Deep down, I’m hoping my dear readers come up with several reasons why owning an iPad would deeply enrich our lives, strengthen our family bonds, further the Kingdom of God, and cure cancer.  Because it looks ridiculously off-the-charts awesome.  But, somehow, I think I’ll manage to resist the great societal sucking sound coming from all those little glowing screens, and choose contentment instead.

Unless, like I said, you have an inside hook-up with a guy at Apple?  Anyone?  Bueller?

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“what iWant :: the apple iPad video, gadgetry, and that distant sucking sound” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.