Biblical Training is now offering Bryan Chapell‘s “PR 600 Preaching” course for free (29 MP3s). (The link to the preaching course may not work for you since you need to create a user name and log in to view it.) These are lectures he gave at Covenant Theological Seminary, where he serves as president and which offers many other courses on MP3 for free. Chapell’s books include Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon.
As I mentioned previously, Jenni and I recently moved to Deerfield, IL and have been spending most of our Sundays at Lake Drive Baptist Church in Bay Side, WI, where I’ve been preaching/teaching three times each Sunday. A possible pastoral candidate is preaching there today, so this morning we decided to visit an (in)famous church: the main campus of Willow Creek Community Church located in South Barrington, IL, where Bill Hybels serves as the senior pastor. (For a very brief history of Willow Creek, click here.)
Rather than giving a blow-by-blow account with all of my impressions, I’ll keep my comments brief (drawing on some other exposure I’ve had as well, including attending services at two other Willow Creek campuses):
- Willow Creek’s building and parking lot are huge. It has the feel of a shopping mall. And this is an up-to-date shopping mall, complete with state-of-the-art accessories like escalators, elevators, dozens of flat screens, a food court, a bookstore, and first-class projectors and sound systems.
- Willow Creek’s service is well-planned. It is evident that they put a lot of thought into every little bit of the service, including seamless transitions.
- Willow Creek’s services seem more like a concert than a church’s worship service.
- Willow Creek’s speakers are skilled communicators. They demonstrate that they know the culture well.
- Willow Creek’s speakers are poor expositors. They do not demonstrate that they understand the Bible well. The question they attempt to answer seems to be “What can I say about this text/topic?” instead of “What does this text say?” or “What does the Bible say about this topic, and how does it address it across the Bible’s salvation-historical story-line?”
- Willow Creek’s general audience seems (I use that word carefully because I can’t be the final judge of this.) biblically illiterate and spiritually anemic.
- Willow Creek’s God reminds me more of a really kind, loving, influential, important friend rather than the unique, holy, transcendent, awesome Creator, Sustainer, and Judge of the universe. (Again, I’m not implying that every person who attends Willow Creek is an idolater! I’m simply sharing an impression I get from their “worship” service.)
I could say so much more. Instead, I’ll reference three of the most helpful related sources I’ve read:
- David M. Doran, “Market Driven Ministry: Blessing or Curse? Part 1,” Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal 1 (Spring 1996): 54-84.
- David M. Doran, “Market Driven Ministry: Blessing or Curse? Part 2,” Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal 1 (Fall 1996): 187-221.
- Gregory A. Pritchard, Willow Creek Seeker Services: Evaluating a New Way of Doing Church (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996). This informative book is based on Pritchard’s dissertation. His research is especially valuable because it is fairly impartial.
I highly recommend Dever MP3s. They are first-class: always interesting and biblically informed. And the interviews are lots of fun!
Last night my wife, Jenni, and I finished reading Letters Along the Way: A Novel of the Christian Life by D. A. Carson and John D. Woodbridge.
We really enjoyed reading it, and I highly recommend it. This isn’t your typical novel. It’s the compilation of (fictitious) correspondence between two people: Dr. Paul Woodson (i.e., Woodbridge + Carson) and Timothy Journeyman. Professor Woodson is a professor of systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and Tim spends part of the book as a student in college and seminary and part of it as a rookie pastor. Tim perennially asks for advice, and Woodson shares his wisdom on all kinds of issues, including assurance of salvation, perseverance, campus evangelism, evangelical seminaries, evangelicalism, foreign politics, marriage, psychology, spiritual formation while in seminary, pastoring, and much more. Reading these made-up letters is almost as personal as if you wrote the question to Drs. Carson and Woodbridge themselves and then received a thoughtful reply.
This is not a heavyweight theological tome. It’s light reading. Jenni would usually read it aloud (to give my eyes a break from reading print and electronic resources all day) while cleaning up after dinner or lying down just before retiring. We’re kind of sad that the book is over, but it was a thoroughly edifying adventure.
This morning my wife and I visited College Church in
We just moved to Deerfield, IL in early August and since then have been spending most of our Sundays at Lake Drive Baptist Church in Bay Side, WI, where I’ve been preaching/teaching three times each Sunday. A possible pastoral candidate is preaching there today, so we decided to drive 50 minutes southwest to visit a historic church and hear a godly man who has authored many books, some quite influential. (For more background on Dr. Hughes, see this two-part interview by Jason Janz: part 1, part 2.)
We really liked the worship service, more than any I can remember in recent memory. The main reason is that everything about it was God-centered. God is great, and I love participating in worship that exults in God’s greatness. I tried to think of the specific factors that contributed to this God-centered worship (in order of my impressions as a visitor—not necessarily importance):
- The building’s architecture: The auditorium is beautiful, elegant, majestic, grand, exalted. Illustration: When I was a child, one of the rooms in our house was off-limits. It was a sitting room with my parents’ most elegant furniture, and we were not allowed to go in there. It was reserved for special occasions. That’s what
‘s auditorium felt like: a special room for a special occasion, i.e., worshipping God. College Church
- The people: For the most part, the church (i.e., the people) contributed to this by their demeanor and dress. They did not have the overly serious demeanor of monks, nor were they slapping each other on the back talking about the latest ballgames. Their modest, formal dress appropriately communicated that they were serious about worship.
- The music: The music was tastefully conservative—every bit as conservative, if not more so, as churches I’ve attended in the past (e.g., FBC of Troy and MCBC). One aspect I especially liked is that when we sang hymns, the organist lead us. No one stood in the pulpit and waved his arms or interrupted the hymn by cutting out verses or interjecting comments. This allows you to focus on the words you’re singing rather than the tempo of the song leader. (By these comments I’m not saying that I reject the use of a songleader! One of my best friends, Scott Aniol, is a songleader, and a skilled songleader can be quite helpful. Often, however, that is not the case.)
- The order of worship: It was evident that a lot of thought goes into a worship service at
On Saturday evening I downloaded the Sunday bulletin as a PDF and mentally prepared for the service. Because the order is written out and everyone receives a bulletin when entering the auditorium, there is no need to announce what it coming next. For example, no one announces the hymn number. The service is fluid. It all fits. The Scripture reading, hymns, and sermon are a package with a unified message. College Church.
- The pastor: Dr. Hughes preached the word. He was simultaneously humble, dignified, sober, friendly, and pastoral. After his sermon on Philippians 4:14-20, the closing hymn, and his benediction, we were all seated for a minute or two of silent reflection and prayer. No come-forward invitation. If someone wants counsel, he may seek it at the front of the auditorium after the service—not during it. I love that, not least because it forces everyone to respond to God’s preached words.
I’m aware that there are pros and cons to these thoughts, and I don’t mean to imply that this is the only way to worship God in any culture. But in my culture and limited experience, this is one of the most positive experiences I’ve ever had worshipping God with a church on the Lord’s day.
Grace to you!