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Friday, May 29, 2009

Time to Pay the Piper (My Response to John Piper's Blogpost on Twitter in Church)

Many of you have either sent me emails, called me, or twittered me and asked my response to John Piper’s post on Twittering in church. Piper’s post was actually a response to Josh Harris’ post in much the same vein. These posts are like a handful of others I have read in recent days like this one and this one.

I didn’t want to respond for a few reasons including (1) I think most of the arguments I am reading are dumb and assume many things about how we used Twitter without taking the time to do their homework (2) I don’t want to get into an argument over something so petty and (3) I respect Piper and Harris and don’t need a blog war.

And, true confession, I don’t know that I can reply without a bit of sarcasm.

Some of the blog posts and comments I have read post TIME article are not worth my time. Or your time.

But, since Josh linked to our TIME article I am going to respond since I have been thrown into the mix and, in some way, put under the microscope. If I'm honest, I feel my integrity as a pastor has been called into question in a small way. I guess I asked for this and should have expected it. Both of these men's opinions are widely read and you asked for my response. So please, John, Josh, all due respect and here we go . . .

This is long. You may want to fix a snack.

First off, for the record, I don’t care if Piper or anyone else starts to use Twitter in church or not. I love it, I use it, but I don’t have a Twitter mission. It was never about Twitter for Westwinds. So, I’m not offended—as far as Twitter is concerned anyway.

With that said, I believe the use of Twitter is highly contextual for the church. I wouldn’t propose a cover of a Flaming Lips song if I were asked to lead worship down the street at the Orthodox church. I wouldn’t push for the new Crowder tune at the Acappella Church of Christ. I wouldn’t push for a hot tub baptism at St. Joe’s Catholic Church. For Westwinds, the use of Twitter, among many other things, are appropriate for us but may not be for everyone. It is our culture. It is expected we will try different things. Some will fail. Some become part of us.

We believe Westwinds is something pretty special. An anomaly in the greatest sense of the word. Something incongruent with most of our collective church experiences. It’s been a long road of fostering a community that values imagination, permission, authenticity, and community. It’s not an attempt at being “relevant” which is usually ghettoized to mean “look and speak cool.” It’s about incarnation and a particular offense to mediocrity.

It’s a deep-rooted belief that God has called us to act upon the stuff in our heads. The thirst for the sacred, the mysteries of God, the magic of the sacraments, the otherworldliness of corporate worship, the tears spent on broken people—they call us to act. We act by creating. By making stuff. We incarnate our thoughts into visual art and music and poetry and film. Projects, proposals and petitions. Moments and movements.

And, in this case, occasionally Twittering in church.

There are probably 101 things we have done at Westwinds that would make many pastors raise an eyebrow and/or point a finger. That’s fine. God has given us leadership responsibility over a church of 1000 people in Jackson, MI. That church values creative engagement with the gospel and one another on the weekend. Those are the people I do life with.

I have two other major points of contention with Piper’s perspective (which is shared by a few others in the blogosphere). First, I believe he is making the use of Twitter an entirely theological argument when it should not be—it is methodological. And second, I believe his philosophy of what happens on the weekend is a bit antiquated, narrow, and unfortunately the stance that keeps many of my friends from ever stepping in to a church—including the Christian ones.

I agree with Piper when he says, “Preaching and hearing preaching are worship.” From there, we may agree and disagree on a handful of things when it comes to the “how” of preaching. Is it expository? Thematic? Systematic? Done in a series? With notes? Without notes? 30 minutes? 45? 15 with a break for music in-between? From NIV? King James? The Message? Sitting? Standing? On video? In person? Responsive readings?

The answer to all those things is . . . yes. And more.

(Honestly John, I think your whole electric cord thing is weird but it doesn’t mean we can’t have lunch together—and I hope we do some day.)

One would be hard pressed to find a strict biblical model of a 30-minute sermon preached while people sit in pews facing forward hanging on every word . . . uninterrupted.

Furthermore, I find it interesting that we want to make a case for uninterrupted preaching since it is “worship” but churches everywhere will interrupt their “worship music” this weekend with video, drama, and weak announcements. Double standard?

Some of these arguments are the same shallow arguments used over 20 years ago when we fought about Powerpoint and large screen projection.

Is it possible to preach the word of God and worship while inviting your whole congregation to comment and interact with you and others while preaching? Yes! Is it possible that is an act of worship for some? Yes! Is it possible someone will engage and be engaged better by use of this technology? Yes!

Is it for everyone? No. Is it possible it will distract? Yes.

So will bad preaching.

Is it possible to worship God without a 30 minute sermon at all on a Sunday? We better say yes or we have got a LOT of conversation ahead of us.

Piper also said, “Don’t tweet during sex” which made me laugh out loud. I know he’s being funny but even that comment is a bit narrow. Sex is not purely physical. Every woman will tell you sex begins in the morning. And, if that is true, my wife and I are guilty. We keep those twitters private though.

Bottom line, we need to stop arguing about things as if they were prescriptive for everyone. We waste a lot of time.

P.S. John, your book, “Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist” is the first Christian book I ever read cover to cover. I was 19. It meant a lot to me. It’s partly responsible for this conversation.

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