Headlines from First Thoughts

Monday, May 29, 2006

Future Baptists- Part 3

The next two characteristics--

3.) Authenticity is important. Generations X and Y perceive that “baby-boomer” style worship is artificial. This style is largely seen in the Willow Creek-style service that is popular throughout the country and even our church.

What would these young people offer as an alternative? The answers are all over the worship map. Some find authentic worship in the old forms and say that worship is ancient and future. Others have said they want to worship like they are going to a Green Day concert. Both are right, but neither coexists very well in the same worship service.

For example, The fastest-growing denomination in America today, especially among young believers, is the Eastern Orthodox Church. This group grew at a rate of 11% last year. New, “Emerging” churches are also springing up with no definable denominational affiliation and attracting hoards of young people. They worship much differently than Eastern Orthodox churches do.

4.) Volunteerism is up. Both generations love to get involved. These groups spent 23,000 hours watching TV before age 18. They are ready to “roll up their sleeves” and get busy.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Baptists of the Future- Part 2

Characteristics of 11/9 and 9/11 Baptists
I have noted several characteristics. Here are the first two.

1.) Loyalty to the institutional church is gone. Membership is declining among these generations, and financial contributions have followed suit. Roland Martinson, in a recent study of Lutheran demographics said, “75% percent of young men and women leave the church between ages 16-24, and 40% who leave return by age 35; 30% of those who return go to other denominations.” This is the case for younger Baptists as well. They drop out of church. If they return to church, they do not shop for “Baptist” churches or look for “Baptist principles” on the label.
Very few contribute to a church financially. Only 3 of 10 20somethings attend a church each week, and 30 percent of adults in their 20s donated to a church during the past year. This is not for lack of money. They are a wealthy generation. Many of them still live off their parents’ trust funds and the money they have earned while working or saved while living at home.

2.) Spiritual values are significant. Half of the children in these generations come from divorced families. Some react positively, others negatively. Children of divorced parents distrust their families of origin and are looking for a different kind of family.

In her book, The New Faithful, Colleen Campbell says that the new generations are moving toward orthodox expressions of their faith. Spirituality is up among young people. A recent UCLA study said that 20% of students are “highly religious,” and 75% of college students say that they “pray, discuss religion or spirituality with their friends, and find religion to be personally helpful.”

This may be why some of the mainline denominations are experiencing a decline in membership. For Baptists in the mainstream, this may mean that more people will be attracted to us and others will move away.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Where are we-- The Future of Baptists Part 1

Thomas Friedman, in his book The World is Flat: a Brief History of the Twenty-First Century, says we live between two contrasting views of society. Both of these perspectives are marked by dates on the calendar, 9/11 and 11/9.

Everyone knows where he was on 9/11. The memories are etched into our brains. The resulting affect on our world has created an environment of fear, intimidation, terrorism, mistrust and mismanagement.

What about 11/9/89? It was the day the Berlin Wall fell. This is the world of freedom and hope. Walls fall. Lives are reunited. Societies are reborn.

Unfortunately we cannot have the hope of 11/9 without the fear of 9/11. One gives birth to the other. As communism crumbles, old rivalries resurface.

Ironically, these two events are also the benchmarks for future generations of Baptists. The group commonly known as Generation X (my generation) is marked by the fall of The Wall. I was in Berlin two summers after the wall fell. I remember seeing sections of the wall still standing and purchasing a “rock” from a vendor.
Generation Y or “the millenials,” (the official name is still to be determined) is marked by 9/11. This is the generation that has primarily fought and died in Afghanistan and Iraq. They have volunteered as missionaries among the Taliban.

So...we're between 11/9 and 9/11 culturally. What's so different about these generations as it relates to church? See the next post.

Church Futures

Talking about Generation X (my bunch) and Generation neXt (the young whipper-snappers) is sort of the fad these days. The Boomers' kids are graduating, and suddenly society is worried: "These people will be applying for jobs in 4 or 10 years!"

Never fear, your cultural analyst is here. I've looked into the crystal ball and have determined what the future of church looks like in the hands of these fine young people. Ina Hughs offers a pretty good overview of this issue in today's Knox News. So...Ina, and everyone else, I'm posting a few predictions over the next few days.

Monday, May 22, 2006


I don’t have time for many movies. Kelly and I used to have a date night to the movies, but now we spend our date nights talking and catching up. If we have time, we just rent. So when WVLT called and pitched the idea of watching the DaVinci Code with a few other ministers in town, I jumped at the chance. We were to watch the movie this past Friday and dialogue together at the studio afterward. They wanted to record our religious banter.

When the ministers arrived, the Baptists outnumbered the Catholics 3-2. I’m not sure why the Methodists and everyone else were left out, but I’ll take those odds. We watched the flick together as if we were the youth group. Popcorn, cokes, clerical collars, coats, ties, shorts, and all. You could tell in the crowd who actually works on Fridays and who shows up for free films. One of the priests told me he had not seen a movie since the Passion of the Christ. When we walked in together, we received plenty of stares from patrons. It was like the God Squad had descended on West Hills Mall. I’m sure most people were looking for our picket signs, but instead we were just trying to find the restrooms. After 2 and a half hours, we returned to the studio.

After watching the film with Catholics, I could tell why there was such uproar over the film and the book. If someone misrepresented Baptist history that poorly, I think I would have walked out. The discussion at the studio centered on each of our various perspectives: what we expected, whether we would recommend the movie, what was right/wrong about the show.

The reporter asked us if there was any benefit from watching the movie. We looked at each other around the table and saw it before our eyes. Everyone agreed that none of us would be together on a Friday afternoon were it not for the movie, but all of us knew that we needed to find another excuse to meet. We had much more in common than any of us realized, and we did not need a movie to discover it. So thanks Dan Brown, Ron Howard, and WVLT for getting us together. Next time, though, we’ll just serve popcorn at my church.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Dr. Shiell interviewed about DaVinci Code on WVLT

Link to WVLT Story<

DaVinci Disappointments

The DaVinci Code is a two hour and twenty minute marathon that fails to keep up with the thrills of the book. Tom Hanks plays the role of stiff professor Robert Langdon to a "T" or shall we say a "V," as the divine feminine would have us imagine. Audrey Tatou gives little life to Sophie Neveu's ("New Wisdom's") quest for knowledge about a crime and about her past. In fact, the many plot twists of the book, coupled with the convoluted revision of church history, makes the average viewer ask a big, "Huh?" midway through the movie. Even I was asking, "Now how did we get here again?" And I read the book.

The movie does not include the disclaimer that the book has at the beginning, the one that says this is a fiction book. That's ok; you can tell from the outset we're not dealing with reality.

The educated viewer who knows something about the early church and the Bible should walk away relaxing that she will not find this movie in a credible church history or Scriptures class. Pastors can pipe down; this will not lead to heretical teachings any time soon. Oscar voters will have to look elsewhere.

Like most flicks, we can learn a few things from Ron Howard's depiction of the bestseller.

1.) Mary Magdalene was not a prostitute. I did not need the movie to tell me that; it's in the Bible already.

2.) The church is full of secrets. If you don't believe me, just try attending a church of another denomination than your own on Sunday. It takes a few months to pick up on the "code." Even I wonder occasionally how Baptists got the phrase, "transfer by letter."

3.) The church has made mistakes. The movie makes the Roman Catholic church look like a bunch of conspirators and criminals. We Baptists know that we kept silent too long during the Civil Rights era. All of us have things we regret in our past. We do not need a movie to expose sins of the past. We can admit those and also gladly proclaim the positive difference that the church has made in this world.

4.) Our faith is a faith. We believe without seeing, and unfortunately the Code goes to great lengths to prove something by seeing it at a tomb. We believe in a tomb that is empty, and we respond to God's revelation of this truth by God's grace. Historical evidence is nice, and we have plenty of it. In the end, we take a leap..."by grace, through faith, not of ourselves, it is the gift of God." Even Ron Howard tips his hat to faith when Robert Langdon kneels at the end of the movie. It was a little corny, but I'll take what I can get.

5.) We are adopted children of God, carrying his message today. At the end of the movie, Langdon asks Neveu, "If there was a living descendant of Jesus Christ, would it destroy your faith or reinforce it?" Great news! The Christian faith says we are sons and daughters of God, joint heirs of his promise. As believers, we are "body of Christ." As I understand it, I am that child of God. My life should make a difference to others in helping them see Christ's work. As one of those living descendants, I hope I reinforce the faith of others.

Go enjoy the movie if you like, but for an even better adventure, read about the real Mary Magdalene. You'll find most of her information in the Gospel of John and in Luke 8. It should take you less than two hours and twenty minutes to read them through. I recommend reading aloud to yourself or with a group; it's very exciting that way. You'll find twists and turns, miracles, and the incredible. And the ending....well, you'll have to read it to believe it.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Belmont vs. Baptists

Last week, Tennessee Baptists added another sad page the volume of Baptist battles. It likely will end up in a court battle entitled for lack of a better term, Belmont v. Baptists.

Here's how it happened. Belmont's trustees, who are Tennessee Baptists, voted to protect themselves from any hostile takeovers by non-traditional Baptists and to open the trustee board to likeminded Christians who could assist them with fundraising. Similar moves have been made by Baylor, Samford, Georgetown College in Kentucky, and other insitutions of higher education. The aim is two-fold: protect the institution and plan for the future.

Fortunately, the Executive Board of the Tennessee Baptist Convention saw the wisdom in this move. It was not pleasant to allow Belmont to go, but they were willing to accept a generous offer by the school. Belmont would give $5 million to the convention and allow both parties to separate amicably. No court battles, no bad media coverage.

Unfortunately, the convention messengers met last week and voted against the proposal. I was there and watched the proceedings unfold. By a 54%-46% margin, the messengers rejected the deal. Then by an 80-20% margin, they voted to empower a committee to sue Belmont if necessary to have control over the trustee board in perpetuity. Now, Cooperative Program missions dollars will likely be used in long litigation and will not go toward spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ. Essentially, Baptists will be arguing with themselves, and presumably suing our own family, for nothing other than control and power. It's shameful, and Tennessee Baptists only have themselves to blame.

Like children, institutions grow and become adults. Baptists should have been wise enough to predict this growth and like good parents, let them go. It's much easier to birth the baby than it is to let the child go, whether it's a living being, or an institution. As stewards of Belmont, we need to pray for their leaders as they determine the next step.


We have been invaded for the second year in a row. Last year hundreds of sports-crazed 4-year-olds descended on Shiell plantation for karate and a few other athletic events. This year 1,700 5-year-old cowboys saddled up their SUV’s and rode in for Parker’s Wild West Rodeo Birthday Party.

We’ve been planning for months. We purchased enough bales of straw to feed the Pony Express, ice cream for a stampede, and snacks for an outpost. We had to make some difficult decisions this year. First, no girls were invited. We stayed with the cowBOY theme. Secondly, we could only ask 18 friends. It’s tough being a 5 year old with so few buddies. We had to leave off several others whom we wanted to ask. Unfortunately, some had daycare or other obligations. Third, we moved the party to a Friday instead of Saturday. We sacrificed any hope of another dad appearing for any length of time. The only one that came dropped off his son and said, “Is it ok if I run some errands?” So the Mom Patrol and I supervised the roundup.

We had the usual fare for birthday parties: cupcakes, candles, goodie bags, waterguns. Then we added Kelly’s unique touch of flair: mason jars, cowboy plates, coke floats, cheeto trail mix. Everything was, of course, “so cute.” But the best part had to be the stick horse relay. Five year olds do not understand a relay race; they think everyone is supposed to be a winner. Each waited for the other other to mount his horsey, ran together circling a tub, whipped his horse, and ran back making sure his partner made it safely. Only one horse bucked its rider. A quick cup of Kool-Aid took care of that bruise.

By the time the bales of straw had been demolished, the presents opened, and the cupcakes eaten, we were ready to send everyone home. And if you need any straw for your next event, my back yard still has plenty to spare.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Shades of Baylor

The Duke Lacrosse scandal seems eerily familiar. I was at Baylor when one of the basketball players shot another to death in a field outside Waco. It brought shame upon the entire community. The murder exposed an unrelated, yet sordid, tale of a Christian coach named Dave Bliss violating NCAA rules. It resulted in the dismissal of coaches and NCAA sanctions on the school. The Baylor family collectively asked, "How could such a thing happen to a place like this? I thought this happened at other institutions but not a good Baptist school like Baylor."

Ever since the Garden, sin is committed by the people who have an over-inflated view of themselves. Baylor and Duke students are no exception. This Methodist school has faced the disgrace of a scandal whether or not the charges hold up in a court of law. Everyone looks bad, especially the ones who are involved.

What should be done? (1) Acknowledge that no one is immune from problems. Faith-based institutions often sow the seeds of their own demise by thinking that these kinds of things only happen at public schools. Right now, private schools seem to be doing worse than public ones. (2) Show me the money. The love of money is the root of many problems, and college athletics--really all athletics-- feeds the beast. These scandals represent a larger issue in our society that unless it is controlled quickly, they will bring all athletic programs down. It starts with the pressure on young athletes to become star baseball players/golfers/etc. Professional sports, and sports in general, should not be the shining achievement of any life. We've created this god, and we're watching the monster eat.

The good news is that Baylor found hope from an unlikely source, and I'm sure Duke will too. When the university was at its worst, a spunky little women's basketball coach brought a national championship to the school. Kim Mulkey-Robertson led an unlikely Baylor Women's squad to the NCAA tournament in just her fist couple of years as head coach. They won ironically while the men's team was facing complete disintegration. She then led them onto a national championship a year later.

Sports can be a great motivator, as well as a great detractor. How we use the talents and resources God gives us as a society makes all the difference in the world.

Croatia to Knoxville

Going to Croatia is like looking at our church through a microscope. This small group of faithful Baptists is addressing issues that we face. "What does it mean to move outside the church walls?" "How do we minister to the community?" "How do we make friends with those around us?"

Imagine being oppressed for 50 years, gain freedom, and immediately begin fighting against ethnic rivalries that date back for centuries. The Croatians experienced the horrors of communism, and the government essentially drove the church inside their walls. They could worship freely, they just could not encourage anyone else to join them. They became large family chapels with just enough people to keep the lights on. When communism was replaced by the current government, the Serbians attacked. Once again, the church became the refuge for people. The believers retreated. Some fought in the war, others did not. They largely remained inside the walls.

One of their leaders told me, "It's as if we are starting over again." This time they begin with Muslim mosques also forming and the ever-present Catholic establishment. There is great fear and mistrust of the Catholic church in Croatia, but the Baptist leaders do not want to retreat. They want the people to engage their neighbors, work together as friends, and find common ground to bring peace and light to their society.

At First Baptist, like the Croatians, we have beautiful facilities and are located in a strategic area. The center city is being revitalized by economic development. We also deal with the daily issues of the working poor. We have a growing Latino population moving into this region of Tennessee. We have many people in the buckle of the Bible belt who choose to remain home on Sundays. We have a center city business community who are entrusted with the community's resources and are the key decision makers for this area. We are three blocks from a University that is the crossroads of the world. We share the center city area with great churches from other denominations who minister effectively to this community.

As a regional church, we gather for worship, study, and fellowship and return to our homes and businesses to minister where we live and work. Our church is a showpiece for historical tours and the best concert hall of its size in downtown. Now we want to take the next step. We want to be a missions center for touching lives of people who need Jesus right in the heart of the city. Now, God is opening new doors for us right where our church is located. Maybe those doors have always been open, but we are positioned now to walk through them. Because of people who have gone before us and have been faithful to the mission, have renovated the facilities, and have prepared us financially, now we have the chance to develop long term relationships with people in need of God's love.

The Croatian Baptists and First Baptist have much to offer each other, and I'm glad to be on the journey.

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