Category Archives: Popular Culture

Do You Have A Theological Vision?

This Fall I have spent a great deal of time reading and thinking through Tim Keller‘s excellent book, Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City. Keller is the Pastor at Redeemer in the heart of NYC and is one of my favorite authors/thinkers. Rather than a “cut and paste, this is how we do ministry-this is how you should do ministry” book, Center Church focuses on developing a Theological Vision that is consistent with what a particular congregation believes and that drives the way ministry happens. Too often the ministry expressions of a church are divorced from or even at odds with their beliefs as well as unconnected from the very people they are trying to reach. This causes frustration within the congregation and confusion from those outside looking in.

Keller defines Theological Vision as an underlying vision that brings your theological understanding (doctrine, beliefs) to bear upon your ministry expressions (practices, programs). It is in essence, a faithful understanding of the Gospel “with rich implications for life, ministry, and mission in a type of culture at a specific moment in history.” Developing a robust Theological Vision is important because it forces the people of God to think long and hard about the character and implications of the Gospel, what the Gospel has to say within your particular culture, and what it means to do ministry in your time and place.

With a Theological Vision in place, leaders and churches can make better choices about ministry expression that are faithful to the Gospel while at the same time are meaningful to their ministry context. That means a greater impact in Worship, Discipleship, Evangelism, Service, and Cultural Engagement.

A Theological Vision helps you determine what you are going to do with what you believe within your cultural setting.

Keller sums up the importance of this vision when he says, “A Theological Visions allows (us) to see (our) culture in a way that is different than (we) have ever been able to see before… Those who are empowered by the theological vision do not simply stand against the mainstream impulses of the culture but take the initiative both to understand and speak to that culture from the framework of the Scriptures… The modern theological vision must seek to bring the entire counsel of God into the world of its time in order that its time might be transformed.

In order to develop a Theological Vision Keller says that you must spend time in “deep reflection” on Scripture and the particular culture that you minister in. In order to think deeply and reflect on these things, Keller offers 8 questions to help in the development of a robust and significant Theological Vision.

They are:
1) What is the gospel, and how do we bring it to bear on the hearts of people today?
2) What is this culture like, and how can we both connect to it and challenge it in our communication?
3) Where are we located — city, suburb, town, rural area — and how does this affect our ministry?
4) To what degree and how should Christians be involved in civic life and cultural production?
5) How do the various ministries in a church — word and deed, community and instruction — relate to one another?
6) How innovative will our church be and how traditional?
7) How will our church relate to other churches in our city and region?
8) How will we make our case to the culture about the truth of Christianity?

Keller warns that the development of this type of vision is hard but it is essential. The quality of your Theological Vision will determine your effectiveness as you find ways to communicate the Gospel of Jesus Christ clearly to your particular place in history.

Over the coming weeks, I am planning on meeting with a group of leaders to think through these 8 questions as a group in order to gain a better understanding of our mission to those within our church body and our surrounding community. The Starbucks near us recently built a new location complete with a variety of warm and inviting meeting areas so we are going to wrestle with these questions in the heart of the local agora just like Paul did in Athens. Of course Paul, as far as we know, didn’t get to sit in plush leather chairs sipping a peppermint mocha from a red cup.

If you have not read Keller’s Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City, I want encourage you to pick it up and wrestle with these questions within your own ministry context. I’ll be posting my thoughts and feelings as we go along so you are welcome to join in the conversation here in the comments or on Facebook and Twitter.

So what do you think of all this? Is a Theological Vision important? In what ways have you gained a greater understanding of the Gospel? In what ways have you worked to gain a better understanding of your particular culture?

Flipping Failure

Have you ever experienced failure? 

I’m sure you have.

In 1995, actor and producer Kevin Costner experienced a huge career failure when his movie Waterworld failed at the box office. The film had been beset by inflated production costs and on-set disasters. A hurricane destroyed the set at one point and even Costner almost drowned while filming. When it was all said and done the film cost over $175 million dollars making it the most expensive movie at the time. When the movie finally opened to audiences it failed to connect and made only $88 million.

The press was merciless to Costner, the cast, and crew. Waterworld was considered a joke and Costner’s career took a major hit. Before Waterworld, Costner was an A-list superstar with a great box office trace record. Afterward he was damaged goods.

However, Costner didn’t let that failure go to waste. 

Entertainment Weekly published an article about the production of the movie Battleship. Like Waterworld, this summer’s action packed movie was filmed on the open seas and had the potential to meet many of the same obstacles that Costner and crew faced. While in pre-production, the director of Battleship, Peter Berg, received a phone call from someone offering to help them plan and prepare for their wet and wild production schedule.

It was Kevin Costner.

In the interview, Berg describes their conversation:

I was in my office one day. I get a call. Kevin Costner’s on the phone. I’ve never met Kevin Costner. I’m like, “Hello?” He’s like, “I need to come in and talk to you.” I’m like, “…Kevin?” He’s: “I need to come in and talk to you.” I say, “When?” He says, “Tomorrow.” I say, “Okay!”

So he comes in, he sits down, he says, “I feel compelled to talk to you and I want to tell you” – verbatim — “the stuff we did right and the stuff we did wrong.” And he talked to me for three hours about the perils of filming out on the ocean.

It was awesome. Kevin is a great guy and I think, maybe it was a little cathartic for him [laughing]. He’s probably waiting to have this conversation with someone for a long time. But, yeah, he didn’t have to do that and, you know, I can’t say enough about him. He made a huge difference.

When we experience failure in ministry or in life, often we take our licks and then bury that failure some place when no one will find it. We become embarrassed or angry whenever our failure is brought before us. We act as though we never failed.

Costner saw a crew of people mounting a production similar to his greatest cinematic failure. He took it upon himself to reach out to the crew and share his weaknesses and failures concerning that project. He did all of this in order that someone else wouldn’t have to go through the pain and frustration he did. He did this so that other people would succeed where he failed.

What if you started flipping your failure to someone else’s benefit?

Action Step:
Who could benefit from hearing the lessons you learned from a mistake you made? Invite them to lunch and share your failure in order to help them win big.


Music Friday: Failure?

Last week, a friend contacted me to ask about my thoughts on an interview published in the Irish Times with producer, Steve Lillywhite. In the article Lillywhite states explicitly that U2’s No Line on the Horizon album was a out-in-out failure. Of course you know that I have my own opinion on this but let’s take a look at Lillywhite’s statement and see what he has to say.

Legendary U2 producer Steve Lillywhite has said the band’s latest album No Line on the Horizon did not achieve what it set out to achieve and its relative failure had affected them.

The album, released last year, sold a fraction of its predecessors and received mostly lukewarm reviews though it did get a five-star rating in Rolling Stone magazine. Lillywhite, who was its co-producer along with Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, said No Line on the Horizon lacked a big song and the North African ambience that it tried to recreate did not work.

“At the end of the day, the public are always right especially when you have a platform as big as U2,” he said. “Of course it affects them. They are only human. They put their heart and soul into everything they do, but the sales were not what they expected because they did not have the one song that ignited peoples imaginations.

“It’s a pity because the whole idea of Morocco as a big idea was great. When the big idea for U2 is good, that is when they succeed the most, but I don’t think the spirit of what they set out to achieve was translated. Something happened that meant it did not come across on the record.”

First, let’s acknowledge that Steve Lillywhite has had a long and storied career producing some of the greatest artists and albums in music history. I want to engage his comments not throw them out completely. There is a great deal of nuance in these three paragraphs.

The question is, “Was NLOTH a failure?”

If we are judging by the criteria set forth by Lillywhite in this interview then the answer is Yes. No Line on the Horizon was a failure. However, the easy answer isn’t always the correct answer. Let’s unpack this.

NLOTH sold a fraction of its predecessor and received mostly lukewarm reviews. Sort of. In reality, NLOTH debuted in the Number 1 spot in thirty different countries and received 5 star ratings from RS, Blender, and Q. NME rated it at 7 out of 10 and Entertainment Weekly gave it an A-. While actual units sold may not have lived up to U2 numbers (whatever that means) the album was received well both commercially and critically. Could it be that Lillywhite has the bar set pretty high when it comes to album sales and reviews? I think so.

NLOTH lacked a big song. Let’s take a look at the U2/Lillywhite history books shall we. Lillywhite has worked with U2 on the following projects:

Albums: Boy, October, War, Achtung Baby, How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb (Album of the Year 2006)
Songs: I Will Follow, Sunday Bloody Sunday, One, Beautiful Day, Walk On, Vertigo

Lacking a big song is a pretty vague excuse for failure. By “lacking a big song” do you mean failing to have a song that rocks the airwaves, becomes part of the cultural consciousness, and wins awards? If that is what you mean than, yeah, NLOTH failed. No doubt, Get on Your Boots was no Vertigo.

Let me ask you a question though? In your city, what station does U2 get played on? What station was playing “Get on Your Boots” or “Magnificent” in your town? The Dallas/Ft Worth radio market is the 5th largest in the nation and when I want to hear U2- old stuff and new- I have to tune into the classic rock stations. Unfortunately, nothing on the classic rock stations- old or new- will have the opportunity to compete for listeners of Lady Gaga and Justin Beiber. While LittleMonsters and those with BeiberFever can have quick and regular access to new tracks those fans of artists like U2 have to go searching. New listeners are harder to come by because their listening habits are subject to a high turnover rate. You put Magnificent on heavy rotation on a Top 40 program and you’ll get that “big hit” you’re looking for. Guaranteed.

The North African ambience that NLOTH tried to recreate did not work. I’ll simply say this- 3 songs with Moroccan drums does not a North African album make.

As a fan of U2 I can understand why someone would feel that NLOTH fell short of its predecessors. I can understand why the producer and the band might feel a sense of disappointment. However, to say that something is a failure because it isn’t larger than life is silly. To come out a full 20 months after an album’s release and then judge it by previously unknown criteria is frustrating and an exercise in futility. Songs from this album served as the soundtrack to the World Cup and it has gone on to support the largest and highest grossing concert tour in recent history.

While NLOTH is not my favorite U2 album… I do like it. There are some strong tracks on here- Magnificent, Breathe, Moment of Surrender, Crazy. It may not be perfect  but it isn’t a failure by any stretch of the imagination.

You can’t judge the present by your past. You present your gift, knowing that you did everything possible to deliver your best effort. You give it away and then you get back into the studio or hit the road or pound the pavement eager to work on your next offering.

Live from Graceland…

Our youth group just returned from our Mission Trip to Memphis, TN where we worked with inner city children through Memphis Urban Ministry. We had an absolute blast serving these kids and I hope to share more pictures and stories throughout the week. One of the coolest things that happened to us this week was that we had an opportunity to be interviewed on Elvis Radio for SiriusXM while visiting Graceland. Big props to Morgan, one of my students, who captured the whole thing on video for us. Check it out:

(if reading in RSS please click through to see the video)

360degrees of Awesomeness

Last week, U2 postponed the North American dates for the 3rd Leg of the 360 Tour. Bono had emergency back surgery for a “severe compression of the sciatic nerve.” The Edge is saying that with Bono’s recovery lasting a minimum of 8 weeks that they should be back on the road by mid August. Apparently that’s not soon enough for the Fürer . (If you are reading through RSS click through to see the video)

I think my favorite line is, “What was he doing? Saving the world too hard?”

Personally, I think I know when, where, and how Bono hurt his back and I put the blame squarely on the Obama Administration.

Get well soon Bono!

@U2- Hitler Learns About 360 Tour Postponement
U2 Tour Posponed
Bono Released from Munich Hospital
Edge 95 Percent Sure About European Dates
“Downfall” Parodies

Mascot #FAIL

So…………………. ya.

First the designers of the 2012 London Olympics divided the seeing world with an awful looking logo. I get that the logo depicted the Olympic Village buildings but that isn’t a valid excuse for bad design.

Now, here comes Mandeville and Wenlock. Worst. Mascots. Ever.


Collide Magazine summed up their arrival quite nicely. I don’t think I could have said it better myself:

“That’s Mandeville on the left and Wenlock on the right. Their job is to help prepare us for the 2012 Olympics by haunting our dreams and raising cyclops awareness … or something like that.”Collide Magazine Blog

Actually, this is my favorite picture of the terrible duo:

This picture was taken just seconds before that young boy was mauled and eaten by these monsters. That’s the rumor I heard. And believe.

The good news is that the London Olympics don’t start for another year and a half so we can look forward to cowering in fear together until the torch is lit and the villagers hunt these creatures down and the games begin. I guess the Olympics does bring us closer together.

National Post: Horrific Olympic mascots Wenlock and Mandeville
Guardian UK: London Olympics 2012- Meet Wenlock and Mandeville, drips off the old block
Worst Olympic Mascots Gallery

Penn Gets a Bible

I came across this video earlier in the week. A friend posted it on their Facebook page and I have been going over it in my mind all week. It is a video blog posted by Penn Jillette, the illusionist. In the video Penn, an atheist, recounts a conversation that occurred after a Penn & Teller show between him and a Christian business man. Watch the video below and then read my observations. (If you are reading this in RSS you may need to click through to see the video)

Ok, now for some observations:

Genuiness. The first thig that Pen noticed about this man was that he was GENUINE. The way the man complemented the show and spoke praise to Penn & Teller came across as real and from the heart. Penn also saw that this genuine nature wasn’t just evident in the way he praised the show. This man had a genuine concern for Penn’s soul. Having the character trait of being genuine with and about people was shared by Timothy in the Bible. In the letter to the Philippians, Paul writes that Timothy was a man who had real and genuine concern for the people of Philippi. Paul writes, “I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare. For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel.” (Philippians 2:19-22)

Boldness. Acts 14:3 says, “So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time (in Iconium), speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to perform signs and wonders.” Penn Jillette is a bear of a man. At 6’6″ he towers over most men and his booming voice looms large as well. Penn speaks his mind and is very animated when he talks. As nice as he seems most people would try to avoid any argument with this vivacious magician. However, it was the boldness of this man that seemed to capture Penn’s attention and his respect. It seems that Penn wasn’t the only one pulling off amazing wonders that night. God had a few tricks up his sleeve as well.

Love. Penn argues, “How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?” Penn, a dedicated atheist, believes that sharing your faith in Jesus Christ is ultimately an act of love and that keeping quiet about your faith is actually telling the world that you hate them and want them to go to hell. Think about that one for a minute.

One. In the video clip, you can tell that Penn is wrestling with the entire situation. He isn’t dismissive. He was touched. He isn’t defensive. He’s disarmed. He isn’t angry. He is thankful. One man. One incident. One gift. One conversation. That’s all it took.

“I know there’s no God and one polite person doesn’t change that… but I’ll tell ya, that was a very, very, very good man. And… that’s real important. And with that kind of goodness… it’s ok to have that deep of a disagreement. And I still think that religion still does a lot of bad stuff, but, man, that was good man who gave me that book.”

I’ve really been thinking about this video all week. How can I make an impact on others the way this man impacted Penn? I hope that I too can be GENUINE, BOLD, and LOVING to others so that God can use me to impact others in His name.

Youth Ministry Focus: New Stats

USAToday published an article this morning looking at the religious habits and beliefs of today’s 18-29 year olds. In some respects the article is nothing new to those of you who are currently working with churches or with teenagers. However, this study shines a bright light on the need for strong, Gospel-intensive, disciple-making leaders to step up and fill in the obvious void. I have included the article below and highlighted some of the stats and comments that I found most interesting. We’ll unpack some of these later in the week.

Survey: 72% of Millennials ‘more spiritual than religious’
By Cathy Lynn Grossman, USA TODAY

Most young adults today don’t pray, don’t worship and don’t read the Bible, a major survey by a Christian research firm shows.

If the trends continue, “the Millennial generation will see churches closing as quickly as GM dealerships,” says Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources. In the group’s survey of 1,200 18- to 29-year-olds, 72% say they’re “really more spiritual than religious.”Among the 65% who call themselves Christian, “many are either mushy Christians or Christians in name only,” Rainer says. “Most are just indifferent. The more precisely you try to measure their Christianity, the fewer you find committed to the faith.”

Key findings in the phone survey, conducted in August and released today:

  • 65% rarely or never pray with others, and 38% almost never pray by themselves either.
  • 65% rarely or never attend worship services.
  • 67% don’t read the Bible or sacred texts.

Many are unsure Jesus is the only path to heaven: Half say yes, half no.

“We have dumbed down what it means to be part of the church so much that it means almost nothing, even to people who already say they are part of the church,” Rainer says.

The findings, which document a steady drift away from church life, dovetail with a LifeWay survey of teenagers in 2007 who drop out of church and a study in February by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, which compared the beliefs of Millennials with those of earlier generations of young people.

The new survey has a margin of error of +/-2.8 percentage points.

Even among those in the survey who “believe they will go to heaven because they have accepted Jesus Christ as savior”:

  • 68% did not mention faith, religion or spirituality when asked what was “really important in life.”
  • 50% do not attend church at least weekly.
  • 36% rarely or never read the Bible.

Neither are these young Christians evangelical in the original meaning of the term — eager to share the Gospel. Just 40% say this is their responsibility.

Even so, Rainer is encouraged by the roughly 15% who, he says, appear to be “deeply committed” Christians in study, prayer, worship and action.

Collin Hansen, 29, author of Young, Restless, Reformed, about a thriving minority of traditionalist Christians, agrees. “I’m not going to say these numbers aren’t true and aren’t grim, but they also drive people like me to build new, passionately Christian dynamic churches,” says Hansen, who is studying for the ministry. He sees many in his generation veering to “moralistic therapeutic deism — ‘God wants you to be happy and do good things.’ … I would not call that Christianity, however.”

The 2007 LifeWay study found seven in 10 Protestants ages 18 to 30, both evangelical and mainline, who went to church regularly in high school said they quit attending by age 23. And 34% of those had not returned, even sporadically, by age 30.

The Pew survey found young people today were significantly more likely than those in earlier generations to say they didn’t identify with any religious group. Neither are Millennials any more likely than earlier generations to turn toward a faith affiliation as they grow older.

I agree with Hansen. Yes, the numbers seem overwhelming. The task is daunting. The consequences of failure are real. However, all is not lost my friends. Remember, the gates of Hades will not overcome the Body of Christ.

Looks like we’ve got some work to do.

Mid-Week Thoughts

This is my 890th post! I’m trying to get back into the swing of posting and updating regularly. Here is what I’ve been thinking about and working through this week:

1. Major design update here at the blog. We are about to kick of the 5th year here at Kicking at the Darkness and I am trying to lay the groundwork for some great stuff to come. If you subscribe to the RSS feed, click over to the site proper and let me know what you think.

2. I’ve been listening to Kutless’ latest worship album It Is Well. Kutless puts their unique spin on It Is Well, God of Wonders, and Give Us Clean Hands. Driving guitars, tight vocals, awesome lyrics. Good stuff.

3. Very excited about class with my teens tonight. In our curriculum arc we have begun a New Testament Survey class on Sunday mornings. To supplement that I’m teaching through a handful of the epistles on Wednesday nights. We are typically very laid back on Wednesdays – couches, open bibles, lots of discussion. Tonight we keep digging in to 1Corinthians. Can’t wait!

4. Did you know that I have a Twitter account? I’ve been @michealfelker since 2007. Follow me & I’ll follow you!

5. I was sooooo disappointed with Brian McLaren’s latest book, A New Kind of Christianity. Totally lost me. Felt like I completely wasted my money. There I said it.

6. Why does listening to Led Zeppelin perk me up or make me drive faster? Whole Lotta Love is better than a dozen Coca-Colas.

7. As a leader, everything I am and everything I do needs to be anchored in my identity with Christ. Leadership begins and ends with a clear understanding of the gospel and being rotted in the grace of Jesus Christ as a free gift.” (Dave Kraft, Leaders Who Last)

8. “I must settle once and for all: Am I going to live my life concerned with who is for me or who is against me or Am I going to be consumed with WHO I AM FOR?(Andy Staney) I’m choosing he latter! How about you?