main cow pic


So what is the bible…really?

Filed under: books,God's movement — 10:14 pm

I finished Adam Hamilton’s book “Making Sense of the Bible” today, and I think it might be the most important book of the year.  The church needs it so badly.  Here’s why…

In 2004, we were a part of Mars Hill’s transition to allow women full participation in leadership. It was an explosive, divisive, tumultuous season.  And I remember the moment that it hit me: “Wait a second…this isn’t about women or the church or leadership or the issue.  This is about the bible.  What do we make of this holy book and how do we let it direct our lives?” And I wonder if the same could be said about other divisive issues like immigration, abortion, and homosexuality.  These issues are critically important, but the “issue beneath the issue” is the bible.

Thankfully, Adam Hamilton (pastor of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City) has boldly and lovingly invited us to wrestle with this.  What is the bible?  Where did it come from?  What do we do with the contradictions?  Can we take it seriously but not literally?  What does it mean for the bible to be inspired?  How can we allow the bible to be everything God intends for it to be, but not more?  

These are really important questions.

To hear more, check out this short interview.  Hamilton shares the basic idea and heart behind the book.

You won’t agree with everything, and I don’t agree with every one of his conclusions, but the questions he raises are critical for every one of us who takes the scriptures seriously.

Let me know what you think!


A FREE book that every worship leader and pastor needs

Filed under: books,church,God's movement,worship — 1:09 pm

Today and tomorrow, Glenn Packiam is giving away his fantastic book “Discover the Mystery of Faith” HERE. If you are a worship leader or pastor who cares about how our church gatherings form disciples, then I highly highly highly recommend this book. Here’s why…

(My blog post from 03.05.13)

The Mystery of Faith

The Mystery of Faith

Today, my friend Glenn Packiam is releasing a new EP and book called “The Mystery of Faith“. Glenn has been asking profoundly important questions about the nature of worship and formation in the church, and this project was the result. I sincerely think every worship leader should dig into this with him. (Here are a few thoughts about Glenn I posted last week).

In the book’s forward, Ian Cron writes:

As I travel the country, it’s clear that a much-needed shift is taking place. Worship leaders are exhausted. The weekly pressure to plan and deliver innovative, seismically moving, crowd-attracting worship services is unsustainable.

Essential and far-reaching questions are surfacing: is contemporary worship compassing people toward a transfiguring encounter with God or pandering to our culture’s addiction to peak experiences, entertainment, and celebrity? Has the word relevant become code for “keep the consumer satisfied”? Do services designed around themes address the longings of people in search of a narrative that will make sense of their lives? Have we become more focused on “Lights, Camera, Action,” than on “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”?…

To my worship leader friends: Does this capture your experience well? What do you feel when you read it?

To my non-worship-leader friends who attend church: What does reading this assessment make you think or ask or feel?

Here’s how Glenn has responded…

I’d love to hear your thoughts!


The best book about worship I’ve ever read

Filed under: books,church,worship — 10:08 am
Desiring the Kingdom

Friends, I recently read a book that not only gave brilliant language to something I’ve been feeling for a long time, but also pushed me into territory I didn’t even know existed…

“Desiring the Kingdom” by James K. A. Smith.

Smith’s thesis is that human beings are not fundamentally “thinking beings”. We’re not even just “believing beings”. But at our very core, we are “Loving Beings”.  We become what we love.  And so schools, teachers, and churches who try to change people by giving them new information are ultimately not addressing the core issue.

We become what we love.  And the only way to change a person is to redirect their LOVE toward a different source.  And this only happens through certain practices.

But here is where it gets really interesting.  Smith spends a whole chapter talking about how brilliantly this is already happening in our world – in the shopping mall.  In “The Liturgy of the Shopping Mall”, he walks us through all the ways that the shopping mall is masterfully created to form us into certain kinds of people.  The Mall doesn’t just offer us information, but through environment, senses, and vision, it helps us love and embrace certain versions of “the good life”.  (One example: “If I can have those certain clothes, then I will be attractive and wanted.”)

And then he drops this bomb (especially for those of us who work at churches)…

“If the mall and its “parachurch” extensions in television and advertising offer a daily liturgy for the formation of the heart, what might be the church’s counter-measures? What if the church unwittingly adopts the same liturgical practices as the market and the mall? Will it then really be a site of counter-formation? What would the church’s practices have to look like if they’re going to form us as the kind of people who desire something entirely different—who desire the kingdom? What would be the shape of an alternative pedagogy of desire?”

This absolutely haunts me.  What if our Christian worship does exactly what the world’s liturgies do:  create self-oriented people committed to their own happiness and success?  The only difference is that we Christians use Christian language to accomplish this.

For example, I have a pastor friend who realized one day that the consumer-oriented marketing they were doing to attract people to their church was EXACTLY CONTRARY to Jesus’ call of discipleship.  If he filled the seats by marketing and meeting people’s felt needs, how could he then say “Okay, Jesus is asking you to pick up your cross, die to yourself, and follow Him.”?  The medium is ultimately much louder than the message.

So what would it look like for our worship gatherings to truly be counter-cultural?  Instead of just repackaging the values of the world in christian language, what kind of worship practices can form us into entirely new kinds of Kingdom people?

I’d love to hear your thoughts!


Dallas Willard and crying in the bathroom

Filed under: books,God's movement — 2:38 pm

Dallas Willard passed away today.  I can’t possibly over-state how important his books were to my life.  In many ways, his teaching about the Kingdom is the reason I’m still a Christian today.  A couple years ago, I had the chance to thank him…

“Crying in the Bathroom” (a post from 2011)

In one of Sufjan Steven’s greatest songs (Casimir Pulaski Day), he sings a haunting line admitting “I was crying in the bathroom.”  Well, I did that today.

This week, I’ve had the thrill of leading worship at the WCA’s Transformation Intensive conference.  In many ways, it’s been an un-conference….unplugged, understated, and all about the content.  I couldn’t love it more.

Dallas Willard

The first teacher was Dallas Willard, one of my heroes.  He gave a lecture about transformation that shook me to my core and reminded me again why the invitation of Jesus really is the greatest news on earth.

But this morning, I got to nervously share with him the 60 second version of my story:  “Dallas, I got cynical in college and my faith stopped working for me.  Christianity as “how to go to Heaven some day” was no longer compelling and I was thinking about leaving the whole thing.  But then someone recommended your book, The Divine Conspiracy, and while reading chapter 2, I was born again…again.”

He got a little embarrassed and looked down, but I kept going.  “Dallas, I’ve never met you, but you’ve been one of the primary voices for why I’m a Christian…and why I still want to be.  Thank you.” He sheepishly said thanks and I shuffled out the room.

But as I walked down the hall, I could feel something building inside me…and so I walked over to the downstairs bathroom, sat back by the empty showers, and bawled my eyes out.

I cried because I almost missed out on LIFE to the full.
I cried because I was so thankful that someone like Dallas could show the gospel to be as beautiful as it really is – when all I could see was ugliness.
I cried out of thankfulness that God didn’t leave me to wallow in my cynicism, but rescued me.

If you know me, you know how rare this kind of thing is.  My Scandinavian male ability to bury my emotions is usually spectacular.  But today, I’m just so thankful to be a part of such a great Story:  getting to join God in what God is doing to restore all things.

“When we are invited into life in Christ Jesus, we are offered the
greatest opportunity of our lives –
the opportunity of a vivid companionship
with Him, in which
we will learn to be like Him and live as He lived.”

-Dallas Willard


We all want to change the world (part 2)

Filed under: books,creativity — 2:42 pm

On Feb 23rd, I posted some thoughts from the brilliant book “To Change the World”.  These profound and challenging ideas have really been messing with me…in a good way…I think.  And the author takes it deeper. I’ve needed to read this paragraph multiple times already…

“at every point of challenge and change, we find a rich source of patronage that provided resources for
intellectuals and educators who, in the context of dense networks, imagine, theorize, and propagate an
alternative culture. Often enough, alongside these elites are artists, poets, musicians, and the like who
symbolize, narrate, and popularize this vision. New institutions are created that give form to that culture,
enact it, and, in so doing, give tangible expression to it. Together, these overlapping networks of leaders
and resources form a vibrant cultural economy that gives articulation, in multiple forms, and critical mass
to the ideals and practices and goods of the alternative culture in ways that both defy yet still resonate with
the existing social environment. These networks of leaders and the various resources they bring may or
may not originate in the “center” of cultural production, but they do not gain traction in the larger social
world until they do challenge, penetrate, and redefine the status structure at the center of cultural life.
Invariably, as we have seen, this process results in conflict. As to politics, where present, it contributes
most effectively to the process of cultural change not when it imposes a cultural agenda but when it creates
space for a new way of thinking and living to develop and flourish.”  (James Hunter)


Notes from both teachings on worship

Filed under: books,church,creativity,worship — 2:45 am
Honolulu 2013

Honolulu 2013

This week, I’m thrilled to get to teach two electives at the Honolulu 2013 conference.  Certainly, I’m happy to come to Hawaii for the first time, but more than that, I LOVE the conversation about worship, liturgy, formation, and the future.  I’m far from an expert on anything, but soooo passionate about the journey.

As promised, here are my notes, slides, and resource list…

Elective 1:  Moving Beyond Singing into something much more Mysterious, Subversive, and Beautiful.

Worship is this huge, beautiful, epic, mysterious, global, active, intimate human/divine interaction, but when someone says “Okay, it’s time to worship”, we all assume “It’s time to sing.”  This is not bad, of course.  Singing is a fantastic way to worship God.  But it’s only one part of the whole. This breakout will explore ways to move beyond our usual framework, and in doing so, help more and more people engage with more and more of The Almighty God.

Moving Beyond Singing Niequist notes

Moving Beyond Singing .ppt slides


Elective 2:  Evangelical Worship Leading, The Liturgy, and me.

While leading worship in a mega-church for the last ten years (at Mars Hill in Grand Rapids, MI and Willow Creek in Chicago, IL), I’ve been feeling more and more drawn to The Liturgy – both personally and as a worship pastor.  The depth, reverence, and historical grounding have been profoundly moving.  But how does this fit into an evangelical mega-church with big screens and moving lights?  Is there a way to bring these ancient practices into this modern context, or are they fundamentally incompatible?  In this breakout, I’ll share what I’m learning, what I’m wrestling with, and a few big mistakes I’ve made.  And then we’ll dream together about the future.

Worship, Liturgy and Me Niequist notes

Worship Liturgy and Me .ppt slides



The Story of A New Liturgy (video)
Ian Cron: “Becoming the Liturgy” (video)
Glenn Packiam’s blog
“Church is Bigger Than the Church” (my article for Relevant)
“Common Prayer”, Clainborne, Wilson-Hartgrove
The Book of Common Prayer online
Brian Mclaren’s open letter to Worship Songwriters


“A Guide to the Sacraments” John Macquarrie
“The Immortal Diamond”, Fr. Richard Rohr
Everything Belongs”, Fr Richard Rohr
The Holy Longing”, Fr Ronald Rolheiser
“Start with Why?”, Simon Sinek 
“To Change the World”, James Hunter
“Finding Our Way”, Margaret Wheatley
“Honest to God”, John Robinson
“Liturgy For Living”, Weil, Price 
“The Wisdom Jesus”, Cynthia Bourgeault

Examples (video):

A New Liturgy No 4: Creation (live at Willow Creek)
A New Liturgy No 2: Blessed to Be a Blessing (live at Axis):   (password = liveliturgy)
Love Can Change the World / St Francis / Have Thine Own Way (live at Willow)
The Resistance Experience (live at Willow)
Worship band IN the room (live at Willow)




We all want to change the world

Filed under: A New Liturgy,books,God's movement — 11:44 am

Last weekend I discovered a brilliant book called To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World.  Basically, the author James Davison Hunter builds a case that our normal assumptions about changing the world are absolutely wrong.  He especially takes exception to the idea that genius individuals are largely responsible for cultural transformation, because history shows it to always be more complicated and multifaceted.  Better said…

“In the end, the good that was produced did not come about through literary, textual, musical, and artistic
genius alone. Nor was it the result of brilliant administrative initiative. By the same token, neither was it a
creation of the extraordinary wealth and patronage of the nobility. It was, of course, a result of the coming
together of all three at once.” (To Change the World, 64)

In my idealism, I’ve always believed that a genius idea alone can change the world.  But history does not support this. All three are required:  genius, administration, and funding.  Ideas, organization, and resources. Plus a thousand other overlapping factors of chance, grace, culture, and timing.

This raises two big feelings in me:  First, respect.  For every William Wilberforce or Martin Luther King Jr. who are rightly praised and placed in the history books, there are thousands of men and women who played
smaller but indispensable roles.  As much as history loves to romanticize the Lone Ranger heroes, the reality is
that they are only the tip of an iceberg. We will never know most of the people who worked and sacrificed and
died to change this world.  But they are worthy of our respect.

Second, humility.  No matter what I think I can do, I am utterly and hopelessly dependent on the men and
women who can do what I could never dream.  And that is beautiful.  It’s not all dependent on your gift or mine…
but on OUR gifts.  Together.

What is one thing you can bring to this world?  What is one thing you are hopelessly dependent on someone else to bring?  Are you ready to link arms, jump in, and help change the world?

I’m only a part of the Story
But wholly a part of the Story
So I’ll take my part in this Story
Get out of myself, get over myself
Get lost in the story (with) somebody else

(Lyrics from Bless, Liturgy No 2)


A first look at Shauna’s new book

Filed under: books — 9:30 am

In a couple weeks, Shauna is releasing her new book “Bread and Wine“. I know that I’m not objective – ha – but this book is so freaking good! Here is a first peek…


The Spirit keeps opening possibility

Filed under: books,God's movement — 7:30 am

Travis Reed at “The Work of the People” gives us another brilliant clip from his conversation with theologian Walter Brueggemann – author of “The Prophetic Imagination“, one of my all-time favorite books.

Hope & Imagination from The Work Of The People on Vimeo.


What I’m learning from Richard Rohr’s new book (part 2)

Filed under: books,God's movement — 9:25 pm
Father Rohr

Father Rohr

This is so moving this is to me.

I’ve always believed that there are two classes of Christians:  (1) super-spiritual people that God uses to do super things, and (2) normal screw-ups like you and me.  Two classes of Christians, and God only uses the “good ones”.  But the more I read the scriptures and learn from people like Father Rohr – and the more I meet super-spiritual people doing great things – it’s becoming crystal clear that only one class of Christian exists:  normal screw-ups like you and me.  


And if God can use a broken guy like him, and a messed up woman like her, then maybe God can use someone like me.  And you.  All is grace.


What I’m learning from Richard Rohr’s new book (part 1)

Filed under: books,God's movement — 10:29 am

Many of you know how much Father Richard Rohr has influenced my faith.  It seems that his Franciscan Catholic Contemplative perspective has been exactly what my conservative evangelical Christianity needed.  Thanks be to God.

Immortal Diamond

Immortal Diamond

For the last week or so, while on vacation with my family, I’ve been reading and praying through Rohr’s newest book: “The Immortal Diamond”.  And like many times before, God has been using it to do some deep work in me.  Not always fun work (especially on vacation!), but really beautiful work.

So over the next week or two, I’d love to share a number of Father Rohr’s insights that I found most helpful…

First, very early in the book, Rohr writes:  “I will be trying to use the three pronged methodology of Scripture, Tradition, and inner experience, which balance and affirm one another when all three live in mutual honoring and respect.”

It’s such a simple idea, but it reminded me of how often I lean into one or two of these streams at the expense of another one.  In fact, my entire spiritual background (non-denominational evangelical Christianity) is built on (1) Scripture and (2) Inner Experience…while expressly rejecting (3) Tradition. And in that way, we are like a two-legged stool, often out of balance.

In my pursuit of “newness” – and a deep (arrogant) dismissal of Tradition – I have missed out on so much.

What about you?  Do you find yourself balancing Scripture, Tradition, and inner experience easily, or does one tend to trump the others?  Which stream always seems to get lost?  What might you need to re-capture…or even learn from for the first time?


A different wavelength

Filed under: books,God's movement — 11:53 am

“.. Jesus, the living master, is real, alive, intimately and vibrantly enfolding you right now.
He is more present, in fact, than even your breath and your heartbeat. But to really know this presence you
need to tune in on a different wavelength: to shift from your usual binary operating system to the heart
frequency where this Jesus connection broadcasts. Wisdom Christianity is practice-driven.  
When you do the practices that nurture the heart, you will sense this connection as a living bond.
Your being becomes receptive to the higher meaning. When the practices that sustain this encounter
begin to drop out, you revert back to your usual operating system, and the connection fades.”

(Cynthia Bourgeault, Wisdom Jesus)

What practices are helping you tune in on a different wavelength today?
How are you actively connecting with Reality?


The haves and the have nots

Filed under: books,church,God's movement — 1:34 pm
Prof Rah

Prof Rah

Saturday morning, Dr Soon-Chan Rah delivered a stunning freight train of a teaching about the history of Justice in the church.
It was painfully prophetic at moments, but kept pulling us back to the center of the center of being a Christ-follower.  I can’t stop thinking about it.

After walking us through some important shifts in the last two centuries of christianity, Professor Rah landed on his central point:

The theology of celebration (resurrection) is not complete without the theology of suffering (crucifixion).  Jesus lived and taught both.  Those of us who grow up with power, affluence, and mobility get trapped in the theology of celebration.
-For most, this becomes our whole reality and we remain blissfully ignorant of the other side.
-Some, however, realize that we’ve been “blessed to be blessings”, and seek to serve those who are less fortunate. This is a good impulse, but can lead to paternalism, arrogance, and continuing to see ourselves as the teachers/models/blessed, rather than fellow creations and equals. This “hinders genuine mutuality and reciprocity”
-A few, like Prof Rah, realize that we need them as much as they need us.  Celebration is only half the story, and without a theology of Suffering, our story turns into a bad story.
We need each other.  We are all “haves” in some ways and “have nots” in other ways, and the full story can only come into focus when we tell it together.
To dig more deeply into this, I HIGHLY recommend Professor Rah’s brilliant book “The Next Evangelicalism“. It’s a life-changing and dangerous and wildly inspiring book.  Can’t wait to hear what you think…


A few things inspiring me right now…

Filed under: A New Liturgy,books,creativity,music — 9:39 am

Life feels really full right now.  And although some of it is intense and difficult, some of it is really exciting.  Here are a number of things that are inspiring me right now…

(1) Fun.  I can’t stop listening to the new album “Some Nights” by Fun.  I’ve been a fan of the lead singer for a while now (he used to front The Format), but he’s taken things to an entirely new level of ridiculous melody, drama, and…well…fun.  Freddie Mercury would be so proud.


(2) IJM GPG.  My band and I got to be a part of International Justice Mission’s Global prayer Gathering in DC this weekend.  It was one of the most compelling gatherings of Jesus followers I’ve ever seen.  These people are the REAL DEAL – giving their lives to fighting for justice on behalf of the most forgotten people on earth.  They literally are in the business of freeing slaves, mostly young female sex slaves.  The stories were heartbreaking and beautiful and made me want to be a better person.  No hype…just prayer, stories, more prayer, and the Eucharist.

the boys

(3) Being a dad of two boys.  These two kids bring more joy to my life than I could have ever imagined.  Whatever the word “delight” means…they embody it.

(4) The Bible Made Impossible.  This book is blowing my mind.  Author Christian Smith’s premise is that Biblicism (a very common literal approach to the Bible, common to Fundamentalist and most Evangelical Christians) is actually impossible to practice according to its own claims.  But instead of arguing for a classic Liberal alternative, he appeals to a more beautiful third way that maintains a very high view of the divinely inspired scriptures without asking the bible to be something it was never meant to be.  (A full review is coming as soon as I finish it.)  Please read this book.

(5) Paul and his string quartet.  My friend Paul is one of the best musicians (cellist) I know, so when he offered to pull together a string quartet for “New Liturgy No 3: Lord Have Mercy“, I imagined it’d be great.  But I didn’t realize they’d be THIS great.  Here’s a little taste during the recording session…

(6) Awake.  I’m torn about this new show on NBC.  I really enjoy watching it, but can’t decide if it’s (1) A brilliant new show that’s finding it’s way into new territory, or (2) A one trick premise that can’t sustain itself beyond one season.  Is anyone else watching this show?

What about you?  What is inspiring you these days?  Recommendations?

Older Posts »