It’s Time For Some Dam Breaking!

the Dam

Sometimes in writing, creating, producing, it begins to feel like all the great stuff, all the stuff that makes you YOU, the stuff that will make the world different around you is backed up behind this great big Dam (or Dang as my son calls it). I’m going to do some Dam-Busting…or dang busting.

Take Some Time

I’m going to take some vacation time and with that I plan on not pressuring myself to come up with anything super-wow for prophetsandpopstars. I’m going to spend some time, praying, planning, dreaming, hanging out with my family…time for nothing at all. Perhaps I’ll shoot something of infinite sweetness on a new post. Perhaps I’ll retread something old.

Take Some Time With What Makes You YOU

During July, I’m going to do some dream work. Listen to myself. Hone in on what it is I love about what it is I love. I plan on going back through the 5+ years of posts and seeing what I’ve written, what I’ve enjoyed, what you’ve enjoyed. Once a year, we all need to take a break for some fresh life inspiration. How do you find inspiration?

And The Dam Will Break

Only so much energy can get held back before the dam will break. I’m looking forward to that day. I’ve got a lot I want to contribute. I love writing and I love writing on this blog. I can’t wait for it to be a walk in the park again, a time when writing at prophetsandpopstars is a break away from the grind and grist of ministry, life and the depths of my unknowns.

Enjoy one seriously warm July.

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Voices Inside My Head

I realize that quoting obscure Police lyrics relegates me to the halls of irrelevance. However, the refrain, “Voices inside my head echo things that you say,” is a profound truth. The voices that echo inside of our minds have a great deal to say about who we are, whose we are and how we do what we do.

So…whose voice is inside your head?
What do they say?
Are they positive, encouraging, affirming and strengthening voices?
Or, are they arresting, condemning, violating and isolating voices?

This Sunday, I’m preaching on Jesus last lesson in Matthew, the story about the Sheep and the Goats (or more accurately, the Story of Christ as King). Embedded in this story is a lesson about the voices that we hear and the way that they shape us.

In John 10, Jesus says, “Whenever he has gathered all of his sheep, he goes before them and they follow him, because they know his voice. They won’t follow a stranger but will run away because they don’t know the stranger’s voice [Jn 10:4-5; CEB].” The sheep listen to the voice of Jesus. They are shaped by it. It guides their actions to the point that they aren’t even aware.

“Then those who are righteous will reply to him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we see you as a stranger and welcome you, or naked and give you clothes to wear?” [MT 25:37-38]

The sheep provided simple, basic acts of dignity and creation-minded ministry to those who needed it most. Their actions looked the Gospel: fending, pouring a cup of water, clothing, caring, visiting. This wasn’t building a building or establishing a 401K. This was deep, profound Messianic ministry. Christ’s voice informed who they are. Their identity is grounded in their relationship with Jesus.

The goats were also unaware of their service, or their lack of it. This story tells us that they were informed by another voice entirely: “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Get away from me, you who will receive terrible things. Go into the unending fire that has been prepared for the devil and his angels [MT 25:41; CEB].”

Throughout Scripture, the “devil” is known as the accuser, the prosecuting attorney. It his job to make sure you know where you have gone wrong, where you are going wrong, where you will go wrong and that you should hate yourself for it. His is the voice of un-creation and un-grace. His angels are messengers, those fleet of foot who carry these self-condemning suggestions. This triggers human defense mechanisms that range from self destructive practices to Super-Christian ones.

In C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, Lewis terrifyingly describes the devil’s angels on a one to one ratio with humans. Their job is to exacerbate our doubts, fears, frustrations with the church, with each other, individualistic entitlements, comforts, pleasures, annoyances…anything to create distrust with God by inflating our personal need for control. The more we are enticed away from the voice of the shepherd the sooner we experience that “the safest road to Hell is the gradual one — the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” Perhaps this is why Jesus leaves the flock to go after the one?

We begin to believe “our own messages”.

We begin to fear that Christ isn’t enough. We have strengthen God’s plan with a little something extra, dump some NOX into the fuel system of our faith. The diabolical Uncle Screwtape informs his messenger, Wormwood:

“What we want, if men become Christians at all, is to keep them in the state of mind I call ‘Christianity And.’ You know — Christianity and The Crisis, Christianity and the New Psychology, Christianity and the New Order, Christianity and Faith Healing, Christianity and Physical Research, Christianity and Vegetarianism, Christianity and Spelling Reform. I they must be Christians let them at least be Christians with a difference. Substitute the faith for some Fashion with a Christian coloring. Work on their horror of the Same Old Thing.”

This not only tickles our ears, but overwhelms our imaginations. Soon, we too can no longer see the forest for the trees, or weeds as so much goes unattended. Soon, we to ignore the needs of those who cry out. We ignore Jesus trying to find him.

“There have been men…who got so interested in proving the existence of God that they cam to care nothing for God himself…as if the good Lord had nothing to do but exist! There have been some who were so occupied in spreading Christianity that they never gave a thought to Christ. Man! You see it in smaller matters. Did you never know a lover of books what with all his first editions and signed copies had lost the power to read them? Or an organizer of charities that had lost all love for the poor? It is the subtlest of all the snares.” The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis

  • What are the voices inside your head?
  • Can you hear the voice of the Shepherd?
  • How do you listen to the voice of the Shepherd?
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    Change Your Story, Change Your Mood

    I started to read Jonathan Gottschall’s The StoryTelling Animal, because I’m interested in Story. How do we live story? How does story create and uncreate moments in our lives that add meaning and satisfaction? What elements of my life can be identified as central to the development of story? And, possibly most important, how do I change my story? The StoryTelling Animal is a book about the science of story. I’m enjoying it and have already put the trove of knowledge to use.

    I shall share.

    Really?

    Yes, really.

    Take a look at this excerpt from his chapter on Fiction and the Brain:

    Our responses to fiction are now being studied at a neuronal level. When we see something scary or sexy or dangerous in a film, our brains light up as though that thing were happening to us, not just to a cinematic figment. For example, in a Dartmouth brain lab, people watched scenes from the Clint Eastwood Spaghetti Western The Good, the Bad and the Ugly while their brains were scanned by a functional MRI (fMRI) machine. The scientists, led by Anne Krendl, discovered that viewers’ brains “caught” whatever emotions were being enacted on the screen. When Eastwood was angry, the viewers’ brains looked angry, too. When the scene was sad, the viewers’ brains also looked sad.

    What this paragraph says, essentially, is that we absorb the mood of a story as if we were experiencing it first hand. What does this mean? It means that environment matters. How we perceive our environment matters.

    Yestereday, Rebecca and I went to see the movie, The Avengers, finally. I noticed during the opening sequence that I was anxious as in, “Hey, the building has blown up and is crumbling all around me. I could possibly be suffocated by falling rocks, IF my Humvee doesn’t overturn first, that is.” I happened to noticed that I was feeling anxious, which was silly because I was sitting in the regal first class velvet of the movie theater double wide seats. I stopped a moment to think…”Wow! That research is correct. I am an anxiety sponge.” Once I realized that I was soaking in the tension, I began to relax.

    It would appear the researchers are correct on this mark:

    They suggest that when we experience fiction, our neurons are firing much as they would if we were actually faced with Sophie’s choice or if we were taking a relaxing shower and a killer suddenly tore down the curtain.

    That’s what makes story so essential to our lives. We can experience things without actually experiencing them. Which is why I understand what it feels like to SMASH! It’s also why it’s important to recognize the story we are in and whose story we are in.

    How do you feel right now as you read this?

    Are you in an anxious story? Are you taking in someone else’s story as if it were your own? Can you recognize the narrative you are responding to? What is your story right now? Are you in an action adventure? A Tragi-Comedy? A boring indie?

    Take a look at these questions:

    1. What story am I currently living in, responding to?
    2. Whose story is it (this is always important to recognize)?
    3. If it were a book or a movie, what character would I be?
    4. What is my story right now?
    5. What character do I need to be (HINT: main character…it’s your story)?
    6. What shift do I need to make to the plot in order to get to the ending that I want?
    7. How can I make one small change that will push me in that direction?

    Suggestions:

    1. Watch a movie that you not only love, but loves you back! (Groundhog Day, anyone?)
    2. Play music that is guaranteed to give you the happy buzz. Turn off the Depeche Mode…now…do it.
    3. Sneak an earphone, if the music around you is a bummer…and you can get away with it.
    4. Use the phone a friend option.
    5. Get into the sunlight.

    The more you change your story, research suggests, the more you can change your mood. In fact, it would appear that as you live a better story in your own life today, you might just improve the world around you.

    Good Luck!

    Resources of note:

    Jonathan Gottschall, The StoryTelling Animal
    Donald Miller, A Million Miles In A Thousand Years
    Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business

    A new book I haven’t read, but really admire the author:
    Rhett Smith, The Anxious Christian: Can God Use Your Anxiety for Good?

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    sixteen years

    It was sixteen years ago today that Rebecca and I said, “I do,” and began a wonderful adventure together. Today we remember our vows which have defined our commitment to one another and celebrate a kind of love that I could never have imagined.

    See you next week!

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    Identity is Everything (Part 2)

    Yesterday, I began a post about identity. Story is about identity. We look to story to find our who we are, where we belong and what our purpose is. We look to the Christian story to find out who we are in Christ, who we belong with and what our story is now. When I look at the stories around me, all I see is the quest for identity…and special effects. Think about the movies and tv show, plays, books and songs you take in. How do they speak about identity?

    AVATAR
    This is an epic story about the identity of a native people and a soldier whose identity is wrapped up in his disability until he is given a new, healed identity. He is confronted with the truth about himself has to ask himself, “Am I blind to the needs of the innocent or complicit with the inconsiderate greed?”

    HUGO
    A fantastic story about a young man and old man try to figure out who they are in the wake of immense loss and pain. Nothing challenges our identity, and adds conflict to our stories, like loss. It makes us ask important questions of ourselves and the world around us…the answers to which, help us define our identity: who am I now?

    LADY GAGA, “Born this Way”
    Is a song about identity and acceptance. The GaGa is ultimately asking the listener to make peace with who they are, whoever they are.

    GOTYE, “Someone That I Used To Know”
    This song explores the identity of someone hurt by the end of relationship. We seek relationships to answer a piece of identity the identity quest, “Where Do I Belong?” This song also raises the question, “Who am I if I don’t belong there?”

    KATY PERRY, “California Girls”
    This is who we are, California Girls, we’ll melt your popsicles. Had to be said.

    I began to look at TV Shows, Movies, Songs, Art — it is all an expression of identity. Through it, the artist asks us to consider who the characters are. The really good stuff invites us in to ask who we are as well. 


    I don’t want to give too much away about my viewing habits, but a show like the new GRIMM…it’s about a man grappling with his…identity.

    ONCE UPON A TIME is about a town that has Amnesia and a newcomer that has to figure out her place in it.

    NCIS and other crime dramas are about the good guys discovering who they are in a chaotic, counter-intuitive world that scares us and makes us feel threatened and off kilter.

    DOWNTON ABBEY pushes all of us to ask, “In a changing world, who am I now?”

    MIRANDA LAMBERT, “Heart Like Mine,” is about asking the question, “does Jesus embrace who I am?” Does God like who I am? Can I still belong to him if others reject me?

    TAYLOR SWIFT’S “Back To December,” repeats “You didn’t know who I was.”

    U2’s “One” explores the issue of identity the whole way through, “we are one, but we’re not the same, we hurt each other, carry each other.”

    QUANTUM LEAP
    This is the quintessential show about identity! Every episode, Sam has to answer the enduring questions of life: Who am I, Where am I and What is my purpose?

    MAGAZINES are either buying identity or selling it.

    In the NEWS, the nation triumphs when a figure knows who they are, where they belong and why they do what they do. At the same time, it becomes tragic when a figure betrays their own values or the values of the people they represent, lead or cater to. It’s a form of amnesia. They have forgotten where they come from, who they are and whose they are.

    One of the most unattractive qualities about friends and potential partners is when they don’t know who they are. When their motivations and mistakes come from an unwillingness to ask important questions about themselves. Conversely, a person who is confident in their identity, who they are and who they are not, inspires confidence and courage.

    Identity is everything.

    Got anything to add?

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    I’ve Been Working On The Rewrite

    Every so often, I write a post about story and life.

    Your life tells a story.

    What you probably need is a good bit of editing. Of course, editing is the hardest, most demanding work. All good book had great editors and behind every great story, is a trail of words that provided no value to main character, plot or intriguing ending.

    Donald Miller has written some awesome words on this and continues to do so on his blog: donmilleris.com.

    On April 30th, Miller is heading up really wonderful (sounding) conference in Portland called Storyline. Here’s the tagline:

    If you were watching your life as though it were a movie would it be interesting? If you think about it, we are all stuck in the theater of our minds watching our story unfold. And too many of us couldn’t care less because our story is so boring. Screenwriters and novelists have figured out what makes a story interesting and the same principles that they use to write engaging novels and movies can be used to make your life a story worth living.

    Last Year, Paul Simon released “So Beautiful Or So What” On this record there’s a song, “Rewrite” where Simon contemplates the story of life theme. If you’re on Spotify, unleash the power of playing the single now!

  • Who is the main character in the story of your life?
  • Who is the hero?
  • Is it you?
  • I’m workin’ on my rewrite, that’s right
    Gonna change the ending
    Throw away the title
    Toss it in the trash.

  • Does your life tell the story you want it to?
  • Is your life telling the story Christ wants it to?
  • If you were to rewrite you story, where would you start?
  • What is the title of your life story?
  • What would you like it to be?
  • But I say Help me, help me
    Help me, help me, Thank you!
    I’d no idea
    That you were there

    When I said help me, help me
    Help me, help me
    Thank you
    For listening to my prayer

    I love the Psalm-ish quality of Simon’s lyric here.

  • He’s taking a look at changing his life story and where does he look for help?
  • “I don’t wonder anymore what I’ll tell God when I go to heaven when we sit in the chairs under the tree, outside the city……..I’ll tell these things to God, and he’ll laugh, I think and he’ll remind me of the parts I forgot, the parts that were his favorite. We’ll sit and remember my story together, and then he’ll stand and put his arms around me and say, “well done,” and that he liked my story. And my soul won’t be thirsty anymore. Finally he’ll turn and we’ll walk toward the city, a city he will have spoken into existence a city built in a place where once there’d been nothing.” Donald Miller, A Million Miles In A Thousand Years.

    I’ll eliminate the pages
    Where the father has a breakdown
    And he has to leave the family
    But he really meant no harm

    Gonna substitute a car chase
    And a race across the rooftops
    Where the father saves the children
    And he holds them in his arms

  • So, if you were to change some scenes in your life, where would you start?
  • If you were to rewrite tomorrow, where would you start today?
  • If you are interested in story, in seeing your life as a narrative that you are writing life a screenplay, I highly recommend starting with Don Miller’s book, “A Million Miles In A Thousand Years.” This is a memoir of what can happen when you start the painful work of editing your story.

    “And once you live a good story, you get a taste for a kind of meaning in life, and you can’t go back to being normal; you can’t go back to meaningless scenes stitched together by the forgettable thread of wasted time.”

    Are you authoring your life, or is life authoring you?

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    smashing the fourth wall of faith and rock ‘n roll

    Disclaimer 1: If you read the blog regularly, you might be thinking at this point that I have a man-crush on Bruce Springsteen. While that may be, it doesn’t change the reality that The Boss is just framing my mental landscape very complimentarily.

    Disclaimer 2: At a certain point, this metaphor falls apart.

    Disclaimer 3: I’m not entirely sure where that point is.

    As an actor, I was trained to build a ‘fourth wall’ between myself and the audience. All of the action took place on the stage and the audience, while an intellectual counterpart/character in the performance, just sat there; the receptor of entertainment. The fourth wall is sort of what makes something a stage play. If there’s no fourth wall, it’s a speech, improv, or perhaps, stand-up. In the Rock arena, it’s similar. The Rock Star band sets up the stage and plays to an audience that is part of the music but the stage is still an impenetrable barrier where the normal person isn’t welcome. We’ve all seen what happens when someone rushes the stage.

    The stage is a fortress and you are not welcome on it.

    Which is what makes Bruce Springsteen the bomb. In this video clip, he not only breaks the fourth wall (yes…it’s been done before, but this is a marvelous example, OK?), but he partakes in the festivities of his own show: by sitting down and gulping down a perfect stranger’s beer. Bruce slaughters the fourth wall and then joins his own party…and all the sudden, it’s not his party. It’s our party.

    Think about the pulpit.
    No, think about it.

    Books and classes teach that preaching behind the pulpit is many things with one of those being a stage behind the fourth wall. Now no one teaches you this, but it’s simple to observe. Does the message walk among you? Does the messenger sit in your seat and drink from your cup?

    Bruce is instinctively reacting to the times: a new generation of participant saying,
    “Be one of us”

    So how am I trying to help? Bruce Springsteen! Church leaders can take a lesson from Bruce and Smash The Fourth Wall. Let what happens on the stage, chancel, middle school auditorium floor pour into the people. Step down. Step into. Step out.

    Step up!

    The church is starving for a compelling new narrative. Are you telling it, or publishing it? Are you living it, or speaking on it? Both fundi’s and emergents. Both and everything in between. We just want to see Jesus.

    The true new frontier is finding the collaborative intersection between the nature of being “set apart” and “one among” at the same time. Some call this incarnational. Some call it relational. Some call it Emergent. I call it…Christian. Jesus was not a right wing fundamentalist anymore than he was a left leaning doctrine cleansed emergent. Christ was the center, pushing the boundaries of prophetic promise and eschatological ontology (or fulfilling prophetic words spoken about him at the same time as he was imagining into existence a whole new way of being human).

    There’s a new humanity to be lived.
    Learn it. Live it. Love it.

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    Review: We Take Care Of Our Own

    A couple of weeks ago now, I downloaded the single from Bruce Springsteen, “We Take Care Of Our Own.” I loved it the first time that I heard it. The prophet at work again. When I started this blog a gazillion years ago, it was called “RadioRebellion.” It was Bruce that gave me the inspiration for the name. Music can turn radio into a rebellion. Always has…always will.

    Alongside Bono, Dylan, Sting and a small handful of others, Springsteen has a singular knack for taking biting social commentary and turning it into a hit song. To me, “We Take Care Of Our Own” is another way to say “He has told you, human one, what is good and what the LORD requires from you: to do justice, embrace faithful love,and walk humbly with your God [Mic 6:8; CEB].” But that’s nothing new for the Boss.

    “We Take Care Of Our Own” is kind of a Born In The USA Part 2. You don’t need to have a PhD, to figure out that this statement is ironic; sardonic if you think about it too long. Here is the song performed at the Grammy’s [lyrics below].

    The title of this blog is prophets and popstars. The reason is because, I am interested in hearing the prophetic voice speak truth into the world. Prophets aren’t afraid to say what is. And it just so happens that popstars speak prophetically, and powerfully so, quite often. This isn’t to confuse prophetic voice with biblical prophet, but a truth speaker is a truth speaker.

    The magic of this song is the bitter contrast between verse and chorus; the polis and the politician. Using a melody, that sounds strangely like Flock of Seagulls, I got hooked by an immediate and familiar sound that pounded me with heartbreak and protest. In this song, Springsteen Occupies the Bill of Rights and reminds us that love of neighbor is more than just a good idea (gosh…who else said that?).

    It’s election year, our tv sets are full of heads, our ears are full of talking and into this Bruce sounds his sonic wail:


    Where the eyes, the eyes with the will to see
    Where the hearts, that run over with mercy
    Where’s the love that has not forsaken me
    Where’s the work that set my hands, my soul free
    Where’s the spirit that’ll reign, reign over me
    Where’s the promise, from sea to shining sea
    Where’s the promise, from sea to shining sea
    Wherever this flag is flown
    Wherever this flag is flown
    Wherever this flag is flown

    Like a ghost drifting down a frozen interstate, Bruce asked, “Is there anyone alive out there?” in 2007′s Radio Nowhere.

    The question still reverberates, but with “We Take Care Of Our Own” he’s adds the most important piece: “and will anyone notice?

    Full lyrics [Read more...]

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    Church Planting Conversation with Nick Warnes

    And up for the second podcast (which you can subscribe to via iTunes if you click the banner to the right), I got the chance to speak with Nick Warnes, pastor and church planter of Northland Village Church in Atwater Village, CA, about church planting, the PC(USA) and things so saucy, I had to edit them out.

    What I can tell you is this: this podcast will be a valuable resource for planters who are interested in hearing first hand experiences from someone not only in the trenches, but digging them through fields of pioneering community development and denominational life. Nick has become a friend and an inspiration. As a national church planter assessor for the PC(USA), if you’re thinking about it…he’s well worth the time.

    Covered in this episode:

    Church planting in the USA, PC(USA), that is
    Misfits, not cool enough to live in Silverlake

    The Call to Plant Churches
    ❊ Church planting assessment red flag
    ❊ The Real JC?
    ❊ The 3 (or 4) Stooges

    Three stage strategy for planting an intentional faith community
    ❊ Listening
    ❊ Building relationships
    ❊ Creating

    BIG Wins and Speed Bumps
    ❊ Art Walk
    ❊ “They hate gay people”
    ❊ Online reconciliation

    In the school where we meet
    Stepping into the community
    Effective reconciliation strategy

    No more Preview Services
    Urban, hyper Post Modern, Artsy, Cynical, Post Christian contexts

    The Major Challenges to planting churches in the PC(USA)
    ❊ Nick makes the bold claim that things have changed since the 50′s & 60′s
    What happened in 1968!

    Is church planting “sexy”?
    How many big talkers become church planters?

    The tables turn (it gets ugly)

    “The Greatest Potential for planting churches is within existing churches”

    And lastly, Nick answers the question, “Are existing churches still viable?”

    Thanks for listening!

    Northland Village Church website
    Glendale Presbyterian Church website
    Fuller Focus article

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    The Death Of A&R In The Digital Church Age

    bowie gold I have heard it told in ancient tales, that the hey day of label driven Rock and Roll owed its success to the effective influence of A&R. It used to be that labels were committed to A&R, Artists & Repertoire. The benefit was that artist were invested in and developed so that they would have a repertoire that:

    1. Gratified the listener,
    2. Stretched the artistic vision of the artist
    and of course,
    3. Kept the label/producers in operation making quality music.

    A&R created space for musicians to figure out the world of their craft,
    who they were,
    what they did
    and how what they did made a difference.

    The old industry was committed to mentoring new acts into maturity and success.

    marley Today, it’s about hits. It’s about turnover and instant profit. A&R is an idea lost to history and, well, unfortunately…so are maturity and success. There are currently stand out artists, but they are already here. Looking ahead, who is the next Rolling Stones? U2? Bob Dylan? Bob Marley, for that matter? Where are the young ‘disciples’ being raised into mature, competent performers that make you want to turn on the radio?

    I’ll give you indy bands. They are keeping our ears alive, but who mentors them? How many indy artists thrive after they betray their original sound and audience because they do something silly like age and grow up? Forbid that they should add a new member or try out the charango.
    [In all honesty, I'm not focusing on creatives who deviate from an existing artform, but instead those who shape/transform it]

    The old church used to be committed to A&R, too. Of course it looked different, more like M&D (Mentoring & Discipling). This department existed to raise new followers of Jesus into maturity and success, too. M&D taught them how to sing a new song and re-invigorate classic material through dynamic contextual re-interpretation and re-invention. Basically, like a great cover band.

    Today, though…it’s more and more…about hits. It’s about quick growth and power pastors. Mentoring and Discipleship is an practice seemingly fading into the annuls of history along with maturity and righteousness. It takes time and investment, a nearly single minded irreversible commitment to someone other than ourself.

    The Church needs M&R. Even more so now that we are fully located in a church.mp3 world. There thousands upon thousands of “new acts” waiting to “be discovered.” Last year D.J. Chuang posted a comprehensive list about them (let’s add your backyard to the list).

    In contrast to the need for renewed commitment to A&R in the Age of Digital Music, I suggest three ways to invest in this Age of the Digital Church:

    1. Develop followers of Christ to have a confident understanding of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus and to have a mature practice of Gospel living.

    2. Present to our culture and the world a shaping force: men and women who embody the Message in visibly imaginative, creative, loving and intelligent ways.

    3. Become mentors and disciplers who raise upcoming generations to figure out the world of their faith, who they are made to be, what they are made to do, and how what they do will make a difference.


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