Monthly Archives: October 2008

Teaching at The Journey Centre

Some of you may have heard about "The Journey Centre," our new initiative in graduate theological education in Edmonton.

I just returned from a few days of teaching at The Journey, where I was teaching my basic homiletics as a modular course. This time we got together to do the theoretical and theological work. In February we will get together again so that we can listen to each other preach and help each other with the necessary critique.

Already, the course has been of help. One of my students emailed me the following…

Thank you for the time you spent with us, in spite of your cold, in class in Edmonton.  It proved a great blessing!

First, I spent 8 hours on Saturday revamping my entire sermon (notice I did not say message) for taglines and imagery (and a lot more) for Sunday morning.  [That’s not the blessing!]

I found the “imagery times” to be occasions to step away from the pulpit and not use notes.   Plus the taglines helped me remember the message!

Second, praying the message was very meaningful personally.  It was like making my heart ready.

Third, here is a note slipped to me following the sermon:

“Thank you.  I am 52 yrs old and the presentation you shared today was the most powerful expression I have ever experienced upon my heart.  Deep within my heart.  Thank you for being a vessel – that God flows out of.  Thank you.  Thank you for the truth of your heart to be imparted in this way.”

This is the kind of "just-in-time" training that we hope to be able to provide in Edmonton. Let’s pray that many more students are able to experience this kind of benefit.

Understanding Pages and Posts in WordPress

WordPress is an amazing platform for churches to use for their websites.  A strategic feature in the power and versatility of WordPress is the distinction that is made between WordPress Posts and WordPress Pages.  Understanding this distinction is a vital key to unlocking the potential of using WordPress as a content management system.

When I first started with WordPress I grappled with a considerable amount of confusion as to the usage of Pages versus Posts .  How was I supposed to use these two similar yet different creatures in the world of blogging and CMS application.  In this article I would like to help us better understand what pages and posts do and the distinction between them.  Click between the tabs below to view a description of Pages and Posts and some explanation of what their individual strengths are for designing a church website.

[tab:Posts]

Posts in WordPress

Posts are the meat n’ potatoes of a typical blog.  Posts are where a person writes the regular series of  "articles", "devotionals", "book reviews", "opinion or advice columns" and so on.  There are so many potential uses for Posts that I will not even try to enumerate more than the few I listed above.  Their value is in their versatility.  They can be sorted, tagged, categorized, searched and dated.  They can be cataloged by author, by date, by category and by tag.  They can be published publicly or privately (with password protection).  An example of this versatility can be found on the Northwest home page in the right-hand side bar under Special Topics.  Several of those links will open a compilation of all the Posts by a particular author that have been designated a specific category.  Church Website Dialogue 101 is one of them.

Posts are dynamic so they can be used in many creative ways to present regularly changing information or a continually growing body of information.  Normally Posts are displayed with the most currently published material appearing first.  This gives Posts their "freshness" and "interest value".  Posts are what users follow via RSS feeds and news readers.

One distinctive of Posts is that their content can eventually become dated.  For example, in this article (which is a Post) the elements I have listed for Posts and Pages will likely change as WordPress evolves and grows.  There will probably be new features and capabilities added in future releases – making some of what I am writing eventually become dated.  This is not as likely to happen with the content typically entered into Pages.

Read this discussion of posts on the WordPress website http://codex.wordpress.org/Writing_Posts

[tab:Post Elements]

Post Elements in WordPress

A WordPress Post has these components or elements.  I find this list helpful when trying to conceptualize how to design a CMS site using WordPress. The highlighted items are the distinct elements of WordPress Posts.

  1. Title
  2. Post content (body of the page)
  3. Tags
  4. Categories
  5. Password protection
  6. Exerpt
  7. Trackbacks
  8. Posts will allow comments
  9. Post Author
  10. Post revisions
  11. Post status Private or Public
  12. Publish date
  13. Permalink (slug)

[tab:Pages]

Pages in WordPress

Pages in WordPress are the equivalent of static html pages on a static site – with the exception that they are dynamically generated from the database.  Pages hold information that is constant.  They are for site content such as information pages, history pages, personnel pages, product information pages, ministry description pages and so on.  In WordPress Pages are the substance of a content management site as they can be identified in a menu type of hierarchy.  WordPress Pages can have sub-pages and sub-pages under sub-pages.  This gives great power and flexibility in designing the structure of a website.

One of the more powerful CMS capabilities in WordPress is that one can design individual and distinct templates for Pages.  This can give a website the potential of a new look and feel with each Page that is viewed.  One specific Page and all of its sub-pages can have their own template and create the visual sense of being in a new section of the site or even an entirely different site.  For a CMS this is a valuable capability.

Because Pages are "static" they can be used for navigation.  Pages can be assigned a numerical order within their page level which gives the web programmer the ability to create very sophisticated navigational systems.  WordPress has a template tag [a special WordPress function – wp_list_pages()] designed to display a list of all the page URLs.  The tag has a number of  "arguments" to give it great flexibility.  The drop-down menu on the Northwest web-site is dynamically generated using that single WordPress template tag with a few specific arguments.  That way new Pages can be added very quickly and if they meet the criteria set by the arguments of the template tag they automatically appear in the drop-down menu.

In order to better understand how Pages and Page Templates work in WordPress go to this article on the WordPress website – http://codex.wordpress.org/Pages.

Another feature of Pages and their Page Templates is that certain pages can be designed to be viewable by members only.  In a future article I will address this strategic use of the Users feature built into WordPress

[tab:Page Elements]

Page Elements in WordPress

A WordPress page has these components or elements.  I find this list helpful when trying to conceptualize how to design a Content Management Site (CMS) such as a church website using WordPress.  The highlighted items are the distinct elements of WordPress Pages.

  1. Title
  2. Page content (body of the page)
  3. Tags
  4. Custom fields
  5. Comments and Pings
  6. Password protection
  7. Page Parent (can have sub-pages as well)
  8. Page Template
  9. Page Order (i.e. 0, 1, 2 …20, 21 etc.  This is very helpful for arranging how page links will appear in a menu.)
  10. Page Author
  11. Page revisions
  12. Page status Private or Public
  13. Publish date
  14. Permalink (slug)
  15. Pages can be listed with a Template Tag

[tab:END]


I trust this little description will be helpful for all of us who are trying to use WordPress for more than just a blog.  There is lots of information on the WordPress Codex site.  But maybe this condensation will fill a need.

A Noah in every family

world's largest wooden ship, Al-Hashemi-IIIn the Cross-Cultural Impact article, Confessions of a Failed Church Planter, I related the following story of an incident during our ministry in Pakistan:

Nathaniel (not his real name) told me one day of his favorite chapters in the Bible.  Most of them were the expected ones (Ps 23, Rom 8, 1 Cor 13, etc.), but then he said Genesis 7.  I was a little taken aback as I recalled that this was the chapter in which God destroys the entire world and I asked him why such a chapter would be so important to him.  He replied, “Just as God chose Noah to save his family, God has chosen me to save mine.” On the basis of this, rather than challenging him to be involved in a “church plant”, I encouraged him to focus on being an active and intentional believer within his family.  Thus he is fulfilling a mandate that he believes is from God.

His efforts are all within a given societal structure (family) and as a result the conflict of authority and control which occurred in the church plant I attempted are nonexistent.  Relationships are established on social grounds, not on the basis of a common faith, and within this context biblical teaching is given the opportunity to influence the members of the family.  Moreover because the family unit is ongoing, so is the influence of the gospel.  Such a model is also reproducible when the patriarchal heads of the family are targeted.  As a result of Nathaniel’s efforts a number of family members have come to Christ and worship services are a regular occurrence within the family context.

the story of Noah has become a metaphor or motif for the spread of the gospel among the Sindhi people

Recently, I had opportunity to remind Nathaniel of the incident of the “favorite chapters.”  He laughed and said he remembered.  He then went on to say that the story of Noah has become a metaphor or motif for the spread of the gospel among the Sindhi people.  Rather than trying to form congregations with those who have become believers, the focus is on discipling believers in cohorts so that they can be equipped and challenged to bring Christ as Lord within their extended families.  In the words of Nathaniel, “We want a Noah in every family, someone who will build a boat so that the whole family can be saved.”

Investing for Lasting Returns

Two days ago, Northwest Baptist Seminary participated in an annual fund raising banquet with its ACTS seminaries partners. Doners, staff and faculty were present. The program was encouraging; the student testimonies particularly inspiring.

At one point one of our students–Lenora Klassen–was asked why she would recommend that folks financially support the work of the seminary.

I was particularly struck by her response.

Lenora replied, "I don’t know if anyone has been following the economy or activity in the world stock markets lately but there is virtually no place in that arena where a person can get a good return on investment."

She continued, "If you’re looking for a place to invest that generates incredibly strong and lasting returns, there’s no better place than to invest in training highly motivated people who will serve God in proclaiming the good news about His son the Lord Jesus in an amazingly broad range of ways."

Well said on the financial analysis, Lenora!

I’m not an economist, but you don’t really need to be one to see that there has been a lot of economic trouble in the world of late. Markets have plunged, bank credit is frozen, and panic reigns. In the past fifteen months, there have been over 2 trillion dollars’ worth of debt-related losses. Most nations have incurred great debt in floating ‘rescue plans;’ a few nations look to have gone bankrupt. We’ve heard about how the woes of Wall Street were going to begin to affect Main Street. This week the local press where I live featured stories about several large building projects that have stopped due to the debt losses and bankruptcy of lending institutions across the border. Construction workers were being let go from the sites. The media are featuring more and more people who have invested deeply and lost everything. One US pundit quipped that 401 K retirement plans are now just 01 K plans.

Lenora was also right in her spiritual assessment because it positively counseled those gathered at the banquet against the common tendency in tough times for people to experience a "generosity freeze."

Jesus taught, Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)

Obviously, supporting a Seminary in its training of quality individuals for various gospel ministries is one place to make a good long term ‘safe’ investment. We should never be neglectful of that!  But there are also many other ways as well–ways that engage need in all of its desperate expressions and overwhelm the needy with generous goodness that makes them ask, "Why are you doing this?" The answer, of course, is "For the love of God and His Son."

So, we’ve been reminded once again that there are choices to be made. Jesus boiled the options down to a single choice: Who will we serve, God or Money? (Matthew 6:24)

Church Videography

In the last two decades, technology has opened opportunities that Churches have embraced with interesting results. In 1999, one of the pastors at the Sherwood Baptist Church of Albany, Georgia realized that their sound room had become a media room. Looking at the cameras and sound equipment, he realized that cost was no longer a hindrance to creating professional productions. That led to the production of a movie in 2003: Flywheel. The goal of the movie was to express the Gospel in a compelling fashion.

And, churches have been taking the initiative in using their resources to create graphic messages. Sherwood Baptist Church went on to make the movie Facing the Giants [2006] and Fireproof [2008.] At last count, it was estimated that over 1,200 members of the congregation have participated in the productions [http://www.christianitytoday.com/tc/2008/005/1.14.html]

It was with this example in mind that I was fascinated last week to read about the Bel Air Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles. In Christianity Today, Brett McCracken wrote “No More Cheesy, Churchy Videos” [http://www.christianitytoday.com/movies/news/badd.html] He began his article saying, “It wasn’t so long ago that some churches frowned upon their members even going to see movies, let alone participate in making them. But as new media and video forms have increasingly become ubiquitous and acceptable tools in worship services, that’s all changed. Today, it’s common to see a film clip or video illustration on Sunday mornings, and more and more churches have video ministries that are creating original productions.”

But, not all churches do it well – which is where Bel Air Presbyterian Church stands out. I suppose it’s no surprise that a church with a significant population of “elite, audition-based actors, writers, directors and other film/media practitioners” would be the ones to set a higher standard and provide a quality model. Their ministry carries the delightful title: BADD [Bel Air Drama Department] but their productions are anything but bad. Most of their videos are available on YouTube, about 80% of them comedy, and all of them related to relevant ministry.

I’d add my recommendation to Brett McCracken as he writes, ”BADD is neither the first nor the biggest church film ministry, but it is a good case study in what a film ministry might look like in an era of rapidly changing media.”  In fact, I’d say it’s a great case study worth the look http://www.belairdrama.com/.

The Candidating Sermon

Many of us know the stress and pressure that comes with the candidating process. We want to put our best foot forward, but we do not want to make such a good impression that we are never able to live up to it in the future. I remember hearing an older pastor years ago saying that we should avoid preaching our “Royal George Sermon” when auditioning for a church. I’m not sure what King George had to do with it, but we all have those sure-fire, can’t miss sermons that are certain to put us in the best possible light. It is tempting to default to such sermons when the footing isn’t sure.

For that reason Scott Gibson’s advice, that we preach our “best average sermon” seems wise. Scott’s comment can be found in his excellent article, Preaching the Candidating Sermon, the preaching.org feature article for October. “What is a best average sermon,” Gibson asks? “It is a sermon that captures who you are as a preacher, your personality; and also demonstrates your competence in handling the Word, delivered with skill.”

In other words, preach well, without resorting to any special measures, homiletic pyrotechnics, or features that you won’t be able to live up to. “Remember,” Gibson counsels, “you are not trying to preach your “barn burner” sermon. A candidating sermon is not the sole measure of your preaching ability. You want to give the listeners your best average sermon to demonstrate to them what you are able to do week by week.”

Preaching a candidating sermon can make a person feel like they are back in homiletics class. It feels like people are listening to the preacher more than they are listening to God. No matter what we say, people are thinking about our delivery, more than about the message. They are watching us closely, making decisions about what they are hearing. Their judgment has more to do with whether they would want to listen to us on a weekly basis than it has to do with their own response to the message that we came to bring. It is what it is. We can’t really change it, though we’re best not to dwell on this reality obsessively. The best thing we could do is the same thing that we ought to do whenever we stand to preach. We turn people’s focus to the Word of God and seek to help them to hear his voice.

WordPress is growing up

WordPress gets continually easier to use as a CMS (Content Management System) which is good news for churches who want an easy to use platform for their internet presence.  Yesterday I upgraded the Northwest website to the latest version (WordPress 2.6.2) and the upgrade went very smoothly.  With the size and complexity of our site I was expecting the upgrade to cause a number of serious headaches.  I was pleasantly surprised. There is a video clip prepared by the people at WordPress detailing some of the new features in WordPress. The clip can be accessed here, but it does not work well in Internet Explorer – use Firefox instead.

The following are some of the features that I like in the current version of WordPress (2.6.2).

1. In general the management interface for WordPress is much cleaner and easier to use. The layout is more intelligible, the design is cleaner and the colors are more aesthetically pleasing with lots of white space.

2. Plugin management has been reorganized. Plugins in current use are visually separated from inactive ones. Plugins can be updated directly from the plugin management page (no more uploading them manually via ftp). All this gives the webmaster a much easier time managing plugins: which ones are being used, which ones are in need of updating, doing the updating etc.

More Useful Plugins for WordPress:

Here are several more plugins that I have discovered along the way that help make life easier for the church that wants to use WordPress as a full-featured CMS.

Sermon Browser: One of the features that many churches look for is the ability to place audio and video material on their website for others to access and benefit by. Sermon Browser was designed for just that. It is still in beta form but seems to be working well. Here is a link to the website of a church that is using it http://www.bethel-clydach.co.uk/index.php.

RefTagger: Our friends at Logos Bible Software have also created a plugin for WordPress that allows all Scripture references on one’s site to be linked to the full text of the passage.  Check out John 3:16 (just hover over it).  Here is a quote from their website:

RefTagger is an amazing, free new web tool that instantly makes all the Bible references on your site come alive! Bare links turn into hyperlinks to the full text of the passage at Bible.Logos.com, making it easy for your readers to access the text of Scripture with just a click. Even better, RefTagger brings the text right to your readers by generating a tooltip window that pops up instantly when they hover over the reference. You can also have RefTagger add an logos icon that is hyperlinked to the passage in Libronix—ideal if many of your readers use Logos.”

Simple:Press Forum is a full featured forum application that works as a plugin for WordPress. I have just begun using it on a personal website and it seems to be just what I have been looking for.

CQS Reloaded: This is a powerful little plugin that allows one to determine how many posts will appear at one time in a given WordPress section or category.  For example, if one wants visitors to their site to only see the current article on the home page but multiple articles on an archives page or as many as possible on a search page, this is the plugin to use.  If one has category templates designed for their website they can determine a precise number of posts for each category.

Page restrict: Suppose a website has one (or several) page that you would like only logged-in members to access. This plugin gives that kind of control.

Simple Tags: If a person is into using the new tagging feature in WordPress 2.6.2 this plugin gives a whole bunch of options and features for managing tags.  Both the Northwest website as well as Mark Naylor’s blog use this tagging feature.  See the bottom of this page.

The following two plugins are ones that I use on both Larry Perkin’s and Mark Naylor’s blogs. They are particularly useful if a visitor to the site wants to either email a copy of an article to someone or if they want to print up a hard copy for themselves.
WP-Email: Here is the read-me information.
WP-Print: Here is the read-me information.

WP-DBBackup: This is a valuable plugin for the many management tasks one might want to perform on the site’s database. This plugin, however, must be used with great care. I completely messed up one of my websites by not being careful. Here is the read-me information.

Feel free to interact witn me on this topic.  What have you found helpful for your church website?

Training with Impact!

The increasing diversity and complexity of our context has given rise to specializations in pastoral ministry.  Due to the increasing ethnic diversity in Canada a further skill set is required – pastoring in an intercultural setting.  Northwest Baptist seminary is addressing this need through the Cross-cultural Leadership Development program (CLTP), a one-year undergrad, mentored, experienced-based training program in cross-cultural ministry.  See also Why CLTP?

Jarrod Haas writes of how the CLTP experience has impacted his life:

Jarrod HaasThrough the CLTP program, my understanding of cross-cultural relationships has grown substantially…. I have come to see more clearly that the core of practical ministry occurs through relationships with others…. A new understanding of cultural dynamics has made me aware of the importance of learning to speak in the “language” of the other. Whereas before I focused almost exclusively upon acceptance and articulation of truth, I have realized that real relationships involve the contextualization of the self as a messenger, so as to develop credibility and communicate truth from a position of servantheartedness.

With this broadening of my perspective on relationships has also come several more practical insights.

experiential knowledge of other cultures is essential to building solid, lasting relationships

First, I am becoming more aware of the cultural barriers that exist when building relationships with ESL students. Students may perceive relationship with me or other Canadians as being very transitory (so that they are unwilling to involve themselves beyond a superficial level) or as a vehicle for the achievement of their English communication goals. They may also idealize white people or Western culture, or simply be uncomfortable with foreigners and cross-cultural situations. Understanding the baggage that can come into cross-cultural relationships is helpful in maintaining a sober attitude and expectations in ministry and friendships. It is also helpful to know what obstacles exist so that I can pray and seek ways of removing them.

Second, the dynamic between giving and receiving is becoming more apparent. Although we are called to be servants first and foremost, it is necessary to balance this by giving others an opportunity to serve and give back. Continually offering service to another has the effect of placing them in an inferior position. Without giving the other a chance to give in return, relationships can turn into a selfish monologue or dependency.

It is an honour to be a servant in missions for the Glory of God

Third, [E. Stanley] Jones noted that caution was required when ministering in India because of the inferiority complex that existed towards the West. Tension towards the West because of its colonialism and affluence extends to other countries as well. Simply being a white Christian carries a significant amount of baggage that the cross-cultural worker must be aware of. It is particularly important to be conscious so as not to create an attitude of superiority or arrogance. Even seemingly innocent statements of comparison between Canada and other countries can cause people to think that you believe your own country is the standard by which everyone else should live.

Fourth, I have learned that an experiential knowledge of other cultures is essential to building solid, lasting relationships. In particular, I am beginning to gain a small working knowledge of the Korean worldview and how it manifests through expressions such as of high-context indirectness and group-centeredness.

Fifth, in relation to the previous point, I intend to be more conscious of listening to and observing internationals, rather than focusing on influencing them…. Learning the relational language of the other is essential to relating effectively. Furthermore, I intend to be more mindful of differences (e.g. personality types, social status, etc.) that I perceive in relationships. My approach thus far has been to downplay or ignore the various kinds of disparities that can occur, so as to focus on acceptance of the other. That approach does have merits. However, I am discovering that it is important to keep a healthy focus on differences that do emerge because they are important for understanding how to speak and relate to the other on his or her terms, rather than my own.

Sixth, above all else, heavy reliance upon a right relationship with God, prayer, and the Spirit have proven to be the core elements of all relational processes. I have come to see, in practical terms, that no amount of experience or knowledge can supersede the level of integration and empowerment of skills that the Spirit provides while forming and nurturing relationships.

There are, of course, many aspects of relationships that are not on this list. What has been most significant, however, was growth in the understanding that the development and integration of these and other relational skills will be essential to effectiveness in all future ministry…. I am looking forwards with great anticipation to the work that God will do both in Canada and internationally. It is an honour to be a servant in missions for the Glory of God.