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Brant Hansen writes about losing around the world and has video to prove it:

Check out Compassion.com to make a difference in a kid's life.



Brian and I call it "Mecca." Not because we revere it to that degree but because we know folks who do. Folks who call it simply "Willow." As in "Hey, are you going to Willow's conference next week?" and "We're getting moving video walls like Willow!"

Willow Creek Community Church is perhaps the most imitated church in America. Hundreds of church, many I've played at, try their darndest to replicate Willow's success.

Imitation is nothing new and nothing bad of course. Imitation forms the core of Christian belief after all. Disciples are like their teachers - Jesus taught. Follow me - He said. Do as I do - Paul begged. So there's tremendous good in having a big brother, whether a person or a church or a business or a philosophy, to model ourselves after.

I wonder though if some of the problems of imitation come when the paragon isn't modeled in every dimension, when we copy only a fraction of our model, or even worse, neglect essential details.

Take art, for instance. Let's say I want to paint like Rembrandt. I buy canvas and brushes and oils and painstakingly replicate every brush stroke of The Night Watch. Every twist and twirl of his brush is exactly imitated by mine.

No matter how well I copy Rembrandt's craft I'll fail at replicating him. Rembrandt is the hardest painter to forge - so says an old art teacher of mine. Why? His paint.

He made his own paint out of all sorts of weird stuff - like his own blood. His unique concoctions aged on canvas differently than his contemporaries, becoming rust colored with the abuse of time and the elements. That detail is hard to replicate and often overlooked.

Copy what a Rembrandt looks like today with twenty-first century store bought canvas and oils and the image may look like his for a while. But over time the modern work and his elderly one will drift toward dissimilarity. Our oils will maintain their color for the most part and his will continue to sink deeper and deeper under a sheen of bloody brown. The detail neglected will reveal itself. The fraud will be apparent.

So it is with Willow. My friend who works for WIllow is one of its biggest fans. He gushed facts and figures and stories about her greatness as we walked together across its gargantuan campus recently.

He showed me their cafeteria and marveled at their technology (thumb scanners to keep attendance in the middle school ministry?). I noticed the plethora of ministry logos, printed signage, cool fonts and images, loads of decorating and design details. We talked attendance and capacity and budgets. He described the music and the production of a typical Willow church service, down to the roomy cat walks, moving video walls and retractable staging. All the stuff its imitators lust to copy.

It's this stuff I already knew before my visit - the stuff that had me wondering if Willow was just another event church. I'm against attractional or event church. Not that you should care but I am. I've tried to make it clear here that attractional event churches are just as likely to have pipe organs blaring on Sunday mornings as they are electric guitars and video screens. It's not about style! It's about emphasis. If the bulk of investment (all kinds) is flooded into the church event (service) at the neglect of the other dimensions of church then such a church is an event, an attraction, and little more. Such a church does not create imitators of Christ (disciples), but merely spectators and consumers of Christ. (Where your treasure is, is where your heart is right?)

My friend helped me understand WIllow in a new way. It's imitators and I missed some key details. It's more than an event.

For instance, Willow has a membership process that is quite involved. It's not what the early church had for sure - it's not two years long. But it requires hours of study, a signed commitment making many promises and acknowledging the responsibilities and duties of being a member of the church, and a face to face meeting with one of hundreds of trained membership counselors who go over the wanna be member's "homework" and reiterate the importance and specifics of the membership commitment being entered into.

This membership is reaffirmed every year with more study and meeting and another signature. Every year.

Members promise to be involved in learning, serving and giving and more. And they deliver. That massive auditorium at Willow was built by both outside professionals and Willow members. Members donated massive amounts of time and sweat to wiring, installing, painting, plumbing and constructing the place they would one day worship in together. That was their duty, as they saw it, as members of a family called Willow Creek.

And there's more. Lots more that goes unimitated and unnoticed. An aids office with a staff of more than a hundred, unpaid staff members who are just so stinking rich they've decided to donate their fulltime work to the church, hundreds of cars given away to single mothers, houses built, orphans fed, a robust missions department, mentoring programs, bible study, justice initiatives, racial reconciliation trips, and on and on. And it's not just programs - I think. If my friend is telling the truth - and I think he is - the leadership of the church measures its success not on the number of attenders each week but on the number of "participating members" who are actively taking advantage of tools and resources and relationship in the church for knowing God and making God known.

What's this have to do with relevance? Well, in my brain it's related because the things often imitated about Willow Creek are the things seen by its imitators as essential to being "relevant". The brush strokes and shapes. Folks I know who copy Willow's church services do so because they want to be as relevant as Willow (and as big). So they theme their services and assemble praise teams and hire a producer and print Excel spread sheets detailing how long every song and announcement and video will last. They copy the event Willow, everything they deem essenntial.

But they're using the wrong paint.

Willows paint, on its best days, is made out of more than its imitators may realize. It's made out of the blood of discipleship, mentoring, service, community, benevolence, mercy, compassion, truth and love. Painting with anything else is crafting a fraud easily exposed.

Exposed by a single mother asking for help but getting referred to a government agency because mercy is sung about but not lived out. Exposed by a preschooler playing with a hired teacher because membership doesn't require service. Exposed by a twenty-something emaciated by "faith for dummies" every Sunday morning, starved for deeper understanding of scripture and life and answers to tough questions.

Forget "relevance" and all its squirrelly definitions for a minute. Let's talk obedience. Willow Creek, I believe, is obedient because it's striving to be a church in every way, and as such its members are expected to be loving, merciful, studious, active participants in a church imitating Christ everywhere and all the time.

Copy that.

Read HOW RELEVANT IS RELEVANT? Parts 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and you're caught up.



iPhoto-esque program for your documents, pdfs and other junk you can never find when you really need to. Download it at yepthat.com".


A couple weeks ago his appetite declined, he walked gingerly and rarely, stopped cleaning himself and bristled when touched. Being twelve, a senior citizen in the cat community, we suspected whatever was wrong with him would end him.

The vet told us yesterday, after loads of tests and two different doctors, he had cancer, lymphoma. He had lost half his weight and was in some pain and the doctor promised there'd be much more. So we made the trek this morning, Becky and I and the kids, to see Dartanian one last time.

Becky held him on a soft blanket in her lap. Gabriella and Gresham told him one thing they liked about him and petted him. Then the shots were given and he went to sleep. The small white room was silent except for the sound of crying.

I took the kids outside so Becky could be alone with him for a few minutes.

"Why are you sad?" Gabriella asked. "Now he's God's cat."

"Yea," I tried to explain. "He sleeps in God's lap and runs in God's backyard and God feeds him now. But we're sad because we don't get to do those things with him anymore."

"Don't cry," she whispered and slid her hand on top of mine. "You can feed him again when you go to Heaven."

Minutes ago we circled in the backyard under two peach trees and an appropriately drizzly granite gray sky. I said a prayer thanking God for cats and for Dartanian as Gresham chased a cricket across his open grave and Penelope cried for nap time to come soon. I said Amen and piled the first shovel of dirt on his cardboard coffin. Gresham shoveled the second and Gabriella the third.

We went inside, making sure to pet Josephine on our way up the stairs.


The music industry is suffering. The major record labels – which rely on CDs for most of their revenue – are in decline. CD sales in the US have dropped more than 20 percent from a peak of $13.4 billion in 2000. But don't be fooled: The market for music is thriving. With the rise of peer-to-peer networks, the iPod, and other digital technologies – plus a 100 percent jump in concert ticket sales since 1999 – the world is awash in music. The industry now has more sources of revenue – ringtones, concert tickets, license agreements with TV shows and videogames – than ever before.

Record labels have always been the center of gravity in the industry – the locus of power, ideas, and money. Labels discovered the talent, pushed the songs, and got the product on the air and into stores. The goal: move records, and later, CDs. "The labels were never in the business of selling music," says David Kusek, vice president of Boston's Berklee College of Music and coauthor of The Future of Music. "They were in the business of selling plastic discs."

Musicians generally make very little from the sale of their records. The costs of production, marketing, and promotion are charged against sales, and even if they go multiplatinum and cover those costs, their cut of any extra revenue is usually less than 10 percent. On top of this, the labels typically retain the copyrights to the recordings, which allows them to profit from the musicians' catalogs indefinitely. "It's as if you received a loan for a house," says Ed Robertson, one of BNL's lead vocalists. "But when you finish paying off that loan, the label says thank you and keeps the house."

And, funny thing, this model isn't just bad for artists, it's increasingly bad for business. Because the label makes most of its profits from recorded music, much of the money spent marketing an artist benefits third parties like concert promoters and music publishing companies. In addition, copyrights to a piece of music are usually divided between a label and a publisher, which collect royalties every time the work is recorded, performed, or played publicly. "What other business splits up its key assets and sells them to separate businesses that wind up in conflict with each other?" asks Duncan Reid, a venture capitalist who now helps run UK-based Ingenious Music.

Read the rest of this article at WIRED.COM



I want to see whores in God's house. I think He does too. I think most of us Christians want that, or know we should, even if we'd never put it quite that way.

I put it that way because, well, I like the word "whore"...mostly because I can't stand it. It's a prickly word that gets albums banned from respectable Christian book stores. It's the last word we want our mammas or daughters called. It's a dirty word, the dirtiest word for those who trade themselves for money.

I use "whore" because I've been one - I still act like one some days. I trade myself for the rusty change of temporary pleasure or power. Always have. And I don't want you to give me a cleaner name, to distance me from the gutter and the corner I once worked by relabeling me "prostitute" or "pre-Christian." I've been too dirty and lowdown to deserve so many syllables. I was a whore.

No five letters have as much power, as much punch.

Except "grace."

It turns beer into furniture, gang bangers into fathers and friends, the wealthy into middle class and whores into brides. I've seen it.

I saw it on her face as the choir sang and the preacher stood waiting. I stood corrected. I was wrong to think this didn't - to think this couldn't - happen in a place like that. The robes and the organ and the suits and pews weren't enough to keep her away. God and His seductive grace were in that church: In the woman who left her respectable job at the bank to bring her lunch every day day at noon. In the women who shook her hand and hugged her neck and smiled genuinely that morning. In the suited man who walked her to her seat, arm in arm.

In that "irrelevant" place there was something more powerful my arrogant young mind hadn't accounted for: grace. And where there is grace the rules of popular culture and common sense sometimes get changed. People get changed. Where there is grace there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, housewife nor whore. Or is it that in a place of grace there's an awareness that we're all ex-slaves and whores?

All I know is what I saw. A woman who walked the streets running to grace. And because of it too.

Read HOW RELEVANT IS RELEVANT? Parts 1 and 2 and 3 and you're caught up.



I took my seat on the front pew, at the end of a long line of serious looking deacons in blue and black suits and newly polished Sunday shoes. This was an almost exact replica of he First Baptist Church where I spent my teen-age years: Downtown right off Main Street. Parking meters out front disabled on Sundays. Steep stairs stacked to front doors flanked by majestic white columns. Golden chandeliers illuminating the foyer’s marble floors and grandiose floral arrangements. A man in a suit wearing a name tag and tie handing out bulletins to people he welcomes by name. Another man, also in a suit, walking widows and the disabled to their seats.

This church exists in just about every town south of the Mason-Dixon. I knew it’s routine and ritual well.

The service began with a “call to worship” blared from a pipe organ played by a librarian-looking woman wearing bifocals that dangled around her neck by a gold chain until the moment she needed them to read her sheet music. During her performance the choir, robed in ankle length green silk gowns with yellow neck sashes filed into the choir loft. And after this the crowd and I sat silently as the music minister made his way to the pulpit. He finally arrived, smiled and asked us to turn to page such-and-such and sing the “timeless hymn” such-and-such.

The hymn was followed by announcements. The Education Minister walked to the pulpit and read to us from the bulletin we received just minutes before from the man at the front door: “There will, uh, be a meeting of the WMU in, uh, uh, the Fellowship Hall oooooon…Wednesday night at…6…and, don’t forget youth camp registration starts today and, um…the camp is called The Great Adventure camp and…Shaun Grooves will be doing a concert right here tonight and you don’t want to miss it…”

The Music Minister returned to the platform and asked us to stand and sing “All Hail The Power Of Jesus’ Name” and we did, followed by four stanzas of another hymn, and another hymn, and then an offertory prayer by an elderly deacon, and then “Special Music” sung by a woman with wide vibrato and accompanied by the organist who had stealthily switched to the piano during the prayer. “His eye is on the sparrow,” she droned, “and I know He watches me.”

Then the pastor, a man in his fifties wearing a double-breasted gray suit and his short hair parted to one side, climbed the stairs to the pulpit, opened his bible, thanked sister so-and-so for her “fantastic singing” and read from one of the Gospels. He reduced the chapter to three points he repeated as he preached. “My first point this morning was…then my second point was…and now my third point is…” His voice rose and fell melodramatically, undulating from whisper to holler and back again and again. His illustrations came from books and not personal experience. There was nothing to look at. No walking out from behind the pulpit. No humor. No cultural. No printed outline to help us follow along.

I kept a mental list of the top seeker-insensitive words of the morning: Offertory. Prostrate fall. Redemption. Salvation. Justified. Personal Lord and Savior.

I tallied the missed opportunities for relevance: A scene from Friends would have gone well with point one – I thought - and surely you’ve got a lost luggage story for point three.

My brain was on the verge of exploding, all the great ideas of mine and all the mistakes of his packed on top of each other in a potentially explosive cocktail. One more blunder by this guy and I might die of an aneurism.

He seemed unaware of my mental anguish when he asked everyone to stand and invited me to play a song. I slid onto the piano bench and waited. “If you don’t know Jesus this morning I invite you to come now and make him your personal Lord and Savior. Meet me here at the front. “We also invite you to come make this your church home by baptism or transfer of letter. Come now as Shane plays.”

This’ll work, I sarcastically sneered with my inside voice. I’d seen “alter calls” in churches like this one a hundred times. It would be a miracle if anyone was still awake, a double miracle if anyone walked down the aisle, a triple miracle if that someone wasn't a Christian already.

“Take me, make me all you want me to be,” I sang.

She interrupted screaming from the back of the room.

“Jesus! I’m coming, Jesus!”

I kept on, “Welcome to this heart of mine, buried under prideful vines…”

She answered. “I’m coming! I'm coming!”

To be continued…



If you haven't heard I'm recording a live CD in Knoxville, Tn on October 13th at NEW CITY CAFE (Thanks to the many generous donations of SHLOG readers.)

Tickets purchased through NEW CITY CAFE's web site or at the door will set you back $10. BUT, we've worked out a sweet deal for you...

If you'd like to purchase your ticket in advance you can do so starting today - and it will only cost you $5! Cheaper price and guaranteed seat. Can't beat that.

Here's how you get your advance tickets for $5:

  • STEP ONE: E-mail Brian at thehummingbirdagency@charter.net.

  • STEP TWO: Include your name, the number of tickets you'd like, and which show you'd like to attend (6:30 or 9:30PM)

  • STEP THREE: Brian will send you a confirmation e-mail with instructions on how to pay for your advance tickets easily and safely.

  • 8/19/2006


    I had a great time tonight hanging with the twenty-something folks at Willow Creek. I played on a small stage set up on the shore of a small man made lake fed by a creek and surrounded by...willows. Beautiful place to make music.

    It's way too late right now to share all that much about my time here in Chicago, but I'll try my best to post more about it tomorrow from Winston-Salem. Speaking of which, that 7:30 AM departure is gonna hurt if I don't get to bed. More later.



    I was cool and talented once. I owned a graphic design company called Graffic Jam. Good name. Pretty good design. But now, I'm realizing, I'm out of practice and I don't know cool. I haven't seen cool in at least four years. And my design skills have gone from "pretty good" to "pretty sucky". "Pretty sucky" is just before "poke my eyes out it hurts" and just after "seen better" on the design quality chart used by most professionals and bundled with the latest versions of Photoshop and Illustrator for Mac OS.

    Anyway, I "worked" for a couple hours in the car today trying to come up with something worth selling on the new website in the Peace Store section and this is all I got:



    Clever? Maybe. Attractive? Eh. Amazing? Far from it. I'd rather have stuff like this or this or this. But I'm just not that good. Are you?

    Like TLC, ain't 2 proud 2 beg. I'm begging you, my readers, for help once again. Do you design merch for cheap...like free? Remember, the whole idea behind the Peace Store is to maximize profits because the profits go entirely to help folks who need it. So design needs to be very cheap or pro bono. (That's French or something for no charge I'm pretty sure.)

    Could you donate one design?

    It doesn't have to have anything to do with peace (Though that would be cool.) It just has to be something people will buy. If you feel up to it just shoot me your donated design in any form along with any website or projects I can plug for you here (with a mention or a banner) and I'll do my best to scratch your back for scratching mine...and the backs of a lot of people in need.

    Thanks in advance.


    Peanut butter crackers taste best and a hotel feels best at the end of a long day. I picked Brian up at eight this morning. We drove the the Nashville airport, rented a car and headed for Augusta, Georgia - land of biscuits and sweet tea and boiled peanuts. (Oh well, two out of three are in heaven.)

    Tonight I played - this is good - a singles only coffeehouse at a Baptist Church. Yea, that's what I thought. What? But it's actually a pretty cool thing they've got going on at Warren Baptist Church.

    All the food you could ever want to stuff in your face. (Really good chocolate chip cookies - I had six.) Candle light. Comfy chairs. Great sound system. Nice folks all around. And a couple hours of music. (With an intermission of course.) All for $5.

    About three hundred folks spent the evening eating, talking, laughing and listening. I was told I'd be background music. I was warned that people wouldn't be there for me but to see each other. I'd ordinarily say no to a gig like this. For no other reason than, well, honestly, I have an agenda at my concerts. I have something I'm trying to communicate. And communication kinda requires listeners.

    But I took the gig anyway. It reminded me of the first gig I ever did. Becky (my wife) and I played a gig together a long long time ago in Tyler, Texas where I'm from. She plays the piano - if she has music in front of her. And I used to play the sax pretty well. Long story short, we got roped into playing a singles Valentine banquet at our church. Shlocky standards like Misty and My Funny Valentine and even worse: Stephen Curtis Chapman's I Will Be Here. Great song. Just not on the sax.

    Back then I took the gig BECAUSE I was promised we'd only be background music. "No one will be listening. They'll be eating," they said. Instead we played in the center of the room, after dinner was eaten, for couples sitting in a circle around us. Listening. Intently. To our bad bad music.

    Luckily the promoter for tonight's show was wrong as well. About the background music thing. I was background music for seventy percent (Brian's guestimate) of the crowd until I talked about Compassion International. I didn't ask people to listen. But mysteriously they did. It was the oddest thing. The low rumble at the back of the room turned to total silence in seconds as I spoke about the thirty-thousand children who died today because they didn't have water and food and medicine.

    I arrived not knowing why I came here. Why would I agree to be background music for a singles event? Why? Was it just nostalgia? Seems like a bad fit for what I do best and who I think I am. Fifteen saved lives later though, I have my answer.

    I love my job. And these crackers are pretty good too.

    We've got Willow Creek tomorrow.



    Since Randy retired as Worship Arts Pastor at The People's Church several of us have been filling in, taking turns at strumming and singing in his shoes. A hard job...especially that early in the morning. I appreciate all you guys and girls who do this every week at churches around the world.

    Too many words to remember that I didn't write. So I cheated and worked in a couple songs of my own, just to give my brain a rest. Here are two from a few weeks ago:

    What makes filling in easier is having a great band to work with, all volunteers from within the church. I'm gonna brag on them for a minute. They are not only tremendously talented but also tremendously easy to work with. No egos. Teachable and flawless. Here's who they are, with any interesting info the muzos out there might care to know about them:

    Keys: Brian Green (producer, session guy)
    Keys: Ken Rarick (formerly of Air Supply)
    Bass: Theron Hatch (might be a professional blogger)
    Drums: Glenn Williams
    Electric: Rob Soleberg (Of Brainwave Studios)
    Acoustic: Josh Cassidy (IKONer, singer/songwriter, bilingual customer service agent at LifeWay)
    Female Vocalist: Charlynn Carpenter (Assistant for Ginny Owens, model/actress, married to Scott of The Luxury Liners)
    Male Vocalist: Josh Harrison

    Thanks to Dustin at The People's Church for getting me this footage and allowing me to post it.


    Here's where I'll be this weekend. See you there.

    Friday, August 18 – Warren Baptist Church – Augusta, GA
    7:00pm – concert

    Saturday, August 19 –Willow Creek Community Church – S. Barrington, IL
    7:15pm – concert

    Sunday, August 20 – Pinedale Christian Church – Winston-Salem, NC
    6:30pm – concert



    When Raphael...

    and his bros Spiderman and Bionicle...

    get together, things can get a little rowdy. They'll warm up by just crusin' a little first, sure.

    But a crowd will come.

    Because women of all ages want to be near them.

    And men of all ages want to be them.

    Even Lex Luthor's gonna try to sneak in.

    But be warned party people. When super heros party, sooner or later something's catching on fire.

    And someone's getting beat.

    Happy B-Day to Brody's son Blue. Great party. It's still going at our house.


    I just declared e-mail bankruptcy. I had 2618 unread e-mails in my fan mail box. Not because I'm popular, 'cause I'm not, but because I got behind months ago. Once behind, once my screen was filled with unread mail it became too daunting to even try to catch up. I kept telling myself - Next week I'll get to these people. A few months passed and now the pile is too high to tackle.

    So I deleted it.

    I'm starting over.

    So, if you sent me unanswered mail about needing my help to raise money for a child with cancer or you had a pressing question about where I was born or where I buy jeans - you know, important stuff like that - you'll need to resend your message to me. I'll try harder, for as long as I can, to reply to every email.



    Last time on HOW RELEVANT IS RELEVANT?: SEVEN YEARS AGO I wrote...I tucked my tail between my legs and started praying for wisdom. I admit I confused it with knowledge so I sought it by reading more books - mostly about being relevant, written by big named worship pastors at mega churches and books those pastors recommended at their conferences. But I also spent time with older men and reluctantly asked them to teach me. I was afraid though. I wanted to be wiser without becoming irrelevant like them and the middle-aged guys around that planning table. Relevance was essential to being the Church in the modern world.

    I thought.

    Until one day...


    I got a record deal. I stopped working at the church and started traveling. And learning.

    I learned that relevance, if it was the thing to pursue, must look different than I thought when advocating it in those worship planning meetings. It must not be the best of technology and talent showcased in a cool "neutral" venue and marketed to the masses.

    I remember playing the House of Blues and the Fillmore Auditorium and the Greek Theatre with Jars of Clay and Jennifer Knapp. I expected with a bill this relevant, in venues this mainstream, with as much technology and expertise as we traveled with, there'd be non-Christians galore in the crowd. But instead every parking lot was packed with youth group vans. First Baptist, First Presbyterian, First United Methodist...

    Confusing. These concerts, and really Christian concerts for a couple decades before, were exactly what the relevance-seeking church folk like me were wanting Sunday mornings to look and sound like - just with preaching, I mean speaking, added in. Our touring machine had the ultimate lighting rig, the best newest sound system (the first line array on a Christian tour), better musicians and music, mightier fog machines, better visuals, and the biggest screens.

    Even more confusing, our tour stops were advertised on rock radio stations and often not on Christian ones. We did in-store events at Borders and not LIfeWay. We played clubs and theaters and coliseums and not churches. But where was the anticipated effect, the pied-piperesque draw on the pagan masses yearning for a more relevant Jesus experience?

    What we drew were young Christians with money enough for concert tickets ($45 in some cities) in search of safe Christian-themed entertainment. Night after night. There was nothing cross-over or attractive or evangelistic about it.

    After a couple years of big tours and big production I hit the road on my own. Just me and my guitar. And that's when things got even more confusing and enlightening. For instance, there was the day I met my first prostitute...





    Seven years ago I was a janitor. And a Power Point operator. And a set designer.

    I moved risers and instruments around on a church stage until they matched the drawing scrawled by my boss. I arranged fake ferns and ficus trees to hide cables and monitors. I vacuumed what the cleaning crew missed. I set up the green room when recording artists came through. I helped drain, and scrub the baptistry where new Christians were dunked and left a ring of mystery residue. Mostly I dreamt from my seat on the bench about the day I'd actually be in on the big plays in the game.

    I plodded along in my day job and volunteered after hours to sing hymns for a senior citizens prayer meeting on Wednesday nights. Nothing too fast or too loud. What a waste of my talent - I sometimes thought but of course would never say outloud. I was furniture. And frustrated. And bored. For over a year.

    Then, miraculously it seemed, my big break came. I joined the worship planning team, which met to, well, plan the worship services of our church. I was in the game.

    I was there for two reasons: First, any creative ideas these guys came up with, like putting a car on stage or building a replica of the Parthenon, would be my job to actually do. So it was only fair that I be there to decide what was and was not plausible given my limited talents, time and a budget of, oh, about nothing. Second, I was the token Gen Xer. Everyone in the room was at least forty (There may have been one young whipper snapper in his late thirties). I was 25. They had degrees in theology or divinity or management or finance. I had a degree in music composition and theory. They watched a movie a month. I was at the theatre every weekend. They turned to ESPN or CNN and I absorbed hours of MTV. They still had cassette players in their offices and listened mostly to "worship music." I had hundreds of CDs from every genre spanning the last twenty years of popular music.

    Basically, I was told, they wanted to be "relevant" and they knew they weren't. They thought I was. They asked for my help.

    So I got paid to sit at the big boy table and drink Dr.Pepper and listen to seven men twice my age describe the "theme" of next week's sermon...sorry, message. Then I'd tell them what movie clips and songs - "elements" - to incorporate into the church service. And they listened. Sweet gig if you can get it.

    I felt important. I felt for the first time like all that useless pop culture trivia in my head was actually useful. I watched movies and listened to music voraciously and with a greater sense of purpose - you know, like Fight Club and Matchbox Twenty weren't mere entertainment but possible bait for or bridges to the non-Christians in our town.

    My aim, our aim in those days, was to build church services that were relevant. Relevant. That word was passed around the church offices like Kool-Aid at a Jim Jones gathering back then. I drank it. A lot of it. I drank until I was drunk enough to embarrass myself.

    When the oldest man in the worship planning meeting shot down a risky suggestion I'd made, I arrogantly ranted about the importance of being relevant to my generation. I thought I was reminding him of something he'd obviously forgotten or negligently stopped caring about. I spouted stats about the number of people my age who weren't attending church. I swore if we'd just go a little further down the road marked relevance we could change those numbers. I ended my mini-sermon by lecturing, "Relevance and power are inversely proportionate in the Church today. The older a person gets, the more power and position he has but the less relevant he is to the generation most in need of being reached. And the younger and less powerful a person is in the Church, the more relevant he's likely to be because he's more in touch with popular culture. The powerful need to listen to the weak if we're going to be relevant and turn things around."

    My pastor let me finish, let me hang myself with my own diatribe. And then he said calmly and kindly, "You're passionate and I appreciate that. But what you lack is wisdom."

    I tucked my tail between my legs and started praying for wisdom. I admit I confused it with knowledge so I sought it by reading more books - mostly about being relevant, written by big named worship pastors at mega churches and books those pastors recommended at their conferences. But I also spent time with older men and reluctantly asked them to teach me. I was afraid though. I wanted to be wiser without becoming irrelevant like them and the middle-aged guys around that planning table. Relevance was essential to being the Church in the modern world.

    I thought.

    Until one day...


    Joel Vestal is the founder of ServLife and a blogger living an experimental life that takes him from Thailand to Jerusalem to India to...You get the idea. Read his blog and check out the ServLife site to be inspired by his well-lived life.



    Hey, now. This is about you and your messed up tree. Why'd you have to go and bring God into it?

    Dear God, please get a new publicist.




    After yesterday's post (Feelings) my brain went a different direction from the commentors. They seemed largely concerned with the "marketing culture" and how it's "evil" and "foolish" and what not. All good thoughts. Just not where my brain went with all this. Admittedly, I drank pee and ate roaches as a child so your brain's probably in better working condition but...

    My former label and good friends taught me a lot about marketing. They're good at it. In my almost six years there I worked with four heads of marketing and learned from them all. All of them had a different strategy.

  • My first record's bio, crafted by a marketer, started this way: "Shaun Groves has the look and swagger of a rock star." I never liked that line. It's not true. And I now wonder if the person who wants to feel something rock stars make them feel isn't listening to Christian radio or shopping at LifeWay. And those are the places that heard this message most.

  • My second record bio focussed instead on the awards and accomplishments of the first record. I was marketed as the guy who wrote a hit song...with a new hair cut. People who want to feel in step with the herd bought my second record (if they knew about it) so they wouldn't feel left out. But again this isn't who I truly am. So at this point in my career, IF the message/story from the marketers was being heard by you you'd think I was a rock star who was successful. Not too compelling.

    The truth is of course the best story and what we should have told first. (We didn't know it then.) People can smell marketing when it's a lie. Good marketing, Seth says, is "authentic."

  • We told the truth for record three. The person who wrote the bio this time was a friend at the label who knew me well. It showed. She got it right..."More than a musician"..."a communicator, a man full of messages and ideas that he hopes to translate through a variety of media." "A writer, teacher, preacher, father, husband." Well done. True.

    Problem was the truth came five years too late. The lies were already out there and believed. The original message stuck: Career focussed, successful, "rock star" on Adult Contemporary radio with good hair. (OK, so it's not ALL a lie.)

    When I show up for interviews the conversation is about songs and looks and past successes and that hit of mine years ago and accomplishments and career ambitions and... The media has stopped discovering who I really am because they think they know. We told them five years ago. It's our fault - mine too.

    Which brings me to applying the lessons learned from Seth and my own mistakes today.

    Why did a friend of mine divorce his wife a few years back? Well, he said she wasn't the person he married. And he was right. The person she SAID she was, that she PRETENDED to be when they dated wasn't the person she really was. The lie couldn't be told forever and he discovered the truth. he wanted her to always be his first impression. And her first impression was that of a domestic goddess who loved to have sex very often and laughed at his every joke. What a lie.

    I wonder whether words we use in churches like "traditional" and "relevant" and "contemporary" and "emergent" and "accessible" and "upbeat" are really any different in purpose and power from words used on Madison Avenue like "hand-crafted" and "imported" and "value" and "new" and "limited-edition." I wonder if they tell the whole truth about us and whether they attract the kind of "customers" the whole truth would.

    Pastors lament the lack of volunteerism and tithing in their church. They don't understand why their people fight about silly things like music preferences or the color of carpet being installed in the new Childrens building. And then I go to their web sites and see the story they told to sell their church (and their God) to people. Someone in their marketing department or behind the pulpit is telling the consumer (the member) that the church is a place to be comfortable, have fun and be served, to be cool (relevant) and trendy (cutting edge) and hear music (passionate worship). The consumer believes this story, grabs a seat and enjoys the show while the preschool department pays workers to watch kids since the church member/consumer won't.

    Why would she, liar? Her actions are in line with the story you told her. Don't get angry now.

    Seth says this can't be undone, by the way. He says once the impression is made, once the expectation is set, once the story is told, it's in stone. I hope he's wrong. His one bit of advice on trying to change the original impression is to figure out what the truth is, who you are. Be who you are as a church, a musician, a tube of toothpaste starting now. Get that straight (I'm a teacher.) THEN tell that story to people who want or need who you are (My people: People who feel like their improving themselves and the world by learning. People who don't like how things are and want better. People who are rethinking what they believe. People who like to ask why.)

    The truth is the best story we have. Tell this first.

    Buy All Marketers Are Liars for more on truth and lies and marketing.

  • 8/09/2006


    Here's an e-poster in various sizes you can download and spread. Here's how:

    PC: Right click on the image and choose "Save linked file" or "Save image to disk."

    MAC: CTRL click on the image and choose "Save image."

    Post them in your blog, my space page, attach to e-mails, add to the signature of your forum posts etc. You know the drill. I need your help getting the word out about this show and recording. I appreciate any you can give. Thanks in advance.





    My favorite blogger/DJ/family man/teacher/humorist/missionary/probable former underwear model Brant Hansen, is back in action. He's depressed and his grandma don't care.

    Worth reading as always.


    Why did you buy an SUV and not a mini van? Why did you stay at a "chateau" on vacation and not a hotel? Why do you drink Fat Tire Amber Ale and not Zima? Why did you buy organic hand soap on-line and not the Kroger brand?


    So says Seth Godin in his latest book All Marketers Are Liars. In his practical guide to marketing everything - politicians, cars, glasses, music and even church - Seth is very candid and seems not to even realize how profound he's being.

    While the book is about marketing, for instance, it's revealed that marketing is inextricably bound to sociology. The way people think and behave and believe determines how they're sold ideas and things. While explaining this Seth, seemingly by accident, detonates a bomb of a sociological thought that's been echoing in my brain for days.

    Tell me if this doesn't ring true to you:

  • PEOPLE SHOPPING TO SATISFY A TRUE NEED don't care about packaging, style or the pitch. If they're thirsty they drink what's wet. If they're hungry they eat what's available. If they're cold they take what's warm. The needy care about the facts: wet, food, warm.

  • OUR NEEDS ARE MET in the U.S. There are very very few people here, and none reading this blog right now, who truly have unmet physical needs.

  • WHEN PEOPLE HAVE NO NEEDS the job of the marketer is to exploit and create our limitless wants.

  • MEETING WANTS IS ABOUT FEELING, NOT FACTS. People in want don't care about the facts of the product as much has how it makes them feel. Cause a product to create the right feeling in a person and they'll lie to themselves and rationalize their product choices - creating "facts" to support them even.

    Why did you buy an SUV, he asks, when a mini van causes less damage to the environment, is safer for children, uses less gas, costs less, does less damage to roadways, takes up less space, and is less likely to injure the driver and other motorists in a collision? Why? It made you feel something you wanted to feel. Tough? Wealthy? Successful? Big? Not like a taxi driver? It felt good to drive something not everyone could afford? Maybe, I concede. Definitely, Seth insists. The choice makes no sense on a practical factual level. It was a choice made on feelings.

    Or how about Soy milk. I drink it. I buy it. It's found in the refrigerated section of my store. Why? Soy milk doesn't spoil. Until it's opened it doesn't need refrigeration - and there's some debate among my friends as to whether or not it EVER needs to be refrigerated. But cold milk makes me feel like I'm buying something fresh and refreshing. That's what I want to feel. The scientific facts don't matter. My feeling redefines reality.

    Seth asserts and proves thoroughly in his book, though it's not the point of his book, that people like you and me with wants and no needs care more about how stuff makes us feel than we do about the facts. Style over substance. Feelings first.

    Before we snarl from atop our high horses and wag our fingers at SUV drivers and soy milk drinkers consider this - I am:









    My point isn't that any of these choices we've made are "wrong" but that, in my own life at least, they've been made in part or totally based on what I want to feel and not on the facts. I have more thoughts on this, truly paradigm shattering thoughts, but for now I want to know what you think. (How's that make you feel?) Is this theory/law of Seth's correct? Is it true for you? Should we not factor our feelings into our choices at all? How much should the facts/reality be part of our important and not-so-important decisions?

    (Special thanks to Matthew Smith and his marketing genius wife Alice for turning me onto Seth's writing.)

  • 8/08/2006


    Tonight at ikon we finally reach the end of our walk through 1 Corinthians. (I think it's been seven months of study?) Brian will close the book tonight after teaching an overlooked passage about an offering.

    Paul was the father of the church not only in Corinth but also in Philippi, Galatia, Ephesus etc. And he didn't view them as separate entities but as households in one family. This aunt lives there. That uncle down the road. You get the picture. As the Pointer Sisters once sang, "We are family." (Actually, I stand corrected by the comments section. It's Sister Sledge's song.)

    And one of the duties of family is to share - to take care of those inside the family who don't have enough, to help each other out, to sacrifice for each so we all stay alive...no matter how far apart your house is from mine. If my sister were to call me and say she couldn't feed her kids I'd sell everything I have to save their lives and hers. I'd rather do without than lose someone I love. That's family.

    So Paul writes to every household in the family of God asking them to begin saving up for an offering he'll come by to collect on his next visit to them. The offering is for a church far away who's more than a little needy.

    Weeks ago Brian and I began asking those of you who come to ikon to save up and prepare yourselves for an offering to be given to a household in the family of God today in need of our help. We'll take up that offering tonight and tell you who it's going to and why.

    Also, tonight will be the last ikon ever. This is the end. If you've been coming to ikon lately and reading your e-mails you know why but we'll talk about it again tonight and field any new questions you may have about it all. (If you're a blog reader who doesn't come to ikon, I'll tell y'all the story soon.)

    See you tonight.




    I'm back from Colorado and Maryland - four full days away from home - but I'm not blogging....well, other than to tell you I'm not blogging, which I guess kinda makes me a liar, but not a big fat one. I've just learned that skipping a day on the blog freaks some folks out and annoys others away forever. So I have to say something everyday. Today the post is "I'm not not blogging."

    Instead I'm baby sitting so Becky can restock the fridge, building skyscrapers out of blocks with my son, changing diapers, micro-waving lunches, mowing the yard, playing Go Fish and Old Maid - basically reminding my kids who I am. Four days is a lot longer to a 15 month old than it is to a Dad.

    Tomorrow - blog, blog, blog!

    Until then...



    The Worship Leader Magazine folks played this at a session and asked the worship leaders in the crowd, "So, is this how you feel? Is this what it feels some people who come to your church are shopping for?"

    Funny. Sad. And true, but not everywhere for everyone. Not even close. It's easy to obsess on all that's wrong with us Christians and church but being with other Christians and ministers and musicians all week has had the opposite effect on me. I've been very encouraged and rejuvenated by my time here at Estes. I've met so many people I'd love to go to church with, who get what church and faith and life can be. It's contagious and very inspiring.



    OK GO on treadmills.

    (HT: brody harper)

    OK Go


    I just walked out of my seminar on burnout called "Toast" and I'm amazed at how many people in the class admitted through tears to being on the verge of or in the middle of burnout. MInsters. Ministers' spouses. Musicians. Preachers. Pre-school volunteer. A nurse and a doctor. Seems to be an epidemic. Here are few stats, some from a survey of over 11,000 pastors in the U.S. a few years back:

  • Eighty percent of pastors' spouses feel their spouse is overworked.

  • Eighty percent of pastors' spouses wish their spouse would choose another profession. Eighty percent of pastors' wives feel pressured to do things and be something in the church that they really are not. The majority of pastors' wives surveyed said that the most destructive event that has occurred in their marriage and family was the day they entered the ministry.

  • Eighty-five percent of pastors said their greatest problem is they are sick and tired of dealing with problem people, such as disgruntled elders, deacons, worship leaders, worship teams, board members, and associate pastors. Ninety percent said the hardest thing about ministry is dealing with uncooperative people.

  • Seventy percent of pastors do not have a close friend, confidant, or mentor.

  • Stress now contributes to 90% of all diseases. Half of all visits to doctors are stress-related

    The seminar seemed to scratch an itch well enough that I've been approached about turning Toast into a full blown conference for the stressed. Of course that could mean stress for me. Might be time to practice what I just preached and say "no" but who knows? We'll see.

  • 8/02/2006


    I'm working for Worship Leader Magazine this week at GMA's Music In The Rockies conference. They have me teaching a few classes, critiquing songs for up-and-coming writers, and, the best part, just hanging out with the rest of the Worship Leader Magazine team.

    We rode into the city of Estes, Colorado from our conference center for dinner tonight; through the glowing orange mountains at dusk and down the main street of the tiny tourist town, laughing most of the way - usually at somebody in the car. Of course being gifted in the laughing-at area I have to fess up to starting the good times just before the car ride by mocking a man with a little seniority and a lot of musical skill on me - Mr. Phil Sillas.

    When I moved to Nashville back in the Summer of 1997, Phil was writing the musical beds for Melrose Place (Remember that show?) and scoring cuts in many genres, while I was wearing slacks and a tie and calling him "Sir" a lot. He was the big time songwriter and I was the lowly intern at the publishing company. Today Phil works for Worship Leader Magazine while still scoring big cuts in every genre and I'm the lowly independent artist who should be calling him "Sir" a lot.

    But I didn't.

    Not today.

    I called him "Si-Si-Si-Sillas."

    See, Phil Sillas has done a lot of very cool things with his musical gifts but the coolest, in my opinion, are the two things he doesn't want anyone to know. Which, of course, is why I'm telling you now and must have something to do with why I call him, well, you know by now.

    Phil Sillas wrote the jingle (what he calls the "musical identity") for The Clapper. Yes, that song. BUT wait, even cooler, he also wrote the theme song, I mean musical identity, for....

    Chia Pet.

    That's right, those two musical giants somehow once resided in one human brain, the brain of my friend Phil Sillas, until sometime in the late eighties early nineties when the Clapper song threw away the Chia Pet song's copy of The White Album and things got ugly. The Clapper eventually moved out of the brain of Phil Sillas and onto magnetic tape and, well, the rest is jingle history.

    I think Phil secretly enjoys being reminded of his illustrious past as musical identity god. So if you see a guy who looks like Poncharelli from CHIPS walking around Music City, or Estes, take a gamble and give him a big ole "Si-Si-Si-Sillas!" Sure he might not be Phil at all and whoever he is might cut you, but, you know, he might be Phil and you'll finally get the chance to thank him for his everlasting contribution to your childhood and pop culture in general.

    Oh, and tell him the intern said hey.

    4:30 HURTS

    4:30 AM hurts. Hurts bad. Newspaper delivery guy, drive time DJ, garbage man, I salute you. I salute you and then I take a nap. And pray I never see 4:30 AM again.




    It's official. The live recording will be at New CIty Cafe in Knoxville, Tennessee on Friday October 13. We'll do two shows back to back (Times to be announced). Both will be filmed and recorded and admission is $5, all of which goes to New City Cafe and it's ministries.

    Spread the word. See you there.


    Ignore that out of date thermometer to your left there. YOU GUYS GAVE EVERY LAST PENNY NEEDED TO MAKE THE LIVE RECORDING!! WOW! I'm still amazed that it worked.

    So, here's what's next:

  • Brian is getting in touch with the venue we'd like to record at in Knoxville and once he has their open days we'll pick one - hopefully in late September or early October - and let you know when and where. We'll also be hitting you up to spread the word about the concert to everyone within drivable distance of the place. Thanks in advance for that!

  • I'd like to make a DVD. So here's the idea and how you could help. If you have a DV or other cool camera (other cool would be an old 16mm for instance) annd would like to film the concert shoot me an e-mail or post a comment here with a link to anything you've shot. You can upload video for free to youtube and send me that link. A couple of people will have back stage access as well and be able to film anything that happens that day if they so desire. Then, when the day's done we'll collect and edit together all the footage. I'd like to add a commentary as well telling the stories behind certain songs, why I'm singing a different lyric than the CD, what I'm looking at or laughing at on that serious song, what I had for dinner, the exact weight of my hair etc. So if you're interested let me know. It would be great to work with you.

  • Tell me what songs or stories you want to hear on the live DVD. Was there something you heard once at a show and thought, "Man, I wish my friend in Paraguay could hear this?" Well, now's your chance. You get to A&R the CD. What do YOU want to hear? (Keep in mind this is an acoustic disc.) Just tell me in the comments of this post.

    I'll keep you updated on the live recording as it progresses.


    My favorite blog of the moment is YOU ARE SO LAST YEAR. A friend referred me to this guy to do the graphic design par of the new mashed-up shaungroves.com/peacestore.com/shlog.com site. While I was perusing his portfolio I discovered his blog. Very sarcastic lighthearted posts on technology, design, music, art and other weird stuff too.

    Basically, if you don't read it you're, you know, like so last year.


    Tonight at ikon Brian tackles what one theologian calls the most difficult passage in all of the New Testament. Difficult because it seems to be endorsing a practice few if any Christians in the West practice: baptism for the dead. Check this out and come tonight to hear Brian's much sweated over interpretation:

    (1 CORINTHIANS 15:29-44)
    29Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them? 30And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? 31I die every day—I mean that, brothers—just as surely as I glory over you in Christ Jesus our Lord. 32If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus for merely human reasons, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised,
    "Let us eat and drink,
    for tomorrow we die." 33Do not be misled: "Bad company corrupts good character." 34Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God—I say this to your shame.

    35But someone may ask, "How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?" 36How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. 38But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. 39All flesh is not the same: Men have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. 40There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. 41The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor.
    42So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.