John van de Laar

Author's details

Name: John van de Laar
Date registered: March 14, 2012

Latest posts

  1. Sacredise: God Bless Africa – Worship for a time like this — January 30, 2015
  2. Sacredise: Brainstorming for Worship: Amazement — January 28, 2015
  3. Sacredise: What’s Your Reason? — January 26, 2015
  4. Sacredise: Growing Pentecostalism — January 23, 2015
  5. Sacredise: Brainstorming for Worship: Encounters — January 21, 2015

Most commented posts

  1. Sacredise: What Good Is Faith? — 2 comments
  2. Sacredise: Rev. Dr. Ross Olivier — 2 comments
  3. Sacredise: Welcome Palestine — 1 comment
  4. Sacredise: A Story of Life — 1 comment

Author's posts listings

Jan 30 2015

Sacredise: God Bless Africa – Worship for a time like this

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How do your Sunday services help to inspire ministry and mission in your church? To what extent does attendance at worship lead your people to become transformed disciples? What impact does the worship life of your congregation have on the big issues in your community and in our country? How can you make the planning and leading of worship in your church a more transformational and empowering experience for your people?

If you are intrigued or challenged by these questions, then please mark 17 – 19 March 2015 in your diary!

Ekklesia, the Ecumenical Centre for Leadership and Congregational Studies of the Stellenbosch University Theological Faculty is hosting a three-day Worship Conference, entitled GOD BLESS AFRICA: Worship for a time like this.

It’s designed for clergy, local preachers, worship leaders and congregation members, and it offers input from a wide range of excellent presenters on subjects ranging from the theology of worship, to preaching, to crafting worship, to music, to using the arts, to technology.

We have four scholars coming out from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and we have also drawn on an impressive array of South African presenters from different cultures, traditions, and denominations.

In addition, we will have a number of different kinds of worship experiences through each day, so that the Conference is not just about information, but also about practically experiencing what is learned.


You can also get more information, and a link to register for the Seminar, on the Ekklesia website at this page.

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Jan 28 2015

Sacredise: Brainstorming for Worship: Amazement

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In the Gospel reading for this Sunday  the people who witness Jesus’ ministry are amazed at his authority. Amazement was a common reaction to Jesus, and it usually resulted in people either trying to discredit or challenge him, or it caused them to respond in awe, wonder and faith. What it didn’t do was leave people bored, unmoved, or complacent. When you encountered Jesus, something changed in you – for better or worse.

Whether you will read the Lectionary readings in church this Sunday or not, this reading from Mark’s Gospel raises an important question for how we engage in and experience worship. All too often we trade amazement at Jesus for amazing lights, sound systems, mutli-media effects, and musical gymnastics. Too often, in the quest to amaze, we have chosen to constantly to raise the bar on how much we can surprise, fascinate, or delight people. And, as worshippers, too often we have chosen which church we attend by how much the leaders manage to generate this kind of amazement. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t seek to inspire, delight, or amaze people through these methods – or to be amazed. But, if that’s all we’re doing, we’re robbing ourselves of the true amazement that can come from an encounter with Jesus – the kind of amazement that actually changes us.

On the other hand, some of us, out of fear of creating an artificial amazement, have turned away from amazement all together. We ensure that our worship is theologically and liturgically sound. We make sure that decorum is preserved, and we frown on anything that smacks of emotionalism, fanaticism, or enthusiasm. As worshippers, we may run a mile if we experience anything in church that causes us to feel, or that might lead us to lose a measure of control over ourselves. I’m not saying that our worship services should be a chaotic free-for-all, but I do think that some of us could use a little more passion and surprise in our worship.

So, here’s the challenge for worship leaders this week: What can you do to point people’s gaze to Jesus in such a way that they are amazed by him and his authority? How can you lead people into a literally amazing encounter with the Living Christ?

And here’s the challenge for worshippers: How can you open yourself to a truly amazing encounter with Jesus? How can you release your need to be entertained or energised by what happens at the front, and embrace your capacity to experience the presence and power of God in ways that actually change you?

Because, in the end, if worship, through dazzling us or boring us, keeps us from constantly being amazed by Jesus, we’ve missed the point.

And if you’re looking for resources for worship for this Sunday, check out this Lectionary Worship Resources post, and this Gospel Commentary blog post.

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Jan 26 2015

Sacredise: What’s Your Reason?

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Everything happens for a reason.

We’ve all heard this. Probably too many times. Maybe we’ve said it ourselves. Maybe we’ve even meant it. But, how many of us have ever wondered why it’s so important for us to make a statement like this? How many of us have stopped to ask ourselves why we need to feel that everything happens for a reason?

Human beings are hard-wired to live toward something. We do not do well when we cannot find meaning to the events and circumstances of our lives. And when things happen that don’t make sense, we make sense for ourselves – we create meaning. We cannot imagine living in a random universe. We are compelled to aim our lives in some direction, to move toward some goal, to strive to hit some target.

But, sometimes the way we go about making meaning is less helpful than we might think. Sometimes we say things like “everything happens for a reason” without thinking through the implications. Just listen to some of the platitudes that people roll out at funerals, and you’ll see how little we have thought about some of our attempts to make sense of the world. So many of our comments about God picking flowers, or needing more angels, or doing it all for the best, leave us as nothing more than passive victims of circumstance. It’s like to find meaning, we have to believe that the world is filled with forces beyond our control, which have their own will and purpose, and which impact our lives as if we were pawns on a cosmic chessboard. But, if this is where our lives find their meaning, count me out.

It’s not that I believe our lives have no meaning. It’s just that I think we need to work a little harder at where we find meaning, and how we make it part of our lives. This is why I find myself speaking more and more about the idea of being “called”. A calling is something you receive and respond to. It is something in which you participate. It doesn’t happen to you, it happens with you – or it doesn’t happen at all. And, when we have a sense of call, our lives have purpose and meaning – no matter what the world may throw at us.

If your church follows the Revised Common Lectionary, you probably heard a call story in worship yesterday – either of Jesus’ disciples, or Jonah. You may even have been given the gift of comparing Jonah’s response to his call (he wasn’t happy) with that of the disciples (they were).

But, as interesting as it is read the call stories from the Scriptures, the real challenge is for us to live our own call story. This is what the call stories of the Bible are trying to tell us, after all. We are all called. We all have a role to play in God’s saving mission. We all have a contribution to make to the healing of the cosmos. There are lots of things that offer us a sense of meaning. But, in my experience, nothing does so as much as hearing the voice of God, and responding with a willing dedication of ourselves to God’s mission.

So, as you go through this week, where will you find meaning in your life? What will you turn to in order to make sense of the world and your place in it? Will you listen for the voice of God? Will you wait to hear God’s call? And, when you do, will you respond by dedicating your life to God’s mission, and to participating, in whatever small way you can, to bringing healing and justice to your corner of this planet?

I hope you will!

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Jan 23 2015

Sacredise: Growing Pentecostalism

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A few weeks ago a colleague alerted me to this article about the growth that is happening in global Pentecostalism. In the light of the much discussed decline among mainline denominations in the West, this phenomenon is important to note, and potentially threatening to said mainline denominations.

I want to go on record as saying that I agree with many of the conclusions that Ed Stetzer, the author of the article, draws. The three main features of Pentecostalism that, in his opinion, feed this growth, are important aspects of the church’s life at which many mainline denominational churches could do much better:

  • Pentecostals value their shared experience, and foster a culture of participation in worship and in the church’s mission.
  • Pentecostals want to share their values, and so encourage active sharing of faith and active inviting of people to church gatherings. Pentecostal pastors also have a bias toward church planting, according to Stetzer.
  • Pentecostals believe that their experience of the Spirit-filled life is worth sharing.

It may be that many mainline denominational churches, for fear of emotionalism, fanaticism, fundamentalism, and judgementalism have shyed away from nurturing and encouraging spiritual experiences, sharing of faith, and reaching out to others. It may well be that we, in the Mainline Church, need to recapture some of our zeal, some of our pride in our spiritual heritage, and some of our openness to experiencing spiritual realities as opposed to just talking about them. I must also note here that I was an active member of a few Pentecostal churches, even a full time worship pastor of one, for almost ten years, back in my twenties.

However, I do want to sound a word of caution about the data around the growth of Pentecostalism. While it is important that we take note of this trend, and learn what we can from it, we must be careful not to make assumptions that could lead us into strategies that aren’t really helpful in the long term. Here are my three main concerns about this research:

  • Much of the growth in Pentecostalism is not from unchurched people, but results from people transferring from other (notably mainline) churches. In one church I was part of some years ago, we joked that people would visit the church and sit in the back, then they would commit to Christ and sit in the middle, then they would have an experience of the Spirit and move to the front, then they would leave and join a Pentecostal church down the road. As this New York Times article states, in Latin American countries, many people leave the Roman Catholic Church to join Pentecostal churches. This means that this research may not be the best place to start for developing ways to minister and reach out to people who have no history of faith or connection with faith communities.
  • Much of the growth in Pentecostalism is in the “majority world” (what used to be called the Third World – see this article) It is important to note this, because these societies have unique needs that make them particularly receptive to the message of Pentecostal preachers – not always in a positive way. For example, in many parts of Africa the prosperity Gospel is gaining huge traction, and prosperity preachers are living in opulence, but the message is not bringing the healing, liberation, and upliftment that adherents hope for. In Africa, where poverty and HIV/AIDS are major crises, the message of financial blessing and physical healing is highly attractive. But, as many stories reveal, the benefit that this kind of Pentecostalism offers is often not experienced by the people so much as by the preachers. Just because a movement is growing in situations of dire need does not necessarily mean that the movement is actually beneficial. This means that we must be cautious about adopting the strategies of these churches in western contexts, and we must also be critical when strategies that bring church growth do not also bring social upliftment for the people who are brought into the church.
  • In some cases the growth of Pentecostalism brings with it a growth in more conservative, fundamentalist theologies and social engagement, which can result in abuses of human rights at worst, or a measure of fragmentation and division in society at best. (See the New York Times article again). This means that, while we may seek to learn from the passion and experiential nature of Pentecostalism, we must be careful to retain a theology and social engagement that is inclusive, compassionate, and just.

So, while I celebrate the growth of a passionate, experiential faith, and I believe that there is much for the Mainline Church to learn from the growth in Pentecostalism, I also believe that we need to be careful with how we use the data, and with what conclusions we draw as we seek to develop strategies for mission and ministry based on these studies.

What do you think about the growth of Pentecostalism? What is your experience of this phenomenon? What response do you think mainline churches should have to this information? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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Jan 21 2015

Sacredise: Brainstorming for Worship: Encounters

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The season after Epiphany is one that, in my church environment, has not really been given much attention. In the last few years this has been changing, but, there are few people in the seminars I lead who indicate a strong and active engagement with this season. This is a pity, because this season offers the potential for significant encounters with Christ.

The focus through Epiphany, in my view, is on seeing and understanding Jesus more clearly. In Christmastide we celebrated the incarnation. Now we seek to understand who the Incarnate One really is. In Christmastide we sang of God’s glory, now we open ourselves to see how God’s glory is revealed through Christ. But, the key in all of this is not just to speak about glory in some academic way. It is not to gain an intellectual understanding of Jesus. Rather, it is to encounter God’s glory in Christ, and to gain an intimate knowledge of Jesus through relationship, not information.

In a sense this is what we should be seeking every Sunday as we gather for worship. But, in Epiphany, especially, we have an opportunity to encounter Christ through our worship such that we experience God’s glory for ourselves and are changed as a result.

If we take this coming Sunday as an example, the readings speak of the call of Christ. Words like repentance, believing, and God’s Reign are heard. The characters – Jonah, Peter, Andrew, James, and John – are all faced with a choice, a call to change and become something different because of their encounter with Jesus. It would be easy to go through the entire service and explore these ideas and challenges at a distance, without ever actually encountering Christ and his call. I fear that many church services may do just that.

But, if we were to think of our worship gathering as an opportunity to encounter the Incarnate Christ, to experience God’s glory revealed through him, to be confronted with his call to repentance (change) and to believing in (living out the values and priorities of) the Reign of God, then our preparation, and our facilitation of worship would be very different. If we were to come to worship with the expectation that we will encounter and be changed by Jesus, we would enter the sanctuary, and participate in the worship, very differently.

So, here’s the challenge for this week: If you’re planning and leading worship, how can you create an environment in which an encounter with God’s glory in Christ may emerge? And, if you’re just gathering as a congregation member, how can you come with an open heart and mind, and prepare yourself for a true meeting with the Incarnate One?

It’s not our singing, praying, preaching, or sharing that really makes the difference in our lives. All these things are simply practices that are intended to help us experience what really changes us into “little Christs” – an encounter with the Living Christ who calls us.

So, how will you prepare to make Sunday a glorious encounter with Christ? I’d be grateful if you would share your thoughts.

And for further thoughts and resources for worship this week, check out this Lectionary Worship Resources post, and this blog post.

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Jan 19 2015

Sacredise: The Freedom of Being Known

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Yesterday I made the time to listen to theologian, worship leader, and TV personality Vicky Beeching’s keynote speech at the CGN Conference  at which she told her story of growing up, and finally coming out, as a gay Christian. It was worth every minute it took of my attention. What struck me was when she described the freedom she felt after making her sexual orientation public. Now that everyone knew her secret, she felt free to be her real self, and she could put aside the mask that she had worn for so many years. It is a specially moving moment in a very moving address.

When the Psalmist writes in Psalm 139 about God knowing him intimately and completely, there is a similar sense of freedom that shines through. The apostle Paul reflects this sense of freedom that we find in God’s all-knowing love when he states that all things are permissible for us as Christians. We are no longer under the law, so, in one sense, we can do whatever we like. Yet, it is because of this freedom, and because we know that we are wholly known and loved by God, that we discover a call to live differently. We learn that freedom is not about doing whatever we like whenever we like.

Samuel, Philip, Nathaniel and others were all called by God. The heart of the call in each case was God’s complete knowledge and love for the person. And as a result of that love, the called one chose to live in such a way that God’s love could be shared with others. When we know we are loved – even though we are completely known, warts and all – we always find ourselves drawn to live up to our best selves. Love always calls out our best, and draws us to become those who seek to give others the gift of love and being known that we have received.

So, here are the questions I take with me into this week:

  • In what ways do I experience the freedom of being known and loved in my own life?
  • How do I experience the call of God through this experience of God’s love and knowledge of me?
  • How can I allow God’s love to call me to live up to my best self this week?
  • How can I embrace the great freedom of answering God’s call instead of settling for the false freedom of seeking to satisfy my own whims and desires first and foremost?

There is a wonderful freedom that comes from being completely known and loved. And this freedom makes things possible that would otherwise be beyond our grasp – like the ability to love those with whom we disagree, or to participate in God’s mission to bring love and justice into the world.

How can you live out of this freedom in your own life this week? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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