Pushing back against performance worship…


Performance is not the same thing as excitement, and showmanship is not the thing same as celebration.

18th-century, New England revivalist Jonathan Edwards said,

“There is doubtless true religion in heaven, and true religion in its utmost purity and perfection. But according to the Scripture representation of the heavenly state, the religion of heaven consists chiefly in holy and mighty love and joy, and the expression of these in most fervent and exalted praises.” [The Religious Affections]

Edwards teaches us to seek worship at its purest and most perfect and that worship is the worship of Heaven. The Angels around the throne are ridiculously loud, they are completely undignified and they are totally Jesus centred. This however, is not performance.

“A performance by its very nature separates people into two categories: the participants and the spectators. There can be no spectators in worship.”

When we gather together to worship God we should imitate and emulate the gathering of heaven which is full of excitement and celebration, adoration and praise. We should use every tool in our belt, every ounce of our creativity and all the energy that we can muster.

This however is not performance.

What’s The Difference?

This year I have read three articles and heard two speakers claim that performance worship is ok. The problem of course is definition.

A performance by its very nature separates people into two categories: the participants and the spectators. There can be no spectators in worship.

A performance by its very nature and draws all eyes to the stage. In worship all of our focus should be drawn onto Jesus.

A performance by its very nature is about consuming entertainment. Worship, by its very nature is about authentic self-sacrifice.

“It is absolutely right when seeking God to use everything you have available to you in order to draw people relevantly into the celebration of who God is what he’s done.”

The articles that I’ve read and the speakers that I’ve heard are right if you substitute the word performance for something like celebration. It is absolutely right when seeking God to use everything you have available to you in order to draw people relevantly into the celebration of who God is and what He has done.

This however is not performance.

Performance Worship Is A Contradiction In Terms

I’m increasingly bugged by performance worship. That is a mutually exclusive term, an oxymoron. There can be no such thing as a non-sacrificing sacrifice. There can be no such thing as performance worship.

I am all about using technology, lights, sound and amplified instruments. But this doesn’t have to be performance.

I lead worship every week at a youth gathering. About thirty of us get together, we put music and chords on the screen, we sit on couches and drink hot chocolate. The band is distributed amongst the young people – whoever decided to bring instruments on any given week. I lead but I do not perform.

At other times we use large screens, lights, camera, sound and action. But we seek the same heart of authenticity and seek the same focus that is Jesus.

Sometimes we muster quite fervent celebration – however it is not performance.

Capturing God’s Heart For Young People

A talk I gave at Antioch Church in Colwyn Bay, North Wales. This is a version of a relatively standard talk that I give regularly on young people across North Wales.

Two passages:

Luke 18:1-17

Acts 20:7-12

Teach young people to dream wild – steal the rest later!

Just_a_Dream____by_enricoagostoniWhen I was 17 I was raising money at my church to go to Bible College. I was at a fund raising dinner that a terrific couple had organised for me, and at the end I went to the front to say what I wanted to do. They asked me what it was that I wanted to achieve and in my arrogance I said,  “y’know Billy Graham? Think him but you know… bigger!”

I’ve been pretty ashamed and embarrassed at that moment ever since I actually went to Bible College and learned about this silly little thing called humility. This is especially important when you consider that Billy Graham himself started every single one of his revival meetings by drawing a circle on the ground. Billy would then step into the circle and say Lord send revival and start with everything that you find in the circle.

It’s so easy to quench dreams with mistaken reality.

I’ve been in full time youth work ever since leaving Bible College nearly 8 years ago and in that time I discovered something about my initial overzealousness in that dinner. Looking past the arrogance, hero worship and the Christian celebrity culture there was a kernel of real goodness in that proclamation. I had a dream to tell the gospel to millions of people. Almost every adult I met afterward however, told me to shoot lower, be realistic and learn humility.

It’s so easy to quench dreams with mistaken reality. It’s so easy to pour cold water on the passions and compassions of young people because of the extra baggage, mistaken theology and missing pieces from their plan. It’s so easy to say that won’t happen because it never happened for us. It’s so easy to limit the prayers, expectancy, hopes, dreams and faith in the omnipotence of God in the hearts of young people. It’s so easy to suck so bad!

Proverbs 16:1 says “To man belongs plans of the heart but from the Lord comes the reply of the tongue.” We use this passage to say that there is a fundamental disconnect between the plans in our hearts and the replies of our God. We use it as an excuse to not hold God to account for our prayers and to assume that we are not in keeping with God’s plan for our lives. We assume human nature over God’s virtue.

However if our hearts belong to God why can we not assume that many of the passions, plans and desires in our hearts originate from him?

The message of the Bible is the more you get to know God the more your heart becomes in-line with his heart.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 says God has placed eternity in man’s heart. Psalm 37:4 says delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. The message of the Bible is the more you get to know God the more your heart becomes in-line with his heart. God buries plans deep in our hearts when we come to know him and He spends years clearing away the dross from those plans so they have room to breakthrough and live.

Yes we do need to correct bad theology, we do need to set expectations that allow God to be God and us to be us. We do need to clear dross and teach sanctification by the Holy Spirit through his Word. However, we cannot do this at the expense of throwing the baby out with the bath water and drowning good plans in legalistic low expectation.

We must set the bar so high that only a passion filled, God honouring, driven young person could reach it.

We must concurrently teach good theology and stoke the fire of dreams and passion in the hearts of young people. We must set high expectations. We must teach that God can accomplish the impossible. We must set the bar so high that only a passion filled, God honouring, driven young person could reach it. We must allow young people to achieve far more than we ever did. We must teach them to submit their plans to God as worship, not bury those plans in legalistic pseudo sanctification.

I’ve not stood on the stage of a revival meeting in front of millions of people. I’ve not led tens of thousands of people to Christ. I am not a bigger Billy Graham.

However, I’ve learned that the kernel of passion that I had as a teenager was not evil or wrong. Even though I only knew how to express it in that ‘bigger Billy Graham’ language, it has since been nurtured and grown by my God. He has allowed me to have a huge impact on the lives of many young people.

Young people develop abstract from concrete thinking very young, however when a young person says something that scares or challenges an adult, that adult has a tendency to only interpret as concrete thinking. I needed adults who were able to think in the abstract, see the kernel of God given truth through the fog of my imature language and help me develop my passions before God.

Priority number one – ask God to allow you to see and hear His voice through the language of young people and see what of He has placed in their hearts.

Priority number two – encourage young people’s wild, God-driven dreams.

Priority number three – give young people every opportunity to pursue those dreams.

Priority number four – teach and model the language of humility that always points back to God rather to ourselves.

Priority number five – help clear the dross and baggage of underdeveloped theology that could choke that dream.

Open Letter to Pastor Mark Driscoll

Mars Hill’s Board of Overseers Announcement

Mark Driscoll’s Letter of Resignation


Dear Pastor Mark

I’m saddened, albeit unsurprised hearing today of your resignation from Pastoral Ministry at Mars Hill Church.

I have – with most of the evangelical community – been following the unravelling of these events over the past year. I have however, refrained from commenting online, believing that the mire of online journalistic speculation and hype are unhelpful additions to a painful process of Church discipline.

I understand that the prevalent charges bought against you were reflective of a forward and frequently blunt approach to leadership, manifested as arrogance and short-temper. None of the substantiated charges contained heresy, illegal or immoral activity.* Many bringing the worst of these charges refused to participate properly in the investigation process. This, as your council of elders have shared, doesn’t disqualify you for ministry, particularly in light of the repentant, accountable and maturing attitude that you have shown.

You have, in my eyes, demonstrated exceptionally clearly how a Pastor ought to act in the midst of conflict. You have apologised continually, worked with those in authority, subjected yourself to every level of scrutiny, continually pointed to the grace of Jesus and the sufficiency of the scriptures and you have answered these charges by reaching above and beyond what was asked of you. You have made sacrifices to protect your family, and made a final decision in favour of their health and the health and safety of Mars Hill Church.

I believe that some in the Christian community should be ashamed of how they have interfered in Church discipline, refused to let investigations happen unmolested, jumped on the bandwagons of seismic assumption and attacked you through cheap tabloid satire and comedy.

Psalm 1 clearly defines two groups of people; those who soak their roots in the word of God and continually grow and mature – pointing back constantly to the source; and those who sit in the seat of mockers, throwing fire into the ring from the outside. Godliness is measured by recognising weaknesses within us, and making God-driven changes in community to rectify these issues. You have been a tremendous example of this. Much of the commentary and social media exploitation of these events however have been textbook examples of sitting in the mocker’s chair. I’m ashamed of my and your brothers and sisters who readily jumped into bed with pop-speculation rather than allowing the judicial process of Mars Hill and others to continue discreetly.

I have never been a direct, personal recipient of your ministry or correction and I cannot put myself into the shoes of anyone who has been hurt by your personality, leadership decisions or ministry. I cannot therefore speculate on the validity or their situations or the painful journey of healing and reconciliation that I’m sure they may have to live through now. I’m grateful that you have publicly invited them into that reconciliation journey.

I have, however, benefited hugely from your ministry. By virtue of your Bible-saturated, God-glorifying, bold, assertive and uncompromising teaching (which I have oftentimes taken with a pinch of salt) I stand as a worthier husband, a finer man, a sharpened exegete of both the Word and culture and – because of your most recent examples – I hope a humbler leader in the midst of conflict.

I’m sure the world of celebrity Christianity abounds with snares that none of us can imagine, and there are those who will ignorantly interpret this as ‘Mark Worship.’ Pastor Mark, you have made me fall deeper in love with Jesus, a debt that I will continually carry with me and will not readily forget with your resignation.

God bless you. God bless your wife. God bless your children. God bless your future. And thank you!

Tim Gough



*see elders statement

6 Ways to Train Teenagers to Read Their Bibles

(edited from an earlier post)


Youth work models need to firmly stand on the Bible and sew it into the fabric of discipleship that they are developing. This means helping young people engage with the Bible for themselves.

Getting young people to independently open the Bible and read it is half the battle, but this is far from the whole battle!

The second half of the battle is helping young people independently examine and understand the Bible for themselves – and this is frankly where most of us wimp out!

A Generation Bought Up on Spoon Feeding Notes

I was struck recently when reviewing some popular Bible study notes for teenagers how proof-text-with-explanation based they were. Spoon fed, on a plate with little or no reference to how, who, what, when, where and why the passages teach what was in the accompanying explanation. No need to think or examine the verses whatsoever… really no need to read them. However, what they did really well is help young people examine themselves as a person and apply new things to their lives. This begs the question though; if that application is not being built from the Bible passage, where is it coming from and can it stand in real life?

“Getting young people to independently open the Bible and read it is half the battle, but this is far from the whole battle!”

This of course is the method of Bible study most of Gen Y and the Millennials have been bought up on; the soundbite and the blog. An interesting read that demands little if any independent thought. My wife works in a Christian bookshop, and perusing the Bible studies created in the last decade this is a pretty standard pattern. For many of us this is Bible study, we’ve never known anything different. Our Bible study notes include a passage to read, a proof-text (‘key verse’) taken out of context and a basic thought from it explained and opened up – with a couple of challenges thrown in for good measure.

This isn’t Bible study though. Bible study is having a conversation with God through the text. Reading it properly, asking it questions, looking for patterns, relationships, correlations and hidden gems. Exegesis in other words, is getting into the nitty gritty and learning how to read the Bible and hear it’s challenges without the need of supporting notes.

Why Is This So Important For The Next Generation?

Not training young people to exegete-read the Bible (that is seek to swim in it’s depths and find treasure) is like buying them a guitar in order to introduce them to Brit-Pop; it’s only going to go so far!

Young people need to know how to read their Bibles so that they:

  • Can develop a personal relationship with God that’s independent of their youth group, church community or Bible notes
  • Have more to offer in their youth group and church community life
  • Will grow in their personal holiness and faith and will challenge others to do so too
  • Can keep a growing check their own sin and personal habits
  • Will learn to recognize and discern God’s voice more clearly and notice when it’s missing,
  • Won’t fall victim to spoon feeding and won’t be dependent on fallible teachers and notes
  • Will know how to pick a healthy Church when they are at uni etc.,
  • Can survive when not able to find good Bible teaching.
  • Will simply live life to its fullest the John 10:10 way!

We need to teach young people how to read the Bible – not just to read it.

How do we do this?

For a basic way in I offer a mix of five random things to help us teach Bible study to our teenagers:

  1. Learn to do it ourselves!!!
  2. Model it in Bible studies
  3. Get them to do it in breakout pairs/groups when in Bible studies together
  4. Help them one-to-one
  5. Get them to read a book like ‘Dig Deeper’ by Nigel Beynon & Andrew Sach
  6. Teach them to get messy!

1. Learn to do it ourselves!!!

This is the key bit, and without it the other four bits won’t work. As I said before, many of us don’t realise that what we’ve been doing for the last who knows how many years isn’t really Bible study. It came as a huge shock to me when at 18 I went to Bible college and realised I knew spotty things about God without any reference to why, and when I discovered passages I had been using to prove certain ‘truths’ just didn’t teach them. I’m definitely not saying that we all need to go to Bible college, but we do need to make some serious effort – you won’t regret it!

– Find decent Bible teachers and stick to them
– Listen to amazing Bible unpacking talks (
– Find mentors or mini classes
– Read good Bible teaching/explaining books
– Read your Bible slowly with highlighters, pens, paper, margin mess… whatever you need

2. Model it in Bible studies

Leading decent Bible studies as a group has got to be the linchpin. It’s the key place that they will pick up and learn how to do it and it will give them the overviews and anchors they need, along with an accountability space to check up on how they’re doing.

“We need to teach young people how to read the Bible – not just to read it.”

– Teach and display where and how you made points from the Bible when you make them
– Ask questions that make them look at the text itself, even (sometime especially) if the answers are obvious
– Ask them to summarize main points, identify characters, examine the context etc.
– Print out copies of the passage for them to go through highlighting things like verbs, nouns, speeches, connectives, etc. that might be useful in the study
– Get them to ask their own questions of the text itself and answer those together first (my first question after reading every passage is ‘what did you notice?’)

3. Get them to do it in breakout pairs/groups

The next zeroing in step to independent Bible study after the small group, is getting them to help each other – without relying on you the teacher. This givens them a chance to adapt what they’ve learned, try their strengths, push their confidences, work on their community interaction and help each other out!

– Give each breakout pair/group a section of the passage to study together then summarize their findings to the whole group
– Make sure they’ve got space to write, scribble, & highlight (printed off passages are great)
– Give them specific questions to answer in their group from the passage like ‘what is the main point,’ ‘what shocked you the most,’ ‘what did you learn that you didn’t know before’
– Allow them the option of feeding back in creative ways (pictures, drama, song) as long as it communicates the actual passage itself
– Give them enough room and time to complete the task well, but not so much time that they can wander. Knowing that they will need to feed back is usually encouragement enough to stay on task

4. Help them one-to-one

The final step to independent Bible study after group and small group work is getting alongside them to mentor, teach and role model what’s in the word. This is important for a whole world of stuff – and teaching Bible reading (overtly or not) is invaluable for all of it.

– Get alongside them for 20-40mins JUST to read the Bible with them. Pick a book and go through it verse by verse, word by word
– Start each new meeting with them summarizing the passage from the last meeting
– Get them to delve into why specific words we’re chosen etc.
– Look at tools like ‘context’, ‘purpose’ and ‘order’ in the passages you choose. (N.b. I usually find 1-2 verses a week works well for most growing Christians)

If you would like a free downloadable crib sheet that I’ve used before click here.

5. Get them to read a book like ‘Dig Deeper’ by Nigel Beynon & Andrew Sach

Rather than buying them Bible reading notes, buy them an easy usable how to manual that will help them read the Bible itself without notes. Dig Deeper is an epic example that I highly recommend. It’s great for independent work, or one-to-one, but can also be a good group study tool and it’s useful training for Bible study leaders.

– Buy the book for them as a gift, and make sure you’ve read it yourself!
– They should read a chapter a week & do the examples
– Ask them questions on it & ask to see their examples
– Give them new verses to work on that need the tools explained in the book to understand

6. Teach them to get messy!

Teach them to get messy! I don’t care if they need to underline every single word in a different colour, allow them to draw in their Bibles – or if that’s a cultural no-no where you are, print out passages for them!

– They should do whatever helps them s l o w  d o w n , ask questions of the text, and highlight key sections. I’d rather a young person come with a tatty, Biro-blessed, dogeared Bible than a pristine one that’s obviously never been touched.
– Teach them to get personal with the Bible and get messy with it. Bring out the highlighters in droves (you can always buy a new one for them!)


The Bible And Young People, Stephen Hale

Quote from ‘A Theological Model Of Youth Ministry’ from Stephan Hale in ‘Towards a Theology of Youth Ministry‘ from The Ridley College Youth Conference Papers, 1998.

Jesus was himself an adolescent and had to develop and grow into adulthood (Luke 2:52). Jesus encouraged the Children to come to him (Luke 18:15-17) and had to discourage the disciples from keeping them away from him. In the apostolic ministry in Acts, whole households were converted (Acts 16:30-34). Paul’s letters were addressed to household churches that included children. It was assumed they were present for the reading of the Scriptures and Paul’s letters, because he specifically addresses them in the household tables found in Ephesus and Colossians. Paul addresses younger leaders in his letters (1 Timothy 4:12-16) and young men and women as groups (Titus 2:4-8).

The Bible records the successes of many young people – David, Samuel, Esther, Josiah and Daniel to name but a few. The time of youth is one when great achievements and spiritual leadership are possible. God uses young people just as much as he does adults. We need to honour young people, nurture their faith, character and gifts and give them openings and opportunities.

Yet Another Rob Bell Rant…

People are always grinding axes when it comes to Rob Bell, and when ‘Love Wins’ was released many took it as the nail in the coffin for his ministry. “Farewell Rob Bell” was Piper’s quote.

That’s not entirely accurate though is it? Because in true evangelical tradition many commentators didn’t wait for the book to be released before slating it. They torpedoed any hope for engaged, informed debate on the issues. High profile theologians and pastors, people that I respect – some of whom I went to seminary with – issued warnings, judgements and frankly in some cases profoundly rude reviews before even smelling the dust jacket.

Rob Bell has become the ultimate straw man!

This has come up again more recently in light of Rob leaving his pastoral position at Mars Hill, working on a TV show alongside ‘Lost’ Producer, Carlton Cuse, and releasing his new book ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About God.‘ Once again the commentators are out, and the armchair theologians are throwing mud in the ring.

What do we do with Rob Bell?

The problem is that people don’t know what to do with Rob Bell. They don’t know what category to put him in. Is he evangelical, emerging, zionist, secular, rockstar pastor, philosopher, theologian, conservative, charismatic, hypermodern? I mean, what is he? What’s his label? Many of the people I’ve heard commentate on Rob have first tried to pigeon hole him, then attack that pigeon hole rather than the person or the views. Rob Bell has become the ultimate straw man!

During Rob Bell conversations with friends I’ve developed a catchphrase: ‘can you point to where he said that?’ Sometimes adding ‘in context!’ It becomes clear quite quickly that we’re not talking about Rob Bell or his views at all. Instead what’s on the table is some bastardized muddle of their personal views, Rob’s sayings, review and interview soundbites and a gooey misunderstanding of them all holding the pieces together.

I’m married to a philosopher with an amazing degree and a great understanding of the two major schools of philosophy: Eastern/Organic and Western/Analytical. When talking about Rob Bell one day she opened up for me the big differences between these two approaches and it goes something like this:

Organic philosophy puts everything on the table and moves the pieces around. It asks questions, opens things up, straddles lines, and simply trusts that asking the impertinent questions brings us closer to truth, not to disaster. Truth is found in the journey.

Analytical philosophy slowly eliminates things from the table. It gives answers, creates categories and systems, falls into camps, creates ‘in’ and ‘out’ groups, and warns of the dangers of getting ‘too close to the edge.’ Truth is found in the conclusion.

The latter is the only type of philosophy I was taught at Bible College as the legitimate type of philosophy. Therefore many of the people who commentate on Rob Bell fall into the later category too, and they assess Rob’s views as if he does too.

What’s on the table is some bastardized muddle of personal views, Rob’s sayings, review and interview soundbites and a gooey misunderstanding of them all holding the pieces together.

Rob, however is definitely organic. He keeps things on the table, moves things around, asks the hard questions and he opens up the discussion. He rarely makes firm conclusions, and he simply trusts in the Grace and overwhelming wisdom and power of God to be right even when he is not.

This is exactly the approach of Karl Barth, Jürgen Moltman, Ruldolf Bultman, Søren Kierkegaard and Paul Tillich. Unsurprisingly, we slated them too! Interestingly, Jesus Christ himself in the Gospels would more clearly fit into this school (along with the rest of the later Rabbinic Tradition).

A Rob Bell Check List to Consider

Here’s a random list of Rob Bell related thoughts that you may or may not agree with, but for now at least I’m pretty convinced they’re true.

  • I don’t agree with everything Rob says.
  • Rob does not anywhere categorically deny the assistance of an eternal, conscious, torment in Hell.
  • Rob really hopes that Hell is not eternal, and really hopes that God’s mercy will extend there too. Me too! What, don’t you??
  • This hope does not deny any Gospel promise or systematic understanding. In fact it has been held by prominent theologians throughout the centuries.
  • Rob has not ‘come out’ as a universalist.
  • Rob’s understanding of hell is based on lexical study. He points out the four words, the three meanings, and the social-historical context where the hell conversations existed. It’s called exegesis people! (post on this here).
  • Because of this study Rob makes the important Biblical distinction between hell on earth and hell after life on earth – and the need to be saved from both.
  • Rob’s methodology is about asking questions, rather than giving answers.
  • Rob is not ‘unbiblical’ because he doesn’t use classical referencing in books aimed at non-Christians. Don’t ask how many Bible references does he quote, ask whether the Bible is in line with what he says.
  • Rob fervently believes in evangelism and mission.
  • Rob has proclaimed several times that he believes in substitutionary atonement, salvation through faith alone, the imperative need to repent, the sinless life-death-resurrection-and-ascension of Jesus, the authority of the Bible and the dynamic freedom and sovereignty of God.
  • I believe that we will know Rob in heaven. Let’s talk about and to him today like we know that.

Here endeth the rant.