Drive In Church, Lessons Learned Thus Far (Technical)

I was asked to write some things up with respect to our drive-in church processes. While drive-in church in and of itself can be a pretty safe practice, it doesn’t happen in isolation which I discuss at the end of the post. Here are some of the things we’ve learned, going all the way back to our first drive-in church service when we had snow on the ground. Currently, we have returned to online services only.

Here are a few things we’ve learned which may be helpful to others.


 Wireless microphones rule but are pretty expensive. I pulled the wireless receiver module out of our sound system in the sanctuary and built some XLR cables to run into a portable PA system.

 Cold weather is a killer of battery performance. In the sanctuary, we could easily go a month, on a single set of batteries and still have nearly half capacity left for the wireless mics. Outside in the cold, even if you have almost all full bars when setting up, your battery can go dead mid-service. Its mission-critical to put in new batteries before every service.

Windscreens are very important when operating outside, as without one, sooner or later, the wind will make a 100% on-axis beeline for the microphone sound hole… and when that happens, no amount of post-production effort can salvage the audio. Also, if your windscreen is made of foam, keeping a stock of spares is prudent, as foam deteriorates over time.

 Wrt Covid19, it’s critical that wireless microphones are not shared as the foam can and will pick up aerosolized particles. In the perfect world, not sharing would end at that point, but the sound guy does have to tear things down. What I do is liberally apply liberal hand sanitizer to my hands, both before and after packing up the microphones. Headsets then go into bags, where they are stored until the next week. In the event headsets end up being re-used the same day, I wipe them down with an alcohol wipe. Bear in mind, isopropyl alcohol does increase the rate of plasticizer deterioration.

 Mixer and PA amplifier

Old school analog is your friend when it comes to cold weather. Unlike analog, digital gear doesn’t like cold. Most digital gear will operate fine down to 32 deg F. Some gear will work down to 0 deg F, but very little equipment in the digital domain is happy when temperatures go sub-zero. Thus it’s important to check the specs, and test it out ahead of time to make sure it is ok. This also includes the aforementioned wireless mics, as some of them use microprocessors to process the signal. In the case of digital wireless mics, it’s important to keep the transmitter unit inside one’s clothing, and potentially place a heater near the receiver module. When it comes to mixing boards, it’s very difficult to keep the entire system warm enough to preclude cold weather issues.

 However, analog gear is not perfect, and condensation can be an issue. Thus making sure the gear has enough time to warm up is prudent in this. You don’t want to store gear outside in a garage, where it cold soaks overnight. Followed by firing it up mid-morning for a service where temperatures and humidity may be quite a bit higher. During the fall weather, I fought issues with condensation which produced random noise on our keyboard numerous times… and this was just from cold soaking in transit from one church to another.


Digital keyboards can work if kept above 32F, but pianists and organists will get very cold. Thus, we now pre-record everything as an MP3 and play it on demand. Touch screens are evil in cold weather. Apart from the fact that fingers freeze and so-called touch screen gloves rarely work all that well, displays can get a bit wonky with cold temperatures. A body-worn mp3 player under one’s clothes can be kept warm, but one with an old-school button control is a better choice.

One idea we pondered but did not implement was locating the keyboard in the church entryway with a heater, and just running cables over to it, along with a monitor feed.

Monitors / foldback

 One may be tempted to use an FM radio or boom box as a monitor since its self contained and relatively small. Using FM signals this way does not work out very well from a musician’s perspective, as due to digital processing in the transmitter, the FM audio is delayed 50-100msec. However, for others, who need to keep track of the service, such as parking attendants or bell tower folks, the small delay is a non issue. There is also the issue of monitor volume, and radios and boom boxes are unlikely to have enough power, to overcome the noise of torpedo heaters in cold weather.


 Torpedo heaters are incredible devices. We use a 135,000 BTU unit, which goes through about a gallon and a half to 2 gallons of kerosene an hour. It stinks a bit, but not as bad as if one were to run it on #2 fuel oil, more commonly known as off-road diesel fuel. While they provide a lot of warmth when on-axis and relatively close by, they also make a ton of noise. An array of patio heaters running on kerosene would be much quieter, albeit a more expensive solution to the heat problem. Drive-in church, without any means of heating, is pretty brutal. Granted, electric boots, gloves, and tradesman hoodies could work too, albeit at a higher cost.

 Mains speakers

In the summer months, PA speakers allowed parishioners to open their car windows and listen without having to run their car’s air conditioner. In the cold of winter, PA speakers are a backup system, should a parishioner be unable to receive the signal on their car radio. They also head off any interruptions due to random interference or system failure. We use old school PA speakers horizontally, such that they provide wider coverage up close. Thus, to reach the back of the parking lot, the sound levels up-front tend to be pretty high. This has the added benefit of discouraging folks from getting out of their cars and violating social distance rules.

 Covid19 Risk

In a sense, drive-in church services in and of itself are pretty safe. Aerosolized viral particles would need to exist in one car. Then they would need to travel outside through the vent ducting, and make their way to the air surrounding another car in sufficient numbers. They would then have to transition the air intake, and cabin air filter, followed by the vehicle’s air distribution system unhindered in large quantities for infection to propagate.

The challenge is drive-in church services don’t happen in isolation. When folks go out in their cars, they may stop at other places and be potentially exposed. In addition, when folks congregate in their cars, they may be tempted to get out of their vehicles and visit with one another. They may also be tempted to use the church’s bathroom facilities etc. There are also the issues of contact items, such as bulletins, and offerings, or in the case of Christmas, candles and related shared items.

 Ways in which we tried to mitigate the above are:

  1. An announcement that the church building is not open for access.
  2. Encourage folks to remain in their cars before, during, and after the service.
  3. Encourage folks to download bulletins, virtual candle apps, and/or print them for others in their bubble who may not be connected online.
  4. Provide for early pickup from a safe location, such as having items available in a church vestibule the prior week.
  5. Encourage online and/or mail-in offerings
  6. Using a mailbox or car side dropbox to collect offerings rather than in person
  7. Continuing to offer video and audio services via Youtube, Facebook, podcasts, as well as community tv, and sermons, scriptures, and prayers, via mailed newsletter.

FM Transmitter for Drive-In Church, Useful Hints

The unit we have is a Signstek ST-05B which we purchased on Amazon. Today, the price is about 25% less than what we paid back when the drive-in church model was first getting traction.

I run a line-out signal from the PA system to drive the transmitter, and I boost the treble a bit for optimum sound quality. In technical terms, this is required by the US standards for pre-emphasis, which is a legacy requirement from the early days of FM radio. In simplistic terms, higher frequencies are severely cut by FM receivers in the US, which is not the case in the rest of the world.

A friend in Washington state uses this same unit without a PA system and runs her keyboard into the line input, and the pastor’s microphone into the mic input and mixes the sound right on the transmitter itself.

For frequency selection, you need to find a clear, or mostly clear channel in your church’s location. I used a website called and looked for the lowest received signal strengths, and the largest gap between stronger stations, to reduce the potential of interfering with a neighbors radio. Thus the only interference left that one might run into is gyms or fitness clubs that may transmit TV audio or music on the FM bands for their members.

This Signstek unit does not have any way of observing the input level. If it’s too low, and it won’t sound very good in folks cars. If it’s too high, it will splatter across the FM band. What I do is set up a portable radio, and slowly increase the audio gain on the transmitter, and leave it at the minimal setting that produces good quality sound on par with local FM broadcasters. I then scan across the FM band with my car radio to ensure there is no splattering on other frequencies. Before each service, I check the performance by walking the parking lot with a portable FM radio, listening for distortion, and/or gaps in coverage. Such issues would be a function of antenna placement mostly, but it also is a good cross-check to make sure everything is working correctly.

Super Low Cost or even Free Dial a Prayer or Dial a Worship Service

A big issue for many of us during these days of Covid19 is the digital divide. A good portion of our congregation does not have internet access, nor reliable enough cell phone service to stream our online services. As such, we put together a dial a prayer system which also serves as a means of providing access to an audio only version of our sermons.

From a user perspective, they call in to the service provider, enter an access code, and are presently with the latest content, whether it be a prayer, or a worship service. If they desire to listen to a specific service, such as during Holy week, its possible to assign reference numbers to the files, such that the user can go directly to a given message. Sharing those reference numbers is a bit ungainly. We either have to publish them in our print newsletter, or post them on social media, and hope the digital connected will share them with those on the other side of the divide.

Below is an example of what a user would experience with our system.

From an admin perspective, things are a bit ungainly, as unlike paid providers for such services, we are using a select set of features of a company called freeconferencecall. Granted, the system isn’t free like in beer, as that would be unsustainable. They do make money by providing additional paid for features, like dedicated numbers, and/or asking for donations from their content providers.. but it is most assuredly a very low cost solution.

Since we are using a subset of features, and its not intuitive at all as to how we got there, here are a couple workflow examples.

For daily prayers:
1. Pastor records a prayer using his cellphone, and uploads it to our podcast server.
2. For now, I watch the podcast feed on my cellphone, and when a new prayer shows up.
3. I download the podcast file which is in mp4 format (an Apple thing)
4. I convert the mp4 to a standard mp3 file, using an audio editor or file conversion utility.
5. I then login to and select broadcaster.
6. I upload the mp3 file to the broadcaster
7. I then test the playback of the file, either by using the web interface, or by calling in with my cell phone.

Before we rolled out the prayer via podcast function, I made sure that the recordings off of pastors cell phone were the correct level. Most podcast providers require levels to be at -16LUFS stereo, or -19LUFS mono, and it turned out Apple’s voice recorder app hits those levels with ease. I used a plugin called Youlean Loudness Meter running on the Audacity audio editor to check this.

If we decide to keep the dial a prayer function running over the long haul, I’ll write a python script to do all of the above, where in when it detects a new podcast is posted, it will convert the files and upload them to freeconferencecall without any human intervention.

For worship services, things are a bit more complicated, as its necessary to master the audio file, and get a reference number for future playback.

The big reason for mastering, is that pastor has incredibly dynamic range, which is awesome for live, but is not so great when it comes to listening to it on a phone in a high noise environment, like many folks do when it comes to podcast listening. Ie like in a car or truck, mowing the lawn, or exercising etc. The second reason, is that podcasts are syndicated, which can mean the file passes through any number of conversion processes in the path. In our case, our primary source is podbean, but we also are listed on itunes, spotify,, iheartradio etc… with each one doing their own proprietary thing with our audio. If our levels / equalization don’t meet spec, its possible that by the time the audio reaches the end users device, it’s quality could be severely degraded, resulting in complaints, and eventually the dropping of syndication.

As far as reference numbers go, freeconferencecall doesn’t provide them automatically for broadcasts, only for meetings. As a result, we have to do is create a meeting, and add a recording which features the uploaded file in the broadcaster, and close the meeting in real time. This is a kludgy workaround, and for Holy Week was worth doing, but I don’t do this as a common practice, due to its time intensive nature.

Thus, the worship service workflow.
1. Master the worship service as normal, such as for uploading to the podcast, making sure we are at the appropriate LUFS levels, noise is removed, and audio is equalized. Since podcasts prefer mp3’s rather than mp4’s at least we don’t have to do file conversions.
2. Login to and select broadcaster.
3. Upload the mp3 file to the broadcaster
4. Test the playback of the file, either by using the web interface, and/or by calling in with my cell phone.
5. If circumstances dictate, a reference number can be created, by starting a meeting, adding the broadcaster recording, letting it play, and then closing the meeting, looking up the reference number, and then sharing the reference number via social media and/or newsletter. For example

Daily Prayers by Vicar Paul can be accessed by 
calling (978)-990-5090 and entering access code 1139178 . Recordings of Sunday's worship services are also available at that number by entering the following reference numbers.

Maundy Thursday 2
Good Friday 10
Easter Sunday 14

Diehard is a Christmas Movie

So @EdStetzer has been saying Diehard is not a Christmas movie… and after enough argument, he put a poll together to see folks thoughts. While the poll isn’t over, the results so far are interesting.

Poll on whether DieHard is a Christmas Movie or not. It is a Christmas movie by 63% when this image was captured.





I always considered it a Christmas movie, mostly because of Run DMC’s “Christmas in Hollis”. Since I was such a fan of the tune, I’d get raised eyebrows from my late wife, albeit we both enjoyed the Die Hard movie itself.

Granted, outside of the music, and maybe the decorations, I’ve often thought Die Hard to be an escapism sort of movie, similar to the Hallmark movies etc. It doesn’t deal with hardcore themes, its merely extreme escapist fantasy… At least that’s what I thought until I came across “Why you are Dead Wrong About Die Hard… and Christmas”

Some interesting commentary from the author @Bert_Fulks 
“All over the world, Christians celebrate Christmas as the day of Jesus’s birth.  The very foundation of Christianity proclaims that Jesus came to set the captives free from evil (Luke 4:18); to fulfill the Law (Matthew 5:17); and to offer himself as the groom who risks everything to rescue the bride (a biblical metaphor for restoring mankind’s relationship to God after Satan severed that connection)

If you’re a diehard Die Hard fan, you already see where we’re heading, because it should be obvious.

Its a really cool post, and the themes he pulls out of there are mind blowing… including a reference to CS Lewis. Its a must read!

And that’s the thing… so much of Christianity is boxed into the scriptures that we don’t make the connections to the obvious, even when they are right in front of us. This one really caught me off guard.  I’ve got a lot more understanding towards the folks who missed the obvious in this.

Claremont UMC Nativity



I wish I had an idea how to address the aforementioned disconnects.


Podcasting #walklovedo Interesting Coincidences

When I first put a podcast player on my phone, I spent some time searching out local church podcasts. Its sort of nifty to meet folks and say, oh hey, I listen to your church’s podcast. The sermon last month on ABC was super cool and this can bring about some really nifty discussions. I’m guessing that it could also be a form of pastoral encouragement if said convo’s ever make it back to the pastor at hand.

Anyhow, there was this cool podcast about church as a practice room some weeks back. As a bass player, this was an interesting thing to ponder. It hit home again as I was listening to pastor Craig’s podcast on the drive home on Sunday where he was talking about church and growing in Christ. (Both subjects of which I will dig into another post) I wanted to go back and find that church as a practice room podcast. And while it was one of the main things I remembered, it wasn’t the title of the podcast episode… so I figured I’d likely not come across it again.

SoundLokSIR6 1920x1100

For last nights commute, I thought it might be interesting to listen to some podcasts from folks I met at #walklovedo so I pulled up Pastor Karyn’s church… She got all the ducks in a row for us musicians and even played flute some of the time on Saturday.

Well… it turns out church as a practice room was hers!!! Talk about an interesting coincidence.

Dwelling in the Word, My listening skills suck #walklovedo

I’ve never been a fan of the spiritual exercise “dwelling in the word” for a couple reasons. The primary reason for me, is that I generally need time to ponder and reflect and a few minutes doesn’t provide time for this. The second issue which spins out of the high speed nature of such a practice, is that outcomes tends to lean towards the superficial side of things which made me doubt whether it was worth doing at all. After running the exercise through 3 times over the weekend on a single bit of scripture during #lovewalkdo, I’m rethinking this.

In a nutshell, “dwelling in the word” consists of

  • Hearing a short bit of scripture in a group, followed by a couple minutes for reflection
  • Pairing up with a reasonably friendly looking stranger to discuss said scripture for 4-5 minutes
  • Pairing up with a second set of folks, where each person presents what their partner originally shared for a couple minutes
  • Then as the set of 2 pairs, trying to discern what God might be saying for another couple minutes.

I believed one pitfall of this is that most of us have trouble with elevator speeches, and even more so are greatly challenged when it comes to creating an elevator speech on the fly based upon some scripture which one hasn’t had much time to ponder with. After this weekend, I’m don’t believe this is the mountain I was making it out to be. Rather it seems something that would become less and less of an issue the more one practices doing it.

Another pitfall is that one person will predominate… which is something I struggle with, but the practice in and of itself limits it due to time compression. One has to be concise and cut oneself off to ensure we are hearing what others are saying. Along this line of thinking, is that over-analyzers such as myself need to be careful not to get hung up on their own thoughts, such that the words of others get crowded out.

Over the 3 days, I heard the views of 9 other people during the process as well as presented 3 thoughts of my own. That is 12 different views. Out of those 12, I remember mine clear as a bell, as well as the thoughts of 6 others somewhat… but try as I might, I can’t remember the other 5 at all. Granted, their is an element of cominging going on with this which muddies the waters.

The scripture at the heart of #walklovedo was Micah 6:6-8

With what shall I come before the Lord
and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
8 He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

Thus out of the 12 views shared:

  1. In Ethiopia people walked everywhere, including in the middle of highways.
  2. In the Ethiopian church, Christian education focused on rote memorization to an extreme. This was a requirement (It was freaky how my original partner and I had an Ethiopian slant to this)***
  3. Don’t remember
  4. Walking humbly can be considered walk prudently and confidence in our beliefs is part of this.
  5. The scriptures point out the failures of works based salvation, and how futile our sacrifices are.
  6. The first born sacrifice of parents due to bad theology when their kid comes out as gay and they disown him/her, their church disowns him/her, and the kid attempts suicide. ***
  7. Don’t remember
  8. Don’t remember
  9. That only the super wealthy could possibly be able to make such sacrifices. Ie, who could own thousands of rams or ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
  10. That burned up offerings turn to ash, and our bodies return to dust, but what we do matters, even though justice may take generations for change. “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice” MLK***
  11. Don’t remember
  12. Don’t remember exactly, but talked about errant Christian radio, and how despite heartburn, it is useful to listen so we are ready to respond.

Thus the listening failures for me tend to occur when the second set of views is added. In part, this could be do to that fact I’m not presenting their views to the group, and as such memory circuits are not engaged in a similar fashion. There is also an issue that comingling of ideas tends to occur more so at that stage than earlier. Over time and with practice, I would expect listening failure to become less of a factor.

In his book “Joining God, Remaking Church, Changing the World” Alan Roxburg describes dwelling in the word.

Dwelling in the Word is different from the practice of Bible study. In Bible study we analyze a passage in order to get at its basic meaning. Usually such analysis depends on study guides, commentaries, and teaching summaries. The goal is to get a clear understanding of what the text was intended to say and, sometimes, how to apply it to our lives … Dwelling in the Word is a different practice with different goals and therefore a different method. “Dwelling” suggests sitting before and living with. We bring ourselves and wait (or dwell) before the text in a spirit of receptivity. Dwelling is not driven by the need to get the text right, but by the desire to listen for how God might be addressing us. We might say Bible study is how we read the text; dwelling is letting the text read us.”

I think its a fascinating approach, but its also one where in a critical mass of willing parties is needed… and to get buy in by such a group, it truly needs to be experienced in a positive light. I never liked it in the past, nor did I see much value in it as it was a random thing we’d do on some Sundays and about all I could remember was how rushed and superficial it was. Light bulbs came this past weekend, as it was a daily practice with the same set of scriptures over a 3 day period with hundreds of folks from 74 different churches.

Could one get buy-in from folks attending the average 65 person church? Is it sustainable in a smaller church since one will eventually run out of “reasonably friendly looking strangers” Can it work successfully when its mostly lay persons as contrasted with sessions where in there was a 1:4 chance of having a pastor in said group?

Tough Stuff in the Bible and VBS curricula

So, yes, there is a lot of tough stuff in the scriptures… and in a sense, its a disservice to ignore that sort of thing and bury it as its too uncomfortable.

Then again, would it be appropriate to include in a VBS curricula?

  • David having Uriah killed to cover up his sleeping around with Bathsheba
  • The genocide of the Amalekites
  • The blessing of infanticide
  • Lot and his daughters
  • Judah and Tamar
  • The Daughter of Jephthah vs Abraham and Isaac

This sort of stuff would freak a lot of folks pretty fast… and the folks in charge of VBS would be run out on a rail.

And yet it seems perfectly fine by some to have young kids role play slaves, in combination with hijacking a language spoken in Africa.

I get that one can do the above, and spin it in such a way as to make it seem acceptable…. but deep down, is that really ok?

Is it an acceptable witness to ones community when the outcome is… our kid went to vacation Bible school and role played a slave, while the teacher kept telling them to work faster as they withheld supplies, and then tried to teach them some stuff about Africa and called Xhosa a click language.

Really… are us US Christian’s truly that tone deaf?

I think there are a few with an agenda, and I think there are a lot of well meaning Christian’s who find it hard to believe that someone wrote a curricula with a such an agenda. I think lots of eyebrows get raised a bit… but they see vast numbers of folks promoting it, lots of church folks working on it, and just by the masses of people involved, and seemingly widespread approval, it just has to be ok. Otoh, consider the following….



liguistic racism

And the official spin


It smells really bad…

I think its perfectly fine to discuss the above in Sunday school, but as far as making it an integral theme of a VBS, role playing slavery and hijacking a language in a disrespectful way, its not cool at all.

The challenge this late in the game is a tough one… churches ordered the curricula in good faith, assuming it to be well vetted, age appropriate, and that it would make a positive difference in kids lives. Sadly, these seems to have been a major fail on all of the above. Fortunately there is some good news… but not from official channels.


Fixing it is a ton of extra work by a lot of volunteers…

And even if it can be fixed, part of the theme goes…. “When life is unfair, God is great” Ok, so how is that going to roll for the young kid who has been raped? Or what about the kid who lost both parents in a car crash? Or the kid whose parents died in Afghanistan, or returned home after multiple deployments with major PTSD? Will the teachings presented in this curricula help or hinder a child who has, or will experience severe trauma? Is theodicy really an appropriate topic for young kids, and is VBS an appropriate time to approach it?

Maybe the daugher of Jephthah would be more appropriate. Afterall, Sunday school keeps telling the story of Abraham and Isaac…

Sorry Single Folks, No Holiness for You

I came across the following in my twitter feed

no holiness

And I chuckled, thinking of the Seinfield show and “No Soup for You”

But in all seriousness, there are real issues that come about from the above tweets.

Marriage is designed to make us Holy, not happy? If we roll back to Genesis, I think its pretty clear that wasn’t the game plan. Granted, we have the words of Paul in Ephesians 5:25-28 and again in 1 Cor 7:9,14… but to take those verses out of the entirety of 1 Cor 7 which advocates remaining single seems quite a dis-service to scriptures.

Beyond this, the dangers of rushing to marriage in #marryorburn theology, or dishonoring marriage by encouraging an errant witness to the world really misses the mark. Granted, in some cases, marriage can be a holy witness, and it can also work to bring sanctification, but this is not a guaranteed thing. I think all of us have seen far too many Christian marriages turn into a toxic mess which does anything but the above… toss in the holiness bit above, and folks stay in toxic marriages in some cases up until abuse gets so bad, they end up hospitalized or dead.

There is the issue of idolizing marriage… I think of the many articles written by married young women that try to promote the “advantages” of being single. Ie, I’m married now, but when I was single, I was able to do abcdefg and focus on the Lord’s work. I don’t know, but those sort of writings come across weird. Ie, being totally dedicated to doing God’s work, advocating singleness as this great thing you seem to highly value, followed by how great being married is sort of rings sideways. it almost makes singleness as a path to marriage, rather than the unique destination in and of itself that it truly is.

That being said, I do want to dig into the marriage and sanctification bit, but first I want to ponder about my experiences in the boy scouts. I’d done a lot of fishing and hiking on my own over the years. I could navigate through the woods without any fear of getting lost, I could tie a few knots, I knew how to use a compass, how to cut firewood, build a fire etc… but these were all situations where in I chose the environment. Ie, I’d go around a swamp on its periphery, rather than going straight across it, knowing that even if the distance was shorter, the amount of energy and time to go straight across would be much greater. As my experiences in the woods grew, I exercised more and more discretion as to the level of environmental conditions I was comfortable with.

On boy scout excursions, those choices are made for you, and they can and do change… like the time a buddy broke a tree crossing a creek, which meant the rest of us had to figure out another way to get over it. Thus what scouting did for me, was brought me into situations that on my own I would have avoided. It taught me how valuable being able to tie 20 different knots were, how to navigate through woods, when your compass was useless due to hematite deposits, how to pitch a tent with missing parts that your buddy forgot to pack etc.

Marriage has parallels to this. Its all too easy to think you have your ducks in a row, when said ducks have never been under significant fire… and in marriage, you will find out very quickly how lacking one truly is when it comes to the fruits of the spirit. Life is easy when it can be compartmentalized, ie in the workplace, at church, hanging out with buddies, as its situational and time limited. Marriage otoh is like a search light that runs 24/7/365, and when you add in the massively increased workload of marriage as contrasted with the single life, ones fruits are tested / exercised by fire. Granted, some marriages do bring about a lower workload than one might have being single… but this cannot be predicted, and irrespective of workload, the search light is still there.

Related to this, is marriage will bring you to places and times which as a single, one would simply avoid. We have a saying in aviation, which says use a superior pilot uses superior judgment to avoid situations which require the use of superior skill. The saying has kept many a pilot and aircraft safe over the years. Being single is a lot like that, but the temptation is to take this too far and never get out of ones comfort zone also occurs. Marriage otoh, often dispenses with this and while it is a much riskier situation, it also brings about much more growth than would have ever been possible going it alone.

And while one can develop a willingness to go beyond ones comfort zone as a single, and thus reap the potential of growth… there doesn’t seem to be any practical way to engage in the fruits of the spirit exercise / testing thing. This there are aspects of marriage which can lead to holiness which a single person doesn’t have access to. But then again, the ability to be totally focused on the work of God is something married folks no longer have access too.

There are just too many variables to make a blanket call one way or another on much of this… and its far from universal. That being said, there is much wisdom in the entirely of 1 Cor 7. Marriage is best honored when the entirely of the scriptures are considered, not just a few.

The Bizarre Nature of Marriage in Ephesians 5:25-33

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to honor marriage with respect to the Hebrews text @MrBryanLCarter brought up last week. As such, I’ve been poking at some scriptures here and there all week. Then, a day or two ago I saw in my twitter feed something from John Piper.


Really, is that what marriage is for?

I’ve known folks who ascribe to such a teaching, and for some it does work out ok, albeit with incredible pressures along the way. For others, the covenental focus turns their marriage from something that should have reflected well on Christianity, into a relationship so toxic, that who in their right mind would ever want to get married?

Its a good thing to want to honor the covenental aspects of marriage, but when ones witness of honoring the covenant also destroys the couple involved… it really doesn’t pass the smell test. Rather it sets up stumbling blocks, and does anything but honor marriage.

So, I go back to the scriptures from early in the week, and I come across Ephesians 5:25-33.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.

I think there are 3 main ways to look at this text.

1. Live out your marriage in such a way as to demonstrate Christ’s love for the church which is the approach of @DesiringGod teachings. It fails some of the time for the reasons discussed above. It also puts a lot of pressure on a marriage to witness to something which truly doesn’t need witnessing. I mean really, is there any doubt that Jesus doesn’t love the body of Christ? Is that something that needs reinforcement somehow? I just don’t see the need for this.

2. Look to Christ’s love of the church for a model as to how your marriage should be. The power dynamics of that make it impossible, to say nothing of the problems of the church. Its way beyond a white knight with a heart of gold marrying the crazy party girl who keeps going off the path. If anything, this seems like a disaster in the making.

3. Only look to the aspects of marriage that are explicitly directed to husband and wife or only applicable to Christ and the church. Do not try to co-mingle them as a whole, as they are like apples and oranges, Rather,in making parallels, only look to things they explicitly could share, like love, respect, and oneness and anything beyond those, leave as a mystery.

As far as the other elephant in the room, the submission problem, there are a ton of issues, with the biggest thing being caving to the fallen nature of humanity. Genesis 2:18 sets up Eve to be a helper to the man, one of explicit equality. Paul in a similar vein says there is no male or female in Christ. Its only man’s fallen nature that the one sided submission thing comes into being…

Folks much smarter than I have dug deep on this, a few resources.

The first is Fr John Ricardo talking on Ephesians 5… and some might wonder, why I’d reference a Catholic priest on this. The reason, they hear confessions, the deepest, darkest depths of a person’s struggles. And in a lot of ways, a Catholic priest likely knows a whole lot more about a given marriage than the folks actually in the marriage. Beyond that, there is a great deal of depth in his podcast, things like pagan cultural aspects, language / translation issues, and equality.

To go even deeper than the podcast, here is a link to his dissertation. Warning, its 133 pages!

Rachel Held Evans also takes a look at this. She states. “I, (and many biblical scholars and fellow Christians), would argue the point of these passages is not that patriarchy is the best foundation for marriage, but rather that the humility and service of Jesus Christ is the best example for marriage…and any relationship.”

Bottom line, if one sided submission works for your marriage, good for you, but keep watch for issues over time. Beyond that, one sided submission is unlikely to be fruitful for a lot of couples, and its by far not the only way to ascribe to the scriptures as well as to honor marriage.

Pondering Cohabitation

Pastor Bryan Carter preaches on cohabitation yesterday, and then has his church step up to the plate in a huge way. To say my mind was blown would have been a severe understatement.

Yesterday I preached on cohabitation and we invited cohabiting couples to accept the challenge of stepping into marriage. We paid one month’s rent for those who want to move out and will marry those who desire to get married with a free wedding - dress, tuxedo, rings. #church

It’s a really intense Gospel message both in word and in deed and its non-judgmental too.

its out of my scope of experience, being my late wife and I didn’t cohabitate before marriage, and we didn’t get around to living with each other until we’d been married for over a year… which isn’t such a good thing either, but it was what it was.

And I totally get that economic issues throw a wrench into the works, the same with the best laid plans. Back in the day, not living with your newly married spouse was pretty uncommon, in today’s world it seems most folks know at least a few couples who do. Back then, cohabitation before marriage was pretty common, I’d say maybe 50% of couples, vs in today’s world, its seems more like 95%. I remember some friends freaking out having to “hide” so as to not loose their church jobs… those sort of policies make me wonder if the cart is being put before the horse a bit.

Granted, I see a lot of young folks who are dating one month, and 2-3 months later are moving in together. And maybe it works for some, but for others, it seems a huge gamble to put a new relationship to such a test, where in if something goes sideways, it easily becomes a toxic trap without an exit strategy for one or both partners.  I think its super awesome that his church is stepping up to the plate and providing for an exit strategy in those situations.

Another issue which seems more and more common today, is that young and old have written off marriage, as a tradition of old, that no longer makes much sense. When I look out at the huge numbers of Christian’s getting divorced, or staying in toxic marriages / suffering abuses, to the point of poisoning their kids… it makes me wonder about this as well.

And yet, the scripture used in yesterday’s message was Hebrews 13:4 Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.

That’s a pretty high bar, and yet in my 21 years of marriage, I think of sanctification that came about as errant bits of our lives were worn away over time as the two of us became more and more one. I’m still trying to figure out how to do that as a widowed guy, but that’s far outside the scope of this post! Lol

I do wonder how marriage can be honored by all?

Sure,the obvious stuff like marriage partners not doing adultery, or cheating, or engage with prostitutes makes sense, but I think its equally as important to consider the non-obvious, not only for the marriage partners themselves, but for everyone of all life stages.

There are some church practices that dishonor marriage, such as shot gun weddings, as horrors, we can’t have scandal, so this couple has to get married now, even if they really aren’t in a position to fully consent to a life long commitment. Another dishonoring practice that some churches endorse is early marriage for young folks to avoid sexual sin… which then turns right back around years later with divorce and upended family dynamics which not only injures the partners, but also their kids. Lastly, I tend to think the body of Christ does a pretty poor job of teaching about the permanence of marriage vows, short of the obvious exclusions. Granted, when folks are in the midst of romantic love, they are exactly hearing things clearly…. but still there seems to be a sense of the temporary rather than permanence. I’ve sent a few young folks over to my caregiving is tougher than tough post… and they come back with, well that will never happen to us. Any my response is, you can’t predict it, hopefully it won’t, but your vows need to be strong enough to honor it should it happen.

A young friend of mine will celebrate his first year of ordination as a Catholic priest in a couple months. Prior to being ordained, he spent nearly a decade of intense study and discernment, as it is such a huge and life long commitment to enter the priesthood. And yet, when it comes to marriage, young folks spend 10x or more hours on wedding planning, than they do on premarital counseling… and unlike the priesthood where their are processes to step aside, the marriage vows, short of a few exclusions are for life.

And this is where things get strange. I’ve known a lot of cohabiting couples over the years, and many of them do get married. I think of my old friend Tom, who we’d bug on this periodically… he’d been living with his girlfriend for 10 years, they were together 5 years prior and had a couple kids. So every once in a while, Hey Tom, when you going to get married, and he about dropped us on the floor when he said, a “couple weekends ago”. The thing is, he and his wife totally got the lifetime aspects of the marriage vows, and they went in eyes fully opened. In a lot of ways, I think his marriage was a lot more holy than those who did everything right on the surface, but rushed through it without thinking a whole lot. Granted, it is hard to know the heart… which brings me back to the above church.

In the message notes, a number of myths and truths are presented. As some seem very foreign to my own experiences over the years, my guess is they are unique to the culture in that church and perhaps surrounding area. Ultimately though, we have the same scriptures to guide us.

Lastly, it seems the church sees premarital counseling as an integral part of the marriage process and as such require 12 weeks of it. My best guess is that couples are free to step out at anytime should they run into any insurmountable barriers and the church will be there to walk with them through it, or to provide an escape path away from it.

What an incredible witness to the Gospel!