Monthly Archives: July 2017

REMINDER: Eagle River Institute Starts Tomorrow

Tomorrow’s the day St. John Orthodox starts it’s 2017 Eagle River Institute (ERI).

Kickoff lecture at 3:30 p.m. is by Peter Bouteneff, PhD. His topic will be:

From the Old Testament to the Fathers: The Journey of the Creation Accounts

The 7:30 p.m. lecture will be by Gayle Woloshak, PhD. Her topic will be

Religion and Science: Interface

If you value a dive into Orthodox thought, and practice of spirituality, I highly recommend you enjoy this opportunity. I’ve come to value Orthodox thought and their unique expressions of ancient spirituality. I sincerely believe each of us, regardless of our personal spiritual persuasion, can benefit from the thoughts and practices of other religions.  ERI is no exception.  I’ve discovered many enriching details about the Christian faith through my friendship with Orthodox, of which there are three major branches in Alaska: Greek Orthodox, Antiochian Orthodox, and Orthodox Church of America (formerly known here as Russian Orthodox).

My detailed write-up about this year’s ERI, published two weeks ago, is here:

Eagle River Institute 2017 – Science & Faith is Key Topic – Plan to attend!

I’ll be there and hope to see you too!

Chris Thompson
Church Visits

Quirky Church Service Practices Repel Repeat Visits by Guests

In many years of visiting local churches, I’ve experienced a wide variety of services. A characteristic of churches I do not seek to revisit is represented by those with quirky services. This can be exhibited in many ways, but often as follows.

  • Service time commitment not followed
  • Runaway musical productions
  • Off-the-cuff lengthy sharing moments
  • Lengthy and verbose offering appeals
  • Interminable altar calls

Earlier this year, I attended a Sunday service at a new church.  The music was brief and to the point. The pastor repeatedly elicited responses from all present such as asking people to stand for the reading of scripture; asking people to say “amen” on many occasions; after a prayer he said, “and everyone that agreed with that prayer shouted…” to which a muted shout of “amen” rang out. Disrespectfully, a chorus of cell phones rang during the entire service. During a lengthy testimony time, many gave individual testimonies or asked for prayers of support. This was the first time I’d experienced this in all my church visits here. An emotional time consuming a significant amount of the service, it might have been more effective in a mid-week service. In fact, an entire hour went by before the preaching by a guest speaker started. The service lasted just shy of two hours. I had attended this church one other time and found them similarly unpredictable.  Significantly fewer people were present at this recent service, versus to previous one noted leading me to assume their church growth strategy was not working.

With over 50 churches closing every week across the U.S., there has to come a time when churches need to recognize their ministry is just not being effective.

One local church I’ve attended has offering sermons prior to the offering collection. They last longer than most homilies offered by local pastors. Their services last a couple of hours as well.  Another local church has members bring their offerings up front to staffed offering plates. I fail to see the value of this practice which I consider to be offensive to first-time guests and possibly regulars.

Many churches think that a rich musical entertainment format will attract and hold millennials. However, church consultant Thom Rainer says they’re looking for three things: content, authenticity, and quality.  In a recent article ( Rainer said, “They desire to sing those songs that reflect deep biblical and theological truths,Millennials speak less and less about worship style. Their focus is on theologically rich music.” They are looking for rich spiritual truth in the message, and in the lives of the members. They will quickly see through inauthentic congregations. Too many churches still offer half-hour or longer music sessions at earsplitting levels. That’s not what these future church members and potential leaders seek.

Altar calls are a standard in evangelicalism. Many times they last 15 minutes or more. I consider them to be unscriptural, psychological blackmail, and an artifact of the second great awakening in the early 1800’s but honed by evangelicals to produce “decisions” by which effectiveness of ministry is measured.  By and large I do not think God works on the human heart through emotional altar calls. Quite often they are accompanied by pleading songs and instrumental music to shape attendees emotions to a desired response. Studies indicate few people make life-giving changes during altar calls and repeating the sinner’s prayer.  One lengthy altar call I recently witnessed saw the pastor searching the crowd. He finally admitted the person(s) he’d hoped to come forward wasn’t even there that morning.  God works on the heart, asking individuals to “rend your hearts, not your garments.”

Finally, pastors should build expectations in every member/guest regarding service times and stick to them.  Sermons can be overdone and overly long. As a professional presenter, I learned early that to be effective, I had to do three things: say in advance what I was going to cover, then say it, and finish by repeating what I’d said. This practice makes the information memorable and unforgettable.  I love to hear Redeemer Presbyterian’s Tim Keller do exactly that. In no small part it’s why his unfolding of scriptural truth is so compelling. I rarely hear local pastors use the same tried and true technique. Peoples attention spans are very brief these days. Some of the most effective sermons I’ve heard locally were only 10-15 minutes long.

We should strive to give our guests and members unforgettable experiences in worship.

Happy church-going during this beautiful Alaskan summer!


Eagle River Institute 2017 – Science & Faith is Key Topic – Plan to attend!

St John Orthodox Cathedral – Eagle River

St. John Orthodox Cathedral has announced their Eagle River Institute topic for this year: Orthodoxy and Science.

I’m very excited about this topic as it offers a unique experience for local Christians and other seekers to delve into the topic of religion and science. In over 17 years of visiting various churches in Anchorage, I’ve yet to hear any clergy dealing with this topic.  In light of this, I asked Fr. Marc Dunaway, Archpriest of St. John Orthodox Cathedral why this topic was chosen for this year.  “We want to address issues that are especially on the minds of the young people,” Fr. Marc replied. “We cannot ignore the recent statistics showing the increased departure of the millennial generation from the Christian Faith. Issues about Science and Faith are certainly very important.”

Fr. Marc is right as millennial’s have expressed dissatisfaction about churches sweeping science and faith issues under the rug. Much has been written about this recently. David Kinnaman of the Barna Group presented research findings a few years back in his masterful book, “You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church . . . and Rethinking Faith.”

The Institute will be held August 1-5 at St. John Orthodox Cathedral in Eagle River.   A pair of highly qualified presenters will conduct four track sessions each, starting at 3:30 p.m. each of the five days, ending at 9:30 p.m. A dinner and vespers break separates each of the two-hour sessions.

Peter Bouteneff, PhD, a professor at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary, will be presenting on “Early Christian Tradition and Genesis 1-3.”  Gayle Woloshak, PhD, professor of radiation oncology at Northwestern University and adjunct professor of Religion at Lutheran School of Theology Chicago and at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. The speakers will alternate between afternoon and evening sessions.

For complete information and an detailed brochure use this link:

As a side-note, I recently discovered that Hank Hanegraaff, president of Christian Research Institute, and known as the Bible Answer Man, recently converted to Orthodoxy. His given reasons for leaving evangelicalism include watching pastors who act more like entrepreneurs focused on branding. Hanegraaff said, “Where the pastor is like an entrepreneur, branding, formulaically getting people into seats — that became troubling to me and I decided I was going to explore,” he said.

I’m looking forward to this exploration of science and faith through the eyes of Orthodoxy. It’s worth the small fee. Over the years, I’ve become enjoyed the warm and dedicated spiritual connection this particular Orthodox community offers.