Wednesday, November 22, 2017

To My Heroes: Bi-vocational and Small Church Pastors—7 Reasons to be Thankful


We all have heroes—those persons we look to to find strength and courage who remind us evil will be vanquished and good will ultimately reign. While as Christians we look to Christ as our hero who conquered evil by his substitutionary death and resurrection to new life, the Lord allows us to see reflections of His strength and courage in other faithful brothers and sisters in Christ.

Bi-vocational and small church pastors are my heroes—those brothers to whom I look to find strength and courage to persevere in the faith and in difficult ministry. Bi-vocational and small church pastors may never be invited to preach at The Gospel Coalition national conference or Together for the Gospel; they may never be asked to endorse the latest Christian book, much less write one; they may never be highlighted at the denominational meeting or the retreat of their national network of churches. But, bi-vocational and small church pastors have the same responsibilities as all other pastors. In fact, I could argue they have more responsibilities because larger church pastors have staffs and interns and assistants who can take a large load off their plate. Bi-vocational and small church pastors, on the other hand, often have no one else. Who else is going to prepare the sermon, visit the hospital, counsel the broken-hearted, make evangelistic visits, disciple the men, even fold the bulletins in some cases?

Sadly, though, I sense that my bi-vocational and small church brother pastors are often discouraged in their ministries. So, allow me to offer seven reasons for my bi-vocational and small church brother pastors to be thankful. Rejoice and be thankful for.... Read More

The Christian’s Job Description


Everybody has a job description. Regardless of who you are—a pastor, a church member, or a student—you have a job description. We all do. And they are nothing new. They’ve been with us since the beginning of history. Adam and Eve had a job description. Noah had a job description. Abraham, Moses and Saul too. They all had job descriptions.

But sometimes we get so immersed in fulfilling the details of our divinely-given job description, that we lose sight of the big picture. From time to time, we need to remind ourselves of the biblical pillars of our raison d’ĂȘtre, those structural pylons of the Christian life that give us a wide-angle view of the biblical mandates and help us to refocus and reenergize our efforts.

When it comes to summarizing biblical mandates, no one did it better than our Lord. He was able to get right to the core of things. Jewish history said that there were 613 laws that needed to be obeyed, but Jesus reduced them to two: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” and “you shall love your neighbor as yourself“ (Matt 22:37, 39).

In the midst of the tyranny of our commitments, we would do well to boil down the plethora of our commitments to the very basics of God’s job description for us. In many respects, it’s not a job description, but a job prescription—a prescription mandated for us by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:31 – 11:1. Cautioning the Corinthians about misusing their Christian liberties, he admonishes: “Whether then you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense, either to Jews or to Greeks or to the Church of God, just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of the many, so that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” Read More

10 Marks You Belong to a Great Church


When you plug into a church that is getting it done, it’s a true blessing.

I love the church. She is Christ’s bride and the key to cultural transformation. In that sense, every church is great. But let’s be honest, there are a ton of churches that leave much to be desired when it comes to truly making a difference in their congregations and communities. So when you plug into a church that is getting it done, it’s a true blessing.

Of course, there are no perfect churches, but there are many that are pressing toward the high water mark we see in Scripture. Read More

J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis: A Legendary Friendship

Illustration from J. R. R. Tolkien's Farmer Giles of Ham
A new book reveals how these two famous friends conspired to bring myth and legend—and Truth—to modern readers.

Our world would be poorer without two other worlds: Narnia and Middle-earth. Yet if two young professors had not met at an otherwise ordinary Oxford faculty meeting in 1926, those wondrous lands would still be unknown to us. Read More

See Also:
Top 10 Misquoted Lines from C. S. Lewis
Pauline Baynes illustrated both C. S. Lewis and J. R.R. Tolkien's books. 

The Jesusy Movement


Sure, all kinds of Christians love Jesus. But he’s especially central in evangelical piety.

ome years ago Francis Quinn, then Roman Catholic bishop of Sacramento, and I were talking about evangelicals who were converting to Catholicism. I was a Presbyterian minister at the time, serving a small church in Sacramento. I can’t remember the occasion of our conversation, but I do remember one his remarks. He said that when evangelicals move into Catholicism, “I hope they bring Jesus with them. We Catholics need more Jesus.”

Catholics certainly don’t ignore Jesus—he hangs crucified at the front of most of their churches, after all. And they believe it is his very body and blood that they receive in every Mass. But as the good bishop noted, Jesus isn’t necessarily at the center of most Catholic daily piety. For many Catholics, that place would be occupied by the Virgin Mary or perhaps one or more of the saints. Other Catholics are enamored with the magisterium or the church’s tradition. But it would be hard to argue that the Catholic faith is “Jesusy.” Read More

Five Reasons Thankful Pastors Are Doing So Well in Ministry


As I was trying to discern some of the qualities and characteristics of pastors who are doing really well in ministry, I was surprised that the most common trait was an attitude of abundant gratitude.

Simply stated, pastors who have an attitude of continuous gratitude are doing very well in ministry. They are joyous pastors. They serve joyous congregations. They see a steady flow of first-time guests at their churches. And they are more likely to see many church members growing as more devoted followers of Christ.

Why? Why are thankful pastors doing so well in ministry? As I have come to know these pastors, I see five common answers to this question. Read More

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

4 Sure Signs Your Church Needs More First-Time Guests


Why isn’t your church growing? So many church leaders are wrestling with that question. They are looking at the dynamics of what’s happening in their church and trying to sort out where the “problem” is.

Is it that your church doesn’t have enough first-time guests coming through the front door? Or is it that people are falling through the cracks and not sticking & staying at your church? Diagnosing the issue doesn’t need to be complex and convoluted. This is an answerable question!

As I’ve worked with churches across the country pondering over these issues (and more importantly trying to find a solution to it), I’ve bumped into these sure signs that are evident in churches that aren’t seeing enough first-time guests arriving at their church. Is your church seeing these dynamics at play in your church? Read More

7 Christmas Eve Ideas That Work


I’m a big fan of Christmas Eve. Attendance is generally up at all churches during the Christmas season, as even the most unchurched have a little voice nagging them to go. We’ve decided at Brookwood Church to put all our musical eggs in the Christmas Eve basket because it’s THE service of the year (along with Easter Sunday), even beyond Christmas cantatas and December Sundays, when people are most likely to darken the door of a church.

Make an effort to create a special service on Christmas Eve. It’s hard enough to find musicians on Christmas Eve at a big church like Brookwood, but it was even more difficult to find players at the 300-member church where I was a music director several years ago (that’s why I’ve created the Christmas Eve and I Adore You Service Guides – you can pull off a beautiful service with only a capable pianist and worship leader or just use tracks.)

In the smaller church, we’d go acoustic (me on piano, acoustic guitar, and bass) which was a nice vibe for the evening anyway. We rented a baby grand piano, set it in the center of the room, and had the service “in the round” to change things up (I used a synth keyboard from a small stage otherwise.) Our tech guy hung a few extra, inexpensive lights to create a cozy mood, and I downloaded the prettiest worship video backgrounds I could find.

At Brookwood, I’ve discovered a few elements we do year after year that simply work.... Read More

10 Pet Peeves about Church from One Who Loves The Church


By “pet peeve,” we mean only a minor disagreement. An annoyance. We find certain things irritating, but they are not deal-breakers. No federal case, no mountains from a molehill. Okay to disagree. A personal thing is all. Read More

The Danger of Gossip


The Lord loves a straight shooter. How do I know this? Because this is the embodiment of the wisdom imparted in Proverbs, including this helpful little gem: “Put away from you crooked speech, and put devious talk far from you” (4:24).

Crooked speech is talk that isn’t straight. It is bowed, off-kilter, circuitous, meandering. There are a few examples we could name, including outright lying and even hypocritical living, but one of the most glaring examples of crooked speech that is practically epidemic in the church is the sin of gossip. But what is gossip?

One reason gossip can be so difficult to define is that it so often masquerades as something more mundane, perhaps even beneficent. I’m sure you have witnessed plenty of prayer requests shared on someone’s behalf that seemed to include unnecessary details or salacious information. You’ve probably heard your share of “words of concern” that bordered on insinuation or improper speculation. Maybe you’ve offered such words yourself. I know I have.

If we had to boil down gossip to a straightforward definition, we might say that gossip is saying anything about someone that you wouldn’t say to them. That at least captures the way gossip violates Proverbs 4:24.

So how do you know if you’re hearing (or sharing) gossip? Here are some clues as to the various motives that fuel gossip. Read More

How to Influence Your Conscience (Before Someone Else Does)


For most of us, the normalization and celebration of sin has become so pervasive in the entertainment we grew up enjoying that it can be difficult for us to discern whether or not God is pleased with our lifestyle. There is often a cognitive dissonance between what we believe about God and his law and how we live. So, how are Christians meant to navigate this complicated issue? Read More

The Truth about Suicide


More and more Americans are taking their own lives. How the church can step up.

In 2015, more than 44,000 Americans died by suicide—one death every 12 minutes, as the Department of Health and Human Services put it. The overall suicide rate has grown by nearly 30 percent over the past 15 years, prompting some to call it a new public health crisis.

Al Hsu knows this reality personally. Nine months after the InterVaristy Press senior editor got married, he received a phone call from his mother. “Daddy killed himself,” she told him. When he heard the news, Hsu and his wife already had plans to visit his parents. His 58-year-old father was in rough condition after a stroke had left him partially debilitated and gravely depressed. The aftermath of his father’s death sparked Hsu to reflect and research, the results of which found their way into Grieving a Suicide: A Loved One’s Search for Comfort, Answers, and Hope (InterVarsity Press), first published in 2002 and re-released this year.

Hsu spoke with assistant editor Morgan Lee about the inner conflict of grieving a suicide, the best and worst ways his community responded to his pain, and whether ending one’s own life condemns a Christian to hell. Read More

See Also:
1 in 3 Protestant Churchgoers Personally Affected by Suicide

Sermon Prep for the Non-Vocational Preacher


It’s one of my favorite times of the year—I’m getting ready to preach for the first time in ages. With moving, settling into my new job, traveling for work, and a host of other things, it’s been hard to even start looking for opportunities. So, God graciously provided one for me this coming weekend when I head down to Texas to work on a Gospel Project-related video.

Sermon prep methodology fascinates me. I love learning how pastors manage their time to prioritize prayer, study, writing, and practice. Through the years, my own habits have changed pretty drastically. I used to joke that my prep was like “Forrest Gump”-ing my way into a good sermon. It was basically a happy coincidence. I don’t joke like that anymore (and not just because it annoys my wife). Actually, I work really hard to prepare any sermon or presentation. I’ve never considered myself a natural public speaker, so I don’t wing anything.

So what do I do? Today, I thought I’d share a bit about what my current process looks like.... Read More

Three Practical Steps to Pray Without Ceasing


Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-17)
To “pray without ceasing” means to have our minds always on the things of God, to be in constant communication with him, so that every moment may be as fruitful as possible. How can we learn to “pray without ceasing?” Here are three practical steps. Read More

3 Ways Social Media Helps Your Outreach Efforts


Fall and winter are usually busy outreach seasons for churches: Fall Festivals, Trunk-or-Treats, Thanksgiving dinners, musicals, Christmas Eve and Christmas services, and more.

In the not-so-distant past, advertising for such events was limited to your local newspaper. Such ads were not always cheap, and reach was limited to subscribers who read the paper on the day your ad ran. Not so with social media. Today, your event info can be shared, shared, and shared some more, providing multiple opportunities for viewing.

Social media is the easiest, most effective way to promote your outreach efforts that exists today. Please don’t overlook it.

What are some benefits? Here are three. Read More

Don’t Expect a Spectacular Christian Life


How are your spiritual disciplines?

Take a moment to answer.

In the hundreds of times I’ve asked that question, 99 percent of the time I get a variation of the same answer: I should be doing more.

The reasons vary: I’m not disciplined enough. I don’t know how. I don’t have enough time. I get bored. They didn’t work.

We seem to think our discipline issues are due to some sort of discipline defect—and yet we execute spiritual disciplines every day. Even if you rarely touch your Bible, you’re always disciplining yourself toward certain activities you believe will open the door to spiritual vitality and joy.

Sports stats, Netflix binges, how-to blogs, social media addiction, and a hundred other daily habits can become attempts to find the good life your soul craves. Read More

Eight Ways to Connect Evangelistically with Non-Believing Family Members over the Holiday


Many of us will be hanging out with unbelieving family members this Thanksgiving week, and we’re hoping to be a good Christian witness around them. Maybe these ideas will help you move in that direction.... Read More

Monday, November 20, 2017

Reshaping the 1928 Prayer Book Services for Mission – Part 3

The Holy Table at St. Mark's Anglican Church, Benton, Kentucky
By Robin G. Jordan

Among the four new works in which I was involved to various extents during the opening decade of this century was North Cross United Methodist Church. At the time I became involved in North Cross UMC, I was involved in the early stages of an Anglican Mission in America church plant. I was a member of the core group that the AMiA church planter was putting together to form the nucleus of a new AMiA church. We were not meeting for worship, only for core-group development. The AMiA church planter had encouraged core-group members to attend one of the churches in the area until it was time to launch the new church and to hold its first service of public worship. I chose to attend North Cross because it was a fairly young church plant and I thought that I could gain more practical experience in pioneering a new church from attending the church. I also became involved an Episcopal “dinner church” that had popped up in the area after the arrival of the AMiA church planter. I did so in part out of curiosity and in part at the request of the AMiA church planter. This new work was attracting people who might have been attracted to the new AMiA church. I would be with North Cross for roughly two years.

When I first became involved in North Cross, the church was meeting in rented space at the Madisonville Maritime Museum. As well as having the use of two large conference rooms on the main floor, it had the use of a smaller meeting room on the second room. It used the two larger rooms for worship services and the children’s ministry and the smaller room for a nursery. A welcome center and a table with hot coffee and donuts, sweet rolls, cookies, or muffins were set up at the entrance of one of the larger rooms. The two larger rooms adjoined each other. People had to pass through the first room to enter the second room. In the second room rows of stacking chairs were arranged in four sections, facing a communion table, a lectern, and a projection screen. To one side were a baby grand piano and two rows of chairs for the choir. The choir was formed shortly after I became involved in the church.

The music for the worship services was taken from the United Methodist Hymnal, a collection of standard hymns and gospel songs, and The Faith We Sing, a collection of older worship songs and praise choruses, songs from the World Church, and new compositions. It was what is sometimes described as the “New Traditional.” I was familiar with most of the praise choruses and worship songs from the 1980s and 1990s.

The lyrics of the hymns and songs were projected onto the screen, using a multimedia projector.

While the choir occasionally performed special music such as singing a call to worship at the beginning of the worship service, its primary role was to lead the congregational singing. The pastor had a good singing voice, sung with the choir, encouraged the participation of the congregation in the singing of the hymns and songs, and took a lead role in the selection of music for the worship services. The pianist was the pastor’s father who lived more than an hour’s drive from Madisonville.

While the area church that boasted the largest attendance used what is sometimes described as “Contemporary” music, the use of “New Traditional” music was still a viable choice for the area. North Cross did not attract a large crowd like the Church of the King but its worship services were well-attended.

As well as attracting young families and older couples, North Cross also attracted single young adults and teenagers. While largely attracting people with a Methodist background, the church also attracted people with other Protestant backgrounds. Its weekly celebration of Holy Communion attracted mixed couples in which one spouse was Protestant and the other Roman Catholic. From 2003 on North Cross began to see a trickle of disaffected Episcopalians looking for a new church home. The people who were attending North Cross were also inviting unchurched friends, neighbors, relatives, and colleagues to the church.

One of the reasons that people were attracted to North Cross was the growing reputation of the pastor as a preacher. He received high marks for his energetic delivery, good use of illustrations, and clear Bible teaching from the congregation. When people are excited about the preaching, music, children’s ministry, ministry opportunities, and relaxed atmosphere of a church, they tell people about the church. They also invite people to church.

What was most interesting about North Cross from the perspective of this article series was its use of traditional language in hymns and songs, responsive readings, the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Doxology. All of these elements were regularly used in North Cross’ worship services. On occasion the General Confession and Absolution and the Prayer of Consecration from John Wesley’s Sunday Service of Methodists in North America, a order for the administration of Holy Communion that is a shortened version of the 1662 Communion Service, was used. (Since I moved to western Kentucky, I have also learned that elements of Wesley’s Sunday Service are sometimes used in United Methodist churches in the region.)

The use of traditional language in these worship elements was a viable choice for the area. Most of the area’s population spoke English as their first language. While Tudor English contains a number of archaic words and grammatical structures, it is not as far removed from modern-day English as Middle English or Old English.

The area was primarily suburban, middle class. A large segment of the area’s population had a high school education or higher. This population segment had been exposed to Tudor English when they studied English literature from the Elizabethan period, chiefly the plays and sonnets of William Shakespeare.

A phenomenon that is quite evident in high schools and universities today was not as evident ten years ago. One of my fellow students at Murray State University pointed this phenomenon to my attention. Very few students in his English literature classes show any interest in learning Tudor English. His observation corresponded with my own observation that the English vocabulary of students not only entering the university but graduating from it is impoverished. They are not familiar with many of the words which high school students of my generation were expected to learn and use. The factors behind their impoverished vocabulary are complicated. While we may decry this development, it is one of the realities of the twenty-first century North American mission field.

A large segment of the area’s population was Protestant in their religious affiliation. There was a reasonable likelihood that this population segment had been exposed to Tudor English through the use of the King James Version of the Bible, traditional language hymns, and traditional language prayers at a church that the households forming this population segment had attended in the past. This likelihood was far greater in 2002-2003 than it is now.

What was particularly noteworthy about the use of traditional language texts at North Cross was that it was much more sparing than in Continuing Anglican churches using the 1928 Prayer Book and Episcopal churches using Rite I. Its use of these texts was confined to the worship elements that I previously mentioned. This use was consistent with the Methodist tradition of plain and unadorned worship and embodied the key liturgical principle of simplicity: less is more. The spareness that characterizes the Methodist worship tradition is a part of its Anglican heritage. John Wesley himself applied the principle of simplicity when he abbreviated the Anglican Communion Service for the use of Methodists in North America. Wesley was an Anglican priest and was familiar with the principle of simplicity from Archbishop Cranmer’s Preface to the 1549 Prayer Book. The principle of simplicity was used in the compilation of the 1549 and 1552 Prayer Books and has influenced subsequent revisers of the Prayer Book. In abbreviating the Anglican Communion Service, Wesley took the principle of simplicity a step further than Cranmer.

Among the conclusions that I drew from the time that I was at North Cross was that a church might use traditional language texts on the North American mission field with a measure of success provided that:

1. The population of the area in which the church is located, or a reasonably large segment of it, has some past exposure to Tudor English (i.e., studied Elizabethan literature, read the King James Bible, sung traditional hymn, etc.) Churches using traditional language texts cannot, however, assume a level of familiarity with Tudor English in the general population today that they might have assumed in the past. While The Book of Common Prayer and the King James Bible may have influenced the development of modern English, their influence is waning. The works of William Shakespeare and other Elizabethan authors and playwrights do not occupy the place that they once did. The traditional hymn has also fallen on hard times.

2. A church makes a more sparing use of traditional language texts than what has become the practice of Continuing Anglican churches using the 1928 Prayer Book and Episcopal churches using Rite I. The 1928 revision of the American Prayer Book anticipates the need for greater flexibility on the mission field and its general rubrics permit the simplification of a number of its rites and services (e.g., the Daily Offices, Private Baptism, Communion of the Sick, etc.) and the more sparing use of the texts printed in these rites and services.

The simplification of a rite or service and the sparing use of traditional language texts help to make a worship service more accessible to guests who are unaccustomed to set forms of prayer as well as to those who are unfamiliar with Tudor English.

The sparing use of traditional-language texts is also consistent with good pedagogical practice. In teaching a new language to students, an instructor introduces the new language a few words and phrases at a time. The instructor does not overwhelm the students with more than they can assimilate and memorize.

In my next article I will look at how the liturgical principles of simplicity and suitability may be used in reshaping the 1928 Prayer Book services for mission. I will also examine how the 1928 Communion of the Sick was employed as the liturgy for an Episcopal “dinner church.”

Previous Articles in This Series:
Upcoming Article Series on Reshaping the 1928 Prayer Book Services for Mission
Reshaping the 1928 Prayer Book Services for Mission – Part 1
Reshaping the 1928 Prayer Book Services for Mission – Part 2

Image: Bella Raj

28 Non-Numerical Signs Of A Healthy Church


Numbers are not the only way to determine church health. In many situations, they’re not even the best way.

Numbers may inform us, but they don’t define us.

So, what non-numerical criteria can we use to determine church health?

I’ve been compiling a list.

It started as 6 or 7. But it keeps growing. As of today, it has 28 elements. I’ve been waiting until the list was complete to publish it, but I’ve come to realize it will never be complete. So consider this a starter list. Read More

Lead Your Church Beyond Addition to Multiplication


From Apple to Starbucks to your favorite local restaurant, every organization has a culture. And whether or not you realize it, your church is creating a culture. It’s what you become known for, and it powerfully shapes the way you see the world as well as the decisions you make.

Culture strategist Brian Zehr says it plainly: “What makes your church work or not work is the culture you have. So we need to pay attention to and define the culture we’re creating for our church.”

In growth terms, are you developing a “survival culture” characterized by what you will do after you grow and can afford it? Or maybe an “addition-growth” culture defined by an insatiable drive for conquering the next hill and breaking the next growth barrier? Or are you creating a “multiplication culture,” best described as release versus consumption and movement versus accumulation?

As a leader, your role in stewarding and cultivating culture may be the most important one you play. Value survival, and you’ll establish a scarcity or subtraction culture. Value addition growth, and you’ll establish an addition culture. Value multiplication, and you’ll establish a sending culture. Read More
We should take a cue from the dandelion. One tiny plant in the corner of a field can fill the field with dandelions.

How to Regain Lost Momentum


The momentum shift. In my twenty-one years of leading the same church, I’ve experienced it more times than I’d like to admit. Attendance was climbing. Salvations and baptisms were happening. People were growing in their faith and engaging in the mission. First time guests were rolling in. Celebration and worship was spontaneous and abundant. All of this, not only in the spring and fall seasons of the year, but through the summer and winter months, too!

But, then one day I noticed a different feeling in the air; I could tell momentum was slowing or had disappeared. The excitement was gone. A few weeks went by without a salvation or baptism. A key family or two, even close friends, suddenly left the church without explaining the reason. They didn’t even say goodbye! Others complained or murmured about things that wouldn’t have mattered to them a few months earlier.

During such times, leaders often wonder what happened. Why it happened. Most importantly we wonder how can we “get things moving” again? We are tempted to resign, believing God is finished with us at that church; but maybe He’s not.

Sometimes we need to look under the hood and see what happened to the power. Here are three steps that have proven helpful to me in regaining lost momentum. Read More

The Problem of Suicide: How is the Church Caring for those Impacted?


A church without the broken is a broken church.

Each year, 44,193 Americans die by suicide which, on average, amounts to 121 suicides per day.

For many of us, these figures don’t feel too far off. We can picture the faces and remember the names of those in our own communities who’ve taken their own lives.

As a young pastor, I too came face to face with the harsh realities of suicide and the pain brought on by watching those I loved experience such deep suffering. Particularly, I remember a man named Jim in our congregation who was struggling with mental illness. For a while, he fought the good fight and did what he could to spend time in prayer and read Psalms to find comfort. Eventually, however, filled with despair, he took his own life.

I was devastated.

At the time, I was unprepared, idealistic, and largely unsure how to handle the events that had just transpired in the church community I was shepherding.

Unfortunately, I think many churches today fit that same description. They are trying to figure out how to help people struggling with mental illnesses and care for loved ones in the aftermath of loss but don’t really know quite what to do. Read More

If the Lord Marks Iniquity, Who Should Stand?


The Psalmist asked the question: “If the Lord marks iniquity, who should stand?” This query is obviously rhetorical. The only answer, indeed the obvious answer is no one.

The question is stated in a conditional form. It merely considers the dire consequences that follow if the Lord marks iniquity. We breathe a sigh of relief saying, “Thank heavens the Lord does not mark iniquity!”

Such is a false hope. We have been led to believe by an endless series of lies that we have nothing to fear from God’s scorecard. We can be confident that if He is capable of judgment at all, His judgment will be gentle. If we all fail His test—no fear—He will grade on a curve. After all, it is axiomatic that to err is human and to forgive is divine. This axiom is so set in concrete that we assume that forgiveness is not merely a divine option, but a veritable prerequisite for divinity itself. We think that not only may God be forgiving, but He must be forgiving or He wouldn’t be a good God. How quick we are to forget the divine prerogative: “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.” (Rom. 9:15 NKJV) Read More

Five Common Reasons Church Leaders Stop Leading


I am having an amazing time reading through the book of Joshua. My pastor (who happens to be my son, Jess) is also preaching through the early chapters of the book in our church.

I just can’t seem to get enough of Joshua. Among the many reasons Joshua is my favorite biblical character other than Jesus is his uncanny leadership. For example, in Joshua 1, he transitions from becoming Moses’ servant to becoming the leader of Israel. It’s an amazing thing to read.

Joshua was one incredible leader.

We have many incredible leaders in our churches today. But, perhaps more often than we admit, some church leaders stop leading. I have spoken with hundreds, probably thousands, of them over the years. I hear common themes of why they put their leadership in neutral. Here are the five most common reasons.... Read More

9 Evangelistic Questions Pastors Ought to Ask Themselves


If you read this blog regularly, you know I’ve never seen a strongly evangelistic church without a pastor who leads them in that direction. With that finding in mind, here are some “evangelistic questions” pastors ought to be asking of themselves.... Read More

5 Mission Principles from Scripture’s Shortest Book


In his third letter, the apostle John instructs his friend Gaius about the importance of supporting itinerate missionary evangelists. In the process, he gives us a number of biblical principles that should shape the way we think about our own missionary sending and support.

Calling himself “the elder,” John writes:
The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth.

Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul. For I rejoiced greatly when the brothers came and testified to your truth, as indeed you are walking in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.

Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are, who testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God. For they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth. (3 John 1–8)
There are several direct implications for missions in this short passage. Let’s consider five. Read More

15 Short, Great Tips for Christmas Preaching


There’s no shortage of advice for preaching at Christmas. Peter Mead of BiblicalPreaching.net offers 15 practical suggestions. One or two are sure to fit your needs. Read More

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Ft. Worth’s Bishop Declares Impaired Communion with Women’s Ordination Supporters


By Robin G. Jordan 

At the Diocesan Synod of the Diocese of Ft. Worth earlier this month Bishop Jack Iker in his annual address declared a state of impaired communion between the Diocese of Ft. Worth and several dioceses of the Anglican Church in North America over the issue of women’s ordination. He told the synod that at the September conclave of the College of Bishops, he had informed the other bishops that he would “no longer give consent to the election of any bishop who intends to ordain female priests, nor would he “attend the consecration of any such bishop-elect in the future.” He also told the synod that he had notified Archbishop Foley Beach of his resignation from all the committees to which he had been assigned; that he had taken this action to show the College of Bishops that it could no longer be “business as usual” in that body due to the refusal of those who support the ordination of women to adopt for the sake of unity a moratorium on what he characterized as a divisive practice. He described as “signs of disunity and division” the bishops who “continue to ordain women priests in spite of the received tradition.”

After reading Bishop Iker’s address which comes on the heels of the Statement from the College of Bishops on the Ordination of Women, I must wonder whether what we are seeing here is the beginning of the unraveling of the Anglican Church in North America.

Bishop Iker mentions the statement in his address, drawing attention to the bishops’ acknowledgement of women’s ordination as “a recent innovation to Apostolic Tradition and Catholic Order” and their recognition of the lack of a convincing scriptural warrant for the acceptance of women’s ordination to the priesthood as standard practice throughout the Province. But he does not mention the bishops’ acknowledgement of the constitutional authority of the individual dioceses to ordain women, except in a roundabout way in calling for the amendment of the Province’s constitution to remove the provision permitting women’s ordination. The statement was adopted unanimously by the College of Bishops.

If the other bishops who are opposed to the ordination of women follow Bishop Iker’s lead and refuse to consent to the election of any bishop who intends to ordain women priests and to attend the consecration of any such bishop-elect and resign from all committees to which they are assigned, Bishop Iker’s address will indeed mark the beginning of the unraveling of the ACNA.

But Bishop Iker’s declaration of a state of impaired communion has other implications beside this one. Whether he is speaking for the Diocese of Ft. Worth or for all the dioceses that are opposed to women’s ordination, he has tacitly declared a state of impaired communion not only with the supporters of women’s ordination in the ACNA but in GAFCON and the Global South, with a number of dioceses and provinces that have recognized and supported the ACNA.

Bishop Iker has never been an enthusiastic supporter of GAFCON and the Jerusalem Declaration. When he returned from the first GAFCON conference, he reassured Anglo-Catholics that the new Province would not be guided by the Jerusalem Declaration but by the Common Cause Statement. The principles of doctrine and worship outlined in that statement would be incorporated into the new Province’s Constitution as its Fundamental Declarations, with one important exception. The new Province’s affirmation of the Jerusalem Declaration was relegated to the Preamble of the Constitution where it is incidental to the Constitution’s account of the formation of the new Province and is not binding upon the Province. When evangelical representatives in the Provisional Provincial Council sought to amend the Fundamental Declarations, Bishop Iker maintained that any substantive changes to the declarations would cause the unraveling of the new Province before it was established, essentially threatening a walkout by the Anglo-Catholic representatives in the Council.

Based on what has happened in the past, I believe that there is more going on here than meets the eye. The first Anglican Church in North America fragmented not just due to the personalities of its leaders but also because of theological divisions within that ecclesial body. One group, those whom Douglas Bess describes as Anglican “Loyalists,” thought that historic Anglicanism was sufficiently catholic while another group, those whom Bess describes as Catholic “Revivalists,” did not believe that historic Anglicanism was Catholic enough. They wished to reshape the Anglican Church along the lines of the supposedly undivided church of the eleventh century before the East-West schism. The same divisions are discernible within the second Anglican Church in North America. The way the ACNA is governed, its ordinal, its catechism, and its proposed 2019 Prayer Book show the influence of the Province’s Catholic “Revivalists.”

These divisions are not going to go away once the issue of women’s ordination is resolved in the ACNA. Catholic “Revivalists like Bishop Iker see women’s ordination as a major obstacle to the Catholicization of the Province to their liking. Once this obstacle is removed, they can be expected to focus upon other areas of the common life of the Province that are not to their satisfaction. This is bound to lead to tension and conflict with those who do not share their views.

I also wonder what part the accord reached by the Anglican Province of America, the Anglican Church in America,  the Anglican Catholic Church, and the Diocese of the Holy Cross early last year played in Bishop Iker’s decision. All four jurisdictions are involved in Forward in Faith North America, an organization that promotes Catholicism with a capital "C;" all of them subscribe to the Affirmation of St. Louis, and all of them trace their origin - at least in part - to the first Anglican Church in North America. Where will Bishop Iker lead the Diocese of Ft. Worth and the other dioceses that are sympathetic to his views if the Provincial Council and the Provincial Assembly does not bar women from the presbyterate? Will they join with these four jurisdictions to form an independent Catholic province?
For those who may be curious, my own views on women’s ordination are reflected in the following statement:
“While affirming the spiritual gifts of women and the vital contribution of women to the life and ministry of Christ’s Church, we find no support in Scripture for women presbyters and women bishops and only very weak support for women deacons, and consequently we cannot affirm the ordination of women due to the lack of clear and convincing evidence that the practice is agreeable with the holy Scriptures.”

The Early Christians Were Odd, Too


It can be disheartening, not to mention frightening, when our culture rejects aspects of Christianity as strange or offensive. When Christians feel isolated and alone, it’s helpful to remember this experience is nothing new for God’s people.

Christians have been viewed as cultural misfits from the beginning, and the reasons for this assessment have changed little over the last two millennia.

In the second century, four features of Christianity stood out to the Romans as peculiar, if not offensive: worship, doctrine, behavior, and writings. It’ll be quickly apparent that these four features still attract despisers today. Read More

Saturday Lagniappe: "A Plea for Church Leaders to Say and Do Intentional Evangelism" and More


A Plea for Church Leaders to Say and Do Intentional Evangelism

Evangelism is falling off the radar for many churches. The solution is simple: Church leaders must show the way by being more intentional about evangelism and talking about these efforts. We need to say and do intentional evangelism. Read More

6 Mistakes Leaders Make in Their First 90 Days

No matter what context you find yourself in, there are six common mistakes you can avoid during your first ninety days. Read More

7 Practical Indicators of Good Leadership Character

Good character is the indispensable quality of leadership. Read More

Study the Greek New Testament for Free at ESV.org

Crossway is pleased to announce that the full text of The Greek New Testament, Produced at Tyndale House, Cambridge—a groundbreaking new Greek text ten years in the making—is now available free of charge at ESV.org. Learn More

Living on Mission in the Bible Belt

The Lord revealed incorrect thinking I had about ministry in the Bible Belt, and He began to untangle myths I'd believed long before we moved here. Here are three common mission myths in the Bible Belt.... Read More

J.D. Greear on How Christians Can Share the Gospel More Fearlessly [Video]

A gospel-centered resource from Midwestern Seminary. Watch Now

Friday, November 17, 2017

Dear Church, We WON’T Be Back! And Here’s Why...


Dear Church, We Won’t Be Back! And Here’s Why....

My husband and I are new to town and we’re looking for a church home. We visited your church three months ago and we’ve never been back. And I know for certain that we won’t be joining your church.

Why?

There are some very specific reasons–things you do that just didn’t work for us. For example.... Read More

Five Things to Keep in Mind When Preaching This Week


Most pastors rightly focus on three things related to the weekend’s worship gatherings: prayer, preparing the sermon, and preparing themselves. These things are absolutely necessary for the preacher. Other things can be delegated; these cannot.

When it comes to preaching the sermon, we think about the text, do the exegesis, do as much language study as we can, think about the introduction, conclusion, and application. We pray for “thus saith the Lord.” For the preacher, the 30-45 minutes of sermon time are the most valuable of the week for instructing the congregation.

We cannot afford to be haphazard in our preparation. There is a quite literal target audience: the people to whom we will preach. We do not preach in a vacuum, so let us not approach the weekend as if it is a moonscape. Everything we do to prepare should be done with the following in mind.... Read More

The Bible Belongs to Every Age


In 1734 and 1735, Jonathan Edwards and the congregation at Northampton experienced a revival. So did many other churches in the Connecticut River Valley in the colonies of Connecticut and Massachusetts. In the fall of 1733, Edwards preached some hard-hitting sermons. One of them, preached in November 1733, has been titled “The Kind of Preaching People Want.” Edwards starts his sermon in the Old Testament, observing that God’s people have had no shortage of false prophets, “that always flattered them in their sins.” True prophets rebuke the sinner. False prophets leave sinners “to the peaceable enjoyment of their sins.” He then turns to the desire that people in his own day had for such false prophets. Edwards continues, “If ministers were sent to tell the people that they might gratify their lusts without danger… how eagerly would they be listened to by some, and what good attention they would give.” He adds, “They would like a savior to save them in their sins much better than a savior to save them from their sins.”

Edwards was responding to those of his day who thought they knew better than the Word of God. He also wrote treatises to respond to the academics who thought they knew better than God’s Word. The English academic world of Edwards’ day was enthralled with the new thinking of the Enlightenment. The deists ruled. They believed that God created the world and then backed away, and now He lets it run along all on its own. They rejected the idea that God reveals His will in His Word. They rejected the doctrine of the incarnation and the deity of Christ. They rejected the possibility, let alone the actual occurrence, of miracles. They had “come of age.” The Enlightenment thinkers and the deists were far too sophisticated to submit to some ancient book. Read More

What about Preteens?


One of the greatest children’s ministry challenges is deciding what to do with preteens. 4th and 5th graders (or 5th and 6th graders depending on schools in your area) are losing interest in your church. They WANT to attend your student ministry, but they’re not old enough yet. They don’t want to be in your children’s ministry, it’s too juvenile. They’re far too mature for that. They’re “tweeners.” They don’t fit anywhere. They’re in between.

Here’s the interesting thing about preteens. They’re still kids. They are really active. They love to jump around, giggle and act crazy. But they want to be seen as more than kids. They are open to having deeper conversations. They don’t want to be talked down to like when they were kids. It’s just different now. This can be really confusing for a ministry leader. Tweens attend your children’s ministry, but you don’t want to treat them like you do the other kids.

Whether you have your preteen in their own specialized environment or they’re combined with all of elementary, groups should look a little different. You actually should consider raising the bar for this age group. They need something different, better even. It’s time to double down to prepare them for the shift to their next phase in life.... Read More

People Are Going to Hell. Do I Really Need Seminary Training?


If the world is lost and going to hell, why spend precious years in seminary getting theological education? After all, there is so much to do in this world to win the lost to Christ, disciple them, plant churches, and teach them all that Christ commanded us. Missiologists estimate that over a third of the world’s population hasn’t heard the gospel. That means about 2.5 billion people have no access to the gospel. Of that number, about fifty thousand people die daily and go into a Christless eternity. How can we justify delaying even one more day?

The reasoning to drop everything and go right now appears airtight. But we must remember that any call to ministry brings with it a call to prepare. The urgent need for surgeons after a war or natural disaster should be met by those with medical training. The vital need to replace damaged bridges and buildings should be met by those with training and skill to build them, not those who simply see the need and have a heart to do the work. Read More

Ed Stetzer: Live First, Lead Second


You can’t lead what you don’t live.

As pastors and leaders, a good part of what we teach others should come straight from Scripture. We look to biblical models and mandates to be the launching point to teach those in our churches how to live well as followers of Jesus.

Unfortunately, this isn’t enough. If our lives don’t reflect what we teach and the calls to action we offer, then our ability to lead well is severed from the start. Really, it’s a variation of the old adage we teach our children: “Do as I say, not as I do.” Do as I do and as I say.

In outreach, the same principle applies. We can tell our people to show and share the love of Jesus until the cows come home, pointing to the life of Jesus and others around us as examples, but until we live it, we are but clanging cymbals. Read More

How to Help Someone Make the Best Decision of His or Her Life


All Christians are called to share their faith.

Most Christians are not preachers or teachers, and fewer still are evangelists, but all Christians are called to proclaim, to instruct, and to share their faith.

In Ephesians 4, we learn that the Holy Spirit gives preachers, teachers, and evangelists as a gift to the Church. These women and men are given to the body to help all believers be ‘mature’ and active in their ministry of proclamation, teaching, and evangelism. All Christians, then, should be growing and active in sharing their faith, instructing others about Scripture, and proclaiming good news in Christ. This includes helping non-Christians cross the line of faith.

So often, Christians assume that people’s decision to follow Jesus should best be made with a pastor or ‘professional evangelist.’ So often, Christians do the hard relational work of walking with a non-Christian for weeks, months, or even years, but never experience the joyful moment of his or her new birth.

Thinking that somehow/someway the person will eventually get it, many Christians think of evangelism as nothing more than a constant witnessing opportunity. I hear things like “I’m just planting the seed” or “I’m trying to be a good witness” but often we never have any intention of calling for a decision. There is one important thing that you can and should do in your witness—ask for a decision. Read More

Dear Mormon—I Can’t Call You a Brother in Christ


Yesterday I had lunch with a very kind and gracious man in our community. This man is a committed member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. In short, my friend is a Mormon. He was respectful, gracious, and I enjoyed our conversation very much. However, at one point the conversation shifted and he asked me if I was willing to call him a brother in Christ?

I explained that we both hold to very different doctrines that cannot stand in harmony—especially the teachings about the person and work of Jesus Christ. He said that he was offended by that statement. I acknowledged how that would be offensive, but I must stand upon the gospel of Christ. The most loving thing I could do would be to point him to the truth. The most unloving thing I could do would be to ignore the differences and embrace him as a brother in Christ.

The devil is the father of all lies and he is really good at causing people to embrace error as truth. How do you determine the difference between denominations of Christianity and other religions outside of Christianity? In other words, we know that Baptists and Methodists are quite different on many theological levels, but they’re both Christian denominations. Today, a growing number of people continue to purport the idea that Mormonism is just another denomination like Methodists within the family of orthodox Christianity.

How can we determine if Mormonism is Christian or cult? Based on foundational doctrinal evidence—I can’t embrace Mormons as fellow Christians. Read More

Stephen Mansfield: Why So Many Conservative Christians Wanted a ‘Pagan Brawler’ in the White House


And how their choice of Trump has affected the church since last year’s election.

Election 2016 ended a year ago, but its effects on American culture, including the American church, persist. Many are still asking how Donald Trump became president, and what part evangelical Christians played in making that happen. Stephen Mansfield, author of bestselling books about the religious faith of recent American presidents, believes that faith matters in the story of President Trump as well. Choosing Donald Trump: God, Anger, Hope, and Why Christian Conservatives Supported Him describes Trump’s remarkable partnership with conservative evangelicals. Blogger Samuel D. James spoke with Mansfield about what the events of last year mean for Christians and how a divided American church can heal. Read More

Also See:
There's a Massive Moral Vacuum in the Country Right Now
Trump's Risky, Unearned Sanctimony About Al Franken

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Going Small with a Big Gospel in New England


Earlier this month, The Gospel Coalition New England hosted a conference for New Hampshire pastors and ministry leaders. It was a success—not because it was big, but because it was small. The town in which we met is small (Loudon, New Hampshire; pop. 5,317). The hosting church (Faith Community Bible Church) is small. The speakers weren’t big names. One guy played guitar. The conference attendance was small (50 pastors and ministry leaders).

The only big things about this conference were the gospel that was proclaimed and the vision of what God might do. Read More

Latest Podcasts from Revitalize & Replant with Thom Rianer


Four Kinds of Church Leaders Who Will Not Successfully Lead a Church Church Revitalization - Revitalize & Replant #013

Leadership is critical to successful revitalization. Today we discuss what kind of leaders often fail in the task. Listen Now

Why (Mostly) Healthy Churches Should Consider Acquiring a Dying Church - Revitalize & Replant #014

Dying churches often need help from healthier churches so that their resources may continue to be used for Kingdom work. Today, Mark Clifton joins us to discuss how this strategy can revive neighborhood churches as we know them. Listen Now

Image: K. Wolfram

Facing Three Common Ministry Fears


At one time or another, God has said to most of his leaders, “Fear not.” God called them, inspired them, gave them vision, filled them with His Spirit, performed untold miracles, and fought untold battles for them. We have good reasons to believe. But, often we don’t. Why? Why does a seasoned pastor fear sharing the gospel with an unbeliever? Why does a grown man fear a hard conversation with his child? Why are we afraid to ask others for help? We are fallen. We are not 100% totally secure in who we are or who He is. Therefore, we give others more say than God would have us to give. It is called fear of man. While fear of man can take on many forms, here are three specific areas of ministry where it rears its ugly head nearly every time and how I am learning to deal with it. Read More

Sorry Christians, We Can’t Blame the Media Any More


More than ever before, we have an obligation to act in a Christ-like manner. Not just in church, but everywhere.

Christians love playing the “blame the media” game.

Not long ago, we might have had a legitimate claim that our reputation was bad because the media was against us. That’s not the case anymore.

Oh sure, the media in general may still think negatively about Christians, if they think about us at all. But the days of blaming someone else for our bad press are gone

Do you know why Christians have a bad reputation today? It’s not because of CNN. It’s because of our own Facebook pages, Twitter feeds and YouTube videos!

Every day, we confirm people’s worst suspicions about us. There’s no one left to blame but ourselves.

Some Christians really act like jerks.

No, I’m not going to qualify that sentence by changing it to “some so-called Christians really act like jerks.” I’m talking about actual Christians. People who have a relationships with Jesus, read their Bible, go to church, share their faith and love their neighbor.

Then they get online and reinforce all the worst stereotypes about Christians as self-righteous, ignorant, out-of-touch jerks. Read More

When Christians Sexually Harass and Assault [Podcast]


Where does our rage belong when egregious actions are committed or defended by a "family member"?

Allegations of sexual impropriety against the longtime Religious Right celebrity and current Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore have forced the church to wrestle once again with sexual harassment and assault.

While we don’t know whether the claims that seven women have leveled against Moore are true, in general, when people claim to have been victims of sexual assault or abuse, Christians ought to believe them, says Liberty University English professor Karen Swallow Prior.

“People are denying the reality that most women grow up and live their lives being harassed, if not assaulted, and being propositioned or being pursued inappropriately,” she said. “Almost every woman I know, including myself, has had something like that happen to them. This is just the world we grow up in.” Read More

3 Things You Didn’t Know About the Sermon on the Mount


It has been a great joy for me to devote a lot of mental energy to studying, teaching, and writing about the Sermon on the Mount. Even though I’m done writing my new book on the sermon, this famous biblical text continues to teach me new things every day.

Here are three things I’ve learned about the sermon that most people probably don’t know. Read More

Why Asian Americans Struggle to Feel at Home in White-Majority Churches


During my high-school and college years in Southern California, my Korean parents gave me permission to leave my family’s immigrant church. I joined a larger, white-majority church with excellent teaching. I was involved as I could be and appreciated many aspects of the church. But I found it difficult to fully feel at home there.

My experience was not unique. Though many Asian-American Christians like me recognize and aspire to the ideal of multicultural ministry, many of us struggle to feel at home in white-majority churches. We don’t often discuss this dynamic, but it’s a widespread feeling. Why is this the case? Read More

Assimilation & Our Churches: Do We Do It Well?


Collect, Connect, Convene

For those in church leadership, the issue of assimilation typically comes with questions of effectiveness and strategy. Truth be told, there is no one-size-fits-all plan for assimilation in every church.

That said, let me share a few of my thoughts. I’ll start with an analogy that, although not perfect, is nonetheless helpful to make a point.

Assimilation, I would argue, is a bit like staffing a nursery. You never know who is going to show up. And you barely know who will offer to help. And so you take a Sunday draft and everything goes OK. The babies may not be the happiest separated from their parents but, in the end, everybody got taken care of and there were no major problems. Yet internally you feel it is always an area of struggle.

Assimilation can be like this. Read More

Why Christians Should Not Get Angry with the Lost


Imagine for a moment that you are responsible for parking at the Super Bowl. The cars are jammed in, bumper-to-bumper, and when the game is over, your job is to clear the parking lot as quickly and as safely as possible.

Your strategy is simple: As soon as the drivers in the first row of a section arrive at their cars, you begin moving them into the exit lane so that others parked behind them can follow.

You notice three drivers, seated in their cars in the front row of one section, so you raise your flag and wave them forward. Nothing happens. So you point to them and wave the flag again, but still nothing happens. Then you notice something strange—these people are in their cars, but they haven’t even started their engines. What in the world are they doing?

By now, the folks in the cars behind are wondering the same thing. Some of them are sounding their horns. They are getting frustrated. Why are these people at the front not moving? Read More

Evangelicals and Roy Moore


UPDATED: Giving candidates we like a moral pass debases our culture

While we wait for new evidence to come forward, let’s talk not so much about what Roy Moore did or did not do, but what those who attack or defend the 70-year-old candidate from Alabama are saying.

In doing that, we need to separate what many commentators and pollsters are not differentiating: Accusations that Moore at age 32 had immoral and illegal sexual activity with a 14-year-old, and reports that he dated 17- and 18-year olds. The first, if true, should disqualify him from becoming a senator. The importance of the second to Moore’s current election prospects depends on whether he has a self-righteous understanding or a Christ-righteous belief.

Let’s mull over the JMC Analytics poll—taken before news of lawyer Gloria Allred bringing forward a new Moore accuser—that shows nearly two-fifths of Alabama evangelicals saying the accusations (undifferentiated) make them more likely to vote for Moore. Almost another two-fifths said the accusations make no difference in their voting plans.

That’s troubling but unsurprising, for three reasons.... Read More

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

New: Free Online Courses from TGC


In a world that is noisier than ever, we want to be a trusted voice directing you toward the God of the gospel. We want to be a place where your Sunday school and small group can dig deeper together, a place where you can discover the best lectures and books and essays to enrich your spiritual life. One of the core ways The Gospel Coalition serves the church is by providing biblically faithful web-based content for personal and group use.

So, today, we are excited to introduce you to a brand-new and totally free online learning platform. Learn More