Saturday, September 23, 2017

The World’s Best Small Churches


What if every small church stopped worrying about getting bigger, and decided to be a great church starting right now?

No one will ever make a list of the best small churches in the world.

And they shouldn’t.

After all, a great urban small church looks very different from a great rural one. Same with a great Baptist and Methodist church. Or a great small church in Japan or Costa Rica.

Even if there was a way to figure that out and put it on a list, it would be a really bad idea. I can’t imagine all the arguments, ego and pettiness that such a list would provoke.

But what if there was such a list? And what if that list could somehow be an accurate one? In this make-believe scenario, could you imagine your church being on the list of the world’s greatest small churches?

If not, why not? Read More

It Costs to Reach Your Community, and It’s Worth It


There are tens of thousands of churches in America that haven’t baptized anyone in at least a year. Even though The Great Commission and The Great Commandments are core to who we are as the church, we’re struggling to engage our culture with the Gospel.

One of the reasons so few churches effectively engage in outreach is because they ask the wrong question. Too often, the first question asked is, “How much will it cost?”

The right question is, “Who will it reach?”

How much is a soul worth? If you spend $500 on a social media ad that reaches one unbeliever for Christ, is it worth it?

If your church gets serious about developing a comprehensive evangelism strategy, it will cost money! With this in mind, let me share some insights about financing your strategy, based upon my experience as Saddleback has grown over the years. Read More

If I Were Planting a Church from Scratch


Nobody plants a church from scratch.

We planted a church out of our main campus 5 years ago, but it was not from scratch; not by a long shot. The 40 people who went out, went out from us. They went out with values, beliefs, traditions and expectations that came from their time inside our mission and fellowship. There is nothing wrong with that. It saved them time, it helped them avoid mistakes and it gave them a common language and the foundation for an effective culture.

But.

What if you could start a church from scratch?

What would you do if you didn’t have to bend, adapt, edit or translate – what would you do if you could design a church from the ground up? Read More

7 Good Reasons to Leave a Church


Discerning the Good from the Bad

In our consumer society, where prevailing wisdom says we should be loyal to products or brands only insofar as our needs and tastes are satisfied, it can be easy for churchgoers to have a very low threshold for leaving a church. The preaching loses some luster. The children’s ministry isn’t as fun as it could be. The worship leader’s hairstyle becomes bothersome. There are lots of bad reasons for leaving a church. But what are some legitimate reasons for leaving a church? Here are seven.... Read More

Related Article:
Why Is It Important to Be Part of a Local Church?

This Changed Everything! 500 Years of Reformation

Diet of Worms
2017 marks the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. On October 31, 1517, an obscure German monk named Martin Luther published 95 theses for debate in Wittenberg, Germany. Little did he know that this act would ignite a revolution that would reshape the Christian church and change Western civilization forever.

In anticipation of this important anniversary, Christian History Institute is producing a groundbreaking three-hour documentary series called This Changed Everything. Narrated by the renowned British actor David Suchet, the program tells the dynamic story of the people, places, and events that shaped the Reformation. It features expert commentary from Dr. Michael Horton, Dr. Frank James, Shane Claiborne, Bishop Robert Barron, and over twenty other scholars and clergy who bring new insight into how the church came to be where it is today and where it may go in the future. Learn More

Related Article:
3 Pivotal Questions on the Reformation and the Doctrine of Justification

Seven Biblical Reasons Why Singing Matters


Have you ever wondered why God desires for his people to sing? What role should singing play in the life of a Christian? What is it about worshiping through song that is so important to God?

You may not know it, but God has already answered these questions in the Bible. Read More

Pastors Must Increase Activity on Social Media


Social media is a tool. It is a neutral device that can be used for good or ill depending on the person wielding it. Unfortunately, we are more often interested in the negative stories about social media: how Facebook leads to divorce, how teens use Snapchat to send inappropriate pictures, and how trolls harass people on Twitter.

Christians should not avoid using social media entirely out of fear just because some people abuse the tool. In particular, pastors and church leaders must consider what they lose when they refuse to engage with their communities in the digital space. Read More

Look Up and Look Out?


Without a doubt, one of the most important roles of any leader, particularly a pastor, is to cast a vision for the people he leads. Jesus was the master caster of vision. In fact on one occasion, Jesus was talking to his disciples as they were out in the countryside, and he used his very surroundings to cast a vision we should all have every day as believers in the gospel of Christ: “Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest” (John 4:35, NIV).

One of the missing elements in the church is not just a passion for evangelism but also a vision for evangelism. Casting vision is, for the pastor, important and imperative. It is important that the vision be taught, and it is imperative that the vision be caught. This is very important to understand: a vision that is taught but not caught leads to a pipe dream; a vision that is caught and taught leads to a product. The product, in this case, is disciples, for this is what we have all been tasked to do: make disciples.

I have found that casting a vision begins always with the vision caster. That may sound redundant, but a pastor must realize this is the one thing he cannot delegate to anyone else. Your people will simply not see higher or further than you do. Read More

Friday, September 22, 2017

Thomas Cranmer Was Gospel-Centered Before It Was Cool [Podcast]


Thomas Cranmer (1489–1556) saw Scripture as a gospel book. To that end, he promoted the placement of the Bible in the vernacular in every parish church in the realm. Cranmer’s vision was of a Bible-reading, Bible-hearing, Bible-believing church. Is this a vision today’s churches, especially those prone to faddism, need to recover? Listen Now

If You Don’t Care for the Poor, You Don’t Understand the Gospel


Karl Marx famously called Christianity the opiate of the people, but I think it’s actually the smelling salts. Because when you really understand God’s grace, you wake up to injustice and you are moved by compassion.

The reverse is true, as well: When you are blind to the needs of the poor, it raises the question of whether or not you’ve actually ever believed the gospel, because you are unaware of your own pressing need for God’s merciful attention to you in your sin. Read More

Honest Answers: "Am I a Backslidden Christian or an Unbeliever?" [Video]


"How do I know if I am a backsliding Christian or an unbeliever?" Dr. Jeremy Pierre answers in Honest Answers. Watch Now

What to Do When Temptation Comes


Temptation. We all face it. And, we’ve all lost the battle many times.

Here are some ways, though, to fight this battle and win.... Read More

Will the Punishment in Hell Be Experienced Forever?


This month’s issue of Solid Ground was written by Greg and Tim on the subject of Hell. Currently, there’s a movement among some members of the church towards annihilationism (or “conditionalism”)—that is, the idea that the punishment given at the end of time to those who have not been pardoned of their moral crimes will not be experienced through all eternity. Rather, their final punishment will be annihilation—they will cease to exist—and it’s their nonexistence that will last throughout eternity. Since people have been asking questions about this topic, Greg and Tim decided to address it in Solid Ground. (You can also hear them discuss this topic on a recent podcast.)

This issue is the first of two parts, and it focuses on making a positive case from the Bible for an eternal, conscious experience of Hell. November’s issue will respond to the positive case made by annihilationists. Read More

Related Article and Podcast:
Hell Interrupted - Part 1
Interview: Tim Barnett – What the Bible Teaches about Hell

Why Doesn’t God Just Talk To Me?


Why doesn’t God just talk to me? Have you asked that before? Why should it require hundreds of years, a bunch of dead old guys from who knows where, and something called a “manuscript tradition,” for you to hear from God?

So, here’s a few reasons why it’s better for you that God has chosen to speak to you through his Word rather than waking you up in the middle of the night with an audible, “Hey you! Get out of bed and listen up!” Read More

image: theolatte.com

R. C. Sproul and the Worship Cohort on Worship


How Should We Then Worship?

Three-quarters of the way through the twentieth century, Francis A. Schaeffer asked the question, “How should we then live?” His book of the same name answered the questions raised by the radical shift in our culture from modernity to post-modernity. The question that we face in our generation is closely related to it: “How should we then worship?” The “how?” of worship is a hotly disputed matter in our day. The issue has been described as the war of worship. If there has been a worship war in the church in America in the last thirty years, then surely by now its outcome has been decided. Far and away, the victorious mode of worship in our day is that form roughly described as contemporary worship. “Contemporary” in this context is contrasted with “traditional,” which is seen as being outmoded, pass√©, and irrelevant to contemporary individuals. Those who deem the contemporary shift in worship as a deterioration are in the minority, so it behooves us to explore the “how” question that Schaeffer first raised. Read More

This Thing No One Talks About Is Having a Huge Effect on Worship

A couple of years ago, I attended a large, super savvy ministry conference with musical worship led by some of the most influential worship leaders of our day. The quality of production for the conference was top notch. But when it came time to participate in corporate worship, the room in which we gathered was so dark that one could scarcely see anything. I remember one moment at which I was particularly moved by the heartfelt singing that reverberated through the sea of people all around me, but as I looked around me to see others lifting up their sung-praise to the Lord, all I saw was pitch darkness. Were it not for the sound of voices, I would have felt totally alone in the room.

This practice is common among churches today. Corporate worship often takes place in a dark room. When the music gets going, the stage lights come up and the house lights go on black-out mode. But, please permit me to ask, What does this communicate to the congregation? What exactly are we saying about the nature of corporate worship when create environments in which we can’t even see other worshipers? Do blacked out house lights imply that Christian worship is a privatized encounter—just me and Jesus? And if so, could it be that this practice could perpetuate a consumeristic attitude about attending church? Read More
This article was originally titled "What Do Your House Lights Communicate?"

Foreign Missions in Your Own Hometown


International Missions Might Be Right on Your Doorstep

Many of us don’t have to board international flights to reach people from other religions and cultures. We just need to open our eyes, look around, and engage the nations in our own cities and towns. Strangely, gospel work right here at home can seem more daunting than a two-week trip around the globe. Many people just don’t know where to start, where to find unreached populations, or how to engage them with the gospel. But if we are spending good effort to see the gospel taken to places distant from us, it makes sense to notice the people that God has brought to our own doorsteps. Read More

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Handling Abuse in the Church


It would be nice if we could go to church and believe that “no one in here” could abuse their spouse or children. It might be nice, but it would be naive. And the consequences of such a belief are tragic.

It is ironic that in churches, where the requirement of membership is an acknowledgment of a sin nature that only Christ’s death on the cross can remedy, we believe that certain sins are only committed “out there.” But the assumptions we embrace produce the questions we never ask and the warning signs we never see. Worse, they can keep us from hearing the cries for help because the implications make us uncomfortable.

We can start to reverse this trend by being willing to be uncomfortable. We can start by being willing to consider what we would prefer to think doesn’t exist. Read More

10 Indicators You've Stopped Growing as a Leader


Leaders who stop growing lose their edge as a leader. They become stale, even if others may not readily recognize it. See if your life reflects any of these indications that you’ve stopped growing as a leader.... Read More

9 Reasons Pastors Fail to Equip the Saints for Ministry


It’s not easy to put your philosophy of ministry into practice. Every seminary student cites Ephesians chapter 4 in their philosophy of ministry papers. Every book written on pastoral ministry exegetes this passage. And for good reason. It lays out the key ministry principle that the body of Christ works together to grow and mature in faith. It’s not just the pastor’s job, it’s everyone’s job.

But when the philosophical rubber meets the road of daily ministry, we spin our wheels. We don’t get traction. There’s water on the road of our church’s mission that prevents us from racing forward with kingdom work. The water is the church who remain unequipped for ministry. Read More

How to Handle Negative Facebook Comments about Your Church


When churches have Facebook pages, negative comments will come your way. Whether it’s a former church member, someone from the community, or an online troll, it’s likely that at some point someone will comment negatively about your church on Facebook.

So what do you do? Do you defend the church? Do you just delete the comment and move on?

How you respond depends on three things, mainly. Read More

20% of Americans are on the Threshold of Religion


New research on American religion

An important trend in American religion has been the rise of the religious nones. A religious none is someone who has no religious affiliation. They are given this name because when researchers survey them as to which religious faith they affiliate with, they check the box “none.”

Current estimates identify about 20% of Americans as religious nones, with the remaining 80% having some religious affiliation.

But this may be the wrong way to think about religious affiliation. This binary portrait—some or none—arises from cross-sectional surveys. These are surveys that are administered only one time. They give a snapshot of people’s religious affiliation, but they cannot measure how individuals’ affiliation changes over time.

As a result, cross-sectional surveys overlook the possibility that some people fluctuate in and out of religious affiliation. That is, they sometimes say that they have a religious affiliation and sometimes say that they do not. Lim, MacGregor, and Putnam identified this possibility and termed it being “liminal,” from the Latin word limin which means threshold. Read More

Survey finds most people who call themselves Anglican never read the Bible


Most people who call themselves Church of England Christians never read the Bible. That is one of the findings of a survey commissioned by the Church of England to help revamp its evangelism efforts.

Figures show that 60 per cent of self-declared followers of the Church admit they never read the Bible. Meanwhile, 36 per cent say they never attend church and one in three says they never pray.

The figures from ComRes survey show that many who claim to be Christian do not actually take part in many of the activities normally associated with the faith.

While 51 per cent of those who took part in the survey said they were Christians, only six per cent of those polled read the Bible, prayed and attended church at least once a week. Those who said they were followers of the Church of England were the least observant. Read More
Is this one of the consequences of the present state of the Church of England, a contributing factor, or both?

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Three Core Elements of a Growing Church


Church growth comes down to one word. It’s a word that is easy to overuse but one that has to drive everything we do. That word is.... Read More

Leaders Must Grow as the Organization Grows


In my experience, it’s easier to hide bad leadership in a place, which isn’t growing.

However, the larger an organization gets – the more growth that occurs – the more bad leadership becomes apparent.

As a leader for the last several decades, I’ve learned the times my leadership is stretched the most are the times we are growing – and changing – the fastest. Read More

Related Articles:
8 Ways To Manage Minor Church Leadership Issues Before They Become Big Problems
Can Leadership Be Learned?

4 Surprising and Powerful Leadership Insights From the Archbishop of Kenya


Do you ever wonder what happens later on in the life of the child you sponsor through ministries like World Vision or Compassion? Every once in awhile, I’m privileged to find out the rest of the story. This summer in Nairobi, I met a former sponsored child, Jackson Ole Sapit. Make that the Most Reverend Jackson Ole Sapit, Archbishop of Kenya—head of the 5 million-member Anglican Church.

Jackson, 53, delights in telling visitors how God captured his heart and took him on a journey from the Maasai cattle pastures of his youth to graduate from school in the United Kingdom and back to hold one of the most influential religious roles in Kenya.

It’s fascinating to hear how God used every twist and turn to shape him into the leader he is today. The lessons that emerge from his experiences are surprisingly applicable to pastors anywhere, even here in the U.S. Read More

5 Powerful Prayers for the Persecuted


When we read headlines about people groups being persecuted for their faith, it may seem—at first glance—that there’s nothing we can do. After all, in many cases, we live thousands of miles away and we often feel over-extended in just managing our own families and responsibilities. Nevertheless, our hearts yearn for a way to ease the hardship of Christians who are discriminated against, harassed, unjustly arrested, beaten, imprisoned or even killed by regimes who oppose Jesus Christ.

Fortunately, the Bible provides us with fitting examples of how Christians can make a difference for persecuted believers. One of the most powerful ways to support Christians facing hardship, of course, is prayer.

In Ephesians 6:18, for example, Paul instructs believers to be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. In the next 2 verses, Paul requests more specific prayer for himself as he faces persecution. “Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.”

In this passage and in many other places, we find the Bible offers practical insight for how to pray for those facing persecution including these 5 compiled below. Read More

Climate Watch: Mathematics Predicts a Sixth Mass Extinction by 2100


In the past 540 million years, the Earth has endured five mass extinction events, each involving processes that upended the normal cycling of carbon through the atmosphere and oceans. These globally fatal perturbations in carbon each unfolded over thousands to millions of years, and are coincident with the widespread extermination of marine species around the world.

The question for many scientists is whether the carbon cycle is now experiencing a significant jolt that could tip the planet toward a sixth mass extinction. In the modern era, carbon dioxide emissions have risen steadily since the 19th century, but deciphering whether this recent spike in carbon could lead to mass extinction has been challenging. That's mainly because it's difficult to relate ancient carbon anomalies, occurring over thousands to millions of years, to today's disruptions, which have taken place over just a little more than a century.

Now Daniel Rothman, professor of geophysics in the MIT Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences and co-director of MIT's Lorenz Center, has analyzed significant changes in the carbon cycle over the last 540 million years, including the five mass extinction events. He has identified "thresholds of catastrophe" in the carbon cycle that, if exceeded, would lead to an unstable environment, and ultimately, mass extinction.

In a paper published in Science Advances, he proposes that mass extinction occurs if one of two thresholds are crossed: For changes in the carbon cycle that occur over long timescales, extinctions will follow if those changes occur at rates faster than global ecosystems can adapt. For carbon perturbations that take place over shorter timescales, the pace of carbon-cycle changes will not matter; instead, the size or magnitude of the change will determine the likelihood of an extinction event.

Taking this reasoning forward in time, Rothman predicts that, given the recent rise in carbon dioxide emissions over a relatively short timescale, a sixth extinction will depend on whether a critical amount of carbon is added to the oceans. That amount, he calculates, is about 310 gigatons, which he estimates to be roughly equivalent to the amount of carbon that human activities will have added to the world's oceans by the year 2100.

Does this mean that mass extinction will soon follow at the turn of the century? Rothman says it would take some time—about 10,000 years—for such ecological disasters to play out. However, he says that by 2100 the world may have tipped into "unknown territory."

"This is not saying that disaster occurs the next day," Rothman says. "It's saying that, if left unchecked, the carbon cycle would move into a realm which would be no longer stable, and would behave in a way that would be difficult to predict. In the geologic past, this type of behavior is associated with mass extinction." Read More

Will the World End on Saturday?


Short answer — no.

But David Meade, a Christian and self-published author of end-of-the-world survival guides, predicts doomsday is near — very near, as in this Saturday.

Meade’s ideology, laid out in his book “Planet X — The 2017 Arrival,” is described by the author as “a compendium of information from every sphere—astronomical, scientific, the Book of Revelation and geopolitics.” There’s some astrology in there, too.

Meade is the latest in a very long line of American self-proclaimed prophets who claim they know when — sometimes to the hour — the biblically predicted “end times” will arrive. And while it’s fun to laugh at his belief that the “Planet Nibiru” will collide with the Earth this week, the failed prophesies of some of his predecessors have, at times, led to important religious movements or illuminating ways of thinking about faith. Let us explain... Read More

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

God Uses Big Leaders In Small Churches


Lakeside Wesleyan Church, in Lakeside, California was the first church I served as a staff member. It was a small church with a big heart, and I learned much from Rich Lauby who was the pastor.

In my eyes, Pastor Rich was a “big leader, ” and his early investment in me made a life changing difference. Under his coaching, I preached my first sermon, did my first hospital visit and led the student ministry.

The significance of a leader and especially the pastor in a small church cannot be overestimated.

Like Pastor Rich, the leader sets the pace for the rest of the pack! He or she sets the vision, takes risks and influences the other leaders and volunteers.

And we all know that next to the favor of God, everything rises and falls on leadership.

In the previous post, I offered Five Helpful Words that focused on the church itself. This post offers Six Helpful Words for the leaders of the church. Read More

Related Articles:
Small Churches Can Do Big Ministry!
5 Qualities of a Small Church That Has a Big Impact

Eliminate Christian Jargon from Your Church


Let’s throw out the insider language.

A few years ago, a friend, who was a successful insurance agent, invited me to attend a high-end luncheon. The hotel ballroom was filled with a few hundred insurance agents from around the region. After lunch was served, a prominent leader in the insurance industry spoke, joking about “claimants,” “negligence,” and “aggregate limits of indemnity.” While the other agents laughed, nodding in agreement with the speaker’s comments, I fidgeted in my seat. I appreciated my friend’s invitation and ticket to the lunch, but I left feeling unintelligent and confused.

Every group, if it’s together long enough, develops insider language. The luncheon I attended used insider language targeted to their specific industry. They didn’t use it to be exclusionary; they employed it for the sake of identity, clarity, and efficiency. But I realized—in maybe the clearest manner in my life—what happens in the hearts and minds of visitors and spiritual sojourners when we use insider language in a local church.

My experience at the lunch brought to mind the biblical story of Zaccheaus the tax collector. What prompted Zacchaeus to climb a tree and become immortalized in that Sunday-school song you’re probably humming in your head right now? “He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd” (Luke 19:3). In their pursuit of Jesus, the crowd blocked Zacchaeus (and maybe others) from seeing and experiencing Jesus.

We do this too when we use church-specific language. Call it the “Zacchaeus Effect.” Is it at play in your church? Read More

image: christianitytoday.com

John Wycliffe - The Morning Star of the Reformation

Oxford
This year marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Conferences are being held, sermon series are being preached, a number of books have been published and innumerable blogs are being written to mark this tremendously significant occasion in history—the restoration of sound biblical beliefs and practices to Christ’s universal Church.

In the coming weeks I intend, Lord willing, to share a series of mini-biographies on several of the key leaders of the Reformation. Reading these brief accounts of their lives brings the benefits of (1) gaining a basic understanding of this vital period in Church History, (2) coming to have a deepened appreciation of the priceless Christian heritage that God provided for us in sovereignly bringing about the Reformation, and (3) being encouraged and challenged to make sure that our own Christian beliefs and practices are biblically sound and spiritually vibrant.

This first article features John Wycliffe (also commonly spelled Wyclif), who is sometimes called the Morning Star of the Reformation. He lived and died more than a century before the Protestant Reformation took place, but his influential teachings played a significant role in laying the groundwork for some of the reformations that occurred later. Read More

Of Old Testament Haircuts and New Testament Head Coverings


How Scripture records God consistently defending the humanity and dignity of women against sexual violence and exploitation.

Are women human? Dorothy Sayers asked the question in a series of essays published in the early 20th century. For many today, it seems absurd—of course women are human! Yet sub-human treatment of women has endured throughout history, from wife-selling practices in the 18th and 19th centuries to customs today in some parts of Nepal that banish menstruating women to outdoor sheds and expose them to elements that seem harsh for even animals. Any student of history knows that Sayers’s question was relevant for multiple cultures throughout history and remains so for many cultures today.

“So God created mankind in his own image . . . male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27).

The opening pages of the Bible teach that woman was created in God’s image (the crucial dividing line between mankind and beast). But after the fall of man, the history of God’s people gives us much to scrutinize on this question. The exploitation of Hagar in Genesis 16 and the rapes of Dinah in Genesis 34 and an unnamed concubine in Judges 19 offer snapshots of a fallen humanity that regularly views women as expendable sexual objects.

God caused such sexual violence to be recorded in Scripture, not to glorify the acts but to show the stark condition of mankind apart from God. Judges in particular tells us that its stories reflect people doing “what was right in their own eyes,” in contrast to what was right according to God’s Law (21:25, NRSV). God did not allow his people to ignore their sinfulness, and he never downplayed its harmful consequences for the most vulnerable in society.

The Bible is also clear: God hates inhumane treatment of women. Survivors of sexual violence can know that God sees their suffering as he did Hagar’s (Gen. 16:13) and cares deeply for their healing, even though we wait for complete renewal upon Jesus’ coming return. Scripture shows that God spoke into his Law protections for women that, while countercultural at the time, have become the basis of Western society’s views of women’s rights.

If we follow the trail of abused women in Scripture, we see both sin against women as well as the ways God speaks to condemn and restrain it. I started down this trail searching for answers to questions I’d long wrestled with about, of all things, head coverings and short haircuts. The search led me to some surprising connections. Read More

Pastoring with Patience


So, the church voted unanimously to call you as their new pastor. You’ve been on the job now for six months. They bought you new office furniture, they have delivered meals to your home, and have helped your wife and kids to fit into their new church family. They are eager to hear your preaching and seem to be open to your leadership. People are inviting their friends to worship. Life is good. But, you are not yet the pastor.

Yes, you hold the title of pastor, you have the training and calling of a pastor, but you are not yet the pastor of the church. You haven’t been embraced as the pastor of the church, and you won’t be for five or six more years. Thom Rainer has listed six reasons why it takes five to seven years to be embraced as the pastor of an established church.

My purpose in writing today is not to identify the reasons it takes so long, but to urge you to be patient as God is making you into the pastor your church needs and is making your church into a body that can and will follow your leadership.

The best years of pastoral ministry, we are told (and I can attest to that conventional wisdom), come sometime after year five, six, or seven, but most pastors never make it that far. In my work with pastors, it seems to me that a lack of pastoral patience is one of the greatest obstacles to long tenure.

Here are some steps patient steps you can take as a pastor.... Read More

Wrestling with the Biblical Text: When We Don’t Like What It Says...


What do we do when the Bible turns up a doozy of a passage?

Rape, incest, murder, genocide, racism, sexism, other isms. Sometimes reading texts which are about very ancient peoples and cultures – but which we expect will inspire and inform contemporary faith – is a challenge. I’ve read a number of blogs recently, particularly on the subject of sexuality and gender identity, where people have done things with the biblical text which show this is a genuinely pressing subject – not just a hypothetical discussion for Bible nerds. How young adults make sense of challenging biblical passages is informing their lived faith in a very real way and we need to help people do that wisely.

It has made me reflect. What have I/we consciously or unconsciously taught them to do when faced with a tricky text? Ignore it? Skip over and turn to something comforting instead? And what are the long term implications of people losing confidence in Scripture because it’s often a challenging read? Read More

What Is Biblical Meditation?


Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. (Psalm 1:1-2)
What is meditation?

The concept has been corrupted in modern thought. In the minds of many Christians, meditation is associated with eastern religions, like Hinduism and Buddhism – belief systems that don’t acknowledge God as Father or Jesus as Savior and Lord. This association leads many to believe that meditation in any form opens the mind to evil spirits or untrue teaching.

But that robs us of an important way of interacting with Scripture.

When I began staying home with my kids, I was overwhelmed. While I suspected such an endeavor would be hard, I wasn’t prepared for the ways it challenged me. My daily time in the Bible kept me rooted in Christ; my weekly Bible study kept me digging into Scripture; but the thing that reassured me that I was in Jesus’ hands was meditation on his holy Word. Read More

Equipping Students for Evangelism: Dare 2 Share Founder Greg Stier


Greg Stier is the founder and CEO of Dare 2 Share, an organization that equips students to share their faith and youth leaders to empower teens for evangelism. Here, he gives a snapshot of the ministry’s philosophy and some practical insight for church leaders who want to build gospel-sharing youth ministries. Read More

Blogging and Podcasting for Pastors, featuring Jonathan Howe—Pastor Talk, Episode 26 [Podcast]


Jonathan Howe of LifeWay joins Pastor Talk host Marty Duren to discuss how pastors can increase their ministry influence through blogging and podcasting. Listen Now
In the last century pastors increased their ministry influence through newspaper columns and radio broadcasts. Today it is blogging and podcasting.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Zurich Revolutionary: Ulrich Zwingli

Fraum√ľnster, Zurich
Other than Martin Luther, Heinrich Bullinger, and John Calvin, the most important early Reformer was Ulrich Zwingli. A first-generation Reformer, he is regarded as the founder of Swiss Protestantism. Furthermore, history remembers him as the first Reformed theologian. Though Calvin would later surpass Zwingli as a theologian, he would stand squarely on Zwingli’s broad shoulders.

Less than two months after Luther came into the world, Zwingli was born on January 1, 1484, in Wildhaus, a small village in the eastern part of modern-day Switzerland, forty miles from Zurich. His father, Ulrich Sr., had risen from peasant stock to become an upper-middle-class man of means, a successful farmer and shepherd, as well as the chief magistrate for the district. This prosperity allowed him to provide his son with an excellent education. He presided over a home where typical Swiss values were inculcated in young Ulrich: sturdy independence, strong patriotism, zeal for religion, and real interest in scholarship.

The elder Ulrich early recognized the intellectual abilities of his son and sent him to his uncle, a former priest, to learn reading and writing. Thanks to his prosperity, Zwingli’s father was able to provide his son with further education. In 1494, he sent the ten-year-old Ulrich to the equivalent of high school at Basel, where he studied Latin, dialectic, and music. He made such rapid progress that his father transferred him to Berne in 1496 or 1497, where he continued his studies under a noted humanist, Heinrich Woeflin. Here Zwingli was given significant exposure to the ideas and Scholastic methods of the Renaissance. His talents were noted by the Dominican monks, who tried to recruit him to their order, but Zwingli’s father did not want his son to become a friar. Read More

Seven Ways to Overcome the Overcommitted Church


Can an overcommitted church become a balanced church?

Can a complex church become a simple church?

The answer to the questions is an unequivocal “yes,” but it won’t be easy in most churches. In my previous post, I identified some of the reasons our congregations have become so overcommitted. Now here are seven realistic but challenging approaches toward simplicity and balance.... Read More

What Does the Bible Say about Reincarnation?


I recently received an email that asked me a question about reincarnation. More specifically, the question centered around Melchizedek and if perhaps the way he is described in Hebrews 7 suggests at least the possibility of reincarnation. Here is the text, followed by my reply.
“For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, and to him Abraham apportioned a tenth part of everything. He is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace. He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever” (Heb. 7:1-3)
The story of Melchizedek is indeed a strange one, but it doesn’t support the notion of reincarnation. There are numerous proposals as to his identity. But let’s begin with Genesis 14 where Melchizedek first appears. Read More

Understanding Spiritual Gifts: 4 Lessons from J.I. Packer


Ask your average churchgoer what their spiritual gifts are, and you may get a blank stare. Not many of us can say with certainty what God has supernaturally equipped us to do. And yet the Bible is clear that spiritual gifts are not just for pastors (Rom. 12:4–8).

Perhaps it feels audacious to claim discernment as our gift and no less prideful to claim wisdom or mercy. For others, defining their gift puts pressure on them and they’d rather leave ministry to the “professionals.” Still others simply have no idea how to begin to discover what our gifts actually are.

Theologian J.I. Packer’s book Keep in Step with the Spirit has been immensely helpful for me in bringing clarity to this issue. While the gifts function more like a footnote than a main theme in this book, his insight on the topic is invaluable. Read More

Leaders by Design: Preparing Your Church for Its Highest Priority


Think of the leaders in your community. Where did they learn their skills? Summer internships? The military? Wall Street? The latest Harvard online course?

Eric Geiger and Kevin Peck claim that the most successful producer of leaders should be your local church.

Surprised? Who is called to be a leader might surprise you too. It’s everybody.

Whether male or female, young or old, you are designed by God to be a leader, and the local church is called to be your training ground.

“The church is designed by God to create leaders for all spheres of life,” Geiger and Peck write in their book, Designed to Lead: The Church and Leadership Development (B&H, 2016). Christians are not called to simply follow Christ, but to invest in others and draw them to Christ. And that takes leadership skills. Read More

10 "Word-based" Ways to Build Your Credibility as a Leader


Charles Spurgeon, one of my favorite writers, spoke often about the minister’s responsibility to guard himself, to “take heed, therefore, to yourselves first, that you be that which you persuade others to be.”* He pushed leaders to be people of integrity and credibility. Hearing Spurgeon’s challenge, here are some simple “Word-based” ways to build your credibility.... Read More

How to Shepherd in the Aftermath of a Disaster


Following any disaster, pastors find there are spiritual and emotional needs of persons in their community who may have experienced life-changing disaster, as well as the needs of the church itself. How we shepherd through these times will have both immediate and lasting impact in people’s lives. Read More
The region in which I live is prone to high winds, tornadoes, flooding, ice storms, and earthquakes. Most of the tremors are relatively mild and scientists are divided on whether the New Madrid Fault is due for a major earthquake. The most recent earth quake was on September 17, was magnitude 2.5, and was 4 miles north of Steele, Missouri. The last major earth quakes in the region were a series of three earth quakes in 1811-1812 and their aftershocks. The first of these earth quakes and its aftershock was most powerful earthquakes to hit the contiguous United States east of the Rocky Mountains in recorded history. They were so violent that the region's inhabitants believed that it was the end of the world. Here is one eye witness account:

"On the 16th of December, 1811, about two o'clock, a.m., we were visited by a violent shock of an earthquake, accompanied by a very awful noise resembling loud but distant thunder, but more hoarse and vibrating, which was followed in a few minutes by the complete saturation of the atmosphere, with sulphurious vapor, causing total darkness. The screams of the affrighted inhabitants running to and fro, not knowing where to go, or what to do—the cries of the fowls and beasts of every species—the cracking of trees falling, and the roaring of the Mississippi— the current of which was retrograde for a few minutes, owing as is supposed, to an irruption in its bed— formed a scene truly horrible."

No, the World Won't End Next Week and There's No Such Thing as a Christian Numerologist - UPDATED


If we start speaking up about bad "Christian" reporting, maybe people will do it less.

Every time end-of-the-world predictions resurface in the media, it is important that we ask ourselves, “Is this helpful? Is peddling these falsehoods a good way to contribute to meaningful, helpful discussions about the end times?”

Of course, the answer to this is no, they most definitely do not.

Every time. Read More

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New: The world as we know it is about to end - again - if you believe this biblical doomsday claim
September 22, 2017 is the autumn equinox; in other words, the first day of fall.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Are Protestants Closer to Catholics than Martin Luther? A Response to the Recent Pew Study (Part 2)


Last week, I posted the first of a two-part response to a recent Pew study which claimed that modern Protestants sound more like Catholics when it comes to issues like sola scriptura and sola fide.

While modern Protestants certainly have some significant theological weak spots, I pushed back against the results of this study on the grounds that the questions being asked were fundamentally misleading. Indeed, the theological descriptions of the Protestant (and Catholic!) positions were flat out wrong.

Having already dealt with the sola scriptura issue in the prior post, we now turn to the issue of sola fide. Here is the summary of the Pew survey about the way Protestants view that issue.... Read More

From Where Does Bad Theology Come?


If you think about it, the world is full of untrue, unsound, unbiblical theology. It is important we know where it comes from so we can better understand it, speak against it, and protect ourselves and others from it. Read More

5 Very Real Tensions Every Small To Mid-Sized Church Leader Feels


It’s critical that as church leaders we both understand and address the tensions we’re facing. In the same way that diagnosing that pain under your kneecap when you’re trying to run a race is helpful, diagnosing what you sense in the congregation can be critical to taking your next step forward.

Overcome these tensions and you’re closer to progress. Avoid them or fail to deal with them and you can stay stuck a long time.

Here are 5 tensions every small to mid-sized church leader feels. Read More

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Pastor, Strive to Learn Their Names


People say I’m naturally gifted at learning names. To some extent that might be true. The full truth, however, is I cheat.

But before I tell you how I cheat, let me stress why—as a pastor—I labor to learn the names of those who attend our church.

The reason we should learn names is twofold. First, a general reason: God has always existed in relationship—the loving relationship of Father, Son, and Spirit. And because we are made in God’s image and likeness, it’s not good for us to be alone. I believe this is the main reason why people desire to be where everyone knows their name, as in the tagline from the old show Cheers. God designed us for community. Read More

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Evaluating Worship Services


I have found there is a helpful way to evaluate the worship services of a particular Lord’s day and train young men for this aspect of pastoral ministry at the same time. It is something we call, “service review.” Read More

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