Saturday, March 28, 2015

Four Problems With Church Planting


I’m a big believer in church planting, yet I have some concerns with some of our approaches. Today I want to outline some of my concerns. On Thursday I’ll suggest some tweaks in how we plant that address some of these concerns. Keep reading

Also see
Lessons From A Venezuelan Church Planter
Free Ebook: Unreached Peoples, Least Reached Places
Is the Future of Church Planting Bi-Vocational?
Rethinking Church Plants: A Conversation with Jimmy Scroggins
CP Study Part 1: Study Shows 68% Survivability Rate for Church Plants
Why Jesus Never Commanded Us to Plant Churches

Photo credit: Pixaby, public domain

Sing Your Heart Out


Many years ago, I had an employer who was intent on trying to provoke me with a variety of sacrilegious jokes and statements. Having just come back from visiting her parents over one Easter weekend, she told me how she had visited their church that Easter Sunday. What she said next left an indelible mark on my thinking about congregational singing for many years. She said, “What I don’t get is why you people don’t sing like you believe what you are singing?” She then told me that the congregation was sort of mumbling the words of the hymn, “I Serve a Risen Savior.” Rocking back and forth, she mocked this particular congregation by mumbling under her breath, “He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today.” Without hesitating, I agreed with her and said, “It is terrible that those who say that they believe that Christ is risen don’t sing as if they actually believe He is risen. They should be singing their hearts out because He is risen.” This leaves us with the question, “If the Holy Spirit’s work in the hearts of His people to stir them up to sing God’s praises is one of the sweetest of all His works then why do so many congregants fail to sing with all of their heart in worship?” There are many answers to this question, but here are a few suggestions.... Keep reading

6 Ways to Become a Welcoming Church


In his important book, Outgrowing the Ingrown Church, Jack Miller recounted an experience he had at a church in which he had been invited to speak. As he and his wife walked around and met people in the church, they continually heard the members saying things like, "We're one of the friendliest churches in the community," and "we are a very friendly church." Sensing that something was not right (since he had been told that the attendance of this church had shrunk considerably over the past several years), Miller began asking individuals and officers in the church what was really going on. What he discovered was that the congregants were friendly--to one another in a cliquish way--but that the congregation had started relying on the pastor to do all of the welcoming of visitors. No one was inviting visitors into their homes for meals or seeking to help integrate them into the life of the church. By God's grace, both pastor and congregation repented of having lost sight of the Great Commission and the role of the local church in the world. Sadly, this story is all too familiar with many churches in North America in our day. In fact, many churches that grow do so through leveraging an appearance of health through staffing, structures and programs. So what can be done to foster a spiritual friendliness and a welcoming culture in our churches? Here are 6 things that we should labor to implement into our churches.... Keep reading

Who the Unchurched Really Are


Most evangelism programs, church growth tactics, and other attempts to reach the “unchurched” concentrate on Millennials, young urbanites, college types, and the suburban middle class. But, as Robert Putnam reminds us, the demographic that is the most unchurched is the working class, the lower income non-college-educated folks. A big segment of these blue-collar workers has just stopped going to church. They are also, with the personal and family problems that Putnam documents, arguably, most in need of ministry. This is ironic, since the working class used to be the biggest supporters of conservative Christianity. And yet, I’m unaware of any concerted effort to reach them, other than individual pastors in these communities doing what they can.I’m as middle class as they come, but I have a lot of affinity with these folks, having grown up in rural Oklahoma and working on jobs that for me were temporary ways of paying for school but for them were their permanent livelihoods. They are typically good-natured, hard-working, and admirable in many ways. But I can see in my old friends–more accurately, the adult children of those friends–the break-down that Putnam documents.

So many young men and women in this slice of the culture are just not getting married, showing no interest in it, being content to live together in serial relationships. The men are fathering children, but have little to do with them. The women choose to have children without bothering with a husband, but then they have to work multiple jobs to provide for them while often leaving them more or less on their own.

The individuals often derided as “red necks,” listen to country music rather than rap, metal, or other art forms criticized for their baleful influence. They never went to college to learn from a left wing professor about postmodernism and how morality is culturally relative. But they are as postmodernist and relativist as they can be. They are, arguably, casualties of contemporary thought, living out its consequences, but without the social capital that college graduates have that allows them to live a stable life despite their ideology. Keep reading

Also see
Social Capital and the Opportunity Gap

What You Should Know About Religious Freedom Restoration Acts


Yesterday Governor Mike Pence of Indiana signed into law the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The action has drawn sharp criticism by people and politicians who directly oppose religious freedoms and by those who are simply unaware of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the federal model for Indiana’s new law.

Here is what you should know about these types of religious freedom legislation.... Keep reading

National Black Church Initiative Severs Ties with PCUSA


Urging Presbyterian Church USA to "repent and be restored to fellowship," the National Black Church Initiative, which represents 34,000 churches from 15 denominations, has declared it has severed ties with PCUSA after it amended its constitution changing their definition of marriage to include same-sex couples.

"NBCI and its membership base are simply standing on the Word of God within the mind of Christ. We urge our brother and sisters of the PCUSA to repent and be restored to fellowship," NBCI President Rev. Anthony Evans said, according to Charisma News.

"PCUSA's manipulation represents a universal sin against the entire church and its members. With this action, PCUSA can no longer base its teachings on 2,000 years of Christian scripture and tradition, and call itself a Christian entity in the body of Christ. It has forsaken its right by this single wrong act," added the head of the coalition, which represents 15.7 million African-Americans. Keep reading
The original headline for this article is misleading. The National Black Church Initiative and 34,000 churches it represents are not a part of PCUSA.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Anglicans Ablaze Early Weekend Edition: March 27, 2015


In this early weekend edition of Anglicans Ablaze:
Photo credit: Pixabay, public domain

5 Reasons Your Church Should Be Smaller


For years it has bothered me that, although the majority of churches in America have fewer than 300 people, most church leadership advice comes from pastors of huge churches. The assumption that bigger is better pervades the church leadership culture. What if that’s the wrong tack? Here are five reasons your church might be better off focusing on faithfulness instead of success… even if it that means it will Shrink Keep reading

Photo credit: St Paul's Episcopal Church Lancaster, New Hampshire

4 Steps to Find, Support & Grow Your Church’s “Hidden” Ministries


Are you frustrated with trying to get people in your church to step up and do ministry?

I know there are churches with bad histories (and a bad present) where this is a legitimate issue. In fact, I pastored one.

But in many churches, there may be more ministry happening than many pastors realize.

Pastors must learn to see, then support and promote ministry that’s already occurring within the church membership. But we often miss it because we have a far too limited view of what ministry really means.

Here’s an example. Keep reading

Photo credit: Pixabay, public domain

This Can Happen in America, Part 2


In part one of this blog, I shared how Germany, the home of the Protestant Reformation, is now only marginally evangelical, with just three percent of citizens identifying that way. I shared some thoughts why I believe this happened including a dead gospel preached in dead state churches and a rise of seeking salvation in material wealth.

Is this shift happening in America?

As a pastor of a multiethnic, multigenerational, multiclass church shaped by the Great Commandment and Great Commission (see Matthew 28:18-20 and Mark 12:29-31), I already see America moving towards becoming a post-Christian nation. Surprisingly, this shift potentially can be great for Jesus’ church and his people because when the church is pushed to the margins, she is powerful. Keep reading

Also see
This Can Happen in America, Part 1

Photo credit: Derwin L. Gray

Measuring church planting success


Recently the North American Mission Board shared good news that Southern Baptist church plants were up 5 percent in 2014. We still have a lot of catching up to do because our church planting efforts lost pace with population growth decades ago, but hopefully last year's increase will begin a new trend.

In addition to starting more churches, we must pay close attention to the health of these new congregations. Do they have staying power? Are they reaching people for Christ? Do they give to missions causes? In short, are they having an impact? We cannot and will not sacrifice quality for the sake of quantity.

At NAMB we started monitoring Southern Baptist church plants much more carefully beginning with the Class of 2010. We are continuing to improve this process, but we already know a lot more than we did a few years ago.

As a reminder, the church planting class of 2010 started with 943 church plants. We pull our data from the Annual Church Profile (ACP) so we can make comparisons to the broader report that includes all Southern Baptist churches. The most recent ACP year for which these details are available is 2013, so that's the data we are using. Keep reading
How does your denomination or network measure the success of its church plants? 
Photo credit: Pixabay, public domain

Why Leaders Who Hold THIS Bias Are The Most Effective Leaders


You probably have something exciting that you’ve been thinking about doing for a long time.

Every leader has dreams, goals and hopes.

The challenge is you haven’t done anything about it…yet.

And as a result, so few leaders end up with a track record of accomplishment.

Why?

Because almost all of us struggle with something the most effective leaders in their field don’t struggle with.

What is it?

It’s a bias so few leaders have. But the great ones all possess. Keep reading

7 Things I Learned in 30+ Years of Pastoral Ministry


I've been in pastoral ministry since 1980, when I came on staff as a pastor-in-training in our church. I was ordained in ‘81, and became Senior Pastor in ‘82. In the last 30+ years I’ve learned a lot, made plenty of mistakes, and feel like I still have a long way to go. I don’t consider myself an expert on pastoral ministry, but thought I’d share a few things I’ve learned over the years (not in any particular order) to encourage you. So here we go.... Keep reading

Photo credit: Pixabay, public domain

We Cannot Love God if We Do Not Love His Word


Emil Brunner, the twentieth-century Swiss theologian and one of the fathers of neo-orthodox theology, wrote a little book titled Truth as Encounter. His thesis was that when we study the things of God, we are not studying truth in the abstract. We want to understand theology not merely so that we can make an A on a theology exam. We want to understand the doctrine of God so that we can understand God, so that we can meet the living God in His Word and deepen our personal relationship with Him. But we cannot deepen a relationship with someone if we do not know anything about him. So, the propositions of Scripture are not an end in themselves but a means to an end. However, they are a necessary means to the end. Thus, to say Christianity is not about propositions but about relationships is to establish an extremely dangerous false dichotomy. It is to insult the Spirit of truth, whose propositions they are. These propositions should be our very meat and drink, for they define the Christian life. Keep reading

How to Pray All Day


Pray without ceasing,” Paul says. Simple words, but a seemingly impossible challenge. How can you be expected to pray all the time? In chapter 54 of their work A Puritan Theology, Joel Beeke and Mark Jones dive deep into Matthew Henry’s great book A Method for Prayer to distil what he says about the importance of praying through all of life’s circumstances. As it turns out, there is no great trick to it. What follows is at times transcribed and at times adapted from A Puritan Theology. Keep reading

Before Your Church Starts Using Social Media…


Should churches utilize social media for the mission of carrying the gospel to the ends of the earth? Yes! But after a decade or so of helping churches and leaders utilize blogging and social networking for ministry I’ve come to a solid conclusion that every church leader needs to hear:

We don’t need to get our church involved in social media until our church’s leaders are invested in it. 

Usually, when a church reaches out for help about getting started, this involves launching or redesigning the church’s website, creating a church Facebook page, and possibly creating an Instagram and/or Twitter account. But repeatedly, these efforts are wasted because of a misunderstanding about the nature of social media. Keep reading

Fulfilling the Great Commission in the Twenty-first Century: Three Articles


Every Life On Mission Matters – By Aaron Coe

Here’s a truth you can count on: God is on a mission to reconcile people to Himself, and this mission sweeps both history and the globe. More importantly, it includes regular, ordinary people like you and me.

But, if we’re honest, we might say we don’t feel much like we’re a part of God’s grand mission.

Right now you may be navigating a busy airport wondering if you’ll make your next flight because of a late connection.

Or perhaps you’re focused on getting the kids ready for school and just realized you forgot to make their lunches last night. Now you’re trying to hastily make peanut butter sandwiches and figure out what you’re going to tell your boss because you’re going to be late for your meeting!

By the time you get settled in your hotel room or have the kids in bed, you’re ready to kick back and watch some television. Your role as a missionary bearing the hope of the world is not exactly what you’re thinking about or how you’d describe yourself. Maybe in theory, but in practice, your mind is far from it. Keep reading

Seven terrible evangelism ideas... and a few that might work better

Evangelism is a bit like dancing at a wedding. You know you ought to do it; maybe you even want to do it. But deep down you're worried you'll do it wrong, that people will laugh, and that awkward videos of your failure will end up on YouTube. Alright, maybe that's stretching it a bit – but the fact remains that evangelism can sometimes feel awkward and difficult, and so instead of getting up to dance, we often end up spending the evening locked in the corner talking to Uncle Ken about his Koi carp collection. And no-one wants that.

Because simply talking to our friends (or strangers) about our Christian faith can feel socially difficult, many of us develop new strategies for outreach which we hope will do the job of evangelism for us, without all the awkwardness and, you know, conversation about Jesus. They have one thing in common – they're terrible, and they probably won't work. So I've compiled a list of some of the best bad evangelism ideas I've ever come across... and then added some suggestions for how, with a bit of bravery, they might just be improved.... Keep reading

The Power of Consistency

Imagine a leaky faucet. Regardless of how you hard you twist the knob, it still drips. One drop at a time. Incessantly – drip, drip, drip. The consistency becomes an annoyance pretty quickly. But put in the right environment and given enough time, that same dripping with that same consistency, can have an immense amount of power.

That’s how canyons are made. Not all at once, but through the power of consistency.

Dripping isn’t that exciting, but what it lacks in flash it makes up for in effectiveness. There’s a lot to be said for the power of consistency.

When we lead people in the way of discipleship, one of the issues we must deal with is the boring nature of it all. I mean, there’s only so many ways you can “spice up” the habits that characterize consistent growth in Christ.

There will be many days when you and the people you lead won’t feel like reading the Bible. They won’t feel like praying. They won’t feel like memorizing Scripture or serving or doing any of the other practices of spiritual development. Consequently, we might be tempted to reframe or describe spiritual growth as some grand adventure completely free of drudgery. While it’s true that at times growing in Christ will feel like that, it’s also true that many times it won’t.

In the end, what we’ll find is that consistency wins over excitement time and time again. And here are a few reasons why.... Keep reading

What Christianophobia Looks Like in America


New Study: Champions of religious freedom tell Christians, 'Keep your faith to yourselves.'

s America’s religious landscape grows more diverse, we see Christianity’s cultural dominance fading. While a vast majority of the country and our leaders still identify as Christian, many conservative Protestants sense a growing animosity toward themselves and their beliefs.

For the Christian Right, recent conflicts around homosexuality, church-state separation, abortion, and other hot-button issues are viewed as threats, indicators that their values are no longer embraced or even tolerated, but under attack.

When Atlanta fire chief Kelvin Cochran was fired earlier this year over a self-published book that briefly critiqued homosexuality, conservative Christians saw the incident as further evidence that they are losing their religious freedom.

Are these Christians worrying for no good reason?

Well, anti-Christian hostility is certainly real, captured by the American National Election Studies, which include questions about animosity toward various social groups. About third of respondents rated conservative Christians significantly lower (by at least one standard deviation) than other religious and racial groups. Keep reading

Photo credit: Prof. George Yancey, courtesy of the University of Texas's Department of Sociology

Crimea: Only one per cent of religious organisations re-registered since Russian annexation


About one per cent of the religious organisations that were recognised under Ukrainian law have so far been re-registered since Crimea's annexation by Russia just over a year ago.

A report by Forum 18 News Service, a Nordic religious liberty organisation, found that of the 1,546 religious organisations that were registered when Crimea was under Ukrainian law, only 170 have submitted applications to register with the Russian authorities. Of these, only 14 have so far been granted registration, according to Russia's Justice Ministry, with a small number still awaiting approval.

Without registration, groups can continue to meet for religious gatherings, but they cannot legally rent property, employ people and cannot, for example, invite foreign visitors for religious purposes. Keep reading

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Culture shift: questions for pastors & churches


In August 2013, same-sex marriage was legal in 13 states and the District of Columbia. By February of this year, Alabama had become the 37th state in which same-sex marriage was declared lawful despite a state constitutional amendment to the contrary that had been adopted by 81 percent of its citizens.

During this 18-month period, news services as diverse as Associated Press and Fox News have carried news stories about steps churches have taken to identify their core beliefs relative to same-sex marriage in the face of a rapidly changing culture.

Some news stories drew attention to pivotal internal policies: Has the church clearly articulated whether it would allow its pastor or other ministry leaders to perform same-sex marriages? Does the church have procedures in place to deal with safety and security issues should it be targeted by activists?

Other stories focused on the church's witness within its community: How does a church redemptively minister to all people while simultaneously holding to a biblical sexual ethic and embracing biblical marriage as the covenantal union of one man and one woman?

Reporters also raised questions concerning public accommodation laws related to the church's building and grounds: Has the church researched local and state laws about external groups renting the church's facilities for a variety of purposes, including weddings?

With the changing cultural landscape in view, churches may wish to consider a wide range of questions. Keep reading

Issues in Church Leadership: Four Articles


Transform Your Church’s Leadership

4 ways to identify and grow young, diverse leaders.

When I arrived as the lead pastor of my church, everyone on the board was white and in their 50s, 60s, or 70s. This pretty much reflected the rest of the congregation. There were three elders—all older, white, and male. There were a few young adults in the church and almost no children.

I knew that we desperately needed a change, and we needed to begin with our leadership team. We had to empower the next generation of leaders. Keep reading
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3 Ways to Respond to a Controlling Leader

One theory I have is that younger leaders want a voice at the table early in their leadership. They are intersecting with seasoned leaders who are trying to hold on to power. I get that. But, how should a younger leader respond? Keep reading

7 Suggestions for Challenging a Controlling Leader

I should point out that while I believe the Bible teaches to respect authority, I don’t believe it says we must ignore the abuse of authority. All children should honor their parents, for example, but respect is never an excuse for abuse. There are times when it is appropriate to confront authority. Jesus certainly did during His earthly ministry. Keep reading

Beware of Greatness

Let’s not kid ourselves, though. We are not always that much different. Sometimes we love our positions of power in the church even when we know we lack the power of God in our own lives. We strive for teaching positions without recognizing our own unwillingness to learn. Lesson after repeated lesson, we still don’t get it. Our pride keeps us from admitting our lack of understanding even while our powerlessness keeps us from being effective. In all of our supposed greatness, God help us if we come face-to-face with a boy possessed by a demon. Keep reading

Free Ebook – Building Strong Worship Leaders


One of the greatest needs of the church today is gifted, godly worship leaders who will not only pour themselves into the weekly corporate gathering but who will, behind the scenes and off the stage, pour their very lives into discipling and training a whole new generation of worship leaders. That’s why I’m so excited about the work of Dwayne Moore and the Asaph Generation. Worship leaders from various backgrounds are coming together to see a generation of people giving authentic praise to God as never before.

From Nehemiah to the apostolic era, from the Renaissance to Azusa Street, great movements of God have always been fueled by heartfelt repentance and passionate worship. When God’s name is glorified, great things begin to happen. Please read this book slowly. Soak in its wisdom. Hear and heed the call, first to be a worshipper, but also to determine how you can invest your life into seeing God’s name magnified and glorified in our culture.

– From the Foreword, by Brandon Cox

Grab your free copy here!
Originally posted on pastors.com.

Teach Your Entire Church to Welcome Visitors


The five-minute rule and other tips

After being part of the same church community for more than 15 years, my husband and I found ourselves looking for a new church home last year. During the 30-plus years I’ve been following Jesus, I have been a member of only three churches. (This has more to do with the fact that I have not moved outside the region than that I am exceptional human being.)

Because I was part of the leadership in each of these three churches, I knew at least half of the people in church every Sunday. Prior to this year, I’ve never had the uncomfortable experience of walking into a sanctuary, sitting by myself, and then leaving without speaking to anyone. (Saying “Thank you!” to the person who kicked the tissue box in my direction after I sneezed multiple times doesn’t count.)

Some visitors, perhaps those who are part of the witness relocation program (hat tip to Anne Lamott), prefer to slip in and out unnoticed. That profile probably counts for a small percentage of church visitors. Until this year, I took for granted how relationships enrich Sunday morning. Hearing my friend’s laughter when the pastor made a joke, sitting behind a couple whom my husband and I had in premarital class, and giving hugs to those who had become dear to me all made me want to get out of bed on Sunday mornings.

I was primed and eager to find new friendships, or at least not be invisible. However, week after week, as soon as the benediction was given, folks scattered and soon became engaged with their friends, leaving me—and all the others visitors—very much alone. Keep reading

ACL Celebrates Launch of FCA Australia


The Anglican Church League sponsored the launch of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (FCA), Australia at Scot’s church, Melbourne on 26 March 2015.

The ACL’s President, Gav Poole, spoke at the launch reception —

“The ACL is a grassroots movement made up of lay and clergy members. We promote ministry that is reformed, protestant and evangelical.

By reformed we mean ministry that has its genesis in the sixteenth century reformers who recaptured the Biblical faith that we are saved through faith in Christ alone and that God is sovereign in life and salvation.

By protestant, we protest Biblical aberrations, name and warn against false teaching. Our unity is in the gospel, not structure and institution.

By evangelical, we fully trust in the powerful gospel of Jesus Christ which provides the only solution to human rebellion. The gospel is not just one of many messages but our only one.

This week, as we seek solutions to our many struggles, please be encouraged that faithful, clear and bold proclamation of the gospel along with earnest prayer to the Lord of the harvest is always rewarded.

One of the goals of the ACL is to promote the evangelical character of the Sydney diocese. Like it or not, the Sydney diocese is what it is today largely due to the work of the ACL.

It is a testimony to the fact that we can achieve far more together than apart.

Is a privilege to sponsor tonight’s event. The establishment of FCA Australia is recognition that we are not immune to the challenges of the wider communion.

The ACL celebrates this launch and joins with you in praying for the newly formed FCA Australia board.

Thank you for the opportunity to sponsor this event.”

Also see
FCA underway
Launch of FCA Australia
Anglican Church League: About Us
With the Anglican Church League sponsoring its launch, the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans Australia is off to a much better start than its North American counterpart. The FCA North America is too closely tied to the Anglican Church in North America, which in actuality does not stand for what the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans stands for. Anglicans who are biblical and Protestant in their stance and Reformed and evangelical in their doctrine have a place in GFCA but not in the ACNA, which has systematically rejected in its doctrinal statements the biblical and Protestant stance and Reformed and evangelical doctrine of authentic historic Anglicanism. 
Photo credit: Pixabay, public domain 

1 in 4 Americans Don't Believe in God


Lack of Trust in Local Churches Cited as a Reason Why Adults Are Leaving the Faith

The Barna Group has released its 2015 study on the state of atheism in America, and has revealed that one in four unchurched adults in the country now identify as atheists or agnostics. The study also found that rejection of the Bible and lack of trust in the church are two main reasons why people are turning away from faith.

The study was focused on those who have not attended church within the past six months, and found that the majority of such people identify as non-practicing Christians. One in four, or 25 percent, however, were classed as skeptics, which Barna defines as people who "either do not believe God exists (atheists) or are not sure God exists, but are open to the possibility (agnostics)."

Of that number, nearly one-third said that they have never attended a Christian church service in their lives.

Barna found that the three main reasons people decide not to believe in God stem from rejection of the Bible; lack of trust in the local church; and the "cultural reinforcement of a secular worldview." Keep reading

Photo credit: The Christian Post

New York Congregation First to Leave Presbyterian Church (USA) over Gay Marriage Approval


A small congregation in New York has voted unanimously to leave Presbyterian Church (USA) following the mainline denomination's recent vote to approve gay marriage.

Brighton Presbyterian Church, a 200-year-old congregation in Rochester, voted Sunday to seek dismissal from its PCUSA regional body, the Presbytery of Genesee Valley.

The vote to disaffiliate came not long after a majority of presbyteries in PCUSA approved an amendment to their Book of Order defining marriage to include same-sex couples. Keep reading

Photo credit: Brighton Presbyterian

Persecution of Christians in India and Nigeria: Two Articles


India: Anti-Christian attacks up 55%

The number of violent and nonviolent attacks against Christians in India has increased 55 percent since Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi became prime minister last year, according to the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI).

During a protest by religious minorities near India's Parliament House March 19, rights activist and Christian leader John Dayal said there have been 168 acts of aggression against Christians during Modi's first 300 days in power. That figure compares with 108 such cases in the 300 days before Modi took office on May 26, 2014, according to the EFI.

Reported attacks against the Christian community in January totaled 20, with another 20 in February and 13 so far in March, according to the EFI. By comparison, during the first five months of 2014 there were only 32 anti-Christian incidents before Modi took power. Keep reading

Boko Haram headlines hide persecution of Christians in mid-Nigeria, too

The whole world has heard of the Chibok abduction: the 276 girls, predominantly Christians, kidnapped by Boko Haram in northern Nigeria in April 2014. There are 220 still missing. But the publicity surrounding this serves to hide a more widespread persecution of Christians in the Middle Belt Region of Nigeria. Nigeria lies on the Christian/Muslim fault-line across Africa; it passes through the middle of the country, meaning there are inherent tensions over land and identity in this area.

Migration and Violent Conflict in Divided Societies: Non-Boko Haram Violence against Christians in the Middle Belt Region of Nigeria examines the background to the violence in the Middle Belt Region. Drawing on field investigations between January and June 2014, including interviews with victims of violence and refugees, it reveals a more complex picture than simple migrant incursion, the usual interpretation. Keep reading

Also see
Migration and Violent Conflict in Divided Societies: Non-Boko Haram Violence against Christians in the Middle Belt Region of Nigeria

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Pioneers, Settlers & Mavericks: How to Lead Them Well For a Healthier Church


There are three kinds of people in every church. Pioneers, Settlers and Mavericks.

Depending on which point of its life cycle your church is in, these three will interact in different ways that can either benefit your church or threaten to tear it apart.

One of the primary tasks of a church leader (usually the pastor) is to utilize the gifts of all three, while keeping them in balance. Keep reading

J. I. Packer and Michael Jensen on Anglicanism: Two Articles


What is Anglicanism? (J.I. Packer Speaks)

Anglicanism is first biblical and protestant in its stance, and second, evangelical and reformed in its doctrine. That’s a particular nuance within the Protestant constituency to which the Anglican church is committed – the 39 Articles show that.... Keep reading

9 Things You Should Really Know About Anglicanism

Anglicanism is Reformed. The theology of the founding documents of the Anglican church—the Book of Homilies, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion—expresses a theology in keeping with the Reformed theology of the Swiss and South German Reformation. It is neither Lutheran, nor simply Calvinist, though it resonates with many of Calvin’s thoughts. Keep reading
Both Packer and Jensen affirm the biblical, Protestant, Reformed, and evangelical heritage of the Anglican Church--something that the Anglican Church in North America has not done in any of the doctrinal statements that the ACNA has issued to date--its fundamental declarations, its canons, its ordinal, its trial services of Holy Communion, and its catechism. Indeed, as I have repeatedly pointed out in numerous articles, the ACNA does not in these documents make room for the beliefs and practices of  Anglicans who affirm that heritage.

The ACNA College of Bishops is meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia, from June 22-26, 2015 along with the ACNA Executive Committee and Provincial Council. Interestingly the ACNA announcement of these meetings on its website describes all three organs as "governing bodies" of the ACNA. The ACNA constitution and canons, however, recognize the Provincial Council as the only official governing body of the ACNA. The Executive Committee under the provisions of these governing documents is ancillary to the Provincial Council and not a separate organ of governance. The constitution and canons do not recognize the College of Bishops as an organ of governance at all!

I am anticipating that the College of Bishops will endorse the proposed rites for the admission of catechumens, baptism, and confirmation. Their endorsement will add three more pieces to the puzzle. The picture that has been completed so far shows that the ACNA in its stance is unreformed Catholic and in its doctrine a curious blend of Arminianism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Roman Catholicism. Whether "Anglican" is an accurate description of the ACNA is open to debate.

One Key Reason Most Churches Do Not Exceed 350 in Average Attendance


Nine out of ten.

That’s a lot.

Nine out of ten churches in America have an average worship attendance of less than 350. And that percentage has not changed significantly for many years. Yet the unchurched pool of persons is increasing in most communities. There are people yet to be reached.

But most churches will never exceed 350 in attendance. Why? Keep reading

How to Reduce Resistance to Change


People drive change; change does not drive people. You cannot lead change if you can’t lead people.

Napoleon Bonaparte noticed that when it came to change, there seemed to be three distinct groups in an army. A third of his army would almost always welcome change, a third would oppose change (although not always openly), and the last third was just waiting to see who the winner was.

Unfortunately, most leaders focus their energy and efforts on the group that oppose change. Instead, leaders should focus on the people who welcome change, and those who fall into the wait and see crowd. As the momentum of change begins to tip, those who oppose change will reluctantly come on board, and those who don’t will be eventually seen as out of touch. I am not proposing that you ignore this group completely, just don’t give them the majority of your time or let them suck the energy out of your momentum.

Here are suggestions to move each third on a pathway to engagement.... Keep reading

3 Team-Killing Church Cultures by Ryan T. Hartwig and Warren Bird


Folks often preach the value of teams and try to instill teams in their churches, all the while cheerleading and propagating organizational cultural dynamics that squelch any possibility for those teams to thrive. If you want to improve your team (especially your leadership team), don’t ignore these three cultures that will kill your team’s ability to thrive. Keep reading

Photo credit: Pixabay, public domain

What Is the Enemy of Mission?


Why don’t people heartily engage in mission?

This is not a new question and I won’t propose any new answers. However, the question remains important to ask and answer. When I say “mission” I mean the mission of the church, specifically, the making and training of disciples (Mt. 28.19-21). Keep reading

Also see
Jesus Ensures the Great Commission Will Not Fail

Photo credit: Pixaby, public domain

Number of Americans Who Say They Have No Religion Hits Record High, Survey Finds


New data analysis on the 2014 General Social Survey conducted by NORC and the University of Chicago has found that although Americans are abandoning specific religions at record high numbers, the rate of those who said they believe in God has remained steady.

The Associated Press identified it as one of the major findings of the survey, which asked a number of wide-ranging questions of the American public. The data found that back in 1972, only 5 percent of respondents said that they have no religion, but by 2014, 21 percent said the same, which is a record high.

The number is even higher than statistics reported by Gallup, which found that 16 percent of Americans identified as nones in 2014. Keep reading

CAPA Cape Town Meeting Issues Communique


7- We are deeply concerned about the divisions within our beloved Anglican Communion. These divisions emerged when some Churches in the west allowed the worldly cultures, to reshape the message of church to the society especially in the area of marriage and human sexuality. These issues not only contradict the traditional teaching of the scripture but also impede our witness to the Gospel, which is the reason of our presence in this world. We believe that the church is entrusted with the message of Gospel in order to transform the culture not the other way around. We do accept diversity but not diversity on the expense of the truth. Therefore we call upon these churches to refrain from making unilateral decisions which will further the divisions between the provinces of the Anglican Communion.

8-We, by God’s Grace, continue to uphold the traditional biblical teaching in regard to human sexuality and marriage and affirm Lambeth Resolution 1:10 in its entirety. We believe that this is the only way to safeguard the life of the Christian families and we should resist the pressures of the secular western cultures to alter God’s purpose in creating Man and woman.

9- We extend our support for the Archbishop of Canterbury in His efforts to bring restoration to our Communion. We affirm the necessity of the Primates meeting, however we emphasize the importance of following through the recommendations of the previous Primates meetings. Keep reading

Also see
George Conger: Indaba is dead

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Reforming Church Architecture


Picture a typical suburban landscape in America: a six-lane arterial strip punctuated by traffic lights, big-box retailers, multiplex cinemas, patches of "landscaping," a barrage of signs, and plenty of parking. Now picture a typical church in such a landscape: a large, prefabricated, windowless "worship center," dominated by a performance stage and surrounded by a sea of parking. It is a combination of the big-box retailer and the cinema.

A culture that builds such landscapes and such churches, we might reasonably assume, is a culture that is privatized, consumer driven, and amusement oriented. Clearly, our buildings are an expression of our culture. As Winston Churchill said, "We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us." But, of course, as those who have been transformed by God's grace, we strive not to be conformed to our culture; rather, we seek its reformation. As with all of culture, church architecture is in serious need of reform.

The history of church architecture is filled with magnificent edifices built in a variety of shapes and sizes representing a variety of artistic and theological tastes and perspectives. The subject is complex and controversial. So, where should we begin in thinking about how to build churches that serve the needs of the local church and truly glorify God? Keep reading

Also see
We Want to Stay Light and Mobile, Flexible and Ready

Photo credit: Mars Hill Church

Issues in Church Leadership: Four Articles


7 Warning Signs You May Be a Controlling Leader

I regularly talk to young leaders through my blog and many of them feel they are working for a controlling leader. Keep reading

3 Results of Controlling Leadership

One of my pet peeves in leadership is the controlling leader. Because of that, I have written extensively on the subject on this blog. Keep reading

7 Intangible, Seemingly Unproductive Actions Valuable in Leadership

Much of what a leader does can seem unproductive at times. Keep reading

25 Random Pieces of Advice for Leaders in Their 20s, 30s or 40s

How you live your life up to age 50 likely matters more than you think. Keep reading

Photo credit: Pixabay, public domain

How To Create High Performing Teams in Any Size Organization—An Interview with Warren Bird [Podcast]


Whether your church or organization is large or small, it needs a team. Better than that, it needs a high performing team.

How do you get one in place? Warren Bird studied some of the best teams around today, and shares his findings.

Read full article and hear podcast

Five facts about pastors most church members are unclear on


“Shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28).

In my experience, most pastors hesitate to teach the biblical understanding of the role of pastors because to do so might sound self-serving, as though they were trying to carve out a bigger role for themselves in leading the church. This is a serious error for which we are now paying as many congregations are turning the minister into a hired hand, employing him as an errand boy, or treating him as an executive brought in to lead their “country club.”

Pastor, preach the whole Word of God. Be bold in declaring its truth. Then, having done this, go forth and set new standards for humbly serving the congregation. Let them see you leading by serving and no one will ever mind calling you their pastorand following you. However, lord it over them and dominate the decisions and no one who knows his Bible will want to follow you.

What follows is the truth on the role of pastors as taught in Scripture. It’s not “all” the truth, for this is but one simple article. However, it cuts to the heart of the issues.... Keep reading

What to Do When a Pastor or Staff Member Leaves – Rainer on Leadership #109 [Podcast]


We constantly receive questions from listeners of the podcast and readers of the blog and use those questions to frame the content here at ThomRainer.com. Today we use a question from a listener to jump into a discussion about what to do when a staff member leaves. Keep reading

Podcast: Play in new window | Download (Duration: 22:27 — 20.6MB)

Throwaway Worship Songs, Underutilized Hymns, and Lament: Three Articles


Responding To The Increasingly Short Shelf-Life Of Worship Songs

Things are not as simple for worship leaders/church music directors as they used to be. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s certainly a more complicated thing.

There are now more songs to choose from than ever, at an increasingly rapid speed, coming from big publishers, independent artists, local churches, Christian radio, social media feeds, conferences, carrier pigeons, and their distant relatives, hipsters. Just when we’ve gotten a handle on introducing a new song to our congregation that was written in 2012, a newer new song comes along that’s even newer, making the new song we thought was new feel pretty old. Confused? You should be. Keep reading

Hymns We Should Sing More Often: Holy God We Praise Your Name

This is the first installment of an intermittent series I’ve called “Hymns We Should Sing More Often.” The aim is to remind us (or introduce for the first time) excellent hymns that are probably not included in most church’s musical canon. A few hymns–like Holy, Holy, Holy or Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing—are familiar to many congregations and get sung in conferences and other large gatherings. Unfortunately, for a growing number of churches, there are no hymnals in the pews (or on the chairs), and consequently there is little opportunity to draw from the deep well of Christian hymnody. Most of the hymns in this series are not unfamiliar, just underutilized. I hope you will enjoy learning about these hymns as much as I have and enjoy singing them even more. Keep reading

Why Sing Sad Songs When I Don’t Feel Sad?

By nature, I am a cheerful person. When I am sick, for example, I never want to talk about how I am feeling because I loathe dwelling upon distressing details. One co-worker actually described me as “pathologically optimistic.” I am still unsure if that was a compliment.

So you can imagine my initial discomfort when I read the lament psalms and felt the sorrow found there and elsewhere in the Bible. Believing the entire Bible is profitable (2 Timothy 3:16), and mindful that Jesus himself quoted psalms of lament (for example, Psalm 22:1 in Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34), I began including confession and lament into our worship service plans. But you can see how it resonated with me when one of my church members came to talk to me. “When I don’t feel sad,” they asked, “why should I sing sad songs?” Keep reading

Photo credit: Pixabay, public domain

PCUSA Church Ordains First Married Lesbian Couple as Ministers, Days After Denomination's Marriage Amendment


Days after America's largest Presbyterian denomination approved an amendment to its constitution changing its definition of marriage to include same-sex couples, a lesbian couple will be ordained as ministers Sunday at First & Central Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, Delaware.

Kaci Clark-Porter and Holly, who married three years ago, will be the first-ever same-sex couple to be jointly ordained, according to USA Today, which says the denomination couldn't point to other examples.

Last year, Presbyterian Church (USA) approved a vote on an amendment to change their official definition of marriage from "a man and a woman" to "two people, traditionally a man and a woman." And on Tuesday, the proposed change to PCUSA's Book of Order got the necessary number of presbytery votes.

The ordination service will be held Sunday afternoon. Keep reading

Monday, March 23, 2015

6 Stages of Vision


Typically right after a new year begins, vision architects are busy assembling the pieces they need to build their God-given dream. Plans are unfolding, resources being gathered, teams mobilized, and undoubtedly somewhere in the near future roadblocks will be hit. That’s why it’s important for the leader to understand the stages of a vision. When you understand the different phases of vision, then you’re able to respond with wisdom and maturity when you encounter challenges. A vision typically goes through six stages. Keep reading

Photo credit: Pixabay, public domain

Nine Traits of Mean Churches


“My church is a mean church!”

I received two emails this week from church members who made that very statement. The members are from two different churches in two different states. One of the churches belongs to a denomination; the other is non-denominational. In both cases the church members made the decision to drop out of local church life altogether.

Yes, I tried to reason with the two members. I told them that no church is perfect. If they had any doubt, I wrote, look at the two letters the Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth. I failed in convincing them to stay in their churches. I pray they will become active in other churches later.

I love local churches. But I have to admit, I am hearing more from long-term members who are quitting church life completely. One member wrote me, “The non-Christians I associate with are much nicer people than the members of my church.”

Ouch. That really hurt.

So, after receiving the second email, I began to assimilate all the information I could find where church members had written me about their “mean” churches. They may not have used the word “mean” specifically, but the intent was the same. I then collected characteristics of these churches, and I found nine that were common. I call these the “nine traits of mean churches.” Keep reading

Photo credit: Pixabay, public domain

Holiness as Nonconformity


If you take a look around you, wherever you are, you will notice that our lives our filled with conformity. Most things plastic have been shaped according to a mold. I have some figurines on my desk that weren’t hand-carved but no-doubt formed from a mold of an original. Artwork on walls often is not original but a print of the original. I’ve even seen woodworking shows where a carpenter uses a mold, clamps, and steam, over time, to bend an otherwise solid piece of wood into a usable shape for a piece of furniture. Yes, we are surrounded by conformity.

What’s more, the societies in which we live bear the marks of conformity. Societal norms work their way into our thoughts, emotions, and actions. Whether we know it or not, we are constantly being pressured to align ourselves with the patterns of this world. Some of these patterns are innocent, inconsequential, or maybe even good; others are evil and destructive. The Bible speaks to the latter set in no uncertain terms.

Both Peter and Paul instructed their readers not to be conformed—Paul, “to this age” (Rom. 12:2); Peter, “to the desires of your former ignorance” (1 Pet. 1:14). These references are one in the same, for Christians have received the knowledge of God in Jesus and have been called to be different like Jesus (we have been given the Holy Spirit to ensure this result). Keep reading

Photo credit: Pixabay, public domain

John Calvin’s 4 Rules of Prayer


For John Calvin, prayer cannot be accomplished without discipline. He writes, “Unless we fix certain hours in the day for prayer, it easily slips from our memory.” He goes on to prescribe several rules to guide believers in offering effectual, fervent prayer. Keep reading

4 Types of Unconnected People and How to Connect Them


Have you picked up on the fact that unconnected people are different in some ways than connected people? If you have, you are already moving in the right direction. Next, though, you understand there are four main types of unconnected people and how you might connect them depends on improving your understanding of their needs and interests. Keep reading

Photo credit: Pixabay, public domain

Is there a Future for Confessional Anglicanism? Conference Talks Now Online [Audio;PDF]


On Saturday 21st March 2015, the Anglican Church League held the “Is there a Future for Confessional Anglicanism?” conference in the Chapter House of St. Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney.

Those present considered our Anglican inheritance, our current challenges and our potential future under God.

Glenn Davies, Archbishop of Sydney; Ashley Null, authority on Archbishop Thomas Cranmer and the English Reformation; and Mark Thompson, Principal of Moore Theological College, were the speakers.

Listen to talks

Saturday, March 21, 2015

3 Good Reasons to Leave Your Church


On Wednesday I shared “3 Bad Reasons to Leave Your Church.” That sort of piece is common, almost a rite of passage for Christian bloggers these days. As I was brainstorming some blog posts the other day, I realized that I’ve read a bunch of posts on why not to leave your church, but I’ve read very few on reasons why you should leave your church.

Allow me a bit of disclaimer as well: even among these “good” reasons to leave your church—it is my hope, as one who deeply cares about the local church, that even these problems wouldn’t cause you to leave. My hope is that somehow you could work through the problems listed below, stay at your church, and see them through to health and new life. However, not everyone is in a position to enact major change in their churches, so leaving may be the best option, unfortunately.

Here are three good reasons to leave your church.... Keep reading

Photo credit: Pixabay, public domain

Is Corporate Confession of Sin Enough?


“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5:16).
Is corporate confession of sin enough? It is, but it may not be. It all depends on who’s asking. Let me explain.

Corporate confession of sin on the Lord’s Day is a glorious, sin-debilitating means of grace. With solemnity, we confess as one body that we have not done the things that we should have done (sins of omission), and have done the things that we should not have done (sins of commission). Then, with joy, we look away from our past sin and set our gaze on God’s faithfulness to His covenant promises in the gracious work of Jesus Christ—His humble entrance into the world, morally-perfect life, wrath-absorbing death for our sins, victorious resurrection, and ascension to the right hand of the Majesty on high, where He continually and unfailingly intercedes on our behalf. In the assurance of pardon, we receive grace and mercy in time of desperate need from our High Priest through our pastor, as the church is, once again, reminded of our mutual state of dependence on our Triune God and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. There’s no doubt about it. Corporate confession of sin is enough. Keep reading

Photo credit: Pixabay, public domain