Monday, October 16, 2017

Japan Church Opens Doors by Talking About a Personal God


“Have you heard of Jesus?”

“What’s that?”

“He is God.”

“What’s that?”

This actual conversation is typical of ones Pastor Rod Plummer has had in Japan, a country that has one of the lowest percentages of Christians in the world—less than 1 percent. Such numbers may discourage some pastors, but they actually motivated Plummer and his wife, Viv.

“We arrived with a strong vision that God was going to move in Japan,” he says. They had seen God work through church planting in Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia, so in response to God’s call they, along with their two sons and 10 mission interns, left a large, thriving church in their native Australia to plant what is becoming a movement of churches, starting in Tokyo.

“We always had the belief that we’d meet people who are open,” Plummer says. “Jesus said open your eyes and look at the fields because they’re ripe for harvest.” Read More

Can We Talk? The Story of One Texas Church's Road to Evangelism


A gospel-centered church is where the people share the gospel.

We often find that God does his greatest work out of times of difficulty. For me as a pastor, 2013 was a difficult year. Our community was facing rapid demographic changes that were bringing transition to our own church membership. Large numbers of first-generation immigrants were moving to our area, and increasing lostness was apparent. Just a few miles away was a Muslim Prayer Center, where reportedly more than 3,000 worshipers of Allah gathered weekly.

During this time, I felt a strange sense of emptiness in my own role as senior pastor of this historic and strong congregation and a nagging sense of deficiency in how we mobilized our congregation with the gospel. We weren’t actively sharing the gospel and reaching those who might never attend our church. And if we didn’t do it, who would?

That summer, I received an invitation to preach the upcoming Convention Message of the 2014 Southern Baptist Convention in Baltimore. The timing was ironic. As I prayed, I felt the Lord saying to me that he would show me what to preach, but that it wouldn’t simply be another message; rather, it would be a life-altering shift as he said, “You will live this.” I had no idea what this meant.

What happened that year changed my world. God brought great definition and clarity to my role as a leader of our congregation with the central focus of sharing Christ. He moved me to form a plan to equip our people to have gospel conversations. Our congregation responded, and in one year alone we saw over 300 people trained to share the gospel. We did this through a very simple way of sharing Christ called, “Can We Talk?”

We’ve now taken more than 700 people through our six-week equipping. This has resulted in thousands of gospel conversations outside our church walls and many decisions for Christ. Read More

Is It Wrong to Try to Persuade Others to Change Their Beliefs?


Three years ago, I met an Iranian scientist with an incredible brain and a stunning story: He had met Jesus through the disillusionment of the Islamic revolution and the music of J. S. Bach.

In Iran my friend had witnessed the full force of religious coercion, and he’d hated it. He’d converted to a new faith partly as a reaction against that force. He knew religious coercion was wrong, but now a Christian, he was wrestling with this question: Is it wrong to try to persuade someone to change their beliefs?

My scientist friend is an expert in breast cancer diagnostics, so I asked him to imagine a scene. He’s sitting across from a middle-aged woman from a poor educational background. She says she believes she’s not at risk of breast cancer and doesn’t need a mammogram. How should he respond?

We believe in religious freedom. We believe in cultural diversity. We know that persuasion can be coercive or manipulative, and that religious beliefs are deeply personal. All these things make us anxious about sharing our beliefs with others.

While this anxiety should make us careful, there are at least seven reasons why seeking to change a friend’s mind is not only justified, but a vital tenet of life together in a pluralistic society. Read More

The Five Choices of Declining Churches


It’s simple and straightforward.

Leaders of declining churches have five choices.

Let me clarify. In theory, the choices are simple. But putting them to practice is not so easy. So when pastors or other church leaders ask me what they can do about their declining church, I ask them to begin at the high level before looking at a lot of details. One of these five choices must be made. Read More

Sorry, Pastor – Numbers Are NOT People


Church metrics can be helpful. But only if we use them wisely. And hold them lightly.

Numbers matter at our church because every number is a person.

No.

Just... No.

I don’t doubt that most pastors who say that mean it. And they truly do care for people. But numbers are not people and people are not numbers.

Most businesses are figuring this out, so why are huge sections of the church so far behind on it?

At Starbucks, when I stand in line waiting for my coffee, I don’t have to remember a number any more. They may say my name wrong half the time, but even when they call me “Car” (yes, that happened recently) it means they’re trying. A number means they’re not.

Even my phone and TV have figured this out. I don’t dial a number, I say a person’s name. And I have no idea what channel my favorite TV shows are on – if they’re even on a channel. I enter the name of the show into the search bar, and voilà! there it is.

But too many pastors are hanging on to the increasingly antiquated notion that every number is a person and vice versa. Read More
While I agree with Karl Vaters that numbers are not everything, some pastors may develop an unhealthy preoccupation with numbers, and people should always come first, I am also concerned about how we can use the notion that "quality is more important than quantity" to rationalize church stagnation and decline. Are we producing high quality disciples if the disciples we produces do not mix with unchurched people, form relationships with them, share their faith with them, and make disciples of them? The kind of disciples that Jesus produced were disciples who replicated themselves. They made more disciples. Jesus himself sets the standard by which which we should measure the quality of the disciples that we make. Producing self-replicating disciples is not the same as filling the church's worship center so that it is standing room only every Sunday.

Four Implications of Martin Luther’s Theology


What do the sovereignty of God, salvation by grace, justification by faith, and new life in union with Christ mean for the living of the Christian life? For Martin Luther, they carry four implications.... Read More

Bivocational Ministry as an Evangelism Opportunity


One-third of American pastors are bivocational.

One of the most vital yet understudied streams of church ministers is the bivocational pastor. This is that pastor who, either out of necessity or intentionality, works as both the pastor of a local church and in the secular marketplace.

Already, more than one-third of all American pastors are bivocational, and this number will probably grow.

Bivocational ministry offers a great opportunity for evangelism. Bivocational pastors are uniquely positioned to live out their pastoral calling as the lead missionary to their local community. As a well-equipped and gifted emissary of the gospel, these ministers can lead their congregations by demonstrating the power of evangelism to build the local church.

In a mission field that has rapidly become the most unchurched culture in its history, bivocational pastors are on the frontlines of gospel witness.

In focusing on how bivocational pastoring can facilitate effective evangelism, I will first argue that full-time ministry can potentially hamper cultural engagement. In light of these challenges, I will outline the role of bivocational pastors in leading the church into a season of fruitful evangelism. Read More

Image: WikiImages

The Preaching Hangover


You may call it something different, but every pastor knows about it. It is the mental, emotional and spiritual crash that takes place the next day (Monday) as a result of pouring your heart and soul out in the proclamation of God’s word to God’s people the day before.
Personally, it has affectionately become known as “The Preaching Hangover.”
There is no easy remedy, medication or quick fix that can prevent it. There are, however, several practical efforts I make every Monday that are tremendously helpful to fight through the fog. Here are five suggestions for your consideration.... Read More

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Trickle-Down Evangelism

Dry Creek Bed

Are disciples becoming disciple-makers?

The Reagan-era theory of trickle-down economics is hotly contested among pundits who question whether or not the poor are actually helped by benefits given to the wealthy. In theory, various tax cuts and benefits to the rich should trickle-down to the poor and allow for mutual advantage. Feed the cow enough, and eventually the sparrows will find some seeds in the steaming piles it leaves behind.

But does it work? Although I have some opinions, I’ll stay in my lane and leave that question to the economists, and instead ask a parallel question concerning the church.

Does trickle-down evangelism work? If we feed the disciple enough, will he or she become a powerhouse warrior for the Kingdom of God? Read More

God Works Through His Appointed Means

The Holy Table at St. Mark's Anglican Church, Benton, Kentucky

For Martin Luther, the work of Christ came to sinners outwardly in God’s institutions and inwardly by the Holy Spirit and faith. Both the outward and the inward were necessary. Read More

Image: Bella Raj

So WHY Is Your Church Not Attracting New People? Maybe It’s This...


So maybe you wonder why your church isn’t growing, or why it’s not growing faster.

You’re not alone.

The vast majority of churches are plateaued or declining because they can’t effectively reach new people.

The question is: why? And usually, they don’t really know why that is. Read More

More from Carey Nieuwhof:
Carey Nieuwhof On What Churches Need To Do When Christians Are The Minority [Podcast]
When To Panic And When NOT To Panic When People Leave Your Church
5 Things Every Good Leader Knows About Themselves
How To Respond To Critics Like An Emotionally Intelligent Leader Would

Five Questions to Ask at the Two-Year Mark in Your Tenure


I am in the third year of serving as lead pastor at West Bradenton. Thankfully, my first two years were more joy than angst, defined by encouragement and not disillusion. But even in a healthy church, the third year can bring frustration—for both pastor and congregation.

In the first year, the congregation tends to project certain qualities onto the pastor. “He kinda sounds like my pastor from my hometown. I liked him growing up, so maybe they will be similar.” Inevitably, people figure out the new pastor has little in common with their initial projections. By the third year, the vast majority of the congregation is done projecting. People now know the pastor. A shuffling occurs. Some enter the church with excitement because they like the new direction. Others exit with disappointment because the new pastor does not meet their initial projections.

It’s important to note that projections are slightly different than expectations. Projections are the amalgamation of previous perceptions of other individuals cast onto a new person. For example, when you are the new pastor, people will think you look like a previous pastor, talk like another pastor, and lead like the pastor at the church down the road. It’s a common occurrence that is more unconscious than conscious. People in the church inevitably create a picture of you before they even know you. Read More

Live a Life Worthy of Preaching


Do you ever struggle with the blank page in your sermon preparation?

Honestly, most pastors would admit they do.

It gets overwhelming creating fresh material week after week.

Sometimes it’s because we need a better sermon preparation process. And if that’s what you need, you can get that here.

But what if the words aren’t flowing is because you haven’t lived them?

You found a Bible verse to preach, but the verse has yet to be found in you. Read More

The Book of Common Prayer: Its Origin and Growth


"As the light of the sun is to the eye of the body, so is praier to the soul."

T HE gradual collection of Books of Common Prayer and other books related thereto has been one of the avocations of a busy professional life. I am sometimes asked: "But why collect Prayer-Books?" This sketch is my answer to that question.

The English Book of Common Prayer is one of the most interesting and instructive subjects of devotional and historical study. It is the first book, comprising all the offices of the Church and also forms of private devotion, which was established as a complete liturgy by the ad of the state. All previous forms of worship had been promulgated by ecclesiastical authority alone, and had no binding force in the law of the state; but this book was enacted as the only legal form of public worship by a Parliament of the Commons and Lords Spiritual and Temporal and the Crown. Although it was first prepared by the clergy, it was necessarily so framed as to stand the test of legislative debate and meet the approval of the people by their representatives in Parliament; and the legal validity of its use rests solely upon the authority of the act of Parliament. It was also the first complete book of devotions for the clergy and the worshippers in the language of the people, so that it might "be understanded by the people." It was a compromise between conflicting opinions as to religious doctrine and as to forms of worship. This was its strength; for this made it a liturgy established by the consent and authority of the people, for the use of the people, in the common language of the people. It has been twice proscribed by law, all copies of it ordered to be destroyed, and its use in public or private devotions made a crime. But it has, with few substantial alterations, remained unchanged in its original form for three hundred and fifty years. Read More
Josiah Henry Benton, Jr., was the son of a Congregationalist minister. Born in Vermont, he also lived in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. During his life time he was a lawyer, civil servant, and author. After moving to Boston, he became a trustee of the Boston Public Library. He was an avid collector of Prayer Books. From the biographical material that I found on the Internet, I was not able to ascertain if he had any connection with the Protestant Episcopal Church or Anglicanism beyond his love of The Book of Common Prayer. At the time he wrote this history of the Prayer Book, the 1892 Prayer Book was the authorized Prayer Book of the Protestant Episcopal Church.

We Are Equally Sinful. We Are Not All Equally Broken or Toxic.


Admittedly, this post will be as uncomfortable as its title. But, then again, counseling is about very uncomfortable things. The concern I want to discuss is the tendency to assume that biblical principles like those found in I Corinthians 10:13 mean that all our struggles carry the same weight. The unintended consequence can be that abusive relationships receive the same counsel as garden-variety arguments and instances of low impulse control receive the same guidance as manic episodes. Read More

Also See:
Helping Churches to Better Handle Cases of Abuse

Friday, October 13, 2017

Let’s Ask Better Questions About Church Size


Instead of asking “what’s the best church size?” we need to ask “what’s the best church size for a given situation?”

What‘s the best church size?

Many church leaders might argue that, whatever your size, “just a little bigger” would be better.

Many house church attenders would propose that smaller is better.

There are followers of John Wesley’s Rule of 150 who make a good case for the idea that limiting a local church to 150 people is ideal.

I don’t have an answer for that question.

Because I believe the question is flawed.

It’s incomplete at best and absurd at worst. Read More

“Playing the Long Game”: 3 Reasons Learning to be Content Is Critical in Church Planting


Contentment is a required spiritual practice for church planters.

Have you ever heard the phrase, “playing the long game”? My guess is we’ve each heard it thrown around in different venues. The saying is not new. It’s been used to describe throwing the football down the field or driving the golf ball toward the green. Perhaps you’ve heard the saying used to describe a person taking his or her time in pursuing someone for dating or by a certain financial planning firm hoping to drum up more business by sharing how unprepared we are for future retirement.

No matter where we might hear it, the phrase “playing the long game” generally means having a long-term plan, long-term goals, or doing things now that set you up for the future. Most church planters have a clear vision. Whether that is to be a multiplying sending church, a mega-church with big budgets and lots of resources to help advance the gospel, or a neighborhood church shepherding a community, serving and loving them toward gospel transformation, the vision is there.

The question is: When the mission becomes stale, when the money begins to run out and attendance seems to plateau, what will keep us focused on playing the long game? The answer might be in our ability to be content in all circumstances. Read More

Ten Ways to Fund a Church Replant - Revitalize & Replant #004 [Podcast]


Funds are often tight in dying churches. So when you’re replanting, how do you come up with the funds needed to turn things around? Today, we discuss 10 simple ways. Listen Now

Image: K Wolfram

Why do some people love Jesus, but don’t like the Bible?


My wife, Kasi, and I have five children. Our oldest two are both girls, eleven and six, and they both love to play with Play-Doh. They have all the colors and all the tools necessary to mold, shape and build anything their vivid imaginations can come up with. Ok, now for a moment of confession. I love to play with them and create as well. It reminds me of my childhood, but my daughters often will put me in time-out when I mix the colors to create new ones. It’s what I always did as a kid, but they can’t stand it. “Daddy, you’re ruining it!”

The reason we all liked Play-Doh as children is because we believed we could create anything we wanted. We’d mold, shape and bend. Plus, if we didn’t like how it was turning out we could pick everything up, roll it in a ball, and start over.

I believe this is the same reason why so many people love to talk about Jesus, but don’t actually read the Bible. In fact, we’ve all heard people say such things as, “I love Jesus, but I don’t like the Bible. I have a deep respect for Jesus, but I don’t agree with the Bible.” Read More
I don't blame his daughters. Plasticine comes in lovely bright colors. But when you mix the colors together, they become an ugly grey. 

7 Things Your Church Needs From You

The Holy Table at St. Mark's Anglican Church, Benton, Kentucky

Not too long ago I had the opportunity to speak to a gathering of young adults from several churches across our city. I chose to speak about how any Christian (not only young adults) can make a church better and stronger. Here are some of the things I came up with: 7 things your church needs from you.

Your church needs you to.... Read More

Image: Bela Raj

What’s the Purpose of … Baptism?


There is little doubt that the Bible commands Christians to baptize. Yet exactly who should be baptized and under what circumstances is a matter of no little debate. As we progress through this series about things we as Christians often take for granted, we need to ask: What’s the purpose of baptism?

It is important to note that to this point in the series, we have been covering topics for which there is substantial agreement among the majority of Protestants. However, as we turn to issues such as baptism, the Lord’s supper, and the Lord’s day, we come to topics over which there is significant disagreement among Protestants. It is crucial to understand, though, that these are second-order issues. Although they create boundaries between denominations and local congregations, those who disagree on these issues can still recognize one another as true believers in Jesus Christ. I approach this as a baptist who seeks to be consistent with my convictions while also charitable toward those who hold other perspectives. Read More

What Kind of Church Leader Are You?


In order to grow and multiply your church, you have to start with yourself.

I’m not talking about picking up a self-help book to learn how to get your best life now. I’m talking about figuring out why it is that you lead the way that you do.
But Daniel, that means I need to slow down and reflect…I don’t have time for that! Sunday’s coming, and I need to....
Yes I understand that Sunday is coming and that you have things to do! But here’s the thing....

If you don’t take the necessary time to learn why you lead the way you lead, disciple the way you disciple, and teach the way you teach, you will never be able to grow and multiply your church. Read More

Also See:
7 Ways Church Leaders Hurt Themselves
3 Bad Excuses for Avoiding Leadership Development

Shepherding Those Who Don’t Want a Shepherd


There was a man in the church who did not like change. He wore the same suits that he purchased thirty or forty years ago. Even though the jackets were threadbare in places he saw no reason to change them. He was also very vocal about how he disliked these new changes and this new pastor. His friends, equally disgruntled about changes in their lives, frequently came together to dine on pastor potluck. This man did not want any pastor to lead him, but he did need a shepherd to care for him.

In Acts 20:17 – 21:6 Paul is preparing to go to Jerusalem and face resistance. There are some key insights from this passage geared to pastors in all types and sizes of churches to shepherd those who do not want your shepherding. Read More

Shorter Sermons Simply Aren’t Always Better


We live in a time where people are losing their ability to pay attention. The average television show has angle changes every few seconds – or less. People just aren’t able to focus as long as they used to. But then again, maybe that’s all just a load of you know what. Maybe this isn’t the case at all. Maybe we’re just not preaching in a way that is holding people’s attention. Maybe it’s not that they don’t have attention to give, but they just aren’t interested in giving it to something that causes them to daydream about mowing the grass or worse – doing the dishes.

This is what I know: people pay attention to what engages them. And this is only one of the reasons why I believe shorter sermons aren’t always better. Instead of overreacting to the noise about people’s attention span, let’s begin asking 5 different questions to determine how long we should preach a sermon. Read More

image: rookerpreacher.com

Those Whom the Father Seeks


Five Keys to Biblical Worship

The apostle James wrote these hopeful, encouraging words in his epistle: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8). That’s a tremendous promise that many believers sadly forfeit, as the distractions of life cloud our focus on the Lord.

Nowhere does that show up more frequently or vividly than in our worship. Our devotion to the Lord is often the first thing to go when life gets busy and difficult—which is tragically ironic, since that’s when our commitment to God and His Word is most helpful.

Instead, we need to fight against those distractions and keep worship as a perpetual priority in our lives. We need to be willing to sacrifice anything that hinders or impedes our praise to God and our devotion to His truth. As we’ve already seen in this series, God is not interested in halfhearted lip service or ignorant emotionalism. He takes our worship seriously, and we ought to as well. Read More

Uncommon Skills Every Worship Leader Needs To Succeed

What does it take to be a great worship leader?

If I polled pastors and worship leaders across the world, I’m sure we’d see a common thread of common skills necessary to fulfill the role with excellence.

We’d talk about heart and passion. We’d talk about vocal ability. We’d discuss musicality and band leadership. We’d talk about leadership – the ability to lead a team, grow a team, and maintain momentum. We may even agree on discipleship – the ability to reproduce other leaders.

But what if there were other disciplines and skills that sustain a worship leader beyond mere leadership savvy and musical talent? What if there was something deeper than just have a “passion for worship” or a “passion for God?” Read More

The Gettys Share the Power of Song

In evangelical churches, it’s hard to overstate the effect of several hymns by Keith and Kristyn Getty and their writing partner, Stuart Townend. Their song, “In Christ Alone,” which tells the full gospel story, is hugely popular, even though it was written in 2001. It’s not a one-hit wonder, either; the Gettys have since solidified their mark on modern Christian hymnody.

,br/> The Gettys are master songwriters, but their first book isn’t about songwriting. It’s about worship. Sing! How Worship Transforms Your Life, Family, and Church is full of practical insights to make worship both fresh and faithful to the message of Christ. The Gettys aim to get the church to sing the truth, and to sing it as if it were true (98–99). Read More

7 Ways Smartphones Have Changed People at Your Church (And What to Do About it!)


Do you remember the world before the smartphones came and invaded all our spaces?

I have a hard time recalling how we got along before these little rectangles of glass, metal and plastic lodged themselves firmly into our everyday lives.

These devices have had simultaneously a profound and subtle impact on our people. Analogous to shifting sands under our feet, although the change is very minimal and hardly evident at the beginning but over time it becomes increasingly obvious.

I’m not adopting a “technology is bad” point of view in this article. In fact, I’m not taking a “technology is good” point of view either. Rather than debate the value of the smartphone in our people’s lives I’m asking us to consider the impacts these instruments are already having today on our people and suggest ways in which our churches need to respond.

Here are seven ways in which smartphones have already changed your people and what you can do about it. Read More

How (Other) People Change: Walking with Loved Ones Through Five Stages


Am I helping or hurting? Aiding or enabling?

Parents, friends, and church family often find themselves in this precarious position. Someone we know and love is in sin’s grip. We agonize over whether the help we might offer will help them find freedom, or just drive them further away.

We know that love will not allow us to simply ignore the situation. Scripture calls Christians to bear one another’s burdens through the chaos and mess of life, especially the darkest seasons (see Galatians 6:2, Colossians 3:13, 1 Peter 4:10, and others). We are called to do so with caution and care, in such a way that we are not pulled down into temptation ourselves (Galatians 6:1), but also persistently calling others to change (Galatians 6:5).

But what does that mean practically? Can we even tell when our words or actions are likely to help in the fight against sin or unintentionally enable it somehow? Read More

Also See:
The Loving Service of Listening

Donald Trump's Terrible Executive Order on Health Care - FURTHER UPDATES


President Donald Trump is now trying to break the health-care system all by himself, although he has more help than he might acknowledge. On Thursday, Trump launched an assault on Obamacare from two angles. First, the White House staged a signing ceremony for an executive order designed to push people into what are known, accurately, as “junk” insurance plans—the kind, common before the passage of the Affordable Care Act, that never seem to cover people when they are actually sick and that extort and abandon those with preëxisting conditions. Trump, in his remarks at the ceremony, referred to this choice as “fleeing the failing Obamacare plans.” And then, a few hours later, he did more to make Obamacare fail, by saying that he would withhold the cost-sharing subsidies that the government currently pays insurance companies in order to reduce deductibles and co-pays for many low-income people. Companies will undoubtedly respond by leaving the Obamacare exchanges, where such plans are now sold. Both moves had one thing in common: they recklessly target vulnerable Americans. But in doing so, they will, as with so many of Trump’s moves, increase risks for everyone. Read More

Related Article:
New: States have already tried Trump’s health-care order. It went badly.
New: Trumpcare sabotage #1: Trump reneges on Obamacare payments, portending turmoil for consumers and taxpayers
In the first article Amy Davidson Sorkin examines the kinds of risks to which the executive order President Trump signed yesterday exposes the American public. In the second article Mark A. Hall looks at the troubling history of unregulated association plans and the "Kentucky disaster" of the 1990s and the lesson it offers for other states today. In the third article Michael Hiltzik examines the short-term and long-term costs of Trump's actions for the American taxpayer.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Wanted: New Church Methods for New Church People


Changing the world with the Gospel of Jesus is less likely to happen using traditional methods with every passing year.

There’s nothing wrong with traditional methods of doing church. As long as you want to minister to traditional church members.

Traditionalists (whatever your tradition may be) need places to worship, learn and be discipled. Too many of them have felt overlooked, even ridiculed, in recent years as many churches have rushed to make changes.

But.

The traditional church member is dying out.

Literally.

If we truly want to change the world with the Gospel of Jesus, that is less likely to be done using traditional church methods with every passing year. Read More

One-on-One with David Dockery on the Reforming Catholic Confession that Celebrates the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation


Faithful Protestants continue to share many basic Christian beliefs in spite of our very real denominational differences.

Ed: What is the new Reforming Catholic Confession and why was it released at this time?

David Dockery: The Reforming Catholic Confession is a statement released to commemorate and celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. The statement is an attempt to show that Lutherans, Presbyterians, Baptists, Nazarenes, Wesleyans, Anglicans, Anabaptists, Pentecostals, non-denominational evangelicals, and other faithful Protestants continue to share many basic Christian beliefs in spite of our very real denominational differences.

It is a statement that represents both conviction and unity while pointing us toward a shared commitment articulated in the 4th century in the Nicene Creed, which describes the church as “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.”

The statement is a timely one, not only because it coincides with the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, but because it encourages the heirs of the Reformation to emphasize truth and love, holiness and unity.

Ed: People know what the Reformation is, and they know who Catholics are, so why a Reforming Catholic Confession?

David: The Reformation was a call for renewal of the church, for catholic unity grounded in the gospel of Jesus Christ under the authority of Holy Scripture. The word ‘catholic’ is a word that means ‘unity’ or ‘universal’. Many Protestants confess and affirm the Nicene Creed on a regular basis which, as noted earlier, describes the church as “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.” It is important to make a distinction between the universal or catholic (small “c”) church and the Roman Catholic Church.

Some have claimed that this new statement is “catholic, but not Roman.” The desire of those who put this statement together, as well as those from across the numerous Protestant traditions around the globe, is to show that despite our denominational distinctives, distinctions, and differences, which are very real, there is also a substantial doctrinal consensus that unites us as faithful Protestants who are heirs of the shaping vision of the 16th century Reformers. Read More

In a Divided Culture, Church Singing Can Unite and Invite


At a time when everything is a source of a division—when even professional sports have become political lightning rods—how can the Christian church be different? How can we model something radically uniting and inviting to a world going deaf from the cacophony of partisan bickering?

Maybe the answer is closer than we think. Perhaps it’s as simple as recognizing the power of something we do week after week, and committing ourselves to it anew: singing together.

Amid the discordant chorus of voices in our fragmented culture, shouting to be heard and yelling at one another on social media, the church’s voice can sound altogether different: not shouting at one another, but singing to our Savior; not discordant, but with one voice; not for our own grandstanding, but for God’s glory. Read More

Also See:
Porters Gate Worship Project
Retuned Hymnal
Porter's Gate Worship Project: Work Songs

Image from facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/theportersgate/

Welcome Everyone, Affirm No One


The most well-known hymn in America, "Amazing Grace," by the former slaveholder John Newton, contains a line that many people stumble over.
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
that saved a wretch like me!
The hymn may be popular, but the sentiment is not. Few Americans consider themselves "wretches" of moral repugnance and debasement. We like to think of ourselves as basically good, with a few flaws; not fundamentally bad, with few virtues to save us.

Some Christians believe it would be good to remove unnecessary offense by downplaying human sinfulness, but such a move severs the root of what makes grace so powerful. It is precisely because we're bad, not good, that God's love in sending his Son to die for our sins is so significant.

The trouble is, grace is unimaginable in a world where everyone believes grace is deserved. And when grace is transformed into entitlement, the definitions change, for both those inside and outside the church. Read More

Also See:
The Cynic’s Guide to Sin
Two Lesbians Walk Into a Church—Was Jesus Shocked?

Trump’s Expansion of MEWAs Poses Serious Risks for Pastors and Churches - FURTHER UPDATES


The MEWAs Trump is expanding in his latest executive order have a history. According to the government, it is not good one.

President Trump intends to sign an executive order this morning expanding association health plans. But 25 years ago, federal watchdogs concluded that such plans ripped off hundreds of thousands of Americans by refusing to pay their medical claims while violating state insurance laws and even criminal statutes.

Back in 1992, the Government Accountability Office issued a scathing report on these multiple employer welfare arrangements (known as MEWAs; they’re pronounced “mee-wahs”) in which small businesses could pool funds to get the lower-cost insurance typically available only to large employers.

These MEWAs, said the government, left at least 398,000 participants and their beneficiaries with more than $123 million in unpaid claims between January 1988 and June 1991.

Furthermore, states reported massive and widespread problems with MEWAs.More than 600 plans in nearly every U.S. state failed to comply with insurance laws. Thirty-three states said enrollees were sometimes left without health coverage when MEWAs disbanded. Read More

Related Articles:
New: Trump to end key ACA subsidies, a move that will threaten the law’s marketplaces
New: President Trump Is Chipping Away at Obamacare. Here's What He's Doing
New: How Trump's executive order would weaken Obamacare
Trump to Sign Executive Order to Gut ACA Insurance Rules and Undermine Market Places
One option President Trump did not include in his executive order is that he and the Trump Organization will pay the medical expenses of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who discover that their new health care plans do not cover these expenses or refuse to pay their claims.

At his inauguration President Trump swore to uphold the laws of the land, which includes the Affordable Care Act. Isn't his dismantling of that act a violation of the oath that he took? Doesn't it constitute an attempt to change the law by fiat and represent a flagrant violation of the US Constitution - the action of a would-be dictator and not that of an elected president of a constitutional Republic that vests legislative authority not in its head of state but in its Congress? He may be impatient with the democratic legislative process, have made promises to his base, and does not want to lose their support, but that does not justify his actions.

Pew: US Followed Global Trend on Refugees Until Now


Meanwhile, more Christians than Muslims find refuge in America each year.

For the first time in 35 years, the United States will not take in more refugees than the rest of the world combined.

Since 1980, more than 3 million of the world’s refugees have settled in America, according to a new study released today by the Pew Research Center. That’s more than any other country in the world, in terms of resettlement (which is different than hosting people escaping conflict areas, who typically flood neighboring countries but are not officially resettled there).

“In years when more people around the globe are displaced by conflict, violence, or persecution in their countries, the number of refugees resettled by the US has increased,” researchers wrote. “But in the last few years, the number of refugees annually resettled by the US has not consistently grown in step with a worldwide refugee population that has expanded nearly 50 percent since 2013.” Read More

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Six Modern Idols in the Land of the Reformation

Frankfurt

Idolatry, the worship of something or someone as a god, is a practice that dates back to the dawn of human civilization. The urge to revere idols that can be seen, touched, and manipulated is still alive and well in the post-modern world. The Idolatry in the Modern World series explores expressions of idolatry in contemporary cultures around the globe to inspire prayer and engagement with the gospel. Read More

Theologian for the Ages: John Calvin

A Swiss field after the harvest, ready for plowing and planting

John Calvin (1509–1564) is easily the most important Protestant theologian of all time and remains one of the truly great men who have lived. A world-class theologian, a renowned teacher, an ecclesiastical statesman, and a valiant Reformer, Calvin is seen by many as the greatest influence on the church since the first century. Apart from the biblical authors themselves, Calvin stands as the most influential minister of the Word the world has ever seen. Philip Melanchthon revered him as the most able interpreter of Scripture in the church, and therefore labeled him simply “the theologian.” And Charles Spurgeon said that Calvin “propounded truth more clearly than any other man that ever breathed, knew more of Scripture, and explained it more clearly.” Read More

Our Three Neighborhoods

A Paris neighborhood at sunset

I have categorized our neighbors into three relationship groups which I will call neighborhoods. Each neighborhood will be introduced based on its proximity and importance to you. Everyone in your life is equally important to God, but hopefully not everyone is equally important to you, because…well, you’re not God.

We all need a nudge to help us identify who our priorities are. God is not silent or subtle on who deserves our time and attention first. Read More
While Mark Dance's categorization of neighbors into three relationship groups has value, his retelling of the Parable of the Good Samaritan is off. The man who was attacked by robbers, beaten, and left for dead was not a Samaritan. He was a Jew. The man who came to his aid was not a fellow Jew but a Samaritan. The priest and the Levite who did not stop to help him were Jews. Jesus' original audience would not have faulted them for avoiding what they thought was a corpse lying in the road. Touching a corpse would have rendered them ritually unclean and unfit to serve in the Temple.

NOT for Pastors Only


3 Ways to Respond When You Face Personal Rejection in the Church

How can you go on with life without letting enemies, critics or haters get you down? Here are three ways to deal with people who don’t like you. Read More

Seven Common Reasons Pastors Get Cold Feet

When pastors face these new challenges, it is not unusual for some to get cold feet. They decide the pain is not worth the potential gain. They get cold feet and settle for the status quo. Why? Here are seven of the most common reasons. Read More

What to Do If You've Become Hardened in Ministry

Last week, I published a post on “10 Signs You’re Getting Hardened in Ministry.” In response, readers asked my thoughts on what to do if they saw themselves in that list. Here are some of my suggestions if you want to soften your heart again toward ministry. Read More

What’s Plaguing Pastors?

It is good to remember that the month of October is Pastor Appreciation Month. We all should understand the unique challenges pastors face as we pray for them with a firm hope in God’s power to strengthen and sustain them. While some ministry landmines have been constant for millennia, the current technological age has accentuated certain vulnerabilities. Four specific “plagues” of modern-day ministry came to mind this week. A “plague” can be defined as “something which causes continual trouble or distress.” Read More

8 Questions to Help You Understand and Apply the Bible


Sometimes the most important things in the Christian life can be the most difficult.

That can certainly be true of understanding and applying the Bible.

As believers we know that reading Scripture is essential to following Jesus. But if we’re honest, we often find it difficult to understand and apply. The Bible talks about so many different things; how do we know what to focus on? It’s set in a world very different from ours; how do we apply it to our lives today?

One simple and effective tool is asking good questions. The questions we ask when we read the Bible largely determine how we understand and apply the Bible. So we need to make sure we are asking the right questions, the kind of questions the Bible was designed to answer. But how do we know what those questions are?
The questions we ask when we read the Bible largely determine how we understand and apply the Bible.
The Bible is first and foremost a story about God displaying his glory through creating and redeeming humans. It makes sense, then, that the Bible is designed to answer questions connected to this central theme. Jesus confirms this dual focus on God and humanity. When asked what the greatest commandment is, he replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt 22:37). But Jesus wasn’t done. He continued, “And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:39). Love God. Love others. This is the heart of what God wants from his people.

Based on this foundation, there are four questions for understanding any passage, and four questions for applying any passage. Read More
This is a good article to share with the members of your congregation or small group.

6 Habits Every Aspiring Missionary Needs Today

Liverpool

I will never forget the time as a teenager when I first told my parents that I felt called to missions. Their response was both encouraging and measured. They expressed initial happiness but also cautioned with the words, “Let’s wait and see.”

Years later, now as a former missionary, people will occasionally share with me their own desire to serve overseas. They sense that God is calling them into ministry and wonder what they should do next. In many ways, I want to respond like my parents, affirming such a wonderful calling while also tempering their excitement. I also want to give some practical advice.

What follows is my general counsel for prospective missionaries. More could be said, to be sure, with specificity depending on the situation. But these suggested first steps represent a broad perspective, with a clarity that comes from both mistakes made and lessons learned. Read More

Catching Some Z's


In his introduction to Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World (BakerBooks), James Emery White writes that Z’s “will be the most religious force in the West and the heart of the missional challenge facing the church.”

Like the baby boomers, Generation X, and millennials before them, Gen Z’s have their own ways of seeing the world—even if it is primarily through that little glowing screen. And, as always, parents and pastors must know their audience.

“We have to be students of the culture,” says Jim Burns, executive director of the HomeWord Center for Youth and Family at Azusa Pacific University. “We have to look at who and what is affecting their generation. And it’s complicated.” Read More
The research that I've read is that the human brain is not capable of "multitasking," that is, performing several tasks simultaneously. Rather it performs tasks in succession. What appears to be "multitasking" is actually switching back and forth between a cluster of tasks in rapid succession. This would suggest that Genertion Z is simply adept at rapidly switching from task to task. No one to my knowledge has studied this phenomena in depth ( and I don't claim to be up on the latest research) but it would raise questions as whether each task receives the so-called "multi-tasker"'s fullest attention. Considering the number of Generation Z students at my university who come very close to colliding with me because they were so absorbed in that little glowing screen in the palm of their hand while they walked across campus and the handful who have collided with me, I apt to wonder.

Another question which may purely academic is how well does this generation cope when they do not have access to their smart phones, tablets, and laptops?

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Reformation Women: Katharina Schutz Zell

Strasbourg

Huldrych Zwingli praised Matthew Zell’s wife, Katharina, saying, “She combines the graces of both Mary and Martha.” Intense and capable, Katharina became the early Reformation’s leading female author. Sometimes called the “Mother Reformer,” she spent herself in gospel service.

Born in 1497 in Strasbourg to a middle-class family, Katharina received a good education. She developed a deep religious zeal while young but struggled with assurance of her salvation, feeling that her deeds were never enough. But in her late teens, new doctrines came through town. Around 1518, Matthew Zell arrived, preaching the gospel to crowds in the cathedral. Biblical truth turned the city largely to Protestantism.1 In the congregation, Zell’s future wife accepted Scripture’s truth. Katharina’s search for spiritual security was gone—assurance of salvation came with an understanding of Christ’s finished work. Read More

Three Questions To Improve Your Self-Awareness


We have all met people who are not very self-aware. We see their flaws and short-comings clearly, but they do not seem to see them at all. Self-awareness is not an attractive, get-you-fired-up topic, yet it is vital to fruitful leadership. If you are not self-aware, it can cost dearly in pastoral ministry.

Here are three questions that can improve your self-awareness. Read More

4 Practices to Regain Your Passion for Ministry


Think of your first opportunity in ministry: You were fired up, enthusiastic and ready to take on the world. We all start ministry that way, or close to it. After all, you said yes to God and yes to a leader who invited you on the team. Even if you were a little nervous or unsure, you were in.

Even with a great start, it’s surprisingly easy for your passion for ministry to fade. It can become commonplace and routine. It’s not unusual for a leader to slide into a comfort zone and not realize it. This often leads to maintaining the status quo and complacency. In time, this skews your perspective, and eventually your heart is no longer on fire to serve.

Long ago we used to say, “Fan the flame of your calling.” Those are old-fashioned words, but the meaning is still substantial. If you don’t tend to the fire, it will go out. That’s just a fact of leadership and ministry life. Just like a campfire will soon go to embers, fade and go out, your passion will dwindle without new fuel and intentional cultivation.

Here are four practices to keep your passion high. Read More

Why We Must Open to Different Styles of Music

A djembe, a percussion instrument from Africa

This past weekend, I had the privilege of worshipping at a gathering of many churches from one area (in my denomination, an “associational” meeting). During that meeting, several worship teams—all using different styles, and some in a different language—led us in worship. Since then, I’ve thought about why we must be open to different styles, regardless of our worship style preferences. Read More

A Three-Step Strategy for Fighting Sin


As you come to know God better, you will become more aware of your sin.

Suppose you go to the movies. While you are watching the film, you work your way through a bucket of popcorn drizzled with melted butter. When you come out, you realize that there are butter stains on your shirt. You didn’t see that in the theater because it was dark there. But when you come into the light, you see it.

Similarly, when you come into God’s light, you will see sin that you did not see before. And you will want to fight it.

The following is a three-step strategy for fighting sin and prevailing over it in your Christian life. Read More

Study: Anti-Christian Bias Hasn’t Grown. It’s Just Gotten Richer.


New research nuances the American church’s “persecution complex.”

While conservative Christians have long complained about worsening societal hostility and persecution for their beliefs, there’s been little empirical evidence to gauge such claims—until now.

Sociologist George Yancey analyzed 30-plus years of data to track approval ratings for evangelical and fundamentalist Christians. His big takeaway: What has changed is not the number of Americans who dislike conservative Christians, but which Americans. Read More

Monday, October 09, 2017

Why We Can’t Afford To Be Dismissive Toward Small Churches


The micro half of the body of Christ must be as fully encouraged, resourced and engaged as the macro half.

If ninety percent of churches were big and ten percent were small, it would be reasonable to dismiss small churches as being broken.

Irrelevant.

Lazy.

But the opposite is the case. Ninety percent of churches are small, while only ten percent are medium-sized, large and mega combined. That makes it harder to be dismissive of the ninety percent. Or the ten.

Yet we do that. Often unintentionally, but we do it.

And it’s not like those percentages are either a localized or recent phenomenon. Historically, 90 percent of churches have always been small. And they still are today, in virtually every region of the world.

Whether the church is strong or weak, in revival or decline, growing or shrinking, the normal state for most congregations at every time in history and in every region of the world is smallness. Read More

Amandus Polanus on the Church’s Role in Interpreting Scripture (1)

Basel Munster

Sola Scriptura is one of the slogans that have come to be attached to the Protestant Reformation.While the so-called five solas, as descriptive terms of Protestant theology, originated long after the sixteenth-century, they capture well some of the primary emphases of Protestant thought as they relate to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Reformed authors, in particular, treated Scripture as the cognitive foundation of the knowledge of God for redeemed sinners. The Spirit of God working by and through the written and preached Word produced the true knowledge of God through his Son Jesus Christ. Among other things, these ideas require that Scripture possess divine authority, that it be sufficient for faith and practice (2 Tim. 3:15-17), and that its primary message be clear (perspicuous). Scripture possesses divine authority as the very Word of God. Scripture is all that the believer needs to become wise for salvation through faith in Christ as well. Scripture is able to make believers complete by furnishing them with all they need for every good work (1 Tim. 3:15-17). Yet if Scripture is not clear on these points, then it will remain a closed book to all who read it.

The clarity, or perspicuity, of Scripture became one of the main points of debate between Protestants and Roman Catholics in the Reformation and Post-Reformation periods. Roman Catholic authors denied the perspicuity of Scripture. They appealed to the magisterium of the Church to provide authoritative interpretations of the Scriptures in light of church tradition. Protestants, by contrast, argued that was inherently clear because Scripture is profitable and sufficient for the ends that Scripture assigns to itself. Scripture authority and sufficiency both supposed and demanded perspicuity. Read More
A historical note. Puritanism began as theological movement within Anglicanism. Among the leading Anglicans of the seventeenth century who were also Puritans was Bishop James Ussher, Archbishop of Amargh. While some Puritans were ejected from the Church of England at the Restoration; others conformed to the Prayer Book and retained their livings. Bishop Edward Reynolds, Bishop of Norwich, who composed the General Thanksgiving, like Bishop Ussher, was a Puritan. As Anglican theologian J.I. Packer has written. Anglicans can learn a lot from the Puritans. We should not shy away from web sites that are devoted to the writings of the Puritans as if reading their writings was in some way un-Anglican. It must be remembered that historic Anglicanism, the Anglicanism of The Book of Common Prayer of 1662, the Articles of Religion of 1571, the Larger Catechism of Alexander Nowell, and the two Books of Homilies, is Reformed in its theological outlook and is a part of the greater Reformed tradition.

Sanctification — belonging, not behaving


We get the word sanctify by glueing two little Latin words together: sanctus (which means holy) and fiacre (which means to make). Therefore, to be sanctified is to be made holy and sanctification is the gradual ‘holy-fying’ that takes place in a believer’s life from the very first moments of regeneration. The Westminster Shorter Catechism calls it ‘the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness’. You and I might call it ‘holistic upcycling’, as dark habits are broken, sinful patterns are corrected, and lives are remade to the image of Christ by the power of God’s Spirit.

However, sanctification is much bigger than simply becoming more like Jesus. As glorious as that is, sanctification is God’s planned cosmic restoration happening before our very eyes. Ever since Adam rebelled, the world and its people were plunged into ruin. Throughout the Bible story, our God promises a renewed earth, decisively rid of grief and death. This hope is made certain through Christ’s death and resurrection and will be seen when Christ returns to reign. In the meantime, however, we glimpse his new creation in the church. Have you known a brother live more peaceably or behave more gently or kindly? Behold what God is doing! He’s making all things new (Rev. 21:5). Read More