Saturday, May 19, 2018

Why the Rural Church Matters

The farm that I was raised on was five miles from the nearest small village. The town itself had a population of ninety people, with two gas stations, two bars, two sawmills, a small mom-and-pop grocery store, and one church.

The bars and gas stations have since closed, the sawmills have been swallowed up by large mills, and the grocery store struggles to exist as a small mini-mart. But the church remains.

Within the surrounding community and farmland, there were two other churches, a Free Methodist church connected to a local church camp and the Catholic Church started by Father Pieree-Jean De Smet. The next closest church was twenty miles away in another valley.

The church was more than a church for the forty to sixty people who met each week. It was regarded by many to be “their church” even though they never attended. As is often the case in rural communities, people are religious and will identify with a church in the community even though they may never attend. For them, the presence of the church is a part of the community identity. Read More

The Lord of the Millennial Dinner Party Feasts

From my seat at the head of the table, I take it all in: the colorful dishes of food that took way too long to prepare, the long-stem glasses of Merlot, friends laughing at each other’s stories as they eat. And, finally, my eyes meet my husband’s. Sitting a few seats away, we shoot each other a knowing look that says, “This is it. This is what it means to feel at home.”

Austin and I love hosting dinner parties. Like so many of our fellow Millennials, dinner parties have become a savored and ceremonial experience, and we are glad to find the practice making a comeback in our generation. Millennials, more than our parents’ generation, are setting tables for 10 with such force that it is changing the housing market and re-centering the kitchen and formal dining room as the heart of the home. Real estate agents are encouraged to show Millennials open-concept kitchen and living spaces that allow ample room for hosting groups of friends, dedicated bar space for mixing drinks Mad Men style, and efficiently placed appliances that allow us to cook multi-course meals for our guests.

And this generational shift isn’t just showing up in the housing market, but in the grocery store as well. Millennials, our parents might be surprised to find, are learning to cook—and we’re getting pretty good at it. In fact, Millennials are twice as likely to resolve to cook at home as our parents’ generation and find particular affinity for cooking with, and for, friends. Sure, we might eat a box of organic mac and cheese on any given Tuesday, but we pull out all the stops for a dinner party, pouring quality wine or mixing craft cocktails for the friends around our tables as an expression of generosity. Read More

Pastors Should Have Fun Hanging Out with Church Members

Memorable moments happen in real time and at ground level. When you talk to long-time church members about a deep love for their pastor, they speak of presence—the times when the pastor was there. Why do you love your pastor? Nobody answers the question, “Stage presence” or “social media following” or “writing ability” or “leadership acumen.” Most often, church members answer with a personal anecdote of when the pastor was simply there, present in real time and at ground level.

When you live out the Great Commission, you must enter into the lives of people. Pastors must be among those they shepherd. Far too often, church leadership is made overly complex with vision, systems, structure, and programming. These items are necessary but lack the personal connection of a leader in the flesh. Most church members just want to know if their pastor cares enough to be there.

Granted, no pastor is omnipresent, and churches are guilty of placing too great a burden on their pastors’ constant presence. Neediness is not a spiritual gift we should encourage in the church. However, what’s often missing in the disconnect between pastors and church members is something quite simple—fun.

Pastors and church members should have fun together, hanging out and enjoying the presence of each other. Hanging out is uncomplicated. The main requirement is time. When personal agendas are tossed aside, the time becomes fun. Read More

How Do I Know If a Sermon Is Too Long or Too Short? [Podcast; Transcript]

We finish the week of episodes on preaching with another question from a seasoned preacher who wishes to remain nameless. It’s a question a lot of people I think want to ask you, and I’m surprised we haven’t gotten around to it yet. Here it is: “Pastor John, can a sermon be too short or too long? How can we know the ideal sermon length? Is there a one-length for all? Should some be shorter or longer? If so, when?”

No, there is no one length for a sermon that’s ideal for every situation. Yes, some sermons should be shorter and some longer. Yes, it is possible that a sermon be too long or too short. Those are my answers. Now, let me give some factors that we should just take into consideration when we’re pondering how long we should preach. Listen to Podcast or Read Transcript

How Did We Get the Old Testament?

The Old Testament is thousands of years old, and contains accounts stretching back to the beginning of time. This ancient collection of books provides the foundation of both Judaism and Christianity.

So where did it come from? How did these age-old traditions, stories, and commandments make their way to modern times? These are important questions.

John Walton and Andrew Hill answer these questions in their Old Testament Survey online course. The following post is adapted from their unit on the background, history, archaeology, and formation of the Old Testament. Read More

To Follow Jesus Is to Be Sent

Our God is a sending God. He sent his best into the world to save us. Jesus is referred to as “sent” forty-four times in the New Testament. And after his resurrection, Jesus passed his identity on to his disciples: “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (John 20:21 ESV).

To follow Jesus is to be sent.

Jesus’s command to every disciple is to “go” (Matt. 28:19). We may not all go overseas, but we’re all to go. This means that if you’re not going, you’re not a disciple. And, church leader, if the people in our churches aren’t “going,” we aren’t doing our jobs. A church leader can have a large church with thousands of people attending, but if people aren’t going from it “outside the camp” (Heb. 13:13) to pursue the mission and call of Christ, those leaders are delinquent in their duty. Read More

Friday, May 18, 2018

What You Need to Know to Pastor a Rural Church

Pastors of rural churches must be aware of the cultural values and concerns of the community. Here are things to consider. Read More
Excerpted from 'The Forgotten Church' By Glenn Daman

In Addition To "Why Is Your Church So Small?" We Need To Ask “Why Do We Want It To Be Big?”

As hard as we work to grow bigger, how many of us stop to ask the essential question “what are the advantages of bigness?”

By far, the most common question I’m asked about small church ministry is “if your church is healthy, why is it so small?”

It’s a valid question, for sure. And one that I’ve answered in several previous blog posts, including these:
Recently I’ve started responding with a question of my own. Namely, in addition to asking small church pastors “why is your church so small?” shouldn’t we also be asking pastors of larger churches “why is your church so big?”

After all, none of them became big without working extremely hard at it.

Certainly, we often ask “how did your church get so big?” That’s why there are so many books, blogs, podcasts and seminars dedicated to breaking growth barriers, getting unstuck, and so on.

But it’s always a question about how to duplicate that numerical increase, not about the value of bigness itself. Read More

Also See:
The Church Is Small—So What?

What Is the Mission of the Church?

The word mission is not a biblical word, so we must define what we mean when we talk about a mission.

The word mission comes from the Latin words mitto (to send) and missio (sending). So mission implies that someone has sent something to accomplish a task. In other words, God has sent the church to accomplish a task.

So perhaps a better way to reframe this question is what has God sent the church to accomplish? While there may be many good things the church could do, what is the primary thing that God has sent us to do? Read More

Christians More Intentional, Less Evangelistic Since 1993

In 1993, online ads began appearing on the World Wide Web, Jurassic Park debuted in theaters, and many Christians were apprehensive about sharing their faith. Twenty-five years later, not much has changed.

According to a new study from Barna, compared to 25 years ago, Christians today say they try to be more intentional about sharing their faith, but fewer say evangelism is the responsibility of every believer. Read More

 Also See: 
Sharing Faith Is Increasingly Optional to Christians

Episcopal Church Dumps ‘Husband and Wife’ For ‘Two People’

In an effort to become more gay-friendly, the Episcopal Church in the United States has decided to scrub the words “husband” and “wife” from Episcopal wedding ceremonies.

The changes to the denomination’s revered Book of Common Prayer removes the phrase “the union of husband and wife” and replaces it with “the union of two people”, and replaces the section which talks about part of God’s intention for marriage being “for the procreation of children” with the phrase “for the gift of children” to make it more acceptable to same-sex couples who may wish to adopt.

Couples will still be able to opt for the traditional “husband” and “wife” when making their vows, but this will not be included in the standardized version. Read More
This is not an unexpected development. The Episcopal Church has been moving in this direction for the past 20 years if not longer. Members of the LGBT community and progressive Christians in the Episcopal Church have worked to make the denomination not only welcoming of members of the LGBT community but also affirming of their lifestyle choices, resulting in all kinds of negative repercussions, including a steady decline in church membership. This decline cannot be accounted for by demographic shifts or the disappearance of nominal Christians from American churches. Even the change in attitudes of younger Americans toward the LGBT community has not helped the Episcopal Church to reverse its decline. 

Why the Decline of Protestantism May Be Good News for Christians

In 1971, only 5 percent of Americans claimed no religious affiliation. In fact, until 1993 the nones never composed more than 8 percent of the population. But something has changed to cause a rapid increase in the abandonment of religion.

“The growing ranks of religiously unaffiliated Americans have been fed by striking simultaneous losses among white Christian groups,” says Robert P. Jones, PRRI CEO and author of The End of White Christian America. “The religiously unaffiliated now outnumber Catholics, white mainline Protestants, and white evangelical Protestants, and their growth has been a key factor in the transformation of the country over the last decade from a majority white Christian nation to a minority white Christian nation.”

What are we to make of this decline? Perhaps we should rejoice. Read More

A Field Guide to Atheism—for Believer and Unbeliever Alike

Imagine a conversation in which a well-meaning skeptic tries to deconvert you from Christianity by debunking the prosperity gospel. They marshal their evidence, tell some stories that horrify you as much as them, quote the most egregious theological howlers you’ve ever heard, and then conclude that the message of Jesus can’t possibly be true. If you’ve ever had such an experience—and pastors of charismatic churches, like me, do occasionally—you’ll know how frustrating it is. Everything in you wants to reply: I don’t hold to that type of Christianity either. I probably disagree with it more than you do.

Now imagine a second scenario. You’re an atheist, and you have the same problem. A well-meaning Christian tries to convert you to Christianity by debunking the “new atheism.” They go into great detail about how Richard Dawkins is historically ignorant, Sam Harris morally incontinent, and Christopher Hitchens logically incoherent—and then conclude that atheism can’t be true. And you’re sitting there thinking, I don’t hold to that type of atheism either. I probably disagree with it more than you do.

John Gray—the veteran British philosopher, intellectual historian, and book reviewer—has no intention of converting anybody. But his Seven Types of Atheism is a searching and helpful taxonomy of unbelief ancient and modern, and it has the potential to make the second of these two scenarios disappear altogether. By carefully disentangling the different ways atheism works, and the different reasons why people find it compelling, he has done a great service not just for atheists who want to be understood but also for Christians who want to understand. Read More

Friday's Catch: "How We Should (and Shouldn’t) Relate to Islam " and More

How We Should (and Shouldn’t) Relate to Islam [Podcast]

Zane Pratt on Protestants and Muslims. Listen Now

Ready for Ramadan: Why Christians Worldwide Will Join Muslims to Pray for Next 30 Days

The Ramadan season of fasting and prayer for millions of Muslims around the globe started Tuesday night, but Muslims won't be the only ones praying. Read More

Ramadan 2018: When Does It Start, and Why Do Muslims Observe It?

Ramadan is a time for spiritual reflection, studying the Quran, acts of charity and spending time with loved ones. Here are six things you should know about it. Read More

Raising the Bar for Volunteers

The level of commitment and accountability for a school sports team is often higher than that of church volunteers. Why? Read More

Should I Always Preach through Books of the Bible?

Jay Thomas weighs the assets of preaching serially through whole books of the Bible against its liabilities. Read More

Three Reasons Why We Can Trust the Old Testament

In this article Wyatt Graham counters the arguments of Christian leaders like Andy Stanley, Greg Boyd, and Bruxy Cavey depreciating the value of the Old Testament. Read More

How to Stand With Jesus in the Messy Middle

It’s not easy to take the middle ground on polarizing issues, but it opens the door for the kind of conversations Christ modeled. Read More

This Church Is Spreading the Gospel With Food

The Vineyard Ministries in Hampton, Virginia has opened a non-profit grocery store. Originally intended to help its members, last year the church opened the store to all people in their community. So far the store has helped 10,000 families. Read More
Many neighborhoods particularly in the inner city would greatly benefit from a non-profit grocery store like the one described in this article. One of the reasons for the high levels of food insecurity in inner city neighborhoods is not only the low incomes of its residents but the lack of stores where its residents may buy reasonably-priced, healthy, nutritious food, enabling them to stretch their food dollars and SNAP (food stamp) benefits further.
3 Tips for Sharing Your Faith in a Natural Way[Video]

At Katoomba Easter Convention, public evangelist Sam Chan shares three good tips on evangelism. Watch Now

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Small Church America—Revisited

How Pastor Karl Vaters lost his grasshopper complex and discovered, no one loses when the kingdom advances.

A year or so before Karl Vaters’ meltdown, 650 people attended the Easter service at the Southern California church he pastors. At long last, he believed, success was headed Cornerstone Church’s way.

More than a decade earlier, in December 1992, Vaters moved his family from a small city just north of San Francisco to Orange County to take the reins of a church of less than 30, which had burned through five pastors in 10 years.

He arrived without pretension. He understood the church would take years to heal.

At the same time, saturated in church growth strategy, Vaters couldn’t help but see the potential. Within 45 miles of their new home bloomed massive congregations—Saddleback, Crystal Cathedral and Calvary Chapel, giants of number and legend.

Having labored over a decade with little or no growth, Vaters had seen an increase in church attendance from 200 to 400 in the 18 months previous to the Easter service.

But in less time than it took to double in size, the church tanked.

And so did Vaters.

In January 2006, speaking to his church of fewer than 100 people, he announced he would be absent for 40 days. Later that same Sunday, without a reason, he fired the music pastor, then disappeared into a deep funk. Read More

How to Measure Your Church’s Reach

“Measurement is fabulous. Unless you’re busy measuring what’s easy to measure, as opposed to what’s important.” —Seth Godin

When it comes to “keeping score,” churches in North America have typically focused on three metrics: buildings, budgets and butts. While there is nothing inherently wrong with counting each of these things, we do need to ask if keeping score of how big our buildings are, how much money people give and how many people show up when we meet is the best indicator of how a church is doing.

The fact is, these three metrics really give us no real sense of the influence a church is having on its community. Does the number of people who attend a Sunday morning gathering give you any indication of the impact the church is having on individual neighborhoods or the city? The answer has to be a resounding “No!” There is no correlation between the number of people who show up for an event and the difference those people are having where they live. The same is true with how much money people give to the church, and how large a church’s buildings are. The reason we “count” those three things is because they are easy to count. But we must be challenged not to count what is easy, but instead measure what is important. Read More

The Mixed Motives Behind Church Growth

I love large churches. I was a pastor at a church that grew from around 500 to around 900—which, though it's about the size of the creche in a megachurch, is fairly large in a UK context—and the church I’m at now had 1550 there three days ago, with a fourth site launching in October. Much of my day job involves helping my church, and often other churches, grow. Many of my friends lead large churches. Many of the people who have influenced me the most lead large churches. I go to several leadership conferences every year, and I learn something about growing churches from virtually all of them. I run a training course for leaders that aims to help people grow churches. I mention all this to say: yes, there are theologians out there who think that large churches are a bad idea and we should have nothing to do with them, but I'm not one of them.

Lately, though, I have become increasingly aware of the mixed motives behind church growth. This might sound like a sinister remark, although I certainly don’t mean it as one. But I think it is true: there are various reasons why we want our churches to grow, and some of them are wonderful, but not all of them are. And I think self-awareness and honesty on that point are probably helpful.

Here are ten that I can think of.... Read More

Seven Biggest Surprises of Church Revitalizers and Church Replanters - Revitalize & Replant #041

Church leadership can be surprising—especially in revitalization or replanting efforts. Today Thom Rainer and Jonathan Howe discuss some of the surprises we’ve heard and how to work through them. Listen Now

Social Media in a Replant: Five Pointers

In days gone by, the church with the highest steeple in town would receive the most visits from newcomers. Today, most people find a church by first visiting that church online. The online presence of a church is experienced two ways: the website and the church’s social media presence.

This post is not about your website, but for a brief pointer let me just say: Build your website for the visitor who is not currently attending your church. Ensure that service times and location are prominent. Post recent sermons and links to the leaders. It is good to have a biography of the pastor, with pictures of him and his family. All this means you don’t need a bunch of event details, like committee meetings or the deacon of the week, on your website.

Social media is a little more complicated, but almost any church can do it effectively. Here are a five pointers.... Read More

4 Possible Reasons Some Pastors Struggle Financially

Of the more than 700 pastors’ spouses surveyed in a recent LifeWay research project, more than half expressed that their income from the church is insufficient, and more than two-thirds are concerned they do not have enough saved for retirement. Why is this? Why do so many families in local church ministry struggle financially?

While there are likely many reasons, I want to offer four possibilities—three of which place responsibility on the church for not providing enough support and one that places responsibility on the pastor for not being a wise steward. In my more than twenty years of serving in local church ministry and working alongside pastors and churches, I have seen all four reasons at play. Read More

7 Very Possible Reasons You’re Losing Your Audience When You Speak

If there’s one thing you never set out to be as a leader or communicator, it’s to lose the audience.

And yet everyone who communicates, preaches or even tries to persuade someone of an idea has discovered that sinking sense that you’ve lost them. You’re just not connecting and you have no idea why.

How exactly does that happen?

I’ve been communicating professionally since I was 16 years old in radio, law and for the last two and a half decades, preaching and speaking, and over the years have become a student of what engages people and what doesn’t.

I learned the principles below because at one point or another, I violated all of them.

Here are 7 factors that disengage an audience that are so easy to miss if you’re not looking for them. Read More

When Your Congregation Isn’t Singing: 15 Questions

Every worship leader has the experience from time to time of a service that just seems to fall flat. The songs didn’t work, or the musicians didn’t gel, or the technology didn’t cooperate, or the congregation didn’t respond. Whatever the reason(s), even in the most passionate of congregations, there are times when the singing isn’t exactly robust.

But when that’s the regular pattern, and when the congregational singing is consistently paltry, what is a worship leader to do? I would suggest that if a worship leader is observing (over a period of months or years) his or her congregation isn’t singing, that some difficult questions need to be honestly asked and answered.

In no particular order of importance, here are 15 questions a worship leader (and his or her pastor) should consider.... Read More

Also See:
3 Mistakes Every Worship Leader Should Avoid
Congregational Singing Dysfunction: 4 Ways to Fix It
Many of the observations that Jamie Brown makes and the pointers that he gives are applicable to traditional churches in which the organ accompanies the congregational singing and the choir leads it. The organist can play too loud. The hymns can be selected without consideration of the voice range of the average congregational singer. The congregation can be given insufficient time to learn and master new hymns. And so on.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Why Is Our Church Stagnating, and What Do We Do?

Making sure your church is a loving, welcoming environment that genuinely seeks to share the gospel is a great way to address stagnation and to actively pursue growth.

When we hear the term “stagnating,” it likely elicits a response from us of something unhealthy and functioning poorly. Although it is sometimes the case that something stagnates for bad reasons, it is also true that stagnation is not necessarily a bad thing, depending on what we are talking about. When it comes to churches, there can be many reasons for a church to stagnate. Not all of them are bad, and not all are under the church’s control.

Let me share four scenarios, and where we go from here. Read More
"Third, sometimes churches are stagnant before of the 'faithful remnant' mindset" should read "Third, sometimes churches are stagnant because of the 'faithful remnant' mindset."
Image: St Thomas Episcopal Church (Armenia Union, NY), Daniel Case, CC BY-SA 3.0

The 10 Commandments of Progressive Christianity #3: Are Christians Too Judgmental?

I’ve been working my way through a series entitled “The 10 Commandments of Progressive Christianity.” It’s an examination of 10 core tenets of progressive (or liberal) Christianity offered by Richard Rohr, but really based on the book by Philip Gulley.

Now we come to the third commandment: “The work of reconciliation should be valued over making judgments.”

Gulley is concerned here with broken or estranged human relationships. The church should do more to repair/restore these relationships, but is too busy condemning people’s behavior. Christians need to stop judging and start helping.

Now, we can begin by acknowledging that the goal here is commendable. Bringing reconciliation to broken human relationships is a fundamental biblical value. The Bible has much to say on topics like forgiving one another (Luke 17:4) , being reconciled to one another (Matt 5:24; Acts 7:26), husbands and wives reconciling (1 Cor 7:11), and the removal of hostility between groups (Eph 2:16).

So, Gulley is correct that horizontal reconciliation between humans is an important aspect of Christianity.

The problem, though, is how Gulley thinks that reconciliation is best achieved. And it is here that Gulley takes a biblical value and puts a decidedly progressive/liberal spin on it. Reconciliation between humans is best achieved, he argues, when the church is less concerned with “making judgments.” Read More

Southern Christianity Is Bigger Than the Bible Belt

A scholar’s journey through the region reveals much more than Baptists and church barbecues.

In the spring of 2008, my wife and I loaded up a truck and moved to Tennessee, where I’d taken a job as the religion writer at a newspaper in Nashville. I’ve spent the decade since then covering religion in the South, first at the paper and later as a magazine writer and freelancer.

I thought I understood how things work here. But I was mistaken. A new book from Vanderbilt Divinity School professor James Hudnut-Beumler, Strangers and Friends at the Welcome Table, helps explain why.

Based on a lifetime’s worth of work—Hudnut-Beumler grew up visiting his mom’s relatives in Appalachia—the book winds its way from a slave cabin in Spring Hill, Tennessee (about five minutes from my house), to the storm-ravaged neighborhoods of New Orleans; from a Catholic monastery in the sticks of Alabama to the headquarters of the Sons of the Confederacy.

Along the way, we see the many splendors and the deep flaws of Southern religion. It’s a place where faith is always personal, where everyone knows your name, and where the Bible shapes everything. At the heart of this new book is the question of Southern hospitality. Who is able to “sit at the welcome table,” in the words of the old spiritual? Who is turned away? And why is the South—a place of such kindness—so divided and inhospitable at times?

Hudnut-Beumler answers these questions and more in a book that’s part pilgrimage, part history lesson, and part celebration of the many versions of Christianity in the South. He writes with grace about almost everyone he meets. At one point, he visits a table at a homeschooling convention that features tips on “food security”—how to plant your own garden and raise your own crops. An inferior writer might have mocked these people. Instead, he sees echoes of Wendell Berry in their desire to reconnect to the land. Still, Hudnut-Beumler doesn’t shy away from the deep divides and sins of Southern Christians. Read More

The Two Biggest Mistakes Churches Make With Money

The answer to bad stewardship isn’t more money or more faith. It’s better stewardship.

There are two equal, but opposite mistakes churches regularly make regarding money.

Especially for smaller churches, these are the main ways that finances (or lack of them) stop us from doing the ministry we’re called to do. Read More

3 Things Your Calling Is Not

“I’m called to _________.”

Perhaps you’ve heard someone use this statement to explain why they do what they do. It’s a mystical-sounding line that throws a divine aura over one’s life.

But I’ve always felt unsure whether or not—apart from my call to salvation in Christ—I had a more specific call that would explain what career path I should take. I’ve never been one of those people with a master plan for his life—a mental trajectory with a desired destination at the end of it. More often than not, I’ve felt my way around, stumbling into one thing, then the next.

So amid my confusion and filled with questions, I sought out God’s Word and the collective wisdom of others to help me make sense of calling and vocation. Here are at least three things your calling is not. Read More

Discerning Your Next Ministry Move

Some of you may be worried that I am writing this post to you or about you. Yes, I definitely am.

We all have a call to follow and want to hear clearly from God. This time of year in particular is flush with requests for resumes and recommendations. Perhaps it is because we are fast approaching the end of our school and church calendar year.

It is normal to wonder if you are ready to move on to the next ministry assignment. Nobody wants to stay too long or leave too early, so we end up playing resume roulette by dropping hints and resumes. It is impossible to always resist the occasional ministry wanderlust. The next time you find yourself daydreaming about a better church in a better location, keep this in mind.... Read More

Pain Points: Stop Doing Everything

“Stop doing everything!”

These words pierced my heart during my first year of ministry and immediately exposed so many pain points that I had to navigate through that season of life. As a young minister right out of seminary, I wanted to do as much as possible for God’s glory. I may have had a good motivation, but I definitely had the wrong method. In my pursuit of wanting to serve God with every fiber of my being, I erroneously thought I had to pile more and more on my plate. I tried to do everything I possibly could in my first ministry. As you can imagine, it didn’t take long for me to feel exhaustion and burnout. Without healthy boundaries, I was becoming a workaholic.

Have you ever felt that pain point? Have you ever wrestled with doing everything on your own?

Being a workaholic may not be your reason for striving to do all the ministry. I’ve spoken with other pastors who have openly admitted that their motivation for hoarding all the ministry responsibility stemmed from pride. Others mentioned it provided them a sense of job security. There are several reasons for why leaders choose to do everything on their own.

I finally recognized that I needed help. So I reached out to other pastors and seminary professors for wisdom and insight. I praise the Lord for the godly men who spoke truth into my life. A consistent theme emerged from my conversations with these men—I had to stop doing everything. My desire to be effective in ministry was going to require me to make some strategic shifts in my understanding of my role as a pastor. Read More

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Be Encouraged About What the Spirit Is Doing in the Church [Video;Podcast]

You don’t have to look far—either inside or outside the church—to find fodder for discouragement. But we must not overlook the manifold ways the kingdom of God is growing and multiplying in the United States and around the world.

In this discussion, TGC Council members Kevin DeYoung, Miguel Núñez, and John Onwuchekwa discuss the numerous ways they see God working in their local context and abroad. There are kingdom advances happening even in places where it’s difficult and dangerous to be a follower of Christ. But, as Núñez remarks, “Whenever you increase the pressure on the church, the church gets purified.” Watch or Listen Now

Also See:
What We Can Learn From ‘Only God’ Moments

How To Give Money Less Power Over Your Church

A congregation's financial reality should never be ignored, but it should never be in charge.

Money is in charge of too many of our churches.

So many good congregations want to do great ministry, but their limited finances cause them to make too many decisions based on what they can or can’t afford, instead of what God is calling them to do.

It’s a trap that may seem impossible to get out of. But there is hope.

In today’s post I want to tell you about a decision our church made over two decades ago that has been a great starting point in allowing us to follow God more and money less.

Here it is.

Our church will never make a decision about doing a ministry based on what we can or can’t afford. Because if we pencil it out, we’ll never be able to afford it. Read More

Also See:
Time, Not Money, Is The New Church Commitment Currency
Both articles are part of an ongoing series, Money and the Small Church.

Bible Teachers: It’s Not Just What You Say That Matters, It’s What People Hear

When preaching and teaching God’s Word, we are right to focus attention on our understanding of the text and our delivery of the text’s meaning in a faithful and relevant manner.

It’s just as important, though, to understand our listeners. We must know our cultural context well enough (and the people to whom we speak) to have an idea of the way our message will be heard. Exegesis of the text must be combined with exegesis of the church, and exegesis of the church on mission will include exegesis of the culture. Read More

Tuesday's Catch: "The Three Reasons Your Church Is Not Reaching the Next Generation" and More

The Three Reasons Your Church Is Not Reaching the Next Generation

On Monday Thom Rainer led a webinar on the Millennial generation. A video of the webinar is posted on Rainer's Facebook page. Watch Now
Rainer also introduced a brand new Lifeway resource designed to help church leaders and churches understand the Millennial generation so they can reach and engage that generation. This resource is available at a discount this week only.
Seven Relational Skills of Great Church Leaders

Most pastors and church leaders have never received formal training in relational skills. Perhaps these seven observations of outstanding leaders will prove helpful to many of you. Read More

6 Reasons People Pleasing Hurts Your Leadership

Keeping people happy turns unhealthy the moment you want people to like you more than they respect you. Read More

Megaphones And Soapboxes: Is Street Preaching Worth It?

Greg Stier offers insight into the effectiveness of hard-core street witnessing. Read More

Monday, May 14, 2018

The Greatest False Idol of Modern Christianity

Idolatry is a horrible, dangerous thing.

Sadly, far too many Christians are so very guilty of it.

You can see it in the way they complain on social media, in the way they comment on the news of the day; in the defeatist, alarmist language that they use as to describe the world.

You see it in the way they furrow their brows, and throw up their hands, and slam their pulpits.

It shows-up in the lazy stereotypes and the religious rhetoric that flows so easily in church lobby coffee chats and extremist blog rants.

You can see it in the way they complain on social media, in the way they comment on the news of the day; in the defeatist, alarmist language that they use as to describe the world.

You see it in the way they furrow their brows, and throw up their hands, and slam their pulpits.

It shows-up in the lazy stereotypes and the religious rhetoric that flows so easily in church lobby coffee chats and extremist blog rants.

It’s as if everything has now become an imminent threat: Muslims, Atheists, Gays, The President, inner city criminals, Hollywood, illegal immigrants, The Government, school hallways.

The world outside the church building is broadly painted as a vile, immoral war zone, with “God’s people” hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned.

Parroting the politicized talk show hosts and reposting the latest terrible news stories, they perpetuate the now comfortable, largely White Evangelical Christian narrative of impending destruction, and they make it clear at every opportunity: The whole damn sky is falling. Read More


5 Essentials to Turn a Declining Church Around

"It’s easier to birth a baby than it is to raise the dead."
I heard those words years ago from a denominational leader, and that statement combined with other indicators led me to pursue God’s call to plant new churches for more than 15 years.

But for the past two years, the Lord has called me to immerse myself in the other side of that equation—church revitalization. Thom Rainer states that 90% of churches are either in outright decline, or, even if growing, still aren’t keeping up with the population growth of the area where they reside. So many churches need new life.

So two years ago, I accepted the call as pastor of one of those churches. Once a large, rapidly growing, and prominent congregation, the church suffered through the moral failure of one leader, followed by a decade of mission drift and opaque vision. When I arrived, the church had declined to roughly one third of what its largest size had been.

Of course, numbers aren’t everything. But numbers are often an indicator, or symptom of things that may be going on underneath the surface. The problem is, no matter how well prepared you think you are, there is nothing that can truly ready you for what you don’t know.

The past 27 months have been a roller coaster ride, and by God’s grace, we are indeed seeing much new life. In that time, I’ve also learned some valuable lessons—five things you absolutely need to lead a church through this with success. Read More

Monday's Catch: "5 Essentials Every Church Constitution Needs To Thrive In The Future" and More

5 Essentials Every Church Constitution Needs To Thrive In The Future

Your leadership can have incredible vision and strategy, but an outdated constitution and governance system can slow you to a snail’s pace. This is true for denominational churches, congregational churches and almost any church that has a constitution and governance system based on a tradition more than a decade old. Antiquated governance systems are plaguing much of the Church today. Read More

Six Common Problems with Church Bylaws

Church bylaws are often used in ways that hurt churches. Indeed, some churches use bylaws well beyond their original intent. Let me briefly touch on six common problems with them. Read More

The Looming Pastoral Succession Crisis And Why It’s Already Bad

Ultimately, there’s no success without succession. Your leadership isn’t really that effective if things go downhill, collapse or become miserable when you leave. Read More

Church Succession: How to Lead Our Churches into a Healthy Future

As pastors age, they can prepare so that the transition of leadership in their churches passes smoothly and their churches are set to stay on a healthy trajectory. Read More

You Are Totally (Not) Depraved: How to Recover Positive Self-Image

Christians should have a positive view of themselves — in Christ. Read More

Why Some Churches Are Doing Away with "Children's Church"

I pastored two churches that had a “children’s church” (a separate worship time for elementary kids while teens and adults worshiped in the church auditorium). Our folks prepared hard to help the children learn and worship well. More recently, though, I’m seeing a trend away from this approach. Here are the concerns I’ve heard....

Read More How to Not Be an Online Troll

Here are three ways to ensure that your online conversation is “gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Col. 4:6). Read More

Saturday, May 12, 2018

You Must Disappoint Someone

How to Say No to Good Things

Why do you spend your time doing what you do? Why do you say yes to doing some things and no to doing other things? Are you saying yes and no to the right things? These are unnerving, exposing questions to ask.

Most of us would like to believe we say yes and no to our time commitments based on objective, logical assessments of what appears most important. But that is very often not the case. Very often we make these decisions based on subjective assessments of what we believe others will think of us if we do or don’t do them.

How other people perceive us — or how we think they’ll perceive us — has an extraordinary influence on how we choose to use our time. Coming to terms with ways we seek people’s approval or fear their disapproval will force us to face humbling truths about ourselves and may require repentance and uncomfortable change.

But given how brief our lives are, and how limited our energy and other resources are, we need to heed what God says to each one of us through the apostle Paul:

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. (Ephesians 5:15–17) And one way to carefully examine our use of time and energy is to invite the Holy Spirit to search our hearts and see if and where we are inordinately influenced to say yes or no out of a fear of man. Read More

Four Steps to Recruit Volunteers

If you look at Jesus’ relationship with the disciples, Jesus modeled not only how recruiting and development occurs but also how responsibility is transferred, as He rarely did the work of the ministry by Himself. Sure, He spent time alone, but when He ministered to people, His disciples were always nearby. Early on, they listened and watched Jesus, but soon He asked them to serve with Him. Jesus then flipped the script and asked them to serve while He observed and helped. You see, Jesus wasn’t shirking His responsibility for the mission when He recruited and commissioned His disciples; He was sharing it. Read More


Protestants Have Gone From 50% to 36% of the Population

A sobering new study from ABC News/Washington Post shows a drastic decrease over the past 15 years in the number of Americans who identify as Protestant and a sharp increase in those who say they have no religious affiliation.

The analysis, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, shows last year, 36 percent said they are Protestant, down from 50 percent in 2003.

In the same time span, the number of Americans who say they have no religion has nearly doubled, to 21 percent.

Of the five groups identified in the study—Protestant, Catholic, other Christians, other religions and no religion—only Protestants suffered a decline.

Among all Protestants, 56 percent currently say they’re evangelical or born-again; that has held essentially steady since 2003, with virtually equal declines in the number who say they’re either evangelical or non-evangelical Protestants, down 7 and 6 points, respectively.

The largest shifts during this 15-year period is among young adults (age 18 to 29) with 35 percent now saying they have no religious affiliation. Read More


Saturday Lagniappe: "4 Simple Language Principles That Will Improve Your Bible Study" and More

4 Simple Language Principles That Will Improve Your Bible Study

Here are four simple language principles that will improve your Bible study regardless of whether you ever take the many, many hours necessary to gain proficiency in New Testament Greek. If you do end up studying Greek, sound linguistic principles will guide and shape your study by attuning your questions and focusing your answers. Read More

Marcion and Getting Unhitched from the Old Testament

Most heresies from the early church find a way to live on in to other ages. This is especially true of Marcionism, with its distaste for an angry God, its optimism about human improvement, and its eagerness to set aside the Bible Jesus read. From Red Letter Christianity to recent comments about our need to “unhitch” from the Old Testament, Marcionism is the evergreen heresy. So who was Marcion and why does his revisionist project still resonate? Read More
Has Andy Stanley succumbed to Marcionism? See "Christians Must 'Unhitch' Old Testament From Their Faith, Says Andy Stanley."
Should Christians “Unhitch” from the Imprecatory Psalms?

The imprecatory psalms represent a legitimate challenge for contemporary Christians. Jesus told us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. How does a teaching like that go with a psalm like this.... Read More

9 Common Social Media Tactics That Never Draw Anyone Closer To Jesus

For most, maybe all of these tactics, I can see the good motive behind it. But good intentions are not enough. Read More

On Becoming a Fully Mobilized Church: 6 Cumulative Traits

The Antioch church in the Book of Acts is often pointed to as the church to emulate. Antioch was filled with believers who were fully engaged in God’s mission. And while it may be admirable to strive to become an Antioch type of church, how can you know for sure whether your church is fully “on mission?” Read More

9 Reasons Christians Don't Evangelize

I’ve been a professor of evangelism for more than twenty years. Over the years, I’ve continually considered and asked why most believers never do evangelism. Here are nine of the reasons I’ve discovered, given in no particular order. Read More

Friday, May 11, 2018

Overcome Discouragement, Embrace Adventure

We grow homesick on mission in a post-Christian world, but there is encouragement for those who embrace the adventure.

Gandalf: I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it’s very difficult to find anyone.
Bilbo: I should think so—in these parts! We are plain, quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty, disturbing, uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner! I can’t think what anybody sees in them.
Gandalf: You’ll have a tale or two to tell when you come back.
Bilbo: You can promise that I’ll come back?
Gandalf: No. And if you do, you will not be the same.

—The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) Read More
God calls us to go adventuring with him. Isn't time we left the comfort of our hobbit holes and joined him on the greatest adventure of all?!

Does Prayer Change God’s Mind?

However impossible it is for our puny minds to understand, God has sovereignly placed us in certain situations for the express purpose of praying his promises and “changing his plans,” so to speak. He wants us to employ divine power to create a different destiny than the one everyone is heading to.

Your situation—the problems you are observing and the divinely appointed opportunities in them—are invitations to call God’s promises into effect. Read More

Friday's Catch: "A Hidden Epidemic God Hates" and More

A Hidden Epidemic God Hates

Steve Hoppe examines the growing problem of domestic spiritual abuse and the need to end it. Read More

The Problem of "Porneia"

Changing attitudes toward sexual activity before or outside marriage in our culture are influencing the views of professing Christians. Read More

Underneath The Surface of Leadership Development

What is underneath the surface makes all the difference. Read More

Should Church Members Expect the Gospel in Every Lesson

In context, every Scripture expects to be preached in light of the Gospel. Every preacher should have expectations upon themselves to deliver the Gospel every week to church members that should expect to receive it, understand it, and live it out in their daily lives.

Here are at least four reasons why church members should expect the Gospel in every sermon.... Read More

Older Couples Are Increasingly Living Apart. Here’s Why

This article reports on living apart together (LAT) relationships, which are on the rise, particular among older adults. Read More

Families Who Cross the Border Together Won’t Stay Together

Christian immigration advocates critique a new policy that separates children from asylum-seeking parents from Central America. Read More

Thursday, May 10, 2018

There’s Danger to Your Right, Not Just Your Left

... we live in strange days, to quote the title of a recent book by a Christian leader in Australia, Mark Sayers. Slippery slopes go both ways. Our generation of pastors, equipped with guardrails to protect us from veering to the left, will also need to learn how to keep church members resistant from insidious ideologies that accompany the reaction of people on the populist right.

Sayers sees two groups, small in number but loud in influence. The New Left impulse was once transgressive—an insurgent force that attacked the morality of the establishment. Now that the New Left has attained cultural power, the movement has followed Herbert Marcuse’s trajectory toward authoritarianism, and, not surprisingly, the heart of this perspective is sexual freedom and self-determined identity. Dignity requires separation from anyone who might question your identity or choices.

Sayers sees the impulse at the heart of the New Left as essentially religious:
“The religious leaders of the left set up their inner courts, where only those circumcised of moral absolutism may enter. If anyone decries sexual expression or reproductive rights, or claims absolute truth, he is a Samaritan, unclean and unwelcome in the courts of the holy. . . . The New Left moral order increasingly begins to stiffen with a rigid and puritanical narrowness, becomes the establishment, trying to enforce its moral code from the commanding cultural heights.” (94)
Conservative Christians are well aware of this threat, trained for decades to spot and reject the assumptions that lead to the left’s vision for society.

But what happens when a new version of the right emerges to fight back, “reanimated and reimagined with a transgressive, cool sheen”? In seeking to reject identity politics on the left, some today have embraced dogmas and a nationalist agenda on the right, which morphs into its own brand of identity politics. Patriotic fervor and the rejection of globalization can devolve into nationalism and populist racism.

Ross Douthat believes the rise of both the New Left and the alt-right are the first signs of truly post-Christian politics. Without the pull of transcendence, the future of the right will be “tribal, cruel, and very dark indeed,” he writes. We are entering a world in which Christian virtue does not shade our political alliances, on either far right or the far left. In Sayers’s description, it’s “a world without forgiveness, which seeks not compromise but the utter humiliation of one’s cultural and political enemies.” Read More

Thursday's Catch: "Why Some Pastors Aren't Ready to Lead in Church Revitalization" and More

Why Some Pastors Aren't Ready to Lead in Church Revitalization

I believe in church planting, and I also believe in church revitalization. We need to do both if we want to reach North America. I’m particularly interested in revitalization because of the people and property resources available for kingdom work, but I’m not convinced every pastor is ready to lead through a revitalization effort. Here’s why.... Read More

Five Reasons You Need a Thick Skin to Lead in Church Revitalization or Replanting [Podcast]

Revitalization takes thick skin to avoid the discouragements and criticisms. Today, Thom Rainer and Jonathan Howe discuss five common criticisms and how to handle them. Read More

12 Spiritual Disciples That Will Make Your Faith Strong

Brandon Hilgemann surveys the twelve primary spiritual activities that Jesus practiced and the Bible prescribes for all believers. Read More

Have You Fallen Into the “Passionate Preaching Trap”?

If a pastor isn’t careful, they will only preach on the things they find important. This can be good and bad. Read More

What If I Can’t Sing?

If you can speak, you can sing. God designed you to sing and gave you everything you need to sing as well as he wants you to. He’s far less concerned with your tunefulness than your integrity. Christian singing begins with the heart, not the lips (Eph. 5:19). Read More
I have been reading Keith and Kristyn Getty’s new book, Sing!: How Worship Transforms Your Life, Family, and Church (B&H, 2017) and I definitely recommend it to Anglicans Ablaze readers.
The Oldest, Most Ignored Social Media Command

Not only did this rule start before AOL was handing out free dial-up minutes, it was established even before the printing press. But this commandment is perhaps more applicable today on social media than any other. Read More

Respectfully Engaging Animism [Video]

In this episode of The Table Podcast, Dr. Darrell L. Bock and Ken Nehrbass discuss understanding and respectfully engaging Animism. Watch Now

New Initiative Hopes to Bridge the Divide in Evangelicalism

A new body is being formed in an attempt to mend the rift that has developed in evangelicalism following the 2016 election. Read More

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Is Your Christianity Superstitious?

The much maligned black cat
I was in Southern India several years ago and noticed an odd thing about most of the small children there: They all had little red strings tied around their bellies. These toddlers who were just learning to walk and run around were most often stark naked, save these shoelace-sized red bands tied around their middles.

I asked our host what they were for, and he replied rather matter-of-factly, “They are to keep the evil spirits away.”

Like many Asian countries, these Indians (even in Christian villages) observed ritual superstitions in order to ward off evil or bring good luck. In Thailand, for instance, every restaurant or business we entered had small shrines in the entryway with ornate ‘birdhouses’ with fresh food and drinks set before them. These, we found out, were to appease the evil spirits at the doorway and prevent them from entering the building.

It was kind of a demonic Passover. In the Western world, we may scoff at such petty superstitions, dismissing them as sophomoric or ignorant. Of course the world doesn’t work that way! We say from our lofty towers of science and reason. As Christians in the West, however, we must remember two things: That our culture—including our faith—is heavily postmodern and influenced by the Enlightenment in ways many third-world countries are not; and that we each have our own sets of superstitions which may not be as apparent as a red string or food shrine. Read More
Superstition is far more rife in our rationalist, humanist, secular, post-modern Western world than we may think. It is not confined to Christians or to other religionists.