Monday, January 22, 2018

The Secret Small Churches Know Best

Most Christian churches in America are small. In 2012, the National Congregations Study found that the median Sunday morning attendance for churches in the United States was 75 people. The study also found that 43% of American churches had fewer than 50 regular participants, 67% had fewer than 100 regular participants, and 87% had fewer than 250.

Many of these small churches are located in small places. Sociologist Robert Wuthnow notes in his book Small-Town America that “there are more churches per capita in less populated areas than there are in more heavily populated places.” A recent Barna study found that in my own region of New England, 40% of churchgoing Christians live in small towns or rural areas (though, of course, some may commute to urban or suburban churches). Read More

4 Tips for Casting a Yearly Vision

What aspect is God leading your church to grow in this year? Maybe there are numerous aspects that come to mind, but which one rises to the top? One of the keys to figuring this out is going to be hearing from God.

Times of prayer and God’s Word are the most important part of discerning a goal, but after you know what it is what do you do with it? Understanding God’s truth without effectively applying it is a disservice to our churches. Casting a yearly vision can help to drive them toward the goal.

Here are four tips that have helped me in creating a yearly vision for our church. Read More

Learning From Those Who Pray All Night

One Sunday morning, I picked up this paper from the pew at our church. It is the schedule for a Friday night vigil that had happened just a couple of days before.

We didn't attend this event. The idea of staying up all night to pray, worship, and study Scripture feels like a form of torture to us. But in East African Christian culture, it is an assumption. Some churches do it every month. Some do it every week. Gil has taught at a few of these, where he agreed to come from 10 pm till 1 am. That was his limit.

So I read over this schedule in awe. To most American Christians, this practice may sound crazy. But African Christians will explain that they are simply following the ways of Jesus, who many times spent the whole night in prayer (Luke 6:12). Sure, it takes discipline, but it's a great way to grow in godliness and faithfulness. So, they argue, why shouldn't we follow Jesus' example? Read More

11 Reasons Church Leaders Struggle with Prayer
Eleven Specific Ways to Pray for Your Pastor
One year at Christ Church we held an all night vigil on Easter Eve. Different individuals and groups from the parish signed up to pray at different times throughout the night. We concluded the vigil with a Eucharist and baptisms at sunrise on Easter Morn. It was the closest that we came to praying all night.

The 5 Styles of Preachers - Which Are You?

If you wanted to write the great American novel, you’d probably read a lot of Hemmingway or Twain. If you wanted to be a great painter, you’d study the masterpieces of Rembrandt or Picasso.

And if you want to be a great preacher, it’s no different: you’ll study the masters.

As I continue to grow in my preaching ability, I have made a habit of listening to a wide variety of preachers. And I’ve noticed something. Although every preacher is different, each one tends to fit into one of five “preaching styles.” Read More

Getting Theology from the Text

With a new year, we yet again try to read through our entire Bible. We have plans, strategies, apps, blogs, and even groups that assist us in making the journey through the Scriptures. Yet, we struggle. Why is that? Of course, discipline plays a major part. However, we can often get bogged down because there are parts of the Bible that puzzle us. As people often say to me, “I just don’t understand what I’m reading.”

Now what do we mean by this? To be clear, we do understand some things. We know what happened in the stories, the names in a genealogy, the descriptions within a prophecy, the processes in the sacrificial system, or the regulations within the law. We understand what the text says. That’s not our dilemma. Our dilemma is that we’re not certain why it is there. Because of this, we start skimming (or even skipping) passages we can’t figure out and eventually, we stop reading our Bibles altogether.

So sometimes we become frustrated in our devotions because we know all Scripture is profitable (cf. 2 Tim 3:16) but can’t seem to easily identify how certain texts are profitable. In the end, we are wondering, “Is there really theology in every passage of the Bible and if so, how do we find it?” That’s the key question. Read More

Why You Should Keep Using Hymns in Your Worship Services

I love old hymns. I keep a stack of hymnals on my nightstand and have an ever-growing collection in my library. I cut my teeth on Charles Wesley and John Rippon. I hope to write academically on the pastoral theology of hymns. I even have a dog named Watts.

While I certainly don’t think that historic hymns are the only thing we should sing in corporate worship, I am concerned that omitting older hymns in our gatherings silences the rich voices of church history. Some churches seem uninterested in any song that is more than two years old, much less two hundred years. Yes, the church will continue to write and sing new songs (Psalm 96:1), but it is also good and helpful for us to sing old songs. Read More

Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns: How Pop Culture Rewrote the Hymnal

Parents, Take Note of the Spiritual Practices Common to Kids Who Flourish As Adults

Parents, don’t take the biblical proverb “train up a child” and treat it like a promise, assuming that if you do everything right in your parenting, your children will turn out right. Proverbs are general truths, not specific promises. Besides, when we consider the overall context of the Bible, we see how counterproductive it is to try to train our kids to trust in God if what we model for them is that we trust in our training.

But even though we place our hope for our children in God, not in our training, we recognize how this proverb teaches us to take our training of children seriously—both where we guide them andalso how we shepherd their hearts. And part of that shepherding and guidance includes the effect of a family’s culture.

A new LifeWay Research study surveyed 2,000 Protestant and non-denominational churchgoers who attend church at least once a month and have adult children ages 18 to 30. The goal of the project was to discover what parenting practices were common in the families where young adults remained in the faith. What affected their moral and spiritual development? What factors stood out?

You might expect that family worship services would play a major part, or the simple habit of eating meals together around the table. Perhaps you’d expect a Christian school kid to be more likely to follow Jesus than a public school kid. Everyone has ideas about what practices are formative on children.

The research indicated that children who remained faithful as young adults (identifying as a Christian, sharing their faith, remaining in church, reading the Bible, and so on) grew up in homes where certain practices were present. Read More

Don't Just Stand There, Say Something: Intention vs. Action in Evangelism

Simply praying for the lost is not enough.

The church in the West lives in exciting and challenging times. People are truly considering what it looks like to be a missionary in their cultural context now more than in the past 100 years. This has been a great thing for the church, and a large part of this new movement is because pastors are getting excited about missional ministry.

They are leading their churches to think and pray about how to contextualize the gospel in an increasingly post-Christian culture.

However, among the pastors of this new movement, there is concerning statistical and anecdotal evidence that the talk of ‘being missional’ is replacing the actual practice of mission as it pertains to sharing our faith with our friends, neighbors, coworkers, and family. I am convinced that the pastor drives both the intention and the action behind evangelism in the church.

Not too long ago I shared statistics and thoughts on the difference between intention and action regarding evangelistic efforts with Influence Magazine.Read More

Intention Versus Action in Evangelism

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Reaching College Towns and College Students

The city is a strategic place to plant and cultivate gospel-centered churches. I am grateful for the church-planting efforts in urban centers. I am also thankful for the renewed emphasis on church planting in other places such as small towns.1 From time to time, I even hear about the importance of churches in university towns—but not often enough in my estimation.

Colleges and universities can be found everywhere. New York has several universities and colleges, and so does rural Iowa. But there are some communities that are particularly defined by the presence of one or more university campuses, even beyond their being defined as urban, suburban, or rural.

I happen to live in one such community, as I pastor a church that is between the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill and Duke University. We are also attuned to the presence of North Carolina State, Meredith College, North Carolina Central University, Elon University, and several other nearby colleges. This area, the Raleigh–Durham–Chapel Hill Triangle, is not a huge metroplex like Boston, San Francisco, or New York, so the university ethos of our area is more than a minor descriptor—it is a central reality.

Places such as this are important to consider when we look at the practice and the future of church planting. I thought I would reflect on the lessons and joys that have gripped me in the blessed endeavor of planting a church in a community defined by a college or university. Three aspects of pastoring a collegiate community have surprised me: preaching, multigenerational influence, and the art of sticking to the first things. Read More

4 Major Reasons Churches Fail to Reach People - Upcoming Webinar

Do you know what changes your church needs to make in order to reach more people in its community? Register Now

Sticky Church Vision: a 4-step Process that Works

I’ve served in churches for over 35 years and I’m still learning how to craft a sticky church vision. In my current church I delivered our vision for my first year after being here for only three months. That may seem quick, but I sensed it was well received. In this post I explain the the four steps I incorporated that created greater involvement, buy in, and spiritual success. Read More

4 Reasons for Pastors to Guard Their Hearts

Discouragement is not an emotion with which I am very familiar, but when a scandal comes out in the church, I feel it greatly. In fact, at times I have found myself not wanting to check social media, dreading to learn about the next scandal. When they come out, it is easy to find ourselves asking, “How could he…?”.

Yet, upon sober reflection, we are reminded of how dangerous our sin nature truly is; and that Total Depravity is not just a theological point, but a malignancy within each one of us. Therefore, we must intentionally guard our hearts, and one way of doing that is to meditate on the catastrophic ruin that accompanies sexual sin. Read More

The Best Preacher in the World

Every church needs two preachers. We need a human preacher, one who is visible, audible, tangible. But we also need a divine preacher, one that is invisible, inaudible, and intangible. I’m speaking of the Holy Spirit, without whom the work of the human preacher is in vain. Read More

Why Worship Pastors and Lead Pastors Should Meet Weekly

Every Monday at 4:00 p.m., I meet with both my worship pastors. We review the previous Sunday. We discuss the upcoming Sunday. We laugh together. We hold each other accountable. Sometimes I sing their worship set back to them because I have the voice of a senile cat and it annoys them.

This meeting is critical for several reasons. Read More

Friday, January 19, 2018

When People Leave: The Private Pain Of The Small Church Pastor

Even if the church is large and growing, it can be hard when people leave. But when the church is small, each loss is much more painful.

It’s hard when people leave a church.

It’s hard to leave. It’s hard being left.

Most who leave don’t make that decision lightly. They deal with some serious pain when they finally make the decision to go. As a pastor I’m more familiar with seeing good people leave the church than being the person who goes through the pain of leaving, so that’s what I want to address in this post.

If you’ve been a pastor for several years, you’ve had to deal with your share of such departures. Each one hurts. It’s especially hard when those leaving are long-term members.

The collective pain from years of those departures can wear a pastor down.

Even if the church is large and growing, it can be hard when people leave. But when the church is small, each loss is much more painful.

First, there’s the math. The percentage loss is much higher than in a bigger church. When a small church loses just one family it can mean massive changes in entire ministries.

Second – and most difficult – it’s not just a drop in attendance, tithers or volunteers. It’s the loss of people we know. People we’ve invested in. People we’re friends with. And that hurts. Read More

Should You Count Online Viewers as Worship Attendees? Rainer on Leadership #399

After the discussion surrounding a blog post earlier this week, we look at the pertinent question surrounding the topic of the internet church: should you count them in your weekly worship number? Listen Now
After reading the comments left in response to this podcast, I think that the concept of the core, the congregation, and the crowd, which Rick Warren introduces in The Purpose-Driven Church might prove useful in the discussion of the pros and cons of counting online viewers as worship attendees. Warren visualizes the core, the congregation, and the crowd as a series of concentric circles with the core at the center, the congregation encircling the core, and the crowd encircling the congregation.

Warren also describes the core, the congregation, and the crowd in terms of level of commitment with the core representing the highest level of commitment and the crowd the lowest level of commitment with the congregation somewhere in between in its level of commitment. I think that the core, the congregation, and the crowd may also be described in terms of degree of physical attendance and levels of engagement with the core representing the highest degree of physical attendance and level of engagement and the crowd the lowest and the congregation again somewhere in between.

These three groups do not have rigid boundaries and an individual may be in transition from one group to another.

In this model those who view a church’s digital worship services or listen to its podcasts would be located in the outer circle, in the crowd. We should track them but not count them as worship attendees.

People in a church’s crowd may move one of two ways – inward and to the point of becoming a part of the congregation and eventually part of the core or outward and to a point where they take little or no interest in the practice of any form of religion or spirituality. They may drift to the crowd of another church or even to the fringe of a body or organization of individuals practicing another form of religion or spirituality. They may join the growing segment of the population that views religion and spirituality in highly individualistic terms and dismisses the need to practice their beliefs as a part of an organized religion and/or a physical community. Due to their individualistic view of religion or spirituality, their beliefs are likely to be syncretic, blending Christian and non-Christian beliefs. They may have selected a touch of this and a large dab of that from the pallet of religious and spiritual beliefs that may be found online.

It is much easier to hold a mixture of beliefs when an individual is not a part of an organized religion and/or a physical community that holds its members accountable for what they believe and reinforces and strengthens orthodox beliefs while discouraging heterodox or heretical beliefs. This may explain at least in part why a growing segment of the population is rejecting organized religion and/or physical community for a highly idiosyncratic belief system, one peculiar to a particular individual and not shared with others, and for virtual community.

One of the dangers of counting virtual or internet attendance as if it was physical attendance is that we are letting a segment of the population that is strongly influenced by our increasingly secular culture in many areas of its life and which may have little or no experience of physical community and its benefits define community for the church. We live in age in which churches are showing more and more the influence of that culture while at the same time appearing oblivious to its influence. Virtual community is not the same as physical community and considering them to be on the same level is problematic. Virtue community lacks dimensions that are found only in physical community. When we equate the two, we underestimate the importance and value of these dimensions.

What I have observed on the campus of my university and elsewhere is a younger generation that, while connected digitally, is often socially isolated and frequently has difficulty in relating to others, peers as well as older adults. in face-to-face interactions. I have also observe a lack of empathy and a lack of guardedness or restraint in expressing antipathy and hostility. Internet bullying is a manifestation of the latter as is flaming in which many people team up to attack a single victim.

When an individual is a member of a physical community, the group dynamics that are operative in that community may help that individual to not only become less socially-isolated and able to relate better to others but become more empathetic and more guarded or restrained in their expression of negative feelings toward others. All of these behaviors are desirable in a follower of Jesus Christ.

8 Things Jesus Never Said

Jesus said a lot of things throughout the Bible, but there are also a lot of things he didn’t. Here are eight things Jesus never said. Read More
We need reminders of what Jesus did not say as well as reminders of what he did say.

What Happens When We Don't Listen Well

I’ve said it before on this site: I’m not the best listener. In fact, I’ve written about ways I could listen better and lead better by listening. I’m learning in my struggle that not listening can cost me more than I should want to pay. When we don’t listen well.... Read More

The Peculiarity of Early Christian Worship (or How Early Christians Managed to Offend Just about Everybody)

The ruins of  Whitby Abbey
“What in the world is this Christianity thing?”

A phrase like this would not have been unusual among Romans in the first couple of centuries. In the eyes of the average citizen, Christians were an odd bunch. And what made them odd was not just what they believed. It was how (and who) they worshiped.

To be sure, worship was a big deal in the ancient world. The ancient Greco-Roman culture was very religious. Even more to the point, they were publicly religious. Worship rituals and activities were visible for all to see.

And it was precisely here that this “Christianity thing” was found to be strange and unusual. Indeed, Christian worship seemed to hack off just about everybody. Here’s why.... Read More

7 Things You Should Know About the Lord’s Day

R.C. Sproul’s Warning Concerning Prayer

I need to sound a warning. In our day, many people have rediscovered the power of prayer. This is a good thing; there’s nothing more thrilling in the Christian life than to pray specifically, to express a desire, to make a request or a petition to God, and then see Him answer that request specifically and clearly. It’s nice to receive what we pray for, but the added benefit is the assurance we gain that God hears our prayers and answers them. However, some carry this to an extreme and jump to the conclusion that prayer is something of a magic wand, that if we do prayer with the right sound, in the right manner, with the right phrases, and in the right posture, God is obligated to answer. The idea seems to be that we have the capacity to coerce God Almighty into doing for us whatever it is we want Him to do, but God is not a celestial bellhop who is on call every time we press the button, just waiting to serve us our every request. Read More

Christian Witness in a Pluralist's World

“Any fair reading of the religions as they are has to acknowledge there are fundamental areas of disagreement. They’re not all saying the same thing. It’s not fair to the followers of religions to pretend as if they are saying the same thing.” — Harold Netland Listen Now

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Special Request for Prayers and Donations

St. Mark's Anglican Church, Benton, Kentucky
We have been experiencing what is for western Kentucky extreme cold, heavy snow fall, and dangerously icy roads due to a winter storm that passed through the region. This storm also brought with it tragedy – the unexpected death of the father of one of friends of a member of St. Mark’s Anglican Church in Benton, Kentucky. George McKenzie who is also a lay preacher, lector, and server at St. Mark’s sent me this email this morning.
Dear St. Mark’s,

I hope everyone has been able to stay safe in this weather. I ask that you keep my best friend, Dustin Burnett, and his family in your prayers. Unfortunately, his dad, Dave Burnett, slipped and fell on the snow and ice when his truck got stuck in the driveway. The impact sent him into cardiac arrest, then he later passed away at the hospital. It's hard to word this way, but in a way, it was a blessing God decided to bring him home. The scans at the hospital showed that he had lung cancer. With his asthma and age, he would not have been able to undergo treatments, and would have been given 6 months to live, which would have been very painful.

He was a very caring man and a Godly man, but he didn't have life insurance, and his sudden passing has left my friend's family in a bad financial situation.

His mom is disabled and unable to offer help, and so he is left to shoulder the burden of handling everything with hardly any time to mourn. He started a GoFundMe to help in any way friends and loved ones can. I know it's hard to offer help to someone you don't know, but any charity would be appreciated, especially if it's just prayer.

Here is the link if you'd like to get the full story:

Thank you and God Bless,

George McKenzie
St. Mark’s and I would appreciate your prayers and donations for this family. Any donation, whatever the amount, would help to pay Dustin’s father’s medical bills.

Is Your Church Measuring Health Or Size? They’re Not The Same Thing

In the same way that a healthy elephant is bigger than a healthy rabbit, a church's size has nothing to do with its relative health – or relative value.

What weighs more, 100 pounds of bricks or 100 pounds of feathers?

It’s an old riddle. One that makes you facepalm yourself if you get it wrong.

The riddle works because it plays on our preconceptions and our tendencies to hear what we want to hear. Bricks weigh more than feathers, of course, but the answer is deceptively simple.

They’re the same.

Whether bricks or feathers, 100 pounds is 100 pounds. You just need a whole lot more feathers to get there. Read More

12 Reasons People Stay in a Struggling Church

Yesterday, I published a post about why people leave a church. In our consulting work, we also often talk with people who are seriously frustrated with their church – but who stay there anyway. Here are some of the primary reasons folks give us for staying when they don’t like all that’s happening in their church.... Read More

How to Explain to Guests That Your're Replanting a Church - Revitalize & Replant #24

When you’re replanting a church, it can sometimes be difficult to explain that to guests. Today we discuss how to have those conversations and what to tell guests about your church’s journey. Listen Now
In this podcast Mark Clifford offers several tips that may prove helpful to small church pastors even if they are not engaged in a replant.

Looking for Ancient African Religion? Try Christianity.

In a recent article published on Vice, a young lady wrote about her journey from Christianity to an ancient African faith after the passing of her father. The article, which read like a journal entry, recounted how she found solace in the religion of the Yoruba people of West Africa. They were the largest ethnic group trafficked in the Mid-Atlantic Trade, in what we would call Togo, Benin Republic, and Southwestern Nigeria, today. Their religion, which is generally referred to as “Yoruba religion” or “African traditional religion” had more appeal to this young woman because it lifted her out of grief in a way that she felt Christianity could not.

Her piece impaled my soul because, as a pastor in one of America’s notorious inner cities, her experience reminded me of so many of those who I’ve met and engaged with about faith; and, sadly, this trendy turn to African traditional religion is especially prevalent among millennials who have become frustrated with the church’s apparent duplicity in communal engagement.

The shift displays a lack of understanding of Christian theology and history, and more closely mirrors internet propaganda than reliable scholarship. But from my experience, understanding the increasing prevalence of African traditional religions in the mainstream in recent years is a valuable tool to have in our apologetic toolbox. Researching the historical debate among scholars about the continuity between the traditional African faith and Christianity gives pastors and churchgoers helpful ways to respond to this trend.

Adherents of African traditional religion rail that they “want to worship the god(s) of their ancestors,” because they believe Christianity does not appeal to their religious sensibilities, engage their oppressive predicament, or affirm their ethnic culture. In the face of these claims, it is imperative to diversify our apologetic arsenal to provide clarity about why we choose to cling to Christ rather than abandon him. Read More
It is sad to see young African Americans choose enslavement to demons, which is what the Bible tells us "the god(s) of their ancestors" are, over service to the one true God, considering how much their forefathers suffered in slavery on the African continent as well as in what would become the United States. Many of the Africans who were brought as slaves to North America were the victims of the more powerful African tribes who raided their villages, took them captive, and sold them into slavery.

Yet African American millennials are not the only ones turning to pagan gods. In my part of the Southern Bible Belt Wicca has established a foothold. There is at least one coven in the region if not more. Spells and other forms of magic and the associated rites and ceremonies fascinate young people as do the various forms of fortune-telling. The region's contemporary churches with their blanket rejection of the practices of the traditional church are not meeting the very human need to give expression to one's religious devotions through ritual observances and procedures.While some young people may feel no need for any form of religion or spirituality, others hunger for one. If one religious or spiritual tradition does not meet their needs, they will turn to another. This makes them particularly vulnerable.

7 Things I Love about Liturgical Protestant Worship

Sometimes the idea of “formal worship” scares people. I hope to make that less scary. The Protestant traditions include Anglicanism, Lutheranism, the Reformed, and Presbyterianism. Although these traditions have important differences, they reflect important similarities in the way they worship. I could feel more or less at home in any of these traditions. A liturgy is an order of worship in which God gives grace in the gospel and we respond in faith, hope, and love. Read More

The Delicate Balance of Attractional and Missional Worship

5 Spiritual Dangers of Skipping Church

I read recently that my denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, has a total of 16 million members, but on a typical Sunday only 6 million of those members attend their local church’s corporate worship gathering. Considering the importance and necessity of corporate worship for the Christian, this is a very discouraging statistic. Not only is it disheartening, it is also spiritually dangerous for those who profess Christ, but regularly miss worship with their church family. Below, I want to list some reasons and explain why skipping church is a really bad idea. [1] Read More
Skipping church has its physical dangers too. The photo shows what golfers can expect when teeing off on Sunday mornings on a Florida golf course - an alligator out for a stroll. Alligators also lurk in the water hazards. The range of alligators is not confined to Florida. They are also found in Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas. 

Sharing Your Faith in Bolivia Could Earn You a 12-Year Prison Sentence

There are approximately 2 million evangelical Christians in Bolivia who have been told to stop telling others about their faith.

Those who refuse could face 5 to 12 years in prison.

That’s the penalty resulting from a new law in the socialist nation titled Article 88. It went into effect on December 15, 2017 and states “whoever recruits, transports, deprives of freedom, or hosts people with the aim of recruiting them to take part in armed conflicts or religious or worship organizations will be penalized 5 to 12 years of imprisonment,” according to a translation by Evangelical Focus, a media initiative of the Spanish Evangelical Alliance.

Evangelicals represent approximately 19 percent of the total population. The legislation would affect other religious groups as well, such as Roman Catholics. Read More

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Make the Most of Your Rented Space

Five solutions for mobile churches.

Churches are popping up in schools, community centers, and warehouses. They’re meeting in movie theaters, coffee shops, and even comedy clubs. While many churches plant roots in permanent facilities, more and more are staying mobile by borrowing or renting space.

Derek DeGroot, an architect at Aspen Group, said, “These days, we’re seeing less money invested in design and build. Permanent facilities are, well … permanently costly. Times are changing, and the kinds of facilities churches use are changing, too.”

“We don’t have to worry about the responsibilities and costs of maintaining a building,” said Rachel Wassink, staff apprentice at City of Light Anglican Church, which meets in an elementary school gymnasium in Aurora, Illinois.

According to Currey Blandford, pastor of Life Church, which meets in a park district community center, church leaders with permanent buildings often say they’re jealous of his church, especially when they go through fundraising campaigns. Without the burden of building upkeep, churches like Blandford’s are able to focus on other aspects of ministry.

But the advantage of rented space extends far beyond the financial benefits. Immanuel Anglican Church in Chicago is proud to meet at Uplift High School, where their rent money supports the school’s students, 95 percent of whom live in low-income housing.

Stephanie O’Brien, pastor of Mill City Church, said, “Our mission field is our neighborhood.” For her congregation, this means meeting at a middle school in the heart of Minneapolis. “A school is still a sacred space. God is in that space, too,” she said. “A lot of churches are only in their temporary space until they can find a permanent one. We are where we are because we feel it’s where God is calling us.”
“A school is still a sacred space. God is in that space, too.”
Of course, churches using borrowed or rented space have challenges to overcome. Seating and equipment must be mobile—able to assemble and disassemble quickly. D. J. Jenkins, lead pastor of Anthology Church of Studio City, California, said, “Setup and teardown every Sunday is an enormous and tiring endeavor.” And there are aesthetic issues to consider. Basketball hoops don’t exactly scream worship service. Here’s how these churches make the most of their adapted spaces. Read More

What Makes Your Church Your Church?
What Are You Improving At Your Church Right Now?
Why Was I So Hard On That Church I Visited?

Image: Christianity Today

12 Reasons People Leave a Local Church

Over the years of my ministry, I’ve talked to many people who chose to leave a church even though they still lived in the same area. Here are some of the primary reasons given for leaving (without commentary on the validity of each one).... Read More

One Does Not Simply Leave Evangelicalism

We agree: It’s a broken word describing broken people in a broken movement. It’s still Good News.

Look, we get it. We’re frustrated, too. Have been for decades, but yes, it’s worse now. When pundits talk about “evangelicals,” they don’t mean what we mean. When pollsters count “evangelicals,” they usually don’t count how we count. And when a supposed “evangelical leader” says something unbiblical, we, too, are tempted to tweet our disavowals.

Defining evangelicalism as a political movement is not new. When polls, politicians, and journalists see everything through a political lens, it’s not surprising that their main question about any group is “how will they vote?” Remember, the term took off in popular parlance in the mid-’70s because it was identified with Jimmy Carter’s successful presidential candidacy.

Still, there’s no denying that a groundswell of evangelical leaders are so frustrated with the politicization of the word and with so many nominal Christians described as “evangelical” that they’re giving up their efforts to reclaim the term. Read More

What Is an Evangelical? Four Questions Offer New Definition

Have Bible Quoters Replaced Bible Readers?

Most readers of this site will share my angst about biblical illiteracy. I think we sometimes assume, though, that this illiteracy is simply a problem in the broadest sweep of cultural Christianity. It is there, to be sure. That’s why Christian bookstores (or their digital equivalents) don’t sell many books on the meaning of justification in Galatians, but tons of books with diet tips from Ezekiel or channeled messages from heaven. The problem, though, is far bigger than that.

I’ve never really known how to identify the scope of the biblical illiteracy facing us until I read this past weekend a sentence that perfectly articulated what I had noticed, in David Nienhuis’ very helpful new book A Concise Guide to Reading the New Testament (Baker). Speaking of the students in his college New Testament classes, Nienhuis writes that they struggle with the biblical material “because they have been trained to be Bible quoters, not Bible readers.” Read More

6 Pastoral Patterns to Avoid in 2018

Each of us in ministry longs for spiritual health and gospel success. We desire fruitful and effective ministry. No doubt much our perceived ministry success is beyond our control. We cannot save people because salvation is God’s prerogative. We cannot foresee all the challenges that will confront us in the coming year. And we cannot anticipate the heartbreak of our congregants.

But there a few things that are somewhat within our control this year. By giving attention to them, we can avoid unhealthy patterns of belief and behavior that will limit our effectiveness. Read More

Preaching with Integrity

... how should a pastor who has to preach multiple times every week to the same congregation handle the issue of preaching and plagiarism?
He’s my rule: Don’t be lazy and don’t be a liar.
What does that mean? What does that look like? Read More

The Power of Relationships

In the more than 15 years I have lived in Seattle, I have never met anyone who has never heard of Jesus. In my travels to numerous places around the United States and the Western world, my experience has been the same. Everyone knows something about Jesus. Before you think, “This dude needs to get out more often,” I want to reassure you that I get out plenty. I understand the importance of engaging culture. Heck, in addition to being a pastor, I also run a community cafĂ© and music venue in Seattle.

Most people have heard something about Jesus and, truth be told, whatever they’ve heard or seen has given them ammunition to form an unpleasant understanding of Him. Their perception or limited understanding of Christ is distorted and blemished.

We can all agree that Christianity—and subsequently, Jesus—has an image problem. So how will outreach and evangelism impact and influence this cultural context over the next 10 years? Numerous answers and possibilities exist, but here, I offer a truly essential one: real human relationships. Read More

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

What Are You Reading This Week?

By Robin G. Jordan

I am reading two books – one online at Internet Archive, Francis Carolus Eeles’Traditional Ceremonial and Customs Connected with the Scottish Liturgy, the other, Walter Thomas Conner’s Christian Doctrine, a book that a friend loaned me and which I have just gotten around to reading. He was a student at Mid-Continent University in Mayfield, Kentucky and graduated just before it closed due to financial troubles. He was enrolled in its Christian and Biblical Studies program.

Traditional Ceremonial and Customs Connected with the Scottish Liturgy I began reading almost from the beginning of the book. Several pages from Chapter I are missing. I found them in an edition of Eeles’ book posted on Google Books.

Christian Doctrine I started at Chapter X, about two-thirds of the way through the book. I will sometimes read the second half of a book before I read the first half, starting with the part of the book that interests me the most.

A number of observations that Percy Dearmer made in connection with the American and Scottish liturgies in Illustrations of the Liturgy and other works, a longstanding interest in the Non-Jurors and their influence upon Anglican worship, and the recent developments in the Scottish Episcopal Church, formerly the Episcopal Church in Scotland, has prompted me to do further reading on the history of the Church in Scotland and the Scottish liturgy.

Neither Dearmer nor Eeles were evangelicals. Both regarded the practices that the “Romanizing ceremonialists” in the Oxford Movement introduced into the English and Scottish churches as not consistent with the ancient traditions of either church and in the case of the Scottish church with the Non-Juror tradition of that church, which was greatly influenced by the practices of the primitive Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church.

According to Dearmer, the lack of an Ornaments Rubric or a canon regulating ornaments and ceremonial in the American church, coupled with the strong influence of the “Romanizing ceremonialists,” resulted in liturgical chaos in the American Church. The dual English and Scottish heritage of the American Prayer Book was disregarded and the post-Tridentian innovations of the Roman Catholic Church in doctrine and worship substituted in its place.

To Continuing Anglicans using the 1928 Book of Common Prayer and faithful to its doctrine and usages, the dual English and Scottish heritage of the American Prayer Book should be a subject of particular interest because this heritage shaped the American Prayer Book. I would hazard that the rites and services of the 1928 Prayer Book cannot be appreciated to their full extent except within the context of this heritage.

My motives for reading Christian Doctrine is that it was used as a theological text book in the Mid-Continent University’s Biblical and Christian Studies program. I was curious about what had been taught at Mid-Continent before its closure. Its author was a professor of theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas for thirty-one years. The Reformed Reader posted the following biographical information about Dr. Conner, excerpted from Timothy George and David S. Dockery’s Baptist Theologians.
Both Conner's life and theology were grounded upon an abiding confidence in the validity of evangelical Christian conversion. He was baptised by W.M. Reynolds and received into the fellowship of Harmony Baptist Church at Caps, TX.

As a professor at Southwestern Theological Seminary, Conner used A.H. Strong's Systematic Theology. From 1918 until 1922 he used The Christian Religion in its Doctrinal Expression by E.Y. Mullins. In 1922, Conner began to use his own notes in mimeographed form and in 1926 shifted to his book, A System of Christian Doctrine. In later years he required the reading of his Revelation and God and The Gospel of Redemption. Conner basically agreed with the position of John Calvin and Emil Brunner that general revelation is not salvific but the basis for human accountability and preparatory for the revelation in Jesus Christ. Following Strong, he did not attempt to espouse a specific theory as to the process of divine inspiration of the Bible, and, following Mullins, he utilized the concept of progressive revelation.

Redemption, a major theme in Conner's theology, includes election, the work of Christ, becoming a Christian, the Christian life, the church, and last things. But it is not the self-election of believers by repentance and faith or merely God's foreknowing who would repent and believe. God is responsible for faith, but not unbelief. Hence, Conner has been classified under "modified Calvinistic predestination."

Conner taught one general resurrection of all humans at the time of the second coming of Jesus, whereas in 1945 he, following T. P. Stafford, inclined toward the view that resurrection bodies are received at death and resurrection itself will accompany the second coming. In 1924 Conner inclined toward postmillennialism, but in 1945 he identified himself generally with Amillennialism.
I am interested in comparing his views on faith and unbelief with those of Henreich Bullinger who co-authored the First Helvetic Confession, who counseled and encouraged the English Reformers, whose Decades served as a theological textbook for the Elizabethan Church, and who is sometimes described as a leading light of the “other Reformed theology.”

The Rise of Reformed Charismatics

A 21st-century global movement sets the Word on fire with gospel preaching and powerful spiritual gifts.

The rollicking worship pulsed for nearly an hour in the humid Sanctuary: energetic singing, hundreds of hands raised, prophetic words referencing the Spirit’s flames, and sparks of spontaneous prayer among strangers from different states and nations.

When the worship ended, the crowd sat down, opened their English Standard Version Bibles and settled in for a 35-minute expository sermon on Galatians from King’s Church London teaching pastor Andrew Wilson, who brought a different kind of fire.

Each night of the Advance church planting network’s global conference featured this sort of hybrid—doctrinally rich, gospel-focused, Reformed preaching sandwiched between free-flowing charismatic worship—a combination that would make many a Presbyterian (and a few Pentecostals) squirm.

But for the crowd gathered at Covenant Life Church in suburban Washington, DC, including pastors from Kenya, Nepal, Australia, and Thailand, it flowed as naturally as it does in their own Reformed charismatic churches—more than 70 of them across the globe.

Advance is hardly the only group in the middle of this theological Venn diagram, with growing numbers of theologically savvy, Spirit-filled followers in the United States, Britain, and around the world. Five hundred years after the Reformation, Luther’s 21st-century inheritors are embracing the Holy Spirit in new and deeper ways. Read More

Hey Pastor, Here Are 7 Things Your Church Won’t Tell You

You’re not God…you know that. But you may be the next best thing for people in your church. People perceive pastors to be holy, at least holier than they are.

Because of this, people won’t tell you stuff. Bright, perceptive people see things that could help you and the church, yet they keep it to themselves. Some of them will tell you everything about everything. But it’s hard to get good information from the good people.

No man can gain perspective in the midst of his circumstances. We all need fresh eyes occasionally. I’ve never worked for a church or even consulted. I’m a business guy with an MBA. But I’ve been a church member all my life, involved in the early days of several that have grown pretty big.

My only agenda is the one we share…to build the Kingdom.

So, with my fresh eyes, I’m going to tell you seven things your church won’t. So, drop your guard and open your mind. There might be an idea or two that can help you or your church. Read More

Will You Pray for Awakening? Download Your Free Prayer Guide

We live in a world that needs awakening. What is awakening? It is a powerful movement of the Spirit of God to convert many people to Christ and to renew in His church a zeal for His truth, for spiritual growth, and for missions. This was Dr. Sproul’s passion, and in the final years of his life, he was constantly in prayer for awakening. He prayed and labored to see nonbelievers and the church itself awakened to the true character of God. So vital is this concern to Ligonier Ministries, we made awakening the theme of our 2018 National Conference and dedicated the entire year to pray for awakening. Learn More

A Catechism on the Heart

Sometimes people ask authors, “Which of your books is your favorite?” The first time the question is asked, the response is likely to be “I am not sure; I have never really thought about it.” But forced to think about it, my own standard response has become, “I am not sure what my favorite book is; but my favorite title is A Heart for God.” I am rarely asked, “Why?” but (in case you ask) the title simply expresses what I want to be: a Christian with a heart for God.

Perhaps that is in part a reflection of the fact that we sit on the shoulders of the giants of the past. Think of John Calvin’s seal and motto: a heart held out in the palm of a hand and the words “I offer my heart to you, Lord, readily and sincerely.” Or consider Charles Wesley’s hymn:
O for a heart to praise my God!
A heart from sin set free.
Some hymnbooks don’t include Wesley’s hymn, presumably in part because it is read as an expression of his doctrine of perfect love and entire sanctification. (He thought it possible to have his longing fulfilled in this world.) But the sentiment itself is surely biblical. Read More

The Long and Short of Sermons

That lament echoes through the Psalms, appears in Habakkuk, recurs in Revelation—and pervades the meandering minds of restless parishioners obliged to suffer the pastor’s preaching past the point of effectiveness and endurance. An expression of extreme suffering and bewilderment is hardly the response a pastor hopes for when he delivers himself of a week’s worth of preparation.

How long should a sermon be? As a preaching professor and a pastor, I’ve asked and been asked that question a hundred times. Today, after 35 years in ministry, I have a definitive answer: You can preach as long as you hold their attention.

Obviously (though perhaps not to everyone) that means some preachers are able to preach longer than others, not because of mere natural gifting, but because of faithfulness to biblical and practical techniques, which are not at all contradictory. In fact, they go hand in hand. Many preachers have on the one hand consoled themselves that their churches are filled with people who have itching ears, and on the other prided themselves that they don’t compromise the truth when really all they’ve done is preached God’s Word badly.

While such situations certainly exist—and my heart goes out to any faithful preacher who lovingly and skillfully preaches the Word to people with cold, indifferent hearts—we shouldn’t be so quick to assume the problem lies exclusively in the pew with no responsibility in the pulpit. Read More

4 Reasons Why God Isn't Answering Your Prayers

God answers every prayer — but he often says “no.” Why does God sometimes not answer your prayers the way you want him to?

There’s more than just four reasons, I’m sure. But below are a few things that come to mind. Some may apply to you, some of them won’t. Read More

Monday, January 15, 2018

Five Common Barriers to Becoming a Simple Church

Yes, many of our churches are too complex.

You’ve heard my advocacy of the simple church on more than one occasion. Too many congregations are wasting precious time, money, and energy doing too much.

Simply stated, many of our churches are complex churches. In fact, the churches are so complex that they have ceased to do ministry effectively.

Too many programs. Too many meetings. Too many events. Too many ministries.

You get the picture.

Now the question is: Why? Why do we allow our churches to become complex churches? Or to state it differently: What are some common barriers to becoming a simple church? I see five of them again and again. Read More

6 Questions Newcomers Are Asking About Your Church

Of all the people who drop out of church, our studies indicate that a whopping 82 percent leave in their first year. Like a new baby entering the world, that first year is critical to the survival of the new believer and new member.

Further study indicates that people do not leave at random times throughout that first year. Rather, we see two definite “spikes” at which time an inordinate number of newcomers simply stop coming. We interviewed 36 people who had stopped attending after six months, then another 36 who had stopped attending after a year. “What happened?” we asked. “Could you tell us your story?”

As they talked, we listened for common themes and discovered certain questions newcomers are asking in the first 12 months of their church involvement. Often, they are not even aware of their actual concerns. But in these “post-mortem” conversations, the issues became readily apparent. Read More

Does the Church’s First Spiritual Abuse Verdict Give Critics a New Weapon?

We emulate Jesus when we expose abuse. But dividing it into special categories may do more harm than good.

For the first time, the Church of England has formally found one of its leaders guilty of “spiritual abuse.” The bishop’s disciplinary tribunal decided this past week that Timothy Davis, vicar of a large evangelical parish church in the Oxfordshire town of Abingdon, was guilty of “conduct unbecoming to the office and work of a clerk of holy orders through the abuse of spiritual power and authority.”

The same weekend, the Churches Child Protection Advisory Service (CCPAS) in the United Kingdom released a report on spiritual abuse which found that almost two-thirds of churchgoers who took an online survey (1,002 of 1,591) felt that they had personally experienced it.

The report’s findings suggested more training is needed to help people recognize spiritual abuse and to equip churches to deal with disclosures. The research project was led by Lisa Oakley from the National Centre for Post Qualifying Social Work (NCPQSW) at Bournemouth University, and assisted by Justin Humphreys, one of CCPAS’s executive directors. Read More

Is God a Good Father?

If God is really our father, as he says in the Bible, if he really loves us like a father, or as Jesus tells us, more than earthly fathers, then surely his love is amazing, his acceptance total, and his care reliable. I love my children. I would do anything for them. But can God really love me like that—more than that?

This is one of those truths that our hearts—with all our jacked up human experiences—just cannot seem to accept. For some, comparing God’s love to that of an earthly father is more painful than promising, more destructive than inspiring. This must be some kind of trick. God must surely mean by father, something like an authoritative, distant, grumpy, quick to anger, ready to pounce, kind of figure. Read More
Many people who have or had a poor relationship with their father or were or have been abused by their father struggle with the Christian belief that God is a kind, loving, merciful heavenly Father.
Image: Public Domain

Providence Is No Excuse: Exposing a Reformed White Supremacist

It is essential to your own future that you shall learn the history of the past truly. –Robert Lewis Dabney
History teaches us that proper thought does not necessarily lead to proper action — even when those thoughts align with God’s. In numerous glaring instances, humans have been subjugated to brutal oppression by those who, by their own teachings and sermons, should have known better. Orthodoxy alone is not enough to ensure that we will live as God requires.

The history of racism in America is a clear example. Within some of our lifetimes, schools were segregated, African Americans denied full citizenship, and many of those created in the image of God were repeatedly treated as less than human. In the midst of this moral failure, many Bible-believing Christian churches wanted nothing to do with their bleeding black brother lying on the other side of the road. Though we celebrate Dr. King’s work now, few orthodox Christian churches did then. In many cases, members of these Bible-believing churches were the first to scold his efforts.

Today we rightfully celebrate the social justice work of Dr. King; but for those of us who are white, Reformed, American Christians, eulogies to King sound hollow while the echoes of white supremacy still haunt our halls. Just because we embrace traditional Reformed orthodoxy does not mean we have not afflicted atrocious injustice on our fellow human beings.

A sobering reminder of this is a champion of Reformed theology who was a white supremacist and vehemently defended the cause of slavery — a man who can teach us that “good theology” and “sinful blind spots” cannot always be so easily disentangled. Read More
These slave cabins on Oak Alley Plantation in Louisiana are not representative of the squalid conditions in which slaves lived on plantations in the southern United States in the years before the American Civil War nor are they representative of the equally squalid conditions in which former slaves lived as sharecroppers or tenant farmers after that war, often on the same plantations where they had been slaves. 

Not Just for Pastors

6 Reminders on the Importance of Pastoral Leadership

Every church deserves to [be] well fed and well led to the glory of God. Well fed churches are nourished in rich doctrine through the preaching of the Word and discipleship. Well led churches are organized with clarity of vision and a plan for accomplishing it. It has been my experience that most pastors focus on feeding the flock, but very few approach leading the flock with the same passion and sense of importance.

I have pastored The Journey Church for twelve years. In that time, I have found it easier to focus on theology and put leadership as a secondary matter. I created a list several years ago to remind myself how important it was for me as pastor to lead the church well. The list is not exhaustive, but it helped me. I hope they can be of help to others too. Read More

5 Traits of the Aware Leader

If a leader wants to be fully “aware”, there are disciplines they must have in place. For example, as a leader, do you want to easily recognize the need for change and the proper timing to introduce it? That comes partly by being a more aware leader.

Here are 5 traits of the aware leader.... Read More

12 Great Leadership Questions Every Leader Should Be Asking

One of the best things a leader can do is ask the right questions. I love to say to our team, “I only know what I know.” The leader can often be the last to know where there is a problem or what others are thinking, so asking questions is critical to good leadership. Read More

How to Deal with Criticism

I don’t like criticism. I don’t like it when someone negatively critiques my sermon, my blogs, my teaching, or anything else. I want to be humble and teachable, but I still struggle every time criticism happens. So, I’m still learning to do these things that help me in those times.... Read More

7 Things for Your 2018 Calendar

The end of the year is a time for endings and beginnings. A time to reflect and plan for the coming year. As you approach 2018, let's look at seven things that you should be thinking about putting on your church calendar. Read More

What Every Leader Should Know About Time Management—ASAP

Is it possible that you could actually accomplish more for the kingdom by doing less? Read More

How to Be Culturally Intelligent in a Fractured Age

We live in an increasingly fractured world, and only now does the church seem to realize that the era of public discourse around a common set of assumptions is over.

In his new book, Preaching with Cultural Intelligence: Understanding the People Who Hear Our Sermons, Matthew Kim, associate professor of preaching and ministry at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, wants to help pastors preach in this context. Read More