Friday, December 19, 2014

The Impending Death (and Rebirth) of Cool Church

Everything has its season.

And the season of the cool church is, in many ways, coming to an end.

There was an era when simply being a cooler church than the church down the road helped churches reach unchurched people.

There was a day when all you had to do was improve the church you led to gain traction.

Trade in the choir for a band. Turn the chancel into a platform. Add some lights, some sound, some haze. Get some great teaching in the room. And voila, you had a growing church.

But we’re quickly moving into a season where having a cool church is like having the best choir in town: it’s wonderful for the handful of people who still listen to choral music.

Somethings changing. And a hundreds of thousands of dollars in lights and great sound gear are probably not going to impact your community like they used to.

So what’s changing? Plenty. Read more

Formulary Friday: A unique salvation

Article 18 of the Church of England’s 39 Articles must surely qualify as one of the most culturally unpopular of Anglicanism’s core beliefs. Even the title is enough to upset contemporary sensitivities: 'Of obtaining eternal Salvation only by the Name of Christ.'

Even more strikingly, the actual text of the article anathematizes those who teach that everyone can be saved by their own belief system, whatever that might be. They can’t, however carefully and sincerely they try to live that belief system out.

The Roman Catholic Council of Trent anathematizes those who dissent from its views at numerous points. But this is the only such curse in the 39 Articles. Is it right to be so starkly against those who disagree that Christ is the only way? Should they effectively be consigned to hell in this way? The wording of the Article is as follows:

They also are to be had accursed that presume to say, That every man shall be saved by the Law or Sect which he professeth, so that he be diligent to frame his life according to that Law, and the light of Nature. For holy Scripture doth set out unto us only the Name of Jesus Christ, whereby men must be saved.

The Article quotes from Acts 4:12 to provide Scriptural warrant. The apostle Peter on trial before the Sanhedrin, speaks of Jesus Christ of Nazareth offering a unique salvation: 'Salvation is found in no-one else for there is no other name given amongst men by which we must be saved'. Read more

Wise Judgements

For many years biblical scholars have baulked at the idea that Jesus was a transcendent figure and have busied themselves redefining him in humanistic terms. Is this due to the ‘secular’ spirit of the age that airbrushes the Almighty from the public square?

For a period in early the twentieth century some thought there was little we could know about Jesus, for example, in 1934 Rudolph Bultmann declared, ‘We can now know almost nothing about the life and personality of Jesus’. The pendulum has swung back so that in 1985 Ed. Sanders could say, ‘We can know pretty well what Jesus was out to accomplish…we can know a lot about what he said…’. Read more

12 Keys to a More Powerful Prayer Life

Years ago, an old saint shared with me twelve prayer principles from the life of Jesus Christ. It made such a difference in my personal prayer life. There are only 17 references to Jesus praying and most of them are in the book of Luke. Read more

How to Use the Back of a Napkin to Prove to a Jehovah's Witness That Jesus Is God

Understanding the Trinity may be impossible, but proving that the Trinity is scriptural is not an especially difficult task. One needs only to define the Trinity accurately, then show that the Bible teaches the details of the definition. It makes no difference whether the word “Trinity” appears in the text or not. It only matters if the doctrine is taught there.

The definition of the Trinity is straightforward: there is only one God and He subsists as three distinct persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. One God in three persons. Simple. Read more

More Characteristics of High-Definition Evangelism

What gospel-centered evangelism looks like in a multiethnic context.

A few weeks ago, I shared three characteristics of high-definition evangelism. Today, I want to continue that conversation with three more ideas to help you be intentional in reaching out to a multiethnic world.

In the earlier article, I shared how gospel-centered vision, worship and discipleship shape high-definition evangelism in our communities. The stakes are high. Only six percent of churches in America are considered growing and with a shift in demographics that is reshaping communities to be more multiethnic that ever, we need to up our game to be worthy of our calling in Christ to be fishers of men.

Let’s look at three more characteristics of churches that will impact their communities and increase the kingdom of God on earth. Read more

See also
Gospel-Centered Evangelism
7 Startling Facts: An Up Close Look at Church Attendance in America

Photo: Brandon Robinson

Young British women being groomed as 'jihadi brides'

Young British women are being groomed online and offered cash incentives such as free travel to become "jihadi brides" according to an investigation in The Times.

The paper's three-month investigation, published without reporter bylines for security reasons, found that women as young as 17 are being offered cash to travel to Syria and marry fighters.

Journalists posed as two students, "Aisha", aged 17 and "Fatima", aged 19, to uncover how terrorists are using similar online techniques as paedophiles to attract British teens. The reporters found they were subjected to a barrage of online engagement, where friendship and a strong sense of community and identity was offered in return for betrayal and defection. Read more

Christmas 2014 ‘evokes not joy but fears’ for India’s Christians

Christmas is an occasion mostly associated with joy and celebration. But since the start of the holiday season, India’s minority religious groups of Christians and Muslims have been especially under pressure.

The Indian Parliament has hardly functioned since the start of December because several opposition lawmakers have been protesting a series of attacks against the nation’s religious minorities. The protagonists are Hindu nationalists emboldened by India’s largest political party Bharatiya Janata Party, BJP.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a member of the BJP. The party controls a majority in Parliament and expresses a commitment to Hindutva, an ideology that defines Indian culture in terms of Hindu values. Read more

See also
India Intervenes on Christmas Conversion of Thousands of Christians to Hinduism


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Churches and Cruises to Nowhere

Carnival Cruise Lines offers cruises to nowhere out of Norfolk, Virginia. You pay for a ticket, pack your bags, board a boat, and cruise to nowhere. You live on a boat for a few days—a boat that is going nowhere. In fact, here is a screen shot of the publicized itinerary for an upcoming cruise. Notice the lack of ports on the map:

My friend and colleague Todd Adkins says that many churches are like cruises to nowhere. A group of people get together and there is nowhere in particular that they are going. Of course, there is great value in the community, as God uses community to mature His people, but in many churches there seems to be no plan to actually go anywhere together. Here are three ways some churches are like a cruise to nowhere.... Read more

Does the Bible teach that women can be deacons?

I have been preaching through the Pastoral Epistles at my church, and a few Sundays ago I delivered a message on deacons from 1 Timothy 3:8-16. You can listen to the sermon below or download it here....

The second point of the sermon focuses on verse 11 and deals with whether Paul intends for women to serve as deacons. This is a controversial question, and I obviously don’t treat it exhaustively in this sermon. Nevertheless, here’s where I came down.

11 Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things.

Verse 11 actually sticks out a little bit in context. Why would Paul drop in a reference to “women” in a passage about deacons? Read more
Amid the news of the appointment of the Church of England's first woman bishop, I thought that it would be interesting to visit the issue of the ordination of women, in this particular case women deacons. Two objections can be raised to women in ordained ministry. The first objection is the lack of a clear scriptural warrant for their ordination as deacons, much less as elder-overseers (or presbyter-bishops). The second objection is more complicated. The movement for the ordination of women is driven by humanistic and secular concerns more than theological ones. One of the unfortunate developments arising from the humanist, secular nature of this movement is that too many women pursuing ordination and attending seminary to that end become influenced by theological liberalism and religious pluralism. This is not to say that women are particularly susceptible to these influences as opposed to men but the environment that women's ordination movement creates and in which it flourishes tends to promote these influences.  

Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, the English Reformation, and Protestant Character of Historic Anglicanism

I originally posted this article in October of this year. It was first posted by ACL News in two installments in September 2001. It is an interview with Dr. Ashley Null whose special area of interest is Archbishop Thomas Cranmer as the principal architect of the English Reformation and the primary author of three key historic Anglican formularies -- the Book of Homilies, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Articles of Religion.

Who was Thomas Cranmer and why is he important for Anglicans?

Thomas Cranmer was born in 1489 and baptised into the medieval catholic church. He studied at Cambridge, receiving a Doctorate of Divinity in 1526, and served there as a don.

As a theologian, Cranmer was very much influenced by Erasmus’ emphasis on going back to the original sources for the Christian faith, in particular, of course, the Bible.

In the late 1520s, the authority of Scripture was at the centre of the most pressing English political issue of the day – Henry VIII’s divorce case. The king and his scholars argued that the Pope did not have the authority to set aside a clear Scriptural commandment against a moral sin. Since Leviticus 20:21 specifically forbids taking the wife of one’s brother, Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon was invalid, despite having received papal approval. True to his own theological convictions on Scripture, Cranmer agreed.

Once Henry learned of Cranmer’s views on the subject, he invited the Cambridge don to join his team of scholars. In 1532, as part of that effort, Henry sent Cranmer to Germany as his ambassador to the Emperor.

While in Germany, Cranmer came under the influence of Protestantism. Not only did he acquire a new wife – who was the niece of the wife of the German reformer Andreas Osiander – but he also acquired a clearly protestant understanding of justification.

His commitment to Scripture and to the early Church Fathers, like Augustine, helped Cranmer to grasp the Protestants’ emphasis on salvation by grace alone. His Erasmian studies, therefore, laid the bridge for him to cross over from being a catholic to a protestant.

Then, quite unexpectedly, Henry VIII called Cranmer back to be the next Archbishop of Canterbury. Naturally, he was quite reluctant. No doubt, though, he accepted the position because he saw it as his task to use such a powerful position to restore the English Church to its scriptural roots. And, of course, that’s what Cranmer did for the rest of his life as the Archbishop of Canterbury – seeking to bring the Church of England back to a sound, biblical faith.

Under Henry’s successor, the boy king Edward VI, he was primarily responsible for the three key formularies of the Church of England: the Book of Homilies, the Book of Common Prayer and the Articles of Religion. Therefore, understanding Cranmer’s theology is essential for understanding the theological origins of the Anglican Communion. Read more

4 Essential Values for Small Church Pastors

To have a thriving small church, concentrate on these basics. Read more

The State of Theology: Worshiping Alone

It’s difficult to be a pastor in America these days. Five out of ten Americans think you don’t need the church. So do three out of ten Evangelical Protestants. As the The State of Theology survey also shows, the majority of Americans do not see their pastor’s sermons as carrying authority over them. You can find the full results of the survey at These few questions related to the local church, however, deserve a closer look and our significant attention.

As we turn to the pages of the New Testament, we see the church emerging as the institution God blesses. The Gospel accounts end with Jesus promising to build and establish His church, and Acts begins with the church in fact being built and established. Paul was a church planter. The last letters that he wrote and that were included in the Canon were his Pastoral Epistles. In these final inspired words, Paul lays down the law for God’s people. For Paul, the church is the household of God, the Living God. The church is the pillar and buttress of truth (1 Tim 3:15)

. This fledgling church continued to thrive against all odds. It suffered persecution without at the hands of the Roman Empire. It also faced hardship within at the hands of false teachers and heretics. Yet, the church grew and flourished. It is hard to look over the pages of church history and not see the church playing an indispensable role in the lives of individual Christians. John Calvin writes, “I shall start, then, with the church, into whose bosom God is pleased to gather his sons, not only that they may be nourished by her help and ministry as long as they are infants and children, but also that they may be guided by her motherly care until they mature and at last reach the goal of faith.” Calvin adds, “For those to whom he is Father the church may also be Mother” (Inst. 4.1.1.). Here Calvin references the church father Cyprian: “You cannot have God for your Father unless you have the church for your Mother.” Through the centuries the church was indispensable. Read more
The Christian faith and way of life is something that must be practiced in community with other believers, not in isolation from them. This is the pattern that our Lord himself established. We cannot grow to maturity in Christ if we separate ourselves from our fellow believers. When removed from the fire, a burning coal will quickly become extinguished. When returned to the fire, it will burst into flames again.  A fire made up of burning coals piled together can warm an entire room. A burning coal on its own becomes cold like the rest of the room. 

Pregnant women shot by Islamic State for refusing to be sex slaves

At least 150 women, some of them pregnant, have been executed by Islamic State fighters in the western Iraqi province of Al-Anbar, according to the Anadolu news agency.

Iraq's Ministry of Human Rights released a statement saying: "At least 150 females, including pregnant women, were executed in Fallujah by a militant named Abu Anas Al-Libi after they refused to accept jihad marriage. Read more

Sharp rise in number of Christian girls being attacked in Pakistan

The assault on Christian girls in Pakistan continues, and the number of cases has risen to an alarming rate.

One of the most recent incidents targeting the country's Christian minority is the alleged rape of two teenage girls at gunpoint in Pakistan's Punjab province.

Release International reports that the girls, aged 14 and 16, were attacked on their way to the toilet in a village in Jaranwala district on November 28. Read more

See also
Pakistan -- Sharp Rise in Attacks on Christian Girls
The Muslim rape of Christian girls in Pakistan is deplorable as is the Taliban murder of Muslim children in Peshwar. Both point to the moral and spiritual bankruptcy of Islam. 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Anglicans Ablaze Midweek Special Edition: December 17, 2014

In this midweek special edition of Anglicans Ablaze:

Salvation and the Mission of God: John Hammett Part 1

Dr. John Hammett elaborates on the role of election in salvation and the scope of the atonement.

The Order of Salvation
When considering the order of salvation, I usually begin with Rom. 8:29-30 and add to it from my understanding of depravity (texts such as Eph. 2:1-3) and sanctification (as both initial and progressive; Heb. 10:10, 14). So I see salvation as beginning with God’s foreknowledge, which I see as God’s choice in eternity past to set his love upon a certain group (the “those” of Rom. 8:29-30). His love for them is expressed in his decision to predestine them for conformity to the image of Christ. I regard this as another way to express election for salvation. Thus, I affirm unconditional election to salvation.

I see biblical teaching on election as asymmetrical; that is, I affirm election to salvation, but see condemnation as attributed to human rejection of God. I illustrate this by seeing all of humanity as willfully choosing rebellion, loving darkness and running and hiding from God. In grace, he reaches out and restrains some. He is thus the cause of the salvation of the saved, yet not the cause of the condemnation of the lost.

Romans 8:29-30 gives calling as the next step in the order of salvation and the rest of Scripture does not flesh this step out in detail. I would see, by implication from the larger narrative on Scripture, that it would involve some measure of illumination, such that one is willing to see a need for forgiveness, and would normally involve hearing the gospel message.

The next steps are ones on which I am less dogmatic, but I think regeneration-faith-justification makes more sense than other alternatives. Some place faith and justification prior to regeneration, but I know of no verses that teach explicitly regeneration by faith, while justification by faith is a central New Testament teaching. I see regeneration as necessary to enable those dead in sin and trespasses to exercise faith and thus be justified. Read more

6 Steps Toward a Courageous Organization

Courage. Everyone wants it. But few truly live with it, and out of it. The reality is, courage is not just a personal trait. It’s an organizational trait as well. And we all want, in some way, to be part of an organization and team that’s willing to push up the hill, against the odds, beyond all doubts, to achieve results most thought impossible. So here are a few thoughts about creating a courageous organizational culture.... Read more

How to Design Next Steps and First Steps

At Canyon Ridge we want to provide next steps for every Ridger and first steps for their friends. The essence of the idea is that when you think about the various kinds of people who attend your church, each of the various kinds of people would require their own next step.

The simplest way to think about the various kinds of people would be to think about the differences between the never-miss-a-week type and the Christmas and Easter type. Can you see that difference? It’s probably very distinct.

Saddleback’s concentric circles illustrate the various kinds of people in an easy to understand way. I’ve provided my own definitions and descriptions of their five categories in another post. Again, the key is in understanding that each of the various category would require their own next step. See also, Clue #2 When Designing Your Small Group System.

Here’s my prescription for designing next steps for everyone.... Read more

One Sentence That Pastors and Church Staff Hate to Hear

The moment they hear it, they feel the “cringe factor” throughout their body. Even as the first few words are spoken, the recipient feels his or her emotions plummeting. It is the one sentence that is uniformly dreaded by pastors and church staff. It typically begins with these words:

“People are saying that . . . “

The full sentence could say; “People are saying that you don’t visit enough.” Another example is: “People are saying that our student ministry is not doing well.” Or one more example is: “People are saying that you don’t have good office hours.”

The sentence might specify a group while maintaining anonymity for the individuals: “Some elders are not happy with you” or “A lot of the staff are unhappy.”

You get the point. It could be phrased a number of ways, but the meaning is still similar. “People” is never defined. The true complainer is never identified. It is one of the most frustrating and demoralizing sentences pastors and staff will hear. Here are some reasons for the frustration.... Read more

What to Do When You’re Waiting for a Lead Position

Recently I posted "The Tension Between Staying in a Learning Position and Jumping into the Lead Position". The point was there is a fine line between when a person is ready to be in a senior leadership role and needs to remain in a learning position. The post was to help discern that proper time to make the transition.

I know some 20-something year old youth pastors who will some day be senior pastors, for example. When’s the right time to make the jump and when should they stay in their current position? I know some entry-level managers in large organizations who could move to a higher position in a smaller organization. When should they jump? That was the idea behind the post.

It stirred quite a discussion offline.

One repeated question:

How does one manage the tension well while in a learning position until the transition to a leading position takes place?

I would first say make sure there is a tension. These suggestions are intended for those who sense they are being called to a senior leadership position — someday — but haven’t made the jump for whatever reason. They are living in the “tension”. The advice is hopefully good at any stage of life, but that’s my intent of this post.

But, also know that you’re asking the right question. Never waste a wait. God is doing something where you are — He’s working behind the scenes in ways you cannot see. So, you do your part. It’s good if you’re in that waiting position that you’re asking these type questions. Read more

See also
The Tension Between Staying in a Learning Position and Jumping into the Lead Position 

5 of the Best Free Bible Study Tools

We live in a day of staggering privileges. There was a time when the only copy of the Scriptures would have been chained to the pulpit in the town’s church, and there are places where the rulers still ruthlessly hunt down copies of the Bible to be destroyed. But today in the English speaking world, we are infinitely privileged to have such free access to the word of God.

Beyond the accessibility of the Bible itself, we also have extraordinary access to powerful Bible study tools, many of which are available for free. Here are five of the best free Bible study tools online—or at least, five of my favorites that I personally use all the time. Read more
I personally have taken advantage of a number of these free Bible study tools and I highly recommend them. 

The Power of Collaborating Together for the Gospel

As I type these words I’m at a mountain retreat with 10 other youth ministry leaders from around the nation. We are collaborating around a vision that we pray will result in every teenager in America engaged in a Gospel conversation with a Christian peer. To accomplish this we need to inspire, equip and deploy at least 30,000 churches/youth ministries to join us in this quest.

That’s right 30,000!

Humanly speaking this big vision seems well beyond our capacity to achieve. But we are convinced that, through God’s strength and the power of collaboration, it can be done.

As we brainstorm and work together to synergize our efforts toward this exciting vision there are certain realities I’m discovering anew about the power of collaborating for the Gospel.

So, whether you’re on a church staff that is collaborating to reach your community for Christ or a youth ministry network that is brainstorming how to reach the teens of your city for Jesus here are four principles of Gospel advancing collaboration that may help.... Read more

A Simple 5-Step Discipleship Process for Any Small Church (That Won’t Wear Out the Pastor)

My church doesn’t have a discipleship program.

But we disciple people.

For a couple years, we adopted a well-known step-by-step discipleship program that many of you would be familiar with. It started amazingly well. Almost everyone in the church went through the first step of it together and the positive feedback we received was overwhelming.

But fewer people signed up for the following steps. By Step 4, I was having one-on-one meetings in a coffee shops, struggling to get through material that was designed for a classroom setting.

If you pastor a Small Church, you may have experienced similar frustrations.

I’m grateful for the people who have put their wisdom, time and energy into writing good discipleship curriculum. But nothing is perfect. No program can meet every need. Here are a few reasons why. Read more

Hanukkah an 'Evangelism Opportunity'

Each holiday season Ric Worshill looks forward to the celebration that provides him with a natural opportunity to tell his friends and family that Jesus is the light of the world.

But it's not Christmas.

As a Messianic Jew (a Jew who follows Jesus as the Messiah), Worshill celebrates Hanukkah annually for eight days to commemorate the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem after the Jewish people won independence from foreign rulers some 150 years before the birth of Christ -- during the period between the Old and New Testaments. According to Jewish tradition, the military victory and subsequent rededication were accompanied by a one-day supply of ceremonial oil miraculously providing light for eight days in the temple lampstand -- which reminds Worshill and other Messianic believers that Jesus is the light of the world.

Hanukkah begins on the 25th day of the month of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar, which is Dec. 16 this year. In other years Hanukkah can begin anywhere from late November to late December.

Hanukkah "is a great evangelism opportunity," Worshill, president of the Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship, told Baptist Press. "I use it quite often. Some of the verses I use for evangelism are about light."

Among those verses are the account of God creating light in Genesis, Old Testament references to God as light and Jesus' claim to be the light of the world in John 8. Using these and other passages, Worshill explains that Jesus is the divine Savior of humanity. At least six Jewish people have received Jesus as their Lord and Savior at Hanukkah through Worshill's witness, he said. Read more

See also
Six Things You Might Not Know about Hanukkah [Video]

Photo: Baptist Press

The Church Is Slime (in a Good Way!)

An excerpt from ‘The New Parish: How Neighborhood Churches are Transforming Mission, Discipleship and Community.’

In August of 2000 Toshiyuki Nakagaki made a very bizarre announcement to the world. He and his colleagues had trained a type of brainless slime to solve a complex maze. To demonstrate their achievement, Nakagaki’s team decided to chop up a single slime mold and scatter the pieces throughout a plastic maze. The separate slime clusters began to grow and find one another, until they filled the entire labyrinth. Next, Nakagaki placed food samples at the start and end of the maze with four different routes to the goal. Four hours later the hungry slime mold had retracted its tentacles from the dead-end corridors, growing exclusively along the shortest route between the two pieces of food. The brainless blob became “smart slime,” solving the complex maze.

In a world that trains you to reduce all things to the lowest common denominator, the collective characteristics of slime molds are breathtaking. When food is scarce, slimes that are in the same proximity don’t fight over scarce resources. Instead, they join together in an orderly manner to form a completely new multicellular creature—a type of slug—from scratch. The right context and connectivity releases collective features you could never foresee by observing them individually.

Our book is an exploration of a forgotten, but truly hopeful, possibility. Don’t take this the wrong way, but we think the local church is meant to function like slime. Read more
This article is labeled "limited access." You may need to register to read it. The article is also available only in December. I made a Word copy of the article to read and digest at my leisure. You may want to do the same thing.

Updated: Rev Libby Lane Will Be First Woman Bishop for Church of England

A saxophone-playing Oxford graduate who lives a "Christ-centred life" has been appointed the first woman bishop in the Church of England.

Downing Street this morning announced that the new Bishop of Stockport will be Rev Libby Lane, currently vicar of St Peter's, Hale, and St Elizabeth's, Ashley in the Chester diocese. She will be consecrated at the end of January.

Because she will not be a diocesan bishop, she will not be among the women bishops that will be fast-tracked into the House of Lords. Bishop of Stockport is a suffragan or assistant bishop post in her current diocese. Southwell and Nottingham is understood to have women on its shortlist for a new diocesan bishop and Oxford is also likely to consider women when the appointments process begins next year. Read more

See also
New: First female bishop named as the Reverend Libby Lane
The Revd Libby Lane Announced as Bishop of Stockport
Reform Media Statement on the appointment of the Revd. Libby Lane
Well, OK, but just this once ...
According to the official Church of England press release Lane's husband is learning to play the saxophone. No mention of her playing the saxophone.
Photo: Anglican Ink

How to Read a Persecution News Story

Jessica Boulos, killed in Cairo, Egypt on Aug. 6, 2013. (Morning Star News photo courtesy of Boulos family)

In response to requests from readers of the persecution news service I edit, Morning Star News, I’ll share how I handle dealing with so much horrific news that can leave one either despondent or desensitized.

The horror of some of the stories, along with the sense of helplessness they leave in their wake, can be wearying. I’ve heard many a reader sigh that they just don’t want to read it anymore; it’s too depressing. Imagine what it’s like, then, for a journalist to write about and edit it for 14 years.

The incessant flow of bad news has led me to the only thing that can parry the effect of the continual buffeting of the soul – giving it over to God. Sometimes when my 19-month-old daughter falls asleep in my arms, I pray for parents in Nigeria whose children have been slain in their beds by Muslim extremists. When my 4-year-old son cries after falling down, sometimes I’m reminded later to send up a prayer for children in Somalia who cry out for mothers and fathers lost to murderous Islamists.

A slight chill wind might lead me to pray for Christians in North Korean labor camps who suffer icy temperatures day and night without adequate food, clothing and medicines.

The annual International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (IDOP) in November reminds us that persecution news is meant to elicit prayer. But how to pray? Read more

India: Pastor, Church Members Singing Christmas Carols Violently Attacked by 30 Hindu Radicals

A group of around 30 Hindu radicals reportedly attacked a Christian pastor and 15 of his church members singing Christmas carols in the Indian city of Hyderabad over the weekend, accusing the Christians of trying to convert people. The attack left Pastor Bhim Nayak of Banjara Baptist Church and four other Christians severely injured.

International Christian Concern reported that the attack occurred on Saturday night, when Nayak and his church members were singing carols while visiting other Christian families in the Singareny Colony in Hyderabad. The radicals surrounded the Christians and their vehicle, before accusing them of trying to forcefully convert people to Christianity.

What followed was a severe beating that left Nayak unconscious and covered in blood, needing to be taken to the hospital and receive first aid. The local hospital has said that the pastor remains in critical condition, while four other Christians injured in the attack are receiving medical attention as well. Read more

See also
Night of Christmas Caroling Turned to Terror by Hindu Radicals in India

Islamic State Selling Church Artefacts Worth Millions to Western Collectors

Western collectors are thought to be in direct contact with Islamic State looters, who have taken millions of pounds worth of artefacts from ancient churches across Iraq and Syria, it has been claimed.

President of the Belgian federal police council, Willy Bruggeman, told The Times that ISIS are "using their own networks to come into contact with the final buyers...they want to have a one-to-one relationship with the collectors".

Bruggeman also said that some looted goods had almost certainly been sold to UK buyers, though none have as yet been traced. Read more
Western collectors may pay more for these artefacts than they bargained for. ISIS is positioning itself where it can exhort money from the final buyer for its silence. 

Muslim Clerics Who Incited Lynching of Pakastani Christian Couple Likely to Escape Punishment [Correction]

Pakistan Supreme Court Orders Arrest of Muslim Clerics Who Incited Mob to Kill Christian Couple With Pregnant Wife

Pakistan's Supreme Court has ordered the arrest of two Muslim clerics for inciting a violent mob of hundreds of Muslims to brutally beat, torture, burn and murder a married Christian couple in the Punjab Province in early November.

The court also ordered disciplinary action to be levied against five police officials, who were present during the time of the beatings but took no action to protect the two individuals. Additionally, the court ordered a complete investigation into the incident and also ordered compensation payments to be made to the family of the victimized couple. Read more

Pakistan Local Gov't Destroyed 13 Christian Families' Homes After They Refused to Work for Free as Bonded Laborers

Thirteen Christian families in a small village located in the Punjab province of Pakistan are now homeless after the local municipal government demolished their homes because the families refused to work for no pay and become bonded laborers.

Members of the Christian families, who all worked at a local brick kiln in the village of Samundri, refused to continue working unless they received fair compensation for their labor. Pakistan Christian Post reports that the village's municipal government carried out the destruction of their homes last week after being pressured to do so by the "influential" Muslims who owned the brick kiln operation. Read more

See also
13 Christian families become homeless in Pakistan
Bonded labor is illegal under Pakistani law. Will the Muslims who owned the brick kiln operation face prosecution? Not likely. I also expect the two Muslim clerics who were arrested for inciting the mob who burned a pregnant Christian woman and her husband alive eventually to be released without suffering any consequences for their crime. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Church Plant: Survive, Succeed, Thrive

Best Predictors for Church Plant Survivability

Realistic expectations. The chance of survivability increases by more than 400 percent when a church planter’s expectations meet reality. Of those who said their expectations were realized, 87 percent of their churches survived. Only 61 percent of church plants survived among those who did not have their expectations met.

Church member leadership development. When church planters provide this, the odds of survivability increase by more than 250 percent. Of those church planters who provided leadership training to church members, 79 percent of their churches survived compared to only 59 percent without the training. Read more

Should the Church Be About Transformation? Or Stability?

Transformation or stability.

Sometimes it seems like every pastor I meet lives in one of those two camps.

On the transformation side are churches with names like Catalyst, Thrive and Elevation. They’re led by pastors who are constantly driving for their church to be an agent of change. Some have even changed the title of “pastor” to “lead catalyst” to reflect that. These churches thrive on finding new, innovative ways to present the Gospel.

On the other side are churches and pastors that are digging in. They’re fighting what often feels like a losing battle against waves of negative societal change. They like to describe their church as bible-believing, fundamentalist, and/or “First (insert your denominational name here) Church”. One church sign I saw recently told everyone who drove by that they were "Old-Fashioned, Hymn-Singing and Bible Believing."

So who’s right? The church as change agent? Or the church as a stable foundation?

Both. And neither.

Both are right, because the church needs to be a transformative community. And the church needs to stand for eternal truths.

Neither are right if they’re picking one side to the exclusion of the other, because we’re not called to be one or the other, but both/and.

Any church that sacrifices eternal truths for current trends is making a big mistake. And any church that refuses to change their methods to reach a new generation with eternal truths is just as wrong.

One is too trendy to last. The other is too stuck-in-a-rut to be relevant.

Most churches emphasize one or the other. A healthy church does both. Read more

7 of the Most Dangerous Leadership Mindsets I’ve Observed

I’ve seen it so many times.

A leader could even be doing everything else right and one flawed mindset can overshadow — jeopardize all the good leadership principles we know.

One constantly repeated action. One trait. One habit. One mindset.

And, sadly, many times it’s not even that the person isn’t a good leader — it’s that one mindset that gets them off track. And, so I believe leaders should constantly be working on bad mindsets that keep them from being as successful as they can be. Read more
An unfortunate tendency observable in Anglican and Episcopal dioceses and churches is the tendency to give the bishop, the rector, or the vicar, as the case may be, all the credit for the success of an undertaking even though he may have played a negligible role in its success. This includes undertakings that were successful despite the bishop or priest in charge.

Joe McKeever: The Kind of Bridge I Want

The Huey P. Long Bridge crosses the Mississippi River a few miles downriver from here. It was dedicated in 1935, a time when cars were small and narrow and governments needed to put men to work. That’s why they gave New Orleans its first bridge across the river and named it after this politician of dubious merit. (That’s a pet peeve of mine, but I’ll move right along.)

The problem with that bridge for all the decades since is that its two lanes were too narrow and curving for modern cars and trucks. Each lane was 9 feet wide, with no shoulders alongside. Signs forbade trucks from passing anyone, and motorists caught up on their prayers driving across it. It really could be frightening.

Then, in recent years, the government finally decided it was high time to upgrade that bridge, and shelled out something like a billion dollars to widen it and correct some of its flaws. These days, driving across that huge wide expanse is a pure joy. (The lanes are 11 feet wide, bordered by a 2 feet-wide shoulder to the inside and an 8-foot shoulder to the outside.)

What I wanted to tell you, though, was something an engineer said about the original bridge, something I find fascinating.

Now, in the middle of the bridge is a railroad track. Long freight trains cross it all the time. Motorists crossing the bridge will often feel a shudder from the heavy trains just to the left.

In the mid-30s, all locomotives were steam engines and were massive. Architects designing the bridge went with the assumption that engines of the future would just keep getting bigger and heavier, and thus the bridge would have to withstand the greater weight. So, they build a monster of a foundation with a massive structural framework. The Huey P. would be ready for whatever came.

What they could not have anticipated was the advent of diesel locomotives. So, instead of getting heavier and heavier, engines became lighter.

Engineers say the bridge was built to hold such a massive weight that the actual weight of the cars and trucks on it at any time is negligible.

Think of that. At any given time, a hundred automobiles may be crossing the river, many of them 18-wheelers. And yet, the combined weight and stress they produce on the bridge is negligible.

I love that.

It’s called redundancy and it’s a great concept.

“Redundancy” means something is constructed with backup strength and fail safe methods. If one part goes, the other compensates. Read more
I drove across the Huey P. Long Bridge on numerous occasions before the bridge was upgraded. Crossing the bridge could indeed be a frightening experience. In places the pavement had given away, creating holes in the road through which the Mississippi River could be seen far below. On at least one occasion an 18-wheeler went through the railings. Huey P. Long, nicknamed "the King Fish,"  was a controversial figure in Louisiana and U.S.  politics. Controversy also surrounds his untimely death--whether he was assassinated or accidentally killed by his own bodyguards. To read about Huey P. Long, click here.

How Not to Preach Matthew’s Birth Narratives at Christmas

It may seem to be impossible to misinterpret the birth narratives in our advent sermons. What could be easier to preach at Christmas than the birth of Jesus? What could be harder to misread than these plain, simple stories of Jesus coming into the world?

But when we turn off our interpretational radar, we are likely to crash and burn.

Unfortunately, pastors often substitute secondary applications for the primary interpretation in their Christmas sermons. We sideline the main purpose for these stories – to teach about Jesus – and focus on the incidental actions of the characters instead.

How does that happen? Let’s look at Matthew’s birth narratives and see. Read more

Why are Working Women Starting to Unplug from Their Churches?

When we look in the pews on Sunday morning, what kinds of women do we see?

Wives with their husbands? Mothers with their children? The single women sitting alone in the back rows?

Yes, they are all of those things and so much more. How do we use these women to grow and serve the church? Read more

See also
The Surprising Link between Church Attendance and Job Satisfaction

The Dangers of Door-to-Door Evangelism

Why winning people for Christ needs something better than a polished sales pitch.

I spent most of the 1980s attending secular colleges where tolerance and diversity trumped truth, especially Christian truth, every time. Needless to say, if I was to stay centered in my faith, I would need to find fellowship with other students who believed the gospel and desired to share it with others. But which group to choose? The best candidates were InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) and Campus Crusade for Christ (now CRU).

Though I respected, and continue to respect, both groups equally, I eventually chose IVCF because it put more focus on friendship evangelism and less on door-to-door evangelism. Whereas the door-to-door method follows a sales model, with the evangelist approaching a stranger and then taking him through a carefully scripted gospel presentation (the booklet of choice in my day was “The Four Spiritual Laws”), the friendship model attempts first to cultivate a relationship with a non-believer (who might live in your dorm or attend classes with you) and then introduce the gospel in a more casual and natural way.

At the time, I did not possess any theories about the most effective or most biblical method of evangelism. I gravitated toward friendship evangelism because it better suited my personality and because, well, it “felt” right. Like many other Americans, I’ve always hated the “hard sell” and have quickly (if politely) closed the door or hung up the phone whenever a solicitor has tried to sell me something. If I was going to share the message of grace with my fellow students, I did not want it to sound like a sales pitch. I wanted it to rise up organically from our friendship, or at least from a sense of shared interests and passions. Read more
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New Pew Research Poll Reveals Complexity of American Views on Religious Issues: Two Articles

The War on Christmas is over. Jesus won.

Kirk Cameron can breathe easy: the War on Christmas is over. Jesus won.

That's the implication of a new Pew Research Center survey that finds nearly three-quarters of Americans -- 73 percent -- believe that Jesus was literally born to a virgin. This is especially surprising when you consider that only one third of Americans say that the Bible is the word of God and should be understood literally.

In other words, about 40 percent of Americans say the Bible should, in general, not be taken literally, but they nevertheless believe in the virgin birth. In addition, 81 percent say Jesus was laid in a manger, 75 percent say that the three wise men brought him gifts of frankincense, gold and myrrh, and 74 percent say that his birth was announced by an angel to the shepherds. Read more

Americans mostly OK with religious displays on public property

When it comes to religious holiday displays, Americans show that their views are a bit complicated.

Most Americans are OK with religious holiday displays on government property as long as multiple symbols are represented, according to a new Pew Research poll.

The poll, released today, found that 44% of Americans think that Christian symbols should be allowed on government property regardless of whether other religions are represented.

Twenty-eight percent said that those symbols should not be allowed unless accompanied by symbols of other faiths. An example would be that a Nativity scene can be displayed if a Menorah is also present.

Whereas, 20% said there should be no religious symbols on government property. Eight percent don't know. The poll was conducted Dec. 3-7 with 1,507 adults. Read more

Monday, December 15, 2014

3 Ways to Figure Out What to Do, In the Light of Who You Are

In the past few weeks, we’ve looked at the importance of a leader who "understands the times" biblically (here are Old Testament and New Testament examples). Today, I want to look at why it’s important to properly understand your own personal story within that overarching biblical narrative.

Knowing “what time it is” personally is essential for making wise decisions. Reggie McNeal has done a lot of work in this area. I’m going to lean on his book on spiritual leadership in order to focus on three elements we need to discern: personal life circumstances, personal gifting, and a sense of one’s calling. Read more

A New Generation of Church Leaders Takes the Helm: Seven Articles

Dan Kimball: Listen to Tomorrow

I am part of a church where I am now the oldest staff member. I remember being on a church staff as the youngest. I’d be sitting in meetings thinking how much older the senior pastor was. The women’s director could have been my mom. I was the young one with fresh ideas and a pulse on the culture and the world. Now, I could almost be a dad to some of the staff.

Over the years, I have grown to love being the older one. And at Vintage Faith Church, we have a young staff, including about 15 part-timers and interns. I am constantly immersed in the world of the next generation. Things are never dull, never slip into routine and I never lose touch with emerging culture. It is as if I am in a think tank of information and ideas from that age group, which has led me to these observations.... Read more

Three Common Fears of Every Young Leader

I’m convinced.

After years mentoring younger leaders, there is something all of us leaders with more experience need to know.

Every young leader shares some common fears.

Granted, I’ve mostly worked with young male leaders (and I am the parent of boys), but I suspect these fears aren’t gender exclusive.

And, they aren’t talked about much — or even admitted — the pressure to perform often keeps us from admitting fear — but they are real fears. Read more

Beyond the Dream: No Time for Leaders to Coast

Q: I’m a younger church leader. I’m just wondering what it’s like to be past all the hard and difficult building years and to actually be experiencing the fulfillment of what were once only your dreams for ministry?

I have to be honest here. This question got my head spinning with a ton of different thoughts … some nice and some not so nice. Read more

10 Concerns of Young Church Leaders

I have previously posted here about what we older leaders need to hear from young church leaders, but I continue to learn from them and about them. They are passionate, energetic, globally minded, committed . . . and concerned. Here are some of their concerns we must consider.... Read more

Three Benefits of Leading in an Established Church

Thom Rainer recently published an article giving five reasons Millennial’s are increasingly disinterested in leading in established churches. Given my personal context as a Millennial who is leading in an established church, I was intrigued. While my time leading at Faith Baptist Mill Creek has been challenging, it’s also been full of great joy, and leading at Faith has presented me with opportunities that never would have been possible in a less-established situation.

When it comes to the topic of church revitalization there are lots of voices sharing the difficulties of embarking on such a journey. And rightfully so because revitalization is tough! Tough though it may be, I believe with all my heart that there are unique opportunities available to advance the Kingdom of God through revitalization that simply aren’t available elsewhere. As someone in the midst of the process with all its ups and downs I continue to believe that revitalization is worth it. So here are five reasons this Millennial is grateful to be able to lead in an established church. Read more

4 Things Every 20-Something Church Leader Should Know

Recently I was able to be a part of a beautiful reconciliation between a number of churches in one of the largest cities in our state. Here are 4 things I learned from that experience that every 20-something church leader should keep in mind when doing mission.

If you want to seek peace and reconciliation in your city throughout the days, weeks and years to come – if you want Jesus to be glorified and his Bride to be magnified – you will want to keep these 4 things in mind.... Read more

The Pastor’s Preaching and Church Revitalization

A great deal of discussion surrounds the role of preaching, preparation, and personal devotion when it comes to the pastor’s study habits. Some pastors approach ministry from a more integrationist mode, believing that sermon preparation and a personal quiet time can be synonymous. I want to give an alternate view. My conclusions may be somewhat anecdotal, but I hope that they will be helpful nonetheless.

One of the mistakes many pastors make is to assume that sermon preparation equals personal Bible study. While it is true that a pastor gains greatly from a systematic and expositional study of Scripture in the preparation of a sermon, a great deal of difference exists between personal Bible study and sermon preparation. Here are some of my conclusions.... Read more

Is Inerrancy a Recent Theological Invention?

It is sometimes argued by evangelical non-inerrantists that the doctrine of inerrancy is a recent theological innovation that finds little to no precedent in the church. The early church fathers, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Bavink, and Kuyper, they claim, all held to a view of Scripture that was far different than what inerrantists advance today. Furthermore, it isn’t until we come to B. B. Warfield and the Princeton theologians in the early to late 19th century that we begin to find concentrated efforts to write on the doctrine of Scripture.

The conclusion: not only is inerrancy a departure from the historic position of the church, it is a doctrine that owes its origin to a specific era of church history in which the Protestant response to the assaults of higher criticism compelled scholars to form a theology of Scripture according to modernistic rather than biblical categories. Read more

Can business training solve CofE's 'toxic' leadership problem?

Senior clergy in the Church of England are being summonsed to sign up for MBA-style leadership courses as the Archbishops of Canterbury and York attempt to create a Church fit for the 21st century.

Plans for the business-style leadership programme to bring about Church growth and create a "talent" pool of future bishops and archbishops have already been condemned by clergy who have warned of "demoralisation" and "alienation".

The plans, outlined in a new report leaked online, will cost the Church £2million up to the end of 2016 and a further £785,000 a year from 2017. Read more
A useful resource to evaluate these plans in relation to the pressing need for reform of the shape of episcopacy in the Church of England is the Reform publication, "Better Bishops," by Mark Burkill.

Moroni From the Realms of Glory

You’ve got to be careful what you share online. Over the weekend Facebook and Twitter were suddenly inundated with links to a new recording of the Christmas hymn “Angels From the Realms of Glory” mashed up with “Angels We Have Heard on High.” It was recorded by The Piano Guys and features David Archuleta, a one-time runner up on American Idol. It is a creative recording that intersperses shots of the musicians with video taken to record the world’s largest nativity scene. The song is beautifully sung and the music is rich; it is no surprise that it quickly gained over one million views. Well and good, right? Well, except for one thing: Its purpose is to separate you from Jesus Christ. Read more
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, as the Mormon Church is officially called, has a  history of ramping up its proselytization efforts at Christmas time.

Indian Hindu groups banned from holding Christmas conversions

Police in India's Uttar Pradesh state have said they will not allow Hindu nationalist groups to hold a religious conversion ceremony on Christmas Day.

Mohit Agarwal, senior police official in Aligarh town where the ceremony is planned, said "strict action" would be taken against the organisers.

Conversions are legal if they do not involve force, fraud or inducement.

Last week, more than 50 Muslim families were reportedly converted to Hinduism against their will in the town of Agra. Read more

See also
Militant Hindu groups plan ‘conversions’ of Christians, Muslims on Christmas
Conversion row: Additional security sought for churches on Christmas eve

Islamic State issues abhorrent sex slavery guidelines about how to treat women

Islamic State has issued harrowing guidelines for how its militants are to treat their female slaves.

Dated October/November 2014, a Q&A leaflet details exactly how IS followers are to buy, sell and abuse "unbelieving" women – thought to mean all those who are not Sunni Muslims.

"What makes al-sabi permissible [ie what makes it permissible to take such a woman captive] is [her] unbelief. Unbelieving [women] who were captured and brought into the abode of Islam are permissible to us, after the imam distributes them," the pamphlet prescribes, according to an English translation.

"It is permissible to have sexual intercourse with the female captive," it continues. "Allah the almighty said: [Successful are the believers] who guard their chastity, except from their wives or (the captives and slaves) that their right hands possess, for then they are free from blame [Qur'an 23:5-6]." Read more

See also
Islamic State (ISIS) Releases Pamphlet On Female Slaves
British women running sex slave brothels for ISIS?

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Six Reasons Churches Change Their Names

If you want to have a major change management issue in your church, try proposing a new church name. Church members can be very attached to the current name of your church, and changing it can be a challenging process.

In this post, I offer the “why” behind a change in the name of a church. Let me be clear, I am not offering my opinion or assessments of these motives, I am simply sharing them as reported to me by church leaders. Additionally, these six reasons are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Read more

11 Practices Of Churches You Are Excited To Take Your Unchurched Friends To

A dark reality exists for many Christians that deep down they don’t talk about at parties. Many Christians, if they would be totally transparent, are extremely nervous to bring their unchurched friends to their weekend services. This concern comes from a variety of things. Lack of excellence, outdated music, rude members and boring sermons are just a few of many hurdles Christians must overcome before inviting their friends who are unchurched.

This past Sunday my wife received a phone call from a friend who joyfully said, “The young couple we just met came to church today. They had a great time. I am so proud of our church.” I immediately followed up to find out what were the key factors in this young couple, who also had a newborn baby, having such a great experience.

The following are 11 Practices Of Churches You Are Excited To Take Your Unchurched Friends To.... Read more