Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Peace We All Long For

In order to understand the story of Christmas, we have to go back. Not back just a few thousand years to the birth of Jesus, but all the way back, back to our first parents, Adam and Eve. God placed them in the lush and perfect garden of Eden. They had everything they needed. It was perfect. Then they sinned. As a consequence, God banished them. Now Adam and Eve lived under the curse. But as God pronounced the curse, thundering from heaven, He also gave them a promise.

God gave Adam and Eve the promise of a Seed, a Seed who would be born of a woman. That Seed would make all that was wrong, right. He would make all that was broken, whole. This Seed would bring peace and harmony where strife and conflict raged like a storm-tossed sea. Read More

4 Reasons Not to Overlook Joseph at Christmas

Joseph is missing from the large Nativity scene in our living room. When I asked Janet why one of the Magi was kneeling in Joseph’s spot, she reminded me that she got that really nice set at a garage sale for $9.

Sadder still is the fact that we have owned that Nativity for three years! He is so easy to overlook in the Christmas story, yet he is likely the one person in the Nativity I identify with the most.

I looked in Matthew’s gospel for clues as to why God chose Joseph for this sacred assignment. Part of the answer lies in pedigree. Matthew and Luke both trace Joseph’s family back to David’s royal family tree. Prophecy required that the Son of God also be the Son of David. But surely he was not the only one qualified for that DNA/prophecy match. Here are four other reasons I believe God chose Joseph. Read More

Answering Claims That the Bible Contains Errors, and Why It Matters That It Doesn’t

When people say they believe the Bible contains errors, it’s a good practice to ask them to name those errors so you can open a Bible and look at them together.

Sometimes they will raise old and easily answered questions such as “Where did Cain get his wife?” But usually they can’t name many supposed errors, if any at all. Often, they’ve taken as truth the word of other people that the Bible contains errors, without investigating for themselves. Read More

What Churches Are Singing This Christmas

Christmastime is likely both the easiest and most difficult time of the year for your music minister. On one hand, there is a list of classic songs to choose from for the musical portion of corporate worship. On the other hand, you can only choose so many songs each week. So paring down the options to a workable set list that mixes well with the sermon can be stressful.

So what songs are being chosen? Well, we checked in with the CCLI charts to see what Christmas songs are the most popular. Here are the 20 most-sung Christmas songs in churches across the US this year.... Read More

Serve Your Community with Abandon

This is Mark Clifton's advise to churches that to wish to change their community's perception of them. Below I have posted three articles on the topic of serving your community. I plan to post more articles on this topic in future issues of Anglicans Ablaze.

Discovering a New Focus on Service

For evangelical churches, outreach has always been a priority as they live out the Great Commission. From special Christmas offerings for overseas missions to annual summer missions trips, the outreach or missions pastor role has always been outward-focused.

As I work with churches around the country, I’m seeing a shift from the traditional missions and outreach pastor to a serve pastor, community pastor or mobilization pastor who is focused on intentionally serving their community in a practical way. Read More

129 Great Examples of Community Service Projects

Are you interested in performing community service? Do you want examples of service projects you can do? Community service is a great way to help others and improve your community, and it can also help you gain skills and experience to include on your resume and college applications.

Read on for dozens of community service ideas to help you get started volunteering. Read More
While this article was written for preparatory school students, it is full of great ideas that churches and small groups can also use to serve their communities.
Offer Tea Time Hospitality

Here is one way that seniors can serve shut-ins and other members of their community. Read More
When I posted the link to this article, I thought of the 91 year-old-Japanese woman who lived alone in her apartment and who asked her neighbor to check every morning to see if she was still alive.

The Biggest Loser in the Alabama Election

It’s not Republicans or Democrats, but Christian witness.

No matter the outcome of today’s special election in Alabama for a coveted US Senate seat, there is already one loser: Christian faith. When it comes to either matters of life and death or personal commitments of the human heart, no one will believe a word we say, perhaps for a generation. Christianity’s integrity is severely tarnished.

The race between Republican candidate Roy Moore and Democratic candidate Doug Jones has only put an exclamation point on a problem that has been festering for a year and a half—ever since a core of strident conservative Christians began to cheer for Donald Trump without qualification and a chorus of other believers decried that support as immoral. The Christian leaders who have excused, ignored, or justified his unscrupulous behavior and his indecent rhetoric have only given credence to their critics who accuse them of hypocrisy. Meanwhile the easy willingness of moderate and progressive Christians to cast aspersions on their conservative brothers and sisters has made many wonder about our claim that Jesus Christ can bring diverse people together as no other can. Read More

See Also:
Roy Moore Was ‘a Bridge Too Far’ for Alabama Evangelicals
Where Evangelicals Fall on Roy Moore vs. Trump, Lauer, Franken, and Six More Men

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Catching the Pendulum: Peter Toon and the Growth of the Traditional Church

The Holy Table at St. Mark's Anglican Church, Benton, Kentucky
By Robin G. Jordan 

The late Peter Toon wrote the following article in 2004. It was was published on the Prayer Book Society website as “Worship Simply, Engage in Mission Joyfully: How to Grow a Traditional Church” and on the Virtue Online website as “Causing Traditional Churches to Grow.” It was subsequently removed from the PBS website but remains on David Virtue’s site. I have taken the liberty of posting the article in its entirety and adding my own commentary in italics after the various sections of the article. I have also included links to earlier articles that I wrote in which I expanded upon a number of the ideas in Peter’s article and presented several ideas of my own. At the time Peter wrote the article, he was the vicar of Christ Church, Biddulph Moor and St Anne's, Brown Edge. He was also president of the Prayer Book Society.

The pendulum swings this way and that. Right now the pendulum that swings at the heart of American evangelicalism is in motion away from the programmed mega-church, committed to evangelism and involved in a general dumbing down of historic Faith and discipline. It is apparently moving towards a type of church that takes seriously the public and private reading of the Bible and its application to life, the basics of the Christian Year, a recognition of the value of ordered worship, and a sense that mission is more than evangelism and includes ministries of compassion to needy people.

Importantly, the pendulum’s movement is indicating that for the first time in a long time the “evangelicals” are beginning to recognize that the basic and real purpose of “a service of worship” is simply to offer worship – as praise, thanksgiving, confession, petition and intercession, but chiefly praise – to the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. Further, to see that all genuine ministry & mission flow from and surround such holy, God-centered, corporate worship.

In the recent past, “worship services” (often like a show or a concert) have been promoted and seen too much as a means to an end – e.g., evangelism or church planting or community-building – and have appeared to be (by the evidence of the way folks dress) a special kind of leisure activity.

When Peter wrote his article in 2004, churches were already shifting away from the seeker-service model to a seeker-friendly model. The churches like Saddleback and Willow Creek that had pioneered the seeker-service model had discovered that the seekers who attended seeker-services and became believers did not make the transition to believer services that focused upon the worship of God. They also discovered that these believers lacked spiritual maturity: they were not making the transition to disciples. This shift appears to be what he is referring to when he describes the pendulum as swinging away from “the programmed mega-church committed to evangelism and involved in a general dumbing down of historic Faith and discipline.This shift occurred as churches like Saddleback and Willow Creek came to recognize the inadequacies of this model.

The seeker-friendly model seeks to combine the seeker-service with the believer-service. The focus is the worship of God but in a format that eliminates or reduces the real and perceived barriers to becoming believers that the unchurched encounter in traditional churches.

A major drawback of this approach is one that it shares with the seeker-service model. A large number of the attendees rather than actively participating in the corporate worship of God are passively observing the worship of God by a team of musicians and vocalists. At the same time they are acquiring the misperception that what they are doing is worshiping God.

The smaller number of attendees who are actively engaging in the worship of God are engaging in a type of activity which may be described as parallel worship. Parallel worship is akin to the parallel play observed in small children. They are play in the same room in close proximity to each other but they are not playing together. They are not interacting with each other in their play. They are engaging in solitary play.

 In the case of this smaller number of attendees they may be singing along with the team of musicians and vocalists, they may be praying silently or aloud, or they may prostrate upon the floor, slain in the Spirit. They are not worshiping together with those on the platform.

A second drawback of this approach is the elimination or reduction of what are perceived or real barriers to becoming a believer that the unchurched encounter in traditional churches may not based upon a careful study of the unchurched in a particular community, county, or region. Rather it may be motivated by longstanding biases within a particular ecclesiastical tradition that may go back as far as the sixteenth century. Being a barrier to becoming a believer provides a new rationale for an old prejudice. 

In regards to what done in “worship” on Sundays and other occasions, those who are most rigorous in eliminating or reducing such barriers may be described as the Puritans of the twenty-first century and may have inherited their dislike of robes, responsive readings, and other elements of traditional worship from their Puritan forebears. In the process the baby is thrown out with the bathwater. Many elements of traditional worship (e.g. Scripture readings, prayer, congregational singing, etc.) that have proven their usefulness in the transformation of inquirers into believers and believers into disciples are discarded on the grounds that they present a barrier for the unchurched even when there is no empirical proof to support this conclusion.

On the other hand, the model that Peter is himself championing also has its drawbacks. Except perhaps for its more orthodox view of the Bible, it does not differ greatly from the model that is followed in the modern-day Episcopal Church.

If you visit the Episcopal churches in western Kentucky and neighboring western Tennessee, you will discover that many fit the model which Peter describes: “a type of church that takes seriously the public and private reading of the Bible and its application to life, the basics of the Christian Year, a recognition of the value of ordered worship, and a sense that mission is more than evangelism and includes ministries of compassion to needy people.” Among the crucial things that are missing is the recognition that proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ and making disciples is the primary task of the Church.

Just as the Father sent the Son, Jesus sent the disciples and sends us. The eleven represented the Church in all time and in all places when he told them that, when the Holy Spirit came upon them, they would receive power, and they would be his witnesses in Jerusalem, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

Peter did not like what he saw happening in churches like Saddleback and Willow Creek and his disappointment with these developments colored his judgment when it came to the place of evangelism and fellowship in the Church.

Worship is one of five functions which every church must do to fulfill the Great Commission. These functions include evangelism, discipleship, ministry, and fellowship. A church cannot pick and choose between these functions and engage in one or more to the neglect of the others. A healthy, growing church engages in all five functions.

Unfortunately too many churches have neglected the functions of evangelism, discipleship, and ministry. The result has been dead and dying churches in the evangelical denominations as well as the mainline denominations. The Episcopal Church has fallen into decline and the Continuum has not flourished like Continuers had hoped that it would.

The negative attitude that Peter displays in this article toward evangelism weakens what is otherwise a spot-on article about the steps that traditional churches need to take in order to grow. He seems to be unable to separate a particular method of evangelism from evangelism itself, that is, the spread of the gospel and the making of disciples. He unfortunately reinforces a prejudice against evangelism that has characterized the Episcopal Church since the late nineteenth century and which the disaffected Episcopalians who left the Episcopal Church in the second half of the twentieth century brought with them into what would become the Continuing Anglican Church.

The truth is sharing the gospel with others, having gospel conversations with them, leading them to Christ, discipling them as new believers, and forming them into full devoted disciples of Jesus Christ is integral part of being a follower of our Lord. We may praise God with our lips when we gather on Sunday and at other times but our worship is empty words if our lives do not honor him when we disperse into the world.  As James tells us in his epistle, “… be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22).  

Peter’s inference from the more casual dress of churchgoers that they view Sunday worship as a special kind of leisure activity, I believe, is baseless. People dress more casually than they have in past for occasions on which an earlier generation would have worn more formal attire.

The Bible tells us that God does not judge us by our outward appearance but by the state of our heart. He is far less concerned about whether we are wearing a shirt, tie, and jacket to church as he is about whether we are clothing ourselves in the beauty of holiness.

For much of the Church’s history people did not wear special attire to church. Only the wealthy and the privileged owned more than one suit of clothes. The vestments that we see in Anglican, Episcopal, Lutheran, and Roman Catholic churches were originally the everyday street wear of the early clergy – a poncho-like cloak, the chasuble; a long tunic, the alb; and a scarf, the stole.

My next door neighbor told me that reason she no longer goes to traditional churches is that at the last traditional church she tried to attend, she was turned away because she was wearing slacks. The church had a dress code and she did not meet the requirements of that code. I have heard similar stories from other people, including a former rector who, while he was on vacation, attended a church in an open collar shirt. He received frowns from the members of the congregation throughout the service and during the coffee hour afterwards. Their attitude toward him, however, changed when they discovered that he was a priest.

Our Lord, when he walked this earth, mingled with all kinds of people – poor people in rags, prostitutes with uncovered heads, tax collectors who dressed like Gentiles, and Pharisees who scrupulously followed the Old Testament dress code.

When our Lord returns with glory to judge the living and the dead, he will demand an accounting from each of us about how we lived our lives - what we said and did; what we did not say and do; and not what we wore to church on Sunday and other occasions.

If we wish to see our churches grow, we need to follow our Lord’s example and not look askance because one of our guests is not dressed like ourselves. We should extend a warm welcome to every guest irrespective of what he or she is wearing.

To this day I remember a woman who attended St. Michael’s, Mandeville, Louisiana for several months when I was senior lay reader of that church. She came from a blue-collar, working class background when almost all of the church came from a white collar-professional, middle class background. She wore her “Sunday best” but among the smartly-dressed, more affluent members of the congregation she looked and I suspect felt out of place.

One Sunday she brought a friend with her to church. Her friend also looked out of place. She did not return the following Sunday.

Because she did not look like one of them, the members of the congregation avoided her. They did attempt to engage her in conversation or to make her feel at home. In effect, they ostracized her. This may have been unconscious but was clearly at odds with the hospitality that Jesus extended to all people and which he expects us to extend to them too.

Now the possibilities are opening up for traditional churches to attract younger people not by gimmicks but by an obvious, serious and sincere attempt to read the Bible as God’s Word and to apply it to life’s journey, needs and questions, to engage in worship which is directed wholly towards the Father in the Name of the Son and with the Holy Spirit, and to participate in mission which takes the real needs of the world seriously. [Of course in the USA there will be the standard need for a decent building and car park with childcare etc.]

This situation provides a real and vital opportunity for Anglican churches either to be planted or for existing churches to be revived (retooled!) to catch the movement of this pendulum. Whether they will rise to the occasion is doubtful (based on what they have done in the past) but one must seek to be optimistic, as one notices how the Orthodox Churches, for example, benefit from this situation.

I fear that the way that much traditional Anglican worship as is conducted and presented now in small churches will not catch the flow of this pendulum. Indeed it will not notice its movement or the breeze that it creates, for it is locked into a kind of 1950s type of experience and model. And neither, I fear, will the generic, charismatic-type of Anglican worship, which has parted company with the basics of liturgy and the Church Year since the 1980s and which is so committed to using “worship services” as a means to an end, be it that of personal fulfillment or evangelism or community building.

People’s spiritual needs are “real” needs. If they are estranged from God, they need to be restored to a right relationship with him.

The insights of the psychologist Abraham Maslow are useful in understanding human needs. Depending upon the circumstances of an individual, it may be necessary first to address their physical, psychological, safety, social relationship, or esteem needs before addressing their spiritual needs. These different levels or stages of needs are also “real” needs. Both the individual Christian and the local church can help people to meet their needs in each of these levels or stages.

With this statement, “of course in the USA there the standard need for a decent building and car park with childcare etc.” Peter is voicing what is an unrealistic expectation for many twenty-first century churches. Prohibitive real estate prices and unfriendly zoning laws are making it much more difficult for churches to own a building. This is one of the reasons that Thom Rainer and others are encouraging churches that are about to close their doors to sell or otherwise turn over their property to another church rather letting it be converted to secular use.

The reality is that a church does not need a traditional worship center/sanctuary in order to engage in the five functions necessary to fulfill the Great Commission. A church does not need to go heavily into debt to build or purchase this type of building only to discover that after the short-term growth spurt which occasionally (but not invariably) accompanies the construction or purchase of such a building, the building is not the panacea for its growth problems that that church thought it would be.

 Peter was pessimistic about the ability of Anglican churches to “catch this movement of the pendulum,” a pessimism borne from what they had done in the past. The early twentieth century evangelist Billy Sunday, when he was once asked his opinion of the Episcopal Church allegedly replied, "She is a sleeping giant, and if she ever wakes up, look out!" But she slumbers on and as she slumbers, she has declined. The Continuum appears to have caught the same disease from the Episcopal Church and it slumbers too, wasting away as it sleeps.

Peter’s hope was that here and there a church might wake up and take advantage of this shift. The Holy Spirit does have a way of disturbing a church’s slumber and producing a growing conviction in its leaders and members that it is on the wrong track so Peter’s hope is not entirely unfounded. Our God is a god of miracles. He can do the impossible. He can raise the dead to life and can turn a dying church around.

Peter’s description of the state of much traditional Anglican worship in small churches in 2004 was reasonably accurate. It was, in his word, “locked into a kind of 1950s type of experience and model.”It is still a reasonably accurate description of that worship thirteen years later albeit a number of small Anglican churches have come to the realization that it is no longer the twentieth century and what worked well in the 1950s does not work at all in the twenty-first century.

It is unclear to me to what churches Peter is referring in his reference to “generic, charismatic-type of Anglican worship which has parted company with the basics of liturgy and the Church Year since the 1980s.” Perhaps he is referring to Anglican churches in United Kingdom where he was a vicar in 2004 and which were using New Patterns of Worship from Common Worship (2001). 

The charismatic Anglican and Episcopal churches here in the United States with which I was acquainted in the 1980s and 1990s and even less than a decade ago had not abandoned the basics of liturgy or the Church Year. The primary focus of their services was the worship of God present in the midst of his gathered people. The clergy wore vestments. The reading and exposition of the Scriptures and the celebration of the Holy Communion were prominent features of the services. Both the liturgies of the 1928 Prayer Book and the 1979 Prayer Book were used. 

The charismatic congregations were more demonstrative in their worship and enthusiastic in their congregational singing than non-charismatic ones. They lifted up their hands both in praise and prayer; they moved to the music of the livelier hymns, praise choruses, and worship songs. The services usually began with several opening songs. The lyrics of songs were projected on a screen. A variety of musical instruments - guitar, piano, violin, various wind instruments, and some forms of percussion (djembe, conga, box drums, stacked bells, and bell lyre but not drum kits) - were used to accompany the congregational singing. 

The congregation would at times "sing in the Spirit," blending their voices in improvisational singing in praise of God - what the early Church fathers referred to as "jubilation." There was an openness to the gift of prophesy, either in English or in tongues with interpretation. Intercessory prayer teams were stationed near the communion stations for communicants who might desire intercessory prayer after they received the sacrament.

What I think will probably succeed (by God’s blessing) to catch the pendulum’s movement is a local parish that:

1. On Sunday morning has simple, dignified worship, using the classic text of the BCP as is, without additions from other books (e.g. Missals); has good music, and uses minimal but well executed ceremonial and ritual to accompany the words.

2. takes the public reading of the Bible seriously as a means of grace and also takes expository preaching of the same seriously as a further means of grace (15-20 min well prepared sermons).

3. open to the use and development of modern (dignified) forms of music to accompany psalms and canticles, alongside the creative use of traditional music.

4. places emphasis upon real fellowship in Christ Jesus between people not only of the same generation but across generations

5. teaches the habit and discipline of Daily Prayer using the Offices in the BCP along with the Bible, and offers such daily in church.

6. teaches the value of the Church Year as a means of grace and ordered piety and keeps its major Feasts reverently.

7. has provision mid-week and on Sunday afternoons/evenings for Bible Study, fellowship, serious discussion and questioning.

8. has definite outreach ministries to the locality focusing on needs that can be addressed.

9. has clergy and lay leadership which, while highly esteeming the heritage of the Anglican Way, is keen to find appropriate ways to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness and to serve him in his world, in this generation and in this culture.

10. is open to the presenting of the texts of the services in attractive booklets in a modern typeface and with suitable illustrations and explanatory comments – and even open to projecting the text on to a screen if this is necessary and useful.

11. which distinguishes between being simple and being simplistic and which learns to major on majors not on minors (e.g., does not major on the minutiae of ceremonial or of clergy dress).

12. that advertises in ways which reflect the ethos of the church (rather than imitate modern advertising of goods) and which is not afraid to go into the public square to make itself known.

13. that is geographically situated in a place which is easy to access and which has the basic facilities (or the potential for them) for activity outside the worship area.

14. that has a bishop, clergy and leadership who are sensitive to the movement of the Spirit in the Church and world and who are men of God, first and foremost!

One could continue. The point is that the classic Anglican Way has sufficient within itself by God’s grace to address and meet the need of those young people today who look for an attractive yet substantial way of worshipping the Holy Trinity and serving Him in His world. What is urgently needed are dedicated, wise and gracious persons to become engaged (or in some cases) to continue to be engaged in the MISSIO DEI as it presents itself at this time in this place.

The ideas that Peter presents in this section of the article are sound and applicable today as they were in 2004. Anglican worship at its best is characterized by a “noble simplicity” – the judicious application of the liturgical principle of “less is more.” The addition of liturgical texts from other sources, with the exception of occasional prayers, thanksgivings, and blessings, not only often changes the doctrine of the Prayer Book services but also frequently introduces superfluous or redundant elements into the liturgy, unnecessarily increasing its complexity, length, and prolixity and making the liturgy more mind-numbing and wearisome than it should be.

For example, if a service of Holy Communion begins with a hymn and a procession of the ministers with lights and a processional cross, the presiding minister does not need to recite or sing an introit, a snippet of a Psalm that formerly accompanied the entrance of the ministers. If an introit Psalm is desired, then the choir, if the church has one, should sing a Psalm in place of the hymn at the entrance of the ministers. Or the congregation should sing a metrical version of a Psalm such as “Come, Loud Anthems, Let Us Sing” (Psalm 95) or “All People That on Earth Do Dwell” (Psalm 100).

Like the offertory rite and the closing rite of the Holy Communion service, the entrance rite has historically tended to accumulate a clutter of unnecessary elements that do little if anything to enrich the common prayer of the people but rather have the deleterious effect of making it needlessly taxing upon the congregation. 
Long, tedious services do not appeal to unchurched people.
Empirical research has shown that the quality of the music that a church uses in its worship was a factor in why formerly unchurched people chose to attend the church. It was not the type of music so much as it was the attention that the church gave to its performance. This conveyed to unchurched guests attending the church for the first time or returning to the church the message that the church took the worship of God seriously. Rare is the small church that cannot find some kind of music that it can do well. It might be singing American folk hymns from a shaped-note hymnal like Southern Harmony or “celebration songs” from the 1970s and 1980s. The important thing is to not confuse “good music” with a particular type of music.

If a church is going to reach the community, its members need to get involved in the community. As Mark Clifton points out in the Revitalize and Replant Podcast, “Should a Church Replant Change Its Name?” a church that wishes to change the community’s perception of the church needs to serve the community with abandon. It needs to spend its time loving the community and changing its reputation in the community. 

Churches often believe that they are engaging in meaningful outreach by giving money to clinics that provide free pregnancy tests, free ultrasounds, pregnancy options education and STD testing, donating non-perishable food items to community food banks, and supporting other agencies and organizations that serve the community. There is nothing wrong with doing this sort of thing. But if a church wishes to raise its visibility in the community, if it wishes to have a real impact upon the community, it needs to become more incarnational: the church members themselves need to reach out and engage with the unchurched and the unreached in the community. They need to embody God’s love for the world that he created. They need to become the most generous people in the community, not just with their money but with their time, their building, and whatever else they have to offer. They need to do this primarily not out of the desire to grow their church but to serve Christ – to love others as he loves them.

A church does not need a worship center/sanctuary with stained-glass windows, a communion rail, needlepoint kneelers, an ornately covered altar, and a brass cross and candlesticks in order to worship God in the beauty of holiness. The misuse of the phrase “the beauty of holiness” can be traced to Archbishop William Laud who employed it to justify the so-called “reforms” in church and clergy ornaments that he and his royal patron, Charles I, imposed upon the Church of England. His misuse of the phrase has nothing to do with its biblical meaning. “The beauty of holiness” to which this phrase refers is the beauty of a life lived in accordance with God’s will, a life devoted to the honoring of God in word and deed. To worship God in the beauty of holiness is to worship Him clothed in the holiness that comes from seeking to be holy as the Lord himself is holy, with the help of His grace. It is a holiness that we cannot achieve by our own efforts alone.

In the twenty-first century a church not only needs to have a well-designed website and Facebook page but it needs to know how to use them. From what I have seen on the Internet, many traditional churches have not grasped the importance of these tools. A church also need a large, illuminated sign in front of its building with its name and service hours and little else in large, easy to read lettering (not Old English or Gothic). The official emblem or logo of the jurisdiction to which a church belongs means nothing to unchurched people. Some churches may need to put out portable signs directing to the church along the roads leading to the church early on Sunday morning. A church also needs to investigate what is the best kind of advertising for its particular community, county, and region. What works in one area may not work in another. The unchurched do not read the religion page of the local newspaper, a page which is usually read by churchgoers.

One of the best forms of advertising is word of mouth. This is one of the reasons why it is important that church members get involved in the community. It also one of the reasons that the church needs to create a friendly, welcoming environment for unchurched guests attending the church for the first time or returning to the church. If they have a positive experience, they not only will come back but also they will tell other people about their experience.

As retailers know, location is key to a successful business. Location can also impact the growth of a church. A church that is located on a back street, that is screened from the road, and which is difficult to find is not going to experience the kind of growth that a church that is located on a well-traveled street or even a main artery of the community and which is visible from the highway will experience. I am personally acquainted with two churches that suffer poor attendance because of their location and one whose location was a factor in its eventual closure. All three churches were built in the middle of subdivisions due to the mistaken idea that the residents of the subdivision would attend the church most convenient to them. It did not happen.

With the rising construction and real estate costs the church building that has separate worship and fellowship areas may be a thing of the past. Among ten major trends that Thom Rainer has identified is that more churches are moving into retail space. Churches are also downsizing worship centers/sanctuaries. This means that more churches will be opting for multiple purpose buildings in which the worship area will be used for a variety of activities beside worship. This is not the first time in Church history that church buildings are serving multiple purposes. The nave of the Medieval two-room monastic church was originally a storage barn and was put to a number of different uses in the Middle Ages.

Whether a church grows ultimately rests in God’s hands. This knowledge does not mean that we should adopt a do-nothing attitude. We should seek to be faithful in fulfilling the Great Commission, using the reason, the talents, and the spiritual gifts that God has given us and the skills, knowledge, and experience that he enabled us to acquire. As a good farmer knows, while he works the soil, plants the seed, tends the young plants, it is God who gives the harvest.  

See Also:
Thoughts on the Revitalization of the Traditional Anglican Church in the Twenty-First Century
Several links in the above articles no longer connect with Dr. Toon's articles to which I refer in these articles as they are no longer archived at the Prayer Book Society website. They are not among his writings archived on the New Scriptorium website. If anyone is familiar with a website where his articles are still archived, please let me know.  .  
Image: Bella Raj

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Are you sure you know a good sermon from a bad one? Read More

The Contexts for Our Carols

Cherished Christmas carols help us to sing with the saints through the ages. Read More

God Is Not Silent: What the Bible Teaches about Sexual Assault

The Bible neither covers up nor ignores sexual assault. In fact, biblical law shows how the Lord takes up the cause of the victim and the vulnerable. Deuteronomy 22:25-27 safeguarded the survivor of sexual assault from being unjustly blamed or ignored. In ancient Israel, this law established a pattern, an ethical framework by which God’s people could discern specific situations that it didn’t specifically address. And, like all of God’s laws, it reveals his character. Read More

Monday, December 11, 2017

Ten Critical Trends for Churches in 2018

Never in my lifetime have I seen local congregations at such a critical juncture. Cultural Christianity is all but dead. The “Nones,” those without any religious preference, are increasing. Many of the communities are no longer friendly to local churches; some have become adversarial.

But in the waves of these seas of negativity, are mercy drops of hope and possibilities. Look at these ten major trends carefully. See how God would have your church respond. Read More

Evangelicals and Domestic Violence: Are Christian Men More Abusive?

A sociologist looks at the data on domestic abuse against women.

As a sociologist who studies family and marriage trends, I predict that in the coming years, we’ll see a growing wave of mainstream media and academic stories contending that religion, especially evangelical Christianity, hurts women, children, and families. These stories will be framed around one key question: Is faith a force for ill in family life—from marriage in general to domestic violence in particular?

In recent years, the question has focused especially on spousal abuse against women. Read More

8 Steps to Better Brainstorming

There is a reason some organizations are more creative than others—it’s because they are intentionalin creating the right environment for creativity to flourish. That’s what we strive for here at Catalyst—it’s part of our DNA. And a big part of our creative process is our scheduled brainstorming meetings. In order to create the right kind of environment, we’ve established a code of behavior for those meetings. Try these 18 guidelines at your next creative summit. Read More

Five Marks of a Servant Leader

All professing Christians agree that a Christian leader should be a servant leader. Jesus couldn’t be clearer:
“The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves.” (Luke 22:25–26)
Where there’s not always agreement is how servant leadership should look in a given situation. Sometimes servant leaders wash others’ feet, so to speak (John 13:1–17), but other times they rebuke (Matthew 16:23), and even discipline (Matthew 18:15–20). Sometimes they serve at their own expense (1 Corinthians 9:7), but other times they issue strong imperatives (1 Corinthians 5:2; 11:16). Read More

Try This: 4 Outreach Ideas for the New Year

Church Christmas events draw a crowd, but the beginning of the new year is also a strategic time for outreach. In January, churches typically attract true seekers: people who, in honor of the new year, have made a resolution to seek spirituality or Christianity in their lives. As a result, this season is an excellent time to offer seminars, classes or other programs designed to address your community’s felt needs. Consider these ideas.... Read More

How Can We Cultivate a Sense of ‘Belonging’ in Our Gospel Witness?

Belonging is one of the great longings of the human soul.

I am white.

And I am part of a community of ethnically diverse women who come together each year for five days for a spiritual retreat. This spiritual practice is life-giving, stretching, and enriching. Although I work in correctional ministry alongside a very diverse group of people, prior to this group, I did not have any close friends who were ethnically diverse.

I love these women and am indebted to them for helping me develop, and continue to develop, my cross-cultural intelligence. As a result of our relationship, I have gone on to develop other relationships with those who are ethnically diverse from me.

During one of our retreats, one of the women made a comment which has deeply impacted me. She stated, “I feel like I belong in this group,” to which I responded, “Meaning, you can be yourself?”

Her response stopped me in my tracks: “No, I can be myself in other settings, but here I belong.”

Everyone longs to belong to someone or to a group. Humans need to feel closely connected to others, where they feel safe, cared for, and loved.

Author Evelyn Underhill identified belonging as one of the great longings of the human soul. The idea of belonging is a felt need that we can tap into when sharing the gospel with others as well. Creating a sense of belonging takes intentional time and effort. Below are a few ways to build belonging. Read More

When Evil Has Nice Manners

In November, The New York Times ran a story called “The Nazi Sympathizer Next Door.”

Veteran reporter Richard Faussett interviewed a white nationalist from Ohio named Tony Hovater, one of the “foot soldiers” in the resurgence of white supremacy, a man who speaks highly of Hitler and shares images on Facebook imagining what life would be like had Germany won the Second World War. The profile offered a personal look at Hovater, from his “cherry pie tattoo” and “midwestern manners” to his enjoyment of Seinfeld. We see him cooking; we hear about his pets. Tony seems so normal, even though “books about Mussolini and Hitler share shelf space with a stack of Nintendo Wii games.”

The backlash against the profile landed like a bomb. The writer and editors were blasted for “normalizing hate” and for offering too sympathetic a portrayal of a Nazi sympathizer. Instead of demonizing the man, they’d humanized him. They hadn’t been clear enough in their condemnation of his nationalist and anti-Semitic views. Read More

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Nine Questions to Ask Yourself to Prepare for 2018

Most people say they hate Mondays, but I’ll be honest, I love them. Mondays give me an opportunity to start the new week with a blank slate. If last week went poorly, I have the chance to start over and refocus. This is also the reason I love the first day of the month. So, as you can imagine, like most people, I love the turn of the page that signifies a new year. It’s a chance to step back, take stock, look at things I want to change, and refocus on what matters the most.

Unfortunately, we often stumble out of the blocks on our “New Year’s resolutions,” don’t we. The problem is that we get started on New Year’s Day. You may have stayed up too late and therefore slept late on the first day of the year. I live in Alabama, so our New Year’s Day is devoted not to work, but to college football. Most of us have goals related to weight loss and there is no worse way to get started than snacking while watching football all day.

What I started doing a couple of years ago was to abandon the idea of New Year’s resolutions and instead start thinking about what I wanted to focus on for the next year in early December. Then I started implementing changes that would make progress on my goals before the new year begins. What this allowed me to do was to get out of the habit of thinking the new year would magically change me into a new person.

To help me think about what I need to focus on in 2018, I sat down last week and I wrote a list of questions I needed to think through. Walking through these questions helped me to think about what needs to change, what I need to refocus on, and what I need to plan. (I picked up a few of these questions from others, though I cannot remember where, and others came from personal experience.)

Here are 9 questions I am asking myself heading into 2018. Read More

What Expository Preaching Is Not

Expository preaching explains what the text means by what it says, seeking to exhort the hearers to trust and obey the God-intended message of the text. It is preaching in which the point of the message is rooted in, aligns with, and flows from the primary meaning of the sermon text.

I believe expository preaching is the most faithful way to preach the word of God. Understanding and practicing expository preaching helps the preacher rightly handle the word of truth. But it is also important to understand what expository preaching is not, as well as what it is.

Many preachers reject expository preaching, without really knowing what it is. Others seek to practice it, without really knowing what it is. But you should not react to a caricature of expository preaching. And you should learn a craft before you try to practice it.

Here are fifteen myths about expository preaching that should be exposed to help the preacher rightly understand and faithfully practice expository preaching.Expository preaching is not whatever someone calls expository preaching. There is a growing interest in expository preaching these days. This is an encouraging fact; inasmuch as biblical preaching is the first step to true revival. Many preachers claim to be expositors now, wanting to be a part of the trend. Beware, much preaching that is called expository preaching simply is not. Read More

Pope Francis Says Our Father Is Poorly Translated

In a video series for Italian television network TV2000, Pope Francis said that “lead us not into temptation” is a poorly translated line of the Our Father.

“This is not a good translation,” the Pope said in the video, published Dec. 6. “I am the one who falls, it's not (God) who pushes me toward temptation to see how I fall. A father doesn't do this, a father helps us to get up right away.”

He noted that this line was recently re-translated in the French version of the prayer to read “do not let me fall into temptation.” Read More

Also See:
Pope Francis Suggests Changing The Words To The 'Lord's Prayer'

Three Biblical Frameworks for Faithfulness in the Post-Christendom West (Part 2)

Call. Context. Commission.

Yesterday, I discussed our call to action as we seek to follow Christ in a post-Christian culture. In an age where Christians are concerned over cultural change, we need to begin by rediscovering our call to mission and identity as the people of God. Today, I briefly highlight our context and our commission as we follow Christ today. Read More

Saturday Lagniappe:"Engaging Singles During the Holidays" and More

Engaging Singles During the Holidays

Some singles can’t afford to go home. Others have no family left or are estranged from their families. Whatever the reason, they find themselves alone during the holidays. This reality gives the church a unique opportunity to build relationships with singles outside the church and love the singles in their church during the holidays. But to do so, we have to be willing to change our mindset from the perfect American family-only holiday that we so often envision to a messy, open celebration of the family we have through Christ and an open invitation to those who are still caught in sin’s curse. Read More

Three Common Idols in Churches

Here are three common idols in churches that every church leader needs to know and turn away from. Read More

15 Ways to Manage Your Time Wisely [Infograph]

With the New Year just around the bend, it’s time to reevaluate your productivity and see how you can retool to refine and improve. Excellent church time management is possible, even for the busiest pastors, staff, or church communicators. How can you successfully manage your time? Read More

The Heresy of Orthodoxy: When Was the Earliest Complete List of New Testament Books? [Video]

In this video Andreas K√∂stenberger and Michael J. Kruger discuss the earliest complete list of New Testament books. This discussion is the fourth installment in a video series based upon their book, The Heresy of Orthodoxy: How Contemporary Culture’s Fascination with Diversity Has Reshaped Our Understanding of Early Christianity (Crossway, 2010). Watch Now

Week of Prayer for International Missions, Day Five - Forgotten Refugees

North Africans fleeing from violence and famine are finding nothing for them in Europe. IBM missionaries are offering them the hope of the gospel and ask your prayers for these "forgotten" refugees. Read More

Forced to Flee: Worldwide Refugee Movement [Infographic]

From war-torn countries to natural disasters, the reasons people are forced to pick up their lives and families and abandon their homelands vary widely. Reality is, however, that refugee movement is on the rise with no signs of slowing down. The infographic below presents some of the latest available information on the worldwide movement of displaced peoples. Read More

The Hopelessness of Cremation Rituals Creates Gospel Urgency

A week before my grandmother passed away, I stood on the banks of a holy river in Kathmandu and watched a son and father cremate their mother and wife. The raw emotion and despondency I saw on their faces was crushing. Read More

The Offense of the Gospel and the Offense of Roy Moore

Christians in the state of Alabama are experiencing a painful identity crisis. Roy Moore impresses many around the country as an ideological warrior for a brand of conservative Christianity that has little to do with Jesus Christ and the New Testament. Never mind about the Sermon on the Mount, Moore flies under the banner of God, Country, and Guns. Read More

Friday, December 08, 2017

10 Keys to Maximizing Your Church Facility - Rainer on Leadership #387 [Podcast]

Tim Cool returns to the podcast today to discuss facility issues churches often face and how you can tackle them in 2018. Listen Now

If You Want Your Church to Be More Like Christ, Preach the Gospel

Preach Christ in all Scripture, because only by seeing him will we become like him - the purpose for which we were created and redeemed.

Q: Why is it necessary to preach Christ in every sermon?

A: Because without seeing Christ, we will not become like him.

When asked to give an answer for why preaching Christ is necessary, there are many biblical answers I could give. Because:
  • This is how the apostles preached in Acts.
  • The Scriptures were inspired by the Spirit to lead us to Christ.
  • The Father wants to glorify the Son in redemptive history and revelation.
  • Scripture teaches us how all creation and redemption center on Christ.
Still, to my thinking the most powerful reason for preaching Christ, is the transformative effect of seeing Christ. As 2 Corinthians 3:18 puts it,

“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” Read More

The Most Important Part of Your Sermon

“The entire sermon is important!” I know some of you had that instinctual reaction to the title of this article. I agree. The entire sermon is important. Each part is connected to the others and is a part of a greater whole. I am on board with you. But I want to argue that one part of the sermon is more important than the others.

A good joke has several parts, but if not told correctly, will not have its intended affect. It’s not the punchline that makes a joke good, but the setup. If you botch the setup, the punchline will fall flat. Likewise, in a sermon, the most important part of the message is not necessarily the gut-punching gospel truth you are sharing, but the introduction of the sermon that leads to it. Of course I believe the gospel is what has the power to save, not the introduction; however, if your listeners jumped off the train before you arrived at the station, it will be of no reward that the station is beautiful. It is precisely because I believe the gospel is the all-satisfying truth that Jesus is Lord and saves sinners by His grace that I want to insure we actually carry our listeners to it.

I had a seminary professor once say, “You have to begin in Nashville before you head to Jerusalem.” His point was that if you do not meet listeners where they are and engage them where they live, you will have a hard time getting them to the truths of the Bible, and more particularly, to the relevance of the cross of Christ for their lives. The introduction of the message is what helps listeners know where you are going and whether or not they want to go with you. In this regard, the first five minutes of your message may be the most important of all of them. In light of that, I want to give you two areas to focus on as you prepare and deliver your sermons. Read More

13 Things a Pastor Should Never Say to a Congregation

In addition to the obvious no-no’s, such as profanity, heresy, racism, sexism, and the like, no pastor should ever be heard to utter any of the following from the pulpit. Read More

10 Ways to Pray for Your Community

Frankly, I think the North American church is weak. I love the church, and I know there are strong, faithful, Great Commission-oriented churches on our continent – but I think we generally lack the power of God on what we do. One reason for our lack of power is our lack of prayer. Here are some practical ways to counter this problem by praying for your community.... Read More
This article, I believe, you will want to share with the other members of your church or small group. I am.

Three Biblical Frameworks for Faithfulness in the Post-Christendom West (Part 1)

Call. Context. Commission.

We live in a moment of cultural turmoil in the West, perhaps particularly in the United States. The shift to a post-Christendom age means that we as Christians need to rediscover our mission and identity as the people of God in a place that is increasingly foreign and, at times, hostile. This is different from the culture most of us came of age in, and it is one many did not expect to have arisen so quickly.

The result is a fairly discombobulated or disorienting feeling—a sense that things have changed so rapidly that there is a temptation to fear that this is only the beginning.

I have written extensively on the trends that have informed this culture change and the kinds of leaders, preaching, and evangelistic practices we need to explore in light of this shift. More importantly, I have consistently argued that this decline in cultural Christianity can be, in part, a blessing for the church—an opportunity for us to distinguish nominal from authentic belief.

I want to continue with this theme by providing Christians with three biblical frameworks that can help us make sense of this cultural change and ministry effectively in the years to come. I will address our call today and go into our context and our commission in Part 2 (tomorrow). Read More

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Latest Podcasts from Revitalize and Replant with Thom Rainer

Should a Church Replant Change Its Name? - Revitalize & Replant #018

Conventional wisdom may say “change the name, start fresh.” Today, we explain why that often is bad advice. Listen Now

Revitalize After a Church Split - Revitalize & Replant #017

Church splits are often nasty. Trying to pastor a church after a split is heard. Trying to revitalize one after a split is even harder. Listen Now

Image: K Wolfram

A Sound of the 17th Century May Soon Ring Out Across the Grounds of the James Fort

Researchers at the Jamestown Rediscovery Project and the B.A. Sunderlin BellFoundry in Ruther Glen, Va. are reconstructing a bronze bell from the Jamestowne Colony’s church.

“We’ll be able to hear that bell again — an original sound of the 17th century, which is really cool,” said Merry Outlaw, curator with Jamestown Rediscovery. “There are lots of things we can touch, but to hear a sound our forbearers heard at Jamestown is rare and compelling.”

The Jamestown Rediscovery team has conserved a few fragments of the bell, Outlaw said. The biggest shard was uncovered during the 1906 construction of the sea wall that separates the fort from the James River. Three more pieces were discovered between 2003 and 2008, during the excavation of the Confederate Fort that once stood on the site. Read More

Also See:
Ruins of Oldest Protestant Church in America Found at Jamestown
Jamestown Unearthed: Archaeologists explore 400-year-old church
Jamestown Churches
The oldest Protestant church in America was built at Jamestown. It was an Anglican church. The Prayer Book used at this church would have been the 1559 Prayer Book, which the Jamestown settlers brought with them to the New World.

Bradley Nassif and David S. Yeago on Protestantism and Eastern Orthodoxy

The Reformation, Viewed from the East

An Eastern Orthodox theologian assesses Luther’s famous doctrine of ‘sola fide.’ Read More

When East Meets West

A response to Bradley Nassif's suggestions for Protestant and Orthodox communion. Read More

10 Reminders for Every Pastor

...allow me to steer your thoughts today, pastor, back to the moment of your own calling and ordination. As the years progress, it is easy to drift. Not necessarily morally or ethically, but drift by way of why you are doing what you do. And in that vein, allow me to share some of those most basic of basics that I shared with our candidates three weeks ago, that I once again reminded myself of, and of which we all need to never drift. Read More

11 Ways to Pray for Yourself Every Day

One of the key elements in prayer is petitioning, or praying for yourself. Some people shy away from such prayers, thinking that it violates humility and draws attention to themselves rather than God.

Yet, it’s absolutely biblical. In fact, Jesus petitioned the following the night before He was crucified: “Father…glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with you before the world was” (John 17:5).

If Jesus needed to pray for Himself, then I certainly need to pray for myself. That said, ponder these eleven personal requests I’ve started bringing daily to God. Read More

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

8 Assumptions Pastors Can't Make In A Post-Christian Culture

The so-called Christian culture is going... going... gone. We need to get ready for what’s next.

I’ve never lived in a predominantly Christian culture.

But lately, I’ve been travelling a lot through the Bible Belt, so I’m seeing what a Christian culture looks like for the first time in my life. Churches on every corner, Christian radio and TV on more than one station, and worship songs as background music in a restaurant where almost every table says grace before they eat.

But it also feels like I’m seeing something before it’s gone forever. Like when I was a college student catching a second-run movie at an art house theater where the film was scratchy and missing a few frames. You knew it was on its last legs.

If you want to see what a predominantly Christian culture looks like, take a trip through the Bible Belt. But do it soon. Like the autumn leaves, it won’t be there much longer.

We can mourn that. We can fight that. Or we can get ready for what’s next.

For those living in the Bible Belt and wondering what’s next, you don’t need to look any further than the non-Bible-Belt parts of the world, where we’ve been ministering within a predominantly secular culture for decades. (For me, born and raised in Canada, then living all my adult life in California, I’ve always practiced my faith and ministry as an outsider to the dominant culture.)

One of the first things we need to change are our assumptions. Especially as pastors and church leaders. Specifically, we need to stop assuming these eight things of people – whether they’re unchurched, new to the church, or even long-time attenders. Read More
I live and minister in the Bible Belt in the southern United States. The culture that you would see in the Bible Belt if you took a trip through this part of the country is superficially Christian. It wears a Christian veneer but if you probe beneath the veneer, you discover that it is not as Christian as it appear to be on the surface. True, there are churches everywhere but do not be deceived by the ubiquity of these churches. A much larger percentage of the population is unchurched than the percentage of the population which attends church. Among the segment of the population that attends church a high percentage are cultural Christians. One's social and political standing in the community is still to a large extent tied to church attendance. Not only is there a large unchurched population that needs evangelizing, there is also a large church-attending population that needs evangelizing too.

10 More Signs That a Church Has Settled for Mediocrity

Several years ago, I posted on “Signs of Mediocrity in a Church.” Today, I add to that list other signs I’ve seen as a church consultant. Read More

Evangelical Christians Are Sick

The movement is driven by a painful awareness that the heart—each of our hearts—is desperately wicked.

Revivals like Cane Ridge are the most dramatic illustration of the point made in the first essay in this series. Historian Perry Miller called Puritan faith a version of Augustinian piety, a piety that is found in the best of American evangelicalism. As Miller put it in talking about the Puritans:
As long as it remained alive, its real being was not in doctrines but behind them; the impetus came from an urgent sense of man’s predicament, from a mood so deep that it could never be completely articulated.
Evangelical Christians at their best suffer from a sickness of soul with a genesis in this “urgent sense of man’s predicament.” They instinctively feel Jeremiah’s lament that “the heart is desperately wicked” (Jer. 17:9). They feel the weight of failure, of weaknesses, of inadequacy, of sins. The burden makes their whole body ache and groan. Between them and God lies a deep chasm they cannot bridge. Across the chasm, they glimpse the beauty of God’s holiness, and they despair. If they attempt to cross it, it will only lead them to plunge into darkness. And even if a miracle planted them suddenly on the other side, into the very presence of a holy God, they know it would be their death, for they know that no sinful human being can look on the face of God and live (Ex. 33:20). Read More

Four Considerations for Baby Boom Pastors

I am one of you.

We are the generation born between 1946 and 1964. Until the Millennials came along, we were the largest generation in American history. Our influence is still great.

But most of us are surprised our older years arrived so quickly. We can remember when we didn’t trust anyone over the age of 30. Now we think 30-somethings are kids. Many of us have difficulty dealing with this phase of our life and ministry. Older age was for “those people.” It never was supposed to be about us.

And now we are here. Our ages range from 54 to 72. We are in our fourth quarter. How do we end well, especially if we are in vocational ministry? Allow me to make four suggestions. Read More

On Being a Lifelong Learner
In the region of the United States in which I live, there are many small churches that cannot afford to call a younger man to pastor them even part-time but which would greatly benefit from the fourth-quarter ministry of a retired pastor or someone pursuing a late life vocation as a bi-vocational minister. The ministry of this individual may prove to be a hospice ministry. But as my pastor counseled me when he released me to preach at one such church, even dying churches need to hear the preaching of God's Word.