Monday, March 27, 2017

Urgent Church: Nine Changes We Must Make or Die


It broke my heart.

Another church closed. This church had unbelievable potential. Indeed, it had its own “glory days,” but only for a season. But, 10 years ago, few would have predicted this church’s closure. Today, it is but another statistic in the ecclesiastical graveyard.

I know. We don’t compromise doctrine. I know. We must never say we will change God’s Word.

But many of our congregations must change. They must change or they will die.

I call these churches “the urgent church.” Time is of the essence. If changes do not happen soon, very soon, these churches will die. The pace of congregational death is accelerating.

What, then, are some of the key changes churches must make? Allow me to give you a fair warning. None of them are easy. Indeed, they are only possible in God’s power. Here are nine of them.... Read More

How To A Lose First Time Guest In 10 Minutes Or Less


It’s hard to believe, but according to people who study these things, first-time guests to your church make up their minds whether they’re coming back or not in the first ten minutes of their visit.

Think about that.

Before they hear the first note of music, before they hear the first word of a sermon or before anyone stands up and says “welcome” in the service, most first-time guests have already made a conscious or subconscious decision about whether they’re coming back.

What might be hanging in the balance is someone’s opportunity to embrace Jesus. Read More

Tradition or Sacred Cow? Rethinking How We ‘Do Church’


“In our tradition ....”

These words are very seldom heard in thriving churches. It is not because they have no traditions, but because traditions are not their focus—people are. For the most part, there is nothing wrong with traditions. Traditions usually start well; they were created with good intentions and value, and were most likely necessary at their birth. That is why they became traditions.

On numerous occasions, the Scriptures instruct believers to hold to the traditions taught them. Our traditions, the traditions of man, are not biblical; they may have initially been Bible-based, but they have not always been Bible-maintained.

What often happens with traditions is that they lose either their meaning or necessity. They become, “That’s the way we’ve always done it,” and, “If it were good enough for ....”

Our church traditions may need to be revisited, re-evaluated and re-examined by asking, Do we need to rethink what we do? Read More

A Pastor's Dilemma: What to Do When You Can't See the Vision for Your Church


Is it okay if a pastor’s calling is to help others fulfill their calling? Or, does every church need a pastor-led vision to get behind?

Is it okay if a pastor’s calling is to help others fulfill their calling? Or, without a big, hairy, audacious pastoral vision, will the people perish?

I’ll come back to those questions soon. But first, this.

You can’t have a great church without a great vision. That’s what I’ve been told.

And you can’t have a great vision unless the pastor (always the pastor) casts a singular vision for the church, then sells that vision to the leadership and the congregation. I’ve been told that, too.

So I did – or tried to do – what I was told. For years, I prayed, worked, searched the scriptures and listened to God in every way I know. I begged him for a vision that would carry our church to vast, new expanses of glorious ministry.

But it never quite worked out that way. Read More

The BGCE Gospel Life Podcast (Episode 7)


Start each week with this encouragement to show and share the love of Jesus. Listen Now

Saturday, March 25, 2017

How C. S. Lewis Put the Ontological Argument for God in Narnia


One of my favorite passages in all of literature is Puddleglum’s response to the Lady of the Green Kirtle in The Silver Chair. The Lady (an evil sorceress) has several characters trapped underground, and with the help of a little magic is trying to convince them that Narnia and Aslan and the rest of the “Overland” do not actually exist. The characters are on the verge of giving in when Puddleglum stomps on the magic fire in these words:
“One word, Ma’am,” he said, coming back from the fire; limping, because of the pain. “One word. All you’ve been saying is quite right, I shouldn’t wonder. I’m a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won’t deny any of what you said. But there’s one more thing to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things—trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we’re leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that’s a small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say.”
Some regard this passage as a sort of inversion of Plato’s famous allegory of the cave, but until recently I’d never thought about it as an application of the ontological argument, or a Platonic worldview more generally. Then recently I came across this statement by Lewis himself in an October 1963 letter to Nancy Warner. Warner had mentioned that her son referenced the presence of an “ontological argument” in The Silver Chair, and Lewis replied.... Read More

Illustration: Pauline Baynes

4 Reasons Our Church Stopped Doing 'Come and Watch' Events (And 5 Alternatives)


When a first-time guest comes to a church, they should see our faith at its deepest and best.

Many churches have experienced great success and growth doing big ‘come and watch’ events.

Even if choir cantatas on Christmas and Easter have been replaced by an illustrated message with stage design, lighting and video, the idea is the same – to draw people in so we can present the gospel to them.

The big ‘come and watch’ event may still work in some places, but many church leaders (like Carey Nieuwhof, in a recent helpful post) have found that they work less well than they used to – or we thought they did.

Several years ago, our church stopped doing ‘come and watch’ events on special Sundays, like Christmas and Easter. Then we stopped doing them altogether.

Here’s why.... Read More

Related Article:
9 Things That Worked In The Church A Decade Ago That Don’t Today

Why Some People Won't Come to Church This Weekend


In my consulting work, we often ask church members to interview unchurched friends and neighbors to find out why they’re not going to church. Here are some of the most common responses we’ve heard over the last several years.... Read More

Five Things the Traditional Church Is Doing Well


The email stung me. The writer spoke of my negativity about local churches, about how much of my writings are about problems in local congregations.

But there was truth in his critique. A lot of my writings do indeed express my concerns about the health and future of congregations. I admit my desire to help church leaders and laypersons confront reality.

But balance is needed.

There are many traditional or established churches doing things well. And though we can’t make categorical statements about any group of churches, it is indeed true that there are some elements in traditional churches we need to celebrate. Here are five of them. Read More

John Calvin and the Princess


Renée of Ferrara sheltered Protestant refugees, wrote bold letters to Calvin and other reformers, and courted the wrath of her own family. But restrictions on women's roles prevented her from having a wider influence.

A little girl's dreams: With her friends in frilly dresses, she becomes a beaming princess at her birthday party. She shops with her mother for a princess costume on Halloween. But the real story of a princess rarely fits the fantasy. So it was with Princess Renée of France.

"Had I had a beard I would have been the king of France," she fumed. "I have been defrauded by that confounded Salic Law." Renée was convinced that she was as fully qualified to succeed her father as a male heir.

The Salic laws of the Franks had been codified some 1,000 years earlier. Most often cited was the law excluding females from ascending the throne. Renée would become an important figure in the political and religious wrangling of the 16th century, but not as Queen of France. In fact, she would be the Protestant Reformer John Calvin's leading lady—a strategically positioned woman with influence in both France and Italy. Read More

Photo Credit: PD-US

TULIP and Reformed Theology: Total Depravity


The doctrine of total depravity reflects the Reformed viewpoint of original sin. That term—original sin—is often misunderstood in the popular arena. Some people assume that the term original sin must refer to the first sin—the original transgression that we’ve all copied in many different ways in our own lives, that is, the first sin of Adam and Eve. But that’s not what original sin has referred to historically in the church. Rather, the doctrine of original sin defines the consequences to the human race because of that first sin. Read More

Churches, Get a Calvinist Pastor!


Southern Baptists inherited the most compelling aspects of all the Baptist Calvinists that preceded them. James P. Boyce summarized this well. He encouraged every preacher to get theological education in some way, even if it could not be at the Seminary in Greenville, South Carolina. If no other means were available, he advised, “work at it yourself.” The fathers of the convention did this, Boyce claimed; “They familiarized themselves with the Bible, and Gill and Andrew Fuller, and they made good and effective preachers. God is able to raise up others like them.”1 The irony of Boyce’s appeal to the grassroots for support of theological education was this: the seminary would not interrupt, but would perpetuate, the work of pastoral ministry, preaching and theology consistent with the Gill/Fuller tradition.

But this is the very difficulty that we face at this moment in Southern Baptist history. God indeed is raising up others like them, that is, like the fathers. Whether self-educated or seminary-educated, Boyce and all his contemporaries viewed a Bible theology that reflected a blend of Gill and Fuller as normal and expected. Churches should have no other kind of pastor.

These are the ones that would maintain the spiritual and doctrinal health and fervor of the churches. Today, however, some Southern Baptists are warning the churches against them. This is a mammoth historical irony that many find it difficult to appreciate. Read More

Photo Credit: Jeremiah Higgins

6 Lessons Learned Ministering in a Blue-Collar Community


I serve in a church in a small town in South Carolina. Our church is a blue-collar church. You must understand that blue-collar is not primarily about socioeconomics—it is primarily about a mindset. I have people in my church that make very good money. I have men in my church that make $200,000 per year while wearing a t-shirt and jeans to work every day. We have college graduates, bankers, and people with advanced degrees. But the profession doesn’t make the man (or woman). The profession is what they do, but not who they are. Deep down they are small-town people. Many of them are country people. They are wonderful, fun, salt-of-the-earth people, but they do not fit in well among a white-collar crowd. (And for the record, they are perfectly OK with that.)

For a long time, I struggled with some of my blue-collar guilt until I realized that God had put me in a position to minister well among this blue-collar crowd. These are my kind of people. I understand them and amazingly, they seem to understand me. As a result, I have worked to overcome my false guilt and to tap into the riches of my background that enable me to better minister among the people to whom God has called me.

Here are some lessons I’ve learned.... Read More

Related Article:
When a Minister Helps to Kill a Ministry

Friday, March 24, 2017

What Does Semper Reformanda Mean?


The phrase ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda (the church reformed, always reforming) has been used so often as to make it a motto or slogan. People have used it to support a surprising array of theological and ecclesiastical programs and purposes. Scholars have traced its origins to a devotional book written by Jodocus van Lodenstein in 1674. Van Lodenstein, no doubt, had no intention of being a phrase-maker or sloganeer. What was his intention, and what did he mean by this phrase?

Van Lodenstein was a minister in the Reformed Church of the United Provinces in what we know today as the Netherlands. This church was born of decades of faithful preaching by ministers—many educated in Geneva—who risked their lives to carry the gospel, first into the French-speaking regions of the Low Countries, and later into the Dutch-speaking regions farther north. Some ministers were martyred for their faith, but they gathered a rich harvest of committed believers. Their message of the need for the reform of the church according to the Bible resonated with many who saw the corruptions of the old church.

Under the rulers Charles V and Philip II, the government of the Low Countries made every effort to suppress the Reformed religion, which was a large part of the reason for the Dutch revolt against their Spanish overlords. This revolt (1568-1648) became known as the Eighty Years’ War, giving birth to a new state in the northern part of the Low Countries. In this new state—the Dutch Republic, also known as the United Provinces—the Reformed Church was dominant, receiving government support and becoming the church of the majority of the population by the middle of the seventeenth century. Read More
This is a timely article in its explanation of the original meaning of the phrase, "ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda ." In the Anglican Church in North America the "Catholic Revivalists," those who do not believe that historic Anglicanism is "Catholic" enough, have appropriated the phrase for their own use, along with the phrase, "the renewal of Anglicanism." They have assigned their own revisionist meanings to the two phrases. In their use of the first phrase they mean the introduction of changes into the Anglican Church that move it away from Biblical Christianity and historic Anglicanism in the direction of their preferred form of unreformed Catholicism (i.e., Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy). In their use of the second phrase they are not referring to the re-invigoration of Biblical Christianity and historic Anglicanism but to the revival of unreformed Catholicism in their place.

39 Articles: Article 11 – Of the Justification of Man


We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by faith, and not for our own works or deservings; wherefore, that we are justified by faith only is a most wholesome doctrine, and very full of comfort, as more largely is expressed in the Homily of Justification.

The eleventh article introduces us to the most important point of controversy in the sixteenth century. It would not be an exaggeration to say that polemics raged round the question of Justification by Faith.

It is sometimes said that the controversy on this particular issue was not as acute in England as on the Continent of Europe. It is also pointed out that a possible explanation of this fact may be found in the surmise that Cardinal Pole had certain sympathies with the Reformed position on this subject. But these statements must be taken with care. We know that Pole’s bitter enemy Caraffa, who ascended the Papal throne as Paul IV, summoned him before the newly established Inquisition at Rome, but Pole’s death prevented any inquiry into his opinions.

Another feature that must be taken into account in forming a judgment on this interesting point is that the discussion in England naturally settled round a question that could he more easily determined in a Court of Justice. The language of the Council of Trent on Justification made any discussion on the matter extremely intricate. It was much easier to secure conviction on the denial of the existence in the consecrated elements of the real and true Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. The shifting of emphasis consequent upon the number of indictments for heresy in the reign of Mary is easily understood, but must not be taken too readily as evidence that a cardinal point of doctrine was either ignored or relegated to a subordinate position. Read More

 Also See:
A Sermon of the Salvation of Mankind by Only Christ Our Saviour from Sin and Death Everlasting
A Sermon of the Salvation of Mankind by Only Christ Our Saviour from Sin and Death Everlasting (Modern Language Version)

When You've Got a Bramble for a King


The world of the book of Judges is a sordid, nasty, utterly broken place. Some of the most horrific accounts of sin detailed in the Bible are found in the book of Judges. We are told quite plainly: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 14:7, 17:6). In Judges 9, the people of Israel are beginning to reap what they’ve sown in discord and disobedience. After the death of Gideon (referred to as Jerubbaal in Judges 9), the nation has descended into apostasy, and God’s judgment looms. But it is not as so often judgment in the guise of an invading army but more along the lines of what we see detailed in Romans 1:24, or Psalm 81:12—“ So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsels.”

Abimelech, who was a son of Gideon by one of Gideon’s concubines, saw an opportunity to fill a void in power, and making an appeal to his family for support, he made a shrewd and self-interested case for himself as a king. “Would you rather be ruled by seventy men?” he argued (Judges 9:2), referring to the totality of Gideon’s sons. “Or by one?” What ensued was a succession of hits that makes The Godfather look like Strawberry Shortcake. Using money from a house of Baal-worship, Abimelech hired seventy assassins. “Worthless and reckless fellows,” Judges 9:4 calls them. Together they murdered all of Abimelech’s brothers “on one stone” (9:5). All, that is, except one. The youngest, named Jotham, escaped.

The brazen act of murder, nearly sacrificial in its overtones, is certainly devil worship, whether explicitly or implicitly. The root of pride if left unchecked will grow into a murderous tree. Through this wicked use of force, Abimelech was made king. Read More

Princeton Seminary Reforms Its Views on Honoring Tim Keller


School rescinds a major theology prize amid complaints over women’s ordination.

The most popular Reformed preacher and author in America today is not eligible to receive Princeton Theological Seminary’s annual award in Reformed theology and public witness.

The mainline seminary reversed its decision to honor Tim Keller with a prize named for neo-Calvinist theologian Abraham Kuyper following outcry over the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA) pastor’s conservative positions.

Princeton president Craig Barnes announced the news in a letter released Wednesday morning.

Because the PCA conflicts with the seminary’s denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA), on women and LGBT clergy, leaders agreed not to award Keller the prize and thus affirm his differing stance. However, the school has still scheduled the Redeemer Presbyterian pastor to speak on mission at an annual conference hosted by its Kuyper Center for Public Theology in April. Read More

Related Articles and Podcast:
Why Princeton’s snub of Tim Keller should outrage progressives
"Prophetic opposition"? The history and theology behind Princeton's decision not to honor Tim Keller [Podcast]
What Hath Amsterdam to do with Princeton?

Screen Short from Vimeo

Gospel Speech Online


If you have an internet connection, chances are you’ve witnessed or engaged in some form of online discussion—perhaps with just one or two others via email, or with dozens of people on a social media platform like Facebook.

No doubt some of those interactions have been fun, civilised and intellectually stimulating. Others… well, not so much.

As Christians we know the importance of our speech. Yet the fingers on our keyboard can be as hard to tame as our tongue (James 3:8).

In this fascinating book, Lionel Windsor shines a healthy spotlight on the advantages, pitfalls and peculiar nature of the online world and explores how it affects the way we relate to others. His goal is to help you speak the truth of the gospel in love—even online. Learn More

Friday's Catch: "10 Signs a Church Has No Clear Vision" and More


10 Signs a Church Has No Clear Vision

Many churches have no clear vision. Here are some signs of this problem.... Read More

Eight Easter-Related Church Trends

Easter is only three weeks away, so today Thom Rainer and Jonathan Howe cover a few trends they are seeing in churches as we lead up to Resurrection Sunday. Listen Now

Engaging Churches in Caring for Incarcerated Persons and Their Families

Correctional ministry leader calls churches to care for the incarcerated as they do the sick. Read More

David Platt: ‘We Are All Immigrants'

We are migrants on this earth. The more we get involved in the lives of immigrants, the better we will understand the gospel. Read More

3 Things Millennial Leaders Need From the Church

It’s not about who’s in power—it’s about how we empower the next generation. Read More

The Fearful and Wonderful Art of Flirting: Seven Warnings for the Digital Age

One of the weirdest, most enchanting, and most delicate gifts God has given us is the gift of flirtation. Read More

Thursday, March 23, 2017

They Will Know We Are Christians by Our Drinks


In the Muslim world, Christians have a complicated relationship with alcohol.

he deadliest incident faced by the persecuted church last Christmas wasn’t radical Islamists. It was alcohol.

Liquor mixed with aftershave killed about 50 people at Christmas parties in a Pakistani village, and sickened about 100 more.

In Pakistan, as in many Muslim-majority nations where Shari‘ah law forbids drinking, alcohol is closely identified with Christianity. The nation’s primary alcohol producer, for example, riffs on the Bible in advertisements. Founded in 1860 by the British, Murree Brewery’s slogan, “Eat, drink, and be Murree,” echoes the repeated biblical idiom for short-term pleasures.

Perhaps as surprising as the existence of a Pakistani brewery is the fact that 12 Muslims were among the victims of the fatal Christmas parties. But in 2007, then–Murree CEO Minnoo Bhandara told The Telegraph that 99 percent of his customers are Muslims. And in the Middle East, alcohol sales increased 72 percent from 2001 to 2011, according to market research.

Still, in most Muslim countries only Christians may buy or consume alcohol. But not all do. Wilson Chowdhry, chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association, estimates that about half of Pakistani Christian men drink. Roman Catholics are slightly more inclined; Protestants less so. But the women of both branches of Christianity, he says, are fully opposed. Read More

Preacher’s Toolkit: What Role Does the Spirit Play in My Preaching?


The moment arrives. Whispering a prayer for grace, the preacher stands and moves toward the front. He assumes a designated preaching spot—on a platform, behind a pulpit, adjacent to a table—it hardly matters. What matters is that he is not alone. The Holy Spirit is there.

But in what way? For what purpose? How does God’s Spirit work during a sermon? What should the preacher and people expect from the Spirit? Read More

Five Reasons Why This Millennial Still Likes Using Hymnals


I might lose my Millennial card for admitting this, but:

I like hymnals. A lot.

Yes, I realize I’m supposed to want to worship with fog machines and song lyrics on projector screens with cool moving backgrounds. And sometimes I enjoy that too—but not all the time.

So why would a 36-year old Millennial enjoy hymnals? Here are my five reasons.... Read More

Thursday's Catch: "How a Vision for Multiplication Changes You and Your Church" and More


How a Vision for Multiplication Changes You and Your Church

A clear vision gives us a filter through which we can run every idea, opportunity and decision. Read More

8 Ways God Works Suffering for Our Good

It is a conviction meant to quiet our minds and encourage our hearts: In some way God has a hand in our suffering. Read More

The Pastor As Navigator

The pastoral role has been described in rich and varied metaphors from the Bible, but a function that I am increasingly drawn to is fromGreek mythology*; that of the navigator sailing people between the monsters Scylla and Charybdis guarding the Straits of Messina. Read More

5 Realities About the Weight of Pastoring

When the apostle Paul listed all his sufferings, he concluded the list with referencing his burden for the churches he served. The weight of pastoring, though filled with immense joy, was a weight that topped Paul’s list of suffering. Read More

Making A Pastoral Apology

I knew I needed to apologize after the moment the words left my mouth. I felt I couldn’t do it quickly enough! Read More

Why Every Pastor Needs a Good Sense of Humor

A good sense of humor is needed in all things, particularly in a body like a church. Read More

3 Famous Bible Verses We Misinterpret

Some of these translation nuances can have a HUGE impact on our understanding of God. Read More

How can I improve my prayer life? [Video]

A Southern Seminary video on prayer. Watch Now

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

A Lenten Friday: What Separates Catholics and Protestants


I am often asked, “What is the fundamental difference between Catholic and Protestant belief?” There are numerous ways to answer the question. Sometimes I use the following illustration. Read More
The same divide is discernible in the Anglican Church in North America. On one hand are the evangelicals who stand with the English Reformers, Biblical Christianity, and historic Anglicanism and recognize the paramount authority of the Bible in matters of faith and practice. On the other hand are the Anglo-Catholics who stand with the Roman Catholics and accord greater authority to their bishops.

What Is the Judgment of Charity?


Every time I read the Gospels, I am struck by how Jesus seems to have found Himself in the middle of controversy wherever He went. I am also struck by how Jesus handled each controversy differently. He did not follow the example of Leo “The Lip” DeRosier, the former manager of the New York Giants and treat every person He encountered in the same manner. Although He expected everyone to play by the same rules, He shepherded people according to their specific needs. Read More

Wednesday's Catch: "Five Fascinating Lessons from a 'Secret' Guest in Church Worship Services" and More


Five Fascinating Lessons from a "Secret" Guest in Church Worship Services

The guests showed up, but they never returned. Has that ever happened in your church? You speak with someone who is visiting the first time. You try to be friendly. But you never see them again. At times you wonder why they never returned. Read More

Greg Atkinson On The Secrets Of A Secret Church Shopper: What People Are Looking For When They Come To Your Church [Podcast]

Would you ever send a secret worshipper to your church service? What do you think they’d find? Listen Now

8 Ways God Turns Temptations to Blessings

Just as a tree which is blown by the wind is settled and rooted deeper into the ground, the coming of a temptation simply settles the Christian deeper into divine grace. Read More

3 Growth Traits of Great Church Leaders

Our current place in American history requires an actively informed and engaged Christian witness. Read More

Do You Invite Critique of Your Sermons

If you are a pastor who does not regularly receive feedback on your preaching I want to provide a few suggestions for avenues where you might consider implementing some. These have paid great dividends for me over the years. Read More

On Emotionalism and the Gospel

Many Christians have likely experienced emotionalism - the moments at various worship services and events when excessive focus is placed on a person's emotions. Often, you will see it in places where “decisions” or “worship experiences” are elevated above proper worship of God or, quite frankly, above the gospel. In its ugliest forms, the leader attempts to manipulate the congregation’s emotions to meet whatever their end goal is. and emotional atmospheres are dubbed “a move of the Holy Spirit.” Read More

Ministering to Hispanics in the Church[Podcast]

This Dallas Theologicl Seminary podcast explores ministering to Hispanics in the Church. Listen Now

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Hugh Latimer - Apostolic Preacher


On the morning of 16 October, 1555, Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley, both formerly bishops of the Church, were executed for heresy in Oxford. It was then that Hugh Latimer uttered his famous sermon,
Be of good cheer, Master Ridley, and play the man. We shall this day light such a candle by God’s grace in England as I trust shall never be put out.
The execution was part of the outworking of May Tudor’s policy to re-establish the Roman Church in England, and to redress the dishonour done to her mother, Katharine of Aragon, by her divorce from Henry VIII. Mary blamed these two bishops, with Thomas Cranmer, for the divorce, and for establishing Biblical Christianity within the Church in England. Read More

Church-Planting Shifts, Part Three: Preparing Our People for Witness


How do we prepare the mission force for the mission field?

In the past few weeks, I have talked about some recent church-planting shifts that I have noticed, both through the lens of research and some though anecdotal observations.

The world today is still reasonably familiar for church planters; yet the scene is changing as secularism grows, presenting a new challenge to the mission and ministry of the churches. The truth is, we are seeing more ‘nominal’ Christian people self-identify as no faith (“nones”) instead of Christian. Since nominal Christians have been a key part of the church planting strategy for most Christians (see my last post on this topic), it’s a shift that’s both new and challenging.

If we are to succeed in this new (more secular) space, we need to do more than simply acknowledge this shift. Instead, we need to prepare for it, and this includes preparing our church people for the paradigmatic shift to come. Read More

12 Metrics for Church Asssessment - Rainer on Leadership #312 [Podcast]


Churches can measure so many things—giving, attendance, involvement and much more. But what should they measure? Today, Thom Rainer and Jonathan Howe talk assessments, lead metrics, lag metrics, and how churches can more effectively assess what’s going on in their church. Listen Now

Preaching the Ten Commandments


When I preach through the Ten Commandments, each sermon has four points, because each commandment does four things at once. Read More

Monday, March 20, 2017

Remembering Archbishop Thomas Cranmer


On 21 March 1556, Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer who has been described as the "architect" of the English Reformation suffered martyrdom for his Protestant beliefs. He was burned at the stake as a heretic in Oxford.

Under Canon Law Archbishop Cranmer Cranmer should have been granted a reprieve as he, by then a frail old man, had in a moment of weakness recanted. But Queen Mary had no intention of sparing him. She had held a grudge against Cranmer since he had helped her father, Henry VIII, obtain an annulment of his marriage to her mother, Catherine of Aragon. With the dissolution of the marriage Mary had been declared to be illegitimate. Mary had never forgiven Cranmer.

Cranmer would publicly recant his recantation. When the flames leaped up around him, he thrust into the fire the hand with which he had signed the most recent recantation. His last words were, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit... I see the heavens open and Jesus standing at the right hand of God."

While Archbishop Cranmer did not produce a single theological magnus opus like Henry Bullinger's Decades or John Calvin's Institutes of Religion, he ranks with Bullinger and Calvin as a Reformed theologian in his own right.

The Anglican Church League has posted a list of articles about Cranmer to commemorate his martyrdom. They are:

Long Ago and Far Away
Cranmer Speaks Today
Thomas Cranmer’s ‘True and Catholick Doctrine of the Sacrament’
Dr. Ashley Null on Thomas Cranmer

For readers who wish to learn more about the English Reformation, these two books are recommended:

Masters of the English Reformation
Theology of the English Reformers, Revised and Expanded Edition

Portrait: Gerlache Flicke

Why I Didn’t Sing When I Visited Your Church


It was a joy to finally visit your church a couple of Sundays ago, and to worship with the believers there. You know I’ve been looking forward to it for a long time. Just as you promised, the pastor is an excellent communicator and a man who loves God’s Word. His sermon was deeply challenging and led to some great conversations with my children.

Now, you asked me why it looked like I wasn’t singing. I know that was probably a little awkward, so thought I’d send along a brief explanation. Primarily, it’s because.... Read More

Missions Sunday: Hermeneutics for Healthy Churches


Training in biblical interpretation should be an integral part of every missions strategy.

I’ve spent several decades studying missiology and the life and practice of Christians as they reach our world for Jesus. We are all familiar with the mission of the Church—that is, fulfilling all that Christ has commanded of us and representing Him in our world. But too often, missions is sidelined or misrepresented. Missions Sunday is a new Sunday series I am launching that will help us cross cultural, religious, and ethnic boundaries to introduce and further the work of the gospel. And as publisher of Evangelical Missions Quarterly (EMQ), I see no better place to draw content from than this 52-year-old publication, which has been a beacon of best thought and practice from missions leaders and practitioners from around the world.

On a dirt road somewhere in the Middle East, a missionary walks alone. As he walks, he wonders what work God might be leading him to do that day. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, a man appears on the horizon. He approaches the man and notices he is intently reading some document.

Filled with boldness and sensing God’s leadership, the missionary draws near and asks the man what he is reading. The man replies that he is reading a curious document written by someone named Isaiah. Sensing a God-ordained gospel sharing opportunity, the missionary asks him if he understands what he is reading. The man’s reply is illuminating, “How can I unless someone guides me?”

Perceptive readers have already realized that this historically accurate event did not take place in a contemporary setting, but was recorded in Acts 8:26-40, when Philip encountered the Ethiopian eunuch. That said, don’t miss the missiological significance of the event—the eunuch had a portion of scripture in a language he could understand, and yet he still needed someone to help him understand it. This event helps us see the critical connection between missions and hermeneutics. As one who is involved in theological education in a missions context, I am encouraged by many young missionaries who recognize that the task of missions is not complete when a few are converted, or when an initial church or even a group of churches are planted among a people group.

These young missionaries understand that a critical aspect of the task is the training and equipping of those believers—the “teaching them all things” aspect of the Great Commission. The goal of the Great Commission is not merely the existence of a church, but the existence of a healthy, vibrant, and growing church. Part One Part Two

The Benedict Option: Good Strategy, Bad Posture


The potential danger of the Benedict Option is that some Christians would claim it as the primary option for Christian witness today, which would lead to an overly defensive posture toward the world.

Consider the metaphors used throughout the book: a thousand-year flood, the most serious crisis since the fall of the Roman empire, “we’ve lost on every front.” Waterloo. The dark age to come. The coming storm. An earthquake. Babylon. When Dreher recommends we follow the example of monks who literally headed for the hills, I worry that the dire warnings in this book will cultivate a posture that is much too defensive, a fatalistic view of society that breeds long-term cultural pessimism.

Progressives always think they know the way the world is going, and that arc is always bending toward justice. They’re often wrong. Conservatives sometimes think they know the where the world is headed, that things are inevitably getting worse. They’re often wrong, too. A better approach is that of Chesterton, who said in the 1930s in the years before WWII, “the world is what the saints and prophets saw it was; it is not merely getting better or merely getting worse; there is one thing that the world does; it wobbles.”

We sense the world wobbling a little more than usual these days, but that should lead us to a recommitment to Christian mission. The fundamental posture of the Christian should be missionary, not monastic. Read More

Missionaries Dreamed Of This Muslim Moment. Trump’s Travel Ban May End It.


Why American evangelicals see Islam so differently.

While federal judges and lawyers argue over whether President Donald Trump’s revised executive order on travel amounts to a “Muslim ban,” evangelical experts on Muslim missions express concerns over how popular the proposal is in America’s pews.

The Pew Research Center has found that self-identified white evangelicals were twice as likely as Americans overall to support the policy (76% vs. 38%), which temporarily halts the refugee program and restricts entry from several Muslim-majority countries. They are also, according to PRRI, the only religious group in America that has grown more supportive of a “Muslim ban.”

As Muslim migrants flee unstable and violent homelands, the mission field that was once half a world away is making its way to more and more American communities.

Last year, the United States admitted about 39,000 Muslim refugees, a record high.

“This is the best case we’ve had in human history to share the love of Christ with Muslims,” according to David Cashin, intercultural studies professor at Columbia International University and an expert in Muslim-Christian relations.

But survey after survey indicates that white evangelicals are the least excited about their new neighbors. They show the highest levels of support for restrictions on Muslim immigration and the most skepticism toward Muslim Americans.

“Because of these attitudes,” Cashin said, “we could miss the opportunity.”

White evangelicals are also the least likely to know a Muslim, and their views often conflict with how Muslims in the US and abroad describe their beliefs.

“I think there is some fear on behalf of a lot of evangelicals,” said Michael Urton, associate director of the Coalition of Ministries to Muslims in North America (COMMA Network). “A lot of that is because people do not know Muslims. They do not know what Muslims believe, and they feel overwhelmed. It creates this paralysis.” Read More
My impression of those who are described in this article as "self-identified white evangelicals" is that they do not fully trust God. In this sense they are like the ancient Israelites who in times of trouble looked not to God but to "princes, in a son of man in whom there is no salvation." It would be the ancient Israelites' undoing. Now I will acknowledge that this temptation is not an uncommon one. Nor is it confined to this particular segment of the US population. But for individuals who identify themselves as Christian, it is a serious failing and points in part to inadequate discipling.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Saturday Lagniappe: "How to Pray ( first in a series) 'Let’s not complicate it. Just do it!'" and Much More


How to Pray ( first in a series) “Let’s not complicate it. Just do it!”

Let’s see if we can help the beginner to pray effectively and the “regular customer” to pray with greater insight, stronger faith, and more confidence. But–and this is a biggie–let’s not make this more complicated than it is. Read More

TULIP and Reformed Theology: An Introduction

Just a few years before the Pilgrims landed on the shores of New England in the Mayflower, a controversy erupted in the Netherlands and spread throughout Europe and then around the world. Read More

The Practical Importance of Limited Atonement

All too often, when the doctrine of limited atonement is considered, people only see it as a theological debate over the extent of Christ’s atonement. Rarely is a direct connection drawn between this doctrinal divide and its implications in the Christian life. Read More

Scandalized by the Substitute: A Response to Young and Gungor

The doctrine of atonement for sin is—or at least has been—at the center of Christian faith and practice since Jesus’s earthly ministry. But in recent days, various voices have raised objections to the cross. Read More

10 Thoughts Church Leaders Should Think This Saturday

It’s Saturday, and gathering with the people of God is just around the corner. If you’re a church leader, here are some thoughts you might want to be thinking today.... Read More

5 Misconceptions About Pastors

Here are five misconceptions about pastors, some of which are dangerous and greatly impede the ministry of a local church. In other words, they are not insignificant misconceptions. Read More

Things the pastor needs to know

To be an overseer, one has to know what’s going on. Read More

What Are Good Sources for Sermon Illustrations?

What are some good sources of illustrations that will help listeners understand the truths we are presenting? Read More

Why Are There Manuscript Variants [Video]

Why do the footnotes in my Bible say, "Some manuscripts say..."? Watch Now

The Diffusion and Influence of Contemporary Worship

How does worship music style relate to congregational growth? Read More

3 Keys For A Flourishing Kids' Ministry

The truth is there is no “secret sauce,” but there are several key things I see consistently in the leaders of flourishing Children's Ministries. Read More

A FAQ on Shaping Your Ministry Culture Around Disciple Making

After reading this article, I decided that I must read Sydney Anglicans Colin Marshall and Tony Payne's new book, The Vine Project: Shaping Your Ministry Culture around Disciple-Making. Read More

Eight Steps to Christian Maturity

Church-movers are focused on making a difference in society — a real difference. We believe that if we move our church, we change the world. Why? Because the church changes people. And people, as ambassadors of Christ, shape our neighborhoods, cities, and nations. Read More

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Anglican Church in North America: A Raw Deal for Evangelicals- UPDATED AND REVISED


By Robin G. Jordan

Here are five reasons why the Anglican Church in North America is a raw deal for evangelicals:

1. A set of fundamental declarations that equivocate over the authority of the historic Anglican formularies as the doctrinal and worship standard for Anglicans and take a historically unreformed Catholic position on the episcopate.

2. An ordinal that embodies an unreformed Catholic view of ordination.

3. A catechism that where it does not adopts unreformed Catholic positions on key issues is open to interpretation as supporting these positions.

4. Prayer book rites and services that are unreformed Catholic in their doctrine and liturgical usages.

5. A form of governance that is weighted in favor of the church party with the most bishops  in its pocket.  This enables a church party while small in size to exercise a degree of influence disproportionate to its size. A  church party does not need to have a large base to wield controlling influence in the ACNA. It just needs enough bishops to tip the scales in its favor. These bishops may come from small dioceses in terms of numbers of clergy and congregations. They may not be an ordinary of a diocese. They may be coadjutors, suffragans, or assistant bishops of a diocese or bishops of convocations (or other subdivisions) within a diocese. What it means is that as long as the Anglo-Catholic-Philo-Orthodox wing has the larger number of bishops in its pocket, it will control the direction of the Anglican Church in North America even though it lags behind the other wings of the church in number of clergy and congregations. 

Bishops comprise half of the Provincial Council which is the official governing body of the ACNA. Each diocese has the same representation in the Provincial Council whatever its size. (Here again I am talking about size in terms of number of clergy and congregations, not geographical territory.) Under the provisions of the ACNA canons the Provincial Council may co-opt six additional members. Nothing in the canons prevents these additional members being bishops.  Bishops chair the major task forces. Any proposed changes to the constitution and canons are scrutinized in the College of Bishops before they are presented to the Provincial Council. (This examination and even revision of proposed changes to the constitution and canons is something that the College of Bishops has taken upon itself. The ACNA constitution and canons do not assign the College of Bishops any role in the legislative process.) The Provincial Assembly, representation to which is based on the number of clergy and congregations in a diocese, has a negligible role in the governance of the province. 

Among the implications is that even though the ACNA’s evangelical wing plants news churches and ordains new clergy in large numbers, it will not influence the direction of the ACNA as it is presently structured. It can only increase its influence by increasing its number of bishops and dioceses. 

Here is the difficulty. The Anglo-Catholic-Philo-Orthodox wing through its bishops in the College of Bishops and the Provincial Council has the final determination in who becomes a bishop and whether a diocese is recognized. Having gained the ascendancy in the ACNA, the Anglo-Catholic-Philo-Orthodox wing cannot be expected to give ground easily.  

How Churches Can Give Sanctuary and Still Support the Law


800 congregations are working to protect undocumented immigrants. A leader with the New Sanctuary Movement says yours should be one of them.

In the 1980s and ’90s, Alexia Salvatierra was a young adult involved in the early Sanctuary Movement, which rallied churches to protect Central American immigrants fleeing civil war in their home countries. Roughly 20 years later, Salvatierra cofounded the New Sanctuary Movement, an interfaith effort that now includes 800 congregations in 30 cities committed to protecting and standing with undocumented immigrants. “People who never thought much about the immigrant community before now really care,” says Salvatierra, a pastor with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. “It’s a beautiful, Christlike outpouring of love, and I am so moved by it.”

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Salvatierra grew up hearing immigrant stories from her grandparents, who came to the US from Mexico and Russia. “I always had empathy for what courage it takes to be an immigrant, and I naturally gravitated towards other immigrants as I got older,” she says. “I felt injustice happening everywhere as if it was happening to me—it was my fire in the belly.” She became a Christian as a teenager during the Jesus Movement of the ’70s and discovered hope as she read in the Bible of God’s passion for justice.

Salvatierra now serves as an advisor to the New Sanctuary Movement and also works with Matthew 25, a bipartisan Christian movement (which she co-founded) that seeks to protect and defend the vulnerable in the name of Jesus. From her home in California, Salvatierra spoke with CT about the need for immigration reform, how deportations impact kids, and how churches across the country are getting involved. Read More

The Legend of St. Patrick: Missionary to His Slave-Masters


The mention of St. Patrick, for most people, conjures images of all things green, from rivers to donuts to shamrocks, and everything between. St. Patrick’s Day parades and parties in many places around the world are often raucous and wild. They are a strange sort of celebration to bear the name of a man whose missionary legacy is worthy of remembrance.... Read More

Related Articles:
10 Things You Should Know about St. Patrick
Irish folklorist suggests St Patrick had a wife

Anglican Connection National Conference 2017 June 13-15


The Anglican Connection National Conference is set for June 13-15 in Dallas.

The conference will explore practical ways we can build effective gospel-centered churches through the lens of the 16th-century reformers.

The gospel need in the USA today is great. So many have never heard; and so many others do not know what to believe.

The Anglican Connection National Conference offers ministers, church leaders, and members an opportunity to re-envision and refresh effective gospel-centered ministries.

Mark your calendars for this conference. Learn More

Friday's Catch: "Six Traits of Preacher Eater Churches" and More


Six Traits of Preacher Eater Churches: Rainer on Leadership #311 [Podcast]

Thom Rainer hears far too often about the very real problem of preacher eating churches. Thom and Jonathan Howe cover six traits that are found in these churches and how to remedy them. Listen Now

7 Signs That God May Be Up to Something in a Church

I know this post’s title is subjective, but I pray it gives you hope. This past weekend, I spoke at a church that has had some struggles in recent years – but it sure seems like God is doing something there these days. It made me think of positive signs I’ve seen in other churches in the past. Here are some signs I see in churches that give me hope that “God is up to something”.... Read More

Untangling a Twisted Gospel in Africa

The gospel is widely accepted in Africa, but many churches are full for all the wrong reasons. Need a curse broken? A fortune reversed? These promises fall assuredly from the lips of “apostles” and “prophets” on Christian television, and from church pastors called “daddy” or “papa.” Read More

5 Reasons That God Allows Suffering

Nothing can encourage us like God’s Word. Here are five powerful, biblical reasons why God allows suffering in our lives. Read More

Why Doesn’t God Answer My Non-Stupid Prayers?

When you're in pain, even good, thoughtful ideas about why God sometimes doesn't answer our prayers can feel trite and fall short. Read More

Kyle Idleman: The 3 Levels of Christian Forgiveness

We haven’t really addressed level three forgiveness yet, and some of you aren’t going to like this. Read More

What's Really Behind the Russel Moore Controversy

The recent media buzz that Russell Moore’s job was in jeopardy at the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission happily turned out to be much ado about nothing . . . for the moment. Read More

Thursday, March 16, 2017

10 Things I Did Not Do that Improved My Congregation’s Singing


My congregation sings better than they did a year ago. I’ve been their worship leader for a little more than a year, and I’ve seen progress in their participation in worship through singing. They sing louder, they sing more heartily, and more of them sing than they did a year ago.

This realization occurred to me as I was reading an article on the decline of congregational singing, and it caused me to wonder why we’re not part of the trend.

Here are 10 things I did not do over the past year that I think has helped our congregational singing.... Read More

Thursday's Catch: "Brian Orme: The Church in the Digital Age" and More


Brian Orme: The Church in the Digital Age

I believe there is a world that’s waiting for us to talk about the issues in a different way. Read More

9 Signs Your Church Is Stalling Out

Sometimes it’s hard to know whether or not your church or organization is making progress or whether it’s about to stall out. Read More

Who Was Saint Patrick and Should Christians Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day?

When it comes to Saint Patrick, the true story is even more exciting than the legend and the myth. Read More

5 Ways to Lead the Next Generation and Avoid Becoming Obsolete

To avoid becoming obsolete, try one of these tips for leading the next generation.... Read More

Preaching and Personality

We can make sure that our language is arresting, and our structure clear, and our application rich and our biblical theology compelling—but there is another factor; the personality factor. Read More

Why Doesn’t God Answer All My Prayers? Because Some of Them are Stupid

We need to become better pray-ers. But how? Offer prayers God has already said he’ll answer. Read More

Seven Reasons Your Church Members Aren't Using Your Church Website

These are the seven most common reasons church members don’t use your church’s website. Read More

Why You Most Certainly Will Fail to Reach Your Secular Friends

Many have never been given a single reason as to why God is relevant to their lives. Read More

Evangelical Leaders Challenge Trump’s ‘America First’ Budget

Group of 100 prominent Christians worry severe cuts to foreign aid will reverse progress at reducing poverty. Read More

Trump’s Policies Are Keeping Hispanics Away from Church

Pew finds fear even among 7 in 10 Christian green card holders. Read more

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Down Side of the Diocese of South Carolina’s Historic Vote


By Robin G. Jordan

The decision of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina to affiliate with the Anglican Church in North America comes as no surprise. The Diocese of South Carolina has been experiencing pressure from the ACNA and the global South as well as from within to take this step. But in light of the deep entrenchment of Anglo-Catholic-Philo-Orthodox doctrine in the ACNA’s formularies—its Ordinal, its Catechism, and its proposed Prayer Book rites and services, I must question the wisdom of that decision. According to what I have been told, most of the congregations and clergy in the Diocese of South Carolina, while diverse in their style of worship, are “evangelical” in their theology.

As they are presently written, the constitution and canons of the Anglican Church in North America do not make any credible provision for the full range of theological opinion found in the province. The fundamental declarations, while they do not go as far as the ACNA’s Anglo-Catholic-Philo-Orthodox wing would like them to, nonetheless favor Anglo-Catholic-Philo-Orthodox positions on key issues such as the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, The Book of Common Prayer, the Ordinal, and the episcopate. The Ordinal, the Catechism, and the proposed Prayer Book rites and services have moved the official doctrine of the ACNA even closer to what the Anglo-Catholic-Philo-Orthodox wing views as “orthodoxy,” and further away from the biblical and Reformation orthodoxy of the historic Anglican formularies.

Despite its size, at this late stage, the Diocese of South Carolina cannot be expected to exercise much influence upon the theological direction of the Anglican Church in North America. Indeed, in choosing to affiliate with the ACNA, it has tacitly endorsed that direction.

While I have no hard data to support this contention, my impression is that Anglo-Catholic-Philo-Orthodox wing is over-represented in the College of Bishops, the Provincial Council, and the key provincial task forces. It exercises a degree of influence that is disproportionate to its actual size. While evangelicals may have the numbers in the Provincial Assembly, the Assembly has no power. It cannot conduct inquiries and investigations. It cannot develop and implement policy or make canons and regulations. It cannot censure or remove bishops and other provincial officials.

I see a real need to survey the clergy and congregations of the Anglican Church in North America to identify their theological outlook. It might prove eye-opening. If it showed that evangelicals comprise the largest wing of the ACNA, it would provide further evidence that ACNA in its basic structure as well as its fundamental doctrine is slanted against evangelicals. It might provide the much needed impetus for the reform of the ACNA. 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Going Multisite? Avoid These 16 Common Mistakes


The multisite strategy has become a proven model for church reproduction for more than 8,000 churches across North America—and it’s not slowing down.

Though 9 out of 10 multisite campuses are self-sustaining and 57 percent of all multisite churches are planning to launch another campus in the next 12 months, many multisite campuses struggle, and a small number do fail. Why do people return to the sending campus after launching a multisite campus? What hinders sent people from becoming staying people at a church they helped birth in their own community?

What is the key to retaining the launch team and sustaining a growing multisite campus? Read More

Photo Credit: Outreach Magazine

Tuesday's Catch: "Suburban Sprawl and the Dying Dream of Community Churches" and More


Suburban Sprawl and the Dying Dream of Community Churches

Here in the suburbs, church is one more thing we drive to and choose according to preference rather than proximity. Read More

Missions and Church Planting in North America, with Kevin Ezell - Rainer on Leadership #310 [Podcast]

Kevin Ezell joins Thom Rainer and Jonathan Howe to discuss trends in church planting, relief ministry, and missions in North America, as well as the Send North America Conference. Listen Now

Church-Planting Shifts, Part Two: From Nominal to Secular

Secularism is replacing nominalism as the religion of the people. Read More

Why I've Stopped Reading All Those '10 Reasons Your Church Isn’t Growing' Lists

Please stop beating us down for what you think we’re not doing. Guilt doesn’t motivate, it discourages. Read More

Should We Preach like the Puritans? No

The Puritans followed an educational method called "Ramism" after French philosopher Petrus Ramus (1515–1572) who attempted to modify Aristotelian philosophy by orienting it toward practical godliness instead of intellectual speculation. In many ways, the Ramist approach helped Puritans to analyze a topic theologically and practically. However, Ramism also introduced a methodological complexity to preaching that few modern hearers can receive well. Let me offer some specifics. Read More

Monday, March 13, 2017

Five Reasons Growth May Be More Difficult in Your Church


Every year another two million American adults become less receptive to the gospel, and less receptive to churches.

Every year.

That is one of the nuggets I took from the Pew Research work on the “Nones” when they first released the data in 2012. Pew has continued to follow the religious commitment level of Americans. From 2007 to 2014, over 12 million American adults have moved from a high level of religious commitment to a low level of commitment. They just skipped the medium level of commitment altogether.

Cultural Christianity is dying.

One no longer has to be a Christian or in a church to be accepted by society. That relatively easy pool of prospective attendees for our churches is disappearing.

But most churches keep doing what they’ve always done.

As a consequence, they are reaching fewer. They are declining.

Why?

The answer to that question is too complex for a simple blog post, but let me provide five high-level responses for now. Read More