Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Big Lessons from Small Church with Karl Vaters [Podcast]

Thanks so much for taking the time to join us for another episode of the unSeminary podcast. We have a treat today with guest Pastor Karl Vaters of Cornerstone Christian Fellowship in Orange County, California. Karl is with us to talk about small churches, their unique challenges and how they can be great when they are in this place.

When Karl first arrived at Cornerstone, the church was very small and in need of a lot of help. Through hard work they were able to help the church grow over several years, from 75 to 150, eventually breaking the 200 barrier and getting over 400. But then something happened, and attendance suddenly dropped dramatically all at once. Karl is with us today to talk about that shift, what he learned about pastoring a church of under 250, and what he’d do differently next time. Listen Now

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7 Reasons Some Churches Don’t Grow

I’ve had the privilege of preaching at churches from coast to coast over the last 25 years of ministry. In the process, I’ve talked to countless pastors, church leaders and youth pastors about how their churches are doing when it comes to growth and the reasons for it. On one side I’ve seen churches that thrive. They grow every year both deeper and wider.

These are not always the “megachurches” but, in my book, they are the “mighty churches,” because whether they number at 200 or 2,000 they are truly Gospel Advancing on every level. These churches have that “new believer smell” in that there’s always a little edginess in the foyer because it’s usually peppered with people who don’t necessarily look like they should be there.

After having co-planted and co-pastored a church for 10 years in the Denver area, and having preached in churches across the nation, quietly evaluating what makes them work (or not), here is my list of non-scientific reasons why some churches don’t grow. Read More

Why I Choose to Be a Bivocational Pastor

Ed Stetzer says that being bivocational is not a penalty, but an opportunity. I can now affirm this to be true. But I didn’t always see it this way.

Ten years ago, at the age of 20, I left Bible college early for two reasons: marriage and ministry. Our lead pastor and planter—a bivocational teacher at the time—had cast a compelling vision to start a church-planting movement in Saskatoon and the rest of the province of Saskatchewan, Canada.

I chose to become an electrician, but by the end of my first week, I was ready to quit. I questioned whether I’d made the wrong choice by not completing my theology degree and entering full-time ministry.

But over time, things began to change. As my wife and I prayed and sought counsel, God made it clear that being bivocational was the right decision. Construction would be my tent-making ministry as I interned with Grace Fellowship Church. And as my skills in my trade grew, so did the opportunities for the gospel. Read More

Top 10 Mistakes Preachers Make in Sermon Delivery

Sermon delivery. It’s an art, a moment, an experiential occasion. But sometimes it can seem like a train wreck. Often, the delivery of the sermon is the thing new preachers struggle with the most. But even some seasoned veterans still struggle with delivering sermons that both engage and edify.

I believe with all my heart that sermon delivery can be improved upon, but it takes intentionality. And the first step toward improvement is to recognize what not to do. Read More

10 Things You Should Know about Bible Innerancy

What do we mean when we affirm the inerrancy of the Bible? The importance of that question has not diminished in the least. It is as crucial today as it was 100 years ago. So let’s look at ten things that will help us understand what we mean (and don’t mean) when we speak of an inerrant Bible. Read More

Understanding the Parables

How Not to Read the Parables

The parables Jesus tells in the four Gospels are peculiar kinds of stories that too many readers read very wrongly. It's important, then, to clear up some common misconceptions about these important stories. I want to share with you what the parables are, but first, it is helpful to establish what they are not. Read More

The Wayside and the Rocks

Matthew 13 begins with three words: “that same day.” They summon us to connect the parable of the sower to the controversy described in the previous passage. Troubles began when Jesus healed a man rendered blind and mute by demonic power. Jesus healed the man, so that many people wondered: “Can this be the Son of David?” (12:22). Read More

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
In this post Tim Challies identifies what is a problem in a growing number of churches. I originally posted it in March of last year. I am reposting it because the worship of God in song is not something that others can do for us while we listen to their performance. It is something that we must do ourselves. The real audience at our worship gatherings is God himself and we, his gathered people, are the performers.

Spotlight on Andrew Peterson

Waking Up to “Is He Worthy?”: An Apology

The only way to really learn something is to screw up.

A few days ago (with the help of the good people at the Gospel Coalition) I released a music video for a song called, “Is He Worthy?” and just hours later I was sitting in my office with tears in my eyes. Not the good kind of tears. Among the very kind comments on social media were some painfully negative ones, pointing out that there was a conspicuous lack of racial diversity in the video. Someone actually said, “Man, that’s a lot of white people in one video!” Others said they wouldn’t or couldn’t share it with friends of color because it would cause them pain. The irony was that the song is based on one of the most gloriously inclusive passages in scripture, Revelation 5, which says, “From every people and tribe, every nation and tongue, he has made us a kingdom of priests to God to reign with the Son.” The camera swings past all the white faces just before I sing that line. This is the very definition of “painfully ironic.” What was meant to be a video drawing attention to the glory of Jesus, one that opened the door for all people to praise him, had become, for some, a source of grief. I immediately thought of some friends of mine and wondered if I had unintentionally hurt them. I called them and my worst fears were confirmed. They were very encouraging even as they helped me understand what it was like for them to watch the video, and in the end we cried and prayed together on the phone. Read More

A Guide to the Music of Andrew Peterson

No contemporary songwriter has had a greater effect on my life than Andrew Peterson. His first album appeared the year I moved to Romania as a missionary student, and since that time, his songs have become part of the soundtrack for my life and faith.

Andrew’s work resonates with me for several reasons. Read More

Monday, March 19, 2018

Yes, Our Church Still Calls It Easter – Here Are 5 Reasons Why

The word "Easter" is commonly believed to have pagan roots, but many scholars are making some strong arguments that this may not be so.

Wouldn’t it be great if Easter wasn’t called Easter? If everyone knew it as Resurrection Sunday instead? But they don’t.

Our church uses both terms. But, as you can see in the artwork above, Easter is our church’s go-to term, not Resurrection Sunday. Especially when we invite people to join us.

Some ministers believe it’s outright wrong, even unchristian, to use the word Easter at all. If your church doesn’t use the word Easter, I’m not arguing that you should.

But before you criticize us for it, I hope you’ll hear me out.

Here are five reasons we call it Easter.... Read More
One of the pioneers in debunking the claim that a number of Christian festivals and holy days are pagan in origin was the late Thomas Talley, professor emeritus of liturgics at General Theological Seminary. He was the author of The Origins of the Liturgical Year, now available in a second, emended edition from Pueblo Books.

7 Big Barriers To Church Growth

The number one topic in the local church over the last 30 plus years addresses the question, “How do I grow my church?” How can we break through to reach more people for Jesus?

The words change, but the issue remains the same. Years ago, we called them growth barriers, and now the question sounds more like “How do I get unstuck? How can we get unstuck to reach more people?

There was about a decade when we switched from church growth to church health, but it always comes back to growth. The reason for that is that healthy things grow!

There is nothing new under the sun, right? But it’s up to us to remain fresh, relevant and innovate our way forward for the sake of the Kingdom.

With that as context, here are some “fresh” thoughts for today. Read More

5 Things Millennials Are Looking For In A Church

One of the questions almost every church leader I know is asking is “How do we reach Millennials?”—that demographic of young adults now in their mid-twenties to age 40.

It’s a great question.

They’re hardly kids anymore. They’re today’s adults. And many churches have missed them altogether.

One of the primary missions of every generation of church leaders is to hand the faith and the church over to the next generation. Practically speaking, churches that fail to reach young adults will struggle far more a decade from now than churches that don’t.

Often the conversation goes quickly to what you need to do in the church to reach the next generation.

But is that actually the right question to ask? Read More

The Simplicity of the Christian Faith

If we wander from the truth of Christ, we wander from Christ. If we think there is something else that is needed for our salvation, for our life of faith, apart from Christ, then we deny Christ. Because fellowship with Christ means that we have fullness in Christ. Read More

1 Great Distinction Between Managers and Leaders

We could make a lengthy list of the different functions of management and leadership, but I’d like to focus on one primary distinction.
Managers get things done; leaders make things happen.
Let me give some context and then practical guidance. First . . . yes, we all “get things done.” In fact, we all spend much of our days getting stuff done. But there is a huge difference between the routine tasks we all do (leaders and managers) and those key moments when a leader makes something happen.

Management (largely) deals with the successful execution of something already in motion. Read More

Four Preaching Don’ts to Avoid

I am no expert in preaching, but I have been preaching for over twelve years and have learned a lot about what not to do through the mistakes I have made. Here are four “don’ts” I’ve learned—and in many ways am still learning—to avoid in preaching. Read More

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You may have read these posts before. If you have, my hope is that they serve as a refresher for you on how we can improve our preaching, as they do for me. When I read a post, I may not always fully digest its contents. Sometimes it may take repeated readings. I often discover something new each time I reread a post

It Takes a Church To Raise Your Child

Really, it takes a church to raise a child because it is in the church that our children find a whole community of adults who love them, who have a deep concern for them, and who are eager to see them come to faith and grow in godly character. This “village” is not there just to keep them in line when they get unruly, but to experience the joy of seeing them grow up in God and grow up for God. Read More

Saturday, March 17, 2018

The Mass They Made

What Catholics Believe about Worship

Many Protestants do not know what happens in a typical Catholic Mass.

As the Catholic faithful enter the building, they cross the threshold, symbolizing leaving the world and entering God’s house. They immediately encounter the baptistry, symbolizing that entrance into Christ and his Church is through the sacrament of baptism; indeed, they believe that is necessary for salvation. They take a quantity of holy water and make the sign of the cross by which they remember their baptism into the name of the triune God; the motion is with their right hand from their forehead (for the Father), to their lower chest (for the Son), to their left shoulder then their right shoulder (for the Holy Spirit).

As they approach a pew, they kneel as an indication of reverence. At the front of the building is the altar on which the sacrifice of Christ will be re-presented during the sacrament of the Eucharist. At the left of the sanctuary stands the tabernacle, a sacred receptacle in which the leftover communion elements are stored so the faithful can worship the Lord who is present in those elements.

On the walls of the building are the fourteen stations of the cross, paintings or sculptures depicting the key events of Jesus’s crucifixion. The building also houses paintings, mosaics, and sculptures of Jesus, Mary, saints, and angels. Church leaders wear garments symbolizing their office — the diaconate, the priesthood, or the bishopric — as well as the season in which the Mass is being celebrated (for example, violet for Advent, white for Easter). 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. The facts are far better than the fable. This day that belongs to St. Patrick has become about leprechauns, shamrocks, pots of gold, and green—green everywhere. Famously, the City of Chicago dumps forty pounds of its top-secret dye into the river. A green racing stripe courses through the city. But long before there was the St. Patrick of myth, there was the Patrick of history. Who was Patrick? Read More

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New Research, Culture, and Systems on How Churches Welcome Guests

Every church sends a message through how they welcome and treat guests. Those with no strategy send the loudest message: “What we believe has not impacted how we treat you.” Not to be hospitable is to prove the message of God’s grace hasn’t impacted the totality of the church.

Hospitality is the combination of two words: stranger and love. It literally means to show love to strangers and it is very biblical. God’s hospitality toward us is the foundation and motivation for our hospitality toward others. God loved us while we were still strangers. While we were His enemies, He pursued us. And now we are to accept others the way Christ has accepted us. Being hospitable is even a qualification for being a leader in the church (1 Timothy 3:2). Churches must have a plan for how they show love to those who are their guests.

So what are churches doing in terms of their hospitality toward guests? LifeWay Research interviewed more than 1,000 pastors on how their churches welcome guests, and here are a few points from what the research revealed.... Read More

Things I've Failed to Do When People Left Our Church

I have been a pastor in the same church for over 30 years. Over the years many have joined our church. But over the years a number have left, for all kinds of reasons.

Some left when they graduated college or to take a new job or move closer to their children or other “good” reasons. Others left for reasons I felt were maybe not so good – for doctrinal reasons, or they felt a need for a change. And some left because they had an “offense” toward me – they felt I had handled something poorly or wrongly.

One time many years ago, in my arrogance as a young pastor, I thought that our church was the best in town. That our church was the closest to a “New Testament Church.” So why would anyone want to go to an “inferior” church? Even if it was a good church, why leave the best church?

One unemployed carpenter told me he was going to move his family to Houston where there were a lot of construction opportunities. I told him that since he didn’t know if there were any New Testament churches in Houston, it would be better to stay in our church and take a job at McDonalds. At least he would still be in a NT church. How stupid was that? He moved to Texas. Probably one of the best things he ever did.

Fortunately God convicted me a year or so later, that I should ask his forgiveness. He had either moved back or was visiting so I called him, we got together, I asked his forgiveness for my arrogance and for how I made it so hard for him to leave and he graciously forgave me. There were several others at the time I had sinned against in similar ways, and they also agreed to meet and they too forgave me.

Well, you’d think I would have learned my lessons. But in recent years and months and weeks I’ve been freshly convicted of some things and reached out to some folks who left our church, and they have graciously met with me, shared with me and taught me some valuable lessons. I’d like to share them with you. So what should you do.... Read More

Faith in Russia: What Does It Mean?

Many Russians, be they Orthodox or Evangelical, will understandably view their homeland with affection, loyalty, and patriotism.

After brief instructions from the Lutheran Archbishop Dietrich Brauer, we processed up the center aisle of the St. Peter-and-St. Paul Lutheran Cathedral in Moscow, launching the 500th Anniversary observance of the Protestant Reformation.

Robed in gowns and hats of all colors and shapes, leaders of various Christian groups gathered in this important Moscow celebration: Lutherans, Evangelicals, Pentecostals, Roman Catholics, but there were no Russian Orthodox representative in the procession. As we passed the front row moving toward the raised platform, I saw an Orthodox priest standing.

Even as we gathered around the altar for prayer, he remained apart. Later, I learned that while he would attend the service, he would not join in procession or prayer: according to the ancient Orthodox rule, a priest who prayed with heretics would lose his priesthood.

This is Russia. A country in curious shifts and alterations more mysterious than the Trump/Putin insults and bravados. I live with memory of a state, the Soviet Union, ruled by atheists insisting that the Communist and Marxist dictum of “no God” be their country’s mantra.

But it is wrong to assume that atheism rules, indeed, if it ever did. Make no mistake, this is a religious and, in fact, a Christian country, if one were to define a country by what its people believe. The Pew Foundation noted that 74 percent of Russians identify as Christian. However, even with this remarkable percentage of self-confessed Christians, Russia is dynamically secular, with a definite separation of Christian witness from its civil life, apart from official Orthodox ceremonies. Read More

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Saturday Lagniappe: "8 Resources for Your Church's Easter Guests" and Much More

8 Resources for Your Church's Easter Guests

Your church likely sees more foot traffic on Easter than any other holiday. Since some of these visitors may only visit church once or twice a year, it’s important to engage them in a meaningful way in the few hours you have with them. Here are eight resources to help your church connect with Easter guests in a manner that will hopefully see them return the following week. Read More

31 Ideas for Your Church’s Easter Impact

How to maximize the holiday most likely to draw someone far from God to your worship service. Read More

Try This: Care for College Students During Easter

“Adopt” students who aren’t able to go home for the holiday and celebrate with them. Read More
Christmas, Halloween, and Thanksgiving are other holidays for which a church may want to "adopt" students and to celebrate with them. Since I moved to Murray Kentucky 11 years ago this coming June, I have been involved in a number of ministries to foreign exchange students studying in the United States. Murray is the home of Murray State University. On the longer holidays some foreign exchange students will travel, visiting places in the United States that they want to see while they are studying here. Others will stay in the university dorms. A few may stay with an American friend. Church members can impact lives of foreign exchange students by "adopting" them for both long and short holidays and opening their homes and their lives to these students.
5 Grave Dangers for the Local Church

These five signs of mission drift can spell danger for your church.Read More

Don’t Confuse a Church’s Slow Pace with Complacency

Complacent churches are self-satisfied and are unwilling to address problems. Unfortunately, far too many churches are complacent. But don’t confuse complacency with a slow pace. Some congregations are willing to move forward; it just takes them a little longer. A few factors may influence the slow pace of a church. Read More

8 Signs of a Pastor People Will Follow

Brian Dodd identifies eight signs (or marks) of a pastor whom people will follow. Read More

3 Questions Pastors Must Ask

Our lives are, according to David Hansen’s book The Art of Pastoring, to be lived out as parables of the gospel of Jesus Christ. If we’re going to do that well, then we’ll need to know the answers to some tough-to-ask questions. Read More

Maximizing Mentorship

Mentorship is a wonderful and powerful tool in the hands of an effective leader. It’s an opportunity to invest deeply into the lives of other people in a unique, impactful way. Mentoring is something I believe every leader should be involved in. But it’s not easy. It requires a tremendous amount of time and energy and is a big commitment for a leader. That’s why it’s important that we learn to maximize our mentoring relationships. So here are a few things that you might find useful to help maximize your mentorship. Read More

Crafting Expository Sermons

True expository preaching strives to be faithful to the text and clear in the presentation. It is for this reason that introductions, illustrations, and conclusions should matter to the expositor. It is not about being creative, eloquent, or impressive in the pulpit. It is about preaching the word faithfully and clearly to the glory of God and for the salvation and sanctification of the hearers. Read More

What is the Most Recent Manuscript Count for the New Testament?

Since we do not have the original New Testament writings (the autographa), textual critics aim to determine the reliability of existing copies. For any particular work or collection of works, the greater the number and the earlier the dating of the manuscripts, the easier it is to reconstruct a text closer to the original and identify errors or discrepancies. Read More

3 Keys To Overcoming Barriers To Bible Engagement In The Church

In North America, we have more Bibles than ever, but less and less real engagement. Why? Read More

5 Ways Pastors Shouldn’t Use Facebook

Social media is a tool, not an escape. Read More

To Join God’s Mission You Have to Listen

If we truly believe God’s activity is greater than ours, then we have to take steps to seek his will.” Read More

9 (More) Things You Should Know About the Opioid Epidemic

On Monday, President Trump is expected to release his administration’s plan for dealing with opioid-related overdoses and deaths. Since writing about the issue two years ago (see: 9 Things You Should Know About the Opioid Epidemic), the crisis has worsened and the need for public awareness has increased. Here then are nine more things you should know about the opioid epidemic.... Read More

Friday, March 16, 2018

Five Things that Keep Churches from Change

Being a representative of Christ in a lost world requires change.

Leading a church into revitalization is a daunting task. It takes much prayer, grace, and strength. Churches that need revitalization have often drifted into a place of complacency. The change they need often comes about because of a cathartic moment.

Desperation is quite the motivator. The pastor who leads a church into renewal is doing a great service for the kingdom of God. But it is helpful to understand why churches resist change. I want to look at some of the things that lead to crisis, understanding that if the signs are recognized early enough, it may not come to drastic measures. Read More

Haunted by the Mission

Have you ever wondered whether or not your church was haunted? I grew up in a pastor’s home and would often accompany my dad to the church building after hours. Sometimes he would even send me on errands to the church building from the parsonage across the street. I never liked being in the church at night by myself. There were too many dark corners and too much creaking from a settling building. No, I don’t believe in ghosts, but neither do I study at my office in the empty church building on Saturday nights.

While I know my church is not haunted, I confess that I am haunted. Something disturbed me in my very depths even before I began serving as a senior pastor. I am haunted by the mission God has given his church, the mission of making disciples. There are many things that I do on a regular basis that are important for the well-being of the church I serve: study and preparation, evangelistic conversations, leadership meetings, pastoral care, and counseling, etc. But the burden I cannot get away from is the disciple-making mission of the church.

While I believe we as pastors and leaders will answer for our words, our leadership, and our love at the judgment seat of Christ, I believe we will most certainly answer for our commitment to make disciples or our lack thereof. Jesus’ last words to his followers were to make disciples. So how do we go about strategizing our church around the mission of disciple-making? Read More

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Eight Questions Welcoming Churches Ask -- Rainer on Leadership #415

Most every church thinks it welcomes guests well. Unfortunately, many are not welcoming at all. Today Thom Rainer and Jonathan Howe discuss what welcoming churches focus on to more effectively reach guests. Listen Now

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TGC Premieres ‘Is He Worthy?’ Video from ‘Resurrection Letters, Vol. I’

I didn’t grow up in a liturgical church. Then again, maybe I did.

As a pastor’s kid in a nondenominational evangelical church in the South, it was impossible not to notice that there was, in fact, an order of worship—an opening hymn, maybe a prelude by the choir (sometimes they even wore robes), followed by a welcome from my dad. There was a “turn around and greet your neighbor” moment, then offering, the doxology, then communion, then a sermon and an invitation, and a closing hymn. Like clockwork.

There was something both monotonous and comforting about it, and I remember my dad joking about how certain congregants would make a show of looking at their watches if his sermon went one minute over 20.

Now we attend a straight-up liturgical church in Nashville, and while at first it felt uncomfortable—like going to a dance where everyone knows the moves but you—I began to realize that it was very similar to what I grew up with, but with different names. There’s a call to worship, there’s Scripture reading, there are robes—things just tend to have fancier names: Communion is called Eucharist. The “greet your neighbor” part is called “passing the peace.” The sermon is the homily.

Now that we know the dance moves I enjoy it even more, especially because the liturgy, at its best, actually means something, as opposed to doing it a certain way just because it’s how the previous 15 pastors did it and Brother Jim will be upset if the service goes longer than an hour.

One of the things I like best about liturgy is the more or less constant involvement of the congregation. The word “liturgy” means “the work of the people.” It’s not so much about us coming to sit while the pastor and the elders do everything, but about all of us together rehearsing the story of redemption, edifying each other by reading Scripture aloud, reaffirming what we believe, embodying worship by kneeling or singing together—all of it culminating, of course, in the Lord’s Supper. I can’t overstate how much I crave the moment at the end of the service when I kneel at the front and a friend of mine places the unleavened bread in my open hands, looks me in the eye and says, “Andrew, this is the body of Christ, broken for you.”

Every week my wayward, hungry soul is confronted by the love of Jesus. Like clockwork. Read More

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Why Some People Aren’t Christians

I suppose I could be on dangerous ground here, but I’ve been thinking about this a lot and have been eager to “write it out,” (which is how I work through ideas in my mind). I’ve been thinking about why some people don’t become Christians. Why is it that some people aren’t saved even though they had an opportunity to be?

As an adherent to Reformed theology I have an easy answer: the Holy Spirit has not yet regenerated them, so the one who must move first has not yet moved. That is certainly true, but it is not the whole story. When it comes to turning to Christ in repentance and faith, the sovereignty of God in salvation does not negate the moral responsibility of the individual. As Christians we are to call all people to turn to Christ and be saved, and God will hold those accountable who do not. So why don’t they?

Lately I’ve had quite a few opportunities to share the gospel with strangers, most of them Uber or taxi drivers (Uber is the best way to the airport and taxi is the best way back). It’s a half-hour drive, and I’ve been doing my best to use that time to tell the drivers about Jesus. Here’s an interesting phenomenon: 100% of the Uber drivers who have taken me to the airport have been Muslim and 100% of the taxi drivers who have taken me home have been Sikh. Some have been devout and some lax, but every one of them has been very glad to allow the conversation to be steered to matters of faith. In every case I’ve seen my challenge as introducing the concept of grace contra their commitment to works. Besides that, I’ve had some other opportunities to speak with unbelievers or to advise believers who are attempting to share the gospel with friends and family. And it has made me wonder: With all of this evangelism and all these opportunities for salvation, why don’t people become Christians? Here are a few reasons I’ve observed in recent interactions. Read More

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Friday's Catch : "The Moment of Truth: Its Reality" and More

The Moment of Truth: Its Reality

In the first post, we looked at the rejection of God’s truth as that which lies behind all sorts of evil in society today. This post will look at the reality of truth. Read More

Why Can't Pastors Agree on What a Pastor Is

What DOES a pastor do anyways? Read More

What Should We Expect From Preaching?

There are several common misunderstandings about preaching. Here are four principles that help bring clarity. Read More

How to Make Your Website Reflect Your Church

Countless studies have shown that a website is the first stop for many people looking to discover more about a church. Read More

Try This: Host a Community Yard Sale for Charity

Raise money for a charity and get to know the people in your community. Read More

Thursday, March 15, 2018

5 Ways Your Church’s Impact Can Become Bigger Than Its Footprint

When we equip the saints, the church’s impact can grow exponentially, even if its numerical or geographical footprint doesn’t grow noticeably.

Small churches can have a big impact.

Especially today, with the power of social media and other new ways of communicating.

But also, because so much of our lives are lived online, people are having a renewed longing for more personal, tactile, face-to-face experiences. These are the very aspects of life that small churches can and should excel at.

The congregation where you serve, worship or lead may have a small footprint – as in a tiny building, no building, or too few people for your large building, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a big impact.

Here are five steps every church can take to increase their impact for the cause of Christ in their communities and their world. Read More

Understanding the Impact of Community Involvement on Church Health - Revitalize & Replant #032

Churches are vital to the health of their communities. And if the church isn’t connected to its community, the fault lies on the church, not the community. Read More

On the Imminent Collapse of Evangelical Christianity

Every month or so, I come across a news article or a new book that claims the evangelical movement is falling apart. We’re on the precipice of complete collapse, some say. “The Church in America is dying, dying I tell you!” We’re witnessing the last gasps of evangelical Christianity. The “nones” are on the rise, secularism is the future, and Christianity will soon be powerless.

Now, I would be the last person to deny the serious and persistent problems within the evangelical movement. It is true that many denominations (including my own) are in statistical decline. It’s also true that much of what passes for Christianity today is just a spiritualized version of moralistic therapeutic deism. And sadly, the sociological and political connotations to the word “evangelical” often engulf the significance of this renewal movement, inserting a wedge between its cultural and aspirational definitions.

Do we face significant challenges? Yes. And that’s been true of the Church in every generation.

Are we on the verge of immediate collapse? No. And the older I get, the more tiresome these predictions become. Read More

What Is Evangelicalism?

10 Things You Should Know about Church Membership

Membership in a local church is very much in the minds of Christians these days. Is it biblical? Is it necessary? Is it helpful? These and other questions lead to the following ten things you should know about what church membership means and entails. [In addition to my own research, I’ve drawn heavily on the writings of John Piper, Michael McKinley, Jim Elliff, Mark Dever, and Kevin DeYoung.]

Perhaps the best place to begin is by asking the question: What do you want from your local church? I assume, first of all, that you want a local church where you can be known and loved and cared for by other Christians. There is, after all, no such thing as an “anonymous-lone-ranger-Christian” in the NT. You can certainly remain anonymous if you want to. It’s easier to do in a church of several thousand where you can slip in on a Sunday morning and sit along the wall and never engage anyone in fellowship or conversation or accountability. So, yes, you can do that if you want. But why would you want to?

I also assume you want a local church where you can know others and experience the joy of pouring into their lives and loving and encouraging and helping them and ministering to their needs. In other words, you want a local church, I assume, where you can be useful and be a blessing to others who are struggling and need your input.

Finally, I assume you want a local church where you can be spiritually led and biblically fed and lovingly protected by gifted leaders. I assume you want leaders who not only know who you are but are joyfully committed to keeping watch over your souls, leaders who take seriously their responsibility to teach you the truth and help you grow in your knowledge of God and your intimacy with him. Read More

Why Do People Object to the Concept of Membership in a Local Church?

Identifying the “Sucker-Punch Church Member”

A “sucker punch” is an unexpected, violent, and unfair approach to confrontation. It always comes without warning, and is always followed by the quick departure of the perpetrator, who was never really interested in resolving the conflict, or even winning a fight. They just wanted to land a blow.

Spiritually, pastors often have to endure another type of “sucker-punch” perpetrator. I’m not talking about the occasional constructive criticism, or a word spoken respectfully that can help a pastor correct a flaw. I’m talking about that church member whose modus operandi it is to constantly hurl criticism. Often, it comes at unexpected, yet highly strategic times in the life of a church. “Sucker-punch church members” can cause a lot of damage. How can you spot them? Read More

Dealing with the “Sucker-Punch Church Member”

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Did the Historical Jesus Claim to Be Divine? Classic [Video]

In this episode, Mikel L. Del Rosario, Drs. Darrell L. Bock and Justin Bass discuss the historical Jesus, focusing on evidence for his claim to deity. Watch Now

5 Traits of the Heart People Want from Their Pastor

People intuitively seek traits of the heart over skills of the trade when choosing a pastor to connect with and follow spiritually.

Yes, things like good preaching, wise administration, and strong ministry programming matter, but they are not at the top of the list.

There’s a lot of grace for a “good not great” sermon when the pastor is fully trusted, loved and is a good leader.

The size of the church does play a significant role.

The larger the church becomes, the more difficult it is to be close to the senior pastor. This is logical and understandable. In this case, the more important things like ministry program excellence become. But, the things of the heart never fade from importance.

People don’t leave a church because a particular ministry was less than perfect. After all, that person could stay and help make that ministry better.

Further, a reasonable person doesn’t leave a church because they don’t get their way. But they will leave if they don’t intuitively connect at a heart level with the pastor or a key leader in the church.

Again, let’s talk size of the church for a moment.

In a smaller church, that heart connection happens in some way at a personal level.

In larger (and huge) churches, that heart level connect happens more because the pastor’s communication gifts and skills are so strong he or she can communicate that authentic love from the platform. Also, other leaders in those very large churches help make that needed and wanted personal touch with the people.

No matter what the size, style or culture of the church, the heart wants what it wants. Read More

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Tuesday, March 13, 2018

9 Keys for Church Members to Be More Guest Friendly This Easter - Rainer on Leadership #414

Easter is just around the corner. So today, Thom Rainer and Jonathan Howe take a look at nine keys to being a guest friendly congregation on Easter. Listen Now

Also See:
Nine Considerations for Church Members This Easter

Three Elements of an Explosive Church Planting Movement

Developing better systems to reflect the best in kingdom expansion

Church planting is an important and broad topic. It seems that most people have an opinion on church planting—some have several opinions! If you want to see some excitement, ask a group of church planters or church leaders in general what an explosive church planting movement looks like. Many are praying for and developing practices that would encourage such a movement. At the Billy Graham Center, we even have an institute dedicated to church planting leadership and missiology—the Send Institute.

I have planted multiple churches, and written much about church planting. And, sometimes people ask me what a movement looks like.

Successful church planting is built upon spiritual principles and practices such as prayer, biblical leadership, etc. But there are also natural observations we can make about what works well in church planting movements. We’ve been doing this for a couple of thousand years. So it is smart to recognize best practices, even if they don’t mesh with what we are doing today. Read More

When Your Church Isn’t What You Dreamed

Planting a church can be hazardous to your soul.

Obviously, there are more physically dangerous jobs on the planet, but when it comes to sheer spiritual danger, very few occupations outrank “church planter.” So before you quit your cushy job grinding asphalt, let me give you fair warning of what’s to come.

Most people get into church planting for a few common reasons:
1. To see people far from Jesus put their faith in him.
2. To see their town, neighborhood, or city transformed by a vibrant community of faith.
3. To see a whole bunch of churches launch out of their new church. Read More

How Jesus Called Out False Teachers and Deadly Doctrine

It’s a good time to be a false teacher and to espouse deadly doctrine. It seems that today’s most brazen heretic will be granted a hearing and, in all likelihood, a book deal. Novelty is appealing, orthodoxy boring. It’s the ones who sound the warning and issue the challenge that bear the risk—the risk of being labelled “haters.” There’s more patience for those who smilingly subvert the truth than for those who boldly defend it. Conviction is a sign of arrogance, while humility is expressed in uncertainty. Love, it seems, requires us to bear patiently with any amount of error. And this kind of love, we are told, is modeled after Jesus. Jesus did not judge, Jesus welcomed all opinions, Jesus would have accepted different kinds of teachings—so long as those teachings contained love and hints of truth.

A quick scan of the gospels, however, shows that this impression is a far cry from the Jesus of the Bible. It shows that society has reimagined Jesus through the relativism of our day. When Jesus interacted with people who were seeking, wandering, or misguided, he was invariably compassionate. He answered them with patience and gentleness. But when Jesus engaged with religious hypocrites and false teachers, he responded with righteous fury and bold conviction.

Today, those who love the truth must learn how to show such bold conviction through the old discipline of polemics—the practice of engaging in public debate and dispute. The purpose of polemics is not to score points or flex theological muscle, but to rebuke peddlers of error and to express concern for those caught up in their lies. Like the ancient heretics of Crete, today’s false teachers “must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach” (Titus 1:11). As we do this well, we imitate Jesus Christ who was a skilled polemicist.

We see an example of Jesus’ polemics in Matthew 23, where Jesus speaks to the crowd about the scribes and Pharisees. What unfolds in this scene is not private pleading but public censure. Jesus publicly addresses the deadly doctrine of these religious leaders for the benefit of their victims and potential victims. He holds nothing back. He does not make time to commend them for the things they do well. He does not temper his speech to give them the benefit of the doubt. Rather, he specifies their doctrinal error and unrighteousness actions, he labels them with strong but appropriate language, he warns of the consequences of their error, and he calls his listeners to reject the false teachers and their deadly doctrine. Read More

The Call to Repentance and the Championing of Grace

“We’re losing the nerve to call people to repentance.”

That’s what a retired pastor recently told me, expressing his concern that while the next generation loves to champion the unconditional love and grace of God, rarely does their message include Christ’s call to repentance. Younger pastors, he said, want to meet people where they are, in whatever mess they’re in, and let the Spirit clean them up later. God will deal with their sins down the road.

But in the Gospels, Jesus seems much more extreme. His good news was the announcement of God’s kingdom, and the first word to follow? “Repent!” No wonder Jesus didn’t tell the rich young ruler to walk with Him for a while until he stopped coveting. No, He got to the root of an unrepentant heart when He said, “Sell all your possessions and give them to the poor.” In other words, Repent. Turn around.

“I’m cheering for the next generation,” the pastor said, “but I feel like an ogre for stressing repentance all the time.”

Maybe you feel like that pastor. You’re concerned that the evangelical church is shaving off the hard edges of the gospel. You agree with the sentiment recently expressed by Kevin DeYoung, that repentance has become the “missing word in our gospel.” And yet you are concerned that that you may appear harsh and unloving if you stress repentance. Shouldn’t we just focus on grace? Read More

10 Markers of the Best Spiritual Leaders I Know

Some folks are deeply spiritual, but not the best leaders. Others are strong leaders, but their actions deny their professed Christianity. To be honest, it’s not always easy to find folks who are both deeply spiritual and strong leaders. Here are some markers of those I’ve known who do indeed show both characteristics. Read More

Are You a Wounded Pastor?
The Suffering Leader
3 Questions To Help Discern Difficult Issues
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5 Tips for Engaging with Scripture

Reading and studying Scripture are pursuits that require the attention of both heart and mind. To love the Lord with all our strength, we must actively engage with Scripture—asking questions, learning contexts, making connections, and reflecting on personal applications of the text.

Here are a few ideas on how to enrich your time in God’s Word.... Read More
Jotting down notes about a passage of the Bible that we are reading goes back to the sixteenth century and earlier. During the reign of Elizabeth I, those seeking a license to preach were required to read Heinrich Bullinger's Decades as well as the Bible and make notes about what they had read. They then periodically went over their notes with the archdeacon or other senior clergyman that was overseeing them. I prefer an ordinary notebook. I do not like writing in a Bible or marking up a Bible. I also make extensive notes that take up several pages.

US Catholics More Concerned About Climate Change Than Persecuted Christians

Most think persecution is severe, but only half are very concerned or strongly support asylum or financial aid.

The Colosseum in Rome was recently lit up the color of blood.

“This is a symbol of the persecution of Christians in the entire world—those who suffer because of faith,” stated Alfredo Mantovano, president of the Italian chapter of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the global Catholic organization which sponsored the February 24 light display.

“We light up the Colosseum with red because their shed blood cannot leave us indifferent,” he stated. “We cannot wash our hands of the blood of this injustice as Pontius Pilate did 2,000 years ago.”

The reminder was a timely one for Catholics in the United States, according to a survey released this month. While 9 in 10 believe that persecution of Christians around the world is somewhat or very severe (51% and 40%, respectively), only half said they were very concerned (49%). Almost 1 in 5 said they were not concerned at all (18%).

Instead, the study of 1,000 Catholic adults (conducted online in January by ACN’s US branch and McLaughlin & Associates) found that they worry about other issues more. Read More
Except for the Native Americans who converted to Catholicism, all Catholics come from immigrant families. As immigrants many of these families, particularly the Irish and the Italian families, were persecuted because of their Catholic faith.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Three Reasons Not to Discount Pastoring in a Small Town

I never imagined the Lord leading me back to a small town. I am so glad that he did.

I spent my elementary years living in a town so small that even the most popular fast food restaurant in the world failed. I have also lived in the suburbs and major cities. I had never thought that I would return to live, let alone pastor, in a small town.

For some, the idea of living and pastoring in a small town creates vast anxieties. Yes, the small town misses some things compared to the big town. But there are also some incredible advantages to small town life and ministry. Just as big-city life isn’t for everyone, neither is small-town living. You certainly need to know yourself, your spouse, and your family, but don’t discount what God can do where it seems there isn’t much to do.

There are three of some of the many advantages of life and ministry in a small town. Three benefits I would like to have told my younger self who didn’t want to return to the small town. Read More

Three Types of People in a Small Town

Seven Potentially Deadly Church Sicknesses

For the past two years, I have been monitoring the comments and challenges mentioned by church leaders. I am attempting to answer the question: What is hindering many of our churches from achieving health and vitality?

As I have categorized the problems and challenges the church leaders shared, I have seen seven distinct categories of hindrances. Since I am primarily concerned about church health, I call these hindrances “church sicknesses.”

The good news is that none of these sicknesses have to become terminal. They can be reversed from sickness to health. The bad news is that, without intervention, each illness can potentially lead to the decline and death of the church. Let’s look at all seven sicknesses.... Read More

You Can Offer Excuses, Or You Can Do Great Ministry: Our Trip To Holy Trinity Brompton

Effective churches don’t let their challenges become excuses.

Excuses are the enemy of effective ministry.

Yesterday, my wife Shelley and I had the chance to worship in a church that could have offered about as many excuses as any church imaginable. But they’ve refused to do so and have, instead, become one of the most influential churches in the world – London’s Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB). The home of the Alpha program and so many influential books and worship songs.

Here are just a few excuses they could have used (ones that some of us may have heard or used ourselves) but have chosen to rise above. Read More

Image: Karl Vaters | Crypt Cafe, Holy Trinity Brompton

Monday's Catch: "How to Reach 100 New Guests This Year" and More

How to Reach 100 New Guests This Year

If your church is serious about reaching new guests, particularly those who are not attending any other church, here are five things to consider to reach people. Read More

5 Big Mistakes Pastors Make on Easter (and How to Avoid Them)

To help you make this Easter the best yet, here are five of the common mistakes I see pastors make on Easter. Read More

When Is A Sermon Good Enough?

What is a good sermon? How can I preach with confidence a message I have not had time to polish? Who am I seeking to please, anyway? Stephen Gregory seeks answers to these questions. Read More

How To Plan A Grand Slam Worship Night For Your Church

There’s a worship experience that is necessary for your church. A time to step aside from the everyday rush and connect with God. An unhurried, uninterrupted night of worship. Read More

Use Google to Grow Your Church

Try these Google AdWords tips to help potential visitors find your church online. Read More

How to Leverage Existing Ministries for Outreach

You could launch new outreach ministries without removing any existing ministries, increasing your budget or adding staff. Read More

Saturday, March 10, 2018

17 Statements that a Paedobaptist and a Credobaptist Can Both Affirm

Tucked away in a footnote to Mark Dever’s chapter in the book, Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant, ed. Tom Schreiner and Shawn Wright, is an interesting footnote.

In the summer of 2001 pastors Mark Dever (SBC) and David Coffin (PCA) held a public conversation at Capitol Hill Baptist Church on baptism.

They came up with the following 17 statements that both could affirm.... Read More

Expositional Imposters (Expanded)

Mark Dever rightly describes expositional preaching as “preaching that takes for the point of a sermon the point of a particular passage of Scripture.”

However, I have heard (and preached!) sermons that intend to be expositional, yet fall somewhat short. Below are a dozen pitfalls: five that don’t make the message of the passage the message of the sermon and thus abuse the text, five that fail to connect the text the congregation, and two that fail to recognise that preaching is ultimately God’s work.

None of these observations are original to me. Many I learned at Eden Baptist Church in Cambridge in the mid 90s. Others I’ve picked up along the way. Since writing a similar article a few years ago, I’ve included some suggestions people made for additions. I’m sure you can think of others. Read More

How Corporate Worship Strengthens Weary Saints

When my church gathers, it appears we have little in common. Our skin colors vary. Our political tastes differ. Cultural backgrounds have ingrained us with diverse identities. We have distinct preferences and convictions.

Yet, we have two realities that bind us together.

The first is our love for the Lord Jesus. Though each salvation story is unique, we bear the marks of his divine love. He died for us, rose for us, called us, converted us, and continues to hold us fast by his grace. We love him for this, and so we gather to worship him.

Secondly, we all suffer. I have my own scars, as do the rest of these heavenly pilgrims. While I preach, I see their faces tell a story. Or when they sing, sometimes I hear and sense the hurts and pain of God’s people. Read More

4 Ways to Invest in Your Worship Leader

Saturday Lagniappe: "Listen. It's a Ministry." and More

Listen. It’s a Ministry.

Have you considered the ministry of listening? Read More

Why are Christians so Mean?

Christians are mean in proportion to when they value being “right” over being “like Christ.” Read More

St. Patrick's Passion for Missions

Patrick of Ireland is probably the most celebrated Christian figure in popular culture—second only, perhaps, to St. Nicholas. We devote a day on our calendar to him every year. Personally, St. Patrick’s Day means a traditional Irish meal of corned beef and cabbage. It is a reminder of the simple pleasures in life that the Irish seem so good at celebrating. It conjures images of all things green, of leprechauns, and of “luck.” However, by all human standards, the patron saint of Ireland was anything but lucky. Read More

Are You Willing to Go if God Calls You? Thoughts on Our Mission as We Follow Jesus

Mission, ultimately, is at the heart of the gospel. Read More

Who’s the Evangelism Champion in Your Church?

It takes a team—a multistrand cord of leadership—to effectively direct the local church in evangelism. Read More

Do You Really Care about Evangelism? If So, You Need To Do More Than Pray

Prayer is the starting point, not the endpoint, of our journey in helping people from darkness to light. Read More