Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Externally Focused Small Church: How to Move from Maintenance to Mission

Illustration by Gary Locke
You may never be the best church in the community but you can become the best church for the community. Here is how.

When two pastors meet, within the first 2 minutes, inevitably one asks, “What are you running?” or “How many folks do you have on a Sunday morning?” Men like to know how they measure up against their colleagues. But what if the conversation changed? Instead, ask, “Tell me about the impact your church is having on your community?” We begin to measure, not size of the church, but the size of the church’s footprint in the community. And the smallest church, pound for pound, is capable of having the greatest impact. Read more

We Are a Deeply Needy People

Have you ever considered why there are so many diverse spiritual gifts in the body of Christ? In the various lists provided for us in Scripture (Rom. 12:3-8, 1 Cor. 12:4-11, 27-31; Eph. 4:7-12; 1 Pet. 4:10-11), you discover the wide scope of the Spirit’s sovereign administration of gifts for the encouragement and edification of the local church. Agreeing with most theologians, these lists are not to be considered comprehensive in description, but they are descriptive in the sense that they show all the various ways the Spirit of God enables members for service in the kingdom of God.

As I’ve reflected on this diversity of gifts, it comes to my mind how significant they are to the promise of Christ to build His church (Matt. 16:18). His ongoing work (Acts 1:1) extends through the ministry of His Spirit to and through His body in order to minister to the needs of the saints, strengthening them in faith. Simply put, the diversity of spiritual gifts reveals the incredible depth of our need. Read more

8 Characteristics of Healthy Church Systems

Because your organization is unique, there’s no way I can tell you specifically what systems you need in place to accomplish the vision God has for your church. I can, however, share some common characteristics of healthy systems that may point you in the right direction. With that in mind, here are eight characteristics of healthy systems for churches.... Read more

Engaging With the Culture

One of the keys for us as we were thinking through the Bible Studies for Life launch, was the issue of engaging culture. We wanted leaders and learners to discover how to relate to culture biblically. Rather than fearing culture, we should be aware of the potential of culture to affect us as well as the opportunities we have to affect it.

This is why it is imperative that we get biblical direction for life right now. Read more

Korean Southern Baptists expand North American vision

The April 8-10 Korean Global Mission Conference may help shorten the hyphen between Korean and American for Southern Baptists.

Nearly 500 people from throughout the United States were on hand as leaders cast a vision for multiplying church planting among the 1.7 million-plus ethnic Koreans in the United States.

Many Korean-American leaders appeared ready to accept a new paradigm, having received strong overtures from North American Mission Board President Kevin Ezell to participate in Send North America, NAMB's strategy for rapid church multiplication in the U.S. and Canada.

"I am so encouraged by the Korean pastors I met at the conference because of their passion for starting new churches," Ezell said after addressing the conference, hosted and organized by Sugarloaf Korean Baptist Church in Suwanee, Ga. "We need churches of every ethnicity that are committed to starting new churches.

"They made it very clear that they have a desire to partner in planting churches of all ethnicities, not just Korean," Ezell said. "The only way we will be able to start the number of churches that are needed over the next few years is for pastors to share their passion." Read more

Also read
What groups in your denomination are committed to starting new churches? What is your church doing? 

UK churches praying for North Korea

Churches and individual Christians are signing up to pray for North Korea over the next two years.

Project Cyrus is the initiative of BMS World Mission and is inspired by Cyrus the Great, a powerful Persian ruler in the sixth century BC who liberated the Jewish people from their Babylonian captors.

"It is this spirit of benevolence and commitment to the liberation of the oppressed that Project Cyrus seeks to pray for in North Korea," BMS World Mission.

The project is also inspired by 1 Timothy 2:1-2 (The Message): "Pray every way you know how ... and especially for rulers and governments to do well." Read more

Updated: US Citizen Kenneth Bae to Be Charged for Trying to Overthrow North Korea

Tour Guide and Christian Korean-American Detained in Communist Country in November 2012

An American man, identified as a tour guide and a Christian, will be put on trial in North Korea for alleged crimes against the state, revealed the Korean Central News Agency in a report that comes six months after Kenneth Bae's initial detention.

Although his charges were not made completely clear, the KCNA (North Korea's official news agency) reported Saturday that Bae, a 44-year-old of Korean descent, had undergone a "preliminary inquiry" that revealed he had confessed guilt.

"In the process of investigation he admitted that he committed crimes aimed to topple the DPRK with hostility toward it. His crimes were proved by evidence," states the KCNA report.

There are fears that Bae could be executed if found guilty, as state officials had previously told The Associated Press that the U.S. citizen would face a harsh punishment. Read more

Also read
North Korea Puts American Missionary on Trial
American tourist faces death penalty in North Korea
North Korea charges American of plotting to 'topple' its government

Iran: American pastor placed in solitary confinement

In another effort to force American pastor Saeed Abedini to recant his faith, prison officials in Tehran have placed him in solitary confinement, something the American Center for Law and Justice calls "perhaps his most grave situation since his imprisonment last fall."

Abedini -- a U.S. citizen of Iranian descent -- has served time in solitary confinement in the past, telling his family it was the hardest time in his life, according to a statement by his wife Naghmeh. He explained that "every hour was like one year and that he was losing his memory and his health was deteriorating quickly," she recounted.

In addition to solitary confinement, ACLJ reported April 29 that Abedini's severe internal bleeding continues -- still going untreated -- and now his kidneys are not functioning properly. Read more

Also read
Iran moves American Christian into solitary confinement over prayer protest

Monday, April 29, 2013

The Start-Up Funnel: How to Use Church-Planting Insights to Expand Your Circle of Influence

Consider this workable model that can be universally applied by any church desiring to increase their evangelistic effectiveness.

Starting new churches and growing existing ones are complementary activities that can bring synergistic benefits. They have the same goal, but start at a different place. We must do both and we must do both well. The goal of every church, whether just starting or having been around for a long time, is to be a healthy congregation that multiplies disciples, ministries, and churches.

Since new churches often depend on existing churches as their primary source of launch teams and finances, many believe that church plants are a necessary burden on existing churches with no visible return. Actually, church planting benefits existing churches because church planters perfectly position themselves to learn new ways to reach people outside of Christ. They have little to lose and can attempt previously untried evangelism methods without risking a lot. More established churches tend to be more risk averse, because the longer a church lives, the more history and resources it tends to accumulate. The good news for existing churches is they can learn from the experiments of younger churches before attempting new ministry methodologies for themselves. Over time, the lessons learned by start-ups become a significant benefit to existing churches. Read more

What Would Churches Do with More Money? Ten Answers from Two Perspectives

In an informal survey, I asked two groups of members in churches the following question: “If your church budget receipts were to increase tomorrow by 50 percent, what would you like to do with the extra funds?” So that there would be clarity to my question, I asked them for the current level of budget receipts, and then added 50 percent. So a $100,000 budget becomes $150,000. A $50,000 budget becomes $75,000. A $500,000 budget becomes $750,000. You get the picture.

The two groups I asked were simply divided between paid church ministers (pastors and others) and laypersons in the church. Their responses were similar, but interesting in the ways they were different. Each person could name up to three responses, but no more than three. They are ranked below in order of frequency of responses. Read more

Getting Through a Preaching Slump

I don’t know that I’ve ever heard preachers talk about their “slumps.” Maybe I’m the only one who feels he has been in one. Or, maybe there are some things we don’t talk about at polite preacher dinner parties. I don’t know, but it sure seems like it would be healthy for preachers to admit that sometimes we’re “off our game.” I don’t mean we preach one dud. I mean we’ve now had a series of lackluster at bats. In fact, not only have the sermons been sub-par, our hearts haven’t been feeling what we’ve been preaching. We know the words, hear them, believe them (usually), but we’re not moved by it.

And Sunday keeps coming. What to do?

I’m no expert on either preaching or getting out of slumps. But doodling tonight, I thought of six things that might help. Read more

Keeping the gospel in your sights in pastoral ministry

Late last year, our ministry team looked at 1 Timothy 3 and 4. We noticed how, smack bang in the middle of these chapters on Christian leadership, is “the mystery of godliness”: that is, Christ our Saviour (1 Tim 3:16 cf 4:10). In other words, to be faithful in pastoral ministry, you have to keep your eyes on Jesus. You have to fight to keep your eyes on Jesus.

And what a fight you will have on your hands.

I start the year with good intentions. This year I won’t get so swallowed up by everything that needs to be done that I’ll forget the gospel. But by the end of the year I’m in coping mode, and when I’m in coping mode, the gospel is that last thing to come to mind. In this desperate race to the finish line, surely it’s my own efforts that will get me there. If I just knuckle down and get these Bible studies written. If I stay in control. If I keep on top of things. If I wake up earlier, go to bed later. If I…

And in all that busyness, the gospel slips from view, and I’m on a treadmill, endlessly running to keep up. So how do you keep your eyes on the gospel? Our leadership group brainstormed and came up with some ideas. Here are ten of them (please add your ideas to the comments!). Read more

Why Small Groups Matter to Me

I've had a passion for small groups since my very first group.

When I was a new Christian, I started searching for a church. After three months of searching on my own, I finally decided to pray about it. I asked God to help me find a church like the one in the Book of Acts, which I had just started reading, a church where I could make friends and grow in my new faith. I lived by myself in a one-bedroom apartment and had no family in the area. My only acquaintances were people I worked with, most of whom were not Christians. The next day I came home from work and got a strange call. It was a wrong number—misdialed by one number. Before I could hang up, though, the lady on the other end asked me if she could tell me a little about her church. It turns out they were calling people in the neighborhood to invite them to their Easter Sunday services. My number wasn't on their list, but it appears God had other plans.

As I walked through the front doors of that church building the following Sunday morning, an older couple named Harvey and Shirley greeted me warmly and asked me about myself. They invited me to their house for iced tea on their back porch. And before the service concluded, they introduced me to some people my age, who in turn invited me to their small group. I don't think I've ever felt so accepted. At the same time, I was really unsure about attending a small group. I'd never heard of small groups, but I decided to give it a try. Read more

Ed Stetzer: Love your neighbors...even the Muslim ones

For many Americans, their knowledge of Muslims is what they see on television news rather than what they know from experience. Yet, forming a view of any group based solely on what one sees on the news is a bad idea.

When the Boston Marathon bombing occurred, many Americans were quick to assume it was the work of Muslim extremists, even before it was confirmed. The connection of terrorism to radicalized Islam is no secret. Yet, far too many take it further, leading me to ask, why do some people assume that all, most, or even many Muslims must be terrorists?

In addition, I wondered why so much hate is directed at Muslims today-- the vast majority of whom are peaceful people and, when living here, love their country.

Simply put, too many people make decisions about a group based on what they see on television news--and that's a bad place to make sweeping conclusions.

But this connection happens more than with terrorism and Muslims. Read more

Millennials embracing online reality more than baby boomers

A new survey has revealed significant differences between millennials and baby boomers when it comes to attitudes towards the internet.

While millennials (ages 18 to 34) and baby boomers (35+) were both reluctant allow access to their personal data and web behaviour, millennials were more willing to compromise some of their privacy where there was a perceived benefit. Read more

Church of England diocese asks for gay-friendly bishop

A  Church of England diocese has made building bridges with the gay community part of its new bishop’s job description.

The Diocese of Manchester has instructed the official panel appointing its new bishop to select someone who can establish “positive relationships” with gay Anglicans and non-worshippers.

The panel, which met on Friday, was told that the successor to the Rt Rev Nigel McCulloch, who retired earlier this year, should build on “significant engagement” with “lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) communities” in Manchester.

The move comes amid growing tensions within the Church over its attitude to gay worshippers and clergy.

Such a public endorsement of working with gay Anglicans by a major diocese will cheer liberals but be seen by traditionalists as a further erosion of their views.

Manchester’s move comes months after the Church dropped its prohibition on clergy in civil partnerships becoming bishops. Read more

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Welcome to the New, Expanded Weekend Edition of Anglicans Ablaze

As you scroll down the page, you will find fourteen new entries, six more than the usual eight entries of the daily edition of Anglicans Ablaze. I plan to regularly post an expanded weekend edition of Anglicans Ablaze every Saturday for the foreseeable future.
Anglicans Ablaze readers following developments in the Boston Marathon bombing story may wish to check the "Also Read" list after the article "New updates: Officials: Bomb suspects' mother was on watch list." I also recommend that they check att.yahoo.com, CNN.com, and Google News, US Edition.

MUST READ: A Culture of Yes: How to Lead from Your Strengths, Not Your Weaknesses

Illustrtion by Thomas Fluharty
Many pastors have confronted the limitations of their settings so often that a “culture of can’t” cripples their thoughts. Must this be the plight of the smaller congregation?

I wanted to dunk a basketball. After hours of watching Julius Erving and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — the stars of my childhood — prove that dunking a basketball shaped the path to athletic stardom, I was convinced that the ability to play above the rim would give me that treasured spot on my high school team.

So I spent hours jumping. I could not enter a room without testing to see if I could scrape my fingers on its ceiling. I exercised my fingers, seeking to expand them to the length necessary to grip a basketball in a way that I could achieve my acrobatic aerial goals.

Unfortunately, I was the smallest kid in my class. Even after hours of hanging on the swing set bars at a nearby park in an effort to stretch my tiny frame, it was clear I would fall at least a foot short of my goal of being 6’ 10” tall. If my dreams truly hinged on dunking a basketball, then I had only nightmares of disappointment ahead. Over time, reality sunk in. I faced the harsh conclusion that I could not, did not, and would not ever be able to dunk a basketball.

Early in my first pastorate, a wonderful collection of about 75 redeemed folks in a small Kansas town, I struggled with similar disappointment. No, the church basketball team was not lacking a post player; I might have been the best athlete in the congregation. But we were a long way from where I wanted us to be, and my dreams for the church seemed as far away as that 10-foot rim. Read more

MUST READ: Can a Dying Church Find Life? Six Radical Steps to “Yes”

In an blogpost earlier this week, I presented the findings of my “autopsy” on a church that just closed its doors and died. I knew the church well because I had been their consultant ten years earlier. The only surprise I found was that the church kept its door open five years longer than I had anticipated.

The post generated much interest. Indeed it is still buzzing today. Many church leaders and laypersons saw early warning signs in the post that related to their own churches. Many are concerned. Many want to know if there is any hope.

The title of this post has a bit of irony. If a church is dying, it cannot then by definition find life. I must say from a pure statistical perspective, most churches with the symptoms I noted will die within a matter of a few years. Though I don’t have hard data, I would be comfortable suggesting that the percentage exceeds 99 percent.

But among the American churches on a death march, there is that rare exception, that one in 1,000, that extraordinary situation where a church defies all the man-made odds and moves from near death to health. Those churches are rare, but they do exist.

In the midst of the gloomy news of terminal churches, I took a look at a few churches that had all the signs of impending death and then turned around to life. All of them of which I have knowledge were located in dramatically shifting demographics.

They weren’t merely churches that were unhealthy; they were dying. Even the most casual observer would have predicted the imminent demise of these congregations. They were truly sick unto death. So how did these churches do it?

Though each of the stories I examined has its own nuances, I did find some common themes. Please take careful note. My brief blogpost is not a quick-fix solution to dying churches. To the contrary, it’s the story of six radical steps taken by key members in each of the churches. Read more

CALL TO PRAYER: Kingdom prayer perspectives from John 17

While preparing to speak at a conference, I went into a small Sunday School classroom to pray. Sitting there in meditation, I noticed numerous prayer requests listed on a white board. I thought it was interesting that all the prayer requests on the board were focused on upcoming health tests and various physical needs in people's lives. In fact, not one was focused on spiritual issues or the Father and His work in these peoples' lives.

We spend much of our time praying toward temporal issues that are focused on our circumstances and desires. But if North America is to be penetrated with the Gospel, our prayers must focus on our Father and His purposes and desires. In His High Priestly prayer during the last week of Jesus' earthly ministry, Jesus shows us how to pray toward the Father (John 17). Despite the intense circumstances of what is historically called "passion week," His prayer was focused on the Father and the fulfillment of His mission. Read more

Also read
CALL TO PRAYER: Our relationships

The Impossibility of Loving Jesus Before Conversion

No one loves Jesus before he gets converted. No one. That's because only the Holy Spirit dwelling on the inside of you can give you a love for Jesus Christ. It is impossible to have that love without the work of the Spirit. Period.

The new birth is nothing any of us can brag about as though we did something to deserve it, or make it happen. We simply received the good news that was presented to us in the message of the Gospel. That is how a person gets converted. Right now at this very moment, you are either spiritually alive in Christ or spiritually dead in your sin. There is no third option.

We are all lawbreakers. Once we get that point in our heart and in our head, we are one step closer to embracing the good news of forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit brings us to Jesus. He works the miracle of the new birth. The next thing we know, Jesus is our Savior. That's when we start wanting to follow Him because of what He has done for us. We get motivated the instant we get born again. Read more

Mental Illness & Medication vs. Spiritual Struggles & Biblical Counseling

These past few weeks have been very trying. From deaths of people who inspired us to yet another reminder that we are not completely immune from the horrible acts of others, grief seems to be everywhere we turn.

Earlier this month, we spent a lot of time talking about mental illness here at the blog, in light of the sad news from Rick Warren and Saddleback. I spoke about the church’s response to this problem that is bigger than we want to admit, and looked at what others have to say as well. I did want to discuss more fully one issue that we can have a tendency to tiptoe around as if we are on eggshells–mental illness and medication. Read more

Also read
Addressing Depression and Suicide in Your Church

Churches in America Fall Short When It Comes to Multicultural Congregations

While most churches say they already have or are working on having a multicultural congregation, the majority fall short when it comes to reflecting a diverse community of believers coming together during church services on Sundays, said an expert on multi-ethnic church planting and staffing.

"If you were to judge church brochures across America you would say that there is not a multicultural problem in the American church," Tony Kim, former pastor at Newsong Church in Irvine, Calif., told The Christian Post recently. Kim is the Communication Lead Associate for Slingshot Group. The Orange County-based organization specializes in church staffing and coaching pastors and leaders. "So everyone is open to it, but very few are willing to make a decision to step into that."

Kim said the Internet has created a deeper transparency between the church and the community. Someone new to a community, looking for a church to attend, can simply go to a church's website, take a look at the staff page, and make assumptions as to whether the church is representative or accepting of their ethnicity. Read more

The Touch of Eternity

Photo: Mark Collins/Images of Praise
What is a simple handshake worth? To your people, it's priceless.

As a graduate student in the Netherlands, I played baseball as a diversion from constant studying. The sports editor of a large newspaper in Holland asked to do a brief interview with me. I thought his interest in interviewing me about playing baseball was strange, but I agreed. The editor came and interviewed me, then a photographer took my picture. I expected the article would be buried somewhere in the back pages of the sports section. However, a few days later I saw a huge picture of myself on the front page of the sports section, along with a two-inch headline that said in Dutch, "American Minister Baseball Player." The editor's interview with me was the lead article for that day's sports page.

As I read the article, it suddenly dawned on me that the article had nothing to do with my prowess as a baseball player. What made me newsworthy was the fact that I, a minister, was sliding around in the dirt playing baseball in public. This was absolutely unthinkable in the Dutch culture, where everything to do with the church was highly formal.

At that time in the Dutch worship service, there was no processional. Rather, there was an opening hymn, and when it was time for the minister to start the service, he entered the sanctuary from a side door. Upon his appearance, the congregation stood, and when the minister sat down, the congregation sat. The minister preached in a tuxedo. After the benediction, everybody stood in the minister's honor, and he left, again, by the side door. We did not see him afterward.

This atmosphere of formality was a culture shock for me because our custom on Sunday in the American church was for the minister to personally greet the members of the congregation after services by shaking hands and having a short, cordial conversation. In the Dutch church, there was no contact with the pastor. That was considered an unnecessary social triviality.

In my estimation, the Protestant churches in Holland have suffered from that particular practice. Why do I say that? Some interesting studies have been made by doctors, psychiatrists, and psychologists about the importance of the human touch. It has been found that babies, if they are left in a hospital nursery and receive no human touch, can actually die. Human beings need to be touched; the human touch is extremely important, so important we long for it. This is an important aspect in the church, where the minister, as Martin Luther put it, represents Christ to his congregation. People longing to be touched by Christ need contact with their minister. Read more

Outdoor church services to raise awareness of persecution

Churches in the UK and Ireland will be holding services outdoor next month as a mark of solidarity with persecuted Christians around the world.

The Great Outdoors Church Service is an initiative of Release International, which works with Christians suffering for their faith.

In some parts of the world, authorities have demolished churches or banned congregations from meeting in their own buildings. Read more

Council of Europe tells member states to respect conscience

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe this week passed a resolution calling on its 47 member states to accommodate religious beliefs in the public sphere.

The resolution asks member states to guarantee freedom of thought in relation to health care, education and the civil service "provided that the rights of others to be free from discrimination are respected and that the access to lawful services is guaranteed".

The resolution was passed on Wednesday by 148 votes to three. It also called on States to "ensure the right to well-defined conscientious objection in relation to morally sensitive matters". Read more

Anglican church pastor named bishop of new diocese

When Clark Lowenfield, senior pastor at HopePointe Anglican Church in The Woodlands, learned he would become Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of the Western Gulf Coast, he had a couple of reactions.

“First, it was a very humbling experience,” Lowenfield said. “Then all of the sudden, you realize how much you don’t know. There’s a sense of amazement that God will use anybody, even me.”

The newly formed diocese will consist of 12 churches throughout Louisiana and Texas. Lowenfield’s responsibilities as bishop includes overseeing these current and future congregations. Read more

Photo Gallery
Note the distinctively Anglo-Catholic tone of the consecration with the bishop elect lying prostrate before his consecrators and the vesting of the new bishop in cope and mitre and his presentation with a crozier. They are visible reminders of the Anglican Church in North America's departure from the doctrinal and liturgical standards of the Anglican formulary, the 1661 Ordinal, and its questionable commitment to authentic Biblical (Protestant, Reformed, evangelical) Anglicanism. Note also the distance between the clerical and lay participants in the consecration--another indication of the emerging character of the ACNA. 

South Korea 'to withdraw staff' from Kaesong zone in North

South Korea says it is withdrawing its remaining workers from a jointly-run industrial complex in North Korea.

The announcement came from the unification minister shortly after Pyongyang rejected an offer of talks.

North Korea blocked access to the Kaesong zone - once a symbol of inter-Korean co-operation - earlier this month and later pulled its workers out.

The move followed weeks of high tension in the wake of North Korea's third nuclear test in February. Read more

Also read
S. Korea to pull workers from joint industrial complex following blockade by Pyongyang
Seoul Delivers Ultimatum on Kaesong Industrial Park
Yasukuni visits make unified response to N. Korea difficult
North Korea moves two more missile launchers: report
N Korea 'moves two more missile launchers'
There is no sign of any easing of tensions between North Korea and South Korea. Your continued prayers are asked for the people and leaders of the two Koreas and for peace on the Korean Peninsula.

Finding Jesus on the Border of North Korea

"I didn't want to become a Christian," the pastor said, offering a wry smile. "It was an accident."

North Korean escapee Eom Myong-hui was describing her personal faith journey from atheist to committed Christian, from member of the Korean Workers' Party to Protestant minister. Among North Korean escapees, she is unusual, though not alone, in becoming a pastor. She is far from unusual, however, in her Christian beliefs. A large percentage of the North Koreans who escape to China make the same spiritual journey.

As she tells it, converting to Christianity began as a business decision. In the 1990s, during the famine, she went into the business of selling Korean antiques and specialty foods such as ginseng root across the border in China. Both the business itself and the trips to China were illegal, but times were hard, the trade was lucrative, and she had a husband and two young daughters to feed at home. Read more
Please pray for the persecuted Christians in North Korea and for the spread of the gospel throughout North Korea and the conversion of that nation.

United States: New conservative lobbying push for gay marriage

A national group of prominent GOP donors that supports gay marriage is pouring new money into lobbying efforts to get Republican lawmakers to vote to make it legal.

American Unity PAC was formed last year to lend financial support to Republicans who bucked the party's longstanding opposition to gay marriage. Its founders are launching a new lobbying organization, American Unity Fund, and already have spent more than $250,000 in Minnesota, where the Legislature could vote on the issue as early as next week.

The group has spent $500,000 on lobbying since last month, including efforts in Rhode Island, Delaware, Indiana, West Virginia and Utah. Read more

Also read
Rhode Island Senate Approves Gay Marriage Bill, Protects Priests From Ceremonies
R.I., Del., race to legalize gay marriage
Speaker: Youth persuadable on gay marriage

West Indian bishops urge their governments to reject British-US pressure to legalize gay rights and gay marriage

The Anglican bishops of the West Indies have urged their governments to hold fast and resist pressure from Britain and the United States to legalize gay rights and gay marriage.

In a statement released on 25 April 2013 following the House of Bishops meeting in Barbados, bishops of the Church the Province of the West Indies (CPWI) reiterated their belief in marriage “definedas a faithful, committed, permanent and legally sanctioned relationship between a man and a woman.”

“The idea of such unions being constituted by persons of the same sex is, therefore, totally unacceptable on theological and cultural grounds,” the bishops said. The CPWI consists of eight dioceses: the Diocese of Barbados, the Diocese of Belize, the Diocese of Guyana, the Diocese of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, the Diocese of the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands, the Diocese of the North Eastern Caribbean and Aruba, the Diocese of Trinidad and Tobago and the Diocese of the Windward Islands. Read more

Friday, April 26, 2013

Are There Contradictions in the Bible?

Much of the debate on the integrity of the Scriptures focuses specifically on the four Gospels. When you have parallel accounts of something, you expect them to be consistent, particularly if you’re maintaining that these accounts are inspired by God the Holy Spirit. We know that God may use different authors to record the same or similar events, and the authors can describe the event from their perspective, with their respective languages and literary styles. But still we would expect agreement in the substance of what is being taught if all accounts are speaking under the superintendence of God the Holy Spirit. That’s why it’s interesting to me that very early in church history there were attempts to write harmonies of the Gospels. Read more

Stretch Your Faith Through Service

As Christ’s disciples, we grow by doing something that stretches our faith: taking time alone with God, giving, and serving. As leaders, you need to nudge each person in you group to take on a small service role to help them grow as Christ’s disciples. Read more

More Than Half of Evangelicals View Islam as a Violent Religion

More than half of evangelical Christians (52 percent) view Islam as "essentially a violent religion," a new report from Barna Group reveals, though only about a quarter (26 percent) of all American adults feel the same way.

Despite the general perception of Islam within the evangelical community, 68 percent of evangelicals agree with the statement: "Peace between Christians and Muslims is possible." Researchers also found that 79 percent of mainline Christians, 82 percent of college graduates and 75 percent of all American adults also believe such peace is possible.

The report indicates that those who associate with different religious groups tend to view Islam differently. Only 30 percent of non-evangelical born again Christians, 26 percent of Catholics and 20 percent of people who are agnostic or have no faith also consider Islam to be violent. In contrast, 62 percent of people who are agnostic or who have no faith agree that "Islam is essentially a peaceful religion," and 59 percent of Catholics, 47 percent of non-evangelical born again Christians and 27 percent of evangelicals agree. Read more

Muslims see little backlash after Boston bombing

It looked like the backlash was starting even before the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing were identified as Muslim.

Hours after the explosions, a Bangladeshi man told police he was dubbed an "Arab" and beaten in New York. A veiled Muslim woman in a city near Boston said she was struck in the shoulder and called a terrorist. When the public learned days later that the FBI was pursuing two Muslim men of Chechen descent, American Muslims feared the worst.

But the worst didn't happen. Read more

New updates: Officials: Bomb suspects' mother was on watch list

The mother of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects had been added to a federal terrorism database about 18 months before the attack, government officials said Thursday.

Two government officials said the CIA had Zubeidat Tsarnaeva's name added along with that of her son Tamerlan Tsarnaev after Russia contacted the agency in 2011 with concerns that the two were religious militants about to travel to Russia. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the case.

Being in the classified TIDE database does not automatically mean a person is suspected by the U.S. of terrorist activity and does not automatically subject someone to surveillance, security screening or travel restrictions. Read more

Also read
Mother of bomb suspects insists sons are innocent
Mother of bomb suspects found deeper spirituality
Bombing suspects' mother says her faith deepened
Exclusive: Boston bomb suspects' parents retreat to village, cancel U.S. trip
Older Boston bombing suspect spoke of "jihad" with mother: report
Boston bomb suspect in small cell with steel door
More bombing victims leave Boston hospitals
War amputees to Boston's injured: 'Life's not over'
Investigators push ahead in Boston bombing probe
FBI removes boat used by Boston bombing suspect to storage
Details learned this week in Boston bombing probe
FBI Boston Marathon bomb probe now focuses on plot
Boston bombing suspect in prison, brother's body unclaimed
Boston Bombing Suspect Was Willing to Die for Islam, Mother Laments
Boston suspect is moved; FBI searches landfill
Boston bomb suspect moved to prison from hospital

In Wake of Boston Bombings, Group Highlights Terrorism Nigerian Christians Face Every Week

The Boston Marathon bombings last week shocked America and served as a reminder that the threat of terrorism in the western world is still alive. While offering condolences to the victims, one group is pointing out that Nigerian Christians face such horrors every week in the face of Islamic extremist group Boko Haram.

In an open letter to the American people this week, the Christian Association of Nigerian-Americans (CANAN) wrote, "The evil of terrorism in today's world are now well-known and so too must be the demand of vigilance in the overall protection of the common good."

Laolu Akande, executive director of CANAN, is urging Americans to help protect Christians who are regularly attacked in Nigeria. Read more

Saudi Arabia Reaffirms Ban on the Building of Non-Muslim Places of Worship

Bishops from several European countries are criticizing Saudi Minister of Justice, Mohamed el-Eissi, after he insisted that "the cradle of the Muslim sanctities will not allow the establishment of any other places of worship."

The statement has reflected the Saudi government's intention to resume its ban on the building of non-Muslim places of worship within Saudi territories, or even the observance of non-Islamic religious rituals.

The minister reaffirmed the commitment to the exclusion of other religions in the Arabian country during a meeting with a number of European parliamentarians and members of the Foreign Relations Committee this week. Read more

We Hate to Say We Told You So

Same-Sex Marriage & Polygamy

In a scene from Jurassic Park, Ian Malcolm, the mathematician skeptical about whether the park is a good idea, watches the T-Rex burst out of its enclosure and says, "I hate being right all the time."

Princeton Professor Robert George and other defenders of traditional marriage understand these sentiments. For years, they've warned that redefining marriage beyond the union of one man and one woman wouldn't-indeed couldn't-stop with same-sex unions. The same reasoning that extends marriage to same-sex couples would easily be applied to polygamy and polyamory also.

The standard response to these concerns was scoffing and accusations of fear mongering.

Well, the fences are down and the beast is loose. Read more

Also read
Legalize Polygamy!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Hope for timid evangelists

I have a confession: I’m one of the world’s most timid evangelists; it doesn’t come naturally to me (no surprise there). We’ve been working our way through a very practical witnessing workshop to provide a biblical framework for evangelism—one that actually requires you to *gasp* ask questions of non-Christian friends and family!

You wouldn’t think this is a terribly hard thing to do, but it seems to be. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt a sense of hesitation set in before doing something even as simple as sending an email asking a pretty open-ended question. When I see that people are ready and willing to answer these questions (some as pointed as “where do you believe you’ll spend eternity and why?”), I feel a little silly.

But here’s the good news—God’s Word offers much hope for timid evangelists like me, especially in the gospel of Luke. Here are five truths we can embrace.... Read more

Free eBook: Shrinking the Megachurch by Wayne Cordeiro

It happened early on. It was an intentional choice, says New Hope Christian Fellowship Founder/Pastor Wayne Cordeiro. He had to decide whether to build a big church or big people. He chose big people. So for the first 15 years, Cordeiro led his church to plant more than 70 churches. Another intentional decision early on, Cordeiro says, was whether he would be a Kingdom builder or an empire builder. I chose the former, he shares. It was the more expensive road to take. But we made that choice in the first five years of our church plant, and from those decisions, God led us on an amazing adventure.

Shrinking the Megachurch is an autobiographical journey that led New Hope to where they are today, 134 churches later. In this free resource, Cordeiro shares lessons and lesions, signposts and stretch marks of the leadership decision that God has honored. More than 5,000 people have gone on to populate the 24 church plants in one city alone. And God is not done yet. Learn from the indispensable leadership decisions Cordeiro made early on to shrink the megachurch.

Download from Exponential 

Mining Untapped Gold Mines in Your Church

Pastor, you’ve got a sleeping giant in your church. If you awake that sleeping giant, it’ll change your church, your community and the world. This sleeping giant in your church is your unengaged lay people.

If 10 percent of your church does most of the work, you have nine entire churches your size sitting on the sidelines each week. Fully engaged, the ministry potential of your church is mind-boggling!

Each Sunday, church pews are filled with members who are doing nothing with their faith except “keeping” it. The designation active member in most churches simply means those who attend regularly and financially support the church. Not much more is expected. Read more

Four Opportunities for Multi-Stage Groups

A mixture of spiritual maturity can help small-group members move closer to God and to one another.

Small groups can be dynamic gatherings of people growing closer to God and one another as small-group leaders guide group members toward their next spiritual steps. Yet when a small group includes everything from lifelong believers to faith newbies, helping group members grow in spiritual maturity can feel like an insurmountable task. Consider these four opportunities for maximizing growth when leading a multi-stage group. Read more

Homosexuality, ordination and a seminary degree?

Being a seminary president means you receive mail, and lots of it. Publications from every sector of life flood my office on a daily basis. I enjoy perusing many of these materials, especially those related to theological education. Usually, I am alternately amused and frightened by much of what I read, as each publication demonstrates how unbiblical much of contemporary theological education is in America today.

One such magazine especially caught my attention in recent months. The publication, entitled Mosaic, is the institutional magazine published by Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. One of Mosaic's featured stories from its fall 2012 edition stopped me in my tracks. The article, "Extending the Gift of Welcome to All: LPTS Student Maurice 'Bojangles' Blanchard Discovers his 'True Colors,'" highlighted Blanchard's alternative lifestyle and ministry pursuit.

Blanchard is a practicing homosexual and alternative lifestyle advocate in the Louisville, Ky. area. He was recently ordained to ministry by his church, Highland Baptist, a church that long ago abandoned affiliation with the SBC, the Kentucky Baptist Convention and the local, Long Run Association. Blanchard leads "True Colors" at his church, a ministry created to attract members of the homosexual community. Read more

Updated: Boston Bombing Suspects Attended Mosque With Radical Ties; Authorities to Speak to Parents

The suspects behind the Boston Marathon bombings last week, 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and 26-year-old Tamerlan Tsarnaev, attended a mosque that was often visited by radical Islamists and convicted terrorists, reports revealed.

"We don't know where these boys were radicalized, but this mosque has a curriculum that radicalizes people. Other people have been radicalized there," said Charles Jacobs from Americans for Peace and Tolerance, an interfaith group that investigated the Islamic Society of Boston mosque in Cambridge, Mass., which the brothers attended.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is currently recovering in the hospital from a gunshot wound to the throat, suspected to be an attempted suicide, and has only been able to communicate through writing. Tamerlan Tsarnaev died after a shootout with police early Friday morning. Read more

Also read
Legal issues surround Boston suspect's questioning
Police: Boston suspects planned to attack New York
Boston bomb suspects also wanted to attack New York: officials
Boston victims face huge bills; donations pour in
Officials: Bomb suspect silent after read rights
Officials: Suspect described plot before Miranda
Boston bombs were detonated by remote used for toy cars
Officials: Suspect unarmed when arrested in boat
U.S. had more tips on Boston suspect; Congress asks questions
Officials: Dead bomber name in terrorism database
U.S. was alerted to bombing suspect's travel to Russia
Boston bomb investigation extends to Russia
Planning for Boston Marathon security included bombing scenario
Mayor Bloomberg After Boston Bombings: Interpretation of Constitution Must Change to Increase Security Father of Boston bomb suspects plans U.S. trip to bury son

Updated: Attacks against Christians in Iraq ongoing

Islamist extremists want Iraq to be a "Muslim only" country. As a result, Christians in Iraq remain continuous targets of violent attacks.

Each month Open Doors field workers receive sad phone calls and emails of Christian acquaintances who report attacks against the Christians near them. While most of them are part of the general violence, such as bomb attacks and mortar fire which intensified during provincial elections last Saturday, a part of the violence can be labelled as specifically targeted against Christians.

"If these attacks take place in a Christian neighbourhood or a Christian village, you can assume they are targeted, especially against the Christian population of the neighbourhoods and villages," said an Open Doors field worker.

"Since the fall of Saddam Hussein 10 years ago, an estimated 1,000 Christians have been killed, a relatively high number compared with percentages killed from other groups in Iraqi society." Read more

Also read
Iraq fears rise as clashes spread to northern city
Iraq, on edge over violence, endures more bloodshed

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

MUST READ: Autopsy of a Deceased Church: 11 Things I Learned

The reality was that most of the members did not want me there. They were not about to pay a consultant to tell them what was wrong with their church. Only when a benevolent member offered to foot my entire bill did the congregation grudgingly agree to retain me.

I worked with the church for three weeks. The problems were obvious; the solutions were difficult. On my last day, the benefactor walked me to my rental car. “What do you think, Thom?” he asked. He could see the uncertainty in my expression, so he clarified. “How long can our church survive?” I paused for a moment, and then offered the bad news. “I believe the church will close its doors in five years.”

I was wrong. The church closed just a few weeks ago. Like many dying churches, it held on to life tenaciously. This church lasted ten years after my terminal diagnosis.

My friend from the church called to tell me the news. I took no pleasure in discovering that not only was my diagnosis correct, I had mostly gotten right all the signs of the impending death of the church. Together my friend and I reviewed the past ten years. I think we were able to piece together a fairly accurate autopsy. Here are eleven things I learned. Read more
Thom Rainer's description of a dying church in this article fits a number of Anglican churches in North America. These churches are found both  in The Episcopal Church and the breakaway Anglican churches. They are particularly common in the Continuum. 

Why I am Still A Christian

It was a long time ago. I had become dissatisfied with my life’s direction and that of the friends in my social circle. In my early twenties I began to attend a church and thankfully found the minister’s message and the congregation’s welcome deeply encouraging. I began for the first time to read the Bible. One day I attended a lunch hour service in St Andrew’s Cathedral where the speaker, Dr Howard Guinness spoke on John 6.37. That’s where Jesus said, ‘Whoever comes to me I will in no wise cast out’. I prayed a prayer in which I told Jesus I was ‘coming’ to him. That was in 1957.

I could now go on and say that life had been easy ever since, one green light after another. I have indeed been blessed with a wonderful marriage, a loving family and a satisfying life’s work, but there have been challenges to my life as a Christian. Let me mention four. Read more

Arguments Heard Today in German Homeschoolers Deportation Case

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit heard arguments Tuesday in a case, Romeike vs. Holder, that could grant or revoke asylum for the Romeike homeschooling family. If the Romeikes lose, they could be deported back to Germany, where the state threatened to take their children away from them if they did not send them to public school.

Though the Romeikes – Uwe (the father), Hannelore (the mother) and their six children – were granted asylum in 2010, the federal government is trying to revoke that asylum arguing, in part, that parents do not have a fundamental right to choose the type of education their children receive.

The Romeikes are defended by the Home School Legal Defense Association, which also helped them initially move to the United States and obtain asylum. Read more

Also read
Homeschoolers' request for asylum questioned by judges
German homeschoolers face harassment, jail

Congress demands more FBI answers on Boston bomb suspect

U.S. lawmakers demanded more answers on the Boston Marathon bombing on Wednesday, unsatisfied with the FBI reaction to warnings about one suspect and expressing doubt about the other suspect's claims that he and his dead brother acted alone.

Some on Capitol Hill questioned whether the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other U.S. security agencies failed to share information about suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev in 2011, even after reforms enacted to prevent information-hoarding following the September 11 hijacked plane attacks 12 years ago. Read more

Also read
Tsarnaev’s condition improves; brothers reportedly motivated by U.S. wars
Police: Boston bombing suspects may have planned NYC 'party'
U.N. chief scolds envoy for implying U.S. policy sparked Boston attack
As Boston buries its dead, more evidence gathered
Bomb suspect influenced by mysterious radical
Suspect's widow drawn into Boston bomb investigation
US authorities interview Boston bombing suspects' parents in Russia
Uphill battle for defense of marathon bomb suspect
Sisters of Boston bombing suspects express sorrow
Body of Boston Marathon suspect still being held