Friday, May 31, 2013

The Alban Institute: The Smaller Congregation— Pathways in Challenging Times


This special report defines the "smaller congregation," explains how small congregations can be vital, and examines the challenges and options facing small congregations—including the options of shifting to part-time clergy, merging two or more congregations, clustering, securing lay pastors or local clergy, growing, or "ending well." Read more
This report is in PDF format. 

Three Essentials in Healthy Kids and Student Ministries


A local church is wise to focus on ministry to children and students. And while the form and practice of that ministry may look different in various contexts and be guided by unique ministry philosophies, I believe there are at least three essentials in a healthy kids ministry and a healthy student ministry. Read more

3 Big Questions On the Mind of Every Pastor This Summer

Summertime presents challenges for every church. People are very busy and mobile in the summer time and, sadly, some families will disengage from their local church from Memorial Day Sunday until the beginning of school or even waiting until after Labor Day. All of these matters combine to become one enormous challenge for the leaders of a church.

As a pastor of a local church, this becomes a personal, spiritual challenge for me. People need refreshment. People need a vacation, as do I. Yet, the ministry of the church marches forward.

I believe there are three big questions in the mind of most pastors this summer. While I cannot guarantee you any solutions, I can, humbly, offer a few suggestions. Read more

They Will Know Us By Our Angry Blogs

It’s time for Christians to tone down the controversy and show some love.

It's hard to believe that not so long ago, I didn't know my Mark Driscoll from my Donald Miller, had never heard of Rachel Held Evans, and didn't know what a Patheos was. Tucked snugly within the ivory tower, I had never set virtual foot inside the Christian blogosphere. But all that has changed and because of the online realm of Christian blogging, my world has been made bigger, and for the most part, richer.

Despite the connections made and lessons learned online, controversy remains the lifeblood of the blogosphere. Indeed, polemics have a long, grand tradition within church history. But when Martin Luther called heretics "asses," his motive of upholding doctrine wasn't mingled with the side benefit of driving traffic to his site through sensationalist headlines and reader outrage.

Now, centuries after Luther, the disembodied, instantaneous nature of today's Internet communication cultivates and rewards acrimony where there should be love. To this point, Alastair Roberts observed in response to a recent blogosphere brush-up an "almost pathological need to take offence" that prevails. Compound such a pathology with the celebrity culture (yes, even among Christians) and the tribalism that dominate our media-saturated world, and there's no wonder that something as quiet as love gets left in the virtual dust. Read more

Calvinism advisory committee issues report

A 19-member advisory committee on Calvinism has issued its report to Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee President Frank Page, urging Southern Baptists to "stand together" for the Gospel, even as "we experience tension."

"We can talk like brothers and sisters in Christ, and we can work urgently and eagerly together," the 3,200-word report reads. "We have learned that we can have just this kind of conversation together, and we invite all Southern Baptists to join together in this worthy spirit of conversation. But let us not neglect the task we are assigned. The world desperately needs to hear the promise of the Gospel."

The advisory team -- not an official committee of the convention -- was assembled by Page in August 2012 to advise him on developing "a strategy whereby people of various theological persuasions can purposely work together in missions and evangelism." Read more

Samuel Rodriguez: Religious Freedom Is an Endangered Species


Freedom of religion in 2013 can best be described as an endangered species, argued the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, at the Ethics and Public Policy Center's 2013 National Religious Freedom Conference Thursday in Washington, D.C. He urged those in attendance, representing many different faith communities, to "rise up" and defend that freedom by speaking truth to power with civility and grace.

Rodriguez began by reminding his audience of all that faith does for them personally and for their communities: "We gather today as Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs motivated by a spirit of interfaith cooperation. We are here by faith and for faith."

Faith, he said, "equips us to cross over obstacles," "encourages us to survive the fires of life," "empowers us to see the invisible, embrace the impossible, and hope for the incredible," and "exhorts us to care for the poor, speak for the marginalized, welcome the stranger all while doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly before God."

Yet, Rodriguez added, they live in a time when the freedom to express that faith is threatened. "Freedom of religion in America can best be characterized in the year 2013 as nothing other than an 'endangered species.'" Read more

California Senate: Scouts didn't go far enough


Less than a week after the Boy Scouts changed its policy to allow gay-identifying youth, the California Senate passed a law that would revoke the organization's tax-exempt status if it doesn't also allow gay leaders.

The bill is aimed at all tax-exempt youth organizations, but it was evident from the get-go -- when Democratic state Sen. Ricardo Lara introduced the bill in February -- that the Scouts were the primary target.

On May 23, delegates at the Boy Scouts' national meeting approved new guidelines allowing homosexual-identifying youth to be members. The policy still prohibits openly homosexual adults from serving as leaders. Six days later the California Senate, by a vote of 27-9, passed a bill that would reverse the tax-exempt status of youth organizations that discriminate on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation.

"They are out of line with the values of California and should be ineligible for a tax benefit paid for by all Californians," Lara said of the Scouts, according to The Sacramento Bee. "... We've given the Boy Scouts ample time to solve their discrimination problem. And they've chosen a path that still leads to discrimination."

The bill now moves to the Assembly, the lower house of California’s Legislature. Read more

Muslims Forcing Co-Workers to Obey Religious Practices, French Report Claims


French staff managers have increasingly been reporting faith-related problems at the work place, a new study released on Tuesday showed, with many incidents relating to Muslims trying to force others to observe their practices.

Forty-three percent of staff managers reported faith-related problems at work, Reuters reported on the study by university researchers in Rennes and the international recruitment agency Randstad, and 41 percent expected the problem to continue in the future.

"These initial results show the issue of religion at work exists and is not a marginal question," the study reportedly says. Read more

Thursday, May 30, 2013

New Pastors, Change, and Churches that Resist: Part 2

In the first post, I discussed why people in the church resist change. If you lead well, then resistance to change will eventually shift to an acceptance of the necessity of change. Even when people accept the idea of change, however, the actual implementation of the change effort can be painful. For example, most Americans agree something needs to change at the IRS. I doubt we’ll see any lawmaker defend the current state of the agency on cable news stations. Does this general acceptance mean enduring change will now happen quickly? I have my doubts.

New pastors often encounter a strong contingent within their congregations who accept the need for change, even the enduring cultural change I mentioned in the previous post. The size of this group depends upon the church, but they are inevitably there. As your tenure lengthens, this group should grow as more people begin to trust your discernment. Conversely, if this group is shrinking, then stop reading and start building better relationships. Leading change while your reputation diminishes is a suicide mission. Assuming you have done the legwork to get most people accepting the need for change, why might this change effort still meet resistance? Read more

5 Things Churches Need to Know to Stay Relevant


Everyone is talking about relevance lately, and when it comes to the church, it’s a conversation we need to have.

The world is changing faster than it ever has before, and without sacrificing the Truth of the Gospel, the church needs to change with it. The good news is that there are things pastors and churches can do to make sure they don’t miss opportunities to minister to people in the midst of a changing culture.

Here are five things pastors and churches should know. Read more

Also read
The church and building community in the digital age

Albert Mohler: No Truth Without Love, No Love Without Truth: The Church’s Great Challenge

The church’s engagement with the culture involves a host of issues, controversies, and decisions–but no issue defines our current cultural crisis as clearly as homosexuality. Some churches and denominations have capitulated to the demands of the homosexual rights movement, and now accept homosexuality as a fully valid lifestyle.

Other denominations are tottering on the brink, and without a massive conservative resistance, they are almost certain to abandon biblical truth and bless what the Bible condemns. Within a few short years, a major dividing line has become evident–with those churches endorsing homosexuality on one side, and those stubbornly resisting the cultural tide on the other.

The homosexual rights movement understands that the evangelical church is one of the last resistance movements committed to a biblical morality. Because of this, the movement has adopted a strategy of isolating Christian opposition, and forcing change through political action and cultural pressure. Read more

Has Secularization Made Us Smarter


Here is a common myth: Intelligence has evolved over the centuries of recorded history, so we’re smarter than people were a thousand years ago. Just look at the remarkable advances in the sciences and especially technology, and it’s clear that our current generation is more intelligent than those of the past, right? I hear it all the time, sometimes explicitly and sometimes not, but hardly a day passes that I don’t detect it in the background of people’s presuppositions. Think of the frequency of comparisons with the past that run along these lines – “Well once upon a time people used to think that (insert any number of prevailing views from bygone eras), but now we know better.” And much of the time the thing “people used to think” isn’t even accurate. I continue to hear, for example, about how all of the Europeans thought the world was flat right up until Columbus’ voyage. Read more

Barely 4 in 10 MDivs Plan To Pastor Full-Time


Seminary grads who expect to pursue full-time ministry careers are down 10 percent over the past decade.

Today's seminary graduates still plan to go into ministry—but fewer than half of them say that means a full-time pastoral role.

According to The Washington Post, "skepticism about religious institutions (in recent years) has led to a broadened concept of what it means to minister."

As a result, seminary grads are taking their Masters of Divinity (MDiv) degrees elsewhere, outside the church context. The Post reports that only 41 percent of MDiv graduates plan to seek a career in full-time church ministry. That's "down from 52 percent in 2001 and from 90-something percent a few decades ago, according to the Association of Theological Schools, the country’s largest such group." Read more

Survey: People turn to God after disaster

When natural disasters occur, most Americans take increased interest in God and donate to relief agencies -- and they trust faith-based agencies more than their secular counterparts. A third also believe prayer can avert natural disasters.

Those are among the findings of a LifeWay Research survey conducted days after an historic EF5 tornado devastated parts of Oklahoma May 20, killing two dozen people and causing billions of dollars in damages.

According to the study, commissioned by LifeWay's Bible Studies for Life curriculum, a third of Americans increase their trust in God during times of suffering. In response to the question, "How do you feel about God when suffering occurs that appears unfair?" the most common response is "I trust God more" (33 percent). Other responses include.... Read more

Also read
Survey: Personal Interest in God Increases When Natural Disasters Strike

Leading Anglican bishop: British Churches have 'capitulated to secularism' and politically correct lessons that whitewash Islam


British schools are helping to boost Islamism with politically correct lessons that tell black pupils that slavery was entirely the fault of English and Americans, and omit the long and vicious history of Arab slave trading, according to an influential Church of England bishop.

In an exclusive interview for our Telegram podcast, the Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali – a Pakistani-born scholar who resigned as Bishop of Rochester in 2009 in order to train Christians facing persecution – says "the Churches have generally capitulated to secular culture and therefore cannot bring a distinctive voice to public debate".

They have neglected human relations, especially the family, in favour of "welfarism" that teaches that the state should provide all the goods that citizens need. All this adds up to the slow death of people's sense of themselves as spiritual beings – and this affects "even people who go to church". Read more

Poll: America losing its religion


More than three in four of Americans say religion is losing its influence in the United States, according to a new survey, the highest such percentage in more than 40 years. A nearly identical percentage says that trend bodes ill for the country.

"It may be happening, but Americans don't like it," Frank Newport, Gallup's editor in chief, said of religion's waning influence. "It is clear that a lot of Americans don't think this is a good state of affairs."

According to the Gallup survey released Wednesday, 77% of Americans say religion is losing its influence. Since 1957, when the question was first asked, Americans' perception of religion's power has never been lower.

According to the poll, 75% of Americans said the country would be better off if it were more religious. Read more

Also read
America is becoming less religious. That's good news for the Democrats

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Selective Evangelism


If your church could reach more people for Christ by focusing on one “people group” in your community, would you do so?

Certain people around your church are more receptive to the Gospel than others. I suggest that good stewardship of your church’s human and fiscal resources calls you to find and focus on these receptive people. They are the “fertile soil” (see Mt. 13:1-23) who are “ripe unto harvest” (Jn. 4:35). And your successful evangelistic results will be praised by the Master with the same words heard by those who returned more talents than they had been given: “Well done, good and faithful servant” (see Mt. 25:14-30). Read more

In Praise of Small Churches

Recently, nearly half the congregation surged forward to lay hands on a fellow member as he was ordained campus pastor to nearby Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. They were kids, senior citizens; professors, barely literate; poor, prosperous, in between; people with Asian, Caribbean, European, and North American accents.

The moment showed how much this small church has changed. Like many Christian Reformed Churches in Canada, the one in Halifax was founded by Dutch immigrants. They didn’t worship in English till the early 1960s.

In 1978 the congregation changed its name to All Nations Christian Reformed Church. And by 2000, All Nations CRC reported its membership as 28% Dutch Canadian, the rest from other nations.

“At Pentecost, we’ve asked people to say John 3:16 in their first language. One year we had more than a dozen languages,” says John Barnstead, who began attending back when the congregation met in a converted Victorian home.

This small strong congregation knows better than to try to be all things to all people. It does what smaller congregations are uniquely suited to do—worshiping and eating together, loving God and neighbor. And it’s working through growing pains with grace. Read more

Books: The Psalter Reclaimed

Three years ago, on the recommendation of a friend, I spent several hours listening to a series of lectures Gordon Wenham’s delivered at Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. I was glad I did. Wenham’s lectures opened fresh and exciting ways to read the Psalter. Wenham’s emphasis on interpreting the psalms canonically (that is, with attention to their final form in the Hebrew Bible) is biblically-theologically rich and deserves careful consideration by scholars and pastors alike. Read more

Help Even the Unrighteous Poor


Missional living beyond feel-good experiences

My office is located in one of the poorer areas in the city of Birmingham, Alabama. Even as I am writing this, outside my window I can see two prostitutes standing across the street outside a hotel and a homeless man pushing a grocery cart full of cans. Confronted with scenes like this on a daily basis has made me think a lot about Jesus' call to serve the least of these. What should this look like in my life? Over the years, I have far more failures than successes when it comes to reaching out to these people.
It might not be easy, but our call to help the poor is a scriptural mandate that few would argue against. Deuteronomy 15:7-8 (ESV) says:
If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be.
This is just one of many passages in the Bible that shows God's concern for the least of these. Read more

The Kids Are (Not Quite) All Right: Millennials and Narcissism


A year ago, David McCullough, a Massachusetts high school teacher, became an overnight sensation when he told graduating seniors that "despite . . . that nice Mister Rogers and your batty Aunt Sylvia, [and] no matter how often your maternal caped crusader has swooped in to save you . . . you're nothing special."

A year later, in its May 20th edition, Time Magazine has weighed in on the subject. In a schizoid piece, it calls "Millennials," those born between 1980 and 2000, "lazy entitled narcissists," yet it insists that they somehow will "save us."

Author Joel Stein, who's forty-three, begins with some sobering data. For instance, according to the National Institutes of Health, the incidence of narcissistic personality disorder is three times as high among twenty-somethings than among those over sixty-five.

Likewise, the average college student in 2009 scored significantly higher on a narcissism scale than his counterparts in 1982.

The high self-regard doesn't end with graduation: forty percent of all Millennials believe that they should be promoted every two years regardless of their actual job performance. Read more

Political test for new Episcopal bishops proposed


New bishops in the Episcopal Church should be vetted for their political orthodoxy, a paper released by the House of Bishops’ Standing Committee on Pastoral Development has proposed. The call for conformity came in a 29 April 2013 letter released under the signature of the Rt. Rev. James Waggoner, Jr., Bishop of Spokane and was sent to the church’s bishops and standing committees.

However some of the questions were “so egregious” and so “thin in its substance as to be silly”. Dr. Ephraim Radner of the Anglican Communion Institute told Anglican Ink. Read more

Leader of Innovative House Churches Dying in Chinese Prison


Chinese pastor Gong Shengliang once faced the death penalty for leading a 50,000-strong movement of innovative yet unregistered house churches. Now, imprisoned since 2001, the South China Church (SCC) founder is dying from lack of medical care, according to his daughter.

In an open letter to Chinese president Xi Jingping, Gong Huali describes the torture suffered by her father over the past decade and appeals for medical treatment. She writes:
"[My father's] life is in grave danger.... Accordingly, we have asked for his release on bail for urgent medical treatment. But, again and again, our petitions have been completely ignored, without any reasonable response. It is very urgent for my father to have immediate medical treatment, otherwise he will either die soon while imprisoned under false pretense or remain severely disabled for the remainder of his life."
CT reported how Gong's 2001 death sentence on charges of rape, arson, and leading a cult drew international headlines, especially after three women revealed they had been tortured into making the rape allegations against him. Intervention by the Bush administration helped earn Gong a retrial and re-sentencing to life in prison instead. Read more

Also read
China Dominates World's 'Atheist Map;' Religiosity Declining in US

Leave Boy Scouts, pastor advises parents


Parents of Boy Scouts should remove their children from the organization, Atlanta-area pastor Ernest Easley advised in his Sunday sermon.

Troop 204's affiliation with Roswell Street Baptist Church also will end, Easley said.

"I never dreamed I'd have to stand up publicly and say to parents: Pull your kids out of the Boy Scouts," Easley told Baptist Press May 28.

"If you would have asked me that five years ago, 10 years ago, I would have laughed," Easley said. "And even as I was saying it Sunday morning, I thought, I cannot believe I'm having to address this and encourage parents to pull their children out of the Boy Scouts of America.

"Unbelievable."

The tie between Roswell Street Baptist Church and Troop 204 dates back to 1945. Read more

Also read
Ky. Megachurch Boots Boy Scouts From Campus After Gay Vote
Episcopal bishop applauds gay Boy Scout vote

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

How to Survive a Cultural Crisis


Public opinion appears to be changing about same-sex marriage, as are the nation's laws. Of course this change is just one in a larger constellation. America's views on family, love, sexuality generally, tolerance, God, and so much more seems to be pushing in directions that put Bible-believing Christians on the defensive.

It's easy to feel like we've become the new "moral outlaws," to use Al Mohler's phrase. Standing up for historic Christian principles will increasingly get you in trouble socially and maybe economically, perhaps one day also criminally. It's ironic that Christians are told not to impose their views on others, even as the threat of job loss or other penalties loom over Christians for not toeing the new party line.

In all this, Christians are tempted to become panicked or to speak as alarmists. But to the extent we do, to that same extent we show we've embraced an unbiblical and nominal Christianity.

Here, then, are seven principles for surviving the very real cultural shifts we're presently enduring. Read more

Are You Ready for the Urban Future?


Like it or not, it's true: more people are living in cities than ever before. This migration cityward doesn't appear to be waning, either; in fact, it's projected that within the next 35 years our world will be 70 percent urban. (In 1800, that number was 2 percent. In 1900, it was 14 percent.)

So what bearing should this reality have on today's church? In Why Cities Matter: To God, the Culture, and the Church (Crossway), Stephen Um and Justin Buzzard seek to address such pressing questions and trends. Their aim, as Um explains in the video below featuring Buzzard and Christ + City author Jon Dennis, isn't to insinuate that city ministry is superior. It is, however, uniquely strategic.

"This book is not about why cities matter more. We need gospel-preaching, gospel-shaped churches wherever there are people," Um says. "But more people are moving into cities than ever before. Around the world 5.5 million people per month are moving into cities. That's another San Francisco every month."

I corresponded with Um, senior minister of Citylife Presbyterian Church in Boston, about Why Cities Matter, why American believers are often urban pessimists, how rural and suburban friends can champion God's work in cities, and more. Read more

Video: The Vision Behind 'Why Cities Matter: To God, the Culture, and the Church'

Why Plant Churches?

The vigorous, continual planting of new congregations is the single most crucial strategy for 1) the numerical growth of the Body of Christ in any city, and 2) the continual corporate renewal and revival of the existing churches in a city. Nothing else--not crusades, outreach programs, para-church ministries, growing mega-churches, congregational consulting, nor church renewal processes--will have the consistent impact of dynamic, extensive church planting. This is an eyebrow raising statement. But to those who have done any study at all, it is not even controversial. Read more
You will need an Acrobat Reader to read this PDF article.

How to Pray Evangelistically


Three years before my father passed away, he turned to Christ for salvation. It was amazing, actually. My dad had quite a temper prior to his conversion. My childhood memories of his displays of anger still echo in my mind. Though my grandmother was a strong believer, Dad never showed interest in Christianity. In fact, he first believed that many routes lead to God; “we’re just following different paths,” he told me.

We prayed for more than 30 years that Dad would become a believer. Then, it happened. Dad called my little brother to say he wanted to talk about following Jesus . . . right then! God so transformed my father that we spent the final years of his life getting to know a new man. He was a trophy of God’s grace, an undeniable example of 2 Corinthians 5:17a—“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (HCSB). God graciously answered our prayers.

Are you praying for non-Christians to turn to Christ? In my book, Serving in Your Church Prayer Ministry, I describe a simple way to pray evangelistically by praying the acronym, “GOD’S HEART.” I’m grateful to my friend Chris Schofield, whose writings about prayer first helped me to think about this kind of process.

Maybe this pattern will help you as you pray evangelistically for others....Read more

United Kingdom: The churches that are reaching and keeping young people

Beth Keith has spent the last 12 months researching churches that are bucking the trend of decline in attendance among young adults.

She has identified five types of churches that are successfully reaching and discipling the "missing generation" of people in their 20s and 30s.

Her report, Authentic Faith: Fresh expressions of church amongst young adults, found that these churches are largely in towns and cities, and especially in London. Read more

Also read
Churches buck the trend of missing young adults

Senate Approves Cut to Food Stamps for Convicted Rapists, Pedophiles, Murderers


Members of the U.S. Senate unanimously accepted an amendment to the Farm Bill that would bar convicted rapists, pedophiles and murderers from receiving food stamps for life.

The amendment which was introduced by GOP Senator David Vitter of Louisiana last Tuesday was accepted by unanimous consent on Wednesday, according to a release from Vitter's office.

Under existing law, only drug felons have a lifetime ban from the food stamp program officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and states can opt out or modify the ban as they choose. Vitter's amendment would expand the current ban to include convicted rapists, pedophiles and murderers and would not allow states to opt out or modify the ban. Read more
The Senate's acceptance of this amendment has the appearance of being a knee jerk reaction. Banning convicted rapists, pedophiles, and murderers from the food stamp program would also ban their dependents--children and families, penalizing the innocent along with the guilty. It would add to the pressures that a poor economy are placing upon community food banks. The Bible enjoins us to care for the poor and the needy, not to persecute them.

Violence Mars Mostly Peaceful Gay Marriage Protest in Paris


Thousands of French took to the streets of Paris to protest the legalization of gay marriage on Sunday, and although the demonstration was mostly peaceful, some protesters lashed out with violence toward its end.

Approximately 200 young people threw rocks, bottles, fireworks and other objects at riot police at the end of the event, The Independent reports, and some attacked television crews and press photographers. Police responded to the attacks with baton charges and tear gas. Only a small fraction of the demonstrators at the event acted violently, but some others watching nearby cheered on the behavior. Others held hands, prayed and sang while police tried to restore order.

The number of demonstrators who participated in the march is unclear. Police claim approximately 150,000 participated in the event, while organizers say as many as 1 million were present and others say 400,000 is a more accurate number. Protesters marched from three parts of Paris and converged upon the esplanade in front of the Invalides to protest the recent passage of a law that allows gay couples to marry in town halls and adopt children. Read more

Iran: Church under pressure from authorities closes


The Central Assemblies of God church in Tehran was closed on Thursday due to pressure from Iranian security authorities.

According to a story by Mohabat Iranian Christian News Agency, a well placed source said that a sign is posted on the main entrance of the church saying that the church is temporarily closed.

Mohabat News said the source also said that the church staff have not gone to work for two days. Read more

Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day and the Red Poppy


In 1915, Canadian medical officer John McCrae published what has become one of the most popular poems from the First World War, In Flanders Fields:
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields. Read more

Memorial Day: A Time to Embrace and Honor the Sacrifices of Our Soldiers


Celebrated on the last Monday in May, Memorial Day is a United States federal holiday that's designated as a time of reverence and remembrance of those who served in the U.S. Armed Forces and made the ultimate sacrifice and died in service to their country.

Inside Reagan International Airport in Washington, D.C., travelers awaiting their flights before the holiday weekend might hear announcements inviting them to welcome World War II veterans who've arrived on Honor Flights to attend Memorial Day services at the National WWII Memorial, where they'll be among some of their last surviving peers, and veterans from subsequent wars in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Washington Post's editorial board notes in a Memorial Day column that Americans have become increasingly aware and appreciative of the sacrifices made by U.S. soldiers and Marines, with many returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with physical and often visible wounds, as well as the unseen mental and emotional trauma following their overseas tours.

"But we have not yet come to a full understanding of the debt owed those who have died and suffered for this country," the Post's editors write. Read more

Wounded Warrior, Wounded Home

Combat rescue officer prepares his gear
Hundreds of thousands of military veterans and their families struggle with PTSD and TBI. Here are some ways to cope on the home front.

There are millions of us whose lives are connected to a combat veteran. To date, 1.5 million troops have fulfilled 3 million deployment billets to Iraq and Afghanistan. Most service members have served at least two and some as many as nine combat tours of duty. Between 30 and 40 percent of returning veterans today show symptoms of PTSD or report conditions of TBI. TRICARE, the military health care provider, reports that troops and their family members make and keep 100 thousand appointments for mental health care daily.

Since 2000, traumatic brain injury has been diagnosed in about 180,000 service members, the Pentagon says. But some advocates for patients say thousands more have suffered undiagnosed brain injuries. A RAND study in 2008 estimated the total number of service members with TBI to be about 320,000.

Each service member's war experiences and injuries directly impact at least three and as many as ten immediate family members and friends. This means that at least 4.5 million and as many as 15 million close family members and friends are deeply impacted by combat stress, PTSD, and/or TBI from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan alone. Read more

Thom Rainer: Twelve Ways Pastors Went from Burnout to Vision


There are few vocations that can engender burnout like the pastorate. The demands on a pastor’s time, emotions, and energy can be overwhelming. When I was a pastor, I often felt at least the symptoms of burnout.

I recently spoke with 17 pastors who had experienced burnout, or who felt they came precariously close to burnout. The good news about these pastors is that they moved out of burnout; and now they are re-engaging in exciting and visionary ministries.

So I asked them the obvious question. What did you do to reverse the dark spiral of burnout? The question was open-ended, so they could respond with as many answers as they desired. When it was all said and done, I tabulated twelve different responses from the 17 pastors. Obviously, many of them gave similar answers.

Here are the twelve responses ranked in order of frequency. Each answer has a representative quote from one of the pastors.... Read more

How Christians Can Change Our Culture

For centuries Christians thought that culture would change if we just had a majority of Christians in the culture. That has proven to be a false assumption. Culture is defined by a relatively small number of change agents who operate at the tops of cultural spheres or societal mountains. It takes less than 3–5 percent of those operating at the top of a cultural mountain to actually shift the values represented on that mountain.

For example, this is exactly what the gay rights movement has done through the mountains of media and arts and entertainment. They have strategically used these avenues to promote their cause and reframe the argument. They are gradually legitimizing their cause through these two cultural mountains through a small percentage of people in society, but operating at the top of the media and arts and entertainment mountain. Read more

Abduction of Young Coptic Girls in Egypt Showcased to Western Journalists


The disappearance of young Coptic girls in Egypt has been highlighted in several meetings with Western journalists by the Association of Victims of Abduction and Forced Disappearance (AVAFD).

The meetings aimed to bring the issue to the forefront of the international media and send reports to various international human rights organizations. Read more

French Government Considers Banning Same-Sex Marriage Opposition Group


With a major protest against same-sex marriage coming up on Sunday in Paris, France, the country's Interior Minister Manuel Valls said Thursday that he is contemplating banning the opposition group French Spring.

Valls said in a Thursday radio interview with France Info that he is contemplating banning the group, which has modeled its name after the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings in Egypt, due to recent statements made by the group in reference to the French government.

Valls said that he takes the recent comments by the activist organization as a "call to violence." Read more

Children damaged by 'diet of pornography'


Children are developing permissive attitudes to sex and are viewing women as objects after being raised on a "diet of pornography", a major British study has found.

For the first time, the Children's Commissioner for England has found a clear link between exposure to extreme images at a young age and a rise in "risky behaviours".

It emerged that children who regularly viewed pornography were more likely to have underage sex, develop "casual and hedonistic" attitudes, experiment with drink and drugs and indulge in sexting, when explicit pictures are taken and sent to others using camera phones.

Boys were much more likely to be exposed to pornography than girls, it was found, resulting in "beliefs that women are sex objects". Read more

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Anglicans Ablaze Weekend Edition: May 25, 2013


On this weekend's edition of Anglicans Blaze:-

The Dismal State of North American Anglicanism


By Robin G. Jordan

The sermon that the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church preached at All Saints Church in CuraƧao in the diocese of Venezuela has elicited a harsh response on the Internet. George Conger took note of this response in his article, Diversity, not Jesus, saves says Presiding Bishop,” earlier in the week.

Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori’s theological views come as no surprise. Nor does the harsh response from conservative quarters to her views. From a doctrinal standpoint the Presiding Bishop is heterodox at best.

While you are not likely to hear anyone in the Anglican Church in North America equating salvation with diversity, you are likely to hear an association made between salvation and the sacraments and good works. This association, however, is no more Biblical than Bishop Schori’s equation of salvation with diversity.

The Articles of Religion, also known as the Thirty-Nine Articles, historic Anglicanism’s confession of faith, reflect the Biblical and Reformation view of salvation. We are saved by grace alone by faith alone in Jesus Christ alone.

In its choice of language the Fundamental Declarations of the Anglican Church in North America evade acknowledging and recognizing the full authority of the Articles of Religion as Anglicanism’s confession of faith. When the Jerusalem Declaration and Statement were drafted, members of the North American delegation questioned the central place that these documents give to the Thirty-Nine Articles. The constitution of the Anglican Church in North America relegates its affirmation of the Jerusalem Declaration and Statement to its preamble where the affirmation forms a part of the narrative describing the founding of the ACNA and is open to interpretation as not being binding upon that ecclesiastical body.

The evasive language of the Anglican Church in North America’s Fundamental Declarations in relation to the Thirty-Nine Articles can be attributed to two influences in the ACNA—Anglo-Catholicism and liberalism. These two influences have dominated North American Anglicanism—particularly in the United States but also in Canada—since the nineteenth century. The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States, while it adopted a revision of the Thirty-Nine Articles, did not require its clergy to subscribe to this revision of the Articles.

Anglo-Catholicism is manifest in two forms in the Anglican Church in North America—in traditional Anglo-Catholicism with its roots in the nineteenth century Tractarian Movement and Roman Catholicism and in “three streams, one river” ideology with its roots in the twentieth century Ancient Future/Convergence Movement. In the Ancient Future/Convergence Movement the Catholic stream flows the strongest and its waters dilute the waters of the evangelical and Pentecostal streams. Indeed they are little more than gentle eddies near the banks of the river. The Ancient Future/Convergence Movement might be more accurately described as the Catholic Resurgence.

Even those who identify themselves as “evangelicals” in the Anglican Church in North America have been strongly influenced by Anglo-Catholic doctrine and practice. Anglo-Catholic clergy and congregations are flourishing in the Reformed Episcopal Church, which was established in a reaction to the growing influence and spread of Tractarianism in the nineteenth century and to what was seen as incipient Roman Catholic theology in the 1789 Book of Common Prayer. The Reformed Episcopal Church is a founding entity of the Anglican Church in North America and a sub-province of that ecclesiastical body.

While we tend to associate liberalism with the Episcopal Church, liberalism is present in the Anglican Church in North America. In the Anglican Church in North America liberalism primarily takes the form of what an earlier generation would have described as Broad Church views. One of its manifestations is the tolerance of Anglo-Catholic doctrine and practice.

In The Way, the Truth, and the Life: Theological Resources for a Pilgrimage to a Global Anglican Future the GAFCON Theological Resource Group, chaired by Nigerian Archbishop Nicholas Okoh, identifies two major challenges to the rule of the plain sense of Scripture and the classic formularies in Anglicanism. (The Way, the Truth, and the Life was written as a handbook to serve as a theological introduction and definition for GAFCON.) These two challenges are Anglo-Catholicism and liberalism.

If GAFCON and the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans were launched in response to the challenges of Anglo-Catholicism and liberalism to the authority of Scripture and the classic formularies, one is prompted to ask why GAFCON and the FCA have not been bolder in confronting them in the Anglican Church in North America. If Anglican Church in North America was intended to restore the authority of Scripture and the classic formularies to North American Anglicanism and to provide an authentic Anglican alternative to the Episcopal Church, it has been a abysmal failure. While some may argue that the Anglican Church in North America is planting new churches and growing while the Episcopal Church is not, its church planting efforts and growth deserve—no, require closer scrutiny. What kind of churches is the ACNA planting? At what population segments are these churches targeted? What gospel are they proclaiming? What kind of growth are they experiencing—transfer growth, conversion growth? One is also prompted to ask whether the supporters of the Anglican Church in North America outside of the United States and Canada are confusing social conservatism with Anglican orthodoxy.

There is mounting evidence that the Anglican Church in North America is moving in a more Anglo-Catholic direction and away from the rule of the plain sense of Scripture and the classic formularies. This evidence is found in its governing documents, its Ordinal, and the actions and statements of its leaders, and, I suspect, will in time be found in its Catechism and its Prayer Book. There is also a movement within the Anglican Church in North America to move not only that ecclesiastical body in a more Anglo-Catholic direction but also GAFCON, the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, and the Global South Anglican Churches. The Episcopal Church has tried to export its brand of liberalism to the Global South. This particular movement seeks to export its brand of Anglo-Catholicism. Both represent threats to the authority of Scripture and the classic formularies in global Anglicanism.

There is a clear need for the establishment of a Reformed Evangelical Anglican Church in North America, a church that upholds the Protestant, Reformed, and evangelical character of the Anglican Church as well as fully supports the authority of Scripture and the classic formularies against the challenges of Anglo-Catholicism and liberalism, a church that is wholeheartedly committed to proclaiming the gospel to all segments of the population in the United States and Canada and to planting gospel-centered churches throughout North America, a church whose primary focus is reaching and evangelizing the lost, discipling them, and enfolding them into new churches, not being bigger than the Episcopal Church. The time has come to launch REACH North America.

Seven (Plus One) Deadly Sins of a Church Website



Allow me to begin with a couple of negative comments.

Most church leaders don’t grasp the value of a website to get guests to their churches to hear the gospel.

Most church websites are terrible.

I just finished looking at over 100 websites from a variety of churches of a variety of sizes. I am not an expert in either design or technology, so my primary purpose was to look at the sites from the perspective of a person considering visiting the church. Forgive my judgmental words, but I was not impressed with most of the sites.

I do not have confirmation of these statistics, so I am hesitant to put them in writing. Nevertheless, the unconfirmed numbers indicate that between 75% and 90% of potential guests to your church will first look at the church’s website before making a final decision to attend.

Did you get that? As many as nine out of ten prospective guests will get their first impression of your church based on what they see when they go to the church website. That’s huge! It may be the most overlooked outreach tool we have. The church that minimizes the value of its website is the church that is missing many opportunities to reach people.

Certainly the website should have features for the members, but it’s the guests who are often overlooked. Allow me to share the greatest omissions on the websites; what I humorously call the seven deadly sins. Read more
I have not only found many Anglican and Episcopal church websites to be abysmal but also diocesan, sub-jurisdictional, and provincial websites. Some are designed not to provide information to those visiting the website but withhold it; others, to sell it. 

CALL TO PRAYER: The thorn room leads to the throne room


In 1862 during the Civil War, Union Army Captain Robert Ellicombe was with his men near Harrison's Landing in Virginia. The Confederate Army was on the other side of the narrow strip of land.

During the night, Captain Ellicombe heard the moans of a soldier who lay mortally wounded on the field. The captain risked his life to bring the stricken man back for medical attention.

Crawling on his stomach through the sporadic gunfire, Ellicombe pulled the soldier toward his encampment. By the time he reached his lines, the man, a Confederate, was dead.

The captain lit a lantern. He caught his breath and went numb with shock. In the dim light, he saw that the soldier was his son. The boy had been studying music in the South when the war broke out. Without telling his father, he enlisted in the Confederate Army.

The following morning, heartbroken, the father asked permission of his superiors to give his son a full military burial despite his enemy status. He asked if he could have a group of Army band members play a funeral dirge for the son at the funeral. That request was turned down since the soldier was a Confederate.

Out of respect for the father, they did allow him one musician. The captain chose a bugler. He asked the bugler to play a series of musical notes he had found on a piece of paper in the pocket of his dead son's uniform.

This music was the haunting melody we now know as "Taps" that is used at all military funerals. Its words are little known: "Day is done, gone the sun, from the lakes, from the hills, from the sky. All is well, safely rest. God is nigh."

Some of the hard questions we often ask are these:

-- "What happens when God does not answer my prayers?"

-- "What good can come from bad in my life?"

-- "Should I pray for God to intervene and remove difficult things from my life?"

-- "Is God truly nigh?" Read more

The Best Leaders Expect the Best in People


Great leaders expect the best in people and bad leaders expect the worst. Rinse and repeat. Over the years I’ve worked with a number of leaders who think leadership means constant criticism, ordering people around, snarky comments, and humiliation. Those leaders (although I don’t think they’re real leaders at all) actually expect the worst in people, and that’s why they treat their teams so badly. These leaders respond to everything as if you’re trying to cheat them. They use exclamation marks in all their communication. They’re always upset about something. But guess what? You get back what you put out and your team will start responding in the same way. You’re actually creating a culture of distrust and deception. Read more

Flipping the 40-Minute Sermon



A new trend in academia encourages educators to focus less on lecture and more on active learning within the classroom environment.

"The danger with lucid lectures…is that they create the illusion of teaching for teachers, and the illusion of learning for learners," explained Eric Mazur, a professor and pioneer for this educational model, in Harvard Magazine. "Sitting passively and taking notes is just not a way of learning. Yet lectures are 99 percent of how we teach!"

As I discussed Mazur's approach with my family of public educators, my thoughts went from public school classrooms to the church. Mazur advocates directed conversation in the classroom between students, debate, dialogue, and active listening, and he sees higher levels of success and engagement as a result. Could so-called reverse lectures and flip teaching change the way we approach the traditional Sunday church service? Read more

Study: World War II Veterans With Bad Experiences Attended Church More


A soon-to-be published study on World War II veterans found that those who had bad experiences of combat were more likely to pray and then attend church after the conflict.

Scheduled to appear online next week in the Journal of Health and Religion, the study was conducted by brothers Craig Wansink, professor of religious studies at Virginia Wesleyan College, and Brian Wansink, professor of consumer behavior at Cornell University.

Titled "Are There Atheists in Foxholes? Combat Intensity and Religious Behavior," the study found that as combat became more frightening, the number of soldiers who reported praying during those times increased from 42 percent to 72 percent. Read more

Ministering to Military Families


Plenty of guides to military ministry advise churches to do things like pray for the troops from the pulpit on Sunday, post pictures of deployed service members on a bulletin board, and extend special counseling to soldiers and their spouses. While these are good ideas, reaching out to military families doesn't require tacking on extra Armed Forces-specific ministry tasks, but focusing on the essential roles of the church: to serve as a spiritual home and gospel-centered community.

Military families move, on average, every two to three years. Our country's 700,000 military wives often live far from their friends and relatives, plus they spend days, weeks, and months away from their husbands, who get sent off for training or deployments. This lifestyle aches with the strain of distance and loneliness. For these families—ones like mine—the church offers a resting place for the sojourner, comfort for the weary, and a home for those seeking belonging. The church serves military families by simply being the church.

Maybe you already know of military families in your community. Or, maybe this Memorial Day you notice a yellow ribbon pinned to someone's shirt or a service flag hung in the window of a house on your street. Here are five relatively straightforward and fundamentally Christian disciplines the church has to offer them....Read more

Ed Stetzer: We still cry out to God when tragedy strikes



Much has been written about the secularization of America, and in some ways that is the case. Pew Research found that one in five adults in our nation have no religious affiliation, a group identified as the "Nones."

Often times, research like this and other anecdotes about the waning influence of Christianity on the public square are presented as proof that America is no longer a religious nation. This supposedly demonstrates that we have left our religious traditions in history's dustbin. Then, a tragedy strikes. Read more

The Church and Money


Five Ways to Survive Summer with a Balanced Church Budget

Churches have historically dreaded summer due to one thing: giving. That's because activities and costs peak with summer missions trips, camps, and Vacation Bible School just as regular weekly contributions wane. The challenge for every church leader is to survive slow summer giving with a balanced budget.

The good news: It's possible. The bad news: It will require more attention than you've likely given it in the past. If you want different results, you must be willing to shift your thinking, planning, and strategy. Read more

Live to Give

Where should we direct our giving? Surrounded by so many needs and opportunities it’s difficult to know where to start. Is there any priority or principle by which to choose whom to give to?

Giving is the Christian way of living. It involves more than money for we give ourselves to the Lord and to each other as we use the gifts that God has given to us to serve one another. We give our time, energy, interest, concern, prayers and hospitality – anything we have that could be used for the benefit of others. However, it does include giving money and that is what I am writing about. Read more