Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Reformation Distinctives Addressed by Scholars

While Pope Francis visited the United States for the first time, leading evangelical scholars defended the "Five Solas," central themes of the Reformation, at the 2015 Theology Conference at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

With the approaching 500th anniversary in 2017 of Martin Luther's nailing of the 95 Theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg, the signature moment of the Protestant Reformation, speakers at the conference emphasized the distinctiveness of the Reformed tradition from the Roman Catholic tradition.

"[A] Reformation understanding of grace sees God's presence to people as mediated through the Word of God -- especially the Word of God preached," said Carl Trueman, professor of historical theology and church history at Westminster Theological Seminary in Glenside, Pa., during the Sept. 24-25 conference. "It's the Word of God -- not the sacraments, as in Medieval Catholicism -- which was the primary means of God dealing graciously with His people." Read more

Not All Doctrines Are at the Same Level: How to Make Some Distinctions and Determine a Doctrine's Importance

Here are three models I have found helpful over the years. Read more

Popular Popes and Priestly Pretenders - UPDATED

Anyone paying attention to the news last week could not have missed Pope Francis’s historic visit to the United States. Perhaps the most alarming aspect of his visit was the way in which some evangelical leaders enthusiastically embraced him. Today’s article addresses one of the many reasons why evangelicals should neither endorse nor applaud the office of the papacy. Read more

Also see
Why Don't Protestants Have a Pope?
Kevin DeYoung: Is the Reformation Over
From Antichrist to Brother in Christ: How Protestant Pastors View the Pope
Pope Pious: What Evangelicals Like About Francis
New: Pope Francis Improves Protestant Pastors’ Views of Catholic Church

Is the Enemy of My Enemy My Friend?

We are not living in a season of peace. Thinking Christians must surely be aware that a great moral and spiritual conflict is taking shape all around us, with multiple fronts of battle and issues of great importance at stake. The prophet Jeremiah repeatedly warned of those who would falsely declare peace when there is no peace. The Bible defines the Christian life in terms of spiritual battle, and believers in this generation face the fact that the very existence of truth is at stake in our current struggle.

The condition of warfare brings a unique set of moral challenges to the table, and the great moral and cultural battles of our times are no different. Even ancient thinkers knew this, and many of their maxims of warfare are still commonly cited. Among the most popular of these is a maxim that was known by many of the ancients—“the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Read more

Wednesday Roundup: Seven Articles

The Most Common Reason Pastors Give When They Leave a Church

The most common reason pastors leave a church is: from their perspective they have taken the church as far as they can. But what does that mean? What are the specific areas where a pastor sees such limitations? I have asked that question on numbers of occasions. Here are the most common responses.... Read more

Why Knowing Your Flock Is Critical to Meaningful Preaching

The ministry of preaching cannot be divorced from the ministry of soul care; in fact, preaching is an extension of soul care. There are a host of reasons why it’s important for pastors who want to preach meaningfully to know their flocks as well as they can, but here are three of the most important.... Read more

The Fatal Mistake of Senior Pastors Who Don’t Like Preaching About Hell

I’m troubled by the lack of talk about, writing about, preaching about, and deeply held conviction regarding the reality of hell by pastors today. Why is this happening? Read more

Community Matters: Resourcing Transformational Small Groups

What does your small group study? How do you decide? Read more

Are Churches Fixing Problems No One Cares About?

People who don’t attend church aren’t as angry as we think. They’re apathetic. Anger would be easier to deal with. Read more

Churches torched by extremists in Tanzania

Three evangelical churches have been burned down in an area of northwest Tanzania where Islamist extremists have been making threats against Christian communities. Read more

Three arrested after Nepal church bombings

Three people have been arrested in connection with the recent bombing of two churches in Nepal’s easternmost Jhapa district. Read more

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

When 200 Feels Huge: 5 Reasons Churches of 200 Are Considered Small

If you're pastoring a church of 50 or fewer, a church of 200 might seem massive. But we have more in common than you'd think.

I’ve pastored three small churches in 30 years of pastoral ministry.

Five years at a tiny chapel in the redwoods that grew from a dozen to 50.

Less than two years at a church of around 120.

Twenty-three years and counting at a church that grew from less than 35 to 200 – with short seasons of almost 400, under 100, then a hard road back to 200. Read more
Also see
You May Be a Small Church Pastor and Not Even Know It

Evangelizing a Happy Small Town

A university survey released in July suggested that Australians who live in small regional towns of under 1000 are the happiest people in the country. Living in a rural village of 950 or so in NSW, I can say that there are definitely some happy people here! However, just as in the big cities, people in small towns need to hear and respond to the good news of Jesus.

I’ve been the Anglican minister here for six years, so here are some tips for any Christian living in a small community, and then some thoughts for those who are pastoring a church. Read more

Water on Mars: What it says about God's great universe

But say we did find life on Mars – or, which is more likely, on another planet. What would it mean for Christian theology? Did Jesus die for all humans, or for all sentient beings everywhere? Was he incarnate only on earth, or has he been incarnated many times? Read more

Tuesday Roundup: Eight Articles and Two Podcasts

One Suggestion to Take Stress from the Hiring Process

If you get stressed about hiring the right person I have a suggestion which may help. I have done this with great success in hiring several staff positions for our team. Read more

Ten Signs You’re Leading in Maintenance Mode – Rainer on Leadership #162 [Podcast]

On today’s episode, we discuss a recent post on signs that you are leading or pastoring in maintenance mode. In our next episode we will discuss ways to overcome this. Read more
Also see
Ten Signs a Pastor Is Becoming a Chaplain
Moving Out of Maintenance Mode – Rainer on Leadership #163 [Podcast]

On Friday’s podcast episode, we discussed signs that you are leading or pastoring in maintenance mode. Today, we give seven ways to overcome and to break out of maintenance mode. Finally, don’t miss the discussion about the 180 Test. Read more

Four Reasons to Have a "Stop Doing" List

We don’t drift toward greater efficiency and effectiveness. An organization’s natural drift is toward complexity and a fruitless fury of activity. It takes discipline and focus to continually move to greater effectiveness. For this reason, Jim Collins has encouraged leaders to develop a “stop doing” list. Read more

Study Bibles for Our Hearts, Homes, and Churches

Study Bibles are hardly new inventions. The medieval Glossa Ordinaria on the Latin Vulgate, Martin Luther’s prefaces and marginal notes in his German translation, and the Geneva Bible testify that for centuries, people have sought to combine the text of Scripture with words of explanation or other helps for the reader. Today, many people read study Bibles at home and carry them to church. Is this good or bad? It depends on how we use them. Read more

What Pastors Wish Their Worship Leaders Knew

For two of the seminars I was assigned the topic of “What Pastors/Worship Leaders Wish Their Worship Leader/Pastor Knew.” It was a little challenging because pastors and musicians vary widely in terms of their theology and practice. But here’s my attempt to pinpoint “What Pastors Wish Their Worship Leaders Knew.” Read more

Germany: Calls for Christian and Muslim refugees to be housed separately

Violent clashes between Christian and Muslim refugees in Germany has led to calls for them to be housed separately. Read more

Pakistani army warns Christians of possible ISIS attacks

Islamic State could soon be launching a wave of attacks on Christians in Pakistan, the country's military has warned. Read more

Christian missionaries told to leave Nepal

Extremist groups in Nepal have warned Christian missionaries to leave the country, Fides reports. Read more

Monday, September 28, 2015

Why Don't Protestants Have a Pope?

This is one of my favorite URC stories.

Back in our old building–located on a busy street and right across from MSU–people would park in our parking lot without permission. While we tried to be gracious and as slow-moving as possible, sometimes we would have to tow vehicles parked on our property. On one occasion, a young man came into our building looking for his car. Our building manager kindly and patiently informed him that as per the signs in the parking lot, his car had been towed. The man was not happy. Our building manager continued to calmly explain the situation, but this man was having none of it. Even though he saw the sign which clearly stated his car would be towed, he just couldn’t believe a church would do this. Finally, he stomped out of our building and told our building manager exactly what was on his mind: “You guys aren’t very good Catholics!”

By definition Protestants do not make very good Catholics. (Or to be more precise, we are not good Roman Catholics, though I’d like to think a robust Protestant is a small-c catholic in the best sense of the word.) However much Protestants and Catholics can work together on social issues, and however much we may share an early creedal tradition, there are still many significant issues which divide us. One of the most important of those issues is how we understand the government that Christ gave to his church. In his massive four-volume Reformed Dogmatics, Herman Bavinck (1854-1921) gives six reasons Protestants reject the primacy of the Pope and the Catholic understanding of apostolic succession. Read more

Also see
Kevin DeYoung: Is the Reformation Over?

Wisdom in Contextualization: How Far Is Too Far?

How does the word "contextualization" make you feel? Free or fearful?

The $64-million dollar question about innovation and change is this: How far is too far? I can't think of any question in the church much more controversial than this one. We've been asking it for two thousand years and rarely ever seem to agree.

Most of our discussions on these issues center around contextualization. We should change our methodology to better proclaim the unchanging message to a consistently changing world. But not all change is good, even when it is promoted under the guise of contextualization.

I am all for innovation. But it should be used as means to better contextualize the gospel, not simply for its own sake. We need to evaluate where that line is, so that we do not cross it and lose the very reason God has placed us here. Read more

Photo credit: Christianity Today

Exponential West will be live via a FREE Webcast!

Can’t make it to Exponential West 2015? Or, are you coming but can’t bring your whole team (or spouse)? We’re offering the next best thing to joining 2,000 church planting leaders in Los Angeles, California. You can still take part by hosting or watching a FREE Live Webcast. Learn more

Friends, We Are Without Excuse

All over Scripture we are called to serve the physical needs we encounter, yet many of us spend our days focused on our own needs and wants. How is your church addressing this global crisis? How is your family serving those in need in your community? Have you prayed for those who don’t know where to go for their next meal? Read more

Phote credit:

Monday Roundup: Eleven Articles

7 Things There Will Never Be Enough Time For

...if you really want to edge up your leadership and begin accomplishing something significant, start making time for these 7 things. Read more

Teams That Thrive and the Obstacles That Hinder Them

Every church has some form of senior leadership at its helm. If it’s a group rather than an individual, who is in that group, and why? What exactly are they trying to do, and how could they become more effective at it? Read more

5 Threats to A Healthy Leadership Team

Here are five threats and how to handle them in order to protect your team and improve its health. Read more

Four Indications That You Have an Untrustworthy Team Member

An untrustworthy team member can spoil and corrupt the collective character of a team. One team member can adversely impact the whole, can adversely impact the culture of the team you lead. Here are four indicators of an untrustworthy team member.... Read more

Eight Reasons Many Pastors Lack Confidence

As we have spoken with hundreds, if not thousands, of pastors and church staff, we have found specific reasons why many of these leaders are lacking in confidence, and are even fearful to carry out their responsibilities. Here are eight of the most common reasons. Read more

7 Ways Senior Pastors Can Keep Teenagers Listening To Their Sermons

Engaging the short attention span of teenagers (and even adults) is not easy. But if you are a Senior Pastor, and there are teenagers in the room, you better engage them or you will lose them. I’m not saying that I have mastered this, but here are some tips that I have found helpful. Read more

3 Steps for Meditating on Scripture in Small Groups

In our small groups, we can encourage one another in a number of spiritual rhythms—Bible study, confession, prayer, and so on. But how might our small groups actually learn together how to meditate on God’s Word? Read more

Warning to Synod voters: some ‘evangelicals’ are not as they seem

...there is an urgent need for electors to find out the precise views of those they are intending to vote for. Read more

Gay clergy who defied bishops by marrying their male partners run for Synod

Two gay clergy who both married their male partners in defiance of the Archbishop of Canterbury are standing for election to the Church of England’s ruling body. Read more

Study: Asians expected to become largest US immigrant group

In a major shift in immigration patterns over the next 50 years, Asians will have surged past Hispanics to become the largest group of immigrants heading to the United States, according to estimates in a new immigration study. Read more

Germany in a state of SIEGE

Merkel was cheered when she opened the floodgates to migrants. Now, with gangs of men roaming the streets and young German women being told to cover up, the mood's changing. Read more

Friday, September 25, 2015

Goodbye PEAR-USA

Anglican Church of Rwanda to Transfer US Church Networks to ACNA

By Robin G. Jordan

While the Anglican Church in America’s publicist is spinning this development as “a bold move for Anglican unity,” I personally would like to know the backstory behind the decision of the Anglican Church of Rwanda’s provincial synod to disencumber itself of PEAR-USA. PEAR-USA will no longer operate as an extraterritorial missionary district of the Anglican Church of Rwanda. It will be reorganized as Rwanda Ministry Partners, a ministry association within the Anglican Church in North America. I became well-acquainted with the Byzantine nature of Rwandan ecclesiastical politics several years ago while investigating the backstory to what was then the new canons of the Anglican Church of Rwanda.

When PEAR-USA was first organized, it was clear from its new charter that it was moving in the direction of eventual integration into the Anglican Church in North America. The organizational structure and form of governance that the new charter created for PEAR-USA was modeled upon that of the Anglican Church in North America.

PEAR-USA affirmed the Episcopal Church’s 1804 revision of the Thirty-Nine Articles and the Jerusalem Declaration while acceding to the fundamental declarations of the Anglican Church in North America. The Episcopal Church’s 1804 revision of the Thirty-Nine Articles is not recognized with the 1662 Book of Common Prayer as the longstanding doctrinal standard of Historic Anglicanism and it is not the Thirty-Nine Articles to which the Jerusalem Declaration refers. As I have written elsewhere, the ACNA fundamental declarations equivocate in their acceptance of the authority of the Thirty-Nine Articles. The only logical conclusion was that PEAR-USA’s affirmation of the Thirty-Nine Articles was purely rhetorical and had nothing to with what it believed.

While the Anglican Church of Rwanda’s House of Bishops elected bishops for PEAR-USA, only the names of candidates nominated by PEAR-USA council of bishops and approved by the Anglican Church in North America’s College of Bishops could be presented to the Rwandan bishops.

The clergy and congregations in the PEAR-USA church networks were given only a consultative role in the decision-making process and then under extraordinary circumstances.

North American Anglicans who have harbored the thought that PEAR-USA might become an enclave for Anglicans who are Biblical and Protestant in their stance and evangelical and reformed in their theology can write off that idea. Absorption into the Anglican Church in North America means that former PEAR-USA clergy and congregations will be using the ACNA prayer book presently in preparation and To Be a Christian: An Anglican Catechism. Neither of these two ACNA formularies (not to be confused with the Anglican formularies) fit the description of Biblical, Protestant, evangelical, and reformed. They display the strong influence of unreformed Catholic teaching and practices.

The future of authentic Historic Anglicanism in North America looks even grimmer. 

Weekend Roundup: Ten Articles and a Podcast

A Challenge of the Urban Church: Reaching Rich and Poor in the Same Church

Churches must serve their communities, and the makeup of many communities is rapidly changing. Read more

Let's De-Mythologize Church Culture

It's tempting to believe what may say about the Christian church, but discernment is important. Read more

12 Values to Help You Develop More Leaders

recently met with the Grace Hills staff to remind us all of some of the key values of a church that allows volunteers to emerge as leaders and develops great teams. These may seem a little random, but they actually flow together. Read more

Ten Signs You’re Leading in Maintenance Mode – Rainer on Leadership #162 [Podcast]

On today’s episode, we discuss a recent post on signs that you are leading or pastoring in maintenance mode. In our next episode we will discuss ways to overcome this. Read more

You May Be a Small Church Pastor and Not Even Know It

Ninety percent of pastors are small church pastors. We need to acknowledge that if we ever hope to do it well. (Take this short quiz to know for sure.) Read more

30 Things People Want From Church Services

Based upon my conversations with hundreds of fellow Sunday church attenders, the following are 30 Things People Want From Their Church Services. See if you don’t agree. Read more
This list is all about what people want to take away. It includes nothing about what they want to give.
Why We Need the New Battle for the Bible

When it comes to deciding how to follow Jesus Christ in our time, the Bible often takes a backseat even for evangelicals, who have long held a high view of Scripture. Read more

The Motive Behind Your Great Commission Mission

If the members of your congregation don’t share the Good News, who will? Read more

9Marks Journal: Multiethnic Churches - Summer/Fall 2015

The latest issue of 9Marks Journal is online. Read or download

Why the Qur'an might not be what you thought, and why it matters

On the face of it, it's a little unlikely. But not long ago, what may be the oldest copy of part of the Qur'an was discovered in the Cadbury Library at Birmingham University. Read more

The Difference Between Being Offended and Being Persecuted

There are two key mistakes American Christians tend to make when thinking about the intersection of religion and culture. The first is to have an attitude of a “majority” culture, a mindset that incorrectly conflates a civic morality with Christianity and seeks to build coalitions to “turn America back” to Christ. But there is another mistake too, and that is to have a fearful, hand-wringing siege mentality. Read more

Thursday, September 24, 2015

3 Strands of Your Church's History--and Why They Matter

Glastonbury Abbey
Does your church have a past?

Of course it does. Your church had a beginning, and the movement that birthed your church has a history also.

But does your church’s past have any meaning or significance in the life of your congregation?

The answer to that question does not come as easily. Read more

Army troop reduction: Churches can aid veterans

Churches have the potential to assist U.S. Army veterans who may find themselves retired prematurely within two years.

A reduction in force was announced by Brig. Gen. Randy George, the Army's director of force management, at the Pentagon in a July 9 briefing. The downsizing may affect 40,000 troops by the end of 2017, the Army News Service reported.

"These are incredibly difficult choices," George said. "The Army followed a long and deliberate process … to determine the best construct for the Army, based on the threats we face and the current fiscal environment we must operate in." George said the Army hopes to draw down the active force gradually to "minimize the turbulence we have with soldiers and their families."

Minimizing that turbulence is where churches can step in, said Doug Carver, a retired major general who served as the Army Chief of Chaplains and now is executive director of chaplaincy for the North American Mission Board (NAMB). Churches can be an integral part of re-entry into civilian life, he said.

"Military members are our neighbors," Carver said. "Over 85 percent of our military members, veterans and their families live in our communities. Many of them are unchurched and remain unreached by local churches. Arguably, the military community represents one of the nation's largest unreached people groups."

NAMB's chaplaincy team has resources available at the NAMB website to assist churches in reaching out to veterans, honoring them and serving them. Read more

Photo Credit: US Army file photo

Organic Food, Essential Oils, and the Gospel of Grace

One of the latest buzz words in Christian circles, and everywhere else, is “organic.” As a society, we are spending increasing amounts of money buying organic produce, cage-free eggs, and grass-fed beef. Anything with the label “natural” is quickly becoming the preferred method, even when we’re not totally sure what “all-natural” really entails. For some, essential oils are replacing traditional medicine, with promises to heal across the spectrum, from a simple cold to chronic illness.

While eating organic foods and using non-traditional medicine certainly can be valuable, the danger comes when we develop a sense of superiority to go along with it. In our attempt to create a more organic, natural lifestyle, it can be easy to begin looking down our noses at someone who isn’t on our bandwagon. When promoting our own choices for food and medicine is becoming the latest form of evangelism, we are showing where our hope really lies — and that we are close to forgetting the gospel we say we hold dear.

Let me be clear that I am not against healthy eating. I wholeheartedly agree that what we eat has a significant affect on us, and we are to be wise stewards of our bodies. Bodily training, which includes responsible eating, is of some value (1 Timothy 4:8). But my growing concern in our Christian communities is that we be careful not to become more passionate about convincing others to feed their families the same way we do, rather than pointing them to Christ. Read more

What Really Makes a Good Idea Work?

Innovative ideas that create significant change to an industry are few and far between. It’s no wonder many people go to great lengths to get insider information about the ideas and strategies that surround the latest “success stories.” Why not? There’s a lot we can learn from companies and organizations that share the same market space with our own endeavors.

Unfortunately, some are trying way too hard to steal ideas under the guise of learning. This is faulty thinking when it comes to idea-making. Here’s why (apart from legal ramifications).... Read more

Thursday Roundup: Eleven Articles

7 Lessons Learned as the Son of a Church Planter

Most church planters who have kids ask the question at some point, is church planting really the best for my kids? I can’t speak for everyone, but in my experience, the answer is yes. Here’s why it matters: because answering that question with a yes could mean that you plant the church you’re thinking about. Even more, it could be the best thing for your children. Read more

Four Leadership Personalities: What Color Are You?

With our leadership team, we use the Insights Discovery tool to help each other understand our unique personalities. The tool is validated and has proven helpful to our team in serving and communicating with one another. Our Auxano consulting team often uses the tool when consulting with churches. Read more

Is This Missing from Your Sermon Prep?

It is Sunday morning, nearly 168 hours from the beginning of last week’s sermon. It is about time for you the preacher to take that walk again. You are going to walk alone to the sacred desk to preach. Are you ready? Read more

How to Read the Bible and Do Theology Well

It’s been said that the Bible is like a body of water in which a child may wade and an elephant may swim. The youngest Christian can read the Bible with profit, for the Bible’s basic message is simple. But we can never exhaust its depth. Read more

Study Bibles as Theological Tool Kits

Study Bibles can be a gift from God to help us understand His Word rightly and to plumb its depths. They can give us guidance in understanding history, practicing exegesis, and making theological application. I will explore these one at a time, quoting from the ESV Study Bible to illustrate—not because it’s the only good study Bible, but because it’s the one I know best. Read more

Re-ignite Bible Reading That’s Become Boring are some ideas to help you re-ignite your Bible reading. If you have any strategies that have helped you, leave them in the comments box to help others too.... Read more

How I started praying the Bible

In that moment I suddenly realized, "The entire Bible is a prayer book. We can pray not only the prayers of Paul in Ephesians, we can pray everything in the Book of Ephesians." Read more

Eid al-Adha: a surprising bridge between Islam and the gospel

Millions of Muslims around the world are expected to celebrate Eid al-Adha from sunset this evening—and the festival provides a great opportunity for you to talk to friends and neighbours about the gospel. In this extract from “Engaging with Muslims”, John Klaassen explains what the celebration is about and how Christians can use it as a bridge to share their own faith.... Read more

Engage24: a day of Gospel conversations

According to research by the Barna Group, only 52 percent of evangelicals shared their faith with someone in the past year. In a recent LifeWay Research study, 48 percent said that spiritual matters do not tend to come up in their everyday conversations. It's not a lack of conviction. Overwhelmingly, Christians believe they should be sharing their faith. Read more

England: 67% know at least one 'active Christian'

An exhaustive study shows that 2 in 5 believe Jesus is a myth. Evangelical Alliance, Church of England and Hope encourage churches to “understand the landscape we are in.” Read more

Hajj stampede leaves hundreds dead and injured

At least 717 Muslim worshippers have died in a stampede at the annual Hajj pilgrimage, according to Saudi Arabian authorities. The tragedy has also left up to 805 pilgrims injured. Read more

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Is the Reformation Over?

Is the Reformation over? There have been several observations rendered on this subject by those I would call “erstwhile evangelicals.” One of them wrote, “Luther was right in the sixteenth century, but the question of justification is not an issue now.” A second self-confessed evangelical made a comment in a press conference I attended that “the sixteenth-century Reformation debate over justification by faith alone was a tempest in a teapot.” Still another noted European theologian has argued in print that the doctrine of justification by faith alone is no longer a significant issue in the church. We are faced with a host of people who are defined as Protestants but who have evidently forgotten altogether what it is they are protesting. Read more

The Doctrines of Grace: By His Grace and for His Glory

“Those who have received salvation are to attribute it to sovereign grace alone, and to give all the praise to Him, who makes them to differ from others.” —Jonathan Edwards

The doctrines of grace are so called because these five major headings of theology, often identified as the five points of biblical Calvinism, contain the purest expression of the saving grace of God. Each of these five doctrines—radical depravity, sovereign election, definite atonement, irresistible call, and preserving grace—supremely display the sovereign grace of God. These five headings stand together as one comprehensive statement of the saving purposes of God. For this reason, there is really only one point to the doctrines of grace, namely, that God saves sinners by His grace and for His glory. These two realities—God’s grace and glory—are inseparably bound together. Whatever most magnifies God’s grace most magnifies His glory. And that which most exalts God’s grace is the truth expressed in the doctrines of grace. Read more
In its section on sanctification To Be a Christian: An Anglican Catechism infers that the lost sinner is only spiritually sick in his sin. 

Free eBook: Are We Together?

Pope Francis is the first Pope to visit the United States since 2008. His visit has provoked many Christians to ask sincere questions concerning Roman Catholicism. In light of this, Reformation Trust is making the ebook editions of R.C. Sproul’s Are We Together? free until the end of September. We encourage you to download this ebook and share it with your family, friends, and church community. Learn more

Wednesday Roundup: Eight Articles

7 Characteristics of the Bottleneck Leader

In an organization, the bottleneck is many times the leader. When this happens, progress stalls, growth is limited and people are frustrated. Here are 7 characteristics of the bottleneck leader.... Read more

Eight Traits of Outstanding Church Staff Members

The most godly and influential staff members I have known share these eight traits. Read more

The Surrendered Pastor and Church

There continues to be a deep need for a spiritual revival in our churches today. I am often asked how we experience such a revival. My answer continues to be that until we make a decision to deal honestly with God’s questions about full allegiance to Him, there will be little or no prospect of a revival in our hearts, no stirring of the Spirit in our churches, and no awakening in our land. Read more

Five Podcasts That Model Good Storytelling

How listening to great stories helps me communicate the gospel more effectively. Read more

Eight Reasons Pastors Must Stop Saying ‘Men’ When We Mean Everyone

,br/> Church is the only place in our culture where we still use male pronouns when we’re referring to both genders. Read more

Community Matters: The Importance of Transformational Small Groups

We must cultivate a multiplying network of small groups that bind the church together. Read more

Is Discipleship About Growing or Going?

We often use the word discipleship in two different senses. We refer to our personal spiritual growth as discipleship – the process of becoming more like Jesus. But we also use the word to refer to a person or church’s ministry of making disciples. So when we talk about discipleship as a purpose of the church, to which are we referring? Both. Read more

Faith Talks: The Compassionate and Conversational Gospel

In a world that is increasingly polarized religiously, as it was in the first century, it is vital that we find ways to re-engage the gospel in our real-world daily conversations. Read more

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Tuesday Roundup: Eight Articles and a Podcast

Why the Generation Gap is Larger Now More than Ever

Many cultural changes affect generation gaps. For instance, my father’s choice of 1960s rock is quite different than my preference of 1990s rock. And we all know music style can be a contentious issue in the church. Technology, however, is often cited as the main wedge between generations in the U.S. culture. Read more

Your Church Is a Target for Criticism

Criticism isn’t new in the local church, but it has intensified and social media has made it more complex. Anyone can criticize anything with the click of a laptop key. How you handle that criticism makes all the difference. Read more

You Are Wasting Your Weekly Staff Meeting If...

Here are four signs you are wasting your weekly staff meeting.... Read more

When a Pastor Has Exceeded His Expiration Date

Of all the questions church people send my way, this may be the most difficult. Read more

Three Important Ways for Pastors to Build Trust

Here are three ways successful pastors I’ve observed have earned trust of their people.... Read more

5 Questions For Great Communication

...what distinguishes you as a communicator? Read more

The Bible Is Not an Instruction Manual

If the Bible is not essentially an instruction manual for practical application, then, what is it? If it’s not mainly about what we need to do, what is it about? If it’s not about us, who is it about? Read more

Nine Relational Evangelism Ideas That Work – Rainer on Leadership #161 [Podcast]

We hear from churches all over the country about how God is working in their churches and how they are seeing people come to new life in Christ. Read more

Pakistani Mob Sets Christian Family's Home on Fire to Burn Them Alive

A mob of radicals in the capital city of Pakistan torched the home of a Christian family and attempted to burn them alive by locking them inside before setting it on fire, a Christian aid group is reporting. Read more

The Anglican Communion Is Already Divorced

Is the Anglican Communion about to split over different views of sexual ethics?

You might think so after reading headlines about the archbishop of Canterbury’s proposal to “loosen” the structures of the Communion — a way of retaining his relationship to the liberal wing of the Western churches as well as the traditional Anglicans of the Global South.

But to interpret the archbishop’s recent announcement as a split over sexuality is to miss the bigger picture. First, the impending dissolution of Anglicanism as it currently exists institutionally is over much more than sex. Second, the divorce has already taken place, just not formally. Read more

Also see
The wages of spin: death of truth?
Archbishop Justin Welby's proposal for restructing the Anglican Communion would make a formal relationship with the See of Canterbury the sole distinguishing characteristic of Anglican identity. It would jettison the teaching of the Bible and the principles of the Anglican formularies as the doctrinal foundation of Anglicanism, defining Anglican identity. It would establish moral and theological pluralism as normative in the Anglican Communion. It would "fix" the problem of the deep divisions separating Anglicans by no longer defining it as a problem. It would essentially do what the bishops of the 1958 Lambeth Conference did. Instead of calling the Anglican Communion back to the teaching of the Bible and the doctrinal and worship principles of the Anglican formularies, the bishops of the 1958 Lambeth Conference embraced the divisions that existed within the Anglican Communion and expanded the bounds of Anglican comprehensiveness to include them. The 1958 Lambeth Conference was a watershed moment in the history of the Anglican Communion. The bishops of the 1958 Lambeth Conference opened the floodgates to all kinds of changes--good and bad--in the Anglican Communion. We are seeing the consequences of their decisions in the present state of affairs in the Anglican Communion today. Their solution to the problem of  denominational divisions was a latitudinarian or Broad Church solution which is no solution at all

Monday, September 21, 2015

Five Ways Some Senior Adult Churches Became Younger

It seems to be a Catch-22. If your congregation is older, the way to reach younger families is to have younger families in your church. But the reason the congregation is older is because it has few or no younger families.

I have seen this played out on numerous occasions. A young family visits a church. They notice there are only older adults in the worship services. The young family decides not to return as they surmise there are few opportunities for younger adults and their children.

Hear me clearly. I am not suggesting there is anything inherently wrong with a congregation of senior adults. But I have been asked on numerous occasions how these churches can possibly reach younger families. Rather than give you my own subjective opinions, let me share with you five different ways some churches have actually accomplished this feat. Read more

Marks of a Biblical Church Part 2: Biblical Churches in Different Contexts

The characteristics of a "biblical church" must be true in all cultural contexts. Read more

Christian, Meet Confucius

Forget the made-up Internet quotes. The ancient Chinese philosopher has serious wisdom for followers of Christ.

Evangelicals are sometimes suspicious of Eastern philosophy, viewing it as a major worldview competitor to Christianity. Gregg Ten Elshof, professor of philosophy at Biola University, wants to push back against this mentality, at least when it comes to the most prominent Chinese philosopher in history. In Confucius for Christians: What an Ancient Chinese Worldview Can Teach Us about Life in Christ (Eerdmans), Ten Elshof examines how the Confucian tradition can shed new light on Christian theology and moral teachings. Derek Rishmawy, who pastors students and young adults in California, spoke with Ten Elshof about the book. Read more

Monday Roundup: Six Articles

Why 'Just Preach the Gospel' Is Naïve, Unbiblical Advice

Talk is never enough. When the gospel message flows through us, it is affected by who we are and what we do. Read more

3 Objections to the Doctrine of Election

The doctrine of election—that those who freely come to God are those whom God has freely chosen—is easy to understand, and clearly taught in God's Word, but it is not easy to accept. It has given thoughtful believers problems for centuries, and continues to do so today. Here are three of the most common questions the doctrine of election raises.... Read more

7 Popular Myths about Leadership

...I have observed leadership is often not easy to define as a few simple words. In fact, there are many myths when it comes to even what leadership means — certainly how its practiced. I encounter people who don’t have a clue what real leadership is and what it isn’t. Let me share a few myths I’ve observed. Read more

Why It’s Time To Rethink What It Means To Be Called To Ministry

Chances are you’re likely struggling with the same issue almost every church leader is—a lack of truly great leaders for ministry.... The deepest crisis is in staffing. In people who want to be pastors, ministry directors, or serve in other church staff roles may be at an all time low. Read more

Millennials and the Bible

Christian millennials are into the Good Book but face skepticism from peers. Read more

Most people in England are still Christian, says new study

Christianity is far from extinct in Britain and nearly six out of ten people still say they are Christian, according to a new report. Read more

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Gospel-Shaped Worship for Gospel-Shaped Churches

Practical Tips from a Longtime Church Pioneer

By Robin G. Jordan

If anyone has any doubts about the Anglo-Catholic leanings of the Anglican Church in North America’ Diocese of the South, I urge them to take a look at the diocesan website’s altar guild page, “Altar Guild Online.” On that page may be found the Diocesan Altar Guild Manual approved by the diocese’s ordinary, Archbishop Foley Beach, who since its adoption has become the Archbishop of the province.

The manual contains such instructions as “The Missal (Service Book) and Missal Stand should also be placed on the Altar Table.” It depicts as the standard vestments of the deacon, the priest and the bishop the vestments beloved by Anglo-Catholics. It gives as the colors of the feast days and seasons of the liturgical year those of the Roman Use. It makes no mention of the Anglican Use. It shows as the typical floor plan of a church building that of the Medieval Gothic cathedral also beloved by Anglo-Catholics and utterly ill-suited for the worship of a modern-day Anglican congregation.

While it may be argued that those who compiled the Diocesan Altar Guide Manual did not know any better, this argument cannot be used to explain away Archbishop Beach’s approval of the manual. He attended the School of Theology of the University of the South.

The manual was written for Episcopal parishes that existed in the 1950s when Anglo-Catholicism was still a major influence in the Episcopal Church. The illustrations and photos appeared to have been culled from the same period.

We are living in the twenty-first century. We have entered the second decade of millennium. The world is different from what it was in the 1950s, in the decade that followed World War II.

We live in a time that calls for a far more functional and intimate worship space than that of the Medieval Gothic cathedral with its choir and rood screen dividing the building into two worship spaces—the nave for the laity and the chancel for the clergy.

Those who gather around the Word of God on Sunday morning are not laity and clergy. They all are the people of God—the family of Christ—his brothers and sisters by adoption. Only a single room is needed to accommodate God’s royal priesthood, his holy nation.

Before the nineteenth century Cambridge Camden movement and its love affair with the Medieval Gothic cathedral the auditory church was the dominant form of church building constructed after the English Reformation. The auditory church was particularly suited to Prayer Book worship. It consisted of a single room and was fairly simple. The communion table and the pulpit were both visible to the congregation.

The auditory church was designed so that all could see and hear what was happening. Chancels were eliminated. Screens were viewed as unnecessary barriers. The seating was arranged on two or three sides of the communion table and pulpit. The pulpit was usually elevated and the communion table was often placed in front of the pulpit.

Galleries were used to increase the capacity of the building without increasing the distance between the minister and the congregation. The quire—local musicians and singers—occupied one of the galleries. A variety of instruments were played.

The communion table was covered with a “carpet”—large Jacobean type frontal that was made of the “best materials,” which fell to the ground on all sides, and which was typically crimson in color. The same frontal was used throughout the church year.

While candles were used to illuminate the building, they were not placed on communion table.

An unembroidered white linen runner was spread across the table on Communion Sundays and the minister stood or knelt at the north end of the table during the consecration of the bread and wine, only stepping briefly in front of the table to arrange the vessels containing the elements.

The auditory church gave priority to function over form. What form it took served its function—the preaching of God’s Word and the administration of the gospel sacraments. A return to the functionality of the auditory church is warranted in the twenty-first century.

When the congregation is seated on two or three sides of the communion table and the pulpit, they not only can hear and see what is happening at these liturgical centers, they can also see each other. This creates and strengthens a sense of community.

Close proximity to these liturgical centers also increases the congregation’s participation in the liturgy.

Placing the music ministry team where it is not the focus of attention restores to the team its proper role of leading and supporting the congregational singing.

A substantial number of Anglican congregations will be worshiping in non-traditional settings for the foreseeable future. They will be gathering around God’s Word in living rooms, offices, community centers, fire stations, hotel conference rooms, storefronts, and school cafeterias. The following suggestions were put together with these congregations particularly in mind. They all have been field-tested.

The communion table should be light and portable. It should look like a table and not like a coffin or sarcophagus. It should be 39 inches in height. This is the best height for the congregation to see the liturgical action on the table—the minister’s taking of the bread and wine, his placing of his hands on the vessels, and his breaking of the bread.

Paraments for the communion table should be kept simple. A broad bright-colored runner that hangs down in front of the table and unembroidered white linen runner that hangs down at each side is all that is needed. The broad runner does not have to be centered in the exact middle of the table. It can be off center. Nor does a congregation need a different runner for every feast day and season of the liturgical years.

The Roman Use was never used in pre-Reformation English churches. Like English cathedrals, cathedrals on the Continent at one time had their own use which varied from the cathedral to cathedral. Pius V suppressed these uses in the fifteenth century as a part of the reforms of the Council of Trent and the Counter-Reformation and imposed the ultramontane uniformity of the Roman Use on the Roman Catholic Church. It was the use of the papal chapel.

Anglican congregations wishing to stay true to their heritage should adopt the Anglican Use, which is based upon the use of Salisbury Cathedral. Blue is used during Advent and Lenten Array—burlap or sack cloth—for Lent and Holy Week.

Before English cathedrals adopted their own distinctive uses, it was common practice to use best materials for major festivals and the Easter Season, second best materials for ordinary time, and Lenten Array for Lent and Holy Week. Small congregations with limited resources may opt to follow this practice or use only one runner.

For congregations that meet in non-traditional settings, a small metal folding table works well as a communion table. It can be elevated to the right height, using sections of ABS plastic pipe. A flowing Jacobean frontal that comes down to the floor can be used to conceal the pipe sections.

Nothing should be placed on the table beside the common cup, the vessel containing the wine, and the container or containers of bread, and a cushion for the Prayer Book. Additional cups may be brought to the table after the consecration of the elements.

Tall candles and candlesticks on the communion table are a distraction. They divert the eye upward to the ceiling and away from the liturgical action on the table. If lights are desired on the table, one or two glass ball oil lamps placed at one end of the table suffices. The oil in these lamps may be infused with frankincense oil so that the lamps when lit impart the fragrance of frankincense.

 A simple lectern works well as a pulpit. It should be used for the reading of the lessons as well as the preaching of the sermon. Separate reading stands for the lessons and the sermon are totally unnecessary.

Accommodating traditionalists who wish to kneel for communion is a challenge in non-traditional worship settings. One option is portable kneeling benches on casters that may be locked once the benches are rolled into place. A communion station may be created for these communicants using a pair of the longer benches that will accommodate two or more people.

These benches are expensive and are difficult to store. Consequently a congregation may not want to purchase more than two.

Standing to receive communion is a far older practice than kneeling to receive communion. While Archbishop Cranmer retained the practice of kneeling, the addition of the Declaration on Kneeling to the 1552 Prayer Book was necessitated by the strong association of the practice with the adoration of the sacramental species.

If a congregation desires more color in its worship space, brightly-colored fabric can be stretched over rectangular wooden frames and hung at various points on the walls. Large panels of brightly-colored cloth may be hung from the ceiling. Solid colored wall hangings and ceiling banners may be interspersed with those with a large pattern on the same colored fabric.

Flowers may be placed in cylindrical baskets around the entire room—an acknowledgment that the entire space is sacred—not just the area around the communion table. It is where the people of God are gathered.

If vestments are worn, a good choice for the presiding minister and any assisting ministers is a loose-fitting, wide-sleeved monastic style cassock alb with no cincture. It approximates the “comely surplice with sleeves” of the 1604 canons. The minister wore street clothes under this surplice.

All liturgical ministers who wear vestments should wear the same type of vestment. There should be no distinction between those who are ordained and those who are not.

When St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, Mandeville, was first launched, it had no altar guild. Rather the responsibility for preparing the Lord’s Table for services was assigned to the various families in rotation. The worship committee maintained a roster of participating families and notified each family when it was their turn. The worship committee also instructed the families in what they should do.

This system worked quite well. It was abandoned not because it did not work but because one segment of the congregation objected to the practice on the grounds that it was not “the way things are done in the Episcopal Church.”

This, of course, was not true. There is no reason that a congregation—Anglican or Episcopal—must have an altar guild.

The system that St. Michael’s used in its early days enabled children as well as adults to help make the necessary preparations for the services. It was one way to involve entire families in the life, ministry, and worship of the church.

The services themselves should be kept simple. Those who plan worship gatherings should strive for the “noble simplicity” that is characteristic of Anglican worship at its best. This entails the use of the minimum of the elements of a particular rite or service and the exercise of restraint in the use of ceremony and gesture. The liturgical principle of “less is more” should be applied in the planning of rites and services and their execution.

If Rite II of the 1979 Prayer Book is used for celebrations of the Holy Communion, the Collect for Purity may be omitted and a hymn, metrical version of a canticle, or a medley of simple worship songs sung in place of the Gloria. Singing an entrance hymn and the Gloria is too musically demanding for many small congregations. Omitting the prose Gloria and replacing it with a hymn, metrical version of a canticle, or a medley of simple worship songs is preferable to reciting it. When the Gloria is recited, it loses its power as a song of praise. It often recited in a mechanical, perfunctory manner.

The liturgical ministers should take their places unobtrusively before the Opening Acclamation. Or they may enter in procession to instrumental music before the Opening Acclamation. The instrumental music at the beginning of the service may be used to introduce new tunes to the congregation.

In a small congregation the liturgical ministers play a role in leading and supporting the congregational singing as well as the musical ministry team. Ideally they should practice the hymns, songs, and service music selected for a particular Sunday with the music ministry team. In some congregations they are the music ministry team. CDs, mp3s, and/or a digital organ provide the music accompaniment for the congregational singing. When the liturgical ministers lead and support the singing at a congregation’s worship gatherings, they should always practice the hymns, songs, and service music beforehand.

Rather than a hymn or a canticle to announce the gospel reading, a simple alleluia is recommended, for example, “Celtic Alleluia”; “Halle, Halle, Halle;” “Happy Land Alleluia;” “Honduran Alleluia;” “Heleluyan;” and “Taize Alleluia.” A simple worship song such as “Teach Us to Love Your Word, Lord” may be sung in place of the alleluia during Lent and Holy Week.

A hymn, metrical version of a canticle, or instrumental music is a good choice for gathering and presentation of the people’s offerings. It is also an appropriate time for special music. What music is used at this juncture in the service is best varied from week to week. It is a good point in the service to introduce a new tune in the form of instrumental music or a new hymn or worship song in the form of a solo or a small ensemble.

An easy-to-learn and durable setting of the Sanctus, Memorial Acclamation, and Agnes Dei is Richard Proulx’s Land of Rest Acclamations, which are based on the American folk hymn tune LAND OF REST.

A medley of simple worship songs that have easy-to-remember words refrains, and repetitions is recommended for the communion time enabling the people to sing without their eyes glued to a hymn book, song sheet, or projection screen as they come forward to receive communion. The singing should not be broken off after everyone has received communion but should continue for a song or two. A final song may be selected to end the communion time with a crescendo of praise. It may be a hymn, metrical version of a canticle, or a worship song. This song may serve as the final song of the service or the final song may be sung before the Blessing and the Dismissal. The liturgical ministers may leave with the rest of the congregation after the Dismissal. Or they may exit in procession to instrumental music after the Blessing and the presiding minister or an assistant minister may dismiss the congregation from the back of the room or from its entrance. The instrumental music used at the conclusion of a service may be used to reinforce new tunes in the minds of the members of the congregation.

If a Service of the Word is a congregation’s principal service on Sundays or whenever it gathers to worship, I recommend the use of the format for Morning Prayer or Evening Prayer from the Anglican Church of Canada’s Book of Alternative Services (1985), the format of a Service of the Word from the Church of England’s Common Worship (2000), or one of the Services of the Word and Prayer from the Diocese of Sydney’s Common Prayer: Resources for Gospel-Shaped Gatherings. These formats are flexible and lend themselves to the use of metrical versions of the psalms and canticles and modern worship songs as well as hymns. I also recommend preaching the sermon immediately after the second reading if two readings are used or after the third reading is used. In the case of Morning and Evening Prayer or a Service of the Word, the second canticle or other song should follow the sermon and should form a part of the response to the sermon. The first canticle or other song would follow the first reading.

I do not recommend the two forms of Holy Communion in Texts for Common Prayer. They are long and wordy and lack the requisite flexibility needed for the mission field. They countenance teaching and practices that are inconsistent with the Holy Scriptures and the Anglican formularies. 

I also do not recommend the orders for Morning and Evening Prayer from Texts for Common Prayer. They suffer from the same drawbacks as the 1979 Prayer Book’s orders for these offices, on which they are based. Among their drawbacks is that they are not designed for use as the principal service whenever a congregation gathers to worship. They do not permit the substitution of a form of general intercession for the Prayers and the conclusion of the office with the Lord’s Prayer, a final prayer, and the Grace. Rather it requires that if a general intercession is desired, it should be added to the Prayers, not only unnecessarily increasing their length but making various elements of the Prayers redundant. 

America’s Deepest Heresy

Studying heresies is a way of studying how orthodoxy came into full expression. As I said in recent post, heresy is the mother of orthodoxy. It is problems that give rise to solutions or resolutions or articulations. In that context Roger Olson, in his fine new book Counterfeit Christianity: The Persistence of Errors in the Church, examines what I would say is America’s deepest heresy: deism. It is both historic — Thomas Jefferson — and pervasive — in Moral Therapeutic Deism. It is with us and it is probably here to stay. To re-use an image Olson uses from Karl Barth lat in this chp, the gospel is a gift taken in hand, but some deist hands then think they can control the gift and reshape it.

Hence, a heresy. There are three parts here.... Read more

Rumors of the death of the Anglican Communion are premature, but relevant?

Once again we return to the media myth that the doctrinal wars in the Anglican Communion were caused by the 2003 election of the first openly gay and noncelibate bishop in the U.S. Episcopal Church, the tiny Diocese of New Hampshire, to be specific. Yes, it would make religion writers' lives much easier if that were true. Read more

Friday, September 18, 2015

Can You Handle the Truth? 3 Reasons Your Guests Aren’t Returning

All pastors know the feeling. A new couple visits on a Sunday morning. Maybe they just moved to the area and they are looking for a church, or a friend invited them, or they decided to give church a try. They seem really sharp, exactly the demographic you are trying to reach. You have a great conversation in the lobby. They promise to be back next week, but they’re not. They never come back.

Another family comes three weeks in a row. Each weekend you see them in the lobby after church and it seems like they are really connecting. They miss the fourth week, but they’re back on the fifth. And then they never come back.

What happened? Why didn’t these families connect? Why do so many people flow through your church without sticking? You’ve read the books, been to the conferences and tried everything you can think of, but the back door of your church is always wide open. What is going on?

While I haven’t been to your church, or if I have let’s pretend I haven’t, I have visited scores of church across the country and I know why many people don’t stick. Sometimes the music is really bad or the preaching is really boring or the children’s ministry is really awful, but there are other, less obvious, reasons people don’t return.... Read more

Friday Roundup: Seven Articles

4 Truths About Hell

...what should we think of hell? Is the idea of it really responsible for all the cruelty and torture in the world? Is the doctrine of hell incompatible with the way of Jesus Christ? Hardly. In fact, the most prolific teacher of hell in the Bible is Jesus, and He spoke more about it than He did about heaven. In Matthew 25:41–46 He teaches us four truths about hell that should cause us to grieve over the prospect of anyone experiencing its horrors. Read more

Teaching Leadership in Your Church

At what I see currently, we need more leaders. Or, we need to better train the leaders we already have in our churches. Have no doubt about it, there are leaders in your church. They do not have titles but they lead. They may not be on the board or a committee, but they have influence. The only issue is whether or not we train them well. Let me give you a few ideas about teaching leadership. Read more

8 Dangerous Leadership Traits – These Will Wreck Your Ability to Lead

There are, however, some leadership traits, which a leader can never delegate away. If the leader can’t work through them, in my opinion, their leadership will be crippled. With these traits, the best the leader has to offer will never fully materialize. These leadership traits will eventually wreck a leader’s success. Read more

30 Rules for the Hillsong Australia Preaching & Teaching Team

Culture, atmosphere and DNA in a church is not accidental. Just like culture, atmosphere and DNA of your home is not. You have to be deliberate about it - especially from the ‘platform’. Leadership in this area is about making intentional and focused choices, and taking a degree of measured risk. Read more

7 Things You Should Know about the HOST Strategy (for starting new groups)

When the HOST strategy was introduced by Saddleback in 2002 during the launch of 40 Days of Purpose it truly was a game-changing innovation.... 13 years later it is still a powerfully effective strategy. It’s also a strategy that is often misunderstood (and poorly implemented) by many. Read more

7 Ways a Small Group Can Reach People for Jesus

How can the small groups in your church become the effective evangelism tools that God wants them to become? Read more

Nepal: Freedom of religion wow 'more at stake than ever'

Nepal's Constituent Assembly rejected a proposal on Monday to declare the country a Hindu state. Hours later, bombs went off at two churches in Jhapa district in the east of the country, attacks that have widely been blamed on radical Hindu groups though no one has yet claimed responsibility. Read more