Friday, June 30, 2017

Reformation 500 Magazine Online

In place of its usual summer edition of Crossway, Church Society has published a special Reformation 500 magazine.

Reformation 500 contains two articles, "Understanding the English Reformation" by Dr Andrea Ruddick and "The Reformation of the Sixteenth Century" by Dr Kirsty Birkett.The two articles provides a thorough introduction to the Reformation.

Dr. Ruddick's article explores the medieval background to the events of the 16th century while Dr. Birkett identifies key figures of the Reformation era and explains their contribution to its revolutionary events and teaching.”

Drs. Ruddick and Birkett are members of the Church Society Council.

The magazine is available online in PDF format. Download here

Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Top 7 Reasons Guests Return to Your Church

The most common reason people check out your church is someone invited them.

The most common reason people leave your church is they don’t feel connected.

But what are the most common reasons people return to your church after their first visit or two?

There’s lots of conversation about church attendance patterns these days, and that affects how we measure guest retention rate, and the length of time it takes for guests to connect with your church.

Here’s a new reality, new people connect more slowly than in the past and disconnect more quickly than we’ve previously experienced. It’s a double-edged sword. It takes longer for new people to connect because they don’t necessarily attend every week. And, they disconnect faster because the best “connection factors” are relationally based and therefore depend on attendance! Read More

Related Article:
Six Simple Things First-Time Church Guests Like

Six Items to Include in Your Guest Welcome Packets

In podcast episode 300, we briefly touched on guest welcome packets. Following the interest in that episode and after last week’s post on guests’ gifts, it seemed only prudent to expand on the topic.

Guest welcome packets differ from a guest letter. And while they can be mailed, it’s sometimes more effective to hand these out at an information desk while the guest is still on campus. Some churches opt to have packets available at kids check-in or in the student ministry area as well. This makes it easy to include age-appropriate information in the packet because the parents are dropping off a child in that age range.

So whether you mail your guest packet or give it out on Sunday, here are six items to be sure to include.... Read More

Related Podcast and Article
What to Include a Visitor Welcome Packet and Other Listener Questions - Rainer on Leadership #300 [Podcast]
Four Common Gifts Churches Give to First-Time Guests

12 Ways Satan May Try to Destroy You, Pastor

The most popular post ever published on my blog is 20 Ways Satan May Seek to Destroy You. There we survey the Scriptures and demonstrate the reality of our spiritual enemy and his crafty work. Today, I add a dozen more. In my continued reading of A Puritan Theology, I found the chapter "The Puritans on Demons" sobering. "The Puritans viewed human history as one continual conflict with evil spiritual powers." This is one reason I have so long appreciated the writings of the Puritans, men who were not afraid to expose the devices of the evil one. Therefore, we find much help from them for the spiritual warfare that belongs to those who truly belong to Christ. Spiritual warfare calls us to be watchful because Satan's chief means of destroying people is through deception (Gen 3:1-5, 13; John 8:44; 2 Cor 11:3; 1 Tim 2:14; Rev 12:9). Spurstowe wrote, "We ought rather to be all the more watchful since we have such a serpent to deal with that can hide his deadly poison with a beautiful and shining skin." Read More

Related Article:
20 Ways Satan May Seek to Destroy You

10 Things You Should Know about the Necessity of Biblical Preaching

In last week’s installment of our ten-things-you-should-know series I focused on the causes for the demise of biblical preaching. Today I want to focus on why it is so critical that pastors be committed to the exposition of the Word. Read More

Creating a Church Culture That Invites Children Into Worship

My parents’ church gets a little wild sometimes. Some days it might even seem downright charismatic. It’s the small town Baptist church that I grew up in. I visited there recently, and there were people everywhere speaking in tongues, running up and down aisles, and talking to the preacher during his sermon. Of course, all of those people were under the age of five.

The church is filled with children.

And, even though the children were, well, being children during the church service, the adults continued to sing praises to Christ, to worship Him in song and in prayer and through the preaching of His word. And, I noticed, as the adults worshiped, so did the kids, in their own ways. They were watching their mothers sing and raise their hands in worship. They were bopping up and down to the music. They were thumbing through the Bible. Drawing pictures of what they heard about in Sunday school. They were resting their heads on strong Daddy shoulders while they listened—yes, listened—to the Gospel as it was preached.

My hometown church has accomplished something that some churches never do: They have created a culture that invites children into worship. Read More

How To Identify Your Pet Sin

Every Christian can think of a sin he has identified and attacked with all the brutality he can muster. One of the great joys of the Christian life is seeing God be true to his Word as he motivates and empowers us to wage war against indwelling sin. Yet every one of us probably also has a sin we rather enjoy, a sin we refuse to put to death. In fact, we may even protect and promote it. We might refer to it as a pet sin. Here are some tips on identifying your pet sin. Read More

Related Article:
Are You Being Infected by the World?

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The English Reformation

The word “Reformation” immediately brings to mind a young Martin Luther, his 95 theses, and his memorable stand at the Diet of Worms. But did Luther’s writings have any influence in England? And what led certain English reformers to similar, sometimes identical, convictions about justification and biblical authority? In this issue of Credo Magazine we are introduced to some of the key English reformers, men like William Tyndale, Thomas Cranmer, and many others. Outstanding pastors and scholars tell us how the Reformation took root in England under very different political circumstances than Germany and why many of these reformers were willing to be martyred for their faith. Read the English Reformation Issue of Credo Magazine

Knowing Your Community: The Math of the Kingdom

If you aren’t planting a church any time soon, is there anything you can glean from the church-planting movement that will help you transform your established church into an establishing church?

For a series we call The Math of the Kingdom, we reached out to several church-planting networks and posed this question to some of their seasoned, in-the-trenches planters. Their responses revealed six strategic themes that any pastor can implement in any context: know your community; be known by your community; pursue diversity; develop leadership; make disciples; and adopt a planter’s heart.

No matter the age or size of the church you lead, it factors into the math of the kingdom. Explore these strategies, ideas and insights to see how they can contribute to multiplication in your church. Read More

Dispelling the 80 Percent Myth of Declining Churches

Buckle your seat belts.

Over the next several posts, I will be sharing with you the results of an incredible research project on 1,000 churches. At the risk of overstatement, I think this data may point us to some exciting and positive opportunities. Indeed, I hope to share a plan for the evangelistic renewal and growth of our churches in the weeks ahead.

But I am getting ahead of myself.

Allow me to share, at the risk of boredom, the basis of this research.... Read More

Are You on Track if You Lead a Church of Fewer Than 100 People?

Every church leader and church planter desires ministry to be fruitful and to influence his or her community. But we need to be reminded that we can no longer depend on the success of the past to be the shelter of our future.

While leadership is important, a church’s size can change frequently, depending on other factors like changing demographics of the community or cultural shifts.

But how do we respond to the truth that the previous generation was much more numerically effective than we are? What do we do when people ask, “Why don’t you have the results they had before?”

Older members of any given church typically seem more nostalgic about the past and use that as a measure of success for the future. It is important to remember, however, that culture has changed in such a way that it becomes misleading in many places to expect the numerical success of the past for a new generation. Read More

What Is the Doctrine of Divine Election?

The idea that God does what He wants, and that what He does is true and right because He does it, is foundational to our understanding of everything in Scripture, including the doctrine of election.

In the broad sense, election refers to the fact that God chooses (or elects) to do everything that He does in whatever way He sees fit. When He acts, He does so only because He willfully and independently chooses to act. According to His own nature, predetermined plan, and good pleasure, He decides to do whatever He desires, without pressure or constraint from any outside influence. Read More

People Aren't Projects

...and other lessons I learned as a rural pastor.

Early in my pastorate, a woman stopped by our church in rural Washington State looking for moving boxes. I was happy to help her out. We had just arrived in town, so we had plenty of boxes. “Thanks, Pastor,” she said. “You saved my life.”

Perfect. Life-saving was just the sort of work I had gone west to do, and the life-saving I imagined mostly involved making myself useful and fixing things. I was hooked.

Training and circumstances set me up for a fixit ministry. Somewhere in the thick of my studies at Harvard Divinity School, I chose the lofty goal of making my education useful to the larger church. I imagined myself helping people tidy up their theology: a little nip and tuck to their hermeneutical presuppositions. Read the Didache and call me in the morning. The tiny, urban congregation my wife and I joined during graduate school made plenty of space for an eager student to exercise his gifts, and when I started to sense the first inklings of a call, the congregation encouraged me and sent me off. After completing ministry training at the Mennonite seminary in Elkhart, Indiana, we set out to serve a small, rural congregation in eastern Washington. I rolled up my sleeves and got to work. Read More

How Do We Get at Effective Outreach?

As the mission field changes, churches will change.

I frequently get asked about the future of outreach. Let me be honest, and perhaps you already know this: outreach will not get any easier.

Let me share at least three reasons why I believe this is the case. Read More

In Sex Disputes, Most Americans Still Favor Religious Rights

But 1 in 5 think conservative Christians are motivated by hate.

Americans love to fight about sex and religion.

From shacking up and same-sex marriage to birth control and bathrooms, Americans disagree about what is right and wrong with sex—often based on faith.

Those disputes can end up in court, in highly divisive and controversial cases. This week, the US Supreme Court agreed to hear the case of a Colorado baker who refused to make a cake for a same-sex wedding.

When faith and sexuality clash, which side should prevail? Americans can’t decide. Read More

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Rural and Small Town Church

Here is a selection of articles on rural and small town ministry.

Rural and Small Town Ministry

Rural America reflects deep spiritual problems with epidemic substance abuse, soaring suicide rates, poverty, and being largely overlooked by an urban-centered focus church ministry. Read More

Small Towns Need Jesus Too

Donnie Griggs grew up in a small town on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. He knows the issues plaguing small towns, especially the large number of residents rejecting the gospel and unconnected to a church. In his new book, Small Town Jesus: Taking the Gospel Mission Seriously in Seemingly Unimportant Places, Griggs writes about his return to his hometown to plant a church and the need for others to do the same. Read More

5 Principles for Doing Small Town Ministry

In a small town context, it's important to read the culture well and discern how to best contextualize it in order to do effective ministry. Here are five principles for small town ministry.... Read More

Growing a Rural Church

Who says you can't raise strong congregations in country fields? Read More

13 Characteristics of Indigenous or "Local" Rural Pastors

Doug Walrath took a last look at small church life, shortly before he retired in 1990 from Bangor Seminary, by doing a study of rural pastors in New England. Read More

Reaching Rural America for Christ Archive

Reaching Rural America for Christ is the monthly newsletter of the Rural and Small Town Mission of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. The July 2017 issue shares insight into teaching the faith to college students and young adults in congregations. Read the July 2017 Issue and Back Issues

Why Did God Allow the Fall?

It’s a question that puzzles new converts and terrifies Sunday school teachers. Indeed, it’s a conundrum most of us have wrestled with, and for good reason. The fall of Adam wasn’t merely the first human sin. It was an act that was calamitous for the world and the human race. Because of the fall, “All mankind . . . lost communion with God, are under his wrath and curse, and so made liable to all miseries in this life, to death itself, and to the pains of hell forever” (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q19).

Why would God permit such a tragic event, such an act of flagrant rebellion, in full knowledge of its horrific consequences? Read More

Are You An Organizational Leader Or A Shepherd? (10 Easy Ways To Tell)

So are you an organizational leader, or are you more of a relational leader—a shepherd?

It’s an interesting question, and a highly polarizing one in the church today. Ditto for this blog. Just check out the impassioned comments on this post, where I argue the church today needs more entrepreneurial leaders, not more shepherds.

Why does this matter?

Well, it matters for a few reasons. Read More

Related Articles:
Why We Need More Entrepreneurial Church Leaders, Not More Shepherds
Why We Need More Shepherds

3 Reasons Why I Quote the Church Fathers When I Preach

As the primary teaching pastor at my church, I quote regularly from the church fathers when I preach. I don't do so in every sermon, but my congregation is now familiar with names like Augustine, Chrysostom, Ambrose, and Athanasius.

Quoting people in sermons can be challenging, no matter what era of church history you pull from. A sermon is an act of exposition intended to evoke exultation and conclude with exhortation. That is, we expound on the biblical text, seeking to lead our congregation to experience a worshipful awe at these truths, which provides the fuel for exhorting them to obey King Jesus. Quotes can either enhance that process or hinder from it. (If you quote so often or in a way that it sounds like you're reading an essay with footnotes, you're doing it wrong.)

But here's why I quote often from the church fathers and why I recommend you consider doing so as well.... Read More
I would add a word or two of caution. First, we should cite the opinions of the church fathers only where such opinions are clearly agreeable to Scripture. Second, we should not depend upon the church fathers to interpret Scripture for us but rather should submit their opinions to Scripture. Third, we should not allow the church fathers to displace the Scriptures as our final authority in matters of faith and practice.

Treasure No. 7: The Hymnal 1940

While The Hymnal 1940 is more than 70 years old, it is widely used in the Continuing Anglican Churches along with the 1928 Prayer Book. At least one website (which, by the way, is a Roman Catholic website) touts it as "the best hymnal ever to appear in the English-speaking world." In this article from Bulletin No. 34, January 1946 of The Hymn Society of Great Britain & Ireland the late Eric Routley offers a refreshingly honest appraisal of the strengths and weaknesses of The Hymnal 1940. He wrote the article three years after The Hymnal 1940's publication in 1943.

Dr. Routley was an English Congregational minister, composer and musicologist. He was educated at Lancing College and Magdalen and Mansfield Colleges in Oxford. He was chaplain of Mansfield from 1948 to 1959 and then held appointments as minister in Edinburgh and Newcastle before becoming Professor of Church Music at Westminster Choir College, Princeton, New Jersey in 1975. He died in 1982.

Dr. Routley edited Congregational Praise (1951) and The University Carol Book (1961). At the time of his death he was general editor of Rejoice in the Lord: A Hymn Companion to the Scriptures (1989). He also authored critical and historical works on hymnody, church music and carols. He wrote the preface to the Summit Choir Book. In addition, he wrote more than 25 hymns and composed the hymn tune Sharpthorne. Read Article

11 Reasons We Must Pray for Missionary Kids

Many of us recognize the need to pray for missionaries, but I’m not sure we give sufficient attention to praying for missionary kids (now often known as “Third Culture Kids”). Here’s why we must correct that omission.... Read More

Climate Watch: Sea Level Rise Isn’t Just Happening, It’s Getting Faster

In at least the third such study published in the past year, scientists have confirmed seas are rising, and the rate of sea level rise is increasing as time passes — a sobering punchline for coastal communities that are only now beginning to prepare for a troubling future.

What was a 2.2 millimeter per year rise in 1993 was a 3.3 millimeter rise in 2014, based on estimates of the mass changes of a number of key components of sea level rise, such as the melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, the study in Nature Climate Change found. That’s the difference between 0.86 and 1.29 inches per decade – and the researchers suggest further sea level acceleration could be in store.

The chief cause of the acceleration was the melting of the Greenland ice sheet, which went from contributing less than 5 percent of all sea level rise in 1993 to contributing more than 25 percent in 2014, the study found. The loss of ice in Antarctica and smaller glaciers over the same time period also contributed to quicker sea level rise. Read More

Related Article:
Greenland Now a Major Driver of Rising Seas: Study

Monday, June 26, 2017

Small Towns Need Missionaries

I grew up on a farm.

Tractors, cattle, crops, big machinery, freezing cold winters, too many cats, and a marathon bus ride to school every morning. That’s right, I grew up on a farm. And that farm was next to a small town that my family and I called home. I’ve lived in small towns for most of my life, even after I moved away from the herd of cats. The small towns I’ve lived in may not be as cool as Austin or have the trendy conveniences of Seattle, but small towns will always be a part of who I am. If you live in a small town, you might know what I mean.

According to the US census, just over half of our population lives in towns, boroughs, villages, and townships with fewer than 25,000 people or in rural areas. Meanwhile, thousands of Christian books are published every year and hundreds of these are about mission and reaching people for Christ. Many of them have insightful and helpful ideas about mission that can be applied anywhere, but many of their ideas don’t seem to work in small towns. We should be thankful for resources like these, but we also need resources written specifically for mission in small towns.

A friend at my church has said that books about reaching people in closed countries in the 10/40 window relate best to mission in small towns because residents often have hardened religious mindsets and impenetrable circuits of relationships. My friend is probably exaggerating the comparison, but I understand what he’s saying because mission in small towns can be incredibly difficult and complicated. Read More

Related Articles:
Connecting Prayer to Mission
4 Differences Between Small Towns and Big Cities
This article is adapted from Aaron Morrow’s Small Town Mission: A Guide for Mission-Driven Communities.

What Are You Improving At Your Church Right Now?

The mission of the church is too important for any congregation to settle for business as usual.

What would you say if someone asked you the question in the title of this post?

“What are you improving at your church right now?”

Would you know what to say? It’s an important question.

In fact, if you can't answer that question with at least one specific goal-oriented project, your church may be in trouble without even knowing it. Read More

Meet the New ‘Twicer’: The Irregular Regular

I came across an interesting expression recently: the twicer.[1] From what I understand, ‘the twicer’ used to refer to the person who went to church twice a day (think of the days of morning and evening prayer). It then began to refer to the nominal churchgoer who would attend twice a year, the ‘Christmas and Easter’ Christian. When I heard the phrase recently, it was used to refer to the committed churchgoer. That is, to describe a regular churchgoer—who attends church just twice a month on average.

When I reflected on some of the churches I have been a part of, I found the expression to be fairly accurate. Many of us are irregular regulars: we’re ‘twicers’. I hope you’ll agree with me that this is rather saddening! Here are three biblical truths to help us break the twicer habit.[2][3] Read More

What Does Repentance Look Like?

One of the penitential psalms, Psalm 51 was written by David after he was confronted by the prophet Nathan. Nathan declared that David had grievously sinned against God in the taking of Bathsheba to be his wife and in the murder of her husband, Uriah.

It’s important to see the anguish and heartfelt remorse expressed by David, but we must also understand that repentance of the heart is the work of God the Holy Spirit. David is repentant because of the influence of the Holy Spirit upon him. Not only that, but as he writes this prayer, he is writing it under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit demonstrates in Psalm 51 how He produces repentance in our hearts. Keep this in mind as we look at the psalm. Read More

Five Terrible Reasons to Enter Vocational Ministry

I’ve seen too many people in vocational ministry fail to launch.

Perhaps “launch” is not the best term, because they may stay in ministry for many years. But they never seem to do well. They never seem to have a peace. They seem like they are always trying to prove something.

I recently went through my old seminary pictorial directory. I was able to locate 47 people I knew in seminary who I know where they are today. Of that 47, only eight remained in ministry. If you are doing the math, that is an 83 percent dropout rate.

Vocational ministry is a calling. It is not just another vocation. If you enter ministry for the wrong reasons, you will not likely do well. Indeed, you will not likely make it.

What are some of the terrible reasons to enter vocational ministry? Here are five of the most common failures.... Read More

The Church's Biggest Challenge in 2017

Let’s get unchurched evangelicals back into church, and prejudiced evangelicals back to the Bible.

Every week, we are treated to another revelation about the alarming attitudes of white evangelical Christians. You would think that a people steeped in the Bible—which commands and exemplifies concern for refugees and others in dire straits—would find President Trump’s closing the door to the world’s neediest refugees repulsive. But white evangelicals support Trump’s exclusionary policy by a whopping 75 percent.

Or take attitudes toward undocumented immigrants. Evangelical Christians believe Jesus died for them while they were lawbreakers. They are a people who know themselves as those who live moment to moment by sheer mercy. You would think these people would try to make at least some allowances for illegal immigrants. It turns out, however, that white evangelical Christians, more than any other religious group, say illegal immigrants should be identified and summarily deported.

Since Trump’s election, social and political scientists in survey after survey have tried to unravel the mystery of the 81 percent of white evangelical Christians who voted for him. While the economy seems to be the main reason, with abortion and religious freedom being crucial as well, too many of them seem to show little mercy to those who are not white Americans.

Supporting hardline immigration policies does not itself a xenophobe make—in fact, there are prudential reasons for limiting immigration. We just don’t find them persuasive. And when the argument for excluding foreigners from our shores amounts to fearmongering or sheer prejudice, a political issue becomes a matter of church discipline. We’re dealing with character issues among fellow believers. Read More

Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Challenges of Small Church Ministry

Here is a selection of articles on the challenges that those involved in small church ministry face. Some of these articles have been previously posted on Anglicans Ablaze. Others have not.

5 Things Small Churches Can Uniquely Offer...Right Now

Instead of trying to mimmick what the large churches in your area are doing (only to come up short of their quality because you don’t have the money or resources to duplicate it), here are five things I believe small churches can uniquely offer the world right where they are.... Read More

5 Things Small Churches Can Do Well

Here’s a short list of some of the things that the small church can do well.... Read More

Mistakes Small Churches Make: "We’re Too Small"

Don’t get stuck doubting your creativity or abilities. Know what your strengths are and play to them. Read More

Why Growth is Harder In a Small Church – And Change Is Essential

Big churches find it much easier to incorporate new people because the bigger the crowd, the smaller the impact each person has. Read More

How I Stopped Feeling Embarrassed by My Small Church

They knew the church was small, but they came anyway. Maybe they came because it was small. Read More

The Danger of Focusing On Numerical Growth

There are three primary concerns that I have with a focus on numbers. Read More
A list of other articles on the Small Church Connections website may be found here.
10 Reasons Why Small Churches Stay Small

These are simply my observations as to why stagnant, ungrowing churches tend to stay that way. I send it forth hoping to plant some seed in the imagination of a pastor or other leader who will be used of the Lord to do great things in a small church. Read More

5 Myths About Small Church Pastors

It's time to rethink our assumptions about "micro" ministry. Read More

Ministering to the Needs of Small and Declining Churches

The following is a list of observations that I have made over the years in regard to the challenges of preparing ministers for the life and ministry of small churches in the Reformed tradition. More and more, due to the recent economic recession, large churches are not hiring assistant pastors and pastors at established churches are not moving (a process that would create openings for aspiring pastors graduating out of the seminary). Therefore, in recent years, I have seen more of our graduates being attracted to the opportunities afforded by the small (and often “more” rural) churches and I have encouraged students to consider such opportunities while giving due consideration to some of the attendant cautions mentioned below. Read More

Biblical Preaching in the Small Church

The small church no less than any other is formed by the Word and grows spiritually through the Word. Jesus said, “I will build My church…” (Matthew 16:18). His word is foundational and upon it the spiritual life of the church, no matter the size, depends. Read More
A list of other articles from The Small Church Shepherd on the Small Church Leadership Network website may be found here.
3 Tips for Small Churches Struggling to Maintain Their Digital Presence

In talking with leaders of small churches, I’ve found that when their digital presence is lacking, it’s not because they don’t believe it’s important. Instead, it’s what some many of us can relate to: lack of time or lack of resources (people). Read More

Ecumenical vs. Evangelical

One of the most devastating attacks on the life and health of the church throughout all of church history has been what is known as the ecumenical movement—the downplaying of doctrine in order to foster partnership in ministry between (a) genuine Christians and (b) people who were willing to call themselves Christians but who rejected fundamental Christian doctrines.

In the latter half of the 19th century, theological liberalism fundamentally redefined what it meant to be a Christian. It had nothing to do, they said, with believing in doctrine. It didn’t matter if you believed in an inerrant Bible; the scholarship of the day had debunked that! It didn’t matter if you believed in the virgin birth and the deity of Christ; modern science disproved that! It didn’t matter if you embraced penal substitutionary atonement; blood sacrifice and a wrathful God are just primitive and obscene, and besides, man is not fundamentally sinful but basically good! What mattered was one’s experience of Christ, and whether we live like Christ. “And we don’t need doctrine to do that!” they said. “Doctrine divides!” Iain Murray wrote of that sentiment, “‘Christianity is life, not doctrine,’ was the great cry. The promise was that Christianity would advance wonderfully if it was no longer shackled by insistence on doctrines and orthodox beliefs” (“Divisive Unity,” 233). Read More

Does Conservative Theology Empower Abuse?

Here are three things that I believe are true and that are important for honest people to admit:

1. It is a moral travesty when religious people or organizations use their beliefs, influence, or infrastructure to hurt, control, or manipulate other people.

2.Theologically conservative organizations have been guilty of doing this, many times, often with disastrous, multi-generational consequences.

3. For people who believe in things like inerrancy, the exclusivity of Christ, and the necessity of the local church, the costs of using the faith in this sinful, abusive way are exponentially higher, and thus, it is a greater tragedy when it is those people who engage in it.

All these points are, I believe, completely true. You won’t find me denying any of them. As someone who was raised in theologically conservative evangelicalism, I don’t think there’s any question that all three points are correct, and further, that theologically conservative evangelicals like me should be in the business of confessing them and working accordingly.

But here’s something I’ve noticed. I’ve noticed that, for what feels like a growing number of younger professing Christians (whether they use the word evangelical or not), there seems to be a 4th statement that holds a lot of weight with them. You could put it something like this:

4. Because theologically conservative institutions and people have been guilty of this abuse, it follows that theologically conservative doctrine empowers and facilitates such abuse.

I completely reject this statement for many reasons, most of which would probably be easy to guess for readers of this blog. But what’s interesting to me is that this 4th statement is, for a lot of young religion writers, so self-evident and so important to their worldview that to deny it amounts to nothing less than an instinctive valuing of theology and ideas over human beings at best, and at worst, an ambition to likewise abuse, control, or manipulate others with our religion. Arguing with this 4th statement is almost always construed to be really arguing with the first 3. The only reason (they say) that someone would dispute statement 4 is because they’re really living in denial of statements 1-3. Either you don’t really believe that theologically conservative churches or institutions have hurt others (in which case, you’re simply in denial of reality), or else you don’t believe that such hurting actually matters. Read More

Who Is the Holy Spirit? An Excerpt from the New City Catechism

The New City Catechism: 52 Questions & Answers for Our Hearts & Minds was published earlier this year by Crossway. A companion volume, The New City Catechism Devotional (239 pages), with an Introduction by Timothy Keller and under the general editorial oversight of Collin Hansen was also published by Crossway. Part Three of the Devotional is devoted to short chapters on the theme of Spirit, Restoration, and Growing in Grace. I was asked to contribute the devotional chapter on the Holy Spirit. Here it is.

Rarely does a Christian struggle to think of God as Father. And to envision God as Son is not a problem for many. These personal names come easily to us because our lives and relationships are inescapably intertwined with fathers and sons here on earth. But God as Holy Spirit is often a different matter. Gordon Fee tells of one of his students who remarked, “God the Father makes perfectly good sense to me, and God the Son I can quite understand; but the Holy Spirit is a gray, oblong blur.”

How different this is from what we actually read in Scripture. There we see that the Spirit is not third in rank in the Godhead but is co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and Son, sharing with them all the glory and honor due unto our Triune God. The Holy Spirit is not an impersonal power or an ethereal, abstract energy. The Spirit is personal in every sense of the term. He has a mind and thinks (Isa. 11:2; Rom. 8:27). He is capable of experiencing deep affections and feelings (Rom. 8:26; 15:30). The Spirit has a will and makes choices (Acts 16:7; 1 Cor. 2:11) regarding what is best for God’s people and what will most glorify the Son. Read More

10 Quick Things You Can Do To Improve Your Church Website

Your website will be the front door for many who investigate your church. Improve your church website with these quick (and easy) tasks.

Kevin de Young put it very well:
“Your website is the front door of your church for many, many people. If you’d put a greeter at the front door of your physical church, and line up ushers in the sanctuary, and set up a hospitality center in the lobby, and make sure all the signs are attractive and pointing in the right direction, surely you ought to take the same care with your church’s website.”
Here are 10 quick things you can do today to continue to improve your church website and serve the people who use it. Read More
For the past 14 odd years I have been scouring the Internet for articles, podcasts, and videos for Anglicans Ablaze. During that time I have visited the websites of numerous churches and the judicatories and denominations to which they belong. If I were to rank these websites on the basis of their quality, I would rank those of the Episcopal Church, the Reformed Episcopal Church, the Continuing Anglican Churches, and the Anglican Church in North America among the lowest. They strongly suggest that North American Anglicans and Episcopalians do not appreciate the value of a good website. There have been exceptions but generally the quality of these websites has ranged from poor to very poor to abysmally poor. If a church's website is the front door for "many, many people" looking for a new church home, the poor quality of these websites may help explain why these churches have so few visitors.

Here’s a Resolution: Denominations Should Stop Shooting Themselves in the Foot

The world is watching.

Dwight McKissic called the most recent SBC drama a “24-hour roller coaster ride.”

I called it shooting yourself in the foot. Again. Publicly.

What could have been a Tuesday condemnation of racism became a Wednesday mea culpa.

So, what really happened on Tuesday when the Southern Baptist Convention Committee on Resolutions offered nine resolutions on various topics but passed over Pastor McKissic’s resolution condemning the alt-right? As I conversed Tuesday night with some of the players, everyone knew that Dwight McKissic had brought a resolution, as he often does. With him regularly bringing resolutions, perhaps the Resolutions Committee had been predisposed to pass this one by—and some of the language in the resolution may have added to that.

But it’s time we see that decisions like this are more than just what happens in a room in Phoenix. Read More

Friday, June 23, 2017

Five Danger Signs in Churches - Rainer on Leadership #339 [Podcast]

If any of these danger signs are present in your church, you need to take note. They can signal decline, dead theology, or even death of the church. Listen Now

There Can't be Only One Way

When I was a freshman in high school, I tried out for the varsity basketball team. On the first day of tryouts, the coach ran a scrimmage, periodically sending players into the game to see how they played. When my turn came, I intercepted a pass on the very first play. Then I took the ball the length of the court, skyed over every other player and made the prettiest layup you ever saw.

The coach instantly blew the whistle, stopped the game and called me over to the bench. I was walking 10 feet off the ground. I just knew my shot was so good that he had to stop the game just to tell me. I envisioned that ESPN had called and wanted the footage, and that Sports Illustrated had every intention of running a photo of me on the next cover. The shoe deal with Nike was only a matter of time. So I walked – actually, strutted – to the sideline.

My coach said, “White, that was a great shot. Your form was great; your intensity was great. Only thing is, you went to the wrong basket – but it was a great shot!” Is there a right and a wrong basket in the spiritual game? Is Christianity the only way to score with God or simply one of many ways? For today’s unchurched person, this is hardly academic. The religious landscape of modern American society can be nothing less than bewildering. Religious groups, sects, cults, movements, philosophies and worldviews abound in incredible numbers and diversity.

Add to this mix one of the most pervasive, fundamental convictions of contemporary American society: All roads lead to God, and to say that one way is right and all the other ways are wrong is narrow-minded, bigoted and prejudicial. What is true for you is true for you, and what is true for me is true for me. Searching for God is like climbing a mountain. Since everyone knows there is not just one way to climb a mountain – mountains are too big for that – each person can choose from a number of paths. All the ideas about God contained in the various religions of the world are just different ways up the mountain. In fact, though different religions have different names for God, the names all refer to the same God.

Is it true that a lot of roads lead to heaven, which means we really don’t have to worry about which road we’re on? Is it true that no person, no religion, no group, no book has a handle on the truth? Is it true that all religions are basically the same and all religious leaders are essentially of one mind so that ultimately all spiritual pursuits lead to the same place? If so, people need not look for spiritual truth. They just need to decide on spiritual preference.

If you embrace the idea that multiple paths lead to God and you turn out to be wrong, the consequences are enormous. So let’s explore the reasons why people hold to this belief.... Read More

What Is Saving Faith?

Faith is central to Christianity. The New Testament repeatedly calls people to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. There is a definite body of content to be believed, which is part and parcel of our religious activity. At the time of the Reformation, the debate involved the nature of saving faith. What is saving faith? The idea of justification by faith alone suggests to many people a thinly veiled antinomianism that claims people can live any way they like so long as they believe the right things. Yet James wrote in his epistle: “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?…Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (2:14, 17). Luther said that the sort of faith that justifies is fides viva, a “living faith,” one that inevitably, necessarily, and immediately yields the fruit of righteousness. Justification is by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone. A faith without any yield of righteousness is not true faith. Read More

Want An Effective Ministry? Consider Becoming A Zagger

You and your church can have a big impact and great effectiveness by meeting a small, overlooked area of need.

"When they zig, you zag."

I don't know who said it first, but a lot of people have said it since.

I'm a zagger.

I’ve tried to be a zigger. To go with the flow, not against it. To pick the low-hanging fruit.

But, time after time, without intending to, I find myself zagging. Getting off the interstate. Finding the road less traveled. Read More

If You're Going To Do Church That Way, Do It Well

Churches don’t become great by adding more programs. They get better at the ones they already have.

There are so many ways to do church.

As long as you’re honoring the Bible, worshiping Jesus and loving people, no method or structure is wrong.

But any method or structure can be done wrong.

Thankfully, it can also be done right.

Whatever program, asset or resource you think your church needs in order to become great, you can find a church somewhere that became great without it.

It’s not about what you have or don’t have. What you do or don’t do. It’s far more about doing it well, not matter what you have or don’t have.

For instance.... Read More

7 Rules for Keeping Pastoral Sanity

Pastoral ministry can be busy and rewarding. It can also be a place to lose your sanity.

It is truly a joy to serve the Lord and the church as a pastor. We know many things we’re supposed to do—study, pray, read, show compassion, love others, and lead well. But there are some things I’ve learned we just shouldn’t do; not because they are sinful, but because they aren’t helpful.

These seven rules for keeping pastoral sanity are not intended to be legalistic. Rather, I hope they will assist us in our leadership interactions with others. I’ve listed them in the negative for effect and hope they will stick out to you as they have to me. Read More

Why Are There So Many Interpretations of the Bible? The Problem of "Pervasive Interpretative Pluralism"

Back in April of this year, at the national conference of the Gospel Coalition, Kevin DeYoung addressed the question of why there appear to be so many different interpretations of the Bible? If the Bible is inspired and sufficient, why do so many Christians disagree with one another on particular texts and topics? The language of “pervasive interpretive pluralism” was first used by author Christian Smith, who recently converted to Roman Catholicism. Kevin’s message was excellent, but I thought I would add to what he said with a few observations of my own.

Let’s begin with the important concession that this is a problem that all people face, regardless of their religious affiliation. It is not solely a Protestant problem. Anyone who thinks there is monolithic and always unified interpretation in the Roman Catholic Church is simply uninformed. Not only is this a problem in all families of the Christian faith, it is a problem in all spheres of earthly existence. In other words, this isn’t simply a religious problem, it is a human problem that infects every discipline of study and every work of literature that we read. Nevertheless, it is especially present in Christianity because we affirm that our “work of literature”, the Bible, is inspired, inerrant, authoritative, and sufficient.

We are now prepared to examine some of the reasons for interpretive pluralism. These are by no means the only reasons, but they provide a good place to begin our discussion. Read More

Five Steps for Sharing the Gospel with Your Neighbours

Immediately before his ascension, Jesus’ promised his disciples that the coming Holy Spirit would empower them to be “[his] witnesses in Jerusalem and in Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Though they had already been commissioned to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19), their instructions were to begin this mission in Jerusalem (Luke 24:47). While there are significant theological reasons for making Jerusalem the starting point of the church’s mission, we should not overlook the simple fact that beginning in Jerusalem meant starting at home in their own community.

In our efforts to bring the gospel to the most distant and unreached corners of the globe we must not overlook the opportunity and responsibility that God has given us to make Christ known to the folks next door—our neighbours.

Some of us may already be making inroads in sharing the gospel with our neighbours, and others may be wracking our brain to remember the name of the person down the hall or across the street. Wherever you find yourself, here are five basic steps toward being a faithful witness where you live. Read More

Thursday, June 22, 2017

5 Ways To Lead When You Have No Money Or Team

I recently surveyed over 1400 pastors of small to mid-sized churches to find out what they struggled with.

I ran the survey to collect input for a new online course I’m releasing this fall called Breaking 200 Without Breaking You, all about breaking the 200 attendance barrier, something 85% of churches never do. (You can sign up to get on the inside track for the course release here.)

Man, I learned a ton from that survey.

One of the common refrains leaders voiced was uncertainty about how to lead when they didn’t have much money or the right team.

After all, most of us visit mega-churches and think if I only had a tenth of their money and their people, it would instantly solve my problems. And then we go back to our own context and get almost instantly depressed.

So when you have almost no money for ministry and you clearly haven’t got the right kind of people in the room, where do you start?

Believe it or not, neither condition is fatal to your cause. In fact, almost every great movement, church or organization you admire started with no money and no people.

So how can you lead when resources are scarce to non-existent?

There are at least five things you can do to help you find traction. Read More

Eight Reasons the Pastor Matters Most in a Church's Evangelistic Efforts

In my decades of studying churches, I’ve never seen an evangelistic church not led by an evangelistic pastor. Here’s why the pastor is so critical in this Great Commission task.... Read More

6 Attitudes That Kill Evangelism

I won’t bore you with statistics about declining evangelism in our churches. You don’t need me to convince you that most churches are not reaching our communities with the gospel. You don’t need me to provide data that shows our churches are reaching fewer people today than just a few years ago.

But why are our churches less evangelistic today?

That question could be answered from a number of perspectives. But one of the key explanations is simply an attitude problem. There are several dangerous and debilitating attitudes in churches that are killing evangelism. Here are six of them.... Read More
This article was posted on Anglicans Ablaze earlier this month. It was originally posted on Thom Rainer's blog. Anglicans Ablaze would like to hear from you about your own experiences. What attitudes were killing evangelism in your church? What did you do to overcome these attitudes? What worked? What didn't?

Thursday's Catch: "Does Your Church Have the Right Model?" and Much More

Does Your Church Have the Right Model?

How to decide. Read More

What Is a Worldview?

Abortion. Euthanasia. Pornography. Same-sex marriage. Transgender rights. Embryonic research. Genetic enhancement. Christians surveying the cultural landscape in the West have a clear sense that things are headed in a destructive direction. While most believers can easily identify the symptoms of decline, few feel competent to diagnose and address the root causes. There are many complex factors behind these developments, but one invaluable tool for better understanding and engaging with our culture is the concept of worldview. The sociological quakes and moral fissures we observe in our day are largely due to what we might call “cultural plate tectonics”: shifts in underlying worldviews and the collisions between them. Read More

Thomas Cranmer: Evangelising the Nation [Audio]

At the 2017 Church Society Conference, Revd Dr Peter Adam outlined Thomas Cranmer’s strategy for evangelising the nation, which could be summed up in one word: Bible. Listen Now

Five Leadership Axioms That Shape Your Ministry

Healthy leaders make for healthy organizations. Read More

10 Transformative Lessons for Healthy Churches and Leaders

When we have overlooked issues of character because of natural abilities or effectiveness, we have always paid a price. Read More

How Vulnerable Should a Pastor be When Preaching?

When you think about it, though, is not the act of preaching itself an act of deep vulnerability? Read More

Preacher’s Toolkit: Should I Always Call for Repentance and Faith?

Expository preaching addresses the entire person—the mind, the affections, and the will. Sadly, many think of expository preaching only as mental instruction. While preaching must certainly instruct the mind, it must go further than mere mental instruction. An expository sermon must also raise the affections. Read More

5 Principles for University Evangelism

In our current environment, with its distinct challenges and opportunities, how should we go about the task of university evangelism? Is there anything practical we can say? Yes, in fact. Here are five principles for university evangelism today. Read More

How To Distinguish True Zeal from False Zeal

I fear there is a plague of complacency among Christians today. Whatever happened to zeal? Whatever happened to Christians who are on fire to know and obey God, who have (in the words of John Reynolds) “an earnest desire and concern for all things pertaining to the glory of God and the kingdom of the Lord Jesus among men?” Yet while zeal is a noble trait, it must be properly directed, for not all zeal is good. Here are some pointers on distinguishing true from false zeal. Read More

4 Misconceptions of the Missionary Call

We are currently out on our American Tour, and are talking to people about what it is like to be a missionary. We have found that there is a very common perception that certain people are "called" to be missionaries in a unique way. While I certainly have met a lot of unique missionaries, I believe that there are some misunderstandings undergirding this belief. Below are four of these misconceptions I hope to clear up in this post. The first misconception is that.... Read More

Four Common Gifts Churches Give to First-Time Guests

As we’ve seen churches become more intentional about guest assimilation, many give away a small gift to guests to make an impression and to convey appreciation for their visit. If your church decides to do this (and I would recommend that you do), the gifts don’t have to be overly expensive. But they should convey that you care about the guests. Here are four popular gifts churches give to guests and some tips for how you can maximize their usefulness.... Read More

Evangelicals Tell Trump: Don’t Deport Christians to Face Genocide in Iraq

As outcry over fate of 199 mostly Chaldeans continues, so do ICE arrests. Read More

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Your Church Is Big Enough: Karl Vaters Talks Small Church Health

Yesterday I posted Thom Rainer's interview with Karl Vaters. Today I am posting Lawrence Wilson's interview with Karl.

Karl Vaters believes your church can be healthy regardless of its size. This 30-year ministry veteran pastors Cornerstone Christian Fellowship in Fountain Valley, Calif., and has emerged as a champion of the small church through his book The Grasshopper Myth and the blog Pivot hosted by Christianity Today.

But that rosy outlook on small-church life was years in the making. It was born from a near-burnout experience when his congregation “grew” from 400 to well below 100 in just nine months. That’s when Karl said out loud the words that shocked his staff and surprised himself: “We’ve got to stop thinking like a big church.” Read More

Related Articles:
5 Mistakes More Likely To Be Made By Small Churches Than Big Churches
Small Churches are Not a Problem, a Virtue or an Excuse
The 3-2-1 System for Better Annual Small Church Planning
Why Some Great Churches Never Impact Their Community

9 Reasons Rural Churches Still Matter

I wrote yesterday about the importance of the church connecting with cities. I confess that I’m more urban and suburban than rural, but I also recognize the importance of rural churches. In fact, I began my ministry career as pastor of a more rural church. Here are some of the reasons these churches matter.... Read More

Five Overcorrection Mistakes Churches Make

The pendulum swings in churches.

The congregation does not like a previous direction, so they overcompensate with the next move they make. Often, the overcompensation becomes a more challenging situation than the previous state.

Here are five overcorrection mistakes I frequently see in churches.... Read More

Preaching the Gospel with TULIP’s Tricky “L” in Mind

It’s a fair question for the Arminian to ask: How can you preach the free offer of the gospel when you believe in a limited atonement? How can you preach the “whosoever” of John 3:16 if you cannot be certain that Christ’s atonement was for every person? How can you say, “Turn to Christ and be saved all the ends of the earth” if Christ’s atoning sacrifice does not extend to all humanity?

First, a brief theological refresher. The doctrines known as “Calvinism” insist that Christ’s atonement was completed with a limited or definite purpose in mind—the salvation of God’s elect. Thus, while the atonement was sufficient for all humanity, it was intended and applied only to those who had been specially chosen by God to be his. R.C. Sproul says, “Our view is that the redemption of specific sinners was an eternal plan of God, and this plan and design was perfectly conceived and perfectly executed so that the will of God to save His people is accomplished by the atoning work of Christ.” Conversely, Arminianism insists that Christ’s atonement was unlimited or universal, both sufficient for all humanity and applied to all equally. The call of the gospel, then, is to embrace what Christ has already done for each sinner.

The question is, do those who believe in a limited atonement have the right to honestly preach the gospel and to call on people to turn to Christ in repentance and faith even when it is possible that this person is not among the elect and, therefore, not the object of Christ’s atoning work? Read More