Saturday, July 22, 2017

Rural Matters: Placing Rural Church Planting Back on the Map

Small town pastors are doing big things for God’s Kingdom.

I recently introduced my daughter to the 2006 Pixar movie Cars. Sorry, if I’m ruining the movie for anyone, but it has been out since 2006, so tough. The movie follows a race car named Lightning McQueen who ends up stranded in a small town off Route 66 called Radiator Springs. It wasn’t until I was watching the movie, for what seemed like the thousandth time, that I noticed the great work Pixar put into showing how society sees these towns and how special these rural towns once were and can still be today.

The town of Radiator Springs represents the state of many rural towns today - on the verge of being a forgotten ghost town. Once a booming stop along a famous highway that connected the east to the west, now very little traffic drives through these towns due to new interstates that bypass the town or big industries moving out to larger, more central, cities.

The main character in the movie, while stuck in the small town performing community service, spends half the movie complaining about his talents being wasted working in the town, while neglecting to see the importance of doing anything to transform or restore the small, rural community.

I believe this has been the attitude of many pursuing vocational ministry. We treat rural areas like a place to get gas as we drive through, rather than a place to call home. Growing up outside Tulsa, Oklahoma, I spent most of my life church planting in smaller rural communities with my family. I can remember driving the old Route 66 highway between Tulsa and Oklahoma City, passing through run-down forgotten downtowns where people use to gather, seeing collapsing houses that once brought life into the community, and stopping at the few remaining gas stations that have survived generations of change.

While spending time living and ministering in these communities, I had the privilege of seeing how new churches, passionate about demonstrating and proclaiming the gospel, could breathe life back into a community and restore the hearts of those calling rural towns home. Read More

Related Articles:
Remembering the Rural: Do Modern Church Plants Focus too Much on the City?
Does Jeremiah 29 call us to seek the welfare of the city?
The Arrogance of the Urban
The Arrogance of the Urban: Part 2
Rural Ministry is Not Second Rate

Saturday Lagniappe: "The 3 Biggest Problems With An 'Every Number Is A Person' Approach To Ministry" and Much More

The 3 Biggest Problems With An 'Every Number Is A Person' Approach To Ministry

Record-keeping and statistical analysis are helpful ministry tools. But we need to know their limitations. Read More

You’re Bored with Jesus; Here’s Why

Many Christians are bored with Jesus. There’s no passion in their lives. They go through the motions, but they don’t want to read the Bible and pray on their own. They don’t really feel anything when they worship. How do we get to a point like this? More importantly, how do we fix it? Read More

Why Attending Church No Longer Makes Sense

The trend is practically universal: fewer people are attending church every year. You might have even asked the question yourself. Why bother? Read More

Passive Christianity Is Dead Christianity

We may say what sounds orthodox, but we do what we really believe. We may say what sounds loving, but we do what we love. We may say what sounds like gospel, but we do what is our gospel. We may say what sounds like a disciple, but we do what our Master demands. Read More

8 Ways to Respond to Spiritual Attack

Earlier this week I posted on the topic, “10 Signs of Spiritual Attack.” Many of us must be facing attacks, for that post quickly spread. In response to requests for a follow-up post, here are some ways to respond to spiritual attack. Read More

5 Words of Advice for Young Seminarians

For those starting college or seminary education, I know it can sometimes be intimidating or overwhelming. And for those who don’t feel a little intimidated or overwhelmed, you may need to prepare yourselves, lest you get caught off-guard by the challenges of your studies and the seminary culture. Maybe the following few words can serve in this regard. Read More

Do You Know How to Rebuke?

When was the last time someone sat you down to tell you that you were wrong? Read More

The 5 Cs of Preaching

What are the basic elements of biblical preaching? How do you know you’re preaching a Christian sermon and not simply giving a religious or spiritual lecture? Read More

A Plea to Preachers

We must never offer the benefits of the gospel without the Benefactor Himself. For many preachers, however, it is much easier to deal with the pragmatic things, to answer “how to” questions, and even to expose and denounce sin than it is to give an adequate explanation of the source of the forgiveness, acceptance, and power we need. Read More

4 Ways to Multiply the Impact of Your VBS

Use this one-week event to ignite year-long discipleship. Read More

5 Common Myths about Mobile Giving

A myth is a widely held but false belief or idea. Of course, myths can be based on some semblance of truth or have roots based in truth, but at the end of the day, a myth is still a false belief or idea. With that in mind, we thought we’d turn the light on a few myths that we hear commonly when it comes to mobile giving. Sound good? Ok, on with it.... Read More

How To Respond To A Culture You Don’t Like Anymore

You can debate when the collapse of Christendom in the West began, but there is little doubt we are witnessing a massive shift away from the cultural consensus that existed even a few generations ago.o as a church leader – as views on sexuality, family, parenting, drugs, finance and other values change – how do you respond? What do you do when the world for which you trained—maybe even the world where your approach was once effective—is disappearing before your eyes? Read More

What Andrew Jackson Could Teach Donald Trump about Religion

Certain Evangelical leaders friendly to Donald Trump recently prayed over the president....Hanging over the praying ministers was a portrait of the president Trump claims to admire most: Andrew Jackson. Perhaps unbeknownst to those in the room, Andrew Jackson (1767-1845) had been offered a similar religious blessing by Christian leaders. Jackson, however, consciously refused to claim God’s protection on his presidency. He believed that it was presumptuous and inappropriate to claim any special favor from God in his presidency, a caution not shared by his successor in 2017.Read More

Friday, July 21, 2017

6 Ways to Know If You’ve Been Called By God

How do you know?

How about you? How do you know if you’ve been called by God? The first thing I had to recognize was that we’re all called by God. Paul writes, encouraging everyone: “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received” (Eph. 4:1). We are all called. I could run, but I couldn’t hide from that call.

Beyond that, I had the example of God calling people in Scripture. The conversation between Paul and Jesus as recounted in Acts was especially helpful. Paul shares the story with King Agrippa. He says, Jesus told me this: “I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you” (Acts 26:16).

It’s a simple sentence, but it has a lot to teach us about the calling of God. Specifically, we can see six aspects of a call that apply to us. Read More

The Need For External Confirmation

Do Others Agree With Your Calling?

When it comes to evaluating the call to pastoral ministry, a personal sense of calling isn’t enough. The subjective sense of calling must be objectively validated by others. External assessment is an essential cord that tethers you, and your church, to safety. Read More

5 Signs of Spirit-Filled Preaching

Pastors are called to feed, lead and intercede for the church. When we have the privilege to stand before the people of God and share biblical truth with them, we must do so with the greatest skill entrusted to us by the Lord.

This requires from each preacher due diligence in his study, spiritual preparation in his life and total commitment from him through his delivery. When the Bible has been proclaimed faithfully and the people of God have been fed spiritually, there is a healthy spiritual satisfaction that rests upon the preacher.

The challenge of preaching is to communicate to the varied levels of maturity from those who hear us proclaim the Word. If all were on the same level, the preacher’s challenges would not be as great as they are.

In the public worship services in our churches, it is our desire to have the services filled with those who are mature, those who are not as mature as they should be and those that are absolutely there in search of God. Though it is a challenge to speak to these various levels of where people are with God, we know that every person can always benefit from hearing the Bible taught and applied to their life.

Here are a few things to keep in mind as we speak to those who need to be filled. Read More

Why I Love the Evening Service (and You Can Too)

When I came to University Reformed Church in 2004 the long-standing tradition of evening services had just about disappeared. I don't think the interim pastor had much interest in them, and the attendance had dwindled to a few dozen. I told the search committee that I wanted to resurrect the evening service. Over the years, the service grew to a strong core of committed folks, about one-fourth of our Sunday morning attendance.

Now as the pastor at Christ Covenant, I’m eager to pour into Sunday evening and, by God’s grace, see that service flourish.

Every church I've ever been a part of has had a Sunday evening service. I've always gone. It's what I grew up with. It's part of my rhythm as a Christian, and I am immensely grateful for it. It can be a chore to get the whole family back for the evening, and at times with young children my wife hasn’t been able to make it. But we hope to instill in our family the same habits that have served us so well. Read More

Six Evangelism Killers in a Church - Rainer on Leadership #347 [Podcast]

We have discussed evangelism a lot over the past few weeks and even launched a new site focused on it at Today we discuss six statements that can kill evangelism in your church.

Some highlights from today’s episode include.... Listen Now

A Case for Persuasion in Evangelism

Persuasion gets a bad rap, especially when it comes to evangelism.

Sure, we all know those types who take it to far. We've all felt that holy cringe when we've seen pointed fingers and heard "repent" reverberating from a bullhorn on the street corner. But I think we can all agree that this style of "evangelism" is more coercion than it is persuasion.

The English word for persuasion smacks of the used car salesmen stereotypes of evangelism that ask "what can I do to get you to buy into Christianity today?" to a hurried, harried and harrassed customer. But the Greek word for evangelism ("Peitho") is a whole different story.

Peitho means "to gently win someone over, to lovingly convince, to make a friend." And that's exactly what we want to do in evangelism. We want to gently win others over to Christ. We want to lovingly convince them to believe. We want to make them a friend to us and to Jesus. Read More

The Rise of the Nons: Protestants Keep Ditching Denominations

Nondenominational identity has doubled in the US since 2000, Gallup finds.

Ask an American Christian what type of church they belong to, and you’re more likely than ever to hear the label nondenominational.

The proportion of Protestants in the United States who don’t identify with a specific denomination doubled between 2000 and 2016, according to a Gallup poll released this week. Now, about 1 in 6 Americans are nondenominational Christians.

The growing popularity of nondenominational identity is the result of two trends: the decline in the number of Protestants overall, as more Americans eschew any religious affiliation (becoming “the nones”), and shrinking denominations themselves.

Not only are the major mainline churches continuing to see their numbers fall, the country’s largest Protestant denomination—the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC)—has lost a million members in the past 15 years.

Prior to 2000, half of all Americans belonged to a specific Protestant denomination. Now, just 30. Read More

The Church of England: Fundamental shifts in the General Synod

The decisions taken in the February and July 2017 sessions of the General Synod crossed a line never before reached. Its failure to take note of the definition of marriage as that between ‘one man and one woman in lifelong commitment’, and its embrace of key LGBT agenda (banning so-called ‘conversion therapy’ for unwanted same-sex attraction, liturgy to mark a person’s gender transition) has caused serious consternation, anger and anxiety in the Church of England, and beyond. It was the scale of defeat of orthodoxy in the July sessions that is most shocking. The following is my reflection on some of the significant shifts in the character and workings of the General Synod over my last 12 years as a member of General Synod.... Read More

Thursday, July 20, 2017

11 Advantages Of Having 50 Churches Of 100 Instead Of 1 Church Of 5,000

Big churches are great. But they’re very rare. And they’re not the only way to see the kingdom of God move forward.

Church planters are some of the great heroes of the faith. Especially when you realize how many church plants fail within the first few years.

But I wonder, how many failed churches might still be alive and well today if we didn’t pressure them to reach numerical goals that most churches, even after decades of existence, fail to achieve?

What would happen if, instead of sending one church planter to start a church, hoping for it to reach (to pick an arbitrary number) 5,000 attendees, we sent out 50 church planters, and resourced them with the tools to grow to 100 on average?

Not that every church will reach 100. Some will be bigger, some will be smaller. But if the expectation was 50 churches of 100, instead of one church of 5,000, how would it change the way we plant, resource and encourage churches?

And what if we applied that same logic to our existing churches?

Big churches are great. But they’re very rare. And they’re not the only way to see the kingdom of God move forward.

After all, if 5,000 people come to Christ, why do we care if they attend one big healthy church of 5,000, or 50 small healthy churches of 100? Or even 100 healthy churches of 50

I know there are church planting organizations that do this. But if your group, denomination or missions organization hasn't caught this as part of their vision, I encourage you to think about it seriously

If we made this shift in strategy, here are a few positive changes we might see. Read More

Thursday's Catch: "A Kairos Moment for Small Town America" and Much More

A Kairos Moment for Small Town America

Over 30 million people still live in rural areas. Read More

7 Business Principles That Lead to a Flourishing Church

My background was business, so I took those principles that I knew and applied them to building the new church. Read More

What Was the Reformation and Why Does It Matter? [Video]

A sermon from St Helen's Bishopsgate, a church located in the heart of the City of London. Watch Now

The English Reformers’ Teaching on Salvation [Audio]

A talk by Donald Allister on the English Reformers’ teaching on salvation at the Church Society Conference 1991. Listen Now

3 Common Ways Leaders Miscommunicate

Leadership mistakes are often synonymous with communication mistakes. Execution problems are often synonymous with lapses in communication. Here are three major communication struggles leaders should seek to avoid.... Read More

Preacher’s Toolkit: What Book Do I Preach First?

Sean Michael Lucas shares with us the three "precommitments" that directed his answer to that question. Read More

A Wake-Up Call to the Church

It’s time to wake up our churches to the need for revival and spiritual awakening. It’s time to answer the Holy Spirit’s wake-up call! Read More

Evangelism and Pastoral Care: The Best of Friends

How can we keep together what the church so often puts asunder? What would truly pastoral evangelism look like? Perhaps Peter can show us the way. Read More

Why Not Just Invite the Dropout Believer to Church? Arrows of Truth No. 3

Generally speaking, you are not going to get most dropouts back into church just by asking them. Read More

10 Outreach Ideas for Your Church This Fall

These ten outreach ideas will allow your church to be noticed in your community and, most importantly, provide your members with several opportunities for gospel conversations. Read More

Politics and What It Means to Be an Evangelical

The election of Donald Trump has elicited a great deal of frustration and dismay among non-Trumpian evangelicals. Some have suggested that the “court evangelicals” who unapologetically support Trump will drive many anti-Trump evangelicals into the fold of the mainline churches or other traditions. Trump’s election, in this line of thinking, has created in some “a desire to leave their evangelical churches in search of a more authentic form of Christianity.” Read More

UK Foreign Office Agency Says Evangelical Christians in the Global South Should “Reinterpret” the Bible

A report produced by an executive agency of the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office has argued that Evangelical Christians in the Global South should be expected to “reinterpret” the Bible to make it compatible with LGBT ideology. The recommendations, if implemented, would massively reverse freedom of religion across the globe. Read More

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Seven Reasons Why Some Churches Should Consider Being Acquired

“I have been involved in 17 church closures where we sold the properties to a secular company.”
Those words grieved me in two ways. First, I grieved that the ministry and mission presence of those 17 churches were no longer realities in their respective communities. Second, I grieved that the properties were no longer being used for local church ministries.

This post is not about a pleasant topic. It’s about churches that have declined to the point where their near term future is in doubt. And it’s about churches seriously considering allowing another church to takeover their property. It’s about churches going down the difficult but noble path of being acquired by another church. Allow me to elaborate with seven reasons why churches should consider this option. Read More

10 Essentials for a Successful Outdoor Event

Don’t let weather, logistics, or Egyptian plagues keep you from taking your service outside.

You are planning an outdoor service or event for your church. It sounds so quaint. So rustic-nouveau. So ... vulnerable to a meteorological and logistical disaster.

I know what it’s like to take church services to the great outdoors. From intimate baptism services for a few people at a lake, to renting out the local Triple-A ballpark for a 12,000-person event, we’ve seen, done, and experienced it all. The end result of an outside event feels like the Israelite Exodus: either you just entered the Promised Land, or you barely survived a modern-day version of the Egyptian plagues. There’s rarely anything in between.

Why would anyone risk clouds of insects, impending darkness, hail bombardment, or hordes of frogs? (Okay, that last one might be less likely than the others.) Read More

Why Christians Should Stop Caring About So Many Causes

True transformation takes focus, not capricious compassion.

“Many people come here and take pictures,” the elder told me as he leaned on his walking stick, his slender frame swathed in heavy cloth despite the heat. “Then they go away and never help.”

This is the moment that haunts me from my recent visit to Turkana, a region in northwestern Kenya crippled by drought and sliding inexorably into widespread hunger.

I’d stepped out of a small plane into a sweltering landscape of dry riverbeds and desiccated animal bones jutting out of the earth—a place so quiet without traffic and technology that a child’s plaintive wail seemed to carry for miles. A month later, as I recall this sobering scene, the elder’s words play over it like a soundtrack, telegraphing doubt that my visit would mean anything more than a photo op.

It’s not surprising that Westerners have a reputation here for capricious compassion. But it pains me that Christians would. Read More

4 Reasons God Uses Us Fools to Shame the Wise

In the news coverage of the May 22 terrorist bombing in Manchester, England, perhaps you saw a small item about a homeless man named Stephen Jones. He had been sleeping on the street outside the arena when the blast occurred. As soon as he saw the wounded survivors—most of them children—he rushed in to help, pulling nails from the homemade bomb out of their skin.

Stephen, a former bricklayer with no medical experience, was a highly unlikely first responder. But that didn’t stop him. Later hailed as a hero, he shrugged it off. “I class myself as a normal citizen that would’ve done the same as anybody else would’ve done,” he said.

Stories like this remind me of how God uses ordinary people in powerful ways. Sometimes the greatest impact comes from the very last person we’d expect, challenging our conviction that certain qualifications and skills are necessary to be useful to society. Read More

Those Who Are Truly Forgiven, Truly Forgive

We need daily pardon and daily protection as well as daily provision. So after Jesus taught us to pray, “give us today our daily bread,” He also taught us to pray, “and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matt. 6:12–13).

These petitions are for fallen sinners — for people who are often tempted to sin, and sometimes give in. Even before we face these temptations, we should ask God to keep us safe from what John Calvin called in his Institutes “the violent assaults of Satan.” In asking not to be led into temptation, we are not requesting that we will never be tempted at all, but that when we are tempted God will deliver us from Satan’s deadly attacks.

But what about the times when we do sin and fall into spiritual debt? How should we pray then? Read More

How to Preach Well According to Martin Luther

Early in his ministry, Martin Luther sarcastically described his “lazy” life of ministry in Wittenberg:

“All day long I do nothing but write letters… I preach at the monastery, I am a lector during mealtimes, I am asked daily to preach in the city church, I have to supervise the program of study… I lecture on Paul and I am still collecting material on the Psalms… See what a lazy man I am!”1

On top of his many other responsibilities, Luther was a preaching machine. He preached an estimated 4,000 sermons in his lifetime, of which we have approximately 2,300 of those sermons preserved today.

On average, Luther preached 120 sermons per year. That equates to roughly one sermon every three days.2 And most pastors today preach only one sermon a week and think the weight of their preaching load is heavy!

Ironically, Luther never desired to preach. Luther was ordained as a priest in 1507, but being a priest did not always mean being a preacher. In 1530, Luther wrote a letter to encourage another preacher in which he described his reluctance to accept the call to preach:

“I feared the pulpit perhaps as greatly as you do; yet I had to do it; I was forced to preach. Ah, how I feared the pulpit! Under this pear tree I advanced fifteen arguments to Dr. Staupitz; with them I declined my call. But they did me no good.”3

Despite his fear of preaching and a thorough attempt to decline, Luther reluctantly succumbed to the calling. This defining moment would begin a ministry that changed the course of preaching in the church, greatly impacting the way many pastors preach today.

For the sake of this article, we will examine only three hallmarks of Luther’s preaching that have heavily influenced the church today:

Preaching should be:

1.central to the church worship service,
2. founded on God’s Word,
3. and spoken in the simple language of ordinary people. Read More

The Beautiful Music of United Prayer

Imagine a master conductor gearing up to lead a large symphony orchestra in a beautiful rendition of Handel’s Messiah. The strings are tuned. The woodwind section is ready. The brass section is in place. The percussionists are set. The conductor steps to his platform with the applause of the crowded concert hall. At the magic moment he raises the baton. Musicians are at attention and the audience waits with bated breath. Then comes the downward stroke signaling the beginning of the musical masterpiece.

Instantaneously, something goes wrong. Horribly wrong. Even though each member of the orchestra has a perfect copy of the score for The Messiah, each musician decides to simply play whatever personal refrain comes to mind. None is the same. Disconnected tunes from Bach to rock spoil the moment. The violins, violas, and cellos compete in sounds of complete chaos. Individual percussionists pound random, incoherent beats. The horns blow a disarray of discordant notes. The woodwinds are just as disengaged with the score as the rest of the orchestra. The pandemonium that fills the air bears absolutely no resemblance to Handel’s composition.

The audience is baffled at the excruciating sound coming from the stage. What was intended to be a glorious concert of exquisite coordinated talent is now a bungled, confused disaster with no harmonies, no order, and none of the beauty that had been expected. Read More

Related Article:
Worship-Based Prayer
The use of a Prayer Book does not guarantee that a congregation is united in prayer. The members of the congregation may be reciting the same prayer but some may be saying it mechanically, not praying it from the heart. They may not be giving any thought to what they are saying. Indeed they may view the saying of the prayer as a duty that they must perform or an onerous task that they must complete. They rush through it at a gallop so they can move onto to what is in their estimation the most important part of the service - the sermon or the communion.

Real Christians Know Their Neighbors

Do you know your neighbors? Every day we run across people who are working at gas stations, flipping burgers, working at nail salons, and wiping down tables. Imagine if we all took a second out of our day to learn their names, ask how we can pray for them, and intentionally make it a point to come back and see them again. Now, you might be thinking, That’s kind of weird and overbearing. But it’s actually reflecting a vibrant image of Jesus Christ. So, yes— it is weird, if by weird you mean different.

As Christ-followers, we are called to be different from the rest of the world and to love people without limits. That’s surely something this world isn’t used to. In the same way we show love to our friends, family, and coworkers, we need to be extending that same love and compassion to the people we come across casually in our everyday lives. At one point in time, every friend was a stranger. Love changed that. This type of love will only work if it is intentional, selfless, and nontransactional. In order for us to begin a lifestyle of love, we must be intentional about giving it.
“The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”—Mark 12:31Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)
It will blow you away to see how the most unlikely of people can become the closest of friends, all through the act of intentional love. What’s the difference between being the church and simply inviting people to one? It’s showing relentless love. This will let us see every place, from the gas station to the grocery store, with an entirely new set of eyes. Before we love, though, we must get to know people. Knowing your neighbor is slowly becoming a faded concept, perhaps because while many people in this world truly yearn for the love and affection friendship brings, many of us are putting our own agendas before the needs of others. Read More

Loosing Faith In American Institutions

While Americans have always viewed institutions and hierarchy with some level of distrust, in recent years that distrust appears to have reached an all-time high. According to an annual Gallup poll, the confidence in 14 key American institutions averaged only 35 percent in 2017 and has averaged only 33 percent over the past three years. This erosion of trust is mirrored in many similar polls spanning several decades.

An institution is typically defined as a social structure or organization that helps to regulate social behaviors. The Gallup poll, for instance, asks respondents about their level of trust in institutions ranging from the military to organized religion to Congress. Pollsters then ask respondents a simple question concerning these institutions: “Please tell me how much confidence you, yourself, have in each [institution] — a great deal, quite a lot, some or very little?” An institution is considered trusted by those who answer “a great deal” or “quite a lot.”

Since 2004, the average confidence level has fallen from 43 percent to 32 percent, with banks, organized religion, the news media and Congress seeing the largest declines. Newspapers and organized religion have sunk to historic lows. In contrast, only the military and police have been able to maintain the confidence of a majority of respondents over the past decade. The decline over the past decade is the largest and most pervasive since Gallup began gathering this type of information in 1973. Read More

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Yes Christian, You Need the Church

It happens to be one of the more popular traps along the journey of faith—the idea that somewhere along the path of righteousness we somehow outgrow our need for the church. Perhaps you’ve met someone who was too busy for the church. Maybe you’ve encouraged someone who thought they were too important for the church. What was once the central aspect of their life has now turned into an occasional hobby. We all need a healthy reminder from time to time that we need the church in all seasons and successes of life. Read More

The Presiding Bishop’s Address to the Episcopal Missionary Church's National Synod

Last week on July 13, 2017 I attended the National Synod of the Episcopal Missionary Church with which St. Mark’s Anglican Church, Benton, Kentucky, is affiliated. I am involved in preaching and worship ministry at St. Mark’s. Today I am posting the Most Rev. William Millsaps’ address to the synod on that date. If you are not familiar with the Episcopal Missionary Church (EMC), I am providing links to a Wikipedia article on the EMC and to the EMC website. My thanks go to Bishop Jeffrey Anderson, EMC Bishop for the Armed Forces, for providing the text of Bishop Millsaps’ address and to Earnest Lumpkins for providing the photo of Bishop Millsaps. .

Dear People of the Episcopal Missionary Church, and honored guests, we welcome you again to Christ Church, Monteagle, and to the Cumberland Plateau. Please let us know of anything that might make your visit more special and more of a blessing to you.  

I am speaking to you in what I regard as a particularly challenging time in the life of Christians everywhere.  Christianity itself is under siege. However, it is our calling to serve God all the days of our lives, and, for many of us, that calling has come through the Episcopal Missionary Church.  

As most of you know, The Rt. Rev. A. Donald Davies was our first Presiding Bishop, and our church was first organized at a meeting in Texas in 1992.  Bishop Davies had been my bishop in The Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Dallas.   I had urged him many years before to leave the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church and to form a true missionary church, which would have the great Anglican heritage intact, without compromise or fear of intimidation. He told me that six bishops would be following him.  I told him that I believed that was very unlikely, but that he was doing the right thing. Almost immediately he was criticized on the grounds that the country already had too many continuing bodies and did not need another. He and his wife, Mabel, sacrificed much of their life savings buying a small group of buildings and chapel in Aiken, South Carolina.  Sadly, that beginning failed in terms of being the headquarters for our jurisdiction. Intellectuals did flock there for a duration, but it was short-lived and the growth spurt did not materialize. At that time many people could not face the reality that their church lives would never be the same. I sought and secured a release in good standing from the Anglican Church in America (ACA) so that I could fulfill my promise to stand with Bishop Davies.

It is important to our history to note that Bishop Davies was the person who named Christ Church, Monteagle, as the Cathedral and Headquarters of The Episcopal Missionary Church. What an irony that even a small jurisdiction should have its cathedral in such a rural area.   Yet we are, in fact, just off a major Interstate. The only way one can drive, logically, from Chicago to Miami, is over our mountain.  If you will examine our Guest Book, which is now our third Guest Book, you will see that we have visitors from all over. We take this responsibility seriously to be a beacon, a lighthouse, in a darkening world. 

Today is packed with adventures. You will hear Gabrielle Thompson, Fr. Charles Moncrief , Fr. Peter Nganga and others. You will join in the Ordination of John Greaves to the priesthood.  You will be blessed by more of the great hymns of which you had a taste at Evensong last night and Morning Prayer this morning.

You will hear from other people today about how they are seeing the Episcopal Missionary Church as, in the words of former President George Herbert Walker Bush, “points of light.”

You are sitting in one of them. I want to proceed to speak of some others. St. Andrew’s in Cheyenne, Wyoming, is one of the oldest continuing churches in our country, but a few years ago it had dwindled to such a small number of people that its future looked uncertain.  One of their rectors had taken them out of the EMC and was attempting to lead them into a small Eastern Orthodox body.   Since that rector is now deceased, I will speak only of what has happened over the last few years. The congregation began to grow again.  Fr. Charles Moncrief and Ruth made a number of trips out there.  Dr.Tim Davies, a professor at Colorado State became very active . David Ivester had grown up in St. Andrew’s.  I have known three generations of his family. Before long it began to occur to Dr. Tim that he was feeling a call to become not only Dr. Tim but Fr. Tim.   A period of soul searching began and our talks  intensified until Tim’s calling was fully affirmed and concluded with his ordinations, first to the diaconate and then to the priesthood.  David also was ordained a deacon and some time later a priest.

Martha and I love the west and southwest and were happy to travel to that area and especially to Cheyenne which is a very dear place to us  - not to mention that the once fragile future of St. Andrew’s has thrived under the inspired leadership of Fr. Tim and Fr. David Ivester, and the calling of  Fr. Tim’s incredible wife, Gloria, to help women faced with unplanned and unwanted pregnancies, to choose life,  and in the process to meet the Lord of Life, Jesus Himself.   

As this calling for Gloria intensified, we know she sought others with whom to surround herself who had a like-minded spirit for helping often very troubled and confused pregnant women, and their counterparts, those who had had an abortion and had grown guilty about it and needed spiritual help to move on with their lives.  Her vision, her witness, and her efforts have paid off well with the outpouring of support locally including Life Choice’s banquet in 2017 and the raising of $140,000 “to begin the process of securing and customizing a Mobile Unit to be part of this life-saving ministry.   This Unit will offer pregnancy testing, sexually transmitted infection (STI) testing, limited obstetrical ultrasounds, and individual counseling.”   We are full of gratitude to God and to all of those responsible for the support that Gloria and Life Choice is receiving through her vision of this ministry.  And we are proud of Fr. Tim Davies and the team at St. Andrew’s for the re-birth and growth of this parish. They humbly plead that St. Andrew’s was only one of many churches which came together to support this good work. That makes my point even more clear. We do not bear the light alone. We are not an Anglican club, or even a part of an “ism.” We are missionaries in a pagan, and sometimes hostile, culture.

Our culture has caved further since we entered the Continuum so many years ago and Martha incorporated many of our observations into her speech at the Synod held in Columbus. Ohio.  Our entire history as a nation has been waylaid by revisionists who intend, it seems, to throw our “unalienable” rights (those written into our founding documents) and replace them with those which no longer allow us to see ourselves as “endowed by our Creator.”

In Blue Ridge, Georgia at St. Luke’s some years back, a group of men, saw that while Women’s groups were flourishing, men did not seem to claim the high calling of both understanding and sharing with others that would bring men to Christ and His Church.  Modeled on the Tennessee Laymen’s Conferences which once drew hundreds of men to this mountain, St. Luke’s blazed a trail that continues to attract men each fall.  It has been my honor to attend each of these conferences and also to be a chauffer and servant to do my part in participating in this “point of light.” The clergy of St.Luke’s, The Rev. Victor Morgan and The Rev. Ron Wikander back the efforts and devotion of Roger Johnson and his team of laity in planning and carrying through on these conferences. Come join us in October in Blue Ridge.

About ten years ago, it seemed that the light was dimming severely at Holy Cross, Franklin,Tennessee.  One of my closest friends told me that “the Anglican moment has passed” and I should accept that fact.  God, however, seems to have thought otherwise.  I believe God guided me to bring Fr. Tim Williams to Tennessee, where he has deep roots, and to encourage him and his family to enjoy our little church and to use their gifts alongside the fine tent maker priest , Fr. Vaughn Cooper, and the small but vibrant group of laity still there. Now Michael Hogue is a deacon and the parish hums with activity and deep theology and Celtic Evensongs on St. Patrick’s Day and other special occasions.

In Warrenton, Virginia and that whole area the light is shining.  Christ Church, Warrenton realized some years ago that addiction was a problem which cuts across all lines. They opened their doors to A.A.  This is not unusual for churches, but the numbers which began to go up meant the rector and vestry had to be firm in saying that A.A. would continue to be holding meetings.  Bishop Jeff Anderson has been a recognized leader in every sense of that word, and Bishop Vince McLaughlin has come alongside our West Point Bishop, and brought a bit of Scotland with him.  Now more and more men are presenting themselves for consideration as postulants and tiny churches are sensing that the Anglican Tradition is more than just a beautiful flower in God’s garden.

In Columbus, Ohio, in our Christ Church there, in the entrance hall, you can examine the actual copy of the Affirmation of St. Louis, which has been read to hundreds of faithful men and women. The rector of Christ Church, Fr. Michael Cochran, and his wife Gretchen planned to be with us today. But yesterday Fr. Mike called to say that they could make the trip at this time. Fr. Mike and Gretchen have been faithful friends, even finding our services when we were renting the Monteagle Seventh Day Adventist Church. When I was invited as one of the speakers at the 25th Anniversary of the St. Louis meeting,  I referred to the  quiet and strong who make our lives better.  Wale Fafiade, who emigrated from Nigeria, also part of the team in Columbus, brought his family alongside Fr. Mike.  So we have another ‘point of light.”   

I could keep you here all day by speaking about what I have seen, just in the last few years, in terms of the ministry of The Episcopal Missionary Church. We love our Anglican brethren, and we believe we are already one with them, whether we are invited to sign Concordats or not.  

One of my favorite passages from Holy Scripture is Acts. 2:42. “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, and in the prayers and the breaking of bread.”  These words never cease to thrill me, and to inspire me to proclaim the Gospel and to seek fellowship and pray with others. When we come together, especially in the Eucharist, we are fulfilling this passage. May we have a great time here, and go forth strengthened for service and rejoicing in our ministry!

Photo Credit: Earnest Lumpkins

Philip Jensen on Why and How Churches Must be Pragmatic

Since the release of the latest Australian Census data, I've been troubled by how many people in my nation are yet to know Jesus, and how ineffective we (as evangelical Christians) have been at reaching them.

I discovered that since 1991, there has been a 22% drop in the number of people claiming to be Christians and in a single generation there has been an 88% decline in the number of self-declared Christians.

So my friend Dave sent me this sermon by Philip Jensen from 1988, where he pulls no punches in pleading that churches change to reach the 97% who are not in our churches each Sunday.

You should listen to the whole message, but here are 10 quotes that stood out.... Read More

A talk by Phillip Jensen at the Evangelical Ministry Assembly 1988
For about 10 years I was involved in a growing non-denominational church here in Murray, Kentucky. I became involved in the church 9 months after it was launched. During that 10-odd-year period the church launched a second campus in a neighboring community - a 20 minute drive from Murray. Two years later it would close that campus because it had not grown from the original nucleus with which it started the campus. One of the lessons that I learned from what happened is that what works in one community may not work in another community. Every community is different. Cookie-cutter approaches, pragmatic or otherwise, do not work. Whatever approach we adopt, we must tailor it to the community that we are seeking to reach, to the segment or segments of the population that we are seeking to engage for Christ and ultimately lead to Him. Here again what works with one population segment may not work with another. I am now involved in a small Anglican church that is located in that same community and which faces its own challenges.

Should a Church Have Financial Reserves?

Almost all personal financial experts will tell you our families need a financial reserve of several months’ income to weather unexpected challenges. I lead an organization where we seek to have some level of financial reserves for contingencies and capital expenditures.

On the surface, it would seem that a church should have financial reserves if at all possible. But there are implications that argue both ways on this issue. Let’s look at eight of them. Read More

10 Signs of Spiritual Attack

Spiritual warfare is a reality (Eph. 6:10-20). Based on my years of studying this topic, here are some anecdotal signs of attack I’ve seen – particularly, if not primarily, on those Christian leaders who are taking steps of faith to get the gospel to a lost world.... Read More
In describing the Christian's spiritual armor in his letter to the Ephesians the apostle Paul draws upon the familiar imagery of the Roman soldier's armor with which the Ephesians would have been acquainted as Ephesus was a part of the Roman Empire.

Don’t Be a Superstitious Christian

Last week I was speaking with a man who drives for a ride-share company, and he told me about the rosary hanging from the rearview mirror in his car. It’s been there for his entire career, and during that time he hasn’t had an accident. An acquaintance of his had removed the rosary from his own rearview mirror, and soon after got in an accident. “How do you explain that?” he said.

The human tendency toward superstition is strong. We can all lean toward spiritualizing objects, behaviors, and beliefs without a concern for the person and will of God. We love our superstitions and the talismans that seem to protect us from the things we fear most. Read More

5 Terrible Reasons to Go Into 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
This article is a repost. It was originally posted on Thom Rainer's Blog. Those seeking to enter vocational ministry do need to evaluate their motives for doing so. It is an important step to take before embarking upon that vocation.

The Agonizing Ordeal of Eugene Peterson — You Might Be Next

Those who have fled for security to the house of evasion must know that the structure has crumbled. It always does.

Was he against it, before he was for it? Is he really against it now?

The ordeal experienced last week by popular author Eugene Peterson was agonizing to observe, largely self-inflicted, and virtually inevitable. You should pay close attention to it, for you might very well be next. Read More

Monday, July 17, 2017

Ten Roadblocks to Church Revitatlization

Please pause for a moment.

Please prayerfully consider the words you are about to read.

Please ask God for His strength to overcome these roadblocks.

You have seen the data. You know that two-thirds of our churches are plateaued or declining. Even more, among the declining churches are those that are on the precipice of closing, following the pattern of tens of thousands of other churches that have already closed.


Why are so many of our churches not moving forward?

Since so many of our churches are in need of revitalization, let’s begin by seeing what roadblocks hinder turnarounds. Here are ten of the most common.... Read More

We’ve Lost the Soul of Evangelicalism

Not long ago I posted on the loss of the evangelical soul, a post in part stimulated by the tone of conversations I am witnessing on FB. Everybody’s a prophet these days and thinks so because, so they think, they are speaking truth to power. They’re not. They’re yelling in a barrel full of self-appointed prophets.

Today’s post moves into signs of evangelicalism’s demise. Let’s get the standard definition of evangelicalism on the table first: An evangelical is committed to these four elements: the Bible, the cross as the place of atonement, the necessity of personal conversion, and an active Christian life both in missions/evangelism as well as justice, peace and reconciliation. On top of this, evangelicalism is non-denominational and cross-denominational. For one very good sketch of evangelicalism, I recommend David Bebbington, The Dominance of Evangelicalism. For a more intra-mural debate, Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism.

Those four elements are crumbling, folks, they are crumbling. It’s not that evangelicalism has been yet again swamped by politics and lost its way. Rather, it is swamped by politics because those four elements are crumbling. Bible and theology are of little interest other than an odd Bible citation to prop up a claim. Small groups read books by well-known authors, rarely are they studies on a single book of the Bible (publishers aren’t selling these as well today), far too many of its most prominent theologians write books unanchored in Scripture and they do not begin with sketches of the Bible. Read More

4 Essentials for Spiritual Maturity

When the New Testament addresses spiritual maturity, it uses the common Greek word teleios, which means “perfect” or “complete.” When it is applied to Christian growth, it indicates spiritual maturity in contrast to childlike immaturity as, for example, in this command from Paul: “Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature (teleioi).” (1 Cor. 14:20; see also Heb.5:13–6:1). Sometimes it indicates perfection, as in Jesus’ summary command in the Sermon on the Mount: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect” (Matt.5:48). Spiritually, it always references solid, biblically informed understanding and conduct in Christ—spiritual adulthood.

Significantly, the job description for pastors is freighted with the responsibility of bringing the church to spiritual maturity, as stated in classic words to the church in Ephesus.... Read More

12 Ways to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse

Jonathan was sick to his stomach. No pastor ever wants a child hurt. Yet, his church was facing a lawsuit over sexual abuse in their children’s ministry. He was bogged down with conversations with a lawyer, shepherding the distraught families in his congregation, feeling guilt over his failed leadership, and trying to hold things together. Jonathan said, “It felt like a bomb just went off, and I’m cleaning up the mess.”

“Jimmy” was a friendly man who had joined First Baptist Church about a year before. He was very kind, and the members of First Baptist took a quick liking to him. Jimmy volunteered to teach a Sunday school class and got to know “Peter,” an eight-year-old boy, in his class. Things started innocently. A hug at the end of class. Gifts for Peter. Lots of extra attention.

And then it happened. Jimmy took advantage of Peter. He made Peter keep it a secret. Peter cried a lot over the next few days (which was not like him), and eventually his mother got it out of him. She contacted the pastor immediately, but the church made excuses. She was so outraged, she sued the church. Read More

Sunday, July 16, 2017

4 Reasons Small Churches Are Essential to the Kingdom

At Outreach magazine, we are encouraged and spurred on by the growth and outreach of churches. We research large churches and even do a special issue on the 100 fastest-growing churches in America. We believe that it’s important and valuable to analyze church-growth metrics.

However, we would be remiss if we ignored the largest majority of churches in America: small churches. We want to emphasize—with research—the value, importance and promise that small churches hold in God’s work in the world. Read More

Five Ways a Sending Church Can Support the Family of a Planter [Video]

Steve Canter, Send City Missionary for New York City, explains how Sending Churches can care for their church planter’s family. Watch Now

Community Covers a Thousand Threats

Those simple words, once safe and sweet, now haunt me at times. I remember discovering (it seemed) two verses at age seventeen. I memorized them, working each phrase into my adolescent mind and heart. Now they have taken on a whole new meaning almost two decades later.

Sadly, I have seen it happen over and over: how neglecting real, consistent, committed Christian community goes hand in hand with a cooling heart for Christ.

It often begins with taking corporate worship lightly — with just a few absences here or there. It progresses to a proclivity to not show whenever the slightest excuse presents itself. Soon this reality we call “habit” is working against a healthy soul, rather than for it.

Rarely have I seen someone who is seemingly warm to Jesus walk away all at once. Usually it has included a slow distancing to the means of God’s grace called “fellowship.” But week in, week out, life-on-life, non-negotiable Christian community covers a thousand threats.... Read More

Rethinking Christian Calling

Many well-meaning Christians often want to baptize their aspirations and decisions with divine approval. It’s not uncommon to hear young people encouraged to figure out who, where, and what God might be “calling” them to. Consider three little anecdotal stories. John is talking with some friends when he confidently announces that he has met the girl he will marry. When asked how he can be certain he says God has called him to take her as his wife. Susie is getting ready to graduate high school and decides to go to a particular university. When asked why, she says God has called her to go to that school. Ben works as a plumber. When asked why he chose that profession he says God has called him to that work. Do you see the pattern?

While it may not gain me popularity points I want to rethink this common idea of God’s calling. Biblically, the call of God is used in reference to our salvation and to Apostolic office (see e.g. Romans 1:1 and 1 Corinthians 1:1). Foregoing the second of these, the Bible says we have been “called to belong to Jesus Christ” (Romans 1:6) and “called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:30). We’re “called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:2) and “called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:9). We have been “called to freedom” (Galatians 5:13) and called into a hope that is “the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints” (Ephesians 1:18). We have received the “upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14) and are to “walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory” (1 Thessalonians 2:12). And you are to be “diligent to confirm your calling and election” (2 Peter 1:10). The dominant use of “call” in the New Testament is directed toward our initiation, identity, hope, and destiny in Jesus Christ. In all of that, and there’s dozens more that could be mentioned, the Bible never mentions God’s call in relation to your individual aspirations and decisions. Read More

The Real Reason We Don’t Read Our Bibles

Through my work with the Christian Standard Bible, I came across some stats about Bible reading: 88 percent of American households own a Bible, but only 37 percent of people read it once a week or more. People said they don’t read their Bibles because they don’t have enough time, and they struggle to understand the words.

These two frustrations are understandable, and we’ve all struggled with them. But are they the real reasons people aren’t reading their Bibles? Read More

4 Things Every Kid Needs to Know about the Bible

Working on children’s curriculum has been a big shift for me. Once The Gospel Project expanded to include all age groups, I suddenly found myself wading through reams of paper, editing children’s lessons to make sure they focused attention on Jesus Christ and what He has done.

I may not be experienced yet in developing children’s curriculum, but I am a father. And since my wife and I have the responsibility to disciple our kids, we know the message we want to give them at home as well as the message we want to see reinforced at church. Read More

The Best Church Websites I’ve Seen In 2017

I’ve worked hard to narrow down this list of the best church websites I’ve seen in 2017 to just three.

That’s right. Not a long list of the best websites. Just three.

But three church websites that I think are for very different reasons rise above the rest.

Your website or mine probably isn’t in this short-list either. Call me ruthless. That’s okay.

The websites are listed in no particular order. Just click on the picture to go to their site and check them out. Read More

The Strange Burden of Participating in Social Media

Over the last year or so, I have become more discouraged about social media and what it is doing to us than I have ever been.

Often I think to myself, “The only reason I use social media any more is because it’s such an important part of my job.” Really, it’s central to my job.

Then, some weeks, what I see on social media encourages me and gives me hope for the medium as a useful tool for the Church.

One of my friends recently left social media entirely. He deleted all of his accounts and isn’t going to engage on Twitter, Facebook, etc. any more. I kinda wish I could bring myself to do that, but every time I consider it, I can’t.

It’s not that I can’t bring myself to leave social media because I have some sort of unhealthy addiction to it or because I need to be informed about what all of my friends are doing with their lives. (At least I don’t think that’s why.)

I think I can’t bring myself to leave social media because I have a sort of strange burden for it as a medium. Read More

Seven Myths Perpetuated by Missions People

Like being one degree off course, the negative outcomes increase in severity.

Over the past thirty years I have noticed that many of us have a tendency to inadvertently promote half-truths that we think advance the cause of world missions. By half-truths, I mean concepts that are partially true or seem true on the surface, but in fact are myths.

At times, I have inadvertently perpetuated these false beliefs myself, for which I wholeheartedly repent. I offer this short article as part of my restitution. I believe that when we participate in spreading these myths, we unintentionally hinder the spread of God’s kingdom. While the myths may seem miniscule and inconsequential, over time, like being one degree off course at the start of a long journey, the negative outcomes increase in severity. Here are seven common myths perpetuated by missions people.... Read More

Friday, July 14, 2017

The Endlessly Fascinating Microbiology Of Small Church Ministry

Small churches are to megachurches as microbiology is to astronomy. One is small, one is huge, both have value.

When you love something, there's always more to discover in it. That was the essence of a conversation I had recently about the value of small church ministry.

It began with a question.

"What you're doing with small churches is great, but won't you have to expand your vision at some point? I mean, how much more is there to say or learn about small churches?"

The question was conversational, not confrontational, so I replied just as conversationally with the following:

"How much is there to learn about small churches? I don't know. How much is there to learn about microbiology?

“Just because microbiologists limit their study to small organisms doesn't mean they'll run out of valuable principles to discover, unexpected ideas to apply, or new ways their work can bless humanity. In fact, they don’t weaken their contribution to science by narrowing their focus, they strengthen it. When we narrow our field of study we can go deeper and get more out of it. For us and others.

“The same thing happens in a small church when the pastor and the people can invest more deeply in each other.

“Astronomy isn’t a bigger or better field of study than microbiology. It’s just about physically larger objects.

“In the same way, church growth isn’t a bigger or better field of study than small church ministry. It’s just about numerically larger churches.” Read More

10 Most Frequent Questions Pastors Have - Rainer on Leadership #345 [Podcast]

We get questions every day from several venues—blog comments, emails, tweets, and so many more. Here are the top 10 that we get the most and how to answer them.

Some highlights from today’s episode include.... Listen Now

Tim Challies: Sin and Sanctification

The Damning Devastation of a Single Coddled Sin

We can never be ambivalent. We who are Christians have no right to allow any sin to persist. We must go hard after every sin and to pursue each one until it has been completely crushed, for even one sin left alone is enough to do terrible damage to our souls. A recent study of one of my favorite old authors showed me the damning devastation of a single coddled sin. Here are nine things to consider in times you may feel ambivalent toward even a single sin. Read More

The Five Key Factors in Every Christian’s Sanctification

Growth in Christlikeness is a lifelong, active progression. We are holier on the day we die than we were on the day we came to Christ. We are holier on the day we die than we are on the day before we die. Yet this long progression is peppered with seasonal lulls, drudgery, and complacency. We know we are never as Christlike as we ought to be or even as we want to be. Yet while our lack of holiness ought to motivate greater effort in godliness, we often allow it to contribute to discouragement, laziness and apathy. Sanctification is a tricky business.

How does God go about this work of sanctification? David Powlison helpfully narrows it down to five means or five streams through which God pours out his sanctifying grace. These factors work in tandem, each one contributing to our lifelong gain in godliness. Read More