Friday, August 18, 2017

Four Paths for Church Revitalization - Rainer on Leadership #355 [Podcast]

Revitalization is needed in nearly two thirds of churches in America. Today ThomRainer and Jonathan Howe discuss four paths for revitalization and the challenges of each. Listen Now

IF I Were a Spy at Your Church This Weekend - LINK NOW WORKING

If you read this blog regularly, you know that my church consulting company, the Lawless Group, sends “spies” to churches to give us a report of their experience. They generally look for basic things – e.g., Is there adequate signage? Are the people friendly? Is the music well done? Is the preaching biblical? If I were to visit your church this weekend, though, here are some other things I’d watch for.... Read More

Christianity in the Modern World

“Teach a rat to expect punishment whenever a certain bell rings and a reward whenever a different bell rings; then ring both bells together. The rat will show confusion, timidity and indecision. In much the same way Christians today, confused by the ringing of many bells, are filled with indecision and a timid spirit.”

These are words with which Nels Ferre, the American theologian, begins his book “Return to Christianity”, and they are words which bring sharply before us something of the result of the modern search for truth, and the confused situation it has created for very many. We have delighted in many bells, only to find after a time that they developed unpleasant cracks, so that their music was ruined. Read More

The 8 Beliefs You Should Know about Mormons When They Knock at the Door

A statue of the Angel Moroni whom Mormons believe led Joseph Smith to the golden plates upon which was inscribed the Book of Mormon. Mormons believe that Moroni was a prophet who became an angel when he died.  
The following is a brief overview of the beliefs of Mormonism (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) believe, along with what the Bible really teaches, printed among the many articles and resources in the back of the ESV Study Bible (posted with permission). Read More

Preaching Bigger Books in Shorter Series

Let’s say you want to preach from a bigger book, but you like the idea of shorter series – is that possible? Here are a few suggestions.... Read More

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On technology and preaching

Are Evangelicals Donating Too Directly to Missions?

When helping hurts the professional helpers.

Long before Google Maps, a couple of guys in a garage in California figured out how to use personal computers to create a digital map of the global church.

It was 1983, and their two-year project—meant to help organizations see where to send missionaries and who still needed translations of the Bible—grew into an organization called Global Mapping International (GMI).

GMI spent the next 34 years supplying products such as missions maps and studies on how missionaries could thrive. It didn’t charge missions agencies very much and supplemented by asking for donations.

In June, GMI closed its doors, unable to draw enough funding from today’s givers.

“The attention span of the donor is much shorter, and their desire for tangible, immediate impact from their gift is much higher,” said GMI president and CEO Jon Hirst. Read More

The Centuries-Old Habits of the Heart

How our accomodation of sin found us out in Charlottesville.

The tragic events in Charlottesville have captivated the attention of the nation, plunging us, yet again, into another period of deep soul-searching over our anguished racial history. President Donald Trump drew criticism from both sides of the aisle for his reluctance to condemn white nationalism specifically in his initial remarks.

As a scholar of political rhetoric, I understand, yet strongly disagree with Trump’s strategy in refusing to condemn white nationalism specifically. A vocal part of his base aligns with this philosophy, leaving him little incentive to risk alienating them. When former Klansman David Duke endorsed Trump during the campaign, the candidate expressed similar hesitancy in distancing himself from white nationalism.

Trump deserves strong criticism for his failure to specifically and clearly condemn white nationalism. The lure of power and votes do not justify his silence. Yet, to criticize an unpopular president is easy. Perhaps the harder, more difficult task we face in the wake of Charlottesville is to consider how we as citizens and Christians engage in a similar type of silence on a regular basis. Many of us mobilize in defense of ideals of equality every time an incident like Charlottesville occurs, but quickly retreat to our comfort zones when public attention dies down. Daily battles for equality in church, education, employment, and the criminal justice system are much harder to maintain.

Trump’s silence on white supremacy was not an aberration, but a cultural norm. Our disgust with his statement threatens to blind us to the ways in which the American imagination has consistently made room for the ideas of white supremacy to exist alongside core values like freedom, justice, and equality. Accommodating racism is as American as apple pie. Read More

Related Articles:
Without Action, We Are Hypocrites
I Don’t Have the Luxury of Ignoring Racism Anymore
Pastoral Reflections from Charlottesville

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Adding A Second Church Service Without Killing Your Momentum

Taking an almost-full room and dividing into two less-than-half-full rooms can be a psychological blow. Here's how one church overcame it.

Has your church ever tried to add a second weekend worship service, only to have it flame out? This was the question that was asked on a small church pastors’ discussion board recently.

Several of the responses were, understandably, along these two lines:

“That’s a ‘problem’ I’d love to have.”

“Going to two services killed our momentum. Never again.”

So, yes, needing to add a service is a ‘problem’ many churches would love to face, but if you don’t do it well, it can hurt more than it helps. So let me share with you how our church did it without killing our momentum. Read More
As Charles Arn and Leith Anderson point out in How to Start a New Service, when you start a new service, you are not providing the existing congregation with the option of an alternative time that they may attend church. You are starting a new congregation. The second congregation may take on an entirely different character from the first congregation and that is OK. 

The 11 Beliefs That You Should Know about the Jehovah's Witnesses When They Knock at the Door

The following is a brief overview of what Jehovah’s Witnesses believe, along with what the Bible really teaches, printed among the many articles and resources in the back of the ESV Study Bible (posted by permission). Read More

4 Bible Reading Strategies for Reading Plan Quitters

Do you sometimes find yourself being envious of the people who start a Bible reading plan, follow it faithfully, and stick through until the end? Then, they start the same Bible reading plan the next year and persevere to the end again. I’m sorry, I just struggle with doing that. Sometimes I find that I get halfway through a Bible reading plan, get bogged down, and cannot go any further.

This used to create a load of guilt in my heart because I would get stuck in the middle of really good Bible reading plans. It’s happened to me with some great Bible reading plans– Robert Murray McCheyene, the Bible Eater, and Dr. Horner’s Bible reading plan. All of these plans are built around solid strategies for reading the Bible, but in my personal weakness, I struggle to persevere.

I doubt that I am the only person who has this struggle. If you struggle like I do, here is the advice that I would offer– change it up. Instead of choosing one Bible reading plan, choose a strategy for reading the Bible and then change what you are doing when you find yourself getting stale. After all, what matters is not that we are sticking to a plan, but that we are reading the Bible and being changed by it.

Here are four strategies for changing up the way that you read the Bible. Read More

Six Communications Blunders That Will Cost You Volunteers

If you’re on staff at a church or a leader in any way, you likely interact with volunteers on a daily basis. And unfortunately, you’re probably not sitting on an endless supply of volunteers. It’s quite possible that you’re looking for people every week to fill a hole left by a volunteer who’s sick, out of town, or unreliable.

But is it possible that you could be running off volunteers? With some of the emails, letters, and communications I’ve seen from churches over the years, it’s entirely possible. Poor communication can cost you volunteers and church members. That’s why it’s important to avoid these communications blunders. Read More

Keeping the Faith in a Faithless Age

“The greatest question of our time,” historian Will Durant offered, “is not communism versus individualism, not Europe versus America, not even East versus the West; it is whether men can live without God.” That question, it now appears, will be answered in our own day.

For centuries, the Christian church has been the center of Western civilization. Western culture, government, law, and society were based on explicitly Christian principles. Concern for the individual, a commitment to human rights, and respect for the good, the beautiful, and the true—all of these grew out of Christian convictions and the influence of revealed religion.

All of these, we now hasten to add, are under serious attack. The very notion of right and wrong is now discarded by large sectors of American society. Where it is not discarded, it is often debased. Taking a page out of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, modern secularists simply declare wrong, right, and right, wrong. Read More

Iceland Eliminates People with Down Syndrome

A casually worded CBS News article depicts a horrifying reality.

CBS News reported earlier this week that Iceland is leading the world in “eradicating Down syndrome births.”

One might be forgiven for assuming that Iceland has developed an innovative treatment for the chromosomal disorder. It turns out Iceland’s solution is much simpler, and much more sinister: using prenatal testing and abortion to systematically exterminate children with Down syndrome. This isn’t progress; it’s eugenics. Read More

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Iceland’s Future: Clear, Bright and Cold
The Country Where Children with Down Syndrome Are Disappearing

White Evangelicals Oppose Calls to Impeach Trump

President’s faithful want him to stay in office, and trust him on Russia.

Even before the fallout over President Donald Trump’s remarks on the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, a growing number of Americans hoped to see the country’s 45th leader impeached. However, white evangelicals—a group that largely voted for Trump—were among the most likely to want him to stay in the White House.

A PRRI poll conducted in early August found that 40 percent of Americans believe the President should be impeached, up from 30 percent who said so in February.

Among white evangelicals, 79 percent oppose the calls to impeach Trump—more so than white mainline Protestants (63%), white Catholics (61%), and nones (45%). Overall, about half of Americans say Trump does not deserve to be impeached. Read More

Related Articles:
‘He is stubborn and doesn't realize how bad this is getting’
In One Tweet, Donald Trump Just Spread Fake History, Libeled a Hero, and Admired an Alleged War Crime
On Christians Unable to Critique President Trump: Loyalty and the Rorschach Test
Will white evangelicals' uncritical support of the Trump presidency harm evangelicalism's witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ in North America?

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Wednesday's Catch: "One-on-One with Scholar and Researcher Mark Silk on the Future of Religion, Especially Evangelicalism, in America (Part One)” and Much More

One-on-One with Scholar and Researcher Mark Silk on the Future of Religion, Especially Evangelicalism, in America (Part One)

Evangelicalism is now the normative form of non-Catholic Christianity in America. Read More

Please Stop Saying “Christianity Isn’t a Religion, It’s a Relationship.”

I’m sure you’ve heard it or said it yourself: “Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship.” Please stop. Read More

Seven Characteristics of Reactionary Pastors

Thom Rainer speaks to the most common mistakes of reactionary pastors. Read More

Pastoral Plagiarism: 10 Do’s and Don’ts

What are the “rules” of plagiarism for communicators? Read More

10 Tips for Effective Leadership

In this day and age, everyone has their very own version of what it takes to be an effective leader. I’m no different. These are my 10. Read More

Protecting Children from Abuse: An Interview

Tim Challies recently interviewed Boz Tchividjian to ask him some key questions for every Christian and every church. Read More

Bruce Ammons on 500% More Second Time Guests Than The Average Church [Podcast]

Bruce Ammons from Sugar Creek Baptist Church talks with the Unseminary team about how to retain visitors to your church. Listen Now

Two-Thirds of Americans Admit They Are Sinners

Most agree with Romans 3:23, but disagree on what to do about it. Read More

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

9 Signs You're Operating in Your Own Power

It’s one of Satan’s most subtle strategies. He’s so sly that we don’t even recognize it’s happening. That strategy? To entice us to do ministry, whether as a pastor or a layperson, in our own power. He simply is not alarmed when we go through the motions and activities of church, but without the power of God on us.

Here are nine signs that you might be operating in your own power.... Read More

10 Things You Should Know about Repentance

Repentance is a massively important spiritual issue that calls for careful study and clear articulation. Here are ten things to remember about what it means to repent of our sin. Read More

3 Easy Ways To Know The Quality Of Your Leadership

One of the most difficult aspects of leadership is to know how you’re doing as a leader.

Add a little insecurity into the mix, and it makes things even more complex.

Naturally, you’ll get feedback from your peers and probably get an occasional 360 review (both great practices).

But beyond that, how can you tell how you’re doing? The reality is your leadership is being judged daily. But how accurately do you judge and assess your own leadership?

There’s a way to check that’s much simpler than you might think. By asking yourself three simple questions, you can not only get an accurate gauge of how you’re doing but where you need to improve. Read More

Will Contemporary Worship Kill the Choir?

Will contemporary worship kill the choir?


And I say that with a great deal of confidence. I admit there are styles of music in the modern worship era more suited to choirs than others. I would add that the role of choirs in worship has also been a changing aspect of church practice through the years.

But, I’ll also add that most church leaders would rather influence 60 people than 6 if given the choice. Choirs make sense for a lot of reasons. That’s why our “tag line” for The Red Box (our choral preview club) proudly says that LifeWay Worship Resources is a “Proud Supporter of Choirs Everywhere!”

So, how do I know that choirs in worship will survive?

Simply stated, because choirs were God’s idea – not ours. Read More

Why Smaller Churches Can’t Fly Under the Copyright Radar

“Why is it important for churches to honor copyrights?”

This is a vital question for church leaders who set policies and procedures regarding their copyright compliance. I’m always a little stunned to hear someone counter with, “How many churches have been sued for copyright infringement?” In other words, what’s the chance of us getting caught and what are the risks?

Two recent lawsuits raised a major red flag for Christian leaders who have the illusion there is special immunity for churches when it comes to the U.S. Copyright Law, and smaller churches can no longer assume they operate under the radar. Read More

Race, the Gospel, and the Moment

How should Christians, and especially those with an Anglo-white background, respond to last weekend’s alt-right gathering in Charlottesville and its tragic aftermath?

Three brief things need to be said. Read More

On Christians Unable to Critique President Trump: Loyalty and the Rorschach Test

If you are unable to critique a president, you've lost your prophetic witness.

This weekend was an important moment in our nation and, I think, for evangelical Christianity in America. Reflecting and responding to the events following Charlottesville is worth our time and energy.

Many issues are already being discussed, and it’s important that we think deeply on issues of race, but I’d like to ask one additional question: Why are a subset of (often evangelical) Christians unable to see when President Trump has stumbled and feel they must defend everything he does—even after he obviously saw his error and sought to fix it today? Read More

Monday, August 14, 2017

8 Reasons the Size of Your Church Does Matter

old-fashioned weights

Last week, I posted on “7 Reasons the Size of Your Church Doesn’t Matter.” I trust that post was encouraging to many of you. At the same time, though, I want to offer a counter opinion today. I do think size matters, and here’s why.... Read More

Why Many of Our Churches Are Still One Color

What’s wrong with our church?”

It was a sincere question. The elder wanted to know why there seems to be a steady erosion of attendance, discipleship, and evangelism at his church.

Then I showed him the demographics of the church’s community. Over 40 percent of the area was non-white and growing, but the church was above 95 percent white. My response was simple. “You are not connecting with your community. The ethnic and racial diversity of the community is not reflected in the church.

” This church is one of tens of thousands of congregations that are one color, one race, or one group. Why? Why is this reality still taking place today? Let’s look at seven reasons. Read More

Photo Credit: Unsplash

When Should Doctrine Divide?

For various reasons I’ve been thinking about how Christians should relate to each other around secondary doctrines. What partnerships and alliances are appropriate among Christians of different denominations, networks, or tribes? What kind of feelings and practices should characterize our attitude to those in the body of Christ with whom we have significant theological disagreements? What does it look like to handle—with integrity and transparency—personal differences of conviction that may arise with your church, boss, or institution?

These kinds of questions have been a significant part of my own denominational and theological journey over the last decade, and it is a practical issue that will always be with us. So I thought it might be helpful to share two convictions that have been brewing in me while I’ve struggled my way through it all.

At the broadest level I see two opposite dangers: doctrinal minimalism and doctrinal separatism. Read More

Why You Don’t Read Your Bible (and How to Start)

Over and over again, studies show the most important thing for spiritual growth is reading the Bible, yet most people in the church aren’t doing it. Only 45% of those who regularly attend church read the Bible more than once a week. For each church attender who does read their Bible every day, there’s someone else who doesn’t read it at all.

Biblical illiteracy is an epidemic.

I say this as a pastor who talks to people every week, inside and outside the church, with next to no biblical knowledge. The most concerning thing is that there doesn’t seem to be a distinction between those who are new to the faith and those who isave been Christians for several years, sometimes even a decade or more.

Why is it that despite the evidence, despite our sincere longing to grow spiritually, we don’t do the one thing most capable of producing that growth?

In my experience, there are two main reasons people don’t read their Bible. The first is that people honestly don’t understand the Bible holds transformational power. Second, they don’t read the Bible because they don’t know how to find delight in reading it. Both issues are worth understanding in more detail. Read More

Don’t Confuse Spirituality with Righteousness

Over the years I’ve had many young Christians ask me how to be more spiritual or more pious. Rare has been the earnest student who said, “Teach me how to be righteous.” Why, I wondered, does anybody want to be spiritual? What is the purpose of spirituality? What use is there in piety?

Spirituality and piety are not ends in themselves. In fact they are worthless unless they are means to a higher goal. The goal must go beyond spirituality to righteousness. Read More

Albert Mohler: Letter from Berlin: The Lessons of History and the Heresy of Racial Superiority

The lessons of history are warning enough. The lessons of heresy are even more pressing. Brothers and sisters in Christ, we dare not miss the lessons of history and heresy. God will judge us. This we know.

Even a secular observer can see the lessons of history from Berlin. The evidence is pervasive, irrefutable, terrifying, and still visible.

But Christians must see much more than the lessons of history, though we dare not miss them. We must see claims of racial superiority–and mainly that means claims of white superiority–as heresy.

That is not a word we use casually. Heresy leads to a denial of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the eclipse of the living God as revealed in the Bible. A claim of white superiority is not merely wrong, and not merely deadly. It is a denial of the glory of God in creating humanity—every single human being–in his own image. It is a rejection of God’s glory in creating a humanity of different skin pigmentation. It is a misconstrual of God’s judgment and glory in creating different ethnicities.

Most urgently, it is a rejection of the gospel of Christ–the great good news of God’s saving purpose in the atonement accomplished by Christ. A claim of racial superiority denies our common humanity, our common sinfulness, our common salvation through faith in Christ, and God’s purpose to create a common new humanity in Christ.

You cannot preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and hold to any notion of racial superiority. It is impossible. Read More

Related Articles:
The FAQs: Violence and Death at a White Nationalist Rally in Charlottesville
The FAQs: What Christians Should Know About the Alt-Right

Sunday, August 13, 2017

#Charlottesville, the Christian Response, and Your Church's Call

Silence on matters of hatred and bigotry is antithetical to the gospel.

I know I’m not the only one who has been keeping track of what is happening in Charlottesville, VA, and feeling both sadness and anger at the same time. I returned to the United States this morning, to a country that seems to be bursting at the seams with tension, hatred, and division.

As a Christian leader watching all that unfolded surrounding today’s Unite the Right rally, which saw white nationalists, neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan members (all making up what we sometimes call the alt-right) call for “taking America back,” my heart is grieving. And seeing the violent turn things took this afternoon, I am crushed. Now, there are certainly bad people on all sides, but there are not “many sides” to this issue—this was a gathering of the alt-right and, whether you supported now-President Trump or not, there is no question they have been emboldened by his election (as I explain here).

So, as a white evangelical, part of a demographic category who disproportionally supported President Trump, let me start by saying this movement is antithetical to the gospel. It is an abomination to all that we stand for, and it must be condemned on every level of leadership in the Church. There is no room for waffling. We cannot sit in silence hoping this will pass.

As I’ve written before, there can be no question about where a denomination, or Christians in general, stand on this more polished form of racism.

Furthermore, if any evangelicals have influence on President Trump, they should call on him to have the specificity he has shown with numerous individuals, from Mitch McConnell to Mika Brzezinski, and do what he said President Obama would not do with radical Islamists—call out the evildoers.

They are the alt-right, Mr. President. It’s easy to say there are “many sides,” but only one side is claiming to be on your team. They need to hear—clearly—that they are not. Read More

Saturday, August 12, 2017

How Much Grace? Reflecting on Conversion in Catholic and Reformed Christianity

Recently, with the anniversary of the Reformation, I’ve been thinking through some of the ways the Reformation changed the way we think about ourselves with regard to sin and righteousness. I’ve been trying in particular, particular to find a way to visualise how the reformation changed the way we think about conversion and what it means.

Here’s my attempt to lay it out. Read More

7 Reasons the Size of Your Church Doesn't Matter

If you know me, you know I think it’s important to know the growth trends of a church and the community it’s trying to reach. Here, though, are some of my thoughts about why the size of your church does not matter.... Read More

Adapt, Adjust And Diversify: Some Of Our Differences Make The Church Stronger

As long as the center holds, our differences won’t make the church weaker. They’re an essential element for making us stronger.

Christians worship and serve Jesus in so many different ways. Sure, there’s a foundation of correct theology and behavior that needs to exist for any group to legitimately call themselves a church. Among them are:
  • The divinity of Jesus 
  • Salvation through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus 
  • Practicing the Great Commandment and the Great Commission 
  • The primacy of scripture 
  • And more
But, when we build on the essentials, there is some amazing and wonderful diversity within the body of Christ. Recognizing, supporting and encouraging that diversity within a biblical theological framework is not a weakness. It is, and has always been, one of the church’s great strengths. And it will be one of our greatest tools for the survival and the strength of the church in coming generations. Read More

Creating a "Whole Church" Hospitable Culture

There is a danger that lurks just beyond a healthy guest services team. You can invite the right volunteers to serve on the team, provide excellent training so they understand the why behind the what, and implement foolproof ways for your first time guests to know where to go and what to do. But even when you cover all of those steps, one crucial piece can still be missing. One danger still threatens to derail the guest experience.
Is your entire church hospitable, or is that just a job for the “professional team”?
We fight this every weekend. First time guests consistently comment on the kindness of our volunteers, the ease in finding their way around our campuses, and the generosity of the gift bag. But their overall experience is marred once they get past the gauntlet of vols in name tags. In our follow up guest survey, comments like these are not uncommon.... Read More

What Every Pastor Wishes His Worship Leader Knew

A few weeks ago, one of our leaders asked me to come speak to a group of worship interns, telling them “everything I thought pastors wanted worship leaders to know.” When I agreed to do it, I thought it would be a stretch to come up with three or four things. That was a bit na├»ve. By the time I was done, it grew to a list of 14!

I’d love to see a corresponding list of “What Every Worship Leader Wishes His Pastor Knew,” but for now, here is my advice for growing worship leaders.... Read More

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Worship as a Feast
You Need to Explain What You Do on Sunday Mornings

White Supremacy Is Spiritual Bondage [Podcast] - FURTHER UPDATES

A Special Episode of The Gospel Coalition Podcast

As I watched this weekend the reports coming out of Charlottesville, Virginia, I saw in color scenes that I had hoped would remain in black and white from America’s past. Scenes of Nazi salutes and torch-lit marches in favor of white supremacy and in defense of long-dead Confederate leaders. Scenes of bodies mangled by an act of terror in response to peaceful counter-protest. Scenes of heavily armed white militias standing in the middle of one of the most famous and prestigious university towns in the United States.

As authorities declared a state of emergency in Charlottesville, I thought back with awe to the non-violent protests of the civil-rights movement in the 1960s. How could these men, women, and children have stood up against hostile authorities and violent crowds and responded in restraint and love? How could Martin Luther King Jr. have preached peace in a climate of hostility?

For this special episode of The Gospel Coalition Podcast, I spoke with Mika Edmondson, pastor of New City Fellowship OPC, a church plant in southeast Grand Rapids, Michigan. He recently earned a PhD in systematic theology from Calvin Seminary, where he wrote a dissertation on King’s theology of suffering. We talked about how sin doesn’t go away with time, but can only be healed by the gospel of Jesus Christ, and about the need to practice loving church discipline for unrepentant racists. Listen Now

Related Articles:
New: Carnage in Charlottesville leaves 3 dead, 34 injured after white nationalist rally sparked violence, two crashes
New: Trump calls for peace after Charlottesville violence — but doesn’t condemn white nationalist groups
New: Trump's faith advisers condemn white supremacists
New: Trump condemns 'hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides' in Charlottesville
New: Virginia AG challenges Trump's 'many sides' comment on Charlottesville violence
New: Black groups criticize Trump over Charlottesville response
New: Ryan: White Supremacy Is a Scourge
White Christian conservatives should oppose protests by white supremacists
Virginia governor to white nationalists: 'Go home ... shame on you'
Donald Trump's incredibly unpresidential statement on Charlottesville
Former KKK leader David Duke strikes out at Trump for condemning a white nationalist rally: 'It was White Americans who put you in the presidency'

Saturday Lagniappe: "5 Signs You’ve Bought Into the Prosperity Gospel" and Much More

5 Signs You’ve Bought Into the Prosperity Gospel

... no one wants to admit that they have embraced the prosperity gospel, (even if it’s more of a side-hug than an embrace). There’s always a more extreme example to point to while we let ourselves off the hook.

But prosperity-teaching is sneaky. So, here for your reading pleasure are five sure-fire signs that the prosperity gospel has crept into your bed and snuggled up on the pillow beside you. Read More

Theology Learned in the Flames of Adversity

In 1527, Martin Luther experienced a trial so severe that church historian Philip Schaff described that year simply as “the disastrous year.” It was the time of Luther’s “severest spiritual and physical trials.” As the leading figure of the Reformation, Luther paid a high price in the struggle for truth, and his physical condition deteriorated under the movement’s mounting demands. Read More

The One Trait Every Leader MUST Possess

... while I believe there are many traits and qualities a great leader must possess, there’s one that stands out among all others. In fact, the longer I think about it, I quickly realize that most every trait builds on this one trait!

A leader’s most important trait is DISCIPLINE. Read More

3 Reasons to Be Thankful for Bad Sermons

Although I am an advocate for powerful, God-glorifying, excellent sermons, the reality is that not all sermons will be the best we’ve ever preached.

So here are three reasons you can take joy in the occasional bad sermon.... Read More

Children’s Ministry is NOT a Game!

Since children’s ministry is a serious endeavor, we must carefully consider how to minister to and reach children. As one pastor says, “what we win them with is what we win them to.” Though there is much more that could be said, consider with me five ways to strengthen our children’s ministries to better reflect a biblical view of parenting and of children. Read More

Answering Questions with Jesus

“I left the church because no one would answer my questions.”

This refrain, or similar rhetoric, scatters the blogs or social media posts of those who have distanced themselves from Christ’s church. One question emerges when we observe the phenomenon of despairing and leaving question-askers: Does the church — ­can the church — ­answer the questions of those in the church asking questions amidst an increasingly skeptical world? Read More

Six Degrees of Separation: Why Our Witness Matters

Our lives reach farther than we can imagine.

It’s amazing to look back through history and trace the events that eventually led to Billy Graham’s conversion. It’s incredibly inspirational and deserves to be remembered, but the problem with stories like this is that they often feel too grand to be re-lived. Because of that, we often don’t realize that we’re already in the midst of these same stories. Now, the people we influence may not have as large of an impact as Billy Graham, but the truth remains that the impact of our lives is more far reaching than we can imagine.

Here are three ways in which the story of Billy Graham’s conversion and the principle of six degrees of separation can spur us on in our evangelism. Read More

The New/Old Way Our Culture Pressures Us To Conform

Every culture has certain standards that distinguish good and respectable people from the bad and disreputable people. Every culture has ways of compelling people to adhere to its standards. Some force adherence through guilt, some through fear, and some through shame. Read More

Risky drinking is rising rapidly in the US

Americans are drinking too much.

High-risk drinking among US adults increased about 30% between 2001-2002 and 2012-2013, according to a new study. The proportion Americans developing alcohol dependence, it said could be considered a "public health crisis." Read More

9 Things You Should Know About Alcohol Abuse in America

A new study published in JAMA Psychiatry this month finds that the rate of alcohol use disorder (i.e., alcoholism) rose by 49 percent in the first decade of the 2000s. One in eight American adults, or 12.7 percent of the U.S. population, now meets diagnostic criteria for alcohol use disorder, according to the study.

Here are nine things you should know about the problem of alcohol abuse in America.... Read More

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Use of Nuclear Weapons is Inherently Evil

No earthly leader gets the ‘authority to do whatever.’

Much of the world has responded with “fire and fury” to President Donald Trump’s message to North Korea that continued threats will “be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen”—an unmistakable allusion to using nuclear weapons. Given the gravity of this remark, it seems appropriate for onlookers to be unnerved by America’s apparent stance.

Still, not everyone was troubled by it, with some evangelical Christians actually cheering the President on (more on that in a bit). So we have to acknowledge that Christians are divided on nuclear weapons. Read More

Related Articles:
Donald Trump's nuclear fixation - from the 1980s to now
Trump’s Fledgling Presidency Has Already Collapsed
History is full of examples of how politicians have embroiled their nation in a war in order to improve their political standing and to divert public attention from their failings.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

7 Ways We Put a Not Welcome Sign on Our Church

I was running once and saw this sign and the first word that popped in my head was “Closed”. Anything which seems exclusive to the people already on the inside makes me as an outsider seem unwelcome. I’m sure that’s not the intent this church has with this sign. It’s probably a very welcoming church. I also know there are circumstances which make some churches have to limit their parking. Again, probably not the intent, but the sign seemed so harsh to me as someone unfamiliar with the church.

As I continued running I kept thinking about that sign and implications for those who saw it. It then brought to mind signs I’ve seen in store windows – which I don’t completely understand. The signs say, “Closed for Business”. How can you be closed “for” business? Seems more like you’d be closed “from” business. If you’re closed you’re closed.

Of course, none of us would intentionally place a “Closed for Business” sign on our church doors. But, it was a great way to jar my thoughts about some practices churches occasionally have, which, intentional or not, serve essentially the same purpose.

Over the years, Cheryl and I have visited dozens of churches. Whenever we travel we try to find a church. I’ve spoken at and consulted with a lot of churches in all types and sizes. From personal experience – here are some ways you can place a closed sign to visitors on your church. Read More

Photo Credit: Ron Edmondson

Why Congregations Miss Obvious Church Facility Issues

It happens, and it still amazes me. The regular attenders at a church seldom see church facility issues, even if they stare them in the face. I’ve spent time with church folks who somehow fail to see the dirty carpet, the broken window, the weedy parking lot, the crowded children’s room (and I could go on and on here).

As an outside consultant, I see things quickly when I walk through a building – but the regulars often miss them completely. Here are some reasons that this happens.... Read More

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10 Negative First Impressions of Worship Centers
10 Facility Questions to Consider as You Go to Church This Weekend
12 Church Facility Problem "Names"
12 Problems in Church Nurseries
8 Types of Church Foyers
The regular attenders at a church that belongs to a liturgical tradition will also overlook issues related to the ornaments of the church and the clergy. These issues include bent processional crosses; stained and torn hymnals and service books; faded, discolored, and worn vestments; and the like.

Luther and His Most Important Impact

What follows is a slightly extended version of an address delivered at the opening of the Luther exhibition at St Andrews Cathedral, Sydney on Tuesday 8 August, 2017.

The Beginnings of the Luther Story

On 31 October 1517, in a small provincial university town, an Augustinian monk who served as a professor in the university, nailed a document to a church door. And it started a revolution. Today, 500 years later and on the other side of the world, that unexceptional act — there would have been lots of notices on that door, since it was the unofficial notice board for the university — still captures the imagination.

The story of Martin Luther is well known. More books are written about him every year than about any other figure in history save one — the master he served, the Lord Jesus Christ. He was born the son of a copper miner in the year 1483, just nine years before Columbus discovered America but a little over 300 years before tall ships arrived in Port Jackson to start the colony of New South Wales. He grew up in a quite typical German family, nothing really out of the ordinary. He was serious and studious and was soon preparing to enter a career in the law. Like most fathers, Luther’s father had great plans for his son. Martin would not struggle the way he, Hans had struggled. He would make his mark in the world. Hans Luther had no idea the mark his son would make. Martin entered university, the University of Erfurt, in April 1501.

The younger Luther’s life took a dramatic turn in July 1505. Martin had finished the first stage of his studies. The general arts program was finished and the more specifically legal studies were about to begin. He travelled home to visit his parents. But then, just outside the village of Stottenheim, he was caught in a violent thunderstorm. He was terrified. Here was the fearsome wrath of God, and if anyone deserved that wrath Luther did. He cried out for someone to save him. ‘St Anne — the patron saint of miners — St Anne rescue me and I will become a monk!’ And before long the storm subsided and Luther continued his journey home. He gathered his friends, who may have thought they were coming to celebrate Luther’s achievements thus far and send him on his way back to the University of Erfurt, and he told them of his intention to keep his vow and enter the monastery of the Observant Augustinians. His father was furious — he kept muttering things about the fifth commandment. But Luther was determined. He had made a vow and he was duty bound to honour it. And so, on 17 July 1505 he entered the monastery at Erfurt.

Luther never thought he would leave that monastery. He expected that he would be a monk for the rest of his life. Not that it was always a pleasant place to be. Thanks to his own later reflections, we have some idea what life was like for Luther in those surroundings. He was a conscientious monk. ‘It is true, I was a pious monk’ Luther wrote, ‘and so strictly did I observe the rules of my order that I may say: If ever a monk got to heaven through monkery, I too would have got there’ (WA 38:143). Luther fulfilled all his duties. He confessed his sins over and over again. He prayed. He attended mass. He did all the menial tasks — cleaning the latrines, scrubbing the floors — all of it. Later he would say, ‘This is the chief abomination: we had to deny the grace of God and put our trust and hope on our holy monkery and not on the pure mercy and grace of Christ…’ (WA 38:159).

The next great transformation happened about five years later. Luther’s father confessor, who had watched him, sought to mentor him, encouraged his undoubted intellectual gifts, announced that Luther would do more study in order to lecture at the new university in Wittenberg. Luther would spend the rest of his life in that provincial town, radically transforming the university curriculum, then the church, and eventually Europe. He began as a Professor of Bible in 1512. He only left that post when he died in 1546. And rather early on was 1517. 500 years ago this year. 1517, the year that sparked a revolution.Read More

What We Mean When We Say 'Orthodox Christianity'

James K.A. Smith wants to focus on the creeds, not sexuality. But there's more to it than that.

Is affirming same-sex sexual relationships as righteous before God a heresy? Even if you believe it’s un-Biblical, are heresy and orthodoxy even the right categories for addressing the problem?

Over the weekend, philosopher and Calvin College professor James K. A. Smith argued that recent use of the words orthodoxy and heresy in debates about sexual ethics surrounding same-sex marriage is a selective and illegitimate expansion of the terms. Instead, we should reserve the language of orthodoxy and heresy for those beliefs which are “conciliar,” and “rooted in, and measured by, the ecumenical councils and creeds of the Church (Nicaea, Chalcedon)” because they refer to the fundamental truths of God’s triunity, the resurrection, the virgin birth, and so forth.

In contrast to this ideal, Smith says these terms have been reduced from this creedal basis to a single issue: “a particular view of sexuality and marriage.” He deems this development, “recent, innovative, and narrow,” symptomatic of a modern tendency to reduce Christianity to its morality. Indeed, unless we’re careful, the term orthodox will simply become the adjective we append to any issue we personally find important, thereby writing off “swaths of Christians who affirm conciliar orthodoxy” and closing down conversation in the church.

Predictably, this argument set off some discussion on the internet. Notable entries include Alastair Roberts’s argument that Smith has truncated the notion of creedal orthodoxy, and Alan Jacobs’s defense of Smith against Roberts and other critics, which Smith himself has commended. No doubt more entries will come.

Before proceeding with my own judgments, it’s worth stating that I benefit greatly from Smith’s work and respect him as a scholar and a Christian. Nor am I worried this is an attempt at moral revision or something on that order. I hope anyone reading this (including Smith himself) will read this article in that light. Read More

Related Articles:
On "orthodox Christianity": some observations, and a couple of questions
A Remark on Creedally-Defined Orthodoxy
on sexuality and the grammar of orthodoxy

Photo Credit: Wikipaintings

The ABCs of Preaching: "6 Key Questions to Ask of Your Sermon Before You Preach It" and More

6 Key Questions to Ask of Your Sermon Before You Preach It

Before you preach your next sermon, take the time to answer these six questions. If you do, you’ll have greater clarity for the content of the message and the congregation will have greater clarity for the expected action from the message.

So pastor, grab your sermon and ask God for wisdom as you dive into these questions. Read More

How to Structure a Sticky Sermon

If your sermon isn’t sticky, it won’t stay with those who hear it. If your sermon isn’t sticky, it’ll bounce off them and be lost forever. Read More

5 Pitfalls to Avoid When Preaching on the End Times

Eschatological preaching is needed. We do have a blessed hope. Christ promised to return. Part of our motivation for holiness is to be ready for his appearing. His re-appearance will usher in the cosmic renewal for which his followers have yearned for centuries, indeed all of creation is yearning.

But, let’s get it right.

When we preach from Daniel, Revelation, the Olivet Discourse, the “man of sin,” or other prophetic passages, here are a few pitfalls to avoid.... Read More

3 Lessons From A Well-Loved 80-Year-Old Preacher

As a preacher, I am a bit unusual because I like to go to church on vacation!!! Last month, I took a week off – a staycation – and on Sunday morning decided to go to one of our Sister churches just down the road from me. When I walked in the door the first person I saw was a friend from 27 years ago who was a blessing and encouragement to my wife and me during our days in Bible College. When I learned that they had a Special Speaker that morning, an 80-year-old well-loved and well-known pastor in our fellowship. While I have known this pastor for many years I had never heard him speak and was looking forward to his message. What I received was a great teaching from Psalm 121 and also a lesson in the art of preaching. Read More

Rhythms and Checkpoints in Your Sermon Prep: The Why and How

Your preaching context is different than mine. You have challenges I don’t have and I have challenges you don’t have. This is why it’s important to develop rhythms and checkpoints in your sermon prep. Sure, it’s valuable to hear how other people prepare their sermons, but the most important thing is to develop your own process that fits your present context.

No doubt, there have been times that you have read an article here at RP or somewhere else and thought, that won’t work for me! There’s no way around this being the case unless we were to have a 1 on 1 conversation about your context and processes. But what rhythms and checkpoints can do is to give you a framework to maximize your time so you can make your sermon prep more efficient. Read More

5 Pastors Share Their Weekly Sermon Prep Process

It’s interesting how many different ways different pastors prepare their sermons. You may be someone who is trying to find a new way to do sermon prep or you may be someone who is trying to find just a way to do sermon prep.

Wherever you are in your experience in preaching, this article should be helpful to you. You’ll get to see 5 different pastors share what a week of sermon prep looks like for them. Read More

Captivate Your Audience, Kill Bad Habits, and Master the Art of Sermon Delivery

Earlier this year, Brandon Hilgemann from released his second book on the topic of preaching and it is a treasure trove of practical help all centered around sermon delivery.

Brandon has this conviction that “most preaching fails not for lack of content, but deficient delivery.” Sure, content is really really important. But if we fail at delivering that content well, we will create an unneeded barrier between the congregation and the content. Read More

How to Eliminate Distractions in Sermon Prep

The art of sermon prep is so important. We are all busy and many times this task can get pushed aside for a variety of other important things or even distractions that are less important.

It is not that hard to eliminate distractions from your sermon writing process though, and here are some practices to help you do so.... Read More

Seven Facebook Growth Hacks for Churches - UPDATED

So I had a lunch meeting with Chris Martin yesterday. For those of you who don’t know Chris, he’s one of our social media geniuses at LifeWay and the brains behind And while I consider myself well versed in social media, Chris is always showing me something new and helpful. Yesterday was no exception.

Chris pointed out a free Facebook trick that can boost your page likes, user engagement, and blog traffic in just a few clicks. I was blown away. I’ve been managing Facebook pages for nearly a decade and had never seen what Chris showed me. So we put out heads together and came up with six more Facebook hacks you can use to boost engagement for your church or personal page—and only one of them is a paid service. Read More

Related Article:
New: 24 Creative Content Ideas To Boost Your Church Facebook Page

2 Ways Jesus Would Have Us Bridge the Political Divide

Our role as leaders of Jesus’ sheep involves giving people direction, even in the arena of politics. The question, in these tumultuous times, is how? The issues are vast and complex (e.g., gay marriage, refugees and immigration, abortion, national security, economic policy, gender, capital punishment, welfare reform). The divide between people, both inside and outside the church, is wide and deep.

Let me recommend the application of two biblical truths to help ground the shepherding of your people. These texts have also served me when I have been tempted to speak and act in inappropriate ways. Read More

Patriotism and the Church: Is It Too Much to Ask Churches to Be Careful?

Anything that replaces the worship of God is idolatry.

I recently wrote an article for Influence Magazine on patriotism and the church and wanted to add a few more thoughts.

As we celebrated Independence Day in the United States over the summer, I saw a lot of churches discussing America, God, and the Church, and how they fit together in the context of worship services. I want to challenge us towards a greater understanding of God’s kingdom in times of national celebration. Read More

Related Article:
Patriotism and the Church

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Leadership Evangelism: How Your Church Can Double in Three Years (or Less)

What I am about to share with you is the single most important church growth principle I have ever learned for senior pastors of churches under 1,000 in size. I call it Leadership Evangelism.

Leadership Evangelism is the process by which senior pastors single-handedly ignite a movement within their church that will cause it to double in size in three years or less.

Here’s a common occurrence:

A senior pastor leads a church that hasn’t grown in five years. Funding is tight. They have board members who don’t really get the larger vision. Their staff, if they have any staff, are underpaid, overworked and just as frustrated as their leader. The senior pastor has tried everything to catalyze growth—drafting a new vision statement, tweaking the worship services, starting a new outreach program, trying to get people to invite their friends—all on top of working to the point of exhaustion. Yet, nothing to date has worked.

The majority of evangelical churches in English-speaking countries around the world are in this exact same boat.

“What would you do if you were me?” some have asked.

That’s when I tell them about Leadership Evangelism.

All senior pastor can lead their church to grow. Regardless of age. Regardless of education. Regardless of whether the pastor has the gift of leadership or the gift of evangelism or whatever “gift” they think they need to have, but lack. Read More

Church Size Is About Personal Preference, Nothing More

As long as your preferences are about positive opportunities, not negative excuses, it doesn't matter what size of church you go to.

Let's admit something to ourselves. All the arguments we have over church size are about our personal preferences, nothing more. Apples and oranges.

There is zero evidence to suggest that big or small churches are more biblical or more effective, no matter how much we want to debate it. Read More

More from Karl Vaters
Church Turnaround Is An Attitude, Not An Event
Pastor, Don't Neglect Your Current Members To Reach New Ones

Do You Love the Biblical Jesus? [Video; Transcript]

In this brief clip from his teaching series Justified by Faith Alone, R.C. Sproul addresses the question of how Christians can have assurance of their salvation. Watch Now

10 Leadership Lessons We Tend to Forget

Most of us are forgetful people. Even leaders of God’s church tend to forget truths we desperately need to cling to when the work becomes hard. Perhaps you forget, like I do, that.... Read More

3 Essentials For Pastoral Preaching

As of the time of the writing of this article, I have been a preacher of the gospel for 19 years.

That’s half my life, since I started at 19. I’ve preached as a lead pastor for the past 4 years, but a notable shift has taken place in me in the past year. This shift has also been recognized by some in my congregation.

On a recent Sunday, after one of our worship services, someone noted that my preaching had changed in some way (in his opinion for the better), but he couldn’t put his finger on it. After giving some thought to his comment, I sense I know what he was getting at.

I think I’m starting to learn to preach not as a preacher but to preach as a pastor. There’s a world of difference between the two. Read More