Monday, December 17, 2018

10 Really Big Questions about Future Church Attendance (and 10 Hunches)

Talk to any church leader, and they’ll tell you it feels more challenging than ever to get people to come to church on a Sunday.

Even in growing churches (like ours), the competition for peoples’ time, attention and devotion seems to get more intense every year.

You’ve felt it too.

So what’s up? And where is future church attendance heading?

I’m a firm believer in the future of the church and the gathered church. It’s here to stay not because we always get it right, but because the church is Jesus’ idea, not ours.

Still, with everything in the culture changing, how do you navigate toward a better future?

One step is to start asking solid questions.

Why? Because usually the future isn’t pioneered by the clarity of the answers nearly as much as it by the quality of the questions.

sk the right questions, and you’ll eventually get the right answers. Fail to ask the questions, and you’re sunk.

Here are ten questions I’m asking right now and I’ve seen other leaders ask. I think they can help frame your discussion and move you toward better answers and a strategy to match.

I’ve also included my hunch when it comes to an answer to the questions, not because I’m certain it’s right, but because answering the question moves you toward a more strategic and proactive future.

So, with that in mind, here are 10 really big questions about future church attendance. Read More

Help for Pastors Stuck in a Christmas Sermon Rut

The incarnation is certainly worth celebrating, but let’s be honest: how many more sermons on the nativity texts do you have in you? If you went back and listened to the sermons from every December of your ministry, would this year’s advent series sound any different? If we’re not careful, even ministers can find themselves on autopilot as we navigate the Christmas season. In light of this tendency, there are a few things for us preachers to remember in December. Read More

Monday's Catch: From Multisite to MultiChurch and More

MultiChurch a More Biblical Version of Multisite?

Brad House and Gregg Allison, two ecclesial pioneers, want to lead the wagon train one mountain farther—to the land of the multichurch, in their book MultiChurch: Exploring the Future of Multisite. Read More
What is the difference between a "multichurch" and a small denomination? Both are networks of churches. Some denominations are more centralized in the way that they handle funds than others. So what is the primary difference between the two--nomenclature?
Why Putting Christ Back in Christmas Is Not Enough

The history of American holiday cheer obscures the difficult details of the nativity narrative. Read More
Also see this Wikipedia article on Father Christmas. In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe C. S. Lewis treats Father Christmas as a servant of Aslan, whose arrival in the land of Narnia heralds the return of the Son of the Emperor Overseas and the deliverance of Narnia from the power of the White Witch. The Father Christmas of the Narnia Chronicles is reminiscent of "Sir Christemas" of Richard Smart's fifteenth century carol, who announces the good news of Christ's birth and encourages his listeners to "make good cheer and be right merry." On the other hand, the White Witch herself takes an attitude which I find reminiscent of that of the Puritans, "What is the meaning of all this gluttony, this waste, this self indulgence? Where did you get all these things?" Rather than becoming Christmas killjoys like the Puritans, I believe that we can learn from Lewis that God can evidence his grace through the traditional customs of Christmas. While we should not let them overshadow the narrative of Christ's birth, we should not fear them.
Why Do We Say "Noel" at Christmas

Virtually every other language has a word for Christmas. Spanish-speakers celebrate Navidad. The Italians have Natale and the Dutch look forward to Kerstmis. But why do we English-speakers sing “The First Noel,” the French word for Christmas, and not say “The First Weihnachten,” the German word? Read More
Aaron Earls neglects to mention that English contains many French words and at one time French, Norman French, was spoken in England. For a time the title of Duke of Normandy was held by the kings of England.
How Church Leaders Can Avoid The Holiday (Leadership) Blues

4 practical action steps that will help you avoid the holiday blues.... Read More

Stop Saying 81 Percent of White Evangelicals Vote for Trump (It Was Probably Less Than Half)

I know I’m fighting a losing battle with this post. It won’t go viral. It probably won’t change many minds. But I’ll give it a shot anyway. No matter how many times people make the claim, it is simply wrong to say that 81 percent of white evangelicals in the United States voted for Donald Trump to become president. Read More

Saturday, December 15, 2018

More Is Only Good When It’s A Byproduct Of Better

We don’t need bigger churches. We need better churches. Then we need more of them.

More isn’t always better.

No one wants more heartache, more tragedy, or more loneliness. Unless you’re trying to write a hit country song.

In fact, it’s not just bad things we don’t want more of. No one wants more of an average meal, a typical day, or a mundane job, either.

More is only good when it’s a byproduct of being better.

It’s the same in the church. Read More

The (Hidden) Theology and History of O Come O Come Emmanuel

If anyone had a side hustle or a gig, it was the Anglican priest and hymn writer, John Mason Neale.

Neale (1818-1866) not only founded a nursing order of Anglican nuns, helped social welfare organizations care for orphans and young woman, and was a warden of Sackville college, but he translated early and medieval Greek and Latin hymns in his spare time—focusing on the ancient ones that were written around “the feasts and the fasts of the Christian year.”[1]


While the hymn as we find it today was first published in the mid 19th century, its origins are actually found in a Benedictine Gregorian chant from the late 8th and 9th century. History tells us that beginning the week before Christmas, the monks would sing a verse a day to prepare their hearts and minds for Christmas.

What’s fascinating about the original seven verses is that each began with a Messianic title from the Scriptures that prophesied and foreshadowed Jesus’ coming.... Read More

6 Characteristics of an Irrelevant Leader

So how relevant are you as a leader?

Any idea how you’d answer that accurately?

You can debate how important relevance is all day long (and many do), but the truth is irrelevant leaders eventually make less impact on the team around them, and eventually almost no impact on the next generation, except for perhaps an example of what not to be like.

Why is that?

Relevance matters for one simple reason: relevance gives you permission to speak into the culture around you. Relevance determines whether people pay attention to you or whether they ignore you.

Irrelevant people eventually lose the ability to communicate meaningfully with the people they care about and to contribute to the causes they’re passionate about.

Before you push back, just because the Gospel is always relevant doesn’t mean you are.

Even growing organizations can lose relevance. Your past success doesn’t guarantee your future success.

In fact, as we’ve discussed here more than a few times, the great enemy of your future success is your current success because your success makes you conservative.

When you had nothing to lose, change was easy. Now that you have something to lose, change is that much harder.

So whether your organization or cause has a bit of momentum left or whether it’s losing steam, here are 6 ways to tell your influence as a leader is waning. Read More

Practical Preaching Advice for Pastors and Lay Preachers #30

Two Common Mistakes Preachers Make

Knowing an author’s larger vision of reality will guide the preacher in handling particular texts in ways that are not contrary to the author’s intention. Read More

Can You Defend The Faith Without Ranting?

Excellent advice from Joe McKeever: "Stand firm, preach the word, rebuke error, and be nice about it." Read More

How to Write a Sermon (Based on 38 Years of Preaching and 2,000+ Sermons)

I don’t claim to be any sort of expert on preaching, but I have written quite a few sermons over the years (probably somewhere around 2,000). Here are a few things I have learned in the past 38 years of preaching and writing sermons in our church and other settings. Read More

Four Sharp Questions To Whittle Your Sermon Into Shape

he sermon's not done until you sharpen the point. Here are four excellent ways to do it. Read More

3 Ways to Stretch Your Preaching Next Year

How can we improve? how can we stretch ourselves? Read More

Your Preaching Can Help Your Congregation Embrace (Biblical) Change

The Scriptures command us to do more than repeat what's already been done, and to look for God to do what He's never done before. Read More

3 Ways to Make 2019 Your Best Preaching Year

I believe in the 5 P’s of preaching: proper preparation prevents poor preaching. Better preaching begins with better preparation. Read More

Three Foundational Passages For Growing Disciples Of Jesus

Try to imagine talking about your subject every single day for two years. If the idea still thrills you, you've found your topic." Read More

Ukraine Orthodox Leaders Approve Break with Russian Church

St. Sophia's Cathedral, Kiev
Ukrainian Orthodox leaders on Saturday approved the creation of a unified church independent of the Moscow Patriarchate and elected a leader to head that new church — a move that could exponentially raise tensions with neighboring Russia.

The vote, held at a closed-door synod in Kiev's St. Sophia Cathedral, is the latest in a series of confrontations between Ukraine and authorities in Russia, including President Vladimir Putin's government. Ahead of the vote, the Russian Orthodox Church called on the United Nations, the leaders of Germany and France, the pope and other spiritual leaders to protect Orthodox believers in Ukraine.

The leader of the new autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox Church will be Metropolitan Epiphanius, a 39-year-old bishop from the Kiev Patriarchate. Read More

Also See:
Ukraine's President Names Leader of New Church in Split from Russia

Saturday Lagniappe: Recognizing Spiritual Abuse and More

5 Signs of Spiritual Abuse

Though this article is not exhaustive, it is a helpful checklist to help you quickly detect spiritual abuse so that you can make the wisest decision in response to it — flee or fight back. These are signs of spiritual abuse that I have witnessed in my own experience, and I pray that this may be helpful for others. Read More

Child Marriage: Cultural Norm or Distortion of God’s Purposes?

Following the fall of man into sin, the entire range of creation has been distorted. And this applies no less to marriage. Child marriage is an example of this distortion. As predicted by the United Nations Population Fund (UNPF), between 2011 and 2020, more than 140 million girls will be forced into marriage. Although widely sanctioned by diverse cultures, the light of Scripture helps us discern how the practice negates God’s plan for human flourishing. Read More

What Does the Bible Say About Giving?

What does it mean to give? How does it look? You may know intuitively that you should give but not know much beyond that. The good news is that the Bible tells us what our giving should look like. Our generous God reveals to us four giving principles throughout Scripture. Read More

3 Bad Reasons to Read the Bible This Year...And 3 Good Ones

Here are three reasons why you shouldn’t put “read my Bible more” on your resolutions list this year, followed by three reasons why you should.... Read More

How Holiday Family Traditions Help Teach Our Children

Traditions can be simply light-hearted and fun, like our Polar Express shenanigans, but most traditions have a meaningful purpose behind them as they require thoughtfulness, planning, and repetition. Through traditions, we pass on our greatest treasures. We pass on family heirlooms or family recipes to be enjoyed and valued by the next generation. And if we treasure Christ, we will establish traditions that will instill biblical truths in our families through thoughtful planning and practice. Read More
Among my family's Christmas holiday traditions were decorating the Christmas tree on Christmas eve and leaving the tree up until Twelfth Night; going carol singing with other members of our church; baking mincemeat pies, jam tarts, and sausage rolls; making vinegar toffee;  going to the late night service on Christmas Eve; and serving a flaming Christmas pudding at the conclusion of Christmas dinner. On Christmas morning each child received a stocking stuffed with oranges, nuts, chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil, pink sugar mice, pencil boxes, and other small gifts . 

Friday, December 14, 2018

5 Reasons It's Important to Get Contact Information from Guests

I’ve previously written about ways that churches have greeted our “spies”/guests over the years. I’ve also written about surprising things that church members said to guests. Both posts included some unfortunate (even embarrassing) reminders that church folks aren’t always as sensitive as we need to be with guests. Others have written about the best ways to connect with guests or secrets to getting guests to fill out information cards.

That said – and fully recognizing that nobody wants to be embarrassed as a guest – I still think it’s important to work to secure contact information from guests. Here’s why.... Read More

Related Articles:
12 Ways Churches "Welcome Guests"
10 Surprising Things Church Members Said to Guests
My experience has been that Anglicans and Episcopalians do a lousy job of obtaining contact information--typically a guest register in the narthex, which goes unnoticed by most visitors. Those visitors who do sign the guest register leave little useful information. 

One Thing Jesus Didn’t Know

God knows everything (1 John 3:20). God knows himself and all things exhaustively, eternally, and unchangeably. He knows his own perfections, plans, actions, and goals (Ps. 147:5; Isa. 46:10; Acts 15:18). He knows the billions of angels in light (Dan. 7:10), every corner of hell (Prov. 15:11), all of our sins (Ps. 69:5), every hidden thought (Ps. 139:2), every ounce of our suffering (Ps. 56:8). He proves his deity by infallibly knowing the past, present, and future, including all possibilities and contingent events (1 Sam. 23:10–13; Matt. 11:21), from the tiniest detail (Matt. 10:29–30) to the fact and timing of our salvation (Rom. 8:29; 2 Tim. 1:9). As the eternal Son of the Father, Jesus Christ possesses the fullness of deity, including the attribute of omniscience (Phil. 2:6; John 21:17).

How, then, are we to reconcile the comprehensiveness of Jesus’s divine knowledge with Matthew 24:36, where the divine Son of God declares to his disciples that there is something he didn’t know? “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matt. 24:26; cf. Mark 13:32).

How could that be, and why did Jesus say it? Read More

Reading The Jesus Storybook Bible in Iceland

In the world’s most bookish country, evangelicals are taking up the ministry of translation.

In the pitch dark of Christmas Eve in Iceland, after family dinner and unwrapping presents, the lights stay aglow for another special tradition: reading. Not just reciting the Nativity story or The Night Before Christmas; book lovers in the tiny Nordic nation spend the night cracking into the shiny new hardbacks they received as gifts.

Gunnar Ingi Gunnarsson, a pastor in Reykjavík, remembers his father staying awake until 6 a.m. on Christmas, curled up with a box of chocolates and whatever book he’d received that year.

Even in the 21st century, the decades-old read-a-thon carries on. Bolstered by a cultural love for stories (dating back to the Viking sagas that chronicle the island’s history), Iceland now publishes and reads more books per capita each year than almost anywhere else. Read More

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Why Your Church Should Invest in Church Planting Now

Although I’ve never had the opportunity to plant a church, I’ve always been passionate about it. Church planting is nothing less than the practical outworking of the Great Commission.

God has placed me in a number of ministry assignments where I’ve been able to help connect an existing congregation to a church-planting work. Of the number of existing churches I’ve seen get involved in church planting, not one has regretted it. In fact, it has always been to their benefit.

This has led me to a simple and serious conviction: every church—regardless of size or development stage—should be involved in church planting in some way. It would be naïve (and perhaps foolish) to say that every church must plant another church; there are simply too many variables for that to be mandated. But every church should be connected to the work of gospel multiplication through church planting.

Whether it’s joining a church-planting network, starting a residency, partnering with an existing church plant, or simply committing to pray for church planters in your context or around the world, existing churches would benefit from getting involved in church planting for at least seven reasons. Read More

8 Reasons Why People Aren’t Coming Back After Christmas

It’s the Christmas season and church teams are working hard to prepare for all the expected guests. As a secret shopper or mystery worshiper of churches around the country, I’ve found there are some reasons that I will tell a church I would not return for a second visit and some may be news to you. Whether I’m working with a church plant of 60 people or a mega-church of over 25,000, some things are universal and should be present regardless of church size. Throughout this post, we’ll look at actions and areas every church needs to address. Read More

Three Keys for Worship in a Replant or Revitalization [Podcast]

Mike Harland joins Thom Rainer and Jonathan Howe on Revitalize & Replant to discuss the role worship plays in a revitalization. Listen Now

Why ‘Good People’ Miss the Kingdom of God

It’s surprising—baffling, really—that religious people are the group that misses Jesus more than any other.

We see this quite clearly in Luke 14, when Jesus tells a parable about a huge party. When the master’s invitation was met with a series of excuses, the master does the unthinkable: He fills his lavish party with the dregs of society. Then, Jesus delivers the punch: “For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet’” (Luke 14:24).

Up until this point, he’s been telling a story, but now he shows it’s personal to him. He’s the Master in this story, and those sitting in front of him are the ones making the excuses.

This parable is Jesus’ summation of Israel’s response to him: God had invited them to his kingdom, and they had (on the surface) accepted, but now they are making excuses as to why they can’t come.

These are really religious people, of course—they had accepted the first invitation and considered themselves God’s people. But now that Jesus is here and inviting them to follow him, they won’t respond.

This parable shows us three reasons religious or “good” people miss the kingdom of God.... Read More

Human Trafficking Red Flags to Watch for in Your Community

"Hopkinsville on high alert for sex trafficking around next month's solar eclipse" was published on the website last year when the solar eclipse was expected to attract thousands of visitors to the Hopkinsville area and with this influx of visitors an influx of human traffickers. It includes a list of red flags to watch for to identify the presence of human trafficking in your community.

Human trafficking is not only a chronic problem here in the South but across the United States and Canada. It is also not confined to urban areas.

I was first exposed to the problem of human trafficking in North America while working as a social worker for the State of Louisiana. My caseload included a number of teenage adolescents who were the victims of human trafficking.

Human traffickers are not going to take a break for the Christmas holidays. They can be expected to be more active during this season of the year. Read More.

Thursday's Catch: A Cheerless Christmas and More

When Christmas Loses Its Cheer

The good news is that Christmas isn’t just for those enjoying the fun and festivities of the season, but Christmas can be even more beautiful to the broken. Read More

Why Good Christmas Songs Matter

If you’re still a sinner needing grace, if you’re still weak and weary but long for strength, and if you still feel sorrows and encounter struggles like I do, then these songs might speak to you. Read More

Why We Chose ‘Light’ As Our Christmas Theme

This Christmas season, we want to focus on the concept of Light. This theme is found in many places of the Bible, but none of these representations are more holy and significant than God’s gift to all of us in the birth of his one and only Son. Read More

4 Reasons to Believe in the Christmas Miracle

Why the supernatural events of this season are both credible and incredible. Read More

What Should You Look for in Charities This Christmas?

Our obsession with the Overhead Myth is a mistake because it turns out that overhead is an extremely poor proxy for organizational effectiveness. In fact, the two are barely related. Read More

Christmas Ideas That Will Grow Your Ministry

Christmas is one of the best times of the year to reach kids and families and grow your ministry. Over the years, I've used several ideas to do this. Here are some of them. Read More

Hundreds Accuse Independent Baptist Pastors of Abuse

Investigation by Fort Worth Star-Telegram finds 400 allegations against 168 leaders spanning almost 200 churches and institutions. Read More

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

5 Ways to Break Through a Growth Barrier This Christmas

A few weeks back we talked about some of the reasons churches plateau. I know it’s a popular topic because so many pastors tell me their churches are stuck at a certain number of members or attenders.

Here’s the good news: Christmas is a great time to get unstuck.

People who wouldn’t come some other time of the year show up at Christmas. And we have a great opportunity to tell them about Jesus and to encourage them to come back to church. You can use Christmas services to help your members sense that they are a part of something big and exciting. It can be tough to keep people motivated consistently over the long haul, but we can get them fired up for a specific day.

A “Big Day” can help people feel like they’re on a winning team.

And a “Big Day” like Christmas can help break through growth barriers (whether it’s 200, 300, 400, or 1,000).

At Saddleback, we refer to it as pyramiding growth. You push past a barrier on a “Big Day,” then the numbers might drop a little bit the next week, but you don’t drop as far back as you were. Then you plan for your next “Big Day” (like Easter). Again, just like with Christmas, your numbers may drop after Easter, but you don’t drop all the way back to where you had started.

Here are some ways to intentionally plan for a “Big Day” at Christmas.... Read More

Related Article:
10 Reasons Churches Plateau

9 Things You Should Know About the Apostles’ Creed

During the recent funeral of the late President George H. W. Bush, all the former presidents and their wives stood and recited the creed while President Donald Trump and his wife, Melanie, stood in silence. This sparked a minor controversy that exposed the confusions many Christians—especially evangelicals—have about the Apostles’ Creed. Here are nine things you should know about this ancient statement of faith. Read More
The controversy surrounding the article in the Apostles' Creed, "He descended into hell," goes back to the eighteenth century if not earlier. The compilers of the 1785 Proposed American Prayer Book omitted this article from the Apostles Creed. In the 1789 American Prayer Book the rubric governing the use of the Apostles' Creed gave permission to omit the words, "He descended into Hell," or to substitute for them, "He went into the place of departed Spirits," which, the rubric explains, "are to be considered as words of the same meaning as in the Creed." (See E. Clowes Chorley's The New American Prayer Book: Its History and Contents.) The 1892 American Prayer Book withdrew permission to omit the words, "He descended into Hell," but permitted the substitution of the words, "He went into the place of departed Spirits." The 1979 American Prayer Book adopted the view that the words,"He descended into Hell" are no longer controversial and withdrew permission to substitute for them the words, "He went into the place of departed Spirits." It is, however, evident from Joe Carter's article that the controversy surrounding this article has not disappeared.

5 Ways Your Church Can Use Text-Messaging to Reach More People

59% of millennials who grew up in church have dropped out.

Why? That’s a huge can of worms. There are plenty of theories – some based on data and others based on mere opinion.

I believe at least one reason why we’ve failed to reach this younger generation of people has to do with the way we communicate about who we are and what we believe. Read More

Wednesday's Catch: Single Issue Christians and More

Beware of Making Anything But the Gospel Your ‘Main Thing’

The gospel must impact how we view everything and there are issues that will be extremely important, but those issues cannot handle the weight of being the single thing or the main thing in a church. Read More

Technology, Politics, and Evangelicalism’s Good News

Power, wealth, and political influence may not be the prize that the world needs to experience. In fact, it may be the problem. Read More

We are On the Same Team

Churches should compete together, not against one another. Read More

Don’t Just Build A Ministry Platform, Build A Team That Can Support It

This may be the biggest reason great ideas die too soon. We’re creating buzz, but we’re not building substance. Read More

Seven Traits of Toxic Leaders [Video]

In this Rainer Report Thom Rainer examines the seven traits of toxic leaders who prevent great things from happening a church. Watch Now

25 Questions for a Prospective New Pastor to Ask a Church

In my experience the process of hiring (or calling) a pastor is long enough there are plenty of opportunities to ask questions. I decided to list some of my favorites, and I’ve changed and tweaked these over the years – adding questions I wish I had known to ask. Read More
Church leaders may also find these questions useful in evaluating their church.
Want to Give a Book for Christmas? Here’s My Top Ten List for Books on the Authority of Scripture

‘Tis the season. . . to give books. I think solid Christian books are a great gift, and books on the authority of Scripture are always relevant in our world today. Read More

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Tuesday's Catch: The Inward-Focused Church Leader and More

6 Reasons Many Church Leaders Stop Reading Outwardly [Podcast]

Inward focus is natural for churches. It takes intentional effort and supernatural power to overcome this inward focus. Listen Now

How to Balance Results and People As a Leader

Which style is better? Leaders who care about people but not results? Leaders who care about results but not people? Read More

5 Steps That Help Church Leaders Stay Out Of Trouble

I want to offer some safeguards here that will be helpful to you as they have been to me over many years in ministry. These five steps will help you be intentional. Read More

Ten Things to Pray for Your Pastor…and One Big Thing to Do Next

Whether requested or not, you and I would do well to pray for our pastors. Then, continuing to pray for your pastor in good times and ill is a sign of great faith in Christ. So much depends on whether our spiritual leaders are functioning well, close to the Lord, thinking clearly, and in good health. Read More

5 Simple Ways to Share Christ This Christmas

Christmas is one of the holidays where engaging others in a Gospel conversation can be easier and more natural. It is a time of sharing laughter, food and, of course, gifts. And there is no better gift to be shared than the Good News of Jesus. He truly is the reason for the season! Read More

Fewer Americans Want More Jesus This Christmas

A new study from Nashville-based LifeWay Research found two-thirds of Americans (65 percent) say, “Christmas should be more about Jesus.” Those looking for more Christ in Christmas in 2018 are significantly fewer than four years ago, however. A 2014 LifeWay Research study found 79 percent of Americans at that time said Christmas should be more about Jesus. Read More

Monday, December 10, 2018

4 Principles To Get (And Give) Better Feedback

If we want better feedback, we can’t just be open to it, we have to ask for it. Regularly and honestly.

If we want to become better leaders we need to have good feedback. And to get that feedback, we need to find and listen to better critics.

But getting helpful feedback has one significant challenge. There is an inverse correlation between the frequency of a person’s opinion and the value of that opinion.

The more a person wants to tell you what they think, the less valuable their feedback is likely to be.

This is true for both negative and positive feedback. It may be nice to hear “your sermons always seem to be just what I need!” or “I’m always inspired by your ideas!” But those opinions, while encouraging, offer no practical value.

At the same time, the person who is always quick to tell us what’s wrong is just as unlikely to help us get better. The opinions of the frequent complainer are more about them than about the subject at hand.

This is why, if we want truly valuable feedback, we have to go looking for it. Read More

Photo by Juri Gianfrancesco on Unsplash

5 Myths about the Bible

...some might say even if we can translate the Bible, we can never know what the original wording was. After all, the text of the Bible was copied by hand over thousands of years by thousands of people who made tens or even hundreds of thousands of intentional and unintentional mistakes.

It is true that until the 15th Century, the text of the Bible was copied by hand and sometimes scribes made mistakes. But this does not mean the text we have is nothing close to the original writings and completely unreliable. In fact, it is just the opposite, especially when we compare it with other ancient texts. We have over 6,000 manuscripts of the Greek NT (not to mention close to 20,000 ancient translations).

Of the 6,000 Greek manuscripts, the evidence of their contradictions has been greatly exaggerated. While there are many variations in the text, most of these are either spelling differences or word order. There are several other differences that do not change the meaning of the text at all, especially the use of synonyms. Less than 1% of the variants amount to a meaningful change, and none of these affect any essential Christian doctrine. None of this even considers the tens of thousands of Hebrew Old Testament scrolls and codices that show a similar level of reliability. The evidence is clear: our modern English translations are reliable translations of a reliable text. Read More

How to Evangelize Friends Identifying as LGBTQ

What if your daughter, raised in a Christian home, returns from college radicalized by the LGBTQ community? What if she comes out as pansexual and tells you in no uncertain terms that it is her way or the highway? What if you discover that your most obedient and faithful daughter, the one you never had to worry about with boys or drugs or reckless bad-choice making, has been struggling with same-sex attraction since she was 12?

It is deeply frightening when a child you have loved and raised and prayed for daily leaves the faith, and with it, God’s protection. It can feel shameful to admit to others in your church that you are torn between your faith and your child—that you fear losing one for the other.

It may feel unsafe to ask for help from your elders and pastors with matters that isolate you and set you apart from others in painful ways. You may feel jealous or angry or deeply depressed that while your peers in the church are planning biblical weddings for believing children, you are wrestling with whether to attend the gay wedding of your prodigal.

If these are your feelings and concerns, take heart. The Lord is near. Read More

Most Americans Find Fulfillment in Family, Not Faith

Where are Americans most likely to find meaning and fulfillment in their lives? It might depend on who you ask, according to recently released data from the Pew Research Center.

In late 2017, Pew conducted two separate surveys—one open-ended and one close-ended—to determine the answer to this question. Overall, one answer in particular stood out: family.

Almost 7 in 10 Americans (69 percent) mentioned family when describing where they find a sense of meaning in the open-ended survey, with similar results emerging in the close-ended survey.

In both surveys, Americans’ dependence on faith trailed significantly behind. Read More

Photo by Igor Rodrigues on Unsplash

Saturday, December 08, 2018

20 Mistakes Pastors Make During Christmas

I spent 42 years behind the pulpit of a local church before stepping away to try my hand at denominational leadership. So when it comes to leading a church throughout the Christmas season, I suppose I’ve made most of the mistakes one can make. The good news is once in a while I got it right; the blessings were enormous.

It’s the mistakes that stand out in memory, however. And, human nature being what it is, the failures of others make great reading and, hopefully, great learning experiences without our own trial and error.

So, here are my candidates for the top 20 mistakes we preachers make during the Christmas season.... Read More

Also See:
10 Suggestions for Telling the Christmas Story This Year
Some Thoughts to Consider if Your Church is Having a Christmas Eve Service
Why Christmas Is a Unique Opportunity for the Church
Why It Is Best for Christians to Celebrate Christmas

Practical Advice for Pastors and Lay Preachers #29

Tips for Lay Preachers

Preaching is a daunting task, especially for those of us who fill the pulpit when the regular preaching pastor is away. My aim in this article is to help lay elders, youth leaders, pulpit suppliers, seminarians, and anyone else who preaches occasionally understand how to play your role effectively. Perhaps you’ve recently been asked to preach at another congregation or maybe you’ve begun to preach more frequently at your own church. Many lay preachers feel unprepared for the task—I know I have. What should you do? Where do you start? Here are few tips I have found helpful for lay preachers. Read More

Preaching “One Time” Sermons

Preaching a stand-alone message can be tricky. Read More

Preacher, Feeling Good is Overrated

Too often, we forget that preaching does not merely lead to spiritual war but is itself an act of spiritual war. Read More

3 Takeaways for Preaching in a Celebrity Preacher Culture

If you want to be the best preacher you can be (by God’s grace) PLEASE.... Read More

Three Small Tweaks That Make a Difference in Your Teaching

One minor adjustment where we tighten something that has become loose can change the way others hear our teaching and preaching. I believe there are three small tweaks every communicator of the Scriptures can make that will improve how their audience hears a message. Read More

Pastor, Leave Sports Out of the Pulpit. Here’s Why

The inimitable Joe McKeever explains why we should keep sports out of the pulpit. Read More

Preaching and Poverty

Preach and pray knowing that “the poor” are in the room, not as though they are out there somewhere. Acknowledge that none of us wants to admit our own need. Be attentive to the ways we can respond to the folks in our midst to alleviate some of the dire needs we have for food and clothing and healthcare and shelter. Not because it makes us better people, but because it reminds us who we are. Read More

5 Ways to Misuse a Commentary

I first used a commentary in my teenage years. I was reading through the Bible and asked my mom if there was something that could help me with questions. She had a two-volume commentary on the Bible that she pointed me to and my use of commentaries began. Since that time I’ve used hundreds of commentaries (and written a couple) and have learned a lot of lessons along the way. Below is a list of the top five ways to misuse a commentary (and suggestions for how to use them better). Read More

Let’s Stop Over-Interpreting the Greek Words for Love

Kenny Burchard addresses the problem of over-interpreting Greek synonyms, and then making more of the over-interpretation than the text would ever lead anyone who actually knows better to make. Read More

A Team Approach to Sermon Preparation

It is not good that preachers should prepare their messages alone. Read More

3 Reasons You Should Preach Through Ezekiel

The prophets aren’t exactly feel good books, nor do they seem to contain the kind of practical “news-you-can-use” found in the epistles and wisdom literature. And if you’re just looking for a good story, they’re frankly confusing. Nowhere is all that truer than Ezekiel. So, unless you’re one of those people that is into arcane prophecy and end-times speculation, then why should you preach the book of Ezekiel? Read More

Saturday Lagniappe: Bad Religion and More

Bad Religion—How 3 American Heresies Impact Missions at Home and Abroad

“America’s problem isn’t too much religion, or too little of it. It’s bad religion: the slow-motion collapse of traditional Christianity and the rise of a variety of destructive pseudo-Christianities in its place.” Read More

Poor Interpretation Lets Us “Believe” the Bible While Denying What It Actually Says

As people respond to my books, ask questions, and state opinions through emails and social media, I’m struck with how many say they believe the Bible, but their interpretations are so out of line with credible biblical meanings that their profession of confidence in Scripture becomes meaningless, and even dangerous. Not only is this happening more frequently today, it’s also being accepted as normal. Read More

3 Ways Pastors Can Engage Congregants' Minds

Instead of merely lamenting on social media about the current state of theology, pastors should be springing into action. Read More

5 Thought Patterns That Hurt Your Leadership

The scary thing is that it’s relatively easy to lead without sufficient thinking in the short term. But that never works over the long haul. Read More

Themelios 43.3

The new December 2018 issue of Themelios is online. Among the articles is an editorial by D. A. Carson on the changing meaning of words. Download or Read Online

Friday, December 07, 2018

Friday's Catch: The Faith of President George H. W. Bush and More

The altar at St. Martin's Episcopal Church in Houston
A Look at the Faith of President George H.W. Bush

Bush was an Episcopalian whose faith was both steady and understated. Read More
As a lifelong Episcopalian, Bush was hesitant to talk openly about his Christian faith. Asked whether he had been “born again,” he said, “If by ‘born again’ one is asking, ‘Do you accept Jesus Christ as your personal Savior?’ then I could answer a clear-cut ‘Yes.’ No hesitancy, no awkwardness.” If the question, though, were whether there had been “one single moment, above any others, in which your life has been instantly changed then I can’t say that this has happened, since there have been many moments.” - From "9 Things You Should Know About George H. W. Bush (1924–2018)"
How to Leverage Podcasting to Reach New People

As more than a few observers have said, with the explosion of audiobooks and podcasting we’re currently in the middle of a shift in which listening is emerging as the new reading. Read More
While shopping earlier today at a local Walmart, I encountered a robot moving leisurely up and down the grocery aisles and taking inventory. I also encountered a human worker loading bins for pickup by customers who had ordered groceries online. It was a stark reminder that we now live in the 21st century.
Pastor: What to Pray When Your Ministry Is on the Line

Before you can legitimately call on the Lord to “show these people that I’m your servant,” you might want to go back and ask yourself three questions. Read More

7 Staggering Things God Does When We Pray for One Another

In his word, God commands believers to pray for one another. Read More

One Size Doesn’t Fit All: Scriptural Prayers for All Situations

God has given us prayer as a means of communication with Him. God’s Word has given us multiple illustrations that one kind of prayer does not fit all instances. Read More

Children Abusing Children: Children's Mercy Sees Dangerous Trend Involving Children and Porn

Children's Mercy says they're seeing a disturbing trend in child sexual assault cases. Children are abusing children. Read More
While sex play is not unusual in young children in the same age range, what is described in this article is the sexual abuse and exploitation of younger girls, age range 4 to 8, by older boys, age range 11 to 15. The girls are several years away from the age that most children show signs of puberty while the boys have entered puberty. The correlation between sexual abuse and exploitation and pornography is well-documented but in these studies the perpetrator were adults.


Thursday, December 06, 2018

Thursday's Edition: Mediocre Churches and More

Jesus Loves Mediocre Churches (And So Do I)

I recently read an article that, for lack of a better phrase, really cheesed me off.... Two things in particular really bothered me about this article. Read More

Church Revitalization: Keep the Doors of Your Church Open

Churches don’t just die. They get sick and remain so for a considerable length of time. Read More

3 Ways to Help Outsiders Feel Welcome in Your Church

So what can we do to help outsiders feel like welcome, without turning church into a preference-driven smorgasbord of gospel-lite hors d’oeuvres? Read More

The Immutability of God

The latest issue of Credo magazine is online. It deals with the immutability of God. Check Out Featured Articles (and More)

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

The Four Gospels Are the Gospel

The Pilgrims' Way to the Holy Isle of Lindisfarne

If you asked a Christian living in the 100s what the Gospel was, he might just answer by summarizing the Gospel according to Matthew or Mark or Luke, or John. Just as Paul did in 1 Corinthians 15 when he summarized the Gospel that he had received by pointing to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ according to Scriptures. These events span the pages of the four Gospels.

This might surprise us since we do not usually think of Jesus’ birth, miracles, calling of the disciples, teachings and so on as being part of the Gospel. Yet the four Gospels are, in fact, the Gospel. And that means that Jesus’ virgin birth, his miracles, and his teachings are part of the good news. And the four Gospel accounts themselves, Paul, the early church, and the creeds confirm that the narrative of Jesus is the Gospel. Read More

The 5 Biggest Dangers Of A Long-Term Pastorate – And How To Avoid Them

No pastor should ever stop learning – not if we hope to stay effective.

Pastorates are getting longer.

This is mostly good news for pastors, their families, and the churches they serve.

But there are a few inherent dangers to staying in one church for a long time. As someone who celebrates 26 years at the same church this month, here are the top 5 dangers I’m constantly trying to avoid, in no particular order:

1. Getting Stuck In A Rut

2. Getting Stuck In A Rut

3. Getting Stuck In A Rut

4. Getting Stuck In A Rut

5. Getting Stuck In A Rut

Yeah, that’s about it. If you can stay out of that rut, a long-term pastorate is best for everyone. So, how do we avoid getting stuck?

Here are a handful of lessons I keep learning that help me stay fresh, excited and forward-looking after two and a half decades at the same church. Read More

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Tuesday's Catch: God's Vision for Your Community and More

How to Discover God’s Vision for Your Community

There are three questions must be answered in order to discover God’s unique assignment for your ministry. Read More

What We Long for the Church to Know about Sexual Violence

Abuse can skew more than just a survivor's relationship with the church. Read More

Why Modern Christians Need an Ancient Creed

We need regular reminders of how old, unchangeable truth influences our real lives. Read More

Primary Factors That Led to a Pastor's Call to Ministry

A call to ministry is intensely personal, but for many pastors the call shares a few common themes. Listen Now

5 Reasons Church Is Much More Complex To Lead

You’ve noticed, haven’t you? Leading a local church is more complex than ever. It’s still the most rewarding and greatest purpose I can imagine, but the challenges are not for the faint of heart. Read More

Routine Bible Reading Can Change Your Life

Why do so many Christians start with a strong commitment and yet lose their way when reading the Bible? Read More

Overcoming Fear in Evangelism

In evangelism, God has given us the message we need to share with unbelievers. The whole Bible tells the story of creation, mankind’s fall into sin, and the provision of a Savior through Jesus Christ. But the Scriptures do not only give the words necessary for unbelievers to know the content of the gospel. The Bible also gives the words necessary to encourage Christians to evangelize, especially when it comes to overcoming fears. Read More

The Culture Wars Are Ancient History

Today’s fights over the religion in the public square are replays of fights from two thousand years ago. Read More

Quarter of Churchgoers Don't Take Day of Rest

According to Genesis, God created everything in six days before resting on the seventh. But around a quarter of churchgoers say they don’t follow His example. Read More

Monday, December 03, 2018

American Churches Are at a Tipping Point

Tipping Point (noun): the critical point in a situation, process, or system beyond which a significant and often unstoppable effect or change takes place.

If current trajectories continue, American churches will pass a tipping point. Our congregations will begin a likely unstoppable path toward decline that will rival many European churches of the past century. If there is not a significant movement of revitalization, there will be an accelerated rate of decline and death.

The good news is that many leaders are not denying this reality. They are seeking God and responding obediently. Church revitalization has become a real and powerful theme. As I indicated in my book, Scrappy Church, more and more churches are moving in incredible and positive directions.

How will God move in our churches? How will we respond? While I will not address those two paramount questions in this particular article, I do want us to see the three specific areas of the tipping point: theological, attitudinal, and actionable. Read More

Photo by Cindy Tang on Unsplash

Why Your Church Resists the Change That Could Save It

Sometimes the story feels like a rerun. It’s a story that seems to play out time and again: A church that is rapidly declining has a pastor or a denomination who sees the need for change, but he or she soon runs into the equivalent of a brick wall as they try to implement it. I’ve had friends from seminary and leaders from churches I’ve coached tell me stories of the lovely people in their congregation who see the writing on the wall but just can’t bring themselves to imagine doing anything different than has been done the last 50 years.

Maybe you resonate with them, wondering if you have wasted years of your life in board or elder meetings, having spent countless hours and sleepless nights worrying if you and your church have another five years left. You wonder why this is so hard. Is fear just that powerful? Are they just too set in their ways? Is the Enemy at work?

While there can be truth in each of those things, there is really another stronger factor at work when a church on the brink of closure continues to resist making any change that could help it survive. And understanding and knowing how to respond to this factor may be the difference between life and death for a congregation—and your leadership. Read More

8 Benefits Of Investing A Lifetime Of Ministry Into One Congregation

Longevity builds trust, which gives people a better perspective on what does and doesn’t really matter.

Pastors seem to be staying in their churches longer now than they did in previous generations.

That’s on purpose.

I know, because as of this month I’ve been ministering at Cornerstone Christian Fellowship for 26 years. When our family arrived here, our prayer was that the Lord would let us stay and plant roots.

Certainly there are challenges to staying so long in the same place. Keeping fresh, not settling in too comfortably, and not repeating the same ideas over and over are constant battles to fight against. (We’ll address those in my next article, The 5 Biggest Dangers Of Staying In A Long-Term Pastorate – And How To Avoid Them).

But if you can avoid those pitfalls, here are 8 advantages to investing a big chunk of our lives in one church body. Read More

Saturday, December 01, 2018

4 Things That Caused the Early Church to Spread Like Wildfire

The opening pages of the book of Acts show us the church God used to launch the movement that we call Christianity. On their opening Sunday, 3,000 people came to faith in Jesus Christ. At their second public gathering, over 5,000 were added to their number. Historians and scholars go on to tell us that within six months of Pentecost, there were over one hundred thousand new Christians in the city of Jerusalem. And here’s the reality: Every single one of us trace our faith back to this moment that began with a handful of Christians in Acts 2.

When you realize the magnitude of what happened through this group of people, it raises a question: What was it about them that enabled them to be so mightily used of God? This was a ragtag group of nobodies. Nobody knew their names, nobody knew their platform, nobody knew where they’d come from. Yet history records that they were used by God to literally turn the world upside down. And I think if we look closely at Acts 1:1–14, we can find four characteristics of the early church that we can apply to our own lives. Read More