Thursday, May 24, 2018

What We Can Learn from Reformation Worship and Liturgies

Reformation Worship: Liturgies from the Past for the Present is a resource of almost unparalleled richness in its field, representing an immense labor of love on the part of its editors and translators. It gathers together liturgies crafted by some of the leading figures in the Protestant Reformation and employed by them to aid worship in a wide variety of places and churches.

We owe an immense debt of gratitude to those who have participated in this project. They would, I feel sure, tell us that the best way we can repay that debt is to read carefully, to assess biblically, and then to reach down into the first principles of worship variously expressed in these liturgies from the past, and apply them wisely and sensitively in our worship in the present. This can only lead to a new reformation of the worship of God the Trinity.

Such access to the Father through the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit can alone help the congregations of God’s people, in the place and time they occupy, to worship with renewed mind, transformed affections, and holy joy. Read More

Also See:
Review: Reformation Worship: Liturgies From the Past For The Present (Update)

Why Dying Churches Blame Everyone But Themselves - Revitalize & Replant #042 [Podcast]

There is plenty of blame to go around in dying churches. Unfortunately, they rarely look in the mirror and instead blame others. Today Thom Rainer, Mark Clifton, and Jonathan Howe discuss why that is wrong and how to combat it. Listen Now

The Wretched Art of Loveless Discernment

Christians are called to speak the truth (Eph 4:15). It is no surprise, therefore, that our enemy’s preferred tactic is deception (Rev 12:9). Consequently, because of this war between truth and deception, believers are called to exercise discernment—to be vigilant in dividing truth from error (Acts 17:11; Jude 3).

Tragically, the modern church often neglects this essential duty to contend for the truth. Even worse, professing Christians often scorn attempts at discernment as uncharitable and judgmental, subsequently dismissing it all together. This is one reason why those of us who practice discernment must be vigilant to not embody what the scoffers accuse us of. As we contend for right doctrine, we must take care to adorn it with right attitudes and behavior (Titus 2:10).

But isn’t that the exact opposite of what we see today among self-described discerners? For some Christians, what begins with a healthy interest in discernment can end in an unhealthy addiction to gossip and debate. Many of them manifest a cruelty in how they go about condemning error. There’s an almost giddiness when they get to call someone “false teacher” and a haughty attitude of superiority. These things ought not be so. Read More

SBC Splits With D.C. Convention Over Lesbian Pastors

What began as a message of unity more than a century ago has ended.

The Southern Baptist Convention has now officially severed its ties with the District of Columbia Baptist Convention after the latter refused to remove a married lesbian couple as co-pastors from a church in the nation’s capital.

More than a century ago, the D.C. Convention entered into a dual affiliation with Southern Baptists and the American Baptist Churches USA, intended as a unity message in the nation’s capital.

The symbolism expanded to a triple alignment in 1997, when the D.C. convention voted to align with the predominantly black Progressive National Baptist Convention, and later to quadruple when D.C. Baptists joined the Baptist World Alliance.

The experiment failed over the question, “What do you believe?” Read More

Also See:
Have the Church's Views on Homosexuality Changed?
Paul Tripp | Christianity, Homosexuality and Transgenderism [Video]
Other stories aboutt developments in the Southern Baptist Convention on the Internet are "Paige Patterson Out as Head of SWBTS" and "UPDATE: Paige Patterson Named President Emeritus After Woman Claims He Silenced Her Disclosure of Rape." Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville. Kentucky has written an opinion piece, "The Humiliation of the Southern Baptist Convention," in response to these developments.

10 Leadership Statements That Spell Trouble

Over the years, I’ve worked with a lot of church leaders in struggling situations. I hear their pain, and I even understand it when I learn about their situations. At the same time, though, I always get concerned when I hear these kinds of things from leaders, as they often suggest that somebody’s about to give up.... Read More

Five Lessons Learned From Decades of Preaching

1. You never preach well enough to convert a single person. That is, unless you believe that faith is an ability of man generated to decision by the persuasive abilities of the preacher. But I don’t believe that saving faith is a natural ability of man. Faith is a sovereign grace-gift of God which comes to those who hear the Word of Christ (Eph 2:8-9; Phil 1:29). Therefore, I must not try to use my oratory gifts or unbiblical strategies to push a hearer into decisionism. Rather, because I believe that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ, I must use all my ability to preach the Word of Christ with clarity, to preach Christ with sincere unction, but always relying upon the sovereign work of the Spirit to bring faith and the new birth.

This is what made Spurgeon and Lloyd-Jones such great preachers. They knew that their calling was to proclaim Christ and Him crucified; but they also knew that only truth made plain and applied by the Spirit would convert a single soul. They were not men of ego. They were amazed that God would use them at all as the conduit of truth applied by the Spirit to men’s hearts. There is no room for ego, bragging, or pride in preaching. Such an attitude betrays the true heart of the preacher. Preaching is the most humbling thing a man can do. It is foolishness to the unbeliever unless God regenerates him/her. It is humbling to the preacher that he is powerless to change anyone unless God decides to have mercy by His Word and Spirit in the sinner’s heart. Truly the foolishness of preaching Christ gives glory only to God. You never preach well enough to convert a single person. Read More

Also See:
How to Preach Creative and Faithful Sermons [Video]

Seven Ways Church Outreach Has Changed in 15 Years

“So what are churches doing to reach people today, Thom?”

I hear some version of that question on a regular basis. The difficult response is that more churches are doing nothing rather than something.

But, to be fair, thousands of churches are doing some type of outreach to their communities and beyond. But the times have definitely changed. Here are seven of the most common changes in church outreach practices over the past one to two decades. Read More

Also See:
Autopsy of a Deceased Outreach Ministry
Both of these articles are reposts. The first article was posted two years ago and the second this past April. I am reposting them because reaching out into the community is not only critical to the survival of our churches but also integral to Christian discipleship. Can we really claim to be followers of Jesus if we are not joining him in his mission to the lost?

Three Ways to Successfully Navigate Failure in Evangelism

Learning how to navigate through failure is a crucial element of success.

Learning how to navigate through failure is a crucial element of success. We know this to be true in the business world, in ministry, in our family relationships, and in pretty much every arena of our lives.

This same principle is also true about evangelism.

Despite the important role it plays in cultivating success, a conversation about how to navigate failure is typically absent from our training in sharing the gospel. Evangelism training tools often equip us in how to start conversations and initiate new relationships. We also grow in our ability to share our testimonies and communicate the gospel.

While all of these are important components of evangelism, if we do not prepare and equip people to navigate failure well, our efforts to grow in evangelism will likely be short-lived.

So how do we address that gap? How do we equip others to navigate failure well, and how do we learn from failure ourselves? Let me offer three ways to begin navigating failure well in the context of evangelism. Read More

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Rainer Report: Four Things You Need to Know about Generation Z [Video]

In this short video presentation Thom Rainer share what we know about Generation Z. Watch Now

Also See:
Why the Next Generation Is Building Their Own God

5 Reasons People Aren’t Inviting Friends To Your Church

People visit your church prompted by a variety of reasons such as:
1. A positive message on social media.
2. There’s a crisis in their family.
3. The Holy Spirit stirred them to attend.
4. A mailer to their home.
5. The reputation of your pastor’s messages.
6. They want a Christian influence for their kids.
But for at least the last fifty years, there is still nothing that beats
7. Invited by a friend.
Because that is true, it’s vitally important to pay attention to the reasons people do and don’t invite their friends to your church. Read More

Doubt Is Not Unbelief: Evangelicals and the Stigma of Doubt

The key is not the total suspension of confidence or even certainty, but rather the judicious placement of confidence and trust.

The commitment of American evangelicals towards gospel propagation is evident from their dominant presence in Protestant mission (vast majority of U.S. based Protestant missionaries are evangelicals) and in the identities of their greatest heroes like Billy Graham.

Unfortunately, while evangelicals are understandably and justifiably preoccupied with bringing people through the front door of the church, too many seem relatively inattentive and uninformed as to HOW and WHY people are leaving though the back door.

In the past few decades, increased religious mobility, which includes leaving and switching, has been a notable trend in the shifting U.S. religious landscape (e.g., the rise of the religious nones).

This is in part what led me to undertake a research project that would understand leave-taking—the journey from evangelical minister and missionary (specifically those who a had formal theological and ministerial training and served in vocational ministry for at least two years) to the complete abandonment of the Christian faith, including any belief in the supernatural. Read More

8 Ways the Enemy Attacks Young People

One of the most read posts on this site is “12 Ways Satan Attacks Christian Marriages.” Today, I want to focus on a similar issue: primary ways I see the enemy attacking teenagers and young adults. I’m cautious in making these points, as I don’t want to suggest that the devil is behind every rock—but nor do I want to deny the reality of an enemy who seeks to devour us (1 Pet. 5:8). None of the following strategies is new, but some of them seem more pronounced today than when I was young.... Read More

Spiritual Warfare and the Lives of Pastors and Church Leaders

The struggle is real.

When you drop the phrase spiritual warfare into a casual conversations, you often get mixed reactions.

On the one hand, a lot of people are skeptics when it comes to anything invisible or supernatural. In fact, many people will believe in heaven and angels but choose not to believe in hell or demons.

On the other hand, a lot of people can get downright superstitious about the subject. Everything bad that happens is perceived as a demonic attack.

In the middle are most of the pastors I know, who believe rather strongly in the existence and power of heavenly beings – both angels and demons – that exist all around us in a heavenly, spiritual realm hidden to our eyes and human senses.

And this spiritual realm is not, right now, at peace. It’s a war zone. Read More

The Biggest Mistake Teaching Pastors Tend to Make – And How To Correct It

The nave of a Scandinavian stave church

Jesus didn’t tell us to teach students, he commanded us to make disciples.

If you are a teaching pastor, I have a gift for you. I’m going to share one of the most important lessons I’ve learned in 35+ years of pastoral ministry.

It happened when I recognized that I was committing what is probably the biggest mistake most teaching pastors make.

But first, some background.

In the last three months my title has changed from Lead Pastor to Teaching Pastor, but I’ve been a teaching pastor all my ministry – over 30 years and counting – no matter what my title happened to be.

I love to teach God’s Word. Verse-by-verse, subject-by-subject, or principle-by-principle. So I share a deep appreciation for the vital role teaching pastors play in the body of Christ. Read More

Josh Weidmann on Sermon Preparation

The ornately carved pulpit of a Scandinavian stave church

How to Prepare to Preach Expository Sermons for Maximum Impact

So how do we plan in such a way that it yields unforgettable messages in the end? Read More

Process of Preparing a Sermon

Josh Weidmann explains the eight steps of preparing a sermon. Read More

An Interview with a Man with a Mission

The Myth of the Perfect Evangelist—Part 1

The story of Jesus’ anonymous 72 disciples proves we don’t have to be famous to be an evangelist. Here’s what we do need. Read More

Modeling a Lifestyle of Evangelism—Part 2

The key to effective evangelism is not trying to change the world, but being faithful to make it a part of our day to day lives. Read More

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Leading Your Church to Care for Orphans

On a cold morning in February of 2015, I woke up in my warm home, read my Bible, drank coffee with my wife, and woke up my two kids from their snug beds. We fed them breakfast, and I drove them to school. I kissed each of them before they went in to learn from teachers who loved them, in classrooms that were inviting, and among friends they enjoyed.

That same morning, across our small town, my other two children, Sloan and Brooklyn, woke up in a hotel room with a person they didn’t know. Their biological mother had dropped them off and disappeared to get high on methamphetamine. Sheriff’s deputies were called because the person with whom they had been left didn’t know what to do with them.

Sloan and Brooklyn were transferred to the custody of the South Carolina Department of Social Services. They were placed into an emergency foster home for a couple of weeks and then were separated. In just a few short weeks, my 3-year-old and 2-year-old lost their parents, their extended family, and they lost each other.

Brooklyn was fortunate enough to land in a foster home where she would be loved for eight and a half months. Sloan, however, was labeled a difficult kid. My blond-haired, blue-eyed 2-year-old boy spent the next eight months being bounced from one foster home to the next. When he came to live with us two days before Thanksgiving in 2015, he had been moved six times in eight months.

I share this because stories matter. Stories communicate. Our story helps to put names and faces on a problem that we as the church have been called to engage.

And our story is just one. There are more than 4,000 children in foster care in South Carolina alone. Because of the lack of foster homes in our state, 61 percent of those children have to be placed outside of their home county. That means many children who are placed in foster care don’t just lose their homes and their families, they lose their school and friends. They lose everything.

The Department of Social Services reports there are more than 500 adoptable children in the state of South Carolina. More than 500 children — and 2,100 South Carolina Baptist churches. More than 500 children whose lives and eternity hang in the balance. If Christians turn their backs on children in need, then we have sentenced them to a Christ-less eternity. We can do better. We can be pro-life from womb to tomb, and pro-life means pro-foster care and pro-adoption.

Not everyone can or should adopt. Not everyone can or should be foster parents, but every church should look for how they can be involved in care for orphans.

May is National Foster Care Month and in honor of that, here are ways that you, as a pastor, can lead your church to engage children in foster care. Read More

The Left Behind of Rural America [Podcast]

Collin Hansen and Stephen Witmer discuss Robert Wuthnow's book on rural America

America’s rural share of the population has dropped from 95 percent in 1810 to 55 percent in 1910 to 20 percent in 2010. And there’s no turnaround in sight. It’s a fact that makes tens of millions of rural Americans defensive about their place in our national life. They feel under threat, according to Robert Wuthnow, professor of social sciences at Princeton University and author of a new book, The Left Behind: Decline and Rage in Rural America. A native of Kansas, Wuthnow has interviewed hundreds of rural Americans and found deep concern “that their way of life is eroding, shifting imperceptibly under the feet, and being discredited and attacked from the outside.”

You can imagine that this feeling pervades many rural churches as well. To discuss the significance of Wuthnow’s findings for church leaders, I reached out to Stephen Witmer, pastor of Pepperell Christian Fellowship in Pepperell, Massachusetts. Stephen earned a PhD from the University of Cambridge and teaches New Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He also helps lead Small Town Summits, which partners with The Gospel Coalition New England to serve rural churches and pastors.

Witmer is a native of rural Maine, and we’ve bonded over our mutual appreciation for the overlooked places and, not coincidentally, the writing of Wendell Berry. In this conversation we discuss the moral obligations of rural communities, media influences, church dynamics, and more. Listen Now

3 Ways Satan will Attempt to Hinder Your Church

It amazes me how often opportunities for growth are incited by challenges, problems, or even attacks.

The book of Acts details the advance of the early church through the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ under the power of the Holy Spirit. Time and again the early believers faced persecution, problems, and challenges. But the advance of the gospel would not be hindered. Acts describes the sovereign advance of God’s gospel. Our job is to remain faithful to preach the good news in the power of the Holy Spirit.

In his commentary on Acts, John Stott identified three ways Satan attempted to hinder the church’s advance: suppression, corruption, and distraction. In chapter 3, Peter and John healed a crippled man and used this platform to preach the gospel. Subsequently, chapter 4 relates how the religious leaders imprisoned Peter and John and charged them to cease preaching about Jesus. Read More

9 Things You Should Know About Wicca and Modern Witchcraft

A growing number of young women—driven by feminist politics and the #MeToo movement—are being drawn to a new brand of witchcraft, according to a report by NBC News. Here are nine things you should know about Wicca and modern witchcraft. Read More

Tuesday's Catch: "Bigger? Or Better? Yes, Your Church Has A Choice" and More

Bigger? Or Better? Yes, Your Church Has A Choice

“It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that if you’re maximizing growth, you’re also maximizing success.” (Bo Burlingham, in Small Giants) Read More

Principles for Leading a Healthy Small Church, featuring Karl Vaters [Podcast]

Karl Vaters, author of Small Church Essentials joins Pastor Talk host Marty Duren to discuss some differences between leading a small church and leading a big one. Listen Now

One-on-One with Karl Vaters on ‘Small Church Essentials’

Instead of striving for church growth, I encourage churches and pastors to work on increasing their capacity for effective ministry. Read More

Andy Stanley: Why ‘The Bible Says So’ Is Not Enough Anymore

Our culture questions biblical authority, so, like Paul, we must adapt our hermeneutical approach to reach our neighbors. Read More
"This discussion of Andy Stanley’s message and method originally appeared in Nov. 9, 2016. It is reposted here because of its relevance to ongoing discussions about faith, revelation, context and proclamation." - Outreach Magazine
10 Reasons to Do Announcements via Video

I’ve previously written about ways to improve announcements in your church, and I briefly mentioned there why I like video-recorded announcements. Here are my other reasons for taking this approach.... Read More

Church Facebook Ads Work Well When They Answer THIS Question

Brandon Cox shres his thoughts on how a church can make the best use of Facebook ads. Read More

Why We Are ALL Missionaries

We once thought ourselves a religious majority, but we are now a convictional minority. We’ve got to shift our thinking. Read More

Monday, May 21, 2018

Three Accidents That Did Not Happen at Your Church

If you are the pastor I met in Richmond, Virginia recently, thank you.

Thank you for your encouragement. Thank you for your faithfulness. And thank you for your wise words about pastors and struggles: “It is good to know I am not alone.” Your words were meaningful. Your words were powerful.

You were speaking about the thousands of church leaders at Church Answers. You were speaking about the number one benefit you get from being in this safe community. You see the vulnerability, the lack of pretense, and the acknowledgments of struggles among other pastors and church leaders. It is a constant and encouraging reminder you are not alone.

I want to share those same words with the community who reads this blog post. I want you to know you are not alone. Ministry can be tough. Ministry can be frustrating. Ministry can even be depressing. But ministry in the local church can also be one of the greatest joys you’ve ever known.

Allow me to give you three reminders. It is my prayer these three brief points will be a source of encouragement and hope for you. It is my prayer they will be used by God to encourage you to keep pressing on. I simply call them the three accidents that did not happen at your church. Read More

Results Are Not Your Responsibility

Two years ago, my husband and I walked through the painful process of dissolving a church.

I remember the last service in vivid detail: where families were sitting for worship, what music was playing, and the demeanor of my husband, the lead pastor. He was sitting in the second row, shoulders slumped, head lowered, feeling the weight of the congregation’s unmet expectations. The church replant we had been a part of for five years was over.

Though we had striven to be faithful, a closed church was the result. Read More

The Best Followup Process for First Time Guests

Churches spend a lot of time, money, and energy encouraging guests to visit their church. And rightfully so.

Our churches should be places where the community is welcomed and where guests are expected. We should create welcoming environments, equip our people to invite, and constantly be on the lookout for fresh ways to advertise and promote.

But getting people in the front door might just be the easier part of a two-step process.

One of the biggest challenges churches face is how to invite first time guests back and help them connect with the life of the church.

Not just to attend, but to stick.

Not just to visit, but to connect.

With all of the focus on reaching first-time guests, we can’t forget that the follow-up or connection process is what helps new people find their place in the church.

Without a good follow up process, your front door will be more like a turnstile, inviting people in and just sending them back to their regular lives.

So what should you do after a first-time guest visits? What makes a great follow-up process? Read More

Also See:
Four Ways to Make Guests Feel More Welcome
19 Ways to Encourage Your Church to Invite Others
7 Ways to get More People to Come to Church

Not Every Christians Feels Responsible to Share the Gospel

Do you share the gospel?

A new Barna poll finds that over the past 25 years a growing percentage of Christians believe sharing the gospel is optional. And it appears one of the biggest factors in that decision is the cultural belief that telling someone Jesus Christ died for their sins is judgmental

Barna researchers asked these same questions in 1993 and compared the results to today. Read More

Also See:
Evangelism: What the Fastest Growing Churches Know
7 Signs You’re Judging Others
4 Reasons Many Don’t Effectively Witness
Where Young Adults Like to Have Spiritual Conversations
Is Your Church Relevant in Today’s Culture?

The Best Explanation for Our Spate of Mass Shootings Is the Least Comforting

On another terrible day, I hate to introduce even more pessimism, but when we discuss mass shootings, one of the first questions we ask is the simplest and also the hardest to answer. Why? Why does this keep happening? Those who advocate for gun control have an immediate answer — the prevalence of guns in the United States. Yet guns have been part of the fabric of American life for the entire history of our republic. Mass shootings — especially the most deadly mass shootings — are a far more recent phenomenon.

Writing in 2015, Malcolm Gladwell wrote what I think is still the best explanation for modern American mass shootings, and it’s easily the least comforting. At the risk of oversimplifying a complex argument, essentially he argues that each mass shooting lowers the threshold for the next. He argues, we are in the midst of a slow-motion “riot” of mass shootings, with the Columbine shooting in many ways the key triggering event. Relying on the work of Stanford sociologist Mark Granovetter, Gladwell notes that it’s a mistake to look at each incident independently.... Read More

Also See:
Thresholds of Violence: How School Shootings Catch On.

Monday's Catch: "How To Tell if it’s a Prosperity Gospel Church" and Much More

How To Tell if it’s a Prosperity Gospel Church

The prosperity gospel is a diverse, popular, and worldwide movement that understands faith to be the instrument through which Christians can attain physical health, material riches, and divine favor. There are countless thousands of these churches around the world with various levels of adherence to the key tenets of the wider movement, yet they rarely advertise themselves as prosperity gospel churches. So how can we know if a church is part of this movement? In Kate Bowler’s book Blessed, she provides some helpful guidance. Read More

Six Keys to Detecting the ‘Prosperity Gospel’[Podcast; Transcript]

In this podcast John Piper answers the question, " do you recognize prosperity theology when it’s not blatantly obvious? What are some key indicators to discern a ‘soft’ prosperity theology?" Listen to Podcast or Read Transcript

10 Things You Should Know about the Jehovah's Witnesses

Here are some ten things that may prove helpful for you to know, especially as they likely will come knocking at your door sometime soon. Read More

11 Things to Know about the Doctrine of the Trinity

These 11 things were taken from Dr. Fred Sander's course on the Holy Trinity. Read More

7 Steps to Take When Sunday Hurts

For some of you, yesterday was a difficult day. Something happened (or has been happening) within your congregation that makes your ministry difficult. If that’s where you are today, here are a few suggestions.... Read More

When Good Fruit Comes From Flawed Leaders

How should we respond when we discover the depths of a leader’s sinfulness? Does it discount the good they’ve done? Read More

Why Bishop Michael Curry’s Sermon Brought Down The House At The Royal Wedding

Carey Nieuwhof share his thoughts on what other preachers can learn from Presiding Bishop Curry's sermon at the royal wedding. Read More
The main purpose of Carey Nieuwhof's article is to draw attention to the five things Curry did that connected with people other than the sermon's content. Curry has a reputation of being an excellent preacher and that reputation is apparently well-deserved. I have also included two generous critiques of the content of Curry's sermon which in its half-truths and omissions was a sticking point for many Anglicans and non-Anglicans.
Bishop Curry and His Royal Sermon

Murray Campbell shares his thoughts on Presiding Bishop Curry's sermon. Read More

What Would Jesus Say About Bishop Curry’s Royal Wedding Sermon?

Garrett Kell share his thoughts on the Presiding Bishop's sermon at the royal wedding. Read More

3 Key Guardrails for a Disciple-Making Culture

We have to be willing to be unsuccessful in this world in order to be successful in the world to come. Read More

A False Spiritual Maturity Test For Christians…And A Better One

How do you know if you’re producing spiritually mature disciples or not? How do you measure? Read More

Why We Need A Different Kind Of 'Maturity' In The Church

Maybe what poses as ‘maturity’ isn’t always maturity. Read More

8 Steps to a Globally-Minded Church

As church leaders, we must be concerned with the immediate community where we lead. However, we are called to make disciples of all nations. Our ministry is to work in such a way that we are guiding the church make a local and global impact with the gospel. Here are a few steps to take in order to lead a globally-minded church.... Read More

Haunted by the Mission

While I believe we as pastors and leaders will answer for our words, our leadership, and our love at the judgment seat of Christ, I believe we will most certainly answer for our commitment to make disciples or our lack thereof. Jesus’ last words to his followers were to make disciples. So how do we go about strategizing our church around the mission of disciple-making? Read More

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Why the Rural Church Matters

The farm that I was raised on was five miles from the nearest small village. The town itself had a population of ninety people, with two gas stations, two bars, two sawmills, a small mom-and-pop grocery store, and one church.

The bars and gas stations have since closed, the sawmills have been swallowed up by large mills, and the grocery store struggles to exist as a small mini-mart. But the church remains.

Within the surrounding community and farmland, there were two other churches, a Free Methodist church connected to a local church camp and the Catholic Church started by Father Pieree-Jean De Smet. The next closest church was twenty miles away in another valley.

The church was more than a church for the forty to sixty people who met each week. It was regarded by many to be “their church” even though they never attended. As is often the case in rural communities, people are religious and will identify with a church in the community even though they may never attend. For them, the presence of the church is a part of the community identity. Read More

The Lord of the Millennial Dinner Party Feasts

From my seat at the head of the table, I take it all in: the colorful dishes of food that took way too long to prepare, the long-stem glasses of Merlot, friends laughing at each other’s stories as they eat. And, finally, my eyes meet my husband’s. Sitting a few seats away, we shoot each other a knowing look that says, “This is it. This is what it means to feel at home.”

Austin and I love hosting dinner parties. Like so many of our fellow Millennials, dinner parties have become a savored and ceremonial experience, and we are glad to find the practice making a comeback in our generation. Millennials, more than our parents’ generation, are setting tables for 10 with such force that it is changing the housing market and re-centering the kitchen and formal dining room as the heart of the home. Real estate agents are encouraged to show Millennials open-concept kitchen and living spaces that allow ample room for hosting groups of friends, dedicated bar space for mixing drinks Mad Men style, and efficiently placed appliances that allow us to cook multi-course meals for our guests.

And this generational shift isn’t just showing up in the housing market, but in the grocery store as well. Millennials, our parents might be surprised to find, are learning to cook—and we’re getting pretty good at it. In fact, Millennials are twice as likely to resolve to cook at home as our parents’ generation and find particular affinity for cooking with, and for, friends. Sure, we might eat a box of organic mac and cheese on any given Tuesday, but we pull out all the stops for a dinner party, pouring quality wine or mixing craft cocktails for the friends around our tables as an expression of generosity. Read More

Pastors Should Have Fun Hanging Out with Church Members

Memorable moments happen in real time and at ground level. When you talk to long-time church members about a deep love for their pastor, they speak of presence—the times when the pastor was there. Why do you love your pastor? Nobody answers the question, “Stage presence” or “social media following” or “writing ability” or “leadership acumen.” Most often, church members answer with a personal anecdote of when the pastor was simply there, present in real time and at ground level.

When you live out the Great Commission, you must enter into the lives of people. Pastors must be among those they shepherd. Far too often, church leadership is made overly complex with vision, systems, structure, and programming. These items are necessary but lack the personal connection of a leader in the flesh. Most church members just want to know if their pastor cares enough to be there.

Granted, no pastor is omnipresent, and churches are guilty of placing too great a burden on their pastors’ constant presence. Neediness is not a spiritual gift we should encourage in the church. However, what’s often missing in the disconnect between pastors and church members is something quite simple—fun.

Pastors and church members should have fun together, hanging out and enjoying the presence of each other. Hanging out is uncomplicated. The main requirement is time. When personal agendas are tossed aside, the time becomes fun. Read More

How Do I Know If a Sermon Is Too Long or Too Short? [Podcast; Transcript]

We finish the week of episodes on preaching with another question from a seasoned preacher who wishes to remain nameless. It’s a question a lot of people I think want to ask you, and I’m surprised we haven’t gotten around to it yet. Here it is: “Pastor John, can a sermon be too short or too long? How can we know the ideal sermon length? Is there a one-length for all? Should some be shorter or longer? If so, when?”

No, there is no one length for a sermon that’s ideal for every situation. Yes, some sermons should be shorter and some longer. Yes, it is possible that a sermon be too long or too short. Those are my answers. Now, let me give some factors that we should just take into consideration when we’re pondering how long we should preach. Listen to Podcast or Read Transcript

How Did We Get the Old Testament?

The Old Testament is thousands of years old, and contains accounts stretching back to the beginning of time. This ancient collection of books provides the foundation of both Judaism and Christianity.

So where did it come from? How did these age-old traditions, stories, and commandments make their way to modern times? These are important questions.

John Walton and Andrew Hill answer these questions in their Old Testament Survey online course. The following post is adapted from their unit on the background, history, archaeology, and formation of the Old Testament. Read More

To Follow Jesus Is to Be Sent

Our God is a sending God. He sent his best into the world to save us. Jesus is referred to as “sent” forty-four times in the New Testament. And after his resurrection, Jesus passed his identity on to his disciples: “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (John 20:21 ESV).

To follow Jesus is to be sent.

Jesus’s command to every disciple is to “go” (Matt. 28:19). We may not all go overseas, but we’re all to go. This means that if you’re not going, you’re not a disciple. And, church leader, if the people in our churches aren’t “going,” we aren’t doing our jobs. A church leader can have a large church with thousands of people attending, but if people aren’t going from it “outside the camp” (Heb. 13:13) to pursue the mission and call of Christ, those leaders are delinquent in their duty. Read More

Friday, May 18, 2018

What You Need to Know to Pastor a Rural Church

Pastors of rural churches must be aware of the cultural values and concerns of the community. Here are things to consider. Read More
Excerpted from 'The Forgotten Church' By Glenn Daman

In Addition To "Why Is Your Church So Small?" We Need To Ask “Why Do We Want It To Be Big?”

As hard as we work to grow bigger, how many of us stop to ask the essential question “what are the advantages of bigness?”

By far, the most common question I’m asked about small church ministry is “if your church is healthy, why is it so small?”

It’s a valid question, for sure. And one that I’ve answered in several previous blog posts, including these:
Recently I’ve started responding with a question of my own. Namely, in addition to asking small church pastors “why is your church so small?” shouldn’t we also be asking pastors of larger churches “why is your church so big?”

After all, none of them became big without working extremely hard at it.

Certainly, we often ask “how did your church get so big?” That’s why there are so many books, blogs, podcasts and seminars dedicated to breaking growth barriers, getting unstuck, and so on.

But it’s always a question about how to duplicate that numerical increase, not about the value of bigness itself. Read More

Also See:
The Church Is Small—So What?

What Is the Mission of the Church?

The word mission is not a biblical word, so we must define what we mean when we talk about a mission.

The word mission comes from the Latin words mitto (to send) and missio (sending). So mission implies that someone has sent something to accomplish a task. In other words, God has sent the church to accomplish a task.

So perhaps a better way to reframe this question is what has God sent the church to accomplish? While there may be many good things the church could do, what is the primary thing that God has sent us to do? Read More

Christians More Intentional, Less Evangelistic Since 1993

In 1993, online ads began appearing on the World Wide Web, Jurassic Park debuted in theaters, and many Christians were apprehensive about sharing their faith. Twenty-five years later, not much has changed.

According to a new study from Barna, compared to 25 years ago, Christians today say they try to be more intentional about sharing their faith, but fewer say evangelism is the responsibility of every believer. Read More

 Also See: 
Sharing Faith Is Increasingly Optional to Christians

Episcopal Church Dumps ‘Husband and Wife’ For ‘Two People’

In an effort to become more gay-friendly, the Episcopal Church in the United States has decided to scrub the words “husband” and “wife” from Episcopal wedding ceremonies.

The changes to the denomination’s revered Book of Common Prayer removes the phrase “the union of husband and wife” and replaces it with “the union of two people”, and replaces the section which talks about part of God’s intention for marriage being “for the procreation of children” with the phrase “for the gift of children” to make it more acceptable to same-sex couples who may wish to adopt.

Couples will still be able to opt for the traditional “husband” and “wife” when making their vows, but this will not be included in the standardized version. Read More
This is not an unexpected development. The Episcopal Church has been moving in this direction for the past 20 years if not longer. Members of the LGBT community and progressive Christians in the Episcopal Church have worked to make the denomination not only welcoming of members of the LGBT community but also affirming of their lifestyle choices, resulting in all kinds of negative repercussions, including a steady decline in church membership. This decline cannot be accounted for by demographic shifts or the disappearance of nominal Christians from American churches. Even the change in attitudes of younger Americans toward the LGBT community has not helped the Episcopal Church to reverse its decline. 

Why the Decline of Protestantism May Be Good News for Christians

In 1971, only 5 percent of Americans claimed no religious affiliation. In fact, until 1993 the nones never composed more than 8 percent of the population. But something has changed to cause a rapid increase in the abandonment of religion.

“The growing ranks of religiously unaffiliated Americans have been fed by striking simultaneous losses among white Christian groups,” says Robert P. Jones, PRRI CEO and author of The End of White Christian America. “The religiously unaffiliated now outnumber Catholics, white mainline Protestants, and white evangelical Protestants, and their growth has been a key factor in the transformation of the country over the last decade from a majority white Christian nation to a minority white Christian nation.”

What are we to make of this decline? Perhaps we should rejoice. Read More

A Field Guide to Atheism—for Believer and Unbeliever Alike

Imagine a conversation in which a well-meaning skeptic tries to deconvert you from Christianity by debunking the prosperity gospel. They marshal their evidence, tell some stories that horrify you as much as them, quote the most egregious theological howlers you’ve ever heard, and then conclude that the message of Jesus can’t possibly be true. If you’ve ever had such an experience—and pastors of charismatic churches, like me, do occasionally—you’ll know how frustrating it is. Everything in you wants to reply: I don’t hold to that type of Christianity either. I probably disagree with it more than you do.

Now imagine a second scenario. You’re an atheist, and you have the same problem. A well-meaning Christian tries to convert you to Christianity by debunking the “new atheism.” They go into great detail about how Richard Dawkins is historically ignorant, Sam Harris morally incontinent, and Christopher Hitchens logically incoherent—and then conclude that atheism can’t be true. And you’re sitting there thinking, I don’t hold to that type of atheism either. I probably disagree with it more than you do.

John Gray—the veteran British philosopher, intellectual historian, and book reviewer—has no intention of converting anybody. But his Seven Types of Atheism is a searching and helpful taxonomy of unbelief ancient and modern, and it has the potential to make the second of these two scenarios disappear altogether. By carefully disentangling the different ways atheism works, and the different reasons why people find it compelling, he has done a great service not just for atheists who want to be understood but also for Christians who want to understand. Read More

Friday's Catch: "How We Should (and Shouldn’t) Relate to Islam " and More

How We Should (and Shouldn’t) Relate to Islam [Podcast]

Zane Pratt on Protestants and Muslims. Listen Now

Ready for Ramadan: Why Christians Worldwide Will Join Muslims to Pray for Next 30 Days

The Ramadan season of fasting and prayer for millions of Muslims around the globe started Tuesday night, but Muslims won't be the only ones praying. Read More

Ramadan 2018: When Does It Start, and Why Do Muslims Observe It?

Ramadan is a time for spiritual reflection, studying the Quran, acts of charity and spending time with loved ones. Here are six things you should know about it. Read More

Raising the Bar for Volunteers

The level of commitment and accountability for a school sports team is often higher than that of church volunteers. Why? Read More

Should I Always Preach through Books of the Bible?

Jay Thomas weighs the assets of preaching serially through whole books of the Bible against its liabilities. Read More

Three Reasons Why We Can Trust the Old Testament

In this article Wyatt Graham counters the arguments of Christian leaders like Andy Stanley, Greg Boyd, and Bruxy Cavey depreciating the value of the Old Testament. Read More

How to Stand With Jesus in the Messy Middle

It’s not easy to take the middle ground on polarizing issues, but it opens the door for the kind of conversations Christ modeled. Read More

This Church Is Spreading the Gospel With Food

The Vineyard Ministries in Hampton, Virginia has opened a non-profit grocery store. Originally intended to help its members, last year the church opened the store to all people in their community. So far the store has helped 10,000 families. Read More
Many neighborhoods particularly in the inner city would greatly benefit from a non-profit grocery store like the one described in this article. One of the reasons for the high levels of food insecurity in inner city neighborhoods is not only the low incomes of its residents but the lack of stores where its residents may buy reasonably-priced, healthy, nutritious food, enabling them to stretch their food dollars and SNAP (food stamp) benefits further.
3 Tips for Sharing Your Faith in a Natural Way[Video]

At Katoomba Easter Convention, public evangelist Sam Chan shares three good tips on evangelism. Watch Now

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Small Church America—Revisited

How Pastor Karl Vaters lost his grasshopper complex and discovered, no one loses when the kingdom advances.

A year or so before Karl Vaters’ meltdown, 650 people attended the Easter service at the Southern California church he pastors. At long last, he believed, success was headed Cornerstone Church’s way.

More than a decade earlier, in December 1992, Vaters moved his family from a small city just north of San Francisco to Orange County to take the reins of a church of less than 30, which had burned through five pastors in 10 years.

He arrived without pretension. He understood the church would take years to heal.

At the same time, saturated in church growth strategy, Vaters couldn’t help but see the potential. Within 45 miles of their new home bloomed massive congregations—Saddleback, Crystal Cathedral and Calvary Chapel, giants of number and legend.

Having labored over a decade with little or no growth, Vaters had seen an increase in church attendance from 200 to 400 in the 18 months previous to the Easter service.

But in less time than it took to double in size, the church tanked.

And so did Vaters.

In January 2006, speaking to his church of fewer than 100 people, he announced he would be absent for 40 days. Later that same Sunday, without a reason, he fired the music pastor, then disappeared into a deep funk. Read More

How to Measure Your Church’s Reach

“Measurement is fabulous. Unless you’re busy measuring what’s easy to measure, as opposed to what’s important.” —Seth Godin

When it comes to “keeping score,” churches in North America have typically focused on three metrics: buildings, budgets and butts. While there is nothing inherently wrong with counting each of these things, we do need to ask if keeping score of how big our buildings are, how much money people give and how many people show up when we meet is the best indicator of how a church is doing.

The fact is, these three metrics really give us no real sense of the influence a church is having on its community. Does the number of people who attend a Sunday morning gathering give you any indication of the impact the church is having on individual neighborhoods or the city? The answer has to be a resounding “No!” There is no correlation between the number of people who show up for an event and the difference those people are having where they live. The same is true with how much money people give to the church, and how large a church’s buildings are. The reason we “count” those three things is because they are easy to count. But we must be challenged not to count what is easy, but instead measure what is important. Read More

The Mixed Motives Behind Church Growth

I love large churches. I was a pastor at a church that grew from around 500 to around 900—which, though it's about the size of the creche in a megachurch, is fairly large in a UK context—and the church I’m at now had 1550 there three days ago, with a fourth site launching in October. Much of my day job involves helping my church, and often other churches, grow. Many of my friends lead large churches. Many of the people who have influenced me the most lead large churches. I go to several leadership conferences every year, and I learn something about growing churches from virtually all of them. I run a training course for leaders that aims to help people grow churches. I mention all this to say: yes, there are theologians out there who think that large churches are a bad idea and we should have nothing to do with them, but I'm not one of them.

Lately, though, I have become increasingly aware of the mixed motives behind church growth. This might sound like a sinister remark, although I certainly don’t mean it as one. But I think it is true: there are various reasons why we want our churches to grow, and some of them are wonderful, but not all of them are. And I think self-awareness and honesty on that point are probably helpful.

Here are ten that I can think of.... Read More

Seven Biggest Surprises of Church Revitalizers and Church Replanters - Revitalize & Replant #041

Church leadership can be surprising—especially in revitalization or replanting efforts. Today Thom Rainer and Jonathan Howe discuss some of the surprises we’ve heard and how to work through them. Listen Now

Social Media in a Replant: Five Pointers

In days gone by, the church with the highest steeple in town would receive the most visits from newcomers. Today, most people find a church by first visiting that church online. The online presence of a church is experienced two ways: the website and the church’s social media presence.

This post is not about your website, but for a brief pointer let me just say: Build your website for the visitor who is not currently attending your church. Ensure that service times and location are prominent. Post recent sermons and links to the leaders. It is good to have a biography of the pastor, with pictures of him and his family. All this means you don’t need a bunch of event details, like committee meetings or the deacon of the week, on your website.

Social media is a little more complicated, but almost any church can do it effectively. Here are a five pointers.... Read More

4 Possible Reasons Some Pastors Struggle Financially

Of the more than 700 pastors’ spouses surveyed in a recent LifeWay research project, more than half expressed that their income from the church is insufficient, and more than two-thirds are concerned they do not have enough saved for retirement. Why is this? Why do so many families in local church ministry struggle financially?

While there are likely many reasons, I want to offer four possibilities—three of which place responsibility on the church for not providing enough support and one that places responsibility on the pastor for not being a wise steward. In my more than twenty years of serving in local church ministry and working alongside pastors and churches, I have seen all four reasons at play. Read More

7 Very Possible Reasons You’re Losing Your Audience When You Speak

If there’s one thing you never set out to be as a leader or communicator, it’s to lose the audience.

And yet everyone who communicates, preaches or even tries to persuade someone of an idea has discovered that sinking sense that you’ve lost them. You’re just not connecting and you have no idea why.

How exactly does that happen?

I’ve been communicating professionally since I was 16 years old in radio, law and for the last two and a half decades, preaching and speaking, and over the years have become a student of what engages people and what doesn’t.

I learned the principles below because at one point or another, I violated all of them.

Here are 7 factors that disengage an audience that are so easy to miss if you’re not looking for them. Read More

When Your Congregation Isn’t Singing: 15 Questions

Every worship leader has the experience from time to time of a service that just seems to fall flat. The songs didn’t work, or the musicians didn’t gel, or the technology didn’t cooperate, or the congregation didn’t respond. Whatever the reason(s), even in the most passionate of congregations, there are times when the singing isn’t exactly robust.

But when that’s the regular pattern, and when the congregational singing is consistently paltry, what is a worship leader to do? I would suggest that if a worship leader is observing (over a period of months or years) his or her congregation isn’t singing, that some difficult questions need to be honestly asked and answered.

In no particular order of importance, here are 15 questions a worship leader (and his or her pastor) should consider.... Read More

Also See:
3 Mistakes Every Worship Leader Should Avoid
Congregational Singing Dysfunction: 4 Ways to Fix It
Many of the observations that Jamie Brown makes and the pointers that he gives are applicable to traditional churches in which the organ accompanies the congregational singing and the choir leads it. The organist can play too loud. The hymns can be selected without consideration of the voice range of the average congregational singer. The congregation can be given insufficient time to learn and master new hymns. And so on.