Friday, March 16, 2018

Five Things that Keep Churches from Change

Being a representative of Christ in a lost world requires change.

Leading a church into revitalization is a daunting task. It takes much prayer, grace, and strength. Churches that need revitalization have often drifted into a place of complacency. The change they need often comes about because of a cathartic moment.

Desperation is quite the motivator. The pastor who leads a church into renewal is doing a great service for the kingdom of God. But it is helpful to understand why churches resist change. I want to look at some of the things that lead to crisis, understanding that if the signs are recognized early enough, it may not come to drastic measures. Read More

Haunted by the Mission

Have you ever wondered whether or not your church was haunted? I grew up in a pastor’s home and would often accompany my dad to the church building after hours. Sometimes he would even send me on errands to the church building from the parsonage across the street. I never liked being in the church at night by myself. There were too many dark corners and too much creaking from a settling building. No, I don’t believe in ghosts, but neither do I study at my office in the empty church building on Saturday nights.

While I know my church is not haunted, I confess that I am haunted. Something disturbed me in my very depths even before I began serving as a senior pastor. I am haunted by the mission God has given his church, the mission of making disciples. There are many things that I do on a regular basis that are important for the well-being of the church I serve: study and preparation, evangelistic conversations, leadership meetings, pastoral care, and counseling, etc. But the burden I cannot get away from is the disciple-making mission of the church.

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

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Eight Questions Welcoming Churches Ask -- Rainer on Leadership #415

Most every church thinks it welcomes guests well. Unfortunately, many are not welcoming at all. Today Thom Rainer and Jonathan Howe discuss what welcoming churches focus on to more effectively reach guests. Listen Now

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TGC Premieres ‘Is He Worthy?’ Video from ‘Resurrection Letters, Vol. I’

I didn’t grow up in a liturgical church. Then again, maybe I did.

As a pastor’s kid in a nondenominational evangelical church in the South, it was impossible not to notice that there was, in fact, an order of worship—an opening hymn, maybe a prelude by the choir (sometimes they even wore robes), followed by a welcome from my dad. There was a “turn around and greet your neighbor” moment, then offering, the doxology, then communion, then a sermon and an invitation, and a closing hymn. Like clockwork.

There was something both monotonous and comforting about it, and I remember my dad joking about how certain congregants would make a show of looking at their watches if his sermon went one minute over 20.

Now we attend a straight-up liturgical church in Nashville, and while at first it felt uncomfortable—like going to a dance where everyone knows the moves but you—I began to realize that it was very similar to what I grew up with, but with different names. There’s a call to worship, there’s Scripture reading, there are robes—things just tend to have fancier names: Communion is called Eucharist. The “greet your neighbor” part is called “passing the peace.” The sermon is the homily.

Now that we know the dance moves I enjoy it even more, especially because the liturgy, at its best, actually means something, as opposed to doing it a certain way just because it’s how the previous 15 pastors did it and Brother Jim will be upset if the service goes longer than an hour.

One of the things I like best about liturgy is the more or less constant involvement of the congregation. The word “liturgy” means “the work of the people.” It’s not so much about us coming to sit while the pastor and the elders do everything, but about all of us together rehearsing the story of redemption, edifying each other by reading Scripture aloud, reaffirming what we believe, embodying worship by kneeling or singing together—all of it culminating, of course, in the Lord’s Supper. I can’t overstate how much I crave the moment at the end of the service when I kneel at the front and a friend of mine places the unleavened bread in my open hands, looks me in the eye and says, “Andrew, this is the body of Christ, broken for you.”

Every week my wayward, hungry soul is confronted by the love of Jesus. Like clockwork. Read More

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Why Some People Aren’t Christians

I suppose I could be on dangerous ground here, but I’ve been thinking about this a lot and have been eager to “write it out,” (which is how I work through ideas in my mind). I’ve been thinking about why some people don’t become Christians. Why is it that some people aren’t saved even though they had an opportunity to be?

As an adherent to Reformed theology I have an easy answer: the Holy Spirit has not yet regenerated them, so the one who must move first has not yet moved. That is certainly true, but it is not the whole story. When it comes to turning to Christ in repentance and faith, the sovereignty of God in salvation does not negate the moral responsibility of the individual. As Christians we are to call all people to turn to Christ and be saved, and God will hold those accountable who do not. So why don’t they?

Lately I’ve had quite a few opportunities to share the gospel with strangers, most of them Uber or taxi drivers (Uber is the best way to the airport and taxi is the best way back). It’s a half-hour drive, and I’ve been doing my best to use that time to tell the drivers about Jesus. Here’s an interesting phenomenon: 100% of the Uber drivers who have taken me to the airport have been Muslim and 100% of the taxi drivers who have taken me home have been Sikh. Some have been devout and some lax, but every one of them has been very glad to allow the conversation to be steered to matters of faith. In every case I’ve seen my challenge as introducing the concept of grace contra their commitment to works. Besides that, I’ve had some other opportunities to speak with unbelievers or to advise believers who are attempting to share the gospel with friends and family. And it has made me wonder: With all of this evangelism and all these opportunities for salvation, why don’t people become Christians? Here are a few reasons I’ve observed in recent interactions. Read More

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Friday's Catch : "The Moment of Truth: Its Reality" and More

The Moment of Truth: Its Reality

In the first post, we looked at the rejection of God’s truth as that which lies behind all sorts of evil in society today. This post will look at the reality of truth. Read More

Why Can't Pastors Agree on What a Pastor Is

What DOES a pastor do anyways? Read More

What Should We Expect From Preaching?

There are several common misunderstandings about preaching. Here are four principles that help bring clarity. Read More

How to Make Your Website Reflect Your Church

Countless studies have shown that a website is the first stop for many people looking to discover more about a church. Read More

Try This: Host a Community Yard Sale for Charity

Raise money for a charity and get to know the people in your community. Read More

Thursday, March 15, 2018

5 Ways Your Church’s Impact Can Become Bigger Than Its Footprint

When we equip the saints, the church’s impact can grow exponentially, even if its numerical or geographical footprint doesn’t grow noticeably.

Small churches can have a big impact.

Especially today, with the power of social media and other new ways of communicating.

But also, because so much of our lives are lived online, people are having a renewed longing for more personal, tactile, face-to-face experiences. These are the very aspects of life that small churches can and should excel at.

The congregation where you serve, worship or lead may have a small footprint – as in a tiny building, no building, or too few people for your large building, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a big impact.

Here are five steps every church can take to increase their impact for the cause of Christ in their communities and their world. Read More

Understanding the Impact of Community Involvement on Church Health - Revitalize & Replant #032

Churches are vital to the health of their communities. And if the church isn’t connected to its community, the fault lies on the church, not the community. Read More

On the Imminent Collapse of Evangelical Christianity

Every month or so, I come across a news article or a new book that claims the evangelical movement is falling apart. We’re on the precipice of complete collapse, some say. “The Church in America is dying, dying I tell you!” We’re witnessing the last gasps of evangelical Christianity. The “nones” are on the rise, secularism is the future, and Christianity will soon be powerless.

Now, I would be the last person to deny the serious and persistent problems within the evangelical movement. It is true that many denominations (including my own) are in statistical decline. It’s also true that much of what passes for Christianity today is just a spiritualized version of moralistic therapeutic deism. And sadly, the sociological and political connotations to the word “evangelical” often engulf the significance of this renewal movement, inserting a wedge between its cultural and aspirational definitions.

Do we face significant challenges? Yes. And that’s been true of the Church in every generation.

Are we on the verge of immediate collapse? No. And the older I get, the more tiresome these predictions become. Read More

What Is Evangelicalism?

10 Things You Should Know about Church Membership

Membership in a local church is very much in the minds of Christians these days. Is it biblical? Is it necessary? Is it helpful? These and other questions lead to the following ten things you should know about what church membership means and entails. [In addition to my own research, I’ve drawn heavily on the writings of John Piper, Michael McKinley, Jim Elliff, Mark Dever, and Kevin DeYoung.]

Perhaps the best place to begin is by asking the question: What do you want from your local church? I assume, first of all, that you want a local church where you can be known and loved and cared for by other Christians. There is, after all, no such thing as an “anonymous-lone-ranger-Christian” in the NT. You can certainly remain anonymous if you want to. It’s easier to do in a church of several thousand where you can slip in on a Sunday morning and sit along the wall and never engage anyone in fellowship or conversation or accountability. So, yes, you can do that if you want. But why would you want to?

I also assume you want a local church where you can know others and experience the joy of pouring into their lives and loving and encouraging and helping them and ministering to their needs. In other words, you want a local church, I assume, where you can be useful and be a blessing to others who are struggling and need your input.

Finally, I assume you want a local church where you can be spiritually led and biblically fed and lovingly protected by gifted leaders. I assume you want leaders who not only know who you are but are joyfully committed to keeping watch over your souls, leaders who take seriously their responsibility to teach you the truth and help you grow in your knowledge of God and your intimacy with him. Read More

Why Do People Object to the Concept of Membership in a Local Church?

Identifying the “Sucker-Punch Church Member”

A “sucker punch” is an unexpected, violent, and unfair approach to confrontation. It always comes without warning, and is always followed by the quick departure of the perpetrator, who was never really interested in resolving the conflict, or even winning a fight. They just wanted to land a blow.

Spiritually, pastors often have to endure another type of “sucker-punch” perpetrator. I’m not talking about the occasional constructive criticism, or a word spoken respectfully that can help a pastor correct a flaw. I’m talking about that church member whose modus operandi it is to constantly hurl criticism. Often, it comes at unexpected, yet highly strategic times in the life of a church. “Sucker-punch church members” can cause a lot of damage. How can you spot them? Read More

Dealing with the “Sucker-Punch Church Member”

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Did the Historical Jesus Claim to Be Divine? Classic [Video]

In this episode, Mikel L. Del Rosario, Drs. Darrell L. Bock and Justin Bass discuss the historical Jesus, focusing on evidence for his claim to deity. Watch Now

5 Traits of the Heart People Want from Their Pastor

People intuitively seek traits of the heart over skills of the trade when choosing a pastor to connect with and follow spiritually.

Yes, things like good preaching, wise administration, and strong ministry programming matter, but they are not at the top of the list.

There’s a lot of grace for a “good not great” sermon when the pastor is fully trusted, loved and is a good leader.

The size of the church does play a significant role.

The larger the church becomes, the more difficult it is to be close to the senior pastor. This is logical and understandable. In this case, the more important things like ministry program excellence become. But, the things of the heart never fade from importance.

People don’t leave a church because a particular ministry was less than perfect. After all, that person could stay and help make that ministry better.

Further, a reasonable person doesn’t leave a church because they don’t get their way. But they will leave if they don’t intuitively connect at a heart level with the pastor or a key leader in the church.

Again, let’s talk size of the church for a moment.

In a smaller church, that heart connection happens in some way at a personal level.

In larger (and huge) churches, that heart level connect happens more because the pastor’s communication gifts and skills are so strong he or she can communicate that authentic love from the platform. Also, other leaders in those very large churches help make that needed and wanted personal touch with the people.

No matter what the size, style or culture of the church, the heart wants what it wants. Read More

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Tuesday, March 13, 2018

9 Keys for Church Members to Be More Guest Friendly This Easter - Rainer on Leadership #414

Easter is just around the corner. So today, Thom Rainer and Jonathan Howe take a look at nine keys to being a guest friendly congregation on Easter. Listen Now

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Three Elements of an Explosive Church Planting Movement

Developing better systems to reflect the best in kingdom expansion

Church planting is an important and broad topic. It seems that most people have an opinion on church planting—some have several opinions! If you want to see some excitement, ask a group of church planters or church leaders in general what an explosive church planting movement looks like. Many are praying for and developing practices that would encourage such a movement. At the Billy Graham Center, we even have an institute dedicated to church planting leadership and missiology—the Send Institute.

I have planted multiple churches, and written much about church planting. And, sometimes people ask me what a movement looks like.

Successful church planting is built upon spiritual principles and practices such as prayer, biblical leadership, etc. But there are also natural observations we can make about what works well in church planting movements. We’ve been doing this for a couple of thousand years. So it is smart to recognize best practices, even if they don’t mesh with what we are doing today. Read More

When Your Church Isn’t What You Dreamed

Planting a church can be hazardous to your soul.

Obviously, there are more physically dangerous jobs on the planet, but when it comes to sheer spiritual danger, very few occupations outrank “church planter.” So before you quit your cushy job grinding asphalt, let me give you fair warning of what’s to come.

Most people get into church planting for a few common reasons:
1. To see people far from Jesus put their faith in him.
2. To see their town, neighborhood, or city transformed by a vibrant community of faith.
3. To see a whole bunch of churches launch out of their new church. Read More

How Jesus Called Out False Teachers and Deadly Doctrine

It’s a good time to be a false teacher and to espouse deadly doctrine. It seems that today’s most brazen heretic will be granted a hearing and, in all likelihood, a book deal. Novelty is appealing, orthodoxy boring. It’s the ones who sound the warning and issue the challenge that bear the risk—the risk of being labelled “haters.” There’s more patience for those who smilingly subvert the truth than for those who boldly defend it. Conviction is a sign of arrogance, while humility is expressed in uncertainty. Love, it seems, requires us to bear patiently with any amount of error. And this kind of love, we are told, is modeled after Jesus. Jesus did not judge, Jesus welcomed all opinions, Jesus would have accepted different kinds of teachings—so long as those teachings contained love and hints of truth.

A quick scan of the gospels, however, shows that this impression is a far cry from the Jesus of the Bible. It shows that society has reimagined Jesus through the relativism of our day. When Jesus interacted with people who were seeking, wandering, or misguided, he was invariably compassionate. He answered them with patience and gentleness. But when Jesus engaged with religious hypocrites and false teachers, he responded with righteous fury and bold conviction.

Today, those who love the truth must learn how to show such bold conviction through the old discipline of polemics—the practice of engaging in public debate and dispute. The purpose of polemics is not to score points or flex theological muscle, but to rebuke peddlers of error and to express concern for those caught up in their lies. Like the ancient heretics of Crete, today’s false teachers “must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach” (Titus 1:11). As we do this well, we imitate Jesus Christ who was a skilled polemicist.

We see an example of Jesus’ polemics in Matthew 23, where Jesus speaks to the crowd about the scribes and Pharisees. What unfolds in this scene is not private pleading but public censure. Jesus publicly addresses the deadly doctrine of these religious leaders for the benefit of their victims and potential victims. He holds nothing back. He does not make time to commend them for the things they do well. He does not temper his speech to give them the benefit of the doubt. Rather, he specifies their doctrinal error and unrighteousness actions, he labels them with strong but appropriate language, he warns of the consequences of their error, and he calls his listeners to reject the false teachers and their deadly doctrine. Read More

The Call to Repentance and the Championing of Grace

“We’re losing the nerve to call people to repentance.”

That’s what a retired pastor recently told me, expressing his concern that while the next generation loves to champion the unconditional love and grace of God, rarely does their message include Christ’s call to repentance. Younger pastors, he said, want to meet people where they are, in whatever mess they’re in, and let the Spirit clean them up later. God will deal with their sins down the road.

But in the Gospels, Jesus seems much more extreme. His good news was the announcement of God’s kingdom, and the first word to follow? “Repent!” No wonder Jesus didn’t tell the rich young ruler to walk with Him for a while until he stopped coveting. No, He got to the root of an unrepentant heart when He said, “Sell all your possessions and give them to the poor.” In other words, Repent. Turn around.

“I’m cheering for the next generation,” the pastor said, “but I feel like an ogre for stressing repentance all the time.”

Maybe you feel like that pastor. You’re concerned that the evangelical church is shaving off the hard edges of the gospel. You agree with the sentiment recently expressed by Kevin DeYoung, that repentance has become the “missing word in our gospel.” And yet you are concerned that that you may appear harsh and unloving if you stress repentance. Shouldn’t we just focus on grace? Read More

10 Markers of the Best Spiritual Leaders I Know

Some folks are deeply spiritual, but not the best leaders. Others are strong leaders, but their actions deny their professed Christianity. To be honest, it’s not always easy to find folks who are both deeply spiritual and strong leaders. Here are some markers of those I’ve known who do indeed show both characteristics. Read More

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5 Tips for Engaging with Scripture

Reading and studying Scripture are pursuits that require the attention of both heart and mind. To love the Lord with all our strength, we must actively engage with Scripture—asking questions, learning contexts, making connections, and reflecting on personal applications of the text.

Here are a few ideas on how to enrich your time in God’s Word.... Read More
Jotting down notes about a passage of the Bible that we are reading goes back to the sixteenth century and earlier. During the reign of Elizabeth I, those seeking a license to preach were required to read Heinrich Bullinger's Decades as well as the Bible and make notes about what they had read. They then periodically went over their notes with the archdeacon or other senior clergyman that was overseeing them. I prefer an ordinary notebook. I do not like writing in a Bible or marking up a Bible. I also make extensive notes that take up several pages.

US Catholics More Concerned About Climate Change Than Persecuted Christians

Most think persecution is severe, but only half are very concerned or strongly support asylum or financial aid.

The Colosseum in Rome was recently lit up the color of blood.

“This is a symbol of the persecution of Christians in the entire world—those who suffer because of faith,” stated Alfredo Mantovano, president of the Italian chapter of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the global Catholic organization which sponsored the February 24 light display.

“We light up the Colosseum with red because their shed blood cannot leave us indifferent,” he stated. “We cannot wash our hands of the blood of this injustice as Pontius Pilate did 2,000 years ago.”

The reminder was a timely one for Catholics in the United States, according to a survey released this month. While 9 in 10 believe that persecution of Christians around the world is somewhat or very severe (51% and 40%, respectively), only half said they were very concerned (49%). Almost 1 in 5 said they were not concerned at all (18%).

Instead, the study of 1,000 Catholic adults (conducted online in January by ACN’s US branch and McLaughlin & Associates) found that they worry about other issues more. Read More
Except for the Native Americans who converted to Catholicism, all Catholics come from immigrant families. As immigrants many of these families, particularly the Irish and the Italian families, were persecuted because of their Catholic faith.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Three Reasons Not to Discount Pastoring in a Small Town

I never imagined the Lord leading me back to a small town. I am so glad that he did.

I spent my elementary years living in a town so small that even the most popular fast food restaurant in the world failed. I have also lived in the suburbs and major cities. I had never thought that I would return to live, let alone pastor, in a small town.

For some, the idea of living and pastoring in a small town creates vast anxieties. Yes, the small town misses some things compared to the big town. But there are also some incredible advantages to small town life and ministry. Just as big-city life isn’t for everyone, neither is small-town living. You certainly need to know yourself, your spouse, and your family, but don’t discount what God can do where it seems there isn’t much to do.

There are three of some of the many advantages of life and ministry in a small town. Three benefits I would like to have told my younger self who didn’t want to return to the small town. Read More

Three Types of People in a Small Town

Seven Potentially Deadly Church Sicknesses

For the past two years, I have been monitoring the comments and challenges mentioned by church leaders. I am attempting to answer the question: What is hindering many of our churches from achieving health and vitality?

As I have categorized the problems and challenges the church leaders shared, I have seen seven distinct categories of hindrances. Since I am primarily concerned about church health, I call these hindrances “church sicknesses.”

The good news is that none of these sicknesses have to become terminal. They can be reversed from sickness to health. The bad news is that, without intervention, each illness can potentially lead to the decline and death of the church. Let’s look at all seven sicknesses.... Read More

You Can Offer Excuses, Or You Can Do Great Ministry: Our Trip To Holy Trinity Brompton

Effective churches don’t let their challenges become excuses.

Excuses are the enemy of effective ministry.

Yesterday, my wife Shelley and I had the chance to worship in a church that could have offered about as many excuses as any church imaginable. But they’ve refused to do so and have, instead, become one of the most influential churches in the world – London’s Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB). The home of the Alpha program and so many influential books and worship songs.

Here are just a few excuses they could have used (ones that some of us may have heard or used ourselves) but have chosen to rise above. Read More

Image: Karl Vaters | Crypt Cafe, Holy Trinity Brompton

Monday's Catch: "How to Reach 100 New Guests This Year" and More

How to Reach 100 New Guests This Year

If your church is serious about reaching new guests, particularly those who are not attending any other church, here are five things to consider to reach people. Read More

5 Big Mistakes Pastors Make on Easter (and How to Avoid Them)

To help you make this Easter the best yet, here are five of the common mistakes I see pastors make on Easter. Read More

When Is A Sermon Good Enough?

What is a good sermon? How can I preach with confidence a message I have not had time to polish? Who am I seeking to please, anyway? Stephen Gregory seeks answers to these questions. Read More

How To Plan A Grand Slam Worship Night For Your Church

There’s a worship experience that is necessary for your church. A time to step aside from the everyday rush and connect with God. An unhurried, uninterrupted night of worship. Read More

Use Google to Grow Your Church

Try these Google AdWords tips to help potential visitors find your church online. Read More

How to Leverage Existing Ministries for Outreach

You could launch new outreach ministries without removing any existing ministries, increasing your budget or adding staff. Read More

Saturday, March 10, 2018

17 Statements that a Paedobaptist and a Credobaptist Can Both Affirm

Tucked away in a footnote to Mark Dever’s chapter in the book, Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant, ed. Tom Schreiner and Shawn Wright, is an interesting footnote.

In the summer of 2001 pastors Mark Dever (SBC) and David Coffin (PCA) held a public conversation at Capitol Hill Baptist Church on baptism.

They came up with the following 17 statements that both could affirm.... Read More

Expositional Imposters (Expanded)

Mark Dever rightly describes expositional preaching as “preaching that takes for the point of a sermon the point of a particular passage of Scripture.”

However, I have heard (and preached!) sermons that intend to be expositional, yet fall somewhat short. Below are a dozen pitfalls: five that don’t make the message of the passage the message of the sermon and thus abuse the text, five that fail to connect the text the congregation, and two that fail to recognise that preaching is ultimately God’s work.

None of these observations are original to me. Many I learned at Eden Baptist Church in Cambridge in the mid 90s. Others I’ve picked up along the way. Since writing a similar article a few years ago, I’ve included some suggestions people made for additions. I’m sure you can think of others. Read More

How Corporate Worship Strengthens Weary Saints

When my church gathers, it appears we have little in common. Our skin colors vary. Our political tastes differ. Cultural backgrounds have ingrained us with diverse identities. We have distinct preferences and convictions.

Yet, we have two realities that bind us together.

The first is our love for the Lord Jesus. Though each salvation story is unique, we bear the marks of his divine love. He died for us, rose for us, called us, converted us, and continues to hold us fast by his grace. We love him for this, and so we gather to worship him.

Secondly, we all suffer. I have my own scars, as do the rest of these heavenly pilgrims. While I preach, I see their faces tell a story. Or when they sing, sometimes I hear and sense the hurts and pain of God’s people. Read More

4 Ways to Invest in Your Worship Leader

Saturday Lagniappe: "Listen. It's a Ministry." and More

Listen. It’s a Ministry.

Have you considered the ministry of listening? Read More

Why are Christians so Mean?

Christians are mean in proportion to when they value being “right” over being “like Christ.” Read More

St. Patrick's Passion for Missions

Patrick of Ireland is probably the most celebrated Christian figure in popular culture—second only, perhaps, to St. Nicholas. We devote a day on our calendar to him every year. Personally, St. Patrick’s Day means a traditional Irish meal of corned beef and cabbage. It is a reminder of the simple pleasures in life that the Irish seem so good at celebrating. It conjures images of all things green, of leprechauns, and of “luck.” However, by all human standards, the patron saint of Ireland was anything but lucky. Read More

Are You Willing to Go if God Calls You? Thoughts on Our Mission as We Follow Jesus

Mission, ultimately, is at the heart of the gospel. Read More

Who’s the Evangelism Champion in Your Church?

It takes a team—a multistrand cord of leadership—to effectively direct the local church in evangelism. Read More

Do You Really Care about Evangelism? If So, You Need To Do More Than Pray

Prayer is the starting point, not the endpoint, of our journey in helping people from darkness to light. Read More

Friday, March 09, 2018

Why Is It So Hard To Find Help To Pastor A Small Church Well?

Scrambling for morsels of truth about healthy small churches can make you feel like a pig digging for truffles.

No one is hiding anything from you.

There was a long season of ministry in which I had to tell myself that a lot. I had gone through a near breakdown after trying, but failing, to see the kind of growth in our church that I had been assured was inevitable if I only did the right things.

I spent decades working, praying, and learning how to be a better pastor. In addition to that, I learned and applied every church growth method I could find. In a three- to four-year span, the church grew—fast—from just under 200 to almost 400 in about 18 months. Then, faster than it had grown, it went into free fall. In less than a year we had far fewer people attending than before the explosive growth had started.

There was no visible reason why. I don’t know how small we ended up being. . .let’s just say, I didn’t need an attendance sheet to see there were fewer than 100 people in front of me on Sunday.

I almost left the church and the pastoral ministry during that season. Instead, I found health and healing with the help of God, my family, a great counsellor, and some extraordinarily loving and forgiving church leaders and members.

It took me years to discover why the free fall happened. Some of it was because of strategic errors we made that any church growth expert could have spotted, but mostly the cause was one only I could have seen, yet missed entirely.

During the church’s short, but fast season of growth, I was spiritually and emotionally unhealthy and unhappy, but I didn’t know it. Read More

There’s Never a ‘Good’ Time to Plant a Church

“If you could do it all over again, would you?”

That sounds like a question you might ask someone who’s just been convicted of a crime, and it’s one I was asked recently. My alleged crime? Sending out 37 of our best members, along with two of our best elders, to plant a church.

We can always find reasons, even good ones, for not planting a church. And yet, the need for churches in my city (Austin, Texas) far outweighs whatever adverse effects we may face. Read More

4 Questions for Planning Your Development

Jesus grew in wisdom, in stature, and in favor with God and man (Luke 2:52). If we look to His development as an example, we will desire mental, physical, spiritual, and relational health. We don’t seek to grow in order to earn His love, grace, or favor. His perfection is already ours, already freely given to us by His grace. But because He has already accepted and approved us, we should strive towards the goal of Christlikeness—seeking to live up to what we have already attained.

As we consider our development, we should consider all areas of our lives because we are unified people and each area of our life impacts the other areas. As I have thought through my personal development and helped other leaders consider their development, I have used the following framework and questions. Read More

A Test: What Kind of Praying Leader Are You?

Much of my ministry is focused on prayer. Every Thursday morning, I and a number of students at Southeastern Seminary gather to start the day in prayer—and God is beginning to spread that fire on our campus. Over the years, though, I’ve learned that church leaders vary considerably in their approach to, and passion for, prayer.

Use these descriptions to evaluate what kind of “praying leader” you are, recognizing that more than one category can describe you. Read More

Preaching Points: Aim for the Ear!

Don’t preach as would a writer; preach as a preacher! Preachers who fail to appreciate the vast difference between their oral craft and writing usually display very different understandings of their task—centered in the pulpit and congregation for one and in the desk and study for the other.

Written words may indeed enjoy a more lasting legacy, but they lie flat on a page, detached from voice or volume in one dimension, subject to a reader’s inferred emphasis and experience. Spoken words, on the other hand, fly to the listener in a matrix of pitch, pace, posture, timbre, gestures, energy, movement, inflection, emphasis, facial expression and eye contact. Each parameter widens and deepens the context by which the listener can comprehend the intended message.

The spoken word fires on so many more cylinders, communicates on so many more levels of meaning than does writing. If the pen is mightier than the sword, the voice is powerful in a different and more immediate way. They each have their role, to be sure; but preaching is intimate and immediate because it’s inherently oral and visual.

The words of the sermon comprise an enormously important instrument, but merely one among many. If our preaching centers only on the words, we fail to utilize the other power tools of human interaction God also has given us.

From Pentecost to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, God has used the passion and energy of preachers who focused on moving the audience to action. In other words, they preached as preachers, delivering the Word of God to a particular audience at a propitious moment with such power that their listeners responded by asking, “What shall we do?”

Preachers who preach as writers make three critical mistakes.... Read More

Check out this post:
Daring To Preach The Same Message Twice

How to Develop a Welcoming Worship Ministry - Rainer on Leadership #413 [Podcast]

The Worship Guru, Mike Harland, joins us again today to discuss how you can use your worship ministry to help become a more welcoming church. Listen Now

Check out this post:
10 Things I Wish I'd Know When I Started Leading Worship
"Music style cannot in of itself be a growth strategy."

Thursday, March 08, 2018

A Fictional Pastor Teaches Us to Love Big in Small Places

Nearly four centuries ago, in The Country Parson, His Character, and Rule of Holy Life, George Herbert imagined the rural pastor as a shepherd, standing on a hill, considering his flock during those brief moments when he wasn’t actively serving them. It’s an apt image. Throughout his famous guide to rural ministry, Herbert urges country pastors to consider their particular place and people, to “carry their eyes ever open, and fix them on their charge” rather than on professional advancement. Before writing the book, Herbert himself had left behind high-profile positions as the public orator of Cambridge University and a member of Parliament to become the priest of a small, rural parish 75 miles from London, where he served (humbly and well, by all accounts) for the remainder of his short life.

Underlying Herbert’s Country Parson is his conviction that there is dignity and value in rural ministry, that while ministry in small places has plenty of attendant difficulties, such a calling is worth a lifetime of care and devotion. It’s a view found in a variety of later writings, including J. C. Ryle’s biographical sketches of the 17th-century English rural ministers William Grimshaw and John Berridge (1885), and fictional works such as Georges Bernanos’s The Diary of a Country Priest (1936), Bo Giertz’s The Hammer of God (1941) [article], Conrad Richter’s A Simple Honorable Man (1962), and Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead (2004).

And it’s a view that has fallen on hard times in 21st-century American Christian culture. The finest seminary graduates are usually expected to go to the cities, and many aspiring pastors don’t even consider the possibility of a long-term call to a small place (though they may see it as a stepping stone to something better). Of course, as Wendell Berry has rightly said, “Not all ministers should be country ministers, just as not all people should be country people.” But if you believe—as Berry and I do—that some ministers should be highly trained, fully committed, long-term country ministers, then the loss of Herbert’s vision of rural ministry as a high and worthy calling, not merely a second-best option, is a great tragedy.

If Herbert’s vision is to live on and capture the hearts of some in a new generation, it will likely be, in part, through the work of gifted writers. Brad Roth’s recent God’s Country (2017) provides a biblically informed, culturally aware, and deeply compelling understanding of rural ministry. There are also biographical stories that capture the beauty and brokenness of those who live in small places (e.g., Rod Dreher’s The Little Way of Ruthie Leming) and the hardship, joy, and dignity of long-term ministry among them (e.g., D. A. Carson’s Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor).

But there’s also an important place for continuing the tradition of compelling fictional accounts of rural life and ministry. Though Berry, more than any other recent writer, has opened a window into the complexities and possibilities of rural life through his Port William novels, he has never presented a compelling fictional vision of rural ministry (perhaps because, by his own account, he has never known a pastor to stay long-term). Marilynne Robinson is the contemporary novelist who has most richly imagined and incarnated the modern country parson. Her fictional Iowa pastor John Ames is one who stayed, and preached, and loved his people, rather than leaving. His life and ministry express the dignity and value of a long-term pastoral call to a small place. Read More

A Priest to the Temple: or The Country Parson, His Character, and His Rule of Life - Project Canterbury
A Priest to the Temple, or, The Country Parson his Character and Rule of Holy Life - Christian Classics Ethereal Library
George Herbert - Poetry Foundation
George Herbert: England's Greatest Religious Poet - Christianity Today
Who Was George Herbert? - Desiring God

5 Reasons Why Engagement Is The New Church Attendance

If you track attendance at your church (and who doesn’t), the vast majority of church leaders are tracking numbers that probably bother them.

That can lead into a death spiral of trying to drive greater attendance, only to discover more disappointment down the road.

The mission of the church is the same in every generation. But the methods we use—our strategy—has to change, as I outlined here.

So what’s one of the biggest changes we’re going to see?

Simple. If you want to see your church grow, stop trying to attract people and start trying to engage people.

In the future church, engagement is the new attendance. Read More

3 Things That Are Sabotaging The Church’s Future

Six Ways to Connecting Your Church Revitalization to the Community - Revitalize & Replant #031

A core component of revitalization is having an outward focus. That outward focus is what connects your church to the community and often allows you to better reach them with the gospel. Today Thom Rainer and Jonathan Howe discuss six keys to doing so. Listen Now

Healthy Church Plants Are Led by Teams

When I planted a church at the turn of the 2010s, we all knew the stories. We could point to men who parachuted into a community, started a church, and saw it grow exponentially. We listened to the stories, read the books, and heard the sermons from these heroes at the conferences.

We missed something important in all those stories, though, either because it wasn’t there or because we didn’t want to hear it. A man can’t plant a church alone.

The kinds of churches that seem to flourish only because of the gifted lead pastor will not produce healthy disciples in the long run. Read More

Why the Priesthood of Believers Must Matter to You

As leader of Tampa Bay, Florida-based Underground Network, Brian Sanders has seen the fruition of his conviction that people (not buildings, budgets or leaders) make up the church. The Underground is a fellowship of more than 150 “microchurches.” The church mobilizes, resources and empowers these groups, as individuals start and lead these fresh expressions of faith reaching into every corner of society. Here Sanders reveals some of the key principles he and others have learned from their “grand missional experiment” to unleash and empower the priesthood of believers. Read More

Training Children in Worship

Christian parents, do you realize the most important thing you can ever train your child to do in this life is to worship the triune God of grace? Because of this, I want to encourage you to include them in the public worship of your church. I also want to help you do this.

The best help I can offer is first to convince you that this practice is consistent with the examples of the Old and New Testaments. Children were present in public worship in Moses’ time (Ex. 10:7–10; 12:26–27; 13:8, 14–15; Deut. 31:12–13), in Nehemiah’s time (Ezra 10:1; Neh. 8:1–3), in Jesus’ time (Matt. 18:1–5; 19:13–15; Mark 10:13–16; Luke 18:15–17), and in Paul’s time (Eph. 6:1–4; Col. 3:20). They were included because they belong to the corporate, covenant people. This was true not only in the Old Testament but also in the New, which never revokes this relationship of believers’ children to the covenant community. Your children belong to the body of Christ, and letting them join you in public worship from the earliest age manifests this fact.

Another help is knowing how beneficial this practice is. Public worship is the nursery of faith. To bring your children to public worship is to bring them into the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit. He creates faith and converts hearts through the preaching ministry of the gospel (Rom. 10:17). Our children have the same spiritual needs as everyone else in the world: they need their sins to be washed by the blood and Spirit of Christ. Your children need to be born again; they need the gift of faith to embrace Jesus as their Savior. If this is the case, bring them where the Holy Spirit especially does that work—public worship. Don’t underestimate the Holy Spirit by thinking your children can get nothing out of worship and preaching if it is not relevant and fun. The Holy Spirit is sovereign and irresistible, and He cannot be frustrated by our limitations (John 3:1–8). Don’t underestimate your children, in whose minds and hearts the Holy Spirit is working.

The benefit of welcoming children in worship can be seen in its cumulative effect over their lifetime. At the church I serve, the congregation gathers for worship in the morning and evening every Lord’s Day. That’s 1,872 occasions, between infancy and going off to college at age eighteen, of being in the presence of the Holy Spirit. Read More

Thursday's Catch: "3 Ways to Stay Sane This Easter Season" and More

3 Ways to Stay Sane This Easter Season

Yes, it's possible to relax during your busiest time of the year. Read More

7 Ways to Make Your Church More Guest-Friendly

I’m convinced that amid all of our emphasis in the last few decades on building weekend services that are more attractive to outsiders, there’s an often overlooked factor in church growth.... Read More

7 Church Building Design Trends for 2018

Whether you are a designer or a church leader, these seven trends will help you navigate the challenge of serving the church in a Post-Christian world. Read More
A low thrust platform around which the congregation can gather on three sides to hear the reading and exposition of God's Word and to celebrate the Holy Communion together would be more appropriate for an Anglican church. It "creates and fosters a sense of community." See Byron D. Stuhlman's Prayer Book Rubrics Expanded, p. 16.
7 Reasons to Consider Increasing Your Giving to Your Church

Assuming your church is a God-centered, gospel-preaching church, I want to encourage you to think about increasing your giving. Here are some reasons for doing so.... Read More

Doors and Broken Handles: Discerning Where God Wants Us to Go

How do we know when a door is really shut? How hard should we pull? Read More

How Do You Evaluate a Pastor?

I recently read an interesting comment by a seminary president about the ministry. He said that the hardest thing about being a pastor today is the confusion about what it means to be a pastor. Read More

How Many Minutes Should a 26–year–old Preach? (4 Myths about Sermon Length)

You’ll search in vain for a biblically decreed word count for sermons. Nonetheless, I do think a few myths abound concerning the length of them, in particular among those who take theology seriously. I’ll address four.... Read More

4 Instances Not To Mention Hell In Your Preaching

There are times when hell should never be mentioned in our preaching. In fact, when hell is mentioned during these times, it may dishonor Christ more than honor Him and do more disservice to the gospel than service. Read More

Reflections on “What Can Miserable Christians Sing?”

Of all the things I have written, my little essay, “What Can Miserable Christians Sing?” has provided me with so many delightful surprises over the years. Read More

Raising Kids in a Confused Culture

The reality is, we as parents have an obligation to teach our children, in the midst of a culture that is confused, to have confident values that are based on both a Christian worldview and the teachings of the scriptures. So the obvious question is: how do we, living in the new morality, express the teachings of scripture and a God-honoring lifestyle rooted in a biblical morality? In this brief article I will suggest four things. Read More

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

5 Signs Your Church Isn’t Ready For The Future

It’s a tough question to answer: so, is your church ready for the future?

A lot of the time, I’m afraid the answer is no.

Culture is changing so rapidly that’s it’s hard for anyone to keep up.

Ask people what’s changing faster, the culture or the church, and pretty much everyone will tell you the culture is changing much more quickly. Hands down more rapidly.

The gap between how quick your church changes and how quickly culture changes is called irrelevance.

So how would you know if your church is ready for the future?

Here are 5 signs it’s not. Read More

We Don’t Need To Go Back To The Early Church

You’ve heard people say, “We just need to go back to the early church.” We need to be more like the raw, organic, on-the-go church we see in the New Testament.

I disagree.

Now, I don’t totally disagree. Obviously, there are elements of the early church we should imitate. Fellowship, sacrifice, mission, unity, endurance in persecution, and more. But let’s not pretend that the early church didn’t have their problems.

When we talk about the New Testament church we can fall prey to the chronological snobbery C.S. Lewis cautions us against. Oldness doesn’t constitute betterness. Nor does newness.

People often over-celebrate the early church in a veiled attack on the present church. “The church today is lame, too organized, not free-wheeling enough.” They look back on the early church and crave those early days. But Solomon tells us not to do such a thing. “Don’t say, ‘Why were the former days better than these?’” (Ecclesiastes 7:10). So, you who want to go back to the early church, let me ask you a question.... Read More

Why We Need to Sing in Worship Even When We Don't Know - or Like - the Song

I’ve been there, and you likely have, also. You’ve never heard the song your church is singing. Or, you’ve heard it but don’t like it. The temptation is to silently mimic the words or not to sing at all. Here’s why we need to sing anyway.... Read More

8 Ways to Welcome People with Disabilities into Your Church

1. Get to Know Them

Welcoming people with disabilities is less about having special programming and more about gracious and compassionate people who look for ways to be inclusive and accommodating.

Ask a family how you can best serve them and have them into your home! This extends fellowship to them that pulls them out of isolation. We are often asked if our daughter is able to get into homes without a wheelchair ramp. I love it when people ask me these questions, rather than just avoid inviting us into their home. We are used to creatively approaching life every day, and we love to be invited into your home or into your family activities!

2. Be Creative

Think of family activities that a child with disabilities can take part in. Sometimes you may need to sacrifice your preferences, but think of what it means to a family with such limited options to have that opportunity for inclusive family fellowship!

If a church event doesn’t work for a family of a child with a disability to attend (such as a family ski trip), offer to take the siblings along with your family, or even offer to stay with the child and send the parents with their other children so they can have the opportunity to invest in all their children. Read More

Small Church Essentials Is Here!

It’s not about wanting churches to be small; it’s about wanting small churches to be great.

Today is the day!

You can now buy your copy of my new book, Small Church Essentials, for yourself or for a church leader you know.

Small Church Essentials is the result of all the time I’ve spent writing for, speaking with, and – most importantly – listening to small church pastors and other leaders over the five years since writing The Grasshopper Myth. To get an idea of what this new book is about, here’s a snippet from the intro.... Read More

Wednesday's Catch: "The Moment of Truth" and More

The Moment of Truth

Today, it is often said, “I have my truth, and you have your truth.” Our generation likes to deny absolute truth, saying that something can be true for one person but not true for someone else. This view is not new. Read More

Why You Need a Mentor [Video]

In this Rainer Report Thom Rainer offers four reasons why church leaders need a mentor. Watch Now

Leadership Lessons From the Downfall of Xerox

When it was introduced in 1959, Xerox was considered as cutting-edge as the iPhone was when it was announced in 2007. Read More

Why a Good Pastor-Teacher Keeps Repeating Himself. Or Herself.

The effective pastor-teacher not only may repeat himself, but must. Good teaching involves something called spaced repetition. After saying something essential, the teacher goes on to something else or tells a story, then returns and repeats it, often making an additional point. Read More

Get Out There in Public Spaces

The public space is a space God inhabits, and he always shows up there because he’s always there. Read More

Try This: Address Visitors’ Fears on Your Website

Anticipate and answer any questions they may have so coming to church is easy. Read More

Try This: Work With Your Local Government

Let your church be known as a helpful, beneficial presence to your community. Read More

Pew: No Pope Francis ‘Effect’ Among US Christians

The pope remains popular, but hasn’t inspired people to join his church—or even roused Catholics to go to Mass more often. Read More

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Luther: The Musician

The great reformer did more than write theology.
“Next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise. ... But any who remain unaffected [by music] are clodhoppers indeed and are fit to hear only the words of dung-poets and the music of pigs.”
As might be guessed, these are the words of Martin Luther, the reformer who didn’t mince words. But in more ironic words before these, he said this about music:
Looking at music itself, you will find that from the beginning of the world it has been instilled and implanted in all creatures, individually and collectively. ... Music is still more wonderful in living things, especially birds, so that David, most musical of all kings, and minstrel of God, in deepest wonder and spiritual exultation praised the astounding art and ease of the song of birds in Psalm 104. ... And yet, compared to the human voice, all this hardly deserves the name of music, so abundant and incomprehensible is here the munificence and wisdom of our most gracious Creator.
Luther was a music lover; he played the lute and flute, sang with a light tenor voice, and even put a hand to composing music. He was well acquainted with the music styles of his day, and he used his varied musical talents and interests to reform the religious and liturgical music of the emerging Lutheran church.

We’ve just commemorated the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses. The emphasis was understandably on Luther’s theology—salvation by faith alone, the priesthood of all believers, the priority of Scripture, and so forth. Just as important historically are Luther’s contributions to church music. Though there is no mention of music in the 95 Theses, Luther’s influence on church music has been significant. Martin Luther might be considered with justification “the father of Protestant music in Germany.” Read More

Why Do We Love Music?

I love music. I have over 500 CDs of Dave Matthews Band concerts, and I have vivid memories of specific moments in my life listening to them. For example, I remember listening to the long build up of “Seek Up” in June 2004, while driving to a dinner event at the church I was working at in Chattanooga. It is burned into my memory as if it were yesterday.

Most of us have similar memories. When we think about favorite music, whether it be classical or country, Beethoven or Bono, most of have memories and associations that touch upon the deepest emotions and experiences of of life.

Recently I wondered: why is this? As someone who studies theology, I’m interested in the philosophy of music. What does music mean? Is it merely pleasant—in the words of Steven Pinker, “auditory cheesecake”—or does it actually have a significance that corresponds to its effect upon us?

As a thought experiment, I’m thinking today about two different ways to answer this question. (Of course, there many be other answers beyond these two.) Read More
I found this article by Gavin Ortland interesting and I thought that it might interest Anglicans Ablaze readers too. However, I do think that Gavin overlooks the communal aspects of music making. When an extended family group, a clan, or tribe make music together, it reinforces and strengthens the ties that bind the group together. It also helps the group to meet needs on the emotional-psychological level of Maslow's pyramid of needs and in both these ways helps the group to survive. Folk cultures use music to celebrate success in the hunt, victory in warfare with a rival group, a bountiful harvest, and so on. They use music to appease the gods, spirits, or ancestors, and to win their favor. They use music to grieve a tragic loss and to console the survivors. Here in the West we live in a culture that has largely abandoned the making of music to "specialists" and relegated most of the community to the role of listeners. We no longer appreciate the value of making music together as a community.