Thursday, February 28, 2013

10 Things I’m Learning Leading Church Change

I am almost 8 months into a new pastorate. I left the church planting world to help revitalize and grow an established church. Many pastor friends questioned me at the time, but now they…and people who follow this blog…consistently ask how the move is going. Thank you. I feel the support.

Honestly, it’s proving to be challenging…maybe slightly more than I thought it would be. But, God is allowing us to experience incredible energy and excitement. I am not big on sharing numbers in this format, but let me simply say…they look good. God is working. Amazingly working. The potential in the days ahead is astounding to me. There are many great people here and we’ve assembled a stellar staff team.

Needless to say, I’m in the midst of change. That’s not unusual. I tend to like change. I think it’s necessary if any organization, church or relationship wants to grow…or even remain alive. But, some change has come fast. It doesn’t necessarily seem fast to me, and certainly not monumental, but I know, in a church that’s over 100 years old…it’s been fast.

For the most part, the reception to change has been good. Still, change, no matter how necessary, is never easy. Along the way, I’m learning a few things. I share this not only as an update, but knowing over fifty percent of the readers of this blog are in ministry, hopefully some of what I’m learning I can share with you. Read more

Also read
What, me change?

Dealing with Lust

They are as close as our skin, the troika of lusts described by the Apostle John: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life (1 John 2:16). These inordinate and forbidden longings of the sinner are the fountain of sin, as James points out when teaching that God does not tempt us to sin: “But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death” (James 1:14–15 NASB).

The natural man is in bondage to his lusts (Rom. 3:10–18), but at our conversion, because of our union with Christ, we are delivered from the dominion of lusts: “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace” (6:12–14). Read more

6 Ways to Preach with Passion (Hint: Yelling Isn’t One of Them)

Many preachers are like a light switch when it comes to passion, it’s either flipped on or off, either talking or yelling. To more effectively use passion in your preaching, think of it as a dimmer switch with various levels of passion and smooth transitions from one to the other.

Calvin Miller, in his book Preaching: The Art of Narrative Exposition, points out six ways to preach with passion, each with its own spot on the dimmer switch:

Ask yourself how [the six purveyors of passion] must be used in your preaching to convince your audience that you feel strongly about your subject. Consider how these six elements of passion might be used to connote how you want your audience to feel the resurrection Let us take the account of John 20:1-2, 11, 16-17. Read more

The Gospel for Inmates and All Sinners

Today brought one of those rare experiences. You know....the kind where you feel like God just gave you the right words at the right time which were perfect for the situation. And all you can do is bask in the glow of the moment....and praise Him for granting you a golden nugget in your communication of the Gospel message.

Across the highway from our church is the county jail, and we have a weekly Bible study there with the inmates. We often have guys come to the study who are there for the first time. I often ask the men, "If God were to ask you today why He should let you into heaven, what would you tell Him?" A couple guys sitting to my left today both answered at about the same time and said, "Because I have tried my best."

That's when it hit me....and a light went on. I have been privileged to share the Gospel thousands of times over the past 30 years in many different settings. But I have never had the analogy come to mind which hit me like today....and I believe it came from the Holy Spirit. It seemed to captivate most of the men in attendance as I presented it to them. Read more

10 Big Things Jesus Said Which you and I Keep Conveniently Forgetting

“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not the things I tell you” (Luke 6:46).

“If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (John 13:17).

I apologize for the title. There are wonderful churches filled with faithful disciples of Jesus Christ who are getting these things right; I don’t mean to imply otherwise. But that does not negate the fact that untold thousands of churches still exist primarily for themselves, have no vision outside their doors and no compassion for anyone knocking on those doors.

If none of this fits you or your congregation, give thanks. If it does, you are hereby assigned to take the lead in reversing matters. However, do not miss our notes at the conclusion. Read more

Persecution in China Is Very Real

You can argue that Christians are more free than they were 30 years ago. But persecution is rising and the central government does plan to eradicate house churches.

Note: This is the latest in a series of articles on ChinaAid'sreport on persecution in China. Earlier this week, China Source's Brent Fulton and Open Doors's Jan Vermeer countered some of the conclusions of the report, noting that most Christians in the country do not claim they are being persecuted. Today, ChinaAid founder and president Bob Fu responds.

After reading the opinion pieces of Brent Fulton and Jan Vermeer, I have concluded that we have very different readings of the facts regarding persecution of "house church" Protestantism in China.

The ChinaAid annual report states simply that the number of incidents of "persecution" increased in 2012 from the previous years, including a number of arrest, sentencing to labor camps, short term detentions, rape and torture in police custody, destruction and confiscation of property, beatings, fines, the loss of jobs or business licenses, and police intimidation. We believe these to be egregious and severe violations of the international freedom of thought, conscience, religion, and belief that warrant the attention of the worldwide Christian church, human rights advocates, and policy-makers. Read more

Who put the '3:16' in John 3:16?

Like the fellow who thought he'd be crossing visible longitude lines on his ocean voyage to Europe, some may think that the chapter and verse divisions were on the sheet when apostles such as John (or psalmists such as David) wrote down Scripture.

But no, they wrote letters and poetry and Gospels and other history without numbering. Those markers were added centuries later. Indeed, when Jesus referred to Exodus 3:6 in Mark 12:26, He simply located it in "in the passage about the burning bush." Neither the "12:26" nor the "3:6" were yet in place.[1] Read more

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Are Millennials a “Lost Generation”?

It’s hard out there for a Millennial. While the national unemployment rate has kept firm at 7.9%, the jobless rate for Millennials (or the 80 million Americans born between 1980 and 2000) continues to increase, reaching the alarming rate of 13.1% in January.

The Pew Center calls Millennials the “boomerang generation," because nearly 40% of all Americans between the ages of 18-34 still live at home with their parents; numbers this high haven’t been seen in over 70 years. And the boomerang trend is expected to continue or even worsen. The National Bureau of Economic Research reports that those who graduate during a recession will earn 10% less over a decade of work. Unfortunately for Millennials, research shows that 70% of overall wage growth occurs in the first 10 years of one's career.

But those who do manage to find jobs are also struggling. Young people with high school degrees have seen their inflation-adjusted wages decline by 11.1%; college graduates have seen a smaller, yet significant, decline of 5.4%, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Read more
In reaching a population group it is critical to understand the needs and problems of that group, the challenges it faces, and to respond both sensitively and effectively to them. 

It’s Time to Quit Your Job

The very title of this article sounds crazy on the surface. The unemployment rate is just under 8 percent and the underemployment number is close to 14 percent. In a time of such scarcity of jobs and the overwhelming number of people unemployed, who would even begin to suggest such a thought?

I would. I’m guilty.

Perhaps the pending retirement of Pope Benedict XVI got me thinking in this direction. Or perhaps it’s because I hear from many employed people who are miserable in their jobs. Is it really worth it?

No, I’m not suggesting you quit tomorrow and abandon the security of your paycheck. But I am suggesting you may need to begin moving in that direction. Below are some of the signs that may indicate it’s time for you to quit your job. Read more

Build a Bridge Between God’s Word and Issues of Our Day

The challenge of preaching is to declare eternal truth — what doesn’t change — in a culture that’s always changing.

The message never changes. It’s the “faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints”. (Jude v.3 NIV)

But the methods have to change with every generation. Otherwise, you’re not being faithful to the intent of the Bible. Read more

8 Ways to Celebrate Baptisms at Your Church

When a new believer is baptized, it’s a momentous event. A life’s been changed for eternity! Try these fresh ideas to make baptism a true celebration.... Read more
I have attended too many baptisms that can only be described as UNMEMORABLE OCCASIONS. 

Young Hispanics Moving to Protestant Faith, Catholic Numbers Declining

A new Gallup poll released on Monday revealed that young Hispanics appear to be abandoning the traditional Catholic faith of their parents and turning more often to Protestant alternatives.

"A majority of Hispanics in America continue to identify as Catholic, although the Catholic percentage among Hispanics appears to be decreasing and the youngest Hispanics in America today are less likely to be Catholic than those who are older," Gallup stated about the implications of the results.

"Additionally, those Hispanics who are Catholic are much less religious than those who are Protestant." Read more
Also read
US: Catholic Hispanic population shrinking

'Lord, bless the missionaries'

It's a familiar prayer. Too familiar, some say, to mean much.

"Lord, bless the missionaries."

For church folks of a certain age, these words are as comfortable and automatic as "Bless this food to the nourishment of our bodies" or "Bless the gift and the giver."

Mission leaders who've heard this prayer uttered countless times sometimes criticize it as perfunctory, meaningless or ritualistic. Which missionaries? Where? Bless them how? And what about the people the missionaries are trying to reach with the Gospel? Don't they need prayer, too? A quick "Lord, bless the missionaries" gives people an excuse to check praying for missions off their to-do list, like dropping a buck or two in the offering plate takes care of supporting missions.

Effective praying for missionaries and their ministries needs to be a bit more specific. Read more

N. Korea's 'hatred of Christians' puts 70,000 believers in prison

Persecution of Christians in North Korea shows no sign of abating under the country's new leader, Kim Jong-Un, according to a report by the worldwide ministry Open Doors.

"The fanatical regime, which rules the destitute country of 24 million people with a proverbial iron fist, has a special hatred for Christians," Jerry Dykstra of the California-based Open Doors USA noted. "North Korea is in a league of its own when it comes to persecution of Christians."

Dykstra's and other reports parallel incidents in North Korea chronicled in the U.S. State Department's religious freedom assessments.

Of an estimated 200,000 prisoners in North Korea, 70,000 of them are Christians, Open Doors reported. For the 11th consecutive year, North Korea tops Open Doors' list of the worst countries for its brutal treatment of believers. Read more

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Cardinal's departure darkens mood as pope allows early conclave

Benedict changed parts of a 1996 constitution issued by his predecessor John Paul so that cardinals could begin a secret conclave to choose a successor earlier than the 15 days after the papacy becomes vacant, as prescribed by the previous law.

The change means that in pre-conclave meetings starting on March 1, a day after Benedict leaves on Thursday, they can themselves decide when to start.

Some cardinals believe a conclave, held in secret in the Vatican's Sistine Chapel, should start sooner than March 15 in order to reduce the time in which the Church will be without a leader at a time of crisis.

But some in the Church believe that an early conclave would give an advantage to cardinals already in Rome and working in the Curia, the Vatican's central administration and the focus of accusations of ineptitude and alleged sexual scandals that some Italian newspapers speculate in unsourced reports led Benedict to step down. The Vatican says the reports are false.

The Vatican appears to be aiming to have a new pope elected by mid-March and installed before Palm Sunday on March 24 so he can preside at Holy Week services leading to Easter. Read more

Also read
Pope Benedict leaves amid a holy mess at the Vatican
Scotland's Archbishop Steps Down
These three articles examine the conditions affecting the selection of the new pope.

Seven Steps to Move Members into Ministry

Sam attends his church faithfully every Sunday, but he is not involved in doing ministry through his church. Others view Sam as a committed member simply because he is there every Sunday morning, and no one would dare question his faithfulness.

Yet, Sam is really doing nothing in his church. How do you move members like him into ministry? Here are some basic principles we learned in a study published in my book, Membership Matters. Read more

Christ's Real Presence Dwells Inside Every Believer

No religious organization has a corner on Christ's real presence. You can't box Him in. Jesus goes wherever He wants to go....and one of the places He chooses to go is on the inside of everyone who believes in Him as Savior. Therefore, a Christian can literally say, "My heart is Christ's home."

We all know (or at least many of us) that Jesus Christ lived on earth 2000 years ago....and then died....and rose again....and ascended into heaven....where He sits at the right hand of the Father, which is a place of great honor. But that's not all. Jesus isn't limited to heaven. He is God, and so He is omnipresent. Christ literally dwells within the soul of every single believer. How you ask? will have to ask Him that one. His Word just says it's a fact, but it doesn't give a full explanation that we can completely grasp with our finite minds.

The only reason we know that Jesus dwells within every believer is because God's inerrant Word says so. It's not like this is "common sense." It has been revealed to us in God's Word. Specifically where you ask? Right here.... Read more

Overcoming Four Church Myths

Don’t be fooled by these common—and dangerous—misconceptions.

When people encounter new things, their first tendency is to fit them into existing categories. If truth be told, most of us shy away from strange and unusual things that don’t fit our expectations. It reminds me of a Northerner who ate his first tamale by peeling down the husk and eating it like a banana. I saw another try to actually eat the corn husk with a knife and fork! If we don’t know better, we’ll draw wrong conclusions about the true nature of things based on personal experiences or cultural norms.

The Bible portrays the church as something strange and unusual. But many Christians approach the local church in ways that conform more to the patterns of the world than to the pattern of God’s Word. Like mad scientists piecing together a monster from countless incompatible pieces without a clear pattern or guiding principle, too many Christians today have re-created the church after their own imaginations, according to their own likes and dislikes. Clustered around this mutant creature falsely called “church,” proponents propagate four common myths that help keep the beast alive—four untruths that have become so accepted by many evangelicals that they believe them without question. But the time has come to refute the myths and slay the monster, replacing it with a corporate body reflecting marks and works of authenticity and created according to God’s image for the church. Read more

Rise of Religious 'Nones' Affecting Hispanic Catholics Much More Than Protestants

Photo: Jacob Langston/Orlando Sentinel
New Gallup survey finds significant differences in religiosity among U.S. Latinos.

A new Gallup study finds significant differences not only in religiosity between Latino Protestants and Catholics in the United States, but in how much each group is losing adherents to the ranks of the religiously unaffiliated.

"Hispanics who are Protestant are significantly more likely to be very religious (60%) than those who are Catholic (43%)," notes Gallup in its analysis of more than 360,000 interviews. By comparison, 40 percent of all Americans are "very religious," according to Gallup.

The "substantial difference" in religiosity between Hispanic Protestants and Catholics, which holds across all age groups (see chart below), is double the difference between American Protestants and Catholics overall. Gallup found 51 percent of U.S. Protestants are very religious, compared to 43 percent of U.S. Catholics.

For this study, Gallup defined religiosity by whether or not participants said "religion is an important part of their daily life" and whether or not they "attend religious services every week or almost every week." Those agreeing to both statements were labeled "very religious," while those agreeing to one but not the other were labeled "moderately religious."

Gallup found 29 percent of Hispanic Protestants are moderately religious, compared to 39 percent of Hispanic Catholics and 29% of all Americans. Read more

Also read
American Religiosity and You

Appeal for prayers for Nigeria after deadly attacks

Christians are being asked to pray for Nigeria after a weekend of deadly attacks.

Six people died when gunmen attacked the predominantly Christian village of Aduwan Gida in the Zangon Kataf Local Government Area (LGA) of Southern Kaduna on 23 February.

The victims were villagers who had gathered to mourn the death of an elderly member of the community.

The gunmen attacked the group at around 10pm. Victims reportedly included a mother and her six month old baby. Read more

Also read
Christian women remember persecuted sisters
Islamic Extremists Suspected in Killing of Catholic Priest in Zanzibar, Tanzania

Survey: Spiritual maturity entails intentionality

Christians on the path to spiritual maturity have a habit of seeking God through prayer and worship -- not just in church but also as a part of their daily life as a way to please and honor God, according to a survey released by LifeWay Research.

The survey of Protestant churchgoers identifies "Seeking God" as one of eight attributes of discipleship that consistently show up in the lives of maturing Christians. Seeking God invokes the intentional steps a Christian takes to follow Christ for the purpose of becoming like Him.

LifeWay Research found 73 percent of Protestant churchgoers set aside time for prayer every day to a few times a week. To examine how churchgoers are seeking God at times beyond worship services, the survey asked participants to "not include any times you do these things as part of a church worship service." Nineteen percent say they set aside time for prayer of any kind between once a week and once a month, and 8 percent of churchgoers say "rarely/never."

Female churchgoers are more likely than men (77 percent vs. 70 percent) to set aside time for prayer every day to a few times a week. Read more

Canterbury tale

Photo: Diocese of Durham
Tom Creedy reports on the new Archbishop's evening at Trent Vineyard church

As part of my Discipleship Year at Trent Vineyard, I had the privilege of serving at a special evening service on Sunday January 27.

In the last few days before his enthronement, Archbishop-Designate Justin Welby came to Trent Vineyard to answer some questions and give a short sermon. Invited by John Mumford, the National Director of the UK Vineyard Movement, Welby and his wife Caroline were greeted enthusiastically by over 1,300 Christians from various Nottingham churches.

Following the usual Trent Vineyard pattern, we opened the service with 20 minutes of sung worship. Exalting God in a contemporary style, with such a large number of brothers and sisters, Welby looked perfectly at home in the sea of hands and the roar of praise. After a brief introduction from John Wright, Trent’s senior pastor, John Mumford and the Welbys took seats on the stage for the interview. Read more

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Cost of Compromise

Martin Luther wasn’t prone to compromise. He famously said in his sermon “Knowledge of God’s Will and It’s Fruit”:

The world at the present time is sagaciously discussing how to quell the controversy and strife over doctrine and faith, and how to effect a compromise between the Church and the Papacy. Let the learned, the wise, it is said, bishops, emperor and princes, arbitrate. Each side can easily yield something, and it is better to concede some things which can be construed according to individual interpretation, than that so much persecution, bloodshed, war, and terrible, endless dissension and destruction be permitted.

Here is lack of understanding, for understanding proves by the Word that such patchwork is not according to God’s will, but that doctrine, faith and worship must be preserved pure and unadulterated; there must be no mingling with human nonsense, human opinions or wisdom.

The Scriptures give us this rule: “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

It is interesting to speculate what the church would be like today if Luther had compromised. The pressure was heavy on him to tone down his teaching, soften his message, and stop poking his finger in the eye of the papacy. Even many of his friends and supporters urged Luther to come to terms with Rome for the sake of harmony in the church. Luther himself prayed earnestly that the effect of his teaching would not be divisive. Read more

Seeing Beyond The Shadowlands

It has long been my contention that the Reformed church never quite got over the Enlightenment. While we rightly reject this premise and that conclusion at the heart of the Enlightenment experiment, we still drink deep of its spirit. We deny that this world is all there is, but we live as though this world is all there is. We are willing to admit that the spiritual realm, the unseen, is real, but in turn we insist that the natural realm, the seen, is more real. We live as though all there is is this. In short, we lack faith. Read more

Evangelism: The Gospel Hand-Off

After a setback due to illness, one missionary couple had to give their ministry away. Why they're happy about it.

"We need to cut down another tree!"

Simon and Lynn Caudwell were on the last day of a dusty trek toward Basketo, Ethiopia, in 1994. The road was blocked by yet another thick tree.

Their path had taken them through bogs that stymied their four-wheel drive and sections that narrowed to about the width of their vehicle, with a 3,000-foot drop on one side.

The Caudwells got out of their car, found a way around the tree, and pressed on toward the village. But when they arrived, rain threatened overhead, and they had to leave quickly before the storm made the mountain road impassable. It would not be the last time that circumstances beyond their control would halt their time in Basketo, a remote village southwest of Addis Ababa.

On this visit, their first, Simon was sizing up land for their house and ministry center. Lynn, meanwhile, was convinced she could never live in Basketo.

Lynn cried as they drove away, not because the visit ended abruptly but because she felt God had asked too much of them. "God, I did not know what you were asking of me," she prayed. "I don't think I can bring my children to such an isolated place."

The couple had been preparing for the challenge for years. After college they spent a year in field linguistics before moving with their two young children to Addis Ababa to study Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia.

The couple eventually moved to Soddo-Wolaitta, the closest city to Basketo. In this season of waiting to move to Basketo, Lynn was running an errand one day when she felt the Lord speak: "Lynn, I have come to give you fullness of life." Little did she know what that fullness would mean in the years ahead.

While in Soddo-Wolaitta, the Caudwells visited Basketo 20 times. They started building a house and ministry office. Finally they moved to the village in 1999. The uncertainty was over—so they thought. Read more

Scotland: Cardinal Keith O'Brien announces resignation

Cardinal Keith O'Brien has resigned as leader of the Church of Scotland.

His resignation today follows reports in the Observer over the weekend of alleged inappropriate behaviour towards four priests.

The allegations, which go back more than 30 years, are contested by the cardinal. However, he offered an apology in a statement for anyone he may have offended during his years of ministry.

The cardinal's resignation has been accepted by the Vatican with immediate effect. An Apostolic Administrator will be appointed to govern the Archdiocese of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh until a successor has been found. Read more

Also read
Cardinal 'has right to choose Pope'
Next pope should consider marriage for priests, cardinal says

To Fight Sex Trafficking, Fight the Ideology That Creates It, Expert Says

In the fight against sex trafficking, the Church needs to address the root causes – the ideas in culture that break the linkage sex has to love, responsibility and children, Lisa Thompson, liaison for the abolition of sexual trafficking for the Salvation Army, said during a Friday presentation at The Justice Conference.

"Sex trafficking is a battle of ideas," Thompson explained during a pre-conference session on sex trafficking. The Church in America too often does not do enough to address the ideology upon which sex trafficking is based – "an ideology that disassociates sex from love, responsibility and children." American culture embraces this idea, she continued, and it is "spewed upon us" by "media elites in our culture," such as movies, books and TV shows.

"One of the reasons sex trafficking is flourishing is that we, as a Church, do not do enough to address the ideology that disassociates sex from love," Thompson explained.

Thompson asked those in attendance to not divorce the conversation about sex trafficking from a conversation about prostitution. Not all prostitutes are sex slaves, some choose to become prostitutes, she admitted, but all prostitution dehumanizes women. Read more

Reshaped papacy raises questions for church future

Pope Benedict XVI has reshaped the papacy simply by giving it up. But how?

As the first pontiff in six centuries to step down, Benedict has carved a new path for his successors who decide they cannot rule for life. But scholars say the repercussions could reach beyond just changing how pontiffs leave to ultimately shape perceptions about the authority and significance of the pontificate.

"A lot of what it will mean has to do with what subsequent popes do. Does this become a precedent for future popes to follow or not?" said Phillip Thompson, executive director of the Aquinas Center of Theology at Emory University.

Benedict's pontificate will end at 8 p.m. Thursday. He plans no role in the conclave that will choose the next pontiff, and will retreat to a life of prayer in a monastery behind Vatican walls. His decision shocked the church. But papal resignations are expected to become more likely over time because of extended lifespans and the growing demands of the pontificate, Thompson said. Read more

Also read
How do you count Catholics?
US: Catholic Hispanic population shrinking
Poll: American Catholics Divided Over Direction of Church

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Five Love Languages of Pastors

With apologies to Gary Chapman for playing on his well-known “Five Love Languages” theme, I asked 24 pastors how a church member might speak to each pastor in his own love language. And though 24 persons do not constitute a massive survey, I was amazed at the consistency of the responses.

To fit the theme of five, I determined at the onset that I would only report the top five responses. To my surprise, there was an obvious break between the fifth and sixth most frequent responses. The five love languages thus were a natural fit.

So how can you speak a love language to your pastor? Here are the pastors’ top five responses in order of frequency. I offer a representative response from one of the pastors for each of the five. Read more

Ed Stetzer: Debunking Megachurch Myths: Especially the One About Sheep-Swapping

So this week inadvertently turned into Megachurch Week on the blog. In the event you missed it, everything started Tuesday with some data on the continued growth of megachurches. Then on Wednesday, I shared a new infographic from Leadership Network on the financial health of megachurches.

Throughout the week, I’ve received blog comments, Facebook messages, tweets, and emails challenging the positive influence of several megachurches– some by name, some not. I get it. Some megachurches are not healthy environments. As I said Tuesday, I think some are quite terrible and fulfill every stereotype out there. Yet, there are also some great ones, and for that I am thankful. I want to understand them more and, when possible, to encourage them on their journey.

And while I encourage them, I’d also encourage those of you not pastoring or attending megachurches to do the same. Yes there are some terrible megachurches. Just like there are some terrible churches that run 125 every week. But my job, and yours, is not to indiscriminately cast stones at every church that happens to be, or not to be, a certain size.

Wednesday evening I got an email from my friend Scott Thumma, one of the authors of the research I had quoted and one of the top megachurch researchers in the country, and I got an idea. Scott actually authored the book that debunks megachurch myths, appropriately titled Beyond Megachurch Myths. If you routinely deal with, work at, or attend a megachurch, I would encourage you to buy the book. It’s full of research, anecdotes, and stats and is written in a very accessible way.

Without further ado, here are the nine megachurch myths from Scott Thumma and Dave Travis and a little about each of them.... Read more

Sunday School That Really Works

Thoughts on how to make this long-standing church institution effective

"It doesn't work!" I have heard this statement often in my ministry. A leader is doing all he or she knows how to do, and yet the Sunday school is struggling. A Sunday school teacher works hard at preparing and delivering a lesson and wants the class to grow; however, no guests are present. At the same time, hundreds of churches have growing Sunday school ministries.

Dakota tribal wisdom says when you discover you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount. 
However, churches often find themselves trying other strategies. Consider the following 10 ways that churches and organizations deal with the problem of riding dead horses:

10. Provide additional funding to increase the dead horse's performance.

9. Provide training to teach people how to ride dead horses.

8. Appoint a committee to revive the dead horse.

7. Change the person riding the dead horse.

6. Say things like: "This is the way we always have ridden this horse."

5. Appoint a committee to study the dead horse.

4. Harness several dead horses together for increased speed.

3. Pass a resolution declaring: "The horse is not dead."

2. Arrange to visit other sites to see how they ride dead horses.

1. Buy a stronger whip. Read more

Should Your Church's Name Include Its Denomination?

(UPDATED) New research says both churchgoers and the unchurched agree decision is a 'two-edged sword.'

A new study by Grey Matter Research suggests that both churchgoers and the unchurched largely agree on whether or not Protestant churches should reference their denominational affiliation in their names.

Most Protestant churches reference their denomination in their name. A prominent counter-example: Rick Warren's Saddleback Community Church, which is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).

The SBC recently debated changing its name to remove potential obstacles to people attending new church plants, particularly in the Northeast. Instead, it decided to allow the use of an unofficial moniker, Great Commission Baptists, which LifeWay Research showed less than half of churches intend to use. Read more

India: attack on revival meeting sends Christians underground

As police looked on, militants attacked a Christian church in central India earlier this month, causing severe injuries to some and sending the pastor into hiding, according to witnesses.

According to a story by World Watch Monitor, the assault took place during the second day of a revival meeting earlier this month at India Christian Assembly of God Church in the city of Rajnandgaon. That's about 72 kilometers west of Raipur, the capital of the mostly rural, and overwhelmingly Hindu, state of Chhattisgarh. Read more

Also read
Four churches targeted in attempted firebombings in Indonesia

'Such horrific pressures' Abedini writes from jail

Pastor Saeed Abedini, a U.S. citizen of Iranian descent, has released a letter from within Iran's brutal Evin prison in Tehran, demonstrating that his faith remains strong despite abusive tactics from Iranian officials aimed at getting him to renounce Christ.

"They are trying to put me under such horrific pressures (that are sometimes unbearable) so that they can show me that my faith is empty and not real," Saeed wrote.

"And after all of these pressures, after all of the nails they have pressed against my hands and feet, they are only waiting for one thing ... for me to deny Christ. But they will never get this from me," he wrote in the letter that was translated into English.

The text of the letter was circulated Feb. 22 by the American Center for Law and Justice, which has been advocating for the pastor's release. He was sentenced in January to eight years in prison for starting a house church network a decade ago. Read more

New archbishop for Tanzania

Archbishop Valentino Mokiwa defeated in re-election bid

The Archbishop of Tanzania was rebuffed yesterday in his bid for a second five year term as the Bishop of Mpwapwa, the Rt. Rev. Jacobo Chimeledya, was elected primate of the Anglican Church of Tanzania.

On 21 Feb 2012 a special electoral synod was convened in Dar es Salaam to elect an archbishop and primate. Under the church’s constitution a diocesan bishop who is less than 60 years of age may stand for election for the five year position and if elected may be re-elected for a second five year term.

In 2007 the synod elected the Bishop of Dar es Salaam Valentino Mokiwa, who last year announced his intention to seek re-election. However, after three rounds of voting the 129 delegates elected Bishop Chimeledya. Read more

Papal resignation linked to inquiry into 'Vatican gay officials', says paper

A potentially explosive report has linked the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI to the discovery of a network of gay prelates in the Vatican, some of whom – the report said – were being blackmailed by outsiders.

The pope's spokesman declined to confirm or deny the report, which was carried by the Italian daily newspaper La Repubblica.

The paper said the pope had taken the decision on 17 December that he was going to resign – the day he received a dossier compiled by three cardinals delegated to look into the so-called "Vatileaks" affair. Read more

Also read
Did a Cross-Dressing Priest Sex Ring Bring Down Benedict XVI?
Report: Pope resigned in wake of gay priest scandal
Vatican accuses Italian media of false reports ahead of conclave
Ex-Legion priest says he saw fiscal improprieties

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Word-less “Church”

Many American churches are in a mess. Theologically they are indifferent, confused, or dangerously wrong. Liturgically they are the captives of superficial fads. Morally they live lives indistinguishable from the world. They often have a lot of people, money, and activities. But are they really churches, or have they degenerated into peculiar clubs?

What has gone wrong? At the heart of the mess is a simple phenomenon: the churches seem to have lost a love for and confidence in the Word of God. They still carry Bibles and declare the authority of the Scriptures. They still have sermons based on Bible verses and still have Bible study classes. But not much of the Bible is actually read in their services. Their sermons and studies usually do not examine the Bible to see what it thinks is important for the people of God. Increasingly they treat the Bible as tidbits of poetic inspiration, of pop psychology, and of self-help advice. Congregations where the Bible is ignored or abused are in the gravest peril. Churches that depart from the Word will soon find that God has departed from them. Read more

Is it possible for a Christian to lose his salvation because of sins he commits?

The question of losing one’s salvation is one that is a matter of great controversy within the household of Christian faith. There are many Christians who live in mortal fear every day of losing what they have found in Christ because the Bible gives serious warnings about falling away, and Paul himself says that he has to be very careful lest he himself become a castaway. There are biblical warnings about what would happen if we turn our backs on Christ after we’ve come to a knowledge of him.

On the other hand, there are also many Christians who believe that we will, in fact, never fall away, and I’m numbered among that group. I’m persuaded from a study of Scripture that we can have an assurance of our salvation not only for today but for all time. But the assurance that we have, or confidence in our future estate in salvation, must be based upon the right foundations. In other words, if my confidence that I will persevere is based on my confidence that I will not sin, it’s on very shaky ground. One thing the Bible makes clear to me is that even though I am a redeemed person, I will in all likelihood, and inevitably, continue to sin to some degree. If it were up to my strength to persevere to guarantee my future salvation, then I would have very little hope of persevering. Read more

The 6 Essential Social Media Skills of Leaders

The McKinsey Quarterly recently published an interesting article on the six social media skills every leader needs, including a good analysis of social media practices in General Electric.

The ‘competitive advantage’ these skills bring don’t matter that much to church leaders obviously, or at least they shouldn’t matter. But the skills are still important in a day and age where social media can be used and leveraged to a church advantage, even to the advantage of spreading the gospel.

I think social media literacy matters in the church as well. Not to the extent that it should be number one on the agenda or that it should come in the way of actually reaching out to ‘the least of our brethren’, but I’ve seen Christian leaders and churches use social media with amazing results for their ministry. That’s why these six skills (or six roles, even after reading the article I wondered if the word roles doesn’t describe it better) are so interesting.... Read more

How Institutionalism Inhibits Our Expectation of the Supernatural

By reducing our conceptions of the church to an institution or organization to be managed, there often follows a decreased expectation of the supernatural in the affairs and activities of the church and, by extension, the individual Christian. Rather than seeking results beyond our human schemes and expectations, we find ourselves managing the church as an enterprise in which results can be forecast and progress measured using metrics common to modern business. The watchword becomes "measurable results," without which an activity is deemed unworthy of pursuit or, if implemented, unsuccessful. Lost is the concept of faithfulness to our Lord and the principles of his kingdom, which may not always yield success in terms visible to us. Read more

The Differences (Or Lack Thereof) Between Young Protestant and Catholic Prodigals

New Barna research suggests Catholics more likely to withdraw from church, but Protestants more likely to have doubted their faith.

The increasing number of young church dropouts isn't just a Protestant problem. According to new research from the Barna Group, "65 percent of Catholic-raised young adults say they are less religiously active today than they were at age 15."

Of the 1,550 people surveyed (all of whom were Catholics and Protestants who were raised in church or reported identifying as Christian at some point), Catholics reported lower levels of church-faith tension than Protestants in every category except one: 65 percent of Catholics said they are less involved in church now than they were before, compared to only 59 percent of Protestants (full infographic below). Read more

Chances Improving for Ex-Episcopalians in Property Fights

Court cases in Texas and South Carolina could reshape other disputes—and denominations.

When disgruntled congregations have left hierarchical denominations such as the Episcopal Church, they've often lost property battles as civil courts ruled buildings and land are not theirs to keep.

But outcomes could be different this year, court watchers say, as high-profile cases involving dozens of Episcopal congregations in South Carolina and Texas wind their way through state courts. That prospect has observers watching for insights that could shape legal strategies in other states and denominations.

Both cases involve conservative dioceses that voted to leave the Episcopal Church over homosexuality, among other issues. In South Carolina, congregations representing about 22,000 people are suing the Episcopal Church for control of real estate worth some $500 million and rights to the diocese's identity. In Texas, the national Episcopal Church is suing about 60 breakaway congregations in the Fort Worth area for properties estimated to be worth more than $100 million.

The Episcopal Church argues, as it has in past cases, that local properties are held in trust for the denomination and can't go with parishioners who choose to disaffiliate. But recent court actions are giving breakaway groups hope that things might go differently this time. Read more

Thursday, February 21, 2013

7 Common Energy and Time Wasters for Leaders

Wasting time and energy may be one of my biggest pet peeves as a leader. Some days I leave work and feel I never got off the treadmill. It’s physically and mentally draining.

Does that ever happen to you?

I firmly believe if we get rid of common energy wasters we can dramatically improve our performance as leaders. With that in mind, I’ve spent time in my personal development finding ways to eliminate time and energy wasters. Read more

The Marcions have landed! A warning for evangelicals

When one asks the most influential thinkers in the modern evangelical church are, one might find names such as Jim Packer, John Stott, and Don Carson.

I would like to suggest, however, that there is one whose influence is perhaps much greater than we are aware of, yet whose thinking all but pervades the modern evangelical church: Marcion.

He's the man who gets my vote for most profound influence on evangelicalism, from canon to theology to worship practices. You never see his books on the shelves in your high street Christian bookshop; you never see him advertised as preaching in your local church; but, rest assured, his spirit stalks those bookshops and pulpits.

Marcion is - or, rather, was - a somewhat shadowy figure, with most of what we know about him coming from the hostile pen of Tertullian. Apparently, he was a native of Pontus (in modern times, the area by the Black Sea), who flourished in the middle of the second century, dying circa 160. His major distinctive was his insistence on the Christian gospel as exclusively one of love to the extent that he came to a complete rejection of the Old Testament and only a qualified acceptance of those parts of the New Testament which he considered to be consistent with his central thesis (i.e. ten letters of Paul and a recension of the Gospel of Luke).

So how does Marcion influence modern evangelicalism? Well, I think evangelicalism has become practically Marcionite at a number of levels. Read more

Free eBook Vision: Lost and Found (Excerpt) by Tim Stevens

This free eBook is an excerpt (six chapters) from Granger Community Church’s Tim Stevens’ 2012 book, Vision: Lost and Found: The Story of a Church That Got Stuck but Didn’t Stay There (Exponential Series).

In this excerpt, Stevens focuses on the evolution in thinking that he and other Granger Community Church leaders went through as they evaluated both missional and attractional approaches to doing and being the church. Stevens shares that in February 2010, Granger leaders looked at each other and asked a hard question: Is the sheer number of “unchurched” people in our area any less than it was 25 years ago before Granger existed? That question–and this excerpt–set the stage for what would eventually define the church’s well-known transition to “both/and,” choosing to be both attractional and missional. Stevens’ story-telling compels readers to download the full book to discover the rest of Granger’s unstuck story still being written today. Stevens offers an in-depth look at both missional and attractional approaches and gives us an insider look at why and how he and Granger leaders wrestled with both. He also includes a mini glossary of terms central to the missional movement. Download the free eBook (excerpt) here.

To purchase the full book Vision: Lost & Found, click here

Practice Stewardship: Pass on What You’ve Learned to Other Churches

“You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others.” (2 Timothy 2:2 NLT)

As a new member of the Saddleback staff, I know I’m here because of the principle of stewardship. Saddleback Church poured into me and the church I pastored for 18 years; then I passed onto other churches what I learned from them. You don’t have to be big to make a big splash for the Kingdom; you just have to be willing to help someone the way God helped you. There are no perfect models or churches — just growing ones!

I remember inviting a neighbor to my small group once, and his reply was honest and revealing: “I don’t need a small group,” to which I replied, “Maybe one needs you!”

I have no doubt there is a church near you or far away that desperately needs your help to learn what God has taught you.

So, where do you start? Read more

Univ. of Missouri Includes Wiccan, Pagan Celebrations in Religious Holidays Guide

The University of Missouri's release of a "Guide to Religions: Major Holidays and Suggested Accommodations" has created controversy over whether schools should take into account non-traditional holidays celebrated by groups such as Wiccans and Pagans when scheduling exams and other student activities.

Media outlets and personalities who have called out the college for putting Wiccan and Pagan holidays on par with Christmas, Thanksgiving and Hanukkah are now being criticized by a group of Salem witches, according to NoBo Magazine, a local news publication for "North of Boston."

The coven of witches are upset over the comments made by Fox News guest Tucker Carlson last Sunday in which he said that Wiccans are a very small minority and shouldn't be included in the University of Missouri's policy that recently added Wiccans and Pagans to the guide's list. Read more

Small Groups: Explore Identity and Purpose

Help emerging adults discover what life is all about.

When it comes to shepherding emerging adults in identity and purpose, there are many opportunities, but you'll need to be intentional. Here are just a few ideas to get you started when discipling 18- to 30-year-olds. Read more

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Five Ways to Prepare for the Employee to Independent Transition

Though much has been written on the free agent transition in our nation, I am not sure many of us appreciate the degree to which the shift has taken place. Whitney Johnson notes that some 43 million persons today do some level of independent work. But that number is projected to reach as high as 70 million within the decade.

That number is staggering. The old model of a lifetime company providing pay, pension, and benefits to the grave is all but obsolete. Young adults today will move from company to company without a second thought. And those companies will no longer retain employees out of a sense of loyalty and obligation. It is truly a free agent nation from the perspective of both the employer and the employee.

So how does a worker prepare himself or herself for this new reality? Allow me to share five suggestions I give those who have approached me with similar questions. Read more