Sunday, December 31, 2017

Have a Most Blessed New Year

May God bless you and your loved ones with an abundance of His grace in 2018.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Small Churches Are the Next Big Thing – With One Condition

Some people have written off the current generation spiritually.

That is a mistake – for the church and for the Millennials.

There’s growing evidence that this new generation will bring the greatest opportunity for Small Church ministry in 2,000 years.

Why? Because, as the first generation with a majority born and raised outside traditional marriage, genuine relationships and intimate worship – what Small Churches do best – will matter more to them than it did to their parents.

But this opportunity comes with one, big condition.

They won’t give up quality to gain intimacy.

And they shouldn’t have to. Read More

The Un-Millennial Church

To want to reach young adults, to matter in the public sphere, to make a difference in the life of millennials, these are very good ambitions, and I say this because I fear being misunderstood. I am confessing that my desire to be a hipster pastor who planted a hipster church had more to do with vanity than it had to do with gospel influence. And that’s why it was a problem. For me.

The Lord had to do a lot to change me. I received well-deserved hard feedback from loving church planting assessors, the church the Lord planted in reality turned out to be far different from the church I planted in my imagination, and God sovereignly put good, godly books (think of authors like Wendell Berry and Eugene Peterson) in front of me as a corrective, sanctifying force.

And, stubbornly, I still believe that God wants to use our local church and his local churches around the world to reach the next generation. But I don’t think that God wants to reach millennials by planting churches that prioritize millennials. I don’t know if you truly reach anybody (you may attract them, allure them, and charm them) by prioritizing them. Jesus reaches us not by catering to us, but by prioritizing his Father’s glory.

How is that for a ministry model?

So maybe the best way to reach young adults, and by reach I really mean attract, transform, and equip, is to plant and lead un-millennial churches. Read More

What Is the Most Common Temptation for a Pastor Building a Church? [Video]

Mack Stiles, a pastor in the Middle East, talks about temptations of growing a church. Watch Now

The Best of Carey Nieuwhof from 2017

On his blog Carey Nieuwhof has posted links to what he describes s "The 10 Best Posts of 2017 as Voted by You." These posts received the most page views in 2017. Below are eight of these posts, plus three additional posts from his blog, posts which I picked because their content rounds out the content of the 8 most viewed posts. They are some of his most thought-provoking posts. We can learn a lot from them.

5 Very Real Tensions Every Small To Mid-Sized Church Leader Feels
The Top 8 Reasons Most Churches Never Break The 200 Attendance Mark
7 Ways To Grow Church Attendance By Increasing Engagement
5 Reasons Engagement Will Drive Almost All Future Church Growth
3 Things Christians Do That Non-Christians Despise
How To Lose A First Time Guest In 10 Minutes Or Less
7 Things Christians Should Give Up To Reach Unchurched People
9 Signs Your Church Is Ready To Reach Unchurched People
Why Attending Church No Longer Makes Sense
Why The Search For A Church That Meets Your Needs Is Futile
6 Disruptive Church Trends That Will Rule 2017

I am planning to re-read these posts and to jot down any useful insights that may benefit my church in 2018. I noted a number of them when I first read the posts.

Saturday Lagniappe: "Grit over Genius: How to Make a Great 2018" and More - UPDATED

New: Grit over Genius: How to Make a Great 2018 

There is a direct correlation between your purpose, plan, and preparation, and the year you will actually experience. Read More

5 Ways to Avoid Pastoral Burnout in 2018

From cleaning out your inbox, to scheduling help, to rethinking your motives, we're here to help you combat pastoral exhaustion. Read More

11 Signs You’re More Than Just Tired…You’re Burning Out

Ever wonder if you’re burning out? I know a lot of leaders and people who wonder that.Read More

Pushing into Places of Conflict for the Good of the Kingdom

Leadership requires a commitment to solving conflict. Read More

Rely on God’s Word, Not on Techniques

Revitalization is nothing less than the transformation of individual human hearts—by either conversion or sanctification—on a church-wide scale. Read More

If You're Still Losing the Battle with Sin... 

It’s the end of another year, and too many of us are wrestling with the same sin issues we faced at the beginning of this year. Another 12 months have passed, and we’re still losing the battle. If that’s where you are, take some risks to do something different in 2018.... Read More

Building Bridges of Witness in Turkey

To be Turkish is to be Muslim. Read More
Since ancient times Turkey has been a major crossroads between Europe and the Mid-East. Christianity spread overland as well as oversea through Turkey. Please pray for the spiritual renewal and empowerment of the Turkish Church in 2018. Pray that God will raise up a new generation of faithful apostles like St. Paul to spread the gospel in Turkey, in Europe, and in the Mid-East.

Friday, December 29, 2017

For 2018: To Start Well, Make a Stop Doing List

If Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, the week before the new year is the most dishonest. It’s when resolutions are made, most with the conviction of a wet noodle in a windstorm. Gym memberships go up, gyms fill up (at least through the first two weeks of January), and all sorts of plans are made up.

Instead of making a bunch of resolutions you find either too ambitious to achieve or that you don’t really plan to keep, here’s an idea that might help.

Don’t make a list of resolutions. But do make a “stop doing” list. Read More

How To Work With People Who Aren’t As Committed To The Church As You Are

Help them find a ministry that matches their current level of commitment and stretches them just a little bit beyond.

No one is as committed to our local church as we are, pastor.< br/>
Well, almost no one. There’s Jesus, of course. And we might have some hard-core members who live, breathe and die by their congregational involvement.

But the average member – even the most consistent attender – won’t be as committed as we are.

So what do we do when someone wants to help out, maybe even lead in the church, but they’re not showing the level of commitment we’d like to see?

Help them find a ministry that matches their current level of commitment and stretches them just a little bit beyond.

Here’s an illustration to help us imagine what that looks like. Read More

Welcoming God Into the Worship Gathering

The other day, we had a family over to our house for supper. Things were going pretty well, but it got really awkward during our meal. My wife and I actually refused to serve them because they didn’t have the common courtesy to let us know we were welcome in our own home. In fact, until they gave us permission to do work and serve them, we all just awkwardly sat there.

You are likely confused by the previous paragraph. Why in the world would we be so offended that our guests didn’t let us know we were welcome in our own home?

But you likely aren’t confused by singing worship songs or prayers to open worship services that let God know that He is welcome in the place. But that’s just as strange to me. Why in the world would we tell the One who owns the place that He’s "welcome in this place"?

I suppose I understand part of the reason why we do this. It’s part of having a humble posture toward the Lord. It’s our way of saying we don’t want to run from God and want to have a relationship with Him. I think it’s also our way of saying, along with Jesus, “Not my will but yours be done.” So, I get it. But it’s a bit awkward and probably a bit backwards theologically. Read More

Lose Conversion, Lose Christianity: A Panel Discussion [Podcast]

The cultural forces pushing against the Christian teaching on conversion are intense. Just consider the claims of naturalism, the call to respect all religions, and contemporary ideas of tolerance. But surely the power of a church’s witness depends on people who have been supernaturally changed. How do we talk about something that both offends and gives hope? Do we call people to convert? How critical is repentance? Can they belong before they believe? Listen Now

Confessions of a Reluctant Witness

Why do I still stink at sharing my faith after all these years of ministry? When I do reluctantly break out of my ministry huddle to talk about the ultimate love of my life, I always feel the presence of God, yet these evangelistic moments are too few and far between.

This humbling reminder came yesterday on my way out of a gym when I said “hello” to a couple of young guys who were talking by my Jeep in the parking lot. One guy I knew well and the other was a college student whom I had never met or had any intention of meeting. They are a dime a dozen at that gym. Read More

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Worship and Church Replanting and Revitalization

Why, What, and How We Sing Matters

One of the primary and foundational steps in replanting a dying church is to get the hearts of the remaining members to warm once again to the gospel. As we often say rather than seeing the remaining members as an obstacle to your ministry, know that the remaining members are your first ministry in replanting. Read More

Evaluating Worship Services

I have found there is a helpful way to evaluate the worship services of a particular Lord’s day and train young men for this aspect of pastoral ministry at the same time. It is something we call, “service review.” Read More

5 Ways to Transition Worship in a Replant

As a church, you need find your lane, and know what are you are capable of doing well. You cannot be like the mega-church across town or the hip church plant in the school just a few miles away. Your church is what it is, but that doesn’t mean you have to accept status quo or poor execution. Read More

The Importance of Mindset in Revitalization - Revitalize & Replant #021

Revitalization is difficult work and requires a mindset that understands that growth takes time and is not always automatic. Today we unpack the reasons why mindset is so important to successful revitalization. Listen Now
Gracious Lord, open my eyes to what your resources are for my church. Help me to see how you have provided everything my church needs.

3 Ways I Plan to Read the Bible Less in 2018

Let us strive, every year we live, to become more deeply acquainted with Scripture. – J. C. Ryle
Regularly reading God’s Word is one of the most important things we can do. We live in a world that constantly tells us lies that our hearts are prone to trust. But in his mercy, God has given us his Word to guide and guard us. He has “granted to us his precious and very great promises” to renew our minds and refresh our hearts (2 Pet. 1:4). As much as we need food to live physically, we need God’s Word to live spiritually (Matt. 4:4).

The dawn of a new year offers a natural time to recommit to regularly reading the Bible. Of course, there’s nothing magical about a new year, but we do tend to think about changes that will grow us in Christlikeness.

One change I’ve made the past few years is that I plan to read less of the Bible each year. I’ve found less can actually be more.

Since becoming a Christian in 1999, I’ve followed a read-the-Bible-in-a-year plan. I’ve enjoyed it, but honestly, I’ve never finished one.

Some years I’ve made it farther than others, and by God’s grace, I’ve never gone more than a few days without spending time in his Word. But I’ve also been riddled with guilt for failing to finish the plan, and I’ve rushed through portions just to check it off. Earlier in my walk with the Lord, the guilt was debilitating, and it sometimes lingers today. Read More
There are many different schemes for read the Bible. I have used a number of them. If you adopt the spiritual discipline of praying the Daily Offices every day, you are likely to read all or most of the Bible in a year, depending on the Daily Office Lectionary that you use.

In Thomas Cranmer's plan the New Testament was to be read through twice in a year; the Old Testament once, and the Psalter every thirty days. Cranmer's plan, however, was not so much a private Bible reading plan as a public one. Cranmer believed in the transforming power of God's Word and it was his expectation that the people would join their pastor when he read the offices of Morning and Evening Prayer. The pastor was directed to ring the church bell to summon the people to the Daily Offices.

When reading the Bible privately, however, it is not necessary to read the entire Bible through every year. One may choose to "graze" in certain parts of the Bible - the Psalms, Proverbs, the Prophets, the Gospels, the Epistles, and so on. Every five years or so, one should, however, read the entire Bible though from beginning to end. It is good to be familiar with the whole Bible and not just parts of it - to hear the whole counsel of God.

A common way that people misinterpret the Bible is by reading a text in isolation from what is written elsewhere in the Bible. This is why it important to have more than a passing acquaintance with the whole Bible.

One thing we should take great care to avoid is treating our reading of the Bible as if we are performing a good work. Rather our Bible reading should be motivated by a desire to know and obey God and to grow in our relationship with him.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

TGC’s Leaders Share 5 Challenges and 5 Opportunities Facing the Church

As we look back on 2017 and look forward to 2018, many evangelicals are confused and concerned, worried about trends in the broader culture and also within their churches. They see a deepening secularism, threats to religious liberty, and growing cultural hostility to biblical Christianity. But some see the threats from within the church as even more worrisome.

Are evangelicals sacrificing principles for power, reverence for relevance, and costly obedience for convenient comfort? Is the church’s identity becoming more political than theological? Are we losing our grip on the gospel? Who speaks for and provides leadership to an increasingly fragmented evangelicalism?

I asked The Gospel Coalition’s leaders—Don Carson (president), Tim Keller (vice president), Kevin DeYoung (board chairman), and Ben Peays (executive director)—to weigh in on these and other challenges facing today’s church, and what TGC is doing to help address these challenges. Read More

Leading A Church Through Seasons And Cycles – And How To Know The Difference

We can’t control the seasons of our life, or of the church we're called to lead, but we can do something about the cycles.

Every church goes through different seasons and cycles.

Knowing and appreciating the differences between them is essential to leading a church to greater health and effectiveness.

While seasons and cycles are both ways to describe the rhythms of rising and falling, ebb and flow, give and take, each of them requires a different mindset, different methods and different expectations.

Here’s the essential difference between seasons and cycles:

We can’t control the seasons of life, but we can do something about the cycles. Read More

When Tradition Obscures Mission

I remember sitting in a local church leadership meeting of mainly older Christians as, for almost an hour, they discussed whether to move the coffee pot and the area where they served cookies from one part of their fellowship hall to another. Changing the location was breaking a tradition.

At first, I thought I was going insane listening to this, but as my emotions calmed, my heart was moved to see they were dear followers of Jesus who were just used to a certain way of doing things, and to think of doing them any other way was difficult.

That may be an extreme example, but what about the not-so-extreme examples in the church today, where we resist change, even at the expense of mission? It’s funny how church traditions once may have been very effective, but now may go against the reason they even started in the first place. Read More
The history of the organ is a dark one. The earliest form of organ was built in the third century BC. Water pressure was used to provide a wind supply to a set of pipes. This instrument was not only played in the arenas of the Roman Empire but also in its temples and brothels. The early Christians were thrown to the lions as the hydraulis as it was known played in the background. Bullocks, rams, and pigeons were slaughtered and then offered as burnt offerings to the pagan gods of Rome to organ music. The feasts and orgies that followed these sacrifices were also accompanied by organ music. Organ music entertained the waiting customers at Roman brothels and covered the pleas and cries of young girls and boys who were one of the attractions at these brothels. It is not surprising that the early Church banned the use of the organ and other musical instruments such as the tabor, the lyre, and the nose flute in Christian worship. The latter were also played in Roman arenas, temples, and brothels.

Little by little various pagan customs and practices would become a part of Christian worship. They include (but are not limited to) the lighting of candles, the burning of incense, the singing of Kyrie Eleison, processions, the veneration of icons, relics, and statues, circle-dancing, labyrinth-walking, pilgrimages to holy sites, and incubation, "the religious practice of sleeping in a sacred area with the intention of experiencing a divinely inspired dream or cure."

Creating Worship Songs for a Welcoming Community

Isaac Wardell’s latest collaborative project, The Porter’s Gate, marks a change from Bifrost Arts.

Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ, for he is going to say, “I came as a guest, and you received me.” And to all let due honor be shown, especially to the domestics of the faith and to pilgrims. … Let the head be bowed or the whole body prostrated on the ground in adoration of Christ, who indeed is received in their persons. — The Holy Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 53, “On the Reception of Guests” Read More

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

10 Projections for the Church in 2018

With one week left in this year, here are some trends to consider for 2018.... Read More

Rhinos, Rabbits, and the Challenges of Multiplying a Church Planting Movement

Partnering together for the sake of the gospel

It is unfortunate, but the White Rhino appears to be on a trajectory to extinction. And there’s little wonder why. Human and environmental factors aside, the rhino has a built-in malefactor that hinders their own proliferation—a gestation period of 16 to 18 months. It takes a year and a half for a rhino to have a baby, meaning that even if all others variables are ideal, the birth rate is going to be excruciatingly slow.

Yet, all other factors are never ideal, so some rhino babies do not make it to birth, while others die soon after. As a result, you’re unlikely to hear about rapid rhino multiplication. Instead, expensive and painstaking management is required simply to avoid extinction.

Contrast rhinos with rabbits. The animal’s name itself has become a synonymous symbol for rapid multiplication. Why? Rabbits have a gestation period of 31 days—one month. This system of rapid multiplication allows the rabbit to persist and flourish despite various environmental impediments that should cause its demise. Read More

The Unique Church

Too often, ministers foolishly embrace the ecclesiastical advice of those who know absolutely nothing about the specific arrangement of the local church they pastor. A pastor is animated by an article in which today's latest "church expert" insists that he or she has the corner on what should be done in every church. All the while, he forgets that that those writing such articles often know absolutely nothing about the various personal, cultural, industrial, socio-economic, religious, ethnic or age dynamics represented by the town in which each local church is set. There are a myriad of ways in which unhelpful assessments of the local church occur today--precisely because most people are not taking into account the fact that every local church has its own unique challenges and characteristics. Read More

4 Things You Can’t Do without Systematic Theology

Before we can understand why systematic theology is essential, we must first understand what it is. There’s no single definition of systematic theology, but at its heart it’s the discipline captured by the phrase “faith seeking understanding.”

Systematic theology builds on the results of biblical theology. Biblical theology is the exegetical discipline that seeks to grasp the entirety of Scripture as the unfolding of God’s plan from Genesis to Revelation. Starting with Scripture as God’s Word written through human authors—our final authority (sola scriptura) for what we think about God, ourselves, and the world—biblical theology seeks to “put together” the entire canon in a way that’s true to God’s intent.

Systematic theology then applies the truths gained in biblical theology to every aspect of our lives. It leads to doctrinal formulation—what we ought to believe and how we ought to live—warranted by the canon and done in light of historical theology.

In this way, systematic theology constructs a well-thought-out worldview that enables the church rightly “to think God’s thoughts after him” and to set biblical truth over against its worldview competitors. The goal of systematic theology is “to bring every thought captive to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:1–5) for our good, for the life and health of the church, and most significantly for God’s glory.

Here are four critical things we can’t do without systematic theology. Read More

Bible Reading Plans for 2018

Many Christians take the beginning of a new year to evaluate their Bible reading habits, and then change or begin a Bible reading plan.
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. (Psalm 119:105)
For your convenience, we’ve compiled a list of Bible reading plans for you to choose from. Maybe in 2018 you will read more of the Bible each day. Perhaps you’ll slow down your reading and instead spend more time considering what you read. Whatever it is you’re looking for in a reading plan, you should find it below.... Read More

Monday, December 25, 2017

Reflections on a Cold Winter Night

On Christmas Eve I joined another small church pastor and his wife in celebrating the birth of our Savior. Their organist was out of town so I brought along my portable CD player and my collection of hymn accompaniment CDs.

Theirs is a rural church. A portable generator provides electricity to light the building and propane gas heaters provide warmth to heat it. The temperature had been dropping all day. By the time I arrived at their church it was below freezing.

The building is on a windy hill with no trees to protect it from the wind. The wind was howling around the church. Even with the heaters going full blast, the interior of the building did not warm up.

We were the only people in attendance. A pickup truck pulled up in front of the building and then drove off. My pastor friend had expected a light turnout. He hazarded that the cold must have kept away anyone who might have come.

Undaunted we sang Christmas carols and celebrated the Holy Eucharist. We listened again to the Christmas story and reflected upon how the early Church had picked December 25 as the day on which to celebrate Jesus’ birth. We gave thanks for Christ’s saving death on the cross and shared the sacrament of his Body and Blood. After the service, we gathered in the fellowship hall and warmed ourselves with hot apple cidar and hot rooibos tea.

When I left the building, the grass crunched under my feet. It had frozen during the service. I drove home, thankful for the heater in my car.

As I was writing this article, I remembered this prayer from Prayers For The Church Service League Of The Diocese Of Massachusetts Seventh Edition, Revised and Enlarged, 1952.

O Father Almighty and God of all comfort; Look with compassion, we beseech thee, upon the little companies of our faithful brethren who, in lonely places of the world, are striving to uphold the banner of the Cross. If the comfort of human sympathy seem far from them, be thou their close companion, and pour into their hearts the spirit of hope; that they may steadfastly persevere, and be of good courage because of thy word, knowing that their labor is not in vain; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. 

A very merry Christmas to you wherever you serve Christ. May he fill your lives brimming full with his joy and peace.

Another Small Church Christmas Eve – Was Yours Not So Merry And Bright?

You’re not the only pastor who experienced a tough Christmas Eve yesterday, or feels the weight of it today.

Christmas Eve has come and gone.

As you scroll through social media, you’re seeing all the rave reports from fellow pastors about full churches, beautiful productions and salvations.

But, while you’re happy for them, you don’t respond. Because, in the small church you serve, yesterday was hard. Again.

Instead of a bigger-than-usual crowd, your church building was downright barren because the church members who left for the holidays were not replaced by visitors.

Instead of a lavish musical production, the one or two musicians you do have (if you have any to begin with) were among those who left town to visit family.

And the bad weather didn’t help. Maybe in your church, the heater broke, or the weather blocked the roads. And maybe, while you put a post on Facebook saying you were sorry to have to cancel church on Christmas Eve, inside you were secretly relieved not to have to deal with it this year. Read More

What Worship Style Attracts Millennials?

My son, Jess Rainer, and I recently spoke in Texas on the topic of the Millennials, America’s largest generation of nearly 79 million persons. Because we co-authored a book entitled The Millennials, we have had the opportunity to speak on the subject on many occasions.

We reminded this audience in Dallas of the birth dates of this generation, 1980 to 2000, and then proceeded to share our research. We had commissioned LifeWay Research to survey 1,200 of the older Millennials; the researchers did an outstanding job. We have thus been able to share incredible amounts of data and insights from these young adults. Read More
Readers, please take note of this article from three years ago. Thom Rainer's earlier research showed that it was not the type of music that prompted the unchurched to start to attending a particular church but its quality. The conclusion that the unchurched drew from the quality of the music that the church took the worship of God seriously. That finding fits in with what Rainer writes in this post.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Saturday Lagniappe: "Four Essentials of a Great Christmas Eve Service" and More

Four Essentials of a Great Christmas Eve Service

Christmas Eve is the most likely time an unchurched person will walk into your worship space. It’s a huge opportunity. My fear is some churches go through the motions since Christmas Eve is the peak of busy season and volunteers are short in supply. Read More

9 Things You Should Know About Christmas Traditions

Christmas is the most widely observed cultural holiday in the world and one with a variety of long-practiced customs. Here are nine things you should know about Christmas traditions. Read More
The Cologne choirmaster story of the origin of the candy cane has been debunked. It has no truth to it. When I was a child, I did not encounter peppermint sticks in the shape of a cane or walking stick until I came to the United States at the age of 10.  My family thought that it was an American invention. We associated peppermint sticks, or sticks of "rock," as they were called in England with going to the seaside. They were about one-inch thick and the adults would break the stick of rock into pieces and share the pieces with my older brother and I. On our excursions to the seaside we not only bought a stick of rock but also fish and chips, sprinkled with salt and malt vinegar and wrapped in wax paper and newspaper. The sweets that I associate with Christmas are chocolate bars, gold foil wrapped chocolate coins, and pink sugar mice. 
Mary, Did You Know? What the Catholic Church Teaches about the Mother of Jesus

What should we make of Mary, the mother of Jesus the Messiah? Protestants and Catholics have strenuously disagreed for five hundred years. We need to understand the Catholic teaching about Mary before we consider why Protestants stand in opposition. Read More

3 Things Mary Knew About Her Baby Boy

New Testament writers don’t directly tell us how much Mary knew about what her son would accomplish. There are strong reasons for believing Mary wasn’t naïve in understanding who the Messiah would be and what he would accomplish. Read More

Your Christmas Eve message

A pastor’s Christmas Eve message will have a flavor all its own. Because of the relaxed nature of the evening, the sermon is often directed toward the child in all of us. Hence, the following.... Read More

Looking For A Last-Minute Christmas Sermon Idea? Keep It Simple, Keep It Weird

One of the challenges of preaching for Christmas is holding two very different truths in hand without falling into one of two traps. Read More

4 Church Trends That Make Me Uncomfortable

Landon Coleman shares four church trends that make him uncomfortable. Read More

What Did Jesus Believe About the Bible?

While there is a great deal that could be said about what Jesus believed about the Bible, any honest treatment of the subject will likely start with these 3 observations.... Read More

How to Share Your Story This Christmas: Counsel from Charles Spurgeon

Long before the digital age, in preparing hearts for this missional potential, Charles Spurgeon preached a sermon to prepare his growing church for the coming Christmas season. On Sunday morning, December 21, 1856, his message “Going Home” encouraged each member of his congregation to humbly, wisely, and appropriately find opportunities to share their personal testimony with family and friends. Read More

Friday, December 22, 2017

Do You Believe in a Santa Christ?

In Sinclair Ferguson’s book, In Christ Alone, he shares the sad reality that many Christians have a Christology that is more informed by Santa Claus than Scripture. For them, the message of the incarnation has been so twisted or diluted that they have in fact created for themselves a savior who is nothing more than a Santa Christ.

As you prayerfully read Sinclair Ferguson’s words, ask yourself the following question this Christmas season: “Do I believe in a Santa Christ?” Read More

Why Did Jesus Come in the Flesh?
Apocalypse at Christmastime
The Truth about St. Nicholas?

The Other Christmas Birth

The Christmas story contains the narratives of two miraculous births, both recorded in Luke 1 and both announced by the angel Gabriel. The births of Jesus and John the Baptist are intrinsically connected to each other in Scripture as God promised the Messiah would be preceded by a forerunner (Malachi 4). I’m not saying both births are equally important, but each is crucially important in its own way.

For over 400 years after this promise, God remained silent while the Jews expectantly waited and looked for both to arrive. To this day, when our Jewish friends observe Passover they still set a place and leave an empty chair for Elijah. Luke records in detail the important story of the forerunner John the Baptist, starting with his father Zechariah the priest. Read More

Image: Public Domain

6 Ways Isaiah Prepares Us for Christmas [Podcast]

On today’s podcast, TGC president Don Carson shares thoughts on how to understand the prophecies in Isaiah that point to the promised Messiah, Jesus Christ. Listen Now

The Holy Ghost of Christmas Past, Present, and Future

Our Christmas stories may be missing their most important character

Our Christmas cards, carols, and crèches delight in the characters of the Christmas story. In pageants, there are a lot of parts to go around: Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus; the angels, shepherds, and Magi; perhaps even Elizabeth and Zechariah, Simeon and Anna. But for all the times and ways the story is told, one key participant is almost impossible to find: the Holy Spirit. Read More

Finding the Right Rhythm in Your Preaching Ministry - Rainer on Leadership #391 [Podcast]

One of the most frequently asked questions Thom Rainer gets deals with how to find time for sermon preparation. The key if finding a rhythm in your prep. Today Dr. Rainer and Jonathan Howe discuss how. Listen Now

The Power of Preaching Teams
While team preaching can be an effective way of sharing the preaching load at a church, the preachers on the team need to be on the same page theologically. They also need to plan together what they are going to preach. Leaving to each individual pastor to decide what he is going to preach is not an effective way of helping the members of a congregation grow as disciples of Jesus Christ.

How To Begin A Bible-Reading Habit in 2018

If you intend to read through the Bible in 2018 now is the time to get started. Habits are not formed in a day – it takes a little bit of time and preparation. Here are a few hints and suggestions that might be helpful in getting you up and on your way. Read More

Tim Challies discusses biblical literacy [Podcast]

Ten Worship Leading Essentials at Christmas Time

Songs have been chosen, arrangements have been written, the copies have been made, rehearsals are happening, and Christmas Eve/Christmas Day is fast approaching.

Being involved in leading worship at Christmas time, especially for the big services with more visitors than usual, and more pressure than most other services during the year, can be stressful, exhausting, and exhilarating.

Here are ten things not to forget this Christmas when you’re standing before your congregation.... Read More

Serve Your Community with Abandon

Doing service alongside members of your community who are not churchgoers is one way of building relationships with them, relationships which foster interpersonal trust and receptivity to the gospel and may eventually yield opportunities for gospel conversations.

Serving your community has the added benefit of improving the public image of your church in the community. It may pique the curiosity of the unchurched and prompt a visit to your church.

To Millenials who are interested in helping others, it conveys the message that your church may be the church for them.

You may want to undertake short-term local service projects at first. If things do not go as you hoped, do not let that discourage you.

The key is "not to put your eggs in one basket" but to undertake a number of local service projects, short-term and long-term. Keep your expectations realistic.

Undertaking long-term local service projects will in the long run establish better connections between your church and your community and will produce greater results - both for your church and for your community.

Take Mark Clifton's advice,"Serve your community with abandon."

Here are a number of ways to serve your community from Outreach Magazine.

Check out Outreach Magazine's "Try This" idea starters.

Today’s Evangelists Face a Crisis of Confidence

Why “post-Christian America” hasn’t surpassed the need for straightforward apologetics.

Years ago I had a conversation with a TV host on the topic of faith. He is not a Christian. In fact, he makes a point of emphasizing that he is not religious.

I explained my vocation as a Christian evangelist and apologist and asked this journalist for his advice. He took a few steps back and looked at me. “You have a tough job. You try to convince people who don’t believe to believe,” he said. “Here’s what I would say to you: Don’t try to convince people who do not believe to believe. People who do not believe are not going to believe, and you just have to be fine with that!”

These words seemed to sound the death knell to my entire project, and I couldn't hide my discouragement as I left the studio that day. My friend’s attitude toward belief describes how many people, both believers and unbelievers, view Christian evangelism.

Even within the church, even among evangelicals, we have begun to diminish the work of evangelism. We emphasize good things like relationships and charity outreach but question the work of traditional apologetics, of speaking the gospel in hopes of convincing another that it is true. (Think of the commonly quoted line: “Preach the gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.”)

But when we diminish the work of evangelism and apologetics—as ineffective or as a secondary concern—we cheapen the gospel itself. If we believe the gospel is good news, true for all people, we cannot give up on making the case for our beliefs.

With the rise of secularism, sure, the church faces new challenges. But I’m convinced that what we need is not innovative methods or answers. We need fresh confidence in the gospel. Read More

Stephen Noll: Fisking Bishop Fearon: The Lambeth Establishment Takes on the Global South

Three remarkable letters appeared this past week from Anglican sources: one from Nicholas Okoh, the Primate of Nigeria and Chairman of the GAFCON Primates Council; another from twelve Primates of the Global South Network, chaired by Mouneer Anis, the Bishop of Egypt and former Primate. and a third from Bishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon, General Secretary of the Anglican Consultative Council.

These letters have to do with an important question: who is an Anglican, and in particular what is the status of the Anglican Church in North America? The answers of the three authors could not be more divergent. Read More

Thursday, December 21, 2017

5 Trends in Microchurches

If you were a parent at Northland Church just outside Orlando, and your high school child asked to be part of a microchurch, what would you say? That’s their youth division’s term for groups that “gather as a family through eating, reading the Word, and being on mission to impact our school for God’s glory.”

If the term is new to you, whether applied to youth or adults, you wouldn’t be alone. And if you’ve encountered the word, but with a different meaning, you wouldn’t be alone either.

A number of churches are pioneering different models of microchurch. The idea is still fluid but most users mean something like this: a microchurch is an intentionally simple, streamlined approach to church that’s often small, volunteer led and informal in style. Typically these spiritual communities involve five to 35 people.

In most cases, they don’t meet in a church building but in a home, a restaurant or another neutral place. Most emphasize that the mission of the church needs to be better known than the church as an institution. Many capitalize on the strengths of small-scale ministry dynamics to give maximum focus on Christian discipleship.

There is overlap between the microchurch idea and terms like minichurch, simple church, organic church, house church, hybrid church, greenhouse church and missional church—none of which has a universally accepted definition.

Here are five trends I see from the various front-line churches I meet through Leadership Network.... Read More

Jonathan Leeman and Bob Ditman: The Chnaging Face of Evangelicalism in the United States

Do Evangelicals Need a Better Gospel?

There has been a lot of talk in recent days about “evangelical” and whether that’s a political or cultural label, a theological label, or inescapably both.

I don’t presume to have the perfectly objective perspective. But let me lay out what I see from my corner, and then tell you the three things I’m willing to roll up my sleeves and fight for.

First, I saw the pollsters tell us that 81 percent of white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump, and a similar percentage in Alabama voted for Roy Moore. Oh boy. I knew a storm was coming.

Second, I saw many younger Christians and Christians of color feel betrayed by these votes and begin to say, “Let’s be done with evangelicals.”

Third, I heard older and often whiter evangelicals (like me?) responding, “Wait a second. There’s a difference between ‘evangelical’ as a theological label and ‘evangelical’ as a political or cultural movement. Please don’t draw too many conclusions from those who tell pollsters they’re ‘evangelical.’ Many of them aren’t. Please don’t give up on the gospel.”

And finally, I’ve heard the younger crowd reply, “Hold on. You don’t get off the hook that easy. Our theology always shapes our politics. So check your gospel. It’s too individualistic, too blind to Christ’s work of reconciling the nations, too indifferent to matters of justice.” Read More

Tim Keller on What It Means to Be an Evangelical

What is an evangelical? Tim Keller’s December 19, 2017, article in The New Yorker effectively explains what it means to be an evangelical–a term that is often misunderstood in our greater culture. Yet it’s a term that many are trying to define and even dismiss.

Type “evangelical demise” or a similar term into your Google search bar and you’ll find no shortage of articles: “The Coming Evangelical Collapse,” “Will Evangelicalism Survive Its Own Popularity?” “Can Evangelicalism Survive in the Context of Free Inquiry?” Indeed, critics appear obsessed with predicting the death of evangelicalism.

Yet what do critics, pollsters, and evangelicals themselves mean by the term “evangelical”? Keller outlines the history of “little-e evangelicalism” with its tenets and motivations and “big-E Evangelicalism” in his provocatively titled article, “Can Evangelicalism Survive Donald Trump and Roy Moore?”

Keller writes that “understanding the religious landscape requires discerning differences between the smaller, let’s call it ‘big-E Evangelicalism’ which gets much media attention, and a much larger, ‘little-e evangelicalism,’ which does not.”

By understanding what’s at the heart of evangelicalism, all of us may be able to see beyond the labels. Read More

Must Christians Believe in the Virgin Birth?

With December 25 fast approaching, the secular media are sure to turn their interest once again to the virgin birth. Every Christmas, weekly news magazines and various editorialists engage in a collective gasp that so many Americans could believe such an unscientific, supernatural doctrine. For some, the belief that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin is nothing less than evidence of intellectual dimness. One writer for the New York Times put the lament plainly: “The faith in the Virgin Birth reflects the way American Christianity is becoming less intellectual and more mystical over time.”

Does belief in the virgin birth make Christians “less intellectual?” Are we saddled with an untenable doctrine? Can a true Christian deny the virgin birth, or is the doctrine an essential component of the Gospel revealed to us in Scripture?

The doctrine of the virgin birth was among the first to be questioned and then rejected after the rise of historical criticism and the undermining of biblical authority that inevitably followed. Critics claimed that since the doctrine is taught in “only” two of the four Gospels, it must be optional. The apostle Paul, they argued, did not mention it in his sermons in Acts, so he must not have believed it. Besides, the critics argued, the doctrine is just so supernatural. Modern heretics like retired Episcopal bishop John Shelby Spong argue the doctrine was just evidence of the early church’s over-claiming of Christ’s deity. It is, Spong tells us, the “entrance myth” to go with the resurrection, the “exit myth.” If only Spong were a myth.

Now, even some revisionist evangelicals claim that belief in the virgin birth is unnecessary. The meaning of the miracle is enduring, they argue, but the historical truth of the doctrine is not important. Read More
Pathogenesis and asexual reproduction occurs in higher animals in nature. 21st century scientists have cloned livestock, fertilized eggs with genetical material from the mother, modified the genetics of animals and plants, and produced animal-plant hybrids. Why then does the belief that the Holy Spirit overshadowed a young Jewish woman and caused her to conceive seem so incredible to many people? While at the time of the rise of historical criticism in the nineteenth century , virgin birth might have appeared to have been a scientific impossibility , it certainly does not today. I think that Dr.Mohler may have put his finger on the crux of the matter in connecting acceptance of virgin birth with acceptance of Jesus as the Christ.

Chuck Lawless and Christianity Today on Church Leadership

10 Areas Where Church Leaders Experience "Spiritual Numbness"

Physical numbness is usually a sign of something wrong. Sometimes it’s a minor issue that can be addressed easily, and other times it’s a more serious issue—but it’s an issue either way. On a spiritual level, we church leaders sometimes develop numbness toward differing issues, too. Here are some of the areas where I’ve seen church leaders develop spiritual neuropathy. Read More

6 Ways to Lead Your Church Well in 2018

Talking about leadership is easy, but doing it is another story. We're here to help.

Everyone wants to be a great leader. Nowhere is that call more important than in the local church, where often the pastor is looked at to lead their church in inspiring and expectation-defying ways. Meanwhile, books on leadership tend to give broad advice that can be relatively difficult to apply in the local church setting.

We’re here to help.

Below is the best advice from CT Pastors on leading your church well. Whether you’re trying to raise up new leaders, lead into your strengths, or cast vision for the new year, we’ve got you covered. Read More

Should Your Praise Set Be Before or After the Sermon?

I recently visited a church who prides themselves in always doing their praise sets after the sermon. In fact, the Sunday I visited, the pastor explained in great detail why they do this (does this explanation happen every Sunday?) – they want to give the congregation the opportunity to “respond” to the message (as in musically – we’re not talking about going forward while singing “Just As I Am.”)

Great! So let’s see how this works out in real life. I sat through a fantastic sermon that really got me thinking – it hit home in a powerful way. Then, the praise set started and the feeling that immediately came over me was one of… annoyance.

I felt literally annoyed to be singing. I did not want to sing. I did not want to learn new songs (I recognized one out of the three songs in their praise set.) Read More
The best places to do a praise set in liturgical worship would make a good article. A number of Anglican, Lutheran, and Roman Catholic churches do praise sets at one or more points in their celebrations of the Holy Eucharist. At St. Michael’s (Episcopal) in the 1980s and 1990s we sung simple “gathering songs” before the entrance procession, beginning with fast-tempo, upbeat songs of praise and moving to slower, quieter songs of adoration. We also had an extended period of praise and adoration after the distribution of Communion. St.Peter’s (Roman Catholic) at its Sunday Night Youth Mass in the same time period did a praise set after the Gloria in Excelsis. It also had a period of extended praise and adoration after the distribution of Communion. The Youth Mass was very popular not only with Catholic youth but also with youth from other denominations and was heavily attended.

Not-So-White Evangelicalism: How Conservative Denominations Actually Fare Better on Diversity

Study examines multiethnic friendships and worship among American churchgoers.

Hip-hop artist Lecrae’s decision this fall to leave “white evangelicalism” stirred up introspection among American Christians about race—and whether evangelicalism is reserved only for whites.

While many evangelicals of color may feel tired of “begging to be noticed, considered, and invited,” they are having an impact, recent research shows.

In the United States today, 1 in 3 self-identified evangelicals is nonwhite, according to a September study from PRRI. This rises to 4 in 10 evangelicals when measured by theological belief, according to a December study from LifeWay Research.

Of those that are white, 1 in 3 attends a multiracial church, reported another study, published in June in the Review of Religious Research. Read More

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

5 Popular Misconceptions About the Christmas Story

The Midwinter Horn
We experience the story of Jesus’s birth in a variety of ways throughout the Christmas season. The story is presented through nativity scenes, TV shows, story books, paintings, and Christmas pageants.

In fact, we encounter the Christmas story so often we’re convinced we know all the details of what happened that night. But many of the things we think we “know” about the Christmas story turn out to be incorrect.

Here are five common misconceptions. Read More
In the 1980s I attended a seminar on the origins of the liturgical year (also known as the Christian Year and the Church Year) given by Dr. Thomas J. Talley, an internationally renowned scholar on the liturgical year, and sponsored by the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana. Dr. Talley took issue with the popular claim that Christmas was originally a pagan holiday and showed from his extensive research how the early Christians had actually decided upon December 25th as the date for the celebration of the Feast of the Nativity. He published his conclusions in his opus, The Origins of the Liturgical Year. Despite Dr. Talley's seminal work on the origins of Christmas and other major church festivals, many Christian pastors and writers who should know better continue to perpetuate the myth that Christmas has pagan origins.

Among the various Advent and Christmas customs found around the world is the Dutch and North German custom of sounding the midwinter horn from the beginning of Advent to the Feast of the Epiphany. While some claim the practice, like Christmas, is pagan in origin, the folklorist J. J. Voskuil traced the origin of the practice to medieval nativity plays that were popular in the region and which depicted horn-blowing shepherds. Here, here, and here are videos of the sounding of the midwinter horn.

The Virgin Birth: What’s the Problem Exactly?

Why evangelicals don’t fuss over this doctrine.

I’m taking a break from a strict logical progression in this series because of the holy day we’re already thinking about this week. I thought it better to discuss the evangelical distinctive that has immediate relevance to Christmas.

Before we explore that topic, let me reiterate the purpose and scope of this series. We continue to receive feedback that this attempt to rehabilitate the term evangelical is foolish, as the term has been irretrievably damaged by our current political ecosystem. This is not, however, an attempt to recover the term as such. My aim is only to explain what we mean by it and the type of Christian and lived Christian faith it has represented and continues to represent in Christian history. And one thing it has certainly meant is a belief in the virginal conception of Jesus Christ in the womb of Mary—what is normally shorted to “the Virgin Birth.”

This was one of the most-discussed doctrines in 20th-century American evangelicalism, especially in its fundamentalist context. Fundamentalism itself was a response to the skepticism engendered by the rise of historical-critical scholarship coming out of Europe. Many leading Christian scholars were doubting not merely six-day creationism but also classic Christian doctrines like Jesus’ bodily resurrection and his virgin birth, that is, the miraculous in general. The response of conservative Christians in America coalesced in a book called The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth, published by the Bible Institute of Los Angeles (today’s Biola University). It was eventually a 12-volume work that not only defended orthodox Protestant beliefs but also critiqued higher criticism, liberal theology, “Romanism,” socialism, Modernism, and other -isms. Read More

Was the Virgin Birth Copied from Other Religions? [Video]
God’s Revealed Truth Is Something We Discover, Not Invent

Zero-Based Church Scheduling

Your church may be too busy.

Indeed your church calendar may be so full you have rendered much of the activity of the members ineffective. It’s time to start fresh.

I am proposing you dump everything on your church calendar. Okay, I’m not serious. But I am serious about your hypothetically cleaning the calendar. Let me g/>ive you my argument in a few bullet points.... Read More

Chuck Lawless and Jeremy Goldsborough on Christmas Eve Services and First Time Guests

Some Thoughts to Consider if Your Church Is Having a Christmas Eve Service? 

Just some quick thoughts to think about if your church is planning a Christmas Eve service this weekend.... Read More

7 Simple Ways to Wow First Time Church Visitors

In your quest for church growth, here are 7 simple but attainable ways to make sure those first time church visitors don’t become one time church visitors. Read More
As someone who spent 14 odd years in pioneering new churches (not counting the church that I helped to start the 1980s and where I ministered for 15 years) and who spent 5 or more years in guest services and hospitality ministry during that time,  I have come to prefer "guests" to "visitors" in describing those who are attending my church for the first time or returning a second or third time or even those attending my church on a regular basis. It has been my experience that we relate to people differently when we view them as guests rather than visitors. We welcome guests to our home. On the other hand, we may be indifferent or even hostile toward visitors. Whether guests come to our church only one time or return again and again, we should embody the hospitality that Christ showed toward all kinds of people when he walked this earth.

Opening Your Home (& Heart) to Singles This Holiday Season

Reach out to those who are alone this time of year

People who find themselves solo this Christmas season need to know they are loved and remembered. You could be the vessel through which they are shown the love of Jesus and encounter hope, peace, and joy this Christmas. Read More

This Christmas, I’m Defining Family by My Single Friends

Big Families May Get Bigger Tax Bills Under New Plan - UPDATED

But evangelicals cheer higher child tax credit.

Projections indicate that the majority of married couples with zero, one, or two kids using the standard deduction under the new GOP tax plan would end up owing less each April. But what if you have three, five, or seven kids?

Big families, including pro-life religious conservatives with plenty of offspring, may be less likely to see a tax cut under the new plan, which the House of Representatives passed on Tuesday. The Senate also passed the measure early Wednesday morning, and the House will re-vote on changes later today before sending it to the President for approval before Christmas. Read More

New: The most surprising winners from Trump’s ‘America First’ tax plan are not American
New: The Trojan Horse in the Tax Bill
Poll: Trump and GOP never intended to strike a bipartisan tax deal
Steve Israel: The GOP just bet their majority on a tax plan no one likes
GOP Poised For Tax Victory, After A Brief Delay

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

10 Community Questions Pastors Should Be Prepared to Answer

When I do a church consultation, I usually want to know if pastoral leaders know the answers to the questions below. Too often, they don’t—and that finding usually coincides with finding a church that is inwardly focused. Read More