Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The 3 Great Missionary Confusions

If you lived in a reasonably sized city in the United States, and you gathered 100 Protestant pastors in one room, what would they be like?

There would be significant differences. Some would see their ministerial work anchored in the gospel, others would be out of biblical orbit, and, sadly, some would be unregenerate.

The same breakdown would be true for modern-day missionaries. Vast differences would exist among them—about what they do and why they do it. Sadly, some would be unregenerate.

Confusion over modern missions is why churches must ensure their missionaries have rock-solid missiological underpinnings before they ever set foot on the field.

I’ve been involved in missions work for three decades, and I’ve found three consistent and critical missionary confusions. Read More
These observations apply missions in our own backyard as well as missions in other regions and countries.

The Disappearance of the ‘Mushy Middle’

“In what ways is the current cultural climate forcing the ‘mushy middle’ out of the church?”

Yeah, that’s a great question. And it kind of goes back to the seeker sensitive question. We all wanted in on that one because that’s where we live. But one of the interesting things to note is that there aren’t that many new seeker-sensitive churches because that fit a certain cultural moment when people were saying to unbelievers, “You can gain a bit of social capital by coming to join with us. There’s some value added to your life if you come and join with us. If you just come and be with us, we’ll add meaning and spirituality to your life in a non-threatening way.”

But in the hardening secularization that we are now experiencing people are going to pay social capital to hang around with anyone believes the gospel of Jesus Christ. They’re going to forfeit social capital. They’re going to run a risk for being member of our churches.... Read More

3 Things Christians Do That Non-Christians Despise

Spend two minutes talking to almost anyone outside the Christian faith and you’re almost certain to hear a list of complaints they have about Christians.

The problem has been around awhile. As Mahatma Ghandi famously (and sadly) said: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

He’s not alone.

The problem with many non-Christians isn’t that they don’t know any Christians. The challenge is they do.

So what gives?

Many Christians would tell you we have an image problem: we’re treated unfairly, we’re being persecuted, or we’re just badly misunderstood.

I’m not so sure.

It’s not so much that Christians have an image problem. It’s far more likely that we have an integrity problem.

Do we get misunderstood on some issues? Of course. But that’s outside our control.

There are more than a few issues entirely within our control that give us a bad name with people outside Christianity.

Here are 3 things Christians do that non-Christians despise. Read More

Christians, Repent (Yes, Repent) of Spreading Conspiracy Theories and Fake News—It's Bearing False Witness

Try this instead: Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.

Conspiracy theories are nothing new—they’ve been around for centuries.

People love to speculate on hidden meanings or to jump at the potential of juicy secrets. Unfortunately, when these things are unfounded, lies are told and people are hurt. And most unfortunately, Christians are often involved in perpetuating them.

And now I noticed that many of the same conservative Christians who shared about #pizzagate have been spreading the #SethRich conspiracy theory. And it’s time to call it out.

Simply put, the spreading of these conspiracies are hurting our witness and making Christians look, yet again, foolish.

And it’s time to repent.

Yes, repent.

You see, spreading the #SethRich conspiracies and fake news directly violates Scripture’s prohibition from bearing false witness against our neighbors. It devalues the name of Christ—whom we believe to be the very incarnation of truth—and it inflicts pain upon the people involved.

As Christians, we need to repent the perpetuation of these falsehoods. Read More

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Planting 1,000 Churches in Your Lifetime

Churches need to be planted and then quickly need to plant other churches.

In order to start a movement and plant 1,000 churches in your lifetime, you need to think about church planting through the lens of rabbits and elephants. Years ago, I remember preaching at a conference where I felt like the odd man out. It was like that song from Sesame Street, “One of these things is not like the others...” The conference was on church planting, but it seemed like every speaker had started a church that had grown to at least 5,000 people—and some 25,000.

When it was my turn to preach, I decided to shoot straight and say it like it was. “Now listen. This is probably not what you’re going to experience when you plant a church. When you drove onto this campus, you drove on four lane roads called ‘Purpose Drive’ and ‘Saddleback Parkway.’ When you got out of your car, people greeted you and music was playing in the background. And now look, you’re with 5,000 people in this room.

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t want to deter your faith. I don’t want to be
 that guy. But I need to be honest with you. This here can actually distract you from what God has called you to do. If you’re not careful, this conference can become ministry pornography for you—an unrealistic depiction of an experience that you’re never going to have, and one that distracts you from the real and amazing thing.”

As long as your goal is to plant a single, solitary elephant church like Saddleback, you’ll never get to 1,000 churches in your lifetime. We need more rabbits, without dismissing the elephants. (The Saddleback “elephant” has planted lots of churches, too.) Read More

The Pastor and Church Revitalization Featuring Andrew Davis - Rainer on Leadership #332 [Podcast]

Revitalization continues to be a topic of interest in churches, and today Andrew Davis, pastor of FBC Durham, NC, joins Thom Rainer and Jonathan Howe to talk about his journey of revitalization and his discipline of Scripture memorization. Listen Now

Z: The Most Important Generation? featuring Dr. James Emery White—Pastor Talk, Episode 12 [Podcast]

Dr. James White joins host Marty Duren to discuss themes in his book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World. Listen Now

Photo Credit: Strategic Human Insights.Com

Kirsty Birkett on Reformation Epistemology [Podcast]

Kirsty Birkett's St Antholin Lecture from this year's Church Society conference, on Reformation Epistemology.

Dr Kirsty Birkett is lecturer in philosophy and ethics at Oak Hill College, London and on the Council of Church Society. At this year’s St Antholin Lecture, Kirsty gave us a fascinating and insightful lecture about the impact of sin on the mind. How is that fallen minds can know anything accurately, let alone a holy God? The Reformation brought not only reform of doctrine and Church but also how we think. Listen Now

Why Was I So Hard On That Church I Visited?

Impacting our community for Jesus takes more than having a great worship service and solid, biblical teaching.

Last week’s blog post, Why Some Great Churches Never Impact Their Community, got a lot of feedback on Facebook, Twitter and email.

Several readers were concerned that I had been harder on the church than I needed to be. Their primary concerns were:

1. I made a snap judgment after just one visit

2. I was assuming they weren't reaching their community just because the church building was hard to find

3. Many churches use their building primary for worship, fellowship and training believers, with outreach happening off campus

4. Many small churches don’t have the finances to improve the building as much as they’d like Read More

9 Things You Should Know About Ramadan

Because Muslims account for 1.6 billion of our global neighbors, Christians need to become more aware of Ramadan and Islamic practices. Here are nine things you should know about Islam’s holiest month. Read More

Monday, May 29, 2017

10 Surprising Realities of Mission in New England

Although I moved in early 2015 to the Midwest, I left a big piece of my heart back in New England, the least-churched region of the nation, which, interestingly enough for a guy born and raised in the Bible Belt of the South, was the first place I really felt “at home.” I still hear regularly from folks interested in the future of church planting, revitalization, and gospel ministry in the New England states. Some have history with the region, some don’t. (I did not when I moved up to Vermont a little more than six years ago.) The following ten items are meant to help those praying and planning adjust their expectations in one respect or another.

Of course, some of these “realities” will seem as they if they go without saying to many, and none will be any surprise to native or long-time New Englanders. But I do think being advised against any ill-conceived preconception could be helpful to many. So, in no particular order.... Read More

Remembering Those Who Died in the Service of Their Country

From Frank Colquhoun's Parish Prayers:
Almighty and everlasting God, we give thee humble thanks for the memory and good example of those who have laid down their lives in the service of our country. We bless thee for their courage and devotion, even unto death. Accept their sacrifice, we beseech thee; let it not be in vain that they have died in the cause of righteousness and honor; and in thy mercy send thy peace into the hearts of all men everywhere; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
This special thanksgiving may be said before the General Thanksgiving at Morning Prayer or Evening Prayer or after the Collect of the Day or before the Blessing at Holy Communion. It also may be used by itself or in conjunction with other prayers at a special service to commemorate those who made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of their country. A two-minute silence may be observed after the prayer is said.
Rhapsody: A Shropshire Lad is one of the few works that George Butterworth did not destroy before he went to France. Butterworth was a promising English composer who was killed in the Battle of the Somme on August 5, 1916, one of many British soldiers that lost their lives in the Great War of 1914 -1918. Butterworth was shot by a sniper and was hastily buried in the side of a trench by his men. His remains were never recovered for more formal burial. He was posthumously awarded the Military Cross. His other surviving orchestral works are Two Idylls and The Banks of the Green Willow. Some regard The Banks of the Green Willow as synonymous with the sacrifice of Butterworth's generation and see this work as an anthem for all 'Unknown Soldiers'. With the Frenchman AlbĂ©ric Magnard, the Spaniard Enrique Granados, and the German Rudi Stephan Butterworth may be one of the greatest loss to music from World War I. Playing Butterworth’s orchestral works is a fitting tribute to all who have died in the service of their country.

Five Reasons Why Stability Is Bad for a Church

Change or die.

That is reality for churches today.

Of course, I am not talking about Scripture, doctrine, or spiritual disciplines changing. Those things are constants, never to be compromised.

But much of what we do in our churches must change. And, unfortunately, many church members and leaders resist change. They seek stability and comfort over obedience and sacrifice.

Let’s look at five key reasons why stability is bad for a church. Read More

Related Article:
8 Common Characteristics of Successful Church Revitalizations

Church Planting Metrics: Measure What’s Important (Part Two)

Measure outcomes, not activities.

Define the Object of Measurement (i.e., Church)
As mentioned above, the end goal for church planters should be a biblically healthy church. The target “biblically healthy church,” however, is too vague to be observed and quantified. The design team needs to take the target and deconstruct it into sub-targets and observable indicators.

Sub-targets are the components that characterize biblically healthy churches. They don’t describe church planting activities, but rather results of those activities. The list of sub-targets, when taken together, should be an accurate description of a healthy church without going beyond the biblical definition of church. The design team prepares a draft list of sub-targets, which they revise and rewrite as they receive input from leaders and practitioners. To keep the list of sub-targets manageable, the final list should be as short as possible (e.g., seven or fewer sub-targets).

The following questions can serve as a guide for the design team as they define sub-targets.... Read More

Related Article:
Church-Planting Metrics: Measure What’s Important (Part One)

Know Your Doctrine

“Doctrine divides,” the young man explained. “Of course it’s important, but God cares far more for our deeds than our creeds. Doctrine divides, but love unites.” Could he be right? Is doctrine a force for division meant to bow before the primacy of love?

“I find doctrine boring,” the husband confessed. “I don’t have any interest in hearing about theology. Just tell me what God wants me to do, and I’ll do it. I’m a doer, not a learner.” Could he have it right? Is doctrine a drab discipline fit only for the halls of academia?

As it happens, the Bible has much to say about doctrine and only ever commends it as something that is of great importance to every Christian. In fact, we cannot rightly consider ourselves faithful followers of Jesus Christ unless we thoroughly know our doctrine, staunchly cling to it, and faithfully defend it. Though the Christian faith is far more than knowing doctrine, it is never less. And yet many who profess to be Christians have only the most rudimentary knowledge of Christian doctrine.
To rightly pursue God for a lifetime, we must know who he is and how he calls us to live.
Many who claim to love the Bible have only the barest knowledge of the doctrines it contains. Many who have received the sacred deposit of the gospel are unequipped to guard it. And for men, who are called to lead their homes in devotion to God, the pursuit of doctrine often takes a back seat to easier, more comfortable pursuits. With the spare time before and after work, relaxing with television sounds far more appealing than laboring over the doctrine found in Scripture. But there is great cost to neglecting the study of doctrine, just as there is inestimable gain in a deep knowledge of it. To rightly pursue God for a lifetime, we must know who he is and how he calls us to live.

In this series “Run to Win,” we are taking an extended look at the kind of life God calls Christian men to live. Through the Apostle Paul, he challenges you to understand life as a race and pleads with you to run it in such a way that you win. Are you running aimlessly, loping along at a plodding pace? Or are you, like Paul, applying the kind of self-control an athlete needs to train successfully and run victoriously? If you are going to run to win, you must train yourself to know your doctrine. Read More

12 Steps to Ministry Burnout

In my 20+ years of studying churches in North America, I’ve watched far too many pastors and church leaders burn out, sometimes leading to moral failure. Based on my interviews with others who’ve walked this path, here are some steps to move in that direction if you want to become that next burned out leader. Read More

Don’t Pursue Feelings. Pursue Christ

Human beings are emotional creatures. We love or hate, feel happy or sad, angry or joyful. And yet christians sometimes struggle with integrating emotion into their spiritual lives and end up falling victim to dangerous tendencies when it comes to their emotions. These tendencies occupy two ends of a spectrum, and they have led many into a superficial kind of Christianity. We see these tendencies at both the personal level and at the corporate level.

One danger is emotionalism, in which we allow our feelings to interpret our circumstances and form our thoughts about God. This is putting feelings before faith. The other danger is a kind of stoicism, where faith is rooted in theology but void of affection. This tendency removes feelings from faith altogether. While it is true that our emotions should not lead our theology, it is vital to our faith that theology lead to a deep experience of our triune God. Read More

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Saturday Lagniappe: "Why Can't Planters Be Pastors?" and More

Why Can't Planters Be Pastors?

For church planters, there are a number of dynamics at play when planting that highlight the imbalance in our understanding of pastor that can limit the effectiveness of a planter. Part 1 Part 2

3 Ways Online Giving Helps Your Church

Online giving does not just help church members. Churches can benefit from online giving as well. Here are three ways online giving helps your church.... Read More

Does Nature Reveal God?

Does nature reveal God? This question indicates a concern about a foundational issue to Christianity. The issue is, can God be known outside of the church or a religious environment? Read More

Our Top 9 Resources on Calling

Calling: it's the reason you do what you do. God has uniquely prepared you for his work. But some days, doubts creep in. Here's help to dig deep into your calling, to understand God's voice, to live it out and help others do the same. Read More

6 Basic Email Observations from Leading a Team

Few things are as lamented as email and staff meetings. And yet, both are very important in communicating, in ensuring execution, and in keeping work moving forward. They are, however, lamented for a reason. Poorly led meetings and poor email practices waste immense amounts of time and energy. Here are six basic email observations from leading a team.... Read More

The Real Root of Sexual Sin

The most powerful weapon against sexual impurity is humility. Patterns of sinful thought and behavior are fruits of a deeper root. If we want to stop bearing bad fruit, we must aim our primary attack against the root. And the root of sexual sin is not our sex drive; it’s pride. Read More

Renew Your Mind

Many of today’s men have made a poor choice. They’ve chosen to conform, to feed their lust with the pornographic images of the world, to speak as the world speaks, to take on a sinful lifestyle marked by pride, apathy, and self-indulgence. If you are a Christian man, you are called to something different, something better, something far more challenging and far more satisfying. You are called to godliness. You are called to renounce anything that would hinder you in your race and to embrace a life-long pursuit of knowing Jesus. Read More

The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology: Typology - Spring 2017

The complete Spring 2017 issue of The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology is now online vin PDF format. It may be read or downloaded here.

Moral Outrage in America Is Now for Everybody

Gallup finds record-high liberalism on 10 of 19 issues. Yet moderates and liberals are growing more concerned. Read More

Friday, May 26, 2017

Why I Am Not Roman Catholic

Last week I began a new series titled “Why I Am Not…” and in this series I am exploring some of the things I do not believe as a means to explaining what I do believe. In the last article I explained why I am not atheist and now want to explain why I am not Roman Catholic. The timing of this article is unplanned but rather appropriate. I publish today from Orlando, Florida where I am enjoying some time at Ligonier Ministries, the ministry founded many years ago by Dr. R.C. Sproul. In very important ways the answer to the question “Why am I not Roman Catholic?” is “R.C. Sproul.” But I am getting ahead of myself.

Though my parents were saved into Pentecostalism, they quickly found a home in the Presbyterian tradition and developed deep interests in both church history and Reformed theology. Each of them read extensively in these fields and eagerly taught me what they had learned. In church history they found the long saga of Rome’s battle against Protestants and pre-Protestants while in theology they found her distortion of the gospel. From my early days I was taught that Catholicism is a dangerous perversion of biblical truth and learned the traditional Protestant understanding that its pontiff is the antichrist, the great opponent of God’s people.

As I entered adulthood I felt a growing desire to examine the beliefs I had always assumed to see if I actually held to them independently from my parents. I looked for resources that could guide me and soon came across the works of R.C. Sproul which had largely been written in response to Evangelicals and Catholics Together. Sproul had determined that he would allow the Church to speak for herself through her catechism and official statements and that he would evaluate these through Scripture. He showed a deep, respectful understanding of Catholicism and built a compelling case in which he exposed her most serious problems. Books by James White complemented Sproul’s and under their guidance I came to see that Catholic doctrine really is opposed to Scripture and to the gospel. My convictions about the errors and dangers of Catholicism changed a little bit—I became far less convinced about the connection between pope and antichrist, for example—but overall were sharpened and deepened. I concluded that for a number of reasons I could never be Roman Catholic. Most prominent among them are these three.... Read More
Tim Challies reposted this article on his website and I am reposting it on Anglicans Ablaze. Challies draws attention to three fundamental defects of Roman Catholicism—its denial of the gospel, its exclusive claim to be the Church, and its idolatrous worship. A fourth fundamental defect of Roman Catholicism , which Challies does not address in his article, is that, while it claims to recognize the authority of the Bible, it elevates its own particular consensus and tradition above Scripture, a fundamental defect that it shares with Eastern Orthodoxy and the various other forms of unreformed Catholicism.

I Never Knew the Holy Spirit Until I Moved to New England

Many of us have a weird uncle we invite to family gatherings because we’re supposed to. We may not know him very well but he’s family, so we don’t have much choice. In some ways this is how I’ve treated the Holy Spirit. I knew that I “got Him,” that He “came with the family” when Christ saved me, but I didn’t understand my relationship with him.

In case you’re beginning to wonder if I’m calling the Holy Spirit a weird uncle, I’m not. I realize He is who joins me to the family as He continually makes me into the image of Christ and pleads with intercession too deep for words. Yet, I had never really gotten to know Him very well—until I started ministering in Maine.

Since moving here, at least three major things have changed in my life. I now have two sets of tires (for snow), the pine-cone is my state flower (not a joke), and I have gotten to know the third person of the Trinity in a more tangible, intimate way.

Nothing in ministry has created sheer desperation for the power of God through the Holy Spirit as moving to Maine did seven years ago. Here are the three specific things that pushed me to understand the Holy Spirit. Read More

Some Quick Thoughts on House Churches: The Good, the Bad, and Why You Should Be Open to Them

They appeal to certain church planters and in certain contexts.

Discerning House Churches
The house church discussion is always an interesting one. People can be very passionate about house, simple, and organic churches, and that can limit some important discussions.

Some say, “Of course, that’s the best way—that’s what is in the New Testament!” And, actually, they are right about the New Testament. However, it can be tricky to evaluate something that you are convinced is the only right way.

On the other hand, house churches are far from the norm in the English-speaking Western world. And, as such, unfamiliar for many. To be honest, many readers will have had experiences with house church people that is less than positive. (I hear often from pastors about disgruntled or theologically-odd people ending up in house churches.)

The fact is, there are healthy and unhealthy expressions of house / simple / organic churches. There are good expressions, and I’ve written lots on that, but I’ve run into plenty of the bad ones. Read More

How to Have an Effective ‘Missionary Encounter’ with Culture

Early Christians before Constantine were highly persecuted for being too exclusive, narrow, and strange, and yet at the same time they were fast growing, especially in the urban centers. (See, for example, Alan Kreider’s chapter “The Improbable Growth of the Church” in The Patient Ferment of the Early Church.)

This has been called an effective “missionary encounter” with Roman society. There was both offense and attraction, confrontation and persuasion. Christianity didn’t adapt to culture in order to gain more adherents, but neither did it remain a small, withdrawn band. Christianity confronted and critiqued the culture, and believers suffered for it—yet the faith also convinced many, attracting growing numbers of converts daily. Read More

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Why Some Great Churches Never Impact Their Community

Your church has the world’s greatest treasure. Don’t hide it behind layers of misdirection and insider lingo, daring people to find it.

Several years ago I had the privilege of being in a great church service on a trip away from home.

The worship was dynamic, the people were friendly, the message was biblical and engaging, the sense of the presence of God was genuine.

As I drove away, I thought, “What a great church! I feel filled-up and ready to take on the week! It’s a shame they won’t have any impact on their community – not if they keep doing things the way they're currently doing them."

Why would I think that if the church was as great as I described?

Because everything the church did was inward-looking not outward-reaching. Read More
This article brought to mind an Episcopal church with which I was acquainted in the 1980s and 1990s. The church was located at the other end of the county in which I lived. The area was enjoying explosive growth as was the area where I lived. The two Episcopal churches in my area were growing with the area. Both churches would eventually go to three services on Sunday mornings. Despite the growth of the area in which it was located, the Episcopal church at the other end of the county was not growing with the area. Other area churches were. A number of successful church plants were also launched in the area.

When the new bishop announced a new church planting initiative for the diocese, the church’s leaders would plead with him not to authorize a new church plant in the area, fearing that it would attract not only newcomers to the area but also its own parishioners. 

I attended a meeting at the church on one occasion and from the difficulty that I had in finding the church gained some insight into why it was not benefiting from the area’s growth. The church was located on a side street that itself was not easy to find. There were no signs on any of the streets leading to the church providing directions to the church. The only church sign was a small one in the front of the building itself. 

Except for one small entry in the telephone directory the church I would learn did not advertise its presence in the community. The attitude of the church’s leaders was if someone new to the area wished to attend an Episcopal church in the community, they could look in the telephone directory. They did not see any need to run ads in the newspaper drawing attention to the church’s presence or put up signs directing people to the church. They did not see the need to build bridges to the community. 

A number of the church’s leaders had originally been members of a local Unitarian Universalist church which had suffered from declining attendance, forcing it to cut back on the frequency of its gatherings and eventually to close its doors. They placed no value on being outward-reaching. My own church would benefit from their attitude of indifference. It would attract newcomers to their end of the county as well as to my own.

Your Church Can’t Please Everyone—3 Better Alternatives

Is it possible that your church isn’t a perfect fit for everyone?

Everyone is welcome, but maybe another church might meet their particular needs better. That’s not an easily embraced thought.

Can you say “no” to someone even if it potentially results in them leaving your church?

Learning to balance the natural tension of loving and caring for people, but not allowing someone to leverage their personal agenda, or even hijack the purpose of your church, is not easy.

This is a tough issue and requires artful leadership. As shepherds we hate to have even one person leave, but sometimes it’s OK.

The church is not designed to please everyone. The kind of preaching or style of worship can’t make everyone happy. Your approach to student ministry won’t connect with every parent. Heck, your choice of coffee can make some people mad!

The church does not exist to deliver all the programming its attendees can dream up. If we did everything we’ve been asked to do, we’d have dozens of programs from baseball leagues to classes in CPR.

You can’t preach every sermon your congregation thinks you should preach. Sometimes you just need to say no.

It’s all good and worthy stuff, but the church not only shouldn’t do all of it, it also can’t. No one church can do everything. That is simply impossible. So what each church does must be carefully, strategically and prayerfully thought through.

Many of the things that your attendees request already exist somewhere in your community. Encourage your congregation to engage the community, and take Jesus with them!

Here are three principles to help you navigate these sensitive matters. Read More

What If I Can’t Find the Perfect Church?

One of the greatest decisions of your life will be centered upon what church you should join. This will be where you receive the teaching of God’s Word, grow in the knowledge of truth, are blessed through the ordinary means of grace, and where your entire family will engage in worship, discipleship, and missions. This is no small decision. Often I run across people at conferences or through e-mail who stop attending church because they can’t find the perfect church. What if you don’t have the perfect church in your community—what should you do? Read More

Related Article:
The Weight of the Church

Regeneration Is Monergistic

There may be no truth in the Bible more deeply loved and greatly cherished than the subject of the new birth. Here is the grace-centered message of a new beginning for those whose lives have been ruined by sin. Here is the life-changing truth that sinful men can be made new. When the new birth is caused by God, old things pass away—old practices, old cravings, old habits, old addictions, and old associations. Behold, new things come—new desires, new pursuits, and new passions. An entirely new life begins. Nothing could be more positive than this. It is no wonder that the truth of the new birth is so beloved. Read More

5 Warnings to Those Who Merely Pretend To Be Godly

There is in each of us a dangerous temptation toward hypocrisy, to be one thing but to pretend to be another. There are many within the church who are hypocrites, people who claim to be Christians but who are, in fact, unbelievers attempting to convince others (and perhaps themselves) that they are followers of Jesus Christ. They are people who do not practice true virtue but who instead offer counterfeit versions of it. Jude compares them to clouds without water in that they seem to be full of the Spirit but are actually devoid of true goodness.

Here are five solemn warnings to those who only pretend to be godly.... Read More

3 Tips for Reaching the Dechurched

It is becoming increasingly important for the church to talk about reaching the dechurched in their communities. This sounds like a great idea in theory, but it presents a real challenge when churches perpetuate an “us-versus-them” mentality in our language and disposition.

By “dechurched” I mean people who were at some point either briefly or for a long time involved in a local church, but have not been active for several years.

To reach the dechurched, we have to understand them. And, as I see the dechurched, there are two main groups—the open and closed. How we seek to reach a dechurched person should be determined, in part, by which group they’re from. Read More

Thursday's Catch: "Mobilizing People Out of the Pews" and Much More

Mobilizing People Out of the Pews

Ministry where a few people are doing the work and the church is expecting them to keep doing it can be terribly frustrating. How do we mobilize people in the rows of our congregations to action, to ministry, to mission? Here are three things that need to happen to mobilize your people. Read More

Do Not Plant or Pastor a Church in Your Head

...there’s a danger of adopting a model of church without giving proper consideration to the people and culture God is sending you to plant or pastor. In short, we need a vision for the people before we develop a vision for a particular model of church. Read More
The link to "Exete Your Culture" unfortunately no longer connects to that resource. As I come across articles on exeting the culture and subcultures of a community and/or region, I will post them on Anglicans Ablaze. Knowing the culture and speaking its "language" is not only critical to the successful planting of a new church but also to the effective revitalization of an existing church.
Shame, Guilt, and Fear: What 1,000 Americans Avoid Most

Churches may be emphasizing the wrong selling point of the gospel, suggests LifeWay. Read More

God’s Sovereignty and Glory

God is sovereign in creation, providence, redemption, and judgment. That is a central assertion of Christian belief and especially in Reformed theology. God is King and Lord of all. To put this another way: nothing happens without God’s willing it to happen, willing it to happen before it happens, and willing it to happen in the way that it happens. Put this way, it seems to say something that is expressly Reformed in doctrine. But at its heart, it is saying nothing different from the assertion of the Nicene Creed: “I believe in God, the Father Almighty.” To say that God is sovereign is to express His almightiness in every area. Read More

Pastoral Leadership Capital

Parts 1 and 2 of Marty Duren's article series on pastoral leadership capital. Part 1 Part 2

8 Reasons Every Church Leader Needs Accountability

As I began ministry decades ago, few people were talking about accountability. More are using that language today, but we still have much room for growth. Here’s why every church leader needs accountability.... Read More

Try This: Summer Story Time for Kids

Host a half-hour story time for children one morning a week during the summer. Read More

Six Details to Include in Your Church Staff Bios

Staff bios help guests—and church members—relate better to those who are charged with the spiritual care of a congregation. While they don’t have to be exhaustive, there are a few items to consider including in each church staff member’s bio. Read More

Running to the Pantry of Good Works

Are we praying, reading the Bible, and doing what is right to earn or keep God's favor? Read More

6 Ways to Avoid Delayed Adulthood

Here are six basic steps to help the saplings of the next generation add rings as they reach for the light. Read More

Six Ways Men Can Support Women’s Discipleship

Male clergy and laity who want to enable women’s ministry often don't know how to get involved or what to do.Read More

Preaching the Gospel with Words: Why There’s No Other Way

We marginalize evangelism when we say the good news is social action. Read More


Ed Stetzer tackles the difficult issues of contextualization. Part 1 Part 2 Part 3

How Government Support Saved Me

Signing up for food stamps changed my view of poverty in America. Read More

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Towards a Theology of Place, Or Bloom Where You’re Planted

Once a week I begin my theology class with a time of Q&A. For me, this is just applied theology, a chance to show how the Bible relates to what’s going on in the lives and minds of my students. The most frequently asked questions almost all relate to God’s providence.

My answers on this topic probably aren’t always satisfactory for my students. It’s a mystery, I tell them. There are known knowns (to borrow some political jargon), unknown unknowns, and seemingly (to introduce a category of my own) unkownable unknowns.

In short, God is sovereign. We aren’t. God is omniscient (He knows everything). We don’t. I tell my students that if they want proof of their intellectual limitations to simply look to their most recent quiz grades. That usually evokes more frustration than laughter.

I’ve reflected on this regularly, God’s providence that is, as I think most Christians likely do. It is central to so much of our lives. Why pray if God knows everything? Why do anything if God is sovereign? I know, I know. Some of you are right now judging me for not more strongly affirming a reformed understanding of sovereignty. To be clear, I do affirm God’s sovereignty. That doesn’t mean I understand it. I don’t pretend to.

It’s the understanding part, the dogmatic insistence that there is no mystery, the smug raise of the eyebrows, the canned response, the regurgitated theological truisms, that get under my skin. I’m a little skeptical of anyone who acts like they have God’s providence all figured out. Trust me, I believe it. God’s sovereignty is the pillow on which I lay my head, to borrow a line from Spurgeon. That doesn’t mean it’s not a mystery.

To turn from a gloriously mysterious theological topic to a single application in real life, how does this play out in our sense of location? The Apostle Paul talked about this in his sermon in Athens on Mars Hill. He said that God has “determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him” (Acts 17:26-27). In sum, God has chosen when and where people will live. Read More

The Type of Leaders a Small Town Church Needs

Lessons from a Small Town Pastor

A pastor or church planter in a small town who wants to make a long-lasting impact on the community will need a strategy to develop good leaders. What should you be looking for? Read More

What Is This Thing Called Church?

In 2004 the Church of England began its first internet church: It still exists today, with a pastor and members who interact with one another online. But is it really a church? Many churches in America are made up of multiple campuses, but from a biblical point of view, is it possible for one church to be located in numerous places?

These questions are more than theological teasers; they have real significance for God’s people. Darren Carlson, president of Training Leaders International, recently observed, “The greatest problem in missions right now is disagreement over what constitutes a local church.” That’s not a small statement. Clearly we need to think with care about what a church is. Read More

5 Core Issues for Leading Millennials

According to a Pew Research study, millennials have surpassed baby boomers as the nation’s largest living generation. Millennials, whom we now define as those ages 20 to 36, number over 75.4 million, surpassing the 74.9 million Baby Boomers (ages 53 to 71). Businesses such as Goldman Sachs are studying this trend, recognizing they will “change the ways we buy and sell, forcing companies to examine how they do business for decades to come.”

I, too, have been thinking about this new culture of millennials as they increasingly become the dominant culture in many of our churches. What are the critical issues we must address to make mature disciples, build sustainable communities and reach the world effectively? The following are my top five. Read More

Five Steps to Respond to Hurtful and Hateful Email

The Internet has certainly brought us incredible ways to do commerce, to get information, and to communicate.

But it has an ugly and evil side to it as well.

It allows cowardly critics to hide behind a keyboard and cut people to the core through blogs, social media, and email.

So how do we respond when we get a hurtful email? The pastor who received that cruel, cowardly, and vitriolic email asked me that question. Here is how I responded.... Read More

Eliminating the Human

Musician David Byrne recently advanced an interesting theory about humanity and technology. The overarching agenda of technology, he believes, is intended to eliminate human interaction. The displacement of human beings by modern technology has become so obvious and so widespread that he has been forced to conclude it is more than an unintentional byproduct of increased automation. “What much of this technology seems to have in common is that it removes the need to deal with humans directly. The tech doesn’t claim or acknowledge this as its primary goal, but it seems to often be the consequence. I’m sort of thinking maybe it is the primary goal.” Read More

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

20 Steps to Awaken a Sleeping Church

“Awake thou that sleepest and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.” (Eph. 5:14)

A pastor I know has a problem. It’s not unlike that experienced by a large group of his peers, I imagine.

He has deacons who are undisciplined, church members who do not take care of the hurting in their midst, and in general, a congregation of unmotivated people. When he preaches evangelism or discipleship or ministry in their community, the way they sit and stare makes him wonder if the language he’s using might be a foreign tongue to them.

Sound like your church? Because it sure sounds like some I’ve pastored and a whole lot I’ve known.

The pastor of that unresponsive bunch asked for my advice. Had I ever written anything on how to revive a comatose church? Does our website have any help for him?

I asked him to give me a day or two to reflect on the subject and seek the Lord’s guidance. More and more, I kept thinking: This is an uphill task, wakening a sleeping church. If it were easy, every pastor would do it and no church would be stagnant or declining.

[Nine changes dying churches must make immediately.]

Here are my observations, for what they’re worth, on how to transform a collection of stagnant do-nothings into a thriving, caring, loving church of the Lord Jesus Christ. And since every church is both similar and different, we will use a lot of generalities and broad-sweeping statements. Pastors should take anything that fits their situation and skip past the rest. Read More

Justification by Faith Alone

Celebrations in 2017 of the five-hundredth anniversary of the Reformation will return again and again to the subject of justification by faith alone, one of the Reformation’s most critical rediscoveries. That subject is so important that in one sense we cannot study it enough. On the other hand, part of me wonders why we seem to have so much trouble understanding and holding on to a doctrine so vital. Is the doctrine so complicated that we cannot remember it? Is the Bible’s teaching so obscure that we cannot penetrate it? Read More

Do Catholics and Protestants believe in the same Trinity?

While the Catholic Church and most Protestants describe the Roman Catholic Church as Trinitarian, it is a very different Trinity. As suggested in my previous article, the way the Roman Catholic Church presents Jesus every day in the Eucharist so distorts him that he is unrecognisably human, and indeed unrecognisably divine. Read More

Why Pastors Don't Evangelize Much, and Why We mUst Do More

Evangelism is a central task of the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20), but many churches don’t do well at this task. In fact, many pastors don’t evangelize much, either. As a pastor, I know that struggle. Here are some reasons why we don’t evangelize, and then some reasons why we must kick start our evangelistic efforts. Read More

Monday, May 22, 2017

Five Reasons Church Members Attend Church Less Frequently

About 20 years ago, a church member was considered active in the church if he or she attended three times a week.

Today, a church member is considered active in the church if he or she attends three times a month.

Something is wrong with this picture. For 2,000 years, the local church, as messy as it is, has been God’s place for believers to gather, worship, minister, and be accountable to one another.

And every time I write something about church membership and attendance, I inevitably hear cries of “legalism” or “the church is not a building” or “the church is a messed up institution.”

But the local church, the messy local church, is what God has used as His primary instrument to make disciples. But commitment is waning among many church members.

Why? Read More

One And Done: Why Small Church Discipleship Is Always A Moving Target

In a small church, it doesn’t take long for everyone who’s interested in a specific discipleship program to finish it.

The days of finding or creating a discipleship program, then using it for years, is over. Especially in a small church.

Our church created and implemented a great a discipleship class last year. In our church of 180 (average Sunday attendance) more than 60 adults took the class and got a lot out of it.

It’s been a huge win for us.

But I’m not going to tell you what our idea was. For two reasons.

First, because it was very specific to our church, our needs, our teaching style and our current circumstance, so the likelihood of it working elsewhere is slim.

Second, because, even though it worked really well, we’re not going to do it again.

What worked last year won’t work next year. Especially if you’re producing growing disciples, not just frequent attenders. Read More

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Saturday Lagniappe: "Luther, his Friends and his Legacy" and Much More

Luther, his Friends and his Legacy

Tours to Reformation sites last year and the year before have stimulated a reawakening interest in Luther. Read More

Lutherans Celebrate Reformation Where Germany Committed Genocide

Lutheran World Federation assembles in Namibia for 500th anniversary of Martin Luther. Read More

Why We Struggle to Make Giving a Priority

The idea of making generosity the priority of our finances is a struggle for many. Here are a few reasons why.... Read More

5 Warning Signs That Laziness Is Creeping into Your Leadership

Like all sin, laziness can slowly creep into our lives and leadership. If we fail to address the temptation to move toward laziness, we become unfaithful in our leadership. Here are five warning signs. Read More

7 Ways Video Can Save Your Pastor Time

Here are a few ways you can help your pastor save time by using video to offload tasks from him and free him to do what he does best: shepherd, lead, and pastor. Read More

Public Discourse in the Age of Social Media

What is social media doing to our ability to communicate with kindness, clarity and depth? Read More

5 Surprising Reasons Why Reaching Teens Should Be a Big Part of Your Church's Outreach Strategy

Start a fire in the youth room and the rest of the church will be set ablaze for Jesus. Reach the teenagers of a city for Christ and the adults will soon be reached as well. That's one of the surprising reasons why focusing on reaching teenagers for Jesus is super strategic. Read More

Dealing with Objections When you Share the Gospel [Video]

Alvin Reid offers some principals for dealing with objections when we witness. Watch Now

The Theology Beneath the Trump-Comey Conflict

How the former FBI director’s interest in Reinhold Niebuhr shaped his approach to political power. Read More

Five Things You Should Know About Reinhold Niebuhr

From Carter to Comey, the legacy of “Washington’s Favorite Theologian” endures. Read More

ICE Deports Christian Who Fled Persecution Back to Indonesia

Man who sought asylum in New Jersey church caught up in 100-day surge in non-criminal arrests. Read More

ORP Think and the U.S. Criminal Justice System

NORP = Normal Ordinary Responsible Person. Read More

Friday, May 19, 2017

Tony Morgan On Discovering What Stage Your Church Is At In Its Lifecycle [Podcast]

Tony’s Seven Phases Of The Church’s Lifecycle

Tony Morgan has helped over 200 churches in the last 8 years, and has observed that most churches go through predictable patterns in its lifecycle.

Combining the insights of Les McKeown (Episode 112) and others, Tony has identified 7 specific stages in the life-cycle of a church and shows you where you need to be, and how to get there.

So…where’s your church..strategic growth, maintenance…life support? Listen Now
Tony Morgan's UC bell curve is similar to the Sigmoid Curve that Aubrey Mulphurs uses to describe the life cycle of a church in Chapter 2, "Understanding Organizational Development," of Advanced Strategic Planning: A New Model for Church and Ministry Leaders (Baker Books: 1999). In this chapter Mulphurs explains that the key to continued growth and renewal is to start new first-curve churches and to start a new second curve in the existing church before it plateaus. A third context for starting a new sigmoid curve is the revitalization of plateued or dying churches. Mulphur goes on to warn that if a dying church is to survive at all, it must start a new S-curve as soon as possible.  Mulphur then gives a brief overview of the strategic planning process which is an essential step in the starting of a first or second sigmoid curve. The rest of the book is devoted to fleshing out this process. 

Friday's Catch: "10 Keys to a Spiritual Breakthrough" and More - UPDATED

10 Keys to a Spiritual Breakthrough

The Bible has powerful instructions on encountering God and experiencing spiritual breakthroughs in your life. Read More

Why You Will Join the Wrong Church

Many Christians’ broken relationships with their churches resemble patterns of the divorce culture and its attendant assumptions about authority, love, and compatibility. Read More

What Happens to Our Pets When They Die?

Death is one of life’s saddest and most certain realities. Whether it be a pet or a fellow image-bearer, few things sober us like death. A cold, stiff body that lacks the life it once supported is a heavy reminder that something is tragically wrong with our world. Read More
Pet funerals provide an opportunity to minister to an individual or family grieving over the loss of a much-loved pet and to form relationships with the unchurched.
Why God Demands Worship

I have been doing university missions off and on for about thirty-five years. About a dozen years ago, I started stumbling across a question from university undergraduates that I never received when I was a young man. Read More

Dealing with Public Distractions to Worship, Featuring Mike Harland - Rainer on Leadership #329 [Podcast]

Distractions are a real part of worship services. Mike Harland joins Thom Rainer and Jonathan Howe today to talk about how to eliminate—or at least minimize—distractions in your worship service. Listen Now

10 Friday Questions to Ask in Preparation for Sunday

One reason many weekend worship services are ineffective is that we spend too little time preparing ourselves for worship. Take some time to answer these questions today, and use them to help you get ready to gather with your congregation this weekend.... Read More

The Unique Role of the Church in Solidifying a Child’s Faith

I can see how someone who has not experienced the hope of the gospel might feel teaching Christian faith to children is imposing, maybe even harmful, but if you believe Jesus saves you, wouldn’t it be wrong to not share that with your children? Read More

Why Vacation Bible School? Because the Gospel Matters

Why do I care about Vacation Bible School? Kids and their parents need to hear the gospel and about thirty-percent of the families who attend our VBS are unchurched. Read More

New: Consider These 5 Things Before Your Church Plans a Short-Term Mission Trip

Short-term mission trips are a strategic way to involve church members directly in making disciples of all nations. Trips have great potential to help churches cultivate meaningful partnerships with career missionaries and expand opportunities for every member of a church to participate in the Great Commission. In order to help your church accomplish these goals through short-term missions, here are five things to consider before you plan a trip. Read More

New: 7 Secrets to Leading a Successful Men’s Event

As you seek to mobilize your men—as well as reach unchurched men and boys in your community—here are seven ideas that I hope will help you. Read More

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Is the Common Cup Still Relevant Today?

The Roman formula is for the faithful to receive the bread and for the priest to drink the wine.

I sat in the church where Martin Luther preached some 2,000 sermons, imagining the impact his short life had on the world. Sitting in a pew, taking in the sights of The Town Church (Stadtkirche) of Wittenberg, I could almost hear his thunderous insights mixed with stories and applications fitting for his audience in this German town in the early 1500s.

There are many symbols and stories that circulate from that historic and church-erupting time. You may have a point that crystalizes the importance of the Reformation. I have many, but a painting in this Town Church where Luther preached caught my eye and became a riveting symbol summing up for me the rediscovery of the gospel, the great gift of the Reformation. Read More

12 Ways to Recognize Volunteers

Most of our churches would be in trouble were it not for volunteers who serve faithfully every week. “Volunteer” is probably not the best word, since legitimate church membership assumes a willingness to serve – but I think we still should recognize those who serve well. Here are some ways to do that.... Read More

Related Article:
Fostering Volunteer Pride: TrueNorth Church in South Carolina

Eight Of The Most Common Worship Leading Mistakes

No worship leader ever stops making mistakes. From the most seasoned and experienced worship leaders, to the newest and greenest, mistakes are inevitable, humbling, and part of the process of maturing. We’re imperfect people, working alongside other imperfect people, playing musical instruments and singing songs imperfectly, with a congregation of imperfect men and women trying to sing along.

So our goal is not to become flawless worship leaders who never make mistakes. Our goal is simply to keep being humbled by our awareness of our imperfection, and to keep growing, so we can more effectively point our congregations to Jesus in the power of the Spirit, not the power of our own professionalism.

To that end, here are eight of the most common worship leading mistakes that I’ve observed in my own ministry, and through friendships and experiences with lots of other worship leaders too.... Read More

Eight Essential Items for Your Church's FAQ Page

A good church website answers questions for guests and members alike. While not every question and appropriate answer can be foreseen, an Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page on your church’s website can be immensely helpful.

However, churches often don’t think through what answers or questions they place on the FAQ page—if they even have one. I would encourage your church to have an FAQ page on your site and to include the answers to these eight questions.... Read More

Why New England Is the New American Missional Frontier

Tomorrow I will be joining Midwestern Seminary‘s Academic Provost Dr. Jason Duesing and Associate Professor of Christian Theology Dr. Owen Strachan in leading a group of students on a study tour of New England. I am really excited to return to my second home, a place where I spent 6 years in pastoral ministry in the least-churched state in the nation (Vermont), both to revisit some familiar sites and newly explore some historical landmarks. I am convinced that we need more gospel ministry in the Northeast, and in New England in particular; in fact, I believe the need is urgent for replanting, revitalizing, and the planting of new evangelical works. In terms of mission at home, I think the old grounds of New England are the new missional frontier.

I had never even visited New England before I began the interview process for the church in rural Vermont that I had the privilege of shepherding. As a native Texan who spent more than a decade in Tennessee, I have the blue blood of the Bible Belt coursing through my veins. But in 2008, as the pastor a young church plant in Nashville, God began to shift my attention from the older brothers of my homeland to the prodigals of (what I would consider) the wilderness.

And over the last several years I have been privileged to connect with others who are receiving a heart for the now least-reached portion of the United States, and I believe more and more are receiving the call, looking to “liberal,” “pagan,” “dead and dry” New England with missionary fervor. But the need is great and the workers are still few. As I keep an eye on the momentum of church planting initiatives in the U.S., I am grateful to see so many willing hearts and strong hands engaging neighbors with the gospel, but I am disheartened to see over and over again this needy post-Christian field constantly overlooked by so many would-be missional planters. Could the neglect of this emerging mission field not be from the lack of God’s call, but the lack of the called’s interest?

If you are a future church planter or have designs on joining a missional plant, here are some reasons I hope you will consider looking to and praying for a vision of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, or Vermont, the six states that comprise New England.... Read More

Experience > Explanation: A Formula for Evangelism

I remember 9th grade science class very clearly. That’s saying something, because I don’t remember most of the classes I took as a teenager. I can’t tell you too much about what we covered, because in 9th grade I didn’t exactly have “science” at the top of my priority list.

The reason I remember science class is we dissected a pig. During the part of the year that we were dissecting pigs, we looked forward to our biology class every day. I remember the smell of it, I remember seeing different organs … at this point, biology was no longer just book knowledge—it was real!

I was reminded of this not too long ago when I was thinking about church, and I made a connection that’s helped me remember how people learn. It’s a simple formula that goes like this: Experience > Explanation. Experience is greater than explanation, every day of the week. Read More