Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Rural and Small Town Church

Here is a selection of articles on rural and small town ministry.

Rural and Small Town Ministry

Rural America reflects deep spiritual problems with epidemic substance abuse, soaring suicide rates, poverty, and being largely overlooked by an urban-centered focus church ministry. Read More

Small Towns Need Jesus Too

Donnie Griggs grew up in a small town on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. He knows the issues plaguing small towns, especially the large number of residents rejecting the gospel and unconnected to a church. In his new book, Small Town Jesus: Taking the Gospel Mission Seriously in Seemingly Unimportant Places, Griggs writes about his return to his hometown to plant a church and the need for others to do the same. Read More

5 Principles for Doing Small Town Ministry

In a small town context, it's important to read the culture well and discern how to best contextualize it in order to do effective ministry. Here are five principles for small town ministry.... Read More

Growing a Rural Church

Who says you can't raise strong congregations in country fields? Read More

13 Characteristics of Indigenous or "Local" Rural Pastors

Doug Walrath took a last look at small church life, shortly before he retired in 1990 from Bangor Seminary, by doing a study of rural pastors in New England. Read More

Reaching Rural America for Christ Archive

Reaching Rural America for Christ is the monthly newsletter of the Rural and Small Town Mission of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. The July 2017 issue shares insight into teaching the faith to college students and young adults in congregations. Read the July 2017 Issue and Back Issues

Why Did God Allow the Fall?

It’s a question that puzzles new converts and terrifies Sunday school teachers. Indeed, it’s a conundrum most of us have wrestled with, and for good reason. The fall of Adam wasn’t merely the first human sin. It was an act that was calamitous for the world and the human race. Because of the fall, “All mankind . . . lost communion with God, are under his wrath and curse, and so made liable to all miseries in this life, to death itself, and to the pains of hell forever” (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q19).

Why would God permit such a tragic event, such an act of flagrant rebellion, in full knowledge of its horrific consequences? Read More

Are You An Organizational Leader Or A Shepherd? (10 Easy Ways To Tell)

So are you an organizational leader, or are you more of a relational leader—a shepherd?

It’s an interesting question, and a highly polarizing one in the church today. Ditto for this blog. Just check out the impassioned comments on this post, where I argue the church today needs more entrepreneurial leaders, not more shepherds.

Why does this matter?

Well, it matters for a few reasons. Read More

Related Articles:
Why We Need More Entrepreneurial Church Leaders, Not More Shepherds
Why We Need More Shepherds

3 Reasons Why I Quote the Church Fathers When I Preach

As the primary teaching pastor at my church, I quote regularly from the church fathers when I preach. I don't do so in every sermon, but my congregation is now familiar with names like Augustine, Chrysostom, Ambrose, and Athanasius.

Quoting people in sermons can be challenging, no matter what era of church history you pull from. A sermon is an act of exposition intended to evoke exultation and conclude with exhortation. That is, we expound on the biblical text, seeking to lead our congregation to experience a worshipful awe at these truths, which provides the fuel for exhorting them to obey King Jesus. Quotes can either enhance that process or hinder from it. (If you quote so often or in a way that it sounds like you're reading an essay with footnotes, you're doing it wrong.)

But here's why I quote often from the church fathers and why I recommend you consider doing so as well.... Read More
I would add a word or two of caution. First, we should cite the opinions of the church fathers only where such opinions are clearly agreeable to Scripture. Second, we should not depend upon the church fathers to interpret Scripture for us but rather should submit their opinions to Scripture. Third, we should not allow the church fathers to displace the Scriptures as our final authority in matters of faith and practice.

Treasure No. 7: The Hymnal 1940

While The Hymnal 1940 is more than 70 years old, it is widely used in the Continuing Anglican Churches along with the 1928 Prayer Book. At least one website (which, by the way, is a Roman Catholic website) touts it as "the best hymnal ever to appear in the English-speaking world." In this article from Bulletin No. 34, January 1946 of The Hymn Society of Great Britain & Ireland the late Eric Routley offers a refreshingly honest appraisal of the strengths and weaknesses of The Hymnal 1940. He wrote the article three years after The Hymnal 1940's publication in 1943.

Dr. Routley was an English Congregational minister, composer and musicologist. He was educated at Lancing College and Magdalen and Mansfield Colleges in Oxford. He was chaplain of Mansfield from 1948 to 1959 and then held appointments as minister in Edinburgh and Newcastle before becoming Professor of Church Music at Westminster Choir College, Princeton, New Jersey in 1975. He died in 1982.

Dr. Routley edited Congregational Praise (1951) and The University Carol Book (1961). At the time of his death he was general editor of Rejoice in the Lord: A Hymn Companion to the Scriptures (1989). He also authored critical and historical works on hymnody, church music and carols. He wrote the preface to the Summit Choir Book. In addition, he wrote more than 25 hymns and composed the hymn tune Sharpthorne. Read Article

11 Reasons We Must Pray for Missionary Kids

Many of us recognize the need to pray for missionaries, but I’m not sure we give sufficient attention to praying for missionary kids (now often known as “Third Culture Kids”). Here’s why we must correct that omission.... Read More

Climate Watch: Sea Level Rise Isn’t Just Happening, It’s Getting Faster

In at least the third such study published in the past year, scientists have confirmed seas are rising, and the rate of sea level rise is increasing as time passes — a sobering punchline for coastal communities that are only now beginning to prepare for a troubling future.

What was a 2.2 millimeter per year rise in 1993 was a 3.3 millimeter rise in 2014, based on estimates of the mass changes of a number of key components of sea level rise, such as the melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, the study in Nature Climate Change found. That’s the difference between 0.86 and 1.29 inches per decade – and the researchers suggest further sea level acceleration could be in store.

The chief cause of the acceleration was the melting of the Greenland ice sheet, which went from contributing less than 5 percent of all sea level rise in 1993 to contributing more than 25 percent in 2014, the study found. The loss of ice in Antarctica and smaller glaciers over the same time period also contributed to quicker sea level rise. Read More

Related Article:
Greenland Now a Major Driver of Rising Seas: Study

Monday, June 26, 2017

Small Towns Need Missionaries

I grew up on a farm.

Tractors, cattle, crops, big machinery, freezing cold winters, too many cats, and a marathon bus ride to school every morning. That’s right, I grew up on a farm. And that farm was next to a small town that my family and I called home. I’ve lived in small towns for most of my life, even after I moved away from the herd of cats. The small towns I’ve lived in may not be as cool as Austin or have the trendy conveniences of Seattle, but small towns will always be a part of who I am. If you live in a small town, you might know what I mean.

According to the US census, just over half of our population lives in towns, boroughs, villages, and townships with fewer than 25,000 people or in rural areas. Meanwhile, thousands of Christian books are published every year and hundreds of these are about mission and reaching people for Christ. Many of them have insightful and helpful ideas about mission that can be applied anywhere, but many of their ideas don’t seem to work in small towns. We should be thankful for resources like these, but we also need resources written specifically for mission in small towns.

A friend at my church has said that books about reaching people in closed countries in the 10/40 window relate best to mission in small towns because residents often have hardened religious mindsets and impenetrable circuits of relationships. My friend is probably exaggerating the comparison, but I understand what he’s saying because mission in small towns can be incredibly difficult and complicated. Read More

Related Articles:
Connecting Prayer to Mission
4 Differences Between Small Towns and Big Cities
This article is adapted from Aaron Morrow’s Small Town Mission: A Guide for Mission-Driven Communities.

What Are You Improving At Your Church Right Now?

The mission of the church is too important for any congregation to settle for business as usual.

What would you say if someone asked you the question in the title of this post?

“What are you improving at your church right now?”

Would you know what to say? It’s an important question.

In fact, if you can't answer that question with at least one specific goal-oriented project, your church may be in trouble without even knowing it. Read More

Meet the New ‘Twicer’: The Irregular Regular

I came across an interesting expression recently: the twicer.[1] From what I understand, ‘the twicer’ used to refer to the person who went to church twice a day (think of the days of morning and evening prayer). It then began to refer to the nominal churchgoer who would attend twice a year, the ‘Christmas and Easter’ Christian. When I heard the phrase recently, it was used to refer to the committed churchgoer. That is, to describe a regular churchgoer—who attends church just twice a month on average.

When I reflected on some of the churches I have been a part of, I found the expression to be fairly accurate. Many of us are irregular regulars: we’re ‘twicers’. I hope you’ll agree with me that this is rather saddening! Here are three biblical truths to help us break the twicer habit.[2][3] Read More

What Does Repentance Look Like?

One of the penitential psalms, Psalm 51 was written by David after he was confronted by the prophet Nathan. Nathan declared that David had grievously sinned against God in the taking of Bathsheba to be his wife and in the murder of her husband, Uriah.

It’s important to see the anguish and heartfelt remorse expressed by David, but we must also understand that repentance of the heart is the work of God the Holy Spirit. David is repentant because of the influence of the Holy Spirit upon him. Not only that, but as he writes this prayer, he is writing it under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit demonstrates in Psalm 51 how He produces repentance in our hearts. Keep this in mind as we look at the psalm. Read More

Five Terrible Reasons to Enter Vocational Ministry

I’ve seen too many people in vocational ministry fail to launch.

Perhaps “launch” is not the best term, because they may stay in ministry for many years. But they never seem to do well. They never seem to have a peace. They seem like they are always trying to prove something.

I recently went through my old seminary pictorial directory. I was able to locate 47 people I knew in seminary who I know where they are today. Of that 47, only eight remained in ministry. If you are doing the math, that is an 83 percent dropout rate.

Vocational ministry is a calling. It is not just another vocation. If you enter ministry for the wrong reasons, you will not likely do well. Indeed, you will not likely make it.

What are some of the terrible reasons to enter vocational ministry? Here are five of the most common failures.... Read More

The Church's Biggest Challenge in 2017

Let’s get unchurched evangelicals back into church, and prejudiced evangelicals back to the Bible.

Every week, we are treated to another revelation about the alarming attitudes of white evangelical Christians. You would think that a people steeped in the Bible—which commands and exemplifies concern for refugees and others in dire straits—would find President Trump’s closing the door to the world’s neediest refugees repulsive. But white evangelicals support Trump’s exclusionary policy by a whopping 75 percent.

Or take attitudes toward undocumented immigrants. Evangelical Christians believe Jesus died for them while they were lawbreakers. They are a people who know themselves as those who live moment to moment by sheer mercy. You would think these people would try to make at least some allowances for illegal immigrants. It turns out, however, that white evangelical Christians, more than any other religious group, say illegal immigrants should be identified and summarily deported.

Since Trump’s election, social and political scientists in survey after survey have tried to unravel the mystery of the 81 percent of white evangelical Christians who voted for him. While the economy seems to be the main reason, with abortion and religious freedom being crucial as well, too many of them seem to show little mercy to those who are not white Americans.

Supporting hardline immigration policies does not itself a xenophobe make—in fact, there are prudential reasons for limiting immigration. We just don’t find them persuasive. And when the argument for excluding foreigners from our shores amounts to fearmongering or sheer prejudice, a political issue becomes a matter of church discipline. We’re dealing with character issues among fellow believers. Read More

Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Challenges of Small Church Ministry

Here is a selection of articles on the challenges that those involved in small church ministry face. Some of these articles have been previously posted on Anglicans Ablaze. Others have not.

5 Things Small Churches Can Uniquely Offer...Right Now

Instead of trying to mimmick what the large churches in your area are doing (only to come up short of their quality because you don’t have the money or resources to duplicate it), here are five things I believe small churches can uniquely offer the world right where they are.... Read More

5 Things Small Churches Can Do Well

Here’s a short list of some of the things that the small church can do well.... Read More

Mistakes Small Churches Make: "We’re Too Small"

Don’t get stuck doubting your creativity or abilities. Know what your strengths are and play to them. Read More

Why Growth is Harder In a Small Church – And Change Is Essential

Big churches find it much easier to incorporate new people because the bigger the crowd, the smaller the impact each person has. Read More

How I Stopped Feeling Embarrassed by My Small Church

They knew the church was small, but they came anyway. Maybe they came because it was small. Read More

The Danger of Focusing On Numerical Growth

There are three primary concerns that I have with a focus on numbers. Read More
A list of other articles on the Small Church Connections website may be found here.
10 Reasons Why Small Churches Stay Small

These are simply my observations as to why stagnant, ungrowing churches tend to stay that way. I send it forth hoping to plant some seed in the imagination of a pastor or other leader who will be used of the Lord to do great things in a small church. Read More

5 Myths About Small Church Pastors

It's time to rethink our assumptions about "micro" ministry. Read More

Ministering to the Needs of Small and Declining Churches

The following is a list of observations that I have made over the years in regard to the challenges of preparing ministers for the life and ministry of small churches in the Reformed tradition. More and more, due to the recent economic recession, large churches are not hiring assistant pastors and pastors at established churches are not moving (a process that would create openings for aspiring pastors graduating out of the seminary). Therefore, in recent years, I have seen more of our graduates being attracted to the opportunities afforded by the small (and often “more” rural) churches and I have encouraged students to consider such opportunities while giving due consideration to some of the attendant cautions mentioned below. Read More

Biblical Preaching in the Small Church

The small church no less than any other is formed by the Word and grows spiritually through the Word. Jesus said, “I will build My church…” (Matthew 16:18). His word is foundational and upon it the spiritual life of the church, no matter the size, depends. Read More
A list of other articles from The Small Church Shepherd on the Small Church Leadership Network website may be found here.
3 Tips for Small Churches Struggling to Maintain Their Digital Presence

In talking with leaders of small churches, I’ve found that when their digital presence is lacking, it’s not because they don’t believe it’s important. Instead, it’s what some many of us can relate to: lack of time or lack of resources (people). Read More

Ecumenical vs. Evangelical

One of the most devastating attacks on the life and health of the church throughout all of church history has been what is known as the ecumenical movement—the downplaying of doctrine in order to foster partnership in ministry between (a) genuine Christians and (b) people who were willing to call themselves Christians but who rejected fundamental Christian doctrines.

In the latter half of the 19th century, theological liberalism fundamentally redefined what it meant to be a Christian. It had nothing to do, they said, with believing in doctrine. It didn’t matter if you believed in an inerrant Bible; the scholarship of the day had debunked that! It didn’t matter if you believed in the virgin birth and the deity of Christ; modern science disproved that! It didn’t matter if you embraced penal substitutionary atonement; blood sacrifice and a wrathful God are just primitive and obscene, and besides, man is not fundamentally sinful but basically good! What mattered was one’s experience of Christ, and whether we live like Christ. “And we don’t need doctrine to do that!” they said. “Doctrine divides!” Iain Murray wrote of that sentiment, “‘Christianity is life, not doctrine,’ was the great cry. The promise was that Christianity would advance wonderfully if it was no longer shackled by insistence on doctrines and orthodox beliefs” (“Divisive Unity,” 233). Read More

Does Conservative Theology Empower Abuse?

Here are three things that I believe are true and that are important for honest people to admit:

1. It is a moral travesty when religious people or organizations use their beliefs, influence, or infrastructure to hurt, control, or manipulate other people.

2.Theologically conservative organizations have been guilty of doing this, many times, often with disastrous, multi-generational consequences.

3. For people who believe in things like inerrancy, the exclusivity of Christ, and the necessity of the local church, the costs of using the faith in this sinful, abusive way are exponentially higher, and thus, it is a greater tragedy when it is those people who engage in it.

All these points are, I believe, completely true. You won’t find me denying any of them. As someone who was raised in theologically conservative evangelicalism, I don’t think there’s any question that all three points are correct, and further, that theologically conservative evangelicals like me should be in the business of confessing them and working accordingly.

But here’s something I’ve noticed. I’ve noticed that, for what feels like a growing number of younger professing Christians (whether they use the word evangelical or not), there seems to be a 4th statement that holds a lot of weight with them. You could put it something like this:

4. Because theologically conservative institutions and people have been guilty of this abuse, it follows that theologically conservative doctrine empowers and facilitates such abuse.

I completely reject this statement for many reasons, most of which would probably be easy to guess for readers of this blog. But what’s interesting to me is that this 4th statement is, for a lot of young religion writers, so self-evident and so important to their worldview that to deny it amounts to nothing less than an instinctive valuing of theology and ideas over human beings at best, and at worst, an ambition to likewise abuse, control, or manipulate others with our religion. Arguing with this 4th statement is almost always construed to be really arguing with the first 3. The only reason (they say) that someone would dispute statement 4 is because they’re really living in denial of statements 1-3. Either you don’t really believe that theologically conservative churches or institutions have hurt others (in which case, you’re simply in denial of reality), or else you don’t believe that such hurting actually matters. Read More

Who Is the Holy Spirit? An Excerpt from the New City Catechism

The New City Catechism: 52 Questions & Answers for Our Hearts & Minds was published earlier this year by Crossway. A companion volume, The New City Catechism Devotional (239 pages), with an Introduction by Timothy Keller and under the general editorial oversight of Collin Hansen was also published by Crossway. Part Three of the Devotional is devoted to short chapters on the theme of Spirit, Restoration, and Growing in Grace. I was asked to contribute the devotional chapter on the Holy Spirit. Here it is.

Rarely does a Christian struggle to think of God as Father. And to envision God as Son is not a problem for many. These personal names come easily to us because our lives and relationships are inescapably intertwined with fathers and sons here on earth. But God as Holy Spirit is often a different matter. Gordon Fee tells of one of his students who remarked, “God the Father makes perfectly good sense to me, and God the Son I can quite understand; but the Holy Spirit is a gray, oblong blur.”

How different this is from what we actually read in Scripture. There we see that the Spirit is not third in rank in the Godhead but is co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and Son, sharing with them all the glory and honor due unto our Triune God. The Holy Spirit is not an impersonal power or an ethereal, abstract energy. The Spirit is personal in every sense of the term. He has a mind and thinks (Isa. 11:2; Rom. 8:27). He is capable of experiencing deep affections and feelings (Rom. 8:26; 15:30). The Spirit has a will and makes choices (Acts 16:7; 1 Cor. 2:11) regarding what is best for God’s people and what will most glorify the Son. Read More

10 Quick Things You Can Do To Improve Your Church Website

Your website will be the front door for many who investigate your church. Improve your church website with these quick (and easy) tasks.

Kevin de Young put it very well:
“Your website is the front door of your church for many, many people. If you’d put a greeter at the front door of your physical church, and line up ushers in the sanctuary, and set up a hospitality center in the lobby, and make sure all the signs are attractive and pointing in the right direction, surely you ought to take the same care with your church’s website.”
Here are 10 quick things you can do today to continue to improve your church website and serve the people who use it. Read More
For the past 14 odd years I have been scouring the Internet for articles, podcasts, and videos for Anglicans Ablaze. During that time I have visited the websites of numerous churches and the judicatories and denominations to which they belong. If I were to rank these websites on the basis of their quality, I would rank those of the Episcopal Church, the Reformed Episcopal Church, the Continuing Anglican Churches, and the Anglican Church in North America among the lowest. They strongly suggest that North American Anglicans and Episcopalians do not appreciate the value of a good website. There have been exceptions but generally the quality of these websites has ranged from poor to very poor to abysmally poor. If a church's website is the front door for "many, many people" looking for a new church home, the poor quality of these websites may help explain why these churches have so few visitors.

Here’s a Resolution: Denominations Should Stop Shooting Themselves in the Foot

The world is watching.

Dwight McKissic called the most recent SBC drama a “24-hour roller coaster ride.”

I called it shooting yourself in the foot. Again. Publicly.

What could have been a Tuesday condemnation of racism became a Wednesday mea culpa.

So, what really happened on Tuesday when the Southern Baptist Convention Committee on Resolutions offered nine resolutions on various topics but passed over Pastor McKissic’s resolution condemning the alt-right? As I conversed Tuesday night with some of the players, everyone knew that Dwight McKissic had brought a resolution, as he often does. With him regularly bringing resolutions, perhaps the Resolutions Committee had been predisposed to pass this one by—and some of the language in the resolution may have added to that.

But it’s time we see that decisions like this are more than just what happens in a room in Phoenix. Read More

Friday, June 23, 2017

Five Danger Signs in Churches - Rainer on Leadership #339 [Podcast]

If any of these danger signs are present in your church, you need to take note. They can signal decline, dead theology, or even death of the church. Listen Now

There Can't be Only One Way

When I was a freshman in high school, I tried out for the varsity basketball team. On the first day of tryouts, the coach ran a scrimmage, periodically sending players into the game to see how they played. When my turn came, I intercepted a pass on the very first play. Then I took the ball the length of the court, skyed over every other player and made the prettiest layup you ever saw.

The coach instantly blew the whistle, stopped the game and called me over to the bench. I was walking 10 feet off the ground. I just knew my shot was so good that he had to stop the game just to tell me. I envisioned that ESPN had called and wanted the footage, and that Sports Illustrated had every intention of running a photo of me on the next cover. The shoe deal with Nike was only a matter of time. So I walked – actually, strutted – to the sideline.

My coach said, “White, that was a great shot. Your form was great; your intensity was great. Only thing is, you went to the wrong basket – but it was a great shot!” Is there a right and a wrong basket in the spiritual game? Is Christianity the only way to score with God or simply one of many ways? For today’s unchurched person, this is hardly academic. The religious landscape of modern American society can be nothing less than bewildering. Religious groups, sects, cults, movements, philosophies and worldviews abound in incredible numbers and diversity.

Add to this mix one of the most pervasive, fundamental convictions of contemporary American society: All roads lead to God, and to say that one way is right and all the other ways are wrong is narrow-minded, bigoted and prejudicial. What is true for you is true for you, and what is true for me is true for me. Searching for God is like climbing a mountain. Since everyone knows there is not just one way to climb a mountain – mountains are too big for that – each person can choose from a number of paths. All the ideas about God contained in the various religions of the world are just different ways up the mountain. In fact, though different religions have different names for God, the names all refer to the same God.

Is it true that a lot of roads lead to heaven, which means we really don’t have to worry about which road we’re on? Is it true that no person, no religion, no group, no book has a handle on the truth? Is it true that all religions are basically the same and all religious leaders are essentially of one mind so that ultimately all spiritual pursuits lead to the same place? If so, people need not look for spiritual truth. They just need to decide on spiritual preference.

If you embrace the idea that multiple paths lead to God and you turn out to be wrong, the consequences are enormous. So let’s explore the reasons why people hold to this belief.... Read More

What Is Saving Faith?

Faith is central to Christianity. The New Testament repeatedly calls people to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. There is a definite body of content to be believed, which is part and parcel of our religious activity. At the time of the Reformation, the debate involved the nature of saving faith. What is saving faith? The idea of justification by faith alone suggests to many people a thinly veiled antinomianism that claims people can live any way they like so long as they believe the right things. Yet James wrote in his epistle: “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?…Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (2:14, 17). Luther said that the sort of faith that justifies is fides viva, a “living faith,” one that inevitably, necessarily, and immediately yields the fruit of righteousness. Justification is by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone. A faith without any yield of righteousness is not true faith. Read More

Want An Effective Ministry? Consider Becoming A Zagger

You and your church can have a big impact and great effectiveness by meeting a small, overlooked area of need.

"When they zig, you zag."

I don't know who said it first, but a lot of people have said it since.

I'm a zagger.

I’ve tried to be a zigger. To go with the flow, not against it. To pick the low-hanging fruit.

But, time after time, without intending to, I find myself zagging. Getting off the interstate. Finding the road less traveled. Read More

If You're Going To Do Church That Way, Do It Well

Churches don’t become great by adding more programs. They get better at the ones they already have.

There are so many ways to do church.

As long as you’re honoring the Bible, worshiping Jesus and loving people, no method or structure is wrong.

But any method or structure can be done wrong.

Thankfully, it can also be done right.

Whatever program, asset or resource you think your church needs in order to become great, you can find a church somewhere that became great without it.

It’s not about what you have or don’t have. What you do or don’t do. It’s far more about doing it well, not matter what you have or don’t have.

For instance.... Read More

7 Rules for Keeping Pastoral Sanity

Pastoral ministry can be busy and rewarding. It can also be a place to lose your sanity.

It is truly a joy to serve the Lord and the church as a pastor. We know many things we’re supposed to do—study, pray, read, show compassion, love others, and lead well. But there are some things I’ve learned we just shouldn’t do; not because they are sinful, but because they aren’t helpful.

These seven rules for keeping pastoral sanity are not intended to be legalistic. Rather, I hope they will assist us in our leadership interactions with others. I’ve listed them in the negative for effect and hope they will stick out to you as they have to me. Read More

Why Are There So Many Interpretations of the Bible? The Problem of "Pervasive Interpretative Pluralism"

Back in April of this year, at the national conference of the Gospel Coalition, Kevin DeYoung addressed the question of why there appear to be so many different interpretations of the Bible? If the Bible is inspired and sufficient, why do so many Christians disagree with one another on particular texts and topics? The language of “pervasive interpretive pluralism” was first used by author Christian Smith, who recently converted to Roman Catholicism. Kevin’s message was excellent, but I thought I would add to what he said with a few observations of my own.

Let’s begin with the important concession that this is a problem that all people face, regardless of their religious affiliation. It is not solely a Protestant problem. Anyone who thinks there is monolithic and always unified interpretation in the Roman Catholic Church is simply uninformed. Not only is this a problem in all families of the Christian faith, it is a problem in all spheres of earthly existence. In other words, this isn’t simply a religious problem, it is a human problem that infects every discipline of study and every work of literature that we read. Nevertheless, it is especially present in Christianity because we affirm that our “work of literature”, the Bible, is inspired, inerrant, authoritative, and sufficient.

We are now prepared to examine some of the reasons for interpretive pluralism. These are by no means the only reasons, but they provide a good place to begin our discussion. Read More

Five Steps for Sharing the Gospel with Your Neighbours

Immediately before his ascension, Jesus’ promised his disciples that the coming Holy Spirit would empower them to be “[his] witnesses in Jerusalem and in Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Though they had already been commissioned to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19), their instructions were to begin this mission in Jerusalem (Luke 24:47). While there are significant theological reasons for making Jerusalem the starting point of the church’s mission, we should not overlook the simple fact that beginning in Jerusalem meant starting at home in their own community.

In our efforts to bring the gospel to the most distant and unreached corners of the globe we must not overlook the opportunity and responsibility that God has given us to make Christ known to the folks next door—our neighbours.

Some of us may already be making inroads in sharing the gospel with our neighbours, and others may be wracking our brain to remember the name of the person down the hall or across the street. Wherever you find yourself, here are five basic steps toward being a faithful witness where you live. Read More

Thursday, June 22, 2017

5 Ways To Lead When You Have No Money Or Team

I recently surveyed over 1400 pastors of small to mid-sized churches to find out what they struggled with.

I ran the survey to collect input for a new online course I’m releasing this fall called Breaking 200 Without Breaking You, all about breaking the 200 attendance barrier, something 85% of churches never do. (You can sign up to get on the inside track for the course release here.)

Man, I learned a ton from that survey.

One of the common refrains leaders voiced was uncertainty about how to lead when they didn’t have much money or the right team.

After all, most of us visit mega-churches and think if I only had a tenth of their money and their people, it would instantly solve my problems. And then we go back to our own context and get almost instantly depressed.

So when you have almost no money for ministry and you clearly haven’t got the right kind of people in the room, where do you start?

Believe it or not, neither condition is fatal to your cause. In fact, almost every great movement, church or organization you admire started with no money and no people.

So how can you lead when resources are scarce to non-existent?

There are at least five things you can do to help you find traction. Read More

Eight Reasons the Pastor Matters Most in a Church's Evangelistic Efforts

In my decades of studying churches, I’ve never seen an evangelistic church not led by an evangelistic pastor. Here’s why the pastor is so critical in this Great Commission task.... Read More

6 Attitudes That Kill Evangelism

I won’t bore you with statistics about declining evangelism in our churches. You don’t need me to convince you that most churches are not reaching our communities with the gospel. You don’t need me to provide data that shows our churches are reaching fewer people today than just a few years ago.

But why are our churches less evangelistic today?

That question could be answered from a number of perspectives. But one of the key explanations is simply an attitude problem. There are several dangerous and debilitating attitudes in churches that are killing evangelism. Here are six of them.... Read More
This article was posted on Anglicans Ablaze earlier this month. It was originally posted on Thom Rainer's blog. Anglicans Ablaze would like to hear from you about your own experiences. What attitudes were killing evangelism in your church? What did you do to overcome these attitudes? What worked? What didn't?

Thursday's Catch: "Does Your Church Have the Right Model?" and Much More

Does Your Church Have the Right Model?

How to decide. Read More

What Is a Worldview?

Abortion. Euthanasia. Pornography. Same-sex marriage. Transgender rights. Embryonic research. Genetic enhancement. Christians surveying the cultural landscape in the West have a clear sense that things are headed in a destructive direction. While most believers can easily identify the symptoms of decline, few feel competent to diagnose and address the root causes. There are many complex factors behind these developments, but one invaluable tool for better understanding and engaging with our culture is the concept of worldview. The sociological quakes and moral fissures we observe in our day are largely due to what we might call “cultural plate tectonics”: shifts in underlying worldviews and the collisions between them. Read More

Thomas Cranmer: Evangelising the Nation [Audio]

At the 2017 Church Society Conference, Revd Dr Peter Adam outlined Thomas Cranmer’s strategy for evangelising the nation, which could be summed up in one word: Bible. Listen Now

Five Leadership Axioms That Shape Your Ministry

Healthy leaders make for healthy organizations. Read More

10 Transformative Lessons for Healthy Churches and Leaders

When we have overlooked issues of character because of natural abilities or effectiveness, we have always paid a price. Read More

How Vulnerable Should a Pastor be When Preaching?

When you think about it, though, is not the act of preaching itself an act of deep vulnerability? Read More

Preacher’s Toolkit: Should I Always Call for Repentance and Faith?

Expository preaching addresses the entire person—the mind, the affections, and the will. Sadly, many think of expository preaching only as mental instruction. While preaching must certainly instruct the mind, it must go further than mere mental instruction. An expository sermon must also raise the affections. Read More

5 Principles for University Evangelism

In our current environment, with its distinct challenges and opportunities, how should we go about the task of university evangelism? Is there anything practical we can say? Yes, in fact. Here are five principles for university evangelism today. Read More

How To Distinguish True Zeal from False Zeal

I fear there is a plague of complacency among Christians today. Whatever happened to zeal? Whatever happened to Christians who are on fire to know and obey God, who have (in the words of John Reynolds) “an earnest desire and concern for all things pertaining to the glory of God and the kingdom of the Lord Jesus among men?” Yet while zeal is a noble trait, it must be properly directed, for not all zeal is good. Here are some pointers on distinguishing true from false zeal. Read More

4 Misconceptions of the Missionary Call

We are currently out on our American Tour, and are talking to people about what it is like to be a missionary. We have found that there is a very common perception that certain people are "called" to be missionaries in a unique way. While I certainly have met a lot of unique missionaries, I believe that there are some misunderstandings undergirding this belief. Below are four of these misconceptions I hope to clear up in this post. The first misconception is that.... Read More

Four Common Gifts Churches Give to First-Time Guests

As we’ve seen churches become more intentional about guest assimilation, many give away a small gift to guests to make an impression and to convey appreciation for their visit. If your church decides to do this (and I would recommend that you do), the gifts don’t have to be overly expensive. But they should convey that you care about the guests. Here are four popular gifts churches give to guests and some tips for how you can maximize their usefulness.... Read More

Evangelicals Tell Trump: Don’t Deport Christians to Face Genocide in Iraq

As outcry over fate of 199 mostly Chaldeans continues, so do ICE arrests. Read More

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Your Church Is Big Enough: Karl Vaters Talks Small Church Health

Yesterday I posted Thom Rainer's interview with Karl Vaters. Today I am posting Lawrence Wilson's interview with Karl.

Karl Vaters believes your church can be healthy regardless of its size. This 30-year ministry veteran pastors Cornerstone Christian Fellowship in Fountain Valley, Calif., and has emerged as a champion of the small church through his book The Grasshopper Myth and the blog Pivot hosted by Christianity Today.

But that rosy outlook on small-church life was years in the making. It was born from a near-burnout experience when his congregation “grew” from 400 to well below 100 in just nine months. That’s when Karl said out loud the words that shocked his staff and surprised himself: “We’ve got to stop thinking like a big church.” Read More

Related Articles:
5 Mistakes More Likely To Be Made By Small Churches Than Big Churches
Small Churches are Not a Problem, a Virtue or an Excuse
The 3-2-1 System for Better Annual Small Church Planning
Why Some Great Churches Never Impact Their Community

9 Reasons Rural Churches Still Matter

I wrote yesterday about the importance of the church connecting with cities. I confess that I’m more urban and suburban than rural, but I also recognize the importance of rural churches. In fact, I began my ministry career as pastor of a more rural church. Here are some of the reasons these churches matter.... Read More

Five Overcorrection Mistakes Churches Make

The pendulum swings in churches.

The congregation does not like a previous direction, so they overcompensate with the next move they make. Often, the overcompensation becomes a more challenging situation than the previous state.

Here are five overcorrection mistakes I frequently see in churches.... Read More

Preaching the Gospel with TULIP’s Tricky “L” in Mind

It’s a fair question for the Arminian to ask: How can you preach the free offer of the gospel when you believe in a limited atonement? How can you preach the “whosoever” of John 3:16 if you cannot be certain that Christ’s atonement was for every person? How can you say, “Turn to Christ and be saved all the ends of the earth” if Christ’s atoning sacrifice does not extend to all humanity?

First, a brief theological refresher. The doctrines known as “Calvinism” insist that Christ’s atonement was completed with a limited or definite purpose in mind—the salvation of God’s elect. Thus, while the atonement was sufficient for all humanity, it was intended and applied only to those who had been specially chosen by God to be his. R.C. Sproul says, “Our view is that the redemption of specific sinners was an eternal plan of God, and this plan and design was perfectly conceived and perfectly executed so that the will of God to save His people is accomplished by the atoning work of Christ.” Conversely, Arminianism insists that Christ’s atonement was unlimited or universal, both sufficient for all humanity and applied to all equally. The call of the gospel, then, is to embrace what Christ has already done for each sinner.

The question is, do those who believe in a limited atonement have the right to honestly preach the gospel and to call on people to turn to Christ in repentance and faith even when it is possible that this person is not among the elect and, therefore, not the object of Christ’s atoning work? Read More

10 Hidden Traps that Trip Pastors

Through the years, I have come across more than one leader who was stranded on the side of the road, leg entangled in an ugly trap. They were hurt and bleeding, and their leadership was sidelined. I have listed a few of these hidden traps and have given some advice about how to avoid them. Honestly, I have some scars from being caught in a few of these snares. Maybe I can help you to go around some of these.... Read More

The Worship Swing-Vote Principle: A Divine Partnership

Over the years, I began to quiz people after church about the musical worship time. I found that there were some people who, no matter how good the music and leadership was, didn’t worship. On the opposite end, there were those who worshipped (and wholeheartedly, at that) no matter how good or bad our team did leading. And then there were those who were sometimes “into it” and other times “not so much.”

I began to notice patterns and dynamics. I began to see the relationship between leadership and these people groups. My conclusions led me to what I call the “Swing Vote” principle, or 60/20/20 rule. It starts with the people. Read More

Related Article:
The Worship Swing-Vote Principle: Maximizing Engagement

Climate Watch: By 2100, Deadly Heat May Threaten Majority of Humankind - UPDATED

Up to 75 percent of people could face deadly heatwaves by 2100 unless carbon emissions plummet, a new study warns.

A new study has found that 30 percent of the world’s population is currently exposed to potentially deadly heat for 20 days per year or more—and like a growing forest fire, climate change is spreading this extreme heat.

Without major reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2, up to three in four people will face the threat of dying from heat by 2100. However, even with reductions, one in two people at the end of the century will likely face at least 20 days when extreme heat can kill, according to the analysis, published on Monday in Nature Climate Change.

“Lethal heatwaves are very common. I don’t know why we as a society are not more concerned about the dangers,” says Camilo Mora of the University of Hawaii at Manoa, the study’s lead author. “The 2003 European heatwave killed approximately 70,000 people—that’s more than 20 times the number of people who died in the September 11 attacks.”

Dangerous heatwaves are far more common than anyone realized, killing people in more than 60 different parts of the world every year. Notable deadly heatwaves include the 2010 Moscow event that killed at least 10,000 people and the 1995 Chicago heatwave, where 700 people died of heat-related causes.

Heatwaves have also claimed victims more recently. In the last two weeks, dozens have died in India and Pakistan’s current heatwave, with temperatures spiking to a record 128 degrees Fahrenheit (53.5 degrees Celsius). And there have been heat-related deaths already in the U.S. this summer. Read More

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New: Did Climate Change Ground Flights in Phoenix?
New: A Tick Bite Could Make You Allergic to Meat—And it's Spreading
Ethiopia's Coffee Farmers Are 'On The Front Lines Of Climate Change'
Does your church have a contingency plan for how it is going to respond to heat waves and other natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, and wildfires that may affect your community? Developing and implementing such a plan is one of a number of ways that Christians can live out the Great Commandment and show that they care about the community in which their church is located. It builds bridges between the church and the community and strengthen the church's positive image in the community.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Anti-Gospel of the Alt-Right (Pt.1): Introduction to Alt-Right Ideology

On Wednesday, June 14, the messengers of the 2017 Southern Baptist Convention condemned “the anti-gospel of alt-right white supremacy.” The resolution passed by an overwhelming majority of approximately 5,000 votes in favor to no more than 10 votes against.

In light of the SBC’s condemnation and of the alt-right’s emergence on the national scene during the 2016 election cycle, I will be releasing a four-part series on the anti-gospel of the Alt-Right, summarizing its ideology, leadership, and involvement in the 2016 election cycle, before going on to address how Christians should respond to the Alt-Right’s false gospel. Read More

10 Things You Should Know about the Demise of Expository Preaching

Biblical preaching has fallen on hard times in the western world. There’s certainly no lack of speaking and sharing and shouting. And dramatic presentations and video clips are prevalent in pulpits across America. But there is precious little biblical preaching. The Bible makes a token appearance here and there, but rarely to be explained and expounded and acknowledged as authoritative for how we think and live. There are several reasons for this dearth of biblical preaching, ten of which I’ll mention. Read More

Tuesday's Catch: "Church Mergers and Plants" and Much More

Church Mergers and Plants: Summer 2017

The latest issue of 9Marks Journal is now online. The focus of this issue is church mergers and plants. Lots of great articles. Check it out.

Why We Plant Churches

Sojourn Network must plant churches; this is our constitutional mandate—anything less represents willful disobedience.[1] For ‘church planting’ to be achieved, however, it must be understood. To be understood, it must be defined. To be defined, it must be clarified in writing. We chalk a line at that place, then, and mark it as our starting point. Read More

Five Big Problems for Small Churches Featuring Karl Vaters - Rainer on Leadership #338 [Podcast]

Karl Vaters joins Thom Rainer and Jonathan Howe to discuss issues found most often in small churches. However, these issues manifest themselves in any size church in any setting. Listen Now

3 Steps to Resurrect a Dying Church

If you focus on growth before depth, you’ll be tempted to adopt gimmicks, quick fixes and copycat tactics. Read More
I have some ambivalence about posting a link to this article. It is related to Brian Moss's third suggestion. While I agree that reassessing the church's ministry target group is important, I must point out focusing solely on "people like us" can be problematic. This is an application of the homogeneous unit church growth principle. Focusing only on "people like us" and not a more diverse segment of the local population, one more representative of the community or neighborhood's population, has also been identified as a major contributing factor to the plateauing and decline of churches. If a church's ministry target group is a small one, the church is not likely to experience much growth. If a church wishes to arrest its decline, it must expand its population base. One of the reasons churches plateau or decline is that they tie themselves to a stagnant or shrinking base.
9 Reasons to Connect Our Churches with the Cities

We are called to get the gospel to all peoples of the world (Matt. 28:18-20), and we will not do that if we shy away from the world’s cities. Please read on even if you’re not interested in urban settings, and pray about how your church might tackle a city (then come back tomorrow to hear my thoughts about rural areas and churches). Read More

Five Easy Ways to Pursue Excellence as a Church

Want to pursue excellence as a local church? Here’s how you do it. Read More

The 5 “R”s to Remembering Names of Everybody You Meet

Remembering a person’s name is important. You never know how such a small detail might have a profound impact on someone’s life. Read More

10 Ways Pastors Can Help Women in the Church

Pastors and leaders have a responsibility to shepherd their flock--the entirety of it. If you are a church leader, you have a unique opportunity to embrace the gifts women bring to your body. Read More

5 Myths That Keep You from Recognizing God at Work

As I have preached on people’s jobs over the years and researched my book Every Job a Parable: What Walmart Greeters, Nurses, and Astronauts Tell Us about God (NavPress, June 2017) I’ve encountered five vocational myths that keep people from more fully recognizing God at work. Read More

Is the ESV Literal and the NIV Gender Neutral?

There actually are five methods on translation with three sub-categories for the handling of gender language. Translations are all on a continuum, overlapping one another, and hence it is misleading to picture them as different points on a line. I am guessing, but for example, about eighty percent of the ESV and the NIV are the same, once you account for different translations of individual words. Read More

The Challenge of University Evangelism

Some believe, however, that the university may be entering a new era of opposition to student ministry, and particularly to evangelism. When weighing what seems to be the beginning of a shift or trend, it’s always hard to know whether it’ll be localized and temporary or sweeping and lasting. However, particularly in elite American universities, students are becoming highly sensitive, traumatized, and outraged by opposing viewpoints. Read More

Developing a Spirit of Acceptance When We Reach Out to the Unchurched [Podcast]

Rick Richardson, Professor at Wheaton College and head of academic programs and research at the Billy Graham Center, shares a story of a recent evangelism encounter. Rick explains that once unchurched people know they won’t feel judged or pressured by Christians, their hearts warm to the gospel and the opportunities for faith sharing are endless. Listen Now

Southern Baptists and the Alt-Right: On Being in the Room Where it Happened

Last week, the Southern Baptist Convention adopted a resolution “On the Anti-Gospel of Alt-Right Supremacy.” It was not without some controversy. Read More

Monday, June 19, 2017

10 Key Values of a Multiplying Church

If you’re planting a church or have planted a church, you may sometimes feel like you’re done—you’ve made your contribution to the Great Commission. But is there something more? Is the nature of the Great Commission addition, or is it multiplication? In Matthew 28, the Savior of the world calls his disciples to multiply the church—to see his world redeemed. He has called us to make disciples who make disciples and multiply churches that multiply. New churches will be the way we advance his kingdom.

Right now, less than 4 percent of churches in the United States ever reproduce. That means more than 96 percent of all churches never reproduce. As leaders, it’s up to us to move the multiplication needle. Below are 10 key characteristics that a working team of national leaders from multiplying churches identified—values embedded in the culture of Level 5 multiplying churches. Read through each of the following characteristics carefully and then work through each one with your team.

Here are 10 characteristics of a level 5 culture. Read More

6 Ways Small Churches Can Love Their Communities

What if you are the pastor of a small church but would like to do something to serve your community? What if you love the idea of adopting a school, but barely have enough resources to cover your nursery on Sunday?

Is it possible to do acts of mercy in your local Jerusalem with a tiny band of volunteers? Surprisingly, it is. Here are six tips for small church outreach.... Read More
A repost but worth reading again if you've already read it.
Photo Credit: Trinity Episcopal Church, Fulton, Kentucky 

Good News which is also True News

Dr. Paul Barnett was a speaker at the Anglican Connection Conference held in Dallas, Texas on June 12-14, 2017. He has posted the text of his talk on his blog.

Gospel means ‘good news’ because its message is that Jesus the Son of God has saved us from the penalty of our sin and blessed us with his life-changing Spirit.

This ‘good news’ is no less true news’ - true historically. If the gospel is not historically true, then its message is not ‘good’, but ‘bad’, misleading and a cruel mockery.

But the ‘good news’ is no less ‘true news’.

There have many attacks on the truth of the gospel, especially from the New Atheists who have carpet bombed the integrity of the four Gospels.

Please see my response, Gospel Truth published by IVP/UK. Read More

Saving Your Ministry Before You Lose It

A wise leader does not wait for God to send a messenger to uncover his or her sin.

He spoke only a few words and I knew something was wrong…desperately wrong. When my phone rang and I saw who it was, I was happy. Ken (not his real name) was a faithful friend and pastor of a local church in our community. I had known him for about a decade and I respected him greatly.

Can I come over to your office and talk?” he asked. I let him know my schedule was full, but maybe we could set up a lunch the next week. With a stern voice he responded, “I have to come over and talk to you right now.”

My heart sank and I could feel a knot forming in my stomach. I cleared my schedule and awaited his arrival. When he walked into my office, he was without his normal smile and energy. He walked to a chair in the corner and sat down. He never made eye contact.

I made a mistake…a big one. It could cost me my ministry, my marriage, and maybe my family.” Over the next hour we talked, prayed, and cried together. The specifics of his crash are not relevant for this blog, but he was absolutely right. The series of decisions he had made and the actions he had taken cost him his ministry. By God’s grace, his marriage did not end. But for five years he invested a great deal of time and energy in rebuilding trust and restoring love.

What struck me as I watched my friend and his family journey through almost five years of hellish pain and struggle was that he could have avoided it all with a few simple decisions. I am not saying these decisions would have been easy, but they are quite simple. Here are some ways a Christian leader can make a decision to save his or her ministry before he or she loses it. Read More

Photo Credit: Wikimedia

Pastor, Share Your Faith

I have just returned from the Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix, AZ. I was reminded this week how much I love being a Southern Baptist. They are my family. Just like my biological family we don’t always get everything right, but warts and all I love the SBC.

Several things encouraged me this week, not least of which was the racial diversity that I observed. We have not arrived as a convention of churches, but the composition of our messengers, churches, and leaders is increasingly diverse. I am encouraged by this.

I was also encouraged to see an emphasis on evangelism. Southern Baptists always talk about evangelism, but this year there was a real emphasis on it. President Steve Gaines has appointed an evangelism task force and there was even a sermon on the importance of public invitations that included practical tips on extending invitations.

Nevertheless, talk as much as we will, the truth is that at its core evangelism is not denominational; it is personal. Effective evangelism has to be more than public invitations. Effective evangelism must include personal invitations—not just invitations to church, but invitations to Christ. Read More

Effective Partnering: The Church and Cross-Cultural Worker On-Task Together

A good church-field partnership takes work and lots of communication.

Everyone agrees that we must work together to accomplish the task of Matthew 28:19-20 so that we may move closer to the end goal found in Matthew 24:14. Furthermore, we all know God did not give this task solely to missionaries or pastors.

In this post-modern world, many in the Church are ready and willing to go “to the ends of the earth”—at least for short periods of time. However, as I’ve mingled with both cross-cultural workers and church leadership, one recurring emotion surfaces: frustration. Some cross-cultural workers dread the next team’s arrival and some church leaders long for a vibrant, influential role in reaching the nations, but feel stymied by overseas personnel.

It does not have to be this way. A healthy partnership finds the cross-cultural worker actively anticipating and preparing for the short-term team. He or she prays that God will multiply his or her expectations, and trusts God to work—both among the people group and in the volunteers.

In the same partnership, the church body knows they play a strategic role in fulfilling God’s will for that community and area. They care little about costs and time because they are invested in the local people and God’s work among them. They trust the cross-cultural worker to create opportunities for sharing, and they are prepared to follow the Holy Spirit as far as he leads them.

A good church-field partnership is like a marriage. It takes work. It demands seemingly excessive amounts of communication, which leads to trust. And while it may not always be comfortable, there is a sense of ‘rightness’ on both sides. Below I examine a healthy church and cross-cultural worker partnership and offer a step-by-step guide to establish and maintain a partnership that glorifies God and fulfills his vision for the world. Read More