Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Five Strategic Advantages Of Small Churches

For the past thirty years or so, the focus of most literature on local church ministry has been church growth. Whether they offer advice on how to develop a winning vision statement, attract and retain visitors, multiply your small groups, or manage a building campaign, the dominant voices in the most popular ministry literature promise to help you increase attendance in your services and programs. These materials suggest that the small church is somehow deficient, ill-equipped by definition to be stewards of God’s great Gospel of grace and redemption. If a small church wants to be better, it has to be bigger.

Frankly, I disagree. I believe that small churches—which, by the way, make up the majority of churches—are uniquely equipped for ministry success in the twenty-first century. In the following paragraphs, I offer five strengths that I believe are inherent in small congregations. These qualities are not limited to small churches only; they can be found in larger churches, too. But smaller churches can better leverage these characteristics for ministry success. Read More
Smaller Churches Have At Least Five Advantages—do You Know Them? is the same article with a different title and divided into shorter paragraphs. I have included a link to it since some readers may find it more readable.

Push Back the Darkness This Week

It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. — Samwise Gamgee, The Lord of the Rings

J. R. R. Tolkien didn’t have to try hard to imagine a war-torn world filled with evil and darkness. In his lifetime he witnessed two world wars, genocide, famine, dictatorship, economic collapse, and more. Tolkien could write of a world oppressed by darkness because that was the world he experienced. The darkness of Middle-earth was fictional, but it was based on reality. Our sin-stricken world is encompassed by darkness. The everyday stuff of life is stained by the effects of sin.

But it hasn’t always been this way.

A couple pages into the story of the Bible, our attention is drawn to an incredible locale on planet earth: the garden of Eden. Humanity’s story began in a place free from pain, suffering, sorrow, and sin. The kingdom of God and the dwelling place of man overlapped in a real, time-space location. Eden was literally heaven on earth.

Then came rebellion. We were kicked out of the garden—out of that kingdom marked by security, peace, and joy—and we were plunged into a new kingdom dominated by darkness and death (Gen. 3:14–19).

The rest of the Bible is about God’s plan to bring us back to Eden—actually, to something even better. To reinstate his eternal dwelling place, and to once again welcome humanity back into his kingdom.

But we’re not there yet. Read More

8 Reminders for Believers in the Bible Belt

I live in the Bible Belt, but I spend a lot of time ministering to church leaders in more pioneer areas of our country. Every time I do, I’m reminded of how much I don’t often think about ministry outside the Belt.... Read More
The photo shows a reproduction of an early pioneer log cabin at Fort Boonesborough State Park in Madison County, Kentucky. The park site has been rebuilt to look like a working fort. The original Fort Boonesborough was established in the the late 1700s after the frontiersman Daniel Boone lead a group of settlers through the Cumberland Gap, carving what would be called the Wilderness Road.

Your Church's Culture

The latest edition of the Harvard Business Review spotlights "The Culture Factor." No, not the culture at large but organizational culture.

"Strategy and culture are among the primary levers at top leaders' disposal in their never-ending quest to maintain organizational viability and effectiveness," the lead article begins. "Strategy offers a formal logic for the company's goals and orients people around them. Culture expresses goals through values and beliefs and guides activity through shared assumptions and group norms."

And what is organizational "culture"?

"Culture is the tacit social order of an organization. It shapes attitudes and behaviors in wide-ranging and durable ways. Cultural norms define what is encouraged, discouraged, accepted or rejected within a group. When properly aligned with personal values, drives and needs, culture can unleash tremendous amounts of energy toward a shared purpose and foster an organizations capacity to thrive."

Oh how I wish more church leaders understood this. And, even more, how to create a positive, biblical culture, and then how to protect it.

Here are some thoughts that might serve.... Read More

When Your Friend Is Raped or Beaten

The very week last fall that the #MeToo campaign began to dominate my social media relationships, a woman in my community told me that she was being physically hurt by a family member. Of course I immediately did everything I could to help her. But I also remember thinking at the time:

Would most women in the church know how to wisely respond to a friend who is being physically and/or sexually assaulted?

Having worked as a Christian mediator for over twenty years, and having taught thousands of women at conferences and retreats during that time, I have many examples of responses that make things worse, and of responses that make things better.[1] Let me share just three of each.... Read More

The Missing Word in Our Modern Gospel

Every Christian loves the gospel. By definition, you cannot have a Christian who isn’t shaped by and saved by the gospel.

So three cheers for the gospel. Make that three million cheers.

But let’s preach the gospel the way Jesus and the Apostles did. Theirs was not a message of unconditional affirmation. They showed no interest in helping people find the hidden and beautiful self deep inside. They did not herald the good news that God likes you just the way you are.

Too much “gospel” preaching sounds like a slightly spiritualized version of that old Christina Aguilera song:
You are beautiful no matter what they say.
Words can’t bring you down.
You are beautiful in every single way.
Yes, words can’t bring you down.
So don’t bring me down today.
I don’t doubt that many of us feel beat up and put down. We struggle with shame and self-loathing. We need to know we can be okay, even when we don’t feel okay. It is good news to hear, then, that God loves us in Christ and that we are precious in his sight.

But the gospel is more than positive self-talk, and the gospel Jesus and the Apostles preached was more than a warm, “don’t let anybody tell you you’re not special” bear hug.

There’s a word missing from the presentation of our modern gospel. It’s the word repent. Read More

Studying Scripture and Doing Theology

It’s been said that everyone is a theologian. But can every Christian be a good theologian? The biblical answer is a resounding yes.

Building a sound theology from Scripture is not only possible—it is every Christian’s calling and privilege, because the God whom we would know has first spoken of Himself to us. In addition to revealing Himself through creation (Ps. 19:1–6; Rom. 1:20), God spoke “at many times and in many ways . . . by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Heb. 1:1–2). This self-disclosure by God is recorded for us in Holy Scripture. With Bible in hand, then, we know that God’s words through Isaiah apply today: “Draw near to me, hear this: from the beginning I have not spoken in secret” (Isa. 48:16). As the creator of language and the very first speaker (Gen. 1:3), God is quintessentially able to make Himself known to those He has made in His image (vv. 26–27). Nothing can thwart His communicative purposes.

Rightly considered, the very word theology (joining the Greek logos, or “word,” with theos, or “God”) reminds us that if we “do theology” at all, it is because theology—literally, a word or knowledge concerning God—has been delivered by God to us first. Even when considering how to build a theology from Scripture, then, we must believe what God says in the Bible, because all true theology is done before the face of God (coram Deo), in whom we “live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Read More

The 3-5 Method: Studying God’s Word When You’re Tired and Busy

If you clicked on this article, you’re likely struggling with consistent time in God’s Word.

In any given season, a myriad of factors can keep us from reading the Bible: limited time, guilt, a lack of discipline, a lack of desire, unrealistic expectations of what time in the Word should look like, a lack of mental energy, or utter exhaustion.

What is it for you?
  • Maybe you’ve never really read the Bible, and the idea of starting is intimidating.
  • Maybe you’re a young adult transitioning out of a flexible season, and your former Bible study method isn’t working anymore.
  • Maybe you’re a young mom whose mental energy and time are limited by a lack of sleep and an unpredictable schedule.
  • Maybe your New Year’s resolutions included completing a Bible reading plan that you now feel completely overwhelmed by.

  • Maybe you are grieving or hurting and feel like you can only swallow Scripture in small doses. Whoever and wherever you are, be encouraged, my weary friend, that the Word of God has something for you in this season and your unique circumstances and limited abilities don’t disqualify you from accessing it. Regardless of the amount of time and energy you have or the amount of guilt or shame you feel, you can consistently engage with and be nourished by the Bible. Read More
  • Monday, February 19, 2018

    7 Reasons Your Church Needs a Safety and Security Team

    I don’t need to write about the risks that churches face in our crazy world. On the other hand, I’ve seen far too many churches not making preparations for the possibility of trouble. They know they need to do something, but they keep putting it off. Here are some reasons EVERY church needs a Safety and Security Team.... Read More

    Five Dangers of Designated Funds

    If there is a topic that reaches me with frequency, it is the topic of church members designating funds. And the common theme is one of regret. The pastor or other church leader wishes the door of designated funds had never been opened.

    For clarity, I am not speaking of designated funds approved by the church body as a whole. Many churches have excellent stewardship approaches that encourage members to give to a building fund or a mission fund, as two examples.

    Instead, I am referring to those designated funds given to the church by a single or few members with guidelines not approved by the church as a whole. For example, one pastor shared with me about funds the church received with the strict stipulation that the church had to use them to buy stained-glass windows. The only problem is the church did not want to purchase stained-glass windows.

    In another example, a pastor shared with me about a member who would only give designated funds to the youth ministry. The problem is that the youth ministry already had funds in the church budget, but these designated funds gave the youth ministry disproportionate funding compared to the other ministries. To make matters worse, the youth ministry was encouraging the donor to make the designated contribution.

    So designated funds are not an intrinsic problem themselves. But they can become a dangerous precedent for several reasons. Here are five of them.... Read More

    What Does it Mean to Abide in Christ?

    The exhortation to “abide” has been frequently misunderstood, as though it were a special, mystical, and indefinable experience. But Jesus makes clear that it actually involves a number of concrete realities. Read More

    Why Do Some Pastors Deliberately Avoid Teaching Their Church Doctrine?

    I have been involved in leading churches for four decades, with an emphasis on church planting in the last few years. I’ve also visited and addressed hundreds of churches around the world and have had the privilege of meeting thousands of Christian leaders. Through this time I’ve watched an unintentional doctrinal imprecision on the part of many pastors become intentional. In other words, I have witnessed a new “conventional wisdom” emerge. Simply stated it is the “wisdom” of attempting to circle in more people for our churches by unashamedly minimizing, or perhaps nearly eradicating, the restricting influences of doctrine. What pastors used to do (because of being poorly taught perhaps), they now do by intent, all for church growth.

    The problem is, it works.

    For instance, I just visited with one friend concerning a large church in our area that has grown exceptionally well. The directional pastor of this church is a smart man who has some distinct beliefs he holds personally. I can talk with him about doctrine when alone. He reads and knows the Bible. But in his leadership and preaching he fully intends not to go beyond the most elementary issues, and appears (appearances are about all we can go on) not to be that concerned that his people differ on major doctrines, some of which are most significant. Outside of an expression of the gospel and some “how to’s,” there isn’t much to get your teeth into in his preaching. He has created a birthing station but not much else.

    Doctrine does narrow things. And we don’t like that word, “narrow.” Where you will find one person who is attracted to sound doctrine, you will find a hundred who want to allow all sorts of beliefs to be tolerated. I have been in such churches where great heresies were listened to as if it were perfectly permissible to hold such views as “your opinion.” And I’m not talking about the guest’s view, but the member’s view.

    This happens on the mission field as well. Preparing for a mission to Mozambique soon, I’ve been reading the reports of a good missionary doctor who has attempted to plant churches. Because he cares about doctrine, there are some real pains in building a church. He knows that because of the communal nature of the people, an apparently large church could be built easily. Whereas he may find only a handful of believers in most churches in his area, there may well be ten times as many who just attend, believing themselves to be Christian only because it is their custom to be joiners. If he were to avoid doctrine in favor of shallow evangelism, he would build a large unregenerate church. Is that useful for the kingdom? He does not believe so. But he is the exception. Read More

    Two Personal Areas to Which Pastors Must Pay Careful Attention

    We pastors are constantly looking at things through the lenses of shepherding. We think about how certain events or happenings will affect our congregants. The longer we pastor the more ingrained this becomes in us. This is a good, even necessary, thing in order for us to be good pastors to our people.

    However, as the apostle Paul is speaking to a group of pastors and elders from Ephesus, in what will probably be his last time to communicate with them or see them, he begins with another emphasis. In addition to having them focus on the flock God has given them to shepherd, he tells them one more group to keep watch on: themselves. In Acts 20:28 Paul tells them,
    Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.
    Notice what precedes the call to watch the flock. He pleads with them to pay careful attention to themselves. They are called to keep a close eye out on their own hearts and lives. In order for shepherds of God’s flock to faithfully shepherd they must first keep a close eye on themselves.

    What does it mean to pay careful attention to yourselves? It certainly entails the importance of walking with the Lord daily in personal devotions. It includes keeping a close watch on our doctrine and theology. It means we seek to be obedient to the Lord and His commands in all we do. But I have discovered two areas of my own heart where I need to pay careful attention to myself. I doubt that I am alone in these two areas. I want to be completely transparent in hopes it will help other pastors as well. I must pay careful attention to myself in the areas of 1. being in the inner-ring and 2. platform envy. Read More

    Reaching the Other Half of the Church

    What does it cost us when half the church’s gifts go untapped?

    I’ve wrestled with this question quite a lot.

    Conversations are stirring in the church world about our inability to engage the 21st century female.

    “I don’t know where I fit in the church.”

    “I feel like I don’t belong because I’m a single woman, and everything the church does is for wives and mothers.”

    “I don’t want to just serve in the nursery or kids’ ministry, but I don’t know how to get involved in other ways.”

    These are statements that I hear repeatedly. Read More

    Pastoral Transition: A Very Personal Note

    Changing chairs after 25 years as lead pastor at the same church is so unusual that we never could have planned it.

    It’s Sunday evening as I write this blog post.

    And I’m feeling a huge flood of emotions.

    Strong emotions are normal for pastors on Sunday afternoons, no matter how Sunday services went. But today is different for me.

    Plus, there's the added quirk that I’m writing this on a flight from California to Belfast, Northern Ireland.

    First I’ll tell you about the emotions, then why Shelley and I are flying to the UK. Read More

    How Google, Amazon, and Facebook Shape Your Mind

    Long ago I read the fable about a boy who discovered a magic spool of thread. When he pulled the thread, the “boring” days and weeks and months of his youth sped by as if they were mere seconds. Thrilled that he no longer had to experience the mundane, he began pulling on the thread more and more so he only experienced the most exciting, meaningful events. But one day, the thread ran out, and the boy—suddenly an old man—realized he had lived an empty, thoughtless, and ultimately meaningless life. While the magic thread had let him breeze through his years with no uncertainty, pain, or reflection, it had robbed him of those immaterial things that make life rich and valuable.

    Consider the possibility that in 2017, the “magic thread” goes by another name: the internet. Such is the thesis of journalist Franklin Foer in World without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech. World without Mind advances a sharp but increasingly compelling proposal, that the digitization of Western life—especially the digitization engineered by tech giants Google, Amazon, and Facebook—represents not just an epochal landmark in accessibility and convenience, but an outright assault on things that matter much more.

    Like the spool of thread in the fable, Foer believes the internet age has collapsed our lives in the name of streamlining them, and that surrendering more power in the public square to massive technopolies, in exchange for innovation and ease, will have grievous consequences in our culture. Read More

    Saturday, February 17, 2018

    Saturday Lagniappe: "The 5 Things Growing Churches Do That Most Others Don’t" and More

    Rich Birch On The Church Growth Flywheel – The 5 Things Growing Churches Do That Most Others Don’t [Podcast]

    Rich Birch has interviewed over 200 leaders from the fastest growing churches in the US, and he’s taken good notes. He’s boiled down their best practices to 5 common strategies almost every growing church uses and shows you how you can implement them in your church, too. Listen Now

    3 By-Law Changes Needed to Break 100, 200, 400 and 600

    There are a number of factors that contribute to a church’s inability to grow beyond the 100, 200, 400 and 600 barriers. The last place anyone looks when diagnosing the problem is the first place I go: the church’s by-laws. Read More

    10 Questions I Wonder If Churches Ever Ask...

    I’m just thinking aloud here today as I wonder if many churches in North America ever ask these questions.... Read More

    The One Person Who Cannot Be Themselves in Our Culture

    We don’t give the Jesus the one thing we demand of others. We refuse to accept Jesus without trying to change Him more to our liking. Read More

    Why Do Christians Still Die?

    I was recently standing at the graveside of a dear Christian friend when the question crossed my mind: Why do Christians have to die? Why can't they just live and then go to heaven without passing through the experience of death? Although the wages of sin is death, and believers have certainly sinned, has Christ not paid the full penalty for our sins? So, why do Christians have to die? Read More

    Pastoring Millenials, Gen X-er’s and Boomers with Pete Greasley [Podcast]

    We are joined by our good friend, Pete Greasley. For those who might be new to the podcast, Pete is the pastor of Christchurch in Newport, Wales where he has served for 23 years. We have had the privilege of having him on the podcast twice before and are excited to have him back! Pete and Dave discuss what it means to be specifically aware of generational characteristics and how, as pastors, biblical application needs to be given to each generation accordingly. Listen Now

    8 Insights from the Coaching World for Pastors

    While it is not a perfect analogy, I think there are a great many lessons that we can learn as pastors from coaches in professional and college athletics. Read More

    Do We “Bring” God’s Presence When We Worship?

    The following is, I submit, a theological course correction necessary for Worship Leaders and Pastors who lead in settings that intentionally welcome the Holy Spirit to be “manifest” as we engage in worship. It is for those who love when the presence of the Holy Spirit is experienced, at all levels, by a community who has gathered to worship. Read More

    5 Dangers for Missionaries in Honor-Shame Contexts

    Ministry within honor-shame cultures is a widely discussed topic today. The majority world and especially the East, as we’ve come to realize, doesn’t think the way we do. In a sense, they work on a completely different operating system, which means Western missionaries must adapt their default language and coding when presenting the gospel. Read More

    Friday, February 16, 2018

    History's Biggest Food Fight: What Catholics Believe about the Eucharist

    They escorted him to the pulpit of St. Mary’s University Church in Oxford, for one last time before his execution, to read out his recantation of his Protestant faith. Instead, the former Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer made this ringing declaration:
    As for the sacrament, I believe as I have taught in my book against the bishop of Winchester, which my book teacheth so true a doctrine of the sacrament, that it shall stand in the last day before the judgment of God, where the papistical doctrines contrary thereto shall be ashamed to show their face.
    Pandemonium ensued. Cranmer was hauled down and dragged to the stake to be burnt, one of hundreds of martyrs in Queen Mary’s Counter-Reformation.

    What was this “true doctrine of the sacrament” worth dying (and killing) for? What were the “papistical doctrines” that Cranmer was convinced would not stand before God’s judgment seat? Read More

    Also See:
    The Reformers’ Doctrine of the Holy Communion
    Thomas Cranmer’s ‘True and Catholick Doctrine of the Sacrament’
    A Defence of the true and Catholick doctrine of the Sacrament of the body and blood of our Saviour Christ: with a confutation of Sundry errors concerning the same

    Thursday, February 15, 2018

    Six Keys for Corporate Worship i a Replant - Revitalize & Replant #028 [Podcast]

    In a replant or revitalization, everything needs to have a purpose—including corporate worship. Today Mark Clifton, Thom Rainer, and Jonathan Howe unpack six key reminders about the importance of corporate worship. Listen Now

    Have You Noticed This Subtle Trend in the Fastest Growing Churches in the Country?

    Church leaders who are wanting to make a difference in their communities are always studying what is happening at prevailing churches. I’m sure you’ve taken time to learn from the church across town that is trying some new stuff and seeing what you can apply to your church. At unSeminary, a huge part of the reason we host the podcast every week is to expose you to church leaders from growing churches.

    In fact, we’ve focused on the fastest growing churches in the country because we want your church to grow more. 94% of the churches in the country are losing ground against the growth of the communities they serve. [ref] We’ve taken a keen interest in the 6% of churches that are bucking this trend and we spend a lot of time and energy talking with you about what they do because we want all of our churches to learn from them.

    Over the last 10 years, I’ve noticed a subtle trend in the fastest growing churches in the country. These churches mobilize their people to get out of their seats and serve on the streets of the community. Prevailing churches take the mass engagement of people towards acts of service in their community very seriously. More than just simply “social justice”, these initiatives are getting high percentages of people directly involved in making a difference.

    Rather than just a fringe dynamic in a few churches, you can see this trend in all kinds of churches that are making a huge difference. In fact, recently I just flipped through a list of the fastest growing churches in the country and did a quick dive onto their websites to see if I could find this trend, and sure enough, it just kept coming up time and again; below are some examples of what I found.... Read More

    In What Sense Did Christ Die for the Non-Elect? [Podcast]

    Well, the apostle Paul says Christ died for all people, even the non-elect, and of course that raises delicate questions for us Calvinists to answer. How does Christ’s atoning sacrifice apply to the non-elect? The question comes from an anonymous listener to the podcast: “Pastor John, many times I have heard people say, ‘Yes, Christ died for all people but not all people in the same way.’ I know Reformed theology teaches that Christ’s atonement is particular in that the extent of the atonement to save souls is limited to the elect only. However, I am having trouble adequately explaining how Christ died for all people but not in the same way. For what tangible reason did Christ die for the non-elect?” Listen Now

    Recovering the Cure of Souls

    From my ministry vantage point at Midwestern Seminary and in getting to travel quite a bit and meet young and aspiring pastors around the world, I have been greatly encouraged by the increasing sense of what I can only call the “pastoral temperament” I sense among the younger generation. What I mean is, I sense—and I hope that I’m right—that something that has come alongside the gospel recovery movement is not just a recovery of theology, expositional preaching, missional church planting, and the like but also a recovery of the active and intentional shepherding of the people of God.

    Our ancestors used to call this intentionally relational shepherding “the curing of souls.” Read More

    Why Your Pastor Isn’t as Good as Those Professional Speakers

    On a website devoted to professional speakers, the author gave advice about “that great killer story you love to tell,” and then “the heart-rending windup.” I imagine every speaker wants one each of those in his messages.

    Then, the blogger dropped the bomb.

    “After you get your speech down pat and you’ve given it a number of times and feel you’re effective, it’s time to start working on speech number two.”

    I laughed out loud.

    Speech number two?

    These guys have one speech? One??? And then, when all is going well, they add one more?

    Pardon me while I sit down. Read More

    What is a “Gospel” Anyway? A Few Thoughts on Gospel Genre and Why it Matters

    When it comes to reading (and interpreting ) the Gospels, one of the fundamental questions pertains to the kind of document we are reading. What exactly is a “Gospel”? And did the earliest readers of these books know what they were reading?

    Such questions may seem pedantic to the average reader, but they matter more than we think. Right interpretation is built on (among other things) correctly assessing the literary genre. We don’t read parables like historical narrative, nor do we read poetry (Psalms) like apocalyptic literature.

    An example of confusion over “genre” in our modern world (though in a different medium) pertains to the growing practice of making internet ads look like internet content. In other words, some companies are positioning their ads to look like a news story.

    This is quite controversial for an obvious reason: people read and interpret ads differently than news. People expect one thing from ads, and expect something very different from news. One is viewed as propaganda, the other is viewed as fact (though that distinction itself is subject to dispute today). Read More

    Now Available: Songs from The New City Catechism 3

    Last March we released the first batch of Songs from The New City Catechism, which covered Questions 1–15, followed by Questions 16–31 in summer 2017. As I wrote then,
    When The Gospel Coalition, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, and Crossway decided to bring The New City Catechism (NCC) to print, we knew we wanted to commission brand-new songs that followed the exact wording of The New City Catechism children’s questions and answers. What might take weeks to learn through repetition could take minutes to memorize when set to the right tune.
    That has indeed been the case as both children and adults have responded enthusiastically to learning the catechism through song.

    Today, we are pleased to release a third set of songs covering Questions 32–41, set to music by Frank Hernandez and arranged by Fletch Wiley. There are a several ways you can stream and download.... Learn More

    Why We Should Still Grieve the Divorce of Public Honor and Private Morality

    I grew up as a child of the religious right.

    I came of age in the 1990’s during the peak of Focus on the Family’s political influence and the drama of President Clinton’s sex scandals. I was taught that we could not and should not separate private character from public office. In 2000, before leaving the country to spend several years in Romania, I remember watching a debate on TV at my grandparents’ house when George W. Bush promised to restore the honor of the presidency and bring character back to the White House. Everyone cheered.

    I wasn’t cheering during the 2016 election. The first big letdown came during the primary season, when I watched watch leaders and organizations who had once championed the importance of character pass over other Republican candidates in order to support Trump. That sense of disillusionment was reinforced by surveys after the election, when white evangelicals swung from being the group most likely to say that personal character mattered for public office to being the least likely group to say so.

    To be clear: I sympathized with those who felt pressed to make a pragmatic choice between two unacceptable, unprincipled candidates. What grieved me was not the reluctant evangelical voter but the way so many Christians justified their choice by saying the principles they once held regarding high moral standards for people in public office had been wrong or were no longer relevant. Read More

    Wednesday, February 14, 2018

    The Relationship Between Inviting and Church Health [Video]

    In this Rainer Report Thom Rainer talks about the relationship between inviting and church health. Dr. Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Prior to LifeWay, he served at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for twelve years where he was the founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism. Watch Now

    The One Person Who Can't Be Themselves in Our Culture

    The modern age may be described as a quest for the authentic self.

    Watch any amount of television aimed at children and you will be inundated with calls to “be yourself.” The hero discovers who they really are and their true identity is what they needed to achieve success.

    But it’s not only on cartoons and kids’ shows, adults are overwhelmed with the message as well. The term “authentic” has doubled in usage among books since the 1920s and “authenticity” has nearly tripled.

    But in this age when everyone is allowed to be themselves to the fullest extent imaginable, there’s one person who constantly doesn’t get that opportunity: Jesus. Read More

    ‘Taste and See’ Evangelism

    Evangelism—even the word has negative connotations for the unconvinced. Though it literally means the telling of “good news,” our approach to evangelism rarely comes across as “good” to those who are not yet following Christ. What if we changed our approach to mirror the pattern I often see Jesus demonstrating in Scripture—an experiential approach, inviting people to “taste and see that the Lord is good”?

    In the gospel of John, Jesus issues that invitation to skeptics and believers: “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them” (John 7:37-38). Did Jesus really mean anyone? Did He really mean the Good News is so good that anyone willing to come and drink can experience a taste of living water? What difference might it make to our evangelistic approach if we believed this?

    Maybe the reason we don’t see more people following Christ is that we’ve put ourselves in the way of them coming to God. Read More

    Tuesday, February 13, 2018

    9 No-Fault Reasons Some Local Churches Close Their Doors

    Is it an admission of defeat or disobedience to acknowledge that congregations have a finite life-span?

    Jesus’ church will never die.

    But individual congregations are never given that promise. No matter how faithful they may be. Read More

    How to Serve Your City When You Aren’t a Megachurch

    Our resources are limited, but that hasn’t stopped us.

    Our church is located in the second-most affluent county in the state of Tennessee. As a new pastor in the area, I struggled to discern the most helpful ways our church could serve our city. We aren’t a megachurch, so our resources are limited. Random acts of kindness are wonderful, but I envisioned our church becoming an indispensable partner in the community through compassion and gospel proclamation.

    Although we are located in a Bible-belt town, almost 80 percent of our community is not connected to any church. Most people do not care that we exist and are not interested in what we do.

    These dynamics tempted us to assume what people needed, meet those perceived needs, and call it a win. But we knew God was calling us to more. Read More

    Tuesday's Catch:" 7 Crucial Insights for Church Planters" and More

    7 Crucial Insights for Church Planters

    Seven words of wisdom for church planters and leaders from Ron Edmondson. Read More

    Why Hospitality Is Vital to Church Planting

    In many ways, church planting is about learning to practice hospitality well. It’s about meeting, welcoming, listening to, and loving people. Read More

    Registered Sex Offender: A Sample Church Membership and Attendance Policy

    In this post, I have drafted a policy for how a church would think through the attendance and membership stipulations for someone who is under Registered Sex Offender (RSO) status. The enactment of this policy assumes that both (a) the sexual abuse episode has been reported and (b) that the legal process has concluded resulting in RSO status as the verdict; meaning the individual under RSO status has paid, or is currently paying their debt to society. Read More

    10 Things You Should Know about the Cross of Christ

    Whereas I affirm the need for a proper self-image, I fear that many are fast becoming so impressed with themselves that they can't help but wonder why Jesus had to die for them at all! But when we look at the Scripture, we realize that the God-man, Jesus, was on the cross suffering the eternal penalty we deserved because of the infinity of God's holiness and the depths of our depravity. Read More

    The Wise Leader: Navigating Ethical Storms

    Former U.S. Attorney contributes to an ongoing series. Read More

    What Forced Conversion and Poor Discipleship Have in Common

    Teaching about Jesus’s commands increases people’s knowledge about God and Christian life, while teaching them to obey equips them to live out the Christian life. Read More

    Call It What You Like, God Calls It Sin

    We have created a myriad of ways to justify sin, but the episode of David and Bathsheba reminds us that God takes our sin very seriously. So should we. Read More

    10 Things Hidden Sin Does to Us

    I assume we’ve all been there at some point, even as believers – that is, in a place where we’re losing the battle with hidden sin. We continue in the darkness despite what hidden sin does to us.... Read More

    Monday, February 12, 2018

    7 Things That Will Drive Future Church Growth

    So you want to reach more people? Here are 7 factors that will drive almost all future church growth. Read More

    The Gospel Implications of The Golden Rule

    “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 7:12).
    This is arguably the most famous passage from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and it is perhaps the only Bible verse you can still quote in a political or social setting without rejection or repercussion. Often called the “Golden Rule,” it is one of the few teachings of Jesus with which almost everyone agrees—at least on the surface.

    Most would agree today that we should be thoughtful and considerate of others, maybe even practice “random acts of kindness” toward strangers. Tolerance—for every religion, lifestyle, and moral persuasion—is the god of our culture, and this verse is frequently quoted in order to encourage us to worship at her shrine.

    Sadly, this widespread, warm-and-fuzzy reception to Jesus’ command is owed to how broadly it is misunderstood and misapplied. Consider at least three aspects of the Golden Rule that we often don’t bother to notice or to remember. Read More

    Monday's Catch: "Three Intentional Steps to Reaching Your Goals" and More

    Three Intentional Steps to Reaching Your Goals

    Someone, somewhere once said, “Goals are dreams with deadlines.” What then are some ways we can keep our dreams alive? Read More

    Preacher’s Toolkit: How Do I Teach Difficult Doctrines without Splitting the Church?

    Doctrine does not have to divide, however, if a pastor will employ a few basic strategies when he encounters a difficult or controversial doctrine in the Bible. Read More

    10 Distractions Regarding Worship Music

    A few weeks ago, I posted findings on common worship distractions. Since that time, some readers have questioned me more specifically about our findings regarding the musical component of worship. So, the goal in this post is to respond to that request. Read More

    10 Common Worship Distrations

    Based on my work as a church consultant, reports from our consultation “secret shoppers,” interviews with church members, and my own experiences, here are ten far-too-common distractions during worship services. Read More

    “I give them communion because it does them good”

    My dad tells the story about a church he attended where the vicar would ensure the choir boys were given communion because “it does them good.” Shortly after taking communion, the boys would troop out of the service, kicking each other, swearing etc. The communion did not seem to have done them much good at all. Read More

    The Doctrine of the Sacraments in the Thirty-Nine Articles

    This article was originally published in the January 1991 issue of the Churchman, the journal of the Church Society. In the article Roger Beckwith, librarian of Latimer House, Oxford, and eminent Anglican scholar, examines the doctrine of the sacraments in the Thirty-Nine Articles. This doctrine has bearing on whether children should be admitted to the Lord's Table and when. What has been a chronic problem in the Anglican Church is that children have been allowed to receive communion on the grounds that they have been confirmed and more recently on the grounds that have been baptized before they have evidenced a vital faith and can benefit from receiving communion. The Articles, however, do not teach that the rite of confirmation or the sacrament of baptism confer faith - a decidedly unscriptural view. Read More
    A partial list of Roger Beckwith's articles may be found a the Gospel Coalition's Resource Library.
    4 Grave Dangers in Every Sin

    Tim Challies identies four grave dangers to the sinner that every sin presents. Read More

    The Critical Role of Name-Calling in Our Witness: You Are ‘Beloved’

    Perfectionism is just chronic insecurity in disguise. Read More

    Saturday, February 10, 2018

    Saturday Lagniappe: "Fitness Lessons for the Church" and Much More

    Fitness Lessons for the Church

    I’ve been on a bit of a fitness kick of late. In the process, I’ve been introduced to four fitness truths that have proven to be extremely important to remember....Interestingly, these four truths are extremely relevant to the church. Read More

    Words Can Kill (Or Give Life)

    Be careful how you use your words. They have exceptional power to hurt or to heal. Read More

    Thinking About Expository Preaching – Part 1

    ...the preferred form of preaching is that which is driven by the text and where the text sets the agenda. Read More

    I Preached a 'Dud'... Now What?

    You just stepped down from the stage and you know it. Your wife knows it too. You preached a dud.... what are you to do? Read More

    3 Tests of Pulpit Plagiarism: Do You Pass Them?

    “In a world of preaching, a pastor who takes sermons from other preachers—word-for-word—without giving credit is guilty of plagiarism. That is stealing what is not yours.” Read More

    The Hidden Reason Churches Nail Worship

    It’s you. You’re the reason—hidden in plain sight. I’m writing to you, lead pastor. The hidden reason churches nail worship is because the lead pastor leads out in worship. Read More

    I Love a Church That Sings Badly

    I am drawn toward a church that sings poorly and am a little suspicious of a church that sings really well. Read More

    5 Temptations of the Social Media User

    How can a Christian seek to honor God, benefit from social media use and be aware of the temptations that may accompany his or her social media use? It is this question that we will look at briefly while considering five potential temptations for the social media user. Read More

    How the Gospel Shapes Our Children for Mission

    “We face a crisis in parenting in the church today, and until we correct it, all of our efforts to engage the culture will fail.” Read More

    Est.Church Podcast: Engaging the Established Church Evangelistically [Podcast]

    Micah Fries interviews Dr. Alvin Reid and uncovers some of his insights into evangelism and local missional work. Listen Now
    Order Sharing Jesus without Freaking Out: Evangelism the Way You Were Born to Do It from LifeWay. Visit the Sharing Jesus Landing Page.
    Who Is the God of Mormonism?

    One thing you’ll discover as you’re talking with your Mormon (LDS) friends is that though we use the same terms, we often mean very different things. Read More

    Who Brought the Gospel to Korea? Koreans Did.

    The spread of the gospel is usually attributed to foreign missionaries, but the story is different on this Asian peninsula. Read More

    Friday, February 09, 2018

    Getting Small Churches on Mission (Part 2)

    Three ways smaller churches can serve their communities

    Numerically, smaller churches dominate U.S. life. They should also be key parts of the mission.

    There is much benefit, therefore, in identifying various ways that smaller churches can reach their communities and beyond for Christ. This chapter will identify and briefly expound a few ways small churches can be mission-minded, both locally and globally. They are in no particular order of preference or importance, and there is certainly no expectation that a church on mission would only select one of these opportunities. Many coalesce together and can be seamlessly integrated to form a more fully orbed missional church. Read More

    Going, But Not Forgotten: A Tribute To Those Who Help Local Churches Die With Dignity

    Whatever your past, present or future as a congregation may be, we are grateful for the kingdom work you have done.

    Local churches have a life-cycle.

    Some barely make it out of the starting blocks. Some last a generation or two. Some are still active after hundreds of years. But, even with constant renewal, the evidence from 2,000 years of Christianity shows that every congregation will, at some point, cease to exist.

    If you are currently attending or leading a church that is in its final years or days, this short article is for you. Read More

    Why We Need a Missiological Edge in Church Planting

    Bigger and better AND deeper and further

    North American church planting has grown up a lot since I first planted in 1988 as a 20-year-old who grew a beard to look older.

    You’ll often hear those of us who planted churches 30 years ago lament to church planters today about how little we had in terms of resources and training—especially compared to what’s available to them now.

    It almost seems bizarre to me—I had a series of cassette tapes, a notebook, and some training. Read More

    Five Reasons Pastors and Worship Leaders Should Meet Weekly - Rainer on Leadership #405 [Podcast]

    The relationship between pastor and worship leader is one of the most important church staff relationships there is. Today, Thom Rainer and Jonathan Howe discuss a post by Sam Rainer on why it’s critical for the two to meet weekly. Listen Now
    I posted a link to Sam Rainer's article on Anglicans Ablaze on January 20, 2018. I am a firm believer in pastors and worship leaders planning worship services together. I have experienced worship services in which the music was chosen in isolation from the other elements of the service with disastrous results. 

    How to Foster a Praying Church [Podcast]

    “Do your congregants really sense that you need Jesus? That you are currently being dealt with by the Spirit of God?” — Scotty Smith Listen Now

    Neglect the Great Commandment, Hinder the Great Commission

    American Christianity is becoming less compelling to the rest of our society. Many people cringe when we mention our faith. Now, we might like to think such rejection is because we’ve imitated Christ and sought to advance his kingdom on earth. After all, didn’t Jesus promise that all people would hate us for his name’s sake?

    But it isn’t always faithful witness causing people to turn up their noses at Christians. Many are responding negatively to the church’s sins and failures. I don’t think they are expecting perfection, but they are expecting consistency. And so often we don’t even clear that low bar.

    If we suffer, it should be because of integrity, not heresy and hypocrisy (1 Pet. 4:14–16). And yet in so many ways, the American church is suffering for the wrong reasons. Read More

    Thursday, February 08, 2018

    Nine Reasons I'm Hopeful for Church Revitalization and Replanting in North America - Revitalize & Replant #027

    A church revitalization movement is sweeping across North America, and I’m encouraged about the hopeful direction in which many churches are moving. Today we cover nine reasons for this encouragement. Listen Now

    Why You Desperately Need the Holy Spirit

    When is the last time you begged God for help? Whether it is understanding Scripture, or applying it to your life. Or whether it is a desire to kill a particular sin, or asking Him for an open door to share the Gospel, how often do you spend a little time begging Him for help?

    I mean, are we able to do anything spiritual apart from the Holy Spirit’s help? Read More

    10 Things No One Ever Told You about Being a Pastor

    I hate to see a young pastor get disillusioned by his first experience or two. But it happens, sad to say.

    Those of us who have been in the field throughout all our adult years wish someone had told us a few things about this work. So, assuming we are speaking to beginning pastors, here are a few things we’d love to share.... Read More
    I may have previously posted a link to this article by Joe McKeever on Anglicans Ablaze. However, a search of the blog failed to produce the post. It did, however, produce three posts that were unrelated to the subject matter of the article. It is a good article and if you have read it before, I believe that you will benefit from reading it again. We often pick up from a second or third reading of an article, things that we did not pick up the first time we read the article. I often revisit articles to refresh my mind as to what it is about and what helpful insights it may offer.

    Paul Tripp on the Dangers Facing Every Bible Teacher [Podcast]

    Nancy Guthrie interviews Paul Tripp

    Those of us who stand up in front of people, or sit down in front of a computer, or gather in a circle to teach the Bible to others face some unique spiritual dangers—dangers that have the power to rob us of rich and real relationship to Christ even as we go about teaching about Christ. In his book Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry, Paul Tripp helps those in ministry face up to hidden motives and harmful habits.

    In this episode of Help Me Teach the Bible, I asked Tripp to talk about five things of particular importance for those of us who teach the Bible.... Listen Now

    3 Questions to Ask Before You Start a Podcast

    Podcasting seems to be the latest branch of the Internet vine. In March of this year, Nick Quah at Hot Pod noted:
    The share of Americans who report being monthly podcast listeners (the key metric in my mind) is now 24 percent (67 million), up from 21 percent (57 million) the year before. That’s a 14 percent (or 3 percentage point) growth year-over-year. The story is more dramatic if you take a longer view: Over the past two years, monthly podcast listening has grown by 40 percent.
    Podcasts are audio (closer to an audiobook), rather than video or text. Podcasts can supplement rather than supplant reading and research material done online; two blogs might be mutually exclusive. A podcast and a blog need not be.

    You congregation (and others) can listen to podcasts while driving, exercising, taking an elevator, or mowing the lawn. Podcasts provide the opportunity to do two things at once.

    Podcasts are easy to start (and relatively inexpensive to create and maintain), but they are not for everyone. Depending on the type of podcast you might consider, there is time involved researching, recording, editing, and publishing. So, before you start a podcast, ask yourself these three questions.... Read More

    Why Student Ministry Is Failing in Most Churches

    Unless you’ve been there yourself, you’ll never understand a student pastor’s burden and why many don’t last long.

    There are exceptions to what I’m going to share, but I’m afraid it’s a growing problem. I’ve heard from a lot of student pastors who feel the same.

    Here’s the big problem: Most churches either don’t value the student ministry enough, or they value the wrong things.

    And because of this, far too many young people are abandoning the church after they graduate. Read More

    Died: James W. Sire, Editor Who Brought Us Francis Schaeffer and Os Guinness

    ‘The Universe Next Door’ author used worldview as a tool for evangelical apologetics.

    James W. Sire, the InterVarsity Press (IVP) editor who introduced Christian readers to works by Francis Schaeffer, Os Guinness, C. Stephen Evans, and Rebecca Manley Pippert, died Tuesday at age 84.

    As chief editor for IVP, Sire advanced the Christian worldview movement through the books he edited and wrote, most famously his 1976 title The Universe Next Door, which was named one of CT’s books of the year more than 30 years later.

    “Sire was a keystone in the intellectual renewal of evangelicalism in the 1960s and 70s,” wrote Andy Le Peau, a longtime editor at IVP, noting that “Sire was first to publish a number of influential figures.” Read More

    See Also:
    James W. Sire, “A Keystone in the Intellectual Renewal of Evangelicalism,” Dies
    Master Apologist & Winsome Mn of God: James W. Sire
    James W. Sire's Scripture Twisting: 20 Ways Cults Misread the Bible has strongly influenced my thinking since I first read it in the 1980s. The reading errors that he identifies in Scripture Twisting are not only made by interpreters of the Bible on the fringes of Christianity but also Bible interpreters in a number of mainline denominations. Our responsibility as Bible teachers is not only instruct our fellow Christians in how to "rightly divide the word of God," to interpret it properly, but also to recognize the various ways that Scripture may be twisted and misinterpreted.

    Wednesday, February 07, 2018

    The Turpin Case and the Urgent Call to Neighbor

    The recent discovery of 13 siblings allegedly neglected, starved, and tortured by their parents embodies the essence of human depravity. Disgust churns in our stomachs as we consider the deplorable conditions that prosecutors claim Louise and David Turpin “raised” their children in—shackled to beds, deprived of food, beaten, compelled to wallow in filth. We balk at the thought of parents discarding the children God entrusted to them as rotten and expendable. We wonder how they could withdraw all affection from their children, and dote on their dogs instead. If true, this case of child abuse exemplifies raw sin. It exposes evil at its most horrific. We recoil from the sight of it, because the soul knows no other response.

    These shocking findings in Perris, California, have appropriately sparked outrage. As desperation spurs us to act, the public dialogue has focused on homeschooling, with a flurry of articles debating the need for tighter regulation. As a homeschooler myself, I’ve read these arguments with interest, but I can’t ignore the greater issue lurking between the lines. A more sinister question, fundamental to Christian identity, hovers in the squalid hallways of the Turpin house.

    Why did no one report this abuse? Read More
    An article I posted in January, "Behavioral Science Catches Up to the Bible," explains in part why people do not report abuse, neglect, and/or exploitation. Another common reason is that people do not want to "get involved." They fear the consequences that they might suffer if they report abuse, neglect, and/or exploitation. A third common reason is that people do not recognize the signs of abuse, neglect, and/or exploitation for what they are - indicators of a serious problem that requires intervention. I read this week about the case of a 2-year-old child who was found "frozen" on a back porch. The cause of death is yet to be determined. A neighbor had repeatedly found this child and a sibling wandering the neighborhood and had returned the children to their mother. No one, however, reported the wandering children to the police or the local child protection agency. The case has all the indications of a lack of supervision case that borders on criminal neglect. The neighbor was well-meaning but if a very young child is found wandering a neighborhood more than once, the police or the local child protection agency should be contacted to investigate the situation. A fourth common reason is a particular group, religious or otherwise, may protect a member of their group who is abusing, neglecting, and/or exploiting a child because that individual is a member of their group.