Friday, October 20, 2017

If Our Church Was Bigger, We Could...


There’s not a single command to the church that cannot be accomplished by two or three people who love Jesus, each other, and the community they’re called to reach.

Pastoring a small church can be frustrating.

We look around at our big church counterparts and it’s easy to wonder what it would be like if our church had all those resources.

So, sometimes we play the “what if...” game. Read More

Churches Jesus Did Not Die For


I remember my wedding day so clearly. Standing at the front of a small church in Greenwood, Miss., legs shaking, I watched as the doors finally opened. There was my wife. I really couldn’t believe she was marrying me.

When I think about the church being the bride of Christ, I picture Jesus presenting the church to himself and God as his bride. The feelings of excitement. The years of waiting. The excruciating death that was essential for the marriage to become official. What a moment.

In the years since, the church has changed a lot. That’s not surprising (or bad). Things change. But the bride Jesus died for isn’t the same one that exists in many churches today.

You see, when Jesus died for the church, he died for men and women who would function as his hands and feet. He died for sacrificial followers who would be driven by love, motivated by joy, equipped with a message and led by the Spirit.

In 2015, the church desperately needs to rediscover the true bride of Christ. Here are seven churches Jesus did not die for. Read More
Originally published in 2015, this article is still relevant two years later. Perhaps even more so.

John Calvin and the Doctrine of Irresistible Grace


In 1610, the followers of the Dutch pastor and professor Jacob Arminius drafted a protest called “the Remonstrance.” The document contained five negative statements that rejected specific Calvinistic doctrines, followed by five articles stating Arminian doctrines. Among the Calvinistic teachings with which the Remonstrance took issue was the doctrine of irresistible grace.

In the fourth negative statement, the Arminians rejected the following: “That the Holy Spirit works in the elect by irresistible grace, so that they must be converted and be saved; while the grace necessary and sufficient for conversion, faith, and salvation is withheld from the rest, although they are externally called and invited by the revealed will of God.” The statement of the Arminian doctrine was then presented in the fourth article on Resistible Grace: “Grace is the beginning, continuation, and end of our spiritual life, so that man can neither think nor do any good or resist sin without prevening, co-operating, and assisting grace. But as for the manner of co-operation, this grace is not irresistible, for many resist the Holy Ghost (Acts vii).”

The publication of the Remonstrance led to a lengthy debate between Calvinists and Arminians in the Netherlands. Eventually, in order to resolve the debate, the Dutch Estates General called an ecclesiastical assembly, the Synod of Dort, which met from November 1618 until May 1619. In addition to the approximately seventy Dutch delegates present, there were twenty-six delegates from eight foreign nations, including England, Switzerland, and parts of Germany. The synod set forth its conclusions in the Canons of Dort. This document contains “the decision of the Synod of Dort on the five main points of doctrine in dispute in the Netherlands.” Each main point in the canons contains a positive exposition of the Calvinist doctrine, followed by a rejection of the corresponding Arminian error. Read More

20 Truths from "Sing!"

Keith and Kristyn Getty

When we sing we witness to the people in our church who are yet to believe

Sing! How Worship Transforms Your Life, Family, and Church

We are a singing people because it is how God has created us. It’s what we do. And when we do, we’re simply joining in with what the rest of the creation is doing. (8)

God has formed our hearts to be moved with depth of feeling and a whole range of emotion as the melody-carried texts sink in. Singing praise reaches your whole person—body moving, mind awake, heart moved, by the truth of Who God is and Whose we are. (8)

The true beauty of such a congregational choir is that our voices and our hearts are knit together in praise. It is exhilarating to be part of a body of believers breathing Truth together, harmonizing (however imperfectly) the message of the gospel together for the world to hear. (9)

Your voice may not be of professional standard, but it is of confessional standard. Read More

image: gettymusic.com

Open With The Same Song – Every Week


Why repetition can be a gift to a worship leader and a congregation

Every week, every worship leader has the hard task of choosing one song that will open the set and provide a spiritual and musical on-ramp to the rest of the worship experience. What if you tried something unexpected – like repeating the same opening song each week for a season?

You’re planning your next set asking the same kinds of hard questions you always do, in a similar order. One in particular leads the way…
Which song should I use to open the set, and how will that open us to worship?
Answering this question often tips the dominoes of our other planning questions, and gets us moving in planning an effective, thematically strong set. Read More
I read this article with more than a little excitement. I am in the process of putting together an article on how small Anglican parishes and missions using the 1928 Book of Common Prayer can make the service of Morning Prayer a more positive experience for guests who have not had any previous exposure to liturgical worship. One of the ways is to make creative use of music in the service. I advocate using metrical versions of the Invitatory Psalm and Canticles; using the same metrical setting of the Venite for several consecutive Sundays; using a bright, upbeat tune for the Venite; singing a variable Office Hymn after the Venite, instead of before the service; limiting the Psalms to one; and singing the Gloria Patria after the Psalm. Too often our services of Morning Prayer consists of lengthy, unbroken blocks of text recited by the congregation or read by a minister. The sermon is tacked onto the end of the service. Our guests are likely to experience these services as long, monotonous, and tiresome. They are not likely to experience them as spiritually-uplifting. They are also likely to leave, vowing never to return again. Their experience may be compared to being invited to someone's home for dinner and then being served the most unappetizing meal imaginable. When this happens to us, we are going to excuse ourselves when we are invited again to that person's home, tell our friends about our experience, and warn them against accepting a dinner invitation from the same person. That person may in time become a better cook but they will be dogged by a damaged reputation. The same thing can happen to a church. 

How ‘LBGT-Affirming’ Is Like KJV-Onlyism


In the book of Judges, after the warriors of Gilead defeated the tribe of Ephraim, the surviving Ephraimites tried to cross the Jordan River back into their home territory. The Gileadites attempted to cut them off from the fords of the Jordan and needed a way to determine if a person was an Ephraimite refugee. The solution was both simple and clever:
The Gileadites captured the fords of the Jordan leading to Ephraim, and whenever a survivor of Ephraim said, “Let me cross over,” the men of Gilead asked him, “Are you an Ephraimite?” If he replied, “No,” they said, “All right, say ‘Shibboleth.’” If he said, “Sibboleth,” because he could not pronounce the word correctly, they seized him and killed him at the fords of the Jordan. Forty-two thousand Ephraimites were killed at that time. (Judges 12:5-6)
Since then the term shibboleth has become synonymous with any custom or tradition that distinguishes one group of people (an ingroup) from others (the outgroup). On Wednesday a new website, ChurchClarity.org, was launched to distinguish churches using the latest shibboleth: LGBT-affirming.

In a post examining the problems with the project (which I recommend reading in its entirety), Denny Burk points out, “The leadership team that runs the website is comprised exclusively of those who affirm homosexual immorality and transgenderism. And they seem to be focused on forcing evangelical megachurch pastors to clarify where their churches stand on the issue.”

When I learned about the website and its peculiar mission it sounded eerily familiar, as if I had heard this type of thing before. And, in a way, I had: LGBT-affirming is the liberal fundamentalist equivalent of the conservative fundamentalist KJV-onlyism. Read More

Thursday, October 19, 2017

6 Benefits of Embracing the Fact that You’re a Small Church Pastor

St. Mark's Anglican Church, Benton, Kentucky

If you’re a small church pastor, don’t resist it, embrace it. Then be great at it.

Discovering and embracing the fact that I am a small church pastor was one of the most liberating moments of my life.

It took me years to get there, but once I did… wow! What a relief!

As I’ve outlined in The Grasshopper Myth, I went through a lot of years not willing to admit I was a small church pastor. And I’m not the only one who’s had those feelings.

There are far too many good pastors of great churches who don’t see the beauty in the ministry God has given them because we’re so programmed to push for bigness as a sign of ministry success.

But the world needs lots of healthy small churches and those churches need good pastors.

Since discovering and embracing that truth, I’ve realized many benefits from it.

Here are six of them. Read More

Image: Bella Raj

Latest Podcasts from Revitalize & Replant with Thom Rainer


Seven Observations of Church Replanters Who've Been There and Done That - Revitalize & Replant #005 

Replanting—like all of ministry—is hard work. It’s also hard to recognize success as it comes. Today, we look back on seven reminders for those interested in replanting. Listen Now

Six Often Unseen Signs of a Declining Church - Revitalize & Replant #006

Revitalization is needed in many churches today but churches often do not see the needs. Today, we cover sign unseen signs that churches in need of revitalization exhibit. Listen Now

Image: K Wolfram

What to Do with Cliques in the Church


Almost every Church Health Survey our consulting company does shows that church members believe their congregation has cliques. In fact, I can’t remember ever reading a survey that did not reveal that same finding. If that’s the case, how should we try to avoid cliques in our church? Read More

Also See:
6 Reasons to Sit in a Different Seat at Church This Weekend

What Is the Difference Between Protestantism & Roman Catholicism? [Video - Español - English Subtitles]


Sugel Michelén, elder and preacher at Iglesia Bíblica del Señor Jesucristo in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, explains the difference between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. Watch Now

Bernard Howard and Stephen Nichols on Luther


Luther’s Jewish Problem

Nuremberg, 1946

In 1946, Julius Streicher was on trial for his life. He had published the anti-Semitic newspaper Der Stürmer, and had been captured at the end of World War II. The Allies put him on trial alongside 23 other prominent Nazis at the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg. During the trial Streicher was asked: “Witness, what aims did you pursue with your speeches and your articles in Der Stürmer?” Streicher replied:
I did not intend to agitate or inflame but to enlighten. Anti-Semitic publications have existed in Germany for centuries. . . . In the book The Jews and Their Lies, Dr. Martin Luther writes that the Jews are a serpent’s brood and one should burn down their synagogues and destroy them. Dr. Martin Luther would very probably sit in my place in the defendants’ dock today, if this book had been taken into consideration by the Prosecution.
Streicher was a propagandist who devoted his life to spreading slander and falsehood, but on this occasion he was telling the truth. Read More

Luther and His Significance

Many events in Luther’s life may be called representative. His posting of the Ninety-Five Theses on the church door of the Castle Church at Wittenberg on October 31, 1517, and his stance at the Diet of Worms in April 1521 reveal his unparalleled courage and boldness. Luther’s presentation of his theses for the disputation at the Augustinian Chapter House at Heidelberg in 1518 or his debate against Roman Catholic scholar Johann Eck at Leipzig in 1519 reveal the sharpness of his intellect. His translation of the Greek text into German while holed up in Wartburg Castle shows the depth of his biblical scholarship. And the mountain of sermons preached at Wittenberg show his dexterity in the pulpit.

But probably few events in Luther’s life rival the representative status of the dedication service at Torgau. There we see a notable singularity of purpose. That singular purpose reveals Luther’s significance in both his day and, five hundred years later, in our day. That purpose may be expressed simply as the pure worship of the true God by the true people of God. This pure worship comes only when God’s Word is at the center of church life. Luther’s entire life was bent toward this one target. In fact, the entire Reformation could be summed up as aiming at this target. Read More

Sola Scriptura Demands Inerrancy


“So what if everything in the Bible isn’t true and reliable or from God? That doesn’t really matter. The Bible still remains an authority in my life.”

Though it’s been years now, I remember hearing those words as if it were yesterday. I had no idea what to say in response.

I was shocked because I was hearing these words from a churchgoing, Bible-carrying, evangelical Christian. This person saw no relation between the truthfulness of Scripture and the authority of Scripture, as if one had nothing to do with the other.

In that moment I realized two things: First, the Reformation doctrine of sola scriptura is just as important today as it was in the 16th century. I also saw that many Christians in the church have no idea what sola scriptura is or entails.

So what is sola scriptura? It means that only the Bible—because it is God’s inspired Word—is our inerrant, sufficient, and final authority. This definition entails three implications related to authority. Read More

Tim Challies and Susan Croox on Worship


The Missing Elements of Modern Worship

I once paid a visit to one of the most mega of America’s megachurches. It’s a church whose pastor is well-known, a church known for its innovation, a church held up as a model for modern evangelicalism. I went in with as open a mind as I could muster. I left perplexed. I was perplexed not by what was said or done in the service as much as what was left unsaid and undone.

Since that visit I’ve had the opportunity to attend many more churches and, as often as not, they have been similar, missing a lot of the elements that used to be hallmarks of Christian worship. Here are some of the missing elements of modern worship. Read More

How to Lead Worship When You Don’t Play an Instrument

For singers who don’t also play an instrument, it can be intimidating to lead worship. It’s done often enough that you know that it’s possible, and you don’t have to learn to play guitar or keyboard to lead worship, but it’s not always easy! Here are some tips for overcoming the common obstacles. Read More

We Can't Be Pro-Life if We're Not Anti-Poverty


Among professing Christians, abortion is rightly decried as a modern-day Holocaust, the killing of millions of defenseless unborn lives under the political protection of court systems and the facilitation of taxpayer funding.

These pro-life convictions are in our spiritual DNA. As far back as the 2nd century, the Early Church condemned the practice of abortion, a stance that contributed to twice as many women converting to Christianity than men.[1]

But there’s another characteristic of the Early Church that doesn’t seem to have the same urgency here in America, at least not in our conversations on important social issues. And it happens to be inextricably linked to the prevalence of abortions in our communities: If we’re going to be truly pro-life, we must also be anti-poverty. Read More

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Why Did the Reformation Succeed?


It’s not just in Wittenberg, Geneva or Cambridge that you can find one. In the Himalayan mountains of Nepal, in the Kenyan Rift Valley, amidst the hyper-urbanism of Seoul, or in rural America you can find a Protestant church. By any measure, the theological and ecclesiastical reforms released in the sixteenth century have demonstrated enormous capacity to take deep root in vastly different areas of the world. Indeed, one of the preeminent Anglican historians of our own day, Diarmaid MacCulloch, argues that adaptability is one of the greatest hallmarks of the Christian church. Despite significant opposition, Protestant churches survived the era of their tumultuous birth and grew large to provide spiritual shade and sustenance for countless men, women and children. But how? Read More

Also See:
The Reformation and Missions: 5 Invaluable Effects
The Reformation Is Not Just a White Man’s Legacy

3 Reasons You May Not Be Under Spiritual Attack


Yesterday, I posted about why we face spiritual warfare. This battle is real for God’s people as we face principalities and powers (Eph. 6:12). It’s possible, though, that you may not be facing spiritual attack today. Here are some reasons that might be the case.... Read More

Also See:
6 Reasons We Face Spiritual Warfare

Does Your Church Expect Guests, or Just Accommodate Visitors?


When it comes to churches, more often than not we accommodate visitors rather than truly expect Guests.

It may be a little thing to you, seeming like mere wordplay, but there is actually a powerful first impression that needs to change if your approach is to accommodate visitors on Sunday rather than to expect to have Guests at your church.

Do you have Visitor parking? Visitor packets? A Visitor’s Center? Do you welcome your visitors during the worship experience? And on and on…

The first step in creating a memorable Guest experience is to remove the word “visitor” from your vocabulary, never to be used again. Think about it, what kind of person is a visitor at your house, as opposed to a Guest? Read More

Where Does Ultimate Authority Lie?


There is a science in theology and in biblical studies that we call hermeneutics. It is the science of biblical interpretation. It teaches objective principles and rules that govern our treatment of the text, lest we turn the Bible into a piece of clay that we can shape and form for our own desires, as the Pharisees did. At the heart of the science of hermeneutics in Reformed theology is the regula fidei, or “the law of faith,” which says that no portion of Scripture must ever be set against another portion of Scripture. The first assumption here is that all of Scripture is the Word of God. The second assumption is that God does not speak with a forked tongue, that what He reveals in His Word is always consistent. It is sometimes said consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. If that adage is true, we have to say that the tiniest mind to be found is the mind of God. However, I believe consistency is the sign of clarity of truth, and God’s Word is consistent with itself. Read More

3 Keys to Longevity in Ministry


Over the past few months I have gotten to know a man by the name of Dave Lewis. Dave is a kind and humble man who loves to golf and, I am told, is quite competitive. Dave is a fellow pastor and when we met one morning at a local McDonald’s I asked him, “How long have you served at your church?” I knew he was an older gentleman but his answer still blew me away: sixty-four years! Dave started serving at Bald Eagle Alliance Church way back in 1953, not long after he had graduated from Bible college. While a lot has changed during that time, and countless pastors (including me) have transitioned to other churches, Dave has stayed put. From what I can tell, he doesn’t have any retirement plans, even though he is now eighty-seven years old.

I was curious so I asked Dave what the secret of his longevity was. He answered, “The grace of God and the will of God.” His simple answer hints at a profound truth. It is not God’s will for every pastor to spend his entire ministry at one church. However, in the case of Dave, God ordained that he would have a lifetime ministry at one local church. Such a long ministry was only possible through the sustaining grace of God.

Here are three ways Dave has relied on the grace of God to sustain his ministry. Read More

Also See:
Five Unintended Consequences of Short Pastoral Tenure

How Much Time Should a Pastor Spend on Sermon Prep


How much time should we pastors spend preparing a sermon? Recently I watched a video where a famous pastor answered that question. His response, “I study and read all the time and it takes me about one to two hours to put a sermon together.” Yikes! When I heard that I felt guilty because there’s no way I can prepare a sermon that quickly. I’m sure this pastor’s heart was right, but I wish he had qualified himself more. I doubt very many of us are that speedy. Here are some thoughts on sermon prep time. Read More

Red Flags


Adding members to a worship team, a choir, or really any volunteer team is one of the most important and consequential jobs of a worship leader. It requires patience (when no one is stepping forward), discernment (whether or not someone is gifted), wisdom (is this person suited for a leadership position in the church?), and leadership (am I building a team or expecting it to fall into place?)

I have made some wise decisions regarding whom to add to the worship team, and I have made some not-so-wise decisions. I’ve learned that there are some things to look out for (i.e. red flags) when considering whether or not someone should be asked to join the worship team.

Here are some red flags to be looking for (in no particular order of importance).... Read More

3 Ways Pastors and Church Leaders Undermine Themselves on Social Media


Social media use is pervasive in American culture today. The various social media platforms we use are the 21st century version of the town square—they are modern-day spaces to exchange ideas, learn the news, and more.

Once upon a time, it was trendy to think that social media was a trend—a cultural oddity of the new millennium that would pass as quickly as it burst onto the scene.

Social media is not going away anytime soon, for better or worse. According to Pew Research Center in 2016, about 79% of adults who use the internet use Facebook, 32% use Instagram, and 24% use Twitter. Of the 68% of all Americans who use Facebook, 76% of them use it daily.

Pastors and church leaders need to be in social media spaces. Here are three basic ways I see pastors and church leaders undermine themselves on social media, and some ideas about how to avoid these missteps.... Read More

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

In Post Christian America, Should Christians Retreat from Mission?


...Christians with a vested interest in global mission should say both “yes” and “no” to the prescriptions in The Benedict Option. To Dreher’s admonition to build a resilient ecclesial counter culture, we should give a wholehearted and full-throated “yes!” He’s right that on the whole, our churches, families, and Christian institutions have been weakened and corrupted by the acids of contemporary secularism, hedonism, and consumerism. We should, therefore, make every effort to strengthen them.

But to his admonition for us to take a few steps in a monastic direction in every dimension of our lives, we should say “not quite.” To retreat would inevitably undermine the outward thrust of the Christian life. This outward movement can be seen in two of the Bible’s great imperatives—the cultural mandate and the Great Commission. Read More

Also See:
Seven Core Convictions about Evangelism
If I were to choose a monastic model for a modern-day faith community, it would be that of the sixth century Celtic monks who evangelized Ireland, the British Isles, and Northern Europe, not that of Benedict of Nursia who retreated from the world first to a cave and then to a cloister. See George G. Hunter III's The Celtic Way of Evangelism: How Christianity Can Reach the West...Again (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2000). Dan Kimball summarizes the Celtic model in The Emerging Church: Vintage Christianity for New Generations (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003).
  • You first establish community with people or bring them into the fellowship of your community of faith.
  • Within fellowship, you engage in conversation, ministry, prayer, and worship.
  • In time, as they discover what you believe, you invite them to commit.
The typical Celtic monastery was a cluster of thatch-roofed huts and small wooden churches, surrounded by a low circular earthern wall (or berm). The purpose of the wall was not to serve as a barrier between the community and the world but as a symbol of the community's consecration to Christ. A tall wooden cross stood at the entrance to the community and every day the members of the community would gather at the foot of the cross to pray. They were often joined by the inhabitants of the  nearby villages with whom the monks were sharing the gospel. A iron hand bell, resembling a cow bell, was used to summon the members of the community and the inhabitants of the nearby villages to prayer.

The typical Celtic church accommodated up to 40 people. Rather than build larger churches, the Celtic monks would build more churches when the community outgrew its existing churches.


Both men and women lived in the same community. Some of the monks were celibate; others were married. While the Celtic Church had deacons, priests, and bishops, it was the abbots and abbesses of the Celtic monastic communities who were the leaders of the Celtic Church.

20 Truths from "God's Country"


Reclaiming God’s kingdom vision for the rural church

God’s Country: Faith, Hope, and the Future of the Rural Church

For many, rural brings a positive, sentimental vision of the untouched countryside populated by good-hearted people with a little dirt under their fingernails. Or maybe, in the other vision of rural, they’re local yokels who say crick when they mean creek and have a strange fondness for old pickup trucks and chewing tobacco. This all adds up to an easy dismissiveness of rural people and places. (11)

This book is about reclaiming God’s kingdom vision for the rural church. It’s about learning to praise, abide, watch, pray, grow, work the edges, die, befriend, and dream. Each of these disciplines is rooted in the biblical narrative and Christ’s enduring commitment to the rural church. (13)

In the end, rural and urban are human realities, and any distinctive of rural or urban mind-sets and lifestyle will always be limited by that fact. Regardless of what the country mouse and the city mouse might think of each other, in fundamental ways, the country soul is the city soul. We’re talking about people, and people have the same hurts and hungers wherever they happen to live. (23)

It turns out that rural identity can’t be chalked up to addresses. It can’t be measured solely by statistics. Rural identity has more to do with how rural people experience the world. What this means is that rural identity is more of a worldview, more like a culture—a distinct way of framing and knowing the world.(24) Read More

Should Pastors Today Still Care about the Reformation?


Pastors devoted to their ministry have so many things to do.1 Apart from the careful preparation week by week of fresh sermons and Bible studies, hours set aside for counseling and administration, care in developing excellent relationships, careful and thoughtful (and time-consuming!) evangelism, the mentoring of another generation coming along behind, the incessant demands of administration and oversight—not to mention the nurturing of one’s own soul—there is the regular array of family priorities, including care for aging parents and precious grandchildren and an ill spouse (or any number of permutations of such responsibilities), and, for some, energy levels declining in inverse proportion to advancing years. So why should busy pastors set aside valuable hours to read up on the Reformation, usually thought to have kicked off about five hundred years ago? True, the Reformers lived in rapidly changing times, but how many of them gave serious thought to postmodern epistemology, transgenderism, and the new (in)tolerance? If we are to learn from forebears, wouldn’t we be wise to choose more recent forebears? I offer nine reasons why the Reformation still matters for today’s pastors. Read More

Also See:
Why the Reformation Still Matters
The Most Dangerous Thing Luther Did

The Making of a Pastor


Two Indispensable Requirements for Pastoral Ministry

There are a number of things I could list in a blog post with this title. I don’t want to suggest that the two requirements I’m about to mention are the only two requirements. Surely, there are many other things we can and should say about effective pastoral ministry. But in my experience, ministry won’t go well, and pastors won’t go far, without at least these two requirements:
We must like studying the Bible.
And we must like our people.
The word “like” may feel a bit squishy, but I use it intentionally. We all know that we should love the Word of God and love people. That’s a given. But if that’s all I said, we’d nod together in tedious agreement: “Yes, good reminder, Kevin. The Bible is important, and the church is important. We must be people of the book and shepherds after God’s own heart.”

True, true. But with “like” I’m trying to say something a little different than all that. Read More

How One Pastor Learned to Let Go of His Do-It-All-Myself Compulsion

During my early pastoral years, I [Carl] ministered as if the world’s salvation depended on me being available for everyone’s needs. Through my preaching, church-staff supervision, church-school administration and being on call for 24-hour hospital visitation, I conveyed the idea that I was glad to take care of any situation just as soon as I could get there.

If someone had asked why my ministry was so dependent on my own ability, I would have responded with a blank stare. I was grateful to be needed! I had a church full of people who viewed me as their shepherd—interpreted as primary caregiver. What greater sign of effectiveness could I want? Read More

The Secret That Keeps Men From Singing in Worship


It happened again yesterday. I was attending one of those hip, contemporary churches—and almost no one sang.

Worshippers stood obediently as the band rocked out, the smoke machine belched and lights flashed. Lyrics were projected on the screen, but almost no one sang them.

A few women were trying, but I saw only one male (other than the worship leader) making the attempt.

A few months ago, I blogged “Have Christians Stopped Singing?” I did some research, and learned that congregational singing has ebbed and flowed over the centuries. It reached a high tide when I was a young man—but that tide may be going out again.

And that could be bad news for men. Read More

Also See:
Texas Pastor: Worship is About Christ, Not Impressing Crowds
The swing of the pendulum away from congregational singing largely appears to be a Western phenomena. For an insightful discussion of the back and forth movement between participation and performance in the worship music of the Christian Church, see Betty Pulkingham's Sing God a Simple Song: Exploring Music in Music for the Eighties, in particular, Chapter 7, Follow the Leader... folk leadership in worship." This slim volume has informed, influenced, and inspired my own music ministry for the past 30 odd years.

Chinese House Church Leaders and Toddler Arrested After Singing in Public Park


The Communist country proves that it is serious about its newest religious restrictions.

A Chinese house church pastor, her daughter, and her young grandson have been arrested, weeks after being accused of overstepping the country’s newly tightened religious restrictions.

Chinese officials warned Xu Shizhen in August that publicly sharing her faith puts her in violation of the government policy. It wasn’t her first run-in with authorities; five years before, her previous church was forcibly seized by officials and given to China’s official Three-Self Patriotic Movement church, according to ChinaAid.

After that, she started Zion Church. By singing, dancing, and preaching in the parks and public spaces of Xianning, Hubei province, Xu’s ministry broke the new law, which confines most faith activities to the walls of registered churches.

Last month, Xu, her daughter Xu Yuqing, and her three-year-old grandson Xu Shouwang were arrested; the two women were transferred to other facilities while the boy was held at the station. Christian advocates in China report that their exact whereabouts remain unknown.

Their detention came just two weeks after China toughened up its restrictions on religious activities. Read More
Your prayers are asked for Xu Shizen, for her daughter Xu Yuqing, for her grandson Xu Shouwang, and for all Chinese Christians caught up in the latest Communist Party crackdown on the free practice of religion in the Peoples Republic of China. 

Monday, October 16, 2017

Japan Church Opens Doors by Talking About a Personal God


“Have you heard of Jesus?”

“What’s that?”

“He is God.”

“What’s that?”

This actual conversation is typical of ones Pastor Rod Plummer has had in Japan, a country that has one of the lowest percentages of Christians in the world—less than 1 percent. Such numbers may discourage some pastors, but they actually motivated Plummer and his wife, Viv.

“We arrived with a strong vision that God was going to move in Japan,” he says. They had seen God work through church planting in Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia, so in response to God’s call they, along with their two sons and 10 mission interns, left a large, thriving church in their native Australia to plant what is becoming a movement of churches, starting in Tokyo.

“We always had the belief that we’d meet people who are open,” Plummer says. “Jesus said open your eyes and look at the fields because they’re ripe for harvest.” Read More

Can We Talk? The Story of One Texas Church's Road to Evangelism


A gospel-centered church is where the people share the gospel.

We often find that God does his greatest work out of times of difficulty. For me as a pastor, 2013 was a difficult year. Our community was facing rapid demographic changes that were bringing transition to our own church membership. Large numbers of first-generation immigrants were moving to our area, and increasing lostness was apparent. Just a few miles away was a Muslim Prayer Center, where reportedly more than 3,000 worshipers of Allah gathered weekly.

During this time, I felt a strange sense of emptiness in my own role as senior pastor of this historic and strong congregation and a nagging sense of deficiency in how we mobilized our congregation with the gospel. We weren’t actively sharing the gospel and reaching those who might never attend our church. And if we didn’t do it, who would?

That summer, I received an invitation to preach the upcoming Convention Message of the 2014 Southern Baptist Convention in Baltimore. The timing was ironic. As I prayed, I felt the Lord saying to me that he would show me what to preach, but that it wouldn’t simply be another message; rather, it would be a life-altering shift as he said, “You will live this.” I had no idea what this meant.

What happened that year changed my world. God brought great definition and clarity to my role as a leader of our congregation with the central focus of sharing Christ. He moved me to form a plan to equip our people to have gospel conversations. Our congregation responded, and in one year alone we saw over 300 people trained to share the gospel. We did this through a very simple way of sharing Christ called, “Can We Talk?”

We’ve now taken more than 700 people through our six-week equipping. This has resulted in thousands of gospel conversations outside our church walls and many decisions for Christ. Read More

Is It Wrong to Try to Persuade Others to Change Their Beliefs?


Three years ago, I met an Iranian scientist with an incredible brain and a stunning story: He had met Jesus through the disillusionment of the Islamic revolution and the music of J. S. Bach.

In Iran my friend had witnessed the full force of religious coercion, and he’d hated it. He’d converted to a new faith partly as a reaction against that force. He knew religious coercion was wrong, but now a Christian, he was wrestling with this question: Is it wrong to try to persuade someone to change their beliefs?

My scientist friend is an expert in breast cancer diagnostics, so I asked him to imagine a scene. He’s sitting across from a middle-aged woman from a poor educational background. She says she believes she’s not at risk of breast cancer and doesn’t need a mammogram. How should he respond?

We believe in religious freedom. We believe in cultural diversity. We know that persuasion can be coercive or manipulative, and that religious beliefs are deeply personal. All these things make us anxious about sharing our beliefs with others.

While this anxiety should make us careful, there are at least seven reasons why seeking to change a friend’s mind is not only justified, but a vital tenet of life together in a pluralistic society. Read More

The Five Choices of Declining Churches


It’s simple and straightforward.

Leaders of declining churches have five choices.

Let me clarify. In theory, the choices are simple. But putting them to practice is not so easy. So when pastors or other church leaders ask me what they can do about their declining church, I ask them to begin at the high level before looking at a lot of details. One of these five choices must be made. Read More

Sorry, Pastor – Numbers Are NOT People


Church metrics can be helpful. But only if we use them wisely. And hold them lightly.

Numbers matter at our church because every number is a person.

No.

Just... No.

I don’t doubt that most pastors who say that mean it. And they truly do care for people. But numbers are not people and people are not numbers.

Most businesses are figuring this out, so why are huge sections of the church so far behind on it?

At Starbucks, when I stand in line waiting for my coffee, I don’t have to remember a number any more. They may say my name wrong half the time, but even when they call me “Car” (yes, that happened recently) it means they’re trying. A number means they’re not.

Even my phone and TV have figured this out. I don’t dial a number, I say a person’s name. And I have no idea what channel my favorite TV shows are on – if they’re even on a channel. I enter the name of the show into the search bar, and voilà! there it is.

But too many pastors are hanging on to the increasingly antiquated notion that every number is a person and vice versa. Read More
While I agree with Karl Vaters that numbers are not everything, some pastors may develop an unhealthy preoccupation with numbers, and people should always come first, I am also concerned about how we can use the notion that "quality is more important than quantity" to rationalize church stagnation and decline. Are we producing high quality disciples if the disciples we produces do not mix with unchurched people, form relationships with them, share their faith with them, and make disciples of them? The kind of disciples that Jesus produced were disciples who replicated themselves. They made more disciples. Jesus himself sets the standard by which which we should measure the quality of the disciples that we make. Producing self-replicating disciples is not the same as filling the church's worship center so that it is standing room only every Sunday.

Four Implications of Martin Luther’s Theology


What do the sovereignty of God, salvation by grace, justification by faith, and new life in union with Christ mean for the living of the Christian life? For Martin Luther, they carry four implications.... Read More

Bivocational Ministry as an Evangelism Opportunity


One-third of American pastors are bivocational.

One of the most vital yet understudied streams of church ministers is the bivocational pastor. This is that pastor who, either out of necessity or intentionality, works as both the pastor of a local church and in the secular marketplace.

Already, more than one-third of all American pastors are bivocational, and this number will probably grow.

Bivocational ministry offers a great opportunity for evangelism. Bivocational pastors are uniquely positioned to live out their pastoral calling as the lead missionary to their local community. As a well-equipped and gifted emissary of the gospel, these ministers can lead their congregations by demonstrating the power of evangelism to build the local church.

In a mission field that has rapidly become the most unchurched culture in its history, bivocational pastors are on the frontlines of gospel witness.

In focusing on how bivocational pastoring can facilitate effective evangelism, I will first argue that full-time ministry can potentially hamper cultural engagement. In light of these challenges, I will outline the role of bivocational pastors in leading the church into a season of fruitful evangelism. Read More

Image: WikiImages

The Preaching Hangover


You may call it something different, but every pastor knows about it. It is the mental, emotional and spiritual crash that takes place the next day (Monday) as a result of pouring your heart and soul out in the proclamation of God’s word to God’s people the day before.
Personally, it has affectionately become known as “The Preaching Hangover.”
There is no easy remedy, medication or quick fix that can prevent it. There are, however, several practical efforts I make every Monday that are tremendously helpful to fight through the fog. Here are five suggestions for your consideration.... Read More

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Trickle-Down Evangelism

Dry Creek Bed

Are disciples becoming disciple-makers?

The Reagan-era theory of trickle-down economics is hotly contested among pundits who question whether or not the poor are actually helped by benefits given to the wealthy. In theory, various tax cuts and benefits to the rich should trickle-down to the poor and allow for mutual advantage. Feed the cow enough, and eventually the sparrows will find some seeds in the steaming piles it leaves behind.

But does it work? Although I have some opinions, I’ll stay in my lane and leave that question to the economists, and instead ask a parallel question concerning the church.

Does trickle-down evangelism work? If we feed the disciple enough, will he or she become a powerhouse warrior for the Kingdom of God? Read More

God Works Through His Appointed Means

The Holy Table at St. Mark's Anglican Church, Benton, Kentucky

For Martin Luther, the work of Christ came to sinners outwardly in God’s institutions and inwardly by the Holy Spirit and faith. Both the outward and the inward were necessary. Read More

Image: Bella Raj

So WHY Is Your Church Not Attracting New People? Maybe It’s This...


So maybe you wonder why your church isn’t growing, or why it’s not growing faster.

You’re not alone.

The vast majority of churches are plateaued or declining because they can’t effectively reach new people.

The question is: why? And usually, they don’t really know why that is. Read More

More from Carey Nieuwhof:
Carey Nieuwhof On What Churches Need To Do When Christians Are The Minority [Podcast]
When To Panic And When NOT To Panic When People Leave Your Church
5 Things Every Good Leader Knows About Themselves
How To Respond To Critics Like An Emotionally Intelligent Leader Would

Five Questions to Ask at the Two-Year Mark in Your Tenure


I am in the third year of serving as lead pastor at West Bradenton. Thankfully, my first two years were more joy than angst, defined by encouragement and not disillusion. But even in a healthy church, the third year can bring frustration—for both pastor and congregation.

In the first year, the congregation tends to project certain qualities onto the pastor. “He kinda sounds like my pastor from my hometown. I liked him growing up, so maybe they will be similar.” Inevitably, people figure out the new pastor has little in common with their initial projections. By the third year, the vast majority of the congregation is done projecting. People now know the pastor. A shuffling occurs. Some enter the church with excitement because they like the new direction. Others exit with disappointment because the new pastor does not meet their initial projections.

It’s important to note that projections are slightly different than expectations. Projections are the amalgamation of previous perceptions of other individuals cast onto a new person. For example, when you are the new pastor, people will think you look like a previous pastor, talk like another pastor, and lead like the pastor at the church down the road. It’s a common occurrence that is more unconscious than conscious. People in the church inevitably create a picture of you before they even know you. Read More

Live a Life Worthy of Preaching


Do you ever struggle with the blank page in your sermon preparation?

Honestly, most pastors would admit they do.

It gets overwhelming creating fresh material week after week.

Sometimes it’s because we need a better sermon preparation process. And if that’s what you need, you can get that here.

But what if the words aren’t flowing is because you haven’t lived them?

You found a Bible verse to preach, but the verse has yet to be found in you. Read More

The Book of Common Prayer: Its Origin and Growth


"As the light of the sun is to the eye of the body, so is praier to the soul."

T HE gradual collection of Books of Common Prayer and other books related thereto has been one of the avocations of a busy professional life. I am sometimes asked: "But why collect Prayer-Books?" This sketch is my answer to that question.

The English Book of Common Prayer is one of the most interesting and instructive subjects of devotional and historical study. It is the first book, comprising all the offices of the Church and also forms of private devotion, which was established as a complete liturgy by the ad of the state. All previous forms of worship had been promulgated by ecclesiastical authority alone, and had no binding force in the law of the state; but this book was enacted as the only legal form of public worship by a Parliament of the Commons and Lords Spiritual and Temporal and the Crown. Although it was first prepared by the clergy, it was necessarily so framed as to stand the test of legislative debate and meet the approval of the people by their representatives in Parliament; and the legal validity of its use rests solely upon the authority of the act of Parliament. It was also the first complete book of devotions for the clergy and the worshippers in the language of the people, so that it might "be understanded by the people." It was a compromise between conflicting opinions as to religious doctrine and as to forms of worship. This was its strength; for this made it a liturgy established by the consent and authority of the people, for the use of the people, in the common language of the people. It has been twice proscribed by law, all copies of it ordered to be destroyed, and its use in public or private devotions made a crime. But it has, with few substantial alterations, remained unchanged in its original form for three hundred and fifty years. Read More
Josiah Henry Benton, Jr., was the son of a Congregationalist minister. Born in Vermont, he also lived in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. During his life time he was a lawyer, civil servant, and author. After moving to Boston, he became a trustee of the Boston Public Library. He was an avid collector of Prayer Books. From the biographical material that I found on the Internet, I was not able to ascertain if he had any connection with the Protestant Episcopal Church or Anglicanism beyond his love of The Book of Common Prayer. At the time he wrote this history of the Prayer Book, the 1892 Prayer Book was the authorized Prayer Book of the Protestant Episcopal Church.

We Are Equally Sinful. We Are Not All Equally Broken or Toxic.


Admittedly, this post will be as uncomfortable as its title. But, then again, counseling is about very uncomfortable things. The concern I want to discuss is the tendency to assume that biblical principles like those found in I Corinthians 10:13 mean that all our struggles carry the same weight. The unintended consequence can be that abusive relationships receive the same counsel as garden-variety arguments and instances of low impulse control receive the same guidance as manic episodes. Read More

Also See:
Helping Churches to Better Handle Cases of Abuse

Friday, October 13, 2017

Let’s Ask Better Questions About Church Size


Instead of asking “what’s the best church size?” we need to ask “what’s the best church size for a given situation?”

What‘s the best church size?

Many church leaders might argue that, whatever your size, “just a little bigger” would be better.

Many house church attenders would propose that smaller is better.

There are followers of John Wesley’s Rule of 150 who make a good case for the idea that limiting a local church to 150 people is ideal.

I don’t have an answer for that question.

Because I believe the question is flawed.

It’s incomplete at best and absurd at worst. Read More

“Playing the Long Game”: 3 Reasons Learning to be Content Is Critical in Church Planting


Contentment is a required spiritual practice for church planters.

Have you ever heard the phrase, “playing the long game”? My guess is we’ve each heard it thrown around in different venues. The saying is not new. It’s been used to describe throwing the football down the field or driving the golf ball toward the green. Perhaps you’ve heard the saying used to describe a person taking his or her time in pursuing someone for dating or by a certain financial planning firm hoping to drum up more business by sharing how unprepared we are for future retirement.

No matter where we might hear it, the phrase “playing the long game” generally means having a long-term plan, long-term goals, or doing things now that set you up for the future. Most church planters have a clear vision. Whether that is to be a multiplying sending church, a mega-church with big budgets and lots of resources to help advance the gospel, or a neighborhood church shepherding a community, serving and loving them toward gospel transformation, the vision is there.

The question is: When the mission becomes stale, when the money begins to run out and attendance seems to plateau, what will keep us focused on playing the long game? The answer might be in our ability to be content in all circumstances. Read More

Ten Ways to Fund a Church Replant - Revitalize & Replant #004 [Podcast]


Funds are often tight in dying churches. So when you’re replanting, how do you come up with the funds needed to turn things around? Today, we discuss 10 simple ways. Listen Now

Image: K Wolfram

Why do some people love Jesus, but don’t like the Bible?


My wife, Kasi, and I have five children. Our oldest two are both girls, eleven and six, and they both love to play with Play-Doh. They have all the colors and all the tools necessary to mold, shape and build anything their vivid imaginations can come up with. Ok, now for a moment of confession. I love to play with them and create as well. It reminds me of my childhood, but my daughters often will put me in time-out when I mix the colors to create new ones. It’s what I always did as a kid, but they can’t stand it. “Daddy, you’re ruining it!”

The reason we all liked Play-Doh as children is because we believed we could create anything we wanted. We’d mold, shape and bend. Plus, if we didn’t like how it was turning out we could pick everything up, roll it in a ball, and start over.

I believe this is the same reason why so many people love to talk about Jesus, but don’t actually read the Bible. In fact, we’ve all heard people say such things as, “I love Jesus, but I don’t like the Bible. I have a deep respect for Jesus, but I don’t agree with the Bible.” Read More
I don't blame his daughters. Plasticine comes in lovely bright colors. But when you mix the colors together, they become an ugly grey. 

7 Things Your Church Needs From You

The Holy Table at St. Mark's Anglican Church, Benton, Kentucky

Not too long ago I had the opportunity to speak to a gathering of young adults from several churches across our city. I chose to speak about how any Christian (not only young adults) can make a church better and stronger. Here are some of the things I came up with: 7 things your church needs from you.

Your church needs you to.... Read More

Image: Bela Raj

What’s the Purpose of … Baptism?


There is little doubt that the Bible commands Christians to baptize. Yet exactly who should be baptized and under what circumstances is a matter of no little debate. As we progress through this series about things we as Christians often take for granted, we need to ask: What’s the purpose of baptism?

It is important to note that to this point in the series, we have been covering topics for which there is substantial agreement among the majority of Protestants. However, as we turn to issues such as baptism, the Lord’s supper, and the Lord’s day, we come to topics over which there is significant disagreement among Protestants. It is crucial to understand, though, that these are second-order issues. Although they create boundaries between denominations and local congregations, those who disagree on these issues can still recognize one another as true believers in Jesus Christ. I approach this as a baptist who seeks to be consistent with my convictions while also charitable toward those who hold other perspectives. Read More

What Kind of Church Leader Are You?


In order to grow and multiply your church, you have to start with yourself.

I’m not talking about picking up a self-help book to learn how to get your best life now. I’m talking about figuring out why it is that you lead the way that you do.
But Daniel, that means I need to slow down and reflect…I don’t have time for that! Sunday’s coming, and I need to....
Yes I understand that Sunday is coming and that you have things to do! But here’s the thing....

If you don’t take the necessary time to learn why you lead the way you lead, disciple the way you disciple, and teach the way you teach, you will never be able to grow and multiply your church. Read More

Also See:
7 Ways Church Leaders Hurt Themselves
3 Bad Excuses for Avoiding Leadership Development