As we journey through Lent toward Easter, I want to be mindful of the dangers that surround this season and threaten the soul of a community and the soul of a pastor.
What danger? The temptation to bait and switch.
Every year I need to remind myself that Easter is not a marketing opportunity. The resurrection of the Son of God is not an opportunity to market our programs or build "my" church, even under the guise of concern for lost.
And as I feel the pressure to create a winning, life-changing sermon for those who may only come this one time a year, I especially have to remember: It's not about me. (Please wait a minute while I repeat that to myself a few times.) Why? Because heaven forbid we should ever do community in such a way that communicates that our main avenue for people coming to Christ is hearing the Gospel preached from the mouth of one person, rather than hearing it preached from the mouths (and lives) of the whole community. If, in your community, more people are becoming Christians on Sunday than during the rest of the week, I think you may have a problem.
Is the government really to blame for declining church attendance?
by Skye Jethani
Two weeks ago the American Religious Identification Survey [ARIS] released its findings and announced that "secular" Americans now account for 15 percent of the population. That is up from 8 percent in 1990 and just 2 percent in 1962. Among the young the trend is even higher. Only 25 percent of people between 21 and 45 years old regularly attend church.
Who is responsible for this dramatic downturn in commitment to church attendance? According to some church leaders it's the government.
In a blog post from March 19, Al Mohler discusses an article in The Wall Street Journal by W. Bradford Wilcox who believes "the expansion of the government sector to offer cradle-to-grave social services contributes to the secularization of society." According to Wilcox as people become increasingly dependent on government programs for their daily bread, they become less dependent upon the church.
Mr. Wilcox, a professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, warns:
"A successful Obama revolution providing cradle-to-career education and cradle-to-grave health care would reduce the odds that Americans would turn to their local religious congregations and fellow believers for economic, social, emotional and spiritual aid."
The author of Pagan Christianity on the upside of organic churches.
This video comes from Lance Ford, one of our partners over at Shapevine.com. After Frank Viola's opening impression of Dirty Harry, he talks about the nature of Christian community. How important is proximity and frequency to fostering real community? And does a house/organic church structure foster healthier community than a more institutional model? Of course Viola struck a nerve last year with his book Pagan Christianity. A review of his follow up, From Eternity to Here, will be posted on Ur in the coming days.
"What the congregation needs is not a strategist to help them form another plan for achieving a desired image of life, but a poet who looks beneath even the desperation to recover the mystery of what it means to be made in God's image." So says pastor-professor, and poet, M. Craig Barnes, in his new book: The Pastor As Minor Poet: Texts and Subtexts in the Ministerial Life (Eerdmans, 2009).
Wisdom needs to be the name of the pastoral game. Wisdom finds its way into the poetic (not as in rhyming and verse), and not enough of us are committed to a life intent on wisdom. I wish more pastors (and Christians) were committed more to wisdom than to success.
How can the pastor get beyond the ordinary, the routine, the boring, the mundane, and the concrete realities that (sometimes, often) numb the joy out of life? What perspective can the pastor find that leads behind and beneath and beyond?
If this is what you are wondering, this is the book for you. The prose is graceful, the thoughts emerge from experience, and the perspective as fresh as it is old: the wisdom of the poet.
Leaders from Frontline discuss the biblical liberty, and limitations, of alcohol.
Earlier this week Brandon O'Brien wrote about the new debate among clergy over alcohol. Even if we believe the Bible permits consumption, what does wisdom tell us? Should pastors drink as an expression of Christian liberty, or should we refrain for the sake of the weaker brother/sister? This video from Frontline, the young adult ministry at McLean Bible Church, highlights the dilemma.
In the upcoming issue of Leadership (in print mid April), we'll hear from a number of pastors - including Craig Gross, John Burke, and Matt Russell - who are committed to taking the gospel to people with addictions.
We're also featuring a couple of articles about how pastors can and should deal with their own addictions.
One article I suspect will get people talking is Eric Reed's report on clergy alcohol use. Here's a preview: Some younger pastors in traditionally teetotalling denominations are beginning to view bans on alcohol use as out of date. Is their so-called liberty in Christ simply an excuse for bad behavior? Or are the old timers adding laws to the gospel?
Senior managing editor of our sister publication, Christianity Today, posted a response to iMonk's prophecies about the end of evangelicalism on the CT website Wednesday afternoon. Here's the first bit. You can read the rest there.
The Internet is abuzz with the latest prognostications about "the coming evangelical collapse." This is the substance of three blog posts over at Internet Monk (a.k.a. Michael Spencer), who predicts said collapse in ten years. When his thoughts got picked up and condensed by the Christian Science Monitor and then the Drudge Report - well, you can just imagine the electronic excitement.
The title of Spencer's posts spoils the ending; still, many of the details are interesting. I've made many of the same observations in this column. For example, Spencer writes, "Expect evangelicalism as a whole to look more and more like the pragmatic, therapeutic, church-growth-oriented megachurches that have defined success. The determination to follow in the methodological steps of numerically successful churches will be greater than ever. The result will be, in the main, a departure from doctrine to more and more emphasis on relevance, motivation and personal success." My only caveat here is to wonder if this is a future or present reality.
Is the decline of religion in America a sign of the death of evangelicalism?
by Brandon O'Brien
In the last 24 hours, USA Today and The Christian Science Monitor have both released less than cheery articles on the future of faith in America.
"The percentage of people who call themselves in some way Christian has dropped more than 11% in a generation," reports Cathy Lynn Grossman of USA Today. "The faithful have scattered out of their traditional bases: The Bible Belt is less Baptist. The Rust Belt is less Catholic. And everywhere, more people are exploring spiritual frontiers - or falling off the faith map completely."
The American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) found that, "despite growth and immigration that has added nearly 50 million adults to the U.S. population, almost all religious denominations have lost ground since the first ARIS survey in 1990."
That means that religious people are not simply being redistributed from one religion or denomination to another, but that more and more people are abandoning all faith altogether.
The economic meltdown may fuel the resurgence of urban congregations.
by Collin Hansen
What if your city never recovers from the current economic crisis? What if your entire region enters an irreversible long-term decline? Richard Florida dares to declare the downturn's winners and losers in his March cover story for The Atlantic. In his essay "How the Crash Will Reshape America," Florida incorporates insight from his 2002 book, The Rise of the Creative Class.
Not surprising for anyone familiar with his earlier work, Florida believes that the big winners will be those burgeoning cities that have attracted a diverse class of sophisticated young professionals. So even though New York City has shed thousands of finance jobs, Florida believes the city's young talent will innovate and adapt. Detroit and other Rust Belt cities are unlikely to bounce back, even if the population loss is more like a slow bleed than a mass exodus.
But Florida doesn't just assess the economic effects on different regions of the country. He also observes how economic change will rearrange the relationship between cities, suburbs, and small towns. As I discussed last month, the brain drain in rural areas is making them a new mission field. Florida has little sympathy, because innovation depends on the best and brightest congregating together in dense, fast-paced cities. But Florida reserves his harshest analysis for the suburbs, the heartland of evangelical church growth in recent decades. He recommends that the federal government retract the tax incentives to homeownership that propelled suburban sprawl. In a post-industrial economy, Florida argues, the workforce cannot be tied down to mortgages. Mobility is the engine of competitive capitalism. In the megalopolis, Florida trusts.
I've been to a lot of potlucks. Growing up in church and being a pastor has meant many, many casseroles and Jell-O salads. After a recent preaching gig at a suburban church, I was treated to an entirely different version of the potluck: fried chicken, ribs, spaghetti, and kimchi-stuffed dumplings. Not a casserole or gelatin-inspired food product to be seen. The menu perfectly reflected the ethnically diverse congregation of students, families, and retired folks.
Contrast these eclectic culinary delights with the weeklong theology class I took earlier this year. The professor provided an overview of church history that hit all the high points: canon, creeds, schism, reformation, awakening, evangelicalism, and so on. Curiously, there was no mention Christianity's early spread to Africa and India and not a word about the faith's new center in the global south. In the past, both church and neighborhood reinforced this mostly European perspective on history. Of course I knew about the Middle-Eastern roots of and some of the global influences on Christianity, but didn't most of the important stuff happen to guys with vaguely European-sounding names? History and tradition through a Western lens made sense when I lived and worshiped with people whose great-great-grandparents came from Germany, England, and Sweden.