I was sick in bed, my poor wife by my side, during a class reunion weekend in South Carolina this past weekend. I usually make sure I get the remote control quickly in hand, so I can steer the programming toward the exercising of my mind: ESPN and Fox Sports are two of my top choices. But my wife beat me to the coveted piece of gadgetry in our hotel room. So I spent the day watching or hearing HGTV design shows. I had nausea when they started, but after awhile watching design shows, I told my wife it was getting worse.
Really I did like some of the shows, like Color Splash by this cool Asian guy with tats on his arm. But the take away after a saturation of design tips and styles were some thoughts on how design is a reflection of us, how we see ourselves, and who we want to become.
What do the recent surveys tell us about the future of faith?
by John Ortberg
Snapshot: The recently released American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) indicates that faith is going down across the board. The number of people who identify themselves as Christian has decreased by 11 percent in a generation. The single fastest-growing category when it comes to religious affiliation is "None," which grew from 8 percent to 15 percent since 1990.
The "Nones" are the single biggest group in the state of Vermont, at 34 percent of the state's population. And "None" was the only religious category to grow in all 50 states.
One of the other fastest growing categories is "Don't Know/confused." (You can supply your own mainline humor here. In fact, the "two-party system" of evangelical versus mainline Christianity that I grew up with is collapsing. In an ironic return to Reformation language, in the United States "evangelical" will soon be synonymous with "Protestant.")
Barry Kosmin, who co-authored the survey, commented that more than ever before "people are just making up their own stories of who they are. They say, ?I'm everything. I'm nothing. I believe in myself.'" He said that faith is increasingly treated as a fashion statement that serves as a vehicle for self-expression rather than a transcendent commitment which demands costly devotion.
One respondent to a version of the story in USA Today said: "None of my friends believe in God. When the subject of religion comes up around the table, we all just mock it. It's a source of ridicule." 27 percent of Americans do not even expect a religious funeral at their death. The survey doesn't indicate how many are hoping to skip death altogether.
Friday morning's opening session began with a powerful music video that told the story of a thirteen-year-old girl from the Philippines named Constance. The video was based on a true story and told how Constance was sold by her father into sex slavery for $9. The man who bought her used her as a star on his website. I didn't catch all the lyrics, but the video sent a powerful message about the pervasive effects of sex trafficking - a man paying the subscription fee for a porn site in his suburban home may be propagating the sale and purchase of human beings for sex.
Following the video was a short panel discussion with three women who are on the front lines of the war against the sex trade. Jeannie Mai is a television host who recently spent two weeks ministering in the red light district of Bangkok, Thailand. She was joined by Naomi Zacharias (daughter of Ravi Zacharias) of Wellspring International and Bethany Hoang from International Justice Mission.
Mulling the "degree of difficulty" and the Great Judge
My son is a gymnast, so I've had to learn about "difficulty factor." That means a judge gives a gymnast better scores for harder routines. For instance, if your dismount from the high bar involves a double back flip with a twist, your difficulty factor, and thus your potential score, is greater than if your dismount is merely a single flip with no twist.
Today's sessions at Catalyst West never used the term, but "difficulty factor" was the common theme as speakers described the various levels of response to the gospel. The question they did NOT address was how the Judge will evaluate the lives of people who attempt the various levels of difficulty.
Craig Groeschel, pastor of LifeChurch.tv, for instance, talked about "Line 3 believers."
By his categorization, those who step up to line one, "believe in the gospel enough to benefit from it." They're involved with the gospel because they like the church, the community, the sense of forgiveness and purpose and meaning that it gives them.
Others step up to line two and "believe in the gospel enough to contribute comfortably."
Ever faced a leadership decision, and didn't feel you had all the information you needed to decide? For instance, to hire or not to hire? To discipline or extend more grace?
Andy Stanley opened the Catalyst West conference with the best leadership talk I've ever heard from him. He clearly connected with the 3,200 attenders by describing the inescapable fact of life for leaders: you have to lead even when you don't know for certain what to do.
Or, as Andy reframed the issue: "uncertainty is why we need leaders." "God gets more out of chaos than out of wrinkle-free days." If every situation were clear, no leadership would be needed. "Uncertainty underscores the need for leadership. Uncertainty is the arena in which leadership is recognized." For leaders, "Uncertainty is job security!" The crowd laughed. Nervously.
Those of us who've followed Andy for a while recognize this theme as one that he first explored in 2003 in an article in Leadership ("The Uncertain Leader") and in his book The Next Generation Leader. But Andy has continued to develop his thoughts nicely since then. And with the current economy, the awareness of uncertainty has, uh, certainly been heightened.
When you're uncertain, Andy told the assembled leaders, focus on two elements:
Leadership is live from Orange County and has an announcement.
by Brandon O'Brien
Today Marshall Shelley and I were at Mariner's Church in Irvine, California, for the pregame show of the first ever Catalyst West Coast conference. Led by Erwin McManus and the rest of the Mosaic team, the Origins Labs (as they were called) were an opportunity for some smaller group, interactive sessions on topics related to engaging culture, reaching the hard to reach, and other perennial challenges. Catalyst West begins in earnest tomorrow, and you'll here more from us about that then.
Anne began struggling with an Internet porn addiction at a young age. To help us with our ongoing conversation about dealing with addictions, Anne spoke to Skye and Brandon about her journey and what the church can do to help others in her situation.
Why isn't the church talking about issues of race?
by David Swanson
Stephen Colbert doesn't know his own race. The host of The Colbert Report, a satirical television news program on Comedy Central, claims to be colorblind, unable to discern his skin color. "People tell me I'm white," he said during one episode, "because I own a lot of Jimmy Buffet albums." The colorblind approach to race and racism makes for amusing television but is the height of na?vet? in real life. Yet for many churches this seems to be the preferred method of talking - or not talking - about all things related to race.
The beauty and peril of our diverse culture is impossible to miss. A quick snapshot reveals a president who shares a heritage with both Kenya and Kansas, a New York Post cartoon of a dead chimpanzee that stirs up memories of racist stereotypes, and teenage pop star Miley Cyrus photographed pulling back her eyes in an attempt to "look Asian." Stephen Colbert isn't the only TV personality who finds comedy in this racially charged atmosphere. Michael Scott, the hilariously insensitive manager of The Office, manages to repeatedly offend each of his diverse staff - no one is safe from his absurd stereotypes. A more nuanced primetime treatment of race can be seen on Lost where the island's castaways epitomize the global, ethnic, and class diversity and divisions of our day. In a society increasingly conscious of race and ethnicity, the silence of our churches grows more notable by the day.
Ur participates in the blog tour for The Divine Commodity with an exclusive excerpt.
Today over twenty blogs are participating in a book tour for Skye Jethani's The Divine Commodity. The fact that Jethani is a card-carrying Urthling is why we felt the Ur audience should participate in the blog tour as well. Below is an excerpt from Chapter 9 of The Divine Commodity where Jethani addresses the assumption that Christ's enormous mission is best accomplished by equally enormous strategies, and how this mindset is rooted in consumer sensibilities. A longer excerpt from the book is also featured in the spring issue of Leadership.
In the coming days we will be announcing a contest in which 50 Urbanites can win a free copy of Jethani's book. Until then, you can click here for a list of the other 23 blogs participating in The Divine Commodity tour today.
The pattern is predictable. A few thousand young church leaders gather at a warm climate resort for two and a half days to have a "life changing ministry experience." They shuffle into the hotel's main ballroom, bags of complementary goodies in hand, where their internal organs are realigned by the worship band's bass-thumping remix of How Great Thou Art. After which the marquee speaker will fire up the audience with a call to "change the world for Christ," "impact a generation with the Gospel," or "spark a revival in the church." Throughout the stump speech, the presenter will wax eloquent about the fate he or she foresees for the new generation of church leaders in the audience. "Your generation will do what mine could not." "You will be the generation to change the world." Convinced of their manifest destiny, the twenty-somethings will head off to breakout sessions where they will learn the skills to impact the world - usually from other twenty-somethings.
I say the pattern is predictable because I've been to a fair number of ministry conferences and I've led my share of breakout sessions, and like most church leaders I've gotten use to hearing the drumbeat of revolution. I call it the Daisy Cutter Doctrine: "Change the world through massive cultural upheaval and high-impact tactics."
The Porn Pastor talks about ministry in Las Vegas.
The Spring '09 issue of Leadership journal should be arriving in mailboxes this week. The issue is called "UNHOOKED: Finding Release from Vices and Addictions." We editors searched for ministers who were tackling addiction head on, whether in their churches or in parachurch ministries. And we're pleased with the final product.
Our lead interview in this issue is with Craig Gross, founder of XXXChurch.com and, more recently, the Strip Church in Las Vegas. In the video below, Craig talks a little bit about the mission of the Strip Church and what it means to take the gospel into the darkness.
What do you read and where do you go to pull together your Sunday sermon?
Our friends over at PreachingToday.com are doing a little research. They're eager to know how sermon preparation differs from one generation to the next--in particular, how do folks under 35 and over 35 approach their sermon prep?
So they've created a survey. It's straight--click some boxes and type in a few names. I just took it, and it only took me 3 or 4 minutes, tops. Plus at the end, there's a little something special for those of you who complete the survey.
The uber-pastor talks with CT about politics, same-sex marriage, the economy, and baptism.
Sarah Pulliam at Christianity Today has just posted her interview with Rick Warren. He talks about the controversy surrounding his invocation at President Obama's inauguration, the uproar over his support of Proposition 8 in California banning same-sex marriage, and the thousands being baptized at his church. Here's an excerpt:
I know a lot has been happening recently at your church. Just a few weeks ago, you baptized 800 in one day.
I was in the water for over five hours. I had webbed feet. It had to be a record. You know, it says in Acts that at the day of Pentecost, 3,000 were baptized and added to the church that day. We had 2,400 added to the church that day. The world belongs to Saddleback. When we started Saddleback, it was a white suburban church. We speak 65 different languages. It's the United Nations. I baptized an Egyptian General; I baptized probably 50 or 60 nationalities.
After you posted an invitation to the baptism and membership, some bloggers criticized the promotion. In the promotion, you said new members could have their photo with Pastor Rick and get a free one-year subscription to The Purpose Driven Connection. Why did you advertise the event that way?
In the first place, I think every person should take a picture with the pastor who baptizes them. That's a memento, that's a spiritual hallmark. That's not anything new. It wasn't like, oh, this is something we've never done that's going to attract people. In the past 10 years, Saddleback has baptized over 20,000 new believers. We are, without a doubt, the most evangelistic church in America. There are churches that are bigger than Saddleback, but there are no churches that reach more people for Christ than Saddleback. There are no churches that send as many people into the missions field. There's not a church that has sent 8,000 people into the missions field.
Should we be advocating earlier marriage to boost church attendance?
How do we account for the dramatic doubling of the number of secular Americans over the last 18 years? And what are we to do about the exodus of young people from the church? These are important questions, and uncovering the causes may prove critical as we seek to develop a remedy. Al Mohler discusses these issues in his March 19 blog post based on an article in The Wall Street Journal by W. Bradford Wilcox which Mohler wholeheartedly endorses.
In part one, I discussed Wilcox's belief that increased dependency on government programs for education, healthcare, and retirement is fueling secularism and keeping people from the doors of the church. But Wilcox and Mohler don't see the government as the only culprit for the church's decline - they also point to single adults. Wilcox writes:
The most powerful force driving religious participation down is the nation's recent retreat from marriage?. Nothing brings women and especially men into the pews like marriage and parenthood, as they seek out the religious, moral and social support provided by a congregation upon starting a family of their own. But because growing numbers of young adults are now postponing or avoiding marriage and childbearing, they are also much less likely to end up in church on any given Sunday.
Mohler affirms this perspective in his blog post:
Adulthood is meant for adult responsibilities, and for the vast majority of young people that will mean marriage and parenthood. The extension of adolescence into the twenties (maybe now even the thirties) is highly correlated with the rise of secularism and with lower rates of church attendance.
First, let me outline where I agree with Mohler and Wilcox.
Catalyst and Url Scaramanga hit the OC April 22-24.
Leadership editors Marshall Shelley and Brandon O’Brien, as well as yours truly, will be attending the Catalyst West Coast event April 22-24, and we’d love to connect with a few Urbanites. If you’re planning to be there, give us a shout with your contact info at LJeditor@christianitytoday.com. If you can't find the coin to get to California, you can read updates from the conference right here on Out of Ur.
This is the first time Catalyst has ventured to the West Coast. Speakers will include Andy Stanley, Francis Chan, Craig Groeschel, Erwin McManus, Catherine Rohr, and Guy Kawasaki. Learn more about Catalyst West Coast and register here.
Catalyst West Coast will also feature two debuts. First, on April 22, the new network committed to innovation in outreach (currently under the Origins Project name) will be officially named and launched. The network currently includes Dan Kimball*, Dave Gibbons*, Erwin McManus, Eric Bryant*, Scot McKnight, Josh Fox, John Park, Mark Batterson, Margaret Feinberg, Naeem Fazal, Rick McKinley*, and Leadership’s managing editor Skye Jethani.
The other debut will be a completely new resource developed in partnership with Catalyst and Leadership journal. I can’t share the details now except to say that we are very excited about it, and that this new resource will take both Leadership and Catalyst where they have never gone before. Stay tuned.
Worship trends among the young are more complicated than you realize.
by Dan Kimball
For years I served on the staff of a megachurch with a very contemporary style of worship. We had a state-of-the-art sound system, large video projection screens, pop-rock music, and a sophisticated lighting system. The worship services were programmed to the minute: predetermined transitions, upbeat intro songs, announcements backed with PowerPoint slides, sermons crafted with felt-need application points, and abundant video clips.
The church was growing as several thousand people connected with the presentations each week. But at the same time the church was thriving with one generation, I began to notice that younger adults were not engaging as well as their parents. So I began listening to these young people to discover why they were not resonating with this way of doing church.
I repeatedly heard that they were longing for something less "programmed." At the same time, I began hearing questions about "liturgy," a word I'd never heard before. I was not raised in the church, and my only church experiences at the time had been at an organ-led Baptist church and the megachurch where I was on staff. Even in seminary, I had never been taught about liturgy (literally, the "work of the people") or ancient forms of worship. And ministry conferences I attended only seemed concerned with the newest, cutting-edge trends.