In your new book you write, "I cannot convince people to be obsessed with Jesus, and that's why you need the Holy Spirit." When did you come to that realization?
Once you pastor for a while, it dawns on you that nailing a sermon doesn't mean lives will change. Or you'll meet a person who's surrendered everything to Christ, and you'll realize that your sermon wasn't even good and nothing you did caused him to become a believer.
There was a guy who had been in our church for 15 years. One day he told me my preaching hadn't changed him. He said I spoke too much about the "narrow road" and how everyone needs to be radical for Christ. But he said there's also a "middle road" where people like him can do a lot of good things. I was floored by that. He's sat under my teaching for 15 years and he still believes there isn't only a wide easy road and a narrow difficult road, but also a middle road? I've been told many times that my teaching is really helpful, that I make things simple for people to understand. And then you hear something like that.
That's when I remember, I cannot make someone fall in love with Jesus.
So what's the point of all the work, sermon prep, and programs if the outcome is out of our hands?
Some of our toil is wasted, because we're toiling believing that these things change people.
Even if you cannot attend the gathering you can still participate. Saddleback will be hosting a live video broadcast of the gathering on their website. Sign up for the event here. The panelists for the event include:
Are intentionally small churches any better than intentionally big ones? It depends.
by Brandon J. O'Brien
In a conversation last week about the virtues of small churches, a pastor friend of mine, Chuck Warnock, quoted a passage from John Zogby’s 2008 book The Way We'll Be: The Zogby Report on the Transformation of the American Dream (Random House). Zogby prophesies that “The church of the future will be a bungalow on Main Street, not a megastructure in a sea of parking spaces. It’s intimacy of experience that people long for, not production values.”
On the face of it, I couldn’t be more pleased with that prediction. I’ve pastored two small congregations and am now a member and deacon in another, where my wife serves on staff. My experience with these churches has led me to believe that small congregations are uniquely positioned to carry the gospel into the world in the 21st century. Few things would make me happier than if the “next big thing” in Christian ministry conversations was the small church.
But the context of Zogby’s forecast gives me pause.
Why do so many Christians expect God to shield us from suffering?
by Margaret Feinberg
It is amazing to me! There are people within the ranks of Christianity who have been taught and who believe that Christ will shield His followers from wounds of every kind.
If the truth were known, the saints of God in every age were only effective after they had been wounded. They experienced the humbling wounds that brought contrition, compassion and a yearning for the knowledge of God. I could only wish that more among the followers of Christ knew what some of the early saints meant when they spoke of being wounded by the Holy Spirit.
Think for a moment about the apostle Paul. I suppose there is no theologian living or dead who quite knows what Paul meant when he said, “From henceforth let no man make trouble for me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus” (Galatians 6:17). Every commentary has a different idea. I think Paul referred to the wounds he suffered because of his faith and godly life.
The Wall Street Journal reports on rise of pastoral unemployment.
National unemployment hovers around 10 percent. There are a lot of hurting individuals and households in the country as a result, but few have reported on the impact on clergy. The Wall Street Journal has released an article on the sharp rise in unemployment among pastors and the very hard realities of being an out-of-work church leader.
Here are some sobering stats:
Unemployed pastors in 2005: 2,000
Unemployed pastors in 2007: 3,000
Unemployed pastors in 2009: 5,000
30 percent of church attendees report reducing their giving since November 2009.
What makes matters more challenging for unemployed pastors is that because churches are not required to pay unemployment taxes, laid-off church workers can't collect benefits offered to other workers. In addition, the church sector may be one of the last to begin hiring again as staffing decisions are directly linked to giving, and giving is linked to the unemployment rates within the congregation. In other words, the people in the pews need jobs before they'll be able to hire someone to fill the pulpit. Pastors looking for a job may be looking longer than other workers and without the cushion of an unemployment check.
Grad school establishes ministry patterns that don’t end on graduation day.
Spring weather means graduation is coming, ushering in a season of new beginnings for students finishing high school, college, and graduate school. After three years of seminary, I’m a master of divinity. At least that’s what the diploma will say. Supposedly I’m now prepared to enter full-time pastoral ministry. If anything, I’m increasingly aware of how much I don’t yet know about God, his Word, and shepherding his flock. Maybe that’s a healthy place to be.
That said, seminary has been an invaluable time of study and reflection. God has laid a foundation of learning that will support me through what I hope will be decades of faithful ministry, if he tarries. At the outset of this adventure, I benefited from the advice of wise pastors and seminarians who counseled me in how to make the most of this time of preparation. I heeded their charge to settle in a local church and invest myself in congregational ministry, immediately applying what I learned. I grew attached to a few professors who made time for students and cared sincerely about my spiritual and academic development. And I resisted the temptation to expect that a few hours of class per week over the course of a semester could teach me everything I needed to know about systematic theology, biblical Hebrew, or counseling.
A prescription for those wrestling with the organic church model.
by Neil Cole
In the spring issue of Leadership journal, Brian Hofmeister wrote an article titled “The Dirt on Organic.” Neil Cole, also a Leadership journal contributor and the author of The Organic Church, was written a response to Hofmeister’s article. Part 1 of Cole's response seeks to diagnose the problems Hofmeister encountered with the organic model. In Part 2 he prescribes solutions to those still attracted to the de-structured approach to mission and discipleship.
Here is a simple prescription for those wrestling with what Mr. Hofmeister described in his organic church experience:
1. Make disciples, not organizations, and let Jesus build the church out of changed lives. A disciple is one who follows Christ and learns at his feet. Allow them to learn to follow Jesus. They will make mistakes along the way, but that is how we all learn. Protecting people from mistakes is to keep them from learning.
2. Lower the bar on how church is done and raise the bar on what it means to be a disciple. Look to invest in what’s proven rather than in potential. As people are faithful with small obedience present them with the opportunity for more. Start slower and smaller and let the growth generate by reproducing new life, rather than trying to grow something too quickly through attraction.
The immigration debate is an opportunity we can’t afford to waste.
by David Swanson
The national debate (or is it an argument?) about immigration has provided a huge opportunity for churches to proclaim and demonstrate the Gospel to an anxious country. However, rather than responding with courage and grace, many of us have either kept silent or responded in fear, nervous about an unknown future. Three recent stories reveal the weight of this cultural moment and show why churches need to engage the issue with increased wisdom, mercy, and justice.
On April 23, Arizona governor Jan Brewer signed into law the broadest anti-illegal immigration legislation in the country. The legislation has been celebrated by some and strongly opposed by others, because it instructs police to detain anyone suspected of being in the country illegally.
Also in April, Alabama gubernatorial candidate Tim James released a television ad that quickly propelled him from YouTube sensation to a guest on The O’Reilly Factor. The ad promises to administer driver’s license exams only in English. “This is Alabama, we speak English,” the candidate says. “If you want to live here, learn it.” James claims his ad is not about immigration, but many are wondering who the “you” in the ad is if not non-English speaking immigrants.
A diagnosis of Brian Hofmeister’s problem with organic church.
by Neil Cole
In the spring issue of Leadership journal, Brian Hofmeister wrote an article titled “The Dirt on Organic.” Hofmeister shared his experience as the pastor of a network of small, minimally structured, churches. While he celebrated the rich community and evangelistic vigor of his organic churches, Hofmeister was also honest about the struggles he faced. In the end he left his organic experiment for a more traditionally-structured church with paid fulltime pastors. Neil Cole, also a Leadership journal contributor and the author of The Organic Church, was written this response to Hofmeister’s article.
The issue Brian struggled with appears to be about finding qualified leaders in a fast growing work with conversion growth. Every missionary must face this and the solution is not to import seasoned leaders from other cultures into new works and thus create an unhealthy dependency. This will result in the establishing of a church culture rather than releasing a catalytic movement within a culture. The solution is to grow leaders from within the soil itself. Does this take time? Yes. It takes longer than a year. There are a few barriers that often prevent us from raising these leaders, and Brian apparently hit these barriers and chose not to continue.
Here is a diagnosis of the issues Hofmeister faced:
Recruitment of mature leaders. Recruitment of leaders for ministry is an epidemic problem in the Western Church. We all have more ministries than we have leaders. But recruitment is not the solution—in my opinion it is part of the problem. Recruitment is a consumer orientation that expects others to grow the leaders so we can benefit from them. When everyone is shopping for leaders and no one is farming we will soon have a serious demand and very little supply. If everyone buys bananas at the store and no one grows them at the farm, bananas will become very valuable and rare…even the lesser quality ones. This is the sort of leadership vacuum we face today in the Western Church.
Jim Wallis and Mark Dever go head-to-head on one of the hottest issues in the church today.
by Skye Jethani
What a day. I woke at 4am this morning to catch a flight from Chicago to Washington DC. The purpose of the trip was to conduct an interview that we’ll feature in the summer issue of Leadership Journal (which hits mailboxes and screens in July). The focus of the issue is on the intersection of justice and evangelism. It’s going to be a fantastic issue with articles from Eugene Cho, Mark Labberton, Bethany Hoang, Jim Belcher, and others. But the main attraction is the interview I just wrapped at a coffee shop on Capitol Hill.
I spent two hours in conversation with Jim Wallis and Mark Dever on their understanding of the gospel, justice, and the local church. For those who don’t know Wallis and Dever and can’t grasp why having those two interacting on this issue is a big deal, let me fill you in.
Jim Wallis is the editor and founder of Sojourners—a magazine and community of evangelicals committed to social action. Wallis has been engaged in justice issues since the civil rights movement of the 60s, and proudly shares that he’s been arrested 22 times. He’s an outspoken critic of linking the church to either a politically conservative or liberal agenda, but has been an advocate for the poor, the unborn, the marginalized, and the oppressed. For decades he’s been reintroducing the justice teachings of the NT to Christians who’ve neglected them.
Mark Dever is pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church and one of the founders of the Together for the Gospel network. He’s big on Reformed theology and one of the visible leaders of the New Reformed movement that seems to be sprouting everywhere in the church. Dever has been a leading voice against expanding (and thereby losing) our definition of the gospel.
There are many peculiar ideas about biblical repentance. I have talked with people who tried to tell me that repentance is necessary because “it makes you fit so that God can save you.” The Bible does not teach that, and it never did. No man or woman has changed the character or goodness of God by an act of repentance. All the repentance in the universe cannot make God any more loving, any more gracious, Repentance is not a meritorious act. God is eternally good, and He welcomes us into His love, grace and mercy when we meet His condition of an about-face so that we are aware of His smile.
Repentance means turning around from our evil ways in order to look to Jesus. The person who will not repent still has his or her back turned on God. Repentance is a condition we meet in order that God, already wanting to be good to us, can be good to us, forgiving and cleansing us. In that sense then, the man who loves his sin and hangs on to it cannot reasonably expect the goodness and the grace of God.
–A.W. Tozer (Men Who Met God, p. 45)
Yesterday a dear friend and Christian leader and I were engaged in a conversation about repentance. After we repent, change our ways, do a 180, how do we get those we work with to do the same? Or can we? Or is that the work of God’s Spirit?
How can churches know if they are being effective at making disciples?
Many churches are measuring the wrong things. We measure things like attendance and giving, but we should be looking at more fundamental things like anger, contempt, honesty, and the degree to which people are under the thumb of their lusts. Those things can be counted, but not as easily as offerings.
Why don't more churches gauge these qualities among their people?
First of all, many leaders don't want to measure these qualities because what they usually discover is not worth bragging about. We'd rather focus on institutional measures of success. Secondly, we must have people who are willing to be assessed in these ways. And finally, we need the right tools to measure spiritual formation. There are some good tools available like Randy Frazee's Christian Life Profile and Monvee.com, which John Ortberg likes.