But what can we learn from Billy outside the realms of politics and evangelism? This video shows that Graham was also comfortable in the arena of pop culture. Here he casually spars with Woody Allan about sexual morality, religion, drugs, and the Bible. Not only is Graham charming and affirming of his host and the audience, but he remains tenaciously on-message.
What lessons can we learn from the decline of the Crystal Cathedral?
by Url Scaramanga
News comes from California today that the Crystal Cathedral is for sale. The megachurch founded and developed by Robert H. Schuller has accumulated so much debt that selling the iconic Southern California facility is the only option.
Some point to Schuller and the Crystal Cathedral as pioneers of the megachurch phenomenon that has swept through American evangelicalism since the 1970s. But that raises a question. Are other megachurches poised to face the same fate as the Crystal Cathedral?
Biographies of Asian and African Christians give valuable perspective.
by David Swanson
I’m seated at the front of a university lecture hall with representatives of five other religious traditions. Listening intently to the brief descriptions of our faiths are seventy undergraduate and graduate students, many hailing from other countries. Two weeks later I’m attending a global theology conference at Wheaton College. Presenters describe the theological landscapes in their countries, and it is apparent how significantly these contexts are shaping how evangelical theology is articulated.
Many questions were asked in both of these settings. Good and challenging questions. One question I never heard raised: “Do you believe in hell?” Another one that didn’t come up: “What do you think about Rob Bell?”
I am being a bit snarky; surely Christians around the world ask questions about hell, judgment, eternity and… Rob Bell. However, it was unmistakably clear in both environments that the questions American Christians so passionately debate are not always asked by those who don’t share our cultural context.
When, as I recently read, a prominent Christian claims that the questions raised by Rob Bell and his critics are the questions being asked by Christians, I wonder which Christians we have in mind. I fear our debates sound myopic to those outside the American evangelical subculture. I wonder too whether our ignorance of the questions and concerns of the larger church—down the street and across the globe—limits our opportunities for robust fellowship and mission.
It can be daunting for those of us raised within American Evangelicalism to venture outside of our cultural comfort zone. Fortunately, Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom have written a collection of biographies that provides an excellent starting point. Clouds of Witnesses: Christian Voices from Africa and Asia (IVP, 2011) features the lives of seventeen Christians from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
"Third culture" leaders are the future of the church.
by Skye Jethani
A week ago I returned from a trip to Spain where I was speaking with a team of missionaries working in different regions of the country. Yes, I was suffering for the Lord on a Mediterranean beach. Apart from the breathtaking beauty of Peñíscola, Spain, I was blessed to share time with some spectacular people engaged in very good work.
When many Americans think about missionaries they picture a team of Western, Anglo, people doing evangelism and church planting among dark-skinned “natives.” Perhaps that image was true at one time, but it’s definitely not anymore. As someone has recently remarked, missions today is “from everywhere to everywhere.”
The team of missionaries I spoke with in Spain included people from the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, Brazil, and the Netherlands. And they were serving among Spaniards, Portuguese, Chinese, Moroccans, Latin Americans, and Arabs. In many cases they reported greater receptivity to the gospel among immigrant populations in Spain rather than among native Spaniards. It was a striking example of how globalization has radically “flattened” our planet.
And the nature of the ministries engaged by these workers was just as diverse as their passports. Some were planting churches, others had started a mission to rescue women from human trafficking, another team was doing marriage and family counseling, and others were helping immigrants from North Africa learn Spanish and find jobs. In other words, despite having a shared denominational background this team was not limited to a single missions playbook.
I came way from my time in Spain with two observations that may have some relevancy to the church on this side of “the pond.”
OBSERVATION ONE: The future leadership of the church belongs to “third culture” kids.
Why ministry models are not universally applicable.
By Brandon O'Brien
A couple of weeks ago, I spoke at a gathering for small church pastors and lay leaders in rural eastern Michigan (locals call it “the thumb”). Eleven or so churches were represented; about 45 folks showed up, all members of the “Thumb Ministry Group.” They had read my book together as a group, discussed it at a meeting, and then invited me to come lead them in a daylong reflection/Q&A/workshop experience that would help them apply the principles in the book to their specific ministry contexts.
It was a great day, from my perspective. The group was interactive, engaged, and prepared. They are learning among them to approach ministry cooperatively, which I find very encouraging. Despite the fact that all of them minister amid tough social challenges–i.e. the unemployment rate is well over 10 percent in that part of the state; so many young working families are abandoning ship–they were all there bright and early, enthusiastic to seek the Lord’s wisdom for their churches.
One thing that struck me after our time together is how seldom I hear from church leadership experts and curriculum materials, etc., the importance of recognizing that all ministry is local. We seem to assume that what works in one place will work everywhere, as if programs and processes are universally appealing and applicable. They just aren’t.
Are youth groups helping or hurting the faith of young adults?
By Drew Dyck
Over the past year I've conducted dozens of interviews with 20-somethings who have walked away from their Christian faith. Among the most surprising findings was this: nearly all of these "leavers" reported having positive experiences in youth group. I recall my conversation with one young man who described his journey from evangelical to atheist. He had nothing but vitriol for the Christian beliefs of his childhood, but when I asked him about youth group, his voice lifted. "Oh, youth group was a blast! My youth pastor was a great guy."
I was confused. I asked Josh Riebock, a former youth pastor and author of mY Generation, to solve the riddle: if these young people had such a good time in youth group, why did they ditch their faith shortly after heading to college?
His response was simple. "Let's face it," he said. "There are a lot more fun things to do at college than eat pizza."
Well, I hadn't planned on posting the second part of Dallas Willard's video from Catalyst. But since you are all getting so animated about part 1, here you go. In this video he discusses spiritual disciplines and the role of grace in our lives. Willard says, "Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning." And "Effort is action; earning is attitude." We are called to act, but we must avoid the attitude that we are earning something. Calvinistas...en garde!
It's about getting into heaven before you die, not after.
John Ortberg interviews Dallas Willard at Catalyst West about what the church is getting wrong today. In a nutshell, Willard says we're getting the gospel wrong. We'd love to hear your responses to this video.
Innovation in worship is good, as long as we use wisdom.
In part 1 of Skye Jethani's interview with Chuck Swindoll, he spoke about the insecurity that leads some pastors to seek a crowd and to pander to cultural trends. Some of you felt Swindoll was just being old-fashioned and grumpy. (I hear Grandpa Simpson saying, "Back in my day we walked five miles to church on Sunday. Twice! And we liked it.") In part 2 he expresses his appreciation for innovation in worship, but is concerned that we employ more wisdom in what trends we adopt.
Jethani:We can look back before modern technology entered the sanctuary and see the same values at work. The crusades of Billy Graham, the revivals of the Great Awakening, even all the way back to the Reformation, you see that Martin Luther used music and forms of worship that were relevant to his German culture. So what's wrong with taking relevant cultural expressions in the 21st century and using them in our worship?
Swindoll: Nothing, if they square with Scripture and if they honor the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. There is nothing wrong with using something new. We are called to sing new songs. I love them. Nobody sings louder in our church than I do—both the old and new songs.
But everything must square with Scripture. We must make sure that new things actually help people grow in the truth, that they edify the saints and build them up. Will it equip them to handle the world around them? Will it form them into the kingdom of God rather than the kingdom of this world?
In many cases we use new things because they are novel, not because they are helpful.
So the issue is not innovation or tradition, but why we're using a particular method or technology.
Exactly. I have been to church services, and you have too, where the only people who knew the songs were the band. I'm not edified. I'm just watching a show.
Just a quick heads up for urbanites. Skye Jethani, senior editor of Leadership Journal and a regular here on Ur, has a new book being released this August- WITH: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God. Thomas Nelson has released the first chapter of the book online for free. Check it out and come back to share your thoughts.
What happens when a stutterer is called to preach God's Word?
by Url Scaramanga
By now you are aware that The King's Speech has won the Academy Award for best picture. The film chronicles the King of England's stuttering problem and how he overcomes it. The movie hit home for Dan Wallis, assistant pastor at Cornerstone Wesleyan Church in Ontario. Dan wrote an article for CT about his own lifelong battle with stuttering. But as one called to preach God's Word, a stutter creates additional problems and causes deeper reflection. Here's an excerpt:
At times like this, I question the will of God, too beat up to pray for a miraculous healing (which I know God can do). I wonder whether the best I can expect is to stumble through life, unfulfilled in what I think is my calling as a preacher. Perhaps my best work will be done on paper. Perhaps I should leave the ministry and instead work with my hands. I'm married with three kids, so becoming a monk vowed to silence is no longer an option.
Who knows, perhaps God will raise me up, loosen my lips, and I'll become the greatest expositor of Scripture this world has ever known. I doubt it, but it's nice to dream. But that's the problem—stuttering makes one a realist. Life never is more real than when you've stalled your way through an agonizing preaching of God's Word, followed by a backfiring observance of Holy Communion. If it wasn't so sad, it would almost be funny.
Read Dan Wallis' entire article at ChristianityToday.com. And then share your thoughts on obstacles you've faced as a communicator called by God.
Why are business and entertainment values dominant in the church?
The Latest issue of Leadership Journal features an interview with Chuck Swindoll about the challenges and problems he sees in the American church. High on Swindoll's list is the infusion of entertainment values into our worship. Here's an excerpt from the interview by Skye Jethani. To read the full interview, visit LeadershipJournal.net.
Early in your book you say that when the church becomes an entertainment center, biblical literacy is the first casualty. So why do you think the church has become so enamored with entertainment?
We live in a time with a lot of technology and media. We can create things virtually that look real. We have high-tech gadgets that were not available to previous generations. And we learned that we could attract a lot of people to church if we used those things. I began to see that happening about 20 years ago. It troubled me then, and it's enormously troubling to me now because the result is an entertainment mentality that leads to biblical ignorance.
And alongside that is a corporate mentality. We're tempted to think of the church as a business with a cross stuck on top (if it has a cross at all). "We really shouldn't look like a church." I've heard that so much I want to vomit. "Why?" I ask. "Do you want your bank to look like a bank? Do you want your doctor's office to look like a doctor's office, or would you prefer your doctor to dress like a clown? Would you be comfortable if your attorney dressed like a surfer and showed movies in his office? Then why do you want your church's worship center to look like a talk show set?"