Why are those words so hard for Christians to say?
“I’ve cared too much and not enough in the same breath.”
- Derek Webb, “I Was Wrong, I’m Sorry, and I Love You.”
In high school one of my closest friends went to a Baptist church. It was the type of Baptist church where playing an electric guitar would be stirring things up. Around the time we became good friends, I began to connect with a charismatic church. People worshiped loudly, prayed passionately, danced wildly, cried unashamedly, prayed for the sick and talked openly about the supernatural. I was captured.
In my infinite wisdom I shared almost every detail of my new worship experiences with my Baptist friend. As you can imagine, we had some pretty big differences of opinion. Unsurprisingly, often my times of story-telling became theological arguments. I walked away from many of those arguments feeling like I’d won.
I’ve been around Christianity and the church for my entire life. My parents were missionaries, most of my family is Christian, and I currently attend a Christian college. I’m still pretty young, but old enough to pick up on a few patterns. And I don’t think that my smug attitude at scoring truth-points was unique.
I’ve recently been working as part of the launch team for Derek Webb’s new record (shameless plug, I know…). As I’ve listened to the upcoming album, its central theme of reconciliation haunts me. I have to wonder: why do Christians have such a hard time saying “sorry”? In a faith founded on confession and repentance, where did we go wrong?
For being people of the Word, we sure don't read much of it.
I grew up as a preacher’s kid. My father was a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force before he pastored churches in the United Methodist Church and the American Baptist Association.
During my college years at the University of Pennsylvania, I attended Tenth Presbyterian Church (when James Boice was senior minister). It was an easy decision where to worship on Sundays, as my parents had attended “Tenth” when they had gone to Temple University years before, and I grew up hearing many a tale of Donald Grey Barnhouse. (A copy of his Let Me Illustrate sat atop our half-bath’s toilet as reading material!)
I recall my dad once telling me that Barnhouse had read the book of Romans in its entirety every day as he preached through the book. The full import of that information really didn’t hit me until I recently learned that Barnhouse took eleven years—count them, eleven years!—to preach through Romans. That’s right: every day for eleven years, Barnhouse read the entire book of Romans; that’s over 4,000 days reading the entire 16 chapters (433 verses), each and every day.
I think the man knew Romans.
This insight prompted me to revisit my own Bible-reading habits. I first committed to reading the entire book of Galatians (“the Magna Carta of Christianity”) every day for three months. After that, all of James daily. Then the same lengthy gospel passage, day after day, for a week; then another, daily for a week; then another…. Next: the Pastoral Epistles, same routine.
It has dawned on me: we claim to be a people “of the Word.” But we read the Bible in chunks that are too little. We read slices of our daily bread, when we ought to digest whole loaves.
One Patheos’ writer’s logic is flawed. But church leaders should still be ashamed.
Terry Firma recently raised a provocative question through Hemant Mehta’s “Friendly Athiest” channel on Patheos.com: Do all religions—not just Catholicism—produce more than their fair share of child sex abusers?
He says yes. Unfortunately for him, it’s just not true. His methodology and logic are flawed. And the general evidence and expert opinions on the subject don’t at all suggest religiously affiliated adults are more likely to sexually abuse children than other adults.
But, unfortunately for religious leaders, especially Christian pastors and church leaders, his piece still implicitly raises a damning (and related) question: Why don’t we see fewer than our fair share of abuse cases?
We’ll explore the latter (and frankly, more important) question in a moment because, per Christ’s mandate to protect the most vulnerable in our midst (Matthew 18:6), we’re committed to eliminating child abuse.
But first, let’s consider Firma’s argument.
Because My Google Alerts Say So
As the founder of a blog called Moral Compass, Firma says his question and the resulting conclusion are fair game. He bases this on his daily work throughout the past six months tracking media coverage of child sex abuse nationwide, along with the long-running scandal of abuses within the Catholic Church. Firma cites several examples, including a decades-long cover-up of cases at a high school operated by a Jewish university and numerous articles detailing child abuses in the Islamic community.
Yesterday, Rachel Held Evans posted a list of 11 things she, as a layperson, wished that we pastors said more often. I commented that I thought the list was fantastic, and a fellow commenter suggested making a companion list of 10 things pastors wish their congregations said more often.
This is my attempt at such a list, and it should not be construed as a direct criticism of my parish--indeed, some of these items are things they already say to me that I wish other churches would say more frequently to their pastors!
1. How can I be praying for you?
I do a lot of praying with people and for people while rarely asking for prayer in return. But I definitely need prayer in return, because I am not Super-Pastor. Some days, I barely even feel like an ordinary, un-super pastor, because on my own, I am simply a very, very weak man.
2. I'm sorry. I was wrong. Please forgive me.
This is a direct copy-and-paste of Rachel's own #2 item, because it definitely fits for us as well. Pastors have to withstand a lot of second-guessing and--in unhealthier situations--ad hominem criticisms, but we are called to turn the other cheek rather than repaying meanness for meanness.
3. Enjoy your time away.
For pastors, vacation time is sacrosanct and vital to our well-being, but I have had to engage in educational efforts to show why my vacation time (of which I get four weeks per year) is so vital, so that I might stop being asked, "How come you get so much time off? I only see you once a week!"
What's ahead for the The Gospel Coalition and the "Young, Restless, Reformed" movement?
D.A. Carson is the author and editor of numerous books and commentaries. Since 1978, he has taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, currently serving as research professor of New Testament. Dr. Carson is also the co-founder of The Gospel Coalition. Dr. Carson was kind enough to stop by for some questions about The Gospel Coalition, Christian higher education, and his latest book, Jesus, the Son of God.
You recently released a book, Jesus, the Son of God. Why the emphasis on son-ship for pastors and theologians today?
The title “the Son of God” is one that is repeatedly applied to the Lord Jesus, so there is a perennial responsibility to understand it. There are two factors that make this responsibility more urgent at the present time. First, sometimes the world of biblical interpretation and the world of systematic theology do not mesh very well. In this instance, how do we move from the various uses of “Son of God” in the Bible to the meaning of “Son of God” in Trinitarian theology? There are important ways of making the connections, but not many Christians these days have thought them through. To restore such knowledge is a stabilizing thing, and an incentive to worship. Second, certain voices are suggesting that we can do away with “Son of God” and other familial terms in new translations for Muslim converts. In my view this is both bad linguistics and bad theology, and needs to be challenged.
You're one of the founders of the Gospel Coalition. As you approach the sixth year of its existence, what do you see as the future for the organization and for the "Young, Restless, Reformed" movement?
Don’t be fooled by these common—and dangerous—misconceptions.
When people encounter new things, their first tendency is to fit them into existing categories. If truth be told, most of us shy away from strange and unusual things that don’t fit our expectations. It reminds me of a Northerner who ate his first tamale by peeling down the husk and eating it like a banana. I saw another try to actually eat the corn husk with a knife and fork! If we don’t know better, we’ll draw wrong conclusions about the true nature of things based on personal experiences or cultural norms.
The Bible portrays the church as something strange and unusual. But many Christians approach the local church in ways that conform more to the patterns of the world than to the pattern of God’s Word. Like mad scientists piecing together a monster from countless incompatible pieces without a clear pattern or guiding principle, too many Christians today have re-created the church after their own imaginations, according to their own likes and dislikes. Clustered around this mutant creature falsely called “church,” proponents propagate four common myths that help keep the beast alive—four untruths that have become so accepted by many evangelicals that they believe them without question. But the time has come to refute the myths and slay the monster, replacing it with a corporate body reflecting marks and works of authenticity and created according to God’s image for the church.
Myth 1: The church is merely a human organization
Though comprised of humans, the church itself is not merely a human organization. Jesus Christ is the head of the church, and the church is mystically his spiritual and physical body on earth (Eph. 1:22–23; 5:23; Col. 1:18). While we may distinguish the spiritual and physical aspects of the church, we must never separate them. Too often evangelicals have divorced the spiritual, heavenly, invisible, and eternal church from its physical, earthly, visible, historical manifestation. The result has been to treat local, visible churches as merely human organizations rather than as unique conduits through which God works his heavenly, spiritual purposes in history. Such dichotomizing has allowed Christians to treat their churches as they treat other human organizations—like a political party or a club.
In the world’s political realm, if we don’t like what our party stands for or if we lose confidence in its candidates, we just run against them, vote them out, or change the platform. If things get too bad, we can join another party or start our own. But in 1 Corinthians 3:3–4, Paul reprimands the church for taking sides and forming parties.
Neither should we treat the church like a club, with members who direct the organization according to the will of the majority. These Latin words are engraved in the Minnesota state capitol building: VOX POPULI, VOX DEI—“The Voice of the People Is the Voice of God.” Many Christians act like the church should be run by majority rule. However, after Israel demanded a king “like all the nations” to rule over them (1 Sam. 8:20), God told his prophet Samuel, “Obey their voice and make them a king” (8:22). By listening to the voice of the people, Israel ended up with just what they asked for: a king like the nations’ rather than a king of God’s own choosing. In the case of King Saul, the voice of the people was not the voice of God.
There is something supernatural about the church. It’s made up of people who have otherwise nothing in common. It’s not united by political constitutions, common interest, or corporate bylaws. It’s united by the Spirit of God around the person and work of Jesus Christ pursuing a common mission in the world.
Rampant issues like plagiarism and pornography led the National Association of Evangelicals to address pastoral conduct.
by Url Scaramanga
Do you know the difference between right and wrong? If you don't, the National Association of Evangelicals is here to help. Luder Whitlock, chairman of the committee for the NAE that created the new clergy code of ethics, says we can no longer assume that pastors have not succumbed to moral ambiguity in the current culture.
The code, released earlier this week, focuses on trust, integrity, purity, fairness, and accountability. Read the full document at NAECodeofEthics.com.
David Neff, editor in chief of Christianity Today, interviewed Whitlock about the code. Here's an excerpt. Read the full interview here.
Neff: Why do clergy need a code of ethics? Won't they do the right thing if they are walking with the Lord?
Whitlock: Clergy intend to do the right thing, but given the eroding moral standards of recent years in our country, in many instances there isn't adequate clarity and a strong enough sense of obligation to what's right.
The decline of the Crystal Cathedral cannot be separated from the Schuller family saga.
by Url Scaramanga
The post mortem on the Crystal Cathedral continues. The iconic southern California megachurch pastored by Robert H. Schuller once represented the innovative and market-savvy dexterity of American Christianity. Schuller started his church at a drive-in movie theater, allowing visitors to stay comfortably inside their cars. Then he utilized television with the “Hour of Power” ministry broadcast. Its success allowed him to build one of the largest churches in the country.
But last year the church filed for bankruptcy, the soaring glass building was sold to the Roman Catholic diocese, and the ministry is in shambles. What happened?
Some view Schuller’s ministry as the canary in the megachurch mine. It was one of the first megachurches in the country, and does its demise forecast the fate of others? Others point to demographic shifts. When built, the Crystal Cathedral was in a young and affluent community. But today the area is more economically and racially diverse.
But there is another aspect to the Crystal Cathedral’s story worth exploring: family.
So what is the solution to the captivity of ministry leaders to business models?
I've got a theory: to the extent that the church does not know its Bible, really know the Bible, the more it seeks distraction in terms of participating in other ministries and making junkets to ministry conferences.
We truly neglect the reading of God's Word today. We give it lip service, beginning with pastors. But I have heard too many pastors who obviously know more about Seth Godin's Purple Cow than know about historical-critical interpretation of the Bible.
And I've got a very simple suggestion. Pastors should preach through the book of Galatians and read the epistle in its entirety every day in the process. Encourage your congregation to do the same. Luther called Galatians the Magna Carta of Christianity. If we committed ourselves to that, we probably wouldn't need most of these ministry conferences. Let me add, no church should ever send any pastor to any conference if they have not first read Luther's commentary on Galatians.
How is ministry a different calling than leadership in other areas?
"Ministry" in the church should not be singled out as distinct from other vocations in terms of being ministry. I'll tell you who and what is very helpful here: Os Guinness and his book, The Call. We do a great disservice when we treat those who do not hold positions in the church as somehow not equally called to ministry. We set up a false sense of guilt. Worse, we end up with some of the most unqualified men in the pulpit.
A business expert warns pastors not to emulate marketplace principles.
Skye Jethani interviews James H. Gilmore
I first discovered Jim Gilmore when his book, The Experience Economy, was handed to me by a nationally known church consultant in 2002. If I wanted my church to grow, he explained, I had to employ the marketplace strategies in Gilmore's book. Years later I wrote about my encounter with the church consultant in my first book, The Divine Commodity, and how I believed his advice was misguided. I specifically mentioned the danger of applying Gilmore's book to the church. A few months later my phone rang. It was Jim Gilmore calling to thank me. That was the start of our friendship.
Jim's bio will fill you in on his business chops and publishing accolades, but he's best described as a "professional observer." And his skills are highly sought after by companies and universities. When I'm curious about a random topic, an email to Jim will include a reply with five must-read books on the subject. He seems to know something about everything! He's also the only person I know who teaches at a business school, seminary, and architecture program. As I continue my research for my next book, I spoke with Jim about the current state of the church and how Christians should think about engaging the world.
Skye: You spend a lot of time in the gap between the business world and the ministry world. Why do you find this space so important?
Jim Gilmore: Because business is the most corrupting influence on the visible church today. I only became fascinated with this space when I learned of so many pastors reading our book, The Experience Economy. I would normally have been delighted to have readership emerge in any pocket of the population, except the book was not being read to obtain a better understanding of the commercial culture in which congregants live, but in many cases as a primer for "doing church." I found it particularly troubling when our models for staging experiences in the world were being specifically applied to worship practices.
The talk of "multi-sensory worship," the installation of video screens, the use of PowerPoint, having cup-holders in sanctuaries -- and I'm not talking about for the placement of communion cups -- and even more ridiculous applications really took me back. I even read of a pastor who performed a high-wire act, literally--above his congregation. All of this effort to enhance the so-called "worship experience" arose at the same time that I detected a decline in the number of preachers actually faithfully preaching the gospel through sound exposition of the scriptural text.
Why do you think it’s so dangerous to use what's effective in the marketplace in the church?
Rob Bell's farewell epistle to Mars Hill gives a glimpse into his faith and values.
by Url Scaramanga
This week marks the end of Rob Bell's leadership of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Bell is moving on to new callings in California including creating a television show.
A few weeks ago he said his goodbyes to the congregation he founded and which provided him the platform to speak to Christians around the world. Bell wrote a lengthy farewell epistle to Mars Hill containing his parting wisdom and gratitude. I've excerpted a few sections of the letter below for you to respond to.
Tullian Tchividjian shares how he survived the attempted coup.
Interview by Drew Dyck
Tullian Tchividjian knows all about filling big shoes. Not only is he the grandson of Billy Graham, but in 2009 Tchividjian (pronounced cha-vi-jin) stepped into another pair of Shaq-sized sneakers. He succeeded the late James Kennedy as pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Tchividjian's church plant, New City, merged with the larger Coral Ridge, but the honeymoon was short-lived. Seven months later a group of church members, headed by Kennedy's daughter, circulated a petition calling for his removal. On September 20, 2009, Tchividjian survived a vote to remove him from leadership.
Today Coral Ridge has largely moved past the conflict and is thriving. Tchividjian's energy and enthusiasm (some Coral Ridge staffers call him "the tornado") belie the recent ordeal. Drew Dyck sat down with Tchividjian to discuss how he endured those dark days, what he learned, and how he found light on the other side.
Some of the reasons you were opposed seem trivial. You didn't wear a robe, like Dr. Kennedy did. You weren't political enough from the pulpit. Was there something beneath those objections?
Not preaching politics was a big one. But yes, I'm sure there was something underlying those complaints. Part of it may have been an old-fashioned power struggle. There were people who had been in places of power under Kennedy who felt that this was their church, and they should be in charge of running it.
What if your church gave volunteers, leaders, and money to other churches' ministries- on purpose?
by Skye Jethani
Read parts one,two, and three of "Recipe for Church365".
Ingredient Four: Decentralized Service
Over the last few years my travels have been taking me more regularly to Portland, Oregon. Portland is weird, and that’s how they like it. But it’s also inspiring. I’m thinking of Rick McKinley and his church Imago Dei. Rick and the leaders at Imago have done a great job inspiring their people to serve the community in Portland. But when members of the church approach a pastor about starting a new ministry, Rick has trained them to always say the same thing: “No.”
I know, it sounds counter-intuitive, but there is brilliance behind the madness. Leaders at Imago Dei know that in most cases there is another church, agency, or non-profit already engaged in the work. So rather than reinventing the wheel and launching a redundant ministry within Imago, they work to connect their members with other organizations all over Portland. As Rick said, “No logo, no ego.” If our church’s name doesn’t have to be attached, a lot more work gets done. As a result, Imago members have been seeded all over the city and multiplied their influence and impact.
Last month I met with David Kinnaman, president of The Barna Group, to discuss our new books. He wanted to talk about how the themes in my book With: Reimagining The Way You Relate To God fit with the research he lays out in You Lost Me: Why Young People Are Leaving Church...And Rethinking Faith. Central on David’s mind was rediscovering a theology of vocation. Here’s a quote from his book that articulates the problem:
For me, frankly, the most heartbreaking aspect of our findings is the utter lack of clarity that many young people have regarding what God is asking them to do with their lives. It is a modern tragedy. Despite years of church-based experiences and countless hours of Bible-centered teaching, millions of next-generation Christians have no idea that their faith connects to their life’s work. They have access to information, ideas, and people from around the world, but no clear vision for a life of meaning that makes sense of all that input (You Lost Me, page 207).
If Church365 is going to be intentional about engaging all 8 elements of the culture, then it must find a way of linking vocation and discipleship--the maturing of a follower of Christ with Christ’s particular call for that person. In other words, if a 20-year-old is called to a career in the financial markets, her curriculum for discipleship must focus on how to be a financial analyst with Christ. A cookie-cutter, off the shelf discipleship program isn’t going to cut it.
As I discussed in my first book, The Divine Commodity, when church institutionalism grows out of control, we come to believe that programs rather than people are the vessels of God’s Spirit and mission in the world. When this occurs we begin to honor people for their involvement in, or service for, the church. But what they do with the remainder of their time gets little attention. When this assumption is reinforced over decades, a hierarchy of importance is established with church leaders (pastors and missionaries) at the top. Others are then only celebrated when they behave like pastors or missionaries, or when they leave their “worldly” professions to devote themselves to “full-time Christian service.”
What I’m describing is the contemporary Western church’s abandonment of a theology of vocation. During the Reformation church leaders began to apply the term “vocation” (Latin for “calling”) to all believers and not simply the clergy. It was understood that all callings were valid before God, and each glorified him and provided a critical service in the world. In other words, the life of the painter, politician, or podiatrist is just as God-honoring as that of the priest when done in communion with Christ and for the benefit of others.
Effort has been underway to recapture this theology for the American church. Andy Crouch’s book Culture Making has helped us re-engage the cultural mandate in Genesis 1, and Gabe Lyons’ has articulated the “7 channels of cultural influence” through the Q Gatherings and website. But what would this look like if embraced by a local church?
What if a church embraced the idea of institutional impermanence?
by Skye Jethani
A few weeks ago I had lunch with Darren Whitehead from Willow Creek. Darren is a great bloke (I can say that because he’s an Aussie), and we talked candidly about our experiences in the church, in leadership, and the way we see church adapting to the shifting culture. Toward the end of our lunch he asked me if I’d ever considering working on a church staff again. “I’ve learned never to say never,” I replied, “but it would have to be a very different kind of church.”
“Like what?” he asked. I rattled off some half-baked answer, but his question has lingered in my mind. What kind of church would I want to help lead?
As I’ve ruminated on that question, I’ve gone back and read a number of articles, blog posts, and editorials I’ve written in the past few years–pieces about the church’s narrow definition of mission, the tendency to over-institutionalize church, the false-belief that perpetuity equal success, rediscovering a theology of vocation, and the danger of making mission an idol at the expense of communion with God.
With all of these ingredients now in the mixing bowl of my mind, I’ve decided to give a more than half-baked answer to Darren’s question. What follows is not a complete recipe but an experiment. It’s my way of welcoming other cooks into my mental kitchen. I want your thoughts and feedback. Am I on to something, or am I completely out to lunch? And please don’t take these ideas as a criticism of other models of church. God has used, and will continue to use, many different churches to accomplish his purposes.
I am calling this experiment Church365, and so far I've outlined 5 ingredients. Here's the first:
What can evangelicals learn from the “I’m a Mormon” campaign?
By Brandon O'Brien
Newsweek dubbed it “the Mormon Moment” in June. There’s a Broadway musical about Mormon missionaries, two potential Mormon presidential candidates, Warren Jeffs in the media, and TV shows like Big Love and Sister Wives. It seems America is fascinated with--or, at least, can no longer avoid--the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
To those trying to decide what to think of Mormonism and its followers, the LDS Church is eager to lend a hand. In 2010 they launched major public relations campaign that is gradually going nationwide in print and on billboards. Online, the “I’m a Mormon” campaign has already reached the masses.
In an article in Church News, the official online source for LDS news, about the campaign, Elder L. Tom Perry summarizes the rationale behind the program. "A person's view of the Church is the sum of personal experiences they have had which relate in any way to the Church organization.” And so, in the words of the article’s author, “the best way for a person to change his or her mind about the Mormons is to meet one.” Thus the video campaign features testimonials from your average, everyday LDS members from every gender, ethnicity, class, and profession, the short videos introduce us to a folks we’re likely to resonate with.
And they are compelling. There’s Nnamdi, the Nigerian sculptor. There’s Rob, the former NFL player. There’s Jarem, “the founder and president of SymBiotechs USA, a prosthetics design and manufacturing company...a cancer survivor and an AKA (Above Knee Amputee).” The subtitle of Jarem’s video is “I built my own leg, I make the impossible, possible, and I'm a Mormon.” This is good stuff. I spent much longer than I meant to watching video after engaging video about extraordinary people.
But this post isn’t really about Mormons. The campaign has me thinking about my own religious affiliation, American evangelicals, and how we look to the American public at large. And whether it matters. And what to do about.
Engineering a ministry around a single leader is inherently dangerous, but what's the alternative?
by Skye Jethani
I like airplanes, and given the amount I travel that is a good thing. Seeing these incredible machines--aluminum and composite monuments of human ingenuity--makes the atrocities of most American airports almost bearable. (My genetically tanned, ambiguously ethnic appearance must scream “al-Qaeda!” I get patted down more than Donald Trump’s mane on a windy day.)
Modern airliners, as one author put it, are “the most complicated machines man has ever built.” But they are still regarded as the safest form of transportation. There are over 20,000 commercial flights every day in the United States. If you were to drive rather than fly one of those routes, you would be 65 times more likely to be killed. Perhaps more surprising, since 1980 the number of airplanes, flights, and passengers has doubled, but accidents per year have been declining. Flying is five times safer now than 30 years ago.
How is that possible? There are many factors that contribute to air safety, but a significant one is what the industry calls “redundancy.” Modern airliners are engineered so that everything necessary for flight has a back-up--engines, control systems, computers, fuel lines, hydraulics, even the pilot. As a result no single failure should cause an aircraft to crash.
The brilliance of redundancy was displayed last year when a Qantas A380, the world’s largest passenger jet, experienced what the industry calls an “uncontained engine failure.” One of the airplane’s four engines violently exploded in flight sending metal shrapnel through the wing and fuselage. (I’m guessing what the passengers experienced at that moment would be called an “uncontained underwear failure.”) You can watch a video of the incident online.
The A380 was severely damaged. The engine was destroyed, numerous control systems had been cut by the flying debris, fuel was leaking, flaps on the left wing were inoperable, and the landing gear damaged. Still, the pilots were able to fly for almost two hours before landing safely. Redundancy saved the day.
This lesson from civil aviation may be relevant for the church today.
Piper, Keller, and Carson talk about aging and passing on their ministries.
by Url Scaramanga
Tim Keller and John Piper both lead very large churches. But what happens when they eventually leave their posts? It's a question that is facing many megachurches given that most were started by Baby Boomer leaders who are now entering their 60s.
Keller explains his church's 10-year plan to launch into four, and possibly eight, independent churches. This requires him to spend a great deal of time developing new leaders. Piper, on the other hand, shares tat his church has not yet discerned a plan for the future. They are engaged in a season of prayer to determine what to do.
However, since this video was filmed in April, Piper has announced his plans to transition from his role at Bethlehem Baptist in three years. He will step away from preaching and vision in June 2014 to give his attention to writing, speaking, mentoring, and teaching at Bethlehem College and Seminary.
After watching the video, share your thoughts. When should a long-serving pastor begin talking to the church about transitioning? Is there an ideal model? What have you seen work, or fail to work, in your congregations?
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?
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.
Learning from the revivals of the past may help ignite one today.
For me, the word “revival” usually brings to mind sweating, red-faced evangelists berating sweet old church ladies for letting their spiritual fires fizzle. I often offered my most fervent prayers at revival meetings during the 37th stanza of “Just as I Am,” because the preacher believed someone in the congregation needed to do business with the Lord. He wasn’t going to end the invitation until that burdened soul had its chance. Lord move in power; I’m ready to go home!
With A God-sized Vision: Revival Stories that Stretch and Stir (Zondervan, 2010), Collin Hansen and John Woodbridge restored my image of revival. This global history of revival from the 1730s through the 1950s covers familiar events in American church history—the First and Second Great Awakenings, the Businessmen’s Revival, and the Evangelical Boom of the 20th century. But what I found most interesting were stories of spiritual awakening worldwide, in places like East Africa, China, India, Wales, and Korea.
One of the authors’ great accomplishments, then, is correcting what may be a common stereotype of “revivalism” for many Americans. If they’re right, revival looks different in different places. For businessmen in North America in the mid-nineteenth century, revival began not with tents and sawdust trails, but with lunch-hour prayer meetings. In Korea, the movement of the Spirit ignited with the confession of sins—big ones, like adultery and murder—and brought missionaries of different denominations together for the gospel. In India, it began when Hindu convert Pandita Ramabai provided room, board, and education for helpless Indian women and orphans and encouraged them to pray for a mighty work of God.
"Over time, the experts have done for church what postcards and PBS specials have done for the Grand Canyon: they've made it difficult for us to appreciate our own experience apart from theirs. We have lost the ability to see and experience and appreciate ministry for ourselves. All we can see is the disparity between what our churches are and what they are 'supposed' to be."
Excerpted from "An Unspoiled View" in the Fall 2010 issue of Leadership Journal. To read the full quote IN context be sure to subscribe to Leadership today by clicking on the LJ cover in the left column.
Brandon O'Brien is associate editor of Leadership and the author of The Strategically Small Church (Bethany House, 2010).
According to the study, megachurches are continuing to see attendance and giving rise even during the recession. (For those of you leading small congregations, insert salt into your wounds now.) And it appears the bigger your church is the more likely you are to see these increases. In the current economic environment churches are falling prey to Darwinism's survival of the fittest...or at least the survival of the biggest.
It is widely known that by 2048, if not sooner, non-Hispanic whites will no longer make up a majority of the U.S. population. Less clear is what these demographic shifts will mean for us who are living through these days of momentous and visible change. A friend who is a school social worker in the suburbs is watching the school diversify significantly and wonders how best to serve his new students. Another suburban friend is spending time with children of refugees and immigrants, looking for ways to explain how the majority culture actually works to those who learned about America on TV. Friends accustomed to being America’s minorities look on with curiosity—and perhaps apprehension—as certain pundits and politicians decry the changing face of the country.
The participants at the first Multi-ethnic Church Conference were asking questions along these lines. More than one speaker referenced 2048 as a societal tipping point. But while the conference addressed the wider culture, many of the most pressing questions were directed to our churches. Most of these complicated issues cannot be swiftly resolved, but I think they’re worth considering here. After all, the questions being grappled with by multi-ethnic church practitioners are surely not limited to the multi-ethnic church.
Do church leaders see the big picture of children in the Bible and across the world?
We cover a lot of topics on Out of Ur, but one area we have neglected is children. Let's be honest, children's ministry isn't the sexiest topic and it doesn't tend to draw the big names to the big conferences. But that says more about our bias than the critical role of children in God's kingdom.
At the Lausanne Congress in Cape Town last month, the Global Children's Forum presented a wonderful 4-minute video called "TODAY" to highlight the importance of kids in our mission. They've just made the whole video available for free to download on their website. Not only does it have a great message, but who doesn't love claymation?
Does video preaching help or hinder church planting?
The Gospel Coalition has released this fascinating conversation with Mark Dever, Mark Driscoll, and James MacDonald regarding multi-site church. Both Driscoll and MacDonald are proponents of multi-site churches utilizing video preaching. Dever is not. He sees more value in raising up more preachers to lead autonomous churches rather than using video to increase one preacher's exposure. Driscoll and MacDonald disagree and make the case their they are raising up more preachers through their model.
Check out the video and share your thoughts. Does Dever have a point? Do Driscoll and MacDonald seem too defensive? Is there an angle on the subject they didn't cover but should have?
Is age-segmentation the same as racial segregation?
Last month Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale ended its model of offering multiple worship services designed to appeal to different ages, likes, and styles. Tullian Tchividjian, senior pastor and a contributing editor to Leadership Journal, said "The best way a church can demonstrate unifying power of the Gospel before our very segregated world is to maintain a community that transcends cultural barriers," Tchividjian said in a sermon last month. "The church should be the one institution, the one community – this countercultural community – in our world that breaks barriers down."
An article at The Christian Post reports:
[Tchividjian] listed some of the drawbacks of segregated worship. In a traditional worship service, the church inadvertently communicates that God was more active in the past that He is in the present, he said. In a contemporary service, the church communicates that God is more active in the present than He was in the past. But a church must communicate God's "timeless activity," he indicated. The megachurch pastor also said he doesn't view separate worship services by style or age as any different from racial segregation, except that it's more subtle.
Ed Stetzer interviews Brandon O'Brien about his book, "The Strategically Small Church"
Brandon O'Brien, associate editor for Leadership Journal, has written a new book, The Strategically Small Church. In this work, he seeks to demonstrate how small churches are uniquely equipped for success in today's culture. Ed Stetzer interviewed O'Brien about his book and why being small may be more missionally strategic.
Ed: What do you mean by "strategically small church"? Is this a new church model, like "simple" or "organic" church?
Brandon: A "strategically small" church is one that has learned to recognize and leverage the inherent strengths of being small. Being strategically small means that instead of trying to overcome your congregation's size, you have learned to use it to strategic ministry advantage.
In other words, I'm not advocating a new model of doing church. Instead I'm hoping that by telling the stories of some truly innovative and effective small churches, other small congregations will stop viewing their size and limited resources as liabilities and begin thinking about them as advantages.
Ed: What keeps small churches from becoming "strategically small?"
Brandon: Many small churches try to operate like big churches. The idea seems to be that if we imitate what the megachurches are doing--if we do ministry like them--then we'll grow like them. The trouble is, operating like a big church can undermine the inherent strengths of being small.
"In my research I found that churches often lean in one of two directions. Some believe that people should be "self-feeders." The church's responsibility is to create impressive worship services with practical teaching, and maybe connect members into relational groups. From there, however, the people are expected to do the rest. Their spiritual growth is in their own hands.
"On the other side are churches who are "spoon-feeders." They place a high value on biblical teaching and exposition. The sermons are deep and these churches imply that if you just come and listen, you'll grow in your faith. "Maturity migration" happens when attenders at a "self-feeder" church desire more depth and make the shift to a "spoon-feeder" congregation.
"There are problems on both extremes."
Darrin Patrick is the pastor of The Journey in St. Louis, Missouri, and vice president of the Acts 29 Church Planting Network. To read the rest of his interview in context, pick up the Spring 2010 issue of Leadership journal or subscribe by clicking on the cover in the left column.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Now that we've identified those leaving the church, what are we to do about them?
by Skye Jethani
I ended Part 1 of this post with a question—what is the church to do about the growing ranks of the de-churched? I believe the answer depends on which de-churched group one is talking about. In Part 1 I identified two sides of the de-churched population—those who have left the church because they had received a false gospel, and those who have left because they’ve encountered the true gospel.
Let’s start with the false gospel side. As Matt Chandler explained, these de-churched are fed, knowingly or unknowingly, a false gospel of morality. They believe that if they just follow God’s rules he will bless their lives. When things fail to work out as promised, they bail on the church. Christian Smith, a sociologist of religion, has called this belief MTD—moralistic therapeutic deism. I prefer a more sinister and downright damnable name: Moralistic Divination—the belief that one can control and manipulate God’s actions through moral behaviors.
While there are many churches that promote this sort of false thinking, including those within the prosperity gospel crowd, I believe most do not. So why do so many Christians, particularly the young, carry these beliefs? In most cases the problem isn’t what the church is preaching, but in what it is assuming.
For example, the popular summarization of the gospel known as “The Four Spiritual Laws” begins with the statement, “God love you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” This idea, drawn from scripture and rooted in orthodoxy, may be faithfully preached in your church. But how is it received? How does a person formed and hardened for decades in the furnaces of consumerism hear this statement?
Some are leaving the church because they've received a false gospel. Others are leaving because they've found the real one.
by Skye Jethani
In days gone by, missional efforts were focused on presenting and demonstrating the love of Christ to non-Christians. But in the 1980s a new term was coined to describe the growing number of North Americans without any significant church background. They were called the unchurched. Untold numbers of books were written about them. Ministry conferences discussed them. Church leaders orchestrated worship services to attract them.
The shift from “evangelizing non-Christians” to “reaching the unchurched” was perceived as benign at the time, but it represented an important shift in our understanding of mission. The church was no longer just a means by which Christ’s mission would advance in the world, it was also the end of that mission. The goal wasn’t simply to introduce the unchurched to Christ, but—as the term reveals—to engage them in a relationship with the institutional church. This paved the way for the ubiquitous (but flawed) belief today that “mission” is synonymous with “church growth.” (Another post for another day.)
Well, another new term is on the rise and gaining attention among evangelicals in North America. Those without a past relationship to the church are called unchurched, but there are many with significant past church involvement who are exiting. They are the de-churched.
Matt Chandler, pastor of The Village Church near Dallas, explains the de-churched phenomenon in this short video:
Are you unknowingly encouraging your attenders to commit "spiritual adultery"?
by Skye Jethani
Does your church emphasize, encourage, and value membership? In many places the notion of church membership has fallen out of favor. Rick Warren thinks that is a “serious mistake.”
Speaking this morning at the Radicalis conference at Saddleback Church, Pastor Rick challenged pastors to rediscover the importance of commitment to a local church through radical membership. “Membership is a word that has been perverted and abused,” said Warren. “It’s not putting your name on a roll. It’s not about knowing the insider lingo. That’s not what membership is all about.”
Using Scripture to show the importance of commitment to a local congregation, Warren said membership was about being “a member in the Body of Christ.” And therefore membership is “organic not organizational.”
A new survey of multi-site churches shows a growing disconnect between pastors and their large congregations.
In the hierarchy of church problems, most pastors wouldn’t mind figuring out how to handle a congregation that has grown so rapidly that they can no longer get to know everyone personally. The multisite church boom has met this very challenge by leveraging the best teachers with new technology to reach mass audiences at low costs. Motivated by spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, pastors understand the number of new professions of faith as a sign of God’s blessing. There appears to be little downside to adding new church sites. There is little of the personal risk and exorbitant cost of church planting. In fact, there are few arguments against multiple sites that can’t also be made against multiple services in one church building. And most medium and large-sized churches crossed that line without much consternation some time ago. So if people don’t mind watching a pastor on television, what’s holding us back?
Maybe some people really do mind. A recent report on multisite churches by Cathy Lynn Grossman in USA Today revealed some concern about the growing disconnect between pastors and their large congregations.
What really produces transformation in the church?
What causes people to change? What creates behaviors? It may not be what you think. According to Andy Stanley, many church leaders assume that the right programs, great teaching, or really inspiring events will foster transformation. But they don't.
A few weeks ago, pastor and author Dan Kimball posted an interesting entry here about church buildings. In the introduction, he notes that eight years ago he would have said, “Who needs a building? The early church didn’t have buildings, and we don’t need them either!” Today, however, he notes that he was wrong.
I think he still is.
Here is my official response to Dan Kimball.
I recently read your post where you say that you were wrong about church buildings. At first, I was glad to see the title. I’m a house church leader. We used to be a traditional Southern Baptist church—building and all. But that all changed in 2005. Since then, we’ve been meeting in homes and living out the call of God without a building. And that’s why your post troubled me so much.
It is not that I hate buildings. Because we have identified our cause as “Leave the Building,” I often get mistaken for a building-hater, but that is not the case. “Leave the Building” is about removing the things that limit us in our service for God or somehow get in the way of what he is trying to accomplish through us. For me and my church, it was our building.
A lively conversation with a "Dead Theologian"--second in a series.
by Url Scaramanga
‘Tis the season to think about traditions. Every family has its own non-negotiable holiday rituals. If your family’s like mine, you may have competing visions of the perfect holiday under one roof (or tent, or banyan tree—or whatever your family cohabitates under).
In my experience, churches are a lot like families in that way. Each one has its own immutable ways of doing things (and often enough, every member has a different opinion about whether these ways are right or wrong). And this isn’t the case only around the Christmas season. Churches of all types—even the ones that don’t like formal rituals—form all sorts of traditions.
Earlier this fall, I spoke with a pastor who knows a thing or two about the power of tradition—another former theologian—John Calvin. Brother Calvin died in 1564, but given the recent interest in his theology, I thought I’d get his opinion on the role of traditions in the church today.
Url: I just have to ask: did you really outlaw Christmas in Geneva?
No. But I got blamed for the decision. I only wanted people to celebrate Christmas properly—without all the superstition and idolatry that can come with Christmas celebrations.
They can be outposts of mission, not just a drain on resources.
by Dan Kimball
If you had asked me eight years ago what I thought about church buildings, I would have said, "Who needs a building? The early church didn't have buildings, and we don't need them either!" But I was wrong.
My anti-building phase was a reaction to having seen so much money spent on church facilities, often for non-essential, luxury items. I was also reacting to a philosophy of ministry that treated church buildings like Disneyland; a place consumers gather for entertainment. But these abuses had caused me to unfairly dismiss the potential blessing of buildings as well.
Consider the building occupied by Compassion International in Colorado Springs. It has a well-groomed lawn with sprinkler system, an attractive sign, and an expansive parking lot. It's a nice facility. But it's more than just a building—it is the headquarters and training center for a ministry that brings physical and spiritual nourishment to more than one million children in 25 countries. The Compassion building is used for a missional purpose, not simply as a place for Christians to gather and consume religious services.
When we planted our church in 2004, we needed a place to meet. We found a very traditional church building that had a sizable "fellowship hall" originally used only for donuts and coffee on Sundays. Wanting to use the building differently, we converted the fellowship hall into a public coffee lounge featuring music and art from the outside community. The Abbey, as it's now called, is open seven days a week and offers free internet access.
The danger of replacing Communion with a coffee bar.
by Paul Louis Metzger
It's very difficult for many contemporary Christians to recognize how much we have been shaped by the consumer culture in which we live—it is in the air we breathe and the water (or coffee) we drink.
Consider that in many churches the coffee bar has displaced the Lord's Table as the place where real community happens. Due in part to the neutralizing of sacred space that has been popular since the 1980s, churches began removing or deemphasizing the Lord's Table and introducing coffee bars. Without doubt the desire has been to build community by offering people a culturally familiar setting to engage one another. But we must ask: What formative message does a coffee bar convey?
A coffee bar mostly carries the values of our culture. We've come to expect coffee bars to offer a number of choices to meet our desires (decaf, tea, hot chocolate), and the setting is one of leisure and comfort. We usually gather in affinity groups. We sip the beverages not because we're thirsty but because we're conditioned to want them.
By contrast, what does the Lord's Table convey? It is a symbol of sacrificial love that breaks down cultural divisions and barriers of affinity. It reminds us that life is about being chosen by the Lord for interpersonal communion rather than choosing to consume stuff, and it reminds us we are called to take up our cross rather than seek personal comfort.
To build or not to build? Sign-up to ask your questions during our live webinar.
by Eric Reed
Until recently, churches responded to growing attendance by building larger facilities. But the faltering economy makes raising large sums for building projects harder to accomplish. And combined with the aversion of younger churchgoers to the bigger-is-better ministry philosophy, these tight-money days are demanding imaginative alternatives. For some churches, the question has become, "Should we build at all?"
"We have told many clients in the last couple years, 'You're not ready to build, because you aren't sure what your ministry is,'" said Ed Bahler of the Aspen Group, a church design firm. "So what once took a few weeks has become a six- to twelve-month process: determining what their vision is and what they really need to do that ministry." The firm now focuses on guiding church leaders through the vision process.
"People ask us what ministry will look like in ten years—with the impact of technology and the desire to attract younger people driving many of the choices they make today," Bahler said.
Christianity Today International, Out of Ur's publisher, and The Lausanne Movement, a worldwide movement of evangelical Christian leaders, present The Global Conversation: a year-long series of essays, short films, and photo essays about issues facing the church worldwide. These videos highlight topics to be addressed at the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization being held in Cape Town, South Africa, in October 2010.
In November the Global Conversation focuses on the prosperity gospel—the teaching that true Christian faith results in material wealth and physical well-being. While it has its roots in America, it has found fertile soil on other continents as well. To accompany the lead article in Christianity Today by Ghanaian scholar Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu, director Nathan Clarke went to Ghana to explore the forms the prosperity gospel takes in that West African nation.
Why don't more ethnic churches have a small groups ministry?
by Sam O'Neal
I came across an interesting interview in the recent issue of Leadership Journal. The subjects of the interview were from River City Community Church—a multi-ethnic ministry located in the Humboldt Park neighborhood of Chicago. Leadership talked with Daniel Hill, who founded the ministry, along with several key leaders of the church.
Here's a brief excerpt of their conversation:
What kind of person is attracted to River City?
Hill: Most of our new people are white. But there's a revolving door with the white community here. They have a romantic notion of being part of a multi-ethnic church, so many of them get frustrated and leave when they realize how difficult it is to erase their assumptions about the way church is supposed to be.
What assumptions do white people carry into the church?
Arloa Sutter (pastor of community life): When I came I said, "Let's just start small groups! Everyone wants to be in a group, right?" The fact is small groups aren't as important to other ethnicities as they are to white people.
Small groups are a white church thing?
Hill: White people rely on small groups to connect. Other ethnicities form community more organically, more relationally. Immigrant communities find fellowship within extended families. In the city a lot of community happens on the front porch or sidewalk. So non-whites aren't as eager to set up structures and systems like small groups.
Online churches are missing a few essential ingredients.
by Bob Hyatt
**Editor's Note: I apologize for the lack of posts in recent days. We've been experiencing some technical difficulties. -Url Scaramanga**
I was disappointed to read Douglas Estes’ piece last week on Ur, for a number of reasons, but chief among them is this: it fails to deal substantively with a single serious critique that has been raised regarding virtual church. In fact, Mr. Estes not only fails to address the critique, but he seems to fail even to understand it.
So in a spirit of Christian love and good dialogue, let me respond point by point!
First, Mr. Estes asserts that critique of virtual church can be boiled down to “Internet campuses and online churches are not true churches because they don’t look like and feel like churches are expected to look like and feel like (in the West, anyway).”
Respectfully, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, my concern about internet church is that it’s too much like what we expect (and want) church to look and feel like (at least in the West).
Douglas Estes, author of SimChurch, responds to critics of online churches.
by Douglas Estes
A myth is growing in some circles of the blogosphere that online church is not good, not healthy, and not biblical. If we read carefully the criticisms levied against internet campuses, they boil down to some very common and tired themes: Internet campuses and online churches are not true churches because they don’t look like and feel like churches are expected to look like and feel like (in the West, anyway). Arguments against virtual church follow the idea that if it doesn’t look like church, feel like church, swim like church, or quack like church, it’s not a church. This may be a useful test for ducks, but churches are far more complex animals.
This myth is causing even open-minded people to have doubts about whether a church online can be ‘real.’ Let’s lay aside for a moment that nowhere in the Bible does it preclude online church, in any way. Let’s lay aside the fact that church history almost nowhere would lead someone to conclude that a virtual church is not valid (the lesson of church history is that new formats for church always go through a period where they are attacked as invalid). Let’s lay aside the troubling truth of the testimonies of meaningful community that are coming out of online churches. Let’s lay aside the problem that most (all I’ve read) of the blogposts criticizing virtual churches are based on cultural factors, pop psychology, materialistic misreadings of a few New Testament verses, or worse, citations of famous pastors who have doubts.
An even greater concern is the proliferation of a related myth: The myth of the “virtual” church. As a result several of the churches who have launched virtual campuses are telling their pastors and people, “Don’t use the word ‘virtual,’ because people think it means fake.” For the record, virtual doesn’t mean fake, it means synthetic. In the long run, it doesn’t matter whether church culture embraces or discards the word virtual, but we need to be accurate in our representation. Virtual churches are not fake churches; they are real churches that use synthetic space as a meeting place (or a synthetic medium as a means of building community). The ‘virtual’ part of the term—which identifies where they meet—has nothing to do with the question of their realness or validity.
Do you ever feel like church activities, which are intended to promote God's mission, are actually keeping you from promoting God's mission? We're eager to see your captions for this cartoon by Roger Judd. Winners will be published in the Winter issue of Leadership. (Please include your name, church's name, city, and state.)
If he hadn’t died from a tainted smallpox vaccination in 1758, Jonathan Edwards would be celebrating his 306th birthday today--Monday, October 5. When Edwards died, at the relatively young age of 55, he was one of the best known pastor-theologians in the English speaking world. Interestingly enough, the Calvinist pastor is making quite a comeback. There’s been lots of talk on Out of Ur recently about the so-called New Reformed movement—folks that are proud to call Edwards “homeboy.”
But would Edwards be proud to claim the New Reformed movement? Well, I just couldn’t pass up the chance to ask him. Using skills learned on my many travels and my finely tuned interviewing skills, I sat down with Brother Edwards to ask him how well he thinks the new Calvinists are representing the old time religion.
Url: So, I’ve read “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” You’re pretty intense.
Let me guess: high school English class.
Yep. Some of the New Reformed folks seem to like that hellfire and brimstone stuff. Did they learn that from you?
They might have. I preached my fair share of those sermons. But back then, you had to. Everybody was religious—it was against the law to skip church. So my greatest challenge as a pastor was combating spiritual apathy. I did everything I could to make sure people took their spiritual lives seriously, because it was really easy for them to take God for granted.
Do you think that sort of preaching is still effective today?
Calvin’s definition of “church” is where the Word is preached, the sacraments are received, and church discipline practiced. That’s a good summary of the defining characteristics of the New Testament ecclesia and a good summary of the main problems with internet church.
Is the word preached “at” an internet campus? Absolutely. In fact, the Word preached becomes the centerpiece. Church is boiled down to singing a few songs and hearing a message.
And while internet campuses provide a great sermon delivery vehicle, and even allow you to virtually raise your hand in response, what they don’t do is allow you to be known and missed. You can’t stand at the end of the gathering and ask for help moving. You can’t help tear things down and clean up afterwards. You can’t look after someone’s kids while they pray with someone else. You can’t take a visitor out to lunch. How can our community be a sign and foretaste of the kingdom when our method of gathering keeps us from ever physically serving, loving, or being present to one another? I know how participating in a congregation begins to make me more like Jesus. I’m unsure how that happens with an internet campus.
Online church is close enough to the real thing to be dangerous.
by Bob Hyatt
In the early 1950s when Robert Schuller and others across the nation combined a growing car culture with “Church,” they believed they were reaching a segment of the population traditional church wouldn’t or couldn’t. “Drive-In Church” allowed parishioners to hear a sermon, sing some songs, even receive communion and give—all without the fuss and muss of face-to-face interaction. Except for a through-the-window handshake from the pastor as they rolled away.
And while they may have been able to point to a number of folks who “attended” that otherwise might not have, the question of what was being formed in these car congregations through limited interaction, a completely passive experience, and a consumer-oriented “Come as you want/Have it your way” message, meant that (thankfully) after a brief period of vogue, “Drive-In Church” has remained a niche curiosity.
The problem with the drive-in church model isn’t that it isn’t church—it’s that it is just “church” enough to be dangerous. What this almost-church does is park people in a cul-de-sac where they have access to the easiest and most instantly satisfying parts of church while exempting them from the harder and more demanding parts of community.
And while I’m glad such an absurdity has remained on the fringe, as I watch the discussion about “internet campuses” I can’t shake a certain feeling of deja vu.
Troy Gramling vs. Mark Driscoll on the legitimacy of internet congregations.
Earlier this month Frank Viola confronted the growing trend of “post-church Christianity,” with a biblically-rooted argument that a gathering of two or three close friends is not “church” and therefore cannot be a substitute. We’re eager to continue the debate about what constitutes a legitimate church, and we found a worthy follow-up in the new book, A Multi-Site Road Trip by Geoff Surratt, Greg Ligon, and Warren Bird.
In a chapter titled, "Internet Campuses—Virtual or Real Reality?," the authors profile the web congregation started by Troy Gramling of Flamingo Road Church in Cooper City, Florida. The follow excerpt is intended to answer the critics of internet churches. It also includes an extended rebuttal by Mark Driscoll who does not believe in the legitimacy of web-based church. (On a side note, Driscoll’s church issued a press release today announcing the release of a Mars Hill iPhone app which allows users to listen to sermons, watch sermon videos, receive church news updates, and even give donations toward the church’s mission.)
In a bricks-and-mortar church, leaders can limit distractions and use a variety of tools to create experiences to connect people emotionally to the music and message. With an online church, that is much harder to do. The people attending your church online might be doing a million different things in the background while the service is in progress. Or they might be in an environment filled with distractions. The growth edge for internet campuses is their need to move their attenders to full engagement. Perhaps the most challenging part of the internet campus idea is the reality that when people aren’t physically in the room, as they are in a church sanctuary, you can’t control the environment.
The postchurch perspective fails six tests of legitimacy.
by Frank Viola
In my first post, I argued that the primary text used to support the postchurch viewpoint is not about the nature of the church at all. Instead, it's about the process of excommunication. Now I have more evidence against the postchurch viewpoint. In my mind, it fails to pass six important tests.
The Original Language Test
New Testament scholarship agrees that the word ekklesia (translated "church") meant a local community of people who assemble together regularly. The word was used for the Greek assembly whereby those in a city were "called forth" from their homes to meet (assemble) in the town forum to make decisions for the city. The Christian ekklesia is a community of people who gather together and possess a shared life in Christ.
As such, the ekklesia as used in New Testament literature is visible, touchable, locatable, and tangible. You can visit it. You can observe it. And you can live in it. Biblically speaking, you could not call anything an ekklesia unless it assembled regularly together.
There is a growing phenomenon in the body of Christ today. Alongside of the missional church movement, the emerging church movement, and the house church movement, there is a mode of thinking that I call "postchurch Christianity."
The postchurch brand of Christianity is built on the premise that institutional forms of church are ineffective, unbiblical, unworkable, and in some cases, dangerous. Institutionalization is not compatible with ekklesia. So say postchurch advocates.
But the postchurch view goes further saying, "any semblance of organization whatsoever . . . any semblance of leadership...is wrong and oppressive. Church is simply when two or three believers gather together in any format. Whenever this happens, church occurs."
Here are some examples of what you might hear a postchurch advocate say:
From "The Good Fight," an interview with Matt Chandler in the current issue ofLeadership.
"I'm unapologetically Reformed, but nine times out of ten I cannot stand the Reformed community. I don't want to be around them. I don't want to read their blogs. They can be cannibalistic, self-indulgent, non-missional, and angry. It's silly and sad at the same time. Reformed doctrine should lead to a deep sense of humility and patience with others. How it produces such arrogance baffles me."
Matt Chandler is the pastor of The Village Church in Highland Village, Texas. To read the rest of his interview in context, pick up the Summer 09 issue of Leadership journal or subscribe by clicking on the cover in the left column.
The following is an excerpt from a chapter called "Internet Campuses - Virtual or Real Reality?" in the bookA Multi-Site Church Road Trip: Exploring the New Normal, by Geoff Surratt, Greg Ligon, and Warren Bird (Zondervan, 2009). This picks up mid-chapter; so to bring you up to speed, we're talking about the strengths and weaknesses of internet campuses as they relate to spiritual growth and formation.
Even if a church does a good job of creating an engaging and life-transforming online worship experience, it may not be enough. What about the rest of what it means to be the church? When I pressed Troy [Gramling, senior pastor of Flamingo Road Church in Florida] with this question, he said that both physical and internet campuses are trying to do the same thing: help people take the next step from where they are to where God is calling them. "The first step is accepting Christ," Troy explained. "That can happen anywhere. The next step is baptism, and we have discovered that can happen anywhere as well." Indeed, in 2007 Brian Vasil baptized a new believer online for the first time. They didn't use virtual water or a cheesy clip art graphic. It was the real thing.
A young woman from Georgia who had never attended any of Flamingo Road Church's physical campuses gave her life to Christ during a service on the internet campus. She wanted to be baptized, so she contacted her campus pastor, Brian, via email. He spoke with her on the phone about her decision to accept Christ and about her desire to be baptized. Then he helped coordinate the event. She was baptized by her mother-in-law in the family Jacuzzi tub with the Flamingo Road internet family watching via webcam and rejoicing in the significant moment for one of their peers. That's taking the next step. For those involved with the church, it was the real thing.
In some circles, the term "church programs" has become an epithet for all that is wrong with the institutional church. For a generation hungry for authenticity and community, "programs" feel staged, impersonal, and cold. For a generation increasingly skeptical of government, big business, and corporate machinery in general, "programs" reek of institutionalism, bureaucracy, and insensitivity to human need. Programs may not be the problem, but they are certainly a symptom. They give us something to throw stones at.
To a certain extent, these feelings are justified. After all, programs are the means by which we draw people into our churches. Once they're in, we get them involved by participating in or leading our programs. Participation in programs becomes the way we judge how "involved" people are - if they're engaged in our programs, we call them "committed." Programs become a means by which we judge our effectiveness as ministers - we can know we're doing a lot for Jesus, because we're running so many successful programs. In some churches, it appears the congregation exists to serve the church's programming.
The editors of Leadership are finishing the summer issue due out in July. Here's a preview excerpt from John Peacock found in a report by Collin Hansen, "The X Factor: Most of the highly celebrated, experimental worship services launched in the Nineties to reach 'Gen-X' are now gone. What have we learned from the rise, decline, and renewal of next generation ministries?"
"Your staff culture has to represent the culture you're trying to create in the wider church. That's one of the biggest misses in contemporary church work. You have a business-run, top-down, bottom-line culture yet you're trying to bring around a loving, transformative culture in your community. It just doesn't work."
-John Peacockleads the Axis ministry at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois. Read more in the Summer 2009 issue of Leadership journal. To see the quote IN context, you'll need to see the print version of Leadership. To subscribe, click on the cover of Leadership on this page.
The debate over guns at church. A ready defense or an overreaction?
Two weeks ago an armed man entered Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita, Kansas, and shot Dr. George Tiller. On March 8, a gunman walked into the sanctuary of First Baptist Church of Maryville, Illinois, and killed senior pastor Fred Winters. Last summer a man walked into a church in Knoxville, Tennessee, pulled a shotgun from his guitar case, and opened fire on a children's performance. Two people were killed.
The news reports are horrifying, but despite the wide publicity these crimes garner, there have been less than a dozen church shootings in the U.S. in the last decade. But that is little comfort for some church leaders who are seeking new security measures to protect their flocks
Pastor Ken Pagano from New Bethel Church in Kentucky is encouraging his parishioners to bring their guns to church for an "Open Carry Celebration" to celebrate the Fourth of July and the Second Amendment. "We're not ashamed to say that there was a strong belief in God and firearms," says Pagano. "Without that this country wouldn't be here."
Other churches are hiring armed security to patrol their property on Sunday mornings to create an atmosphere of safety. But there is an increasing number of churches using armed vigilantes--volunteers with nothing more than a concealed weapon permit--to deter any assailant. These people are the ecclesiastical equivalent of the air marshals who anonymously fly commercial airliners.
But are these security measures warranted? And are churches unknowingly creating more risk, not less, by encouraging members to carry concealed weapons?
Unlike his previous volumes (Pagan Christianity and Reimagining Church), Frank Viola's new book From Eternity to Here is not about church practices and forms. Instead, it tells the story of God's eternal purposes in redemption from Genesis to Revelation. "I wrote the book," Viola explains, "to bring back into view the greatness, the supremacy, the centrality, and the incomparable glory of the Lord Jesus Christ in the face of God's immense purpose." Leadership assistant editor Brandon O'Brien asked Viola a few questions about what his book means for local churches.
Do you think that someone could agree with you completely about what the church is and could be but disagree about the form a local church should take (i.e. traditional, denominational church vs. house or organic church)?
Absolutely. In fact, Christians from a wide variety of church forms and expressions have been encouraged by the book: Ed Stetzer (Baptist), Alan Hirsh and Dan Kimball (Missional), Shane Claiborne (New Monastic), Myles Munroe and James Goll (Charismatic), Brian McLaren (Emergent), Greg Boyd (traditional evangelical church form), Leonard Sweet (Methodist, and who knows what else!), Michael Spencer (New Covenant-Reformation), Ralph Neighbor (Cell Church) are just some of them. In addition, I've received a fair share of enthusiastic mail from Anglicans on the one hand and Reformed folks on the other, both of whom have resonated strongly with the message of the book.
All told, From Eternity to Here is a book written for all of God's people irrespective of which church forms and structures they might embrace.
Are we really in love with Jesus, or with the experience of loving Jesus?
by Scot McKnight
A peculiar development occurred in the medieval age regarding love. Behind closed doors and in the rush of brief encounters, there developed what has been called "courtly love" or "romantic love." Married men found themselves emotionally carried away with either another married woman or a single woman. This courtly love, so we are told, remained at the emotional and non-physical level.
The interpretation of many is that the Lover, because of the emotion it generated, preferred the nearly intolerable absence of the Beloved over the presence of the Beloved. The Lover preferred the titillation of fantasy over the toughness of fidelity. The essence of courtly love was to become intoxicated with love, to fall in love with love. It was to prefer the fire of love over the Beloved and delight in the experience of love over the presence of the Beloved. Think Tristan and Isolde. Perhaps even Romeo and Juliet.
Friends of mine today worry about consumerization or commoditization in the church. I offer a slightly different analysis of what might be the same thing: for many, Sunday services have become the experience of courtly love. Some folks love church, and what they mean by "loving church" is that they love the experience they get when they go to church. They prefer to attend churches that foster the titillation of courtly-love worship and courtly-love fellowship and courtly-love feelings.
They say they love worship, and by this they mean they love the courtly-love-like songs that extol the experience of loving Jesus or the experience of adoring God or the experience of a concert-like praise team that can generate the sound of worship intensely enough to vibrate the very soul of the worshiper.
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.
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.
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.
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.
From "Having Ears, Do You Not Hear?" in the current issue ofLeadership.
"As a pastor, I'm not a theology policeman...But if we are part of a community where the Scriptures are honored, I don't think we have to worry too much. The Spirit works through community. Somebody will have a stupid, screwy idea. That's okay. The point of having creeds and confessions and traditions is to keep us in touch with the obvious errors."
To read the rest, pick up the Winter '09 issue of Leadership journal.
The financial talking heads are attributing the current economic crisis to a number of things: lack of regulatory oversight, bad mortgage lending practices, and globalized market structures. But some of the more plainspoken pundits sum up the mess in a single word: Debt.
Simply put, for too long people have been spending more than they have. We have been purchasing homes we cannot afford, saving less than we should, and racking up debt at an unprecedented rate. The average American currently has a negative savings rate and over $8000 in credit card debt. As Dave Ramsey says, we are not "acting our wage." On a national level, we have been importing more than we export and borrowing money from foreign governments to make up the difference.The picture is not pretty. We've made the foundation of our economy consumer spending rather than manufacturing, saving, or production. All that debt simply cannot hold the weight of the economy over time, and now we're starting to see the system crumble.
How does this apply to ministry? Well, most American churches have based their mission on the assumption of affluence. That doesn't mean every church is living large. Rather, it means that our churches expect people to give their surplus time and money to fuel Christ's mission. But what happens if there is no surplus? What if people can't give more time or money? Like our economy, has our church built its mission on a foundation of sand rather than stone?
Whether we heard it first in Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code, in a Church history class, or in a book, most of us were probably surprised by the political machinations behind The Nicene Creed. I first heard about it from theologian Harold O.J. ("Joe") Brown. More than once I've told my audiences that Constantine should have kept his nose out of the Church's business, that there was too much political unity in mind, and that some of those theologians were anything but noble. It seems most everyone agrees with me. But there it is - the faith we all confess - debated and drafted up in extraordinary lines by ordinary human beings who were embroiled in more than exegesis and theology.
Most explanations I've heard try to hide the obvious: "Constantine's impact was actually minimal," or "that's the way they did things back then." Perhaps we need to ask what folks would like to have happened. If we had our wishes, The Nicene Creed would have been drafted by theologians without spot or wrinkle, men (and women) in whom their was no guile, church leaders who resisted every attempt to grasp power, and political leaders who know the difference between the kingdom of this world and the kingdom of the world to come. In other words, we'd prefer The Nicene Creed to have been drafted by God Incarnate.
Last week it was Catalyst in Atlanta. This week's it's Willow Creek's REVEAL Conference in South Barrington, Illinois. (At least I'm closer to home.) I'll be here for the next two days with a number of updates from the conference. First up: Bill Hybels.
Greg Hawkins began this morning with a recap of the mission - to move people who are far from God toward being fully devoted followers, which means increasingly loving God and loving their neighbor. In churches we create services, classes, small groups, etc. He said, as people participate in these activities, we assume, they will become disciples - those who love God and their neighbors. REVEAL was designed to measure how effective the church's programs have been in order to refine programs and allocate resources to those that work best.
Willow first conducted the REVEAL survey with its members and attenders in the fall of 2003. The results, says Hawkins, showed that "participation in [church] activities doesn't predict whether people have a heart for God and a heart for other people." Instead, one's maturity was not related to activity but intimacy.
After the opening remarks, Bill Hybels took the stage to talk more about REVEAL's impact from his perspective. He began by noting that this past weekend marked the 33rd anniversary of Willow Creek Community Church, and how one kid reminded him that Jesus lived for 33 years and "then they killed him." The laughs showed Hybel's strength - his amazing ability to connect with an audience.
"Most people go to conferences to get their current way of ministry reinforced," he said. But he promised that the REVEAL conference would screw with our heads and cause disequilibrium.
New research says people are looking for "sacred" buildings.
On the heels of David Gibbons' interesting thoughts on the way many churches squander their resources on underutilized buildings, Matt Branaugh has this piece over at LeadershipJournal.net. Apparently, if you're going to throw your church's money into a building, make it a sacred one. -Url
Does "sacred" space appeal to or repel the unchurched? A recent survey probed 1,700 unchurched American adults, putting photos of four different church exteriors in front of them. Respondents indicated their preferences by allocating 100 points across the four images, based on the appeal of the appearance.
The Gothic look averaged 48 points, more than double the next-highest finisher, a white-steeple-and-pillar exterior that averaged about 19 points. The other two churches, with more contemporary looks, averaged 18 points and 16 points, according to the study, commissioned by Cornerstone Knowledge Network and conducted by LifeWay Research.
So should churches opt for the cathedral look as a way to attract the unchurched?
If you live in a suburban or urban area, you have probably asked and answered these questions countless times. The follow-up question is meant to uncover something about your conversation partner that can't be learned by hearing which faceless suburb he or she inhabits. But at the rate Americans continue to move, this follow-up question may not elicit a better answer.
According to a USA Today report last fall, nearly 50 million Americans - more than 16 percent of the population - moved in 2006. Mobility increases during inclement economic weather, which is one reason why during the late 1990s the rate slowed to pre-World War II times. Though 2008 data has not yet been analyzed, we can expect the moving rate to increase given the high number of home foreclosures.
Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan recently connected this trend to the Republican and Democratic nominees for President. Sure, you know Sen. Barack Obama lives in Chicago, and Sen. John McCain lives in Arizona. But do their places of current residence tell you anything about them?
Evergreen, our small church here in Portland, Oregon, has just gone multi-site. But not video venue.
We started in a pub in southwest Portland, outgrew that space, and moved to another pub across town. Outgrowing that one, we moved up to yet another pub in northwest Portland. Yes, we are the church on a pub crawl. When things got crowded there, we knew we had some decisions to make.
Our goal has always been multi-faceted. First and foremost, we want to see people come to and come back to Jesus. That implies growth. Second, our worship gatherings are highly interactive. We never want to lose the dialogical vibe in our teaching. Third, knowing that, according to statistics, people are reached best by newer (under 10 years old) and smaller congregations (as they grow from 100 to 200), our ultimate goal has been planting.
One megachurch pastor believes small is the new big.
"I love the church. It's God's vehicle for transformation. But I don't want the church to become so centralized that it can't reproduce, can't adopt multiple forms. And that works better when you're small, when you're on the verge, on the edge. Small is the new big. Big isn't bad, but it's overrated."
-Dave Gibbonsis pastor of NewSong Church in Irvine, California. Taken from "On the Verge" in the Summer 2008 issue of Leadership journal. To see the quote IN context, you'll need to see the print version of Leadership. To subscribe, click on the cover of Leadership on this page.
Ed Young Jr. responds to your questions about church piracy.
UrL: Some people are taking issue with the idea that a pastor's sheep can be stolen because the sheep really belong to Christ. Where do you think the church member's loyalty should reside - with Christ, the church, the pastor, or all three?
Ed Young Jr.: I agree that church members and attendees don't belong to the pastor. They are God's people, called by him to serve him above all. Pastors are called to shepherd them, not own them.
The issue of pirating, though, isn't about the members' loyalty or about attendees finding another church. We tell people all the time that if Fellowship Church isn't for them, they should leave. And we lovingly direct them to any one of the phenomenal churches in our area.
The issue with pirating is all about what happens in the church leadership - specifically the staff. I've discovered there are several types of people around you: those who are with you, those who are for you, and those who use you. Pirates are the ones you thought were with you, but who end up using you for their own agenda. They are the people you, as a leader, pour your heart into. They're the people you laugh with, cry with, and share your life with, the ones you mold and shape.
Pirating rears its ugly head when those leaders that you cultivate work behind your back (and the church's back) maliciously and intently to gather their own "kingdom" and head out the door. The real issue is betrayal.
I have no problem with leaders being cultivated in the church and then being sent out to start new churches. But the key is that they are sent. When someone on your staff usurps the authority of the church, starts a rogue movement, and does their own thing, then you are dealing with a pirate.
There is a difference between church planting and church plundering.
When I posted the "church pirate" video on my blog last month, I knew there would be response. I hoped there would be. And based on the amount of response I've received, this topic is one that reaches deep and cuts close for many, many church leaders.
I didn't shoot this video as a personal vendetta. This wasn't based on some fleeting emotion. It wasn't done out of spite. I did this video because pirating is something that I have seen happen to far too many churches.
Too many people have joined the movement of a certain church only to later siphon resources (staff, money, etc.) from that church and begin their own work just down the street. Rather than partnering, they are pillaging. And it has led to the damage and destruction of many good churches and great church leaders.
My hope is that as light is shed on this controversial and often taboo topic we, as church leaders, can have some healthy discussion about the reality of planting versus pirating. And as the dialogue continues, I pray that we can all join together to support those leaders who are truly starting new churches the right way and finally keep the pirates at bay.
-Ed Young Jr. is the founding and senior pastor of Fellowship Church in Grapevine, Texas.
How multi-ethnic should your church staff be? Should churches have hiring quotas to ensure diversity? In the spring issue of Leadership, Mark DeYmaz, pastor of Mosaic Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, discusses the importance of being intentional about diversity.
Willow Creek tries to set the record straight about their changes.
In a video released on June 5, Bill Hybels discusses the "unfortunate" reporting that has revolved around Willow Creek's REVEAL survey. The video refers to a recent Christianity Today article and Out of Ur posts as examples of "misinformation." You can watch Hybels' full interview with Jim Mellado, the president of the Willow Creek Association, here.
After watching the video you may want to read the articles in question and post your feedback:
Skye Jethani, David Swanson, & Matt Tebbe discuss the trend away from senior pastors.
The theme for current issue of Leadership is "Teams," and that is the subject of our first Out of Ur podcast. Teams have always been a critical part of ministry going back to the 12 unlikely men Jesus assembled and then sent out in pairs to reach the villages of Judea. But today teams are taking on new significance.
Why young people are tired of personality-driven churches.
I haven't seen MTV in years, with no regrets, but I recall a show on the network that impacted me like a train wreck. It was awful, gruesome, and terrible - but I couldn't look away. "Celebrity Deathmatch" featured clay-animated celebrities in a wrestling ring where they pummeled, grinded, or dismembered each other into a bloody pulp of scarlet Play-Doh. It wasn't exactly wholesome family entertainment.
We can pick apart the moral depravity of the show (which is all too easy), or we can talk about why it was so popular with the young (which is probably related to its moral depravity). Let's simply draw this conclusion - the younger generation isn't enamored with celebrities. They aren't cultural gods to be worshiped and respected. They're more like rodeo clowns trying not to be impaled by the paparazzi beasts we unleash to devour them for our own entertainment.
The anti-celebrity sentiment of the younger generation, and the culture as a whole, may be taking root in the church as well. There are two seemingly opposite trends occurring among evangelicals that relate to this. One is the movement away from hierarchical leadership structures. The other is the movement toward hierarchical leadership structures. Let me explain.
Today, Greg Hawkins, executive pastor at Willow, recapped the study and then shared some changes that the church is now making in response to the research. He said they're making the biggest changes to the church in over 30 years. For three decades Willow has been focused on making the church appealing to seekers. But the research shows that it's the mature believers that drive everything in the church - including evangelism.
Hawkins says, "We used to think you can't upset a seeker. But while focusing on that we've really upset the Christ-centered people." He spoke about the high levels of dissatisfaction mature believer have with churches. Drawing from the 200 churches and the 57,000 people that have taken the survey, he said that most people are leaving the church because they're not being challenged enough.
Because it's the mature Christians who drive evangelism in the church Hawkins says, "Our strategy to reach seekers is now about focusing on the mature believers. This is a huge shift for Willow."
Interview with Mark Yaconelli, author of Growing Souls: Experiments in Contemplative Youth Ministry.
Yesterday morning we recapped Mark Yaconelli's talk from the first day of Shift 2008. Thanks to those of you who have left comments on this post, along with the reviews of the sessions with Brian McLaren and Shane Claiborne. During his session Mark spoke passionately and with a good dose of humor about some of the unglamorous aspects of serving in student ministries. And one point he bemoaned watching the "good youth groups" at summer camp walking around with their Bibles while his students were "lighting marijuana cigarettes and sneaking off to the bushes."
Mark Yaconelli makes the case that broken and empty is better.
The second session at Shift began with a plea from Bo Boshers, the Executive Director of Youth Ministries for the Willow Creek Association. He shared that a survey of this conference's attendees showed that 67% of the youth leaders and students are not being mentored. "Folks, we've got to get this one right!" he said. It seems that the need for one-on-one relationships in youth ministry is one of the shifts the conference organizers are concerned with.
Mark Yaconelli, who just finished speaking, pointed out another major shift he believes must happen. Through a wide-ranging talk Mark kept coming back to his theme of emptiness and brokenness. Given the many resources, curriculum, and programs available at the conference, it was almost ironic to hear Mark tell youth pastors, "You don't need anything. You need less. You can come to a conference and get so overwhelmed that you forget you already have everything you need. Your love of your kids and your desire to love God is enough."
UPDATE. Here are some video highlights from this session.
Is having an ethnically diverse church a biblical mandate?
Brandon J. O'Brien
I recently returned to my native Arkansas - a world much less ablaze with all the conversations about emergent, missional, monastic, anti-institutional, and ancient-future Christianity. As much as I appreciate those dialogues, a heavy dose of them can obscure the fact that there are many local congregations nationwide that are not clinging to a sinking institution, are not confronted with a thoroughly postmodern youth culture, and are not terribly concerned with relevance (as such). They are, nevertheless, participating in great advances for the kingdom of God.
Take Mosaic Church of Central Arkansas, for example. Located in the University District of Little Rock's south midtown, the church enjoys a prime location - for burglary, murder, and carjacking. It's in that part of town you wouldn't loiter in on Saturday night (I suppose all the evildoers sleep late on Sunday morning). But its location is strategic. In neither inner city nor suburb, and just across the street from the Little Rock campus of the University of Arkansas(UALR), the church's neighbors represent a diversity of ethnic and economic backgrounds. More importantly, the church's membership faithfully reflects the district's demographics.
As a lifelong Arkansan, I can testify that the joyful multi-ethnic and economically diverse fellowship that takes place at Mosaic is a monumental accomplishment.
Have Christians forgotten that discipline is a gift from God?
For the past couple of weeks, Ur-banites have been wrestling with questions about church membership. Below, Ken Sande, president of Peacemaker Ministries, takes one of the big questions head on: how does a church discipline its members?
On January 18, 2008, The Wall Street Journal Online published an article by Alexandra Alter on church discipline entitled Banned from Church. When Alexandra interviewed me before writing the article, I explained the biblical basis for church discipline and acknowledged how churches have sometimes neglected or abused the process. I also described how properly applied accountability can help people break free from sinful and destructive conduct. I even provided examples of churches that had used loving discipline to stop crooks from defrauding elderly people, protect lonely women from being seduced, and move child sexual abusers to confess their crimes ("A Better Way to Handle Abuse").
Despite our conversation, Alexandra chose to paint an entirely negative picture of discipline by using the example of a 71-year-old woman who had been removed from her church for questioning her pastor's leadership. Examples of protecting the elderly, the lonely, and the helpless from abuse apparently did not fit into her preconceived notions of church discipline.
I'm sad, but not surprised, when secular writers present a negative stereotype of church discipline. What troubles me far more is how many Christians share these distorted views.
In the first part of this post, I discussed my suspicion that we have confused the church (the community of God's people) with the church institution (the 501c3 tax-exempt organization). This leads to a myopic understanding of Christian mission and service. We can slip into the idea that the only legitimate use of one's gifts, time, and energy is within the institutional structures of the church organization. In part two I want to explore why we may have fallen into this mindset, and how we can begin to think differently.
Without doubt there are numerous factors behind our exaltation of the church institution above the community of saints that created it, but one critical component may be cultural. In our consumer culture we've come to believe that institutions are the vessels of God's Spirit and power. (The reason for this is a subject I explore in more depth in my book due out next year.) The assumption is that with the right curriculum, the right principles, and the right programs, values, and goals, the Spirit will act to produce the ministry outcomes we envision. This plug-and-play approach to ministry makes God a predictable, mechanical device and it assumes his Spirit resides within organizations and systems rather than people.
You often see this mindset after the death or departure of a godly leader. A man or woman powerfully filled with the Spirit's breath demonstrates amazing ministry for Christ. Others are attracted to the leader and over time a community forms. But once the Spirit-filled leader is gone, those remaining assume his or her ministry can and should be perpetuated. The wind of the Spirit may have shifted, but they want it to keep blowing in the same direction. So, an institution is established based on the departed leader's purpose, vision, and values. If these are rigorously maintained, it is believed, then the same Spirit-empowered results that were evident in the leader's life will continue through the institution. Many ministries and denominations originated in just this way--with success defined not merely by faithfulness but by longevity.
Have we confused the community of God’s people with the structures that support it?
Dan Kimball, a regular contributor to Leadership and Out of Ur, has written a book titled, They Like Jesus but Not the Church: Insights from emerging generations. The book chronicles the attitudes of younger seekers - they feel a strong affection for Jesus but they harbor distrust, even disgust, for the church.
I can relate to that perspective. In college I studied in the comparative religion department of a secular university and was closely involved with a parachurch ministry. During those years my fascination with Christ and my devotion to him was budding. But I carried a lingering resentment toward the church. For a number of legitimate (in my mind) and illegitimate reasons, I had pushed the church to periphery of my life. I saw it as a superfluous appendage to faith; like a sixth finger or third nipple - pretty harmless but best removed or kept hidden to avoid embarrassment.
That sentiment changed in me, however, through prayerfully reading the New Testament. I came to see that is was impossible to love Jesus but not his church. As the "Body of Christ," the community of believers is at the center of God's mission and work in the world. As Saint Augustine says, "You cannot have God as your Father and not have the Church as your mother."
I repented. I prayed for weeks asking God to fill me with a love for his church that I knew was absent from my soul. In time my heart caught up with the biblical truth my mind had already conceded.
Fifteen years later I now find myself struggling with a new dilemma. As a young Christian I loved Jesus but not the church. As a more mature believer, I now describe myself as one who loves the church but not the institution. Let me explain.
One pastor believes franchising congregations is the model of the future.
"Church plants," "sister churches," and "satellite congregations" may be a thing of the past. In 2008, the language of missiology is changing, so look for "church franchises" in your town.
Eddie Johnson, the lead pastor of Cumberland Church, espouses the franchising concept when it comes to the relationship between his church in Nashville, Tennessee, and North Point Community Church in metro Atlanta. On his blog, he states, "Just like a Chick-fil-A, my church is a 'franchise,' and I proudly serve as the local owner/operator."
According to Johnson, his job is to "establish a local, autonomous church that has the same beliefs, values, mission, and strategy as North Point." He completed a three-month internship at North Point and continues to receive training and support. He claims to rarely deviate from the "training manual."
"Just like that Chick-fil-A owner/operator," he says, "I'm here in Nashville to open up our franchise and run it right. I believe in my company and what they are trying to 'sell.'"
One sociologist says Willow Creek’s research may not be as revealing as we think.
The research conducted by Willow Creek and published last year in the book REVEAL: Where are you? has generated a great deal of conversation on this blog. Some have heralded the findings as conclusive evidence that Willow's popular philosophy of ministry is fatally flawed. Others have applauded Willow for the courage to be transparent about its shortcomings and seek more effective methods of making disciples. While the discussion has been stimulating, most of us lack the credentials to offer anything more than a layman's opinion about REVEAL. But not Bradley Wright. He is an associate professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut, and has written an 11 part analysis of Willow's study on his blog. Wright has summarized his take on REVEAL below.
When I go to my physician for a check-up, he starts with a series of simple tests - shining a light in my eyes, looking at my throat, listening to my breathing, and so forth. If the results of these don't seem right, he then orders more sophisticated tests, such as blood work, a biopsy, or x-rays. I would hope that he wouldn't cart me off for surgery or chemotherapy based solely on the initial, simple tests.
This illustrates how we might think about the REVEAL study conducted by Willow Creek Community Church. As described in the book REVEAL: Where are you?, this study collected data from about five thousand respondents in seven different churches. Its results have caused quite a stir. Critics point to them as evidence against the Willow Creek model of ministry. In the foreward to the book, Bill Hybels, senior pastor of Willow Creek, describes the findings as almost "unbearably painful." The findings of REVEAL, he writes, "revolutionized the way I look at the role of the local church." Coming from as successful a pastor as Bill Hybels, this is a powerful statement.
Is such a strong reaction warranted? I would say probably not, and here's why...
Should the church be striving for excellence, or is it time to abandon the loaded term?
Last year I met with a team of leaders from my church. Our task: to rethink and rearticulate the guiding values of our congregation. The work was relatively easy. Upon investigation we determined that most of our core values hadn't shifted. We still believed in the centrality of relationships to ministry, our bent toward creativity, and the importance of participation. But then we came to "excellence."
For years our church has listed "excellence" as one of its core values. Support for this word, if not the idea behind it, has been slipping for years. A growing number of leaders are uncomfortable with excellence for a number of reasons. Perhaps the most common objection is that it's a more subtle way of saying we are perfectionists. Others object that the word is off-putting to people in the church that cannot achieve "excellence." It's exclusionary.
Defenders of the term say it has nothing to do with perfectionism or elitism, but a desire to "do our very best for God." And one person's very best may differ significantly from another's, but both are upholding the value of excellence. In the end the decision was made to change the articulation of the value and drop the word "excellence." But what word should we use?
"These days, people can get good teaching, wonderful music, and excellent writing, whether through iPods, TV, or online. They learn to shop around and pick and choose. Then they expect the same high quality in their local church. A generation ago, the average person learned to accept his home pastor and was faithful to his local church. But now, people's appetites for excellence have been heightened."
-Bryan Wilkerson is the senior pastor of Grace Chapel in Lexington, Massachusetts. Taken from "5 Kinds of Christians" in the Fall 2007 issue of Leadership journal. To see the quote IN context, you'll need to see the print version of Leadership. To subscribe, click on the cover of Leadership on this page.
"Next to a church's preaching pastor, the most important staff member in the shaping of the message is the media pastor...The second hire in most congregations should be the media pastor."
-Eric Reed, managing editor of Leadership, reports this statement made by the media pastor of a multi-site church whose web address ends in dot-tv. in his report, "Preaching by Faith and by Sight: How oral communicators are joining the visual revolution" in the Summer 2007 issue of Leadership journal. To see the quote IN context, you'll need to see the print version of Leadership. To subscribe, click on the cover of Leadership on this page.
The purveyor of overpriced coffee has a lot to teach the church about community.
Once an article is published in Leadership one never knows the ripple effect it will have. Greg Asimakoupoulos, pastor of Mercer Island Covenant Church, wrote for Leadership about the community-forming power of Starbucks in his neighborhood. He confesses, "We like to say that our church is a genuine community of faith, the kind of place people can feel at home. Still, you may have to go down the block to get to see that become a reality for lots of people. We need to be honest and admit that people are lining up to get into Starbucks, but they aren't lining up to get into many of our churches."
For this reason Asimakoupoulos refers to the coffee shop as St. Arbucks.
This week, Terry Mattingly drew heavily from Asimakoupoulos' Leadership article for his column which appears in over 100 local newspapers and at GetReligion.com. Mattingly recognizes the draw of Starbucks as a "third place" - "a safe zone between home and office. For generations, bars, diners, barbershops and a host of other locations have played similar roles." And he notes, "This kind of hospitality has become rare in this rushed world."
Diversity is another strength Starbucks exudes more than most local congregations. Mattingly continues:
Writing in Leadership Journal, Asimakoupoulos noted: "At St. Arbucks, I've seen a rabbi mentoring a Torah student. A youth pastor disciplining a new convert. High school girls working on a group assignment. A book club sipping mochas while discussing a fiction author's plot." Could churches try to be more open to outsiders?
And he wrestles with the advantages and disadvantages of mainline and nondenominational churches.
How does a former pastor choose a church? That is the question Andy Rowell and his wife are facing after their relocation to a new community. The process has opened their eyes to the differences and blessings of denominational and nondenominational churches. Although they've still not made a decision, Andy shares his reflections on the process so far.
"Occupational hazard," that is what my wife and I call it. We cannot help but thoroughly analyze churches we visit. My wife and I both have M.Div. degrees and have served as pastors. So when we need to pick a new church, overanalyzing churches is almost inevitable - an occupational hazard.
A month ago we moved to Durham, North Carolina so I could begin the 4-5 year Doctor of Theology (Th.D.) program at Duke Divinity School. We have visited seven churches in the last six weeks here and have not yet made a decision on where we will attend.
Our backgrounds are mostly in churches and institutions that were nondenominational or interdenominational - where denominational affiliation was played down. But around Durham, many of the churches that have been recommended to us are mainline churches. They are led by pastors that are theologically orthodox, yet the style of these mainline churches is different from what we are accustomed to.
Two non-Christians paid to visit churches are impressed with charity not facilities.
It's been done before. A non-Christian is paid to attend church and provide their honest feedback about the experience. The latest rendition of this experiment is occurring north of the border in Canada. Christian talk show host Drew Marshall has paid two college students, one male and one female, to attend five different churches in the Toronto area. Their observations can be read on Marshall's website, but below are a few highlights from their excursion into Christendom.
The two students visited one of the fastest growing mega-churches in Toronto. Like many megas it has positioned itself as "the church for people who aren't into church." On this Sunday the pastor spoke about wealth and possessions. What did Drew Marshall's guinea pigs think?
Why is it that I should not seek out possessions and money, but the church is permitted to do just that? Does taking 10% of every congregant's income not count as seeking out money? Why should the institution be rich, and the congregation not? If you really believe you should be living the aesthetic life led by Christ and his apostles, why aren't you doing it? If money and possessions aren't important, why aren't you meeting to discuss the meaning of Christ's ideas and life in the local park? Notwithstanding the need to broadcast to your rather large congregation, and obviously you'd have to come up with a solution during the winter months, but really: why the son et lumiere? I found the medium more than a bit out of whack with the message.
What the growing gap in our culture means for churches, leaders, and volunteers.
Leaders should be concerned about the disappearing middle, according to Chad Hall. That bulge in the middle of a bell-shaped curve that represents the great mass of consumers and citizens and churchgoers and volunteers is getting squeezed. The result is the shrinking of the middle and the swelling of the ends, and it's this growth of the extremes in all aspects of our society that has church planter and leader coach Hall intrigued. Here he offers some thoughts on its effects on money and manpower, faith and ministry.
A while back I heard Len Sweet say that our society is moving away from the "bell curve" and toward something called the "well curve." His comment got me doing some research on the topic and thinking about what all of this means for church leaders. Who knew that bells and wells were such important topics for church leaders to consider?
Since high school we've known all about the bell curve: that fundamental law of natural science and statistics that defines normal distribution as being massed near the middle while being low on the extremities. Represented on a graph, the distribution looks like a bell-shaped curve. The bell curve implies that most people gravitate toward the middle or average and avoid the extremes. For example, most people are of average height, have moderately sized families, and earn a "C" in statistics; few people are really tall or really short, few have very large or very small families, and few earn A's or F's.
But within the turbulent days we live, a new phenomenon is being recognized. The distribution for some of our choices is an inverted bell curve, or a well curve. In these cases, the population gravitates toward the ends or extremes and is lowest in the middle. The well curve describes many economic and social phenomena. For instance, television screens are simultaneously getting both larger (60" plasma!) and tinier (watch the latest episode of 24 on your i-pod!); stores are getting larger (Wal-Mart) and smaller (specialty boutique stores); people are eating more healthful foods (organic) and more fast foods (McDonald's).
Perhaps more significant than the rise in the extremes is the decline of the middle: consider the disappearance of the middle-class, the demise of mid-sized companies, the loss of status for anything considered average and the polarization of politics in America. Our tastes and choices are shifting away from the middle and toward the extremes. The well curve helps describe a number of interesting church trends going on these days...
Everyone knows church attendance slides in the summer, but should we care?
This week Americans are celebrating their independence by watching parades, enjoying backyard barbeques, and by not going to church. If your congregation is anything like mine you know that during the summer worship attendance slips noticeably, and the week of July 4th is typically the low point. Family vacations and parties draw people away for some valuable R and R. I'm not pointing a self-righteous finger at church slackers. Last Sunday my family and I were not seen in church either, we were away camping.
But the "summer slide" raises a question. Why is Sunday morning attendance the one measurement we cannot escape? Why is Sunday morning attendance the make-or-break number; the figure we proudly display or secretly despair? Like a corporation's stock price, worship attendance seems to encapsulate a church's entire mission and health in one simple, if volatile, number. A number we watch carefully week to week praying for its increase.
At my church I am aware of a number of families and individuals who won't be attending Sunday worship very frequently this summer, and I'm thrilled about it. These people won't be in worship because they'll be overseas helping missionaries, or taking inner city kids to a camp in rural Michigan, or they'll be making meaningful connections as families on vacations- something valuable in a culture where families are struggling. Don't misread me, I think gathering regularly as a community for corporate worship, confession, and learning is both good and important. I just don't think it's so important that it should be the singular measure of missional impact, or even the primary one.
A few weeks ago Scot McKnight shared how the gospel we preach is having an adverse impact on the church. Last week at the Spiritual Formation Forum he spoke in greater detail about this problem. He called the standard evangelical gospel, outlined below, "right, but not right enough." Essentially, we've watered down the good news in a way that has marginalized the church in God's plan of redemption.
This fact was driven home recently by a friend of mine who teaches at a Christian college. He said a hand in the class went up in the middle of his lecture about the church and culture. The student, in all sincerity, asked, "Do we really need the church?" My friend was struck by the question, and by the fact that the classroom was filled with future church leaders. Something is amiss when even Christian leaders are questioning the necessity of the church. That something, according to McKnight, is the gospel we've been preaching.
"In most evangelical environments, including mine, we have been overwhelmed with models and programs that are designed for local churches to grow bigger. Unfortunately, most really don't work...Many have also come to define Christianity by a set of beliefs. Churches are concerned that people know a set amount of doctrinal truth, and there is nothing wrong with that. But that set of knowledge is not Christianity."
-Mike Breen serves at Community Church of Joy in Glendale, Arizona. Taken from the Spring 2007 issue of Leadership journal. To see the quote IN context, you'll need to see the print version of Leadership. To subscribe, click on the cover of Leadership on this page.
A rant from the pastor of a small, organic, missional community.
Crack your knuckles and prepare to type your comments. Pastor/professor David Fitch is back with his take on why leading a small church is more difficult, and more rewarding, than being a mega-church pastor.
My recent conversation with Bill Kinnon over the big church superstar mentality spurred me on to think of my own experience as a church planter. I have often pondered the church planter's task versus the mega church pastor's. To me, what the smaller, organic, missional community leaders do is much more difficult. Here's why.
It is more difficult to take 10 people and grow a body of Christ to 150 than it is to transplant 200 or 300 people and then grow that congregation to 5,000. A crowd draws a crowd. From day one if you have all the bells and whistles, 5 full time pastors, a youth program, and a charismatic speaker with spiked hair (a shot not aimed at anyone in particular) and you don't mind putting the smaller community churches out of business, it will be harder to stop attracting a big crowd.
(BTW, did you know that statistics say that small church growth (from 10-150) is where the conversion growth, as opposed to transfer growth, occurs? Why then do evangelicals exalt the mega congregations as the answer to reaching those outside of Christ?)
Are we experiencing the next Reformation of Christianity?
Conversations about the future of the emerging church can be overheard at conferences, seminaries, chat rooms, or anywhere church leaders congregate. Does the movement have legs? Does it represent a passing trend or a new Reformation? Not long ago we sat down with author/scholar/editor Phyllis Tickle to discuss the subject. Tickle, a feisty Episcopalian from Tennessee with an intellect matched only by her sense of humor, has served as a religion editor for Publishers Weekly and has written over two dozen books. Her three-volume prayer manual, The Divine Hours, has renewed the discipline of fixed-hour prayer for Christians in many traditions.
What do you see happening to Christianity in the twenty-first century?
Many people have observed a five hundred year cycle in western history - a period of upheaval followed by a period of settling down, then codification, and then upheaval again because we do not like to be codified. So, about every five hundred years the church feels compelled to have a giant rummage sale, and we're in one of those periods now.
The Reformation was about five hundred years ago. Five hundred before that you hit the Great Schism. Five hundred more was the fall of Rome and the beginning of monasticism. Five hundred before that you hit the Babylonian captivity of the Jews, and five hundred before that was the end of the age of judges and the beginning of the dynasty.
So, how is the current upheaval different from what the church has experienced before?
For the first time we've done it in an age of media where we are historically informed and we can perceive the pattern, and for the first time we've had the ability to talk to each other, to be self-conscious about what is happening, and be somewhat intentional. This is very exhilarating.
"Maybe the central task of a worship leader is to keep worship from becoming routine? Maybe the central task of a teaching pastor is to keep the Bible from becoming routine? Maybe the central task of a lead pastor is to keep church from becoming routine?"
-Mark Batterson is pastor of National Community Church in Washington D.C. Taken from "Preaching with Half a Brain" in the Winter 2007 issue of Leadership journal. To see the quote IN context, you'll need to see the print version of Leadership. To subscribe, click on the cover of Leadership on this page.
Restoring the prophetic ministry of the local church.
While studying for my ordination a few years ago I was required to read Oswald Sanders' classic book, Spiritual Leadership. I've forgotten most of his practical advice about leading a church, but one short section has stayed with me. Sanders talks about the choice pastors face between being a popular leader or an unpopular prophet.
The logic seems rooted in the Old Testament differentiation of these roles. The kings of Israel served as leaders over God's people. They used their power to pull wires and drive the nation forward. The prophets, on the other hand, served as correctors. They came down from the hills to tell everyone what they were doing wrong. And after being rejected, stoned, and thoroughly despised they returned to the hills. Quoting A.C. Dixon, Sanders says, "If [the pastor] seeks to be a prophet and a leader, he is apt to make a failure of both."
Prior to reading Sanders I had already been wondering why few pastors led with any prophetic energy. Scanning my favorite books on my shelf, typically ones with a provocative challenge for the church, I realized that virtually all of them were written by professors. Few, if any, were composed by pastors. Where were the voices of correction in the local church? Where were the sermons calling God's people in a new direction? Where was there a pulpit challenging our popular assumptions about church, mission, and discipleship? Reading Sanders helped me see that we've driven the prophets out of the local church and into academia.
"Few people see Christianity as a shift of allegiance that prompts us to make personal changes in beliefs, habits, and lifestyles. We must continually examine our churches to make sure our message is one that requires transformation."
-Sarah Cunningham is a 28-year-old PK and former megachurch staffer now teaching high school history while part of a house church in Jackson, Michigan. She is also the author of Dear Church: Letters from a Disillusioned Generation (Zondervan, 2006). Taken from "Dissing Illusionment" in the Winter 2007 issue of Leadership journal. To see the quote IN context, you'll need to see the print version of Leadership. To subscribe, click on the cover of Leadership on this page.
Is ministry more missional without a senior pastor?
David Fitch's church, Life on the Vine, is a missional community that has abandoned the leadership model that most churches employ. Life on the Vine has no senior pastor, and they don't want one. In the first part of his post, Fitch outlined three reasons why the "CEO-pastor-leader" model is difficult to reconcile with a missional philosophy of ministry. Here are five more reasons why a multiple-leadership model is better:
4. Because pastors benefit from being bi-vocational. Or, should I say bi-ministerial (since being in the secular workplace is ministry). Pastors who have jobs outside the church can get to know non-Christians and spend time in non Christian settings. They are not entirely bound to the church. Dan Kimball speaks to this in his new book, They Like Jesus but Not the Church (Zondervan 2007). Up until last year, I had always worked outside the church. I will forever be impacted by the many years I spent working outside the church, and as a result I will continually be seeking non Christian connections.
5. Because it models the diversity and interrelatedness of the Body. The notion of a senior pastor puts up a false impression that one person is especially qualified and elevated to ministry. But with multiple pastors, he/she does not stand alone. The whole body is called to minister the gospel inside and outside the church as a way of life.
"When a church focuses on trying to grow, the larger mission suffers and the church can actually become less attractional."
-Chad Hall is a ministry coach living in Hickory, North Carolina, and the co-author of Coaching for Christian Leaders (Chalice Press, 2007). Taken from "Missional: Possible, Steps to transform a consumer church into a missional church" in the Winter 2007 issue of Leadership journal. To see the quote IN context, you'll need to see the print version of Leadership. To subscribe, click on the cover of Leadership on this page.
Pastor/Professor David Fitch is back to describe the leadership structure of his church, Life on the Vine, in Long Grove, Illinois. Like an increasing number of churches seeking to be "missional," Life on the Vine has rejected the notion of a senior pastor. In this post, Fitch explains why the "CEO-pastor-leader" model is losing its appeal.
At Life on the Vine, we recently added a fourth pastor. Some people told me a model with multiple visible leaders would never work - there would be no single face to attach to the vision of the church and the church would never grow. Balderdash (is that a word?). The church continues to grow. There are signs of healing, new mission, and new souls finding God.
Much has been written about missional church leadership. Frost & Hirsch (and Dwight Smith) have advocated the APEPT (apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, teacher) model of leadership from Eph 4:11. Roxburgh has another brilliant description of these principles. I have argued that we must dump the CEO- pastor-leader that the church has too often modeled from secular business. I have argued that "the CEO-pastor-leader" is a construction that only makes sense in the Cartesian worlds where man is in control, where leadership is technique driven, and where people are units in a sociological structure devoid of the organic nature that we see characterizes the gifted nature of the Body of Christ (1 Cor 12: 4-31). Because of this I have argued that missional leadership must be multiple, organic, recognized and affirmed within and among a body (not determined from above in a smoke filled room by a CEO and board of the mega corporation it oversees).
Our historic church finds renewed meaning in a new name (and in the slow process of changing it).
Gordon MacDonald told us a while back that the church he serves was considering changing its name. It has finally happened. His account of a 180-year-old congregation's year-long wrestling with its identity is amusing and instructive. Read on.
About a year ago I filled some of this space with comments about changing a church's name. At the time our New England congregation (Baptist in background) was thinking about exchanging its 180-year-old name for something more adaptable to the times. I invited comment from all my readers. And all four of you wrote to me. (Just fooling). Actually, there were a significant number of responses.
Many e-mails were thoughtful and gave evidence that people had done their homework and accumulated useful insight about how and why a church's public moniker ought to be reappraised occasionally and sometimes changed. One or two respondents trumped me by writing that if I prayed more, Jesus would provide the name since it is his church.
A name is important. It can say something about who you are or who you want to be.
What churches can learn from the anti-Starbucks movement.
Believe it or not, not everyone loves Starbucks. The Wall Street Journal's Janet Adamy has written about the growing resistance the Seattle-based coffee cartel is facing in many communities. The issue - Starbucks ignores local culture in favor of maintaining its brand-identity.
The already omnipresent Starbucks has plans to triple its locations worldwide to 40,000, but Adamy says the plan has alarmed some communities. "The proliferation of [Starbucks] stores has prompted a small number of cities to block it from opening out of concern the chain will erode the local character."
I've attended a number of conferences and read many reports in recent years about the popular multi-site church model. Invariably these sources will reference Starbucks as an example for churches who wish to establish themselves in multiple communities. But what should the church be learning from the rising anti-Starbucks sentiment?
"Just look at church websites. How many of them have this picture of a perfect family with a blue sky background. They all look so nice in their polo shirts, and the kids all have straight teeth. It's all just so lovely."
-Ivy Beckwith is a minister to children and families at the Congregational Church of New Canaan, Connecticut. Taken from "Family Portraits" in the Fall 2006 issue of Leadership journal. To see the quote IN context, you'll need to see the print version of Leadership. To subscribe, click on the cover of Leadership on this page.
Where worshippers place their posteriors also shapes their interiors
Some things in life are certain - death, taxes, and cramped seats in economy class. But Cathay Pacific, one of Asia's leading airlines, has announced a breakthrough. They've designed an economy class seat that reclines without intruding on the person seated behind. For centuries church meant fixed seating in uncomfortable wood pews, but breakthroughs have been occurring in church seating as well. We now have theater seats with cup holders. But should comfort be the driving motivation? In this post, Dan Kimball from Vintage Faith Church explores the odd nature of pews, their history, and how church seats reflect our theology.
We were in the middle of moving our church offices and worship gathering location from a very new contemporary building built about 6 years ago to a very beautiful brick church built in 1938. In preparation for moving we had been redecorating and remodeling of the children's rooms, the offices, and turning the fellowship hall into a coffeehouse/art gallery. However, one thing was tormenting me - the pews in the sanctuary. I have never been part of a church that has pews, so these things were very confusing to me.
As I sat in the pews I realized how odd they are. These things are so small. You have to squeeze to get into them. They are very uncomfortable and creaky. Wooden seats with a little red cushion. Once other people sit next to you, you are stuck. Kind of like being in the window seat of an airplane and needing to step over two other people to get out.
Regular Out of Ur contributor David Fitch is back to share his thoughts on church shopping, staying put, and ecumenism. And what's with all the evangelicals going high-church anyway?
I'd like to say some things about the evangelicals going high church and even the emerging church folks rejecting their denominations of origin. I have been tempted many times to leave evangelicalism for a lot of reasons. At times, I have been tempted to leave for more substantive worship or to avoid the narrow minded cheesy ways of selling Jesus. But I think to just leave one's inherited church, without being asked to leave, is a strike against the cause of ecumenism. What? Yeah ecumenism, the unity of the church. So I stay put.
There are good reasons for leaving churches, and also for having no denominational affiliation. Yet the trend of evangelicals leaving their church of birth for high-church traditions seems to be growing. Colleen Carroll, in her book The New Faithful, records this phenomenon. At my own alma mater, Wheaton College, many students raised as evangelicals are "converting" to either Anglo Catholicism or even Roman Catholicism. (I wonder if the Catholics count these converts like we do when it happens in reverse. The Generous Orthodoxy blog has some great discussion on the topic.)
"The church has bought into this idea that if we make Jesus look cool, we win. But we're really trying to make ourselves look cool, not Jesus. We certainly need to repent of that."
-Donald Miller, author of Blue Like Jazz and speaker at the 2006 Catalyst Conference Taken from "Not Here to Make Jesus Cool" in the Summer 2006 issue of Leadership Journal. To see the quote IN context, you'll need to see the print version of Leadership. To subscribe, click on the cover of Leadership on this page.
The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article discussing conflicts caused by pastors seeking to implement the popular Purpose-Driven Church model in their congregations. Scot McKnight, professor of New Testament at North Park University in Chicago, and one of our favorite bloggers writes here about the WSJ article and asks some important questions about the Purpose-Driven philosophy of ministry.
The gist of the Wall Street Journal article is that some churches split or experience serious tension when pastors try to implement the Purpose-Driven Church model. The pastors who are trying to implement such changes seem to have good reasons: they want their churches to gain a clear mission and to grow, but it always comes at the cost of change for the parishioners.
The Purpose-Driven model focuses on these five elements: worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry, and evangelism. It also seeks to move people from community, to crowds, to congregation, to committed, and then to the core. Thus, it leads from knowing Christ to growing in Christ to serving Christ to sharing Christ.
Here are the questions that come to mind for me from this article about churches struggling over adapting the model, and I'm keen on hearing what you have to say.
David Fitch was recently invited by Trinity Evangelical Divinity School to speak on a panel during their new student orientation. Each of the five panel members was to present a response to the question: "Where is the church now and where should it go?" Fitch, who is a pastor, professor, and regular contributor to Out of Ur, shares his response with us in this post.
Where is the church now and where should it go? When I say church here, I speak about the evangelical church, the church where I have been born, become a pastor and an ordained servant of Christ. I believe we as a church in America are in trouble. I believe we've lost our way. I believe we have a.) accommodated ourselves to American culture in such a way that we have become another example of the mistake of protestant liberalism. And in the process, I believe we have b.) lost our calling that is given to all "the saved," that is the calling to be the embodiment of Jesus Christ amidst society and the nations.
Many churches struggle to reach the ever-elusive young adult demographic. Are 20-somethings simply disinterested in church? Not according to Brian McLaren. He believes we are failing to listen to the questions young adults are asking.
This post is a preview of McLaren's commentary in the upcoming Fall issue of Leadership. Here the Emergent leader encourages churches and parents to begin investigating why young adults are leaving the church - not to argue them back into the fold, but simply to understand their perspective. NOTE: Some of the more thoughtful comments to this post will be reprinted in the Fall 2006 print issue of Leadership, available in mid-October.
There was irony in the title of the old TV game show Family Feud. The irony was that the feuding between families was much less intense than the cheering within families as members tried to answer the same trivia questions.
In our churches, family feuds of another sort arise when members of the same family are asking different questions. For example:
In the third row, left side, mom and dad are asking how they can raise their 14-year-old daughter so she will never rebel and never get in trouble. Meanwhile, their daughter, seated with her friends in the last pew, is asking how she can get out from under their control.
Sorry for the long delay between posts. Url has been away in the only patch of North America without internet access. I recently listened to a speaker praise the state of the church in America. He lauded the efforts of politically active conservatives, affirmed the family-friendly movies being released, said the sale of pornographic magazines has taken a dive for 10 years, and was excited that churches are growing bigger than ever - all because Christians in America are living holy lives.
Apparently he hasn't read Ron Sider's book The Scandel of the Evangelical Conscience where surveys reveal American evangelicals aren't living any holier than their secular neighbors. Nor has he studied the report by Outreach Magazine, "The American Church in Crisis" that found church attendance in the U.S. isn't keeping up with the population growth. And does anyone really believe pornography use is declining because fewer magazines are being sold?
His positive, if ill-informed, message reminded me of something sent to us by Steve Addison, the Australian Director of Church Resource Ministries. Steve is passionate about church planting and has written a tongue-in-cheek list of suggestions for the church in America (or anywhere else the church is losing ground).
We've had some good input lately on why we're not seeing church planting movements in the developed world to the same degree we're seeing in the global south. If that's the case, we need to find something to do while nothing's happening. Here are 20 suggestions for what to do while we're not multiplying churches.
1. Call yourself an apostle. Have some business cards printed. Hand them around.
2. Throw lots of money at subsidizing unhealthy, declining churches.
3. Throw money at "experimental missional initiatives" and never evaluate their effectiveness.
Some churches are more unstable than others. This may not be the result of impulsive leadership or poor planning, but rather the life stage of the congregation. Dave Terpstra pastors The Next Level Church in Denver, a community comprised primarily of young singles and families. Here, Dave compares the instability of church attendance to the half-life of radioactive material and gives some helpful suggestions from his own experience.
I have noticed a trend in the churches of which I have been a part. Most church attenders have a half-life. In other words, on average, one can predict the longevity of an individual's participation in the church by their life stage. [I'm going to be using general terms and rough numbers so please don't get lost in the details, but try and stick with the overarching analogy.]
After high school students graduate from high school, about half of them will leave the church. After college students graduate, about half of them will leave. When a college grad takes a career, again half of them leave the church. When they get married, when they have kids, when they become empty nesters, when they retire?half, half, half, half.
The summer issue of Leadership, arriving in mailboxes in July, focuses on the impact of consumerism on ministry. Some people have equated the church growth movement with the rise of "consumer Christianity." Others believe the church growth philosophy has brought innovation and health to ministry.
Our friends at ChurchMarketingStinks.com are hosting an interesting conversation on the blessing/curse of the church growth movement. Here is a sample.
Start talking about church growth and things can get ugly. Eyebrows raise. Tempers flare. Comments explode. Just ask any blogging pastor who has broached the subject. It's as if growing your church is taking the on-ramp to the highway to hell.
Dallas Willard has said that most churches are not intending to produce disciples, but increase their ABC's - attendance, buildings, and cash. Dave Terpstra, pastor of The Next Level Church in Denver and regular contribut-Ur, believes many church leaders focus on these tangible measurements of success because they are simply easy to quantify. In recent months, Terpstra and his elders have been stretched to think differently about discerning ministry success by reading Jim Collins' advice to non-profit organizations. The respected author of Good to Great believes churches and businesses must evaluate success differently.
Jim Collins recently wrote a monograph to accompany his best-selling book "Good to Great" where he examines the application of his book in the social sectors. He was also interviewed on the subject of his monograph for the current issue of Leadership.
In both the monograph and his interview Collins emphasized the importance of being disciplined as an organization in defining goals and assessing results. But the most intriguing aspect of Collins' work is what he suggests true goals and results for not-for-profits should be (and should not be).
Quickly after entering church leadership, most individuals realize that churches find value in the intangibles. Whereas businesses exist to make money for their shareholders, churches and other not-for-profits exist for something else. Collins suggests that one of the biggest mistakes those of us in the social sector make is to follow the business sector in thinking that money is a goal or output of our church.
Many of the most prominent and influential ministries in the world are not churches. But, the spread of parachurch ministries in recent decades has caused some to wonder: do parachurches help or hurt local congregations? Dave Terpstra, pastor of The Next Level Church in Denver, believes he has found the perfect parachurch model.
Most churches offer a wide variety of ministries to various demographics: men, women, children, youth, etc. Some even specialize more than that: singles, divorc?s, re-marrieds, single mothers, etc. Some even go above and beyond with ministries outside of their church: prison ministry, homeless ministry, food closets, etc. But for every ministry inside of a local church, there are dozens of ministries that meet those needs outside of the church. There is Promise Keepers for men, Women of Faith for women, Young Life for the youth, Focus on the Family for the whole family ? I think you get the idea.
But do these ministries supplement the local church, or take from them?
In his earlier post, Dave Terpstra described why the spiritually mature find most churches ill-equipped to assist them in their growth. This, he says, is why the more mature often leave the church or disengage from active service. After reading your responses, Dave has returned with further thoughts about spiritual growth within, and without, the church.
When my friend's dad died it was a challenge to his faith to say the least. His dad was a long time follower of Christ and had been in full-time ministry for years. He seemed to be at the height of his ministry career. The he got sick and died. My friend didn't officially "leave" our church. But as best as I can remember he stopped serving. He stopped participating in programs. I rarely saw him at worship services. I'm sure he missed more than he made. But God was up to something amazing in his life and with his faith.
Some of the comments in response to my original article seemed to hold the viewpoint that my friend was being spiritually immature because he stopped serving. But to cut straight to the point, I trust his maturity more than those who would question it simply because he stopped serving for an indefinite period of time.
Last month we looked at George Barna's new book, Revolution, which reveals that a growing number of people are seeking spiritual growth outside the institutional church. In this post Dave Terpstra, pastor at The Next Level Church in Denver and a regular contributor to Ur, explores why Barna may be correct. Although many will say preaching, music, or programs are why they left a church, Terpstra wonders if more people are simply outgrowing the church's ability to spiritually nourish their faith.
I'm sure there are just as many reasons that people leave churches as there are people who leave them. Perhaps more. In this consumer culture I'm sure that many people who leave churches are going to search for a better or newer "product." But recently I've wondered if some followers of Christ simply outgrow churches.
If you haven 't read the book The Critical Journey by Janet Hagberg and Robert Guelich (Second Edition, Sheffield Publishing 2005) you need to pick up a copy. Although the book's subject is spiritual formation and not church dynamics, it gives great insights into why people leave the church - reasons many pastors have likely never considered.
To its credit the seeker movement has made church leaders everywhere more sensitive to the presence of non-Christians in our congregations. But, as the epoch of the seeker-church continues to wane, what enduring lessons will we carry with us into the future? Curt Coffield, a worship leader at Shoreline Community Church in Monterey, California, and former worship leader at Willow Creek, notes that newcomers have changed. "People aren't coming as much to be convinced of the relevance of Christianity as they are coming with a hunger for God."
As the church moves further away from familiar cultural paradigms, the paradigms that gave rise to seeker-churches, we need to seriously rethink the assumptions behind "seeker-sensitive" ministry.
Some churches are seeker-driven. A growing number are purpose-driven. But one church in Denver, Colorado has positioned itself as jaded-driven. Dave Terpstra, teaching pastor of The Next Level Church, shares how his own disillusionment with ministry made him question the wisdom of targeting the unchurched rather than pursuing the increasing number of church dropouts, like himself, filling our culture.
C.S. Lewis once said, "One courts a virgin differently than a divorc?," (or something along these lines; I've had trouble tracking the exact quote). Even back in the mid 20th century, Lewis recognized that reaching people with a jaded perspective of the church (divorc?s) would require a different strategy than reaching those without any church experience to begin with (virgins).
Certainly there are still some in our culture who are "church virgins," but it seems increasingly more common to find people who have had some church experience or interaction with the Christian sub-culture that has left them jaded. The dominance of Christian media, marketing, and political influence in recent years has only increased this likelihood.
(Our friend Angie Ward is a writer, mentor, and ministry leader in North Carolina. She is the founder of Forward Leadership, a ministry coaching ministry. She is also a regular contributor to Leadership journal and our e-newsletter, Leadership Weekly.)
When I worked at a camp in northern Wisconsin, my fellow staff members often told a story about a cat that had lived on the campgrounds for many years. When the cat died, one prankster decided to have the cat stuffed, then placed it in strategic locations to startle other staff members and visitors. (I swear I am not making this up.)
Apparently, the cat appeared serenely napping on a car dashboard, cuddled at the feet of a secretary, and propped up with a sign directing visitors to the camp office before it was kidnapped (or should I say cat-napped?), never to be seen again.
I was reminded of this story when I read that actor Alan Alda, most famously of the TV show "M*A*S*H" and more recently of "The West Wing," recently wrote a book entitled, Never Have Your Dog Stuffed: And Other Things I've Learned. In it, Alda talks about how he had a beloved pet dog when he was eight years old. When the dog died, Alda was so sad about burying it that his father decided to have the dog stuffed instead.