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How the Jesus People Made the Bible Cool

Wed, 07/11/2018 - 7:17pm

From Billy Graham to Bob Dylan, how a youth movement briefly changed the world.

Imagine Christianity suddenly became cool.

It may seem impossible, especially since Christianity has always been rooted in timeless tradition and wisdom.

Sure, pop musicians and actors may embrace the Christian faith in carefully considered ways, but when talking about it, they tend to keep their theological cards close to the vest.

What if rebirth, exclusivity of the gospel for salvation, good works accompanying genuine faith, and an explicit hope for Christ’s second coming became explicit as part of a cultural phenomenon?

On the second episode of Living & Effective, Richard Clark explores the origins and effects of one of the most impactful Christian youth culture movements in modern history. With special guests Larry Eskeridge, Greg Thornbury, and Trevin Wax, Clark finds out exactly how the Jesus Movement was so successful in thrusting the Bible into the mainstream, and what happened after public fascination with the movement faded away.

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Church Growth: Your Results May Vary

Wed, 07/11/2018 - 4:17pm

In church growth, as in everything, we can’t take our lead from the best examples, but from typical results.

You know those commercials where clients or patients had amazing results, only to hear a hurried voice at the end telling you “individual results may vary”?

It might be helpful if church growth books, blogs, podcasts and conferences had that, too.

The reason those commercials have that qualifier is because the fantastic results they advertise aren’t typical. They’re the best examples, not the usual ones.

I understand why commercials do that. If you want to promote something, you talk about your success stories.

But if you’re looking to buy or invest in something, you shouldn’t just look at the best examples, you need to know what the typical ones are. Look at averages, not exceptions. What’s normal, not what’s unusual.

It’s the same with church growth.

No Church Growth Guarantees

The principles that have been discovered by the church growth movement are helpful and important. The methods that have been devised to help us take advantage of those principles are valuable. And the people who promote those principles and methods are doing their best to help churches and ministries.

In short, the majority of church growth material is great.

But it’s not fool-proof. There are no guarantees.

Except one. The one given by Jesus that he would build his church.

But Jesus never promised relentless, unceasing, inevitable numerical growth for any congregation. Not even for the faithful ones, (as we see in the struggling, faithful congregations in the New Testament).

Facts Are Our Friends

Without using the right principles, no congregation will ever make any progress towards health, effectiveness and greater ministry impact. But using all the right principles is no guarantee that your church ...

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Narrow Your Focus, Widen Your Scope, And Increase Your Ministry Effectiveness

Thu, 01/11/2018 - 1:14pm

Discovery takes place in the hinterlands, where we don’t feel comfortable and things can get a little scary.

Oh, the funnel.

That simple, but immensely valuable piece of human engineering.

With it, you can take massive amounts of material, data or (using the visual funnel we call a lens) visual information and channel it in a way that makes it so much more valuable than when it was random, scattered and unfocused.

But the funnel is not just a wonderful tool. It’s also a great metaphor for increasing our ministry effectiveness by widening our scope and narrowing our focus.

This is one of the insights I’ve gained in the most recent decade of my life and ministry. When it comes to input, I draw from as many sources as I can (history, science, theology, the arts, and more), but when it comes to output, I’m constantly narrowing it tighter.

For instance, I’ve moved from a general study of theology, to a more specific study of Christian ministry, to the narrower study and practice of pastoring, to the very underappreciated and highly misunderstood world of pastoring a small church.

By widening my scope and narrowing my focus, I’ve increased the impact and effectiveness of my ministry exponentially.

“All Things” For “This One Thing”

When we narrow our focus, we’re taking a page from the life and ministry of the Apostle Paul who narrowed his focus to a laser point, as evidenced in verses like “this one thing I do…” and “I have resolved to know nothing except Christ and him crucified.” (Philippians 3:13 & 1 Corinthians 2:2)

When we widen our scope, we’re also like the Apostle Paul when he told us “I have become all things to all people.” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).

If all we do is narrow our focus, we can miss a lot. But if all we do is widen ...

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Quit Trying To Become A Great Preacher

Fri, 26/10/2018 - 5:11pm

Becoming a great preacher is about me. Preaching more effectively is about Jesus.

Effective communication is a passion of mine. But when we speak in front of people on a regular basis it’s easy to lose sight of why we’re doing it.

How many pastors have found themselves deep in the weeds in sermon prep, trying to find just the right illustration, turn of phrase or rhyme so the last point matches the first two points?

When we’re trying to become a better preacher we can become enamored with all the wrong things:

  • A clever sermon title
  • Cool graphics
  • Tweetable quotes
  • Memorable alliterations
  • More “amens” from the congregation
  • The sound of our own voice

In the middle of pursuing all that we can lose sight of what really matters – honoring Christ and helping people become more like him.

Be Effective

Instead of preaching better sermons, we need to become more effective at using our words and actions to point people to Jesus.

It doesn’t matter if we call ourselves preachers, teachers or communicators. Or if what we’re delivering is called a sermon, a homily, a message or a talk. What matters is, are we making a difference? Is what we’re saying having the impact it needs to have?

Is it effective?

What Jeff Goins recently told writers applies to all communicators, including preachers. “Don’t be good. Be effective. Stop trying to be a good writer, and start trying to be effective.”

Where’s The Focus?

Becoming a great preacher is about me. Preaching more effectively is about Jesus. And connecting others to him.

An effective sermon isn’t one that makes people want to hear you speak again. It’s the one that makes people want to change their attitude, their character and their behavior to become more like Jesus.

And a really effective sermon doesn’t ...

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How To Start Training Your Church Leaders To Become Equippers, Not Just Doers

Mon, 22/10/2018 - 8:09am

A simple, practical first step to help you or your team start building a team.

As pastors, we have a solemn obligation to equip church members to do ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12).

Instead, too many pastors burn out because the pastor and the church members expect the pastor to do most or all of the ministry for them.

Making the transition from the doer of ministry to the equipper of ministers is very hard for most pastors to do. And it can be even harder for church members to understand, let alone step up to. After all, pastors are in ministry because we’re passionate about doing it, and we’ve trained our congregations for generations to let us do it for them.

Shifting from doing all the ministry, to training others to do ministry doesn’t come easily. But it is essential. And it’s biblical.

Put Equipping On The Agenda

The idea that the pastor and other church leaders should do all the ministry for church members is very deeply ingrained in our churches and our pastoral psyches. So we can’t expect things to change overnight – for either the pastor or the church members.

But here’s a simple strategy that can help any church start down that road, giving everyone some early success.

Put “equipping God’s people” on the agenda. Literally.

This is a simple, practical first step to help you or your team start building a team.

In every regular leadership meeting, ask your team members (deacons, elders, staff, volunteers) to share an instance since your previous meeting when they had someone else do ministry with them, instead of just doing it themselves.

Then, lead them by your own example.

This is a simple way to encourage everyone, including yourself, to stop doing everything on your own and start bringing others along for the ride.

If you don’t have a ...

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One-on-one with John C. Maxwell on ‘The Maxwell Leadership Bible’

Sat, 20/10/2018 - 8:09pm

"Most great leaders in Scripture were called to leadership from obscurity."

Ed: Why have you dedicated your life to teaching leadership, and why do you believe leadership skills are so important?

John: Since July 4, 1976, I’ve known that leadership was the area I was called to speak into, and the past 40 years have just confirmed that calling in me. As a leader myself, I know firsthand how good leadership lifts everything around it, while bad leadership can sink an organization, team, or individual in a heartbeat.

Simply put, everything rises and falls on leadership.

Ed: I am always cautious to remind peopel that the Bible is not your leadership guide— it’s the story of God’s redemptive plan. Yet, there is much about leadership in the Bible. What are some of the most important things about leadership you’ve learned from the Bible?

John: First and foremost is that God calls all of us to be leaders. We read stories of great biblical leaders, and often what we lose sight of is that most great leaders in Scripture were called to leadership from obscurity.

Noah was just a faithful man. Abraham was a nobody. Joseph was a sheltered kid. David was a little shepherd. Even Jesus, the greatest example of a leader in all of history, began his life in the middle of nowhere, sleeping in a straw-filled feeding trough.

Yet despite those humble beginnings—or perhaps because of them—biblical leaders were able to do great things through their obedience to God and his call (or purpose) for their life.

Second, I’ve learned that leadership isn’t a one and done deal. It’s a journey. Again, if you go back to the lives of Abraham, Joseph, David or Jesus, you become keenly aware that none of them rose to prominence overnight.

There were years of consistent obedience before ...

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What Went Wrong with Nadab and Abihu

Fri, 19/10/2018 - 8:08pm

The odd Old Testament episode is a sharp reminder of our need for Jesus.

It’s been a bad year for pastoral scandals in the church. Whether Roman Catholic cardinals or high-profile Protestant pastors, it’s been devastating and sobering to read about sins and abuses by those entrusted to preach the gospel and shepherd God’s people.

Besides the horror of the abuses themselves, the sharp contrast between an outwardly successful ministry and the apparent darkness within is deeply discouraging. If our spiritual leaders cannot be trusted, who can?

I’m reminded of the shocking deaths of Nadab and Abihu by divine fire in Leviticus 10. At this point in the Hebrews’ journey to the Promised Land, things are going swimmingly. The Tabernacle is built. Moses has the instructions for the sacrifices. Aaron and his sons are being consecrated for ministry. On cue, God’s glory appears, and fire consumes the burnt offering; the people are overjoyed (Lev. 9:24). But that joy suddenly turns to shock and sorrow when Aaron’s sons try to offer up fire to the Lord—and flames burst forth and consume them instead (10:1–2).

Most read this and naturally balk, asking, “Why is God so harsh? Isn’t this just another sign of an arbitrary, angry, erratic God?”

The natural question isn’t always the right one, especially when taking the whole narrative context into account. This is the merciful God who redeemed Israel from Egypt, met them at Sinai, gave the covenant Law, forgave their infidelity with the golden calf, and instituted the priesthood and sacrifices precisely so sinful Israel could enjoy his holy Presence. We should ponder instead, “What went wrong?”

Leviticus is light on explanation, but there are a few narrative clues. For one, the fire ...

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Renewing Your Church: Recalibrating Your Vision to Create Sustainability

Sat, 13/10/2018 - 8:06pm

I narrowed the process of church recalibration down to four phases.

I remember the first Sunday of January 2004 like it was yesterday. I had just been elected Lead Pastor of New Life Church, the church where I was saved and had served as youth pastor. It was my first official Sunday, and our Superintendent was going to “commission” me as Lead Pastor.

It snowed the entire night before (In Seattle, snow shuts down everything.) The Superintendent called, saying he couldn’t get there. So, I was up to preach—my first time as Lead Pastor. Even better, only 30% of the normal Sunday crowd arrived! Nevertheless, I stood at the pulpit and started preaching, not realizing the winding, complex road that lay ahead.

New Life was a good church, but it had plateaued. The church was in a dangerous place, what I now describe as “deceptively healthy.” It had signs of health, but if not revitalized, it would slowly die. I knew it needed new vision and leadership, however I had no understanding of the courage this would take––or the pain it would cause.

I soon realized that the changes needed were more than a new preacher or some quick cosmetic modifications. New Life was a choir-driven church, with a strong Sunday school and midweek program. I recognized that necessary changes would be deep and cultural: music style, discipleship approaches, transition to an intentional church model, and a change of core priorities.

The first three years were really hard. I quickly learned, “It would be easier to change the Bible than the music style.” Many at New Life saw change as a threat; they watered down the gospel and lessened the church's impact.

I remember the day when the top giver left the church. Over lunch, he said, “I am leaving. I don’t agree ...

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Susannah Spurgeon Lived for Christ Without Leaving Her Home

Wed, 10/10/2018 - 5:05pm

Her behind-the-scenes ministry reminds us that pastors (and their spouses) can’t be reduced to a package of roles and gifts.

The pastor of the church I attended in college had a strong personality, a firm handle on Scripture, and a clear gift for expository preaching. This, in fact, was my entire perception of him: the mark he made as he stalked the stage on Sundays, Bible in hand, and the Spirit of God booming through his voice.

I never considered him beyond those weekly sermons.

Occasionally, as one among thousands in the sanctuary, I’d twist in my seat, tracing his exit with my eyes, hoping to watch him rejoin the wife or the children he spoke about from the pulpit. I was strangely fascinated with labeling them in my mind as “the pastor’s wife” and “the pastor’s kids,” as if they were mini-celebrities. I also wanted to see them interact, as if the perfect affection I imagined between them might cap for me the truth of the pastor’s sermon.

Several years after graduating college, I married a man who became a lead pastor himself, a church-planting pastor to be exact. Slowly it dawned on me that I was a pastor’s wife, the pastor’s wife, the one waiting in my folding chair to be rejoined by the preacher who stalked the elementary-school gym floor with Bible in hand and Holy Spirit in his voice. The thought struck me that a starry-eyed college student in the congregation might do what I’d done, imagining the two of us as mini-celebrities rather than mere humans trying to juggle the weighty responsibilities of leadership along with our uncertainties, insecurities, and besetting sins.

I saw my former expectations for what they were: I’d taken a servant and tried to mold him into a savior. And I’d thrown his wife in for good measure.

There’s a difference between our perceptions ...

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Time Doesn’t Heal Sexual Assault Wounds if Victims are Silenced

Mon, 08/10/2018 - 2:04pm

How churches can help victims decades after assault.

Christine Blasey Ford’s recent testimony added fuel to an already heated discussion on how we should respond to abuse allegations. Regardless of politics, pastor and author Ed Stetzer called for caution in how we speak about abuse so that we don’t harm victims within our own communities. Research confirms that victims stay silent because of a negative community culture toward abuse and often don’t receive emotional support. According to therapist Connie Baker, herself a sexual abuse survivor, our response as a church community can make tragic situations worse or they can help with the healing process.

Rachael Denhollander, the attorney who spearheaded the fight to take down Larry Nassar for sexually abusing hundreds of young female gymnasts, experienced both damaging and healing responses from her church communities. Before she came forward, she recalled the kind of church culture that had previously silenced her.

During a youth group discussion, Denhollander remembers a student asking whether they could consider King David’s misuse of power toward Bathsheba as sexual assault, and their teacher said no, opening the floor for others to give their opinions. (You can read why it is assault from a theological viewpoint here.) A friend of Denhollander’s raised his hand to share: “I think it had to have been her fault, because she could have chosen to die rather than have sex with him.”

“This immediately told me I would be better off dead than a rape victim. And if I didn’t fight to my death, it’s my fault,” Denhollander recalled.

The Impact of Silencing

Research indicates that when abuse victims feel like they can’t or shouldn’t talk about their experiences, ...

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How Pastors Can Leave Well

Thu, 04/10/2018 - 2:02pm

Five ways to facilitate a healthy ‘goodbye’ when leaving your church.

Leaving places can be difficult. Saying goodbye, even when absolutely necessary, can be really painful—especially for pastors.

After years of one pastor’s investment in a community, quite naturally it’s hard for a congregation to imagine being led by another figure. Likewise, from the pastor’s standpoint, it’s equally as hard to imagine entrusting a church’s care to another person—no matter how qualified that person may be.

In my experience, transitioning from one pastoral role to another doesn’t happen well by accident; it requires thoughtfulness, intentionality, and proper planning. Looking back on my first formal ‘goodbye’ to a church, it’s easy to recognize the many things that I could have done better. There are ways to leave a congregation well and there are ways to leave that often do more harm than good.

Pastors: transitioning away from your church will always be challenging, but it doesn’t have to leave scars on your community. Here are some ways to facilitate a healthy ‘goodbye’:

Let your congregation grieve Many of the ‘rules’ I share here are being shared because they are things I didn’t do when I left my first church. My first mistake was to underestimate the hurt my congregation would be feeling once they caught wind of my departure. What I didn’t realize was that as a Father-like figure in the lives of many of my congregants, they felt badly hurt and betrayed by the thought that I was planning to leave them. They had this person (me) in their lives who’d been a steady, heavily invested presence for many years; I completely misunderstood the effect that my goodbye would have on them. I can vividly ...

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Francis Effect Fades: Pope’s Approval Drops Most Among Evangelicals

Wed, 03/10/2018 - 11:02pm

The latest abuse investigations have rattled non-Catholics’ perceptions more than Catholics themselves, according to survey data.

American Catholics have been so unsettled by the wave of allegations of decades-old sexual abuse and cover-ups spanning dioceses in Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, and across the country that the most vocal critics have called for Pope Francis’ resignation.

Their evangelical neighbors, some once enraptured by the popular pope, are also disappointed. According to two recent reports, white evangelical Protestants’ views of Pope Francis and the clergy have fallen even more than Catholics’ after the latest investigations into abuse by priests.

Evangelicals’ approval of Francis dropped more than twice as much as Catholics’ this year, according to a Pew Research Center survey released Tuesday.

Just 32 percent of white evangelicals rated the pope favorably last month, down from 52 percent in January, the most dramatic decline among religious groups.

His favorability among US Catholics fell from 84 percent to 72 percent during the same period. Pew also saw declines among white mainline Protestants (67% to 48%) and the unaffiliated (58% to 53%).

Francis now has his lowest approval rating—51 percent of American adults—since he assumed the papacy in 2013.

A Gallup poll last month also found that the latest allegations have damaged views of Francis among those outside the Catholic Church more than those inside it.

Catholic approval of Francis remained relatively steady around 79 percent, according to Gallup, while his favorability among non-Catholics and Americans overall dropped by at least 10 percentage points between August and September (from 63% to 45% and 66% to 53%, respectively).

Further, Gallup reported that Protestants have come to adopt a grimmer view of the church than Catholics.

About half ...

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Leading in a Diverse World: Part Two

Sat, 29/09/2018 - 5:00pm

Perspectives from four multinational leaders.

Previously on The Exchange I have written about my interest in studying Inclusive Leadership,which is how leaders can effectively assemble a diverse team of people and then ensure their different perspectives are included and valued.

This past summer, I ran a pilot study of my qualitative dissertation research with four Christian leaders who had at least five years of experience in cross-cultural settings. I was specifically exploring how they tried to cultivate inclusion in the context of their nonprofit, multinational teams.

The findings are certainly preliminary and will need much more validation with a larger group of participants. At the same time, there were a few key discoveries worth noting that might be helpful for those leading in multicultural contexts. I’ll share three of them and then make an observation.

First, the Importance of Vision for Team Inclusion

The first finding was that inclusive leaders need to be sure every team member knows and is inspired by the vision.

All four participants mentioned the importance of vision as a vital component for vibrant multinational teams, and two spoke at length about this topic. Especially when dealing with a divided and diverse team, leaders need to put in extra effort to help everyone rally around a common vision.

This process goes best when either the leader inspires the team to work together as a group to build the vision or when there is a compelling vision from higher up in the organization that can be unifying. In terms of team diversity, when there is strong belief in the vision, people have a compelling reason to work through the challenges of creating inclusion in order to accomplish their shared goal.

The importance of vision for a team relates to the GLOBE ...

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Stop Complicating Ministry: The Smaller The Church, The Simpler We Need To Keep It

Mon, 24/09/2018 - 7:56am

Ministry will never be easy, but it doesn’t have to be as complicated as we make it.

So, you pastor a small, struggling church.

You’re trying to help it become less small and less struggling, but all the “can’t miss” answers from the latest church growth conferences never seem to work for you.

You don’t have a big worship team singing new songs, a dynamic small group ministry, a trendy youth group, maybe not even a building of your own to meet in.

That’s okay, you don’t need any of that to have a vibrant, healthy, effective church ministry.

We make church way more complicated than it needs to be. Some of that comes from (mis)reading and listening to pastors of big churches. We see them with professional-grade musicians, lighting, graphics and self-designed curriculum and we think we need to do that, too.

But we don’t.

Big churches didn’t become big by having cool new stuff, they added that stuff when it became the best way to manage the size of the crowd.

Parking attendants with matching shirts didn’t cause their growth, it was a byproduct of their growth.

The Simple Church Solution

Complicating things is never the answer.

Simplifying things almost always is, no matter what size church you serve, but especially if the church is small (whatever number you consider small to be).

Small churches need to stop trying to emulate the processes used by big churches, and start asking “what’s the simplest way to do great ministry, strong worship, engaging fellowship, deep discipleship and effective outreach at the size we are right now?”

Then do that. Experiment with a few ideas if you need to, but keep them streamlined and simple.

Innovation doesn’t mean complication. The most innovative churches always get there by simplifying their systems, not ...

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Interview: Francis Chan: Stop Treating the Book of Acts Like Hyperbole

Thu, 20/09/2018 - 4:55pm

The former megachurch pastor asks today’s churches to measure their practices against the New Testament standard.

Eight years ago, Francis Chan resigned as senior pastor of Cornerstone Community Church in Simi Valley, California—the church he helped grow from 30 people gathered in a living room to a multimillion-dollar ministry. He wasn’t burned out. There was no disqualifying moral failure. He’d simply grown convicted over his challenges in steering a large ministry in accordance with biblical values.

Chan sold his house and spent a year traveling through Southeast Asia, visiting churches and interacting with church leaders. Returning to California, he began planting churches in his home and the homes of others in his San Francisco neighborhood. His latest book, Letters to the Church, is a pastoral call for American churches to consider whether their values and practices are consistent with Scripture. Writer and fellow Bay-area resident Rachael Starke spoke with Chan about the blessings that come from recommitting to church life as God designed it.

Your book exhorts churches to recommit to Acts 2 practices like extended prayer, radical love and service, and intimate fellowship within the home. But many of these run counter to the digitized lives we live today, especially in places like San Francisco. How have revolutions in technology influenced American church practices and habits?

Technology is really about speed: doing everything faster and with less effort. We’re tempted to want the church to be the same way—let me accomplish what I want in as little time as possible. But the blessing is going to come from the work itself, from the hard work you do to love and serve one another. What could be greater than that?

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What I Learned from Same-Sex Abuse Inside the Church

Tue, 11/09/2018 - 4:48pm

My church mishandled my case. Yours doesn’t have to.

The first time I was groomed, I opened the door to find Liz* standing there with a jar of cream for muscle pain. I had fallen from a horse and hurt my legs, so she was stopping by to check on me.

At the time, I was 20 years old and had recently gone through a spiritual and sexual identity crisis. The Bible church in the town where I went to college had offered me respite—a place to follow Jesus and rebuild my soul. Thanks to a referral from the counseling ministry at the church, I had found a seemingly wonderful mentor. Liz had been counseling women like me for years and was one of the church’s star disciplers. She had recently begun calling me more frequently, and when she heard my eventful news on that October day, she expressed concern and insisted on coming over. I didn’t know that her visit would include a thigh massage nor did I know I was being groomed.

A few weeks after this incident, Liz took her grooming to the next level and initiated a sexual relationship with me. Though I was same-sex attracted, the thought had never crossed my mind. I had been referred to Liz for help with maturing in my faith, which included living chastely. Although I did not feel the same, I was deeply attached to her and felt overwhelmed at the prospect of losing our relationship, so I indicated my willingness to accept sexual contact. In addition to being my discipler and counselor, Liz was nearly twice my age.

Liz and I continued a physical relationship for over four months, which quickly became mutual in desire once that door was opened. After our final encounter, we asked each other’s forgiveness and thereafter managed not to sexually engage again. When I asked her if we should get some help, Liz told me emphatically ...

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Renewing Your Church: The (Sometimes) Slow and Detailed Process of Revitalization

Fri, 07/09/2018 - 4:46pm

Turning a country-club-style church into a church on a mission.

Today I am glad to welcome William Sikes, Pastor at Loch Arbor Baptist Church (SBC) located in North East Louisiana.

In 2014, I accepted a call to pastor at my current church after serving two years as interim and five years as youth pastor. I followed the previous pastor, who had served 24 years at the church and had great highs and great lows.

During the previous pastor’s tenure, attendance had risen to nearly 200. The budget had topped $200,000, but it was never adjusted correctly for the giving that took place and at the time of the previous pastor’s departure.

While the budget stayed the same, we were barely breaking $100,000 in giving. The church was dying, members were leaving, there was no outreach, there were no young people, and there was no consistency in anything positive.

The church was focused on a country club lifestyle while everything crumbled around them. They were still holding onto the programs that had worked in the past, but were now only continuing because that was what they knew to do. Change needed to happen and I knew it was going to be difficult.

Evaluating the church as the pastor was painful as I was ministering at the church for a number of years before being named pastor. I pulled out annual church profiles from the previous 20 years and started making graphs and reports. I had to consider what events led to the current situation in the church.

This was helpful in many ways. I was able to see how well the church had done in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Then, I found events that started the decline.

A big business in the area closed and moved employees to other states. This led people away and the budget took a hit. Although not all the people who worked in this company left because ...

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Why “Finishing Well” Can Never Be Our Main Reason To Behave Morally

Wed, 05/09/2018 - 7:44am

We need to behave morally not so we can keep our reputations intact, but because hurting other people is wrong. Always wrong.

Finishing well in ministry really matters to me.

Especially since I now have more ministry years behind me than in front of me.

I want every day of my ministry life to matter. And I want to end it having brought honor to Christ, his church and my family.

This has become even more important as I have watched so many pastors leave the ministry under a cloud of suspicion or outright guilt, sometimes in what was already going to be their final years.

Too many times we’re seeing decades of great ministry irreparably tainted by credible accusations of moral indiscretion.

But.

Wanting to finish well is not the main reason I’m determined to behave morally. It should never be for any of us.

Why We Must Behave Well

In all the recent heartbreaking news about immoral, sometimes criminal behavior by clergy, many of my fellow pastors are responding with “it’s a shame to have so many years of great ministry end like that.”

While I agree with their sentiment, it’s a problem when the loss of reputation by the church leader is so high on our list of concerns – sometimes getting more expressions of grief than our concern for the victims.

This betrays a problem of priorities that may be one of the reasons behind a lot of the bad behavior that’s coming to light lately.

The reason we need to behave morally is the same as it’s always been – because it’s the right thing to do.

Loving God and others is called the first and great commandment for a reason. The Bible’s more-than-reasonable rules for treating others with love, care and respect constantly show themselves to be the only way to behave like a decent human being.

Like everyone else, pastors need to behave morally not so we can keep ...

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When Church Members Keep Second-Guessing Your Pastoral Decisions

Mon, 03/09/2018 - 7:42am

Unlike politicians and major league coaches, most of our critics aren’t strangers in the stands, they’re people we know very closely. 

What do pastors, politicians and major league coaches have in common? A whole lot of people who’ve never done their job are convinced they could do it better.

The less experience they have the more certain they are, because those who’ve actually done it know how hard it is.

I can’t speak to how it feels as a politician or coach to constantly be second-guessed by everyone who’s ever watched a game or (not) voted in an election, but I do know how pastors feel when we’re constantly criticized by people who don’t have enough information, but still give lots of advice.

In fact it may be harder on pastors because, unlike politicians and major league coaches, most of our critics aren’t strangers in the stands, they’re people we know very closely.

If this is something you’re experiencing as a pastor in your church today, let me offer a few words of comfort and advice.

1. It’s usually far fewer people than it seems

When one or two people are constantly challenging your decisions, your sermons, your parenting skills or your spirituality, it can feel like the whole church is against you.

Years ago I heard about an older pastor who had a great way of helping younger pastors who felt like the church was against them. “Name them,” he’d say.

When the younger pastor was actually required to put names to the people who were second-guessing everything, it was always far fewer actual people than it felt like – often just one or two people.

2. They seldom have the support they think they have

Any time someone tells you about a problem “everyone” is talking about, do what that older pastor did in the previous point. Ask for names. Not in a confrontational way, ...

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What Evangelicals Need to Know About the Catholic Sex Abuse Scandal

Wed, 29/08/2018 - 7:40pm

Protestants can both learn from and minister to this community during a very harrowing season.

The Catholic world is reeling after a devastating month of sexual abuse revelations. At the beginning of August, a Pennsylvania grand jury reported that hundreds of priests abused at least 1,000 children since the 1940s and that dozens of church officials covered it up.

Then, this past week, a prominent archbishop claimed that Pope Francis knew about—and covered up—the actions of Theodore McCarrick, a former cardinal who has been accused of sexually harassing adult seminarians and abusing a child.

For lay Catholics, the litany of sex abuse stories has been devastating.

“The ultimate source of authority and power that the normal Catholic needs week to week is their priest,” said John Armstrong, the president of ACT3 Network, an organization which works to foster Christian unity. “It’s not the Vatican, not the structure of the Vatican, not even the Pope, though he’s the Holy Father to Catholics.”

Because of this close relationship, the church betraying their trust can feel even more intense.

“When the priest is an abuser, it breaks all confidence and trust in the authority of the church, which extends all the way to the Vatican because this priest would not be ordained if had not gone up the chain of command and has ultimately the blessing of the Holy Father who is the pastor of pastors and the shepherd of the whole church,” he said.

Armstrong joined associate digital media producer Morgan Lee and editor in chief Mark Galli to discuss the nature and extent of the abuse in the Catholic church, the Vatican’s historically contentious relationship with the media, the politics affecting the whole situation, and how it affects evangelical churches.

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