I asked God to rescue me from a place I hated. He wanted me to stay put.
It’s one of my most vivid memories as a girl: sitting on the edge of my bed, face angled toward the window, eyes peeled for my daddy. My heart would race as a new set of headlights approached—maybe that’s him—before sinking as the car passed into the distance. Still, I’d hold on to hope. From the time my parents divorced—I was four—I looked forward to these planned outings with my dad.
Although they were both college-educated and hard-working, my parents differed greatly. My mom was very much a homebody. Other than work, she hardly ventured anywhere. Even so, I admired her: Everything she did, she did excellently. And when she had convictions, she stuck to them. She gave me a wonderfully stable, predictable life. But for me, that often translated to boring.
My dad was the fun one. Mom would never ride a roller coaster, but Dad would coax me into the front car. He played sports, loved music, and had an infectious laugh. Whenever I knew he was coming, I’d have my bag packed, ready to go.
Where is he? Did he forget about me? Daddy was always out and about, so there was never any point trying his landline. (This was the era before mobile phones.) All I could do was wait, even as daylight turned to dusk and dusk to night. Tears would gather as I realized he wasn’t coming. Again. More than once I thought, I must not really matter. He must not really love me.
When I picture that little girl looking out the window, pining for her father, it’s amazing to think that God was watching me even then. He knew the void I felt. He knew the relationship I longed for. And he knew that one day he would draw me to himself.Craving Intimacy
I was raised in Prince George’s County, Maryland, ...
Amid societal polarization, American churches are dedicated July 7th to pray for the country.
Polarization has been trending for a long time. Especially in politics, but also in education, religion, economics, race, and more.
Even suggesting a place in the lonely middle-of-the-road can spark accusations of compromise and capitulation. Like the North Pole and the South Pole, polarization is about opposites that never meet and can’t even see each other. When it’s summer in the northern Arctic, it’s winter in the southern Antarctic.
Introduce a big What If.
What if Christians could set aside the cultural categories and extremes of our generation to center on the faith we all share in Jesus Christ? What if we could do something that demonstrated our Christian hope more than popular despair? What if together we made Jesus the winner rather than seeking victories for our sides of the lines that are dividing so many?
The proposal straight out of Washington, D.C.: Pray Together Sunday. It wasn’t my idea, but I was there when a staff member of the National Association of Evangelicals who is trained as a lawyer proposed a very Christian and biblical antidote to divisive polarization. She suggested choosing a summer Sunday for churches across our nation to pray together for God’s blessing in America.
Good idea with lots of reasons to say no. Of course it’s a good idea for churches to pray. No true Christian should object, but it’s easy to come up with a quick list of why it won’t work:
- The idea is already taken. We already have a National Day of Prayer on the first Thursday of every May.
- Prayer is already part of every weekend church service. Asking churches to pray is like asking dogs to bark — it’s what they already do.
- Getting lots of churches to do anything together is tough to coordinate. Most churches like to make their own decisions, do what they are already doing and value independence over cooperation.
If you will learn to spend one hour a day with God, there is no telling what God may choose to do with you.
One of the most defining moments in my life occurred late one evening in a restaurant. I was having dinner with my friend and his father, a pastor whom I admired deeply.
As I listened to this man share his wisdom with us, I was even more encouraged to go deeper with God. Before we left the restaurant, I was eager to ask him how to be a godly minister, so I asked him something like, “Sir, if there is one thing we need to know as young preachers, what is it?”
His penetrating eyes looked into mine, and he said, “Ronnie, if you will learn to spend one hour a day with God, there is no telling what God may choose to do with you.”
I didn’t have any better sense than to take him at his word. Since that day in 1975, I have honored his challenge to me — and it has changed my life.
What is prayer, you may be asking?
Prayer is a relationship, a fellowship that occurs between you and God. Prayer is the vehicle that takes you into the privilege of experiencing fellowship with God.
How do you talk to God in a genuine and transparent way? While everybody may have their own way of communicating with God, here are four principles that have helped me in my prayer life and can help you as well.
1 – Confession
As I write this, the topic of confession has been getting a lot of media attention. Last year, the #MeToo movement exposed many individuals who had engaged in abusive behavior toward others. The movement was so successful that many of those involved put out statements of confession for past instances of abhorrent behavior against others.
While this movement received much attention and confession for wrongs toward others, as it should have, it is even more important that we understand the need for confession ...
After a polarizing presidential election in 2016, evangelicals rethink their discourse and engagement.
Unlike its tense annual meetings over the last few years, when partisan allegiances shook up the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), leaders at this week’s gathering offered broad encouragement to transcend political divides, while the messengers rallied together to condemn sexual abuse.
The abuse issue has offered Southern Baptists a common enemy, in contrast to some of the infighting that has surrounded President Donald Trump’s election and presidency. Last year, the messengers debated over the decision to invite Vice President Mike Pence to speak, and the year before, controversy mounted over Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission president (ERLC) Russell Moore’s position against Trump during the 2016 campaign.
The 2019 SBC annual meeting was themed “Gospel Above All,” a line borrowed from president J. D. Greear about keeping secondary issues—including politics—from dividing them. “Political affiliations have a way of obscuring the gospel,” he told the 8,000-person crowd at an arena in downtown Birmingham, Alabama, during his presidential address. “You’re going to have to make a choice this election whether the gospel above all is a priority at your church or politics is.”
Some Southern Baptists viewed Greear’s approach, whether they liked it or not, as a sign of a political shift for the conservative denomination. (The SBC has hosted at its annual meeting the president and/or vice president from the past three Republican administrations, but not the Democratic ones. A motion came up last year to bar elected officials from speaking other than local leaders in the host city.)
It’s a “new day in the SBC when a president makes a statement ...
The concerted effort to end abortion is much more diverse and holistic than it gets credit for.
In any debate about abortion, someone will eventually say that pro-lifers only care about babies until birth or only care about children in the womb, not outside of it. The pro-choice advocacy group NARAL even uses this ubiquitous cliché in an ongoing public campaign that encourages supporters to share memes spotlighting “pro-life hypocrisy.”
However, to make the claim of “pro-life hypocrisy,” one must intentionally ignore vast swaths of the pro-life movement. There are millions of people globally who advocate for the unborn and also support women, children, and those in poverty. They include the religious and non-religious, gay and straight people, people of all races and ethnicities, and, yes, both men and women (in basically equal numbers). The accusation of “pro-life hypocrisy” centers one group of conservative, pro-life voices and dismisses a multiplicity of others.
This cliché distorts our picture of the pro-life movement and is often used to dismiss the larger moral argument that a person in utero is a human being who deserves legal protection. Its invocation allows pro-choice advocates to hold their opponents to abstracted standards of radicalism in order to sidestep substantive debate.
As I survey the pro-life landscape, I see many American pro-life organizations and institutions that seek to bless women and children outside the womb. To name but a few, Feminists for Life is dedicated to “systematically eliminating the root causes that drive women to abortion—primarily lack of practical resources and support—through holistic, woman-centered solutions.” The New Wave Feminists, who made headlines last year after being removed as formal sponsors ...
How the Southern Baptist Bible teacher is shaking up her denomination and American evangelicalism at large.
In August 2010, CT published a cover story on Beth Moore, “Why Women Want Moore: Homespun, savvy, and with a relentless focus on Jesus, Beth Moore has become the most popular Bible teacher in America.” Intensely popular among evangelical women when the story was published nearly a decade ago, Moore, a Southern Baptist, has increasingly drawn the attention of American Christians at large.
More recently, Moore has also begun speaking out on politics, sexual abuse, and the misogyny that she has experienced in the church. Her preferred platform has been Twitter, where she has nearly a million followers. Earlier this year, she tweeted that in 2016, for the first time, she was able to confront the abuses and misuses of power she had seen and experienced in the Southern Baptist denomination. Earlier this month she also provoked another controversy with some Southern Baptist leaders when discussing how she would be preaching at an upcoming church.
Yet her influence shows no sign of waning.
“I think a lot of evangelical women look to her for shaping their theological views, for understanding how to study the Bible, but then also just in general,” said Sarah Pulliam Bailey, a religion reporter for the Washington Post who wrote the Moore cover story. “She's funny and she's charismatic and quick. … She doesn't have just Southern Baptist fans; it stretches far beyond that. And if she were to somehow shift in her views, it would be a big deal. So I think she has a big voice [among Southern Baptists], but she's not just dependent on the Southern Baptist Convention.”
Pulliam Bailey joined digital media producer Morgan Lee and editor in chief Mark Galli to discuss how Beth Moore came ...
“Small Churches Are Lazy!” “Big Churches Are Compromised!” (5 Steps To Overcome Those Unfair Stereotypes)
Find the good. It’s there. Even in churches that may not be your cup of tea.
There are two big myths about the way we view churches of various sizes.
Myth #1: Big churches got big because they compromised their message, stole sheep or had some special advantage unavailable to other churches.
Myth #2: Small churches stay small because they’re lazy, stupid or culturally irrelevant.
Neither is true.
Sure, there are some compromising big churches and some lazy small churches. There are also some compromising small churches and some lazy big churches. But for the most part, those stereotypes are untrue, unfair and unhelpful.
They divide the body, hurt our witness and keep churches and their leaders trapped in unfair expectations.
Mostly though, they provide a convenient excuse for each type of church to look down on other types of churches.
So how do we overcome those stereotypes? Here are 5 starter steps:1. Look Beyond The Headlines
Every time there’s a scandal involving a big church, I hear from small church proponents who are convinced this is “proof” that big churches are an inherently a bad idea.
In the same way, whenever a small church closes its doors, someone from among my church growth friends offers that as “proof” that we need to break through growth barriers, or be doomed to irrelevance and failure.
The truth behind the headlines is that both big and small churches have scandals and closures. But big churches get the headlines because of their size and notoriety, while small churches minister in obscurity, going unnoticed and often unappreciated.
Big churches are not more prone to compromise, and small churches are not more prone to laziness.2. Recognize Your Own Prejudice
Every time there’s a mention of church size, someone chimes in with why they like or don’t ...
“Listening to global voices is important. However, listening to the divine voice is the most important factor in developing a healthy approach to leadership.”
Ed: Why another book on leadership?
John: Books on the topic of leadership tend to voice a perspective that is WEIRD: Western, Educated, Industrial, Rich, Democratic. In doing so, they often ignore the voices of those in Majority World.
In this book, I work to develop a truly global approach to leadership for the twenty-first century—one that attends to the way in which diverse voices from across the world complement and correct one another.
Further, this book is unique for the way in which it seeks to attune the chorus of global voices to the one voice that matters most, the voice of God. In other words, it recognizes that our thinking about and practice of leadership must be globally and theologically informed.
The global and theological perspective advanced in this book is the fruit of years spent leading and teaching around the world, in both congregational and classroom settings. Leading and teaching about leadership has meant likewise being a student of leadership, listening to what others say about the topic and learning from them.
My hope is that presenting what I have learned will not only serve to inform but also to shape leaders—those who possess both cultural intelligence and theological discernment. I believe that the development of such competencies is crucial for present and emerging leaders, regardless of their context or position.
Ed: How have global voices informed how you approach leadership?
John: One of the more significant ways that global voices have informed my approach to leadership is that they have taught me to look for and learn from the strengths and weaknesses present in different cultures.
The fact is, no single region of the world has a perfect understanding of leadership. As such, where ...
What is the most important step in becoming a multiplying church? The first step.
Conversations about church planting often begin with a simple question: “Where do we start?” For many years, it seemed that the majority of churches within North America had few kingdom instincts toward multiplication. Addition seemed to be the only language in which we had native fluency. But recently, many churches are re-embracing their missionary calling found in Scripture and are sensing a growing urgency from the Spirit to lead their churches in the self-sacrificial pursuit of church planting.
- Own Your Commission
- Take Spiritual Responsibility for Your Jerusalem
- Make and Multiply Kingdom Disciples
- Live off of Less
- Prime the Pump
- Send Co-Vocational Teams
- Add in order to Sustain Multiplication
- Continually Celebrate Kingdom Advance
Probably the earliest challenge for ‘would-be’ church planting churches is that of finding a capable leader that is called and pre-prepared for the task. In addition to the qualifications for a pastor that is outlined in Scripture, there are also particular qualities that are thought to be unique to church planting pioneers. Often these leaders, when successful, have an observable visionary capacity, an unrelenting tenacity, and an evangelistic zeal and fruitfulness. Such high-capacity leaders are not a dime a dozen in most churches, so the dream of multiplication is often abandoned for lack of leadership.
A Good Leader Is Hard to Find
But before you give up too quickly, there are two ways to produce a pipeline of new leaders. The first, and by far the most effective, requires a long-standing obedience in the same direction. You raise them up from within. Start with the existing youth group, or collegiate ministry, or with those who have recently come to faith in Jesus and set them ...
Despite terminal lung cancer, the Argentinian-born evangelist remains full of energy and evangelistic passion.
My first in-person encounter with Luis Palau, the Argentinian evangelist many have dubbed “The Billy Graham of Latin America,” took place a few years ago in Edmonton, Alberta, following a large evangelism conference at which we both spoke. I was privileged to join him at a dinner table surrounded by Christian thought leaders I eagerly wanted to meet. As I said hello to Palau, I knew instantly I’d like him from his exuberant greeting and loud voice. Such are the staples of the Middle Eastern hospitality I grew up with. Ever the evangelist, he made a point of asking our waiter his name and how we could pray for him. And pray for him we did.
Not long ago, I was blessed to chat with him about his aptly named memoir, A Life on Fire. Palau has spoken to hundreds of thousands across the globe and continues to reach even more with global radio programs. Now in his 80s and living in Portland, Oregon, he endures a fight with terminal lung cancer. Yet his vibrancy remains palpable, indicative of a man who loves talking about Jesus as much as breathing. That’s no metaphor: Cancer makes breathing laborious for Palau. Yet he subdued his rebellious lungs as we spoke (for around 90 minutes) about his Savior—and the people who helped him preach that Savior’s message for decades.Any Old Bush
A Life on Fire is an unusual memoir, in that the individual chapters aren’t really about Luis Palau. They focus, instead, on specific people who influenced his life and ministry.
“[The publisher] wanted me to write a book before I go off to a better country and a better city than Portland,” Palau joked. “And I said, ‘Not another biography!’” He would write the book only “if ...
Don’t just help us break through barriers, help us know what to do before we break though.
Why don’t more small church pastors attend church leadership conferences?
It’s not because we’re lazy, uninformed or don’t want to learn. It’s because of several significant, but removable roadblocks that keep most of us from coming.
In recent years, church leadership conferences have had a much bigger impact on my life and schedule as I’m being invited to speak at more of them. Attending all these conferences – as both a speaker and an attendee – has also taught me a few things about what most conferences are doing well, and how we could (must) do better for the average-sized church.
While as many as 90 percent of churches are small, the registrations at most conferences often have less than 50 percent of attendees from smaller churches.
Because of that, those who hold conferences aren’t getting an accurate picture of the church. Since they have far more attendees from bigger and urban/suburban churches, the average church seems bigger, newer, richer and younger at a major conference than it is in everyday life.
If you oversee church conferences, here are 9 ways to reduce that disconnect and remove some of the roadblocks that keep many small church pastors from attending your events:1. Take Small Church Realities Into Account
At a recent conference, I saw workshops for breaking the 200 barrier, the 500 barrier and the 1,000 barrier, but not a single one for how to pastor well while we’re under 200.
Yet as many as 80 to 90 percent of churches are in that category.
Don’t just help us break through barriers, help us know what to do before we break though.2. Have Some Speakers Who Look Like Us
We can only learn so much from someone who has blasted through growth barriers ...
SBC releases abuse study—condemning past practices and recommending new protections—ahead of the annual meeting in Birmingham.
A Southern Baptist Convention report on sexual abuse—released Saturday as the culmination of a year of study, listening sessions, and expert consultation—begins with the story of a woman who was sexually abused by her youth minister and pastor starting at age 14, at a church outside Birmingham, Alabama.
Susan Codone, one of more than a dozen survivors whose personal accounts appear in the report, calls herself “living proof that sexual abuse has been overlooked for many years in Southern Baptist churches” and declares the crisis “an epidemic powered by a culture of our own making.”
The 52-page document details the practical and theological failures of SBC churches and recommends a more rigorous response to prevent predatory behavior and “care well” for victims.
It is seen as a major first step to a denomination-wide movement around addressing abuse. What will come next depends, in part, on what happens in Birmingham this week, as thousands gather in Codone’s hometown for the convention’s annual meeting.
The issue of sexual abuse looms large, the subject of ancillary events, outside protests, and official business. The messengers are slated to vote on a proposed amendment to specifically name mishandling sexual abuse as grounds for disfellowshiping a church and may task a new committee to handle claims of misconduct by SBC churches.
President J. D. Greear commissioned the sexual abuse advisory group following his election last summer; the group was responsible for the recent report as well as a free curriculum for churches. He will present their findings officially on Wednesday.
The report’s tone reflects the kind of frank acknowledgement of the problem recently ...
When we judge ministry success by only one characteristic (numerical growth) we miss what other pastors can teach us.
In nearly 40 years of pastoral ministry, I’ve learned so much from other pastors.
And it hasn’t just been from pastors of big churches. Pastors of small churches have taught me a lot, also.
Typically, I get one type of wisdom from those in big churches, and a different type of wisdom from those in smaller churches.
Not lesser wisdom, just different.
Each has their strengths and I’m grateful for them all.Wisdom Is Better Than Genius
This reminds me of a quote that’s usually attributed to Albert Einstein, though there’s no record of him actually saying it.
“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
Other than the first four words, that quote is true. (Genius, by definition, is rare. I don’t possess it and I don’t know if I’ve met anyone who does.)
So let’s look at the quote without that part.
“If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” (Not Einstein)
Now that’s true. In life, in sports, in education, and in church leadership.
Thankfully, we don’t all need to be geniuses. Because wisdom, while also rare, is more plentiful, valuable and transferable than genius.Tree-climbing Pastors
There seems to be one tree-climbing pastoral skill set that is valued above all others. The ability to put more butts in the seats.
Grow a large church and people will want to hear how you did it. They’ll come to you for advice. And not just about church growth.
Church-growing pastors have become our go-to teachers for theology, marriage, finance, politics, you name it. Even though the skill set needed to attract ...
There is a sociological shift pastors must navigate as church attendance rises above 200.
Many pastors, church planters, and church leaders often wonder what missteps often prevent churches from successfully breaking the 200 barrier—that is, surpassing 200 attendees in their weekly attendance.
Some churches—in an effort to cross this number successfully—take courses like my Breaking the 200 Barrier or similar classes like my friend Carey Nieuwhof’s class. But in talking about this course and why churches even have such a barrier, I get a lot of questions from people like “Why does 200 matter?” or “What does the Bible say about numbers?”
I’m going to address these questions.
Now of course it’s important to remember that 200 is not some magical number. What it represents is a sociological shift and a cultural challenge. A church has to lead well (and differently) in order to function well once they pass 200 in attendance. The point is not that the number 200 has some sort of scriptural significance but that there really is a substantive change when a church arrives at a congregation that large.
Put simply, the church size changes the nature of the relationship between those who attend. How you lead a church of 75 is, in many important ways, different from how you lead a church of 250.
For churches looking to grow, it’s important to note that without a shift in the way that you do ministry in a church of 100, you can’t properly manage a church of 300; the congregation simply wouldn’t get the appropriate shepherding and pastoral care.
Of course, you could just choose to not grow over 100 and that settles the issue. However, since many churches desire to grow, it is best to do so in discerning ways that provide pastoral care, effective systems, ...
While Franklin Graham aims to consolidate the late evangelist’s legacy, some scholars raise concerns about research opportunities.
This week, at Wheaton College in Illinois, specially trained movers will begin organizing, preparing, and packing 3,235 boxes of paper items, 1,000 scrapbooks of news clippings dating back to the 1940s and more than 1,000 linear feet of videos, cassettes, reels, films, and audio.
All of it documents the life and ministry of evangelist Billy Graham, the Christian college’s most famous alumnus. And soon, all of it will be headed to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) in Charlotte, North Carolina, Graham’s hometown.
The big transport trucks that will haul the valuable cargo won’t make the nearly 800-mile trip until mid to late June. But the controversy over moving the Graham materials all began more than two months ago. That’s when it was announced that, after June 1, the materials would no longer be housed at Wheaton’s highly regarded Billy Graham Center Archives.
Since it opened with Billy Graham’s blessing in 1980, more than 19,000 scholars, journalists, and other researchers from around the world have spent 67,000 hours doing work there.
The BGEA’s Charlotte site does include the 12-year-old Billy Graham Library, but it was not designed as a research facility. Instead, it is a presidential-like museum celebrating the life of Graham, who died last year at age 99, and is a brick-and-mortar continuation of his worldwide evangelism efforts.
“The so-called (Billy Graham) Library is not a library,” said Edith Blumhofer, a longtime history professor at Wheaton who is now completing a study of the music of the Billy Graham Crusades. “It has no archives. It has no archivist.”
In a Sunday email answering questions posed by Religion News Service, Franklin Graham, ...
Leaders must continually evaluate what they can do without.
Most marriage and family therapists agree that one of the most common contributing factors toward marital disharmony is directly related to financial pressures within the home. Money does far more than talk; often it ravages.
We should not be surprised, then, when finances impact other areas of life, including the kingdom priorities and plans of local churches. Movement toward multiplication often exposes financial fears about the future as well as poor fiscal decisions of the past. In kingdom life, money does far more than talk; often it takes prisoners.
Some would like to think that financial pressure doesn’t shape the missional posture of church leaders. But imagine the pressure on the average North American pastor. There are certain fixed costs required to merely maintain the church facility—not to mention the needed technical modernizations that most assume are necessitated for a trajectory of growth. Then there are the budgetary demands of the plethora of ministries owned and operated by the church. The legacy of the church growth craze results in an ecclesiastical offering of a buffet of programs rivaling the feeding trough at the Hungry Heifer. Nothing particularly exceptional, but what we lack in quality we make up with in volume. And each of our unexceptional sacred menu offering needs cash. Always more this year than last. Sprinkle in a few big events that anchor the church calendar and we’ve got enormous fixed ministry costs that leave us precious little wiggle room. Finally, we must account for personnel. The upkeep of the facility and the management of the menu requires quality leaders with commensurate financial packages.
What’s a kingdom-hearted pastor to do?
The facility exists because ...