In Case You Missed It

At The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commision, Jimmy Scroggins shared eight suggestions for handling patriotism and the gospel in American churches.

I serve as a pastor in a multicultural church in a multicultural city where many attendees are not American citizens. While I still want to incorporate patriotic elements in our worship services from time to time, I want to be careful not to explicitly or implicitly conflate American patriotism with the gospel of Jesus. Over the years, I have developed some thoughts about how to do this in an appropriate way. Perhaps you will find the following to be helpful.

 

Thom Rainer shared a post at his personal blog this week discussing five surprising discoveries about growing churches.

Do you want the bad news first or the good news first?

 

I always ask for the bad news first. I can’t enjoy the good news knowing that a report of bad news looms in the next few statements.

 

So I gave you some bad news in my Monday post. I shared with you the statistical reality of the death spiral. Once a church declines below 100 in average worship attendance, its rate of decline accelerates. In other words, the church declines faster and faster.

 

In this article, I share some good news. The news is about the growing churches in our study. As a review, you can look at the details of our research at my blog post on June 28, 2017. Simply stated, we conducted a random sample of 1,000 churches with data from 2013 and 2016. The margin of error of the research is +/- 3.1 percent. It’s an accurate study. It’s a very accurate study.

 

So let’s take a few moments and look at the churches whose average worship attendance grew from 2013 to 2016. Here are five of the surprising discoveries from this research.

 

At The Intersect Project, Dr. Chip McDaniel shared: “Education: A Modern-Day Jubilee

Every day, we face real-world economics issues such as poverty, systemic inequity in housing or farm loans, education or health care. Yet piecing together a Biblical teaching concerning such economic issues is a difficult task for a variety of reasons.

 

First, we tend to focus on what the Bible says about the spiritual side of our existence. Second, we have to wrestle with apparent contradictions. For example, how are we supposed to resolve the seeming contradiction in the teaching of selling all to give to the poor (Luke 18:22) with you always have the poor around (Mark 14:7) or the one who does not work should starve (2 Thess 3:10)?  Third, another difficulty arises when we try to factor in the Old Testament. Its teachings are certainly for our benefit, but so much of the content speaks to the physical aspects of Israel’s history. The Law is, after all, a founding document providing a framework for a physical nation — a constitution, if you will. So, it might seem even harder to develop concrete action steps from the Old Testament than the New Testament.

 

What I’d like to do in this article is to look at a specific Old Testament institution and see if there are any principles that might speak to our 21st century Western Church context. I suggest that the Old Testament practice of Jubilee might inform the present to a degree. I say principle and not directive because the transition between Old Testament practice and New Testament appropriation needs to pass through the filter of the shift between God’s dealing with a physical nation and His calling out of a spiritual nation (see 1 Peter 2:9). God is not expecting any nation today to observe a year of Jubilee.

Earlier this week, Dr. Bruce Ashford shared ten go-to books on religious liberty and its enemies.

Here are ten books I recommend to pastors, professors, and students who wish to gain a better understanding of religious liberty and the threats against it. I will describe each book and then rank its level of difficulty on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the most difficult. A Level 1 book is one you could give to any friend or family member. A Level 5 book is one that would be required in a PhD seminar. The list is also organized with the more accessible books at the beginning of the list and the more challenging books at the end.

 

At his personal blog, Chuck Lawless shared nine ways to be encouraged in difficult ministry days.

Ministry is tough. Sometimes, it’s difficult enough that we would back away were it not for our sense of calling. Here are some ways to be encouraged in even those hard days, though.

In Case You Missed It

At The Intersect Project, Nathaniel Williams shared how churches can best serve autism families.

1 in 68 children has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. These numbers suggest that families all around you wrestle with this issue. They’re in your neighborhoods, schools, family reunions and churches.

 

Yet most of us know little about autism. In a recent post, we sought to remedy this problem by sharing what autism parents wish Christians knew about autism. But this article left me with a lingering question: How can churches serve autism families?

 

This is not a theoretical question. As a pastor, I want to know — so my congregation can be prepared to serve anyone who walks through our doors.

 

To answer this question, I reached out to fellow Christians who parent children with autism. Here are five broad lessons from their responses.

 

Earlier this week, Thom Rainer shared five terrible reasons to enter vocational ministry.

I’ve seen too many people in vocational ministry fail to launch.

 

Perhaps “launch” is not the best term, because they may stay in ministry for many years. But they never seem to do well. They never seem to have a peace. They seem like they are always trying to prove something.

 

I recently went through my old seminary pictorial directory. I was able to locate 47 people I knew in seminary who I know where they are today. Of that 47, only eight remained in ministry. If you are doing the math, that is an 83 percent dropout rate.

 

Vocational ministry is a calling. It is not just another vocation. If you enter ministry for the wrong reasons, you will not likely do well. Indeed, you will not likely make it.

 

What are some of the terrible reasons to enter vocational ministry? Here are five of the most common failures.

 

Cody Cunningham shared a post at The Intersect Project discussing four reasons pastors must address faith and work.

Addressing issues of faith and work may seem insignificant to some pastors. After all, there’s usually some crisis in the world that you need to address publicly or some particular struggle within the congregation to which you need to give attention. And with all that goes on in most churches, we often neglect seemingly mundane issues (like how the gospel affects our work).

 

But this topic is far too important to be ignored. Here are four reasons why pastors and church leaders should regularly address how faith intersects with the workplace.

 

At The Gospel Coalition, Trevin Wax shared his three big fears in parenting teenagers.

On Sunday, I baptized our oldest son Timothy. He also turned 13. I mention the baptism before the birthday because it matters more.

 

But I don’t want to give the impression that the thirteenth birthday is insignificant. It’s the year that English-speakers move into what we call the “teen years.” We officially have a teenager at home, a soon-to-be eighth grader who is about to overtake me in height (admittedly, not a hard marker to meet!).

 

Last week, a friend asked me about my biggest fears in parenting during this next phase of life. Here are the three that came to mind.

 

Dr. Bruce Ashford shared a post at his personal blog discussing a dozen (or so) things we will never regret doing with our kids.

Like most mothers and fathers, we are acutely aware of our own flaws and shortcomings as parents. Compounding the problem, we are facing the fact that our small children will soon be adolescents and, before we’re ready for it, they’ll be grown and off on their own. So, in light of how precious our children are, and how short our time with them will be, we sat down to write out the things most important for us to do with our children. In other words, the things we will never regret doing with our kids. Here is our list.

 

At The Peoples Next Door, Keelan Cook addresses the question: What exactly is the normal Christian life?

I have a friend from Iran. He has a fascinating story. Formerly a Muslim, he and his wife left Iran on a false asylum account, claiming it was for freedom. They lived for a while on an island in the Mediterranean where my friend was introduced to a Persian Christian community. It had been started by Baptist missionaries, and my friend was downright irate that Iranians would convert to Christianity. He was, after all, a devout Muslim and a leader in the mosque. So, he decided to engage the group, attending periodically and hoping to dissuade the conversion of Iranians to Christianity. Over time, however, something surprising happened. My friend was confronted with the gospel and it began to tear at his heart. Before long it was too much, and the spirit of living God gave new life to my friend. That’s where the story gets interesting.

In Case You Missed It

Over at the Intersect Project, Nathaniel Williams shared a great post titled: “John the Baptist Died believing Character Matters,” which reminds us that our ultimate allegiance is to a crucified Savior. Nathaniel writes:

A prominent child of privilege had glaring personal weaknesses. He was overly image conscious, and he constantly got in trouble for indulging his hedonistic sexual desires.

 

On paper, he followed God. In practice, he did nothing of the sort.

 

Many of the people ignored his personal transgressions. But a well-known preacher called him out, at great personal cost.

 

This story sounds like it’s ripped from the headlines. In fact, it’s ripped from the history books. This is the story of Herod Antipas and his chief critic, John the Baptist.

 

At the People’s Next Door, Keelan Cook asks: Does your church have  family tree?

We replicate what we celebrate.

 

Everyone knows, buried deep in our bones, is a desire to be more and do more of what we praise. Truthfully, the idea is at the heart of the gospel and our purpose as people created to worship. We become what we worship, and we replicate what we celebrate.

 

This past week, I happened to see a video by Pillar Church in Dumfries, VA. Pillar is a great church just outside of DC, and I consider them a model for others churches when it comes to multiplication.

 

Our church is five years old, and multiplication was a high goal from the beginning. As a church plant, our membership naturally sees the importance of church planting and rallies behind the idea that multiplication is a better success metric than addition. Growing more churches is more important that growing our own church. The idea gets back to our gospel footprint. As we start new congregations here in the States or send missionaries to start new congregations across the world, we can impact far more areas with missions and mercy. The goal is the spread of the gospel.

 

Scott Hildreth posted earlier this week at the Center for Great Commission Studies reminding us that our place is here, and our time is now. Dr. Hildreth writes:

We are living through a very difficult time in our country. Friendships are being strained. Children are being exposed to embarrassing information. Hostility is oozing (maybe even spewing) from every pore and crack in society. Old wounds are ripped open and old enemies seem to be mounting again.

 

It is frustrating.

It is frightening.

It is nauseating and exhausting

AND –

It is also tempting to wish we did not have to live here or, that we were not living here, now.

 

This temptation leads us to search for safe places to hide until the storm is passed. We want to protect our faith, our families, our way of life. These reactions are normal and to be expected; however, I want to suggest that they should not be the Christian’s response to our current cultural crisis. Rather than wishing for a different life in a different place and different time, let’s embrace these challenges as God’s mission field. Nothing we are enduring has voided God’s mission nor will it derail His plan. However, we are his body and his mission must advance through us. Rather than hunkering down until the storm passes, let’s step out into the wild weather and recognize that God’s place for us is here and God’s time for us is now.

 

How shall we live as missionaries in this current society?

 

Dr. Nathan Finn recently shared a post with an important reminder about neighbor love and the upcoming election.

This year’s presidential election is unique in that both major party candidates are remarkably unpopular as individuals. It really is remarkable that so many Republicans and Democrats have spent so much time more or less apologizing for their support of their respective candidates. No doubt political scientists and historians will be studying this phenomenon for many years to come.

 

Thom Rainer posted at his personal blog giving five ways to stop the decline in your church.

Is there any hope for our church? Are we doomed to close the doors of this church after over a century in this community?

 

Those questions were two among many I received recently.

 

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post that explained why churches are dying and declining faster today than historical norms. The article was more clinical and descriptive than hopeful and prescriptive. I promised I would follow up with suggestions and advice. This article is that follow up.

 

You should read this next sentence very carefully. The solutions are not easy. In fact, they will be such a challenge that many church leaders and members will deem them impossible for their churches.

 

That will be a shame.

 

But if you are willing to make changes, to make sacrifices, and to get out of your comfort zones, there is real hope. Allow me to explain by repeating the five challenges in the form of questions followed by my answers.