AUTOPSY OF A DECEASED CHURCH

Thom Rainer has some potent and pointed thoughts about the church at the beginning of the 21st century. They are part of a new book being released that I would encourage people to add to their library. – Steve    Follow this link to the original post and pre-ordering information. MORE

AUTOPSY OF A DECEASED CHURCH – 11 THINGS I LEARNED

by Thom Rainer

I was their church consultant in 2003. The church’s peak attendance was 750 in 1975. By the time I got there the attendance had fallen to an average of 83. The large sanctuary seemed to swallow the relatively small crowd on Sunday morning.

The reality was that most of the members did not want me there. They were not about to pay a consultant to tell them what was wrong with their church. Only when a benevolent member offered to foot my entire bill did the congregation grudgingly agree to retain me.

I worked with the church for three weeks. The problems were obvious; the solutions were difficult.

On my last day, the benefactor walked me to my rental car. “What do you think, Thom?” he asked. He could see the uncertainty in my expression, so he clarified. “How long can our church survive?” I paused for a moment, and then offered the bad news. “I believe the church will close its doors in five years.”

I was wrong. The church closed just a few weeks ago. Like many dying churches, it held on to life tenaciously. This church lasted ten years after my terminal diagnosis.

My friend from the church called to tell me the news. I took no pleasure in discovering that not only was my diagnosis correct, I had mostly gotten right all the signs of the impending death of the church. Together my friend and I reviewed the past ten years. I think we were able to piece together a fairly accurate autopsy. Here are eleven things I learned.

The church refused to look like the community. The community began a transition toward a lower socioeconomic class thirty years ago, but the church members had no desire to reach the new residents. The congregation thus became an island of middle-class members in a sea of lower-class residents.

The church had no community-focused ministries. This part of the autopsy may seem to be stating the obvious, but I wanted to be certain. My friend affirmed my suspicions. There was no attempt to reach the community.

Members became more focused on memorials. Do not hear my statement as a criticism of memorials. Indeed, I recently funded a memorial in memory of my late grandson. The memorials at the church were chairs, tables, rooms, and other places where a neat plaque could be placed. The point is that the memorials became an obsession at the church. More and more emphasis was placed on the past.

The percentage of the budget for members’ needs kept increasing. At the church’s death, the percentage was over 98 percent.

There were no evangelistic emphases. When a church loses its passion to reach the lost, the congregation begins to die.

The members had more and more arguments about what they wanted. As the church continued to decline toward death, the inward focus of the members turned caustic. Arguments were more frequent; business meetings became more acrimonious.

With few exceptions, pastoral tenure grew shorter and shorter. The church had seven pastors in its final ten years. The last three pastors were bi-vocational. All of the seven pastors left discouraged.The church rarely prayed together. In its last eight years, the only time of corporate prayer was a three-minute period in the Sunday worship service. Prayers were always limited to members, their friends and families, and their physical needs.

The church had no clarity as to why it existed. There was no vision, no mission, and no purpose.

The members idolized another era. All of the active members were over the age of 67 the last six years of the church. And they all remembered fondly, to the point of idolatry, was the era of the 1970s. They saw their future to be returning to the past.
The facilities continued to deteriorate. It wasn’t really a financial issue. Instead, the members failed to see the continuous deterioration of the church building. Simple stated, they no longer had “outsider eyes.”

Though this story is bleak and discouraging, we must learn from such examples. As many as 100,000 churches in America could be dying. Their time is short, perhaps less than ten years.

What do you think of the autopsy on this church? What can we do to reverse these trends?

I AM OFFENDED AND TROUBLED

BY STEVE DUNN

Duck Dynasty is everywhere. The largely unscripted reality show has captured the cable-waves and rocketed A&E Network to the top of the charts. It has already generated a fortune for Walmart and other retailers–secular and religious–by pasting the face of the Robertson clan on every imaginable household item.

Anyone who has watched the show will know that Phil Robertson and his clan are conservative Christians, staunchly patriotic, sometimes outrageous in their opinions, and firm in what they value–which leans heavily towards traditional American values.

I’ve enjoyed a few episodes with friends, but my reality TV tends to lean towards The Voice, The Sing-Off, and Major League Baseball.

It was only a matter of time before these high profile and often delightfully humorous self-proclaimed Christian rednecks would fall afoul of the media and liberal political establishment with their narrow definition of “free speech.” Phil set off a firestorm.

Now A&E has suspended him, his family has threatened to stop making the show without him. (I don’t believe for a minute that a profit-driven network is going to jettison its most profitable possession nor that the Richardson family will abandon their income and platform.)

I am both offended and troubled.

I am offended when the self-appointed guardians of the Constitution continue to extend the defense of free speech to pornagraphers, the worst of America’s haters here and abroad, people whose sexual orientation offends so many of their neighbors, and people whose politics are left of center; but have singled out conservative and evangelical Christians as people whose views threaten to destroy the fabric of society. The bias has now become so obvious that even some of my most liberal friends have pointed it out (although I see few pushing back against it).

Phil Robertson is an American citizen–living in the land of the free and the home of the brave–a land governed by its Constitution. He is entitled to the same rights and at the very least, the same tolerance that we extend even to most unsavory citizens of this land.

But I am also troubled by my conservative Christian friends, many of whom profess to share the same belief in the truth of the Bible as God’s Word and the commitment to live by its commandments and teachings–who roar back like cornered lions every time they are not treated with respect, or where their rights are undermined. People who now often define their worth and identity by the rights they have in the Constitution, rather than in living by God’s truth.

And this is my reason–three statements by Jesus.

“God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers.” – Matthew 5:11 New Living Translation

I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” – John 16.33 New Living Translation

“If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you.” – John 15.18-19 New Living Translation

I simply am concerned that we as Christians take the world’s views PERSONALLY, as attacks on us when they are really attacks on Christ. Too many Christians want to stand up for Jesus without paying the price of rejection and opposition that Jesus said to expect if we were being faithful to him in a world that WOULD BACK AWAY.

We have a persecution complex, or better yet–a rejection complex.

And in our vehemence and in the manner of our communication we often show the world that we do not really trust in God to make things right-and that the acceptance of men is more important than faithfulness to God.

Or that being left alone to believe what we want to believe (even if it is the truth) than paying the price of truly being salt and light where we will stand out from the crowd who often cares little about God.

Something to think about and to pray about.

(C) 2013 by Stephen L Dunn

DRAMA OF THE DELICATE

From one of my favorite bloggers JD Blom comes this reflection that the church and its leaders would do well to heed. – STEVE

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” Colossians 3:12-13

“STOP!” The command still resonates through my ears even after thirty years. It was not a menacing or cruel command but it was all too common. It always was a command of necessity and a little frustration. It was a frustration that thankfully did not originate with me but from the task at hand.

I knew what I would see upon looking in the direction of my father. There he would be, seated at his workbench, both arms stretched out to his side with his hands in the universal sign of “don’t take another step”. His eyes were never on any person. They were already looking down, searching for what he had lost.

I would stop and give my dad the room he needed. The slow searching process had begun. He would start with himself. Slowly lifting each fold of his shirt to see if what was lost had landed in a crevasse. He would work his way down from his shirt to his lap and the ridges of his chair. All the while, the search would become a little more urgent through its descent.

If his prey was particularly elusive, my dad would take a small magnet and begin to sweep the surfaces of his workbench. He would keep his feet and chair rigidly fixed as the magnet moved through a search pattern designed not to leave a space unexamined.

If the search proved unsuccessful, my father would carefully step from his bench and take his frustration to the floor. He would run his magnet across the floor in an agonizingly slow hunt. It was a colossal waste of time. That is what frustrated my dad the most.
New old skeleton watchworks, seen through its …

New old skeleton watchworks, seen through its crystal back (Photo credit: readerwalker)

My dad was a watchmaker. Actually, he was a watch repairer. This was back when watches were not powered by batteries and governed by electronics. My dad made his living working on mechanical time-pieces that were masterpieces of tiny gears, screws, and springs. Stores shipped their customer’s functionless watches to our house and my dad transformed the broken into the useful. However, it was always difficult to make a living being a tradesman of the watchmaker art. The watchmaker was paid by piecemeal. He only earned his wage when what was shipped back worked as it was intended. Therefore, the provider of my family had the pressure of production that an adolescent will never understand. This was the frustration that my father felt as he searched surfaces of his shop.

Molnija 3601 watch movement macroMy father’s search was most often for the tiniest of screws. The slightest bit of excess pressure on their round surfaces could cause one to disappear as if by magic. Time slips away when having to deal with something that was not the original problem but has become one. Wages associated with the repair evaporate with every moment wasted in search of that which was not broken but yet essential.

A friend was recently telling me of an experience in his church that made me think of my dad’s frustration. He told me of how a person had been offended by something that he had done in which I struggled to see the offense. It seems to me that the particular person had to work at being offended by the actions of my friend. It was a tale that is neither unique nor uncommon.

I wonder at the amount of time spent by pastors smoothing over perceived or minor offenses within their congregations. I don’t think I want to know the level of consideration wasted to crafting communications so as to appease the delicate. It seems that just the slightest touch of inadvertent pressure can cause positive attitudes to disappear as if by magic. Trouble and hurt feelings can easily arise and become an issue that engulfs the original problem. The progress in helping the broken can be consumed in soothing the feelings of the delicate.

The drama swirling the delicate staggers me. It wears me out. I don’t know a church, family, group of friends, or workplace that does not contain some drama. The reality of the pervasiveness of drama probably comes from us all being more delicate than we may want to admit. Most of us don’t want to acknowledge that we are over-sensitive. We resist the idea that we may have a weakness toward searching out offenses. We may deny our skill in conjuring drama from innocent intentions.

The drama of the delicate is such a colossal waste of time and effort. We are all forced to spend the time searching for the solution to a specific bit of drama. The solution may appease the delicate for a time but it never usually addresses the heart issue. Therefore, we are all trapped in this dance of being so concerned with not offending that distracts us from our real purpose in serving the broken.

Drama consumes so much energy.

We were never intended to be delicate in Christ. We are supposed to be compassionate, kind, humble, meek, patient, forgiving, and loving. Drama does not come from those who are bearing with one another. Offense does not linger in those who have forgiven. Patience soothes the over-sensitive.

Jesus did not spend a lot of time with the drama of the disciples. He rebuked the drama when it arose. He addressed the sinful heart condition that was exposed when His disciples acted in a particularly delicate manner.

We are to be known for our love for one another. We should not be known for our drama.

The next time that you feel the pressure of offense, consider the colossal waste that will come from the drama building within you. Seek the Lord and let Him soothe the delicate nature of our soul. Let He be the comfort of your sensitive feelings. Allow the Spirit to strengthen you and empower you to look past the failings of others and to forgive. Let the fruit of patience and peace bless all those around you.

Allow yourself to be delicate before your Lord but be mature for the Body of Christ and strive for a drama-free life through the power of His Spirit.

PRAYER: Lord, forgive me for not leaving my delicate nature in your gentle hands. Forgive me for trying to correct the offenses that I have felt. Forgive me for my tendency to think of myself more than others. Lord, give me compassion and meekness. Help me to be kind and forgive. Grant me humility and enable me to bear with others. Father, I need you to fill me with the power of your Spirit so that I can walk in a drama-free life. I pray this in the precious name of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

GOD, APPLEBEES, TIPS … AND MISGUIDED CHRISTIANS

This comes from the blog PROVOCATIVE CHRISTIAN LIVING by Don Lachich.  All I can say is “Amen.” – Steve

 Once again under the category of Stupid Things Christians Do, we have the story of a pastor complained about a tip for an Applebee’s waitress. And of course the story went viral which is what prompted this post. When the bill arrived it included an automatic tip for 18% due to the size of the party. The pastor wrote a note on the receipt saying, “I give God 10% why should you get 18″, then wrote zero in the additional tip line. Originally I thought she scratched out the 18% and gave nothing. Thanks to a reader who pointed out the error I was corrected. But that still left me thinking that the pastors response was just not the kind of story and behavior we want to connect with followers of Jesus.

Sadly, when you have a few billion people on the planet who call themselves Christians, there are going to be regular examples of people who embarrass the rest of us and give fuel to anyone who wants to attack, God, religion, or religious people. I am guilty of this myself on occasion. When I first heard this story I thought, no, can’t be. No pastor would be that short-sighted. Surely this is an atheist posing as a pastor in order to create a story, please let it be so. No such luck. It turns out an actual pastor of an actual church is the guilty party. We know this because she complained to the restaurant manager that the waitress violated her privacy by posting a picture of the offending note on the web. Now the pastor and her church are getting their fifteen minutes of infamy.

It was bad enough that the pastor in question complained to the waitress in writing and pulled God into the fiasco. Then she compounds it by protesting that the waitress is the one behaving badly. Because of her complaint the waitress was fired! She lost her job because a pastor who acted badly in the first place complained that she was caught. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? (sorry, I had to scream at that point before my head exploded)

Here’s the deal. I understand that you may find the automatic tip of 18% to be a bit cheeky. But that is no reason to bring God into it. He is happy with the 10% He asks for and seems to have no problem with people being blessed with a bigger percentage. When the standard tip in the USA was 15% I never heard God complain about that. In fact as I read Scripture I am fairly certain you can make the case that God would love it if we gave all we have to people who are poor, or in need.

Second, we are told to love others as we want to be loved. Seems obvious to me that no one wants to be loved by receiving a note like that about how much someone loves God instead of you. Jesus gives us the Great Commandment to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and then adds that loving our neighbor as ourselves is just as important. He makes the two go hand in hand. It’s like what Sinatra said about love and marriage going together like a horse and carriage, “you can’t have one without the other”. So waitress stiffing pastor who claims such a love for God that you tithe, God is not impressed. You didn’t love your neighbor and tried to justify it by your love for God. That just doesn’t fly with The Almighty.

Jesus dealt with some religious leaders who claimed they couldn’t help their needy parents because they dedicated the money to God. He rebuked them soundly. I think He wanted to smite them as well but thought better of it. The point being, people have been using God as an excuse for sometime in order to not give to the needs of fellow human beings. God wasn’t buying it then and He isn’t now.

If anything, Christians, especially pastors, should be known as big tippers, givers to all in need, people who hold their resources in open hands for others to share. After all, those resources come from God for the purpose of meeting our needs AND blessing others. At Northland Church, one of the seven responses we think we need to make to God, based on who He is and what He has done for us, is to Live Generously. That means to give freely of our time, talent, and treasure to anyone in need, for the glory of God. After all, God so loved us that He generously gave His only son to die on a cross, be risen again, and ascended into Heaven, so we might have eternal life. Surely we can give a little bigger tip to someone who has served us in this life. Love your neighbor as yourself. It is that simple and clear.

THE MUPPETS AND HOLY NONSENSE

From Spencer Burke’s blog THE OOZE

THE MUPPETS AND HOLY NONSENSE

BY JOSH LARSEN

How I love the Muppets. So free of moralizing and sterile family values, they’re nevertheless imbued with a joy that is, at its very core, good. I consider what they do – with all their felt and comic fury – a sort of holy nonsense.

Created by the late Jim Henson and beloved by a generation raised on their 1976-1981 television variety show and subsequent movies, the Muppets return to the big screen courtesy of cowriter-producer-star Jason Segel (a member of that generation). Lovingly crafted, amusingly self-referential and deliriously silly, “The Muppets” isn’t just true to its tradition. It’s true to a contemporary world deserving of quality family films but too often populated with the likes of “Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chip-Wrecked.” It’s a corrective, not a bout of nostalgia.

Segel stars as Gary, a cheerful, small-town guy who lives with his brother Walter. Walter looks, well, like a Muppet. No one remarks on this much – though a photo from the brothers’ high-school prom catches Walter’s date in a hilarious double take – until the pair, along with Gary’s girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams), visit the now-closed Muppet studio in Hollywood. When they learn of a nefarious developer’s plan to take over the property, Walter convinces Kermit the Frog to come out of retirement and put on a studio-saving telethon.

Walter finds his true place in the process, but that’s about the extent of the lesson-learning in “The Muppets.” Ever since the episode featuring the tale of the grasshopper and the ant, in which the grasshopper moves to Florida and the ant gets stepped on, it’s been clear that this group is hardly interested in the moral of the story. That anti-tradition is carried on in “The Muppets.” Although Kermit is given to inspirational speeches, it’s notable that during one of them he’s flattened against the wall by an opening door.

Instead of lessons, we mostly get nonsense. Animal in anger management. Chris Cooper, as the evil developer, breaking into a gangster rap. Chickens doing a dance routine to a Cee Lo Green song (we can only assume it’s called “Cluck You”). Yes, occasionally, incidentally, a lesson is learned. As Walter tells Gonzo at one point, “When I was a kid and saw you recite ‘Hamlet’ while jumping your motorbike through a flaming hoop, it, well, it made me feel like I could do anything.”

The holiness of this nonsense – the spiritual joy it brings – can be difficult to quantify. As Frederick Buechner wrote in “The Hungering Dark,” “Joy is a mystery because it can happen anywhere, anytime, even under the most unpromising circumstances, even in the midst of suffering, with tears in its eyes.” I happened to see “The Muppets” a few hours after attending a wake, one marking a particularly unexpected and senseless death. If we have such nonsensical grief in our lives, doesn’t it stand that God provides nonsensical joy as a counter? A time to weep, and a time to laugh? Holy nonsense blows on the fading embers of our soul, bringing it back to glowing life.

That’s not to say this nonsense is only palliative. It also points to the world of which we live in hope, a restored creation where brokenness, strife and grief are nowhere to be found. In their place, filling that welcome vacuum, there surely will be room for the silly alongside praise for the sublime.

We’re far afield from the Muppets now, but maybe not so far as it might seem. “As long as there are singing frogs and joking bears,” Walter says at one point, “the world can’t be such a bad place after all.” There’s more to it, of course – much more – but the holy nonsense of the Muppets is a very good start.
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Josh Larsen is editor of www.ThinkChristian.net, where this review originally appeared. He also writes about movies at www.LarsenOnFilm.com and at Facebook.com/larsenonfilm.

THE REAL EVANGELICAL DISASTER

I am an evangelical Christian. Unfortunately because so many Christians have abandoned authentic discipleship and think of the Great Commission as a marketing tool, I feel compelled to use the adjective. I am also a life-long Republican who found both candidates being offered by the major parties to be persons with whose values I was at odds. I found Rachel Evans blog about THE REAL EVANGELICAL DISASTER to be right on (and no, I do not agree with every theological or social position that she holds) and believe her thoughts grow from a deep concern for the most important thing that matters – “faith expressing itself in love.” (By the way, this is not a quote from Rob Bell–it is from Paul, formerly Saul of Tarsus – Galatians 5.6) – STEVE DUNN

The Real ‘Evangelical Disaster’

When Republican Governor Mitt Romney lost the presidential election earlier this month to incumbent Barack Obama, Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary classified the election as “an evangelical disaster.”

Concerned also by state measures legalizing gay marriage, Mohler said that, aside from the 79 percent of white evangelicals who voted as they should, the “[evangelical] message was rejected by millions of Americans who went to the polls and voted according to a contrary worldview.”

“If we do not become the movement of younger Americans and Hispanic Americans and any number of other Americans, then we will just become a retirement community,” he told NPR. “And that cannot, that cannot, serve the cause of Christ.”

As a young evangelical myself, I confess I have grown tired…no, weary…of responding to comments like these with some honest suggestions for how my fellow evangelicals might avoid said retirement, only to be discounted and disparaged for believing the earth is more than 6,000 years old, for voting for Democrats from time to time, and for daring to serve communion to gays and lesbians. The fact that I can affirm the Nicene and Apostle’s creeds, that I am an imperfect but devoted follower of Jesus Christ, that I am passionate about spreading the gospel, and I believe the Bible is the inspired and authoritative Word of God, and still my evangelical credentials are constantly being questioned and debated reveals just how narrow evangelicalism has become.

The word evangelical means, in the Greek, “gospel” or “good news” (evangelion). And so an evangelical, in the most basic sense of the word, is simply someone who is committed to spreading the good news that Christ has died, Christ has risen and Christ will come again. There are plenty of Hispanics, plenty of young people, plenty of African Americans, plenty of Republicans, plenty of Democrats, and plenty of people around the world who believe this to be true, and yet Mohler will not be satisfied until American evangelicals become a monolithic and reliable voting bloc that keeps his preferred politicians in power.

This, I believe, is the real evangelical disaster—not that Barack Obama is president and Mitt Romney is not, but that evangelicalism has gotten so enmeshed with politics, its success or failure can be gauged by an election.

It’s this idea the “cause of Christ” is to vote against gay marriage and for tax cuts, and that the hope of evangelicals lies in election day returns. It’s this idea that a Christian worldview is something we can vote for because it fits on a ballot.

When I tell a reporter or a new acquaintance that I am an evangelical, inevitably the person will respond, “Oh, so you are a Republican?” Sadly, evangelicalism has ceased to represent the Kingdom of God, which transcends all political parties and national allegiances, and has come to represent kingdoms of this world. And so the strengths and weakness of evangelicalism are conflated with the strengths and weaknesses of the Republican Party.
The great evangelical disaster is that evangelicalism has become synonymous with Republicanism rather than the gospel of Jesus Christ.

This happened long before the 2012 presidential election.

It happened when we turned the Bible into a conservative position paper and Jesus into a flag pin.

It happened when Liberty University invited Donald Trump to speak in chapel because devotion to the GOP matters more devotion to the teachings of Jesus .

It happened when we traded the good news that Jesus Christ is Lord to the bad news that our influence in this world is limited to how much power we can grasp.

It happened when we restricted “Christian values” to one or two social issues while leaving others out.

So I will try one last time.

Want to win young people back to evangelicalism?

Then start preaching the Gospel again.

Start preaching the gospel that Jesus Christ is Lord and Caesar is not.

Start preaching the gospel that drew both tax collectors and zealots—political enemies— to Jesus’ side.

Start preaching the gospel that God so loved the world that God became flesh and lived among us, taught among us, loved among us, died among us, and rose again among us.

Start preaching the gospel that through Jesus, we find reconciliation with God and with one another.

Start preaching the gospel that they will know we are Christians by our love—not by our votes, not by our protest signs, not by our power, not by our campaign contributions—but by our love.

But fair warning: If you start preaching this gospel—this gospel of reconciliation and peace—you will attract more than just Republicans. You will attract people of all backgrounds and races, political persuasions and theological preferences. You will attract rich and poor, slave and free, male and female. You will attract people like me who are concerned about defending not only the unborn, but also the poor, the sick, the immigrant, and the war-torn. You will attract people like me who love Jesus but know that no single vote, no single political party, can represent my values in their totality or bring the kingdom of God to pass.

If we start preaching the gospel again, we will have to get used to ethnic, theological, and political diversity because we will share our lives with people whose ultimate allegiance lies with something greater than a political party, greater than a ballot measure, greater even than the highest office in the world.

We will share our lives with citizens of the Kingdom of God.

We will be evangelists, bearers of good news.

And no matter what happens in the halls of power, we will never be part of a disaster. Instead, we will be part of a stubborn and relentless movement of hope—the kind of hope that can heal the world.

We will be true evangelicals.

IT’S JUST THE GRAND CANYON

Love this post from PC Walker – Steve

It’s just the Grand Canyon

What do we do when God seems distant and hard to see? There are those times when God seems so difficult to know. I find encouragement in Romans 1 verse 20.

“His eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.”

We are able to see God in the things he has made. If we would take more time to notice these things we would come to see him and know him more clearly.

We would stand at the lip of the Grand Canyon unaffected.  A huge problem is that we have lost all wonder.  Nothing amazes us anymore.  We grow more and more numb to the amazing!  We forget how powerful God really is because none of these things amaze us anymore.

Remember being scared to death of a thunderstorm?  Remember when the Grand Canyon WAS amazing before seeing it in a million pictures?  We lose all the wonder when trees, natural running streams and crashing waves, enormous mountains are no big deal to us.  We see them every day, in pictures or as we walk outside.  But we forget the amazing things we learned in elementary school; about how trees grow, the details about how waves are created.  We forget all those things because we learn it and are no longer amazed.

We do our ability to praise a disservice!  We do God a disservice when we are no longer amazed by these things.  Praise is our amazement expressed!  The problem is that we simply are not amazed.

 

WHAT GOSPEL DO YOU BELIEVE?

by Steve Dunn

“If you believe what you like in the gospel, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself”. – Augustine

I am the Director of  the School of Evangelism, a ministry of the Eastern Regional Conference of the Churches of God, General Conference.  I also teach several courses, one of which is a theology class called “What is the Gospel?”  Originally it was called “The Theology of Evangelism” and what the Bible teaches about evangelism–its purpose, its practice, its place in the ministry of the church. But last year, we revised the curriculum to address a severe problem within the American church.

Many recent studies have shown that the beliefs of teenagers and younger adults raised in the church  do not reflect the ‘faith that was once delivered unto the saints.”  And what they do believe directly contradicts in a number of cases what the Bible teaches us about the faith proclaimed by the prophets, Jesus, and the Apostles.

In search of explanations, researchers found two disturbing realities. (1) What these young people believe reflects very closely what their parents believe. (2) What their parents believe is a reflection of what is being taught in American pulpits.

Ed Stetzer has often been quoted as saying that the gospel is “a bloody cross and an empty tomb.”  Some may consider it hyperbole, but is still true. But is that the Gospel that is affirmed by American Christians today?  Is that the Gospel being preached for American pulpits?

When Christian Smith and his fellow researchers with the National Study of Youth and Religion at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill took a close look at the religious beliefs held by American teenagers, they found that the faith held and described by most adolescents came down to something the researchers identified as “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.”

As described by Smith and his team, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism consists of beliefs like these: 1. “A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.” 2. “God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.” 3. “The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.” 4. “God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.” 5. “Good people go to heaven when they die.”

Doesn’t this sound like what you have been hearing in the pulpit lately?

This is not the Gospel that leads to the sacrificial servanthood presented by Jesus Christ nor does it affirm the uniqueness of Jesus’ declaration, “I am the way, the truth, and the life–no one comes to the Father except through me.”  And it totally negates the necessity of the Cross as the expression of God’s love.

Kendra Creasy Dean has written:

“Moralistic Therapeutic Deism has little to do with God or a sense of divine mission in the world. It offers comfort, bolsters self-esteem, helps solve problems, and lubricates interpersonal relationships by encouraging people to do good, feel good, and keep God at arm’s length.”

It is a gospel of comfort and convenience, performance and payoff.  It requires no true obedience. It is devoid of grace. This gospel is what the preachers of health and wealth present. This gospel is what the therapists of the pulpit proclaim. This gospel makes a convenient civil religion for a pluralistic America. This gospel is self-centered. It is all about Me and little about Him.

But ultimately, this gospel is not the Good News of the Kingdom.

(C) 2012 by Stephen L Dunn

I’M A CHRISTIAN BUT I DON’T GO TO CHURCH

Phil D is a blogger who publishes THE UNKNOWN.  From his archives from August 2010 comes this thoughtful post.

 

I’m a Christian but I don’t go to church…

This is a frequent statement from Christians who don’t want to be part of that ‘crowd’ that they see in the media. You know, the ones who picket funerals and scream out God’s condemnation on everyone. There are so many testimonies of people who have left Christianity because of the church and there are many people who call themselves Christians but don’t go to church. Though I agree, Christians can be annoying, there is quite a lot to be said for the church biblically and spiritually, as well as emotionally and socially. If you agree with the title, please read on and feel free to comment if you disagree with this post. I would love to have a discussion about it.

What is church?
Before we go into any sort of discussion, I want to define church as I see it biblically. Church is a community of Christians coming together in the presence of God (Matthew 18:20, Acts 2:42-47), focused on Christ (1 Corinthians 4, Colossians 1:15-23), worshipping (1 Corinthians 14:26), teaching (2 Timothy 4:1-2), discussing and learning, challenging (1 Corinthians 5) and allowing the Holy Spirit to work which can open the church up to spiritual gifts such as prophecy, healing and speaking in tongues (1 Corinthians 12). The community of Christians (Church) should also be a place where needs are met, where the widows and orphans are cared for (1 Timothy 5:3-8), where the poor are helped with their needs and people share their belongings without question or expectation of return (Acts 2:42-47, Acts 4:32-37). Divisions within the church should also be dealt with quickly and gracefully (Matthew 18:16-18, 1 Corinthians 1:10-17). Notice there isn’t much in the bible about the building in the bible but more about the people. This gives us a lot of flexibility about how church is done, hence why there are so many different churches around. As long as you have a community of Christians meeting together and seeking, worshipping and learning about Christ then you have a church.

Often this isn’t the case with church and I have many friends who are like me and look at the bible and see a completely different type of church from the ones we often attend. I am fortunate to be part of a family of churches that seek to be biblical in their teaching and in their structure. They don’t always get it right but that is part of being human. Before all else, we need to remember that the church is managed by humans who are seeking Christ, this means there tends to be mistakes. There is no such thing as a perfect church, BUT, the church leadership should be led by Christ (by the Holy Spirit, by prayer and by the bible) and by this, as long as mistakes are learnt from, we can encourage our leaders rather than pull them down. Many churches struggle with an imbalance, many focus too heavily on the miraculous or the blessings (see my post on the prosperity gospel), many focus too much on the social action and others focus just on themselves rather than looking outward. The parts of church you struggle with are probably parts that you are called to help out in, just turn that frustration into a passion to see something change for good.

Why should we be part of a church?

Biblically: As you can see in the previous section there is a lot in the bible about the church. I want to challenge you to read around the links above and find how important the church is to Christ.

Pastorally: Children who grow up on their own without love or care from others tend to grow up angry, distrustful and with other various issues that take years to resolve if they get resolved at all. So it is with young Christians. If a young Christian’s faith does not grow up in a community of varying ages and experiences then it is bound to take on various ideas and issues unchallenged. A lone Christian not only finds it hard to stand up against persecution but also finds it easy to justify anything they want to do because they are their own leader. If you align yourself with a church (remember the definition of church) you are more likely to learn more about who Christ is and more likely to stand firm in your faith without taking on strange ideas unquestioned.

Spiritually: Spending time with other Christians is one of the best ways for your faith to grow. If you are struggling with something in the bible, you have people to ask and find answers. If you are struggling with something personally, you have people to go and seek advice from. If you need prayer, there are people there to lift you up. If you are slacking off on spending time with God, you have people to challenge you. Self-motivation is all well and good, but it is better to be able to share your burdens and your blessings with others.

Socially: In a church you will meet people you never would have met anywhere else, let alone talk to. Immediately you have something in common with people in church and it should be the most welcoming place on earth. Churches are all about the people.


Have you been hurt by the church?
Unfortunately many Christians and non-Christians can look back and find a time where the church has not treated them fairly. Church splits happen and again it is an unfortunate part of having humans involved. It is important, no matter what the church has done, to remember that Christ died for all and because of that forgiveness must be given even if it is not asked for. I am not saying go back to the community that hurt you, but don’t give up on a) all churches and b) Christ.

I don’t like what the church stands for?
Many Christians like to back away from the Christians they see in the media. They like to stay quiet and not align themselves with a church in case they are seen as weird and in case they are insulted by friends. As a Christian you have made a choice that the world sees as foolish (1 Corinthians 3:18-23). You are called as a Christian to live differently from the world and so you must make a stand and it is easier to do so with a good church community around you. Obviously if the church you attend is not handling sensitive subjects with the grace of God then you need to ask questions and seek change in the church, don’t just give up on it.


In conclusion:
Church is an awesome community to be part of. It is an amazing place of friendship and love, a place to seek and learn more about Jesus. Sometimes it goes wrong, but hopefully forgiveness and patience rule out from those mistakes. We don’t need to be legalistic about going to church, but if you truly seek Christ as your saviour and you want to become more of an adult in your faith, church is the place to go. Learn from the Christians that have already been through what you are going through. Meet with other Christians regularly, it doesn’t have to be every Sunday, but make sure you are sharing in worshipping, learning and seeking Christ and seeing how an awesome God can affect the community around you

President Obama, Same-Sex Marriage, and the Future of Evangelical Response

The rejection of same sex marriage in North Carolina last week and President Obama’s subsequent declaration of his support of same sex marriage have ramped up a powerful debate.  Ed Stetzer posted this late last week on his blog.

After both Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan pushed for acceptance of same-sex marriage over the weekend, North Carolina became the 30th state to amend its constitution to define marriage as an act between one man and one woman.

Now President Barack Obama has affirmed his support of same-sex marriage. In an interview with ABC News, President Obama stated:

I have to tell you that over the course of several years as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together, when I think about those soldiers or airmen or marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage, at a certain point I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married…

I, you know, we are both practicing Christians and obviously this position may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others but, you know, when we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the Golden Rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated.

176px-Official_portrait_of_Barack_Obama.jpgPresident Obama’s statements should come as no surprise. His refusal to defend the Defense of Marriage Act and his comments about “evolving” on the issue both pointed to this moment. I tweeted last weekend that I expected such a move from the President. To me, the surprise is the timing of his announcement. I, like many others, expected this announcement after he had won a second term in November– though it appears he had planned to do so before the Democratic National Convention. This announcement merely accelerated the timeline of an inevitable conversation.

So how do we as evangelical Christians respond?

Last year I wrote a brief post on the future of the evangelical response regarding homosexuality after Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz withdrew from speaking at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit. In that post, I listed five principles to consider about the issue of homosexuality and evangelical churches. I’ve fleshed those principles out a bit here.

The issue is not going away and you cannot ignore it or seek to downplay your views.

Since the Stonewall riots, the gay rights movement has continued to gain influence, and homosexuality is increasingly a public issue to which you must have an answer. Evangelicals have responded poorly at times and earned a reputation for intolerance. Now, in seeking a more biblical and grace-filled response, we cannot erase our past mistakes, however, we can control our attitudes and responses in the future by being both clear and gracious at the same time.

The culture sees this as a “justice” issue– Christians discriminating on the basis of immutable characteristics.
Christians have always believed and taught that God’s standard and intent is a man, a woman, a marriage, and a lifetime. To us, that just makes sense, and it seems clear in the scriptures. But to an increasing number in our culture, this is simply discrimination. President Obama clearly justifies his reason for supporting gay marriage because of the Golden Rule– the idea that we should treat others justly, as we would want to be treated. So, we should not be shocked at their response. Many people believe that we are discriminating against other people by restricting marriage from gay couples– much like keeping black people out of a certain section of a restaurant. They see that as unjust and see us as bigots.

Though it is easy to make the case in the church that homosexual practice (and marriage) is incompatible with scripture, it will be an exceedingly difficult case to make in today’s culture.
I mention in my new book Subversive Kingdom an example of running for school board. A half a century ago you would not have been considered for public office in most communities without a strong record of service in and loyalty to a local church. Today that same qualification, if the church teaches biblical truths about homosexuality, is a detriment to one’s candidacy in many areas of our country. This will become more of an issue in days to come. Believing what the Bible says about homosexuality will hurt your reputation and will be hard to defend as a “good and right” view in society.

Building bridges and showing grace and love is needed, lacking, and essential when dealing with people with different views and values.
Some Christians seem driven by the need to take every opportunity to condemn homosexuality. Instead, I do not think you or I need to begin every conversation with a statement of our opposition of homosexuality. We can, indeed, show grace and friendship to those who struggle, while believing and teaching what the scriptures clearly say. Without hiding our beliefs, we need to look for opportunities to have conversations, build relationships, and show grace.

At the end of the day, all evangelicals will still have to deal with an issue on which the evangelical view is perceived as narrow and bigoted.
Evangelicals will continue to be pressured to accept a worldview rooted in cultural acceptance rather than biblical revelation. While President Obama’s thoughts on certain issues have evolved, biblical truth has not. We can listen to Dan Savage and decide to “ignore” the Bible’s teachings on homosexuality, or we can live with the fact of what the Bible teaches and recognize that, because of such, our reputations will suffer.

Homosexuality is not an easy issue. Christians have said a lot of unhelpful things about the subject over the years– but that does not mean we cannot say helpful things now. The most helpful truth is the biblical truth. In the midst of a complicated issue, we need to admit to poor engagement in the past, speak of the complexities of the issues involved, but always point to biblical truth and change that can be found in Christ.