Many churches are doing more harm than good in their attempts to alleviate poverty. Here’s how to fix that. read more
Many churches are doing more harm than good in their attempts to alleviate poverty. Here’s how to fix that. read more
Meet seven everyday people who started with a seemingly ‘small’ idea to make a difference in their communities—and are now changing lives in a big way. read more
With community needs rising in economically tough times, many pastors find themselves unequipped and unprepared for dire situations. Here’s how online education can change that anytime, anywhere.
Job losses and tanking stock portfolios. Mortgage crises, foreclosures and mounting bills. Divorces, addictions, affairs and other scandals. What used to be a staple only in news headlines and tabloid magazines made its way into almost every church this past year, as congregants and communities alike struggled with an unraveling culture. Pastors across the nation found themselves face to face with a surging tsunami of needs, to which they responded and continue to respond.
In the process, however, many church leaders discovered an equally pressing need for them to be educated, equipped and trained. A growing number are realizing the important role that practical, applicable knowledge plays when combined with Holy Spirit impartation and raw life experience.
Enter online education. An anomaly only a few years ago, it is now an essential for every Bible college, seminary, university and theological institute. And that’s great news for pastors who don’t have the option of putting life on hold to pursue a degree on campus. Online education can offer the perfect solution for “on the go” lifelong learning. But since not all distance-learning programs are created equal, here are a few things to consider when deciding where to go for your schooling.
Accredited vs. Unaccredited
Accreditation is the license given to religious vocational schools by the federal government and some states permitting them to grant degrees and diplomas. To be accredited, a school must be approved by an accrediting agency within CHEA (Council for Higher Education Accreditation). These agencies are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. To find out if the school you’re interested in is accredited, visit chea.org.
Unaccredited schools may be licensed in some states to offer religious vocational degrees, certificates and/or diplomas. All of them should be able to report to you in writing the licensing or religious-exemption relation they have with your state. This way, you can be certain your school complies with state laws and regulations through your state’s department of education.
What are the major differences between accredited and unaccredited? Accredited schools can provide federal financial aid, academically trained faculty, extensive library and research facilities, and accurate measures for student grading and transcripts, recording both student performance and hours earned that can be recognized by other accredited schools.
Accredited programs of study are more rigorous than unaccredited ones. They require more online “classroom” hours, and some involve more direct interaction. Of course, papers, assignments, tests and semester schedules are a part of accredited online distance education. Bachelor’s through M.Div. (Master of Divinity) degrees can be pursued online, but accredited D.Min. (Doctor of Ministry) programs all require some on-site or on-campus instruction.
Unaccredited education is usually less demanding and costly, easier to complete in a short time and more accessible to large groups of people. It’s a great option for pastors who want skill training or spiritual impartation from leaders whose ministries they value. It’s also a step up from most church curriculum.
There are a few negatives to going this route, however. You can’t use what you have earned for future study in an accredited institution or on your résumé as part of your job application. If the school doesn’t have proper state licensing or exemption, then what you have received may be illegal.
Whether you opt for accredited or unaccredited, consider these factors:
Here are three popular questions about online ministry education:
1. Can unaccredited academic studies or life experience be counted in my application for a degree program at an accredited institution? All accredited institutions have some policies for considering unaccredited work for “advanced academic standing.” Each institution has a set policy regarding advanced standing that has been worked out with its accreditation provider. Ask the question while you are in the process of applying. Some pastors never consider that their documented ministry or work experience may be considered for advanced standing at the graduate level.
Note: Don’t call a school’s administrative office and ask if “such and such” can count for credits. You must apply, and everything must be in writing, before a school will determine your academic standing.
2. Do I have to take Greek and Hebrew? Most accredited M.Div. programs require original-language study. Greek and/or Hebrew opens up wonderful revelation in Scripture. It’s worth the effort, cost and time.
3. Is financial aid available? Yes. Accredited schools have federal loans and grants available for undergraduate and some graduate programs. The financial aid officer can tell you how to apply.
As a pastor, lifelong learning and continuing your education isn’t an option but an obligation to those you serve. Even when it’s done online, systematic study can reap a wonderful harvest of truth and practical ministry tools for equipping both you and those you lead. read more
How the organic church makes followers of Jesus
Although discipleship is a hot-button issue right now, there’s nothing new about it. Historically, the emphasis placed on this fundamental part of the Christian walk has moved in waves.
The word discipleship took on new popularity after Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship was published in English in 1948. Parachurch organizations began to emphasize “making disciples” rather than just converting souls. Thus modern discipleship programs were born. But soon people began to see these programs as legalistic. Young believers eventually burned out from the rote and rigors of regimented prayer, Bible study, confession of sins and weekly witnessing. What began as an exciting prospect turned into religious duty and drudgery. Accusations of lukewarmness arose, fueling the perception of legalism.
On the heels of this came a shift toward extreme grace that infiltrated the early days of the Jesus movement. This reaction bred a segment of Christendom who swung the pendulum of legalism to the other side and were highly undisciplined and morally lax.
The “discipleship/shepherding” movement’s emergence in the early ’70s sought to correct this problem of “greasy grace” by swinging the pendulum back to the earlier ways of discipling young Christians. This time, however, it added a line of theology built on a stringent view of submission to authority. The result wasn’t pretty. Many lives were devastated by top-heavy, high-handed, authoritarian leaders who wielded power and control under the banner of “submission to authority.”
Almost 40 years later, today’s youth know little about these earlier movements nor the roots of modern “discipleship.” In fact, that term has taken on another wind. Yet history and its cyclical patterns teach us this sober lesson: Whenever Christian leaders observe a waning in the faith commitment of young believers, they assume that the antidote is “discipleship” as a method and program.
A Modern ‘Reframe-ation’
For the last two decades I’ve been involved in the organic church phenomenon that’s sweeping across the world. I wrote extensively on organic church life in my book Reimagining Church, but here’s a brief overview:
Organic churches meet much like the New Testament assembly did. They have no clergy or professional pastors and typically don’t own a building. They often meet in homes or occasionally in rented spaces. The members participate in all of the church’s decisions. In corporate meetings, every member is active, functioning according to his gifts. Leadership is present, but it doesn’t dominate, control or usurp, and it is exercised by everyone in the church.
Members know each other deeply and live a shared life in Christ. This authentic community is one of the hallmarks of organic churches. Yet perhaps their most outstanding feature is the emphasis on the indwelling Christ and the belief that Jesus is the only head of His church. This belief isn’t simply a theological proposition; it’s the practical experience of all authentic organic churches.
One of the most striking observations I’ve made over the last 21 years is how disciple-making operates in an organic church compared to a more traditional/institutional church. Those who stress the importance of discipleship today take their cue from Jesus’ exhortation to His disciples to “make disciples of all the nations” (Matt. 28:19). Yet a significant follow-up question to that commission is rarely asked—namely, how did the 12 make disciples? The answer is telling.
The 12 didn’t set up discipleship classes or programs. They didn’t put one Christian above another in a hierarchical chain of command. They didn’t create accountability groups or unmovable regiments for observing spiritual disciplines. Instead, they planted vibrant Christian communities all across Palestine. Likewise, Paul of Tarsus made disciples by planting Christian communities throughout the gentile world. To the early believers, Christian community was the only discipleship “program” that existed, and it was sufficient.
My point: The way the 12 made disciples was the same way Jesus made disciples. To wit, Jesus lived with a group of men and women for three and a half years. During that time, they shared their lives together under the headship of Christ. Jesus, the 12 and some women all experienced authentic community with Jesus as the center of their community life.
In the same way, the men whom Jesus commissioned planted authentic Christian communities all across the world, and within such communities, disciples were naturally made. Those communities were organic rather than institutional.
It’s impossible to separate the ekklesia from Jesus Christ; it’s His very body. And according to the New Testament, you can’t separate discipleship from the ekklesia any more than you can separate childrearing from the family. In organic churches today, each member becomes “discipled” simply by being part of the shared-life community. Here are some of the features of organic church life that explain how this occurs:
1. Spiritual formation is tied to knowing Christ deeply with others. Organic church life doesn’t include religious duty, programs and methods. The focus is on knowing Jesus. Organic churches recognize that Christ is alive and can be known profoundly. They understand God’s goal is to “form Christ” within the believing community (see Gal. 4:19).
Extra-local church planters give organic churches a rich revelation of Jesus through their spoken ministry. They also offer members practical ways of knowing Him—both individually and corporately. Because of this, members often pursue the Lord together during the week. Knowing Christ together is a large part of their shared life.
2. Spiritual growth occurs naturally in the context of Christian community. The responsibility for discipleship doesn’t rest on the individual in the organic church. Spiritual growth isn’t an individual pursuit. Organic churches by definition are shared-life communities. Members are intimately involved in one another’s lives. Hence, they seek the Lord together during the week, often in pairs or threes. They use Scripture together, not as a means to gain academic knowledge or sermon material, but as a means to learn Christ and fellowship with Him in the Spirit.
Organic churches understand that Christians are “new creatures.” Every creature or species has a unique habitat. When a species is removed from its native habitat, it either dies or some of its natural functions turn dormant. As new creatures in Christ, Christans have a native habitat: the ekklesia—a shared-life community that gathers by, to, through and for the Lord Jesus. Spiritual growth occurs when God’s people live in their native habitat. And that’s exactly what authentic organic churches afford.
3. Transformation takes place by the every-member functioning of the body in regular corporate meetings. Organic churches do not have the typical Sunday morning order of worship in which a minister preaches a monologue to a passive congregation. Instead, their meetings are marked by open participation. Every member functions and shares. He plans with others as a group, prepares in private and then brings something wonderful of Christ to share with everyone else. In an organic church, corporate meetings are the place to give rather than to simply receive (see 1 Cor. 14:26).
It’s easy to assume these meetings would be chaotic. But extra-local church planters equip organic churches to prepare and share the Lord in meetings that are “done decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:40). The result is an unveiling of Christ as He is “assembled” by members of the body in a visible way.
Mutual exhortation in regular Christian gatherings is a major key to spiritual growth (see Heb. 10:24-25). It’s written in the bloodstream of the universe: If you don’t function, you don’t grow. And if you don’t give, you don’t receive. Organic churches are strong on mutual exhortation and encouragement because everyone participates in the gatherings.
4. The marker for discipleship is living by an indwelling Lord rather than by trying to imitate His outward behavior. An organic church can be defined as a group of people learning to live by Christ together. Consider how our Lord lived while on earth: God the Father indwelt Jesus by the Holy Spirit; and Jesus lived by His indwelling Father.
After Jesus ascended, He came back to earth in the Spirit to take up residence in all who trust in Him (see John 14-16; Rom. 8:1-11). For this reason Paul calls Jesus a “life-giving Spirit” (1 Cor. 15:45). Therefore, what the Father was to Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ is to you and me. He’s our indwelling Lord. The Lord declared, “As the living Father sent me, and I live because the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me” (John 6:57). Paul later wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20).
Organic churches, therefore, do not strive to be like Jesus. That only leads to failure and frustration. Jesus Himself said that without the Father, He could do nothing (see John 5:19). Jesus then said to us, “Without Me, you can do nothing” (15:5). The members of an organic church are focused on learning how to live by the indwelling life of Christ. And therein lies what being a follower—a disciple—of Jesus is all about. It’s not about trying to imitate His outward actions. It’s about imitating how He lived His peerless life—by the indwelling life of God.
Essentially, discipleship boils down to learning how to live by Christ. Jesus’ followers live by the life of their Master, just as He lived by His Father’s life. This, in fact, is the taproot of organic church life.
The practical fruit of all of the above is simply amazing. The sense of guilt, condemnation and religious duty dissipates, eclipsed by a love affair with the Lord Jesus, where each member is secure in His unconditional, relentless love for him or her. That loves spills over to God, to one another and to the lost. Further, their chief passion in life is to know Christ and to express Him together with their brothers and sisters.
The organic church has no clergy; yet every member is a conduit of divine life and shares it with the rest of the body. The organic church has no discipleship programs; yet every member’s relationship is an outflow of the eternal relationship between the Father and the Son through the Spirit. The organic church has no sacred buildings; yet each living room becomes the boundary between heaven and earth where God in Christ is encountered and expressed visibly.
This is the environment in which authentic discipleship takes place naturally and without effort.
Frank Viola is a conference speaker and author of numerous books, including his latest release, Finding Organic Church. For more information and free resources, visit his Web site at ptmin.org.
Churches are discovering that generosity isn’t just an
essential component of discipleship, it’s an integral part of spiritual formation.
Cross Timbers Community Church in Argyle, Texas, amazed its community earlier this year by passing the offering plates and encouraging people to take out money if they needed it. To everyone’s surprise, that day they had their largest offering ever.
Pastor Toby Slough explained the situation in an interview with Fox News: “I just sensed in the middle of this economy we had a lot of our members who were feeling guilty when the offering plate was passed. I wanted it to be a time of joy for them, so we told them if they had a need, they could take money out.”
As the concept gained momentum, the church was eventually able to bless people who were unemployed by paying their utility bills. “I’m excited to watch people in need receive because I know as they are blessed, they are going to become givers,” he said. Cross Timbers is one of many churches across the nation today using innovative ways to step up and address the financial needs of their members and their communities. But how does such generosity—blended with action—come about? We all know the benefits of giving, but actually creating a church culture in which giving is second nature can be difficult, particularly during these economically tough times. How can churches build into their members the value that true discipleship includes the oft-neglected aspect of being a generous giver?
Preaching to Give
Andy Stanley of North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Ga., says the teaching team at his church talks about generosity not because of what they can get from their people, but because of what they want for their people. A similar paradigm shift is occurring in the leadership of countless churches, and it’s resulting in a renewed understanding of discipleship.
“A lot of pastors today are seeing stewardship as an essential part of the spiritual formation of their congregation,” says Chris Willard, director of the Generous Churches Leadership Community at Dallas-based Leadership Network. “They’re teaching about money because they understand that the way we deal with our God-given resources says a lot about our discipleship. It used to be that pastors only talked about money when they needed to raise money. Now they’re talking about it because it’s an important part of spiritual formation. That means they have to talk about giving more than before. And talking about it more builds it more naturally into the flow of the church so people don’t get that there-he-goes-again feeling.”
Indeed, setting the stage for a culture of generosity usually begins onstage with pastors preaching and teaching on the subject. That’s the case at Antioch Community Church in Waco, Texas, where preaching about giving isn’t unusual since it’s a core value of the church. “We call people to be generous,” says the church’s administrative pastor, Jeff Abshire. “We lead people in the countercultural message of generosity for the sake of the kingdom.”
For example, Antioch’s senior pastor recently preached a sermon from Acts 2 on sharing common resources. At the end of the sermon he summoned everyone in the congregation who had a financial need to come up front, and for the rest of the people to ask God how He wanted them to meet those needs. As people began to pray, many felt led to come forward and offer money directly. One woman was given $20 but only needed $10, so she gave the remaining $10 to someone else. The day became known as “Keep the Money Moving Sunday.”
Other churches have developed a giving culture by first delving into why its members weren’t naturally generous. Executive Pastor Mark Davis of Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale in Florida says the wake-up call came for his church when they launched a capital campaign that received a lukewarm response. “We realized something very crucial: Our people hadn’t been taught how to give,” he says. “We discovered that our body was not well-informed or educated. We realized we needed to challenge people in all areas of stewardship.”
As the church leaders looked into what the Bible says about giving and what other churches were doing to educate their people, their thinking began to change. “We had been looking at giving as a practice, but we began to view it as a lifestyle,” Davis says.
Caught From the Top-Down
Pastors can wax eloquent from the platform about stewardship, yet if they want to see a genuine shift in congregants making generous giving a lifestyle, they must first evaluate their own lives.
“Generosity starts with our elders and then moves through our staff,” says Neal Joseph, former executive pastor at Fellowship Bible Church in Brentwood, Tenn. “That way we set it into the DNA of our church. Generosity is a shared responsibility. ”
Bruce Mazzare, a lay leader at Antioch Community Church, says one of the keys to his church’s success in discipleship is an understanding among leadership that generosity “is not taught—it’s caught. Our leadership lives simply, which has made a profound impact on our people. ”
This top-down philosophy is modeled increasingly by forward-thinking churches. People learn by example, so when leaders live and give generously, people learn to act the same way.
At Gateway Church in Southlake, Texas, leaders model a generous life by giving up their salaries during months of special giving. “Generosity is a value that is modeled at the top level. It’s not just something we talk about,” says Gateway’s Associate Senior Pastor David Smith.
Radical giving started with Gateway’s senior pastor, Robert Morris, who writes in his book The Blessed Life about a time when he believed God told him to give away both his cars, his house and all the money in his bank account. “I remember thinking to myself, This time I’ve out-given the Lord!” Morris recalls. But soon after, God provided him with an airplane, hangar, fuel, maintenance, a pilot and traveling expenses. Says Morris: “As I stood there stammering and stunned, I heard the still, small voice of the Lord whisper in my spirit, ‘Gotcha.’”
Other pastors make it a regular practice to donate 20 percent of their time to causes outside their congregations. “That’s why it’s easy for our leaders to talk about it, because they’re doing it,” says Pastor Scott Ridout of Sun Valley Community Church in Gilbert, Ariz.
There’s a caveat to this “lead by example” approach to generosity, however: Because the mere mention of money can cause some people to instinctively question church leadership, pastors must realize that trust is often the most crucial ingredient in creating a culture of generosity. Pastor Dave Rodriguez discovered this truth at Grace Community Church in Noblesville, Ind.
When the church was founded in 1991, money scandals so rocked the Christian world that Grace Church steered clear of mentioning money. But later Rodriguez realized they weren’t serving their people by avoiding the topic. Believing that giving is a vital part of discipleship, they hired staff in 2000, which led to the start of their “Faith and Finances” ministry.
“If people don’t trust the leaders of the church to spend the money under God’s direction, they won’t give generously,” he says. “Building trust sometimes involves periods of tremendous pain to show people that you are willing to sacrifice to do what God calls you to do.”
Teaching on generosity starts at the front of the church, and establishing a culture of giving begins within those in leadership. But there’s an added dynamic when generous giving is viewed as an essential part of discipleship.
Jeanette Dickens of Mount Pisgah United Methodist in Alpharetta, Ga., explains, “We want to create a culture of generosity—a continual message of living in the fullness of Christ.”
Willard agrees, adding that teaching stewardship is different from asking for funds. “We need to ask, but we want people to live generously all the time, not just when prompted,” he says. “Part of what we want to do in the lives of our people is to disciple them in all areas. We want them to grow in their view that God owns all their stuff, and He wants us to use it in a way that honors Him.”
To further this discipleship aspect, Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale not only teaches giving as part of its classes on spiritual gifts but also sends selected members to Generous Giving conferences and seminars sponsored by Crown Financial Ministries (see “Generosity Jumpstart”). Along with using prepared curricula from Crown or Financial Peace University, some churches develop their own discipleship programs.
Many churches target specific age or income groups with their discipleship programs. Central Christian Church of Henderson, Nev., teaches financial management to premarital couples, while other congregations work with seniors to integrate generosity and estate planning. At Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City, Mo., parents teach their kids about money through a parent-coaching ministry. Developed by a layperson in the church, the program disciples kids in biblical concepts of generosity and helps them start saving and tithing. Rather than receiving an allowance, kids do chores to earn a weekly “salary.”
At Gateway Church, teaching on stewardship is aimed at four income groups: (1) people in crisis; (2) people who need the basics; (3) people with healthy financial lives and (4) people who are wealthy. Financial Stewardship Pastor Gunnar Johnson says the third group is the most neglected. “These are typically 30-somethings with fairly disposable income. We want to help them grapple with the questions: How much is enough? Why has God given me this surplus?”
Most pastors agree that the best way to learn generosity is just to “do” it. People will rise to meet needs as they are given opportunities.
Joseph recalls a pivotal moment at Fellowship Bible Church: “On one Sunday morning we gave more than 2,000 pairs of shoes to people in Peru, Sudan, Mississippi and an African village. Our pastor took off his own shoes and asked for everyone to donate the shoes they had worn to church that day. It was a practical application of giving without worrying about tax receipts.”
And generous living must be celebrated. Generous Giving Executive Vice President Todd Harper stresses, “If pastors want their churches to grow in Christian generosity, they must learn to celebrate it by including it in the worship service, encouraging people when they give and inviting givers to share their giving testimonies with the church.
“Jesus talked about money from the perspective of its importance in relation to our heart, and that’s what we’re driving at,” Harper says. “We’re trying to invite people into a life of wholehearted surrender to Christ. Often, especially with the affluent, money is the primary competitor to lordship in their lives. But as Jesus said in Matthew 6:24, you can’t serve both God and money.”
Willard adds: “The Bible makes a clear connection between the way people think about money and the way they think about God. Someone has said that you can tell a lot about a person’s spiritual life by looking at his checkbook. It may be an oversimplification, but it’s pretty true. As people learn to follow Christ, their pocketbooks come along.
“We don’t want to make people feel guilty about it,” he says, “but to invite them to experience the joy of generosity. That’s what captivates people’s hearts, when they experience that it’s more blessed to give than to receive.”
When it comes to discipleship, teachers sometimes learn the joy of generosity from their students. “We were on a mission trip in Moscow,” says Calvary Chapel’s Davis. “As we were loading the bus to go back to the airport, we told the kids they could either keep their leftover rubles as souvenirs or we could collect them and give them back to the church where we had worked.
“The kids scrambled frantically to gather all they could to put in the bucket. They realized their money was about to be worthless to them. I realized that that’s the way we should live every day—giving our money away as if it’s about to become worthless.”
Lois Swagerty is a freelance writer for Leadership Network (leadnet.org). She lives in Carlsbad, Calif., with her husband. read more
Don’t buy into the myth—pastors’ families can raise emotionally and spiritually healthy children
What do Marvin Gaye, Denzel Washington, Condoleezza Rice, Alice Cooper and Jessica Simpson have in common? If you know anything about their backgrounds, you can probably guess. They are all “PKs”—also known as “preacher’s kids.”
Often thrust into the limelight and weighed down with unreasonable expectations from an early age, PKs frequently struggle with unique challenges. Thankfully, most of them manage to become emotionally and spiritually healthy adults. However, it requires skill, insight and discernment to parent a PK and help him navigate the sometimes-rough waters of being the child of a minister.
The most important goal in raising a PK is to attend to his spiritual life. Ironically, parents in ministry, without realizing it, often fall into the trap of assuming that other people, including Bible-study or Sunday-school teachers, are passing on spiritual values to their children.
But cultivating a child’s spiritual growth is first and foremost a parent’s responsibility, not someone else’s. Praying for your children, talking through their doubts and questions, explaining the “whys” of your own church traditions and helping them mature in Christ is the heart of the exhortation to “bring them [your children] up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4).
As the old saying goes, “God has no grandchildren.” Although we cannot pass on our salvation to our children, we must faithfully nurture them in their own walks with Christ.
During our child-raising years, certain sayings caught our attention and quickly became part of our parenting philosophy. We noticed that each saying reflected a valuable principle for both parent and child.
As our children grew and moved through the different stages of life, the sayings helped us remain focused on certain truths. They also related well to the PK’s world and his place in a ministerial culture. Maybe they will help you in raising your own PKs.
“Kids are people, too” (respect). When our daughter Wendy was 5 years old, I bought her a T-shirt that read, “Kids are people, too!” This little phrase was quickly incorporated into our family conversations (especially when she and her sister were protesting something). It reminded us that all healthy relationships must have respect as the cornerstone.
Respecting your child simply means that you give him the space to be an individual within the family. Every child is born with his own personalities, gifts, desires and interests. Each one is “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14). Respecting who God made him to be as a person is fundamental in developing a healthy, lifelong relationship.
Yet the element of respect takes on an added dimension in the PK world. Ministry parents may need to be more protective than other parents regarding their child’s privacy. When ministers share family illustrations, it’s good for them to remember that their children may not appreciate having things about them told to the whole church. (My daughters gave me permission to use references to them in this article.) Additionally, it is the parents’ job to protect their children from well-meaning people who ask too many questions. And parents must never use a child as a negative illustration or demean or ridicule him in any way.
Respect is the foundation of all healthy relationships and crucial to the connection we make with our children—because kids are people too!
“Accidents will happen” (grace). Children make mistakes, as we all do. The Encarta Dictionary defines a mistake as “an incorrect act or decision, an error or a misunderstanding.” Distinguishing between childish carelessness or mistakes and willful disobedience is important during child-rearing years. We used the phrase “Accidents will happen!” on numerous occasions to convey to our children that a childish mistake could easily be corrected—with no sense of shame or parental anger.
There is a tension in every area of life regarding grace and the law, especially when correcting children. A biblical parenting philosophy, guided by the wisdom of the Holy Spirit and solid counsel, will help parents discern the right response to their child’s behavior. If we want our children to grow into men and women who know how to show grace to others, we must show it to them ourselves. And we certainly want them to give grace to us in the future.
A large part of our responsibility to our children involves discipline. We do not give “grace” to our kids in the sense of excusing their poor behavior. But grace involves training them, walking beside them and teaching them daily.
In Ephesians 6:4, Paul exhorts Christian parents to bring up their children “in the training and admonition of the Lord.” The word training (Greek paideia) carries the idea of complete training and education of the child. Thayer’s Lexicon defines it as “the cultivation of minds and morals.”
The second word of verse 4, admonition, is from the Greek nouthesia. This word relates to correction, admonition and exhortation. The challenge comes in consistently implementing teaching, training and appropriate punishment.
As we give grace to our children, they will learn to give grace to others. I have found that people will say things to the pastor’s wife that they don’t have the nerve to say to her husband. They will say things to the pastor’s kids that they don’t have the nerve to say to their mom. Helping children and young people navigate these issues with grace and humor is invaluable to a PK.
Laughing with them about the craziness of ministry life and refusing to take things too personally is an indirect way of giving grace. Being the recipient of God’s grace enables us to give it to others and teach our children to do the same. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matt. 5:8, NASB).
“Proud to be your dad and mom” (self-esteem). “Proud to be your dad!” How many times has my husband written those words to his children in notes, birthday cards or e-mails? His standard closing illustrates another vital principle in raising emotionally healthy children—that it is the parents’ job to build their self-esteem and sense of security.
I believe that other than instructing a child regarding salvation and encouraging spiritual growth, building his self-esteem is one of the most vital things parents can to do to prepare him for an emotionally mature adulthood. Proverbs 17:6 says, “Children’s children are the crown of old men, and the glory of children is their father.” This verse indicates a child’s built-in need for the parents’ attention and approval. I am convinced that if a child misses this element in early childhood, he will spend the rest of his life looking for it.
How parents relate to a child will determine how well-developed his sense of security is. A preschool teacher once told me that we should always tell our children we are proud of them, especially when they do something obedient, thoughtful or well. We should then add, “Aren’t you proud of yourself?” This provides the satisfaction of not only receiving approval from others but also feeling good about oneself.
Affirming children’s interests, gifts, efforts and behavior helps to establish a strong sense of self-worth. When a child hears a parent’s praise, a deep emotional need is satisfied that helps him become a secure adult, with a sense of self-respect and worth. The security he feels will be an underlying factor in every decision and relationship he has in the future.
PKs are especially vulnerable to feeling insecure. If they hear criticism of their parents and the church, they will likely take it personally. Unfortunately, they usually hear criticism directed toward them and their parents much more than other children do, and dealing with that criticism will require extra attention and communication. Look for other authority figures in the lives of your PKs, such as teachers, coaches or parents of friends, who will help provide the affirmation your children need.
“It takes so little to be above average” (excellence). Years ago I had the opportunity to attend one of Florence Littauer’s CLASSeminars on developing leadership and speaking skills. I came home with a little phrase that was quickly incorporated into our family life.
Florence spoke on the topic of her book It Takes so Little to Be Above Average. She challenged us to think above average, lead above average, care above average, pray above average and so on. Her premise was that most of the world settles for the mediocre in life. As Christians, motivated by our desire to serve God, we should pursue excellence in every area of our lives.
Aspiring to do all things in an above-average way is akin to “going the second mile,” as Jesus encouraged us to do (see Matt. 5:38-42). Paul refers to this principle when he describes Christian behavior as “not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord” (Rom. 12:11).
“It takes so little to be above average” soon became a mantra around our house. When preparing a report, project or something for church, we asked ourselves, “Is this above average? Have I have made an extra effort to do it well?” Whether others recognized our effort was not important. What was important was giving 100 percent.
This principle will serve anyone well throughout life. Whether it’s put to use while attending college, establishing a home, raising children, entering the workforce, showing hospitality, or anything else, learning to think “above average” pushes us toward excellence.
Colossians 3:23-24 says: “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.” If we want to work and live “as to the Lord,” then we will give it our all and encourage our children to do the same because we do everything we undertake in service to Him.
“Always remember ...” (unconditional love). When we were raising our children, we began repeating a phrase whenever we dropped them off somewhere or left them to go on a trip: “Always remember something: I love you very much.” Because children squirm when their parents express love for them in front of others, we began to use only the first part of the phrase, “Always remember.” Others may not have understood what our girls were supposed to “always remember,” but they certainly did. It was our code for “Don’t ever forget that we love you.”
The need for unconditional love is the most primary of human emotional needs. Children will inevitably do things that don’t please their parents, and those will need to be addressed. But poor behavior does not change the fact that we love them, accept them as they are and seek the best for them.
In Old Testament times God spoke through the voice of His prophet Isaiah, reminding Israel that He had not forgotten His people. “Can a woman forget her nursing child, and not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget, yet I will not forget you,” He told them (Is. 49:15). What a stunning statement of love. God uses an illustration of one of the most powerful forces of nature—maternal love and care—to describe the intensity of His love for His people.
Of course He is asking a rhetorical question. It is unthinkable for a mother to forget her nursing baby. But God says that even if a mother did forget, He would never forget His chosen people. The relationship of God with Israel shows the ultimate in unconditional love. Though His people failed Him time and time again, He continued to forgive, discipline and draw them back to Himself. May God give us the grace to do the same with our own children.
Raising spiritually and emotionally healthy children takes wisdom, energy and a great deal of prayer. But your task will be easier if you include the principles of respect, grace, self-esteem, excellence and unconditional love in your training—no matter what sayings you use to incorporate them.
Susie Hawkins served as the director of women’s ministry at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Dallas and has 30 years’ experience as a minister’s wife. She is the author of From One Ministry Wife to Another and is married to O.S. Hawkins, president of GuideStone Financial Resources. read more
Statistics prove that millions of Christians worldwide are leaving mainline denominations and adopting more charismatic/Pentecostal elements. How can a pastor help to guide these believers into a faith that’s both Spirit-filled and biblically grounded?
Most churches don’t take attendance and ask people where they come from when they first walk through their doors. If they did, they might be shocked and surprised to find that the rank-and-file charismatic church in America is no longer filled only with those who grew up in these kinds of churches. More and more our sanctuaries are being populated with Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, and the most recent newcomers—Catholics.
They are coming in large numbers in search of a God who’s real and a place where He’ll show up in a way they have never experienced before. They’ve found something genuine in our churches, something beyond just another great Bible-based sermon, and are sensing His presence as never before—and they can’t get enough.
But problems sometimes arise when these precious newcomers want to move from the pew to the service ranks, or from attendee to member or leader. Many of them get tripped up, cast off or disillusioned as they encounter the doctrine behind the movement—a doctrine that flies in the face of everything they’ve ever been taught or thought to be true about who God is and what He has to say about all the charismatic “stuff.”
It is critical that churches and church leaders be spiritually sensitive regarding these transplants because for some, there is more at stake than the loss of a great religious experience. Some have been baptized as babies or confirmed as children and believe their place in eternity is secure, yet they’ve never had a true salvation experience or asked the King of kings to come in and be their Savior and Lord.
So how do we help them? As I have studied this situation during the last several years I have found that there are two key issues that surface again and again. The first is salvation, and the second is anything related to the Spirit-filled life: baptism in the Holy Spirit, tongues, healing and even the lifting of hands in worship.
The first issue, salvation, is the most important and pressing. It is possible for a person to love God, worship Him and in some sense look like a Christian, while never acknowledging God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Such a person is just as lost as the one who has never darkened the door of a church. You must interact with newcomers to find out where they are on their spiritual journeys: Ask the hard questions, explain and teach.
Listen to see if they use the name of Jesus or if they want to talk only about their love of God. Never forget that there is just one name given under heaven by which a man or woman can be saved, and that is “Jesus.”
There are two catch-points built into most churches: your membership process and your volunteer orientation or assimilation process. I realize that not all churches encourage membership, but hopefully all of us are doing some kind of screening and training of our volunteers and lay leaders.
These processes provide great opportunities to ask the harder questions about salvation and determine whether the most important decision they will ever need to make has been made. If it has not, then you will be able to ensure that they make it right then and there.
At our church we have a training session prior to our baptism services to be certain that the people understand what is about to happen and that they have actually experienced salvation. We have led so many people to Christ in the class that was to prepare them for baptism! And these were folks who had previously responded to altar calls.
Regarding altar calls, remember this: The power of the Holy Spirit can be strong over the life of a person, but so can emotion and anointed worship. They come to our altars desperately needing change. We must give them Jesus.
The Spirit-Filled Life
Now for the second issue: anything related to the Spirit-filled life. This issue often trips up the folks who come from churches or denominations where they have been taught the Word of God, or at least parts of it, and who love what they experience at your church but lose their way a bit when it comes to your doctrine.
Here are the topics with which some will struggle: a second baptism, tongues, healing and being slain in the Spirit. But if you take a minute and break down each one of these topics from the Scriptures, you can dispel many fears, questions and concerns people have about them.
And here is what I have found to be true more often than not: Those who we believe are so staunchly against these cornerstones of the charismatic or Pentecostal movement are not as opposed to them as you might think. They just need to see evidence for them in the Scriptures. When you show seeking believers many of the passages I am about to give you, they will often be seeing these for the first time in their Christian experience, and they will be blown away—or better yet, set free.
A second baptism. Most refer to this as the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Others call it a second filling or second experience subsequent and in addition to salvation. The basic premise is that while the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in us at salvation (we are the temple of the Holy Spirit), there is a second filling and anointing when the Holy Spirit comes upon us and fills us with power from on high.
Take the disciples, for example: They had walked with Christ and had all the knowledge and belief they would ever need for salvation. Yet Jesus told them to go and wait for the baptism of the Holy Spirit (see Acts 1). On the day of Pentecost, they received this promised gift (see Acts 2), and afterward they went out and did many incredible things, as recorded in the remainder of the book of Acts.
Many other Scriptures make it clear that the Holy Spirit was given apart from salvation, and sometimes several days after salvation (see Acts 2:4; 8:14-25; 10:44; 15:8; 19:1-7). The most convincing passage for me is Acts 9, which details the conversion of Paul. Most Christians will agree that Paul’s conversion took place on the road to Damascus, yet Scripture makes it abundantly clear that Paul received the Holy Spirit days later at the laying on of hands by Ananias.
Tongues. There is perhaps no topic more controversial in the body of Christ than the subject of speaking in tongues. Why? There is probably no simple answer to that question, but the good news is that you do not need to provide a long-winded expository defense of tongues in the church. Simply take people to the description of what happened in the upper room in Acts 2, then show them Acts 10:44 and 19:1-7. Additionally, you can show them 1 Corinthians 14:2—or the clearest mandate I know for the gift of tongues: 1 Corinthians 12-13. You can end by showing them the verse that says, “Do not forbid to speak with tongues” (1 Cor. 14:39).
Healing. Most churchgoers believe that God has the ability to heal someone—after all, He is God. And most can testify of a time when someone they know was healed. They just have a hard time when they think a man or a woman is taking credit for being the healer. This issue is simple to resolve: Never take the credit, and never exalt a man or a woman. Talk about the gift and even the process, but always give the credit to God and you’ll see this objection fade away.
Slain in the Spirit. This manifestation definitely raises the skeptical eyebrow of the newcomer—not so much because people fall over backward, but because they can easily come to one conclusion: The person falling over is faking it. I have actually had a person from a non-charismatic denomination tell me that people are either faking it or a spirit other than God is causing it. Often their judgment is the result of having had hands laid on them and seeing nothing happen.
This is also an easy issue to resolve, but not without instruction, explanation and mentoring. Show the skeptic all the places in the Bible that are accounts of a person encountering an angel or the angel of the Lord, and they’ll see the result is nearly always the same, whether in the Old Testament or the New Testament: The biblical character falls straight to the ground. So why would the result not be the same today when a person encounters the living God in the form of the Holy Spirit?
The Point of No Return
All the arguments mentioned above can be proved in one passage of Scripture. But first the setup: You will not find an evangelical from any denomination who does not believe and teach the Great Commission found in Matthew 28:18-20:
“And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’”
But I have found many non-charismatic Christians who are shocked to find that there is a second version—a different telling by a different eyewitness to the same command—found in Mark 16:15:
“And He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover’” (emphasis added).
The bottom line is that we have to teach, being ever conscious that there are those in our midst who are seeing and experiencing things they have never seen or experienced themselves and have been led to believe are fake—nothing more than emotionalism. And we also have to remember that many of these precious folks have crossed over a line of no return. They have been disowned by family and friends just for associating with charismatics and Pentecostals, let alone for attending your church.
Just ask any former Catholic or Baptist believer. A president of a well-known mission agency once disclosed in a magazine interview that while he was on the mission field, he prayed in another tongue. A week later, the organization asked for his resignation.
Unless we simply do not care about bringing newcomers into our midst, and unless we have become so selfish that we actually enjoy considering ourselves better than the rest—more enlightened, or as possessing something that only a chosen few can have—then we must always teach, explain, mentor and show the scriptural reasons and mandates for who we are, what we are and why we do what we do. To do less borders on either naiveté or spiritual arrogance.
They will know we are Christians by our love, and they will know we are charismatics by our exercising of the gifts—but they will judge our character by our fruit. And remember: Gifts without the fruit and without the love—well, you know the rest of that passage.
We’ve had enough gongs and clanging symbols for one generation. Let’s be salt and light and tour guides into the world of the supernatural, knowing all the while that the supernatural God we serve loves all His children and desires for all of them to receive His gifts.
Rich Rogers is the campus pastor of Free Chapel Worship Center in Irvine, Calif. read more
This "Conversation on Discipleship" is part of a series of conversations that gathered modern-day Christian pioneers Jack Hayford, Loren Cunningham, Henry Blackaby, Lloyd Ogilvie, John Perkins and Winkie Pratney in one place. For more videos from Conversations With Fathers of the Faith and to find out more about each leader, visit fathersofthefaith.com. read more
But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord oneday is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day (2 Peter 3:8).
So many people were being ushered into His presence during that season in our church. So many at that time were caught up into heaven, into that completeness. We began to hear the heartbeat of heaven. This depth of His presence was new for many. What we learned was that we were moving into true intercession. There was a mixture of love, joy and extreme heartbreak. This heartbreak that we would feel was from the extreme intense love that our Father had for His children all over the world. Like in the story of the prodigal son, we felt the Father missing them and longing for them to come back to Him and His love. Out of that longing , at the same time. We become, if I can redeem this word, "addicted" to His glorious presence.
Calling Forth His Desires
In these times I often "see" faces, places, and situations in my mind's eye. I often feel like God is showing me things that I need to think about and "brood over" in the way that a mother hen broods over her eggs. Genesis 1:1 says, "Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness. God's Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss" (The Message Bible). To be honest, most of the time when I am in this place, I just agree. I agree with the plans that God already has for people's lives, for regions, and for the earth. "Yes God." "Do that God." "Go there, Father." "That's amazing, Lord Jesus." When I pray this way, I feel as though I am praying from His heart. It is almost as though I am calling forth the very desires that are already in the heart of God, as though I am calling them into existence.
In those times, I feel as though I become the very "womb of God." "He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water'" (John 7:38). The words innermost being come from the word, koilia, which means "womb." We are the womb of God. In our intercessions, we are creating and birthing the things of heaven. We carry the life of the kingdom within us. It will flow out of us in our intercessions.
No Agendas Required
When any of us go into God's presence, when we tap into the realm of heaven, we position ourselves to receive great breakthrough. One of the things that we need to be careful about is not going before God with our own agendas. Sometimes I think we go before God and we already have an idea of what we want God to do, so we close ourselves off from receiving and partnering with God and what He may want to do in the moment. In fact, God may want to do something completely different. It is almost like we say, "Here God, here is my idea, now do it my way." When we do that, we handcuff God. We are no longer partnering with Him.
Often, when people ask me to pray for them, they come with an agenda-or an idea-of what they want to ask God to do. When I am praying for people and I ask them what they need prayer for, sometimes their requests are not what is on God's agenda for the moment. We need to learn how to be sensitive and move with the Holy Spirit. The same with intercession; we need to listen to the heartbeat of God and not always present our stuff to Him. It's not that our agendas are wrong or right and there are times for that. But when I just want to spend time with God and feel his presence, I don't bring any agenda.
I remember one time while I was praying, a man's face came before me. He was an Asian man. When I saw his face, I began agreeing with God on behalf of this man. I still to this day do not know anything about this man nor do I understand what I was praying about concerning him. You never know. It could have been an intervention prayer, a prayer that saved that man's life. Or, it could have been that I was praying for a whole people group. Some things will not be known this side of eternity. It is important that we learn to respond to His leading- even when there will be no immediate gratification from seeing an answer in the natural.
Another time I woke up praying for one of our sons, Brian. I prayed for his safety. Right after I prayed, we got a call from him in the middle of the night telling us that he was driving home from a trip down south. He had fallen asleep at the wheel while driving and had run off the road. He called to tell us that he was OK. I was so thankful that I had been woken up to pray.
Intercession is just the fruit of being with Him. It was birthed in my own heart because of spending time with Him. I go into His presence to love Him, to experience "spirit-to-spirit"-His Spirit with my spirit. When I experienced this for the first time, I remember just being with Him and feeling our hearts connecting. It felt like my heart was picking up the same heartbeat as His-His heart "liquid love." His heart was broken for humanity. Our two hearts are intertwined. When you feel that, when you see His heart broken and His amazing love, your only response can be to pray with burning passion-compassion for a lost generation.
Whatever God has promised gets stamped with the Yes of Jesus. In him, this is what we preach and pray, the great Amen, God's Yes and our Yes together, gloriously evident (2 Corinthians 1:20 The Message Bible).
The amazing thing to me is that God is waiting for us to enter into Him. He is longing for us to see His world, to see into that glorious realm of His kingdom. He is wanting us to partner with Him for heavenly breakthrough.
God Likes Our Ideas
God's yes together with our yes are what brings about breakthrough in prayer. I'm continually amazed that God would choose to partner with us. But, at the same time, it makes all the sense in the world that He would want us to join with Him in making history. We are, after all, His children. He is a great and all- powerful God and also a loving and caring Father who, I believe, wants to be involved in our lives. Incredibly, He also wants us to be involved in His kingdom. He wants us to help build His kingdom here on earth. I believe that God likes my ideas. Some of the prophetic acts that we do come from the Lord, but I think that some of the things we do are good ideas that the Father says, "Yeah, that's good."
I am convinced that God likes my ideas. So, when I pray, I pray from a place of security. It is like I go into prayer believing that God is on my side. Let me give you an example. We took a team to Croatia in 2007. It was one of the most amazing prayer trips I've ever been on. One of the places that we planned on going to was a concentration camp outside of Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. During World War II many Jews, Serbs, Gypsies, anyone who was not a Croat, were put to death. It was pretty brutal. We had joined with our missionary friends and a national pastor and his wife to go there and pray. How do you pray for such a huge, devastating thing? I had been praying, pondering how we could make a difference and help bring healing to a land of much bloodshed. The idea came to get a bottle of wine and have it poured out on the land. We had been praying in one of the towns that morning and I had honestly wondered if this wine thing was what we were to do. I mentioned to some of the group that we needed to get a bottle of wine before we left for the concentration camp but purposely dismissed it still thinking that it might not be the right thing to do. One of the gals on the team spoke up and said, "Are we going to get the wine before we go to the camp?" "OK. Let's get it," I said.
I hadn't told the national pastors what we were going to do yet. You see, I felt like the pastor and his wife were to pour the wine out on the ground as a prophetic sign of reconciliation prayer. Srecko, the national pastor, is Croatian and his wife, Inas, is Serbian. If you don't know, those were two of the many ethnic groups involved not only in World War II but also in the Bosnian War of the early 1990s. So I explained to this wonderful pastor and his wife the idea of pouring out the wine on the ground, and then as we prayed together believing that God would cover the bloodshed over the land with His blood. They held the bottle together and poured. They had never done anything like this before, but were so gracious. While they poured the wine out, I was watching their 6-year-old son playing. He was so carefree and happy. His bloodline represented two warring ethnic groups. His generation would no longer have the pain of war. There would be healing.
Was this my idea or the Holy Spirit's idea? I don't know. It just felt really right. I feel like our lives can be so intertwined with God's that our thoughts, feelings and even what we do are melted together with His. When God made us just the way we are, He liked what He made. He likes everything about us. I believe He enjoys our ideas, and we in turn like His ideas. God chooses us. He chose David.
It says that God chose David and it was in David's heart to build a house for the Lord. God told David in verse 18, "David, you did well that it was in your heart." Wow! That is our God. God chose a man who He knew would say, "Yes!" God said, "yes" to David, and everything else is history. God's yes to you and your yes to Him are all that is needed.
When our daughter Leah was expecting her first baby, she asked with permission from her husband if I would be the coach for her. I had had three children by natural birth, and she told me, "You're the pro, Mom." It was an honor for me. I told my husband afterwards that it was the most amazing experience and the hardest work I've done since I had my own kids.
God is always breaking into our natural world and showing us the spirit realm. That's what happened in this birthing experience with our daughter. In a natural birth you can invite friends and family into the labor room. Our daughter is a very social being and loved having those friends and family visit up until the time of the birth. As you may know, towards the end of the labor there is a time that is the most intense. It takes all of your concentration just to make it through the contraction. We were at that place. Whenever a contraction would start, we would release peace over Leah, and then the focus was all on her part to listen to my instructions. One of our friends came into the room at one of those moments and began talking, not really paying attention to the intensity of what was going on. Leah seemed to be OK with it. After the delivery, I asked her about the distraction in the room. She told me that she really didn't notice because she was so focused on my voice and what I was telling her to do. As she told me that, I had a revelation of intercession. When God gives us strategies to pray-you know, the ones that we burn with-we can become so focused on His voice that we don't become distracted. Nothing can take us away from his voice. There were times during her delivery that we would lock eyes as well. It was how she got through the intense times. She drew strength from looking into my eyes. There was an intensity in my eyes or determination that she picked up on and could keep going.
There are times in our lives when we must stay closer, locking onto His words and His vision. God gives us prayer strategies, and we look to Him for focus and understanding on how to pray with results. Then the birthing will come.
By the way, the baby that was born that day to our son-in-law and daughter was named him Judah (Hebrew for "praise"). The result of our steadfast focus can only be praise for Him.
When I pray from the heart of God, I become so lost in the presence of God that it feels like the only thing I am listening to is the voice of God. In that place, His heart, His plans, His voice become so real it is almost like we become one. At those times, it feels like I pray with Him. When I am in that place, all I have to do is agree with God and partner with the things that are already on His heart. Those are the times when we pray together, and I begin to co-labor with God through my prayers. Those are the times where I begin to see real breakthrough, no agenda required. read more
For a guy who has witnessed plenty of supernatural works of God in his life, seeing Jesus in a vision wasn’t all that strange. And yet Banning Liebscher still can’t shake what came into his mind’s eye on a cool Canadian night last April.
It was the first night of a youth conference in Toronto to which Liebscher had been invited as a guest speaker. Before ever walking onstage, he had joined the hundreds of students gathered for a time of praise and worship. With his hands lifted and spirit lost in adoration, he saw the Lord enter the room and begin walking among the crowd. In His hand was a massive paintbrush dripping with red paint. As He located various young people, He would paint a large letter R upon their bodies. Liebscher immediately asked the Lord what He was doing.
“I’m marking revivalists tonight,” was the answer he heard.
Sans the red paint or dramatic vision, that’s exactly what Liebscher has been doing for the last 14 years at Bethel Church in Redding, Calif., and now around the world. The 33-year-old pastor leads Jesus Culture, which began as a single conference for Bethel’s youth group and has since evolved into a multifaceted, global initiative for teens and young adults.
Among students, Jesus Culture is best known for its soul-searing music, as captured on such recordings as Your Love Never Fails, Everything and We Cry Out. Within worship circles, it’s renowned for produced rising leaders such as Kim Walker, Chris Quilala and Melissa How. And around youth pastors, it’s become a Spirit-flammable summer conference that ignites entire youth groups to change their churches and communities through radical ministry.
But for Liebscher and his team, Jesus Culture is simply the result of following a mandate given years before in preparation for a wave of revival among a younger generation.
“We believe there’s a new breed of revivalists emerging in the earth today because of what God intends to do in nations and cities around the earth,” he says with complete certainty. “The mandate the Lord gave us was to activate, mobilize, equip and resource this new breed. He made it very specific to us that He’s releasing healing revivalists again.”
It’s that last part—the healing and supernatural works—that distinguishes Jesus Culture from being just another hyped-up youth conference. Following suit with what’s been established under Bethel’s senior pastor, Bill Johnson, Jesus Culture makes a point to provide teens with hands-on training opportunities to minister the supernatural power of God. During every conference, students spend hours each day venturing out in groups to the modern-day courtyards of America—malls, grocery stores, restaurants, etc. Their goal is simple: Learn how to follow the Holy Spirit’s directive, step out in faith and watch Him do the miraculous.
It’s not coincidental that the results—as published online by hundreds, if not thousands, of transformed teens—look similar to those of the conference’s namesake done 2,000 years ago. Typically shy eighth-graders declaring prophetic, life-changing words over complete strangers in a mall. High schoolers ministering instant healing to fellow diners in a Taco Bell. College students leading retirees to the Lord for the first time.
“You have to let your light shine,” Liebscher tells these young “radical revivalists.” “This whole thing is about activating young people to let their lights shine. The way that they let it shine is through works—and that’s not random acts of kindness, although we believe in that. It’s not just good social things that we do; it’s demonstrations of power. It’s the supernatural invading. And when I allow the supernatural to be demonstrated in my life in front of men, then the Lord receives glory.”
Jesus Culture obviously isn’t the first youth group to emphasize a “signs and wonders” lifestyle. Yet Liebscher and his team have created a remarkable culture of balance in which biblical grounding and spiritual discipline walk hand-in-hand with relevant, radical power. The end goal isn’t bigger numbers, better worship bands or even more healings; it’s to have young people so passionate for Jesus they can’t help but walk in supernatural power that radically affects every area of culture.
“There’s an urgency of the hour right now,” Liebscher says. “What I’m seeing now more than I’ve seen in my 14 years of experience is a level of consecration to the Lord that’s unbelievable, where kids are really saying, ‘I’m setting myself apart for the cause of Christ and for His desires fully. And this decision I’m making right now will bear fruit when I’m 80.’ ... Some of what we’re doing, I believe it’s not really immediate impact. I don’t think we’ll see the fruit until 20 or 30 years from now.”That may be. But in the meantime, Liebscher remains content to continue marking a generation that is turned wholeheartedly to God.
What six renowned Christianpioneers can teach us about leadership
Ever wish you could sit down with some of the modern-day church’s greatest leaders? Here’s your chance.
W ith more than 300 years of combined ministry experience among them, six pioneers within today’s church sat down together at the Billy Graham Training Center in Asheville, N.C. Undoubtedly, Jack Hayford, Henry Blackaby, Lloyd Ogilvie, Loren Cunningham, Winkie Pratney and John Perkins could each offer volumes of leadership insight given their extensive ministry track records. Yet on this rare occasion, these modern-day fathers of the faith enjoyed the opportunity to collectively pass on lessons learned from a lifetime of pointing others to God.
On Past Mistakes
Ogilvie: I’ve worked with powerful people all of my life in business, government and entertainment, and if I’ve made any mistake it’s that I’ve been overly impressed by the position and power of people and have forgotten that inside that person is an aching heart or an uncertainty or a problem that only God can solve. If you assume everyone really needs the Lord, then you won’t take people for granted.
Hayford: One of my earliest conceptions in probably the first 10 years of my ministry was the separation of the sacred and the secular as two different arenas. The Lord took me into a situation in which I was pastoring a church in the middle of the Hollywood community. I’d been raised in an environment that said everything to do with movies, stage, screen and so forth was basically soured by sin. I came to recognize the division in the mind of God isn’t between the sacred arena and a secular arena; the division is between the light and the dark—and there’s a darkened world in both the secular and in the sacred. There’s darkness across the face of the earth, and the Lord wants to seed it all with the sons and daughters of light.
Pratney: Kids today learn more from other people’s mistakes and failures than from their successes. They’re so overwhelmed with the success stories and everybody promising the world and a golden apple. When they’re continually told, “If you do this or take this or try this,” and they’re so sensitive of their own failures of things, they learn hugely from when people they look up to tell them their story. That’s why I always tell people when I get up to speak to them how I’m disqualified from being there. And it’s not because I don’t have a great sense of value from the Lord, it’s because I want them to know what God can do with a person. I tell them my only three ambitions in life were to never travel, never meet anybody and to be a nerd chemist—and they’re all ruined by God. That’s my introduction. I apologize to them for having a name like a purple Teletubby, and I always start with the inadequacies and the insufficiencies I have for even being there in the first place. I’m the only person here that’s neither a doctor nor a reverend, but it’s wonderful to be honored to be able to sit in. Kids learn more from what we don’t have than they do from what we do have.
Blackaby: I tended to be very shy and a loner. And it wasn’t long before I realized I needed key friends whom I could bounce things off of and they could bounce things off me. If there was a mistake, it would be that no one ever taught me in seminary or otherwise how to be a spiritual leader. I was a loner doing what I thought was best and then God corrected me. Jesus said, “How you receive the ones I send you, you’re receiving Me, and how you receive Me, you’re receiving my Father who sent Me.” So I began to watch, convinced that God would bring to my life individuals. And how I responded to them was indeed how I was responding to Him and the Father. I’m very aware of how I must treat the ones God sends me.
On correction, authority and manipulation ...
Ogilvie: One of the most besetting sins of any who lead is the sense of need to see things perfected. It constantly comes upon you. Earlier in my ministry—especially as the church began to grow—I became more conscious of wanting things to be right, not so much for the sake of distinguishing myself as just that things ought to be right. Whenever anything went wrong in the sound system and there was a break in the service, I’d go back to the soundboard and ask, “What on earth was going on?” I’m thinking to myself that I can do this because they’ll understand that we’re partners together in the meeting. But that’s not the way they feel about me. They feel as if you’re the authority and you’re walking on them. There were a number of times I discovered to my chagrin, embarrassment and shame that I’d wounded people by just mandating perfectionism rather than creating a sense of partnership—and I didn’t realize I was doing it.
Cunningham: There’s a well-known YWAM story about a young man who had the problem of always correcting his staff publicly. I tried to teach him on Matthew 18:15—you go in private, you don’t do that, you can’t use this ... that’s manipulation. And over and over. I’m sitting there one day in a staff meeting and he gets up and does it again. I said, “That’s what I mean,” and I corrected him publicly. Then I saw what I had done, and I said, “Look what I’ve just done.” Everybody laughed, of course, but we all got the message. Correction can be a form of manipulation. If you do it in terms of servanthood, you want to redeem the person. If you do it in terms of expressing authority, you want to control the person.
Hayford: It’s important to recognize the difference between leadership and manipulation because true leadership will always give itself in the interest of the people. It will serve them. Manipulation will always be serving the interests of the person who appears to be leading but is actually manipulating. It’s not wrong to be a bold leader while still being a servant leader—and in some situations you need to be this way. But always keep clear whose interests are at heart. At first you can appear to be threatening to them, when in fact the spirit you convey will indicate you’re not wanting to control or manipulate, but to serve and to love.
Cunningham: If you’re riding a motorbike, you need to take control. But if you do that with people, they’ll rebel. Jesus was talking to the sons of Zebedee in Mark 10 and He said, “That’s not our kingdom way. It’s serving—serving and then you’ll get praising people; you’ll get surrendered people.” We can use information to control people. We can use finances to control people. We can use a variety of things that are legal, but they’re not legal under God. The more you use man-made power and control in leading others, the more you lose influence. And influence is ultimately the release of God’s power through you. It’s not manipulation, it’s not control. It’s God’s servanthood that changes our hearts.
Perkins: There’s also a fine line between power that generates from the people, from God and from money. Because money is another very powerful force and can confuse a situation. That’s why God’s will must be central. We must want to keep God’s will as the focus and not just a need for myself. That’s the difference. That’s when you can begin to see the light.
On facing criticism ...
Ogilvie: There’s a deeper issue that we’ve not touched on, and that is we are so obsessed with our own image, success and status that anything that hurts probably needs to be crucified anyhow. Paul talked about dying daily. Often when I’m upset it’s because it might hurt my own career or my own status or my own well-being. If I could say anything to a young leader it would be to get to the place of surrendering so completely to Christ that you’re seeking His glory and not your own. Then you can get free of constantly being hurt.
Hayford: Whenever I find anything that is rejecting or critical of me, the phrase that guides my response is “Suspect your own righteousness.” I don’t mean our righteousness in Christ—that’s established, thank God. I mean to suspect that you are right. All of us receive weird letters from people that just lambast you. Usually they’re people that, to begin with, don’t really know you much at all. And whatever their cause is, it primarily reflects their own hurt. You have to let your heart go out toward that because anyone who would intentionally be so bitter or unkind, there’s agony in their own heart. It’s not that you could not have provoked something—I’m not claiming innocence. But there has to be something in me that has a point of needful examination: “Lord, what is there that I might have done, said or appeared to be—wholly, unintentionally, presumably? And Lord, refine that.” It can sound self-righteous to suggest you do that because it’s so counter to our natural tendencies. But it’s being mindful of the obvious truth that the only truly righteous person in every manner, dealing, attitude and reflection of themselves to the world was Jesus.
Blackaby: People have the right to be critical, but if they are severely critical, it means they have a problem. Often it can be great insecurity on their part. They feel they haven’t become something, so they attack those who God’s people recognize as having accomplished something.
When I’m attacked, I see if what is said is true. If it is, then I need to make the adjustments and thank God that He’s caused somebody to care enough about me to make some correctives, and I’ll take that very kindly. But for those who are very critical unfairly, they have the problem. I don’t assume that their criticism is necessarily valid. I’ll examine it, and if it isn’t valid and they still persist, then I realize that they have a problem and I need to pray. I’ll become their friend. I won’t avoid them. I’ll still relate to them. They determine how deep I can relate, but I will not hesitate to try and relate.
On developing as a leader ...
Perkins: If possible, stay in a discipleship relationship with someone you respect deeply. I used to say someone who is older than you, but I’m almost older than anybody around me, so I can’t say that too much anymore. But I’ve always had these people in my life who have guided me and who would speak back to me. I’ve looked at the failures of leaders, of politicians and even the presidents who didn’t have those people in their lives who speak to the issues of their lives. [The result is that] they walk outside of discipleship. I really believe we should be in a shepherding relationship throughout our lives.
Blackaby: You need to have an unhurried time with God. However early you need to get up, get up so that your time with God is unhurried and He has all the time in the world to speak to you and impact you. Don’t do a little devotional life. A little devotional time will not do it.
I once shared this with a CEO who said, “You don’t understand how busy I am.” And my spontaneous response was: “You evidently don’t know who you’re going to meet. You’re meeting the God of the universe.” The next month when we met back, he said, “I now get up at 4:30 and this month was the first time I’ve led one of my employees to the Lord.”
Pratney: Jesus didn’t just appear on the scene a couple of years ago. He’s been there forever. If you’ll dig in the past, read biographies of those who went before you—rediscover again. You don’t need new truth. You need a fresh revelation of what has always been real and always been true. We’ve lost our way in terms of not knowing what people died for centuries ago to give us. We’ve lost our moorings because we don’t know our spiritual heritage. We are fatherless. We have no reference point of anybody we can trust.
Try to find fathers you can identify with, people that had the same calling you have. When you read about their lives, you’ll see fire starting anew: “If God did this for him and he’s just like me or at this time in his life, He can do that for me because He’s the same. He’s not the same yesterday and yesterday and yesterday. He’s the same yesterday, today and forever lasting.”
Ogilvie: I think praying without ceasing is probably the thing I’d encourage most for young leaders. I’ve had to learn it again and again, but it’s just simple things such as every time I go to my desk, I get down on my knees and say, “Whatever I’m going to do in the next hour or two, Lord, bless it and guide me.” When I shake a person’s hand, I say, “Lord, this is a gift, this is Your person. [I’ll say] whatever You want me to say.” And I’ve found in every sermon there’s a moment when you feel that pit-of-the-stomach kind of emptiness. I cannot do it by myself. The manuscript is there and the words have been polished, but you need the power and you just say, “Lord, help me.” Then in those crisis situations when you’re talking and working with people and you say, “Lord, I don’t know what to say,” and then the words come and you know that it’s His word for the person in need. I’ve found that more than anything else, making every moment a moment of prayer has been the secret for me.
Blackaby: To most pastors: Take an honest inventory of your time in the Scriptures. First, as a devotional time; second, as a study time to get acquainted with God; and third to prepare messages you’re going to deliver. But your study time ought not to be the same as your preparation for messages. Take an honest inventory to see how significant Scripture is to you and then go to Psalm 119. Almost the entire psalm indicates the critical place of the Scriptures, the Word of God. As you read each of those verses, take a one to 10 of your own personal walk with God. Then, of course, go through the life of the Lord Jesus—if it was that important to Him, it ought to be important to you.
And third, watch the prophets’ encounters with God. Like Amos said: “I wasn’t a prophet nor the son of a prophet. I was a herdsman and a tender of sycamore trees. But the hand of the Lord came upon me and He gave me a word and told me where to deliver it, and I did.” From that moment on, the whole human history knows about Amos the prophet. He was not a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but he became one by spending time with God and the word from God. So if you want to be an effective person in our day to speak a word to the people of God, you need to spend time with the Word of God. read more
On Jan. 20, 2009, we witnessed a truly monumental event. Barack Obama became the first African-American president of the United States.
Many Christians with prophetic insight have said that racism is one of the root sins of our nation. One does not have to agree with the politics of our new president to realize that the election of Barack Obama provides perhaps the greatest opportunity in our nation’s history for reconciliation and healing. I was in Nigeria the night of our elections in America. (I voted early.) The euphoria and good will toward me in the wake of Obama’s victory, simply because I was from America, was stunning. For those who have eyes to see, the next four years should provide some exceptional opportunities in world missions.
I was heartened by the president’s decision to choose Rick Warren to give the invocation at the Inauguration. With every other evangelical Christian, I was lifted in spirit by Rick’s compassionate and firmly scriptural prayer. Having given the invocation in the U.S. House of Representatives a few years ago, I know something of the challenge and tremendous opportunity such a platform provides. Rick’s prayer was probably the most widely watched and most highly scrutinized prayer in history.
God bless you, Rick, and thank you for compassionately yet courageously invoking the name of Jesus—not once, but four times! Pastor Rick’s declaration of the Name above all names in Hebrew, Arabic, Spanish and English signaled loud and clear that the gospel and its blessings are for everyone, everywhere.
The instincts of every true patriot, no matter our political persuasions, are to rally around the new president. But as Christians, the Bible is clear that we owe him more—much more—than just our best wishes. When it comes to those in authority, scripture indicates we are to do the following:
1) First Timothy 2:1-2 says we are to pray for our leaders. And let’s remember, we are to pray for them, not against them.
2) We are to intercede for our leaders. This means we are to take a stand in their behalf. If the president acts against God or against Scripture, we are to intercede for him, beseeching God to show him mercy and change his mind and heart.
3) Also, we are to make supplications for our leaders. This carries the idea of earnest entreaties. This is not a light assignment and we are not to take it lightly. Our emotions must be involved, even overturned, if we are truly making supplications before God’s throne of grace.
4) Finally—and this is a tough one when we disagree (especially on scriptural grounds) with our leaders—we are to give thanks for our leaders. You can be sure Paul had plenty of fierce disagreements with Caesar and with many Roman authorities. Yet it is also clear that Paul valued his Roman citizenship and used that status for righteous ends.
Paul’s frame of reference was that those early believers in Jesus were to give thanks for their pagan, polytheistic political leaders. Remember, these were the sadists who got their kicks from burning Christians at the stake or feeding them to lions. Yet Paul said to give thanks for them! Surely we can give thanks for our political leaders, most of whom at least have some kind of Judeo-Christian orientation.
Our culture is racing headlong toward secularism. This has created much angst among Bible-believing Christians. The perception many non-Christians have of us (that we have helped to create) is that we are constantly angry and adversarial. If evangelicals are to have any kind of national voice, and if we want a place at the table shaping the colossal issues of our time, we had better re-learn winsomeness and civility.
Peter said as much when he wrote that we are to be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet. 3:15 ESV). And Paul said that when we engage in our leaders’ behalf through intense prayer and sincere thanksgiving, this will produce a peaceable climate that is conducive for evangelism (see 1 Tim. 2:1-4).
God rules in the affairs of people and nations. “Exaltation comes neither from the east nor from the west nor from the south. But God is the Judge: He puts down one, and exalts another” (Ps. 75:6-7). Rick Warren is right that this is a “hinge point of history.” At this crucial time for our nation and world, let’s pray, supplicate, intercede and give thanks for our leaders. We owe it to them.
David Shibley is founding president of Global Advance, a Dallas-based ministry that provides on-site training and resources for some 40,000 developing world church and business leaders each year. His latest book, co-authored with his son, Jonathan, is Marketplace Memos. read more
The American household doesn't look like it used to. How are churches reshaping to fit today's fast, furious and fragmented families.
For the last year it's been the mantra of almost every facet of American life, from politics to the economy. Yet of all the changes affecting churches over the last decade, possibly none has been greater than that of the basic shape of the American family. As the structure and values of the family shift, so do churches' worship styles, giving, volunteer involvement and approach to age-specific ministries—most notably, children's ministry.
This isn't an overnight change, of course. Sociologists and culture watchers say changes in the family have been taking place over the last 30 to 40 years. Specifically the move of women from the home to the workplace for both full-time and part-time employment has most altered the family landscape. A 2004 study by Herbert Klein titled "The Changing American Family" found that only 36 percent of mothers with children under age 6 were not working outside the home. Meanwhile, multiple studies and surveys show that couples are marrying later in life and having children at an older age. The result? The average family now has fewer children than in generations past.
Another change impacting local churches is the wide societal acceptance of cohabitation and divorce. As unmarried people live together in continually increasing numbers, more children are born out of wedlock. In 2006, the latest year for which data has been compiled nationally, 38.5 percent of children born were to unmarried parents. This fact and the high divorce rate have created an unprecedented number of single-parent families, most often headed by the mother. An overwhelming 70 percent of African-American babies are born into single-parent families; among the Hispanic population, it's around 50 percent._
Yet these statistics don't jibe with what the majority of Americans say are their "family values." According to a national poll conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, 71 percent of Americans believe "God's plan for marriage is one man and one woman, for life." Though similar, albeit smaller, polls indicate a lower percentage, even the lowest among them can't explain the moral chasm between our ideals about family and the reality.
What, then, does reality look like for the average American family? Fast, furious and fragmented. The faster pace of living among 21st-century families has impacted churches enormously. Churches' schedules, financial decisions and entire ministries are now shaped according to on-the-go families.
Behind their frantic pace is an ever-changing technology weaved into the daily family routine. Studies show that media use—cell phones, Internet, digital games, television, e-mail—soaks up more than nine-and-a-half hours of the average family member's day. (That doesn't include time spent multitasking with such media.) The multiplicity of activities in which parents involve their children, from music lessons to sports to community projects, eats into more of a family's time. And finally is the consumerism mentality, which is itself consuming Americans. If we aren't shopping for new goods, we're online researching them or finding someone to repair our broken ones.
These elements of contemporary family life are yielding unfavorable results. Despite the numerous activities, families are actually spending less time together—and what time families do spend together is largely dedicated to children's activities. Many social scientists agree that today children aren't just an important part of the family—the family agenda revolves around the children. Consequently, children are growing up internalizing values their families exhibit only through their daily habits.
Add all these elements together and you have a set of values that David Popenoe, professor of sociology and co-director of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University, identified as "secular individualism" in a 2008 report on the family: "This value set, which already predominates in the northern European nations, consists of the gradual abandonment of religious attendance and beliefs, a strong leaning toward 'expressive' values that are preoccupied with personal autonomy and self-fulfillment ... and a tolerance of diverse lifestyles."
The Time Factor
The average family's activities, values, focus, time and pace have all changed drastically. Is it any wonder, then, that churches are struggling to keep up with the Joneses?
One issue most pastors agree is the biggest factor in trying to minister to families is how busy people are. Chris Thatcher, pastor of connection and small groups at Cedar Mill Bible Church in Portland, Ore., says this has brought about fragmentation.
"This family fragmentation has been manifested in sports programs and different activities that run seven days a week," he says. "There used to be a break on weekends, but not anymore."
Thatcher believes this plays out in the church as relationships suffer. "People find less time for meaningful relationships centered around things of Christ and the church. Relationship tends to be crowded out."
As parents and children are caught up into more activities, families have started to consider weekends as hallowed times. "It's all a family can do to get to a church service; any involvement is a stretch," Thatcher says.
Across town, Glen Woods, children's pastor at Portland Open Bible Church, concurs. "I've noticed this gradual change as more and more families have less margin. The more children they have, the less margin the family has because of the different activities the kids are in. At home, families have less time together." Woods says he's seen some parents react with a backlash: "They've intuitively recognized the problem and decided to pull back from activities ... including activities at church."
Lance Cummins, worship pastor at NewSpring Church in Wichita, Kan., says his church is in the process of coming to terms with this dynamic. "We believe that families can afford to give [the church] only an hour, maybe two, a week." As a result, NewSpring has pared down its ministry, focusing solely on the weekend. "We've dropped all our other programs and focus just on the weekend, where we've gone to a 'worship one, serve one' model."
NewSprings' emphasis is now on asking parents to worship at one weekend service and then volunteer in another one. The church began offering a Saturday night worship service, identical to its Sunday services, to give congregants one more option as they try to fit church into their crammed schedules.
Streamlining processes and simplifying the schedule is also a method adopted at Cedar Mill, where Thatcher says the pastoral staff is still working out how to minister to the new family model. Part of the change process has been the realization that their former ministry style was actually accommodating family fragmentation, not addressing it. "We decided we need unity and simplicity," Thatcher says. "We don't want to complicate people's lives."
Simplicity is a theme surfacing among countless churches nationwide that are trying to adapt to family needs. Cedar Mill is "trying to do more with less," Thatcher explains. "Everything we do programmatically affects the whole family. We're very cognizant of how much we're asking people to do."
In his role as small groups pastor, Thatcher aims to make involvement as easy as possible. This has translated into providing training for ministry volunteers that's both reproducible and accessible in different venues to accommodate people's varied schedules. A "group life center" in the church lobby, for example, offers information on the latest options, and follow-up is essential. "For those new to the church who wish to join a ministry team, they go through one person who assesses their readiness and walks them through options instead of making [potential volunteers] fish for contacts themselves."
Time—or the lack of it—has certainly changed how churches minister to families. Yet just as dramatic a shift is the way churches must communicate to the average family that's constantly on the go. The children's pastor at Cedar Mill, for example, used to be able to put out a flier about an event a month in advance, and people would participate.
"Now communication three to six months out is crucial," Thatcher says. "If you have more than one or two kids in school, the long lead time is essential because school activities are a competing factor."
At Portland Open Bible Church, lightening the schedule has meant cutting back on committee meetings that Woods says contribute to families' lack of margin. "Instead, we want to live life, to experience actual community."
Thinking through the reality of how families live and worship has pushed the church to acknowledge some hard realities, while also taking innovative steps to deal with these.
"One-third of our families are single-parent homes," Woods cites as an example. "We've had to focus a lot on mentoring parents, especially single parents. The bottom line is that the practical impact we can have on these children with just an hour or two a week is minimal. Let's face it; the odds are against making a lasting impact. The people best postured to do it are the parents."
As a result, Woods strives to build communication channels with parents, seeking open discussion with moms and dads. "When various parents take the opportunity to speak openly to me, I work at not getting defensive. It's opened up a great avenue for ministry."
Woods has also learned to interpret complaints as expressions of need. In fact, one recent complaint resulted in a new class for toddlers through 2-year-olds, which answered a felt need of many parents.
Woods and his volunteer workers are also passionate about assisting children with special medical, emotional and social needs—and not just at church. They dialogue with parents during the week, discussing what each child is doing at school and at home.
"These parents need to see that the church is working for their child, that ministering to the child is a two-way street," Woods says.
New Family Blends and Backgrounds
Increasing numbers of blended families present their own set of needs and concerns for churches, all of which affect church life. Because most children in these situations alternate periods between custodial parents, children's ministries often struggle to find classroom curriculum that can be grasped piecemeal, regardless of how often children are able to attend.
"We know we're going to have certain kids here only every other weekend," Cummins mentions as a practical example NewSpring has faced. "[So] we've learned not to ask the question, 'Where were you last week?'"
Other churches are dealing with cohesion issues beyond blended families. At Rosewood Christian Reformed Church in Bellflower, Calif., the formerly Dutch-American congregation has morphed into an ethnically diverse population where many parents bring their children to a midweek kids program and may attend a weeknight Bible study, but they often don't come on Sundays. As a result, family ministries pastor Bonny Mulder-Behnia says the church has moved intentionally toward community outreach.
"We have to teach and nurture the children with the knowledge that this [midweek program] may be the only hour during the week when they receive any biblical teaching or Christian values," she says.
Since many families don't come to Sunday services, Rosewood reaches out to them through a series of events, such as Kids' Carnival Day at Easter, community pancake breakfasts and Summer Family Nights, where a free meal, VBS-type programming for children and classes for parents are offered.
"While we never assume that parents will have time or desire to nurture the faith of their children at home, we are always trying to find ways to help build families and get them involved in some capacity," Mulder-Behnia says. Her church addresses the busyness issue by holding short-term and one-time events such as church education for adults in five- or six-week sessions in lieu of longer programs.
As Cummins points out, parents desire to be spiritual teachers for their kids but often don't know how. "Families have been impacted by the 'expert culture,'" he explains. "They think only experts can do things well, not parents. They don't feel qualified to teach their children spiritual truth."
In response, teaching pastors affirm parents' roles as spiritual mentors, and the church offers simple guides—including a DVD—for parents to use with their kids to walk through together what the kids learned in the children's ministry that weekend.
Innovation for Unity's Sake
Though distributing a church-created DVD is routine at many churches now, it's an indication of how far churches have come in using technology to minister effectively. The children's ministry at Portland Open Bible Church, for example, has incorporated communication via blogs, cell phones and iPods to connect more with families whose children attend its programs. According to Woods, these tech tools offer parents encouragement as spiritual nurturers and put information for spiritual training into their hands. Such media also help make resources available so parents can make the choice to utilize what their children are learning at church. Woods found that launching a children's ministry blog, with regular postings of photos of the kids at church has started a buzz. "Everyone loves to see photos of their kids, and the blog is another point of connection that gives us the opportunity to initiate a faith conversation."
Whether it's through blogs or simple phone calls, the key for most churches is using new ways to connect people within the congregation. For years, churches have catered their services to different worship styles, age groups and individual preferences. Yet lately many churches are discovering that intergenerational worship can be a connective point that reduces fragmentation and draws families back into relationships with one another.
Cedar Mill Bible Church started an intergenerational service where all the members worship together. Thatcher said his own spiritual experience was strengthened when, instead of his young son being in the children's program elsewhere on the campus, they celebrated communion together for the first time. "I was thrilled, and it was a tangible example of supporting intergenerational unity," he said. "We're going to keep doing that—anything and everything we can to support unity as it relates to families."
The key, as every minister discovers at some point along the journey, is to stay true to the vision God has given a church—especially through the reconfigurations. Rosewood recently experienced this, as its community-focused vision enveloping the diversity of cultures around them resulted in some middle-class Anglo families opting out. Mulder-Behnia says while this has hurt the church financially, they've chosen to celebrate the ministry that God has given them and the fruit they are reaping.
"It's extremely hard to stay focused, and really easy to justify adding new things," adds Cummins. "There are so many good programs out there. The key for us is to stay laser-focused on the few things we do well, and do them well."
It's that focus that will allow churches to stem the tide against family fragmentation and instead unify those in their communities. Because although the family unit may not look the same as it did a generation ago, it remains the core element of our society—and, as such, the most fertile ground for church ministry.
Homeschool mom and freelance writer KAREN SCHMIDT has worked with kids since she was an Awana leader in high school. She feels totally blessed to be part of a remarkable, small Baptist church in northwestern Washington. read more
The truth about apostles, authority and the kingdom of God
Not long ago an international apostolic movement held its regional summit in an American city. The main speaker was one of this movement's leading figures and had chosen to speak on the topic of honor. Within minutes of beginning his address, he began boasting about his numerous cars, multimillion-dollar home and 40 ministries that tithed to him. He exhorted those assembled that if they were true apostolic fathers, they should receive similar honor from their sons and daughters. He then proceeded to talk to them about their clothes: Suits off the rack were fine for preaching in a normal meeting, but ministering at a leader's conference demanded tailor-made.
It's sad enough that anyone representing Jesus would be so foolish and misled. Yet even more troubling is that no one had enough integrity to stand up and confront him. Sadly, incidents like this have become so commonplace in recent years that it's exposed our current misunderstanding of true leadership in God's kingdom. Do we see apostles as the top of the leadership pyramid? More churches around the world are using phrases such as "coming into apostolic alignment" and "coming into divine order" while believing that such hierarchical order is the kingdom of God. But is it?
Of Kings, Priests and Prophets
"In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes." " —Judges 21:25
This verse is typically interpreted in the context of a problem to be solved. We lack order and therefore need some form of authority to keep us in alignment. In reality, these are just two statements. It was true that there was no king in Israel; it was also true that everyone was doing whatever he pleased.
Scripture makes it obvious that God didn't want to solve the problem by appointing a king. When Israel demanded a king, 1 Samuel 8:7 shows His response to Samuel: "They have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them."
How did God rule over His people? He had the priests to teach them the law and the prophets to confront them when they did not keep it. God desired obedience through free conviction rather than any form of coercion. He was willing to accept the possibility of chaos rather than accept the "order" enforced by a king. God didn't want a mediator between Himself and His people.
Submission to a man, even a "man of God," does not place you in a theocracy. At best, it places you in a benevolent dictatorship.
God's desire was a theocracy for which priest and prophet were to provide the foundation. He never intended to make any man a king over His people!
That theocracy shipwrecked upon the reality of the old heart, which could not keep God's ways. That is why both Jeremiah (31:31-34) and Ezekiel (36:25-27) prophesied about the covenant of the new heart upon which God would write His law, in which God would place His Spirit and by which God would cause us to walk in His ways.
The good news encompassing the kingdom of God is that you can know the direct, personal rule of the King in both your individual life and in corporate life. It is the good news of grace that your heart can be forgiven and clean to desire the ways of God, hear the intimate direction of His voice and receive the power of the Spirit to walk with Him.
Removing Our Original Authority
" "But you, do not be called 'Rabbi'; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ. But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant." " —Matthew 23:8-11
Those words are in the context of Jesus pronouncing "Woe!" to the religious establishment regarding their lust for power, position and title. But the underlying point isn't so much the destruction caused by the lust for power as the reality that when we rule over others, we are taking a place that God has reserved solely for Himself.
Keep in mind, Jesus never gave any person authority over another person. He gave us authority over sickness and demons and asked us to rule ourselves by dying to ourselves. Those who do so will have functional leadership through example and by invitation, but they will always know themselves as servants.
Restoration movements frequently come and go in which the main emphasis is the authority of leaders over God's people and where the mark of "spirituality" becomes submission. Granted, some good things happen in those movements. But whether we call ourselves apostles, prophets, pastors and teachers or popes, cardinals, bishops and priests, it makes no difference. We're building a religious system based upon man, and we're taking away the authority of the King. The fruit of this is always a cult of leadership privilege and materialism sprinkled with moral failure.
Divine order, understood as the "right" arrangement of leaders in hierarchy, always produces death. This is simply the pride of man in action. Too often we believe that if we simply create the right order then we'll be able to yield the life of God. The truth is, it's the authentic church—not a chain of command—that produces the life of God. There's a big difference!
A Kingdom Built for Friends
Jesus' very life provides a perfect example of this fundamental difference. His "leadership model," if you will, as described in John 15:13-15, is crystal clear: "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you."
The One who legitimately could claim all position and title did not do so. He looked into the eyes of men who would soon betray Him and called them His friends. He absolutely and for all time destroyed any possibility of any hierarchy ever representing His kingdom. Skyward-reaching pyramids are for dead people. Yet before the living throne of God is a sea of glass—a mass of flatness in which we all, as brothers and sisters, stand before the One who calls us friend.
You cannot be friends in a hierarchy. Those on the same level are always competitors. Relationships above or below always involve power and control.
Yet the New Testament was written to friends. That is why it has almost 60 "one another" verses that contain 30 "one another" commands, including one about "submitting to one another in the fear of God" (Eph. 5:21). It's why there are only six verses that ask for recognition of functional leadership—and each of those is in the context of the "one another" reality. First Peter 5:5 ("Be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility") is normative.
When we grasp the depths to which God desires to establish this kingdom based on friendship and" authentic" submission, then the words and example of Jesus as narrated in John 16:7 become even more startling: "Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you."
The disciples could not imagine anything worse than Jesus going away. Jesus, the greatest leader who ever walked on earth, was telling them it was better for them if He went away! And we think " we" are important, indispensable even? Jesus knew it would be better for His disciples to have the inward leading of the Holy Spirit than even His flesh and blood leadership. He was willing to trust all upon the ability of the Holy Spirit to lead people into the truth. Given this, how can we who claim to be followers of Jesus, ever dare to build leadership cults?
As already shown in John 15, Jesus indicated that with friendship comes some basic responsibilities ... and that is where the problem arises for most believers. Often people want freedom, but not the responsibilities of freedom that come with it. We would rather have a king tell us what to do. (Simultaneously, there are always those among us who want to be king and refuse to call this codependent arrangement the kingdom of God.)
God's kingdom, however, is established among His people. And the authority of that kingdom is distributed through each member of the body as we accept the responsibilities of freedom and ...
1) Seek the King for ourselves. That means you become a self-feeder. You let His grace lead your life. As Dallas Willard says in "The Divine Conspiracy", "You either live by grace or addiction."
2) Fulfill the "one another" commands with a few. If you cannot be the church with your spouse and speak the truth with two or three, your public worship is a show.
3) Disciple our own children. If you cannot disciple your own kids, how can you disciple the nations? If you do not have relational integrity with your own children, with whom will you have it?
4) Multiply our relationship with the King through making disciples. The basic command of the King is to make disciples. This is not about events or programs. Disciples are made by a relational process based in the transparency and humility of doing the "one another" stuff together.
5) Speak the truth to one another so that we might grow up. Accountability in the kingdom is not hierarchical. It is primarily to God and then horizontally to one another.
"And He Gave Some to Be Apostles ..."
Up to this point, we've addressed the nature and "divine order" of God's kingdom. And although you may believe we've abandoned our starting point of questioning the pre-eminence given to apostles in today's churches, we haven't. In fact, everything we have covered factors into the role of a true apostle.
When Jesus established Himself as the victorious King of His kingdom, it redefined apostleship. Today those of us who desire to be citizens of His kingdom need to acquire a New Testament understanding of what an apostle is. The idea of a spiritual chief executive officer at the top of the religious food chain is simply wrong.
We know the word " apostle" means "sent one," but many may not realize that Paul's use of the term is in the Greco-Roman business context regarding slaves. In the day in which Paul wrote, there was a fixed hierarchy among slaves from business directors down to those who did manual chores. The most expendable slave, and thus the least honored, was the "sent one." Why? Travel was often dangerous, so those sent on errands near or far were those whose loss would "matter" the least. They were the most nonessential with the least status. (For further discussion of the cultural meaning behind the term "apostle", go to www.ministrytodaymag.com/apostles
Putting "apostle" on your business card then would be like putting "dishwasher" on your card now. Clearly, it carried a different connotation than what we've made the term into today. Yet in the opening verse of his letter to the Romans, Paul identifies himself first as a "bondservant" or "slave" of Jesus Christ, and then one who has been "called to be an apostle." (First Corinthians 4:8-10 and 2 Corinthians 2:4-10 read properly in this light.)
In John 13, Jesus modeled what the "lowest" household slave would do. He instructed His disciples that this was their paradigm. Christ was free to serve because He knew "that the father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God" (v. 3). His disciples were to emulate this pattern, secure in their friendship with the One who sent Jesus. They were to display their lack for nothing by becoming the "least of these." On the contrary, our need for position and honor is a testimony to our inward poverty.
Our examples are not Saul, David and Solomon. Our examples are Jesus and Paul. Jesus set the standard and gave us the paradigm for His kingdom, in which we call Him King and friend. Paul followed this not by becoming the top religious administrator who went around collecting churches, holding conferences and taking offerings. His calling as apostle wasn't the glamorized ideal many of us carry in our minds.
Paul was simply the first to venture into new territory to found a group of disciples, take the promised persecution in their place and, after these disciples were established, leave them to the Holy Spirit. He didn't stay to play king. And he certainly left no record of teaching his sons about the importance of tailor-made suits.
STEPHEN W. HILL and his wife, Marilyn, began their journey as Jesus People, sitting on the floor talking with people about Jesus. After a 30-year journey through every expression of charismatic experience and ministry, they're back to sitting on the floor talking with people about Jesus. For more information, visit harvest-now.org. read more
Finding just the right Word amid all the new Bibles released this year can be daunting.Here's help.
Picking out a Bible used to be relatively simple. You had your standard King James Version with a trio of color options: black, navy and burgundy. Today believers can walk into a local Christian bookstore and face a wall of Bibles in a myriad of selections—different translations, sizes, study notes, formats, target audiences, covers and editions. Choosing the right Word can easily become an overwhelming task.
This provides a particular problem for pastors, who need to be able to answer questions about the different variations of the Bible for their church members. Imagine a pastor who has never heard of The Message. You don't want to be caught unaware if a church member pulls out The Voice at your next Bible study and it sounds like he's reading a screenplay.
In addition, being able to make the right Bible recommendation for a specific person can turn an occasional Bible reader into a Word-lover. As last year's Reveal study from Willow Creek showed, regular Bible reading is the single most important factor affecting a Christian's spiritual maturity. Putting the right Bible in a believer's hands can truly make a difference.
To keep you updated, Ministry Today researched the latest Bibles to hit the market. This past fall and current winter season have been particularly good for anyone who likes their Bibles with study notes, as a large number of popular titles released study Bible editions for the first time. Add to that mix an entirely new translation just released and it's easy to see why leaders need all the help they can get when venturing into the maze of new Bibles available. Don't worry—consider this your map.
The Voice New Testament
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Cost: Paperback: $19.99, Fabric Cover: $34.99
The Voice is the first completely new Bible translation to release in several years. The idea behind this contemporary version was to translate the Scriptures as they were originally intended to sound, keeping intact the different writing styles of the authors and focusing on the literary beauty of Scripture while still retaining accuracy.
"I've been working with the Scriptures my whole life, and this is the first time a translation has really been consumer-oriented," said Thomas Nelson Vice President Frank Couch, who is currently overseeing the Old Testament translation of The Voice. "All of the others have been scholarly oriented. This is really for people in the church."
Working with renowned pastor Chris Seay and his Ecclesia Bible Society, Thomas Nelson brought together authors, musicians, poets and historians to work with the scholars in translating this new version. The result is a major departure from the typical English translation. Parts of the Gospels read like a screenplay, while books with different authors sound more distinct in a deliberate attempt to retain the perspective of each book's writer.
Younger audiences in the emergent crowd and those looking for a fresh take on the Scriptures will most likely be drawn to The Voice, as names such as Brian McLaren, Leonard Sweet and Donald Miller are attached to the project. As with most translations of this nature, however, The Voice should probably be read alongside more literal works when doing in-depth study. Still, if you're looking for the next The Message, this might be it.
Parallel Study Bible
Cost: Ranges from $44.99 (hardcover) to $69.99, depending on binding
Although Eugene Peterson's The Message is extremely popular, many readers like to compare the paraphrase alongside a more literal translation. This has made Zondervan's NIV/Message Parallel Bible, where the two translations face each other on the same page, the best-selling parallel Bible in the country.
This month Zondervan releases—you guessed it—a new version with study notes, which provide extra meaning and context to each passage.
"It's targeted for really anyone who wants to read and understand the Bible in a new and fresh way," said Brian Scharp, vice president of marketing for Bibles at Zondervan. "If you're already familiar with the NIV, it's nice to see how The Message puts it."
It's also useful for pastors who want to encourage those interested in The Message—but not at the cost of a more accurate, scholarly and literal translation. With this parallel version, it's a win-win for everyone.
English Standard Version
Cost: Ranges from $49.99 (hardcover) to $239.99, depending on binding
Popularity of the English Standard Version (ESV) has been on the rise in recent years. Several prominent pastors, including John Piper, have endorsed it as a highly accurate translation that also reads well and is suitable for study or casual reading. Crossway launched the ESV Study Bible last October as the first major study version of this translation.
This version of the Bible features more than 20,000 study notes, more than 200 full-color maps, 50 articles and 40 full-color illustrations of major archeological sites, such as Herod's Temple or the ark of the covenant. In addition, the introductions to the books are extensive and clear.
People who enjoy the ESV will definitely be interested in the new study edition. Not only does it feature an abundance of study materials, it's also attractive; the text, maps and illustrations are beautifully done.
Chronological Study Bible
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Cost: Hardcover: $44.99, Bonded Leather: $69.99
Speaking of attractive Bibles, you'll have a hard time finding a better looking one than the Chronological Study Bible. But that's not the main focus of this new release, which uses the New King James Version (NKJV) translation.
"What the Chronological Study Bible does is it puts the biblical narrative in order," Couch said. "So, for example, in the life of David, you have the Psalms accompanying David's narrative during the different parts of his life. And when you read about the kings and prophets, you read about them together instead of in different books."
Though other Bibles have used the chronological idea before, this is the first to feature study notes to give a historical and cultural background for each passage. The version also uses a new four-color technology that fills every page with multiple colors. Maps, photos, illustrations and pullout quotes all stand out beautifully on the page.
The Chronological Study Bible is a great tool for pastors (or any reader) looking to place a passage in its historical context. And as Couch stressed, it is designed to work alongside more traditional Bibles, not replace them
New Living Translation
Publisher: Tyndale House
Cost: Ranges from $39.99 (hardcover) to $79.99, depending on binding
One of the most popular translations, the New Living Translation (NLT) released its first study Bible last September after seven years of work from an extensive team of scholars and editors. Well worth the wait, the new edition includes nearly 26,000 study notes, more than 300 theme articles on theological subjects, visual aides such as maps and illustrations, personality profiles and timelines to help readers gain a deeper understanding of the Word.
Study notes for the Bible focus more on the historical and cultural background of the text instead of the meaning of the passages. In addition, Tyndale launched a fully searchable online version of the study Bible—available to those who have purchased the print version—as well as one for three major electronic Bible formats (WordSearch, PocketBible and Logos). Fans of the NLT will definitely be interested in this new source, which puts even more information and resources at the readers' fingertips to enhance studying the Word
NIV/TNIV New Testament (The NoteWorthy Collection)
The NoteWorthy Collection is a set of portable versions of the New Testament designed with lots of room for note-taking. Available in both the New International Version (NIV) and Today's New International Version (TNIV) translations, the NoteWorthy books feature durable hard covers, a tall, slim design and blank right-hand pages to allow space for notes. It also features an accordion-style storage area for loose notes and an elastic band to keep it shut.
This is the perfect Bible for those who like to take notes or write down ideas that come to them at any moment. It easily fits in a pocket.
Encounters With God Daily Bible
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Cost: Paperback: $19.99
The Blackaby boys (Henry, Richard, Thomas, Melvin and Norman) are back with a daily reading Bible that follows up on their successful book Encounters With God: Transforming Your Bible Study. Using the NKJV, this Bible is divided into 365 daily segments that feature passages from the Old Testament, Psalms, Proverbs and the New Testament.
In addition, the Blackaby family of Bible teachers provides thoughts at the end of each day's readings designed to draw readers into an experience with God. "One of the greatest needs we see in our culture is that connection with the transcendent," Couch said. "So for those who are seeking that deeper experience with God, that's who this is for.
Wesley Study Bible
Publisher: Abingdon Press
Although the writings of John Wesley—and specifically his explanatory notes on the Bible—have been around for more than 200 years and used in countless ways, the Wesley Study Bible marks the first time these works have been compiled with the New Revised Standard Version (which, fittingly enough, was developed exactly 20 years ago).
In an effort to enhance readers' personal study times, publisher Abingdon Press took a team approach: More than 50 leading scholars contributed to the Bible's study notes, most of which include references or excerpts from Welsey's writings. An equal number of pastors penned their motivational thoughts on how to live out the Scriptures.
In addition, more than 60 Wesley theologians added key-concept writings that allow readers to dive deeper into both overarching themes and specific topics found throughout the Scriptures.
The result of such teamwork is an applicable study edition that, though constructed around Wesley's timeless thoughts, allows a singular voice to be heard: God's.
NIV Study Bible, Premium Edition: Updated Edition
For those who want a Bible that will last a lifetime, you could do worse than the new updated, premium edition of the NIV Study Bible, the best-selling study Bible in the world. In 2008, Zondervan relaunched its entire line of NIV study Bibles and in an updated edition that included a revision to 25 percent of its study notes.
The premium edition relaunched with the new, high-quality, "Renaissance Fine Leather," two-inch margins on each page for notes and two ribbons.
"It's soft, yet it's thick and very durable," Scharp said. "For a lot of people, it could become their cherished study Bible for years."
Mossy Oak Compact Bible
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Of course, what would a Bible release season be without a niche-audience release. For those who either love the outdoors or have a large number of hunting enthusiasts among their congregations, the Mossy Oak Compact Bible comes with the NKJV text and features a durable softcover binding that also happens to be camouflage. Small enough to fit in any tent, this Bible is tailor-made for those who feel guilty about going hunting on Sunday mornings.
Not Necessarily New ... But Still Worth Checking Out
Apologetics Study Bible
Publisher: B&H Publishing Group
Cost: Ranges from $39.99 (hardcover) to $89.99, depending on binding
In an era when any worldview is accepted, the Apologetics Study Bible is an invaluable tool for pastors, leaders and believers passionate about either defending their faith or exploring why Christians believe what they do. With more than 100 articles from many of the best-known apologists in the world today (e.g., Ravi Zacharias, Gary Habermas, Lee Strobel), this version comes in the Holman Christian Standard Bible translation and includes, among other things, dozens of study notes and profiles of various defenders of the faith throughout history.
Standard Full Color Bible
Publisher: Standard Publishing
Cost: Ranges from $49.99 (hardcover) to $59.99, depending on binding
When opened, does your Bible practically glow in the dark from all the passages you've highlighted with a neon marker? Some readers of the Word are more, well, "active than others with their note-taking. If you're among that crowd, the Standard Full Color Bible is right up your alley. From Genesis to Revelation, every verse is color-coded and categorized into 12 different themes such as Faith, Family, Outreach, History and God. The result is a topically driven version of the Bible that's a useful tool for preaching, teaching, group study or personal meditation.
The Word of Promise New Testament (MP3)
Inspired by ... The Bible Experience (MP3)
Publishers: Thomas Nelson and Zondervan
Cost: The Word of Promise: $34.99;
Inspired by ... The Bible Experience: $69.99
As audio dramatizations of the Bible, The Word of Promise and Inspired by ... The Bible Experience are now available in MP3 format, making these extremely popular products more accessible to those with MP3 players such as iPods. As an added feature, Zondervan's version includes the full text of the Bible, allowing listeners to follow along with the audio by scrolling through the text on their iPod window. Meanwhile, Thomas Nelson created an ancillary product, 40 Days With the Word of Promise DVD and participant guide to help small groups and churches work through the entire New Testament in 40 days.
Archeological Study Bible
Cost: Ranges from $44.99 (hardcover) to $109.99, depending on binding
Bible scholars worldwide will tell you context is everything. To dig deeper in understanding God's Word, it's crucial to consider the historical contexts in which its books were originally written. The Archeological Study Bible does just that with virtually every page, offering readers an illustrated walk through biblical times, cultures and scenarios. Hundreds of full-color photographs and study notes in multiple categories (historical, archeological, expository, etc.) help to bring the people and places in every passage to vivid life. A great resource for new and mature believers alike.
However close you are to developing the "perfect" ministry for children in your church, it's smart to make sure that, as with any ministry, you've established it using proven, successful principles that bear fruit for a lifetime, not just for a single season.
So whether you are starting a children's ministry from the ground up or just looking to breathe some new life into your existing program, there are five key elements that I have found to be a must for sustainable, healthy ministry. These "building blocks" are essential, no matter what your style or approach, to making connections that are real and that will last the kids in your care a lifetime.
Even if you've taken a "family" approach that involves your kids participating in the adult worship service, I encourage you to include these as a part of your overall strategy. So let's take a look at how the elements of fun, relationship, energy, safety and helpfulness come together to make a ministry that is F-R-E-S-H.
Make It Fun-damental!
The first element of a FRESH ministry is fun! I've heard some say, "The trouble with kids today is they always want to be entertained." Although there may be some truth to that statement, and although our kids need much more than another video game to play or another movie to babysit them, let's not forget how Jesus came to people.
From Zacchaeus by the tree to Thomas with all his doubts, time and again we see our Lord meeting people exactly where they were. He never asked anybody to try to be something they were not before they could come to Him. He accepted them just as they were—with all their talents and quirks, likes and dislikes—yet in love propelled them toward change.
By nature, children like things that are fun. (In fact, we all do—but some of us, somewhere along the way, forgot how to have it and end up trying to stop others from having it too!) Because of that nature, having fun should be a fundamental part of every children's ministry. When we make ministry fun, we show:
that we respect the need of children to be who they are
that God is a fun god ("In Your presence is fullness of joy"—Ps. 16:11)
that serving Him is a joy (which makes others want to get involved).
By cultivating a fun environment, we engage the soul of the child, which opens the door for meaningful ministry and sets the stage for the next element.
A FRESH ministry is relational. As the saying goes, kids don't care what you know until they know you care. A fun environment alone does not shape a life, and neither does a program void of relationship. You can have a slick, top-notch kids program that rivals Nickelodeon, but if you aren't making a heart connection, that's all it is—good programming. We need to make sure we're making time and space for relational connections to be made—kid to kid, as well as leader to kid.
We see this clearly patterned in the leadership of Jesus and ultimately in the heart of our Father. It's not just about a process; it's about a relationship. The process may be useful and may even produce good results, but if there is no relationship, it won't last. Relationship empowers discipleship.
Don't Be Rude
A FRESH ministry is also energetic. Again, this has more to do with relating to children in the season of life they're in and honoring their needs. If we ask children to come be a part of our ministry but then expect them to sit still for an hour straight, it's not only disrespectful, it's rude!
When you invite guests into your home, you make preparations. You find out things that they like and try to make sure they enjoy their time with you. That's called simple hospitality, yet it's exactly what far too many churches have missed by a mile.
Hospitality is important in ministry because it says, "I care." It places the emphasis on others and makes them feel valued. The bottom line is that your ministry does have an energy level about it, whether exciting and inviting or dull and boring. The good news is that you have the choice (and the power) to make it one or the other.
Do No Harm
In the midst of having all this lively, energetic, relational fun, a FRESH ministry is also safe. We know we must put safety first, but do we? Think of it as the Hippocratic Oath of ministry: "Do no harm." Unfortunately, we've had way too many examples in recent history of ministries that have perhaps done more harm than good for the cause of Jesus Christ.
So what measures can you take to ensure that your ministry is a safe place for children?
First, have an application process for leaders and volunteers that asks tough questions and includes background checks. These are no longer optional; this type of screening is your first line of defense against predators. In addition, check with past ministry leaders who may have worked with a specific individual and ask them, "Do you know of any reason why I might not want this person working with my kids?" You have to be more concerned about protecting children than you are about making an adult feel uneasy.
Second, make sure the environment where the kids will spend their time is free of hazards. Keep toys and equipment clean and in good repair. Get someone from a day care or a school to do a walk-through for you. You might be shocked at the things you didn't even think of as a safety hazard.
Third, teach your leaders how to exercise good judgment through training that helps them always think "safety first." This involves creating a culture of leadership among your helpers, which starts with you, the children's pastor. Set the standard you want reached, because no matter how fun an activity may seem at the time, the fun stops when someone gets hurt.
Keep It Practical
Finally, a FRESH ministry is helpful. Another way of stating this is that it's relevant and overflowing with practical advice. Information is helpful if it's useful and relevant to your present circumstance. For example, although knowing the names of the 12 disciples is good, it's not really helpful when you are 9 years old and your parents are divorcing.
Obviously, it's nearly impossible to provide practical lessons that cater to each child's specific needs at specific times. Yet it's important to keep this goal of relevancy in mind as we prepare a program or lesson, or even in our moment-by-moment interaction with kids during gathering times.
If our ministry is going to be vibrant and life-giving, we must be aware of the culture, trends, technology and issues that kids are facing and address these areas with helpful principles from the Word of God. We need to make sure that we aren't just giving them information to memorize, but principles they can live by.
For any outstanding children's ministry, the goal isn't to just hold their attention for an hour; we want to capture their hearts for a lifetime.
JULIE BEADER travels internationally encouraging, equipping and empowering churches to reach the next generation for Christ. For more than 20 years she served as a children's pastor, youth pastor and director of Christian education before launching Connect Ministries International connectedministry.com. read more
Ministry Today: Besides the catchy song connection, what’s the meaning behind the title of your book, Crazy Love? Why did you choose that title?
Francis Chan: We chose the term “crazy” because when you look at the gospel it’s really a ridiculous story—that the creator of the universe would watch His Son be tortured for us. We can’t even fathom having that kind of love for someone, especially if we were that great and powerful. We hear the story so often that it loses its shock. It’s crazy, so our response should be crazy as well. If we’re showing Him, casual lukewarm, complacent love, it doesn’t make sense. Why did the people in the Book of Acts give up everything they had? Why didn’t they care about their stuff? Because they saw a man rise from the grave. Now if they saw a man rise from the grave and nothing changed in their lives, that wouldn’t make sense. Yet, that’s exactly what we do.
Ministry Today: What’s “spiritual amnesia” and what can be done to combat it?
Chan: There are times when we are so struck by the truth of God’s Word and the truth of God’s being, and yet a couple hours later, we’re so into a Lakers game we forget all about God. It is because we live in America and have a love of entertainment. In the words of John Piper we “amuse ourselves to death.” So that’s where the enemy hits. It’s similar to going on a mission trip. We have such amazing experiences, and we come home saying, ‘I swear I’ll never forget that.’ Then a week later we forget it and life is back to normal. That’s spiritual amnesia.
Ministry Today: You tip a lot of sacred cows in your book, even writing that lukewarm Christians are grateful for comfort and luxuries.
Chan: A lot of people have determined what they want to believe. So when they go to the Scriptures they go in making them say what they want them to say. I would love to just take care of myself, have enough retirement for my family and me. That makes sense to me. It’s logical to me, and I have the means to pull it off. I could very easily make a case for that biblically and say it’s OK for me to do that.But when I really read the Scriptures as objectively as I can and ask, ‘What’s it really saying?’ it’s nothing of that sort. It’s all about caring for the least of these, sacrificing and risking my life. I can’t be thinking about what my life will look like in 30 years if my true brother in Christ is dying right now and will die this week unless I get food to him. In America we try to mesh what is American with what is biblical, and we come up with this church we have today.
Ministry Today: One of your chapters is titled “Your Best Life … Later.” Is that a conscious refutation of some of the more popular teaching out there?
Chan: Absolutely. I just think it’s just a bunch of bull. I even played with the idea of titling the book that. I think it’s such a dangerous heresy that’s out there that says God just wants you to be rich and healthy. It goes against the way Christ lived and against the way He told the disciples they’d have to live. I don’t want to be this person who is against anyone who is rich, but I just think if you’re a Christian you don’t really care about money. Why would we lure people into the Christian life promising physical riches? Isn’t God enough? Isn’t the fact that I’ve got a relationship with Almighty God enough? Jesus’ message was you should want to follow Me even if it means losing everything. That’s what Scripture teaches.
Ministry Today: You write that we tend to turn saints into celebrities. Being the pastor of a large church do you fear that could happen with you?
Chan: Yes. It’s happening with the speaking and now with this book. It’s weird. I hate all that stuff. I have to admit sometimes it’s nice to be recognized. But for me personally I’m so aware that at any second my life could end. That’s something that’s been so real to me ever since I was a kid. I think it’s because of the deaths of my parents. I’m very strange this way, but I think about death probably every day. I think: “This could be it. Am I ready?”
At the moment of death nothing else matters. I’m standing before a holy God. That’s the reality. And I think about it a lot. It’s not a fear. I couldn’t care less if I die. But I do think about it a lot. Maybe it’s because I do funerals or maybe because a lot of my family has died, but I’m constantly aware of death in a sober, humbling way. … I think the Lord has given me that awareness as a gift so I don’t get stuck in pride. When I come before Him I say, “God, I could be coming home to You today.”
Ministry Today: Your mother died giving birth to you. Your father was distant and physically abusive. Talk about how that affected your view of God and how you got past that.
Chan: I always gravitated to those passages about God’s holiness. They click with me because I understand fear and respect for authority. I also think the Asian culture teaches that. But understanding the intimate side really changed when I had kids of my own. I remember the moment it clicked. I took my daughter out of school one Friday and took her camping, just the two of us. There was so much laughter, and I’d never seen her so happy. She was just jumping, screaming and laughing. And I remember how great I felt, that I had made her happy. At that moment I wondered: ‘Does God feel that way about me?’ Does He think of me that way?’ It was all the fatherly attributes I’d seen in Scripture but didn’t really understand until I experienced it myself.
Ministry Today: What’s the number one problem you experience in your church getting men mobilized? Or, is there a problem?
Chan: There hasn’t been that much a problem here. We’re actually doing quite well in that area. But we’ve emphasized strong male leadership from the start. Men rise to the challenge when they’re told that they need to. We’ve always placed the responsibility on the men. I’m very quick to put everything on my own shoulders. If my wife or kids aren’t acting a certain way I don’t blame them. I’m supposed to be leading. I immediately look to myself. It’s my issue. There’s this concept of biblical manhood that a lot of people are scared to preach. But I’m not saying that there aren’t others out there preaching this. I’m not trying to get into a bashing session. Unless you’re talking about Joel Osteen.
Ministry Today: OK, I’ll send him after you.
Chan: (Laughs) I think I could take him.
Ministry Today: I’m not sure. I read he can bench 300 pounds.
Chan: No way! Are you serious?
Ministry Today: That’s what I read.
Chan: That’s funny.
Ministry Today: He’s pretty wiry, I guess. One more question. This is a little more serious. What do you see as the number one challenge for the North American church over the next 10 years?
Chan: I think the number one challenge is to get the church to really be the church. The church was meant to be a light. People were supposed to live so differently in the church. On any given Sunday you can go to church and then go into your neighborhood and meet unbelievers who have more love, joy, peace, patience and kindness than the people you sat in the pews with. If the Holy Spirit is literally in these people at church, shouldn’t there be an obvious difference between them and those who are spiritually dead? And I don’t see that. For so many years my non-Christian friends were more giving and dependable. How’s the world supposed to believe that something has happened to us if we’re no different than anyone else?
by Drew Dyck read more
[The following is an excerpt from Crazy Love by Francis Chan. Used by permission.]
Of all the chapters in this book, this one was the hardest for me to write. I do not wish for my words to come across as controversial or difficult to swallow. But I had to write this chapter, because I believe what I’m about to talk about is important. And true.
In the last chapter we discussed various inappropriate responses to God’s love. Now we are going to look at scriptural examples of poor responses to God’s gift of love. Before you discount or ignore what I am about to say, read these passages objectively, without preconceived opinions staunchly in place.
My examination of lukewarm Christians in chapter 4 was by no means exhaustive. However, it did serve as a call to examine your heart in light of the points I listed. As I see it, a lukewarm Christian is an oxymoron; there’s no such thing. To put it plainly, churchgoers who are—lukewarm—are not Christians. We will not see them in heaven.
In Revelation 3:15–18, Jesus says:
I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.
This passage is where our modern understanding of lukewarm comes from. Jesus is saying to the church that because they are lukewarm, He is going to spit them out of His mouth.
There is no gentle rendering of the word spit in the Greek. This is the only time it is used in the New Testament, and it connotes gagging, hurling, retching. Many people read this passage and assume Jesus is speaking to saved people. My question is, Why?
When you read this passage, do you naturally conclude that to be “spit” out of Jesus’ mouth means you’re a part of His kingdom? When you read the words wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked, do you think that He’s describing saints? When He counsels them to “buy white clothes to wear” in order to cover their shameful nakedness, does it sound like advice for those already saved?
I thought people who were saved were already made white and clothed by Christ’s blood.
In an earlier draft of this chapter, I quoted several commentators who agreed with my point of view. But we all know that you can find quotes to support any view you want to take. You can even tweak word studies to help you in your effort. I’m not against scholarship, but I do believe there are times when we come to more accurate conclusions through simple reading.
And so I’ve spent the past few days reading the Gospels. Rather than examining a verse and dissecting it, I chose to peruse one Gospel in each sitting. Furthermore, I attempted to do so from the perspective of a twelve-year-old who knew nothing about Jesus. I wanted to rediscover what reasonable conclusions a person would come to while objectively reading the Gospels for the first time. In other words, I read the Bible as if I’d never read it before.
My conclusion? Jesus’ call to commitment is clear: He wants all or nothing. The thought of a person calling himself a “Christian” without being a devoted follower of Christ is absurd.
But please don’t take my word for it. Read it yourself.
For years I struggled with the parable of the soils. I wanted to know if the person representing the rocky soil is saved, even though he has no root. I then wondered about the thorny soil; is this person saved since he does have a root?
I doubt if people even considered these questions back in Jesus’ day! Is this idea of the non-fruit-bearing Christian something that we have concocted in order to make Christianity “easier”? So we can follow our own course while still calling ourselves followers of Christ? So we can “join the Marines,” so to speak, without having to do all the work?
Jesus’ intention in this parable was to compare the only good soil to the ones that were not legitimate alternatives. To Him, there was one option for a true believer.
Let’s face it. We’re willing to make changes in our lives only if we think it affects our salvation. This is why I have so many people ask me questions like, Can I divorce my wife and still go to heaven? Do I have to be baptized to be saved? Am I a Christian even though I’m having sex with my girlfriend? If I commit suicide, can I still go to heaven? If I’m ashamed to talk about Christ, is He really going to deny knowing me?
To me, these questions are tragic because they reveal much about the state of our hearts. They demonstrate that our concern is more about going to heaven than loving the King. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command” (John 14:15). And our question quickly becomes even more unthinkable: Can I go to Heaven without truly and faithfully loving Jesus?
I don’t see anywhere in Scripture how the answer to that question could be yes.
James 2:19 says, “You believe there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that “and shudder.” God doesn’t just want us to have good theology; He wants us to know and love Him. First John 2:3–4 tells us, “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”
Call me crazy, but I think those verses mean that the person who claims to know God but doesn’t obey His commands is a liar and that the truth really isn’t in him.
In Matthew 16:24–26, Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” And in Luke 14:33, He says, “Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.”
Some people claim that we can be Christians without necessarily becoming disciples. I wonder, then, why the last thing Jesus told us was to go into the world, making disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey all that He commanded? You’ll notice that He didn’t add, “But hey, if that’s too much to ask, tell them to just become Christians—you know, the people who get to go to heaven without having to commit to anything.”
Pray. Then read the Gospels for yourself. Put this book down and pick up your Bible. My prayer for you is that you’ll understand the Scriptures not as I see them, but as God intends them.
Obedience and Surrender
I do not want true believers to doubt their salvation as they read this book. In the midst of our failed attempts at loving Jesus, His grace still covers us.
Each of us has lukewarm elements and practices in our life; therein lies the senseless, extravagant grace of it all. The Scriptures demonstrate clearly that there is room for our failure and sin in our pursuit of God. His mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3). His grace is sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9). I’m not saying that when you mess up, it means you were never really a genuine Christian in the first place. If that were true, there would be no one who follows Christ.
The distinction is perfection (which none will attain on this earth) and a posture of obedience and surrender, where a person perpetually moves toward Christ. To call someone a Christian simply because he does some Christian-y things is giving false comfort to the unsaved. But to declare anyone who sins “unsaved” is to deny the reality and truth of God’s grace.
From other references in Scripture (Colossians 2:1; 4:13, 15–16), the church at Laodicea appears to have been a healthy and legitimate church. But something happened. By the time Revelation was written, about twenty-five years after the letter to the Colossians, the Laodiceans’ hearts apparently didn’t belong to God—despite the fact that they were still active as a church. Their church was prospering, and they didn’t seem to be experiencing any persecution.
They were comfortable and proud. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
Poor Rich People
There is a blind boy named Ronnie who lives in eastern Uganda. Ronnie is unique not because of his circumstances or the fact that he is blind, but because of his love for Jesus. If you were to meet Ronnie, one of the first things you would hear him say is, “I love Jesus so much, and I sing praises to Him every day!”
One of Ronnie’s closest friends is a girl who is deaf. What stands out about these two isn’t that they are handicapped or very poor, but that they are totally content and obviously in love with Jesus. They possess very little of what “counts” in our society, yet they have what matters most. They came to God in their great need, and they have found true joy.
Because we don’t usually have to depend on God for food, money to buy our next meal, or shelter, we don’t feel needy. In fact, we generally think of ourselves as fairly independent and capable. Even if we aren’t rich, we are “doing just fine.”
If one hundred people represented the world’s population, fifty-three of those would live on less than $2 a day. Do you realize that if you make $4,000 a month, you automatically make one hundred times the average person on this planet? Simply by purchasing this book, you spent what a majority of people in the world will make in a week’s time.
Which is more messed up—that we have so much compared to everyone else, or that we don’t think we are rich? That on any given day we might flippantly call ourselves “broke” or “poor”? We are neither of those things. We are rich. Filthy rich.
Robert Murray M’Cheyne was a Scottish pastor who died at the age of twenty-nine. Although he lived in the early part of the nineteenth century, his words are astoundingly appropriate for today:
I am concerned for the poor but more for you. I know not what Christ will say to you in the great day. I fear there are many hearing me who may know well that they are not Christians because they do not love to give. To give largely and liberally, not grudgingly at all, requires a new heart; an old heart would rather part with its life-blood than its money. Oh my friends! Enjoy your money; make the most of it; give none away; enjoy it quickly for I can tell you, you will be beggars throughout eternity.7
The reality is that, whether we acknowledge our wealth or not, being rich is a serious disadvantage spiritually. As William Wilberforce once said, “Prosperity hardens the heart.”
When talking to a wealthy person who wanted to go to heaven (and doesn’t that describe most of us?), Jesus said, “‘Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ When he [the rich man] heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth. Jesus looked at him and said, ‘How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!’” (Luke 18:22–24). He says it’s as hard as a camel to go through the eye of a needle—in other words, impossible. But then Jesus offers hopeful words: “What is impossible with man is possible with God” (v. 27).
In the very next chapter, as Jesus enters Jericho, we see exactly how the impossible becomes possible with God. There, the wealthy tax collector Zacchaeus gives half of his money to the poor and pays everyone back four times what he has defrauded them. And Jesus declares, “Today salvation has come to this house” (Luke 19:9).
The impossible happened that day—a rich man received salvation!
God wants our best, deserves our best, and demands our best. From the beginning of time, He has been clear that some offerings are acceptable to Him and others are not. Just ask Cain, upon whose offering God did not look with favor (Genesis 4:5).
For years I gave God leftovers and felt no shame. I simply took my eyes off Scripture and instead compared myself to others. The bones I threw at God had more meat on them than the bones others threw, so I figured I was doing fine.
It’s easy to fill ourselves up with other things and then give God whatever is left. Hosea 13:6 says, “When I fed them, they were satisfied; when they were satisfied, they became proud; then they forgot me.” God gets a scrap or two only because we feel guilty for giving Him nothing. A mumbled three-minute prayer at the end of the day, when we are already half asleep. Two crumpled-up dollar bills thrown as an afterthought into the church’s fund for the poor. Fetch, God!
“But when you present the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? And when you present the lame and sick, is it not evil? Why not offer it to your governor? Would he be pleased with you? Or would he receive you kindly?” says the Lord.
The priests of Malachi’s day thought their sacrifices were sufficient. They had spotless animals, but chose to keep those for themselves and give their less desirable animals to God. They assumed God was pleased because they had sacrificed something.
God described this practice as evil.
Leftovers are not merely inadequate; from God’s point of view (and lest we forget, His is the only one that matters), they’re evil. Let’s stop calling it “a busy schedule” or “bills” or “forgetfulness.” It’s called evil.
God is holy. In heaven exists a Being who decides whether or not I take another breath. This holy God deserves excellence, the very best I have. “But something is better than nothing!” some protest. Really, is it? Does anyone enjoy token praise? I sure don’t. I’d rather you not say anything than compliment me out of obligation or guilt. Why would we think God is any different?
Two verses further on in Malachi, God says, “Oh that there were one among you who would shut the gates, that you might not uselessly kindle fire on My altar! I am not pleased with you—nor will I accept an offering from you.” God wanted the temple gates shut. The weak sacrifices of the laid-back priests were an insult to Him. He was saying that no worship is better than apathetic worship. I wonder how many church doors God wants to shut today.
Jesus’ instruction to the people of the church at Laodicea was to buy from Him the things that really matter, the things they didn’t even realize they needed. They were wealthy, but Jesus asks them to exchange their wealth for His gold that is refined through fire; they had clothing, but Jesus counsels them to buy clothes that were truly white and would cover their nakedness; they did not desire anything, but Jesus says they needed salve for their eyes that would cure their blindness. He asks them to give up what they thought was so necessary and valuable, in exchange for what really matters.
Mark Buchanan writes, “Physical sickness we usually defy. Soul sickness we often resign ourselves to.”8 The people in Laodicea did not realize or acknowledge that their souls were sick, that they were desperately in need of what Christ offered. As Tim Kizziar said, “Our greatest fear as individuals and as a church should not be of failure but of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter.”
Recently I saw a bag of potato chips with a bold declaration splashed across the front: “Zero grams of trans fat.” I was glad to know that I wouldn’t be consuming any trans fat, which research has shown is detrimental to my health. But then I flipped the bag over and read the ingredients list, which included things like “yellow #6” and other artificial colors, and partially hydrogenated oil (which is trans fat, just a small enough amount that they can legally call it “0 grams”). I thought it was incredibly ironic that these chips were being advertised in a way that makes me think they are not harmful, yet were really full of empty calories, weird chemicals, and, ironically, trans fat.
It struck me that many Christians flash around their “no trans fat” label, trying to convince everyone they are healthy and good. Yet they have no substantive or healthful elements to their faith. It’s like the Laodiceans, who thought they had everything until Christ told them they were poor and wretched. They were all about declaring, “Look, we have no trans fat. We are wealthy, or we have good families, or we go to church every week.” Obviously, it’s not what you advertise that counts; it’s what you are really made of.
God’s definition of what matters is pretty straightforward. He measures our lives by how we love. In our culture, even if a pastor doesn’t actually love people, he can still be considered successful as long as he is a gifted speaker, makes his congregation laugh, or prays for “all those poor, suffering people in the world” every Sunday.
But Paul writes that even if “I have all faith, so as to move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:2–3). Wow. Those are strong and unmistakable words. According to God, we are here to love. Not much else really matters.
So God assesses our lives based on how we love. But the word love is so overused and worn out. What does God mean by love? He tells us:
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends—faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:4-8, 13
But even those words have grown tired and overly familiar, haven’t they?
I was challenged to do a little exercise with these verses, one that was profoundly convicting. Take the phrase Love is patient and substitute your name for the word love. (For me, “Francis is patient.”) Do it for every phrase in the passage.
By the end, don’t you feel like a liar? If I am meant to represent what love is, then I often fail to love people well.
Following Christ isn’t something that can be done halfheartedly or on the side. It is not a label we can display when it is useful. It must be central to everything we do and are.
If life is a river, then pursuing Christ requires swimming upstream. When we stop swimming, or actively following Him, we automatically begin to be swept downstream.
Or, to use another metaphor more familiar to city people, we are on a neverending downward escalator. In order to grow, we have to turn around and sprint up the escalator, putting up with perturbed looks from everyone else who is gradually moving downward.
I believe that much of the American churchgoing population, while not specifically swimming downstream, is slowly floating away from Christ. It isn’t a conscious choice, but it is nonetheless happening because little in their lives propels them toward Christ.
Perhaps it sounds as though I believe you have to work your way to Jesus. I don’t. I fully believe that we are saved by grace, through faith, by the gift of God, and that true faith manifests itself through our actions. As James writes, “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:17). The lives of many people who call themselves Christians in America lack manifestations of a vital and active faith.
And this, to be perfectly honest, scares me. It keeps me up at night. It causes me to pray desperately and fervently for my congregation, for the groups of people I speak to, and for the church as a whole.
Henri Nouwen writes about this in his book With Open Hands: “It is hard to bear that people stand still along the way, lose heart, and seek their happiness in little pleasures which they cling to—you feel sad about all that self-indulgence and self-satisfaction, for you know with an indestructible certainty that something greater is coming.”9 Or, as Luke 9:25 says, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?”
How many of us would really leave our families, our jobs, our education, our friends, our connections, our familiar surroundings, and our homes if Jesus asked us to? If He just showed up and said, “Follow me”? No explanation. No directions.
You could follow Him straight up a hill to be crucified. Maybe He would lead you to another country and you would never see your family again. Or perhaps you would stay put, but He would ask you to spend your time helping people who will never love you back, never show gratitude for what you gave up.
Consider this carefully—have you ever done so? Or was your decision to follow Christ flippant, based solely on feelings and emotion, made without counting the cost?
What scares me most is the people who are lukewarm and just don’t care. I think that if I did a poll of the readers of this book, many of you would say, “Yeah, I am definitely lukewarm at times, but I’m not really at a place to give more to God.” Many of us believe we have as much of God as we want right now, a reasonable portion of God amongst all the other things in our lives. Most of our thoughts are centered on the money we want to make, the school we want to attend, the body we aspire to have, the spouse we want to marry, the kind of person we want to become. But the fact is that nothing should concern us more than our relationship with God; it’s about eternity, and nothing compares with that. God is not someone who can be tacked on to our lives.
Remember the visions of John and Isaiah of the throne room of God? Remember the pictures of the galaxies and how tiny we are in comparison? Remember the diversity of God, seen in the thousands of species of trees in the rainforest? We say to the Creator of all this magnitude and majesty, “Well, I’m not sure you are worth it. You see, I really like my car, or my little sin habit, or my money, and I’m really not sure I want to give them up, even if it means I get You.”
When we put it plainly like this—as a direct choice between God and our stuff—most of us hope we would choose God. But we need to realize that how we spend our time, what our money goes toward, and where we will invest our energy is equivalent to choosing God or rejecting Him. How could we think for even a second that something on this puny little earth compares to the Creator and Sustainer and Savior of it all?
We disgust God when we weigh and compare Him against the things of this world. It makes Him sick when we actually decide those things are better for us than God Himself. We believe we don’t need anything Jesus offers, but we fail to realize that slowly, almost imperceptibly, we are drifting downstream. And in the process we are becoming blind, being stripped naked, and turning into impoverished wretches.
No wonder Jesus says He will spit lukewarm people out of His mouth!
Hear me clearly in this, because it is vital—in fact, there is nothing more important or eternal: Are you willing to say to God that He can have whatever He wants? Do you believe that wholehearted commitment to Him is more important than any other thing or person in your life? Do you know that nothing you do in this life will ever matter, unless it is about loving God and loving the people He has made?
If the answer to those questions is yes, then let your bet match your talk. True faith means holding nothing back; it bets everything on the hope of eternity.
I know that this whole swimming-upstream, pursuing-Christ, taking-up-your-cross, counting-the-cost thing isn’t easy. It’s so hard, in fact, that Jesus said the road is narrow and few will actually find it—and fewer still among those who are rich. Like the parable of the sower, don’t assume you are the good soil; don’t assume you are one of the few on the narrow way.
Copyright © 2008 Francis
Chan from the book Crazy Love: Overwhelmed By a Relentless God published
by David C. Cook; May 2008; $13.99 US; 978-1-4347-6851-3. Used by permission. read more
But things have changed—dramatically. Today our survey results show that charismatics are part of the mainstream Christian culture. Relatively few Americans perceive charismatics to be on the lunatic fringe of beliefs or behavior.
Based on several national studies of charismatics conducted by The Barna Group, we have discovered that roughly one-third of the U.S. adult population claims to be a charismatic or Pentecostal Christian. That means up to 80 million adults in the U.S. characterize themselves as charismatic or Pentecostal. That's more than double the population of California and larger than the entire populations of Australia, Canada, France, Italy, Korea, Spain or Thailand.
The actual figure depends on how the group is defined. Because there is no standard understanding embraced by leaders within the charismatic community, we have examined charismatics using three different definitions. In our surveys with more than 1,000 adults randomly selected from across the country, we saw that figure range from 30 percent to 37 percent, depending upon the definition used.
When we recently released information about the magnitude of the charismatic population, the national media reaction was one of disbelief. "Where are all these people?" was a common question from journalists. The simple answer is that charismatics no longer stand out like the odd child in an otherwise normal family. They are now integrated into virtually every dimension of the Christian body in America, attending churches that are known to be charismatic in orientation as well as churches that are not known in that way.
Research shows that at least one in five adults in a wide range of denominations—Baptist, mainline, evangelical and nondenominational churches—claims to be charismatic. A substantial number of Catholic believers—perhaps as many as one-quarter of that group—also consider themselves to be charismatic Christians.
What Charismatics Believe
The survey data shine a flattering spotlight on charismatic believers. For instance, charismatics are more likely than noncharismatics to take the Bible at face value, largely because they are more likely to believe that the Bible is totally accurate in all the principles it teaches.
As evidence of that trust, charismatics are significantly more likely to accept the biblical accounts of a six-day creation, the virgin birth, the serpent tempting Eve, Jesus feeding the 5,000, Noah and the flood, and Jesus turning water into wine as accurate depictions of what actually happened.
Even perceptions of God differ between the two groups. Almost nine in 10 charismatics contend that God is the all-knowing, all-powerful Creator of the universe who still rules that universe today. Yet, barely seven in 10 noncharismatics view God in that way.
The role of faith is more significant to charismatics than it is to other Christians. Ninety percent of charismatics say they believe their purpose in life is to love God with all their heart, mind, strength and soul, compared with 66 percent of noncharismatics. This corresponds to the finding that nine in 10 charismatics say their religious faith is very important in their lives, compared with 74 percent of noncharismatics. Charismatics are also more likely to have embraced Christ as their Savior. Overall, six in 10 charismatics have done so, compared to four in 10 noncharismatics.
Traditional spiritual activities are more likely to be part of the lives of charismatics. In a typical week, 55 percent of charismatics read the Bible; just 36 percent of noncharismatics do so. About 60 percent of charismatics attend church services in a typical week, compared with about half of noncharismatics.
We also measure something we have labeled "active Christianity," which entails a person having read the Bible, attended a church service and prayed to God during the course of the week preceding our contact with them. We found that charismatics are more likely than noncharismatics to fit that category by a 42 percent to 25 percent margin.
The differences in religious behavior described above are undoubtedly related to the fact that 66 percent of charismatics say they are "absolutely committed to the Christian faith." In contrast, 51 percent of noncharismatic Christians make the same claim. In addition, our research revealed that 75 percent of charismatic Christians stated that their lives had been "greatly transformed" by their faith in Christ. Only half the noncharismatic believers made the same claim.
An outgrowth of this is seen in attitudes about evangelism. Slightly more than half of charismatics strongly believe they have a personal responsibility to share their religious beliefs with other people who believe differently. Less than one in three noncharismatics possesses a similar commitment.
To their credit, charismatic Christians are about 50 percent more likely than others to provide moral or spiritual advice to people under the age of 18 during a typical week.
We also interviewed more than 1,200 senior pastors of Protestant churches and learned about charismatic churches. Contrary to popular opinion, we found that many past patterns have changed. For instance:
•Pentecostalism has now crossed denominational boundaries. Denominations that shied away from the charismatic side of Christianity are now more accepting of it. Amazingly, 7 percent of Southern Baptist churches and 6 percent of all mainline Protestant churches are today described by their pastors as "charismatic or Pentecostal."
•Though charismatic churches are often thought to be small and culturally backwards, our study found that charismatic churches are roughly the same size as other churches and are actually more likely than their noncharismatic counterparts to use various forms of technology in their ministries. That included the use of large-screen projection systems, movie clips in worship services or congregational events, blogs and Web-based social networking by the church.
Reasons for Change
What has caused this dramatic growth and perceptual turnaround? Several factors have undoubtedly contributed to the shift. First, charismatic churches have maintained a focus on teaching the Bible. That has fostered normative Christian beliefs and resulted in a higher proportion of charismatics knowing and accepting scriptural content.
The emphasis on understanding the Word of God is also related to the fact that fewer charismatic pastors have attended seminary. Previous studies prove that seminary-trained pastors are less likely to believe the Bible is literally true and are less likely to rely on Scripture as their ultimate teaching authority.
Second, by the very nature of embracing the charismatic gifts, Pentecostal churches are more open to passionate expressions of faith and practice. That resonates with the emergence of the "postmodern generation," which appreciates genuine emotion and the permission to experience the world (including all aspects of their faith) in intimate or unconventional ways.
Third, the media environment has changed significantly in recent years. The consequence has been the media becoming more accepting of charismatic ministries while some of the more flamboyant Pentecostal televangelists have become less prominent. Most journalists do not understand the theological underpinnings of the Pentecostal movement, nor do they typically invest sufficient time to gain such insights. Perhaps owing to the cultural determination to be tolerant or embrace diverse lifestyle expressions, the media have generally chosen to allow the charismatic orientation to exist without as much judgment and scrutiny as was common in the past.
Finally, note that demographics have played a role in this acceptance too. The profile of the charismatic community is one of younger adults, including a higher proportion of those who are single, and substantially higher numbers of nonwhite adults.
If the trend lines continue on their current trajectory, the 2000s may wind up being known as the "Charismatic Century" for American Christianity.
For Ed Young, however, the shadow cast by his father wasn't just big, it was megachurch big, from a dad with a worldwide broadcast ministry, the largest singles ministry in the United States and a church (Houston's Second Baptist) that now numbers more than 45,000. Add to that a pair of brothers in high-profile ministry positions—Ben is associate pastor at Second Baptist; Cliff is the lead singer for well-known Christian band Caedmon's Call. High standards? Imminent comparisons? Most definitely.
Yet more than 17 years after the younger Young broke away from the elder, Dr. Ed Young, to start Fellowship Church, one thing remains obvious: Doing things big—Texas-size big—runs in the family.
Fellowship Church (FC), located in four Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex campuses and one in Miami, now has more than 20,000 people enter its doors every weekend. Young (hereinafter referring to the younger) can be seen daily on television throughout the world, has written 11 books and is one of the premier creative pastors in the body of Christ.
And his style couldn't be more different than his father's.
"The great thing about going to Dallas," Young says of his move from Houston in 1989, "was that I was able to cut the cord, so to speak. Of course people knew who my father was up here. But the biggest thing for me to go through as I became my own man was developing my own style. I had to learn how to be myself."
I Am Me
Becoming comfortable in his own skin wasn't automatic for Young. During his first few years of pastoring he naturally took after his father's preaching techniques and style. Mission church Las Colinas Baptist hired Young to serve as senior pastor, but shortly after he came on board the church not only went through multiple name changes, it also shifted to a seeker-sensitive style modeled after Willow Creek Community Church. That didn't go over too well with the initial 150 people attending.
"Basically, after about four or five months I wanted to quit," Young admits. "Irving, at the time, was probably the worst place you'd want to start a church. There were churches everywhere, on every corner. There was no bloodshed on the church floor or anything like that, but after the first year about 85 to 90 percent of the original people who started FC left. There was a lot of negativity and criticism. Those were very difficult times that made me question: Did God really say Irving? Maybe He said Irvine—as in California."
The turning point for both Young and FC occurred on July 4th weekend of 1990, when he first preached about the church's vision and that of his own life. Having drawn a line in the sand, the then-29-year-old pastor looked up to find seven families still standing with him. Today each of those families is still represented on FC's staff. And what Young outlined back then remains essentially the same.
"Our vision hasn't really changed," says FC executive pastor Preston Mitchell, one of those original members who stayed. "It's pretty much the same thing on a bigger basis. ... Logistics are a little different now that you've got so many more people on campus. [But] when we had 100 people, we had parking lot guys, and we had ushers and greeters. We just have more of them now."
Freedom to Fail
Along with more parking attendants, bigger buildings and a larger staff come more stories of success—and failure. Young is quick to allude to the numerous mistakes he's made along the way while attempting to keep his ministry relevant, engaging and innovative. In what has become almost legendary at FC, the pastor once attempted "simultaneous services" after the church expanded to an arts center across the parking lot. For several weeks, he preached at one site while the worship team led at the other—and the two groups would switch at some point during the service. The idea, by Young's own account, was "a miserable failure."
The majority of other mishaps revolve around Young's onstage creativity. To show how worship isn't compartmentalized, he's cut through cubbyholes with a chainsaw—as boards flew everywhere. While illustrating how we often jump from emotion to emotion, he narrowly missed a fall as he leapt from the platform to a rope swinging across the congregation. Yet such laughable experiences go hand-in-hand with Young's unorthodox but ultimately memorable teaching style.
"We've tried from the get-go to create a culture that makes mistakes but isn't afraid of trying things," he says. "The higher the unpredictability, the more you communicate. ... If you look at the life of Jesus, He used different methodologies to communicate the same theology. His message was the same, but His methods were constantly different. We in the church should spend time thinking about how Christ communicated, how we can take technology and things of our day and use them as illustrations and word pictures so people can get it. That's all we're doing—it's nothing new. It's as old as the New Testament."
Young stresses, however, that FC's goal is not to "put on a bigger and better show each and every weekend. Sometimes the most creative element can be the most simplistic, the most basic; it can be a very dialed-down service. Other times it can have a lot of different elements that can even borderline on sensory overload. We just try to change it. Christianity is all about change. Whenever you have change, you've got conflict, and with conflict, you've got growth. It's the spin-cycle of growth."
Growth Beyond the Numbers
The 46-year-old pastor certainly knows a thing or two about growing through creativity, which is why he began a series of conferences and a Web site dedicated to helping other pastors and church leaders find similar success (see "Tapping Your Inner Genius"). That doesn't necessarily mean a larger church or ministry, however. "Some of the greatest churches I've seen in my travels are the smaller churches," Young points out. "Usually the giant ones are the ones we hear of, yet some of the lesser-known churches are probably some of the most effective."
For all his ingenious methods of communicating, Young's message to pastors—whatever the size of their congregations—is essentially the same: "Every church should be growing because living things grow." To keep a church healthy, active, creative and maturing, he offers these seven keys:
1. Say it and spray it—often. Leaders love to pull out the old "Where there is no vision, the people perish" (Prov. 29:18, KJV) card. And yet churches typically perish just as rapidly when a vision exists but is never declared by those who lead. Asserting what your church is about and why it does what it does from the pulpit is a must to discover who is truly on board.
"I've discovered that people forget why they do what they do after about three weeks," Young says half-jokingly. "When it comes to changed lives and evangelism, it's all about the vision. We want to say it, spray it, wheel it, deal it [and] make them feel it for the purpose of the church. And the purpose, of course, is to glorify God and to share Christ."
2. Go gospel. There's a reason why fellow megachurch pastor Rick Warren describes Young as one of the country's "premier evangelistic preachers" and "a pro at capturing the mind-set of the guy who hates church." Under Young's leadership, FC saw more than 2,300 new believers baptized last year alone. Sixty-two percent of those were age 18 or older, while 70 percent had no church background. In addition, more than 95 percent of those who enter FC's doors do so at the invitation of a friend, proving that at least two-thirds of FC's mantra of "reaching up, reaching out and reaching in" rings true with the congregation.
At the core of every activity within church, Young believes, must be the simple message of the gospel. "It's always about the gospel, no matter if it's about marriage and family, whether you're going through the Book of Romans, whether you're doing a character study or talking about being comfortably uncomfortable as a Christian. It's all about Jesus, and we have to point people to the cross because if we're not, we're just talking about good things and nice things. There has to be that focal point."
>3. Pastor your future church. Young often tells leaders to pastor their churches as if they were three or four times their present size. This isn't just for pastors' own sake, but to prepare the entire congregation for future growth. FC staff members can attest to the wisdom behind this directive as they've seen their church increase a hundredfold.
"Ed knows 'church' better than anyone I have ever met," says Troy Page, FC's communications pastor. "I think his experiences with his dad prepared him for the quick growth we have experienced. I remember him telling us, 'Get ready [because] this and that will happen in the future as we grow.' Sure enough, it did!"
4. Use what you've got. For a congregation as large as FC, the church's staff remains surprisingly—and intentionally—lean (the Grapevine "headquarters" has 206 full-time and 66 part-time workers). The reason is twofold: Young is cautious when appointing the title of ministry leader to those who will shepherd; and he believes the church body should be comprised of active contributors rather than "La-Z-Boy Christians." Because of this, FC is renowned for its "all-inclusive" approach to ministry—more than 6,000 individuals help out at least once a month.
5. Do only what only you can do. Every pastor knows the feeling of being overwhelmed with responsibilities, expectations and a "to do" list longer than Leviticus. We're good at taking on burdens, whether we have the ability or gifting to resolve them or not. Yet as multitasking as Young is (even by a pastor's standards), he learned early on that the effectiveness of his ministry would be determined by his discipline in limiting his scope. Find those things that you're good at, he believes, and assign the rest to those who are more qualified.
"As far as my schedule as a leader, I still put about 70 to 75 percent of my time in weekend message preparation," Young says. "I did that 17 years ago, and I do that today."
Easy for a megachurch pastor to say, right? What about bivocational pastors or those who are just starting churches and have no staff? Having experienced this, Young emphasizes that any pastor in any situation can use delegation. "Use the laity and treat them like staff," he advises. "Even though you can't pay them, delegate to them. God has, I believe, a leadership core around everybody, but we have to have discernment to see who's around us to utilize their giftedness. ... Too many pastors are trying to do too much stuff. What happens is that you get stuck in the superfluous and miss the significant."
6. Be your own best critic. FC plans every service, ministry and activity using creative teams. Even Young's messages are group efforts. The same approach is used in critiquing everything from segues to sermon illustrations. "I can only have so many original thoughts or cool ideas," Young says. "But, someone else can double my thinking; another person added can triple it. Starting this creative team approach has been the greatest thing that I've done in ministry next to starting Fellowship Church."
7. Grow with subtraction. "A church develops and grows as much by subtraction as by addition," Young says. "When you make the key decision to delegate rather than take on everything, you're going to see subtraction. Every time you take a hill, you will have casualties. Every time you go to the next level, there's going to be a new devil, and people are going to go by the wayside. So don't tell me who's coming to your church, tell me who's leaving your church. Because whenever you talk about vision, people will bolt—and that's OK, because when they bolt, more will be added."
Obviously, that has been the case at FC, which continues to face the challenges of growth. Last year the church added a Miami campus, and additional ones are in the planning. Regardless of FC's size, Young is determined to stay true to the core vision that he believes God gave him almost 17 years ago, even if that means breaking from tradition just as he did then. "Back then I knew God was going to do something awesome," Young says, "but I had no idea that it was going to be what it is today."
Has Ed Gone Charismatic?
His father may be a traditional Southern Baptist pastor who twice served as president of the Convention, but Ed Young has continually and intentionally kept one foot in the Baptist world and the other amid the smorgasbord of interdenominationalism. He's a frequent speaker at of denominational conferences, and his buddy list spans the faith spectrum with names such as Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, Mark Driscoll and Erwin McManus. Still, it's his association in recent years with the likes of T.D. Jakes, Joyce Meyer, Tommy Barnett and Creflo Dollar that's raised eyebrows and drawn harsh criticism from fundamentalists.
Young, in typical manner, deflects the negativity with his clear-cut passion to grow in both ministry and education. "I have a lot of great friends in the charismatic-Pentecostal world," Young says. "I've learned so much from them and their churches and gained so much from their friendship. Our church has been heavily influenced by charismatic and Pentecostal churches. I love their openness, the expectancy of those styles—that God is going to do something great, something big. I like the encouragement, the positivity, obviously the worship and the music, and the entrepreneurial vibe in many of those churches. I like the structure; many of those churches have a great view of some of the authority issues that our culture is trying to process.
"I can learn from everybody whether their church has five people or 50,000. Leaders need to ask the right people the right questions to get the right answers. But the tough thing is finding the right people to ask the right questions—and to do that, you got to ask the wrong people the right questions and discover who the right people are." read more
Most North American Christians are aware of the global church, but we still view Christianity through Western-tinted glasses and assume we are the dominant players in the kingdom of God. We don't realize how proportionately small we actually are, even among our own denominations.
Did you know that 88 percent of the members of the Assemblies of God live outside of North America? Of course, the Western church has always had a greater influence than the numbers of its congregations. But the world is changing, and the church is changing along with it. Globalization is making the world smaller and more connected.
Thomas Friedman's book The World Is Flat famously documented these changes a few years ago, and Christian writers like Philip Jenkins and Andrew Walls have chronicled similar patterns in the worldwide church.
Through these readings and personal observations around the world, I am coming to a conclusion. If the world is flat, so is the church. The same factors that are impacting the world are also impacting the worldwide Christian community.
Since its release in April 2005, Friedman's book has brought the challenges of globalization to the popular stage and continues to prompt discussion, and sometimes disagreement, over the significant impact of globalization that has occurred in our world since 1989.
Though others had often recognized various aspects of globalization, Friedman, the foreign affairs columnist for The New York Times, compiled in a readable style a variety of factors and conclusions that helped focus attention on our rapidly changing world.
The first part of the book describes the "ten forces that flattened the world," beginning with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Friedman's list of flatteners is insightful and relevant to what is happening in the church world. Without attempting to duplicate his entire list—some of the points are more relevant than others—I am going to use it as a loose guide to show the various factors of globalization that are contributing to the changing landscape of the global church.It's a Flat World After All
Flattener No. 1: The fall of communism. In a belated answer to Ronald Reagan, Mikhail Gorbachev began to "tear down this wall" in 1989. The church of the Soviet states, thought to be dead under the iron weight of atheistic communism, was actually very much alive, and, like Lazarus, waiting to come forth. And come forth it did.
In Kiev, Ukraine, Valeriy Reshetinsky founded the Christian Hope Church in 1990 and has planted 150 churches in the country. In 1993, Sunday Adelaja, a Nigerian, founded The Embassy of God in the same city. His church has planted other ministries in 22 countries.
Flattener No. 2: Worldwide immigration. A report by the International Organization for Migration in 2000 revealed there were 175 million international migrants. That means one out of every 35 persons in the world is an immigrant. The report projected the number will rise to 192 million by 2005.
In terms of international money flow, only oil exceeded the money remitted from immigrants back to their origin countries. For example, in 2003, Indians from around the world sent back $15 billion to India, more than the total revenue of the Indian software industry.
The church is not ignoring these patterns. London has numerous immigrant congregations providing fresh spiritual vitality for the historic city. A Pentecostal Holiness church in Hong Kong has planted a Chinese congregation in Kenya to serve the growing Chinese population in East Africa.
In the 40 years since U.S. immigration quotas were eased in 1965, the world has come to the United States. By November 2006 there were more than 560,000 foreign students on 900 U.S. campuses. Those students will be the next leaders of government, business and education in their countries of origin.
Flattener No. 3: The South has risen. The 20th century began with Christianity's moral, theological and missional impetus flowing from the West (Europe and North America). Though weakened by theological liberalism and the dominance of secularism in many institutions, the 1900s ended with Christianity still growing in the West. Europe (including Russia) and North America had more than 700 million Christians in 2000, compared to 427 million in 1900.
Yet there is no question that the influence of the West has waned in global Christianity. In fact, the terminology has changed in missiology from comparing "First and Third World Christianity" to "North and South Christianity." Latin America, sub-Sahara Africa and much of Asia—all part of the Southern Hemisphere—constitute the rising force in 21st-century Christianity with more than 800 million members. Global South Christianity currently sends out 53 percent of the missionaries in the world.
In 2006, Philip Jenkins contrasted the North and South churches in terms of how they read the Bible. In general, the North leans toward a liberal interpretation of Scripture, while the South reflects a conservative view.
This contrast was apparent when African and Asian Anglican Bishops rejected the liberal North American accommodation of ordaining homosexual priests. The Nigerian Anglican Church called the U.S. Episcopal Church a "cancerous lump" that should be "excised." Numerous Episcopal congregations have severed their relationship with the American church and submitted to the authority of Anglican bishops from Nigeria and Rwanda.
The fact that a Nigerian bishop is welcomed to exercise spiritual authority over predominantly white congregations in North America is indicative of the shifts that are occurring through the flattening of the church.
Flattener No. 4: The rise of the Internet. Today we take the Internet for granted and are frustrated if we can't log on anywhere in the world. Our cell phones send and receive e-mails, and we talk while searching the Web on the same device.
In underdeveloped countries, dilapidated shacks advertise "international calls and Internet available here." In Muslim countries, young people fill Internet cafes seeking the latest news, fads, information and contacts. Asia now has 399 million Internet users compared to North America's 233 million.
It's difficult to underestimate the impact the Internet is having on the church. Pastors from El Salvador to India can have access to the same materials and connections. They can communicate to exponentially more people and raise funds in new and creative ways.
I visited a Pentecostal national bishop in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in January 2006. While riding in his Ford Explorer, I was amazed as he coordinated his numerous churches in Kinshasa using three cell phones that rang almost nonstop. All this while we rode through a city and country devastated by civil war.
The flip side of this, of course, is that the Internet is a ripe field for the enemy as well. In March 2007, an article in The Washington Post observed that "the boom in online religion comes at a time when people, especially the young, are questioning traditional institutions... Many are interested in religion, but they want the freedom to fashion a personalized style of worship."
Flattener No. 5: The influence of television. In September 2004, I was in the home of a black African pastor near Rustenburg, South Africa, when I heard his children laughing in another room. I found them watching satellite television and giggling at the antics of World Wrestling Entertainment.
As television's global audiences increase, so does its impact on the cultures of the world. Viacom's huge media family, under the general name MTV, is one of several media giants that span the globe. The MTV music channel is found in 495 million households in 27 languages and in 179 territories/countries, including so-called "closed countries."
Conservatives from non-Christian religions are just as concerned as Christians about the impact of American networks such as MTV on values in the West. They also see the pervasive secularism and moral relativism of television as a serious threat to their young. Ironically, it's possible that the influence of these programs on the young around the world may actually undermine the foundations of non-Christian religions and ultimately make it possible for doors to open for the gospel. For Christian television, the technology revolution has made it possible to reach many homes around the world. Satellite and Web-based Christian television today make the gospel accessible in closed countries, including the 10/40 Window, with Web sites such as Persian Christian TV and Arabic Christian TV.
This doesn't affect everyone, because there are significant parts of the globe that are without the benefits of modern technology. But one thing is certain: the same technologies and resources that fuel the Arabic-language TV channel al-Jazeera are also tools the Holy Spirit is using to reach millions in closed countries.
Flattener No. 6: The window to the 10/40 Window. The phrase "10/40 Window" describes the nations of the Earth nestled between 10 degrees and 40 degrees north of the equator. It is home to roughly two-thirds of the world's population and most of the Islamic, Buddhist and Hindu populations.
The vast majority of un-evangelized people live in the 10/40 Window, because many of its countries have been closed to Western missionaries. But these countries are often open to non-Western missionaries, giving the South Church a unique opportunity for evangelism.
Another opportunity afforded by globalization is to recognize the millions of immigrants from 10/40 countries who live in open countries. Seen in this light, immigration is not primarily a political issue for Christians, but rather a "kingdom of God" window of opportunity.
Linwood Berry, a missionary leader in Spain, refers to this window as "the transition belt" along the middle of the North/South divide. "Transition states are especially critical to the globalized world," he writes. "There are three major reasons for this: this is where the oil is, this is the gateway where immigration occurs and this is where the major religious sites are found."
Flattener No. 7: Global problem awareness. There are certain global issues that determine whether the world even recognizes us, much less takes us seriously. AIDS, poverty and ecology are the headliners.
Far too often American Christians have defined these issues by political affiliation rather than biblical imperative. Rodney Stark's book The Rise of Christianity has shown that the way Christians responded to health crises in the Roman Empire was one of the reasons the church ultimately prevailed.
The church's failure to take the lead in these global problems has been inexcusable. Will the close of the 21st century find us with the same lame excuses?
A Triple Convergence
Friedman closes the list in his book with what he calls the "Triple Convergence:" "New players, on a new playing field, developing new processes and habits for horizontal collaboration." This is a great description of what is happening in worldwide Christianity. The new players have African, Asian, and Latin American names and accents.
The new playing field may still be financially funded by the North (I suspect that will change in this century), but the field now includes the North as the new players are coming to save us.
Sunday Adelaja's church in Kiev attracts mostly Ukrainians, not displaced Africans. We are seeing "missions in reverse" as the new players seize a unique opportunity to spread the gospel among those who have gone astray.
This is not a time for us to remain nationalistic, culturally homogenous and fearful of others. God has given us a "kingdom passport" that knows no boundaries. Only those who discern that passport will find it easier to serve the 21st-century church.
Founded in 1983 by Houston and his wife, Bobbie, Hillsong Church, in Sydney, Australia, began with 45 members in a school assembly hall. It is now Australia's largest church, with satellite congregations in London, Kiev and Paris. Additionally, Houston serves as president of the Assemblies of God in Australia, representing more than 1,060 churches in that denomination.
Hillsong's prolific worship teams have produced more than 30 Gold and Platinum rated records since 1992. However, the notoriety of Houston's church's music ministry does not distract him from the priority of pastoral leadership that provides the groundwork for the other ministries in the church.
"I felt 15 or 20 years ago that the music was like an arrowhead for a bigger message," he explains. "A great church will produce a great worship album, but a great worship album won't necessarily produce a great church. The songs we write are an expression of the house. Therefore, the worship is not the growth formula in itself. The growth formula is simply building a healthy church."
Ministry Today recently had a chance to sit down with Houston and asked him a few questions about ministry balance, public criticism and what revival really looks like in the local church.
Ministry Today: How is Hillsong different from traditional churches? Many have pointed out that traditional churches are decreasing in number in Australia, while Hillsong is growing. What would you attribute that to?
Brian Houston: I think "relatability" has got a lot to do with it. We're not just speaking to people on Sunday, but we're speaking to their Monday. We're asking, how can we build people's families? How can we build their work? I honestly think that when people feel like their lives are being built—that their kids are being ministered to, that their teenagers have got healthy peer relationships at church—then they'll be drawn to it.
Ministry Today: Hillsong has connections in civic affairs, media and entertainment. How did you go about gaining access into the corridors of power?
Houston: It's all about encouraging people to be successful in every sphere of life, and that's attractive. They come to you. We don't go out searching for influence.
Ministry Today: Speaking of success, could you define what success in life means to you?
Houston: Well it's not material, if that's what you mean. It's about effectively living out God's purposes. I don't think you can measure success in any one way.
Ministry Today: Hillsong's success has attracted some accusations of materialism. What has been your response?
Houston: That criticism mostly comes from secular sources. I think the agendas are often impure, let's put it that way.
To some, the church can represent the wider growth of fundamentalism, whatever that means. So, some groups assume we're anti-this and anti-that. So if you're outside the church and you're pro-certain agendas, you're going to see the church as a threat to your agenda. I must admit, though, being misunderstood is frustrating. The best thing we can do is to stay true to ourselves, to keep doing what God has called us to do.
Ministry Today: Could you talk to us about revival, and what that looks like to you?
Houston: I think people's mind-sets about what "revival" means can often be very introspective, and if revival is just about us, then I am not a real big fan of it anyway. I really believe that what the church needs to be doing is to be focused outwardly, rather than inwardly.
My dad was a Pentecostal pastor, and I grew up in a Pentecostal home, so I was very orientated toward feelings and the dynamic of the Holy Spirit. And that's all fantastic—it was a fantastic heritage. But in the outworking of that, I would probably have a different perspective now.
For their generation, revival was a lot to do with being at the front of a church, and to me it has much more to do with what we're called to do. "The Spirit of the Lord has come upon me because"—to preach the gospel to the poor, to reach hurting people, to open blind eyes and so on. So, as far as I'm concerned, I'm not a great fan of some people's paradigms of revival.
Ministry Today: One of the things which Hillsong champions is relevance. But some churchgoers from traditional backgrounds see a "trendy" church as a sign of compromise or an attempt to manufacture revival. What's your take on that?
Houston: I'll just make one comment. The message is timeless. The methods have to change. If people want to make the methods holy, they are going to find themselves irrelevant.
Ministry Today: How about the outworking of the spiritual gifts in church life? How does that fit with the Hillsong model of church in the 21st century? Houston: I am a great believer in the gifts of the Spirit. I believe absolutely in speaking in tongues and prophecy and so on. It's part of the spiritual life of a believer.
But for practical reasons, we would tend to allow the outworking of the gifts to be expressed more in our smaller groups or in day-to-day church life. Our Sunday services are more of a gathering. There's a right time and place for everything.
Ministry Today: How do you go about making decisions and releasing people into their callings in a church of thousands, where there are so many people to pastor?
Houston: To an extent, we are still learning as we go—learning by our mistakes, building teams. Teams are a great pastoral care tool. Teams are like families, with purpose.
Ministry Today: As a pastor, how do you make sure your own life is growing?
Houston: Well, it's a challenge. I've been pastoring the same people for 23 years. I've got to get up each Sunday and say something fresh. And you can't do that if you're not fresh yourself. I value devotional time for contemplation. And I take Friday and Saturday every single week to meditate and to study and to think.
Ministry Today: What was the last profound thing God said to you, personally?
Houston: The importance of keeping myself fresh. To those whom much is given, much is required. So it's a real challenge that I do keep on the increase. I think you must use every obvious means—spend time with God, spend time with people and spend it in places that are going to stretch you.
Ministry Today: Some senior ministers of megachurches are so busy. They have a seemingly intergalactic schedule—flying off here, there and everywhere. What do you do, in your own time, to just be Brian, and to just relax?
Houston: Drinking coffee, hanging out with friends, spending time anywhere near water. Also riding my Harley. It's my little vice in life.
Ministry Today: So what does it mean for a local church to be a part of the Hillsong network?
Houston: The network is not a spiritual covering. It's really intended just to resource and encourage other church pastors. You see, I have really resisted starting Hillsong churches everywhere. We've got only three congregations in the world—Sydney, London and Kiev, plus Paris—which is an extension of the London church.
There are cities where we would sure love to do something. But the reason we haven't gone that route is because we're saying to pastors, "We want to help build your church." For us then to go and start a church right next door to them—well, it would make a lie out of what we are saying.
Ministry Today: Finally, what would you like to say to the American church?
Houston: Well, I just love America. I've been to the States many times—dozens and dozens of times—and certain pastors and leaders have really helped me over there. I think I'd only say, just like I would to leaders anywhere else in the world, that when you're the biggest at something, you've got to stay open. Open to change, open to new generations.
From my experience in America, that has been happening more over the recent years. When I started going to America, the church used to be very introspective. Some Americans didn't even know where other parts of the world were.
Because of that dynamic, if you were an outsider, you felt very much like you were an outsider. But that's changed dramatically. I think the Americans' openness to people from the outside is phenomenal. And that can only be a good, positive thing for the nation.
Relationships and experiences—not absolute truth—are the moral compass for a new generation. read more
As pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Haggard was a committed charismatic, who reflected the respect Spirit-filled believers are being granted in wider evangelical circles.
But he was also a deeply flawed man, who hid a dark secret none of us could have imagined. His fall from grace raises the same questions that surface whenever the hidden failures of a high-profile leader are made public.
Although even the most elaborate accountability processes can be circumvented, could this situation have been avoided? Are there patterns of behavior that should serve as warning signs to church leaders and their congregations? Are the "superstar" positions of power and influence that characterize 21st-century evangelicalism too much for any man or woman to handle without cracking under the pressure and succumbing to their worst flaws? How does the church regain credibility when its own spokespeople seem to be strangely vulnerable to the very sins that it so vigorously condemns?
In the days following Haggard's admission and removal from leadership, Ministry Today talked with some of the leaders involved—as well as others who have navigated the waters of failure, discipline and restoration. Although many were unable to go on the record with more details than have already been covered ad nauseam in the media, several key observations distill that demand a shift in the way we deal with prevention, discipline and restoration in the wake of a moral failure.
At a time when some Christian organizations possess influence and notoriety on a level with Fortune 500 companies, the days of family-run ministries with secretive policies and no outside accountability have officially run their course. If anything, the Haggard scandal revealed the necessity of efficient, open processes of addressing ethical and moral accusations.
Perhaps wearied of denials and top-secret investigations that last for months with no substantive conclusion, commentators in the media seemed almost incredulous with how quickly the wheels of truth began to turn when allegations about Haggard first broke.
Within 72 hours, a megachurch pastor and one of the most influential evangelicals in America was exposed, unseated and placed in restoration. The bottom line? Every leader, no matter how powerful, should serve at the behest of an independent board of directors that has the power and fortitude to act quickly and decisively.
Unfortunately, the oversight for many prominent churches and ministries is left in the hands of employees and family members, leaving an organization vulnerable to accusation with no independent means of clearing its reputation.
For instance, in 1998, when a former Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) employee threatened to go public with his claim to have had a homosexual relationship with TBN founder Paul Crouch, rather than have the TBN board (composed of Paul, his wife, Jan, and his son Paul Jr.) investigate the claim and clear his name, Crouch paid the accuser $425,000 in hush money. Unfortunately, when the money ran out, the accuser came back in 2004 asking for $10 million more. When he didn't get it, he took his story to the Los Angeles Times.
For members of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA), this is a non-issue. The ECFA has stringent requirements for entry—one of which is that "every member organization shall be governed by a responsible board of not less than five individuals, a majority of whom shall be independent, which shall meet at least semiannually to establish policy and review its accomplishments."
Although some leaders Ministry Today spoke with cited the stringent and costly membership standards of the ECFA, one need not join the ECFA to enjoy a comparable level of security and accountability. Any ministry could create its own structure of accountability by appointing an outside board and making its financial activities public.
Although not a member of ECFA, New Life Church had policies written into its bylaws, prescribing a process of investigation and, if necessary, discipline in the event that allegations were made against the church's leadership.
Thomas Gehring is a Los Angeles-based attorney for several megachurches and national ministries. Also the founder of Concilium, a dispute resolution service, he notes that, although state laws usually require a nonprofit organization to be governed by an independent board (no more than 49 percent family members, employees and so on), these same laws do not apply to churches.
However, Gehring emphasizes the importance of an independent board to the ministries he counsels and dispels the myth that such a board puts a crimp on the effectiveness of a visionary leader.
"I've seen an independent board actually help a ministry grow. It's an integral part of church government and church growth," he explains. "The talent that you can bring to a board is just phenomenal."
Regardless of the legal loopholes that allow churches to avoid having an independent board, Gehring points out that the public has high expectations of churches and religious organizations.
"The government, judges and juries expect you as a religious organization to take the high road," he contends. "You're supposed to do even better than just adhering to the law."
These internal policies are worthwhile, not just for ethical reasons, but for legal protection, as Pasadena, California, pastor Ché Ahn discovered. Ahn leads Harvest Rock Church and is the founder of Harvest International Ministry (HIM), a network of 4,960 churches in 32 nations. In 2004, Ahn was faced with a crisis when one of the pastors he oversaw was exposed in ongoing homosexual behavior. When HIM attempted a process of discipline, the organization was sued.
"The sad thing was that the lawsuit essentially short-circuited the restoration process," he notes, "because we had to delegate it to someone else."
The incident prompted Ahn and his team of 23 apostles to tighten up restrictions for membership and ongoing accountability. New applicants for HIM membership must now complete a form drafted by an attorney clearly stating that HIM has the right to exercise discipline in the event of sexual immorality, financial impropriety or doctrinal heresy.
As Ahn discovered, when a ministry's bylaws do not account for potentialities such as moral failure, that ministry is at the mercy of the offending party, who may see an opportunity to drag an organization into a costly and demoralizing court battle. In the current litigious climate, churches are not immune to the attacks of predatory lawyers and embittered constituents, and ministries would do well to re-examine their policies for hiring, firing and disciplining employees.
But some leaders point out that these mechanistic policies—although worthwhile—do not address the root causes of sexual failure that lead to such disciplinary problems in the first place.
"The church has fallen into a false naivete," says Doug Weiss, an author and counselor specializing in sex addiction. "We're still holding pastors to a 17th-century standard of purity, while they're living in a culture of immorality."
Increasingly isolated ministers in an increasingly sexualized culture is a volatile combination, Weiss argues.
"Ministers tend to get caught before they actually admit to sexual addiction," he notes. "And we have not dealt with increasing problems of this among our leaders much better than the Catholic Church and its abuse scandals. Instead, we should be dealing with sexual sin when its small—before it leads to death."
The founder of Heart to Heart Counseling Center in Colorado Springs, Weiss attends New Life Church and is involved in Haggard's restoration process, but he declined to comment on the specifics of the process for reasons of confidentiality. However, he regularly consults with ministers battling sex addiction—as well as the churches they serve—and contends that as many as 50 percent of Christian men are sex addicts in some form or another.
Weiss' solution? Lie detector tests. The psychologist recommends that churches administer them to employees annually as a further incentive to keep pastors and church leaders pure. According to Weiss, sex addicts will not apply for positions that require polygraphs, for fear of being exposed. Additionally, polygraphs help churches effectively restore and monitor staff members struggling with sex addiction.
"If the church is sued for the sexual problems of a staff member, this allows churches to legitimately say to the public, 'We've done our due diligence,'" Weiss notes. "If evangelicals do not decide to be proactive about our leaders and the issue of sex addiction, and perform due diligence in whom we hire as ministers of the gospel, there is a legitimate concern that God will have lawyers help us do so."
Weiss admits that some see polygraph tests as merely a mechanism for changing behavior, not for transforming the hearts of sex addicts, In response, he cites Numbers 5:11-30 in which God instructs the Israelites on how to determine the guilt or innocence of a suspected adulteress by having her drink a potion of water and altar ashes. Sometimes its these practical measures that protect us from spiritual downfalls, he argues.
"Spiritual people fall every day. In Revelation and in 1 Corinthians, there were people who were loving the Lord and people who were immoral, martyrs and sinners side by side," he explains. "The polygraph helps kill the flesh."
As far as concerns about the reliability of polygraph tests, Weiss quips, "They are 98 percent reliable—100 percent more reliable than most sex addicts I know."
Although polygraphs can serve as an effective preventative measure against sexual sin, Weiss notes that our individualistic models of ministry are essentially a breeding ground for immoral conduct.
"Jesus sent the disciples out two by two," Weiss points out, noting that this was probably not just for reasons of friendship or camaraderie, but also for protection against sin. "That was a good policy—not one that suspects everyone is guilty, but one that protects them from becoming so."
As a useful guideline, Ahn cites the "Modesto Manifesto," a document Billy Graham and his team of evangelists drafted in 1948 addressing the dangers of sexual immorality, criticism of local churches and exaggerated publicity. One well-known guideline in the manifesto required Graham to be accompanied at all times by a fellow male minister, to protect from accusation and ensure accountability.
"However, no matter what systems you've set up, you can find loopholes," Ahn notes. "Even if you travel with someone or someone always knows where you are. The real issue is the root issue of the heart. The root cause is pride, arrogance, thinking we're above this."
If anything, the Haggard fall illustrates that every pastor needs someone to whom he can tell his darkest secrets, his most destructive inclinations, his most painful failures. It is in the shadows of secrecy that we are vulnerable to our own depravity—secrecy that is often cultivated by the distance our positions create.
Although he has no means of enforcing it in HIM, Ahn encourages leaders in his network to have at least one person with whom they can have total freedom—a confessor. Ahn emphasizes that these voluntary decisions to be accountable must be made when someone is less prominent, less successful and has less to lose.
For many pastors, this level of transparency is essentially nonexistent, as a July 10, 2006 Barna Group study reveals. Sixty-one percent of pastors say they have no close personal friends. Simultaneously, the survey reveals that "one-sixth of today's pastors feel under-appreciated. Pastors also deal with family problems: one in every five contends that they are currently 'dealing with a very difficult family situation.' "
Many argue that this combination of isolation and deep spiritual and family challenges so common in church leaders is essentially a recipe for disaster. The only solution: deliberate, voluntary, relational transparency.
In the sidebar " 'I Was There' " (page 24) former Pentecostal pastor Nate Larkin reinforces this principle of mutual transparency in an autobiographical account of his own sexual failure in the mid-'80s and the subsequent decades of recovery.
"This is what I have had with another brother for 27 years," Ahn notes. "We share everything, from when we slip and watch something on television we shouldn't to blowing it with masturbation. It's that kind of transparency that we need to have with someone else."
With the exception of Haggard's family, no one felt the pain of his failure more than the New Life Church family, who endured the probing questions of media and neighbors wondering how they could put faith in such a flawed person.
Ministry Today recently talked with Steven Todd, a former pastor, New Life member and executive director of special projects for Africa Ministries Network, a missions organization with offices in Colorado Springs.
Todd is hopeful that the church will recover from the blow of Haggard's failure, citing the swiftness and finality with which Louisiana pastor Larry Stockstill and others on the board of overseers dealt with the accusations.
"It saved the church from weeks of 'he said she said' and a growing polarization of sides—perhaps those who would have been 'pro-Ted' and those against him," he explains, describing the discipline process as an "amputation," a drastic act bringing health to the congregation.
In hindsight, Todd admits that Haggard's notoriety placed undue strain on the congregation—and on Haggard himself.
"Lots of us began to tire just a bit from the constant presence of TV cameras in the sanctuary from CNN and other news outlets," he notes. "But quite frankly, Ted seemed to be handling it in stride. A joke around the church prior to the fall was, 'What is the acronym for Attention Deficit Disorder? Answer: TED.'"
In the weeks following the crisis, Todd notes that the church staff at New Life has been proactive about communicating with New Life's hundreds of small groups, providing them with information as it becomes available and encouraging discussion and healing. While no church can be entirely prepared for the implosion of its leader, Todd emphasizes the benefit of strong structures and decisive action when such a failure occurs.
"The key to all this has been honesty—from the leadership, in particular," he explains. "We can't shove it under the carpet or blame the devil. We have to face it head on. The presence of the overseer board, particularly Larry Stockstill, is extremely significant. We felt that we were not 'alone' and it provided a ballast for the congregation."
A RENEWED VOICE
Admittedly, the failure of Haggard was a tough blow to those who appreciated the fresh manner in which he engaged political leaders in the White House and on Capitol Hill. Haggard avoided the combative rhetoric that characterized conservative Christianity for the last 25 years, and he was frequently quoted in national media as the voice of American evangelicalism. In retrospect, perhaps we put all our eggs in one basket.
Joel Hunter, pastor of Northland, A Church Distributed, in the Orlando, Florida, area, serves on the board of directors of the NAE. He notes that this tendency to let someone else speak on our behalf is natural—and biblical—but that it does not negate the responsibility of local leaders and individuals to initiate direct communication with their representatives.
"We will always appreciate and look for a natural leader or spokespersons," he notes. "Teams and individuals do not replace the need for a go-to leader. Nowhere in the Old or New Testaments was much progress made without a leader stepping up to the task."
At the same time, some have suggested that Haggard's prominence was something of an anomaly created by the convergence of an evangelical in the White House, a Republican Congress, a war with Islamic extremists and the growth of the megachurch movement—phenomena that may be drawing to a close with the Democratic takeover of Congress in 2006 and the election of a new president in 2008. With this in mind, Haggard's departure reinforces the need for a variety of voices—each emphasizing different biblical concerns.
"The voices will become more sophisticated and focused, not unlike how the major channels have given way to the cable competition. There is not only FOX News, but also the History Channel, movie channels and so on," Hunter predicts. "So there will be different groups of Christians more focused on specific concerns. But what will not change is the requirement for a biblical basis for our voices and votes."
For better or for worse, the shepherding of this voice is ultimately in the hands of flawed human beings—whose lives sometimes contradict the very values they espouse. Far from an excuse to stop speaking, this factor emphasizes the need for leaders to build walls of protection and networks of accountability to protect the integrity of our voice. The world is watching. God is watching. Where do we go from here?
Confessions of a former Pentecostal preacher with a secret too big to hide.
The "Ted Haggard affair" triggers a flood of memories for me—taking me back to 1988, when Jimmy Swaggart, who described Jim Bakker as "a cancer on the body of Christ" the year before, is in the spotlight and looking mighty uncomfortable. A private detective had photographed him leaving a motel in Metairie, Louisiana, with a prostitute. Now the prostitute is talking. The whole world, it seems, is talking. Swaggart starts crying. I'm experiencing feelings of anger, sadness and embarrassment, but mostly I am feeling relief. At least it wasn't me.
I had bailed out of the ministry the year before, during the PTL scandal, resigning my pulpit and fleeing to the anonymity of civilian life. The official reason for my early retirement: I was burned out. The real reason: I was hooked on porn and prostitutes. The contradiction between my professional life and my secret life was killing me, and I was terrified by the prospect of getting caught.
Ever since adolescence, I had wrestled in vain against the unspeakable power of sexual fantasy. I hated the things it made me do and I hated myself for doing them, but I found that I could not hate my sin or hate myself enough to stop. Well, that's not exactly true. I could stop. I just couldn't stay stopped for very long.
I'd tried all the remedies I knew. I'd repented ad nauseam, forswearing illicit sex until I couldn't bring myself to mock my Maker with another empty promise. I'd prayed until my knees hurt, studied until my head swam, memorized Scriptures and repeated them like the rosary. I'd sought counseling. I'd submitted to prayer for deliverance. I'd even confessed to my wife. Each new effort brought some temporary relief, but my hopes for sexual integrity were always dashed eventually.
Through all the moral turmoil, I managed to keep my public persona intact. You could call me a hypocrite, I guess, but a hypocrite is not sincere, and I did have a sincere desire to honor God and obey His law. I loved God—I really did. I just seemed incapable of remaining true to Him, and I knew that sooner or later my failures would be found out. As a professional minister I was riding a train toward disaster. When I turned 30, the train slowed down a little, and I jumped off.
I told myself that life would improve after I'd left the ministry, but my duplicity actually deepened. The arrival of the Internet fueled my secret life. Cyber fantasies, once entertained, were never content to linger in the realm of imagination for very long. They campaigned relentlessly for a taste of reality. I succumbed to their demands in stages, walking toward Sodom one step at a time.
I almost always walked alone. Occasionally I worked up the courage to tell another Christian—usually a minister—about my battles, but I was careful to approach the subject elliptically, talking mostly in code. The guy would listen sympathetically, pray for me in pastoral tones, and give me the same advice I'd dispensed to parishioners for years.
He might offer to serve as an "accountability partner," but that arrangement never worked very well for me. I'd give the guy permission to ask me the hard questions, but I'd resent him when he did. Then, when the old compulsion returned, I'd start lying to him.
My closest friend—OK, my only friend—was my wife, Allie. God gave me a truly exceptional woman. For years, she was the only person on Earth who knew what a loser I was and loved me anyway. Allie was safe. She bore up bravely under the weight of each confession, but my betrayals wounded her deeply, and after awhile I couldn't bear to hurt her any more.
During the darkest years of my life, I begged God time and again for a private solution to my private problem, but He never gave me one. Today, I'm glad He didn't. Today, I can finally see a purpose in His apparent passivity. My weakness, which the enemy intended to use for evil, God was determined to use for good.
God had not afflicted me, but He had decided not to remove my affliction. He loved me too much to remove from my life the one lever big enough to force me out of isolation and into honest relationships with other disciples. In the end, I found victory over my sin by surrendering not just to Christ, but also to the body of Christ.
Ever since I was a kid, I had been under the false impression that my core relationship with Christ was not only personal—it was private. And when I entered the ministry, privacy became a practical necessity. As pastor, I was the guy with the answers, the guy who had his act together. Sure, I could remind my congregation from time to time that "I'm not perfect," but the only sins I could safely acknowledge were misdemeanors such as grouchiness and speeding. I was their solitary hero, a solo disciple, an inspiration to the weak and discouraged. I was a shepherd, no longer a sheep.
Here's the problem. Judging from the New Testament, Jesus isn't very interested in solo disciples. He first said "Follow Me" to two guys, not just one—and to them He quickly added 10 more. They followed Him together for two years, as a team, while He taught them how to love one another. When He sent them out to teach and heal, He sent them out in pairs. At the end of His ministry, as He was preparing to return to His Father, Jesus assured His disciples that He would still be with them, but under very strictly defined terms. "Whenever two or three of you are gathered in My name," He said, "I'll be there."
Think about it. The distinction is lost in English, but virtually all of the promises and commandments of the New Testament were written in the plural. The church, Paul says, is not a loose federation of self-sufficient individuals. It is a body, a living, breathing organism, whose members are so closely connected that they can only move together. Biblical Christianity—the faith that actually works—is not private at all. No, biblical Christianity is a collaborative enterprise. It is a team sport, not an individual event.
Today, my life is rich beyond description. Allie and I are still married, and we're happier than ever. She's still my best friend, but my wife is no longer my only friend. I now have dozens of deep friendships with brothers in Christ. Most of them are members of a group called the Samson Society. My friends in the Samson Society know my story—the worst of it, anyway—and they still treat me with respect.
There are six guys in the group who know my whole story, and I keep them updated on a weekly basis. One of them has agreed to serve as my Silas, and I keep him updated daily. Sometimes, when I'm feeling especially vulnerable, I'll call him several times in a single day. Most of my comrades in the Samson Society have been driven to the fellowship by the consequences of isolation. Most of them aren't addicted to sex and some of them don't seem to be addicted to anything, but that doesn't matter. I now know that sex was never really my problem. It was merely my favorite solution.
For years, I used the mood-altering properties of sex to medicate the pain caused by my real problems, deeper issues which, as it turns out, are common to man. These are the things my brothers and I discuss every day: pride, fear, unbelief, resentment, self-pity and the like. And more than our sins, we talk about the Solution, reminding each other daily of our high calling and the power and beauty of the gospel. We carry one another's burdens, and we call forth one another's glory.
When I die, Allie won't have to scramble to find six guys to carry my casket. I'll be carried in death by the same guys who are carrying me in life. They are carrying me and I am carrying them, and the indwelling Christ is carrying us all.
Looking into the tortured face of Ted Haggard, I can't help but wonder, Where were his brothers? Where are they now?