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.Marcus Yoars is the editor of Ministry Today. read more
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 redeemthe person. If you do it in terms of expressing authority, you want to controlthe 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.
Change. 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.
Reality Check 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."
On-the-Go Communication 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?
Active Citizens 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.
NIV/Message Parallel Study Bible Publisher: Zondervan 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 Study Bible Publisher: Crossway 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 Study Bible 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) Publisher: Zondervan Cost: $14.99
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 Cost: $49.95
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.
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 Cost: $24.99
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 Publisher: Zondervan 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.
A former assistant editor for Ministry Today, CHRIS GLAZIER now serves as editor of New Man eMagazine while freelancing from his new home in Cincinnati. read more
What would the perfect children's ministry look like in your mind? For some leaders, the ideal scenario would be where there's an ever-steady stream of self-initiated, dependable volunteers flocking in to help. For others, it's a resource issue: They picture an entire building (or if they're really ambitious, buildings) dedicated to nurturing kids in all facets of their growth. Bright, colorful, inviting rooms full of clean, new toys. Professional programs that combine attention-grabbing visuals with easy-to-grasp spiritual truths. Powerful worship services that transform lives and teach children to be ministers of the gospel no matter where they are or what their age. Still other children's pastors envision a training center for equipping parents with godly principles and practical life tools to better raise their children.
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.
Get Heart-to-Heart 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
Check out these powerful clips from a few of Francis Chan’s sermons. And for more sermon clips, video blogs and video chapters from his latest book, Crazy Love, visit his Crazy Love Web site. read more
Francis Chan, senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in
Simi Valley, Calif., is serious about making the church look more like Jesus
and actually doing what the Bible says we should be doing. Beyond highlighting
him for our cover story in November/December 2008, we
spoke with Francis about everything from lukewarm Christianity to Joel Osteen
to the state of today’s church.
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
“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.
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
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.
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.”
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.
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.
Today: OK, I’ll
send him after you.
Chan: (Laughs) I think I could take him.
Today: I’m not
sure. I read he can bench 300 pounds.
Chan: No way! Are you serious?
Today: That’s what
Chan: That’s funny.
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
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?
[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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Every election year thousands of pastors receive threatening letters claiming their churches will lose their tax-exempts status if they engage in any political activity. Don't believe the hype. Read the truth on what you can and can't do from the pulpit. read more
Analyzing the growth of Pentecostalism in America.
Perhaps the biggest news about charismatic or Pentecostal Christians is simply that they are no longer news. Not too long ago, charismatics were a point of fascination in our culture. Thanks to the media, they were widely viewed as a bizarre Christian subculture, a group whose beliefs and behavior embarrassed mainstream Christians.
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.
George Barna is chairman of The Barna Group in Ventura, Calif., and lives with his wife and three daughters in Southern California. read more
Ed Young comes from Baptist Bible Belt royalty. That hasn’t stopped him from breaking down the walls of ‘traditional’ ministry.
Joel Osteen did it. So did Franklin Graham, Richard Roberts and Robert A. Schuller. Each faced the daunting task of following in the shadow of his father's larger-than-life ministry.
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."
Marcus Yoars is the editor of Ministry 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
How globalization is shifting the power structure of the worldwide church.
A missionary in China sends a text message to his home church as if he were just across town. In Europe, immigrants from the Southern hemisphere plant churches with huge success. In Saudi Arabia, families with satellite dishes access Christian television and hear the gospel. In the United States, Anglican congregations place themselves under the authority of African bishops. Welcome to the global church. Or, as I prefer to call it, the flat church.
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.
Doug Beacham is an author and the executive director of world missions for the International Pentecostal Holiness Church. He and his wife, Susan, live in Oklahoma City. read more
Brian Houston, senior pastor of Australia's Hillsong Church, discusses balance, public criticism and real revival.
It would be understandable if Brian Houston got a bit frustrated. Few evangelicals outside his 20,000-member congregation may remember what he preached on last Sunday. But millions, from Uganda to Uruguay, have sung "Shout to the Lord," the praise anthem penned by his church's worship leader, Darlene Zschech.
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.
Phill Dolby is a British journalist and photographer whose work has been published in variety of international newspapers and magazines. read more
Reinventing accountability, discipline and restoration in a world of superstar leaders.
November 2006 may have been the toughest month in 20 years for American evangelicals. One of our brightest stars fell. As president of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), Ted Haggard was assertive and winsome in representing the convictions of 30 million evangelicals in the halls of political power. He was thoughtful and unpredictable in his desire to build partnerships and embrace broad issues of social concern.
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?
. 'I Was There
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?
Nate Larkin is founder of the Samson Society (samson society.org) and the author of the new book, Samson and the Pirate Monks. read more
From brainstorm to book deal—a pastor’s first-person journey to ‘getting published.’
When I was in seminary I had two dreams. One dream was planting a church and seeing it grow from the ground up. I've been living that dream for the past 10 years serving as lead pastor of National Community Church (NCC) in Washington, D.C. But the other dream gathered dust for more than a decade.
I feel as called to write as I do to pastor, but my writing dream took a lot longer to fulfill. In fact, there were moments when I wished God hadn't even given me the passion to write because the dream was like a pebble in my shoe, a constant source of irritation and frustration. The longer I went without turning that dream into reality, the longer the shadow it cast on the rest of my life.
Then in 2002 I took one small step in the "write" direction. I started turning my weekend messages into an Evotional that I sent out via e-mail to subscribers. That weekly exercise forced the writing habit. And it proved to be an important part of my digital ministry. Exponentially more people read my Evotionals than listen to my messages.
The next step in my writing journey was self-publishing my first book, ID: The True You, with Xulon Press (xulonpress.com). The driving motivation was proving to myself that I could actually write a book. I self-imposed a deadline, invested $1,500 into the project and the book was released in November of 2004.
I wish I could tell you that ID was a New York Times bestseller. It wasn't. In fact, it sold 57 copies its first month in print. My first royalty check was a whopping $110.43.
Let's just say that I didn't start making early retirement plans!
Shortly after ID was listed on Amazon.com, I decided to get a little more proactive in pursuing my writing dream. I started working on another manuscript that I titled In a Pit With a Lion on a Snowy Day. I started praying for favor with publishers. I e-mailed my friend Brian McLaren and asked if we could grab lunch.
Brian is the author of several paradigm-shifting books including A New Kind of Christian. I asked him a thousand questions about publishing, and he was patient enough to answer all of them. Then he went the extra mile and introduced me to an author agent named John Eames. John and I had several conversations. He liked my writing style. I liked his experience and expertise within the publishing industry. And I signed John as my agent.
After helping me craft a book proposal, John began shopping it to seven publishers that he thought would be a good fit. Several publishers expressed interest, but a five-hour meeting with Kevin Marks and David Koop from Multnomah Publishers sealed the deal.
One thing they said impressed me: They said they weren't looking for an author. They were looking for a relationship. I felt like they "got me" and I "got them." And I respected their team of authors that included the likes of Andy Stanley, Louie Giglio and Bruce Wilkinson. After three months of conversational negotiating, I signed a deal to write four books over a two-year span.
As I look in the rearview mirror, I have several observations about my writing journey. I can see the way God answered my prayers for favor. I can see how perseverance eventually pays off. But the thing I marvel at the most are the supernatural synchronicities.
God is in the business of making sure we meet the right people at the right time. My book deal was the byproduct of divine networking and divine timing. And if God has called you to write, then He'll open the right doors at the right time.
I'm not going to lie. Writing, editing and marketing a book is hard work. It involves a lot of early mornings and late nights. And it won't simplify your life. But the last time I checked, the reward for good work in the parable of the talents wasn't an early retirement or extended vacation. The reward for good work was more work.
If you're not called to write then don't write. But if you are called to write, then you need to develop a writing discipline. And pastors have a distinct advantage. You're already writing a sermon every week. And with a little tweaking, you can convert that message into a chapter of a book. For what it's worth, my mentor in ministry, Dick Foth, once told me that the average pastor of a church with three weekly services preaches the equivalent of nine novels every year!
Writing will not only expand your sphere of influence, but the primary beneficiary will be your congregation. Writing books will help you preach better sermons. Your books will become discipleship resources for small groups and sermon series. And I even view my books as 200-page evangelism tracts. They are one way I share my faith with neighbors, unchurched friends and people sitting next to me on airplanes. I have no idea what my writing future holds. I hope In a Pit With a Lion on a Snowy Day sells more than 57 copies its first month, but I can't control how many books I sell. Only God knows what will happen when the book is released on October 2. All I can do is write like it depends on me and pray like it depends on God.
Here are seven writing tips for aspiring authors that I picked up along the way:
Write for intrinsic reasons. If you write for the wrong reasons your dream will short-circuit. I often ask rookie authors if they are willing to write a book even if it doesn't sell one copy. That is the litmus test because it reveals whether they are writing for extrinsic reasons or intrinsic reasons.
Writing for intrinsic reasons is like singing in the shower. You write, first and foremost, because you love to write. In fact, you can't not write because you feel called to write. Every author who believes in what they write wants to sell as many books as possible, but that can't be the driving motivation. Don't write because you want people to read. Write because you've got something you have to say.
Find a writing rhythm. Half of writing is rhyme. The other half is rhythm. My peak writing hours are 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. In fact, I get more accomplished before my official workday starts than I do the rest of the day. I hit a point of diminishing return around noon. My mind is too cluttered to write straight. I also find that sometimes I need to walk away from whatever I'm writing for 24 hours to regain my perspective.
Keep reading. Writers are readers. I read approximately 150 books per year. Granted, I have an unfair advantage as a preacher, because I slot about 25 hours of study time per week. But I've also learned to be a good steward of my time. I have a book with me wherever I go. And the truth is that everybody could read at least one book a month if they simply kept a book in their bathroom.
Find your voice. Writing a book is baring your soul. You feel intellectually and spiritually vulnerable. Writing forces you to come to terms with who you are and who you aren't. Unfortunately, many authors hide behind their words. You don't feel like you know them any better at the end of the book than you did at the beginning. I try to write as if I'm having a conversation with someone over coffee. Keep it real. Keep it personal. Don't just share your thoughts. Share your life.
C.S. Lewis said that every life consists of a few themes. Finding your voice is giving expression to those themes—your core convictions and core passions. Write about the things you're passionate about. And dare to be different. Don't be afraid to express your personality and originality in what you write.
Know your writing strengths. Writers need editors because all of us have blind spots. A good editor understands an author's weakness and complements an author's strengths. I know my strength is saying old things in new ways. I juxtapose truth in creative ways. I'm insatiably interested in everything, so I import knowledge from a variety of disciplines—everything from physics to business to philosophy to neurology—to add density and variety to my writing.
I'm good at conceptualizing truth in creative ways, but my weakness is application. And I recognize that in my own writing and preaching. I'm a 30,000-foot thinker. I tend to fly circles around the airport, so I need editors who help me come in for a practical landing.
Tie off the umbilical cord. I'm a perfectionist by nature. I will keep revising a manuscript 'til kingdom come if I don't have a deadline, but at some point you have to tie off the umbilical cord so a book can take on a life of its own.
According to Parkinson's Law, the amount of time it takes you to complete a project depends on how much time you have allotted. If you have a month, it'll take a month. If you have six months, it'll take six months. One way that I've overcome my perfectionism and procrastination is the 80-percent rule. I send my chapters to my editors when I feel like I'm 80 percent of the way there. It relieves some of the pressure I feel to make sure every chapter is perfect.
Pray like it depends on God. We have a core value at NCC: work like it depends on you, and pray like it depends on God. That is a pretty good modus operandi when it comes to writing. Writing is hard work. There is no way around it. But prayer is what helps a book come to full-term.
I actually had a prayer team that was interceding for me while I was writing In a Pit With a Lion on a Snowy Day. The prayer team prayed for every person who would pick up the book and read it. They prayed for my editors. And they prayed that I would write exactly what God wanted me to say. Those prayers give me a sense of destiny. I can't wait to see the way God answers those prayers in the lives of readers.
Mark Batterson serves as lead pastor of National Community Church (theaterchurch.com) in Washington, D.C. He is the author of the soon-to-be-released book, In a Pit With a Lion on a Snowy Day, and he blogs at markbat terson.com. Mark lives on Capitol Hill with his wife, Lora, and three children. read more
A groundbreaking study on U.S. megachurches shatters every myth we had about America’s 1,200 largest congregations.
In 1960 there were 16 churches in America with attendance of more than 2,000. Now, fewer than 50 years later, there are 1,210 such churches—nearly twice as many as there were five years ago.
Not only have megachurches captured the attention of the evangelical community, but they've become a force to be reckoned with in the wider culture. Their pastors provide counsel to presidents, their congregations are courted by legislators and their resources are harnessed for civic functions and during natural disasters.
In 1960 there were 16 churches in America with attendance of more than 2,000. Now, fewer than 50 years later, there are 1,210 such churches—nearly twice as many as there were five years ago.
Not only have megachurches captured the attention of the evangelical community, but they've become a force to be reckoned with in the wider culture. Their pastors provide counsel to presidents, their congregations are courted by legislators and their resources are harnessed for civic functions and during natural disasters.
In 2005, four megachurch pastors had books on The New York Times bestseller list, and one of these books (Rick Warren's The Purpose-Driven Life) has become the best-selling hardcover non-fiction book in U.S. history.
The attention these churches and their pastors generate is not entirely flattering. In an interview in the Feb. 22 edition of Australia's The Age, World Council of Churches General Secretary Samuel Kobia describes megachurches as "two miles long and one inch deep." The decision of several prominent megachurches to cancel services on Christmas day drew the ire of American evangelicals and became fodder for discussion on secular newscasts. Books from Os Guinness' 1993 Dining With the Devil to this year's Left Behind in a Megachurch World by church historian Ruth Tucker and O Shepherd, Where Art Thou? by seminary professor Calvin Miller have criticized what they see as the commercialization, materialism or shallow theology perpetuated by megachurches.
In almost schizophrenic fashion, American evangelicals have been quick to either uncritically embrace the numeric success of megachurches as a sign of spiritual renewal ... or cynically attribute it to cultural compromise. But the truth may be somewhat less obvious, as recent research would suggest.
Released February 3, Megachurches Today 2005 is a research study of more than 1,800 churches conducted by the Dallas-based Leadership Network and Hartford (Connecticut) Seminary's Institute for Religion Research (HIRR). The study follows on the heels of the 2000 Faith Communities Today study conducted by HIRR and reveals shifts in the growth patterns, geographical distribution and ministry dynamics of America's largest churches. In the course of the research, key characteristics of megachurches distilled—often corresponding with commonly-held myths surrounding the growth, leadership and activities of megachurches. Ministry Today got a sneak-peak at the study shortly before its release and had a chance to talk with the researchers behind it. Here's what we discovered:
All megachurches are alike.
There are several characteristics that most megachurches possess—well-educated pastors, youthful attendees and conservative politics, according to Megachurches Today 2005. (As expected, only two percent of megachurches describe themselves as politically "liberal.") In fact, the study notes that they often "have more in common with each other than they do with smaller churches."
However, the monolithic stereotype of the suburban, white, theologically "vanilla", newly-established megachurch may need to be adjusted. For instance, while many churches have earned the status of "mega" in recent years—giving the impression that large churches are sprouting in places where there were none to begin with—the median year that these churches were founded is 1965.
Diversity most vividly shows in the worship styles of megachurches—60 percent of which claim they have changed the style of their services "some" or "a lot" in the past five years. Increasing accessibility and openness to using technology has led to implementation of multimedia aids such as video projection, increasing from 65 percent in 2000 to 91 percent in 2005.
But nowhere is this diversity seen more than in music styles, where, in the past five years, the use of traditional instruments such as pianos and organs has declined and the use of drums, bass and electric guitars increased to 80 percent. This trend in itself is intriguing—particularly in light of the fact that the percentage of megachurches that identify themselves as charismatic or Pentecostal has declined from 25 percent in 2000 to 16 percent in 2005.
Geographically, megachurches are most prevalent in the Sunbelt, with California leading the pack as the state with the most megachurches (178), followed by Texas (157), Florida (85) and Georgia (73). With the exception of Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia and Wyoming, every state has at least one church with more than 2,000 members.
In spite of these apparent regional concentrations of megachurches Scott Thumma, professor of sociology of religion at Hartford Seminary, as well as a researcher on the Megachurches Today 2005 study, believes that a geographical "decentering" is occurring.
"I fully expect to see more megachurches in New England, in the midsection and up the northwest coast of the U.S.," he notes.
Megachurches are fixated on raising and spending money.
The average megachurch brings in about $6 million per year in income, with expenditures at $5.6 million. This can give the impression that megachurches spend a lot of time raising money to support burgeoning staffs, buildings and programs.
However, according to the survey, fundraising ranked lowest on a list of activities that respondents viewed as important—behind study groups, religious education, prayer, pastoral care, evangelism, music, fellowship and social service.
Perhaps one of the reasons for this lack of pressure is the relative ease with which megachurches attract volunteer labor. The study noted these churches employ an average of 20 full-time, paid leadership staff positions and nine part-time positions—in addition to 22 full-time and 15 part-time administrative support staff positions.
However, megachurches manage to engage the labors of an average of 284 volunteers, who each donate five or more hours a week to church work—a ratio of 10 attendees to one staff or volunteer.
Megachurches all meet in cavernous sanctuaries on enormous campuses.
In the age of sky-high real estate prices and building-supply costs, large churches must sometimes improvise to accommodate growth. In the Faith Communities Today 2000 study, a majority of respondents felt they had "insufficient building space for many areas of their ministries," and this trend has only become more noticeable in the past five years.
For instance, the average attendance at a megachurch in 2005 is 3,585, but the average seating capacity is only 1,400. (In fact, only five percent of megachurches have sanctuaries of 3,000 seats or more.) As a result, 97 percent of megachurches hold multiple worship services, and five percent hold nine or more each weekend.
Another way this disparity in congregation size and seating capacity is remedied is through satellite locations. At least 50 percent of megachurches use a combination of multiple venues and satellite locations to accommodate growth.
A recent book on this trend, The Multi-Site Church Revolution (by Geoff Surratt, Greg Ligon and Warren Bird) predicts that 30,000 American churches will be multi-site within the next few years. The authors suggest this phenomenon is driven just as much by missiological goals as it is practical constraints and cite churches as small as 30 that have launched satellite congregations.
In a recent interview with Ministry Today, Bird (who was also one of the researchers in the Megachurches Today 2005 study) noted one of these missiological goals is more effectively reaching youth and teens.
"Many new megachurch facilities are smaller in worship capacity but proportionately bigger in their children's and youth facilities," he says. "For example, consider Christ's Church of the Valley, Peoria, Ariz. [www.ccvonline.com]. Eleven thousand worship on a typical weekend, and the sanctuary—which seats 2,800—is well-designed and wired for all kinds of media. Yet the bigger square footage and expense has gone to the facilities used for children and youth."
Megachurches exist for spectator worship and are not serious about personal devotion or theological depth.
Because of their size—and the multiple services that most offer on any given weekend—megachurches must painstakingly plan each aspect of their services for efficiency and consistency. Arguably, this level of routine could constrict the flow of authentic ministry on any given Sunday and give congregants the impression that they are merely spectators at an entertainment event.
However, 78 percent of survey respondents described their congregations as holding "strong beliefs and values," and the study noted that practices such as personal Bible study, prayer, tithing and family devotions are emphasized by the church as important aspects of the Christian faith.
Perhaps nowhere is the personal devotion of megachurch attendees more evident than in their propensity to invite friends, neighbors and family members to church with them. 58 percent of megachurches report that evangelism and recruiting is a key emphasis of their ministry. Although megachurches harness mailing lists, TV advertising, newsletters and events to draw new congregants, their most effective method is to encourage members to invite others to services.
When it comes to theology, megachurches are sometimes described as shallow in their approach—with sermons focusing on practical topics often beginning with "How to ..." rather than theological exposition. Warren Bird cautions against the universalization of this stereotype, however.
"In some camps of the seeker model this statement might be true, but the major trend in megachurches is toward life application of Bible truths," he notes. "Mark Driscoll at Mars Hill in Seattle [www.marshillchurch.org] and John Piper at Bethlehem Baptist in Minneapolis [www.bbcmpls.org]—and many old line denominational churches—are almost entirely theological in their teaching."
Megachurches are nondenominational.
The majority (66 percent) of megachurches are denominational in connection, although, whether because of their nondescript names or their styles of worship, many are not easily identified with these denominations. The most represented denomination is the Southern Baptist Convention, claiming 16 percent of America's megachurches.
However, Megachurches Today suggests there is a subtle shift toward megachurches being nondenominational in affiliation, noting that "megachurches founded since 1991 are more likely to be nondenominational and less likely to describe their congregation as traditional, moderate, Pentecostal or charismatic." Younger megachurches gravitate away from the use of labels in general—preferring the more general moniker of "evangelical."
Warren Bird notes several exceptions to this rule.
"New Hope Fellowship, Honolulu, pastored by Wayne Cordeiro is an exception in that their literature and Website clearly proclaims their Foursquare connection. But even they didn't put 'Foursquare' in their church name," he points out. "Charismatic and Pentecostal churches tend not to play down their denominational connection too much, although some newer ones, such as Matthew Barnett's Dream Center [www.dreamcenter.org] and Angelus Temple [www.angelustemple.org] in Los Angeles, are leaving the denominational connection out of their name."
While it is clear that some megachurches downplay their denominational affiliation (the 2000 survey showed only a third said they expressed their denominational heritage very or quite well), very few changed affiliation (three percent in the last five years) or became independent (three percent since 2000).
They predict that, although a few churches may leave their denomination in the next few years, more will either drop the denominational label in favor of a more generic name, or form a quasi-denominational network of like minded churches. Twenty-two percent of megachurches have already done so. Further pointing to this trend toward independence, 37 percent of the megachurches surveyed say they helped plant at least one new congregation in the past five years.
"We are definitely seeing a renaissance of church planting by megachurches, both locally and internationally," notes Leadership Network vice president, Dave Travis.
Megachurches grow primarily because of great programming and transfer growth from other churches.
While some would argue these congregations just happened to sprout in the right place at the right time—or even embraced some form of compromise or "secret formula" to ensure growth, researchers note that such formulas don't guarantee success:
"Almost none of the many evangelistic programs and efforts (such as advertising, creating recruitment plans, sponsoring visitor events, contacting persons new to the community or actually contacting persons after they visited the church) we tested had a strong influence on the variable growth rates of these megachurches." Instead, they cite spiritual vitality, adaptation to change, clear mission, youthfulness of the congregation and the tendency of megachurch congregants to tell others about their experiences at church. (They also noted the use of electric guitars and drums is also a factor.)
The common denominator among the fastest-growing megachurches is the extent at which members are involved in recruiting new members. 64.7 percent of those churches that experienced more than 100 percent growth in the last five years say that a lot of their members were "heavily involved."
But are these new congregants being stolen from less dominant and successful churches? Some are.
"The transfers that come from other local churches typically come from churches of all sizes, big and small," Bird notes. "When a church grows past about 400 in attendance, it often becomes what [church-growth consultant] Carl George calls a 'feeder-receptor' church. That is, whether it likes it or not, it becomes a magnet for transfer growth because it usually sports the biggest youth group around or the most 'happening' singles group around. As a result, the larger a church grows, the more intentional it has to be about reaching lost and unchurched people; otherwise the transfer-growth factor can be awkwardly high."
Travis cites reasons people will transfer to a megachurch (e.g., major life change, church strife in the previous church attended, attendance of other family members—even if one is not thrilled with the music) and reasons they never would leave to attend a megachurch (e.g., membership and active participation at the same congregation for more than 10 years, regular giving, deep affection for the fellow attendees and leaders, satisfaction with one's spiritual growth and the likelihood that your children and grandchildren would not want to attend this same congregation.)
"Most church transfers occur because people have opted out of their previous church, and no one chased after them," Travis notes. "It was dropping out and then eventually reconnecting with another church at a later time."
Additionally, dramatic growth can be connected with senior pastoral leadership: 83 percent of churches tracked their most dramatic growth during the tenure of the current senior pastor.
Perhaps less predictable is the connection between the senior pastor's education and the rate of growth. Megachurch pastors are generally more highly-educated than pastors in smaller churches. Thirty-five percent possess a D.Min. or Ph.D., and only eight percent have not completed a college degree.
However, the study noted that "as the education levels of pastors decrease, the rates of growth of these churches increase. ... It raises interesting questions about the mentoring of young pastors and the role of seminaries in producing clergy to fill these very large congregations."
"Today's culture values leaders who are proven doers more than leaders with appropriate educational credentials," Dave Travis notes. "If a pastor can preach and lead in credible ways, and is a lifelong learner, most folks don't care about titles or level of formal education."
Thumma points out this phenomenon may coincide with the prevalence of nondenominational megachurches—many of which do not have educational requirements for their pastors.
"These pastors do not have a pattern of going to seminary," he notes. "They're much more likely to become a pastor through mentoring with another megachurch pastor—their real training is at the feet of their fathers."
So, what does the future hold for America's megachurches? Experts point to an increasing interest in church planting, as well as a growing commitment to education and leadership training—particularly in the customized and resource-rich environment that a megachurch affords.
"An increasing number of megachurches are training the next generation of pastors," Bird notes, citing The Vineyard Columbus [www.vineyardcolumbus.org], a congregation that houses Vineyard Leadership Institute, a center responsible for training Vineyard pastors across the country. "Some become an extension site for a seminary, while others become their own program."
Ultimately, as Thumma notes, megachurches are a product of their times. The urbanization and customization of American culture that has provided a fertile environment for Wal-Mart and the Internet has also been a nursery for our largest churches.
"There's a tendency to think of megachurches as a unique phenomenon—a result of God's blessing or revival. This is a religious interpretation of what I see as a social phenomenon," he says. "But we should also be exploring how megachurches reflect and represent what's going on in culture and society in general."
Matthew Green is managing editor of Ministry Today. For more information on The Leadership Network, visit www.leadnet.org, and to download a copy of Megachurches Today 2005, visit Hartford Institute for Religious Research at hirr.hartsem.edu. read more
From best-selling books to mainstream movies, Americans are fascinated with the last days. But when does end-times speculation become a dangerous distraction?
The mark of the beast. Armageddon. Tribulation. Millennial reign. The white throne judgment. For the average believer, just the mention of these words and phrases evokes images from the charts, timelines, movies, books and music that have become part of the fabric of 21st-century evangelicalism.
From A Thief in the Night movies of the '70s and '80s to the more recent Left Behind book series, written by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, the end- times story has come into the forefront of the imagination of the average churchgoer-and the average American.
More than 63 million copies in the aforementioned book series have been sold, with one in every eight Americans having read at least one Left Behind book. Even mainstream American entertainment has picked up on end-times terminology and culture. Movies (The Omen, The Seventh Sign, The Prophecy, The Rapture), books (The Stand, The Mask of Nostradamus) and music (“It's the End of the World As We Know It”) all borrow biblical phrases and imagery.
In fact, according to a 2001 Barna Group poll, 44 percent of American adults believed in a rapture. Those numbers fluctuated depending on church affiliation (71 percent of non-mainline Protestant organizations held to the belief while only 38 percent of mainline attendees did).
But how are theories on eschatology shifting in light of wars, natural disasters and epidemics? Is a younger generation embracing the end-times views of its forebears? And how does this renewed fascination with eschatology shape everyday ministry? Ministries Today sat down with some authors, pastors and scholars to explore what the future holds.
Eschatology is a heady topic-even for the most seasoned scholar. But, for many, their first introduction to end-time theories is prior to or immediately following conversion. In fact, one could argue that the threat of the immanent judgment of God is a useful motivation for becoming a Christian in the first place.
Truth be told, most of us have met at least one person who traces his or her conversion to reading the dire predictions of Hal Lindsey's 1970 book, The Late Great Planet Earth, or a tract created by Jack Chick. But some argue that fear tactics should not be the impetus behind evangelism.
“If our end-times talk is the good news being preached in all nations, then that will motivate us in a good way,” says Craig Keener, professor of New Testament Studies at Palmer Seminary and author of the NIV Application Commentary: Revelation. “The problem is that some people have used eschatology the way the world uses horoscopes, just to satisfy our curiosity about the future.” Paul Maier is professor of ancient history at Western Michigan University and author of More Than a Skeleton, a book that gently pokes fun at traditional dispensational eschatology and explores the possible reaction of the evangelical community if someone claiming to be Jesus suddenly appeared on earth. Maier discourages the use of eschatology for purposes of proselytizing.
“I think the core message is misplaced if we're constantly using the apocalyptic messages of the Bible for evangelical purposes,” he told Ministries Today.
Data suggest that apocalyptic events do have an impact, at least in the short term, on the public's sensitivity toward spiritual things. After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Christian leaders celebrated a rise in church attendance, with Pat Robertson predicting, “one of the greatest revivals in the history of America.” The Gallup Organization chronicled a 6 percent rise in church attendance in the months following the attacks … which quickly dropped 5 percent.
Sigmund Brouwer, who co-authored the end-times themed The Last Disciple with Hank Hanegraaff, points to damage done by emotional end-times evangelism.
“Some Christians are happy to overlook false predictions made by church leaders who continuously revise the time-line of end-time prophecies,” Brouwer says.
“Again and again I hear of people who converted to Christianity a decade ago because they were told the end of the world was upon us, and who now doubt the entire Christian message because of specific failed prophecies made by church leaders.”
It doesn't help, argues Maier, when these stark visions of a wrathful God are juxtaposed with more tolerant portrayals that have recently become popular in mainstream entertainment.
“Let's say you have a seeker-someone who is now being affirmed in their unbelief by books like The Da Vinci Code,” Maier offers. “Is this person going to give any credibility to a God of the Left Behind series who zaps a Christian crew out of a plane and lets the plane crash?”
Jason Boyett is the author of the tongue-in-cheek Pocket Guide to the Apocalypse, a book aimed at helping 20-somethings understand the nuances of eschatology. Boyett argues that a pre-tribulation, rapture-focused Christianity is primarily numbers-focused in its evangelistic technique.
“It tends to place getting decisions for Christ above everything else,” he says. “The rapture can come at any moment, so the foremost duty of all Christians becomes an urgent commitment to evangelism. There is less focus on spiritual formation, discipleship, meeting the needs of the poor, being good stewards of the environment or concern about generations to come.”
But others argue that this imbalance is not a natural byproduct of a premillennial, pre-tribulation view of the end times.
“A believer on the lookout for Christ doesn't have to ignore the world,” says Greg Laurie, senior pastor of Riverside, California's, Harvest Christian Fellowship and author of the newly released Are We Living in the Last Days?
“It's been said a person could be so heavenly minded you're no earthly good, but, you can be so heavenly minded you can be earthly good,” he suggests. “If you really understand what the Scripture teaches about the imminence of the Lord's return, it isn't telling us to abandon our jobs and sit on rooftops but to be faithfully using the gifts God has given us.”
Laurie, who's been studying Bible prophecy for 30 years, says his end-times message is by far his “most responded to” message, prompting him to offer his views in the book.
“The Left Behind series opened the door to a whole new generation of people to look at what's going on in the world,” he says. “The authors would be the first to point out that they're taking certain liberties, but the core message is the same that Hal Lindsey wrote about years ago: The Lord could come back at any moment, there are signs of the times that have been fulfilled, and we need to be ready.”
Various interpretations of Scripture and prophecies have yielded several heightened moments of end-times focus. In 1988, Edgar Whisenant predicted Jesus' return during the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashana in his booklet 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Is in 1988. More than 3.2 million copies of the booklet were distributed, bringing eschatological discussion into the national spotlight.
Subsequent prophecies have followed, revolving around the dawn of the 21st century and the feared Y2K computer meltdown. Even in the midst of natural disasters and global terrorism, the question could be asked: Is the church still seeing “the signs of the times”?
“A perceived uptick in catastrophic occurrences tends to set everyone's rapture-meter buzzing,” Boyett explains. “Of course, there have always been wars, famines, earthquakes, tsunamis. These days, we're infinitely more aware of them because of the Internet and the immediacy of the global media. Whether or not these things have actually increased in recent years, the perception is that they have.”
Looking for signs is yet another possible distraction for the church, says Keener, who believes some of those signs aren't as clear as believers may think.
“The things we see as signs are in Matthew 24, but it's very ironic that we're using that passage,” he says. “Jesus specifically refers to them and then says, 'You'll see these things, but the end is not yet.' In verse 14, He says, 'When the good news of the kingdom has been preached to all nations … and then the end will come.' Instead of fixing on the signs, we should be fixing on the mission. It's not to say these things aren't indications of God's working, but they're not the point that Jesus calls us to focus on.”
Jill Austin, prophetic minister and author of the Master Potter book series, does feel the signs are everywhere and should engage the church to a greater awareness of Jesus' return.
“I feel the signs of the times, the birth pains, are getting closer,” Austin states. “We are in war, we're in global shakings. The church is in a radical transition right now. Different dictators are being taken out. There are holy alliances, and we are moving into an escalation of a real shaking. Everyone knows, even in the world, that the Lord is returning soon.”
But for Austin, these signs are not an impetus toward eschatological speculation or an escape clause, but a call toward spiritual warfare.
“I feel like if you want to be a history changer, you need to have a radical God encounter,” she says. “He gives you the power to change cities and strategies. It's having this living radical encounter with your life.”
Like Austin's call to prayer, there are points of agreement prophecy scholars can reach, giving some common ground to the end-times discussion.
“I believe all Christians should believe we are living in the last days,” Maier says. “When the church loses sight of Jesus' return, it gets lazy.”
Laurie is quick to address the potential divisiveness of the issue and his hope for a healthy discourse: “I don't think we as Christians should break fellowship over our views on this topic. A healthy discussion and debate is good, but I think most evangelical believers believe Christ is coming soon.”
The timing of Christ's second coming is the main point of disagreement for many evangelicals, who hold views as divergent as premillennialism (the belief that Jesus will return before a literal 1,000-year reign) and preterism (the belief that all Bible prophecies-including those concerning the second coming-were fulfilled before A.D. 70). With such diversity, what is there to agree on?
“As Christians holding different views, we all can agree on some of the insights of each of these views,” Keener says. “Christ reigns now and helps us to make a big difference in this world. In this world we have tribulation, and we must be ready to lay down our lives for our Lord. Our glorious hope is our Lord's return, and we must live our lives in expectation of that return.”
The view of a pre-tribulation rapture of believers is one that some scholars point out is virtually still “new” and only took hold with the non-mainline Protestant churches in the 19th and 20th centuries. If the emerging church continues to examine and study its beliefs in light of Scripture and not necessarily tradition, Keener says another theological shift might be in order.
“I was taught the 'pre-trib' view, and it was probably the most decisive issue that turned me toward reading and studying Scripture,” he says. “I was told that you have to believe this because all the great men of God believed it, but then I found out a few months later, nobody in church history, Luther, Calvin, John Wesley, nobody believed in that doctrine until 1830. I can't just say this is what everybody believes. I needed to find out for myself.”
There is some indication that this tendency toward self-study is a characteristic of younger evangelicals, many of whom resist both end-times speculation and adopting any one view of eschatology.
“Fueled by postmodernism, open-mindedness and the more conversational, less dogmatic theology of the emergent church-I believe the next generation will be much less apocalyptic in tone,” Boyett argues. “Less interested in reading Revelation as a scriptural play-by-play of the last days and more concerned with understanding it in terms of its place in the culture.”
DeWayne Hamby is a contributing editor for Christian Retailing and also has written for New Man, Christian Higher Education Today and Charisma. He resides in Cleveland, Tennessee, and serves as a teacher, youth camp director and singles-ministry leader. HISTORY LESSONS
There's nothing like unfulfilled end-times predictions to teach us that no one knows the day or the hour of Christ's return.
1914 - Watchtower Society founder Charles Taze Russell predicts the end of the world.
1936 - Worldwide Church of God founder Herbert W. Armstrong predicts the “end of the age.” He later revises it to 1975.
1948 - The formation of the modern nation of Israel provokes speculation on the fulfillment of biblical prophecy and the impending return of Christ.
1949 - With the announcement that the Soviet Union had created an atomic bomb, Billy Graham suggested that Christ would return within the next two years.
1981 - According to Hal Lindsey's 1970 book, The Late, Great Planet Earth, this year was a worthy candidate for the rapture: 1948 (the establishment of Israel) plus 40 years (a generation) minus 7 years (the great tribulation) = 1981.
1982 - Pat Robertson predicts a Russian invasion of Israel, leading to Armageddon, by the end of 1982.
1985 - Lester Sumrall, in his book I Predict 1985 suggests that 1985 will usher in the Lord's return.
1988 - Edgar Whisenant, in his 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Is in 1988, predicts the second coming to occur on Rosh Hashanah in 1988.
1993 - In 1990, Benny Hinn states that the rapture would occur in 1993.
1997 - Kenneth Hagin predicts the second coming and rapture would occur in October, 1997.
2000 - Numerous leaders speculated on the significance of the turn of the millennium and the possible return of Christ in the new year.
SOURCE: Pocket Guide to the Apocalypse, by Jason Boyett (RelevantBooks) read more
From a Baltimore ghetto to Capitol Hill, Senate Chaplain Barry Black now serves as pastor to 100 of America's most powerful elected officials.
He's paid with your tax dollars and authorized by the Constitution to serve as a spiritual adviser to the members of the United States Senate. From his office in the north side of the Capitol building, Senate Chaplain Barry Black composes opening prayers for each day's Senate proceedings, prepares five Bible studies a week, and meets with politicians of every stripe to council them on ethics, marriage, spirituality … and their relationship with their most important Constituent: God.
The first African American, the first military chaplain and the first Seventh-day Adventist to serve in his position, Black is well aware of the uniqueness of his role. But he's more convinced than ever that it is God-not the Constitution-that has created a place for him in Washington, D.C.
While she was pregnant with Barry, his mother was baptized and asked God for a special anointing on her unborn child. The results were tangible. “I have never had another rival in my affections as far as my vocation,” Black explains. “I have always wanted to be a minister.”
Being reared in an impoverished-and virtually fatherless-family in a Baltimore ghetto, Black's chances for vocational ministry seemed slim to none. But his mother daily wove Scripture into the lives of Black and his siblings, offering them a nickel for every Bible verse they memorized. One of these verses may have saved his life.
Black vividly recalls the day his mother assigned him Proverbs 1:10: “My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not.” Hours later, two neighborhood friends invited the 14-year-old Black to join them in “getting back at” a mutual acquaintance. Remembering the verse, Black declined, and the boys left. Later, he learned that the boys were involved in a murder, and both went to prison for life.
In retrospect, one could say that many events in Black's life have pointed to his most recent assignment. When he was only 8 years old, his mother gave him a recording of Senate Chaplain Peter Marshall's message “Were You There?” He listened to it until he could recite it from memory. Even now, nearly five decades later, he is able to deliver the sermon, complete with a convincing version of Marshall's Scottish brogue.
After college and seminary, Black pastored several churches and was commissioned as a Navy chaplain in 1976. He had been promoted to the rank of rear admiral, was serving as chief of the Navy chaplains and was preparing for retirement in 2003 when he was invited to interview for the Senate chaplaincy.
Dressed in a crisp civilian suit and a studious bow tie, Black's demeanor still reflects the military precision of his Navy days. He rises at 5 a.m., works out, spends time in devotions and uses his 45-minute commute to listen to Scripture on CD. The average week is a whirlwind of invocations, counseling sessions, Bible studies and speaking engagements.
Black serves not only the 100 senators and their families but also the 16,000 staff members that work on the Senate side of Capitol Hill. His daily responsibilities rival that of a megachurch pastor-with one notable exception.
“I have the opportunity of being involved with my members at a level that the average pastor cannot,” he says. “I see people on their jobs.”
This level of engagement has given Black a bird's-eye view of the spiritual climate in the nation's capital-a perspective that tends to be overlooked by the mainstream media. Recently, Chaplain Black sat down with Ministries Today to tell us how God is bringing spiritual renewal to the most unlikely of places-and what values should shape the church's involvement in national transformation.
Ministries Today: How does your role fit into the constitutional understanding of “separation of church and state”? Senate Chaplain Barry Black: The Senate chaplaincy is a nonpartisan responsibility. The congressional chaplaincies were created in 1789 and were established three days before the establishment clause of the Constitution. We know that by the very fact that there was a chaplaincy when that was written, the intention of our founders was not to pull religion completely outside of government activities.
I like to say there's a separation of church and state-a phrase that does not occur in the Constitution-but not a separation of God and state. So, I'm very, very comfortable being who I am as a spiritual person and meeting the spiritual needs of people on Capitol Hill, as best I can, bringing something of the transcendent into this very important environment. Capitol Hill is one place where you need God.
Ministries Today: What are some signs of spiritual interest that you are seeing in the Capitol? Black: I've seen evidence of what Paul called “saints in Caesar's household.” We can get as many as 200 people at our plenary Bible studies. That's an amazing number of people who regularly gather to study the Word of God.
This study has an amazing level of biblical literacy. I can start in any verse and these so-called ordinary people can tell me chapter and verse. A significant number of senators attend the prayer breakfast-as well as the Bible study. A significant number of spouses and chiefs of staff attend the Bible studies I lead for them.
Ministries Today: What do you think is behind this interest? Black: These are challenging times. We've had to evacuate the Capitol a couple of times just in the last three months because of airplanes entering prohibited airspace. The news we hear from around the world is enough to make people more vulnerable to the things of the Spirit-to seek answers from someone bigger than any human being.
Ministries Today: What are some misperceptions people have about the spirituality of their elected officials? Black: One misperception is that people who debate certain issues inside the chamber cannot be friends and spiritual brothers and sisters outside the chamber. People here are seeking after God in the same way that people outside of Capitol Hill are seeking God. Also, very few would know about the people who come into this office, and seek me out because they are wrestling with spiritual and theological issues.
Ministries Today: It sounds like your role is something of an ethical coach to our lawmakers? Black: Well, I talk to them about ethical conundrums-a “right versus right” challenge. It is what the apostle Paul talked about when he referred to proving “what is excellent”-choosing better over good. They involve decisions of truth versus loyalty, the individual versus the community, long term versus short term and justice versus mercy. And the reasons may differ, but I encourage them to have an ethical foundation to reach their decisions. Former Senate Chaplain Lloyd John Ogilvie used to tell the senators: “You have one constituency: God. If you please Him, everything else works out.”
Ministries Today: So, you would argue that the gospel-and your role-is not out of place on Capitol Hill? Black: Good news is as needed on Capitol Hill as anywhere. Moreover, many of the challenges we face today are analogous to those faced by Nebuchadnezzar. There's a sense of foreboding, but we can't remember the dream. There are many wise men who can give you the interpretation of a dream that you can remember, but who are powerless when revelatory knowledge is needed.
I think we face challenges as a nation-and as a planet-that create this sense of foreboding. We need supernatural wisdom, supernatural guidance. Our leaders need a wisdom the world can't give them. It's time for people who know the Lord to connect with Him in such a way that He can impart the desperately needed wisdom that can make the difference for a nation.
Ministries Today: You use the word “revelatory.” Do you see God speaking through people today-not just through His Word? Black: The Scriptures are not some static verbiage encased in the cannon. They're alive, as 2 Timothy 3:16 says. So, we do not so much search the Scriptures, as the Scriptures search us. Not a day goes by that I do not receive a rhema word from God. If I depend on what I read a couple of days ago, that's like trying to save the manna. It just doesn't work that way.
I believe God speaks in the here and now. Joel prophesied, “And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions.” I think we're in that time.
Ministries Today: Speaking of prophecy, Ugandan pastor Jackson Senyonga prophesied over you about renewal in Washington, D.C. Can you tell us about that? Black: The week before he came, the Lord had laid on my heart Psalm 2:8, “Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.” Jackson came and said, “God sent me here with a word for you, and He told me to tell you to ask Him for the nations.”
It was a validation of the rhema word God had laid on my heart. It kept reverberating in the corridors of my spirit, and he and I discussed how this could happen based on what had happened in Uganda. He laid out a step-by-step blueprint of a necessary process of the realization of the vision. It was one of a number of prophetic visits I've received.
Ministries Today: So, would you consider yourself a charismatic? Black: I would call myself a theological eclectic. I read through the Bible three or four times a year, and I listen to CDs of Scripture. I deliberately drive to work in an hour-and-a-half round trip where I'm in the Word just hearing it and letting it move through me.
What happens when you immerse yourself in the Word is that you break out of labels, you become a moving target. There's a flexibility and a breadth and a lack of strictures to the religion of Jesus Christ. That same freedom manifests itself in terms of our theological stances. The moment you can put something in concrete, you're headed for a problem. You need to always be open to a move of God, a fresh word from the Lord.
Ministries Today: Is there any hope of the Christian “right” and the Christian “left” coming together? Black: The focus of left and right should be to get back to basics. We've become too smart for our own good. When the Magi came to Herod, they called in the theologians. They came in extremely knowledgeable. They knew where He was to be born, but they did not have the spiritual wisdom to walk the five miles and worship Him. You need more than information. The wise men did not have the information, they had an experience. They were following a star. The ones with the cerebral advantage did not take advantage of it.
My feeling is that what's up here [pointing to head] is minor compared to what's down here [pointing to his heart]. I'll take a rough Elijah who's looking about the political scene and saying: “God, now they're saying that Baal is the one who sends the rain. Show Yourself strong. Stand up and do something.”
James 5 says, “One man, just like us, shut up the heavens for three-and-one-half years.” That's what we need in our pulpits. That's what we need in our churches. That's what we need in our legislative and executive branch.
Ministries Today: So, you would argue that our problems are primarily spiritual, not political? Black: More will be accomplished by wielding spiritual weapons and practicing the disciplines of fasting, praying and falling on our faces before the Lord than will ever be achieved by working behind the scenes to see if this or that will happen.
The heart of the king is in the Lord's hands. He turns it whichever way He wants to. So, to become preoccupied with who's in the executive branch, who's in the judicial branch, who's in the legislative branch is majoring on minors. There is a power beyond anything that these folk can do. God can have Nebuchadnezzar eating grass tomorrow.
Matthew Green is managing editor of Ministries Today. read more
Whether independent or denominational, today's church leaders are learning--sometimes the hard way--that reform doesn't come easy.
Houston Miles had his feet firmly planted in the Assemblies of God (AG). He started his first church in 1949, pastored several congregations in Florida and served terms as youth and Sunday school director for the West Florida District.
Then, in 1971, while pastoring First Assembly of God in Spartanburg, South Carolina, a revival disturbed his Pentecostal sensibilities, and he found himself ministering with (and to) Baptists, Presbyterians and Methodists. Although Miles' church grew like a weed, he soon attracted the suspicion of fellow AG pastors, who frowned upon his ecumenical tendencies, openness to the charismatic movement and interest in new models of ministry.
“I became a black sheep in the AG,” he recalls. “Because we had such large numbers of people, they thought we were compromising with the world.” Miles found himself avoiding his jealous colleagues, and soon the affiliation with the AG became “on paper only.” Not too long after, he resigned his credentials. In the years since, relationships have been mended, apologies have been exchanged and the denomination has invited Miles to return whenever he wishes. But he has no plans to do so.
After his departure from the AG, Miles founded Evangel Fellowship International (EFI), a network of more than 600 churches in the United States, 672 in Russia and 35 missionaries overseas. EFI's doctrinal statement is essentially Pentecostal, but local assemblies are autonomous, and pastors appoint their own boards and leadership from within the congregation.
Fast forward three decades ... Another pastor, Ron Johnson, leads Bethel Temple (AG), a megachurch in Hampton, Virginia. He is loyal to the Assemblies of God, but Johnson's style of ministry is decidedly apostolic. He personally leads a network of more than 800 churches, plants an average of two new congregations per year and has pastors nationwide who look to him for oversight-all activities that have historically caused tension in some denominations that require approval to plant churches and credential ministers. Although he says he would jettison his affiliation with the denomination if it ever began to hamper his mission, Johnson has no plans of doing so and has been refreshed by signs of reform within the AG.
Sure, Johnson's independence may seem incompatible with denominational structure, and some of his friends in the apostolic movement may suggest he should have abandoned the “old wineskins” of the AG long ago. But he's not going anywhere. And the denomination is just fine with that.
Johnson admits that his relationship with AG colleagues has been tense at times, but a humble attitude combined with the common goals of church planting and leadership training have served to bring the two parties together when there's been a potential for discord.
“I believe it is my responsibility to do the best I can to work with them,” he explains. “But if we reach a point that we no longer have the grace to walk together and we're going to be at war, it's better for me to graciously-with dignity-step out of the denomination rather than create strife.”
Conventional wisdom suggests that institutional structures grow more rigid with time. But in recent years some of the most innovative pastors in America have decided to stay in their denominations. Ministries Today sat down with a few of these leaders, and others who have left, in an attempt to explore what factors are bringing about denominational transformation-and where reform is still needed.
Few dynamics are changing the face of denominations more dramatically than the prevalence of megachurches. The visionary-and often independent-style of ministry common among megachurch pastors sometimes runs counter to the conformity common in denominations.
“Megachurches are more often than not the product of one highly gifted spiritual leader,” writes megachurch expert Scott Thumma in “Exploring the Megachurch Phenomenon,” an article adapted from his doctoral dissertation on the subject. “The majority of contemporary megachurches were either founded by or achieved mega-status within the tenure of a single senior minister.”
With the growth of the megachurch phenomenon (In 1994, researcher John Vaughan estimated that the number of megachurches increases by 5 percent per year), it is only natural that denominations will feel the pressure from highly successful leaders within their ranks. While some megachurch pastors have left denominations, others have decided to stay and use their influence to effect institutional change.
Ron Carpenter was not even 30 years old, and he was already frustrated with the size of his church. In the seven years since its founding, Redemption World Outreach Center (RWOC) in Greenville, South Carolina, had grown to 400 members. By 1998, it had reached a plateau, but the International Pentecostal Holiness Church (IPHC) pastor knew God had bigger things in mind.
After a yearlong study of the New Testament church, Carpenter dismantled every committee and stripped every leader's title, rebuilding the structure of the church from the ground up and exchanging the congregation's democratic system of government for “apostolic protocol.” Within six months, the church's attendance had tripled to 1,200 … and it has not stopped since.
Now, with 5,000 members, RWOC is the largest congregation in the denomination, and Carpenter leads some 600 ministers who call him “apostle” and have no formal affiliation with the IPHC.
Carpenter rejects the notion that God is through using denominations. He encourages other visionary pastors to humble themselves and dialogue with denominational leaders-but ultimately listen to the voice of God. While it's not without its tension, this pattern appears to be slowly bringing reform to some denominational structures.
“I have gone all over the IPHC speaking on this topic and have been met with far more passion to change than with resistance,” he says. “Denominations have tremendous resources, so I struggle with some peoples' suggestion that none of it is beneficial. If there's a possibility of change, why go back and recreate all these resources when they could be channeled?”
Ron Johnson agrees, noting that many pastors who feel they've outgrown their denomination tend to foster an internal prejudice toward institutional structures and assume that denominational leaders do not share their drive for evangelism and church planting.
“Many times denominational leaders are perceived as wanting to build the denomination as opposed to advancing the cause of Christ,” Johnson explains. “But from what I've experienced, the passion of our general superintendent is to embrace the work of the Spirit. He will do anything in his power to see men hear God and obey Him.”
Johnson recognizes that some visionary leaders may never fit into a denomination-and that this may be God's will. But overall, he urges those contemplating leaving their denominations to exercise caution.
“Move slowly. Stay as long as you can, but no longer than you have the grace to do so,” he says. “When you leave, don't trash your denomination; bless them.”
Most denominations are led by people who were elected to their positions by their constituency. Critics argue that a democratic style of government reflects Western political styles, but has little to do with the way authority and responsibility are apportioned in the kingdom of God. As a result, emerging leaders are pushing denominations toward allowing more local autonomy and allowing visionary pastors to lead their congregations based on the direction they feel God has given them for their churches.
“The democratic system has bred distrust of people,” Ron Carpenter explains. “Democracy has worked for America with some measure of success, but the church was never meant to be a people-controlled movement.”
Instead, Carpenter advocates church leadership based on the authority of apostles and prophets who receive mandates directly from the Spirit. This view runs counter to many denominational structures, in which the pastor functions as an employee of the local church-subject to the whims of the elder board and the congregation.
New apostolic styles of church government reverse the model held by many denominations: Power within the church is taken from congregations and placed in the hands of pastors. Additionally, regional church authority is taken out of the hands of centralized denominations and placed in the hands of apostles who oversee networks of pastors.
This flexibility and autonomy is what led Joseph Thompson to avoid denominational affiliation in the first place. After serving as teaching pastor under Ted Haggard at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Thompson is planting a new congregation (Church at the Well) in the Orlando, Florida, area.
Before he made plans to relocate to Florida, Thompson was invited to pastor a denominational church but grew concerned by what he saw as the restrictive leadership structure in the local congregation.
“The bylaws said that the pastor is an employee of the board,” Thompson recalls. “That's strange to me. That means if two-thirds of them suddenly decide they don't like the way the pastor has preached for the last two Sundays, they can kick him out. I don't think that's healthy. I don't think it gives the pastor liberty to hear the voice of God and be honest.”
While this dynamic may be common in denominations operating with a congregational form of church government, for those with episcopal bylaws, this is less of a challenge. For instance, the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel (ICFG) fills vacant pulpits, and pastors are allowed to appoint their own elders.
Twenty-one years ago, Daniel Brown planted The Coastlands, a Foursquare church in Aptos, California. Since then, he has pioneered 34 daughter churches and supplied five pulpits with ministers raised up in the church. Brown goes so far as to call the Foursquare a “pastors denomination,” stressing the liberty and autonomy that the fellowship offers its pastors.
Some denominations are making adjustments to ensure that this is the exception, not the rule. ICFG president Jack Hayford points out that three years ago, the denomination revised its structure, placing more authority in the hands of leading pastors rather than denominationally structured regional offices. Leadership was distributed among 75 supervisors, whereas before the shift there had only been 9. Although he refers to the new structure as “apostolic,” Hayford is careful in describing the motivation that initiated it.
“This was not done as an attempt to answer the criticisms of some who seem impassioned with identifying and investing apostles and prophets as a crusade of sorts,” he explains. “Rather, it was simply done in response to the Holy Spirit's work in fashioning a movement to serve its expanding future.”
But for some, changes such as these are too little, too late. Some say the problems with denominations are irreparable; they are deeply embedded in the DNA of institutionalized religion in America.
Church-growth expert C. Peter Wagner was optimistic as he observed the charismatic renewal of the '60s and '70s. The wind of the Holy Spirit began to blow through the dusty halls of mainline denominations that were already experiencing symptoms of irrelevance and decay.
But by 2000, as Wagner writes in his 2004 book Changing Church, “not one of the U.S. denominations had experienced the spiritual reformation that leaders had been praying for. … Yes, many individuals and some congregations had been spiritually transformed, but the structures at best had remained the same, and in some cases they had deteriorated even more.”
Wagner blames this phenomenon not on people, but on structures-structures that worked 300 years ago when denominations became independent of state control but that have become almost as rigid as the institutions they replaced.
For him, the solution is no longer renewal, but reformation. As early as his 2000 book, The New Apostolic Churches, Wagner noted that the most thriving churches worldwide are not denominational in structure-even if they are affiliated with one. They are apostolic, structured around the Spirit-led leadership of one man or woman. As a result, Wagner argues that those truly wanting to participate in the next move of God will need to leave their denominations.
“The old wineskins were once bright shining new wineskins,” Wagner explained in a recent interview with Ministries Today. “But they have come under a spell or domination of the spirit of religion-a spell that causes them to think that maintaining the status quo is the will of God. Those who stay in denominations will not receive new wine.”
Many, like Houston Miles, suggest that accountability has become obsolete within denominations, that they have grown beyond their capacity to relationally connect leaders with grass-roots ministers.
“In the AG, the superintendent was more of an administrator than a pastor,” he notes. “The only time you'd hear from him is if you got behind on your tithe.” As this yawning relational gap is becoming more pronounced, alternative organizations are arising to provide networking and resources for leaders inside and outside denominations.
Joseph Thompson affiliates with several networks-Association of Life-Giving Churches, founded by Ted Haggard, and Association of Related Churches, an organization of pastors committed to church planting. Like many of their nondenominational counterparts, both are organized around a function (healthy congregational ministry and church planting) rather than a doctrinal statement or a structure of leadership and control.
As a result, neither organization exerts any control over its members in regard to accountability. Instead, they assume a certain level of pre-existent accountability of their members-many of whom are already affiliated with denominations and apostolic networks-Thompson says.
“They recognize the need to have people over you,” he explains. “But that's not what they exist for. They provide a context for horizontal accountability-an opportunity to voluntarily submit yourself to accountability with your peers.”
Some of these networks are even being launched by denominational pastors who wish to combine the resources offered by their denominations with the flexibility and specialization offered by a smaller organization.
Scott Hagan resigned in May as pastor of First Assembly of God in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Known for his passion for racial reconciliation, Hagan recently launched the Blended Church Network, an organization dedicated to training and connecting leaders to plant multiethnic churches.
Although Hagan's new network carries the enthusiastic blessing of AG officials, it is intended to be a cross-denominational effort that will train leaders of any stripe. The 42-year-old pastor believes that efforts such as his reflect a growing openness in his denomination toward entrepreneurial churchplanting, apostolic leadership and the cultivation of relationships outside denominational boundaries.
“Any time we begin acquiring land, building buildings, creating salaries and careers, there will come a time for reinvention,” Hagan explains. “I believe that this is a journey back to the simplicity of our purpose.”
For many, peer-level networks such as Hagan's hold an advantage to denominations. They are not centered on a doctrinal distinctive, nor do they have top-heavy infrastructures that demand financial support. They are primarily relational in nature-and led by people who have ministries of their own.
Although he is encouraged by the various networks-apostolic and otherwise-that are sprouting for the purpose of church planting, evangelism, and so on, C. Peter Wagner is concerned that people leaving denominations will find camaraderie but ultimately avoid authentic accountability to a spiritual father or mother.
“There are still too many people out there doing their own thing,” he says. “Everyone needs apostolic oversight. But accountability is voluntary, and you can avoid it whether you're in a denomination or an apostolic network.”
He also contends that even the most flexible and forward-thinking apostolic network of today can become a denomination tomorrow, if policies are not put in place to prevent institutionalism.
“What we want to avoid is apostles who are 'pre-denominational,'” he explains. “Sociologists of religion tell us that this is not only possible, it is inevitable. But I want to be a history changer. History does not have to repeat itself.”
Denominations tend to be led by those who have proven themselves in ministry. While this lends stability and credibility, it creates an environment for generational tension between emerging and established leaders.
As Ron Johnson notes, it's increasingly problematic when a younger generation comes on the scene with new ideas-and a completely different view of institutional loyalty. Postmodern leaders sometimes have little tolerance for what they perceive as the faceless reality of 20th-century denominations.
“We're dealing in the AG with leaders that are 60-plus years of age at the top level of leadership,” Johnson explains. “When these older leaders and their postmodern counterparts talk about 'relationship,' they're not talking about the same thing.”
Johnson points out that-ironically-a younger generation craves fatherly mentoring. Isolation and independence are not in their vocabulary, but they question whether denominational structures can provide the relational guidance that they desire. Unlike their forbears, they have nothing against leaving a denomination to find it. Ron Carpenter agrees.
“My daddy's generation would be loyal to the church if God died,” he says jokingly. “In contrast, my generation will not be faithful to a denomination … but they will die for a man.”
Stenneth Powell, pastor of Abundant Life Christian Center Church of God in Christ (COGIC), in Raleigh, North Carolina, has raised up 49 ministers-many of whom hold credentials with COGIC, but look to him for spiritual oversight. Powell notes that younger pastors are not only looking for leadership, they also want resources-church-growth advice, leadership mentoring and church-management skills. The growth of large churches has provided opportunities for young leaders to connect with successful models-outside the confines of denominational institutions.
“This frustration with denominations is cyclical. Pastors get successful-too big for their own denominations-so they start their own organization. Essentially that too becomes a denomination,” he explains. “If a big church can offer a young guy who's just starting out the same resources as a denomination, he'll join that organization.”
Many, like Scott Hagan, believe that these generational shifts may ultimately seal denominations' survival-if leaders take the opportunity to harness enthusiasm and listen to the concerns of their younger colleagues.
“Our AG colleges are packed with students-black, white, brown, male female-whom the denomination has to keep if we have any hope,” he explains. “We can't draw in these kids and slam them with old-school thinking. The spirit that these young people have must start permeating the entire movement.”
This challenge is not exclusive to denominations.
Senior pastor of Covenant Centre International in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, Norman Benz left the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee) in 1991. He explains that he heard God say, “What I want to do with you I can't do with you in this denomination.”
Since then he joined International Coalition of Apostles (ICA), founded by C. Peter Wagner. But he points out that the apostolic movement is in danger of being largely a “baby boomer” movement and stresses the importance of incorporating younger leaders. One of the priorities of his own organization, Covenant Apostolic Network, is to intentionally release the next generation.
“When we look at scripture, apostles and elders were not necessarily chosen because of their age, but because of the favor of the Spirit on them,” he explains. “We have to be careful that we don't become stalemated and segmented into becoming a certain kind of a movement because of the age of our leaders.”
A Return to Pentecost
Although these tensions would appear to chip away at denominational foundations, many argue that such shifts actually indicate a return to the values that launched the Pentecostal and charismatic movements nearly a century ago. Ron Carpenter points out that Pentecostals and charismatics should-by nature-be more ready for denominational reform, noting that he has encountered extensive openness among leaders and laity in his own denomination.
“We tend to be spontaneous and flexible,” he explains. “Also, most Pentecostals are biblically rooted enough that if you open the Word and explain these new ideas, they will accept them.”
Ron Johnson argues that many denominations were specifically formed for the purpose of church planting, world missions and raising up new leaders, but that a desire to preserve institutional identity and enforce conformity has sometimes trumped these concerns.
“Denominations serve a purpose in building the kingdom,” he says. “But if they lose the dynamic life of their inception, they automatically default to some other reason for existence-usually self-preservation.”
While denominational leaders have often recognized this problem, Johnson notes that they have not always been quick to offer a solution. But as he looks at the landscape of the church, two factors bring him hope: a rebirth in a commitment to missions and church planting and the rise of a generation that values relationships over structure.
“Contrary to the perception that all they want to do is build their denomination, most leaders want to build the kingdom,” he explains. “As long as denominations will effectively communicate that they are releasing and empowering people to do this as well, they will grow.”
Matthew Green is the managing editor of Ministries Today and an ordained minister with the Assemblies of God. read more
Although the picture of success, in more than 50 years of ministry, pastor Fred Price has learned the hard way to walk by faith. Now he's made it his mission to ensure his congregation doesn't have to.
You may have seen him on television preaching to a neatly dressed congregation, Bibles opened in their laps, eyes glued to the 73-year-old man in a crisp business suit, monochromatic tie and trimmed mustache. Frederick K.C. Price roams the aisles of the Crenshaw Christian Center (CCC), teaching, cajoling, encouraging and—sometimes—disconcerting his flock of 21,000.
This is not “The Fred Price Show,” however. No organ or choir back him up. No theatrics accompany his exposition. There’s no one on the platform to stand and wave a hanky when he waxes especially eloquent. Located in the heart of Los Angeles, CCC has its share of celebrities—TV announcer Ed McMahon, R & B artist Mary J. Blige, Tae Bo creator Billy Blanks. But nobody expects “the celebrity treatment” at Price’s church.
“If you’re a celebrity and you just want to be seen on the front pew in a church,” he explained in a recent interview with Ministries Today, “the best thing to do is not to come here.”
After more than 50 years of ministry, Price’s method and message are essentially the same they were nearly 35 years ago, when he was introduced to the baptism with the Holy Spirit and came to embrace the teachings of the Word-Faith movement. Still, Price has an inquisitive nature that leads him to implement new models of ministry and risk his staid reputation for the sake of reaching people different from himself.
In fact, every fifth Sunday morning, he trades in his jacket and tie for a baggy warm-up suit and joins his son Frederick Jr. on the stage for Hip-Hop Sunday, an event targeting young people and featuring rap music and high-energy preaching—all aimed at reaching unchurched youth and bridging the cultural gap between parents and their kids.
When Price enters a room full of people, he tends to attract attention, walking with a lively gait that belies his age. In his spacious office, photos of CCC in its various stages of growth cover the walls, along with mementos from friends and family. From the books neatly filed on the bookcase, to the folders orderly arranged on his credenza, it is clear that Fred Price is a man who appreciates discipline, structure and attention to detail.
“When I read the first chapter of Genesis, I see that God is a God of order,” he explains as he sits down in the chair behind his mammoth desk. “That’s what I’ve tried to emulate in my ministry—in everything we do here.”
Today he may look like the picture of success, but Price always begins his life story describing the humble circumstances of his childhood in a segregated community and early years in ministry characterized by debt, illness and professional frustration.
FROM STRUGGLE TO SUCCESS
Born in Santa Monica, California, in 1932, Price was reared in a nominal Jehovah’s Witnesses family and accepted Christ in 1953. When he and his wife, Betty, joined a local Baptist church, it was the custom of the minister to ask each person who came forward for membership what they wanted to “do for the Lord.” Before the pastor reached him, Price heard the audible voice of God speak into his left ear, “You are to preach My gospel.”
His first years in ministry were anything but glamorous, as he performed menial tasks for the minister and only seldom had an opportunity to preach. During these years Price supported himself and his growing family by selling magazines and working in a paper factory and a Coca-Cola bottling plant—always “owing his soul to the company store.”
In the years that followed his call to ministry, Price served churches in several denominations—Baptist, African Methodist Episcopal and Presbyterian. In 1965, he became pastor of a Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA) church that had shriveled to nine members. Four years later, the church had grown to 125, and Price was able to quit his secular employment.
Although he was convinced of his call to ministry, he grew increasingly frustrated with an anemic version of Christianity in which prayers weren’t answered, believers suffered from illness and poverty … and nobody seemed to have a problem with it.
Then, a friend gave Price several books by charismatic authors who awakened him to the “missing ingredient” in his life, and Price subsequently received the baptism with the Holy Spirit in 1970. But it was Authority of the Believer, by Kenneth Hagin Sr., that revolutionized this 38-year-old pastor and introduced him to the principles that have become the core of his ministry.
Soon after, his fledgling congregation of 125 ballooned to 300, and the church became independent of the CMA, purchasing a 1,200-seat sanctuary for $750,000.
“In 1973 God began to deal with me about leaving the denomination and forming an independent-dependent work,” Price says, describing the departure from the denomination. “Independent of man and dependent on God.”
With the move, the church changed its name to Crenshaw Christian Center, and by 1977, the congregation had outgrown the facility (with two services every Sunday) and was looking for land on which to build.
Now celebrating more than 50 years of ministry, Price leads a still-growing congregation based on the 32-acre campus in south central L.A.—land that CCC bought from Pepperdine University in 1981 when the school moved to Malibu. The $14-million property and the $10-million sanctuary the church built there were paid off within six years of moving in.
Price heads a staff of 11 pastors and 235 employees that work in the church’s diverse ministries: a preschool, elementary, middle and high school; 16 helps ministries with approximately 2,500 volunteers; and Ever Increasing Faith, the TV outreach Price founded in 1978 that now reaches more than 15 million households.
In 1990, Price launched the Fellowship of Inner-City Word of Faith Ministries (FICWFM), a ministerial network connecting nearly 500 pastors globally.
In 2001, CCC planted a satellite campus in midtown Manhattan (Crenshaw Christian Center East), now led by Allen Landry, a former assistant pastor at CCC. Price still travels one weekend a month to preach and teach at the church, which now runs more than 1,000 people.
His congregants aren’t the only ones drawn to Price’s success. His accolades include honorary degrees from Rhema Bible Training Center and Oral Roberts University, the prestigious Horatio Alger Award and the Kelly Miller Smith Interfaith Award, presented by the Southern Leadership Conference.
But Price traces his success not to gimmicks or pop theology, but to a strict obedience to the “assignment” God gave him.
“Most ministers just want to carbon-copy what somebody else is doing,” he observes. “My real definition of success is fulfilling what God called me to do—fulfilling my assignment.”
THE FAMILY MAN
Now grown, all four of Fred Price’s children are on staff at the ministry: Angela Evans is the chief operating officer of CCC and Ever Increasing Faith; Cheryl Price serves on the staff of FICWFM; and Stephanie Buchanan is on staff at CCC. The youngest child, Frederick K. Price Jr., serves as an assistant pastor and is the heir-apparent to the CCC pulpit.
Known as a family man, Price often reminds his congregation, “God created the family before He created the church—so family is always going to be more important to me.” The Price children have warm memories of family vacations and trips to the nearby ocean and mountains—and his constant presence in the home.
“He’s an awesome role model,” says Angela, 48, who is self-described as “the rebellious one in my teens” but who has now worked closely with her father for 30 years. “What you see on-screen and his public persona is the same as what he is at home—the integrity of the man is intact at all times.”
She describes the unshakable faith her father modeled when her older brother was hit by a car and killed in 1962. After Price embraced Word-Faith teachings, he began to see God restore what Satan had stolen from him early in his life. But even he was surprised when Betty became pregnant at the age of 45, and Kenneth Hagin Sr. prophesied that the child would be a boy—God’s restoration of the son that had been lost nearly two decades earlier.
Now 26, Frederick K. Price Jr. is being groomed to lead the church when his father retires. However, “Pastor Freddy,” as he is known, says that his was a call from God—not from Mom and Dad.
“Even though Kenneth Hagin told my parents that I would follow my dad in ministry, they allowed me to hear the call for myself,” he explains. “They never once put pressure on me—or even mentioned it.”
The younger Price says he got his imagination, competitiveness and curiosity from his father—a man who relishes sci-fi movies, reads at least one book a week and is always up for a game of Scrabble or Uno.
“People get the idea that my father’s all buttoned-down and doesn’t have any fun,” Fred Jr. says. “But he loves to have fun; he’s got a great imagination—and that’s what helped me become the person I am today.”
In recent years—and since the death of Kenneth Hagin Sr. in 2003—Price has become a major spokesperson for the Word-Faith movement.
Price’s critics (e.g. Christianity in Crisis author Hank Hanegraaff and A Different Gospel author D.R. McConnell) accuse him of propagating a doctrine of health and wealth. But he has remained firm in his belief that Christians should be physically whole, financially blessed and free of suffering—a theology some opponents say doesn’t ring true in a world in which the most vibrant sectors of Christendom are often its most impoverished and persecuted.
Pentecostals and charismatics have sometimes been reluctant to embrace the core of Word-Faith teachings—in spite of the fact that its key leaders often came from traditional Pentecostal denominations. However, Price argues that the renewal provided a fertile ground for what he believes is a deeper revelation of something that God intended for the church all along.
“The Holy Spirit brought this teaching to the fore—out from under the denominationalism, traditionalism and theology,” he explains. “And we realized that it was the key to everything.”
He says that those who considered the Word-Faith a mere movement, rather than “a revelation of the way the system works,” have long since left for greener pastures.
“They got caught up in the illustrations that we used to apply its principles,” he explains. “They tried it for a season, and when they didn’t get the big car, yacht and jewelry, they gave up.”
Prosperity, Price contends, is just the natural byproduct of a life of faith—and its purpose is not primarily for personal benefit. “A lot of teachers have been teaching prosperity for prosperity’s sake,” he notes. “It’s not wrong, but it’s not enough. Deuteronomy 8:18 reveals the true purpose of prosperity: ‘Remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth, that He may establish His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day.’”
Price is transparent about his own affluence-—the Bentley parked outside his office, his ministry’s private jet. “Wealth is for the purpose of establishing His covenant,” he says. “Now in the process of doing that … the crumbs that fall from the table will be the yacht, the clothes, the jewelry and the cars—I don’t have to seek after these things.”
What Price is less likely to talk about is his generosity. His son, Fred Jr., notes that his father gave away more than $1 million of his own money in 2004. “I wish the guys that criticize him could see that side of him,” he says. “I’ve seen what he sows into the kingdom.”
For Price, money is not an end in itself, but a means. His financial success is proof that the message he preaches can be applied in the real world. Price believes that it is especially important for blacks to see that the principles of prosperity transcend economic and racial differences.
“I want them to know that this works,” he explains. “It works for someone black and in the ghetto. So don’t let that any longer be your excuse for not succeeding.”
And what if he doesn’t see people in the pews prospering financially and enjoying health?
“That would be a problem of monumental proportions, but I haven’t seen that,” he says, citing the peace of mind, family stability and prosperity that he contends results from a lifestyle of faith.
Eldrena Hanna was a single mother, when she moved to Los Angeles from Florida in 1985. An unsaved friend recommended she visit CCC. “The preacher’s comical—you’ll enjoy listening to him,” her friend said. Hanna began attending, became a member and within two years was serving in the helps ministry at the church.
After applying the principles she learned from Price, she overcame the trials of a major surgery, bought a home—in Southern California, no less—and was promoted in her job. Currently, a stock broker for Merrill Lynch, Hanna credits her success and spiritual maturity to the consistent teaching of the Word she has received at CCC.
“Dr. Price taught me that it’s not just about monetary prosperity. It’s about studying the Word and applying it every day,” she explains. “He is a role model—but these principles don’t just work for him—they work for everybody.”
FAITH IS A VERB
While critics quibble over hermeneutical nuances, at the core of Price’s theology is a view of Scripture itself that accepts the text on its face value.
“Scriptures in the Bible on healing and prosperity require no interpretation—they are what they are,” he argues. “You don’t have to interpret them.”
This confidence is what is appealing to many of Price’s followers. In fact, he is convinced that belief in the Word, verbal confession of its promises and obedience to its commands constitute a legitimate formula for prosperity and health that “works like a charm.”
“Like money in the secular world, faith is the currency that makes everything work in the kingdom of God,” he explains. “Faith is what drives it. The more faith you have, the more things you can do—good things for people.”
Word-Faith critics have often claimed that the movement’s adherents view faith as a “force” that a believer can tap into to receive whatever he or she desires. Price says this couldn’t be further from the truth.
“Faith is acting on the known will of God,” he explains. “I believe I can pick up the phone and talk to anyone, but it won’t happen if I don’t pick up the phone. Faith is following through with what you believe.”
This perspective shapes every decision in Price’s life. He’s not a man of contemplation, but of action, frequently describing instances in which God told him to do something—and he obeyed. From the location and name of the church to the cities in which his TV ministry was first broadcast, every major decision Price has made has been a result of following through with an “assignment” he believes God has given him.
“Learn how to walk by faith, not by sight,” he says. “That’s the motto of my life.”
For Price, it’s all about saying what God wants him to say—the way God wants him to say it. “God said to me: ‘Don’t preach. Teach what I’ve taught you,’” he recalls. “One of these days, when nobody shows up for church, I’ll know it’s time for me to go golfing. Until then, I’m gonna keep on doing what I’m doing the way I’m doing it.”
For years, Price has been busy doing just that. In fact, his policy has been not to respond to his critics’ offensive statements—even when he’s misrepresented.
“Most of the time I am misrepresented,” he says with a smile. “But I don’t engage them. I can’t change their minds anyway.”
Not that he’s afraid to take a stand. One incident in the 1990s—when a prominent white leader advised against interracial marriage and dating—caused Price to speak out, and it reshaped his ministry.
Several years ago, he was given a cassette containing a message given by a pastor who recounted an incident in which he found one of his children playing with a black friend. The pastor told his child: “We play. We go together as a group, but we do not date one another.”
Although horrified by what he heard, Price says he decided “not to rock the boat” out of concern for his relationship with the leader’s ministry.
“The Spirit of God began to deal with me about it,” he recalls. “When you put it all together, it was racial and ethnic prejudice involved.”
He confronted the leader, and, although an apology was issued, Price believed the apology should have been a retraction.
“Bottom line,” he says. “Since then, there has been no resolution to the problem.”
This event prompted Price to engage in an intensive study on racism in America and the church—culminating in a yearlong series that he preached at CCC and a three-volume book titled Race, Religion & Racism. Price contends that the church is still suffering from a subtle prejudice that says, Whites are the leaders and blacks are the followers.
Although Price is highly concerned by racism, in his trademark level-headed demeanor and passion for getting to the root of the problem, he’s more irritated by the church climate that allows such behavior than he is the individuals who perpetrate it. In an April 1998 article in Charisma magazine, Price is quoted as saying: “I’m not angry at any individual, and I’m not angry at any group of people. I’m angry that the church hasn’t done anything about the situation of racism.”
NO DEFENSE NECESSARY
Price doesn’t have much time for the term Word-Faith “movement”: “That’s the terminology critics use,” he contends. “This has been around since the apostle Paul—there’s nothing new about it.”
This stubborn stability is what was so attractive to Price’s right hand man, administrative pastor Craig Hays. He joined CCC in 1976, became a deacon and then came on staff at the church in 1987. Hays was called to ministry when he was a child, but never entered the pastorate because he was discouraged by what he saw as contradictions in the lives of church leaders.
“When I met Dr. Price, I found a man that stayed steadfast,” he explains. “He doesn’t have a church face and a home face—he is the one who taught me how to be consistent.”
These same sentiments are echoed by FICWFM member and El Paso, Texas, pastor Charles Nieman, who first heard Price’s teachings in the mid 1970s. For the last 28 years, he has led Abundant Living Faith Center, a congregation that has grown to 12,000—success Nieman has largely attributed to Price’s teachings. But what the Texas pastor most admires about his mentor is his consistency.
“With Dr. Price, what you see is what you get,” he says. “Their marriage is, was and continues to be an example to those in ministry. Many of his spiritual sons have said that they learned how to treat their wives by watching how he treats Betty—in fact, I’ve seen their wives stand up and thank Fred for that!”
Price recently stood with Betty through a bout with cancer that threatened her life. Some observers seized upon this misfortune as an opportunity to question Price’s theology. Price says that this wasn’t a failure of faith, but a case of cause and effect.
“I don’t believe in accidents. Everything is a result of something we either do, don’t do or do incorrectly,” he says.
Price teaches that choices and words play heavy in a person’s health and prosperity. Any negative situation can ultimately be traced to a misspoken word, misplaced belief or misapplied principle.
“My wife abused her body all of her life without knowing it,” he explains. “She was raised on eating certain types of food. She changed her lifestyle, but the tumor had already developed.”
The family stood firm together, believing that the cancer would not take Betty’s life, and she is alive and healthy today.
Price doesn’t have much time for people who blame their misfortunes on God … or the devil. In his theology, Satan is virtually powerless—but he uses instances of sin and ignorance to undermine the health, prosperity and spiritual growth of believers. “Satan can’t do anything on his own,” Price explains. “He’s an opportunist. He can only deal with what we give him.”
This personal responsibility is at the core of Price’s theology—a belief that God is limited or released by the words of His human creation. “The devil can’t do anything on his own any more than God the Father can do anything without our help,” Price teaches.
To some evangelicals who believe in the sovereignty of God, these are inflammatory words. But Price is careful to explain that he does not believe God is objectively limited. Instead, He limits Himself to interact with His creation—to authentically answer prayer.
“It’s not because He doesn’t have the power, but because He’s designed the system to work at the behest of our free wills,” Price explains. “People think that God does whatever He wants to arbitrarily. If that were true—we know God wants everybody saved—why doesn’t He save everybody? He can’t, unless we believe.”
When Price explains it this way, it sounds no different than the convictions of a large portion of Wesleyan evangelicals and traditional Pentecostals. Why doesn’t he rephrase his views to be more acceptable to his critics?
“I don’t respond to them,” Price says. “Truth will come out. Since I’m a channel, what I’ve been sharing is not my personal philosophy, but what I’ve learned from the Word of God and what I’ve applied in my own life. So I don’t have to defend it.”
Instead of defending himself, Price is too busy teaching his flock to stay on the offensive when it comes to the problems that other Christians tend to tolerate—whether they be sickness, poverty, racism or suffering.
“We suffer these things because we don’t know we don’t have to,” he says. “We accept them as part of life. We don’t resist it; we expect it.”
That might be true in some churches, but not at Crenshaw Christian Center—not if Fred Price has any say in the matter.
Matthew Green is managing editor of Ministries Today. read more
A tribute to the American military chaplain.
America’s military chaplains occupy what must surely be among the most unique positions in the world. Theirs is a universe of contradictions. They are a holdover from an earlier age of faith, much like congressional chaplains or the words “In God We Trust” on American coins or religious inscriptions on the official buildings in the nation’s capitol.
Clearly, the modern understanding of the First Amendment would never have given them birth. Yet the religious nature of their nation’s enemy, the moral crises of America’s soldiers, and the spiritual passions of the new generation at war may make them more essential to America’s military efforts today than ever before.
The inconsistencies do not stop there. They wear a uniform but cannot carry a weapon. They receive a check from the state to do the work of the church in a society deathly afraid of the mixture of church and state. They can preach God’s will for the individual soul but may not preach God’s will for the war. They are ordained by a single religious denomination to preach its truth but as chaplains must tend every possible religious persuasion.
The religious nature of their calling often works against them. If a chaplain is deployed with his National Guard unit, every man he serves is guaranteed a job to come home to. Yet if that chaplain was a pastor in a church when he was sent off to war, he is not guaranteed he can return to his job. The government he serves cannot pressure a church to employ that chaplain again. It is a violation of the separation of church and state.
He is supposed to tend to the needs of soldiers at war. Yet he is not supposed to get too close to the fighting. The military is concerned that if a chaplain accompanies soldiers into battle, the soldiers will be distracted from their mission out of concern for the safety of the chaplain, whom they often love and who is required to be unarmed. Yet the biggest complaint about chaplains from soldiers in the field is that they “don’t cross the wire with us, and so they don’t know how we feel.”
Then there is the chain of command. Pastors fighting with deacons and church boards is such a common occurrence back home that there are courses on the subject in seminaries. Yet a chaplain in the military can end up working for a commander who thinks all faith is silly or who views the particular religion of the chaplain as heresy.
One battalion commander was disciplined for calling his Catholic chaplain, a Major Pappas, by the nickname “Major Papist,” a denigrating reference to the myth that Catholics worship the pope. Another chaplain was told by his executive officer, “Be as religious as you want to be, but stay away from me and my troops.” Church fights at home pale in comparison to these pressures.
Adding to these contradictions and challenges are the “knuckleheads in clerical garb” who taint the image of the role. There is the overheated evangelist who offends more than he wins, the office rat who does ministry only behind a desk, the one the troops call “Captain Kangaroo” who hands out candy but nothing more as men go off to battle, the “cheerleader” whose every sermon sounds like a pitch from an Army recruiter, and the bulbous gourmand who couldn’t pass the Army physical fitness test unless he hired someone to take it for him. Each of these leaves legacies for other chaplains to live down.
Yet despite the oddities and obstacles of their role, chaplains are often among the noblest figures in the field. There is the stunning bravery of a chaplain risking enemy fire to give last rites to a dying man. There are the highly decorated fighting men who have then gone on to seminary so they can return to the service and minister to men in arms. And there are the noble dead among the chaplains’ corps who lost their lives tending the warrior soul.
In fact, many of these chaplains are models of toughness. Colonel Gene Fowler was the head chaplain in Iraq through 2003, serving in the 3rd Corps. A slight, bespectacled man, Chaplain Fowler has nevertheless proven his steel on more than one occasion. While serving as a chaplain at a stateside post, a grizzled master sergeant once approached him, looked him up and down, and said, “Sir, if you ain’t Airborne, you ain’t nothing.”
Refusing to let the challenge go unanswered and hating the thought that, once again, a clergyman should be viewed as a wimp, Chaplain Fowler went to Ranger school and became an honored member of the Airborne fraternity. Now he wears the Ranger tab and Airborne wings on his uniform, yet when he jumps from a plane, he does so without a weapon. He is there to fight battles of the spirit.
Chaplain Fowler and the hundreds of other chaplains who serve with him today stand in an honored tradition that reaches back through the centuries. The literature of the ancient world is filled with stories of priests leading the way in battle. It was a time when war was understood as a contest of gods. Sometimes the actual fighting would have to wait until each tribe’s priest had adequately insulted the other tribe’s god, for only then was it proper to attack.
Today, the American chaplains’ corps is as fine as the nation has ever put in the field. Each chaplain has joined the military voluntarily. Each is well educated. Most are deeply devoted to those they serve and now see their ministry in a post-9/11 world as a vital service to their nation and their God. In Afghanistan and Iraq, hundreds of chaplains subject themselves to life-threatening dangers.
Yet the military chaplain serves in a world that is religiously very different from the one that first defined his role. His job was conceived in an age of faith, at a time when the United States was largely Christian and understood its mission in religious terms.
Chaplains were charged with making sure that fighting men were pious and conducted themselves so as to assure God’s blessing on their efforts at war. A chaplain served his troops by defining their fight in spiritual terms, calling them to deeper faith, teaching them a valiant warrior code and tending their souls in moments of distress.
Today, the chaplain’s role is defined only in terms of the personal, the spiritual and the ceremonial. “I want to talk about how to fight like men and women of God,” one chaplain stationed in Iraq said, “but I feel like I can only pray at ceremonies, lead chapel services and counsel soldiers about their problems. Our nation is in a fight for its life, but I can’t stand as the priests did in the Bible and speak to the fight. It’s like I can only pray ‘Now I lay me down to sleep’ prayers, when I want to pray, ‘Lord rise up against Your enemies’ prayers.”
This “separation of faith and fight,” as one chaplain styled it, is due to a number of factors. The first is military policy. In the Army regulations that define a chaplain’s role, it is clear that the personal spiritual life of a soldier is in view and not the spirituality of his life as a warrior. The chaplain is charged with meeting the “religious, spiritual, moral and ethical needs of the Army.”
Yet the chaplain is also described as a “noncombatant.” He is not allowed to carry arms, and it is clear that his job is essentially that of a civilian pastor in uniform. In fact, he is not even supposed to go near the fighting. Many chaplains strain at these restrictions and feel that they keep them from doing their jobs.
During the Coalition’s assault on Fallujah in 2004, one bold chaplain accompanied squads of Marines as they went door to door looking for insurgents. Though the chaplain was unarmed, he entered suspect homes with the Marines and constantly urged courage in their task by quoting scriptures and praying aloud. The warriors he tended loved him for putting himself in harm’s way and for sharing the dangers they endured.
When this story was reported in the newspapers back home, the chaplain was celebrated as a hero. Pastors mentioned his courageous faith in their sermons, and religious talk-show hosts lauded him on the air. Yet this chaplain was disciplined by his superiors for exposing himself to danger and potentially distracting the men he accompanied from their mission. He was “showboating,” his commanders said, and failing to do his job.
Privately, this chaplain said, “I was doing my job. What they want is religious window dressing and someone to keep the ceremonial circus up and running. I want to be a prophet to my Marines in the crucible of their lives. I’m no good to them if I don’t face what they face when they face it.” This forced distance from the fighting only compromises chaplains in the eyes of the young warriors they serve.
The generation fighting today’s wars are the youngest children of the generation that fought in Vietnam, the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those who fought in World War II. Most of them were born in the early 1980s, which means that the only wars they can remember outside of movies and books are the conflict in Kosovo and America’s brief but tragic involvement in Somalia made popular by the film Black Hawk Down. Called everything from Generation X to Millennials to Echo Boomers, they are as difficult to define as they are to name.
Millennial faith is already distrustful of tradition, authority and structure. This is primarily because all three of these seem irrelevant to spirituality as the typical Millennial perceives it. For Millennials at war, the fact that their chaplains cannot “cross the wire,” cannot know what they know about being under fire, only makes them even less trustworthy.
The 1544th Transportation Company is a unique example of Millennial faith because while their captain, Brandon Tackett, says he stays out of his soldier’s spiritual lives, many under his command are deeply religious. There is Jodi Rund, for example. Corporal Rund is blond, fresh faced and not hard to imagine as a campus head-turner.
Not long ago, she was a sociology major at the University of Illinois. She was called up when she had only one semester left and now finds herself in the thick of the Iraq war. And she is a good soldier. One of her colleagues described her as “Osama bin Laden’s worst nightmare: a pretty woman who prays to Jesus and fights as well as any man.”
Jodi was raised Catholic and found a new interest in faith when she learned she was fighting for her country in the land of ancient Babylon. She yearned to know more about biblical history, and this brought her to Web sites that fed her spirit. She began to e-mail Christian friends at home about her faith. Soon she met other Christians in her company.
There was David Wetherell, for example, another University of Illinois student who was working on a finance degree when he was called up. Wetherell had “fallen away” from his Christian faith when he was first deployed, but the death of his sergeant on the first day he arrived, and his realization that he might die, moved him to “give my life to Jesus.”
Both Rund and Wetherell have nurtured vibrant spiritual lives in the face of war, but all without the aid of chaplains. Asked about the chaplains he knows, Wetherell replied, “Some are great and some stink, but none of them understand what soldiers go through in the field.” Rund reports that chaplains may have their place, but since they aren’t involved in the crux of battle, they are not really relevant.
“Services don’t help,” she insists. “Conventional, organized religion doesn’t meet our needs. I find that e-mails keep me strong and the psalms I put on my walls. Some of us get together before going out and pray. This is what keeps me going spiritually. Praying and surviving is the heart of my faith. But there isn’t a chaplain around at those times.”
Chaplains, then, are hindered by the policies that keep them from experiencing the stresses of soldiers, and by the distrust of authority and structure inherent in Millennial faith. They are also hindered by their own doubts about their roles, and this is often due to the shifting tides of respect for religion in American culture.
One chaplain, who asked not to be identified, explained that this uncertainty among the chaplains’ corps often arises because of the military’s response to legal pressures:
“Most of us want to talk about the things soldiers need to discuss: Is this war just? Is God on our side? Is killing in this war moral? Is Islam evil? Yet every time one of these legal cases comes along, everyone gets scared that if we do anything more than pray at ceremonies and hold chapel services, we will end up in trouble. I want to serve fighting men and women while they fight. I don’t want to make the sign of the cross from a safe distance. Something’s got to change.”
The legal cases this chaplain alludes to have indeed moved many to reconsider the chaplain’s role. The simple problem is that the military chaplaincy is caught in a time warp between modern forces of secularism and the faith of the founding era. Though it is clear that early Americans were largely Christian and wanted faith at the core of society, later generations have moved away from that founding faith and have begun to interpret the Constitution accordingly.
In 1971, for example, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971), that there are three conditions the government must meet in order not to violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits an enforcement of religion by the state. The government’s action must: “(1) reflect a clearly secular purpose; (2) have a primary effect that neither advances nor inhibits religion; and (3) avoid excessive government entanglement with religion.” Obviously, the military chaplaincy violates each one of these requirements.
This was a point not lost on two Harvard University law students in 1979. Building on the reasoning of Lemon v. Kurtzman, Joel Katcoff and Allen Wieder filed a lawsuit designed to challenge the constitutionality of the military chaplaincy. The suit claimed that state-financed chaplains are an establishment of religion and in violation of the First Amendment.
The case dragged on until January of 1986, and was finally dropped when Katcoff and Wieder ran out of money to fund an appeal. In Katcoff v. Marsh, 755 F.2d 223 (2d Cir. 1985), the court ruled that the military chaplaincy should remain in place to fulfill the constitutional guarantee that soldiers have freedom to exercise their religion.
The case raised serious fears, though. If two law students could nearly eradicate the military chaplaincy, the constitutional basis for the chaplains’ corps must be tenuous indeed. Moreover, the majority opinion in the case admitted that the chaplaincy was inconsistent with the three requirements in Lemon v. Kurtzman. How long would it be before judges in another case found the chaplaincy in violation of the law?
These matters loom large for military chaplains today. What they are deployed to do is under constant legal scrutiny. In 1972, a small number of cadets and midshipmen from the nation’s military academies joined together for a class action suit intended to ban compulsory chapel attendance. The effort was successful, and the resulting case, Anderson v. Laird, 466 F.2d 283 (D.C. Cir. 1972), has stood as a warning in the minds of many chaplains that the connection between religious faith and the military may one day be severed.
These same fears were awakened in 2001 when the Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued the Virginia Military Institute on behalf of two former cadets who opposed a mandatory prayer before meals. The ACLU won the suit and immediately sent a letter warning the United States Naval Academy that it also must change its tradition of a mandatory prayer before lunch.
These efforts by the ACLU have moved several congressmen to propose a bill designed to protect prayer at the nation’s military academies. Representative Walter Jones of North Carolina and Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas have determined that the connection between faith and the training of warriors must not be severed.
“I find it incredibly ironic that liberal organizations like the ACLU are attempting to take away the very freedoms that these students are willing to go to war to protect,” Rep. Jones said.
Legal cases such as these leave many chaplains with the sense that they are living on borrowed time. “You have the ACLU and the military academy cases on the one hand,” a chaplain, who did not want to be named, complained, “and you have the fascination with faith that is thriving in American culture, particularly among the young, on the other hand.
“Chaplains are in the middle. What do you think they are going to do? They are going to do their job, but sometimes we aren’t sure where the First Amendment line is. This makes many of us hesitate to do the job we want to do: speak like prophets to men and women of God in a fight.”
Stephen Mansfield is the best-selling author of The Faith of George W. Bush, as well as a former pastor and the director of a research and publishing firm, the Mansfield Group (www.mansfieldgroup.com). read more
They speak in tongues, porphesy and tell stories of missionary exploits. Is their next victim in your church?
They come in all shapes and sizes. They are men, and they are women. They are friendly, they speak and behave like devout Christians—and they are looking to bleed you dry of every last penny in your possession. Christian con artists, spiritual seducers, godly grifters.
They’re constantly on the prowl for easy prey in the church—typically widows, widowers, the recently divorced and the relationship-starved. The more money you have, the bigger a target you are. Here you’ll meet one such charlatan—Jane Smith. Her name and those of her victims have been changed, but her story is true.
While you observe examples of her well-practiced art of deception, you’ll also hear from Jeffrey P. Bjorck, a licensed clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary’s Graduate School of Psychology, as well as Wayde Goodall, pastor of Winston-Salem (North Carolina) First Assembly of God.
From their expert perspectives, they will point out warning signs and red flags in Smith’s twisted behavior so that those who are a part of your ministries are less likely to become victims of Christian con artists. Smith’s whereabouts are unknown as of this writing. But for many years she traveled around the country—and around the world—earning a very comfortable living by ripping off unsuspecting Christians.
And not only men. Smith was able to seduce and lure women into her traps as well. She sometimes posed as a full-time, Third-World missionary, sometimes as a rich widow, sometimes as a worker for or follower of various Christian ministries—and always speaking familiar “Christian-ese,” and always expertly plucking on the heartstrings of her targets.
That’s how it began for one woman, Michelle, who met Smith on a flight to California in 2003. According to a Dallas Observer article from December 2004, Smith was dressed in musty, secondhand clothes, sported a medical boot on one foot and began a sweet, seductive chat with Michelle, outlining her experiences as a missionary in India.
Michelle was charmed by the slight-looking woman with the bright, dancing eyes. When the flight attendant asked if either of the women wanted some wine, Smith expressed immediate interest. “She hinted it in such a way that I had to pay for it from the get-go,” Michelle said.
RED FLAG: First of all, many missionaries don’t drink—so this raises a question from the start. But more than that, Michelle got the sense from the get-go that she was supposed to be paying another person’s way—someone she barely knew. Smith was pushing on boundaries already. Bjorck
As the two sipped their drinks, Michelle talked about her booming business in the Napa Valley area. That’s when Smith really turned on the charm. “She started with the light fluttering in her eyes, the touching, making intimate contact,” Michelle said. “It was warm, a tad bit flirtatious ... right from the beginning.”
RED FLAG: Isn’t “flirtatious missionary” an oxymoron? This is a huge sign that something isn’t right, given the presumed spiritual maturity of missionaries. And when missionaries are on furlough, their primary task is often to raise support from churches. Plane travel is often their time to de-stress, not to engage in questionable interpersonal behavior and conversation. Bjorck
Turns out that during their conversation, Smith revealed to Michelle that she felt led by God to settle in California—to find property where she could instruct young people from developing nations the process of organic farming.
What’s more, Smith told Michelle that before their flight she was praying with a woman in an airport chapel, and her prayer partner said she must get on their particular flight because she would meet someone “elemental” to her life. Then, to seal the deal, a pastor from out of nowhere bought Smith a ticket, positive he was performing a service for the Almighty.
RED FLAG: This is quite an amazing chain of miracles. But believing in miracles does not preclude the necessity to be “wise as serpents”—and typically valid miracles decrease exponentially as the chain of claimed ones increases. Her story here must be called into question. Bjorck
Smith seemed so kind, so brave in her missionary adventures and so giving. And at that moment, Michelle found out how giving she could be, too. As the plane landed, Smith—without a dime on her person—launched a plea of sorts:
“You’ll pay for my room tonight, won’t you?”
RED FLAG: Michelle could have asked: “What were your plans concerning your lodging before you got on the plane? Who are your contacts in California? Why would you come here with no solid contacts or accommodations?” Dishonest panhandlers and church scam artists frequently use Smith’s type of approach as they prey on the generosity of sensitive Christians. We are to be sensitive to the needs of all people, however, ever watchful, because we live in a world where dishonesty is normal. Discernment asks questions and then responds accordingly. Goodall
Michelle was ill-prepared and had precious little time to mull over the matter. Of course—as with so many others before her—Michelle slipped Smith a handout. And the con was only just beginning.
RED FLAG: Notice Smith’s question—the wording is passive-aggressive and sets the woman up. She disguised her question as a statement: “You’ll pay for my room tonight.” If Smith’s victim says no, she risks disagreeing with what’s been put forward as a seemingly reasonable assumption—and then she’s the bad guy. Manipulative guilt is an excellent motivational tool. Bjorck
Diane Jones is a California real-estate agent who has surprisingly sympathetic memories of Smith, despite a multimillion-dollar property transaction that went bad due to Smith misrepresenting her assets and forging official documents.
“Ah, Jane,” Jones sighs, in a recent interview with Ministries Today. “She was obviously a sociopath and suffered from some kind of a mental illness, but she was also amazingly charismatic. She was quite convincing, very bright and did a brilliant job studying human nature.
“She was a joyous person who praised the Lord. She mentioned God at every turn, and when someone’s telling you that and has it down pat, it’s completely disarming. I can’t replay the situation in my mind and see anything I did wrong. I loved that woman—whoever she was pretending to be.”
Turn back the clock a bit—to 2000. Smith set her sights on a two-week conference in Colorado. That’s where she first held hands and prayed with James Dandridge, a career military officer from Texas, who was three years past a messy divorce and searching for direction in his life.
After the pair prayed, Dandridge learned that Smith had a pretty impressive spiritual résumé. “She said she’d just come back from a trip with a prominent female charismatic minister,” Dandridge told the Observer. Smith also offered that she was “mentored” by the minister herself.
Dandridge was enchanted by Smith—her gentle nature, her apparent spiritual depth. She was looking for a “Boaz” who desired an honest-to-goodness “Proverbs 31 wife”—an industrious housewife and helpmate as described in the Old Testament.
Soon, Dandridge was offering Smith money. “She had access to my credit cards early on,” he recalled. “It was a seduction.”
RED FLAG: Anyone who would give credit card, Social Security or bank information to a friend or significant other needs a shot of reality. Con artists see and sense naive, hurting, overly compassionate people. They know when to ask the right questions, and they close the sale without hesitation. — Goodall
Not that Dandridge seemed to notice. Just three months later—and after Smith visited his hometown and met his friends from church—Dandridge asked Smith to marry him. “I thought God was having mercy on me and brought somebody to me to fulfill my destiny,” Dandridge said.
RED FLAG: Dandridge’s account sounds as though there were no warning signs. He describes a series of small, passive choices. But once again I would suspect that these choices each involved manipulation masquerading under a facade of warmth that invokes pity. (Plus, a good rule of thumb is spending at least a year getting to know a potential spouse—shorter courtships often blind reality with romance.) Bjorck
Soon money was flying all over the place. Dandridge lavished Smith with everything she wanted—including a lavish engagement ring and posh nuptials at a five-star hotel. The bill for the bash: in the neighborhood of $60,000.
But on their wedding night, the once bubbly Smith turned on Dandridge, and became hostile and indifferent. In a marriage that would last but four months, Dandridge and Smith never consummated it. “Within 24 hours,” he recalled, “she’d turned into a witch.”
RED FLAG: Working with couples for more than 30 years has helped me understand that there are warning signs in relationships and marriages. No consummation and a quick personality change? Dandridge should have immediately (within two weeks) sought a pastor’s advice or a Christian counselor’s professional opinion. Dandridge was lonely, desirous of a life companion and wanted a normal home. Smith knew this. His unwillingness to get help—and embarrassment over his questionable decision—escalated into a downward spiral, and soon cost him his financial security and further damaged his trust in people. Goodall
When they married, Dandridge had no debt and owned lucrative property and possessions, but he would eventually lose it all. This “Proverbs 31” wife hocked her engagement ring to buy a bigger diamond, milking her “Boaz husband” for yet another $15,000, and racked up the credit card bills with first-class air travel, designer clothes and frequent massages.
RED FLAG: Once again, the incongruity didn’t begin on their wedding night. Someone who wants to be a Proverbs 31 wife and is seeking a Boaz husband doesn’t insist on five-star anything. But for his part, why didn’t he behave as a Boaz husband after his wedding night and insist on a visit with the pastor for post-marital counseling? And how much did he really get to know Smith to begin with? In our often-privatized culture, people tend to avoid in-depth investigation into others’ lives—in previous years, such investigation might be called “healthy relationship.” Bjorck
By the time Christmas rolled around, Dandridge felt like a prisoner in his own home—trapped there with a critical, psychologically abusive mate who, just a few months earlier, was so much the answer to all of his prayers.
“She was so deceptive and dominating,” he recalls. “It was like witchcraft. The whole thing was a nightmare. She seemed to manifest different personalities. I know she’s demon-possessed.”
Smith simply vanished by the start of the new year. Dandridge’s new SUV was gone, too, along with his safety net of gold coins. He had to pawn his wedding ring to get money for the barest of essentials. After filing for an annulment, Dandridge started getting phone calls from bill collectors.
Turns out Smith charged up $100,000 on credit cards and used a host of different Social Security numbers. Their annulment came through almost a year after he had first prayed with the woman who flashed her seductive eyes at him. Dandridge had no choice but to sell his house to pay off the debts.
“She pretty much cleaned me out,” he told the Observer. “She’s one scary lady.”
RED FLAG: I would encourage pastors in situations like this to keep more careful watches on those in their congregations who can invariably represent targets for such persons. In any congregation there will likely be a few persons who present as more gullible and needy than others, either due to their situations (like the loss of a spouse), their personalities or both. Case in point: A pastor should be particularly cautious when asked to perform a hasty wedding between a wealthy parishioner and future spouse who is relatively unknown. Bjorck
Daniel Crane met Smith at a revival meeting in a megachurch just outside Atlanta in the summer of 2003. Like Smith’s other victims, Crane was looking for something deep in his life after the death of one of his children, a difficult divorce and business difficulties. Smith pumped him up with words of knowledge—especially that he would soon embark on a “seven-year season of prosperity.”
Then the flirting started. Smith told Crane how much she liked his eyes, handsome features and well-conditioned body. “Her eyes would just dance,” Crane recalled. “She’d squeeze my hands. Her ability to know how to push and how to pull back was faultless.”
After the tête-à-tête, Crane saw Smith moving in for what he thought was a typical “church hug. Instead, “She reaches in to kiss me on the mouth and presses herself full-frontal on me,” Crane said. “But it was quick, graceful and soft. It was surprising to me, but very elegant and very appealing.”
RED FLAG: Again a Proverbs 31 woman doesn’t appear to be flirtatious or inappropriate. Once again Smith is crossing interpersonal boundaries. In addition, those who combine authoritative words of the Lord and claims of other such spiritual gifts with an equal level of flirtatiousness should be viewed with healthy caution as a contradiction of terms. Bjorck
When Smith expressed her desire to meet Crane’s children, he invited her home that day. There Smith told him of her unhappy living situation—her roommate was a con artist. “Deceitful” was the word Smith used to describe her—and, by the way, could she stay at his house for just one night?
A month later, and Smith hadn’t yet left—in fact, she was now running the show, insisting that Crane’s children address her as “Mommy.” While Crane required Smith to sleep on the couch, and while Smith wasn’t sexually aggressive, she said some very odd, suggestive things. To his shock, Crane overheard Smith conversing with strangers that she was his wife.
RED FLAG: Subtle and overt sensuality—whether from a woman or a man—can cause victims of it to bypass logic and common sense. Her kiss? Her appeal to stay overnight? Her suggestive comments and telephone conversations? Why we ignore the obvious is a curious study. Our sensitivity to people’s needs must be balanced with caution and discernment. Goodall
After an ugly argument, Smith threw a phone at Crane’s chest and finally left for good.
RED FLAG: One might parallel the abusive nature of Smith’s manipulation to sexual abuse of children. Molestation can involve pleasure but also typically invokes a gut reaction that something is not right. We educate children to notice such contradictory feelings as out of the ordinary, wrong and inappropriate, and we instruct them to get away and tell someone. In the previous scenarios, Smith exhibited similar kinds of danger signs. When a situation feels not quite right or too good to be true, it usually is. Bjorck
Smith was later seen in a California homeless shelter with a Bible on her lap. The next day, she vanished again. Her last known sighting came courtesy of a diner waitress who watched Smith befriend a kindly couple … who offered to give her a ride to her next destination.
Dave Urbanski is senior developmental editor for Youth Specialties, author of The Man Comes Around: The Spiritual Journey of Johnny Cash (Relevant Books), music editor for the Mars Hill Review, and writes about music, movies and culture for several publications. read more
You may think you know Rod Parsley. He’s the intense, impeccably dres-sed pastor who invades your living room with the rhetorical skills of a prosecuting attorney and preaching fervor of a Great Awakening evangelist.
Parsley’s TV program, Breakthrough, is broadcast to 96 percent of the nation twice a day, six days a week. Before the summer of 2004, Parsley often attacked the evils of partial-birth abortion, embryonic stem-cell research, cloning and genocide in Sudan from the familiar confines of his pulpit at World Harvest Church in Columbus, Ohio.
Then, in July, he founded The Center for Moral Clarity, cleared his fall schedule of previously booked speaking engagements and embarked on a tour of major U.S. cities—many in states that decided the 2000 election and were considered critical in 2004.
His goal? To awaken the American church to a crisis of moral values and to prod pew-warming believers to pray, vote and make their voices heard on issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage, poverty and racism. Although Parsley was careful to couch his “Silent No More” tour in nonpartisan terms, his message was clear: “Vote for the candidate who will defend biblical values.”
The 2004 presidential election was decided by 59,388 voters in Parsley’s home state of Ohio in a race that was close, but definitively in favor of incumbent George W. Bush. And exit polls revealed that this Midwestern pastor wasn’t the only one concerned about the moral climate of America. Political pundits on both sides of the ideological fence agree that it was religious leaders like Parsley who awakened voters to make a difference on Election Day.
Unsatisfied by what some may see as a political victory, Parsley recently wrote Silent No More, a book in which he researches and exposes the moral decay in every sector of society and challenges believers to invade secular culture with the transforming power of the gospel.
Ministries Today spoke with Parsley about his role in the election, whether pastors should be able to endorse political candidates, and why abortion and same-sex marriage aren’t the only issues the church must confront.
Ministries Today: You’ve been primarily known as a revivalist. What was the turning point that moved you to take a stand in the 2004 election?
Rod Parsley: Through Breakthrough we had done some petitioning campaigns on issues like partial-birth abortion, the Sudan Peace Act, embryonic stem-cell research and cloning. The response to those was overwhelming to us. So we knew there was a need here and something that people wanted us to speak to.
Then, I had the opportunity to be at the signing of the bill to ban partial-birth abortion. There were two dozen people in the room with the president during that signing, and I felt the Holy Spirit speak to me about the representation of my generation in that room. Because everyone there was about 20 years my senior, I noticed that there was a gap in a national voice of my generation speaking out to moral issues.
So I founded the Center for Moral Clarity to address those critical moral issues that I felt were facing our nation. The center does that work through prayer, information and activism to shape our culture, grow healthy families and empower America’s moral base.
Ministries Today: Some people are hinting that the response to your Silent No More tour may have swung the election in Ohio—and, thus, the nation. Was the response bigger than you expected?
Parsley: I think we shined a light on—exposed something—that had been there all along. Even before the 2004 election I sensed that “values voters” were going to make a difference, and I could almost see a light of revelation in people’s eyes when I would address those issues in the pulpits.
These issues ne--eded to be spoken to regardless of who spoke out for them. A lot of mainstream America—who were not necessarily evan--gelical Christians, but people of many faiths or even people of no faith—have a strong moral basis. They more readily identify with our values than those of the liberal left. I think they realized there was a great cost of sitting on the sidelines while the political process went forward without them.
Ministries Today: Did you sense that you were changing people’s minds about who to vote for, or do you think you just stimulated values-voters, who may have stayed home November 2, to get to the polls?
Parsley: There’s a difference between changing people’s minds and encouraging them to act on what they already believe. I certainly never told anyone who to vote for because, unfortunately, that is illegal. But people of faith who know God’s Word and want to protect marriage and life will support amendments and candidates that define those issues for them.
Ministries Today: Have you had any contact with people at the White House responding to your tour?
Parsley: There were some encouraging responses beginning the very morning after the election with phone calls. I was honored to give the invocation for the president when he came to Nationwide Arena in Columbus, and I was invited to the Inauguration and prayed at the Inaugural Prayer Breakfast. I’m sure that our efforts were recognized, but we’re grateful to this president for his leadership.
Ministries Today: Do you anticipate that legislation will be introduced within the coming years to muzzle pastors’ speech on issues such as homosexuality?
Parsley: Unfortunately, it’s already happening. In California, state Senator Sheila Kuehl sponsored a bill, SB 1234, that was later signed into law by Governor Schwarzenegger, which makes it illegal to speak out against homosexuality. Under that legislation, individuals could claim that someone expressing their biblical beliefs is intimidating and threatening to them. This is punishable by law now in the state of California, and the penalties include criminal prosecution and fines.
Here’s the staggering thing: fines up to $25,000 are awarded to the person who brings the accusation. All of this is modeled after Swedish and Canadian laws, and that’s why it’s so important for us to get HR 235 passed (see “Taking Off the Muzzle,” page 27). It will protect our preachers, clerics, bishops, priests and people of faith when they speak out on biblical truth about issues in their churches.
Ministries Today: How would you respond to people who say that pastors should not support specific candidates?
Parsley: Prior to 1954 those in houses of worship in America were free to speak out about any and every topic without any fear of government limitations or reprisals.
But when Lyndon Baines Johnson was running for re-election in the United States Senate, there were 501(c)(3) corporations who were opposing his bid for re-election, so he had this language introduced to an IRS bill. It was never voted on; it never came up in committee; it was never put before the American people or their elected officials in any way, but it became part of the IRS tax code.
I don’t think that Lyndon Johnson intended to target churches, because it wasn’t churches that were targeting him. However, since churches are 501(c)(3) organizations, we lost our First Amendment right of free speech.
What the First Amendment does clearly state is that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion and prohibiting the free exercise thereof or abridging the freedom of speech or the press.” HR 235 simply aims to restore the First Amendment rights of religious leaders, so that’s why we’ve got to see it get passed.
Ministries Today: What’s the biggest misconception church leaders have about “separation of church and state”?
Parsley: The only constitution that “separation of church and state” ever appeared in was the constitution of the former Soviet Union. I don’t think that’s one we want to follow.
That whole misunderstanding regarding “separation of church and state” came about in 1947 when Supreme Court Associate Justice Hugo Black, in Everson vs. Board of Education, asserted that the First Amendment made a separation between the church and state that should remain impregnable and so forth.
The only problem is, it’s not in the Constitution, it’s not in the Bill of Rights, and we have to see to it that our spiritual leaders are able to fulfill their responsibility to speak out on issues that are central to the faith of our people.
Ministries Today: In your book Silent No More, you argue that the church should take a stand on issues such as poverty and racial discrimination. How important are these compared to abortion and gay marriage?
Parsley: One of the major reasons that I wrote this book was to take issues that traditionally belong to the left and commend them to the right, and to take issues that traditionally belong to the right and commend them to the left.
I’m passionate about advancing the biblical vision of the founding fathers, and I think it’s important to speak out on all the issues of righteousness and of justice. I think for too long we have polarized ourselves, and these divisions fall many times along denominational lines, along racial lines and certainly across political lines that separate God’s people.
If folks are going to read this book and think they’re just going to hear another rant about abortion or other typically right-wing issues, they don’t know me. Those issues will be spoken to, but I can’t be silent either as long as one out of six of our children is going to bed hungry every night. I can’t be silent when 78 cents on the dollar is all a woman earns compared to her male counterpart on the same job.
As we speak out on these issues, what will happen is exactly what we saw happen with the marriage issue: It was the greatest rallying cry for the body of Christ of my lifetime, because it tore down the walls of race, theology and political ideology, and we were able to come together in a point of real agreement.
Ministries Today: Have you been able to build bridges with liberals because of your stand on racial issues?
Parsley: Many in the African-American community have become tremendous friends--not that they weren’t before. But they appreciate hearing someone that may be traditionally viewed as a far right-wing conservative speaking out on issues that are central to them as believers as well. I think we’re seeing the groundswell that the devil and world both are going to have to deal with.
Ministries Today: You have a large African-American contingency in your own church. What happened with the sought-after “black vote” in the 2004 election?
Parsley: Ethnic believers moved from 7 percent in 2000 to 15 percent in 2004 nationally, voting for Bush. In Ohio, I believe it was even higher than that. It’s obvious that there were African Americans who said, “We can’t vote for a president who believes that marriage between two homosexuals or two lesbians should be the law of the land.”
Lights also began to go on in the area of abortion, partial-birth abortion and embryonic stem-cell research. The lines are just getting too broad, and the distinction is becoming too apparent between these two political ideologies. My hope is that there will be democratic leadership that will stand up and begin to speak out on the issues of morality again.
Historically they have done that. For many years they have focused more on social-justice issues, and I think they are understanding that the mainstream still has the solid moral base and foundation. I believe there are those among the democratic leadership who do have strong moral convictions.
There are also those in the Republican Party who don’t support bans on partial-birth abortion and embryonic stem-cell research. What I’m hoping is that individuals from both ends of the political spectrum will begin to take a stand for these moral issues.
Ministries Today: Have you received much criticism from black Christian leaders about your position?
Parsley: I haven’t had any negative input at all. In fact, more African-American leaders have reached out for me to help them take a stand on these moral issues. I think they have appreciated my leadership in that regard and even more so as they read Silent No More and understand that I’m speaking to both sides of the political spectrum.
Ministries Today: Is it possible to have people in government concerned with moral values and still have a morally bankrupt society?
We must have these three things to initiate national revival: First, we must have a priest. We have that in Jesus, a high priest in His office. Second, we’ve got to have a king or a political system that will do that which is right in the eyes of God. Third, we’ve got to have a prophetic voice that will declare “Thus saith the Lord” to this generation. When we have all those three things functioning together we have the best opportunity for national revival.
Ministries Today: Should the government make laws against the behavior of consenting adults (e.g. sodomy)?
Parsley: The government makes laws about behavior or morality all the time. All legislation reflects morality. I want Christians to be a part of the discussion about whose morality the legislation will reflect.
Should we allow murder and theft, or marriage between three or four consenting adults? Everybody knows that’s not good for society, so legislatures must make laws against such behavior.
Ministries Today: Detroit pastor Keith Butler is planning to run for U.S. Senate. Have you ever considered a political career?
Parsley: I’ve met many fine men and women of faith and consider their work in government as ministry. But here’s the thing: Men and women will spend eternity in heaven or hell based on the words of a gospel preacher, and I don’t believe there’s a higher calling than that. Right now that’s what the Lord has me doing and I’m very privileged to be doing it.
Ministries Today: Do you think that there may be a need for some men or women out there who right now are preaching to shift into a political calling?
Parsley: Certainly in this hour God is putting His hand on individuals that may have been involved in ministry in any of the fivefold office gifts to become more of an active part of the political process, and that may mean that they become involved in running for an office and in fulfilling that office.
Ministries Today: Have you received any threats because of your political involvement throughout the campaign?
Parsley: Of course, we’re always threatened by those who are motivated by the wrong spirit, and that’s been a part of ministry life for many years for me. We just go on about our work and know that he that dwells in the secret place of the most high abides under the shadow of the Almighty.
The editor of Charisma Magazine, J. Lee Grady, interviewed Rod Parsley for Ministries Today. read more
In his latest book, The Thorn in the Flesh, veteran pastor R.T. Kendall explains how to thrive when God's calling and your personal aspirations collide.
What happens when God's calling and our own vocational aspirations conflict?
The word "calling" in the New Testament is used in several ways. But what I am referring to here is "career calling," God's plan for your life. Some of us discover much later, long after we have been converted, what God is going to do with our lives. Some also find that they are not happy with what God is planning in their lives, because it isn't happening like they thought it would happen.
To Peter and Andrew, Jesus said, " 'Come, follow me ... and I will make you fishers of men'" (Matt. 4:19, NIV). Peter had been a fisherman, and God called him to be a soul-winner. It was not something that Peter had wanted.
There is also a close connection between our natural gifts and God's calling for life, or career calling. We all have gifts, but they are not all used in the same way (see 1 Cor. 12:14-20).
Some people might want to be the head or the eye, but they are only the foot or the hand, figuratively speaking, and they get frustrated. They want to be in a high-profile position in the church. They say, "God, why can't I be up front where people will see me?"
God says: "Sorry, you are to be like the small intestines or the pancreas. You are like those organs in the body that aren't seen but are very necessary" (see 1 Cor. 12:22-24).
There are those who want to be behind the scenes, and if you gave them their choice, they would rather be the "liver" or the "kidneys" or the "lungs" where they are not seen. But God instead makes them be the eye, the ear or the head. It is an unwanted calling. It is when God's plans overrule yours. It is when you have been kept from doing what you wanted to do, and it's frustrating to you.
To be converted is one thing, but when you are subsequently called to do or be something that you hadn't wanted to do or be, that's quite another.
As for your education, it all seems to have gone down the drain. You went to the university to study a specialized field, and now look at what you do for a living!
When it comes to where God has placed you, you may feel overqualified and frustrated, or you may feel underqualified and frustrated. Maybe you work with people with whom you never would have chosen as co-workers. Maybe you are in a place you never would have chosen to work.
Could this be a thorn in the flesh? Yes! You have never been happy over the years with the work you have had to do, the workplace, or your co-workers. It's not even work that you were trained to do. It is not what you had planned to do, and over the years you have kept thinking this must be going to change: I'm not always going to be doing this!
But then the years go by, and you are still doing this work. I'm not always going to have to be with these people!, you say to yourself. Years go by, and you're still with them, and you keep thinking, It will end! But it hasn't yet. God has led you to where you are, but inwardly you think: Surely there must be something better in life for me than this. Is this it? Is this all there is?
Life is passing you by. You grew up looking forward to becoming maybe a doctor or a lawyer. Maybe you wanted to become a nurse or a computer programmer. It seems that nothing has gone according to your plan.
Could this have been Paul's thorn in the flesh? I believe that it could have been. After all, after he became a Christian he had to work with his hands and with a people whom he had been brought up to believe were second class: Gentiles. Had he managed to do what he wanted to do, he would have been able to work with his own people. Do you know, as long as he lived, he never got over that? (See Rom. 9:1-5.)
I wonder how many people are afraid of becoming Christians because they fear that the moment they become Christians God is going to send them to some far-flung place.
To us, it just doesn't add up. All of his life Paul was looking over his shoulder, trying to reach Jews at every opportunity. He said, "The gospel is to the Jew first" (Rom. 1:16), and I can tell you, every chance he had, he was talking to a Jew. I am quite convinced this is what eventually got him into real trouble.
There is little doubt in my mind that when those people came to him and said, "Don't go to Jerusalem," they were led of the Spirit (see Acts 21:411). Luke says, "By the Spirit they said, 'Don't go.'" Paul said, "I'm going!" He kept thinking that one day, somehow, he was going to convert the Jews. When he went to Jerusalem, it was a big disaster. It didn't happen.
Maybe that's you. You are still hoping somehow to do something else. You say, "I am not going to do this all my life!" You try to do what God won't let you do, and it just doesn't happen. Paul's lasting success was with the very people he had grown up to think very little of. It was an unwanted calling.
I met a Harvard man who became one of David Brainerd's biographers. Had Brainerd lived, he would have been Jonathan Edwards' son-in-law, but he died at the age of 29. Edwards went on to publish Brainerd's journal and that journal was once said to have inspired more people to be missionaries than any body of literature next to the Bible.
After the biographer relayed this story, he said something I was not prepared for: "David Brainerd did not really like the Indians that he had to witness to in New York state. He actually couldn't stand them!" Yet here was this godly man who became a legend because of his ministry to the American Indians.
Take an unwanted calling as to secular involvement. You took certain subjects at school and later concentrated on a certain field. Perhaps you studied law, French or medicine.
Then when it came to finding a job, no jobs were available in the area of your preparation or training. Perhaps you learned Chinese, and now you are working as a secretary.
You studied philosophy or theology, and you are working as a taxi driver. You went to a university and graduated, and now you are working as a salesperson in a department store.
Perhaps you felt called to be a foreign missionary, and you are still living and working in your own country. Or, maybe you have to do a kind of Christian work as plan B--waiting for that more fulfilling opportunity.
One must take into consideration the providence of an unwanted calling. Perhaps God has given you a mission you didn't ask for. "By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going" (Heb. 11:8).
How's that for trying to impress your friends?
"What are you up to, Abraham?"
"What do you mean, 'not sure'? What's happening in your life?"
"Well, I am obeying God!"
"Where are you going?"
That was it. In fact, "the Lord had said to Abram, 'Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you'" (Gen. 12:1). What kind of a mission is that? Yet Abraham became one of the greatest men in all history. He is known as the father of the faithful. He had no idea what it would lead to.
Jesus said, "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much" (Luke 16:10).
Do you feel that life is passing you by although you have kept your eyes on the Lord? He has led you from one place to the next, and you recognize His leading, but you think to yourself, This is not what I had in mind! But it is not over yet! There was a lot for Abraham to discover.
What if, like Jonah, you are given a mandate you didn't ask for? The same Jonah who prayed he wouldn't have to go to Nineveh now prayed, "O God, please let me go!" It is amazing how God can get our attention. The very thing you said no to is the very thing you end up praying for!
He was given a message he hadn't wanted to deliver. God may give you a word you have to preach. It is not what you wanted to preach, but you do it because He tells you to.
There is great potential in an unwanted calling. It refers to what you are capable of becoming. God sees what you are capable of becoming and saying. If you could always do only what you wanted to do, you would never know your full potential in other areas.
Your potential is what God sees, but you can't. God can see a potential in you that you can't see, so He leads you in a way, which, at first, doesn't seem to make sense.
Consider Daniel, whose captivity allowed him to be used in giftings that otherwise would never have been discovered.
The way we have been led we cannot understand at the time, but time shows there is purpose and meaning in it all. So it is with you. God knows your potential, and it may seem wasted at first, but one day you will see a reason for all that you have learned and the explanation for all your training.
What if you even sacrifice that career?
What is the purpose of an unwanted calling? It is the reason for the thorn in the flesh in the first place. God directed you differently from what you wanted in order to give you the usefulness and intimacy with Him you would not have otherwise experienced. If you are like me, then you would have been too proud had you gotten what you wanted.
God's purpose is twofold. First, everything that He does in our lives is geared for one purpose: to know the Lord (see Phil. 3:10). I find it very interesting that Philippians was written after Paul had that disaster by going to Jerusalem (see Acts 2126).
Nothing happened as he had hoped, and he alludes to it in Philippians 1:12: "Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel."
The Philippians were worried about him, but he says, "As for what happened to me, it doesn't matter; it hasn't hurt the gospel." It is as though he says, "I may not be in good shape in some ways, but it advanced the gospel."
That is what it is all for. God doesn't care whether I am seen as a great success. He cares about one thing, and that is that I get to know His Son. He says, "R.T., I am sorry about having to disappoint you in some things, but there is only one way that you are going to get to know My Son, and that is to put you through all this."
Everything that has happened to us--whether it be an unwanted calling, living in unhappy conditions, working with people we don't want to, studying in a specialized field only to have a career doing the opposite--is because God wants us to know His Son.
The potential that you have for intimacy with God would never be discovered if you got to do what you wanted to do. If you had the success you wanted, you wouldn't be teachable. God knows where to keep us. So when we get to the place where we say, "I just want to know Him," God says, "Good."
But there is another purpose, and it is this: that we might have a reward at the judgment seat of Christ (see 1 Cor. 9:24-27; 2 Tim. 4:6-8).
In other words, the thorn of an unwanted calling is the best thing that could have happened to any of us. We all need a thorn to save us from ourselves, and Paul could say at the end of the day, "It is worth it all!" *
R.T. Kendall was the pastor of Westminster Chapel in London for 25 years. The author of more than 30 books, he was educated at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Oxford University. This article was adapted from Kendall's new book, The Thorn in the Flesh (Charisma House). In this book, Kendall explores the challenges of life that God allows for the purpose of drawing us closer to Him. Kendall combines pastoral wisdom with a solid theological understanding of God's sovereignty to bring readers to a greater sense of acceptance--and victory--in the midst of disappointment. For more information about this book, visit www.charismahouse.com, or call 1-800-599-5750. read more
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