Sex sells ... and in recent years, more churches have used it as a marketing tool to impact their communities. From nationally known megachurches such as Dallas' Fellowship Church to smaller congregations such as Relevant Church in Ybor City, Fla., an increasing number of pastors are issuing sex challenges from the pulpits to churchgoers. Now a rural Alabama church is spicing up things and, not surprisingly, sparking community interest-both good and bad.
Three few weeks ago, Daystar Church in Good Hope, Ala., launched a monthlong series called "Great Sex: God's Way" that, given the church's small-town locale, figured to get townsfolk talking. But it's Daystar's decision to rent out billboard advertisements promoting the series that has ruffled more than a few feathers.
"I understand what they're trying to do. I get it," said the small town's 22-year-old mayor, Corey Harbison. "[But] some people just aren't ready for that. Good Hope is just a good old, country town."
One local minister added: "Paul said preach the gospel. Talking about sex ain't gonna get nobody to heaven."
Even outsiders questioned not the content of the series but its setting. "It sounds like an example of one of those church-growth, market-savvy campaigns going out to an area where you wouldn't normally see it," said Larry Eskridge, associate director of the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals at Wheaton College in Illionis. "I could see where in that particular setting, that could raise some eyebrows."
For Daystar, however, it's par for the course of venturing into new territory. When lead pastor Jerry Lawson arrived nine years ago, Daystar was called Glory Hill Church of God and averaged fewer than 100 in attendance. Since its "relaunch" in 2002, the church has grown to more than 2,000-more than Good Hope's total population-but along the way, according to Harbison, has caused many longtime residents to grow leery of its sudden mega-success.As far as the "Great Sex" series, Lawson chalks up any local controversy to a natural conflict whenever the three-letter word is mentioned. Rather than have kids learn about sex from the often-immoral portrayals found in media, Daystar wanted to create an opportunity for parents to address the issue. "I think some people are kind of missing the point," said Lawson, adding that the church needs to be leading the way on creating an understanding of sex rather than allowing the world's depiction to rule. [AP, 3/11/09; daystarchurch.tv, 3/16/09]
A Christian minister who recently engaged in heated on-air arguments with Muslims says he was attacked en route to the studio where he records his television show. After being cut off while driving, Noble Samuel, a pastor at Heston United Reformed Church in West London, was beaten by three men who ripped off his cross necklace and threatened: "If you go back to the studio, we'll break your legs."
According to Samuel, one of the assailants originally pretended to ask for directions but eventually forced his way into Samuel's car. He was quickly joined by two other men, who then punched, slapped and swore at the minister, in addition to stealing his laptop and Bible. Police have classified the incident as a "faith hate" assault.
Born in Pakistan, the 48-year-old Samuel moved to the United Kingdom 15 years ago to serve as a pastor in England. During the last few weeks of his Asian Gospel Show, which airs on the Venus satellite channel, he received several calls on air from Muslims who challenged his views. "They were having an argument with me," he said. "They were very aggressive in saying they did not agree with me. I said those are your views and these are my views."After the attack, Samuel continued on with his hourlong show and was later joined by Tahir Al, the station's Muslim owner, who condemned the attacks on-air. Despite his resilience, Samuel says he and his family now fear for their safety. "I am frightened and depressed," he said. "My show is not confrontational." [dailymail.co.uk, 3/15/09]
In an overwhelming vote Sunday, the members of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church elected Tullian Tchividjian, grandson of famed evangelist Billy Graham, to be their new pastor. As part of Tchividjian's election, the 2,200-member congregation in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., agreed to merge with Tchividjian's 650-member New City Church, also located in the Fort Lauderdale area. Tchividjian will be only the second pastor to lead Coral Ridge, which was founded by the late D. James Kennedy.
In a posting on his blog Sunday, Tchividjian said 91 percent of the congregation voted to support his appointment. "That is a much higher percentage than I anticipated given the fact that this call involved a merger of two congregations," said Tchividjian, who preached at Coral Ridge for the first time Sunday morning. "God made His will known with an exclamation point this morning."
Kennedy, who died in 2007 at age 76, was well-known for his political engagement as founder of Coral Ridge Ministries, which mobilized Christians to address social issues such as abortion and homosexuality. On his blog, Tchividjian said he and Kennedy don't have radically different convictions. But on Sunday he told Coral Ridge members that politics is just one strategy to engage the culture. "I also think that the sphere of art and the sphere of education and the sphere of media and technology are also strategic," he said.
Tchividjian, 36, is the son of Graham's oldest daughter, Gigi Tchividjian. The middle of seven children, Tchividjian went through a season of rebellion during his teen years, dropping out of high school at 16, using drugs and partying in South Florida. He said he recommitted his life to Christ at age 21, went to college and later to Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Fla. After graduating from seminary, he served as a young adult pastor at Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tenn., before returning to South Florida to plant New City Church in August 2003.
Coral Ridge and New City are expected to formally merge on Easter Sunday. The congregations will take Coral Ridge's name and use its facility.With his spiky hair and sometimes-scruffy beard, Tchividjian admitted that he and Kennedy may seem very different. But "our theological commitments are the same and our hearts beat with the same driving passion," he said in a statement Monday. "Indeed, what he came to do in the 1950s-reach the people of South Florida with the gospel and transform the world-is exactly what I have been seeking to do ever since I moved back home to start New City in 2003." [charismamag.com, 3/16/09]