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What Colgate and Charmin Have to Do With Your Denomination

 QUOTE: “Those distinctions, which seemed so important as the various Protestant churches were identifying and evolving ... are really not that important to the average churchgoer in the United States.” —Robert Thompson, professor of popular culture at Syracuse University, reacting to a recent study showing Americans are more loyal to the brands of their toothpaste or toilet paper than to their church denomination. The Ellison Research survey found that only 16 percent of all Protestants would consider only one denomination (compared to 22 and 19 percent who would do the same with toothpaste and toilet paper). Last year, a similar study from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life revealed that 44 percent of all Americans had switched from one denomination to another. “It has become unfashionable to claim to be denominationally loyal,” commented Nancy Ammerman, a sociologist of religion at Boston University School of Theology. “It has become ... kind of the way people expect to talk about their religiosity, to say that they wouldn’t put denomination above some other important criteria. … You can have very, very theologically conservative Presbyterian churches and very, very liberal Presbyterian churches, so people have sort of also gotten into their heads that the label on the door doesn’t tell them what they need to know.” [Religion News Service, 2/3/09] read more

Suspended by Prayer

As if Britain needed any more proof of its complete secularization, a nurse working in North Somerset, England, has been suspended for simply offering to pray for a patient. A registered nurse for more than 25 years, Caroline Petrie was caring for an elderly woman at the woman’s home when Petrie asked if she would like her to pray for her. The woman politely declined but complained to Petrie’s authorities the following day, which prompted an initial warning. The day after, however, Petrie was informed that she would not be allowed to work until the incident was fully investigated.

“We always take any concerns raised by our patients most seriously and conscientiously investigate any matter of this nature brought to our attention,” a spokesman for North Somerset Primary Care Trust said. “We are always keen to be respectful of our patients’ views and sensitivity as well as those of our staff.”

According to multiple sources, the elderly woman “said that she wasn’t offended but was concerned that someone else might be.” Petrie, who attends a Baptist church with her husband and two children, mentioned that she often offers to pray for her patients, many of whom take up her offer. “My concern is for the person as a whole, not just their health.”

Last October the 45-year-old nurse was reprimanded for an incident in which she gave a patient a homemade “prayer card.” Although the elderly man had happily accepted the item, his caregiver reported Petrie, which prompted her boss at the time to remind her, “Your NMC [Nursing Midwifery Council] code states that ‘you must demonstrate a personal and professional commitment to equality and diversity’ and ‘you must not use your professional status to promote causes that are not related to health.’”

Following her suspension, Petrie sought the help of the Christian Legal Centre, an organization of legal representative organization seeking to promote religious freedom and, in particular, protect Christians. She will learn later this week whether she’ll lose her job or be allowed to resume duties. [telegraph.co.uk, 2/1/09; bbc.co.uk, 2/1/09]

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Mass Miracles in Nigeria

More than 800,000 people made decisions for Christ during crusades evangelist Reinhard Bonnke hosted last week in Nigeria’s Delta State. Bonnke, founder of Florida-based Christ for All Nations (CFAN), said 85,000 people gathered the first night of the crusade, held in Isokoland Jan. 21-26. CFAN reported that on the final meeting some 425,000 people attended. Those who accepted Christ were directed to a local church for follow up.

“The original gospel comes with signs and wonders, and what we witnessed last week was absolutely glorious. Miracles upon miracles,” Bonnke said in a ministry statement. “Without the miraculous the gospel would be an empty shell. But Jesus Christ is the same today. Miracles identify Him.”

Bonnke said there were numerous reports of the blind receiving sight and the lame walking. One man reported that he had been healed of HIV/AIDS. “One pastor had been shot in the arm by robbers and the arm had died,” said Bonnke, who led the meetings with evangelist David Kolenda. “He had spent a small fortune on doctors trying to save the arm, but they were unable to restore it and so he was scheduled to have it amputated. ... After the prayer, he received feeling in his hand again and use of two of his fingers, and his hand was still improving in real time as he gave his testimony.”

In another meeting, Bonnke said a 35-year-old man who had been unable to speak or hear since birth suddenly regained his hearing and was able to pronounce words after receiving prayer. Another man, who was born lame and at age 32 had been crawling from place to place his entire life, walked for the first time. On yet another night, a woman who had been unable to walk properly because of an accident leaped on the platform.

“We ought to have a blazing neon sign in every church with the words: ‘This Same Jesus,’” Bonnke said. “The Jesus we point to is the Jesus of saving grace, miracle power and healing mercy. What He was in the past He still is today. What He did in days gone by He still does in our day. When we preach Jesus as He is, He reveals Himself in confirmation of what is said.”

Along with the evangelistic meetings, CFAN hosted a Fire Conference where indigenous church leaders were taught about the power of the Holy Spirit and evangelism. Bonnke said “tens of thousands” of people were baptized in the Holy Spirit during the training.

“Thousands upon thousands of wonderful Christians were soaking up the Word of God,” Bonnke said. “Our mission is power, not routine. Our role is that of power men, laying the power lines into powerless lives. Then Jesus does the rest.”

A native of Germany, Bonnke has been leading evangelistic crusades throughout Africa for more than 30 years, at times drawing more than a million people to one event. In 2000, he began a campaign to see 100 million come to Christ in that decade. So far, CFAN has recorded more than 44 million decisions for Christ.

CFAN’s next crusade will be held in Mubi, Nigeria, in February. [charismamag.com, 1/30/09]

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Right When It Hurts

QUOTE: “I have two principles that guide my decisions as a father, a husband and a pastor. … Principle One: Do the right thing, for the right reason, even at my own hurt. Principle Two: Say what you mean and mean what you say. These two principles were put to the test this past week as I navigated the media frenzy surrounding the new allegations involving our church. I have told several close friends this week that it is really hurtful to be criticized so strongly for simply doing the right thing. I actually believe it is easier to accept criticism after doing something wrong. If that were the case, I would stand before my family, my church and the media and simply accept the responsibility and the consequences. But when no wrong act has been committed, it hurts to be misunderstood or questioned. … When my integrity is questioned, I try not to be defensive but I also want truth. In the end, I know God sees my heart and ultimately He is my judge. I trust my reputation into His hands and believe that He will ultimately defend me. … These two principles are big leadership ideas that I hope are adopted by everyone in a position of influence or authority. It is a sacred responsibility to lead people and I consider it an honor to be called pastor. —New Life Church senior pastor Brady Boyd, blogging after a week in which he and his church’s leadership were criticized for concealing certain details involved in the Ted Haggard scandal [newlifeblogs.com, 1/30/09]

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Religious by Region

Though it’s a pastor’s dream to shepherd a flock of mature, passionate believers concerned about living out their faith each day, most would settle for leading those who are simply “concerned about religion.” So where are you most likely to find such spiritually minded individuals in the United States? According to more than 350,000 people who answered the question “Is religion an important part of your daily life?” your best bet—not surprisingly—is to head to the Bible Belt.

Eighty-five percent of respondents in Mississippi answered yes to the Gallup Poll question, making it the “most religious” state in the country. Close behind were Alabama (82 percent), South Carolina (80 percent), Tennessee (79 percent), Louisiana (78 percent) and Arkansas (78 percent). On the other side of the spectrum were (in order): Vermont (42 percent); New Hampshire (46 percent); Maine (48 percent); Massachusetts (48 percent) and Alaska (51 percent).

Experts say although the concern for religion among individuals is obviously regionally characterized—with the South being the most religious and New England being the least—the reasons for this aren’t so clear. For instance, despite its high population of African-Americans (who are comparatively more religious than other races), Mississippi still would rank as the most religious state even if only the white population were considered.

Overall, 65 percent of all Americans said religion was a daily priority. [Religion News Service, 1/30/09]

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The Future P90X Church

QUOTE: “My wife and I just started the P90X workout program. (And yes, it is as intense as the infomercials indicate.) We’re up at 5 a.m. and are getting our behinds kicked for a full hour, six days a week. Persecution is the P90X of the church. It will help us lose the fat of carnality, build our heart rate as we love Jesus and others (especially our enemies) and rip our spiritual muscles out. Why do you think the early church was so spiritually chiseled? They were chased, beaten, crucified and flogged. … I believe there will be many churches who give into the coming cultural and political pressure to take their foot off of the evangelistic gas peddle and stamp hard on the doctrinal brakes. These churches will buy the lie that they are making more of a difference by being culturally relevant. They will hide behind the fact that they are doing acts of social justice and preaching an evangelism without words. But evangelism without words is the oxyest moron of all. These churches will preach a nice Jesus in the nicest part of the Gospels. They will stay away from the angry parts of the Old Testament and the ‘not so nice’ parts of the Gospels. … The divide between these two kinds of churches in a P90X future will be much wider and deeper than they are today. I am convinced pastors and church leaders will have to pick a side. Because in this kind of future there is no middle ground.” —youth ministry leader Greg Stier of Dare 2 Share Ministries, offering his take on the future church in the United States [christianpost.com, 1/29/09]

 

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Reopening Old Wounds for New Life

An already dark stain for New Life Church just got darker. After spending the last two years trying to recover from the infamous sex-and-drugs scandal of former pastor Ted Haggard, the Colorado Springs, Colo., congregation now faces new revelations—and criticism—regarding a former church volunteer’s relationship with the fallen leader.

On Friday, New Life pastor Brady Boyd confirmed that a former male volunteer approached church leaders shortly following Haggard’s resignation in November 2006 and said he and Haggard had been in an “inappropriate, consensual sexual relationship” that “went on for a long period of time.” Recent reports indicate that the relationship did not involve physical contact, but that on one occasion Haggard masturbated in front of Grant Haas, who was 22 years old at the time. According to Haas, the two exchanged thousands of sexually explicit text messages over several months, many of which featured Haggard talking about sexual positions, pornography, masturbation and drugs.

According to Boyd, the church offered Haas counseling after he came forward, but when Haas decided to sue the church in 2007, New Life’s leaders—given the “overwhelming pool of evidence” that verified his story—reached a legal settlement, agreeing to pay almost $180,000 to assist with moving expenses, counseling, medical bills and college tuition. The agreement came under the stipulation that none of the parties involved discussed the matter publicly.

Last Thursday, however, local television station KRDO-TV informed Boyd that Haas had provided them a detailed account of his story and wanted to go public because of the media attention Haggard was gaining as a ramp up to his HBO documentary, The Trials of Ted Haggard, airing this week. Boyd responded on Friday by e-mailing New Life Church members about the six-figure settlement: “This decision was made not as an attempt to conceal wrongdoings, but to protect him from those who would seek to exploit him. His actions now suggest that he has changed his mind.”

Boyd added that New Life “received reports of a number of incidents of inappropriate behavior” following Haggard’s high-profile fall. “In each case, we have tried our very best to do the right thing each time, including disciplinary action when appropriate.” Boyd also informed members that the settlement was paid using insurance money, not tithes.

“[This] wasn’t at all a settlement to make [Haas] be quiet or not tell his story,” Boyd told reporters on Friday. “Our desire was to help him. Here was a young man who wanted to get on with his life. We considered it more compassionate assistance—certainly not hush money. I know that’s what everyone will want to say because that’s the most salacious thing to say, but that’s not at all what it was.”

Not surprisingly, Haas disagrees. “I really felt the church staff did what they could to get me to move to a different city, to get me to stop going to the church, to make these promises to do whatever they could to help, but their main focus was to cover it up,” he said. “They think Ted Haggard is not a harm to this community and I really think they’re wrong, they’re dead wrong.”

Although New Life could take legal action against Grant for breaking his silence, Boyd said the church has no desire to. “It’s not great for our church either,” Boyd said of the recent publicity. “I think what caused this young man to be a bit aggravated was Ted being seen as a victim, when he himself had experienced a great deal of hurt. I seriously doubt this man would have come forward if the documentary had not been made.”

On Sunday, Boyd addressed the issue with his congregation, reminding them of their “holy tenacity” that has been revealed throughout both the Haggard scandal and last year’s shootings at the church. “I’m sorry that this wound has been reopened for many of you. One day we may have a little scar tissue, but the wounds will not define us. … While scandal and tragedy has been part of our past, it will not be our future.” [AP, 1/24/09, 1/26/09; krdo.com, 1/25/09, 1/27/09]

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Obama’s Coded Language to Atheists?

President Barack Obama’s inauguration last week marked many firsts, among which was a president mentioning “nonbelievers” as part of the United States’ makeup. “We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus—and nonbelievers,” Obama stated during his speech last Tuesday on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Although the reference was undoubtedly a first, whether it signifies a monumental cultural shift—or even a nod to atheists and secularists—isn’t as clear. “This inclusiveness is a signature moment in American inaugural history,” commented David Domke, a University of Washington professor who has analyzed religious language in seven decades’ worth of inaugural and State of the Union addresses.

Many analysts expected Christian leaders to criticize or object to the reference, yet even the most conservative leaders believe the new president was simply stating the facts, not peppering his speech with coded language. “It struck me as accurate,” said Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. “We are a nation of Christians and Jews, and Muslims and Hindus, and Bahai and agnostics and atheists—although proportionally the vast majority of Americans claim some kind of affiliation with a Christian faith.”

Land also pointed out that, despite Obama’s inclusion of nonbelievers, “radical separationists couldn’t have been very happy with the religious allusions and biblical quotations.” Indeed, Obama wove a few biblical allusions throughout his speech and, according to Domke, referenced God more than Ronald Reagan’s inaugural speech and fewer than George W. Bush’s. “[Obama] clearly was not playing by their rules,” Land added.

Elmer Towns, dean of the Liberty University School of Religion, agreed, while also noting the difference between Obama’s speech and previous inaugural addresses. “It was a statement that George Washington could not have made,” Towns said, “and probably a statement that Abraham Lincoln could not have made. It was a statement that, probably Teddy Roosevelt could not have made. But it is a description of where we are today. … If Obama is setting an agenda of tolerance, let’s make sure that the tolerance extends to the majority as well as the minority.” [cnsnews.com, 1/22/09; usatoday.com, 1/22/09]

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Losing an Emerging Generation

QUOTE: “If churches embracing the principle of sola scriptura [by Scripture alone] fail to understand and address the concerns voiced in the Emerging Church conversation, we may lose an entire generation of professing believers. … While we should applaud and apply much of its content, we must also confront that it is moved along by an old philosophical wind which ever threatens to wrest Christ’s church from the foundation of her faith—the written Word of God. … If the Emerging Church eventually defines Christ’s church, then the church as Christ defined it will be no more.” —Rutledge Etheridge, pastor of Providence Reformed Presbyterian Church and an adjunct professor of systematic theology at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary [christianpost.com, 1/24/09]

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Taking the ‘Home Mission Field’ to Another Level

On Feb. 1 youth groups around the world will be going on a two-week missions trip—from the comfort of their homes.

Through his online missions trip, Tim Schmoyer is encouraging young people to evangelize their generation via social networking Web sites such as Facebook, MySpace and World of Warcraft.

“Missions doesn’t have to be limited to a summer trip where you raise lots of money and go somewhere for two weeks and then come home,” said Schmoyer, pastor of student ministries at Evangelical Covenant Church of Alexandria in Alexandria, Minn. “Missions is an everyday thing, and with the power of the Internet it’s never been as easy as it is today to go across the world and talk to someone for free.”

Schmoyer said young people already spend a great deal of time on the Web, so he’s encouraging them to use that time to share Christ with their friends. An estimated 2,500 teens and young adults from Canada, Bermuda, the United Kingdom, Australia, Indonesian and the United States have registered at onlinemissionstrip.com to participate in the outreach. More than 1,500 students also have joined the Online Missions Trip Facebook group.

Students are being urged to use thought-provoking videos, photos, instant messages and text messages as a means to start conversations about God. “I want these kids to grow up being comfortable having those spiritual conversations with their friends … not just expecting that it’s the church’s job,” Schmoyer said.

A graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary, Schmoyer has long been “discontent” with the ineffective results of youth group outreaches. He said most consist of a church putting on a concert, inviting a popular guest speaker and telling the students to bring their unsaved friends. “I think it was unintentionally teaching our kids to outsource their evangelism to someone on a stage,” he said.

Schmoyer hopes the online missions trip will not only result in decisions for Christ, but that it will cause young people to realize that it is their responsibility to witness to their friends, not their pastors’.

In the weeks leading up to the missions trip, students will be learning techniques for sharing Christ with their friends. Posted on the ministry’s Web site is evangelism-training material for youth groups, along with books and videos that teach students how to witness to people from various religious backgrounds. The Web site also details a discipleship process for the students who accept Christ during the outreach.

Though Schmoyer says the Web resources are helpful, he says the most important and overlooked tool on the site is the 24-hour prayer section. “Any life change that takes place is totally and only the result of the Holy Spirit working in someone’s life,” he said. “I think the key … way that happens is by just saturating this entire trip in prayer.”

Schmoyer is asking for volunteers to sign up to pray for the trip, in hopes that there will be people praying 24 hours a day for the entire two weeks. Youth groups nationwide are also urging their students to make prayer a major focus of their missions preparation. “We will be encouraging students to concentrate on praying for four or five of their friends leading up and during this trip,” said Shawn M. Shoup, student pastor at Destiny Foursquare Church in Rapid City, S.D. “Our students will be plowing the ground spiritually … sending out prayer support letters, fasting and praying in preparation.”

Schmoyer said he is praying that the missions trip will not end on Feb. 14, but that it will inspire youth to make evangelism part of their everyday lives: “Hopefully their mindsets will start to shift, that they would develop lifestyles that are sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading as they engage with unbelievers throughout the rest of their lives.” [charismamag.com, 1/23/09]

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