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A Century of Distributing the Word

Don’t think your ministry can make a difference? Tell that to a couple of businessmen who met in a crowded hotel in 1898 and decided to create an organization dedicated to serving the traveling soul. Now celebrating its 100-year anniversary, the Gideons International, founded by John Nicholson and Sam Hill, has distributed an astounding 1.5 billion Bibles since 1908, when the group began placing Scripture in hotel rooms.


“I think there’s an untold number of people that have had their lives changed as a result of reading the Gideon Bible or New Testament,” said Steve Smith, director of communications and development for the Gideons. “We’ve been blessed to learn the details of many of those and are confident there are still many more we have not yet learned about.” Last year alone the interdenominational ministry gave out nearly 77 million Gideon Scriptures, translated into 85 languages in 187 countries around the world.

“What it’s done is actually changed our culture,” commented Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals. “People expect there to be a Bible in a hotel room. There’s hardly anything that’s parallel to it.” [AP, 1/1/09; gideons.org, 1/5/09] read more

Now-Times Prophecy

QUOTE: “The flood of prophecies for 2009 have begun to come in. They sound remarkably similar to most I have been hearing for the past 15 years. ‘This is the year of revival! This is the year of His power. This is the year of increase! This is the year of harvest!’ … There is a major problem with all of the prophecies about revival to come. It is a religious problem, which Jesus encountered. Religion will get all excited about the Messiah to come but try to kill Him when He is standing in their midst. Why? The Messiah in the future does not demand faith and obedience now! The revival to come does not demand obedience now. We can feel all warm and fuzzy about the wonderful word and clap at what God will do while conveniently forgetting that wherever people are simply obeying Jesus they are seeing the kingdom multiply now.” —Steve Hill, co-founder of worldwide ministry Harvest Now, responding to the numerous prophetic words that typically come at New Year’s [harvest-now.org, 1/4/09]

 

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A Worshipping, Foreclosing Church

Three-quarters of the nation’s 335,000 churches are virtually or completely mortgage-free. But for many of those in the minority carrying a loan on their property, what were already tight times—due to decreased giving from financially stretched churchgoers—are quickly becoming tough times.

A recent report by First American CoreLogic discovered that hundreds of churches are facing foreclosure, almost all of which were affected by the mortgage boom in recent years that saw church-issued mortgages increase 50 percent from 2002 to 2005. According to the U.S. Census, spending on church construction rose from $3.8 billion in 1997 to $6.2 billion in 2007. A separate study found that church borrowing as a whole peaked at $28 billion nationwide in 2006, including mortgages, construction loans and church bonds.

“There have been too many churches with a ‘build it and they will come’ attitude,” says N. Michael Tangen, executive vice president at American Investors Group, a church lender in Minnetonka, Minn. “They had glory in their eyes that wasn’t backed up with adequate business plans and cash flow.”

Those loaning churches money can attest to the bubble bursting. In its 45-year history, the Evangelical Christian Credit Union in Brea, Calif., had foreclosed on only two churches. This year it has served foreclosure papers to seven of its 2,000 members, and its president says the company expects to add to that number in the coming months. Another church lender, Church Mortgage & Loan Corp. of Maitland, Fla., has already foreclosed on 10 church properties in the past two years and, as a result, had to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in March.

“Some of the mentality that you saw taking hold of the residential marketplace probably shifted into the church,” says Dan Mikes, executive vice president of the church banking division of Bank of the West. “Lenders loaned far too much, they loaned into lofty projections of future growth, and they just saddled the churches with far too much debt.” [wsj.com, 12/23/08; nytimes.com, 12/26/08] read more

Church of England Today, Church of the Few Tomorrow

A report from the statistical arm of England’s Bible Society claims that within a generation the number of people attending Church of England services will be a tenth of the current—and already plummeting—amount. Peter Brierley, former executive director of Christian Research, says that based on a “snapshot” church census and an extrapolation of recent church attendance trends, only 87,800 people will be attending Anglican services in 2050 —down from almost 1 million today. Critics say the study is incomplete and doesn’t factor in the growing sector of para-church worship. Many also argue that it’s extremely difficult to form an accurate prediction in such religiously tumultuous times for the country.

Yet the downward trend of England’s longstanding religious establishment is undeniable. “Church attendance has already been in decline for over 60 years, all over Britain, in all major denominations and across all age groups, except the over-65s,” said Keith Porteous-Wood of the National Secular Society. “Independent statisticians now have enough data to predict confidently that the decline will continue until Christianity becomes a minority sect of largely elderly people, in little more than a generation.” [guardian.co.uk, 12/21/08] read more

Sliding Spirituality

Two-thirds of Americans believe religion is losing its influence on daily life in our country, while only 27 percent believe it is gaining ground, according to the latest Gallup poll. That’s a drastic difference from only three years ago, when one out of two people thought religion’s influence on our society was increasing.

Gallup has asked the same question since 1957, and although the current weak image of religion is not as low as it was during the late 1960s and Vietnam War (when 75 percent of Americans thought it was losing influence), it marks one of the lowest times statistically.

Interestingly enough, the shifts in perception about religion have almost always coincided with major political events. One outstanding exception to that were the events on 9/11, which prompted 71 percent of Americans to say religion was on the upswing. Also noteworthy is who believes religion’s influence is sliding: 74 percent of those who said it was losing ground attended church weekly, in contrast to 63 percent who agreed but rarely if ever attend church.

Not surprisingly, the percentage of Americans who believe religion can answer society’s problems is at an all-time low (53 percent). By contrast, 82 percent of Americans in 1957 believed it was the solution. Today, almost 30 percent believe religion is “largely old-fashioned and out of date”—another record since the poll began more than 50 years ago. [gallup.com, 12/23/08] read more

Isn’t This How It’s Supposed to Be?

QUOTE: “What this church is starting with is very on trend with the culture right now and the desire to be very integrated and involved with communities. People are looking for a church that authenticates the Gospel.” —Dave Travis, managing director of Leadership Network, on the “unusual” financial setup of Waterfront Community Church in Schaumburg, Ill. The nondenominational church, which meets in a high school auditorium, relies heavily on service from most of its 200 members, operates on a shoestring budget, and gives 100 percent of its tithes and offerings to those in need in the surrounding community. Waterfront, which just started in October, pays its bills and salaries via eight sponsors, half of whom attend the church. “We started asking around, ‘What are the needs of the community?’” said Waterfront pastor and founder Jim Semradek. “When you present that need to people, they’re very responsive. People have very generous hearts.” [AP, 12/27/08] read more

Haggard ‘Miserable’ Since Scandal

Former pastor Ted Haggard admits in a new HBO documentary titled The Trials of Ted Haggard that he was guilty of sexual immorality in the past, but that he’s unhappy with some of the consequences he, his wife, Gayle, and his five children have had to face since he was caught in a sex-and-drugs scandal two years ago.

“We’ve been exiled permanently from the state of Colorado,” he told filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi in 2007. “We’re miserable.”

Haggard, who was accused of soliciting a male prostitute and purchasing methamphetamines in November 2006, moved his family back to Colorado Springs earlier this year and is selling life insurance to make a living.

Next month, he will help promote the new HBO documentary.

Before The Trials of Ted Haggard began making publicity, Haggard remained mostly out of the public eye since being dismissed from his former church in 2006.

One notable exception was when he spoke last month in the pulpit of a longtime friend—the pastor of Open Bible Fellowship in Morrison, Ill. After that appearance leaders involved in Haggard’s original restoration process quickly told Charisma that they strongly disagreed with his decision to speak at the church.

In addition, Haggard’s spiritual restoration was deemed “incomplete” earlier this year by leaders from New Life Church, which Haggard founded in Colorado Springs, Colo., in 1984.

Brady Boyd, senior pastor of New Life Church, told Charisma the church has freed its former pastor from any further obligation. “We have released Ted and Gayle from their separation agreement with New Life Church,” he said. “They are free to move forward with their lives in any way they choose without any legal constraint from the church. We wish Ted, Gayle and their family only the best in the future.”

In the film, Haggard acknowledges that he violated church rules and “shouldn’t have done that,” but questions the wisdom of the church leaders who banished him for being, as Pelosi suggests, “bad for business.”

“I think if they would’ve been chess players instead of checker players they would’ve realized that I am their business—somebody struggling with sin,” Haggard says in the 42-minute documentary, which airs Jan. 29.

Pelosi, daughter of U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, befriended Haggard in 2005 when he was still New Life’s pastor and head of the 30 million-member National Association of Evangelicals. She gathered footage for a documentary called Friends of God, which focused on evangelicalism’s power in Washington politics.

For her latest project, Pelosi interviewed Haggard during the year and a half after the 2006 scandal, filming him selling insurance door-to-door and following him on his first-ever secular job interview—a counseling position at the University of Phoenix. “If they don’t google me, I’ll get the job,” he tells her.

Haggard appears in the documentary at times contrite, at other times as if victimized by the church establishment. He explains to Pelosi that homosexuality is seen as worse than murder in some Christian circles. “If you google me you’d think I’m Adolph Hitler,” he says.

He says his homosexual urges stemmed from same-sex sex play in the seventh grade and that “it all blew up” when he turned 50.

More recently, at Open Bible Fellowship last month Haggard said his same-sex temptation might have resulted from a sexual experience he had as a 7-year-old with a male worker employed by his father.

Haggard’s wife, Gayle, tells Pelosi that before the scandal broke she considered herself a happy woman, completely unaware of the depth of her husband’s internal struggle.

She says she stayed with her husband after the scandal because she loved him and believed their marriage was worth fighting for. “I knew that to restore honor to our children, the best thing I could do was restore honor to him,” she says.

In the film, Haggard identifies himself as an evangelical Christian, who “from time to time struggles with same-sex attraction.” He denies a comment, widely circulated in the media after the scandal, that he claimed to be “completely hetereosexual.”

Haggard says that just because he still struggles with same-sex attraction doesn’t mean he’s abandoned his traditional views on marriage and family. “I still believe this,” Haggard says, “even though I’m a sinner and even though I’m weak, that God’s best plan for human beings is for man and woman to unite together.” [charismamag.com, 12/26/08] read more

Growth? What Growth?

Last week the Ministry Report highlighted a New York Times article stating that the current economic downturn was resulting in a nationwide church growth trend. But pollsters from Gallup say not so fast.



According to a massive review of almost 300,000 Gallup interviews in 2008, the bad economic times aren’t affecting church attendance in the slightest bit. Data from the fall months—including part of December—shows that 42 percent of Americans attend church weekly or almost weekly, which is exactly the same percentage as last year (and, coincidentally, 1 percent lower than early 2008).

“It is … possible that certain specific churches or even types of churches (such as the evangelical churches featured in the New York Times article) have seen an increase in attendance,” says Gallup’s Frank Newport, “but that on a percentage basis, these represent such a tiny part of the universe of all churches that this increase is not reflected in broad, national church attendance percentages. … If there has been some alteration in church attendance caused by the economic bad times, it does not appear to have been of sufficient magnitude or scope to have altered ongoing church attendance patterns in the overall U.S. population.” [gallup.com, 12/17/08]

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Ghosts More Believable Than the Bible

If on some Sundays it seems like you’re preaching to a congregation of atheists and agnostics, this may explain some things: A recent Harris Interactive poll found more Americans believe in ghosts than in the inerrancy of God’s Word. Although a minority of American adults believes in ghosts (44 percent), UFOs (36 percent) and reincarnation (24 percent), only 37 percent believe that all the books of the Bible are indeed the Word of God. On the other hand, an overwhelming 71 percent of Americans believe in angels. And among the general population, only 40 percent of people believe in creationism, compared to the 47 percent that believes in Darwin’s theory of evolution. [harrisinteractive.com, 12/10/08] read more

Scandal for Sunday

Ukraine’s most prominent charismatic pastor, Sunday Adelaja, is at the center of controversy over his alleged involvement in a business venture that some claim bilked investors out of $100 million.

Adelaja, pastor of Embassy of the Blessed Kingdom of God for All Nations in Kiev, was accused in November of being involved in the dealings of King’s Capital, a financial group led by a member of his congregation. The company drew many of its investors from the church, also known as God’s Embassy, promising as much as 60 percent returns on investments.

But last month, several church members went to authorities saying they were unable to recover the money they invested, which left many of them bankrupt. Police later arrested one of King’s Capital leaders, Aleksandr Bandurchenko, on suspicion of fraud.

Speculation about Adelaja’s involvement with King’s Capital grew after reports surfaced that he was part of a bank in Nigeria known as GS Microfinance Bank Limited. Some speculated that Adelaja, a native of Nigeria, invested funds from King’s Capital in the African bank and planned to leave the country.

Adelaja, however, said those accusations are unfounded. He said he has never been involved with King’s Capital but denied that it is a Ponzi scheme, which uses later investments to pay dividends to earlier investors.

Adelaja said King’s Capital is a legitimate business that failed under the pressure of the global financial crisis. He said because the company poured most of the investment capital into real estate, which has decreased in value, it has been unable to pay investors.“When the [economic] crisis came, all the real estate is no more selling,” Adelaja told Charisma. “The land is enough to pay back the money owed. … The problem is … everything is stopped in the country—nothing is selling now in Ukraine.”

Adelaja said Interior Affairs Minister Yurii Lutsenko accused the church of involvement because he wants to undermine the evangelical movement in Ukraine. With several thousand members across the nation, God’s Embassy is one of the most influential congregations in Ukraine.

“[Lutsenko] is in a very bad situation,” Adelaja said. “He’s got to prove now that [King’s Capital] is a pyramid scheme, but he cannot.”

Adelaja said he never encouraged his church members to invest in the company and cautioned them to invest in businesses that offer insurance. “Of course … if you invest with insurance you get less percentage,” he said. “What happened was many people said they didn’t need insurance because the [King’s Capital leaders] were Christians.”

He acknowledged being affiliated with GS Microfinance, but said he invested his name and influence in the bank, not millions of dollars. He said GS Microfinance was formed to give small loans to poor Nigerians as a way of lifting them out of poverty. “It’s not about what you can get, but the vision of the program [is] to elevate and get as many people out of poverty as possible,” Adelaja said. “That is one of my lifetime passions … because I grew up in poverty.”

Although Adelaja has repeatedly denied any involvement in King’s Capital, which has not officially been deemed a fraudulent business, Pentecostal and charismatic leaders across Ukraine are calling on him to repent, saying they heard him encourage church members to invest in the company on several occasions.

“He was not a president of this company, but he was the No. 1 spiritual leader, and he told them what they have to do,” said Bishop M. S.Panochko, leader of the All-Ukrainian Union of Pentecostal Churches of Evangelical Faith, which is comprised of 1,500 churches across the nation. “He can do everything to tell them [he is] not involved, but all [the] leaders have a lot of facts, and we have a lot of video of when he was pushing people, and he encouraged people to invest in this business.

”Panochko was one of 10 leaders who met with Adelaja on Tuesday to confront him about his alleged support of King’s Capital and the negative impact some of his actions have had on the evangelical church in Ukraine.

The Pentecostal bishops, who together represent more than 2,500 congregations, listed seven items of concern and said Adelaja has a pattern of making exaggerated statements. They pointed particularly to his alleged claim that he led the 2004 Orange Revolution—when Ukrainian voters protested a presidential election many considered fraudulent—and his reports that God’s Embassy has 100,000 members across the nation. The bishops say those and other statements are untrue.

After the meeting, Adelaja issued a statement saying he did not organize the Orange Revolution, though his congregation participated in the demonstrations. He also asked forgiveness for the negative impact the King’s Capital scandal has had on Ukrainian churches, but he added that he did not personally have any involvement in the company.

Despite the statement, Panochko said the bishops would continue waiting for Adelaja to apologize for allegedly endorsing King’s Capital. If he does not repent, Panochko said the bishops would issue a statement to Christians in Ukraine and abroad, and to the Ukrainian government, denouncing Adelaja and claiming no affiliation with him.

Moscow-based pastor Rick Renner, founder of the Good News Association of Churches and Ministries for Russia, Latvia and Ukraine, said Adelaja’s claims are hurting Christians in the former Soviet Union. He said reports about God’s Embassy’s involvement in the Orange Revolution have led some governments to crack down on churches out of fear that Christians are political revolutionaries.

“Pastors and Christian leaders are now trying to maneuver through new restrictive laws that have been passed because of Sunday's claim that he and his church organized the Orange Revolution,” Renner said. “He owes the body of Christ an apology, first for lying about the fact that he organized it and carried it out, and second, for creating this very difficult environment for which others are now paying a very high price.”

Renner and other Pentecostal leaders say they have long been concerned about Adelaja’s claims that God’s Embassy has 100,000 members across Ukraine when they believe the church has closer to 10,000 members nationwide. But Renner said the King’s Capital controversy provoked him to speak out.

“Thousands of people have been saved and filled with the Holy Spirit, and many lives have been changed [through God’s Embassy],” Renner said. “There was never a need for him to exaggerate on such a massive scale as he has been doing in recent years. … I have never wanted to call Sunday a liar, so most often I tried to ignore the subject of Sunday’s falsehoods when I heard them. Now in light of the lies being told by Sunday, denying that he ever recommended that his people invest in this company, I was taken to a new place of prayer and concern. It was in the midst of this that the Lord impressed me to speak out.”

During a recent sermon, Renner told his congregation that the members of God’s Embassy should leave the church if Adelaja doesn’t repent.

“They are not obligated by God to sit up under deception,” Renner said. “ … It’s not the position of a pastor to say to his people, ‘Sell everything you have and put all your money in this particular company,’ especially if that pastor has an interest in that company. That is a very impure recommendation.”

The challenge provoked a firestorm of response, pitting Christians on either side of the debate. Dmitry Kirichenko, pastor of World Harvest Church in Kiev and director of Brightstar Publishing House, issued an open letter expressing his support of Adelaja.

Kirichenko said there are no facts proving Adelaja’s involvement in the establishment and operation of King’s Capital. “The Ministry of Internal Affairs … currently is investigating the case, but even this administration has so far not presented any formal charges against Pastor Sunday,” he wrote.

However, Sergei Shidlovsky leader of the Seeking God movement and a former member of God’s Embassy, said he attended many meetings during which Adelaja called on people to invest in King’s Capital and “laughed over those who have not yet done that.”

“I personally sat in the room when he explained to everyone how important it is to take the credit out of the house or apartment and invest precisely in this company,” said Shidlovsky, who invested 1,000 Euros himself and encouraged his mother to sell her apartment in Belarus and invest the profit. “I became a contributor of King’s Capital only by trust in Sunday Adelaja and his calls to invest in this company.”

Adelaja said Shidlovsky’s claims are “absolutely not true.” He said he invited a church member to discuss investing as part of ongoing teaching on financial stewardship. He said the financial talk was not about King’s Capital but may have been misinterpreted.

Alex Mykhaylyk, dean of History Makers Bible School, a Philadelphia-based ministry affiliated with God’s Embassy, said those attacking Adelaja are looking for someone to blame for the collapse of King’s Capital and Ukraine’s economic woes. “Sunday never told people to invest in this,” Mykhaylyk said. “He told them basic principles of business and investment. I know my pastor too well. He will give away everything and not take anything from anybody. The biggest problem is that the church is divided in opinions.” [charismamag.com, 12/19/08] read more

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