My friend Charles wanted a mentor. He was eager to learn the ropes of ministry, so he asked an older pastor for training. The pastor agreed—but Charles soon realized the man wanted a valet, not an apprentice. Charles became the man’s “armor bearer.”
The man never took Charles on hospital visits, involved him in ministry assignments or prayed with him. Instead, Charles was expected to carry the pastor’s briefcase, fetch coffee and take suits to the cleaners—with no salary offered. In this case, “armor bearer” was a spiritualized term for “slave.”
This bizarre trend became popular in churches 20 years ago, but it still thrives. It appeals to insecure leaders who need an entourage to make them feel important. Some pastors have even assigned trainees to serve as bodyguards—complete with dark glasses and concealed weapons. These young men are instructed to keep people away from the pastor so he doesn’t have to talk to anyone after a church service (because, after all, the poor preacher might be “drained of his anointing” if he fraternizes with common folks).
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The Holy Spirit is working in places you might never expect. The move of God happening in these 12 locations is notable, and these hot spots are great places for evangelists and missionaries to set their sights.
China. Nothing in the history of missions rivals the success story that is China. Mao Zedong tried to wipe out Christian faith in the 1970s when there were only 2.7 million believers. Today, the most conservative estimate is that China had 75 million believers in 2010. A few years ago the greatest growth was among rural “house churches.” Today Christianity is also growing in China’s major cities, and charismatic renewal has infiltrated state-sponsored churches.
India. Despite language barriers, tribal divisions and violent attacks by Hindus, indigenous church-planting movements have flourished all over India in the last 40 years. Fifteen years ago in Andhra Pradesh, a woman who heard a gospel radio broadcast, asked if someone could plant a church in her remote village. Within the first year after a pastor came, the church had 75 converts. After a church building was constructed in 1994, this church planted 125 churches with a combined membership of more than 5,000. This type of growth is occurring throughout India today.
Jeffrey squishes his car into a parking spot, grabs his bible and heads for the church.
He is on his Sunday-best behavior. He dropped his wife and kids off at the door before parking on the back 40 and slogging through the slush to get into the sanctuary. As he enters the church, his brain starts to switch off. He has walked into the presentation zone. Jeffrey wants to engage in church, and he works hard at it, but every Sunday, he fights a simple problem—his mind tries to turn off when he enters the building. He hasn’t figured out the cause, but perhaps with a bit of thought, we can change the environment so that he finds himself energized and focused instead.
Recently, I had the opportunity to talk with a denominational leader in a different part of the country.
Over the last few years, he’s personally been involved in consulting engagements with about 60 declining churches within his denomination. That grabbed my attention. Honestly, I don’t have a lot of experience working with churches that are in decline.
With that in mind, I was curious to learn if there were any common themes. Within moments, he rattled off these five attributes of churches he’s worked with that are in decline:
“When adversity comes, you praise God.”
That was what my friend Terry had always been taught. When those tough times come, you just stand there, stare down the storm, and praise God.
However, on January 8, 2012, praising God was not very high on Terry’s priority list. After experiencing some problems, and noticing a lump that had developed only over a couple of days, and that ran from his chest up toward his shoulder, Terry decided to visit his doctor. His doctor was pretty blunt with the assessment:
“You have extensive small cell carcinoma (a very fast growing and aggressive form of cancer). You probably only have 6 to 12 months to live.”