Ministry Outreach Mon, 22 Sep 2014 00:12:49 -0400 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb The Untold Story: Why the US Church Is Not Growing

One question continually being asked is, "How can the Christian church grow?" This issue is particularly relevant as we consider the harsh realities being imposed upon us today.

How does the church find a way to advance in such an antagonistic environment?

In an earlier post, I recounted that, though the church was conceived in the wicked constraints of the Roman Empire, it still found a way to grow exponentially. Reflecting on this, Mark Galli, the editor of Christian History Magazine, noted that by AD 350 "about 56 percent of the population claimed to be Christians."

Within a short period of time, the followers of Jesus literally overtook this violent, unforgiving empire.

Historians such as Ramsey MacMullen of Yale and Peter Brown of Princeton acknowledge this expansion happened, principally, through healing and deliverance. In a time of intense persecution and evil, numerous conversions were ignited by these compelling signs and wonders.

Many would readily acknowledge this truth. Yet, they are reticent to accept this as a contemporary approach for evangelism and engagement, particularly in America. I certainly comprehend the skepticism and uncertainty. Yet the supernatural not only enabled growth in the tumultuous beginning, it is also facilitating growth right now.

This kind of expansion is currently evident throughout the third world. Many testimonies and demographic reports reveal that healing, deliverance and the gifts of the Spirit are facilitating a great expansion of the church. Luis Lugo points out that "Pentecostal beliefs and practices are literally reshaping the face of Christianity throughout the developing world."

For the most part, these things obviously are lacking in the American church, which explains a lot.


Signs and wonders have proven to be a catalyst for a significant number of conversions in Mozambique, Kenya and other parts of Africa. The Pew Research Report acknowledges that, "The share of the population that is Christian in sub-Saharan Africa climbed from 9 percent in 1910 to 63 percent in 2010." Similarly, J. Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu, Ph.D., professor at the Trinity Theological Seminary, Accra, Ghana acknowledges that:

"The ministries of healing and deliverance have thus become some of the most important expressions of Christianity in African Pentecostalism...the movement has defined itself in terms of the recovery of the experiential aspects of the faith by demonstrating the power of the Spirit to infuse life, and the ability of the living presence of Jesus Christ to save from sin and evil ...Pentecostal-Charismatic Christianity has proven successful in Africa because of its openness to the supernatural ..."

Latin America

It's not just Africa that's bursting at the seams, but a similar impact is now being felt throughout Latin America. It has been recently reported that over 40 percent of the Guatemalan population closely identifies with Pentecostal-charismatic Christianity. In the same way, Argentina has multitudes filling up soccer stadiums and transforming the ethos of their nation. It would be difficult to find a South American nation that isn't being impacted by the ministry of healing and deliverance. One Catholic detractor exclaims:

"Not only does Pentecostalism claim at least 70 percent of all Latin American Protestants, but it also exerts great influence on many 'renewed' mainline Protestant denominations, such as Presbyterians and Methodists, who have had to adopt pneuma-centric practices [i.e. Healing, deliverances, tongues] in order to remain relevant."

In Brazil, they're experiencing accelerated growth due to supernatural displays of power. Pastor Marcio Valadao of Lagoinha Baptist Church acknowledged in 2011 that his church was experiencing immense growth due to healing and deliverance. He exclaimed, "In 1998 there were more or less 5,000 members. Today we have surpassed 35,000." Similarly, Paul Strand observes that,

"Christianity is increasing in Brazil. If the trend continues, it is predicted that more than half of all Brazilians (109 million Christians out of 209 million citizens) will be evangelical Christians by 2020. ... Brazil is a land in revival ... It's a place where belief in miracles and healings are high."

These factors are even more amazing when considering the fact that prior to the 1970s less than 3 percent of the Brazilian population was evangelical. To go from 2.5 percent to 50 percent of the population in a rigidly Catholic nation in 50 years is unprecedented.  


Signs and wonders aren't just bringing extraordinary growth in Africa and Latin America; they are also transforming the vast continent of Asia. China only had around 1 million Protestants in 1949. Now there are conservatively "more than 58 million Protestants in China." Professor Yang, a noted religious researcher in China, believes this number will swell to around 160 million by 2025. He says, "By 2030, China's total Christian population...would exceed 247 million, placing it above Mexico, Brazil and the United States as the largest Christian congregation in the world."

Much of Christianity's growth in China is due to the labors of the "illegal underground house churches, which hold unsupervised services—often in people's homes—in an attempt to evade the prying eyes of the Communist Party." The underground services are often punctuated by healings, prophecy and supernatural expressions. Typically held away from urban centers, researcher Jason Kindopp notes that, "faith healings are particularly common among the rural populations, accounting for up to 90 percent of all conversions to Christianity in rural areas."

Similar to the experience of the early church, Christianity around the world is now being spread through the miraculous. Signs and wonders did not die out in the third century. In fact, where healing and deliverance are being expressed, the church is increasing.

In my opinion, the only things that will awaken the American church and lead to sustainable growth are miracles such as healing and deliverance—which are rarely seen these days in our churches.

Jesus said: "Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father" (John 14:12).

In addition to writing and speaking, J.D. King serves as the International Director of World Revival Network of Ministries in Kansas City. He enjoys connecting with leaders around the globe to provide resources and encouragement. For more posts like this, you can visit his blog at Follow J.D. on Twitter @worldrevival.

For the original article, visit

]]> (J.D. King) Church Growth Thu, 18 Sep 2014 13:00:00 -0400
Where is the Miracle Healing in the US?

With all the traveling I do these days with Impact Nations, I get asked a lot of questions about a lot of issues. However, there is one question that I am asked more often—by far—than any other. In fact, in the past two weeks, I have been asked it in England, New Jersey and Canada: "Why don't we see the same kind of healing here (in England, the U.S., Canada) as you do in Africa and India?"

I usually respond to this in several ways. First of all, I do see God heal in the same way in the West as in the developing world. I have watched in North America, Europe and Australia as deaf ears were opened, cataracts dissolved, cancer instantly disappeared (verified by doctors), and paralysis and pain have gone.

In my living room, the Lord healed a woman who had been totally blind in one eye for 20 years. He is the same God in Canada as Kenya, in the U.S. as Uganda, in England as India.

Although I have seen the Lord open the ears of nine deaf people—one after another—in North America, in fairness, I would say that although the quality of healing that I see is the same everywhere, the quantity seems higher in the developing world. However, I need to clarify this statement.

It is not that I see more people not being healed when prayed for; it seems to me there are fewer people looking to be healed in the West. (To clarify once again, I am not saying the people on the streets of our cities do not want to be healed; it is just that they are not being asked and therefore do not think of healing as an option in their lives.)

This leads to what may be the biggest single issue: expectation. Jesus always looked for faith in people. This is why He sometimes asked, "Do you want to get well?" or "What do you want?" Jesus expected people to be healed, and they expected the same thing.

When I am asked "the question," I usually answer with a question of my own: "Do you expect people to be healed?" One of the ways we can discover how we really feel about this question is to examine how often we step out and ask others if we may pray for their healing.

After all, more people are healed if we pray for them than if we don't. In many cases, we simply don't have a real expectation that God will move, so we stay in the safe zone of keeping quiet when presented with the opportunity to pray for healing.

One of the reasons I take people from the Western world to the developing world to do the gospel is to change their expectations. Again and again I watch as they discover a whole new level of truth about the power and compassion of Jesus and of who they really are because they live in Christ.

How can anyone experience being used by the Lord to heal the sick day after day on a Journey of Compassion and then go home unchanged? Back home, as these men and women continue to pray and expect, God continues to heal.

He is the same God in Canada as Kenya, in the U.S. as Uganda, in England as India. And so is His kingdom, where it seems that what you expect is what you will receive. 

Steve Stewart is the founder of Impact Nations, a Christian organization that brings hope and restoration to the poor and vulnerable in the developing world through both supernatural and practical expressions of the kingdom of God.

]]> (Steve Stewart) Healing Wed, 17 Sep 2014 16:00:00 -0400
Is Growth or Control More Important to You?

He may not be Solomon, but David Chrzan often drops nuggets of wisdom that sound as if they could have come from the book of Proverbs. In the five years or so that I've known and worked with David, he's repeatedly dropped advice that has shaped my own philosophy of leadership. For example, in a recent conversation, David said, "You can have growth, or you can have control. And you have to decide how much of each you want."

Wow. So true. David wasn't implying that control is a bad thing. In fact, some level of control is essential. And "control" really refers to the amount of institutional structure and machinery required to guide a movement forward within protective boundaries.

On the weekend before I wrote this, Grace Hills set a new attendance record for the third time this year. And on that Sunday, 36 people came to our Newcomers Lunch, which is more than we had in our first public meeting two-and-a-half years ago. Angie and I go home on Sundays and talk about how humbling—and scary—it is.

Scary? Growth? Isn't growth good? Yes, growth is good for a church if it's the result of God's response to a healthy body. But with growth can come the feeling of a loss of control. Suddenly, we don't know everyone anymore. We can't remember all the names and match them up with all the faces.

We are scrambling to staff our kids' rooms and other areas with enough volunteers to keep things working well. It costs more money to minister to more people. People from different backgrounds are converging, which brings a broader array of philosophies into our small groups.

Our gut reaction to rapid growth is to immediately try to control it. We need more systems. We need more machinery. We need to stabilize the institution. I know ... let's form some committees ...

As David shared the principle of how growth and control are fierce enemies, he also pointed out that as a church grows, some level of control is necessary. Systems are good. They help us keep people from falling through the cracks and getting left behind. But if a movement is gaining momentum because of the involvement of the Spirit of God, then who can really stand in its way?

So here's a good plan to follow when growth comes:

1. Celebrate the wins, changed lives and the steps forward happening in the lives of people.

2. Try to get in front of the movement with a framework for making disciples that will scale with growth.

3. Have a solid theological framework for doing ministry before you start.

4. Focus on developing leaders who can create healthy systems—not systems for which you desperately need leaders.

5.Go with the flow. Follow the Holy Spirit's movement, which can be as unpredictable as the wind.

6. Realize that growth should be multidimensional. How will you turn this new crowd into a committed congregation?

7. Never shift from an outward focus. It's never time to "stop reaching new people and start discipling those we have." Discipleship, by its nature, involves reproducing, so remaining outwardly focused is the best way to make disciples. 

Brandon Cox has been a pastor for 15 years and is currently planting a church in northwest Arkansas, a Saddleback-sponsored church.

]]> (Brandon A. Cox) Growth Tue, 16 Sep 2014 19:00:00 -0400
6 Major Benefits of the Growth of Multisite Churches

It is one of those topics that almost always engenders lively discussion. Some church leaders are incredibly and positively excited about the multisite church movement. Others view the movement with many questions if not some level of suspicion.

But, recent studies tell us that we should not ignore this movement. It appears to be here to stay for years to come.

The Current Research

LifeWay Research has looked at multisite churches in recent years. Scott McConnell, the director of LifeWay Research, wrote Multi-site Churches in 2009, an excellent analysis of the movement.

Now a study by Leadership Network and Generis, led by Warren Bird, provides new, head-turning information. Simply stated, the multisite church movement is growing at such a pace that we would be negligent to ignore it. I encourage you to read the full report, while I offer six summary implications from the data.

The Study

Because the concept of multisite churches typically engenders strong opinions, it is not always easy to look at the data objectively. This study, called the Leadership Network/Generis Multisite Church Scorecard, however, looked at 535 multisite churches. Of those churches, 91 percent were located in the United States. The breadth of the research is such that we must study the information seriously.

As a point of full disclosure, I led a church in Birmingham, Alabama to become multisite in 1992. I had very few models to follow back then, and the challenges were many. The church I served as pastor was landlocked, and starting a new campus seemed logical to me.

I am now a member of a multisite church, Brentwood Baptist Church. I have seen up close an intentional strategy to reach many areas around Nashville and Middle Tennessee through the multisite approach.

The Implications

The implications of this study are many. For now, let me share six key issues that jumped to the forefront when I read the report:

1. Multisite as a growth and evangelistic strategy seems to be successful thus far. One of the most incredible data points in the study was the percentage of multisite churches that are growing: 85 percent. Such a high percentage is unprecedented in almost any previous approach to evangelism and growth in the past century. These churches are also much more evangelistic than those in most other studies, certainly those represented by studies I have led.

2. More struggling churches see merging with a multisite church as their best option for health or even survival. The leaders of the multisite churches noted an increased frequency in contact by leaders of struggling churches. One third of all the sites started in the study were the results of mergers. Stated simply, many struggling churches are seeking to be acquired by multisite churches. This new reality has both practical and ecclesiological implications for the future.

3. The campus pastor is likely the fastest-growing position in local churches, especially in the United States. We have focused for years on training pastors and, often, age-specific or ministry-specific ministry leaders. What type of training does a campus pastor need? Who or what will provide it?

4. Multisite churches are more likely to hire staff ministers internally. While this trend is growing independent of multisite churches, it is certainly being accelerated by multisite churches. Again, the implications for ministry and theological training are many.

5. An increasing number of smaller churches are becoming multisite. The trend of multisite churches has been mostly the work of larger churches, primarily megachurches. Now the median worship attendance of a multisite church is around 1,000, and churches as small as 100 to 400 in attendance are going multisite as well.

6. More churchgoers are attending multisite churches. Currently about one in 10 Protestant attendees is in a multisite church each week. That number will continue to increase.

The Future

I am thankful for the work of Warren Bird, Leadership Network and Generis. They have uncovered many new findings about multisite churches. For those of us who love local churches, we must stay informed about such developments. God is using new churches, established churches and multisite churches all across the world. But, at least from this study, the multisite movement is making gains we had not seen in other segments.

What is your feedback on these findings? What is your perspective on the multisite movement? Let me hear from you.

Thom S. Rainer is the president of LifeWay Christian Resources. For the original article, visit

]]> (Thom S. Rainer) Church Growth Tue, 16 Sep 2014 16:00:00 -0400
Letting Go of Church As We’ve Known It

When we moved to the North Coast of Northern Ireland and planted the Causeway Coast Vineyard Church back in May 1999, we had no idea what it would look like. The only thing we knew for certain was we wanted to reach those who had slipped through the "church net"; those who thought Jesus and religion were two sides of the same coin and had no idea that relationship with Him was even a possibility.

Over these last 15 years, our church has become a community of outrageous generosity and expansive hope. But, as with anything, we are entrusted either to build from the beginning or steer in a new direction, after some time, which can only come with intentional direction. And as my husband wisely says, "Every vision brings collision," even when that vision is wide enough for the whole city to find its home.

When we turn ourselves outward on purpose, it means we have to let go of some really wonderful aspects of "church as we've known it"—the "insider language," the comfort of "everyone knowing everyone." But what we get in return is something spectacular. We get in on the Great Commission, and all of a sudden we find out what we were made for—not only as individuals but also as a community of faith.

If it doesn't lead us to lost people, and lost people to Jesus, we don't do it. After that, the model doesn't matter. The ideas we have, the models we choose only serve to help get the church "out there," and allow those outside the church "in."

When it comes to reaching the lost, we don't do evangelism. We serve our city. We show up relentlessly, week after week, to pray for the sick in our town out there on the streets.

We serve schools—not with our agenda, but in every way we can to help them provide a better education for all our children. We work with government agencies. We provide housing for those who've lost everything in the economic crisis. We show the love of Jesus in every corner, every sphere of influence, every level of society, every day. And we have done this for years.

Over those years (slowly at first, but gradually more and more), people have started to come to faith. They've been watching. They trust our voice. One by one ... they are starting to give their "yes" to Jesus too.

As I write, there's been something of an even greater shift. Since February 2014, almost 2,000 people have decided they want to live for Jesus as well (some in our church gatherings, but about 70 percent out on the streets)—and all that in a town of only 60,000. God is at work in the world. And we get to be a part of the great story He is writing over our communities and cities when we simply show up and determine that "out there" is where we are going to stay.

Best-known for penning the worship song "Hungry," Kathryn Scott is a worship leader and senior pastor at Causeway Coast Vineyard Church in Northern Ireland. Her brand-new EP, Sing on the Battlefield, is now available on iTunes. For more info, visit

]]> (Kathryn Scott) Evangelism Thu, 11 Sep 2014 16:00:00 -0400
6 Things to Consider Before You Head out to Minister

"Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; therefore, be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves" (Matt. 10:16).

This is a brief Bible study. (Just so you'll know. Smiley-face here.)

For Christian workers, one of the most significant Scripture passages is the commission the Lord gave His disciples just before sending them out on a short-term assignment. This is found in Matthew 10 and Luke 10. In Luke's account, the commissioning takes 16 verses, but in Matthew's, it's a full 42 verses—so therefore, my favorite, since it's far more helpful.

At that point, the 12 apostles were something like seminary students, preachers in training with diverse backgrounds and limited experience. (Some of us used to stand on the street corners in the French Quarter preaching. And, we roamed up and down the sidewalks with handfuls of tracts talking to strangers. We were in boot camp, learning how to talk to people about Jesus.) That's what was happening with these disciples.

Matthew's account of the commissioning divides into two sections:

I. Matt. 10:1-15 gives temporary one-time only instructions. How do we know these were temporary, for that time only? By the context.

  • The Lord directs the disciples (the 12 plus another 70, according to Luke 10:1) not to go to Gentiles, for instance, a condition reversed later in the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20).
  • They were to heal the sick, raise the dead, cast out demons, etc., instructions not part of the Great Commission as stated in Matt. 28:18-20, Mark 16:15, Luke 24:47-48, and John 20:21, as well as Acts 1:8 (the spurious ending of Mark's Gospel notwithstanding).
  • And in particular, Matt. 10:9-10 tells disciples to do this completely by faith, living "off the land" as we say. But in Luke 22:35-36, Jesus reverses this, telling them to take money, if you have a sword bring it along, if you don't have one, go get one, and so forth.
  • "The one who has endured to the end shall be saved." I don't know.  I know a lot of interpretations, but none are very satisfactory.
  • "You will not finish going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes." Again, I'm not sure. On the surface, it appears to belong to the earlier portion, verses 1-15. But there is no way to know for sure.
  • Expect to be treated the way they treated Jesus (10:24-25). The servant is no better than his master, the pupil no better than his teacher. You see how they treated Jesus, so get ready because you're next. (The implication is we should not complain. He told us from the first. I love the example of Paul and Silas in the Philippian jail in Acts 16:25. Some of us would have been accusing the Lord of betraying us. "O Lord, where are you? Why have you left us? Why have you allowed these people to treat us this way when all we were doing was trying to help?" Instead, Paul and Silas honor the Lord in the middle of their suffering, and God uses it. Like Caesar and his officials, the jailer and prisoners were listening in and hearing the gospel.
  • Expect to be bold and confident, unafraid. Do not fear these people for these reasons:
  • Expect to confess Jesus publicly and not to be His undercover agent or secret disciple (10:32-33). "Whoever confesses me here, I will confess before the Father; whoever denies me here, I will also deny before the Father."
  • Expect the immediate results of your ministry to be division, not peace. (10:34-39). But, what about the angels' prediction about "peace on earth" in Luke 2:14?  Answer: Before the peace of Christ rules in mens' hearts, it will divide them, as they oppose the Truth and resist Him. But to those who submit to Christ, "the peace of God which passes understanding" will be their reality (Phil. 4:6).

Therefore, we conclude that Matt. 10:1-15 is in a category by itself, intended for that single missionary endeavor.

Those who study their Bible seriously and do not take it as a book of magic know the importance of studying a text in context, meaning in its full surroundings. That's how we know that Matt. 10:1-15 are not instructions for us today.

II. Matt. 10:16-42 gives instructions for the Lord's disciples for all time.

The information, promises, cautions and instructions found here have never been rescinded and are repeated in one form or other throughout the New Testament.  As a minister on the front lines for Jesus, I have found myself returning to this section of the Word again and again.

"I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; therefore, be shrewd as serpents and as innocent as doves." How's that for one sentence with four animal metaphors! Sheep are victims and wolves are carnivores; serpents are subtle (see Gen. 3:1) or "crafty." The KJV says, "be wise as serpents." The point is to use your head, and not to be stupid or naive, not gullible or sitting ducks for the enemy. But, on the other hand, we are to be innocent ("harmless," KJV) as doves and not pugilistic.

Say, Lord? Excuse me. Do you know what wolves do to sheep?

He does indeed. Jesus was fully aware of the meaning of this metaphor. His people are not sent out as warriors to kill and maim, to aggressively wage warfare against people, but as sheep or doves, and thus defenseless and vulnerable. We are sent forth armed with "left-handed power," meaning the power of love and humility, service and kindness.

1. What you may expect from men (10:17-18)? Men will deliver you to courts. Even the religious ones will have you whipped in their houses of worship, thinking they're serving God. You will be put on trial before the highest authorities.

Why? It's a testimony to them and to the Gentiles.

Caesar ain't coming to our revival. So we have to get the gospel to him, and the best way to do that is to have one of us arrested and put on trial before him.

2) What you may expect from God (10:19-20). Do not become anxious over what to say. That will be given you. After all, it will be the Holy Spirit speaking, not you. Many a martyred believer has lived the truth of this. The testimony of the radiant believer was used by the Holy Spirit to capture someone watching the sad scene. (In Acts 7:58, Saul of Tarsus watches the death of Stephen and is never the same).

3. What you may expect from everyone, good or bad (10:21-23). Family members will betray you. You will be hated by all on account of My name. They will run you out of cities. When that happens, go on to the next one.

Workers for the Lord have sometimes gone out naively expecting everyone to welcome them and greet them with appreciation. When they find themselves in the crosshairs of evil people and turned upon by those they trusted, they feel betrayed as though the Lord has not kept His promises. The fault was theirs for not knowing the Word they went forth to share.

Question:  What do these two puzzling statements mean?

4. What you should expect from yourself (10:24-31).

a. Do not fear, because there is nothing hidden that is not going to be revealed (10:26).

b. Do not fear, because the worst they can do is send you to heaven (10:28).

c) Do not fear, because you are of great value to your heavenly Father (10:31).

5. You may expect Christ's personal involvement in all you do. (10:37-42)

It's all about Jesus—loving Him supremely, serving Him steadfastly, doing all that we do for Him.

What does it mean to "take up your cross and follow after me"? (See a restatement of this in Matt. 16:24.) Entire books have been written on this. The short answer is it's whatever specific assignment, work, burden or difficulties the Lord asks you to bear for His purposes.

We are to "lose our lives for His sake" (v. 39). It's all for Jesus. I think about Baker James Cauthen. In 1939, he pastored an exciting church in Fort Worth and was being acclaimed as a young David Platt (smiley-face here; Southern Baptists will get the allusion) with a glorious future. But when he and wife Eloise resigned to go to China as missionaries, people said they were throwing it all away. Literally, "losing their lives." 

After all, such a vast country and they are just one couple. What could they do? Answer: In 1954, the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board asked Dr. Cauthen to head up the entire worldwide ministry, a work he carried on with great distinction for 25 years. I had the privilege of serving as a board member for three of his last years and count it a wonderful honor.

"He who receives you receives me" (v.40). Stop and reflect on that. Similarly, in Luke 10:16, Jesus said, "The one who listens to you listens to me, and the one who rejects you rejects me...."

How heavy is that? However people treat the Lord's servant, He takes personally and enters it on the record as though they were doing the same thing to Him. That is both wonderful and scary at the same time. Those who bless their preacher and love and pray for him are doing the same for Jesus. Those who attack and undermine the servant of the Lord are being penciled in on the Lord's appointment calendar, and on Judgment Day you do not want to be standing anywhere near them.

In Heb. 6:10, we read: "God is not unjust so as to forget the work which you have done and the love you have shown to His name in having ministered to the saints and in still ministering."  What you do for His servants–preachers or missionaries or the lowliest believer, Jesus takes personally and promises to reward.

6. You may expect to be rewarded in surprising ways (10:41-42). When we participate in the work of a prophet, we will receive a share of the same reward given him, whatever that turns out to be. Even if our participation is as small as "a cup of cold water to drink" (v.42), it still counts. So, let none say their gift is too small and insignificant.

Reward is a huge incentive to everyone and figures large in the teaching of our Lord. (To be sure, some insist that if we are ministering for personal reward, our service is in vain and unworthy. They are dead wrong and such teaching is unscriptural.) See Luke 14:14.

Let us give to assist people who are doing the work of the Lord. Help to send future missionaries and pastors to Bible college and to seminary. Buy a sack of groceries or a suit of clothes for the struggling minister. Give an automobile to the faithful servant of the Lord who needs one.

In so doing, you are sending Jesus to school, feeding Him, buying Him a suit of clothes, giving Him a car.

I'm dead serious. We have His word on it.

There is so much more to this chapter, but this is enough as an introduction.  I pray you will learn to love this passage and will live in it for the rest of your earthly days.

Dr. Joe McKeever writes from the vantage point of more than 60 years as a disciple of Jesus, more than 50 years preaching His gospel, and more than 40 years of cartooning for every imaginable Christian publication.

For the original article, visit

]]> (Joe McKeever ) Evangelism Wed, 10 Sep 2014 19:00:00 -0400
Using the Wrong Sword for the Wrong Battle

The believer has a mighty weapon in the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (Eph. 6:17). The Word of God was written on parchments with black ink and quill pens and was later translated into numerous languages, being printed on paper using the printing presses. God's Word, however, is not just to be read but spoken, and not just spoken but believed and acted upon. The fact that the Word of God is called a "two-edged sword" is not just for creating the image of a Roman soldier's weapon, but also to emphasize the fact that the Word has two sharp edges. One edge was formed when the Word was revealed by the Holy Spirit to the prophets who wrote the Scripture on the parchments. The other side of the blade is forged when a believer begins to speak out of his or her mouth the words that are written on paper.

Just as a sharp two-edged sword must be properly handled by the owner, lest he unintentionally cut himself or harm the innocent, the Word of God must be properly interpreted, clearly spoken, and taught with the same care as a man brandishing a sharp sword in a crowd of people.

Mishandling the Scriptures

You would never ask an untrained soldier to join a front-line battle, or a student driver to drive in a NASCAR race, or a ministry novice to present a theological discourse at a seminary. Yet men and women continually misquote, misuse and abuse others by mishandling the Scriptures. Here are a few examples:

Using Scripture Out of Context

When scriptures are taken out of their context, meaning out of the historical or contextual setting in which they were written, then a person can become confused and think the Bible is contradicting itself. For example, several years ago I saw a photograph that was taken in the Greenbush Cemetery near Lafayette, Indiana.

Near the granite grave maker was the tombstone of a Christian soldier who had died in a war. The marker had the image of the Good Shepherd, Christ, on it and was facing toward the east, which is the direction of a traditional Christian burial, since Matt. 24:27 states that the coming of the Lord is as lightning coming from the east. Near this marker was an older marker with these words inscribed:

Martin P. Jenners

Was born August 21, 1832, in a log cabin on the Northwest corner of Ferry and Fourth Streets

Died December 22, 1919

My only objection to religion is that it is not true.

1 Corinthians 15:52, Isaiah 26:14

No preaching, no praying, no psalm reading permitted on this lot.

Below are the two verses that were embedded in the granite marker that caused Mr. Jenners to believe that religion was not true:

  • "In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed" (1 Cor. 15:52, KJV).
  • "They are dead, they will not live; they are deceased, they shall not rise: therefore thou hast visited and destroyed them, and made all their memory to perish" (Is. 26:14, KJV).

It appears that this man fell for one of the oldest tricks in the adversary's playbook—that the Bible is full of contradictions and therefore cannot be trusted. Mr. Jenners read each verse by itself, without ever following one of the first laws of biblical interpretation, which is, "What is the context of what is being spoken, and to whom was it spoken?"

The entire chapter of 1 Corinthians 15 is where Paul is revealing the mystery of the resurrection of the dead and how in the "twinkling of an eye" the dead in Christ will be raised. Is. 26:14 appears to contradict this promise, as it says they are dead and will not rise. However, in the context of this chapter the prophet was dealing with nations that had risen up against Israel and were no longer in existence—yet Israel still endured. This death had no reference to individual people but to empires and nations in the past that mistreated the Jews and no longer existed. Thus one verse deals with the bodily resurrection of the dead in Christ and the other with nations who ceased to exist and had no chance of being raised again in the future.

Satan actually attempted this "bait-and-switch" strategy during the temptation of Christ (Matt. 4:5-6) when he suggested that Jesus could throw Himself from the top of the pinnacle of the temple and would never be harmed, because if He were God's Son, then God would gladly provide angels to swoop down to prevent His premature death. Satan based his suggestion (temptation) on Psalm 91:11-12 (KJV): "For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all they ways. They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash they foot against a stone."

In Matt. 4:6 (KJV) the phrase, "lest at any time" was added to this passage, not by the translators but by Satan himself when quoting the passage—suggesting that if Jesus ever felt like jumping from a high place, the angels would always be there. This was taking the passage out of context, as the verses before this in Psalm 91 deal with God protecting His people from evil; it has nothing to do with willfully falling from a high place or jumping from a mountain to prove some point to a skeptic. Guard against someone taking the Word of God out of the context that was intended.

Using Scripture for Personal Gain

One of the great dangers in our generation is unscrupulous ministers who have been successful at using what I call the "prosperity lottery" for personal gain. The message is that if you will read it right, believe it right, speak it right, think it right, and "send me a check with your largest offering," then your name is entered by the Lord Himself into His special "prosperity lottery," where God will eventually call your name out for free money, a new house and a new car, and you won't have to work for it or pay for it. These types of ministers are those whom Peter warned about: "By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber" (2 Pet. 2:3).

I have heard some of the most unbiblical claims made and promises and blessings pronounced when ministers have been seeking money to expand their ministry. For your "best gift," you can be guaranteed to be debt-free the rest of your life. Folks, the only way you will never have debt is if you never purchase anything on credit again for the rest of your life, or if you die—then you have no debts to pay on Earth.

The Proper Way to Use the Sword of the Spirit

Paul wrote his last letter to Timothy and said: "Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching" (2 Tim. 4:2).

We think of the word "preach" as a minister standing behind a pulpit giving a sermon or message. Among the ancient Greeks this Greek word, kerusso, pictured the herald of the emperor standing before the masses in a city giving an important, even a life-and-death message to the people. The herald was the voice for the emperor and spoke with the same authority of the emperor. The minister is to "rebuke" when needed, meaning to rebuke sin in the lives of the people to bring them to repentance.

Paul warned Timothy of two men who were spiritually dangerous in the church: Hymenaeus and Philetus. These false teachers had taught the resurrection was past and had overthrown the faith of some weak believers in the church (2 Tim. 2:18). Paul said this false teaching corrupted the faith of some and "will eat as doth a canker" (v. 17, KJV). The Greek word for "canker" here is gaggraina, which alluded to an ulcer that gnaws on the physical body.

This is where we derive the English word "gangrene"—an infection that eats away at the tissue of the body and, if untreated, eventually can cause death. A severely diseased limb with gangrene must be amputated. Here, Paul is instructing the church to shun (separate from) Hymenaeus and Philetus, as their teaching was corrupting and spreading throughout the church like gangrene!

This reveals the proper way to use the sword of the Spirit, in the sense of cutting away false teaching or exposing dangerous heretical doctrine, contrary to the revelation of the Scriptures. The Word of God has a piercing power and divides the soul and spirit, meaning the thoughts of man from the thoughts of God (Heb. 4:12). Christ, Paul and all of the apostles wielded the Old Testament into a powerful weapon of war to defend the Christ as the Messiah, using the Torah and the Prophets, and building their doctrine on the words of Christ and revelation from God Himself (Gal. 1:12; 2:2). Let me point out it is for the purpose of cutting away false doctrine and not cutting to the ground someone who has a difference of opinion or a different method of ministry than you do.

Some of the false teaching spreading like gangrene in the body of Christ is:

  • Hell does not exist.
  • All men will end up in heaven no matter what religion they are (universalism).
  • God approves of same-sex relations.
  • Abortion is only a surgical procedure, as the fetus is not a human until the umbilical cord is cut.
  • The Bible cannot be trusted, is outdated, and not relevant for the culture.

Instead of rebuking Christian youth groups for being "of the devil" because of the "contemporary music" they listen to or saying that viewing home Bible studies is "not of God," ministers should be taking the two-edged sword and forging another reformation—a return to the sound doctrine of the prophets and apostles of the Christian faith. Never use the message of the cross to crucify those you don't like or the sword of the Spirit to attack other believers. The body of Christ needs unity not more division.

Instead of using our biblical knowledge to assault other believers who may differ occasionally with us on minor issues, we should minimize the impact of the enemy's weapons by exploding the knowledge of the truth on the world scene, as the gospel must be preached around the world before the end will come (Matt. 24:14). Your enemy is not a Baptist, Pentecostal or charismatic—your enemy is a destroyer of souls called Satan and his spirit rebels (Eph. 6:12). You can't fight right unless you're in the light—and the light is the Word of God.  

Perry Stone is the best-selling author of numerous books, including The Code of the Holy Spirit and How to Interpret Dreams and Visions. He directs one of America's fastest-growing ministries, The Voice of Evangelism.

]]> (Perry Stone) Evangelism Tue, 09 Sep 2014 12:52:45 -0400
The Urgent Need for Scriptural Engagement and Biblical Literacy

Demand for an update to the King James Version of the Bible has been growing for years and is being welcomed by those working to engage society in reading the Bible. Enter the new Modern English Version Bible (MEV), scheduled for release in September from Passio, an imprint of Charisma House.

The MEV is the first update of the original Bible texts in the King James tradition in over 32 years. Its amazing to realize it's been so long, yet in the decades since the last update the English language has changed continuously, evidenced each year with the addition of numerous new words added to the various dictionaries.

So why does the market need another translation? Don't we have enough to service the needs of every Christian alive today? With the abundance of riches for Bible availability in America, we have experienced firsthand the Word of God becoming somewhat of a commodity, if not also a fashion statement.

Truth be told, that's not a healthy perspective to have—considering our call to serve the church is founded on passion for and dedication to the Bible. The Bible is important to us because it is more than just a book. The Living Word of God in all forms represents the one item we are most honored and humbled to offer to those who come looking for one. No other book is more important or life changing.

Yet active attempts to marginalize Christianity in our country, and by default the Bible itself, are reaching fever pitch. Cultural battles rage in many arenas and attacks against God and His Word seem to be permeating several areas of society, our schools, courtrooms and even our laws. We seem to be fading into the woodwork of our local communities.

Indeed today Americans and especially the millennials (born 1980-2000) are looking for God's Word to be more than just a bunch of words compiled in a book. They want to actually experience Scripture. We tell them the Bible has the answer to all of life's problems and directions to follow God's perfect plan for their lives. They long to find personal application, understanding and seek to hear the small still voice of God through the pages of their Bible. The desire for a translation that carries the reverence and beauty of the original, yet is easy to read and apply is ever apparent.

The State of the Bible

As a basis for understanding the state of this foundational product for the ministry, illuminating information was shared from an annual study commissioned by the American Bible Society, designed by The Barna Group; The State of the Bible 2014. This study clearly signals cause for pausing to consider how societal and generational changes in trends are impacting the Bible's place in culture.

From the onset the study provides distinct insight into the challenges in America. Amid spiritual decline in a nation that is abandoning biblical absolutes, ambivalence toward Bible reading is alarmingly clear and the need to re-engage Christians is imperative.

"The typical American actually has 4.7 Bibles yet only 37 percent of Americans use the Bible in a typical month. So we have a huge gap between awareness, penetration, and usage of Scripture," says David Kinnaman, President of the Barna Group.

What is disturbing is that many Americans don't read their Bible more than a couple times a year. Barna reports while 80 percent of those interviewed will say they believe the Bible to be holy or sacred literature, less than half actually admit to reading it more than a couple times a year.

"Can you imagine a Bible-less Christianity?" asks Roy Peterson, president of American Bible Society.

When you come to grips with the reality that more and more Christians are spending less and less time actually engaging Scripture with consistency, these observations from ABS and Barna become far more disquieting. The State of the Bible 2014 study reveals that three out of five adults wish they read the Bible more. Worse, only one in five (19 percent) admit to being regular readers (four or more times per week). While they state their knowledge that doing so will bring them closer to God and allow His Word to influence their worldview, various paradigms and daily life, Bible engagement still suffers.

The study also indicates that the majority are not reading their Bible because don't have the time, don't comprehend its teachings, fail to understand biblical history and have difficulty understanding the language as well as locating specific passages or stories. Many have become skeptical regarding whether the Bible's teachings really can bring direction and peace into their lives.

Clearly people need resources to help them overcome such uncertainty coupled with translations they can read and understand by themselves. There is a chasm between knowing what tools exist and how to use them.

Re-Engaging Bible Reading

America was founded upon God's Word, yet today many of our church leaders will tell us we're chasing Europe and quickly becoming "post Christian." Across the nation many see the Bible as simply historical with spiritual teachings far removed from daily life. In light of that, what difference can yet another Bible translation make? Why invest in developing another translation of the Bible and more product extension in an already saturated market if studies show fewer people are engaging with God's Word?

When you consider that the State of the Bible 2014 study revealed that the majority of households have a Bible, it's easy to conclude that regardless of apartment, home, mansion or dorm room there is a Bible likely sitting somewhere on a shelf. The challenge is that the Bible is actually sitting there and not actively read because the consumer isn't compelled to take the initiative to engage themselves in God's Word.

When the MEV publishing team sought answers to this and other trends in Bible engagement, they turned to Joel Ceballo, a research and Bible engagement consultant who has experience with Bible publishers and agencies, as well as research design with Barna. They asked Joel to further substantiate the need to update the KJV.

"In a society where relationships exist primarily on Facebook and advice is dispensed by those whose own lives seldom reflect anything approximating joy or purpose, the Bible is all too often viewed as irrelevant and its wisdom outmoded. For too many, the riches of a life reflecting the Bible's wisdom is locked in a book to which they do not have a key."

Ceballo went on to cite these sobering statistics:

Over a quarter of Americans (26 percent) never read the Bible.

Although the Barna 2014 study reveals that almost 80 percent of Americans cite the Bible as a holy book or sacred literature, only 46 percent report they read it more than a couple times a year. Comparatively speaking, 12 percent of Americans cite the Koran and 7 percent cite the Torah as sacred literature.
In a four-year period between 2011 and 2014, those engaged in Bible reading have remained stagnant, ranging from a high of 21 percent to a current 19 percent.

In a world that is rife with conflict with the very fabric of our society stretched until it's tenuous to the point of tearing, the fact that over a quarter of adults state they never read the Bible ought to be upsetting to the church and to those of us who supply the church with resources to grow in their faith.

Ceballo crystalizes this point by saying, "When we take a moment to consider the majority of Americans are just within a few steps of the words written by their Creator for the express purpose of inspiration, comfort and instruction, proximity is obviously not the issue. There are other reasons why people are not engaging in daily Bible reading."

Ceballo further cites the key frustrations as to why the Bible is not part of their daily life:

Obstacles to Engagement

COMPREHENSION: Difficulty in understanding the Bible's language and context

CONTEXT: Failure to know or understand biblical history or background

EASE: Incapable of locating specific passages or stories

RELEVANCE: Inability to connect content to everyday life or challenges

Additionally, the State of the Bible 2014 study revealed the weight of skepticism has nearly doubled in only a few years. Imagine that. With the increased exposure to the gospel message via television, cable, satellite broadcasts and the success of recent Biblically based movies impacting everyday culture—incredulity is still growing.

The study indicated in 2011 that 10 percent said they were skeptical of the Bible. Yet today, in 2014, that number has almost doubled with 19 percent reporting they were skeptical.

The current crisis is clearly spelled out in the pages of the State of the Bible 2014 report. The challenge for ministerial leaders is to increase awareness not only to Bibles themselves, but the relevance of Bible reading for the Christian looking for finding God's plan for their lives.

To do this effectively, ministerial leaders need to understand the critical questions emerging over the Bible's relevancy in our nation's fabric. This is especially true among two of the largest demographics, millennials and Hispanics, who are rapidly changing the face of Christianity in America with indelible marks. Amidst the changes in society the challenges, churches have to work diligently to leverage both technology and inquisitiveness to enhance the Bible's relevancy in this century.

"One of the generations that we study a lot are millennials," Kinnaman said. "These are individuals who are in their teenage years or young adult years. Millennials are actually more likely than older generations to tell us they're interested in what the Bible has to say on things like parenting, finances, sex and romance, all sorts of like, cultural issues; how to live well in today's society. So while millennials are actually more skeptical of scripture, they're actually more hungry for scriptural insights and ways to live well in today's sort of complex culture."

American attitudes are being shaped by these future leaders. Today, the Bible is available in nearly 2,300 different languages. Hundreds of millions of downloads on mobile devices provide interactive ways to discover, study and share God's Word across the social media spectrum. In light of this, surprisingly many Christians struggle with engaging the Bible and applying its relevancy to their lives.

Millennials make up the largest generation with nearly 95 million strong in America, 22 percent greater than the Baby Boomers. Much like their Me-Generation parents, Generation-Y goes through its own journey spiritually and is less likely to say that the Bible is inspired by God. They don't read the Bible like their parents and grandparents and subsequently are more doubtful as a result. They need a translation that is rooted in the church, but easier for them to read and comprehend clearly so they can apply it to their own lives and situations.  

Awareness, interest and confidence in God's word appear to be rapidly dropping among those who are future shapers of our country. Our society is becoming increasingly defined by an absence of biblical principles and presence. Whether it's the growth of progressive agendas, dismissing biblical absolutes from our courts and schools or Bible apathy among Christians themselves, engagement in Bible reading is sorely needed. The need has perhaps never been greater; the time is now.

The Modern English Version: Clear, Reverent and Accurate

"The MEV Bible is so relevant right now because America's Christian churches are facing a crisis, whether we realize it or not," said Chelsen Vicari, author of Distortion, How the New Christian Left is Twisting the Gospel & Damaging the Faith. "We've so long been focused on what's going on outside of our walls that we haven't been paying attention to what's going on within. And within our own sanctuaries, theirs is a group and movement that is repackaging the gospel, that's distorting Christian teaching. We've got to start addressing this problem by equipping millennials, and to do that we can help them with the MEV version of the Bible. Because the MEV version of the Bible is so easy to read and user-friendly, it can really help millennials understand what their faith is all about. And because of that, it will prepare us and equip us to go out, evangelize, and incite revival in a new generation."

There are a lot of modern translations, some better than others, but this is the first updated version of the King James in decades, and it is very well done. It fills a void and has a place within the church, especially for those hungering for updated language that still provides the reverence and distinctive of the King James Version. There remains a strong loyalty to the old King James Version.

What the MEV now brings to readers is a loyalty to the beauty and poetry of the KJV along with the reverence, yet in a language that modern audiences can readily understand.

The King James Version is very much anchored in our culture. A lot of people don't realize that. There are a number of idioms in our language that originate with the King James translation (e,g. "apple of my eye"). As those things are lost, people aren't familiar with their origin from the Bible. So the King James Version needed to be updated to keep it accessible to today's culture.

In 1604 in response to the need for an accessible version of the Bible, King James 1 commissioned 47 clergy and scholars to publish what became known as the King James Version. While last updated in 1982, the English language has gone through so many changes the necessity to update the KJV was overwhelmingly apparent resulting in a multi-year process of doing so. In 2014, once again, 47 of the world's most qualified Bible linguists have responded to the call for a clear, reverent, and accurate translation for their time. The result is the Modern English Version.

In recognition of both the breadth and depth of the global English-speaking population, these translators were selected to represent a cross-section of the English-speaking church. As graduates and professors of some of the world's most prestigious colleges, seminaries and universities, the translation committee is uniquely qualified to produce a translation able to not only satisfy those who have long treasured the King James Version, but to engage the next generation.

From inception, this translation was to be applicable and transformational for the entire English-speaking world. Like those who have gone before them, the linguists devoted themselves to ensuring the Modern English Version is an accurate and responsible update of the King James Version.

Bound by great Christian unity and cooperation, this inter-denominational committee adopted the philosophy of formal correspondence. This more literal approach employs a word-for-word translation rather than a thought-for-thought.

Also at times, the MEV updates some of the archaic idioms that are found in the King James Version for modern readers so that they'll have an easier time understanding what these idioms mean. For example: in Mark 2:18-19, the people ask Jesus why His disciples do not fast like the Pharisees do. The original Greek used in Jesus' response was literally, "Can the sons of the wedding hall fast when the bridegroom is with them?" The King James translates this idiom in the English as, "the children of the bride chamber." Now, the idiom "children of the bride chamber" makes little sense to us today in our modern English speaking. But the MEV translates this: "wedding guests", which is much more easy to understand for the modern audience.

N. Blake Hearson, M.A. M.Div. M.PHIL. PH.D, an Ordained Minister, Associate Professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Editor-in-Chief, Old Testament, explains it this way:

"This is an update of the King James Version, the basis of our text were the Textus Receptus as well as the Ben-Haim version of the Hebrew text. We brought all these things together in a way that was very true to the beauty of the King James Version, and yet brings that forward with clarity and accuracy that will enable a whole new generation to appreciate the beauty of the King James in a language that they can understand. And that's what makes the MEV such a great translation for today."

A New Opportunity?

Just as the King James Version has been the standard since the 17th century, the Modern English Version meets the needs for today's generation and for those to come. But whom will the MEV appeal to? It is a translation that is preeminently practical and useful not just for the theologian, but also for the pastor, lay leader and Christians seeking to draw closer to God so they can know Him better and love Him more.

The MEV is user-friendly from the pulpit, the classroom, the kitchen table or anywhere one enjoys personal devotion time. The scholarship is first-rate, and it is rendered in a language that makes it easily applied in the hearts of anyone seeking to hear God's voice. The differences between the MEV and the KJV are distinctive. As with many modern English translations those differences have a tendency to appear less so when one skips across a handful of favorite verses in a cursory comparison. It is important to recognize that the changes to the English language over the years are more significant than can be found by skimming highlights.

"When I first saw it, (the MEV) and it was being compared to the King James, I said, "This is really similar. What's the point?" said Dr. Michael Brown, president and professor of practical theology at Fellowship for International Revival and Evangelism School of Ministry. "Then, when I understood the point was to have something with the feel of the King James in modern language, I thought, this is really well done! So then I spot-checked, because Biblical scholarship, that's my field.

"My degrees are in Semitic languages and things, and I've worked on a few translations over the years as a reader or giving input or things like that. So as I went through it, I said okay, let's see how they render this. Let's see how they treat it. They were not just taking the King James and trying to put it in modern language, they were going directly from the Hebrew, the Aramaic, the Greek, in light of the best manuscript evidence that we have in harmony with the King James translation's philosophy. I thought, they've really done a good job on this."

Consistent reading of the Bible leads to the ultimate goal of engagement. Engagement takes readership to another level, people making time to allow the Bible to speak to them as it reveals through the Holy Spirit's illumination where their lives require alignment with God's will. As they grow and mature through God's Word, their hunger to learn more brings them back to the local Christian retailer to discover the world of what their local store offers. It all begins with the right Bible in their hands.

"We are living in arguably the most difficult times spiritually our nation has ever experienced," said Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. "Great cultural decadence. Spiritual apathy. Moral relativism. Ecclesiastical lukewarmness. What we need is to re-engage God's Word. We need the Word of God to once again emerge as the quintessential standard of morality, righteousness and justice. The Modern English Version serves that very purpose."

Enthusiasm for the MEV is contagious. Major ministries and denominational heads are already embracing it. Demand for an update to the KJV has been growing for years and is being welcomed by those working to engage society in reading the Bible.

Solomon said of making books, there is no end, and sometimes it feels that way with translations of scripture and various Bible formats. It is important to have a translation that they can not only trust, but also find value in for the direction of their lives and those they love, those they teach, and those they lead. The beauty of the Modern English Version is that it not only preserves the cadence of the King James, it remains true to the message of Holy Scripture, and worthy to pass forward to future generations.  

Michael Briggs is founder/president of Briggs Creative, a strategy-development firm serving publishers, ministries and the Christian retail community. Briggs has been actively involved with Christian products for 35 years.

]]> (Michael Briggs) Evangelism Fri, 05 Sep 2014 13:00:00 -0400
Experiencing Transformation Through Scriptural Engagement

I enjoy watching a great Bible story that is well captured on the big screen. It provides me with fresh vantage points, making me think about things I'd never seen before or previously considered. I've discovered over the years that a new Bible translation can have that same impact.

With the release of the Modern English Version (MEV), we have a trusted word-for-word translation that delivers fresh sight lines through its beauty and clarity, reverence and relevance. While reflecting within its pages, the words of God can speak loudly to our lives and leadership in an "old new" kind of way. As it does, we can effectively equip those we lead to refreshingly see how to apply the life, love and power of Jesus within our current culture that is in desperate need of transformation.

Speaking of the Scriptures and transformation, let me share a story with you:

Earlier this year I received an invitation to lunch with a pastor whom I had not met. As we were seated in the restaurant and began to chat, I could tell we were on the way to becoming fast friends.

He was aware that I lead an organization whose aim is making disciple-makers within the church and among societal leaders. He sensed that I knew something about transformation taking hold in the lives of followers of Jesus. He said, "Dave, I come from a denomination in the body of Christ where the scriptures are highly valued and studied.

"The people that I pastor know the Word," he continued. "They could provide you with overviews and highlights from books of the Bible ..." At that moment, with his glasses lowered to the edge of his nose, he leaned across the table toward me and with great humility and the sincere concern of a shepherd who loves his flock, he stated, "... but I'm not seeing them be transformed."

Take a moment to really consider what he's saying, "My people know the Word, but I'm not seeing them be transformed." Obviously, he wasn't commenting on the transforming power of the Scriptures. Instead, he was seeking how to make sure the Scriptures take hold of people so they are transformed more into the likeness of Jesus. 

This shepherd is not alone in what he's wrestling with. Pastors are teaching the Scriptures with everything they have. They're praying and longing to see real-life change take place in those they're leading. Yet, many find themselves frustrated, and some are disheartened.

My pastor friend and I agreed that part of our concern lies with the lack of scriptural engagement and biblical literacy found among followers of Jesus. It's an issue of our time that cannot be overstated. As a matter of fact, in a series I hosted called Conversations with Fathers of the Faith, Dr. Henry Blackaby stated it this way: "This is probably the most biblically illiterate generation of believers and leaders that I've ever known." During our discussion, I noted three consequences that we're currently suffering as a result.

First, we are reaping a spiritually "thin" church, ill-equipped to fulfill the purposes of God in our nation and generation. Because we're not discipling Jesus followers how to engage the Scriptures, they rely on one weekend sermon to fill them. In our natural bodies, one weekly meal leads to eventual starvation.

Second, we have moved away from the authority and power of Scripture, which contains life-altering, world-changing words-from-the-mouth-of-God that are meant to produce the fruit of obedience in our lives. As I was reflecting on Matt. 28:18-20 several years ago, the Holy Spirit kept landing me on "teaching them to obey." I had a fresh realization that Jesus has asked me to teach those I tend how to obey Him out of their love for Him. Because we've not discipled in this way, our flocks don't approach the Scriptures wearing "obedience lenses." 

Third, we suffer as a society because the church lacks scriptural engagement and biblical literacy.

If we aren't equipping our people around God's character and ways, we're missing out on a huge opportunity to bless and impact those on the planet! We need to disciple government leaders to lead with integrity, benevolence, wisdom and justice! We must shape those called to arts and entertainment to view the spotlight not as a place of self-indulgence, but rather as a platform for their King. We must do the same for those called to the domains of media, business, science and technology, health and medicine, etc. Our nation's current condition is the result of shepherds not discipling their people to live and lead in society using the character and ways of God revealed in the Scriptures as their guide.

Continuing Our Transformation Conversation

As our conversation continued, I shared what I saw as the other part of the problem, the gap between engaging Scripture and experiencing transformation. I wanted to draw a diagram for him, so with my finger I drew three imaginary connected circles on the table to explain God's process of transformation—the end result being transformation.

I offered a little of what I've learned about transformation as a leader, teacher and disciple-maker. Second Cor. 3:18 says, "But we all, seeing the glory of the Lord with unveiled faces, as in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory by the Spirit of the Lord" (MEV). The more we behold God the more the Spirit transforms us into His likeness.

Consider these transformation snapshots:

  • A young woman moved from woundedness to wonder as she grasps who she really is in Christ Jesus.
  • A destroyed relationship that is restored as the need for mutual forgiveness is perceived and pursued.
  • A troubled part of your city experiences profound change when Jesus followers obey what He showed them to do. 

Transformation is God intervening to bring His life to bear upon individuals, relationships and communities. We cannot manufacture transformation. Because of my love for people I wish we could, but it is a divine work of God. Like an apple seed, the actual transformation from seed to tree to fruit to orchards belongs to God.

Back at our table diagram, we began to tackle the first circle—revelation. I'm not talking about the last book in our Bibles, but rather the means by which God reveals things to us. It's how we came to Jesus in the first place: He allowed us to spiritually perceive our desperate condition and His offer of love, forgiveness and reconciliation. Revelation is the parting of curtains so we see as God sees.

Let me illustrate further. Imagine yourself in a theater. Perhaps you're there to watch a family member perform as part of a play. You hear the noise of the gathering crowd while you pick out your seat. Sitting in a near-darkened room your attention is focused on those huge velvety burgundy curtains in front of you. You have absolutely no idea what's behind that curtain. As the curtain is pulled back suddenly you have a completely different vantage point as you see the dusty streets of an old Western town. What you could not see only a second before you can see now. That's "revelation."

Consider the scene in Matthew 16 where Jesus asks His disciples who people think He is. Some think He's John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the other prophets come back to life. Then He asks them what they think. Peter pipes up and says, "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God." Hear afresh these words of Jesus in v.17: "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven" (MEV).

Revelation is sourced in God alone. He is the Revealer. If He doesn't part the curtains, we have a hard time seeing where He's leading our lives. We can posture ourselves to receive revelation: Seeking His face in worship, prayer and the Scriptures, through a sermon or in a conversation. When I can't yet see something from God, I have the opportunity to trust Him while pressing into Him even further.

What's the bridge between the first and last circles? It represents the part we play in the process of transformation. Our response to what Jesus reveals to us is obedience. Once again, we entered into our relationship with Jesus by responding with obedience to follow Him, and so began our journey of transformation.

The life of Jesus revolved around obeying His Father. I'm delighted when I read in Heb. 5:8 that Jesus "learned" obedience, as it encourages me that I can too. We see just how central obedience was to Jesus in John 5:19 when we read, "The Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do. For whatever He does, likewise the Son does" (MEV). Also, at one of the most intense moments of His life, in Gethsemane, Jesus remained obedient, fully yielding to His Father's will (Matt. 26:39). 

Fueled by our great love for Jesus, we are to walk daily in obedience, doing what Jesus has revealed to us to do, in the Scriptures and by His Spirit. When God reveals something to us, it's really not meant to be negotiated; it's meant to be obeyed. Obedience is the engine of transformation. God reveals something to us; we obey Him out of love and trust; He brings the transformation.

Revelation—obedience—transformation: That is God's process.

Engaging The Process of Transformation While Engaging The Scriptures

Without engaging the process of transformation, we may end up with full heads but far-from-Him hearts. A reading plan keeps us disciplined in the Word, but without transformation it can be reduced to a ritual that results in more checked boxes than actual obedience. And, as pastors, the real danger and deception is in approaching the Scriptures only for the purpose of message preparation, robbing us of encountering our Good Shepherd and His transformational work in our own souls. 

How can a pastor lead a flock in engaging the process of transformation? I'd like to offer two practical suggestions:

First, experience God's character (Jer. 9:23-24) and discover His ways (Ex. 33:13) in the Scriptures. Several years ago I highlighted with purple pencil in my Bible every name, title and attribute of God so that they'd shout at me every time I opened it up. When was the last time you set time aside to let Him reveal Himself to you through His character in His Word? Don't let study of any kind—no matter what it is—sideline you from knowing the Lover of Your Soul more in the Scriptures.

Second, as you read, reflect and study the Scriptures, make sure you build in time to answer these two questions: 1) What is the Holy Spirit revealing to me? 2) How am I going to obey this in my life? Answering these keeps you in the process of moving from revelation to obedience to transformation.

A few words about my pastor friend. We've continued to meet and now, six months in to our relationship, he's initiating steps toward implementing the process of transformation within his flock. I know it's going to work. Not only because it's God's process, but because he took six months to apply the process of revelation—obedience—transformation to his own life first.

That's the right place to start, and it would be a good place for you to begin as well.

Dave Buehring has followed Jesus for over 40 years, serving as a missionary, pastor and currently as the President of Lionshare ( He's the author of The Jesus Blueprint as well as A Discipleship Journey, a proven resource used by churches and leaders around the world to reproduce disciple-makers, and the men's pastor at Grace Chapel in Franklin, Tennessee.

]]> (Dave Buehring) Evangelism Thu, 04 Sep 2014 13:00:00 -0400
How Believers Can Distort God's Word

Whenever somebody mentions Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa, what do you imagine? Likely, your thoughts drift to the painting's infamous stoic expression or its mysterious legacy. What you probably don't think about is the thick bulletproof glass that sits between the Mona Lisa and art gallery patrons. Vandals have attempted to distort the portrait by throwing acid, rocks and red paint at the portrait for centuries. So the world's most famous work of art must be protected.

Our broken world constantly tries to vandalize famously cherished works, so why would we expect God's valued work of art to be any different?  Like the defensive glass in an art gallery, Scripture too must be protected from those who are twisting its contents and damaging its legacy.  

As you might have heard, there is a "millennial problem" within the church. Religion analysts, pundits and preachers alike are struggling to grasp why young adults raised in evangelical—Pentecostal, charismatic, Baptist and nondenominational—churches are departing from the Christian faith at rapid rates. Simultaneously, Christians are watching with shock and horror as the state of America's morality and foundational Judeo-Christian principles follow the trend of descent.

As a millennial myself and public-policy analyst, I can tell you first-hand that the action needed to fix both problems cannot be found digging into complex data, hazy statistics or even lobbying our representatives' offices in Washington, D.C. For too long, Christian culture warriors have been so focused on vandals' threats to our faith from secular society that we failed to notice the damage being done from within our own evangelical community.

It is painful to admit, but within many evangelical churches, campus ministries, and even Christian universities, believers let our guard down. And so, the Christian Left crept in quietly championing liberalism and feeding a damaged and distorted version of the gospel to young evangelicals.

As I explain in greater detail in my new book Distortion: How the New Christian Left is Twisting the Gospel and Damaging the Faith, the Christian Left must dismantle the authority of God's Word before it can convince young evangelicals that same-sex marriage, abortion, taxpayer-funded abortifacients, feminism, pacifism, Christian discrimination, and the expansion of a federal nanny state are biblically endorsed.

To do this, the Christian Left typically starts by excluding mentions of "sin," "hell" and "transformation" from their sermons, lectures or Sunday school lessons. This way, the need to address and turn away from immorality is intentionally avoided. Next, they incite confusion in millennials' minds regarding the clarity of Scripture. Some among the Christian Left will point to Levitical law outlined in the Old Testament and say that because we do not follow these laws in the Bible, then all Christians may cherry-pick their principles. Therefore, according to the Christian Left, followers of Christ don't have to adhere to everything outlined in the New Testament either. Finally, the Christian Left has dismantled the Word of God so much that they have concocted their own cafeteria-style Christianity; that is, taking parts of the Bible out of context so that it fits their own liberal political activism.

Stay with me here. Right about now I know that these deceptive tactics are probably making your head spin. So I'll give you a clear example. Popular blogger and member of the Christian Left Rachel Held Evans, illustrated this strategy. While writing her book Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband 'Master,' Evans essentially claimed that because it is impossible for women to follow all of the rules pertaining to women recorded in the Bible, then it should follow that Scripture is not an applicable guidebook for Christian women's daily lives.

Thankfully Kathy Keller, the wife of Pastor Tim Keller, pointed out in a book review published by the Gospel Coalition why Evans' formula was deceptive. "In making the decision to ignore the tectonic shift that occurred when Jesus came," Keller wrote, "you have led your readers not into a better understanding of biblical interpretation, but into a worse one. Christians don't arbitrarily ignore the Levitical code—they see it as wonderfully fulfilled in Jesus."

"Not my church," you might be thinking. "We believe in the authority of Scripture." So says Rachel Held Evans and many other Christian Left leaders shaping young evangelicals' faith and worldview.

I pray that distorted liberal theology is not permeating within your church. But a warning: Do not look for liberal political slogans or pro-abortion propaganda pinned to the bulletin board. The Christian Left is much more clever and deceptive than a simple Republican vs. Democrat debate.

America's Founding Father James Madison stated, "I believe there are more instances of abridgement of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachment of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations." Likewise, the Christian Left's abridgement of the authority of Scripture is a gradual and silent destruction of the Word of God.

At this point you might be wondering how the Christian Left can successfully persuade the millennial generation to buy into its damaged, distorted version of the gospel.

The simple answer is: Young evangelicals simply do not know enough about their faith. Because they are not equipped with knowledge of traditional Christian teaching, history and the social science that affirms it, young evangelicals are unable to defend their faith. Therefore they are likely to fall into one of two camps: Either they buy into distorted theology, or they remain silent.

Early in my college years, I was inclined to buy into this distorted theology. Not because I wanted a more progressive ethos or because I was rebelling against my parents' "outdated" religion. My reason was that I wanted to "fit in."

Having a big heart for those in need made me and other millennials especially vulnerable. While attending a prominent Christian campus ministry, I was taught that social-justice work within the community should be priority, not traditional Christian teachings. Of course, this was appealing.

I could focus on caring for others, conveniently follow Jesus, and avoid offending anyone because topics like same-sex marriage and abortion were off limits.

I'll admit that as a new, earnest member of this campus ministry, I tried to take countercultural biblical stands. I tried to confront the excessive alcohol abuse among my fellow evangelical peers and spoke against abortion.

Realizing my Christian friends, and some among the leadership, were uncomfortable with these conversation topics, I found it easier to stick with social justice as my Christian focal point. Seemingly, it was the compassionate route because at least I kept friends that way. Wrong!

Thankfully, my parents and other mentors were committed to speaking all of God's truths in love to me. I finally recognized how I was snuffing out portions of the gospel in order to maintain popularity among my peers.

My experience is not unique. It is the growing trend among millennials raised within the evangelical community. Beyond being a millennial and analyst at the Institute on Religion and Democracy, one of my most important roles is Sunday school teacher to middle school-aged kids My students are bright, funny and bold. But I often hear them explain how many around them—in and outside of our church—bombard their heads with messages of "don't judge," "tolerance," "coexist," and "political correctness." These buzzwords intimidate them.

Seasoned conservative Christians have heard all these empty words before and remain unfazed. But for young kids who have seeds of confusion planted about Scripture's clarity coupled with the fact that they love their non-Christian friends, these words cause fear. So they shy away from mentioning their faith in God and His Word that is inherently offensive to a fallen world. So when popular Christian culture leaders tell young evangelicals that they can appease both the world and Jesus, then, of course this distorted theology captures their attention.

But the Christian Left's damage doesn't end with simply a misguided generation. Their distortions lead back to the "millennial problem" I mentioned earlier. Once young adults buy into the lie that Scripture is not authoritative, then they find themselves drifting toward questioning, doubting and abandoning the faith altogether. After all, why believe in words that hold no tangible or applicable value?

There is good news. Like the art gallery's steps to preserve and protect the Mona Lisa, Christians too can take precautions to guard God's Word. Read your Bible and commit it to memory. Next, ask questions about the theological beliefs of your church leadership, seminary instructors, and the millennials you know. Their answers may shock you. Then finally pray for wisdom and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the absolute truths contained in God's Word.

Popular culture, inside and outside of the church, will try to damage and distort Scripture's value and its authoritative role in Christians' lives. But as followers of Christ, we can stand up and protect all of its contents with good conscience.

Remember that the countercultural messages found in the Bible were not crafted by conservative evangelicals. The Bible is not our words but the divinely inspired work of art produced by the one true living God. Scripture certainly deserves to be protected.   

Chelsen Vicari serves as Director of Evangelical Action at the Institute for Religion and Democracy and is the author of Distortion: How the New Christian Left is Twisting the Gospel and Damaging the Faith.

]]> (Chelsen Vicari) Communication Wed, 03 Sep 2014 16:00:00 -0400
8 Reasons Why Churches Never Break Down Attendance Barriers

While social media, and even traditional media, are still preoccupied with megachurches and multisite churches, the reality is that most churches in North America are quite small.

The Barna group pegs the average Protestant church size in America at 89 adults. Sixty percent of protestant churches have less than 100 adults in attendance. Only 2 percent have over 1,000 adults attending.

Please understand, there's nothing wrong with being a small church. I just know that almost every small church leader I speak to wants his or her church to grow.

I get that. That's the mission of the church. Every single day, I want our church to become more effective in reaching one more person with the hope that's in Christ.

So, why is it that most churches never break the 200-person attendance mark?

It's not:

DesireMost leaders I know want their church to reach more people.

A lack of prayerMany small church leaders are incredibly faithful in prayer.

LoveSome of the people in smaller churches love people as authentically as anyone I know.

Facility. Growth can start in the most unlikely places.

Let's just assume you have a solid mission, theology and heart to reach people.

You know why most churches still don't push past the 200 mark in attendance?

You ready?

They organize, behave, lead and manage like a small organization.

Think about it. There's a world of difference between how you organize a corner store and how you organize a larger supermarket.

In a corner store, Mom and Pop run everything. Want to talk to the CEO? She's stocking shelves. Want to see the director of marketing? He's at the cash register.

Mom and Pop do everything, and they organize their business to stay small. Which is fine if you're Mom and Pop and don't want to grow.

But you can't run a supermarket that way. You organize differently. You govern differently. There's a produce manager and people who only stock shelves. There's a floor manager, shift manager, general manager and so much more.

So what's the translation to church world?

Here are eight reasons churches who want to grow end up staying small:

1. The pastor is the primary caregiver. Honestly, if you just push past this one issue, you will have made a ton of progress. When the pastor has to visit every sick person, do every wedding and funeral, and make regular house calls, he or she becomes incapable of doing other things. That model just doesn't scale.

If you're good at it, you'll grow the church to 200 people and then disappoint people when you can't get to every event any more. Or you'll just burn out. It creates false expectations and so many people get hurt in the process. 

Although it's 20 years old, this is still the best book I know on the subject. The answer, by the way, is to teach people to care for each other in groups.

2. The leaders lack a strategy. Many churches today are clear on mission and vision. What most lack is a widely shared and agreed upon strategy.

Your vision and mission answers the why and what of your organization. Your strategy answers how. And how is critical.

Spend time working through your strategy. Be clear on how you will accomplish your mission and don't rest until the mission, vision and strategy reside in every single volunteer and leader.

3. True leaders aren't leading. In every church, there are people who hold the position of leadership and then there are people who are truly leaders (who may not hold any position in your church).

Release people who hold titles but aren't advancing the mission, and hand the job over to real leaders. Look for people who have a track record of handling responsibility in other areas of life and give them the job of leading the church into the future with you.

If you actually have leaders leading, it will make a huge difference.

4. Volunteers are unempowered. Sure, small churches may not have the budget to hire other staff, but you have people. Once you have identified true leaders, and once you're clear on your mission, vision and strategy, you need to release people to accomplish them.

Try to do it all yourself and you will burn out, leave or simply be ineffective.  

Empower volunteers around an aligned strategy and you will likely begin to see progress.

5. The governance team micromanages. If you need permission every time you need to buy paper towels or repaint an office, you have a governance issue.

Most boards that micromanage do so because that's where most people simply default. You need a board that guards the mission and vision and empowers the team to accomplish it and then gets out of the way.

This post on governance from Jeff Brodie is gold.

6. Too many meetings. I led a church with a grand total of 50 people in attendance. We had 16 elders. Overall, the church was in evening meetings two to three times a week.

Why on earth would a church that small need to meet that often?

I eventually repurposed most of those meetings to become meetings about vision and reorganization. We also cut the number of elders down. Now, although we have a much bigger church, I'm only out one or two nights a week (and then, mostly for small group).

If you're going to meet, meet on purpose for the future. Free up your time so you and your team can accomplish something significant.

7. Too many events and programs that lead nowhere. Activity does not equal accomplishment. Just because you're busy doesn't mean you're being effective.

If you check into most small churches (remember, I was there ... I'm not judging, just being honest), there are a lot of programs that accomplish little and lead nowhere. Stop them.

Yes, people will be mad. Even have the courage to cut some good programs. Good is the enemy of great. Then go out and do a few great things.

8. The pastor suffers from a desire to please everybody. Many pastors I know are people-pleasers by nature. Go see a counselor. Get on your knees. Do whatever you need to do to get over the fear of disappointing people.

Courageous leadership is like courageous parenting. Don't do what your kids want you to do; do what you believe is best for them in the end. Eventually, many of them will thank you.

And the rest? Honestly, they'll probably go to another church that isn't reaching many people either.

I realize the diagnosis can sound a little harsh, but we have a pretty deep problem on our hands. And radical problems demand radical solutions.

What have you seen that helps churches push past attendance barriers? 

In addition to serving as Lead Pastor at Connexus Community Church north of Toronto Canada, Carey Nieuwhof speaks at conferences and churches throughout North America on leadership, family, parenting and personal renewal.

For the original article, visit

]]> (Carey Nieuwhof) Church Growth Mon, 01 Sep 2014 19:00:00 -0400
How Do God’s Mission and Man’s Salvation Relate?

In June 2014, David Platt, Frank Page, Trevin Wax and I discussed the topics of salvation and the mission of God.

The panel was sponsored by The Gospel Project, an intentionally Christ-centered and mission-driven curriculum that Trevin and I edit. We think that conversations like this matter—people need more theological discussion, not less. In fact, The Gospel Project 2014-15 winter study for adults and students is titled "The God Who Saves" and explores the biblical doctrines of election, calling, conversion and our union with Christ.

The purpose of our discussion was to address some debates about how Christians, who disagree on the order of salvation or the extent of the atonement, can work together (or not).

Now, we are not saying (for example) that Calvinists and Wesleyans should necessarily be in the same denomination. The fact is, doctrinal statements and standards matter. And, the beliefs we have (and sincerely hold) need to be passed on in our church plants and our mission efforts. (Thus, Arminian Pentecostals like the Church of God I was with last week should plant, well, Arminian Pentecostal churches. You would not hear me making a case there that they should plant Calvinist cessationist churches. More on that here.)

However, in my denomination, Calvinists and non-Calvinists (the new word is traditionalists), have always been in the same denomination. The doctrinal statements have just about always been accommodating to both groups. So, the question is, in this case, can traditionalists and Calvinists exist in the same denomination, if the doctrinal statement so allows, or is it doomed to failure?

The panel participants included Frank Page, who was writing against Calvinism before it was cool to do so. His book, The Trouble with the Tulip, was provided to all the attendees of the panel. Frank is now the president of the Executive Committee of the SBC. Yes, the President of the SBC's Executive Committee wrote a book against Calvinism. Let that sink in.

David Platt is, well, a Calvinist. And, he has riled people up saying some Calvinist-y things, like criticizing the Sinner's Prayer (and then clarifying here). He is crazy about missions, too, but he definitely thinks he's going out to find and gather the elect.

Trevin Wax is an Amyraldian, an obscure position that makes him sound smart, but really means he just can't pick a team. I'm obviously just a confused hybrid, as my drug-induced comments will make clear to you in the audio.

I hosted the panel and, explaining my comment about drugs, I had just broken my tailbone and was on not one, but two, narcotics. So, I was—shall we say—a bit loose. (Listen to where I called Frank Page "Pelagius," made fun of David Platt's teenage face, and said offensive things to Trevin.) I am sure that it will give some listeners something to include on their blogs—enjoy.

But, seriously, these kinds of discussions are relatively useless if you won't ask hard questions and push the respondents. I did—I assure you! And, I think it was a good discussion.

I think it is time that people both acknowledged differences and then talked about how they can, or perhaps cannot, work together.

Here are some of the things we addressed:

  • Does one's belief on the extent of the atonement affect their understanding of mission and the offer of the gospel?
  • Can two Christians disagree on soteriology and partner in ministry?
  • Does the order of salvation affect how one does evangelism?
  • When it comes to the theological particulars of salvation, what is the difference between compromise and cooperation?

We did our best to approach the issues in the most respectful manner we could. You be the judge—and a few of you go rant on your blog post about how terrible it was. We are here to help.

For the rest of you, we hope you are encouraged and challenged by the audio of this important discussion. Click here to listen to the panel discussion.

Ed Stetzer is the president of LifeWay Research. For the original article, visit

]]> (Ed Stetzer) Evangelism Thu, 21 Aug 2014 16:00:00 -0400