Designating 2004 as "The Year of Prayer for Pastors," the National Prayer Committee, Pray! magazine and the National Denominational Prayer Leaders have joined forces to launch the initiative on a national scale. The Web site prayingpastor.com was developed to provide resources, ideas and practical encouragement for churches and laity to pray for pastors.
"The pressures and stresses on today's pastors is overwhelming," says Steve Loopstra, one of the leaders of the prayer initiative and executive director of Minnesota-based Prayer Transformation Ministries. "We have no clue what would happen if we as the church really would dedicate ourselves to continually covering our pastors and their families in prayer."
Many ministries such as Focus on the Family and Mission America, as well as denominations, including Evangelical Free, The Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA) and Southern Baptists, are promoting The Year of Prayer for Pastors.
Dana Olson, denominational prayer leader for the Baptist General Conference, says churches are encouraged to be intentional and strategic about prayer for pastors.
"These are days when it is tough to shepherd a flock, and pastors often find their families under great stress," he says. "But pastors can flourish in their ministries if their people are committed to love them and pray for them continuously."
Loopstra told Ministries Today: "If we're not praying for our pastors, they're not going to have the spiritual covering and the strengthening that they need. Charles Spurgeon said the intercessors praying for him were the engine that ran his ministry. It's critical for us to be praying for our pastors and lifting them up on a regular basis."
Although The Year of Prayer for Pastors is a campaign for 2004, the goal is for believers and churches to continue to pray for pastors in years ahead.
"This is so foundational to the body of Christ, and certainly not just a one-year strategy," Loopstra, a former CMA pastor for 21 years, says. "It's not a program for Christians to follow. It's a way to begin developing a lifestyle of prayer for their pastors that will continue well past 2004."
Loopstra, 54, says one of the scriptural bases for The Year of Prayer for Pastors comes from 2 Thessalonians 3:1-2, which says: "Finally, brothers, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you. And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men, for not everyone has faith" (NIV).
"Imagine a city where all the pastors are covered continuously in prayer, where congregation members find great joy in blessing their pastors, and pastors are strengthened and raised up to lead their churches toward powerful prayer for revival," he says. "This is a city where the presence of God will overflow and bring true transformation."
Small Groups and Bible Studies Surge
People are reading the Bible, praying and participating in small groups more than ever--but it's not necessarily happening in churches. A new study discovered that more adults are reading their Bibles, participating in small religious groups and praying, but church-related involvement has remained virtually unchanged in the last decade.
According to the Barna Research Group (BRG), which has conducted an annual survey of the nation's religious behavior for 20 years, there was significant change related to the three previously mentioned behaviors.
Released in March, the survey of 1,014 adults found that Bible reading (other than while at church) rose from 37 percent in 1994 to 44 percent in 2004. In 1994, just 12 percent of adults engaged in small-group prayer, Bible study or spiritual fellowship, but 20 percent of adults do so in 2004. In 2004, 83 percent of adults prayed to God in any given week, up from 77 percent in 1999.
Despite the growth in Bible reading, small-group participation and prayer, there was no significant change in the last decade in four other religious behaviors measured: church attendance, volunteering to help a church, attending adult Sunday-school classes and sharing Christ with nonbelievers.
"Notice that the growth activities are those that do not take place at a church," BRG president George Barna says. "The church-oriented endeavors showed no movement. This may be an early warning sign that we are entering a new era of spiritual experience--one that is more tribal or individualized than congregational in nature
Cooperation vs. Conflict
53% There are too many differences of opinion among churches in your denomination.
86% There should be more cooperation among different Protestant denominations.
47% There should be more cooperation among individual churches of different Protestant denominations.
Members of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE)--and Pentecostals and charismatics in particular--are most likely to generally agree with their denominations' policies and doctrines.
A new study shows ministers want more cooperation among denominations, but are often frustrated by the lack of agreement within their own church organizations.
Released in January by Ellison Research, the survey asked 567 pastors to agree or disagree with a number of statements about denominations.
Fifty-three percent agreed with the statement "There are too many differences of opinion among churches in your denomination."
This was particularly a problem in mainline Protestant churches with membership in the National Council of Churches USA (Presbyterian Church U.S.A., the Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church, and so on). Among NCC-member churches, 63 percent agreed that their denominations suffer from too many differences of opinion.
Members of the conservative NAE were considerably less likely to complain about internal differences (34 percent).
Regardless of how pastors felt about their own denominations, the vast majority felt there should be more interdenominational cooperation, both at the denominational level and among individual churches.
Eighty-six percent agreed with the statement, "There should be more cooperation among Protestant denominations."
Forty-seven percent agreed strongly with the statement: "There should be more cooperation among individual churches of different Protestant denominations."
Ron Sellers, president of Ellison, a marketing-research company based in Phoenix, noted that it's not surprising that mainline churches were the ones most likely to call for ecumenism and complain that there are too many differences within their own denominations.
"Mainline denominations are being split apart by severe differences between liberal and conservative elements on major issues such as abortion, homosexuality, syncretism and the primacy of Scripture," he says.
"Many pastors in these denominations find they have more in common with like-minded conservatives or liberals from other denominations, rather than with pastors holding opposing viewpoints within their own denominations."
Macedonian President Dies
With the death of Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski, Europe lost a political leader--and an ambassador for Christ.
A devoted Christian who helped unite his ethnically divided country, Trajkovski, 47, was killed Feb. 26 when his plane crashed in bad weather in mountainous southern Bosnia. He was credited for strengthening relations among various religious groups and uniting pastors in the European nation.
A Methodist minister, Trajkovski studied theology in the United States, where he converted from Orthodox Christianity. He was elected in November 1999, the second president in Macedonia's history.
Nine days before he died, the president reportedly met with the pastors of Skopje in his chambers for prayer and fellowship. Trajkovski, who had met with the pastors on at least two other occasions, exhorted the ministers to reach out to Albanian Muslims.
The recipient of the 2002 World Methodist Peace Award, Trajkovski encouraged the Macedonian parliament to approve a new constitution recognizing the Albanian minority and the main non-Orthodox religious groups, including Roman Catholics, Protestants, Jews and Muslims.
"He always tried to bring people together--to talk with each other and not simply to talk about each other," says the Rev. Wilhelm Nausner, district superintendent for the United Methodist Church in Macedonia.
"He [had] been a strong, committed disciple and an ambassador of Christ long before he was an ambassador of any country," says the Rev. H. Eddie Fox, the World Methodist Council's evangelism director and a friend of Trajkovski's for 14 years.
A Blast From the Past
A Pentecostal pastor dramatizes British preaching legend Charles Haddon Spurgeon.
England's best-known 19th century preacher is back--in the form of a Pentecostal pastor from Southern California.
An Assemblies of God (AG) evangelist has brought to life Charles Haddon Spurgeon, an Englishman known as "The Prince of Preachers," in portrayals at churches and outreaches.
For the last five years, Dave Richards has brought Spurgeon and his sermons to many large and small AG congregations, as well as Baptist, Foursquare and Presbyterian churches.
People are responding and accepting Christ nationwide through Richards' portrayal of Spurgeon, who before his death in 1892, spent more than 30 years preaching--frequently speaking to crowds of 10,000.
"I tell pastors, 'I don't do this to entertain your church, this is an outreach of the Great Commission,'" Richards, a deacon and board member of Living Waters Christian Fellowship in Fallbrook, Calif., told Ministries Today.
With his beard, 19th century clothing, slight English accent and powerful presentation, Richards closely resembles Spurgeon and preaches from memory at least five of Spurgeon's sermons.
"I've been studying Spurgeon for 20 years, and I read him at least three times a week," Richards, 66, explains. "I've studied drawings of his mannerisms, read newspaper descriptions and his books--just a lot of information on him and his character. I feel I know his heart's cry. I just know him very well."
Jack McGoldrick, senior pastor of Living Waters, located near San Diego, says: "Some people are called to minister. Others are anointed for evangelism. He has an anointing for people to come to Christ. He doesn't just come to entertain; he comes to see people saved."
For more information about Richards' ministry, visit www.charlesspurgeon.net.
CHURCH & STATE
A Supreme Court ruling threatens state funding for religious education.
In an ever-widening conception of the separation of church and state, the U.S. Supreme Court has voted to let states withhold scholarships from students studying theology. The case involved Josh Davey, a college student who was denied student scholarship funds by the state of Washington because he majored in pastoral ministries.
But, Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which represented Davey, says the Supreme Court's decision in February "clearly sanctions religious discrimination."
"The decision is irreconcilable with more than a half-century of Supreme Court precedent regarding the free exercise of religion," says Sekulow, who argued the case at the Supreme Court.
"Josh Davey simply wanted to be treated equally on the same terms and conditions as other scholarship recipients," he adds. "The decision does not prohibit states from structuring scholarship programs to permit the pursuit of a degree in devotional theology. The Supreme Court, however, missed an important opportunity to protect the constitutional rights of all students."
The court's 7-2 ruling held that Washington state was within its rights to deny a taxpayer-funded scholarship to Davey.
"Training someone to lead a congregation is an essentially religious endeavor," Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote for the court majority. "Indeed, majoring in devotional theology is akin to a religious calling as well as an academic pursuit."
Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented. "Let there be no doubt: This case is about discrimination against a religious minority," Scalia wrote for himself and Thomas.
The case is a follow-up to the court's major ruling two years ago that allowed parents to use public tax money to send their children to religious schools. A ruling in Davey's favor would have made it easier to use vouchers in many states.
The court's ruling has possible implications for President Bush's plan to allow more church-based organizations to compete for government money. The Bush administration argued that the state had been wrong to yank Davey's scholarship.
Although he continued his education without the subsidy, Davey did not choose to enter the ministry after graduation.
For more information on the ruling and its implications and for resources relating to issues of church and state, visit the American Center for Law and Justice (www.aclj.org).
Big Giver Backpedals on Donation
The results of an obscure lawsuit may have ominous implications for churches receiving large financial gifts.
A Minnesota man has filed a lawsuit against a church to get the congregation to return his $126,000 gift.
But the founder of a financial counseling ministry believes he will have a difficult time getting his money back in court.
Marcel Mager gave $126,000 to his Cloquet church in January 1998 to help ease the pain of his failing marriage. But five months later, he asked the church to return what amounted to his life's savings.
Mager tried unsuccessfully to get Cloquet Gospel Tabernacle leaders to return the money. He filed a lawsuit in 2002 in an effort to prove he was not mentally sound when he made the anonymous donation, two weeks after his wife moved out of the home they shared.
But the church used the money for new family-ministry space and has told Mager he could not have his donation back.
Mager said he quietly lobbied senior pastor Richard Doebler and then the church board, while keeping his story from the congregation where he was an usher for 20 years because he didn't want to start a fuss. He made his plight public recently when he could get no resolution from church leaders.
Ken Smith, president of Virginia-based Christian Stewardship Ministries, told Ministries Today that Mager will have difficulty winning the case.
"I cannot think of a theory under which he would prevail," Smith, 63, says. "The church apparently had no reasonable grounds to question the donor's intent at the time of the gift. The outcome might be different if he had tried to cancel the donation prior to the money being spent."
Richard Hammar, an expert in church law and tax code in Springfield, Mo., says Mager's only chance is to prove he was unsound when he made the donation.
"He really has an uphill battle," says Hammar, noting that families of people with more permanent mental ailments, such as Alzheimer's disease, have failed to get large donations overturned.
Pastor Confronts Porn Patrons
A Texas pastor has come up with an unorthodox way to help people with sex addictions--and drive sexually oriented businesses out of town.
Since December, Jim Norwood, pastor of Oakcrest Baptist Church in Kennedale, Texas, has been photographing vehicle license plates of adult-video customers. He then mails the color photo of their vehicle in the video-store parking lot to their homes with an "invitation to church" postcard.
The note says: "Observed you in the neighborhood. Didn't know if you were aware there is a church in the area ... please stop by next time. We'd love to have you visit." His postcards list a schedule of church services and the 400-member congregation's "counseling and classes on sexual addictions."
Norwood, 56, a reformed drug abuser on a mission to rid the town of sexually oriented businesses, has been a chaplain in a Fort Worth jail for 14 years.
"I've talked to youth ministers, pastors, school teachers and doctors who have been charged with a sex crime and they've told me that they wish there would have been some kind of intervention even if it was unkind," Norwood told Ministries Today. "Our intent with this is to help stop people from destroying their lives with pornography.
"If these places close up because of lack of business, so be it," adds Norwood, noting that his Southern Baptist church is located within a block of six sexually oriented businesses. "That's one less problem we have in our neighborhood."
A lawyer for an adult business in the area has called Norwood's campaign intimidation and some churches in the area have criticized his effort.
At least once a week, a church volunteer traces the license-plate numbers to the owners of the cars using an online service that searches an automotive database for a fee. In Texas, license information is a matter of public record. Norwood says so far, 300 postcards have been mailed.
The cost of the program, which could reach $15,000 a year, is covered by donations from local businesses and private individuals.
"I have soul-searched this," Norwood told Ministries Today. "If my intent was to antagonize people, that would be wrong. My ministry is to people who are bound up and locked up. I do everything I can to help them get free through the power of Jesus."
A Stamp for Seymour?
He was the father of the modern Pentecostal movement--and some call him the most influential black religious leader of the 20th century.
A Florida evangelist has launched a grass-roots effort to have the U.S. Postal Service recognize William J. Seymour, the black pastor who led the Azusa Street revival in Los Angeles in 1906--considered the birthplace of the Pentecostal movement.
Larry Martin, academic dean at the Brownsville Revival School of Ministry in Pensacola, Fla., wants to honor Seymour with a postage stamp. Seymour was the pastor of the Azusa Street Apostolic Faith Mission.
On Aug. 1, Martin plans to submit a formal petition asking the Postal Service to issue a stamp in April 2006 to honor the 100th anniversary of the Azusa revival.
"In a year when more African Americans were lynched than in any other year, the races mixed freely at the Azusa Street Mission," a letter Martin will send to the U.S. postmaster general says. "Under Seymour's leadership, blacks, whites, Hispanics and Asians all worshiped together. ... Few men have overcome greater odds to accomplish so much."
"By honoring Bishop Seymour, we will also glorify God and direct the world's attention to the unparalleled success of the modern Pentecostal-charismatic movement he worked to establish," Martin, 51, says of Seymour, who died in 1922.
"I believe he is perhaps the most remarkable of all Christian leaders," he adds. "He displayed grace under pressure and humility in the midst of prejudice. Seymour walked in holiness and his reputation is without tarnish."
"Everyone who has contacted me has been excited, and they feel honoring Seymour is a long time coming," he says. "My gut feeling is it's going to happen. I'm just believing God that the Postal Service will honor the request and honor Seymour."
For more information on the stamp campaign, visit www.azusastreet.org.