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Ministry by Default

QUOTE: "If you see yourself as being in ministry by default, you will spend the rest of your life feeling like a misfit. I promise you that. We're shooting ourselves in the foot when we get it in our head that ‘I wasn't the one called to this ministry.' You were." -author and Bible study teacher Beth Moore, speaking to a group of pastors' wives about their vital role in ministry [Baptist Press, 3/19/09] read more

Debating the Demise of Evangelicalism

QUOTE: "[Michael Spencer] lumps all megachurches together and describes them as being more interested in relevance than doctrine. He says of megachurches that they are ‘compromised and weakened in their ability to pass on the faith.' The author concludes that he expects the ‘landscape of megachurch vacuity to be around for a very long time.' How awful. What could be worse than a bunch of churches across America that are so effective at lifting up the name of Jesus that huge crowds gather? What could be worse than having so many people meeting Jesus and having their lives transformed by Jesus, that they just can't stop telling their friends? I'm determined to celebrate what God is doing wherever it is happening. Whether it is in a gathering of three people or 3,000 or 3 million. I don't have enough brains or time to figure out the motives of the hearts of the leaders in another church. I'll just celebrate what they are doing and let God sort it out later." -Tim Stevens, executive pastor of Granger Community Church (a megachurch) in Granger, Ind., taking issue with blogger Michael Spencer's widely circulated predictions of "The Coming Evangelical Collapse"-which included an unflattering take on "pragmatic, therapeutic, church-growth oriented megachurches" as part of a movement that made "buildings, numbers, and paid staff its drugs for half a century." [, 3/16/09] read more

In Rural Alabama, Not Everyone Thinks Sex Is Great

Sex sells ... and in recent years, more churches have used it as a marketing tool to impact their communities. From nationally known megachurches such as Dallas' Fellowship Church to smaller congregations such as Relevant Church in Ybor City, Fla., an increasing number of pastors are issuing sex challenges from the pulpits to churchgoers. Now a rural Alabama church is spicing up things and, not surprisingly, sparking community interest-both good and bad.

Three few weeks ago, Daystar Church in Good Hope, Ala., launched a monthlong series called "Great Sex: God's Way" that, given the church's small-town locale, figured to get townsfolk talking. But it's Daystar's decision to rent out billboard advertisements promoting the series that has ruffled more than a few feathers.

"I understand what they're trying to do. I get it," said the small town's 22-year-old mayor, Corey Harbison. "[But] some people just aren't ready for that. Good Hope is just a good old, country town."

One local minister added: "Paul said preach the gospel. Talking about sex ain't gonna get nobody to heaven."

Even outsiders questioned not the content of the series but its setting. "It sounds like an example of one of those church-growth, market-savvy campaigns going out to an area where you wouldn't normally see it," said Larry Eskridge, associate director of the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals at Wheaton College in Illionis. "I could see where in that particular setting, that could raise some eyebrows."

For Daystar, however, it's par for the course of venturing into new territory. When lead pastor Jerry Lawson arrived nine years ago, Daystar was called Glory Hill Church of God and averaged fewer than 100 in attendance. Since its "relaunch" in 2002, the church has grown to more than 2,000-more than Good Hope's total population-but along the way, according to Harbison, has caused many longtime residents to grow leery of its sudden mega-success.

As far as the "Great Sex" series, Lawson chalks up any local controversy to a natural conflict whenever the three-letter word is mentioned. Rather than have kids learn about sex from the often-immoral portrayals found in media, Daystar wanted to create an opportunity for parents to address the issue. "I think some people are kind of missing the point," said Lawson, adding that the church needs to be leading the way on creating an understanding of sex rather than allowing the world's depiction to rule. [AP, 3/11/09;, 3/16/09] read more

Minister Threatened, Attacked for On-Air Faith

A Christian minister who recently engaged in heated on-air arguments with Muslims says he was attacked en route to the studio where he records his television show. After being cut off while driving, Noble Samuel, a pastor at Heston United Reformed Church in West London, was beaten by three men who ripped off his cross necklace and threatened: "If you go back to the studio, we'll break your legs."

According to Samuel, one of the assailants originally pretended to ask for directions but eventually forced his way into Samuel's car. He was quickly joined by two other men, who then punched, slapped and swore at the minister, in addition to stealing his laptop and Bible. Police have classified the incident as a "faith hate" assault.

Born in Pakistan, the 48-year-old Samuel moved to the United Kingdom 15 years ago to serve as a pastor in England. During the last few weeks of his Asian Gospel Show, which airs on the Venus satellite channel, he received several calls on air from Muslims who challenged his views. "They were having an argument with me," he said. "They were very aggressive in saying they did not agree with me. I said those are your views and these are my views."

After the attack, Samuel continued on with his hourlong show and was later joined by Tahir Al, the station's Muslim owner, who condemned the attacks on-air. Despite his resilience, Samuel says he and his family now fear for their safety. "I am frightened and depressed," he said. "My show is not confrontational." [, 3/15/09] read more

‘New Normal' for Pastor-less Church

QUOTE: "I applaud you for your grace and courage in coming today. I have come here to be with you to let you know there is hope. There is hope. ... If you think you're going to go back to whatever normal was, that's not going to happen. There is going to be a new normal." -Al Meredith, senior pastor of Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, speaking to the congregation of First Baptist Church in Maryville, Ill., only one week after its pastor, Fred Winters, was gunned down during a Sunday morning worship service. In 1999, Meredith and the members of Wedgwood experienced a similar tragedy when a gunman opened fire on hundreds attending a youth service, killing seven and wounding seven more. [, 3/16/09] read more

From Kennedy to Tchividjian

In an overwhelming vote Sunday, the members of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church elected Tullian Tchividjian, grandson of famed evangelist Billy Graham, to be their new pastor. As part of Tchividjian's election, the 2,200-member congregation in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., agreed to merge with Tchividjian's 650-member New City Church, also located in the Fort Lauderdale area. Tchividjian will be only the second pastor to lead Coral Ridge, which was founded by the late D. James Kennedy.

In a posting on his blog Sunday, Tchividjian said 91 percent of the congregation voted to support his appointment. "That is a much higher percentage than I anticipated given the fact that this call involved a merger of two congregations," said Tchividjian, who preached at Coral Ridge for the first time Sunday morning. "God made His will known with an exclamation point this morning."

Kennedy, who died in 2007 at age 76, was well-known for his political engagement as founder of Coral Ridge Ministries, which mobilized Christians to address social issues such as abortion and homosexuality. On his blog, Tchividjian said he and Kennedy don't have radically different convictions. But on Sunday he told Coral Ridge members that politics is just one strategy to engage the culture. "I also think that the sphere of art and the sphere of education and the sphere of media and technology are also strategic," he said.

Tchividjian, 36, is the son of Graham's oldest daughter, Gigi Tchividjian. The middle of seven children, Tchividjian went through a season of rebellion during his teen years, dropping out of high school at 16, using drugs and partying in South Florida. He said he recommitted his life to Christ at age 21, went to college and later to Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Fla. After graduating from seminary, he served as a young adult pastor at Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tenn., before returning to South Florida to plant New City Church in August 2003.

Coral Ridge and New City are expected to formally merge on Easter Sunday. The congregations will take Coral Ridge's name and use its facility.

With his spiky hair and sometimes-scruffy beard, Tchividjian admitted that he and Kennedy may seem very different. But "our theological commitments are the same and our hearts beat with the same driving passion," he said in a statement Monday. "Indeed, what he came to do in the 1950s-reach the people of South Florida with the gospel and transform the world-is exactly what I have been seeking to do ever since I moved back home to start New City in 2003." [, 3/16/09] read more

God as a ‘Fashion Statement'

In a single generation, the number of people in the United States who label themselves-even loosely-as Christian has gone down 11 percent. According to the latest American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS), almost all church denominations have declined since the original study was conducted in 1990.

Although that may not seem like new news to many pastors, this likely will: Americans who claim no religion at all now outrank every major religious group except Catholics and Baptists. These "Nones"-a term coined by the researchers for those who answered "None" when asked about their religious affiliation-currently represent 15 percent of the population, which is almost twice as many as in 1990.

"These people aren't secularized," said Barry Kosmin, co-author of the massive study that polls more than 54,000 people across the United States. "They're not thinking about religion and rejecting it; they're not thinking about it at all."

Indeed, the survey found that 40 percent have never experienced any kind of religious initiation ceremony (e.g., baptism, christening, bar mitzvah), while 55 percent who are married had a ceremony devoid of any kind of religious overtones.

"More than ever before, people are just making up their own stories of who they are. They say, ‘I'm everything. I'm nothing. I believe in myself,'" said Kosmin. In 1990, he concluded that many Americans saw God as a "personal hobby," and characterized the country as "a greenhouse for spiritual sprouts." Today, however, "religion has become more like a fashion statement, not a deep personal commitment for many."

So where is God the least fashionable? According to the 2009 ARIS, Vermont is now the least religious state with 34 percent of "Nones," leading all other states by 9 percentage points. Overall, the percentage of Christians in America now stands at 76 percent-down from 76.7 percent in 2001 and 86.2 percent in 1990.

"The challenge to Christianity," concluded the report, "does not come from other religions but from a rejection of all forms of organized religion." [AP, 3/9/09;, 3/9/09] read more

Generic Beyond Recognition

QUOTE: "There is now this shift in the non-Catholic population-and maybe among American Christians in general-into a sort of generic, soft evangelicalism. ... It looks like the two-party system of American Protestantism-mainline versus evangelical-is collapsing. A generic form of evangelicalism is emerging as the normative form of non-Catholic Christianity in the United States. ... If people call themselves ‘evangelical,' it doesn't tell you as much as you think it tells you about what kind of church they go to. It deepens the conundrum about who evangelicals are." -Mark Silk, director of the Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn. Silk oversaw Trinity's latest American Religious Identification Survey, which found a distinct movement among Christians in the last 19 years: As the number of people describing themselves as "Protestant" plummeted (approximately 17 million in 1990 compared to the current 5 million), those who preferred the "nondenominational" term dramatically increased from 194,000 in 1990 to more than 8 million today. [, 3/9/09;, 3/9/09] read more

As Pastors Lean Liberal, So Goes ...

Among the driving forces behind our nation's cultural and moral shift, here's one that can't be overlooked: According to one of the most far-reaching surveys recently conducted among mainline Protestant clergy, almost half (48 percent) of all ministers consider themselves liberals, compared to about one-third (34 percent) who say they are conservative.

In a recent study, the Public Religion Research polled a random sampling of 1,000 senior clergy from seven mainline denominations and found that, with the exception of United Methodist and American Baptist ministers, a majority of clergy in every denomination identify as liberal. Though the study also honed in on political affiliations (56 percent of mainline Protestant clergy consider themselves Democratic, compared to only 34 percent Republican), it also revealed several telling statistics among mainline clergy:

  • Two-thirds disagree that "the Bible is the inerrant word of God, both in matters of faith and in historic, geographical, and other secular matters." (Only 29 percent agree with this statement.)
  • 46 percent disagree that mainline churches are declining because they are becoming theologically liberal
  • 65 percent support some legal recognition for same-sex couples
  • 51 percent of all mainline clergy support the legality of abortion in all or most cases
  • 54 percent don't believe creationism should be taught alongside evolution in public school biology classes
  • 10 percent say cultural issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage are the most important national issues [, 3/6/09;, 3/9/09] read more

Church Gunman Kills Pastor

An Illinois pastor was killed Sunday morning when a gunman entered the church and opened fire during the first of three morning worship services. Fred Winters, pastor of First Baptist Church of Maryville, deflected the first of four bullets with his Bible, causing pages to fly "like confetti," witnesses said. After four shots, the attacker's .45-caliber handgun jammed, and he stabbed himself with a knife and injured two other church members when they tackled the man. One remains hospitalized, while the other has been treated and released.

None of the approximately 150 worshipers attending the 8 a.m. church service recognized the gunman, who police identified as 27-year-old Terry Joe Sedlacek from Troy, Ill. Currently hospitalized and in police custody, Sedlacek suffered from Lyme disease, which family members said had led to him developing mental illness. On Monday, police discovered Sedlacek's day planner, in which Sunday was listed as "death day."

Winters, 45, became senior pastor of First Baptist Church in 1987. Since then the suburban St. Louis church has grown from 32 members to more than 1,200. Winters was also an adjunct professor at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a past president of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Winters is survived by his wife, Cindy, and their two daughters.

The Baptist association's current executive director, Nate Adams, said Winters was "a wonderful, gifted, leading pastor in Illinois, and a dear friend.

"Our great God is not surprised by this, or anything. That He allows evil and free will to have their way in tragedies like this is a mystery in many ways," Adams said in a statement Sunday. "But we know we can trust Him no matter what, and draw close to Him in any circumstances. Let's draw closer to Him and to one another during this terrible tragedy, and renew our faith and obedience to His purposes for however many days we have remaining to serve Him." [AP, 3/8/09;, 3/8/09;, 3/9/09]

For tips on how to better protect your church from a surprise attack, click here. read more


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