If your church were stripped down to its core, what would be left? read more
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In a skeptical world, authentic worship matters more than you may think
As a young pastor in training, I heard my father-in-law, the late John Osteen, tell an interesting story about a businessman who brought one of his attorney friends to church. The businessman was concerned the worship might be too exuberant for this dignified attorney. Sure enough, the person who worshiped beside them was very expressive. The businessman was certain his friend would be turned off by this.
Yet his friend’s comment after the service took him by surprise: “Please tell me what motivated that man to offer God such passionate praise. If I thought a relationship with God would bring me a reason to praise God like that, then I’d be interested in becoming a Christian.”
My father-in-law’s story both intrigued and inspired me. I knew I wanted to build an authentic church someday that could effectively reach mainstream America. I wanted the church I led to convince everyday people to open their hearts to God’s presence and power.
Yet I knew how skeptical they were. I also knew the answer to their skepticism needed to be more than theological; it had to be experiential too. And I knew that God wanted to do immeasurably more than all I asked or imagined according to His power that was at work in me (see Eph. 3:20).
Even today, I have not lost sight of this two-sided coin. How do we bring everyday people into an authentic relationship with God that inspires passionate praise? In our smaller city, we have found success with two simple concepts: relationship and relevance.
We like to say at Faith Family that “we hope to be the perfect church for people who aren’t.” We want to make it clear to people that God really doesn’t demand righteousness of us; rather, He develops it within us for our own good.
Jesus described God as a wise and merciful Father with arms open wide. But so many in our society don’t see Him that way. Instead, they see Him as the God who points an accusing finger at their weakness.
Fifteen years ago Sylvia came to our church. All we could tell about her initially was she was an attractive, single woman in her late 20s. But behind closed doors, she lived with a broken heart. Later she told me the only reason she stayed in our church the first year was because she loved learning the life-enhancing truths. She never planned on living fully devoted to God as those she saw around her were. After all, she was a lesbian and figured God was upset with her, not in love with her.
As she sat in church that year, something changed in her heart. She began to understand that God is a loving Father. I wept as she explained to me how in her prayer closet one day, she asked God to help her come out of the closet and into His arms. She asked Him to help her become a happy wife and mother. And that’s exactly what she is today: a happy wife and mother of three passionately praising God among us.
She’s also a leader in our church who has helped many people receive healing from a troubled past. She is known for her ability to repair and rebuild people who are seeking God.As I watch her worshiping in our congregation, I rejoice in the heart of Father God who didn’t say to Adam after his sin, “What have you done?” but rather, “Where are you?” God knew glorious, redemptive blessings follow the understanding that He wants to construct people, not condemn them. Let’s help our world know it!
Jim Graff is the senior pastor of Faith Family Church in Victoria, Texas, and founder of Significant Church Network (significantchurch.com). read more
Ted Haggard used the mainstream media (and an HBO documentary) to chastise the church for how it handled his sex-and-drugs scandal in 2006. Read one pastor's take on why he may have a point.
Ted Haggard is at it again. The former pastor of a Colorado mega church who admitted to a sexual relationship with a male escort in 2006, is now sharing his story in a documentary called The Trials of Ted Haggard. On January 29, the film premieres on HBO and will re-examine the scandal that rocked the evangelical world. For many, this film will reopen old wounds and stir up feelings thought to be dead and buried.
I question why Haggard chose this particular outlet to voice the pain and frustration of his private journey. While I can only imagine the suffering Haggard has endured over the past two years, I cannot excuse some of his choices. And now, once again, it seems the church will have to deal with another reminder of those choices. But maybe there are some things worth being reminded of.
In recent news reports, Ted Haggard chastised church leaders for missing an opportunity to use his scandal to "communicate the gospel worldwide." Despite how we may feel about the circumstances surrounding Haggard, I believe we have the responsibility to ask: Is he right? Did we, the global Christian church, somehow miss an opportunity to respond to those who struggle with unwanted same-sex attraction with the gospel of truth? While these are valid questions that demand our attention, I believe there is another question that addresses an issue just as important, if not far greater:
What if Ted had told the truth?
What if he had been honest from the very beginning? I'm not talking about the beginning of the scandal, I mean from the very beginning of his ministry. What if he had disclosed his struggle with same-sex attractions to his church and to the National Association of Evangelicals at the very start? Would he still have become president of one of the world's largest evangelical organizations? Would he still have become one of America's most respected spiritual leaders? I would like to believe so. However, I am not naïve to the fact that there are, unfortunately, many other organizations that desire leaders who are "spiritual lions" but upon the admission of any significant weakness, they are sacrificed liked lambs. Was this what Ted was afraid of and if so, was it justified? Do we have a culture in the church today where vulnerability in leadership is considered a disqualifying weakness? If so, what are we going to do about it?
Like Ted Haggard, I have also been involved in the church, to various degrees, most of my life. And like Ted Haggard, I have dealt with same-sex attractions for most of my life as well. I did experience a church culture where it was unsafe to tell anyone about such struggles, and I know the pain and loneliness that comes with it. But I also know what it is like to be in a church where I can talk about my struggle with no fear of rejection or oppression. At one time, I never thought it would be possible for me to be a pastor and a leader because of my struggle. To discover people that believe in who I am and are committed to see me reach my full potential in Christ is an answer to a lifelong question: Where do I belong?
I see young men and women every day who are full of promise and potential and yet also struggle with homosexuality. Could we possibly believe that one of these men or women could rise up to be the next J.I. Packer, R.C. Sproul or Billy Graham? If some of you doubt this possibility, consider Henri Nouwen. Nouwen authored 40 books on the spiritual life, was a renowned teacher for over 20 years, selflessly served the mentally handicapped and struggled with homosexuality. I ask you, does this disqualify his contributions to the faith and the church? My only wish is that Nouwen could have felt the freedom to disclose his struggle and use his gifts to bring hope to others who were hopeless.
We, the church, must contend for congregations and organizations that are safe places for vulnerability, transparency and accountability. We must never sacrifice biblical truth, but we must be committed to ministering the truth of the gospel to those who are in our midst struggling with unwanted same-sex attractions. No man or woman should be made to suffer in silence within the Body of Christ, and every man and woman should be able to discover their full potential in Christ. Let's seize this opportunity and commit to becoming a church where people can be vulnerable without fear. We must repent for times where we have intentionally or unintentionally demonstrated anything other than the loving grace of Jesus Christ. There is a world that is desperate to hear the truth that there is another way other than homosexuality. If Ted is right, and we missed an opportunity, let's make sure we don't miss it the second time around.
Jeff Buchanan is the director of the Exodus Church Network, an interdenominational network of churches assisting those who struggle with same-sex attraction to live a life congruent with the Christian faith. For more information, visit www.exodus.to. read more
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