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Al Mohler: The Humiliation of the Southern Baptist Convention

Thu, 24/05/2018 - 2:28am

Evangelicals, we can no longer say sexual misconduct is just a Roman Catholic problem.

The last few weeks have been excruciating for the Southern Baptist Convention and for the larger evangelical movement. It is as if bombs are dropping and God alone knows how many will fall and where they will land.

America’s largest evangelical denomination has been in the headlines day after day. The SBC is in the midst of its own horrifying #MeToo moment.

At one of our seminaries, controversy has centered on a president (now former president) whose sermon illustration from years ago included advice that a battered wife remain in the home and the marriage in hope of the conversion of her abusive husband. Other comments represented the objectification of a teenage girl. The issues only grew more urgent with the sense that the dated statements represented ongoing advice and counsel.

But the issues are far deeper and wider.

Sexual misconduct is as old as sin, but the avalanche of sexual misconduct that has come to light in recent weeks is almost too much to bear. These grievous revelations of sin have occurred in churches, in denominational ministries, and even in our seminaries.

We thought this was a Roman Catholic problem. The unbiblical requirement of priestly celibacy and the organized conspiracy of silence within the hierarchy helped to explain the cesspool of child sex abuse that has robbed the Roman Catholic Church of so much of its moral authority.

When people said that evangelicals had a similar crisis coming, it didn’t seem plausible—even to me. I have been president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for 25 years. I did not see this coming.

I was wrong. The judgment of God has come.

Judgment has now come to the house of the Southern Baptist Convention. The terrible swift sword of public humiliation ...

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On the Removal of Paige Patterson and Next Steps for the SBC

Wed, 23/05/2018 - 5:00pm

Hard times require honest conversations.

Three weeks ago, I published an article that called on Paige Patterson to do the right thing for the Southern Baptist Convention and retire.

Between that article, and last night’s events, much has happened.

Beth Moore wrote in response about how she has been treated. Then, a group of SBC women spoke up. A group of men followed. And, yesterday, another woman spoke up with more disturbing allegations.

My Agenda

I’ve not written much more on this, because my focus is not on Paige Patterson; my focus was on the message that was being sent to (and about) women, and what was best for the SBC.

In my article, I wrote, “If Patterson preaches at the SBC, he will, because of his past work, get a standing ovation. Every news story will point to that moment, tie it together with the accusations against Paul Pressler, and say that Southern Baptists don’t take abuse seriously. And it’s not just a public relations crisis. It’s a message to women that we must not send.”

We have not even reached the SBC annual meeting, but since I wrote that article, Paige Patterson’s response has already created the incalculable damage about which I wrote. When he stated that he “[had] nothing to apologize for,” the future I feared became the present we watched unfold.

The SBC sent a message to women we did not want to send, about their value and our view of our friends and coworkers who are women, showing that, for many, it was not just a message, but it was reality.

The damage has been stunning.

But, thankfully, SBC women spoke up. They said, “Enough.” They led.


SBC entities (like Southwestern) are governed by trustees, who volunteer their time for an often thankless job. When people ...

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Paige Patterson Out After Southwestern Trustees Vote

Wed, 23/05/2018 - 1:00pm

Decision follows Southern Baptist leader’s apology to women for past comments.

He clarified. He defended. He apologized. And now, after weeks of controversy, Southern Baptist icon Paige Patterson is no longer president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS).

School trustees announced early Wednesday morning that Patterson, one of the most powerful and influential figures in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), had become the seminary’s president emeritus overnight, appointing theology dean Jeffrey Bingham as interim president.

After deliberation that went on past 3 a.m., the board voted him into paid retirement, complete with an on-campus home where he and his wife can live as theologians-in-residence.

“After much prayer and a more than 13-hour discussion regarding challenges facing the Institution, including those of enrollment, financial, leadership and institutional identity, the Board determined to move in the direction of new leadership for the benefit of the future mission of the seminary,” they said in a statement.

Patterson becomes the second president in SWBTS history to be forced out of the role. The only other was Russell H. Dilday, who was dismissed in 1994 as part of the Conservative Resurgence, the wave of denominational leadership changes orchestrated by Patterson himself.

Decades after his rise within the SBC, the 75-year-old recently ended up in the center of #MeToo-era criticism targeting his approach to abuse, divorce, and women, which led to bigger questions over his efficacy at the helm of its second-largest seminary.

The board affirmed that Patterson had ultimately complied with reporting laws on assault and abuse. The outgoing president spent a few hours meeting with the trustees and with his own leadership cabinet during the long, contentious session ...

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Bigger? Or Better? Yes, Your Church Has A Choice

Mon, 21/05/2018 - 1:24am

“It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that if you’re maximizing growth, you’re also maximizing success.” (Bo Burlingham, in Small Giants)

Better churches become bigger churches. Right?

Maybe not.

That’s been the rule of thumb for businesses, too. And it’s no more true there than it is for us.

As it turns out, constant growth doesn’t work for the majority of churches or businesses. Yet they can still be successful at what they do.

Small Giants

This week, I finally got around to reading Bo Burlingham’s Small Giants: Companies That Choose To Be Great Instead Of Big (how could I resist, right?). Written more than ten years ago, it followed 14 companies that chose to limit their growth for a variety of reasons.

Some limited their growth to keep it more personal and intimate, some because a smaller size fit the skills and goals of the leadership, some because they felt it was the best way to maintain quality control, and so on.

But they all had one thing in common — an obsession with making their business better, combined with the belief that staying small was the best way for them to do that.

But how do we keep getting better if we’re not getting bigger? And what does this have to do with church and ministry?

Even if you want your church to grow but it isn’t, you still have a choice about helping the small church you lead become better.

Your Church Has A Choice

Not everything (or even most things) in Small Giants applies to the church world, but what does is quite striking. Let’s take a look at a few of the takeaways from Burlingham’s work that can readily be adapted to what we see in church leadership. (Note: all parentheses are mine.)

“Virtually every mass-market business (church leadership) bestseller … has concentrated on the people in and the practices of large public companies (big churches). … ...

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How Southern Baptist Leaders Aided My Escape from Abuse

Fri, 18/05/2018 - 2:18pm

Christian men helped me end a violent marriage. Their voices matter now more than ever.

A few weeks ago, Paige Patterson’s comments on domestic violence went public, setting off a Twitterstorm of condemnation and support. Thousands of Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) women have since called for his resignation. For the many women who were willing to sign their names to the statement, there are dozens of others suffering in silence who will never come forward.

I know, because I was one of them.

I was raised as a Baptist pastor’s daughter in a small town in Indiana. I spent most of my youth sitting in the front pew, listening to my dad’s sermons. After graduating high school, I married my high school sweetheart, and together my husband and I continued to be active in my dad’s congregation. From the outside, we were part of a perfect, multi-generational Baptist family. Behind closed doors, however, I suffered physical, emotional and spiritual abuse at the hands of my husband.

After years of soul-crushing torture, I gained the courage to walk away from my marriage. We had tried multiple rounds of counseling, but the abuse was relentless. After crying out to God for help, I clearly felt him release me from my marriage, so with the loving support of my parents, I filed for divorce.

Soon after, I was called to a meeting with our church’s deacons, who informed me that I would undergo church discipline for my decision to divorce. One even said, “If you do this, God will never use you.” My ex-husband received no reprimand for the abuse, though he didn’t deny it. By contrast, I eventually had to withdraw my membership and move away, and my father was fired as the church’s pastor for his role in supporting me.

I would like to believe that my story is an anomaly. But these ...

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The Family Feud that Changed the Shape of Christian Higher Education

Thu, 17/05/2018 - 1:00pm

What makes a college “evangelical” or “fundamentalist?” The dividing lines weren’t always so clear.

Let’s say you attended Wheaton College, Gordon College, or Biola University. Or perhaps you’re an outsider who just thinks highly of those schools. If so, you might be turned off by a book that groups them together under the label “Fundamentalist U.” Don’t be.

Adam Laats, professor of education and history at Binghamton University and author of Fundamentalist U: Keeping the Faith in American Higher Education, knows the difference between an evangelical and a fundamentalist. He knows, too, that it can be very hard to tell that difference, especially before the 1970s. Using the example of Wheaton, Gordon, and Biola (along with Moody Bible Institute, Bob Jones University, and Liberty University), Laats attempts to identify the distinct nature of non-denominational, fundamentalist-evangelical higher education in the 20th century. And he succeeds admirably.

Peculiarities of Definition

Fundamentalist and evangelical colleges have long grappled with many of the same issues faced by other institutions of higher education: the early 20th-century academic revolution, changing standards of accreditation, a post–World War II boom in enrollment fueled by the GI Bill, the moral upheaval of the turbulent 1960s, and the rise of campus protests.

But fundamentalist-evangelical higher education has also dealt with a distinct set of challenges: how to train missionaries, how to maintain codes of student conduct in keeping with fundamentalist mores, whether (or how) to remain true to dispensational premillennialism, how to maintain doctrinal purity, and how to quash leftist radicalism in favor of traditional and conservative Americanism. As Laats observes, “[Fundamentalist colleges] expected to do all the ...

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How To Give Money Less Power Over Your Church

Mon, 14/05/2018 - 5:24pm

A congregation's financial reality should never be ignored, but it should never be in charge.

Money is in charge of too many of our churches.

So many good congregations want to do great ministry, but their limited finances cause them to make too many decisions based on what they can or can’t afford, instead of what God is calling them to do.

It’s a trap that may seem impossible to get out of. But there is hope.

In today’s post I want to tell you about a decision our church made over two decades ago that has been a great starting point in allowing us to follow God more and money less.

Here it is.

Our church will never make a decision about doing a ministry based on what we can or can’t afford. Because if we pencil it out, we’ll never be able to afford it.

(This is part of an ongoing series, Money and the Small Church.)

Put God In Charge of Ministry Decisions

Don’t let money make decisions for your church. Let the mission lead.

Ask yourself this question: What is God calling our church to do?

Open a food bank? Be an evangelistic center? Support missions? Plant other churches?

Then do it!

You don’t have enough money to do it? Do it anyway, by starting with the parts that don’t require finances.

  • Pray
  • Assemble a team
  • Do research
  • Look for strategic partners
  • Use the currency of time
  • Put a work day on the calendar

Start small, if you must. But, by all means, start!

Never give money the power over whether-or-not to do any ministry. Just figure out how to do it in a way that is financially responsible and feasible – what the Bible calls good stewardship.

Money Should Be One Of Many “How To” Factors

When our church decided we would never let money be the deciding factor of whether-or-not to do a ministry, that didn’t mean it would be ignored, either.

Instead, we use it as one ...

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Church Succession: How to Lead Our Churches into a Healthy Future

Mon, 14/05/2018 - 3:00pm

As pastors age, they can prepare so that the transition of leadership in their churches passes smoothly and their churches are set to stay on a healthy trajectory.

Church succession can be a sticky subject and sometimes involves a lot of awkward conversations. But it doesn’t have to. As pastors age, they can prepare so that the transition of leadership in their churches passes smoothly and their churches are set to stay on a healthy trajectory.

A variety of reasons for change

A number of things can make it difficult for pastors to step down or retire as they grow near retirement age. These can range from a deep attachment to the church and a reluctance to relinquish their leadership of it, to fear of change and a resistance to enter into a season of retirement, to the need for financial security.

This last reason can come from a very legitimate need. If they have been serving at a small church, they may have no means of retirement and only making ends meet. We need to find a way to ensure these pastors are cared for while the church is allowed to continue to grow into the next season of ministry and mission.

Too often, many churches reach a point where people say, “I wish that pastor would retire.” We never want to overstay our welcome. For example, we’ve all been in situations where we invited people over and have had a great time, but then they stay a bit too long and we yearn for them to go home.

Wishing a pastor would retire is not a great start for a smooth transition of launching the church into a healthy future. When the congregation starts to long for a pastor to retire, but the pastor refuses to recognize it, it creates an uncomfortable situation. Someone trusted must go to the pastor and lovingly speak into their life, encouraging the pastor to step down.

Note that this does not mean when pastors enter their 60s we simply ship them out. It is not uncommon, ...

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One-on-One with Lon Allison on Billy Graham and Cancer

Fri, 11/05/2018 - 3:00pm

Together we can reach the world.

One-on-One with Lon Allison on Billy Graham and Cancer

Ed: Not too long ago you were diagnosed with an aggressive liver cancer and have been receiving treatment. How has this impacted your faith and the way you view God?

Lon: I really didn’t know how my faith would be impacted by the news of a terminal cancer. My wife Marie, our children, and I had never faced something like this. I can now say five months into the journey that my faith is stronger than before my diagnosis about 90% of the time.

I have clung to two truths to sustain me. First is the sovereignty of God: “The Lord has established his throne in heaven. His Kingdom rules over all” (Ps. 103:19). The second great truth is his love for me and my family: “And I pray that you being rooted and established in love, may have power…to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge” (Eph. 3:17-19).

The sovereignty of God means he has authority over this situation. He has allowed this cancer to strike me. He can cure it in a nanosecond, or allow it to grow within me. He is in charge, and I deeply desire he be glorified through it.

The love of God reminds me of his goodness lavished upon me and mine with his love. He is not a tyrant God, nor an absent God. His love is always present and extravagant. Those twin doctrines sustain me. Marie and I feel we are in a bubble of grace. The news about my body is not good, but our hearts and spirits are for the most part buoyant.

The prayers of God’s people are a rich faith building support. I don’t always pray well about it, but they do. I also want to add that the promises of God mean more to me than ever. My journal is loaded ...

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Churches Renovate Their Building, On Average, Every 30 Years? Really?!

Wed, 09/05/2018 - 9:00am

A church building doesn’t have to be big, fancy or cutting-edge. But it needs to facilitate the mission.

Uh… Wow.

Every 30 years?

Yes, those are the stats, according to a church renovation expert I heard at a recent conference.

By the time his company is called in to help a church renovate their sanctuary, lobby, exterior or anything significant, it’s been three full decades since any part of their facility has been updated in any meaningful way.

That’s. Too. Long.

Updating On A Budget (Or NO Budget)

I’m aware of how costly it is to update church facilities – especially in a smaller church that may not even be paying the pastor. But there’s an alternative to waiting thirty years to do anything, then breaking the bank to overhaul everything at once.

Look around your church building and ask this simple question. “What part of our facility is currently the least effective at doing what we want it to do?”

Then fix that.

One piece at a time.

Paint, repair, clean, update, declutter.

That last one can have big impact. Toss the clutter.

Most church buildings can undergo a significant upgrade without costing a penny just by getting rid of the build-up of excess stuff that regular attenders fail to see, but that newcomers have to wade through. (I recently heard about a church that had an upright piano stored in the men’s room, of all places!)

Make Your Building More Ministry-Friendly

Church buildings should serve the ministry. So take the part of the facility that’s doing the poorest job of moving the ministry forward and upgrade it.

Not everything at once. One part at a time.

Then, after that’s done, look around again and ask “now, what’s the least effective part of the facility?” and get to fixing that.

If you do that regularly you’ll never find yourself in an ...

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Southern Baptist Women Launch Petition Against Paige Patterson

Mon, 07/05/2018 - 4:35am

Controversy over past remarks leads Southwestern Seminary to announce special board meeting.

A growing group of Southern Baptist women called for Paige Patterson to be removed as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) on Sunday, due to what they claimed was his “unbiblical view of authority, womanhood, and sexuality.”

Patterson, one of the most influential leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), has faced widespread criticism in recent weeks for old remarks, including a discussion of divorce in cases of abuse and multiple comments on women’s appearances.

“We cannot defend or support Dr. Patterson’s past remarks,” stated an open letter to SWBTS trustees, which grew from 100 to more than 1,000 signatories on Sunday night. “No one should.

“The fact that he has not fully repudiated his earlier counsel or apologized for his inappropriate words indicates that he continues to maintain positions that are at odds with Southern Baptists and, more importantly, the Bible’s elevated view of womanhood,” states the letter. “The [SBC] cannot allow the biblical view of leadership to be misused in such a way.”

The letter comes from scores of Southern Baptist women, including leaders such as: Karen Swallow Prior, a Liberty University professor and research fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Convention; Lauren Chandler, an author, worship singer, and wife of The Village Church pastor Matt Chandler; Jennifer Lyell, a vice president at SBC-affiliated B&H Publishing Group; and Amanda Jones, a Houston church planter and daughter of Bible teacher Beth Moore. (Victims’ advocates such as Rachael Denhollander and Mary DeMuth also signed on, as did some men, though the petition is intended for women at SBC churches.)

Signatories ...

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What the Bible Says about Abuse Within Marriage

Wed, 02/05/2018 - 3:37pm

God hates the oppressor, and suffering for the sake of suffering isn’t spiritual.

Note: Malachi 2, ‘I hate divorce.’ Said by guest as 5:2, says “The man who hates and divorces his wife,” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one he should protect.”

In 2000, Paige Patterson was asked about women who are abused by their husbands. Here’s what the now-president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary said:

It depends on the level of abuse to some degree. I have never in my ministry counseled that anybody seek a divorce, and I do think that’s always wrong counsel. There have been, however, an occasion or two when the level of the abuse was serious enough, dangerous enough, immoral enough that I have counseled temporary separation and the seeking of help. I would urge you to understand that that should happen only in the most serious of cases. . . . More often, when you face abuse, it is of a less serious variety.

These comments recirculated on social media over the weekend, not surprisingly sparking fierce criticism of Patterson’s remarks.

On Sunday, Patterson released a statement where he clarified that his happiness in the situation came from seeing this woman’s husband return to church. He also said that physical or sexual abuse should be reported to the appropriate authorities, “as I have always done.”

Patterson also stated that, “I have also said that I have never recommended or prescribed divorce. How could I as a minister of the Gospel? The Bible makes clear the way in which God views divorce.”

Patterson’s statement seemed to suggest that abuse was not included as one of the ways in which divorce is biblically sanctioned. But that understanding isn’t really a biblical one, says Justin Holcomb, ...

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How Paige Patterson Compares to Other Pastors on Divorce After Abuse

Mon, 30/04/2018 - 2:57pm

After audio of old comments circulates on social media, Southern Baptist leader clarifies his pastoral approach to domestic violence.

On Sunday, Southern Baptist leader Paige Patterson spoke out to address his position on domestic violence after old comments he made regarding counseling women in abusive marriages circulated on social media over the weekend.

Patterson, the president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) and a key player in the Conservative Resurgence of America’s largest denomination, said that his past statements—discouraging women from divorcing in cases of abuse and celebrating the faith of a woman whose prayers led her to be hit by her husband—had been misrepresented and mischaracterized.

He clarified both instances in an SWBTS press release, adding that he has “never counseled or condoned abuse of any kind” and that “any physical or sexual abuse of anyone should be reported immediately to the appropriate authorities, as I have always done.”

Patterson said he has advised and helped women to leave abusive husbands, but stood by his commitment to never recommend divorce: “How could I as a minister of the gospel? The Bible makes clear the way in which God views divorce.”

Among Patterson’s remarks being shared on Twitter is an audio clip said to be from a conference in 2000, where he was asked about cases where a woman is being asked to submit to an abusive husband. In the recording, he says separation should be reserved for only “the most serious of cases” and divorce is “always wrong counsel.”

Overall, American pastors are more likely to condone divorce in cases of domestic violence than for other commonly cited reasons for ending a marriage. Though almost half of American evangelicals (46%) say divorce due to abuse is sinful, just over a quarter ...

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It’s Not Billy Graham Rule or Bust

Fri, 27/04/2018 - 2:54pm

15 ways my husband and I guard our marriage while still loving our friends of the opposite sex.

With recent allegations of indiscretion against a prominent megachurch pastor, some Christian leaders have doubled down on the so-called Billy Graham Rule, which dictates that men and women should never meet alone.

Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary president Danny Akin tweeted, “A valuable lesson we all can learn from this tragic situation: follow the @BillyGraham rule. If you are married, never be alone with someone of the opposite sex who is not your spouse. Never!”

This rule, in its most pristine form, renders male-female friendships impossible. However unintentionally, it communicates to women that they are fundamentally dangerous. And it bars men from meaningful mentorship or pastoral care of women and vice-versa.

I, for one, give thanks for the many men I know who broke the Billy Graham Rule.

My life has been enriched by male friends, mentors, coworkers, and collaborators. My husband has female friends as well and, for that, I am glad. And my husband and I are priests so we need to meet with the opposite sex often to do our job well. (But even if we weren’t, we’d likely need to meet with the opposite sex to do any job well).

Yet, I understand the motivation behind the Billy Graham Rule: a healthy and honest fear of falling into adultery, a sin as massively destructive as it is common. (The rule itself draws from Graham’s “Modesto Manifesto,” a broader set of guidelines the evangelist used to safeguard his ministry against scandal.)

One could argue the Billy Graham Rule is as natural as buckling our seatbelt in our car. It is actually wise to take measures to protect ourselves from things that can destroy us, whether it be a vehicular fatality or a one-night stand. It is not ...

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The Mission Deserves Margin: Minister To The Church You Have, While Preparing For More

Thu, 26/04/2018 - 2:53pm

While pastoring the people we have, we need to create in-house systems and outward ministry suitable for a church of double our current size.

A church of 50 people needs to be pastored like a church of 50 people.

You can’t act like a church of 500. Or even 100. The systems, methods and relationship dynamics simply won’t fit.

So how can a church grow, either in its size or effectiveness, if we’re only pastoring the people we have?

While pastoring the people we have, we need to create in-house systems and outward ministry suitable for a church of double our current size.

Training A Team

Recently I had the privilege of talking to pastor who has only been in his current church for a short time. The church went through years of difficulty before he arrived and there are just a few folks left. All of them are older than the pastor, who is in his 60s.

Here’s how he’s pastoring that handful of people, while creating opportunities to minister to more.

During the week, the pastor spends almost no time in the office. Instead, he heads out to local coffee shops, stores, community centers and so on. He’s getting to know the folks in his small town. He does it alone because the members of his church are too elderly to do it with him.

But that doesn’t mean the church members are inactive. Every Sunday, the nursery and kids’ rooms are set up and sanitized. The volunteer seniors show up early and put out signup sheets. A rotating group of senior saints wait in those rooms from at least 15 minutes before the service starts until about 15 minutes after it starts. If no kids show up (which, so far, none have) they head into the service.

It’s too early to give you any results of their work yet, but this is a great example of ministering to the people you have while preparing systems and outreach to double your effectiveness and outreach. ...

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Want More Church Leaders? Look For A Servant’s Heart

Mon, 23/04/2018 - 8:49pm

It’s better and easier to encourage a servant to lead than to get a leader to serve.

It’s hard to find people who will step up and lead in the church today. Especially young people.

That’s what I keep hearing.

But I also see many churches that are the exceptions to that supposed rule. Including the amazing congregation I get to serve.

What are healthy churches doing to encourage and train a new generation of leaders?

There are a lot of factors, of course. Far too many for one blog post. But if I had to isolate it to one primary factor, it would be this.

Healthy churches find potential leaders by paying attention to people with a servant’s heart first, leadership skills second.

The Unseen Servant

I was reminded of this simple principle this morning as I was eating my free hotel breakfast.

The room was filled with a bunch of noisy college students. One group had shoved several tables together, jamming a bunch of chairs around it to eat and chat together.

When they were finished, they left with the tables still jammed together and chairs scattered everywhere. But one student paused, looked back at the mess and, without saying anything, put all the chairs and tables back in their proper position – including a chair from my table. I thanked her. She smiled awkwardly and left.

That’s not leadership. After all, she didn’t recruit any of her friends to help out. But it is servanthood.

I hope there’s someone in her life who is noticing when she does things like that and encourages her to keep at it, while nudging her to add some leadership skills to the mix.

Encourage Servants To Lead

If I was her parent, her teacher or her pastor I’d try to nudge her forward with simple advice like “the next time you do something like that, why don’t you grab a friend and ask them to ...

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A Spirit Thing

Fri, 20/04/2018 - 5:45pm

Billy Graham’s God-given vision for a magazine of “conviction and love.”

Just before I traveled to Charlotte in March to attend the memorial service of our founder, Billy Graham, one of CT’s designers stopped by my office with a large manila envelope. “It’s from my grandfather,” she said. “He wanted you to have this.”

This staffer’s grandfather was former CT editor Gil Beers, the man in charge of the magazine when I first came to CT 34 years ago. I opened the package eagerly. Inside was a nine-page letter dated April 6, 1984, from Graham himself, recounting for Beers the origins of Christianity Today. One paragraph in particular leapt off the pages. It told a story I knew well but included a line confirming what today motivates not only me but all of us at CT as we press on to encourage believers to renew their minds, serve the church, and create culture to the glory of God.

“Sometime in early 1953,” wrote Graham, “. . . I was awakened one morning about 2 o’clock. I went to my desk, using a desk light so I would not awaken my wife, and I sat down and wrote out everything that came to my mind concerning a new magazine. I am sure that the Holy Spirit was inspiring me, and speaking through me on the paper.”

According to the letter, God outlined for Graham a few core qualities that would define CT. It would be anchored on God’s Word, in contrast to the relativism and slipshod theologizing emerging at the time. It would showcase the best of evangelical thinking, news, and commentary, in contrast to the caricature of evangelicals at the time as uneducated simpletons with little to offer the public square. And its tone would be “conviction and love”— biblical and balanced, hopeful and not divisive—in ...

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Jack Deere Went Through Hell to Come to Faith

Thu, 12/04/2018 - 2:38pm

The theologian’s memoir is refreshingly raw about the wounds he’s suffered—and the wounds he’s inflicted.

What’s most endearing about Even in Our Darkness, the new memoir from theologian Jack Deere, is also what’s most difficult: its rawness. Before picking it up, be warned: You will hold your breath for pages at a time, even to the last page. The reader never really gets any sort of break, which, I suppose, is fitting, seeing as the author has never seemed to get one either.

Deere was born the child of drinkers and drifters. Suicide and substance abuse, violence and anger, were the fabric of his life. And yet this book reads less like a tell-all or “Ten Excuses for My Dysfunctions” and more like the kind of story that reminds us Jesus came for the sick, not for the well.

Balancing the Scales

Deere grew up in Fort Worth, Texas. He regales us with stories of youthful escapades and sexual conquests; with examples of good discipline by his father and abuse by his mother. He does not shy from coarse language, a fact for which this reader was grateful. In an endnote, he explains, “To tell my story any other way would have been to diminish its authenticity and power.” (Instead of punishing Deere for calling his mother derogatory names, his father takes a moment to truly explain what these expletives mean, a moment of discipline that becomes more important as the story goes on.).

As Deere endures this whiplashed childhood (literally and figuratively), we can see the internal tension with which he wrestles. He knows there is something innately unjust, something not right, about his family life, yet he lacks a firm example of what is right. Except for the presence of his “Nonnie,” his maternal grandmother who is married to the wildly abusive “Poppa,” Deere has no role models of ...

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Lord, Have Mercy on 67% of Us

Wed, 28/03/2018 - 2:26pm

A Lenten research roundup of what Americans think of sin.

Pope Francis warned this year against “fake fasting” during Lent.

“We must pretend,” Francis said with a smile during a Friday mass in February. “That is not showing others that we are performing acts of penance.” Those who fast should reflect on their sins and ask God for forgiveness, he said.

Most Americans don’t observe Lent. But that’s not because they think they’re sinless.

In fact, 2 out of 3 Americans confess to being a sinner (67%), according to LifeWay Research [full infographic below]. The rest don’t see themselves as sinners (8%), don’t think sin exists (10%), or preferred not to answer the question (15%).

While a few of the self-confessed sinners don’t mind being one (5%), most say they are either working on being less of a sinner (34%) or depending on Jesus to overcome their sin (28%).

“Almost nobody wants to be a sinner,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research.

More women (33%) than men (22%) say they depend on Jesus to overcome sin, as do more Protestants (49%) than Catholics (19%) and more evangelicals (72%) than non-evangelicals (19%). About half of those who attend religious services at least monthly (51%) say they depend on Jesus, compared to 15 percent of those who go less frequently.

In 2016, a LifeWay study for Ligonier Ministries found that 65 percent of Americans think that everyone sins a little, but most people are good by nature. Americans with evangelical beliefs were less likely to agree than those without evangelical beliefs (54% vs. 68%).

More than three-quarters of those surveyed said people have the ability to turn to God on their own initiative (79%), while nearly the same amount soundly rejected ...

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Billy Graham’s Death Leads 10,000 to Pray for Salvation

Tue, 27/03/2018 - 5:25pm

How the evangelist’s online memorial continues to preach the gospel.

Earlier this month, Billy Graham was buried in a funeral deemed his “last crusade.” Yet the evangelist has continued to draw thousands to convert to Christ.

Graham’s ministry partners saw the global media attention following his passing on February 21 as a chance to showcase the gospel message that defined his life. They’ve included explicit calls to accept Jesus in their tributes, praying that more would come to follow him through Graham’s death.

More than 1.2 million have visited BillyGrahamMemorial.org in just a month, according to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA). The online memorial features a link to a site with a clip of Graham inviting crowds at his crusades to make a decision for Christ, followed by a list of steps for online visitors who want to pray to accept Jesus as their Savior.

More than 113,000 have visited that site, StepstoPeace.org, in the month since Graham’s death, and 10,500 indicated they prayed to either profess faith for the first time or to renew lapsed faith, according to the BGEA.

The page outlines Graham’s simple presentation of the gospel, summarizing the Bible verses that point to God’s love for us, our separation from him, Christ’s sacrifice, and our response. At the end, visitors are invited to admit their sin, repent, believe, and pray to receive Jesus as Lord and Savior.

Those with questions can chat live with online coaches through the BGEA. If they do make a decision for Christ, they’re offered additional resources about Christian living and a directory to find a church in their area.

“Are you searching for the kind of peace in your life that Billy Graham preached about throughout his whole life?” the site ...

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