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A Pastor’s Restoration Process: Journey to Healing Through the Eyes of Those Closest, Part 3 - Greg

Sat, 18/05/2019 - 3:00pm

“True restoration focuses on destroying the sin, not destroying the person.”

Ed: Greg, why is restoration so hard?

Greg: I think restoration is hard because there initially is the shock of the exposure of sin. There is shame in the pastor, the leaders, and the church. The process of repentance is long and the wounds to the church are deep.

Ed: What did you say to Darrin in the process?

Greg: Early in the process we talked about who was affected, who was hurt by Darrin’s choices and his sin. We wanted to make sure that he fully understood the consequences of that sin in other people's lives.

I have been part of several restorations and I have seen many pastors who are confronted about their sin not understand the root of it. We asked Darrin to come clean, to really meditate on and figure out, with counselor’s help, what had happened in this situation.

Beyond that, my role has been to encourage him that while his sin is bad, he is not, and that God loves him and that God has a future that is good. It's been two parts to the process. First, let's acknowledge it. Second, let's acknowledge God's grace in the middle of it as the repentance continues.

Ed: What does it look like to be a spiritual father?

Greg: I remember when I became a physical father for the first time. I didn't think I was ready, to be honest with you. I was just a young man and didn't see myself as a particularly great candidate to be a father.

I think spiritually it's the same. When I was asked to be a part of Darrin’s restoration and especially when he asked me to be his pastor, I knew what the responsibility was. I knew that it was very important in his process to have a father in his corner, especially in light of the difficult relationship that he had had with his father and that his father ...

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Can We Finally Break the Silence Around Tamar?

Fri, 17/05/2019 - 1:00pm

Telling the uncomfortable story of “desolate” Tamar positions us to show a kind of compassion King David didn’t.

For the past year, I’ve been teaching the Book of Samuel to a group of women at my church. We go through it chapter by chapter, verse by verse, and I challenge them to think critically about what they are reading. The Book of Samuel is filled with stories that ask us to grapple with the sovereignty of God and the severity of sin. But perhaps none is so jarring as the story of Tamar and Amnon in 2 Samuel 13.

I’m sure you know it. Amnon, one of David’s sons, violates his own sister and then casts her aside. When her brother Absalom learns what Amnon has done, he tells her, “Has Amnon your brother been with you? Be quiet for now, my sister. He is your brother; do not take this thing to heart.” Absalom’s shushing and dismissing are certainly vile, but it is David’s reaction that stuns: “When King David heard all this, he was furious” (vv. 20–21).

Furious. That’s it. No public denouncement of Amnon, no vindication of Tamar. No justice, no words of comfort or kindness for his daughter, just impotent, mute anger. David is silent. He takes no action against Amnon, opening the door for Absalom to have his brother murdered in revenge. And Tamar is left desolate.

Why does David’s anger translate into silence and inaction? Because David sees in his sons an amplification of his own grievous sins. David sacrificed Bathsheba to his lust and then murdered her husband to cover his tracks. Now his two sons fulfill God’s prophecy of judgment by committing heightened versions of his own sins within their own family.

David’s guilt renders him silent. Tamar’s plea to Amnon as he overpowers her rings in the ears of the reader: As for me, where could I carry my ...

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Developing Effective Partnerships with Christian Organizations

Fri, 10/05/2019 - 3:00pm

Six practical steps to help bolster partnerships in the kingdom of God.

A phrase that gets thrown around a lot in Christian circles is “let’s partner together.”

Sometimes, tasks and projects are too much for one person, church, or organization. Since no one wants or has the time to reinvent the wheel, why not maximize on each other’s strengths and knowledge?

But we all know that is easier said than done.

Once you sit down together to work through what needs to get done, the how can get tricky. In business, partners are motivated by a mutual desire to make money. In ministry, the motivation may appear to the same, but with differences in theology and leadership qualities, many times a partnership is not viable.

So the question becomes: How does one create partnerships within Christian ministries resulting in collective work for the gospel?

Here are some thoughts and lessons I have learned that have helped me.

1 – Assess if you trust the person

This is one of the most important questions, I think. I firmly believe that as believers we are called to “love” everyone, but honestly, we do not get along with or like everyone. If personalities clash from the get-go, or if you don’t trust the other party, there cannot be a successful partnership.

I know what personalities don’t jive with mine and what traits bother me. Therefore, when I meet potential partners, those are red flags that I look for and then avoid.

Trust is huge! You must be able to trust the persons with whom you are partnering. Once trust is lost, regardless of the reason, a long-term partnership seems dim. It has happened to me with even reputable Christian organizations.

Ultimately, lasting partnerships happen when you know the other party will come through with what they say and promise to ...

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Why We Need To Be Careful About Adopting Business Models In Our Churches

Wed, 08/05/2019 - 9:00am

When we think we need to go to a business model for church renewal, aren’t we implying that biblical principles can’t stand on their own?

It’s becoming very popular to teach church growth and leadership principles using ideas from successful businesses.

Some of the titles of books and articles I’ve seen lately include, What The Church Can Learn From...

  • Harley Davidson
  • Marvel Movies
  • Japanese Management
  • Marketing Experts

And more.

Despite the best intentions of these writers, I’m becoming more and more convinced that trying to bring renewal to our churches by adapting business ideas is at best ineffective, and at worst, potentially damaging to our souls, spirits and mission.

Business Ideas Won’t Fix The Church

I agree that we can learn from a variety of sources. For instance, I recently read an Inc.com article about how Chipotle revitalized their restaurants after having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year in 2017.

I had a momentary thought about writing an article about how churches can learn from Chipotle’s turnaround.

Then the moment passed.

Here’s why. The three ways Chipotle turned their company around, according to the article, were

  1. Modernization
  2. Talent
  3. Emotionally intelligent marketing

Smart ideas.

For a restaurant.

It’s tempting to want to find church parallels for them.

But if your church is in trouble, I beg you not to give into the temptation to think your church problems will be solved by doing church versions of what Chipotle did, such as

  1. A cool, new coffee station in the lobby (modernization)
  2. Hiring a new staff member (talent)
  3. Better use of social media (emotionally intelligent marketing)

None of those are bad things. The church I serve has done all three at various times. But none of them were the cause of our church getting or staying healthy.

Churches Aren’t Businesses – Or They Shouldn’t Be

The issue ...

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8 Simple (but not easy) Rules for Movement: Part 1 - Owning Our Commission

Mon, 06/05/2019 - 3:00pm

Over the next eight Mondays, we will examine each of these rules.

We’ve all purchased a product that promised easy installation. The box explicitly stated that anyone—even the most hapless novice—could follow these simple, straight-forward instructions with little more than a flat head screwdriver and the included Allen wrench. Four hours later, you’re sitting in the garage with random screws and half-assembled parts strewn about, wondering why you didn’t just pay the extra 40 dollars to get the preassembled unit.

The resources developed for church leaders aren’t all that different. Four easy steps transitioning your stagnant, inward church into a disciple-making, mission-sending force for the kingdom. Easy, right? It’s little wonder so many pastors spend each Monday with frustrations rivaling that of the fictitious man in his garage. They’ve got some pieces in place, but it’s seemingly impossible to envision how to move from their current reality to their aspirational vision.

Some just give up. They determine that God’s preferred future is out of reach. They might continue to fulfill their obligations to an ecclesio-centric ministry, but they’ve abandoned any hope of taking practical steps to lead God’s people in mission. Others move on. They find another church that seems to have more pieces already assembled or where it appears that the random assortment of parts is a bit easier to construct. Often, after the initial honeymoon phase, these leaders realize that the proverbial grass is certainly not greener in another field—they’ve simply chosen new problems.

A third group grapples for an easy fix. They identify the supposed problem in the church—poor leadership, lack of prayer, few personal evangelists, ...

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The Life of “Be”: Remembering Warren Wiersbe

Fri, 03/05/2019 - 8:00pm

Today many are mourning the loss of another brilliant man of God, a faithful pastor and Bible teacher.

Billy Graham. David Hesselgrave. Lamin Sanneh. Nabeel Qureshi. Bob Buford. R. C. Sproul. Elisabeth Elliot. We’ve lost some incredible leaders in the past few years, great minds who contributed much to evangelicalism and who committed their lives in humble service to God.

Today I, along with many, are mourning the loss of another impactful leader: Warren Wiersbe. Much of his texts and sermons have helped form how I think and how I teach the Bible.

Indeed, he was one of evangelicalism’s giants, but to the people of The Moody Church, he was their beloved pastor.

You can read the tribute from his grandson here. Also, Erwin Lutzer is pastor emeritus of The Moody Church and he has already written a moving tribute. However, as someone who was influenced by his writing, and now serve an interim role at his former church, let me add a bit to their helpful reflections.

Weirsbe at Moody

In September 2016, I preached my first sermon as interim teaching pastor at Moody Church in Chicago. Extraordinary preachers like Moody, Torrey, Ironside, and Lutzer have stood in this pulpit. Yet the one I engaged with the most in my life, primarily through his writings, was Warren Wiersbe.

Even today as I enter the sanctuary, people regularly mention him, his preaching, and his influence in their lives. The warmth of their love for Wiersbe is evident to this day.

Wiersbe is perhaps best known for his “Be” series, a series of 50 books from Be Real to Be Joyful, but it was his faithful preaching of God’s word that helped The Moody Church be a church God called them to be.

Writing over 160 books, Wiersbe’s name fills church libraries and campus bookstores. His devotional preaching still remain central to thousands of churches’ ...

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Responsive Design: If Your Church Leadership Ideas Don’t Adapt For Size, You’re Behind The Curve

Fri, 03/05/2019 - 9:00am

Like responsive design for different sizes of devices, responsive design for different church sizes is more possible – and necessary – than ever before.

Are you involved in church leadership? As in, does any of your ministry involve overseeing, teaching or helping other church leaders?

If so, have you ever been frustrated by the inability of some small churches to utilize your ideas? No doubt you have.

Here’s a simple illustration that will show you why that happens a lot. And how we can help each other get better at this.

Responsive Design In Church Leadership

What size of a screen are you reading right now?

If it’s a phone, the screen looks very different than if you’re reading it from a laptop or a tablet.

That’s the result of something called responsive design and it’s an accepted standard for websites.

Responsive design is programming that automatically reformats what you see based on the size of the screen you’re reading.

Bigger screen? You’ll see more options like a sidebar, floating social media buttons, and so on. Small screen? You’re probably only seeing a few paragraphs of text and you’ll have to hit a drop-down to get other options.

This week, news came out that Hertz (the car rental company) is suing Accenture (a tech company) for 32 million dollars. According to the lawsuit, Accenture didn’t deliver a new website as requested. One of their biggest failures, says Hertz, is that they didn’t include responsive design in their programming. In other words, the website doesn’t adapt to the size of screen the customer is using.

So what does this have to do with church leadership?

Plenty.

Do Your Church Leadership Principles Adapt For Size?

In the last 20-30 years, some very creative people have been producing a lot of new tools for everything from discipleship to worship to small groups.

Most of these innovations ...

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Fundamentals for Pastoral Ministry

Mon, 29/04/2019 - 4:05pm

There needs to be a shift from pastor as resident-expert to pastor as player-coach.

Last week we discussed the necessity of certain missionary fundamentals for kingdom disciples. Much like the basic skills of any sport, those committed to living and loving like Jesus must return to the fundamentals of faith-fueled prayer, intentional relationships, and Jesus centrality. Repeated daily, these habits are the baseline for the work of church planters, missionaries, pastors, and everyday disciple-makers. Any hope of sustained movement in North America depends on the cultivation of these fundamentals among all of God’s people.

Much has been written about the role of pastors and church leaders in propelling the church outward into God’s great mission. Paul’s instructions to the Ephesian church help clarify a central leadership fundamental for pastors that must coincide with the missionary fundamentals of the church that we mentioned last week. Paul provides a job description of sorts when he says that these leaders exist “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ” (Eph 4:12).

This equipping function is disorienting for many leaders who’ve been trained, or simply assumed, that the role of pastor amounted to being the resident expert on all things spiritual. In many cases these leaders have spent years thinking about refined theological ideas and engaging in intramural banter around these themes. Also, assuming the best about these leaders, many of them were elevated to a position of leadership because of deep convictions about God and His Word and consistent character derived from a vibrant intimacy with the Father.

There are expectations to this type of leader, of course. Some are unqualified, unprepared, or ungodly. Let’s leave ...

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First Impressions: 7 Ways To Give Church Guests A Frustration-Free Experience

Mon, 29/04/2019 - 4:05am

Shortening the distance between our guests and a relationship with Jesus. That's what a welcoming church is all about.

There’s a lot about the gospel message that is not user-friendly.

Take up your cross. Love your enemies. Put God’s will ahead of my own.

But getting to that message shouldn’t be as hard as many churches often make it.

This lesson was reinforced for me recently in, of all places, the packaging for a new Kindle e-reader that I bought for my wife, Shelley.

The box had a label that read “Certified Frustration-Free Packaging”. And it was. Instead of having layers of paper and tape to tear away, or the dreaded clamshell heat-sealed plastic to cut, claw and blast my way through, I was able to slide a fingernail along the very obvious tear-line, then flip the box open and remove the contents.

Truly frustration-free packaging.

Then I wondered, “why would they bother doing this for a product that is ordered online?” After all, by the time I discovered the frustration-free packaging, I had already bought their product.

Because they want people to get to their product as easily as possible. And of course, they want me to buy more from them in the future. So they’re removing any possible obstacle between me and the contents.

Removing Obstacles

One of the goals of a good First Impressions team (actually for everyone in the church) is how to make our churches Certified Frustration-Free for those who are unpacking them for the first time.

From the website, to the parking, to the building, to the signage, greeting and more, everything that surrounds the message is packaging for the message.

Regular church attenders have grown accustomed to the packaging. If we’ve been around the church for a while, we probably participated in designing it – usually inadvertently.

But if our first-time guests ...

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Serving at Church

Fri, 26/04/2019 - 4:03pm

How to Decide What and When.

Do you serve at church on top of working and possibly serving with other ministries? A lot of people ask me if I serve at church. Honestly, I wrestle sometimes trying to decide whether I should or not. If this was 10 or 12 years ago, my whole life was spent in the local church serving in our high school and college ministries.

Now things are a little different since I travel more than ever before, work long hours, and have a 4-year-old and a daughter on the way.

I know this is a question that some people have wrestled with and so I wanted to share a few guidelines that have helped me in the last 10 years.

First and foremost, no matter what we do, our service should bring glory to God. Everything we do can help to advance the gospel of Jesus Christ in some way. Acts 1:8 says that we are to take his word from Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

However, does that mean we should take every opportunity that comes our way to serve? Here are a couple of questions to ask that may be helpful in deciding when to serve and when not to serve in your church:

1 – What are your areas of strength, passion, or gifts?

There are 20 spiritual gifts according to Scripture given specifically for the upbuilding of the body of Christ: administration, apostleship, compassion, discernment, evangelism, exhortation, faith, giving, healing, helping, interpretation of tongues, knowledge, leadership, miracles, prophecy, servanthood, shepherding, teaching, tongues, and wisdom.

What are the activities that you enjoy doing? Things that give you energy? How has God gifted you? What does it mean to have a passion for something?

It’s not always related to being gifted. Passion is what drives you to do your best because you care. It ...

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Church Health And Growth: Are Pastors Responsible For Outcomes?

Fri, 26/04/2019 - 7:03am

We are responsible for the tasks we have been given, but not for tasks we have not been given.

Who is responsible for the health and growth of a local church?

Is it all up to the pastoral leadership? As one former megachurch pastor used to say, “if it’s going to be, it’s up to me.”

Or is it all up to Jesus who said “I will build my church”?

Obviously, the ultimate growth of the church is in Jesus’ hands, but he’s given church leaders certain responsibilities for our local congregation.

So, while we should never take on a burden that isn’t ours, we also need to be careful not to act as if we have no responsibility for outcomes at all. If leadership means anything, it has to include that.

What Are We Responsible For?

Take a look at the instructions for church leaders (pastors, apostles, teachers, deacons, presbyters, and so on) in the New Testament.

There are passages about

  • Moral purity
  • Caring for the church
  • Reaching the lost
  • Discipling believers
  • Raising leaders
  • Theological integrity
  • Family life
  • Generosity
  • Accountability
  • Financial stewardship
  • Church unity
  • And more

But there’s one thing missing.

With all the instructions church leaders are given, there’s not a single instruction about getting our attendance numbers up.

Not a word about breaking growth barriers.

Not one verse linking the value of a church to the number of people attending it.

Not even a suggestion that if a church isn’t growing numerically we’re doing something wrong.

The Tasks We’ve Been Given

Throughout the New Testament, we can find numerous detailed instructions for how to help a church be healthy, effective, loving and prayerful, but nothing about how to be bigger this year than we were last year.

So maybe we should take our cue from that.

As church leaders, we are responsible for the tasks ...

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What To Do When Your Ministry Passion Doesn’t Match Your Ministry Skill Set

Wed, 24/04/2019 - 7:02am

You can apply the skills God gave you without denying the passion he planted in you.

Some ministers seem to be ideally suited for what they do.

Their passion, their skill set, their spiritual gifting and their circumstances all seem to line up in one integral whole.

But what about the rest of us? What do you do when you feel divided? When your passion goes in one direction, but your skills are in another?

If you ever feel like that, I understand. That’s been the story of my pastoral life, too.

Am I Out Of Sync?

Whenever I’m asked where my passion for small churches came from, my answer is always the same – and it always surprises the asker. “I became a small church guy because I failed at being a big church guy.”

My passion was never to lead a great small church. It was always to help turn a dying church around, then see it grow year after year, getting bigger and bigger.

The first part I’ve had some success in. The second part? Not so much.

I’ve been able to help churches turn around from unhealthy to healthy, first as a pastor, and now as an encourager and equipper of other pastors, but I’ve never been able to keep a church on a path of sustained numerical growth. No matter how badly I wanted it, or how hard I worked at it, sustained numerical growth always eluded me and the churches I’ve pastored.

This led to some of the most frustrating years of my life and ministry.

As it turns out, even though my passion was to lead a large church, my skill set is suited to pastor a healthy small church.

That’s why I spent so many years feeling like a big church pastor trapped in a small church situation.

Build On Your Skills

It turns out I’m not alone in these feelings.

Many of us live in that kind of an in-between world, whether it’s in ministry or another ...

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Pastoring the One When You’d Rather Pastor the Ninety-Nine

Tue, 23/04/2019 - 4:01pm

Personal attention is a minister’s inefficient imperative.

My wife, Susan, comes from a Christian family of nine kids. They had lots of family times together around a long table. (Her father considered installing a drain down the middle to catch all the spilled milk.) But one thing Susan rarely got was time alone with both of her parents at once. In fact, she remembers only one occasion, and she remembers every detail. As with my wife’s family, seeing that each person in our church family gets personal attention is difficult, but it’s part of a church being a home.

Eugene Peterson once said that next to the Bible, the church directory is the most important book in the pastor’s study. Near the beginning of Peterson’s book, Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work, he writes,

It is the unique property of pastoral work to combine two aspects of ministry: one, to represent the eternal word and will of God; and, two, to do it among the idiosyncrasies of the local and personal (the actual place where the pastor lives; the named people with whom he or she lives). If either aspect is slighted, good pastoral work fails to take place.

Names Matter

Sometimes churches forget that names matter. I remember talking to a staff member of a church of about 400. Their staff had gone through the church directory and realized that half the people listed were unknown personally to any of them. That’s not a healthy family.

At the end of Paul’s letter to the Roman church he mentions 33 names, each precious to Paul.

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. ... Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. Greet also the church that meets ...

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Between Doing And Delegating – The Essential Step To Overcome Pastoral Burnout

Mon, 22/04/2019 - 7:01am

You can’t do everything yourself. And you can’t delegate tasks to people who haven’t been discipled. They have to be equipped first.

When it comes to leading people, many pastors fall into one of two opposite traps.

Doing everything themselves, or delegating tasks to people who don’t do them well.

Many pastors swing wildly between the two.

Here’s why.

What Causes Pastoral Burnout?

We see something that needs to get done, so we do it. After a while, we get worn out doing everything, so we delegate some of those tasks to others.

They fail.

Either they don’t follow through, or they do it badly, or they don’t do it the way we would have. So, the next time, we just do it ourselves.

“It’s easier this way,” we tell ourselves. Or “I don’t have anyone I can count on,” we insist.

But the problem isn’t with the people we delegated the task to. The problem is that we’re missing something. A crucial, essential step between doing it ourselves and delegating it to others.

Discipleship.

Specifically, something I like to call the Pastoral Prime Mandate.

This step shouldn’t be a surprise to us. It’s written clearly in Ephesians 4:11-12:
Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. (NLT)

Did you cactch that? Paul didn’t tell the church leaders to do the ministry themselves. And he didn’t tell us to delegate those tasks to others. He told us to do the intermediate step of equipping them to do ministry.

The Equipping Mandate

Pastors who try to do everything will burn themselves out, while reinforcing the false idea that church members are meant to be passive consumers of a religious product.

So we swing the ...

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Sovereign Grace Calls Outside Investigation ‘Impossible’

Thu, 18/04/2019 - 6:58pm

The church network pushed back against renewed scrutiny around SGC and former president C. J. Mahaney’s response to abuse claims.

Despite continued calls for an independent, third-party investigation into Sovereign Grace Churches (SGC) and its response to abuse allegations, the network has officially taken the option off the table, calling it “inappropriate, impractical, unjust” and “impossible.”

Controversy has surrounded SGC—previously Sovereign Grace Ministries, or SGM—and its founder C. J. Mahaney since at least 2012, when SGM’s flagship congregation faced a lawsuit alleging a sexual abuse cover-up, which was later dismissed on procedural grounds.

This year, as evangelicals ramp up their response to abuse, top leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention have joined the scrutiny over Mahaney and his current congregation, SGC Louisville, which is also affiliated with the SBC.

In a statement released this week, SGC declared that there hasn’t been enough credible evidence against its leaders or churches to necessitate an investigation and that an outside query would violate the church’s ecclesiastical accountability structure.

“We remain persuaded that an investigation of the sort we’ve been challenged to authorize—both in good faith and otherwise—is inappropriate, impractical, unjust, and finally would be unsatisfactory to all interested parties,” the 2,300-word statement concluded. “Most importantly, as far as we’re able to discern, we believe this course, the theological capitulation it would represent, and the precedent it would set, would ultimately dishonor Christ and harm the cause of the gospel.”

SGC, a network of 72 evangelical churches with headquarters in Louisville, Kentucky, said the decision was made in consult with fellow pastors, Christian ...

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Planning for Ministry and Still Unsure about Where to Go to College?

Tue, 16/04/2019 - 3:56pm

Let me give you a recommendation.

Choosing a college can be a daunting task. If you are going into ministry, you don’t just have to decide the college, but you have to decide the type of college.

You have to consider majors, locations, costs, student activities, school reputation and more in order to make one of the biggest decisions of your life.

If God is calling you to ministry, there’s a whole new set of questions you will likely ask yourself. You’ll be considering the school’s view of Scripture, denominational affiliation, areas of expertise, and how your time spent in college will be used for kingdom purposes.

Let me tell you why I think you should consider Wheaton College for your undergraduate degree.

First, Wheaton College is continually ranked one of the top colleges in national publications both in academics and affordability. With its long history of training some of the world’s most known religious leaders like the late evangelists Billy and Ruth Graham and missionaries Jim and Elisabeth Elliot, Wheaton College has demonstrated its commitment to educational excellence and solid Christian values.

If you are planning to go into ministry, let me particularly tell you about the degree where I serve as dean—the B.A. in Christian Formation and Ministry. Here are a few reasons I’d encourage you to consider to come study with us.

First, there is value in studying at an evangelical school.

When you’re deciding if a Christian college is a good fit for you, you have to think about the school’s mission and vision to make sure it aligns with your convictions regarding the calling God has placed on your life.

Wheaton is an evangelical school where we’re working to show Christ in every aspect of our lives, ...

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14 Observations About The State Of Christian Denominations Today

Mon, 15/04/2019 - 9:56pm

Denominations that support and enhance the biblical mission of the local church will thrive. Those that don't will continue to decline.

There are only two forms of the church that ultimately matter.

The universal church and the local church.

Everything else is an add-on. Including buildings, furniture, styles of music, types of preaching, curriculum, and the subject of today’s article, denominations.

I’m not against denominations. I’ve been in one my whole life and it’s been a blessing to our church and to me personally.

But, like church buildings, pews, choir robes or skinny jeans on the worship leader, it’s a temporary condition that has a limited life-span.

As I’ve traveled around the world over the last several years, I’ve ministered in churches of almost every denomination and non-denomination. By doing so, I’ve learned a lot about the state of denominations today.

Here are 14 of my observations:

1. We are in a post-denominational culture.

It’s not coming. It’s here.

Like hymnbooks and pews bolted to the floor, there are still a lot of denominations around, but they’re becoming less common, especially among younger, newer churches.

Also like the changes from pews and hymnbooks to portable seats and video screens, this is not all good or all bad.

Whether we like it or not, the Baby Boomers are likely to be the last generation that will care, commit to, or fight over denominational labels. (More on that in point 12.)

2. Denominations are still extremely helpful, especially for small churches.

Big churches have the size, the money and the infrastructure to operate independently far more easily than small churches.

Plus, as I’ve pointed out in Small Church Essentials, bigger churches have a lot more in common with each other than small churches do, so they have a greater ability to lean on each other ...

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This is a podcast test article

Mon, 15/04/2019 - 12:55pm

Leverage agile frameworks to provide a robust synopsis for high level overviews. Iterative Iterative approaches Iterative approaches Iterative approaches

Summer Finn, a narrator tells us, is an average woman in many ways— like height and weight,

though slightly above average shoe size.

Yet something about her arrests men's attention. She gets an average of 18.4 double takes per day. This is, we are told, "the Summer Effect."

She's the new assistant to Vance, who runs a greeting card company. Tom Hansen, one of the card writers, is struck by her presence. A few days later, in an elevator, she overhears the Smiths leaking from Tom's earphones. "I love the Smiths!" she says, then softly sings along, "'To die by your side, is such a heavenly way to die.'"

And so a relationship begins. But what kind of relationship is it? In a conversation soon after at work, Tom says it's possible to meet the one you were made for and fall in love forever. Summer says she doesn't believe in love; all she wants is to "have fun and save the serious stuff for later." At this, Tom's bug-eyed coworker McKenzie blurts out, "She's a dude!"

This movie charts 500 days in Tom and Summer's relationship, skipping forward and backward during that time (though preceding each scene with the day's number, to keep us oriented; this is not one of those artsy time-shuffle films that sets out to confuse you). And, though it's billed as a comedy, it casts a powerfully romantic spell. There will be proposals in the wake of this movie. Yet it's determinedly unsentimental, and there's nothing about it to repel male viewers. It doesn't look particularly romantic from the outside. It sneaks up on you.

What it does look like is an extraordinarily creative stretch of filmmaking. There are segments that recall Michel ...

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Can God Really Speak Through Committees?

Fri, 12/04/2019 - 3:52pm

These meetings are dry, contentious, and sometimes crucial for discerning God’s will.

The room felt like a balloon about to burst at the meeting that night. The church council was assembled to make a decision destined to divide the church. People sat on one side of the aisle or the other, based on their vote preference. It was like a grim wedding.

Representatives from the two factions made speeches in support of their proposals, couching their criticisms of the other side as compliments and prayer requests. After what seemed like a never-ending discussion, it was time to decide.

What was the topic up for debate, the issue for which people were ready to leave their beloved church? The naming of a new building. Some wanted it to be named after a lovely saint who had just passed—Mr. Joe—and others wanted it to honor a living saint—Mrs. Divine.

The tension was high because everyone loved the church. No one actually wanted to leave, but the fighting got so heated they were on the brink of hurting themselves and the church.

A Biblical Process

Every time a major Christian denomination or local church gathers for their business meeting (I recently reported for Christianity Today on The United Methodist Church doing just that), people hurl critiques about that method of discernment. Surely these stilted, bureaucratic proceedings can’t be effective or holy. The process of motions and amendments and points of order is a far cry from our typical discernment process which might involve personal prayer and, in my case, a good cup of coffee.

How could the Holy Spirit speak through something as dry as a committee meeting or as acrimonious as a church council? Or if you want to phrase it in the terms of an angry Twitter user, “You can’t take a vote on God’s will!”

As it turns out, ...

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Why You Can't Predict Church Growth, But You Can Predict Church Failure (And, Thankfully, Church Health)

Wed, 10/04/2019 - 6:50am

Church growth is a mystery. Church failure is predictable. Church health is what really matters.

Everyone wants the sure thing.

If we just learn the right principles, follow the latest How To Grow Your Church list, or (my favorite) “do it like the early church”, then Boom! Our church is guaranteed numerical success.

I wish.

Here’s the reality behind church growth.

You can predict church failure. Do enough of the wrong things (or not enough of the right things) and almost anyone can predict that a church body is doomed.

But you can’t predict church growth.

You can remove the obstacles to growth. You can put in systems that will help you be ready for growth. You can pray for growth, work for growth, preach about growth, evangelize for growth…

But none of that makes numerical church growth guaranteed or predictable.

Why There Are No Growth Guarantees

How can I be so sure? Because there are so many great pastors and congregations that followed all the right steps but didn’t see the promised results. And there are other congregations that have made a ton of mistakes, but experienced rapid growth.

One church says “we followed the latest research, changed what needed to be changed, upgraded our music, our facility, our discipleship program, and that’s why we grew.” Another church says “all we did was preach the Word, and that’s why we grew.”

Meanwhile a third church says “we followed the latest research, changed what needed to be changed, upgraded our music, our facility, our discipleship program, but didn’t grow at all.” While the church down the street says “we’re just staying faithful and preaching the Word, but we’re not growing either.”

What you won’t ever hear is “we argue a lot over music, it takes forever ...

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