Thirteen Issues for Churches in 2013

13-issuesThom Ranier has a fascinating post at his blog today entitled Thirteen Issues For Churches in 2013. will face in 2013. He deals with issues 1-6 today and will post the next seven issues in two days.

In today’s post Ranier opines that in 2013 we will see:

1) The impact of the “nones” – The percentage of the U.S. population that claims no religious affiliation increased from 15 percent in 2007 to 20 percent in 2012.

2) Migration back to small groups – I’m thrilled when I read this. Ranier has some good thoughts about this. He writes, “There is an increasing awareness that those who are in groups have a higher level of commitment in almost all areas of church life.”

3) Accelerated closing of churches – Ranier predicts that 8,000-10,000 churches could close their doors for good in 2013.

4) More churches moving to multiple venues – Ranier writes, ” the number of congregations moving to multiple venues is staggering. Indeed that issue may be the single greatest distinguishing factor in growing churches.”

5) The growth of prayer emphasis in local congregations – This one thrills my soul as well. I believe that God loves when we move from being human-centered to God-dependent. It’s so easy to try to do things our way expecting things to happen on our timetables in church. When we sincerely seek God’s direction, His wisdom, and His timing, He has room to work.

6) Fickle commitment – Ranier has some interesting thoughts on the low commitment level of the American church.

These are interesting thoughts. I’m looking forward to reading his other seven issues for the church in 2013. Care to guess what some might be? Share your thoughts in the comment section.

How Corrupt Is Your Country?

CorruptCountriesSeveral are blogging about this today. Transparency International just published their annual list of the perceived level of corruption in the governments of 176 nations around the world.

Our recent trip to Haiti revealed that many of the problems within the country stem from a corrupt government. The nation has not experienced a healthy government, perhaps ever. It is sad that Haiti experienced it’s greatest prosperity while underneath an oppressive dictatorship, and that the resulting coups and hopes of a democracy have only brought about corruption. There were 19 presidential candidates in the last election. Haiti is a divided country.

Today, Somalia is the most corrupt nation in the world. Many of my Somali friends dream of one day returning to their nation, but cannot as long as the corruption exists. International aid, meant to help those experiencing the worst famine on earth today often doesn’t get to the intended recipients because of governmental corruption.

North Korea is perhaps the most closed country in the world. The stories of the atrocities committed against the citizens of the nation by the government are heart-breaking. Many nations are on edge as they see North Korea’s government continue to experiment with long range missiles capable of carrying biological or nuclear warheads.

Woodbury Community Church has a special relationship with many refugee families who have fled the persecution of Myanmar’s government. Over the past three years we have teamed up with Refugee Life Ministries of World Relief Minnesota and brought precious families from this country to the Twin Cities. (In 2012 Myanmar moved up two spots as the government began to open up relationships with other nations, even prompting a visit from President Obama. This was the first visit of a sitting U.S. President to Myanmar. For more information on Woodbury Community Church’s refugee life ministry click here).

When I look at this list, and when I think of Christmas, I am reminded of the fact that one of the names of Jesus is that he is our Prince of Peace. The Messiah, Emmanuel  God with Us comes to bring peace between man and God. I’ve often times said that the answer for America or any other country isn’t the government, it is the church of Jesus Christ, standing up and being counted as His hands in feet in our generation. It would be nice to have Christ followers serving the public good in governments all over the world. But, it’s never going to happen in some countries. In our own nation, we have seen that just being a Christian in the government doesn’t solve the greatest needs of humanity  Christ’s answer was never government. It was the church, pointing people to the Savior of the world.

In Matthew 5:13-16, Jesus said:

13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.

14 “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

May you live as salt and light today!

For more information on this study, check out the Washington Post’s article here.

You can read Ed Stetzer’s thoughts about this information and some expanded views on the Pew Forum’s recent look at the Global Religious Landscape here.

 

The Story of a Ministry and the Internet

phone-with-apps1I love the days that we live in! We have opportunities in 2012 to impact culture with the Gospel unlike any time in the history of the world. This morning I watched a video from Desiring God Ministries that touched my soul. It’s the story of a bi-vocational pastor in Massachusetts who caught a vision for how the Internet could be used to impact culture at the front end of the World Wide Web.

There are several things that moved me about the story:

1) The bi-vocational pastor’s conviction that ministries shouldn’t charge for the Gospel.

2) The humility of the bi-vocational pastor, in working so hard to get another pastor’s sermons out to the masses.

3) The way the Internet has changed what tools are available to believers seeking to grow in their walk with Christ. There is a point where the pastor talks about Charles Spurgeon’s sermons being about all that was available to the masses for free at the time the Internet began to be embraced. Now there are thousands of ministries/churches offering their sermons for free.

4) God’s unique anointing on individuals. It is amazing how many people that God has reached through the faithful ministry of one person. This story is repeated over and over again in the lives of individuals all over the world. Ask John Piper, Billy Graham, Beth Moore, Louie Giglio, Andy Stanley, Chuck Swindoll, etc. if they ever dreamed that they would be used the way that God has chosen to use them and I suspect that they would answer, “No.” How God works through people is an amazing and beautiful thing. I’m grateful to be a small part of His story and pray that He will continue to use me and the people in my life in wonderful ways too.

Here is the story of a web pioneer’s wild dream.

A Web Pioneer’s Wild Dream from Desiring God on Vimeo.

Do you have some great stories of how you have used the Internet to make an impact for Christ?

How Is Your Church Influencing Culture?

table-plugDallas Theological Seminary has a fantastic new podcast that pastors and church leaders ought to be listening to. On December 18, Andy Crouch, Andy Siedel, and Darrell Bock recorded a conversation about how the church impacts culture. If you are a church leader, I want to encourage you to take about 45 minutes to watch two podcasts entitled Culture Making and Creativity. The Seminary has done a good job dividing these into two different segments so that you can watch it in two settings.

The podcasts center around these questions:

What is culture?

How are “things,” not just ideas and thoughts, part of “culture making?”

What results or effects do we experience from “culture making?”

What is the importance of service when engaging in culture?

How are “things,” not just ideas and thoughts, part of “culture making?”

How should the knowledge of “culture making” affect the teaching/communication of pastors and the actions of those in the secular world?

How can we see culture in ways unlike ever before?

For leaders, how should the idea of “culture making” affect how you lead?

You can link to the podcasts here.

Christian Leaders Respond to the Tragedy in Connecticut

newtown mourningAny time our nation faces a tragedy like we did yesterday, it is important for us to process our grief. How a nation collectively grieves is as unique as the individuals that make up our great land, and the situations over which that grief has been borne.

As I watched our President grieve at the White House briefing yesterday, I also shed tears. In the past 24 hours I have seen some beautiful pieces written by Christian leaders.

Max Lucado posted this beautiful prayer here:

Dear Jesus,

It’s a good thing you were born at night. This world sure seems dark. I have a good eye for silver linings. But they seem dimmer lately.

These killings, Lord. These children, Lord. Innocence violated. Raw evil demonstrated.

The whole world seems on edge. Trigger-happy. Ticked off. We hear threats of chemical weapons and nuclear bombs. Are we one button-push away from annihilation?

Your world seems a bit darker this Christmas. But you were born in the dark, right? You came at night. The shepherds were nightshift workers. The Wise Men followed a star. Your first cries were heard in the shadows. To see your face, Mary and Joseph needed a candle flame. It was dark. Dark with Herod’s jealousy. Dark with Roman oppression. Dark with poverty. Dark with violence.

Herod went on a rampage, killing babies. Joseph took you and your mom into Egypt. You were an immigrant before you were a Nazarene.

Oh, Lord Jesus, you entered the dark world of your day. Won’t you enter ours? We are weary of bloodshed. We, like the wise men, are looking for a star. We, like the shepherds, are kneeling at a manger.

This Christmas, we ask you, heal us, help us, be born anew in us.

Hopefully,
Your Children

David Platt’s excllent post, The Gospel and Newtown, seeks to help readers wrestle with the age-old question of the goodness of an all-powerful God in the midst of such evil. This should be must reading for all people of faith.

Chris Surber, a pastor in Suffolk, Virginia wrote a beautiful piece entitled, I Want Christmas Toofor the Suffolk News-Herald.

Nicole Unice writes from the perspective of a mother and a theologian in her post Kneel and Pray for Newtown. Her writing helps us understand how to give your children framework for understanding good and evil.

John Piper writes about Jesus and Newtown in two posts entitled, How Does Jesus Come to Newtown? and A Lesson for All from Newtown.

Rachel Held Evans writes about the impact of social media on mourning, and our need to grieve together in her post Grieving Together.

Ed Stetzer writes about Three Ways Christians Should Respond to the Horror of a Broken World, encouraging us to pray, not be afraid to say that the world is horribly broken, and to do something.

Ann Voskamp reminds us of where God is in the dark of this weekend, here. ‘

Mark Becker, a pastor in St. Paul, MN writes about his anger, hurt and fear here.

Al Mohler wrote a healing piece at his blog entitled Rachel Weeping for Her Children – The Massacre in Connecticut, where he challenges us to affirm the sinfulness of sin and the full reality of human evil, to affirm the cross of Christ as the only adequate remedy for evil, to acknowledge the necessity of justice, knowing that Perfect Justice awaits the day of the Lord, and to grieve with those who grieve.

Finally, here are some of the tweets that have appeared in the past 24 hours by Christian leaders.

Anderson Driscoll Feinberg giglio Moore Osborne Smith Smith2 Stetzer Stier swindoll Warren

God Answers Prayer

Prayer is the FuelThe life of a pastor is an interesting one. In a normal week I will meet with dozens (and sometimes hundreds) of people in a variety of settings. There is an endless stream of meetings – from monthly ministry team meetings, to staff meetings, to board meetings, to vision meetings, to counseling meetings to meetings with denominational officials and other pastors, to meetings with vendors, to meetings with people in crisis, to meetings with those I mentor, to meetings with . . . you get the picture.

There is also a lot of activity that is produced as a result of those meetings.

There is sermon preparation, hospital visitation, mission trips, volunteering in ministry at my church and in the community. There is planning and vision casting. There is studying and reading.

There are periods in my life where I intentionally take a look at all that I am involved in and pray over what needs to be cut out. It is a freeing thing to stop doing things that are really good so that others can step up and fill my shoes in fresh new ways that more often than not outshine anything that I have done in that area.

Perhaps the most important work that I do on any given week is to pray. The older I get the more I learn that prayer is the fuel that drives the church. All of our meetings, all of our planning, all of our busyness, will amount to nothing of lasting value if God isn’t in it. 

In 2012 I have witnessed God answer prayer in such powerful ways. I have seen the Lord give clarity in areas where apart from Him there would be confusion. I have seen God heal the sick (I just got back from a hospital visit that was so encouraging, where I saw God’s healing on an individual in such powerful ways). I have seen marriages restored. I have seen children walk back to God. I have seen new people coming to faith. I have seen financial worries alleviated.

God answers prayer. He is at work! There are some big personal prayer requests that I am laying at God’s feet as we end this year. I know our God can do miracles and I am praying for Him to do so in these circumstances, encouraged by what He has already done.

What’s a way that you have seen God work in your life this year?

Christian Pariahs

HaggardWhat is a Christian pariah?

In my world a Christian pariah is often times a pastor or church leader who has been used by God in powerful ways in the past, who somehow or another dropped their guard, walked into sin, and got caught.

Ted Haggard is a good example. He served as the Senior Pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado. While there, God used him to grow the church from 22 people meeting in a basement to over 14,000 people. He served as the President of the National Association of Evangelicals. He was a prolific author, speaker, and was seen as a model for working across denominational lines in movements of prayer. He was also a man struggling with temptation, pride, and some very secret sins.

Haggard was caught in a web of lies. And almost immediately the group of believers that had walked with Haggard throughout his nearly 30 years of ministry abandoned him. He had become a pariah; like many Christian leaders before him. The sting that a congregation feels when their pastor lets them down is very real. It is a normal thing for Christians to have difficulty trusting someone who has lied to them so much in the past. There has to be a time of proving yourself before a congregation or even close friends will trust you again. There will be some who never have you trust again. It’s all a part of the consequences of sin.

To be fair, there were those who loved and ministered to Haggard in the days and years after his public fall. There were some in his close circle who felt that he too quickly moved through the “process of reconciliation.” There were some who thought that Haggard too quickly wanted to be behind the pulpit again. All of these are tough issues to wrestle with. I imagine that each case is going to be different. Many churches teach that a pastor who has fallen the way that Haggard fell should never pastor a church again; that he has disqualified himself from pastoral ministry. John MacArthur wrote a good piece on this here.

That said, I found myself genuinely moved by this article from Michael Cheshire, a pastor from Colorado, and a guest writer for Leadership Journal. Cheshire, like so many of us, wrote Haggard off. His perspective began to change while having lunch with an Atheist friend that he had been trying to reach for Christ. Here is part of the story.

A while back I was having a business lunch at a sports bar in the Denver area with a close atheist friend. He’s a great guy and a very deep thinker. During lunch, he pointed at the large TV screen on the wall. It was set to a channel recapping Ted’s fall. He pointed his finger at the HD and said, “That is the reason I will not become a Christian. Many of the things you say make sense, Mike, but that’s what keeps me away.”

It was well after the story had died down, so I had to study the screen to see what my friend was talking about. I assumed he was referring to Ted’s hypocrisy. “Hey man, not all of us do things like that,” I responded. He laughed and said, “Michael, you just proved my point. See, that guy said sorry a long time ago. Even his wife and kids stayed and forgave him, but all you Christians still seem to hate him. You guys can’t forgive him and let him back into your good graces. Every time you talk to me about God, you explain that he will take me as I am. You say he forgives all my failures and will restore my hope, and as long as I stay outside the church, you say God wants to forgive me. But that guy failed while he was one of you, and most of you are still vicious to him.” Then he uttered words that left me reeling: “You Christians eat your own. Always have. Always will.”

For the rest of Cheshire’s story click here.

And, then I’d love to hear how you think we should respond to so-called “Christian pariahs.”