Talking Church Trends

John 8 - The Rest of the SermonEarlier this week I posted two articles about Thom Ranier’s 13 Issues for the Church in 2013. It seems like just about everyone is talking about trends in the church right now. New York Times reporter Amy O’Leary wrote an article for the December 29, 2012 issue of the Times entitled, Building Congregations Around Art Galleries and Cafes as Spirituality Wanes.

In the article O’Leary writes,

According to a recent report by the Pew Research Center, the percentage of Americans who are not affiliated with any religion is on the rise, including a third of Americans under 30. Even so, nearly 80 percent of unaffiliated Americans say they believe in God, and close to half say they pray at least once a month.

The “spiritual but not religious” category is an important audience that evangelical leaders hope to reach in a culture that many believers call “post-Christian.”

So they arrange meetings in movie theaters, schools, warehouses and downtown entertainment districts. They house exercise studios and coffee shops to draw more traffic. Many have even cast aside the words “church” and “church service” in favor of terms like “spiritual communities” and “gatherings,” with services that do not stick to any script.

Read the entire article here. 

Slate  published a story on November 27, 2012, by Ruth Graham entitled, Re-evangelizing New England, about the “quiet revival” (an ironic term, I know) that is happening in New England.  The story talks about how church planting and music festivals are helping to spur this revival. In the article Graham states,

The Northeast is the historic cradle of American Christianity, and just about every postcard-ready town here boasts a white church with a steeple. But sometime between the Second Great Awakening and today, the region evolved into the most secular part of the country. In the words of one regional missions group, “pulpits that once boasted gospel preachers like Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield now proclaim universalism, liberalism, and postmodernism.” A Gallup poll this year found that the four least-religious states in America are in New England. For evangelicals, the issue is more pointed: Evangelical researcher J.D. Payne has found that of the five U.S. metro areas with the lowest percentage of evangelicals, New England cities are beat only by Mormon-dominated Provo, Utah. New England is relatively wealthy and educated, and overall, its population is shrinking and aging. That’s why some Christians see New England as “hard soil”—and desperate for re-evangelizing. There’s a palpable sense of momentum growing among evangelicals in New England, who say this hard soil may soon bear fruit thanks to institutional efforts, individual leaders, and an intangible sense of energy often credited to the Holy Spirit. But do they have any hope of success in the most proudly and profoundly secular region in America?

The movement to convert New Englanders looks something like the recent evangelical focus on Western Europe, another traditionally Christian region that is now broadly unchurched. One popular approach is “church planting,” in which a pastor moves to a new location to found a new church that he hopes will eventually spawn several others, and so on. Because the method eventually produces indigenous churches, it’s considered a more reliable and organic path to growth than traditional “outsider” evangelism. To generalize broadly, church-planters tend to be young and Web-savvy, are almost always male (with a supportive wife), and often share a conviction that orthodox theology needn’t be burdened by the trappings of traditional worship. Think overhead projectors, not organs.

Many of New England’s church-planters are sent by denominations based in (or at least biggest in) the South.

Read the entire article here.

Rose French, a columnist with the Star Tribune of Minneapolis wrote a piece about retiring pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, John Piper, that appeared in the paper on December 29, 2012. French’s column is more than a profile piece on a retiring pastor, it is a look at the influence that Calvinism has had in Piper’s life, church, and the millions that he has inspired throughout the years. The article states:

A slightly built man, gray-haired and bespectacled, Piper is soft-spoken and self-effacing when he’s not preaching. But once he steps to the pulpit, his presence fills the room.

A 2010 survey of U.S. pastors ranked Piper among the 10 most influential living preachers — alongside Billy Graham, Rick Warren and Max Lucado.

“John Piper is sort of the anti-slick preacher,” said Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, a Christian firm that conducted the survey. “I would say he’s very unconcerned with people’s perception of his brand. And I think that’s driven by his theology. He’d be very comfortable not being heard from as long as the message went forth. And I think that’s endearing to a lot people. It’s not all about him.”

Tony Jones, a theologian-in-residence at Solomon’s Porch church in Minneapolis, is one of Piper’s frequent critics.

“I don’t think the fundamental nature of God is wrath at human sin,” Jones said. “I’m not going to say God isn’t disappointed by human sin … but at the very core of Piper’s theological vision is that God’s wrath burns white-hot at your sin and my sin. When I read the Bible, that’s not the God I find.”

Piper offers no apologies for his theology.

“If you try to throw away a wrathful God, nothing in Christianity makes sense. The cross certainly doesn’t make sense anymore, where [Jesus] died for sinners.” His views of the tornado and bridge collapse, he said, “are rooted in the sovereignty of God. Even though people see them as harsh, negative, wrathful, whatever, they are good news.”

He said he considers himself a “happy Calvinist — which is an oxymoron. I’m on a crusade to make that not an oxymoron.”

Read the entire article here. 

Piper’s influence will not wane any time soon. His impact on a generation of pastors and young adults is unquestioned. Just this week, Piper is speaking at Passion 2013, a gathering of thousands of young adults meeting in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome.

What excites you about the current trends in the Body of Christ? What disturbs you? And, what role are you playing to live as Christ in this generation?

Passion 2013 Conference is Live Streaming for Free

registration

The Passion Conference, founded by Louie Giglio, has always been something that I’ve admired from afar. God has used this conference in the lives of millions of young adults to help them cultivate a passion for Jesus Christ.

This year’s conference is happening right now at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. The conference began on New Year’s Day and runs through January 4. One of the things that I love about Passion is that they are Live Streaming the event for free. That means anyone can watch the main sessions through this coming Thursday. If you’d like to watch, simply click this link. If there is a live session going, you will be taken there. If not, you can watch previous sessions.

So far, Louie Giglio, Beth Moore and Gary Haugen have spoken. You can watch those sessions by clicking on the speaker’s name in the sentence before this.

That means that you still have time to catch five main sessions with speakers and artists including: John Piper, Judah Smith, Francis Chan, Lecrae, Jesus Culture and others still to come.

The major emphasis of this year’s Passion Conference is putting an end to modern day slavery. We live in a day and age when there are more slaves than at any other point in the history of the world. Gary Haugen said earlier today, “The question isn’t where is God, when this type of injustice strikes. The question is where are God’s people?”

Let’s dream . . . no let’s act . . . and make modern day slavery a thing of the past in this generation!

passion2013schedule1

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?

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

Fantastic Free Resource for Advent

Good NewsHow are you and your family moving through Advent this year? A friend of mine clued me in to this free resource from Desiring God ministries. We are taking time to read the Advent devotional at our dinner table. It’s caused some deep conversations with our sons.

Good News of Great Joy is a series of 21 Advent readings by John Piper to challenge the reader to look for ways to adore Christ this Christmas season. It’s easy to move through this season without taking the time to, or even understanding what it means to adore Christ.

This is a free e-book available for all e-readers by clicking here.

It’s not too late to jump into these readings. They will take you less than 5 minutes to get through each reading, but your discussion may take you longer. That is a good thing!

One other note on this book. I think the preface to this book, written by David Mathis, the Executive Editor of Desiring God Ministries was the best description of why we do Advent that I’ve ever read.