Thinking Out Loud

April 24, 2018

Evangelicals: A Guided World Tour

As Global Ambassador for the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), Brian Stiller has a big-picture perspective unlike anyone else on the planet. His two most recent books have confirmed this: Evangelicals Around the World: A Global Handbook for the 21st Century (Zondervan, 2015) and An Insider’s Guide to Praying for the World (Baker, 2016). Simply put, Brian Stiller is a walking encyclopedia on all things Evangelical and he gains his information not from typical research but through firsthand, on-the-ground observation and involvement. We’re talking both frequent flyer miles, and the recognition of Christian leaders on every continent.

This time around he’s with InterVarsity Press (IVP) for From Jerusalem to Timbuktu: A World Tour of the Spread of Christianity (248 pages, paperback).

So…about that title. Brian Stiller argues that if we see Jerusalem as the birthplace, and thereby global center of Christianity, that center point moved up into Europe and then back down and then, around 1970 that center started shifting to the global south. The impact of this is huge; it means that North American and Western Europe are no longer setting the agenda for Christianity. It also means that one particular nation, rocked by the link between Evangelicalism and the election of a particular leader and now trying to consider if it’s time to rename the group entirely, simply cannot be allowed to dictate that change when one considers all that Evangelicals, quite happy with the term, are doing in the rest of the world.

Disclaimer: I am blessed to know Brian personally. His wealth of knowledge impacted me when I sat in the offices of Faith Today magazine, and Brian rhymed off the names of organizations founded in the years immediately following World War II, and then how, as these maverick, dynamic leaders passed the baton to the next generation, these organizations entered a type of maintenance mode, with lessened radical initiative. As Director of Youth for Christ Canada, President of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (this country’s counterpart to the NAE), President of Tyndale University College and Seminary and now Global World Ambassador for the WEA, he has truly lived four distinct lifetimes.

But that’s not the topic for this book. Rather he looks at five drivers which have characterized the growth of Evangelicalism globally. These are:

  1. An undeniable increase in emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit.
  2. The fruit of years of work by Bible translators.
  3. A shift towards using national (indigenous) workers to lead.
  4. A greater engagement with legislators and governments.
  5. A return to the teachings of Jesus regarding compassion and justice.

Beginning with the first of these, Brian doesn’t hide his own Pentecostal/Charismatic roots, something I haven’t seen as much in his earlier books. A final chapter looks at the influence of prayer movements, the role of women in ministry, the trend in praise and worship music, the challenge of welcoming refugees, and the constant spectre of persecution.

The book compresses decades of modern church history into a concise collection of data and analysis.  It is an answer to the question, “What in the world is God doing?”

I know of no better title on the subject simply because I know of no one more qualified to write it. This is an excellent overview for the person wanting to see the arc of Evangelicalism since its inception or the person who is new to this aspect of faith and wants to catch up on what they’ve missed.

For both types of people, this is a great book to own.

► See the book’s page at the IVP website.

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July 16, 2013

Bad News / Good News for American Evangelicals

If it bleeds it leads.

So goes the adage among newspaper and television reporters when constructing the front page or the evening newscast. We tend to become more engaged by bad news stories, and for statisticians who manufacture and sell reports on everything from the consumption of soup or soap or the latest revelations of sexual trends among youth, shock sells.

The Great Evangelical RecessionThe book The Great Evangelical Recession (Baker Books, January 2013) by reporter-turned-pastor John S. Dickerson is this type of shocker. Forget the thrillers in the Christian bookstore fiction section, this book is far scarier.  The full title is The Great Evangelical Recession: 6 Factors that will Crash the American Church…and How to Prepare. The book describes the challenges that the Evangelical church faces over the next few years. It’s a message that Canadians have been hearing recently through the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada’s Hemorrhaging Faith report, which I covered in this article; and Americans made aware of via a recent Pew Research Forum report which I discussed here.

The book is arranged in twelve chapters, six deal with isolating the particular urgent challenges faced by Evangelicals, and six offer hope and direction, but offered in the shadow of that same urgency.

Of the six issues there are two that I gravitated to in reading the book this weekend. The first has to do with the longstanding suspicion among many that the number of Evangelicals in the United States is grossly inflated. The author, no stranger to interpreting statistics — is more comfortable pegging the numbers at 7% or 22 million. Toward the end he states that while these numbers will be disappointing to some, there is a lot that may be accomplished by 22 million people.

The second issue concerns the financial health of churches and parachurch organizations. With each successive generation, people are becoming more stingy. Worse for local churches, is the tendency among the younger generations to prefer supporting parachurch ministries over local assemblies.

We often tie the drop in giving to the drop in the economy. But a larger undercurrent is also at play. The generation that gives almost half of total donations began passing away about three years ago. Nearly one thousand of them are called home every day. Their funerals and memorials are quietly held every morning, afternoon and evening in rural churches and metropolitan chapels across the country. Nobody seems to be noticing.

Over the next twelve years, this faithful and reliable generation will pass away. As they do, total giving will decrease by as much as half for typical evangelical ministries — nationally, regionally and locally. (p.82)

More specifically,

The older generation accounts for only 19 percent of our national church, but they give 46 percent of our donations. A combining of figures reveals that approximately 361,000 of these most generous Americans die every year, or 969 per day.  (p. 91)

And

Some optimists reason that as the younger generations age, they will become more generous. And certainly, some of them will. However, the Purdue study compares how today’s older folks gave when they were younger folks. It tells us that a 75-year-old giver today was, at age 35, far more generous than his 35-year-old counterpart today. (p. 93)

Perhaps it’s wrong on me to focus on the ‘money chapter’ especially in view of chapters that deal with the erosion of belief that accompanies the drop in church attendance. But in a book that takes its title from an economic event — recession — it seemed an appropriate section of the book to serve as example of what it is the church is facing in the long term unless some of these situations turn around.

Bradley Wright’s unofficial counterpoint to unChristian, titled Christians are Hate Filled Hypocrites, reviewed here, still must have dealt with enough potential negatives that his follow up had the more buoyant title Upside, reviewed here.  In John Dickerson’s case, the half empty glass and the half full glass are presented in a single volume. In a way, the first part of the book grabs us more, the frightful news story does indeed command the front page. But the second half — each chapter a response to the conditions described in the first — while more familiar to us, preach against a background of statistics that give their prescriptive advice much greater meaning.  Of those, I found the chapter on pursuing unity across denominational lines one of the most powerful.

The Great Evangelical Recession released in January in paperback at $14.99 US and is available from a Christian bookstore near you. Though the book deals exclusively with U.S. stats, I believe Canadians would benefit greatly from reading it as well. A review copy was provided by David C. Cook, Canada.

  • Watch a 6-minute interview with the author at Fox News

October 2, 2011

Serve God When You are Young…and Ready

I’ve written before, including just four months ago, how increasingly, so much of what goes on in the modern church is a young man’s game.  We often tell teens and twenty-somethings that they need to “maximize their impact for God” while they are young.  And certainly, when it comes to serving in tropical rainforests, helping out in the high arctic, or ministering in communities located at high elevation, you want to have youth or fitness on your side.

But I’m also reminded of the number of times those opportunities were afforded to me — especially those where a church turned their worship time or pulpit time over to me — where I honestly didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t have anything close to resembling the wisdom of age, and I’m still not sure I do.  But I do know that I wish I had known then what I know now.

So here we have a dichotomy between offering ministry experience to the young and inexperienced, and then denying the older and wiser those same opportunities because all the time-slots are full. 

However, I also have to ask myself if I would be that older, wiser person if those early opportunities to fall flat on my face had not been offered to me.  So…

To the young:

  1. Take the opportunities as they present themselves.  Paul told Timothy not to allow anyone to look down on him because of his youth; but
  2. Get all the training and preparation you can get for each individual assignment.
  3. Know what ministry roles not to accept because of lack of spiritual fitness in that particular area, or lack of Biblical understanding.
  4. Get connected with an older — the older the better — person in your faith community who can mentor you in specialized ministry positions, as well as a general mentor for your overall spiritual journey.

To the old(er):

  1. Yes, you have more experience and can do a better job.  Now get over it.  The chain of grace isn’t constructed that way.  In some institutions, maybe, but not a fully functioning organic church.
  2. Find young people who are teachable and are willing to be mentored.  Meet them halfway by learning about and connecting with their culture, their technology, their family situations.
  3. Mold and shape them through encouragement, not criticism.  Avoid the “in my day this is how we did it” type of stories, and instead, use non-directive responses, i.e. questions.
  4. Become a translator.  Not a Bible translator, but someone who takes solid spiritual concepts from past devotional writers and Bible commentators, and asks, “How would the next generation communicate that same idea?”

Those are my suggestions for today, and you should listen to them, because I am older and wiser, and if you don’t, I’m calling the pastor and telling him that everybody’s doing it wrong and instead, they should all listen to me.

Seriously, I do think there’s something here worth considering. Does your faith family give equal weight to encouraging the next generation and appreciate the wisdom and experience of older participants?

The graphic above is from a book on inter-generational ministry, the other side of the coin, how churches can reach a wide variety of ages. Read more on this topic from Zondervan author Dr. Jeff Baxter

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