Thinking Out Loud

August 8, 2016

The Minister’s Personal Library: Then and Now

When the books don't sell: Look very closely at the bottom left corner; the picture is actually unsold books waiting to be pulped. Many Christian titles suffer the same fate, but some should never have been printed in the first place.

When the books don’t sell: Look very closely at the bottom left corner; the picture is actually unsold books waiting to be pulped. Many Christian titles suffer the same fate, but some should never have been printed in the first place.

One of the peripheral things I do related to my work involves collecting used books for something called Christian Salvage Mission. I should add that I’m not very good at this as most people simply donate their books to the local thrift shop, but every once in awhile someone will greet me with a trunk load full of boxes, and often it’s a retired pastor who has reached the stage where they are giving up their personal library. They say you can’t take it with you, but these old guys — and by old guys I mean five minutes older than me — would gladly take their theology collection to heaven if they could figure out a way.

Because I’m basically nosy, I usually take the time to rummage through these boxes to see what books and reference materials shaped their ministry. Recently, I realized these books are characterized by what isn’t there:

  • there are no books on leadership principles
  • there are no books on leveraging your platform
  • there are no books on growing your church
  • there are no books on hiring best practices
  • there are no books on promoting your next sermon series
  • there are no books on launching a satellite campus

It was the first one — leadership — I noticed more significantly. I wonder how much of our present emphasis is diverting attention and energy away from pastors simply immersing themselves in the knowledge of scripture. Instead, the libraries I see include:

  • Bible commentaries
  • Bible handbooks
  • Greek and Hebrew word study
  • more commentaries
  • classic sermon transcripts
  • …did I mention commentaries?

Do you think there is something we’re losing — and I mean the church as a whole in terms of where the focus now lies — by getting entangled in so many secondary or tertiary concerns?  

In a few days, the Global Leadership Summit launches at Willow Creek. This is a great opportunity for people in business and service industries to hear from the best, including both Christian and general interest speakers. I know that many pastors also attend these events, as well as a gazillion other conferences where the goal is to extract leadership principles that can be applied to their local church. I am not dissing the idea of nurturing leadership principles in pastors and church leaders.

I’m simply noting that — if their libraries are any indication — such an emphasis did not exist in times past.


Theological Books


Yes, today is 8/8 so I posted this at 8:08. My own little OCD moment.

May 21, 2016

Blockbuster Churches in a Netflix World

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:57 am

Today we’re featuring a re-post of an article which first appeared in April at the website I Already Am. To read this at source, click this link.

img 052116

Blockbuster Churches in a Netflix World

By Nathan Lorick

Fifteen years ago, we were living in a less technological society than we are now. Blockbuster, the video rental market leader, was booming with thousands of retail stores scattered across the nation. Millions of customers poured in week after week to rent the newest action thriller or comedy. Blockbuster was simply at the top of their game, or so they thought.

Beyond the glare of the blue and yellow lights, something was happening that went largely unnoticed. A new company had formed with a new creative form of video rental that would push the limits of the norm. This company, known today as Netflix, had the right idea at the right time. However, for various reasons, the CEO of the new company wanted to partner with Blockbuster to create a new dynasty that was sure to take the video rental world to levels not seen before.

In 2000, the CEO of Netflix approached the CEO of Blockbuster and offered to sell the newly formed Netflix for a mere $50 million. While that number sounds large to us, this is a small investment for a major retail business. It wasn’t the money that caused the CEO of Blockbuster to decline the offer; instead it was because he missed the opportunity to see beyond the present market. Hindsight is 20/20. Today, Blockbuster is out of business, and Netflix is the largest video rental company—worth more than $30 billion.

This is a modern picture of what many churches are going through. At one time they were thriving and growing at rapid rates. Their ministries were effective in every way measurable. Things were as good as they could be. However, somewhere along the way, attendance began to drift off, giving became less dependable, and the influence of their ministries became unknown to those outside of the church. Simply put, churches were so focused on the present, they stopped dreaming about the future. They essentially became a Blockbuster church in a Netflix culture.

So what can be done about this if your church is in this stage? What is the key element to moving forward into a new season of growth and vitality? While there can be many answers, I want to narrow it down to one key element: re-launching evangelism in your church’s strategy. Evangelism is the axis on which our church must turn in order to see it revitalized to life and growth. Nothing brings new life to a church more than seeing people experience new life in Christ.

So how do you bridge the desire for church revitalization and evangelism? I believe this is found in three simple answers:

  1. You must create a culture of evangelism in your church. Church members must sense the need and urgency to reach people for Christ and recognize their responsibility in God’s kingdom work to share the good news of Christ. Your church has to create strategies that are focused on reaching the lost with the gospel. When this happens, people begin to expect God to transform lives each and every week. Creating a culture of evangelism in a church will simultaneously create a culture of newfound enthusiasm in a church.
  2. You must create opportunities to train people on how to share their faith and to engage in personal evangelism. People are eager to see God use them for His purposes. They genuinely want to see people come to faith in Jesus; many just haven’t been discipled in how to do it. When your church equips people with the necessary tools to share the gospel, God uses them to expand his kingdom. Once someone leads another to Christ, they develop a new excitement because they know they have been used by God!
  3. You must consistently dream about the future and try new tools for evangelism. In our day, we have more tools and gadgets to share the gospel than ever before. Churches should always evaluate what is out there to utilize as well as continue to be innovative in how they engage those without Christ.

The tragedy of Blockbuster is that they settled for being good in the present and missed the opportunity to be great in the future. Likewise, God has given us an incredible opportunity to shine his light brighter than ever before. I encourage you as a church to be forward thinking in how to engage your community with the gospel. After all, we’re not a part of a video retail business; we are a part of a worldwide gospel revolution.

used by permission | see more at the blog I Already Am

March 3, 2016

When the Big Box Retailer is a Big Box Church

Filed under: Christianity, Church — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:12 am
The Whosoever Will Rescue Mission, San Francisco, date unknown. Every community has a unique ministry history and individual challenges.

The Whosoever Will Rescue Mission, San Francisco, date unknown. Every community has a unique ministry history and individual challenges.

Over the past twenty years we’ve seen a phenomenon in retail where big box retailers, sometimes called “category killers” have set up shop in cities and towns and in the process destroyed the livelihood of locally-owned, community-focused, mom-and-pop businesses. In my town we had four stores that sold office supplies which, over a period of about four years, disappeared off the map after Staples arrived. Perhaps where you live you’ve seen independent bookstores close when Barnes & Noble arrived; this in the era before A-zon finished the job for most of them.

There’s a difference between a “chain” of stores, and big box retail. Chains are stores like what you had, only affiliated with an organization for national marketing. A privately owned store can join a chain.

In the analogy we’re heading to here, chains are like church denominations. And sometimes a denomination will work hard to have representation in a local area. Historically however, they start small and build organically.

A big box retailer has more than name recognition. Their motto is, ‘If you build it big they will come in big numbers.’ Having so much more money to throw around than a basic chain, they create large environments and offer discounts.

In the world of what we call “multi-site” churches, growth often happened out of necessity. The original church was simply unable to handle the crowds, and because people were driving great distances, rather than expand the existing physical location, they basically replicated what they were doing in a different location, including having the sermon projected on a big screen.

North Point Community Church fits that definition. Starting from their original location, they’ve slowly spread out to encompass an area that is mostly north, northeast and northwest of downtown Atlanta. While they have a number of affiliate churches, North Point itself has never parachuted into completely foreign territory. They’ve never announced that the next church will be in Tulsa, or Boulder, or Scranton. Their geographic reach is well-defined.

On the other hand, there are also megachurches that have other sites which are not as huge as the parent location. In Ontario, Canada, The Meeting House has about 20 satellites, but some of them started out and small, and I believe a couple are still in that <100 average attendance category.

And then there is East Side, in Anaheim, California which, for whatever reasons, has a single satellite location in Park Rapids, Minnesota. I don’t know the history, but one has to assume this began with a nucleus of people in that area who were drawn to a particular style of teaching; or that the church identified this community as having a need, and proceeded to do something missional and meet that need.

Which brings us to Hillsong. In an article entitled Hillsong Church: Do Not Colonize San Francisco, Nate Lee responds to a video posted by Ben Houston:

Hillsong SF is not something I am looking forward to. In fact, their video offends me. And it makes me extremely sad for this city and what it is becoming. And I am convinced, beyond any doubt, that Hillsong SF has absolutely nothing to do with God’s Kingdom here in San Francisco.

San Francisco is a city under siege. There is a war going on here that can’t be seen or understood through the eyes of a naïve, idealistic pastor. So when Ben Houston shows up in his overly-produced video saying, “San Francisco is a city where we see great potential,” it’s painfully clear that he has no idea of the context onto which his words fall. Guess who else saw “great potential” in this city? The real estate agents, developers, and city officials who have destroyed neighborhoods, broken up families, and displaced poor people of color for their own idealized, dystopian visions for San Francisco. What kind of “great potential” does Hillsong fulfill with its presence? And why would this random Australian dude ever think he’s qualified to evaluate this city’s potential? San Francisco is not a hopeful candidate auditioning for his religious services. We have bigger things to worry about.

I’m so tired of this. I’m tired of pastors coming to San Francisco, posting pictures of bridges and crooked streets and declaring how much they love this city without actually understanding any of it, without being hurt by it, without any scars to show or dirt on their shoes or callouses on their hands…

…Any kind of language that implies that God’s work or God’s plan starts when we arrive (e.g., “God has a great plan for this city!” “San Francisco is a city where we see great potential!” “In San Francisco, the best is yet to come!” – Ben Houston) is indicative not only of terrible theology, but of white Christian exceptionalism, the oppressive belief that the correct kind salvation and healing can only be facilitated through us, on our terms with our methodsand us always happens to be white missionaries, white pastors, and white churches.

And that’s just for starters.

There’s a lot more to this however than just the retail analogy I’ve presented above. It’s not just about fears of Hillsong experiencing transfer growth while existing ministries experience transfer loss. And let’s be honest, some people do change churches every few years.

In today's world, many choose a church because of its music, and the Hillsong name is immediately recognizable.

In today’s world, many choose a church because of its music, and the Hillsong name is immediately recognizable.

No, there’s more to this. It’s a matter of knowing your context. Knowing the rhythm, the cadence, the tenor of the ministries working in that community. Studying the spiritual history. Having someone with their feet on the ground for months, even years; having others who are invested in the community. Missionaries often spend a year acclimating to the culture before they ever begin a word of proclamation. You don’t just show up and expect to rock their world overnight. That is what I believe is at the heart of Nate’s concerns; it’s not just about someone building a big worship center or having brand recognition. It’s about the ‘people context’ of the city.

To return to a retail analogy — a different one — we once owned three Christian bookstores. While each carried our name, kept the same hours, stocked the same core titles, and was run by the same policies, the spiritual needs of those communities were vastly different, and the authors and ministries known to their customers were often quite unique. When asked if we were going to expand further, I said at the time, “You can’t just take a store like this one, seal it in a giant container, and drop it in to another community. The needs and interests are not the same.” It might work with a dairy store, or if you sell jeans and t-shirts, but it doesn’t work in Christian endeavor. You can’t just colonize another territory; you have to have done, and be prepared to do as much listening as you talking.

I would be ill-equipped to want to start a Christian store or a church in an area where I didn’t have some previous familiarity, or wasn’t living, or wasn’t working in partnership with some people already in ministry there; and this doubly so if that is an area where there is a history of intense spiritual warfare; and while each of those three criteria is important, I would say working in partnership would be the way to begin.

On the other hand, I would not want to be obstructionist, I would not want to stand in Hillsong’s way; but I think Nate’s concerns are very real, and because he’s there, he has the right to express those concerns or misgivings.

I just don’t think the elephant knows when it is the largest animal in the room and what responsibilities go with that privilege, any more than Staples realized they were going to put those four office supply stores in my town out of business. Or did they?

My Christian ethic compels me to wish Hillsong well, but it also compels me to equally wish all the existing churches and mission organizations in the San Francisco Bay area well also.

One more time, here’s a link to the article: Hillsong Church: Do Not Colonize San Francisco.

Thanks to David Fitch for pointing out this article to me.



May 14, 2015

Christianity Fares Poorly in Recent Polls, Surveys

Religion in AmericaNumerically, Christianity is in decline in North America. If the U.S. wants to see its religious future it needs only to look to Canada, which although it has its unique characteristics (different mix of ethnicities, historically stronger Roman Catholic population) is very much a “20 minutes into the future” window on what the U.S. is facing. And in some respects the UK provides Canada with a similar preview of increases in secularism.

We wrote about the implications for the church a few months ago in a review of the new book, The Church in Exile.

Dr. Russell D. Moore heads the Ethics and Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and is always very clear and forthright in framing the Evangelical position on issues for wider culture to comprehend. In an article titled “Is Christianity Dying” he writes:

  • Bible Belt near-Christianity is teetering. I say let it fall
  • Secularization in America means that we have fewer incognito atheists. Those who don’t believe can say so—and still find spouses, get jobs, volunteer with the PTA, and even run for office. This is good news because the kind of “Christianity” that is a means to an end… is what J. Gresham Machen rightly called “liberalism,” and it is an entirely different religion from the apostolic faith handed down by Jesus Christ.
  • The Pew report holds that mainline denominations—those who have made their peace with the Sexual Revolution—continue to report heavy losses, while evangelical churches remain remarkably steady—even against some heavy headwinds coming from the other direction.
  • Christianity isn’t normal anymore, and that’s good news. The Book of Acts, like the Gospels before it, shows us that the Christianity thrives when it is, as Kierkegaard put it, a sign of contradiction.
  • We do not have more atheists in America. We have more honest atheists in America.

To read the entire article — recommended — click this link.

Meanwhile, USA tapped another Baptist writer, Ed Stetzer for an article titled “Survey Fail: Christianity Isn’t Dying.” The articles subtitle confirms what Moore is saying, “Fakers who don’t go to church are just giving up the pretense.”

  •  Rather than predict the impending doom of the church in America, this latest study affirms what many researchers have said before. Christianity isn’t collapsing; it’s being clarified. Churches aren’t emptying; rather, those who were Christian in name only are now categorically identifying their lack of Christian conviction and engagement.
  • If evangelical Christianity is growing, or at the very least remaining steady, why is Christianity as a whole shrinking and why are those who claim no religious affiliation increasing at such a rapid rate? In short, nominals — people whose religious affiliation is in name only — are becoming nones — people who check “none of the above” box on a survey.

To read the entire article, click this link.

Of course, discussions like this tend to move from the sublime to the ridiculous. So we have, at Billboard of all places, this article: “Bill O’Reilly Blames Hip-Hop for Decline in U.S. Christianity.” Here’s a snippet:

  • Obviously, these statistics were gonna get an entrenched conservative like Bill O’Reilly upset. And when Bill sees a problem, Bill needs a scapegoat — and when you’re a conservative talking head, what better scapegoat is there than black people? … “There is no question that people of faith are being marginalized by a secular media and pernicious entertainment,” O’Reilly said. “The rap industry, for example, often glorifies depraved behavior. That sinks into the minds of some young people — the group that is most likely to reject religion.”

What’s deplorable about this is that O’Reilly is missing the point entirely as to what Christianity is and sees it as moralism instead belief in the deity and atoning work of Jesus Christ.

If you feel you must, you read the story at this link.

Yesterday, we also linked to a story at Huffington Post, “The Surprising Sacred Gathering Spaces That Are Moving Into Your Neighborhoods” which you’ll find at this link.

Finally, CBC television in Canada jumped into the discussion last night, but as their charter mandates, were forced to look at all religions.  I’m not sure if their content is available in the U.S. but you can try to view the 12-minute piece at this link. (There was also coverage this week at ABC World News.)

with additional research from Clark Bunch at The Master’s Table blog and Flagrant Regard







February 25, 2015

Wednesday Link List

Family Circus 02-22-15

First, the PARSE links for Pastor People:

Carl Trueman on Evangelicals as Johnny-Come-Latelys to Lent – “I suspect that the reasons evangelicals are rediscovering Lent is as much to do with the poverty of their own liturgical tradition as anything. American evangelicals are past masters at appropriating anything that catches their fancy in church history and claiming it as their own… I also fear that it speaks of a certain carnality: The desire to do something which simply looks cool and which has a certain ostentatious spirituality about it…” Hmmm…

The Church and Beer Combo Meal – This time it was PBS’ turn to highlight the trend: “At Pub Theology in Washington, most believe that traditional churches are too rigid and confining… It’s estimated there are upwards of 130 church pubs in the US, many more in Europe, and that the number is growing.” But not all clergy interviewed for the story were supportive.

Debriefing the Sermon You Just Preached – Of the four points in this article, the second addresses the great vulnerability of a pastor right after speaking: “Any criticisms you hear need to be received, graciously acknowledged, and then honestly considered, but not one hour after your sermon.  Most of us who have just poured our hearts out in preaching are not at a good place to evaluate criticisms.  Always graciously receive all comments.  However, those comments that may be particularly hard or even harsh to hear are better evaluated after two good nights of sleep.  Write them down.  Leave them on your desk.  Try to forget about them until Tuesday…

New Church Construction at its Lowest Since 1967 – In a four minute audio segment, NPR looks at the house church movement. “The Bible says, ‘What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has has a hymn, a word of instruction, or an interpretation’ — all of this done for the strength of the church,” [Greg] Stultz says. “Where is that being done?” Furthermore, one of the groups would actually qualify as multi-site: “Three years later, Redemption now has three house churches that meet around Bristol. Once a month, they have a group service…”

Memo to Pastors: Knowing Your Audience when You Preach on Sex – “In your congregation are numerous people who have committed adultery. There are hundreds of porn addicts and fantasizers of both genders. We are not a sexually pure people. So please don’t preach like we’re riding on your high horse with you (whether or not you mean to be up there). The Bible is clear about sex and its place in marriage, and it is your job to preach it. But when you stand up there and preach like ‘we all know fornication is evil’ it shames us. When you lay low the adulterers with your scorn it shames them. And are you even thinking of those who became sexually active by force through rape or molestation? How low must they feel when you speak of the “loss of purity” like it’s a candle that was blown out?”

Revisiting the President’s Conversion Story – Within the church we call it a testimony. We call it a conversion. So when Get Religion — a website that reports on how religion is reported — looked at a recent statement by Governor Scott Walker, it also hauled out a 2007 transcript of Obama’s own description of the day he responded to the altar call: “…I was finally able to walk down the aisle of Trinity [United Church of Christ] one day and affirm my Christian faith. It came about as a choice, and not an epiphany…But kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side, I felt I heard God’s spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth and carrying out His works.”

Writing a Book for Limited Distribution – Every once in awhile, an article surfaces which is more than six months old, but would be new to many of you. So even though older things online aren’t as cool as things written yesterday, here are 5 Reasons to Write Books for Your Own Congregation.  Sample: “You know your audience. Few writers get to target so specific an audience because most mass market books are geared for the widest readership possible. But when you write for your own congregation, you can tailor your subject, approach, illustrations, and suggestions to your unique ministry setting.”

Poll Results – Not entirely scientific, but Thom Rainer asked his Twitter followers for reasons why churches today seem to be less evangelistic than in the past. Here’s some random samples: “Christians have no sense of urgency to reach lost people.” “Many church members think that evangelism is the role of the pastor and paid staff.” “Church membership today is more about getting my needs met rather than reaching the lost.” “Some churches have theological systems that do not encourage evangelism.” “Our churches have too many activities…” He grouped the many responses into a list of 15 reasons.

Rob Bell on Gay Marriage – Excerpt: “One of the oldest aches in the bones of humanity is loneliness,” Rob Bell said. “Loneliness is not good for the world. Whoever you are, gay or straight, it is totally normal, natural and healthy to want someone to go through life with. It’s central to our humanity. We want someone to go on the journey with.” That statement prompted a question from Oprah: “When is the church going to get that?” “We’re moments away,” Rob Bell said. “I think culture is already there and the church will continue to be even more irrelevant when it quotes letters from 2,000 years ago as their best defense, when you have in front of you flesh-and-blood people who are your brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and co-workers and neighbors and they love each other and just want to go through life with someone.”

40 More Recommended Articles – If you’re a pastor trying to balance vocational ministry with marriage and parenting, David Murray, author of the just released book The Happy Christian has 40 online resources you don’t need to search for.

Counseling for Pastors – “The counselor assumed I was making a referral. He was surprised that I was scheduling myself. That first appointment was so healing, so fresh, so needed… In our next church board meeting I presented a proposal about the church both requiring and paying the cost of each staff member seeing a counselor at least twice that year. After a healthy discussion, they agreed.

Please remember that inclusion of items here or at PARSE does not imply endorsement.

Water into Wine Birthday Card

Short Takes

  • Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas is now a multiple award-winning movie, though these may not have been the type of awards they were going for
  • …In other movie news, the creators of Fireproof, Facing the Giants, and Courageous have a new title in the works. Check out the preview for War Room, releasing in theaters August 28th…
  • …But when the history of Christian movies is written, the one story that won’t get left out involves the classic, The Jesus Film, which has now been translated into 1,300 languages.
  • In a more detailed look at Rob and Kristen Bell’s comments on gay marriage, a response from Line of Fire host Michael L. Brown: “So, according to Rob Bell, the Church of Jesus should follow worldly culture and deny the plain teaching of God’s Word in order to be ‘relevant…’ I guess what’s trending on Twitter trumps the timeless wisdom of the living Word of the living God, I guess an emotional appeal carries far more weight than transcendent Truth.”
  • I do not, for one minute, understand what people get from reading Chris Rosebrough, even though I might agree with him on a number of issues. He recently created these faux-billboards. Some of them are funny and also quite true, but what is gained here? Yet, as the author of the piece linked here points out, people do need more discernment. (But I wouldn’t want this to be the tenor of my discernment ministry.)
  • Twitter is reading our tweets. (It’s probably in the agreement when we signed up.) So based on your Twittering, an analysis of the top 100 things we gave up for Lent.
  • Jamie the Very Worst Book-Reviewer on that… that book… which became a movie.
  • A Detroit doctor refuses to treat a baby who has two moms.
  • What to do when you don’t know what to do: Setting personal parameters for the issues that aren’t black and white.
  • This summer, Pope Francis be a plush doll from the same company that does Yankees’ pitcher Derek Jeter and the Green Lantern, Bleacher Creatures, announced just as we’re hearing that a figurine from the Playmobil toy company of Martin Luther — aka “Little Luther” — is shattering sales records.
  • KidMin Korner: Ideas for sharing St. Patrick’s Day with children.
It was a funny joke, and now, apparently, also a product.

It was a funny joke, and now, apparently, it is also a product.

December 5, 2014

Proof That Your Local Mainline Church Isn’t Dying


Thinking Out Loud’s
Positive Research Service
For Mainline Churches

Tired of being told your denomination is declining?
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Call 1-800-555-123 or send check or money order to Box 130467

November 5, 2014

Wednesday Link List

You're not really showing up at the church potluck (or pot-blessed) supper unless you're showing up with a zippered casserole carrier inscribed with the verse, "Serve one another in love."

You’re not really showing up at the church potluck (or pot-blessed) supper unless you’re showing up with a zippered casserole carrier inscribed with the verse, “Serve one another in love.”

Places to go; people to meet!

We end today where we started last week; another movie parody poster from the Orange curriculum. Click the image for details.

Orange Curriculum Parody Poster 2

October 5, 2014

Names You Should Know

Filed under: Church — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:47 am

Outreach Magazine is out with its latest list of the 100 Fastest Growing Churches in the U.S. and the 100 Largest Churches in the U.S. You can download a free 23-page .pdf copy of their latest data at this webpage, and learn how you can order the full magazine in single copies or in bulk.

There are however some churches which are conspicuously absent, including (Craig Groeshel) and Lakewood (Joel Osteen), and we need to remind ourselves that as great as its influence is, the Christian world does not end at the U.S. borders.

Some of these names will be new to you, and some will be familiar. Either way, these are names you should be aware of. Download the full report to get the church names, locations, attendance numbers, website links and other stats. These are for the largest churches (in order, in groups of 25). We also did one for the fastest growing churches yesterday at Christian Book Shop Talk.

Lead Pastors of 100 Largest Churches

July 23, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Born Again T-Shirt from Gardenfire

Each week, I get paid to write teasers for some great online resources, as well as some quirky ones.

Meow and Forever - T-shirt - Master's Table Blog


July 6, 2014

How to Have a Perfect Church (Acts 2 Style)

Today’s article is jointly-posted with Christianity 201.

I’m currently reading an advance copy of Overrated by Eugene Cho, releasing September 1st from David C. Cook. I am indebted to Eugene for these thoughts.

So how would you like to have the perfect church, at least according to the model given to us in Acts 2? You know the passage,

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (NIV)

So what is the model here?

  • teaching
  • fellowship
  • breaking of bread *
  • prayer

*Tangentially: Is this a reference to communion? Studying the very few translation variants

  • to the breaking of bread [including the Lord’s Supper] (AMP, also NLT)
  • at the Communion services (the Old Living Bible)
  • the common meal (the Message)

however commentaries seem to feel the phrase “breaking of bread” is self-evident in its reference to the meal instituted by Christ in the upper room with his disciples.

Back to Acts 42, if we include some of the verses that follow we would also include:

  • the favor of the general population (v. 43)
  • shared possessions (v. 44)
  • selling possessions to support the poor (v. 45)
  • daily meetings; house groups specifically mentioned(v.46)
  • praise (v. 47)
  • numeric growth (v. 47)

Many people place the emphasis on verse 42. Here it is again with emphasis added:

42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (ESV)

Anyway…according to Eugene Cho, that would be to totally miss part of what the verse says. Here, with emphasis added is how he would read the verse:

42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (ESV)

A few days ago we spent two days looking at devotion to God. There are eleven times this is used in the NIV, but there are thirty-four uses of devoted. (Here’s a link to do the study on your own.)

Cho writes:

Overrated - Eugene ChoThere are lots of books out there about self-help, self-growth, self-whatever. Here we see there was no secret recipe, no shortcut, just evidence of long-term commitment. They devoted themselves to study, fellowship, breaking bread and prayer. Do you know what I think the most important element was? I think the most element was not what they did, rather, devotion itself.

Read verse 42 again.

They devoted themselves.

A lot of people ask how they should change their church to make it grow. They ask “What new strategies should we employ?”

Pretty simple actually.

They were steadfast. They cared. They devoted themselves to each other, to Christ, and to the building of God’s kingdom.

Are we devoted?

(pp. 116-7 in the advance copy)


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