I don’t want to take a lot of time over-introducing the video segment here, lest I fall into the trap of putting some spin on it; but in this 11-minute clip there is a strange juxtaposition between the revivalism of John Piper’s description of his traveling evangelist father, and the context of the Calvinist audience to whom he is speaking. If your mind and hearts are open, there is a moment of unusual transparency here where we learn as much about the speaker as we do about the place of pleading in the salvation process.
July 23, 2015
May 19, 2015
I met Glenn Schaeffer years ago when he was a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada; and for many years his very colorful blog, Go and Make has been linked here. These thoughts really resonated and I wanted to make sure you had a chance to think this over!
I have been blogging for a few years. As I compose articles I find there are times when, either for the press of time or simply out of sheer laziness, I simply mention a resource and hope the reader will take the initiative and find it online. (This is not my usual practice!) There are times I will hyperlink to a resource so with a simple click of the mouse the reader will be taken to the website. Other times, I embed the material right into the blog so that the reader simply scrolls down … clicks and watches what has been embedded into the blog.
I can’t help but see a parallel with congregations and their attitude toward their mission to the lost people in their community. Some congregations have the attitude that, “We’ve let people of this community know we are here. We have built our building, erected a sign and we have a website. Now, it’s up the people of this community to find us.”
Other congregations “hyperlink” to their community. Vacation Bible Schools, community workshops, worship services in local senior centers, brochure distributions, radio ads, preschools, “block parties” and home Bible studies make it easier for people in their community to find them.
Other congregations “embed” themselves into the social fabric of their community. Member’s volunteer in a variety of community organizations … foster friendships with their unchurched friends or coworkers … develop relationships with seniors in senior care homes … invite immigrants into their homes to introduce them to western cultural practices … develop working partnerships with local organizations in their community or the neighborhood around their church building. The people of the community encounter members of “embedded” congregations almost everywhere. “Embedded congregations” don’t wait for people to find them … they find the people and serve them … love them and tell them about Christ!
What is the tendency of your congregation?
March 24, 2015
Your friend dropped by the Christian bookstore last week when I happened to be there. Every once in awhile, I get into a conversation with someone who really opens up; who really wants to share something, and this was one of those times.
Your friend has a lot going on inside her. There’s a battle raging between the more conservative values she was raised with, and her desire to be a more progressive, rational humanist, liberal wife and mom. She gets nothing out of church, but she goes to please her husband. She thinks it’s good that her kids are getting some type of faith focus in their Sunday School, but bristles at the absolute exclusivity of Christianity and worries that perhaps they are getting brainwashed.
And then, she has you.
You probably don’t see yourself as such, but you are her one spiritual anchor in a sea of confusion and questions. You are the person she talks about as a Christian influence in her life, more than her husband or any author or TV personality. You are the only Bible she reads.
And you are part of the problem.
First, you leave no room for her questions. Your faith and personal theology are so neatly wrapped up and tied with a bow that you seem to have trouble seeing life from her perspective. This is how it was, is, and ever more shall be would be a statement describing your intransigence. Don’t get me wrong, the scriptures are clear, God is unchanging, and if the buck is going to stop somewhere, solo scriptura is not a bad place to land the plane.
But you need to meet her in the middle if you’re going to bring her back to your starting place. You have to have the conversation. She wants to have the conversation with you. If you don’t have empathy for her situation, you need to at least pretend to have some sympathy for whatever has brought her to her present spiritual state.
She needs to see compassion. She needs to see that God is a God of grace, and that grace extends toward her.
Second, you need to embrace her in a spiritual sense. Instead, you regard her has some toxic influence in your life that should not be permitted. You shut her down when she starts saying things that you don’t approve of or using language you can’t condone in your house. At that point, all you offer her is your own self-righteousness.
You are afraid to listen. Your world is probably saturated with Christian books, Christian radio or podcasts, and Christian television. When your friend starts talking with you, her words are so totally foreign to your everyday experience that you are afraid of being polluted by them. You want to spend your entire Christian life at the conference; at the retreat; at the worship service.
Jesus got his hands dirty. He hung out with political zealots, tax collectors and prostitutes. There’s a lesson there, I think.
Third and finally, you need to invest in an intense study of Christian apologetics. You may be shutting her down at every turn because you have nothing to offer her. The idea of ‘always being ready to give a response’ is lost on you. It’s easier to put your hand in her face and tell her you don’t want to talk about it.
When the gang gets together for a social evening, you win every round of Bible Trivia, but when it comes to discussing your faith with seekers and skeptics, Atheists and Agnostics, you’ve got nothing.
You’ve preached to the choir for so long you haven’t noticed the audience behind your back.
Listen _________, your friend needs you. She needs you to be her link to a world of Christian belief that she is missing right now, but she needs your love and your time and your willingness to enter into her spiritual world.
The Bible can take her challenges. Our doctrine and theology can deflect her doubts. Christian resources can answer her questions.
But right now you are her contact point, and as a team, we’re all counting on you not to drive her away. Or you can continue to make a mess of it, and hopefully somebody else can pick up the pieces.
February 25, 2015
January 26, 2015
Yesterday at Christianity 201, instead of using an excerpt from a book, I drew the day’s thoughts from a table of contents. I wasn’t given a review edition of the book anyway and was using a borrowed copy, and second, I had not looked at the individual chapters at that point. The table of contents is impressive supported our theme verse for the day
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. I Cor 12:4-7
We had a pastor who repeatedly said “It takes all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people.” Every church has something special to offer. The parish system — where you simply attend the church located closest to where you live — has some things in its favor, but for centuries now, Protestants have chosen their place of worship based on a variety of factors, some doctrinal and some, if we’re honest, that are totally superficial.
I also had a missionary friend who said, “Every denomination is an overstatement.” What he meant was that if you have a particular distinctive, you are going to emphasize that above everything else, which means that sometimes other priorities will fade into the background. So our churches often feature a particular facet of ministry life, but may do so at the expense of something else. Hopefully nothing that should be absolutely central is diminished beyond recognition.
The book is, The Ten Most Influential Churches of the Past Century: How They Impact You Today by Elmer L. Towns, published by Destiny Image. I did not quote index verbatim here, I just wanted to give readers there an overview. And it turned out there were more than ten churches covered; there are more than ten chapters! I combined a few, and warned my readers that listing does not imply endorsement.
- The worldwide Pentecostal movement
- House church / Home church movement
- Churches at the forefront of racial integration
- Church structures using a network of cell groups under a central administration
- Churches built on Christian Education / Sunday School outreach
- Churches using non-traditional teaching methods
- Churches targeting seekers, skeptics; the non-churched
- Baby Boomer churches
- Worship/Praise driven churches
- Integrated media, or internet-based churches
- Churches promoting multi-generational appeal and programs
- Positive-thinking or prosperity teaching churches
- Churches built on personal evangelism
- Churches focused on foreign missions
- Multi-site churches with video teaching
- Churches modeled after the concept of using church plants to evangelize
Now remember, with a couple of exceptions above, this has nothing to do with doctrine or teaching. You could map this on to a variety of denominations and many of the models would fit.
What’s your reaction to this?
Mine was generally positive. God us using many people in many different ways to accomplish his Kingdom Purposes. Yes, some of these have emerged more driven by the culture than by anything the First Century Church knew and some of these styles may be unknown a generation from now. Some are more likely to lead people into a deeper walk with God, and some are more entry-level; their converts will eventually feel the need to settle in another congregation.
But instead of bemoaning the particular styles you personally don’t care for, I think we need to celebrate what God is doing around the world. There are a few styles listed there that I know will cause eye rolls, but I’ve been to some of these and have found a depth of devotion and Bible knowledge among some adherents beyond the stereotypes.
If the gospel is presented clearly and is unobstructed by distractions, people will come to Christ through all types of churches, and those already in the fold will find avenues for greater growth and discipleship.
But let’s talk about the book itself.
I found this deeply disappointing on a variety of levels. Because I attended The Peoples Church in Toronto during some very formative years, I was looking forward to reading its listing in the section that goes beyond the author’s top ten choice, but after reading the first paragraph and turning the page, I discovered there was only a cursory listing for the additional churches.
Large sections of the book are copied directly from Wikipedia. While attribution is made for these, they appear in isolation, so the author then is forced to backtrack to give some of the chronology all over again. I guess if you don’t have internet…
Inexplicably, there are a large number of blank or mostly blank pages. At one point I checked to see if I was actually reading an advance reader copy (ARC) where information was waiting to be dropped in later. I was not. This was the finished book. I can see this as a style thing with the first ten chapters, after that it was basically a waste of good trees.
The book is very U.S.-centered. While there is mention of Peoples and four churches overseas, I can’t imagine a list of this nature, purporting to represent the most influential churches of the past 100 years not including Holy Trinity Brompton, which brought the world The Alpha Course.
There’s no mention of several prevalent styles. Because there isn’t a single church to represent them, a number of things are skipped over. One is the alternative, counter-cultural type of church like House For All Sinners and Saints in Denver. Or arts-based churches like (I believe) Mosaic Church in Hollywood. Another I would call prayer-based (or better, prayer-bathed) churches like the Brooklyn Tabernacle in New York City. A third would be the New Calvinist type of churches such as the Sovereign Grace churches with their deep teaching and modern hymns. And finally, if you want an anti-role model, if you’re talking churches of influence, you might even mention Westboro Baptist.
Because of the liberality of the mostly blank pages, churches like Peoples and the Crystal Cathedral could have and should have had their section extended. I should also mention that I have attended some of the churches covered here on more than a single occasion, and thought the chapters on Willow Creek and Calvary Chapel would present this history well to those unfamiliar.
Elmer Towns is no novice on this topic. Although the book is well footnoted, he also drew on his own memories of these churches including interviews he did with the major players during times of explosive growth. I just think the book suffered more in the planning, editing and layout stages; the transition from concept to finished product could have been refined to give interested readers more information and better flow.
August 6, 2014
July 30, 2014
July 24, 2014
I’m almost certain that if I lived in Hayward, Wisconsin, Mark O. Wilson would be my pastor. I thoroughly enjoyed his book Filled Up, Poured Out (reviewed here) and his newest, Purple Fish: A Heart for Sharing Jesus was a delight to read. Christian non-fiction (i.e. doctrinal) books are not expected to be this much fun.
Here’s the difference: Mark Wilson is not dealing in theoretical evangelism. He’s a practitioner, with anecdotal accounts of the principles he believes in bearing results. In fact, to be honest, this is more a book of very short (i.e. many are single paragraph) stories of life change taking place because ordinary people were willing to take risks.
Oh, no! How many opportunities might I have missed by not being more attuned to people all around me?
This is not an attempt to teach a rigid methodology. There aren’t 4 steps or 6 steps to memorize. If anything, results are often achieved by breaking the perceived rules of witnessing, the book is very anti-methodology. By arranging the book in a series of 33 very short chapters, readers can take hold of these ideas in bite-sized morsels.
It is said that in Evangelical circles, many people delay being baptized because they cringe at the idea of having to give a one minute testimony. And that’s just to their peers. How much more are some people terrified to share their faith with a stranger? This book provides the nudge they might need.
To repeat, this book is very accessible for the average churchgoer who is intimidated at the idea of making a public declaration of faith.
The title? Mark Wilson pastors in the Northwoods area of Wisconsin where fishing is ubiquitous. So fishing is a motif throughout the book, a metaphor (that Jesus used), and a means to make connection. And in a rapidly changing world, I much prefer the idea of evangelism as fishing than speaking of going on a crusade. (And yes, that makes this a good recommendation for men to read, even non-readers.)
But what about the purple fish? I won’t give away the spoiler; you’ll have to read the book! Suffice it to say that it reinforces the idea that lost souls really do matter to God.
Purple Fish is published in paperback at $14.99 US by Wesleyan Publishing House. Read an excerpt here.