Thinking Out Loud

January 15, 2022

Skye Jethani on Pastors Creating “Mini Me” Parishioners

Over the years, dinnertime conversations at our house have had a recurring theme. When pastors do a series of teachings on discovering and using your spiritual gifts, the conclusion is often self-serving, inasmuch as the deployment of those gifts always involves serving the church’s own agenda, its own programs, and activities limited to its own physical building.

So the end appeal is, ‘Volunteer for our church clean-up day, volunteer to teach Sunday School, sing in our choir.’ Sadly, we’ve also known people who stepped up to the plate, only to be rejected in the particular area of service where they felt they could help.

In a recent Twitter thread, Skye Jethani (author of the three What if Jesus Was Serious books) pushes this one degree further. He suggests that the pastor has a vision and calling on his life, and thinks that everyone else should have that same vision and calling, forgetting that God has planted them within their own context, consisting of a unique neighborhood, extended family, workplace (or school), and network of friends.

by Skye Jethani

posted to Twitter by @SkyeJethani on 1.14.22 [link] in response to an article at Christianity Today on 1.13.22 [link]

I have so many thoughts about this. It bugs me beyond words when I hear church leaders say people are “apathetic.” No they’re not! The people rightly care more about their own callings and too many pastors want them to care more about the pastor’s calling.

A pastor’s effort should not be to convince more people to give more time and treasure to the pastor’s ministry activity. It should be to shepherd people to live with God in the places and vocations he’s called them to in the world.

The problem isn’t that people are apathetic about what church leaders are called to do. It’s that church leaders are too often apathetic about what God has called his people to do Monday thru Saturday. Get outside the church, pastor. Genuinely seek to understand the lives and vocations of your people. Seek to equip them for the works of service they are called to in the world (Ephesians 4:12). It will transform you and your people and you’ll discover they are not suffering from apathy; it’s pastors who are suffering from myopia.

Few will admit it, but too many pastors believe their calling matters more than others’. I know, I was a pastor and I had this same delusional arrogance. I tried to convince non-pastors to abandon their callings in order to do more activities that looked like my calling all in the name of “mission” or “purpose” or “significance.” But I gave little thought to the value of what God had called them to do 40+ hours each week. And I had little vision for the true scope of God’s redemption of “all things” (1 Corinthians 15). I ministered as if God only cared about the institutional church. I preached “In the beginning, God created the heavens and earth” but I pastored as if “God then retired into full-time ministry.” If this is the vision church leaders have, it’s no wonder we give so little energy to what happens beyond the church.

It wasn’t always this way. In the past, most pastors spent the week outside the church ministering to the sheep where they were—homes, hospitals, fields, factories, prisons and schools.

Today, we’ve reversed that. Pastors stay inside the church and people must come to them for care. This professionalization of pastoring means few pastors really know what life looks like for their people outside church walls. Few know the dignity and difficulty of vocations of their sheep and therefore few know how to truly minister and equip them.

What they see are passive, tired people on Sunday morning reluctant to sign up for yet another commitment or another church program and interpret this as “apathy.” It’s not apathy. It’s exhaustion. And rather than alleviating this burden, too many churches make it worse. Rather than offering rest for the sheep, too many churches want to extract more work from them in order to validate the pastor’s calling by growing the church or expanding its influence.

Pastor, spend one year outside your office with the sheep and then tell me if they’re “apathetic.” If you still think so, I’ll repent.


Skye Jethani is the author of several books including Futureville, With, and Immeasurable; is the co-host of the Phil Vischer podcast; and is the creator of the With God daily devotional.

November 29, 2021

Mixed Ministry Motives

This material appeared this weekend at Christianity 201 as a two-part article. The content has been combined here to a single article.

Last week, tongue-in-cheek, I posted two mis-quoted passages on social media:

Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds … to be seen on Instagram. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven.

and

And He said to them, ‘Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s branding?’

As one gets older, it becomes more apparent when people are doing ministry for the purpose of promoting themselves and their church or organization. The blurred ministry motives become so blatantly obvious, that you have to ask yourself why the people are not more spiritually self-aware to realize the pride which drives much of their activity is staring them in the face.

First, let’s look at the verses as they actually appear:

And He said to them, “Why is it that you were looking for Me? Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house?” – Luke 2:49 NASB

The context is the short snapshot we have of Jesus at 12-years of age when he gets separated from his parents. They retrace their route and find him back “in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.” vs. 45

The phrase in vs. 49 that Jesus is “being about my Father’s business is unique to the KJV. We’ve never discussed it here before, but the phrase ‘kingdom business’ gets used to describe all manner of church activity (and busy-ness), but it’s important to notice that Jesus was discussing theology, not planning a building program, or starting an organization, or discussing a stewardship campaign.

Our satirical ‘my Father’s branding‘ is seen so frequently these days. It’s about lifting up the name and tag line of a single congregation or organization, not the name of Jesus who ought to be the central focus of the worldwide church referenced in The Apostle’s Creed.  (‘Catholic’ in that context meaning universal.)

The other verse alluded to is

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. – Matthew 6:1 NIV

which is echoed a few verses later:

“When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get. – 6:16 NLT

Practicing good works to be seen on Instagram is more common than you might think. It’s all about optics.

Back in 2014, I looked at this writing

I Samuel 16 offers us a verse we know but tend not to practice:

7bI do not judge as people judge. They look at the outward appearance, but I look at the heart.

The Louis Segund translation renders it this way:

…l’homme regarde à ce qui frappe les yeux, mais l’Éternel regarde au coeur.

In English, it would read that man looks at what “strikes the eyes;” in other words first impressions and superficial indicators.

Creating Instragram moments in ministry is more commonplace than you might think. Perhaps in some small way it can be justified in that it models or encourages others to think about their own Christian service or lack thereof.

But it’s often a thing in and of itself.

And therefore it’s not about Jesus.

The last part of Matt. 6:5 reads,

I assure you and most solemnly say to you, they [already] have their reward in full. – AMP

This self-promotion mentality goes all the way back to Babel.

Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” – Genesis 11:14

They wanted to make a name for themselves; “…This will make us famous…” (NLT) This is so backward and the polar opposite to the upside-down kingdom of Christ which is characterized by humility. Philippians 2: 3 begins

Don’t do anything for selfish purposes…

Four times at Thinking Out Loud, you’ll find this quotation which we heard in a sermon and it has stuck with us.

“There is no limit on what can be done for God, as long as it doesn’t matter who is getting the earthly credit.”

If that’s true, then if a church or organization is always consciously aware of building their own brand, logically, there are going to be limits on what they will be able to accomplish…

…The next “Evangelical obsession” I want to touch on quickly here is a preoccupation with numbers.

Earlier this week we listened to a podcast where a pastor was clearly boasting about all that his church has accomplished in the last several years and it came out in phrases (which I’ve altered slightly here) like,

  • We have 150 people serving in this department of our ministry
  • We’ve prayed for a thousand people in this area alone
  • We want to be a church of 12,000 people

The numbers I’ve changed, but the substance was real. It was about building a brand, promoting a book, and, inevitably, hosting a conference.

Sadly, it somewhat undermined the good things he shared. Let me clear on that, there were some excellent takeaways that I will remember, but I’ll also remember the attitude and how reminiscent it was of another pastor we’ve been examining on another podcast who eventually crashed spectacularly.

Instead, we should be looking at partnerships where we work in cooperation with other ministries to build the Kingdom.

The one who plants and the one who waters work together with the same purpose. And both will be rewarded for their own hard work. – 1 Cor. 3:8 NLT

The passage that comes to mind here is one where John expresses concern to Jesus that a group that is outside their circle of disciples is ministering in the name of Jesus. Mark chapter 9 (CEB) reads,

38 John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone throwing demons out in your name, and we tried to stop him because he wasn’t following us.”

39 Jesus replied, “Don’t stop him. No one who does powerful acts in my name can quickly turn around and curse me. 40 Whoever isn’t against us is for us. 41 I assure you that whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will certainly be rewarded.

I once heard someone’s unique interpretation of the “mark” in Revelation represented by “666.” They said the mark was simply numbers. It was an interesting take, and one that fits our data-driven society.

We in the church can indeed be easily obsessed with likes, website stats, church growth, average attendance, yearly budgets, numbers of people baptized.

Numerics are simply not the name of the game.

Later, I felt there were a few more things that could be said about pursuing church growth at all costs, and doing ministry for the sake of having good optics online. This verse definitely should have been part of the discussion:

Proverbs 16:2

All a person’s ways seem pure to them,
but motives are weighed by the Lord. (NIV)

Because we just spent time in this verse two years ago in a piece titled Motivation Matters, I don’t want to spend a lot of time except to note that God is concerned with the why we do things as much as the what we do.

The apostle Paul saw this happening even back in his day. In Philippians 1 he wrote,

15 It’s true that some are preaching out of jealousy and rivalry. But others preach about Christ with pure motives. 16 They preach because they love me, for they know I have been appointed to defend the Good News. 17 Those others do not have pure motives as they preach about Christ. They preach with selfish ambition, not sincerely, intending to make my chains more painful to me. 18 But that doesn’t matter. Whether their motives are false or genuine, the message about Christ is being preached either way, so I rejoice. And I will continue to rejoice.

I think this is an important passage in our time because ministries do compete with each other, so let’s visit the same verses in The Message:

15-18 It’s true that some here preach Christ because with me out of the way, they think they’ll step right into the spotlight. But the others do it with the best heart in the world. One group is motivated by pure love, knowing that I am here defending the Message, wanting to help. The others, now that I’m out of the picture, are merely greedy, hoping to get something out of it for themselves. Their motives are bad. They see me as their competition, and so the worse it goes for me, the better—they think—for them. So how am I to respond? I’ve decided that I really don’t care about their motives, whether mixed, bad, or indifferent. Every time one of them opens his mouth, Christ is proclaimed, so I just cheer them on!

Paul was able to see the good that could come out of such proclamation, even when the motives were suspect. The grace he shows in this situation is remarkable. In I Cor. 4:4-5 he again says,

My conscience is clear, but that doesn’t prove I’m right. It is the Lord himself who will examine me and decide.  So don’t make judgments about anyone ahead of time—before the Lord returns. For he will bring our darkest secrets to light and will reveal our private motives. Then God will give to each one whatever praise is due. (NLT)

The last two sentences suggest that are reward will be based on the motives which drove our activities. (Someone has quipped, ‘There will be a lot of surprises in heaven,’ for reasons such as this.)

Although I don’t have a copy, earlier in the year I was intrigued by this book title: Rooting for Rivals: How Collaboration and Generosity Increase the Impact of Leaders, Charities, and Churches (Bethany House, 2018).

When the church growth movement is analyzed, it’s said that much of the growth that takes place is transfer growth, in other words, people moving from one church to another. (This isn’t always true of fresh church plants however, in which genuine overall growth can be measured.) Transfer growth means that church leaders are competing for the same people, the same bodies if I can use that term.

But rivalry can also get to the point of bad-mouthing another organization without justification. The blurb for the book says,

Faith-based organizations are sometimes known for what we’re against—and all too often that includes being against each other. But amid growing distrust of religious institutions, Christ-centered nonprofits have a unique opportunity to link arms and collectively pursue a calling higher than any one organization’s agenda.

In today’s polarized world this comes as no surprise…

…Although I’ve looked at our opening verse many times, it was only today that I caught that it’s repeated at 21:2. Taking one last look, I noticed something at BibleHub.com that I’d also not seen before, the inclusion of the Brenton Septuagint Translation. Its rendering of 21:2 is:

Every man seems to himself righteous; but the Lord directs the hearts.

We can genuinely deceive ourselves sometimes or decide that the end justifies the means. But God’s concern is always deeper.

June 13, 2021

I Have Become a Senior Ageist

I realized this morning that I have become an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms when it comes to which voices I look forward to hearing preach and teach each week.

For the record, an ageist is someone who is “Unfairly discriminatory against someone based on their age,” and while this usually is applied as working against the elderly, I suppose that reverse ageism is also popular.

Also for the record, I’ve reached an age where, when it comes to Bible teachers and authors I should be resonating more with the “men in suits” crowd. But I don’t. I gravitate toward younger communicators. John Mark Comer recently introduced me to Tyler Staton, and as an egalitarian, I will always tune in if Danielle Strickland or Tara Beth Leach is teaching.

I get what it’s like to be on the opposite side of this issue. A local church where we spent many years buys into the philosophy of, “Never put someone older 40 on the platform or picture older people on your website.” At least, they buy into it theoretically (and selectively) but both their own leadership and congregation is aging as well. Another local church member commented that he has a hard time picturing his church bringing back many of the younger families they had, because the Sunday morning services are planned and shaped by an older mindset.

And yet a third local church has now encountered a pastoral vacancy. In my heart, I keep hoping they can snag someone mid-to-late 30s. It would be a breath of fresh air. But then I ask myself why someone that age would want to move to the small town we’ve called home for the past several decades. True, we’re an hour from Toronto, but I know that many younger leaders want to stay close to the city and all the networking and potential it appears to offer.

So I am an anomaly; some type of reverse-ageist. But I’m not alone. I remember being a much younger person in churches in Toronto where the teens and twenty-somethings would grab all the front seats and the older individuals and couples would sit further back cheering them on. Okay, not literally cheering; maybe praying is more accurate. It was good to see. These churches had an enviable demographic for preachers.

If your church happens to have a younger teaching pastor, or lead pastor, you need to cheer them on.

I think the Bible’s word for that is encouragement.

 

May 19, 2021

Denominations Losing Internal Influence

Saddleback Ordination Service; Screenshot via Baptist Standard; click image for story

In the last several days we’ve witnessed two serious breaches of denominational policies and protocols, both involving large, significant denominations and both involving gender issues.

In one, Saddleback, a California megachurch, which is a member of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) ordained three women earlier this month. Albert Mohler, who just yesterday announced his resignation as President of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberties Committee, was quoted earlier by Religion News Service saying, “Saddleback has taken actions that place itself in direct conflict with the stated doctrines of the Southern Baptist Convention.”

In the other, members of the progressive wing of the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) in Germany have defied a Vatican edict forbidding the blessing of same-sex unions. A Jesuit priest there told Associated Press, ““I am convinced that homosexual orientation is not bad, nor is homosexual love a sin.”

As denominations lose influence over their congregations, and an entire generation of Millennials and Gen-Z reject affiliated churches in favor of house fellowships or independent congregations, the open defiance is a serious crack in the denominational fortresses. Though the RCC and SBC are very different on many issues, the RCC is very hierarchical, with The Vatican seen as the supreme authority, even overriding scripture on some points.

By contrast, the SBC has always been a much looser network of congregations, though continuing to use operate under the SBC banner has always required absolute adherence to its statement of faith, which includes the position that women cannot be pastors.

In both cases, there are semantic elements, such as whether the role of pastor implies the title of Senior Pastor or Lead Pastor or whether the blessing of same-sex unions is the same as approving of same-sex marriage. The words marriage and pastor create both theological and emotional responses from people on both sides of the issue in SBC and RCC congregations and leadership.

September 9, 2020

Making God’s “Plan A” Known

Filed under: bible, Christianity, Church, current events, social issues — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:49 am

The focus of my writing over the past six months has been Christianity 201, where I’ve been sharing more original content than in times past. This one is appearing later today; you’re seeing it first!

Acts 20:27
For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. (NIV)
For I didn’t shrink from declaring all that God wants you to know. (NLT)

Many times in the church, the leadership is asked to comment on the social issues of the day; including things that simply never existed at the time the scriptures were written; but also including things which were the same in their day as they are in our own.

A pastor may feel pressed to comment on homosexuality, but I guaranty that a minister who is in the least compassionate will temper that message, or at the very least phrase things very gently, if he knows there are lesbian or gay people in the congregation, or people who are related to (by being parents or brothers or sisters) someone with that orientation. Even the most conservative sermon approach will, I hope, offer God’s “Plan A” in loving manner; and hopefully some will allow for the possibility of other interpretations where their theology and convictions permit.

When it comes to abortion, in a congregation of any measurable size, there is even more likelihood that someone listening to the pastor’s words have walked down that road. The sting of those memories is still strong, and dredging that up in a weekend worship service may seem like the last thing they needed.

This bring up the question of, ‘Why bother to address these things at all?’

There is some wisdom which must be credited to those who follow a Lectionary approach to preaching. Prescribed readings for each week offer a compendium of scriptures over a three year cycle. There aren’t “sermon series” topics running consecutive weeks, or room to maneuver the preaching focus to social issues or political ones.

That said though, the scriptures have application to so much of every day life. A pastor who goes off on a rant on abortion at least once a month runs the risk of appear obsessed on the topic, and as stated above, may be trampling on the sensitivities of individuals in the church. A pastor who ignores the possibility* that abortion grieves the heart of God runs the risk of making the Bible seem irrelevant to social issues and practical concerns.

[*Okay, more than possibility, but this is what I meant by speaking things gently. In fact, having presented some foundational scriptures, making the point in an interrogative form — “Do you think perhaps this grieves the heart of God?” — is probably closer to how Jesus would handle this.]

But on the off-chance your church doesn’t have people who are homosexual (or leaning in that direction) or have had an abortion (or are close to someone who did), it is entirely possible that you have people in your church who have been through divorce, or are even about to proceed in that direction. Statistically, it is far more likely.

The most cited phrase is “God hates divorce;” but notice the difference in two popular translations’ rendering of Malachi 2:16

“The man who hates and divorces his wife,” says the LORD, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one he should protect,” says the LORD Almighty. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful. NIV

“For I hate divorce!” says the LORD, the God of Israel. “To divorce your wife is to overwhelm her with cruelty,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. “So guard your heart; do not be unfaithful to your wife.” NLT (NASB, NKJV, GNT, NET, are similar on the key phrase)

But even with the NIV rendering, it’s clear that God’s original “Plan A” was marriage for life.

“Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Mark 10:9 quoting Jesus

Some will ask, and the disciples did ask,

“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”

to which

Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. (Matthew 19: 7 above, and 8, NIV)

Even there we see grace, and in similar fashion grace* should be at the center of our proclamation.

[*Sadly some pastors don’t read Jesus this way and prescribe that people should stay together even in the middle of a physically abusive situation. Hardliners, including some pastors and authors whose names you would recognize, would insist that saying otherwise is creating situation ethics. But that’s a topic for another article.]

I mention all these things not because today’s devotional has in any way been an attempt to cover the subject of divorce, although if you’re interested in an exhaustive 3-part research piece on the effects of divorce on children, I encourage to read the one we ran here, here and here.

Rather, I am to say here that in the course of the life of a church congregation, certain topics should eventually surface in its preaching and teaching ministry, and at that point, one cannot avoid lovingly declaring “the whole counsel of God.”

So I want to end where we began:

Acts 20:27:
For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. (NIV)

For I didn’t shrink from declaring all that God wants you to know. (NLT)

 

May 29, 2020

Those Twelve Disciples Probably Asked, “What Have We Got Ourselves Into?”

During the past ten weeks, I’ve been doing more original writing at C201, than here at Thinking Out Loud. While I don’t want this to simply be a mirror site for those Bible studies, I do want to share them here from time to time. This one appeared a few days ago…

Two weeks ago we looked at The Twelve Disciples. I’ve been continuing to think about them in the days which followed.

I wonder what I might have done in their shoes. A decade ago, a popular Christian speaker said these guys, like other Hebrew boys, might have dreamed of being selected to follow a Rabbi. Only “the best of the best of the best” were chosen. These guys were (for the most part) plying trades and weren’t on any Rabbi’s short list. Their life trajectory was headed in another direction.

Then Jesus appears. He invites them to basically ‘stop what you’re doing and follow me.’ And out of the blue,

Matt.4.20.NIV At once they left their nets and followed him. (See three different gospel accounts.)

It was an offer they couldn’t refuse.

Or could they?

Today, most of us would not consider taking a job without investigating the potential employer. What is their reputation? How is their stock price doing? What are the working conditions?

Similarly, none of us would enroll in a program of education (which is closer to what they were doing) unless we knew that upon completion, the certificate or degree was actually recognized; that it truly meant something. (The accreditation process facilitates some of that investigation for us today.)

Would they accept not knowing all the facts? Apparently so.

First, they were signing up with a peripatetic teacher.

Don’t let the big word scare you, it’s similar to itinerant and simply means “traveling from place to place.” Jesus the teacher was not attached to a synagogue. Being schooled with him didn’t mean an actual school, but rather wandering from place to place, sometimes eating on the road by biting the heads off the grain in nearby fields (and getting into arguments over so doing.) See Matthew 12 for that story, but don’t miss verse 8 where Matthew adds the phrase “Going on from that place…” to emphasize the traveling ministry. Even his long discourse in the last quarter of John’s gospel is delivered while walking from the upper room to the Garden of Gethsemane.

(A big shoutout here to anyone who has ever slept in their car, or at the side of the road. I’ve done both, but not lately. That’s the idea conveyed here, although the twelve plus Jesus were sometimes billeted in the homes of supporters in various towns.)

When one of the scribes considers following him, Jesus utters his famous “foxes have holes” line which The Message renders as,

Matt.8.20.MSG Jesus was curt: “Are you ready to rough it? We’re not staying in the best inns, you know.”

Second, Jesus wasn’t trained by a rabbi they knew.

There was a strict process here. One rabbi trains a group of students (as Jesus is doing) and then they wash, rinse and repeat. (Couldn’t resist.) But you always know, at least in name, the person your rabbi sat under for his training.

So Jesus commences his ministry, and the crowd (specifically, elders, scribes and chief priests) ask him who has commissioned him in ministry; who has authorized him to preach. In our day, being ordained or being a commended minister carries with it the concept of accountability.

Mark.11.28.NLT They demanded, “By what authority are you doing all these things? Who gave you the right to do them?”

repeated in Luke,

Luke.20.1-2.NASB On one of the days while He was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders confronted Him, and they spoke, saying to Him, “Tell us by what authority You are doing these things, or who is the one who gave You this authority?”

Most readers here would quickly say that Jesus’ ministry is confirmed by his Father. More than once in the gospel accounts we find the “voice from heaven” speaking. (A good topic for another study!) But the disciples would be risking their own reputation following a teacher whose own schooling doesn’t have earthly verification.

In balance however, we need to remind ourselves that the miracles Jesus performs validate his teaching. Things ‘no one could do unless…’ Nicodemus gets this when he says,

John.3.2b.NIV “…For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Third, there are lingering questions as to the legitimacy of Christ’s birth.

In a world without user names and passwords, people would have a longer memory for stories, and while Joseph and Mary weren’t celebrities, their story is the hard-to-forget type which would make great fodder for the tabloids and TMZ.

So when Jesus begins teaching, they ask

Mark.6.3a Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son…?”

they don’t simply mean, ‘Isn’t this the boy next door?’ but rather are dredging up a host of other memories which would recall the earlier scandalous story where Mary finds herself pregnant.

In another story where the authority or power of Jesus’ teaching is questioned, the Jews to which he is speaking come back with an indirect, but hard-hitting shot at Jesus

John.8.41b.NIV We are not illegitimate children,” they protested. “The only Father we have is God himself.”

Commentators have been so bold to suggest that this phrase can be translated, “We’re not bastards!” It’s a direct allusion to Jesus’ parentage.

Knowing these three things, would we accept the call?

I will leave that question open.

There are three applications we can take from this:

  1. Following Jesus may take us to unexpected places, it might involve sacrifice, and may result in experiencing less than optimal conditions.
  2. The path of discipleship may mean unconventional employment, perhaps even contradicting the norms of standard vocational ministry.
  3. Following Jesus the Nazarene may impact our own personal reputation; we will need to simply not care what people think of us or Him.



March 11, 2020

Wednesday Connect

Finally, a cure! And Jim Bakker has it. Call while supplies last. But first, see story below.

Seemed to be no shortage of people under the microscope this week. I’ve included some, ignored others. Don’t forget that you can always play the home version of Wednesday Connect, just follow @PaulW1lk1nson on Twitter

Also don’t miss our 404 pages in the graphics below.

■ Where did all the Christians go? Alarming new stats from Barna Research shows nearly half as many Americans consider themselves “practicing Christians” as in 2000. Of those who aren’t, about half are non-practicing, and the other half would now be considered non-Christian. However there is hope: People are still reading their Bibles and praying at the same rate they were.

■ Despite a number of revisions to its youth curriculum, a close examination finds the Mormon doctrine that being black is the mark of a curse remains relatively intact.

■ When Jesus told his disciples he was leaving, is it better to say he was “changing location” instead of “changing form?” I ask because Steven Furtick says both in this short clip, but people are jumping all over him for the latter but ignoring the truth of the former. I think people are just predisposed to condemn him. (Pastors: What if your every sentence was widely posted online? Are your messages really that word-perfect? Could you stand up to the criticism?)

■ David Jeremiah was inducted into the National Religious Broadcaster’s Hall of Fame, but historically, that would not have been possible as he’s not in membership with the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability over a claim he gamed the New York Times Bestseller lists, in a scheme similar to the one which brought down Mark Driscoll

Get ready for a string of COVID-19 stories…

Breaking: The Attorney General for Missouri is the latest to come after televangelist Jim Bakker for peddling a cure for coronavirus. He’ll have to stand in line behind The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, The Federal Trade Commission, The New York Attorney General and others. It remains that “there are no known vaccinations or over-the-counter products approved to treat or cure the virus.” …

■ In Europe, “Cases of coronavirus infections have multiplied since Thursday, March 5, 2020 throughout France, especially among the faithful who participated in a large Evangelical gathering of the ‘Christian Open Door’ in Mulhouse from February 17 to 24…” Furthermore, “Participation in this Lenten Week, organized for 25 years, did not require prior registration, which complicates the identification of potential patients.” (Story is in French-language media.) …

■ COVID-19 scare? Bethel Church closed their Redding campus healing rooms recently. Skeptic/atheist websites are having a field day with this one. …

■ Six Christians were among the 100,000 released on Monday from Iran’s prisons in order to stem the tide of the virus. It included Mary (Fatemeh) Mohammadi whose story needs to be shared. …

■ And earlier this week Bobby Gruenewald the founder of YouVersion and Craig Groeshel the founder of Life.Church entered self-quarantine after attending a conference in Germany.

■ Three items this week from The Christian Institute:

■ How Christian books come to be: Jeff and Shaunti Feldhahn have a new book about finances, but guess what? It’s not about money. (And this is from a couple that freely shares that they disagree about some aspects of financial planning, which gives the rest of us hope!) (Actually, she gets top billing on the book’s cover.)

■ Redeeming the Arts: In a world where a banana taped to a wall sells for $120,000, a short look at the God-intended role of artists, crafters, woodworkers, metalworkers, designers, engravers, stone-cutters, weavers, embroiderers; and anyone else engaged in what the author calls Presence-Centered Art.

■ Labels: “We need to take care who we label false teachers. It’s okay to name names—but we should do so only when we’re certain. And when we do wrongly label one another false teachers, we need humility to confess and repent.” Check the list of 9 marks of a false teacher.

■ Parenting Place: Concerned that Google is taking your children where you don’t want them to be? Try Kiddle.co for safe-search results, bigger fonts, larger images, and (to repeat) safe-search results.

■ More on the situation re. John Ortberg and Menlo Park Presbysterian

■ 🇨🇦 Canada has begun the process of making conversion therapy against the law in every province. “The legislation would also authorize courts to order the seizure of conversion therapy advertisements or to order those who placed the advertisements to remove them.”

■ After nearly 30 years as President of Bread for the World, David Beckmann is stepping down to be succeeded by Eugene Cho.

■ Provocative Headline of the Week: Jesus Isn’t a Death Star.

■ The Book of Alternative Services: The Sound Bath Evensong.

During sound bath Evensong, ethereal voices sing sacred texts as a musician pumps a Shruti box, creating a low, steady hum. A single pitch from a singing bowl dissolves into sonorous overtones from a large gong. It penetrates to the core. The sounds are primal and soothing. For those who sit in quiet contemplation in the pews, the unique acoustic experience offers a chance to clear the mind.

Get Religion looks at what this Associated Press report included about the service, and what is left out. Is this even about God?

■ If you missed all the public service announcements, this church included one in their choir selection.

■ Christianity is a religion, not a relationship. Wait, what? Isn’t that the opposite of what you’ve been told is true?

■ Finally, don’t forget I Still Believe — the Jeremy Camp story — opens in select theaters on Thursday; others on Friday.



The website Church Pop thinks the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh has the best 404 page, given that St. Anthony is the patron saint of lost things. Sourced at churchpop.com



March 4, 2020

Wednesday Connect

Lifestyles of the Rich and Infamous: Whose house is this house? See story * below.

We’re back with our weekly look at faith-related stories, as they appear to us living one international border removed from much of the action. I told my wife that the U.S. network TV shows weren’t on last night because it was Super Tuesday. She asked, in all seriousness, “That’s football, right?”

■ Coronavirus and the Shincheonji Church in South Korea: “In the largest outbreak outside of China, the majority of the country’s more than 4,335 confirmed cases are members of the secretive group, labeled a cult in South Korea and by the Christian community, according to a spokesman for the church. ‘You would be 5 centimeters away from the person who sits next to you, and have to say ‘Amen’ after every sentence the pastor speaks — it’s the best environment for the virus to spread,’ An So-young, a 27-year-old who left the group, told Reuters.” …

■ …And the virus means some SBC missionaries may need to be redeployed to other countries. International Mission Board President Paul Chitwood said, “For missionaries who are at the epicenter of the virus, in places where the risk is high and also where interaction with other human beings has almost been totally shut down, what we have said to them is, ‘If you have small children or health issues, we want you somewhere else quickly.'” …

■ …and in Italy, in the all-important season of Lent leading up to Passion Week, the Roman Catholic Church has congregations scrambling for alternative ways to say the Mass, including streaming live on the internet.

■ Nagmeh Panahi, former wife of Saeed Abedini, shares her story with Pastor Neil McClendon and the congregation of Grand Parkway Baptist Church in Richmond Texas (58 minutes). (Interesting quote: “The first time I saw a commercial airplane it was really scary; I couldn’t understand that there could be airplanes that weren’t meant to drop bombs.”)

■ Tornado hits Nashville: Joel and Luke Smallbone of for King and Country report, “Many of us were up through the night listening to sirens, searching for information on what was taking place around us, and checking in with loved ones around Nashville. By God’s grace, we’re all unharmed, but the same cannot be said for our city- which has taken quite a hit.”

■ N. T. Wright on what the Bible says about women preachers. “Wright said the same question would elicit a yawn in the U.K. ‘We settled this one years ago,'”

■ Parenting Problems: Why it’s increasingly difficult for Christians to work within the constraints of publicly funded fostering programs. This is a devotional article, but you want to at least read the anecdote.

■ Polyamory: In 2020 this is a definite “no” for Evangelicals. But 2030? Look what happened with homosexuality. To consider this:

■ Know anyone in this category? “There is a tendency for the parachurch to become a quasi-church. In other words, the tendency is for the parachurch to become the functioning church of its participants. It becomes the hub around which the Christian lives of its participants revolve.” The writer says such organizations are not a proper substitute for the local church

■ If you see someone on Twitter or Facebook asking for prayer, pray for them. And then let them know you’re praying. Prayer request of the week is for Olivia, daughter of @BibleBacon. (See Feb. 21, 22, 25, 26.)

■ A prominent Reformed writer asks his denomination if they are taking the Bible seriously when it comes to teaching on Satan and the demonic realm. (Kicks of a series of articles.)

■ Your Church is not a cafeteria: Thom Rainer offers seven reasons the two are not the same.

* Got $1.9M? James MacDonald’s house is for sale. (More info in the comments section.)

John Ortberg returns to Menlo Presbyterian this week after completing a “Restoration Plan” with church leadership.

■ Honored: On May 5th a Christian publisher’s association will award Stormie Omartian for “the outstanding contribution of The Power of a Praying® series, both to the industry and to society at large.” “The series’ collection of 20 books, published by Harvest House Publishers, has achieved more than 31 million in sales worldwide.” (Note to self: Don’t forget the ®.)

■ Lauren Daigle and Hillsong topped the list of the top Christian songs streamed on Spotify in 2019.

■ New Music ♫ This item got omitted last week, but apparently some people must thing the new Hillsong Young and Free song isn’t Jesus-y enough for worship use. At least, something sparked this short article. (Video embedded.)  

■ New Music ♫ Paul Baloche is back with a new album, Behold Him. Check out the lyric video for What a Good God

■ New Music ♫ Back on October 2nd, this Bethel Worship musician’s picture topped our Wednesday Connect column with the announcement of his run for Congress. Check out his new song, Raise Our Voice.

■ Meet Naomi: Not a faith story, but on the climate change front, Greta’s got competition.

■ Finally, last week’s burning theological question: Was Jesus buff?


Someone wasn’t taught to close their eyes for prayer.
Photo: Reuters News


■ Tweet of the Month for February:


Top Clicks from last week’s Connect feed:

  1. If there were only 100 Christians…
  2. Guest Post at Julie Roys: What happened at Willow Creek
  3. Julie Roys at Julie Roys: Son of John MacArthur in trouble
  4. At what point do we say that the “unreached” have been “reached?”
  5. The Akiane art theft we never knew about
  6. American Idol contestant leads judges in a prayer

Click to see them all at this link.

February 26, 2020

Wednesday Connect

Crossing the Red Sea – 21st Century Edition



Today is Ash Wednesday aka the first day of Lent. Again, send us your recommended links; especially those ‘off-road’ blogs where you feel someone is writing something significant so it can reach a wider audience.

■ Starting off: What if there were only 100 Christians? What would we know about them? Gordon Conwell seminary has envisioned this in an infographic for people who might not grapple well with %-age stats, but can see it more clearly with a manageable number. Language, ethnicity, income and a host of other parameters are covered. (You can’t do justice to this on a mobile phone, however.)

■ Curiosity scandal of the week: This time it’s Mark MacArthur, son of John MacArthur and a Grace To You board member; and a $16M investment scheme. Sigh.

Breaking: Mass Coronavirus outbreaks at Chinese prison spark concern for imprisoned Christians

■ …Also from China, new rules which were due to be implemented on February 1st, would require all “religious personnel” to pledge loyalty and “total submission” to the Chinese Communist Party.

■ Question of the Week: When will the ‘unreached’ be considered ‘reached?

■ Trouble at The Holy Land Experience tourist attraction in Orlando, Florida, with most of the staff laid off.

Not Linked: I’ll let you find this one for yourself. It’s rather dark and depressing. Dan George guests at Julie Roys’ blog and reveals the contents of a meeting he attended as an elder at Harvest Bible Chapel. James MacDonald is again revealed to be the person that we now know he is and it’s not pretty. (Some days you wish this story would simply go away.)

■ A great commission (so to speak): ♫ Our friend David Wesley, known for his acapella and virtual choir videos on YouTube was recently invited to be part of the 40th Anniversary celebrations at Saddleback Church in Orange County, CA for which he produced the latest in his “Evolution of Worship” videos. For this one, Pastor Rick Warren compiled the song list and David arranged the 12-minute medley

■ Separation of State and Church: In England, The Humanist all-party parliamentary group, which is affiliated with lobby group Humanists UK, is calling for “removing the automatic right of the 26 longest serving Church of England bishops to sit in the House of Lords, arguing that bishops have changed the outcome of votes and have privileges over other members, such as when a bishop wants to speak and other peers are expected to give way.” They argue that only 14% of the population is Church of England…  

■ … Meanwhile, the Church of England is encouraging churches to be able to accept “contactless” (what we call “tap” where I live) credit card donations in lieu of traditional cash offerings.

■ The story of “Just Sam,” age 20 who led the American Idol judges in prayer. After, Luke Bryan joked that they should all get baptized.

■ For one bakery, people giving up sweets for Lent means packing all the inventory of decadence into a donut feast called Paczki Week, which falls between the Polish and American observances of Paczki Day. The Chicago bakery expects to sell 25,000 Paczkis.

■ I’m confused. Randy Alcorn is now at Patheos. (Or is that not new.) Just last month I reported that Scot McKnight had left Patheos for Christianity Today. However, Randy Alcorn’s blog is still updating at Eternal Perspective Ministries with different content. Can someone explain this to me?

■ Parenting Place: “Be careful of the amount of news you discuss in front of your children.” This, and other advice on keeping sane and keeping safe.

■ Stories We Missed Department: I was unaware that the painting of Jesus titled Prince of Peace by once-child-prodigy Akiane Kramarik had been stolen. In December, the artist viewed the picture for the first time in 16 years. [In a longer version of the story, check out what’s she’s painted more recently.]

Essay of the Week: A historical look at Willow Creek: “[A]nother unintended consequence was virtually guaranteed: the spiritual maturity of any new leaders would likely not rise above the level of the current leadership.” This is an excellent overview for people who don’t know the full Willow story.

■ KidMin: Lent activities, Bible lessons and coloring pages for kids.

■ We often hear stories about the growth of the church in Nigeria, but at the same time, the country is struggling with an increase in incest, even though it goes “against the teachings of both Islam and Christianity.”

■ Pop Culture / Kids Korner: The gospel in Frozen 2. Love is the one thing that’s permanent.

■ Hey, Pastor People: Do you preach from the Lectionary? Now you can bust a rhyme in the middle of your sermon with Lectionary Poetry.  

■ Finally, this:


Top stories from last week:

  1. What’s on the mind of America’s Pastors
  2. Michael Newnham on the SBC’s new sub-group
  3. The Timothy Keller tweet called a “train wreck”
  4. Internet Monk’s crazy Valentine cards

February 19, 2020

Wednesday Connect

Welcome to Wednesday Connect #90 aka Wednesday Link List #490. We just returned from Cuba, so forgive me if the list is a bit shorter today.

Wednesday Connect - color swap■ What do American pastors feel are the major concerns facing the church today? Barna Research releases its latest survey. (Personal aside: It’s interesting to read down the list and consider how many of these concerns would be worldwide, and how many are unique to the U.S.)

■ No doubt all owing to his not being on the pro-Trump bandwagon in a denomination where supporting the President is de rigueur, the SBC’s Russell Moore, and the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of which he has been president since 2013, will be the subject of an SBC task force which will study its finances and policies. There have been “anecdotal accounts of churches withholding money or reducing their giving because of concerns about the ERLC.” …

■ …Meanwhile, a splinter group has formed within the SBC. Meet CBN, the Conservative Baptist Network

■ …Michael Newnham brings his Calvary Chapel experience to bear on why the Conservative Baptist subgroup may not be a good idea.

■ Essay of the Week: Just as pastors are called to minister to the people who can’t be physically present in the weekly service, they are also called to those who, while present, are not entirely there. They have “heard it said,” but either don’t know or don’t take next steps. “And just as you are all bound together in your sin, so you are also bound together in your inability to save yourselves.”

■ History-making: After the Reformation, the Cathedral of Saint-Pierre de Genève was taken over by John Calvin’s Reformed Protestant Church, which destroyed the cathedral’s statues and paintings, and banned Catholic worship. On Leap Day, February 29th, the first Catholic mass in 500 years will be celebrated in the building

■ …And a longstanding Catholic tradition may be changing. “Currently Papal law dictates that non-Roman Catholic Christians, for example Anglicans, cannot take part in the Eucharist (sharing of the bread and wine) at a Catholic service and similarly it directs that Roman Catholics should not take Holy Communion in other Christian churches.” However, a UK theologian is challenging this position. The stumbling block to change would be the Catholic position on transubstantiation.

■ Some Christians have been challenged by the intellectual concepts advanced by mainstream author Jordan Peterson. It turns out the man has not been well for several months and is in Russia improving after undergoing a detox process from meds which produced the opposite reaction to the one intended.

■ A doctor whose practice is 100% devoted to providing abortions boasts about getting repeat customers.

■ LGBTQ themes, characters and ideas continue to be omnipresent in popular culture, including at Marvel Comics which introduces. “a character named Phastos who is Marvel’s first openly gay superhero.”

■ First there was the book Your God is Too Small. Next, someone should write Your Church is Too Loud. After paying $105M to purchase a former event center, Transformation Church in suburban Tulsa has been told their services are too loud. The church was given 15 days to turn down the volume or make adjustments to the building.

■ Jonathan Merrit called the comment section of this Twitter thread by Tim Keller “a dumpster fire and visual explanation of why American evangelicalism is in such a perilous state.

■ At the Movies: A review of First Lady – A Modern Fairytale, produced and directed by Nina May. (It rhymes with Tina Fey.) “It’s not very often that you see a faith-based rom-com like May’s.”

■ “Jimmy Carter was way ahead of the rest of America when he put solar panels on the White House…Unfortunately, Ronald Reagan, who was no fan of alternative energy took the panels down form the White House when he took office a few years later… [I]n 2017, [Carter] leased ten acres of land near his home in Plains, Georgia, to be used as a solar farm with 3,852 panels… Three years after going live, Carter’s solar farm now provides 50% of the small town’s electricity needs, generating 1.3 MW of power per year. That’s the equivalent of burning about 3,600 tons of coal.”

■ Bizarre Conference Department: The Mentors and Mantles Solemn Assembly is your chance to receive “THE IMPARTATION” [their all-caps] to “serve this present age.” It’s also “for those who want to know how to be empowered by God to operate both in the sacred and the secular.”

♫ Music Time Travel: A look at the Reliant K song Mood Rings, and how songs like this influenced attitudes toward women.

■ Provocative Headline of the Week: Department of Justice Awards Federal Grant to Anti-Homosexual Group Hookers for Jesus

■ Finally, scroll down to the middle of Saturday’s Sunday Brunch at IM, and realize that sometimes Valentine’s Day Cards have been rather creepy.



Some links this week from Ann Brock or Mad Church Disease.

Articles used on Wednesday Connect frequently originate with Religion News Service (RNS). Two months ago I made a small donation to show support, and I hope that those of you who are able to do more will consider tossing money into the hat as well, to keep this service available.

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