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Showing posts from 2013

McSwain, Stetzer & A Renewed Mission for American Churches

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This week, I read & shared a piece by Steve McSwain from the Huffington Post religion blog. McSwain seems to be a good guy, and he is a respected church leader. His article,"Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore" is a well-reasoned response to a previous blog post by Ed Stetzer on the Christianity Today blog. Stetzer is another widely read Christian leader. In his article,"The State of the Church in America: Hint: It's Not Dying," Stetzer argues that "The church in America is in transition," and that we shouldn’t really think of it as declining or dying.
What is Stetzer saying? He wants to reassure us that the American church is just getting rid of "cultural" and "congregational" Christians – i.e., those who aren't serious about their faith. According to Stetzer, this will leave the church with a group of people who can seriously engage society as "a mobilized mission force in the midst of this mission field." T…

Metrics of Renewal, 3: Seemingly Vibrant Churches in Unexpected Places

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Cork, Ireland was far more interesting than I’d imagined.
I only had two real expectations when we visited Ireland in 1997. First, I expected to see beautiful, green pastures with medieval ruins and countless sheep scattered across rolling hills and coastal cliffs. Second, I hoped to feel and taste the atmosphere in village pubs brought to life with bands and bards singing ancient tunes amidst a non-stop flow of Irish stout served up in pints. Our week in Ireland certainly provided all that and more.
What I didn’t expect, however, was to have a meaningful church experience during our journey. Just like in Prince Edward Island, Churches of Christ of the American Restoration Movement have no real presence in the Republic of Ireland. Well, I mean that we have no presence outside the capital city of Dublin. And even that is an infinitesimally small work in the midst of a large city. So basically, we didn’t plan to cross paths with any CofC friends.
On our only weekend on the Emerald Isle, ou…

Metrics of Renewal, 2: Seemingly Vibrant Churches in Unexpected Places

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Prince Edward Island was the last place I expected to have a moving church experience.

Rewind to 2007. With our elementary-age boys in tow, we made the 1200-mile drive from Morgantown, West Virginia to Canada, to Cavendish on the north shore of Prince Edward Island. We loaded up the Olds Silhouette (the Cadillac of minivans) and went northeast toward the Atlantic Provinces for a little summer getaway. I can’t quite recall why we picked PEI. It had nothing to do with Anne of Green Gables—books that neither Julie, our boys nor I had ever read. We have no family up that way and no childhood memories of a trip we were trying to relive. It just seemed like a fun vacation spot.
It wasn’t the boring slog of a drive that you might expect. On the journey north, we stopped in Boston for the obligatory tour of Paul Revere’s house and the Old North Church—along with a nonstop stream of Dunkin Donuts. The fireworks extravaganza for the Fourth topped it all off on the banks of the Charles River.
To pa…

Metrics of Renewal, 1: Can We Measure Church Health?

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It’s hard to know what a healthy person looks like these days.

Take Angelina Jolie for example. For many people, she is the picture of good health. Some tabloids occasionally accused her of being too thin. But most folks idolized her “healthy body.”
How little they knew! She has a genetic predisposition that almost guarantees breast cancer. Her mother died at age 56 from breast cancer. He aunt just died from the disease.
With this scary prognostication in hand, Angelina Jolie did something incredibly shocking. She underwent preemptive mastectomies. Next, she’ll have reconstructive surgery and then have her ovaries taken out for good measure. Talk about a radical cure for a disease she didn’t even have! She knew, however, that her apparent good health was not the complete story.
So who is healthy? And how do we know what good health actually looks like?
Here’s one obvious conclusion:
                        good looks ≠ good health
Of course, the opposite certainly isn’t true either, so I ne…

Galatians 4:1-7 & The Confusing Apostle Paul

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Does Galatians 4:1-7 confuse anyone as much as it does me? After studying this for some time, I am prone to agree with the words of 2 Peter 3:16. "There are some things in [Paul's letters] hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures."

I hope I'm not one of the ignorant and unstable people. But I'm in the camp of folks who can say that Paul's writings are occasionally hard to understand. Let me clarify what I'm having a hard time clarifying.

I don't really think it's difficult to understand Paul's point in Gal 4:1-7. The broader context makes it clear. Paul says that the Law of Moses is inferior to the promise previously made to Abraham. Gentile Christians, he writes, are descendants of Abraham because they share the same faith in God (3:6-7) that Abraham had (Gen 15:6). They therefore don't need to obey Jewish rules and customs. That's his point.

But his movement i…

Decline & Renewal, 25: Renewal & the Reign of Our King

Editor's note: After some great conversations during the Pepperdine Bible Lectures, I’m still hoping to continue this series. We should still have a few more guest articles. Then this series will undoubtedly morph into something related yet new.
Every Knee Will Bow
After my junior year of high school, I got to attend Boys State in Tennessee, a special week-long gathering of the top incoming seniors from across the state. Obviously a few like me snuck in under the radar. It was a big honor!

When I arrived at the college campus where we would be staying, I realized I was in the company of some top-notch people. We were to hold elections for ceremonial positions like governor, attorney general, and so forth as we studied state government. Everyone had to hold some office. My aspiration was quite modest -- to contend for the trash collector of our "city" government.
Out of the several hundred high school seniors, some stood out as ready-made leaders. One started campaigning imme…

Podcast of Session 3 from Pepperdine Bible Lectures

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You can listen to a podcast of today's session (May 3, 2013) on Renewal in Restoration Churches. The session is 50 minutes and contains a conversation that I moderate with Jeff Childers & Jarrod Robinson.
Click HERE for a link to the podcast.


Podcast of Session 2 from Pepperdine Bible Lectures

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You can listen to a podcast of today's session (May 2, 2013) on Renewal in Restoration Churches. The session is 42 minutes and contains a conversation that I moderate with Mark Love and John York.

Click HERE for a link to the podcast.

Podcast of Session 1 from Pepperdine Bible Lectures

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You can listen to a podcast of today's session on Renewal in Restoration Churches. The session is 42 minutes and contains a conversation that I moderate with Ben Ries and Aaron Metcalf.

Click HERE for a link to the podcast.


Decline & Renewal, 24: Chris Flanders Guest Column

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Editor's note: Here’s the fifth in our series of guest columns on church renewal. A few more articles are yet to come.
The author of this column is Chris Flanders, associate professor of missions at Abilene Christian University. Chris is a native Minnesotan who spent eleven years as a missionary in Thailand. He has a PhD in Missions from Fuller Theological Seminary.

Great Hope for Renewal
So, we are in decline. That much seems certain. Many churches are experiencing numerical loss. A leader from one (former!) large church I know mentioned that his church wasn’t simply declining—it was “hemorrhaging,” going from over 1,000 active members to fewer than 200 within a decade. This is a story that I hear more and more these days. Many in this series have eloquently and wisely pointed out specific ways this is has occurringed.
Research indicates that the younger generation is increasingly “post-Christian.” (Click here for Barna article). Also, there is the rise of the “nones” (unaffiliated…

Decline & Renewal, 23: Jarrod Robinson Guest Column

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Editor's note: Here’s the fourth in our series of guest columns on church renewal. In the coming weeks, you'll read insightful articles from great thinkers and pioneer church leaders like Ben Ries, Mike Cope, Chris Flanders, Stan Granberg and more.
The author of this column on renewal is Jarrod Robinson, a native of Northern California. After preaching for several years at the Eastside Church of Christ in Antioch, California, Jarrod now preaches for the Riverside Church of Christ in Coppell, Texas. He is one of a growing number of talented, insightful, young preachers who understand what will—and what won’t—help our churches find true renewal in the identity and mission of God.

Good Reason to Hope
You don’t have to be a sociologist to know that the world around us has changed without giving us notice or asking our permission. We are living in what many are calling a postmodern world and an increasingly “post-Christian” nation. It’s not that a huge majority of people in the U.S. …

Decline & Renewal, 22: Mark Love Guest Column

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Editor's note: Here’s the third in our series of guest columns on church renewal. In the coming weeks, you'll read insightful articles from great thinkers and pioneer church leaders like Ben Ries, Mike Cope, Chris Flanders, Stan Granberg and more.

The author of this column on renewal is Mark Love, a native of the West Coast and former preacher in the Portland area. Mark currently teaches at Rochester College where he directs a Master’s degree program in missional leadership. Mark offers the following perspective on how we should deal with church decline.

Repent and Believe the Good News:  A Meditation on the News of Decline
The good news is that you haven’t suddenly become incompetent. It would be tempting to think this because you’re doing everything you know to do, better than you’ve ever done it before, with diminishing impact. The way out cannot possibly be to work harder or to do better, because you’re already doing that. The truth is, the world in which you do these things …

Decline & Renewal, 21: Jeff Childers Guest Column

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Editor's note: Here’s the second in our series of guest columns on church renewal. In the coming weeks, you'll read insightful articles from great thinkers and pioneer church leaders like Mark Love, Ben Ries, Mike Cope, Chris Flanders, Stan Granberg, John York, Jarrod Robinson and more.
The author of this column on renewal is Jeff Childers, a native of Bakersfield, California. Jeff is a biblical scholar who teaches Bible and church history at Abilene Christian University. Through his studies at Oxford University 
and in subsequent research about the ancient church, Jeff has come to important conclusions about the needs of our contemporary, Western church.
Go Big or Go Home?
"Go big or go home!" It's the American way. We like doing things big. The North American continent is massive and we have acquired a taste for big. We like big cities, big stadiums, big cars, big-budget movies, big trends. And yes—big churches. Big churches, with big buildings, big budgets, big p…