12 Cultural Trends Your Church Can’t Ignore

"Leaders who are willing to reconsider the methods to preserve the mission are usually the ones who succeed long term."

So says Carey Nieuwhof in an excellent post, "12 Cultural Trends Your Church Can’t Ignore." What are those trends? You'll have to read the whole article (here) to find out, but here are six of them:
Online as the New Default


Declining trust

A desire for greater purpose

Trust in user reviews

The death of cash and cheques.
Seriously, read the whole thing.

It seems to me that most churches are ignoring most of these trends and many ignore virtually ALL of them. And they are doing so to their own detriment and to the detriment of the kingdom itself.

Church of the Week: Quest Community Church, Lexington, KY

On my way back from my annual prayer retreat (in the company of my son Aaron and friend Ted), I went to church at Quest Community Church, a community of several thousand with a Lexington and Frankfort campus.

We were greeted left and right and center as we entered, and guided to the red tent, where we received a VIP packet (with CD) and t-shirt.

The atrium was visually appealing, and I thought it was interesting that rather than free coffee stations like similar churches, they had a full coffee shop with reasonably priced drinks and foods.

They also had a small store, where they sold a small assortment of books and Bible studies as well as their worship DVD.

 The band played original songs, but they were generally simple and singable. And the congregation was engaged and enthusiastic.

Interspersed with the singing were Scripture readings (reviewing the Bible passages featured throughout the "Make Your Mark" series the church was concluding this morning) and eight personal testimonies on the impact the series had made on people's lives and families.

The church's senior pastor was on the last week of a study leave, so the message (on 2 Corinthians 5:17-20) was brought by the Frankfort campus pastor, Pastor Ken. I loved that he gave the church a Twitter hashtag to encourage them to tweet comments, reactions, questions, etc., related to the message. The service, which started at 11:30, concluded right at 1.

The church, which also streams their services online, is located at 410 Sporting Court (right off Rt. 4/New Circle Road) in Lexington, Kentucky.

The Presenter Manifesto

This slideshow by Eric Feng is distilled wisdom for preachers as well as for anyone who presents content to an audience:

The Bible Made Impossible

Christian Smith's book, The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture, suggests that evangelicalism's usual approach to the Bible is not only misguided and insufficient, but also dangerous. While maintaining that the Bible is inspired, he says that a "pervasive interpretive pluralism" (that is, widespread disagreement among "Bible believing Christians" about what the Bible says and how it must be applied) is a clear indication that Biblicism simply does not work. He encourages evangelicals, instead of trying to make the Bible say things and do things that it does not (e.g., approaching it as a "handbook for living," even to the extent of providing dating or dieting tips), to let the Bible be what it is: a a collection of "irreducibly multivocal, polysemic, and multivalent texts" that nonetheless powerfully points to (and only makes sense when understood in relation to) Jesus Christ.

He writes: "Regardless of the actual Bible that God has given his church, Biblicists want a Bible that is different. They want a Bible that answers all their questions, that tells them how to have marital intimacy, that gives principles for economics and medicine and science and cooking--and does so inerrantly. They essentially demand--in God's name, yet actually based on a faulty modern philosophy of language and knowledge--a sacred text that will make them certain and secure, even though that is not actually the kind of text that God gave. By contrast, we should 'confess at the outset, along with the historic Christian church, that the Bible is the word of God [written]. That is our starting point, a confession of faith, not creating a standard of what the Bible should look like and then assessing the Bible on the basis of that standard....Once we confess that the Bible is God's word, we can look at how it is God'[s] word" (p. 128).

I think he's right, although I think his proposed solution--a "Christocentric" hermeneutic (that is, reading, understanding, interpreting, and applying the Bible always in terms of how it points to Jesus Christ--is no more likely to eliminate "pervasive interpretive pluralism" than any other hermeneutic. There are many who strive to study and teach the Bible Christocentrically and end up being as diverse and as divisive as anyone else.

Smith also drove me to distraction with his frequent categorical statements along the lines of "It just doesn't work," and "They just didn't." That "just doesn't" work for me.

Still, The Bible Made Impossible is very helpful in identifying and clarifying the ways evangelicals misuse the Bible. It may not go far toward solving the problem, but for those who have ears to hear, it can help to unmask "largely unintentional habits of a particular subcultural style of thinking and behaving" (p. viii). And that's a good thing. Even a great thing.

Church of the Week: The Salvation Army, Lewistown, PA

The lovely Robin and I worshiped yesterday with the warm and welcoming people of The Salvation Army corps (church) in Lewistown, PA, led by Captains David and Darlene Means. The chapel, on the second floor, seemed oddly situated in the large building...but that may just have been because we entered through a side door.

Following a large Hostetler/Hochstetler family reunion on Friday and Saturday, we attended in the company of my brother Don and his wife, Arvilla. Don was the guest speaker of the morning and gave a wonderful message from Genesis 18, entitled "Let's Make a Deal."

Families worshiped together. The children were beautifully well-behaved and only added to the community feel of the worship. Prayer requests were shared and prayed for. Singing was exuberant and heartfelt. It was a touching and rewarding time in God's house.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Five Reasons Pastors Should Read Over Their Heads

Some would argue (with reason) that it's easier for me than for most pastors to read over my head, as nearly all written material is over my head. That may be true, but I still think the following Vision Room post by Kevin DeYoung is on the money: 

Whenever I talk about reading I try to throw in a lot of disclaimers. Reading is my “thing.” It’s what comes easily to me (more easily than, say, personal evangelism). So I always want to be careful that I don’t impose my passions on everyone else.

But even with that caveat, I encourage pastors to regularly read over their heads. This will mean different things to different men, but what I have in mind is the reading of academic writing. Well-meaning people sometimes call me a leading theologian or a scholar, but I’m not anything close to either. I write books, and hopefully my theology is pretty careful and pretty sound, but none of this means I do what real scholars do.

Very, very, very (did I say “very”) few pastors are called to engage in the highest levels of scholarship at the same time as pastoring a congregation. It’s just not possible, at least not for very long. But most pastors should still make it a point to jump into the deep end of the pool and get in over their heads once in awhile.

Let me give you a few reasons why. 
  1. Reading scholarly stuff keeps you learning and learning keeps you fresh. Most Christian books are fairly derivative. This isn’t necessarily bad. It just means that if you read nothing but the new releases on your Christian bookstore, you may not be challenged with new insights and new ideas on old topics and old truths.
  2. Reading scholarly stuff keeps you humble. Granted, there is garbage in the academic world as much as there is garbage anywhere. But if you read an excellent scholarly work, like Richard Muller on Post-Reformation Reformed Theology or Scott Manetsch’s new book on Calvin’s Company of Pastors, you’ll realize that you don’t know nearly as much as you thought. This can make you jealous or make you despair. Or it can make you humble and thankful. Even those of us who think we are well read, could be outpaced by an earnest grad student in most areas within a couple weeks.
  3. Reading scholarly stuff keeps you hungry. When I read bad academic work I want to laugh, then cry, then ask for my money back. But when I read excellent work, I get excited to fill in the gaps of my knowledge and make connections I’ve never made before. Good pastors are voraciously curious—about people, about history, about the Bible, and about knowledge. Stay thirsty, my friends.
  4. Reading scholarly stuff keeps you balanced. Again, I’m thinking of the fine academic work, not esoteric gibberish. When you read excellent scholarship you realize two important things: One, some of the sound bites and catch phrases that pass for good thinking and exegetical insights do not deserve to be taken seriously. And two, some of the confident assertions we make deserve to be more nuanced.
  5. Reading scholarly stuff keeps you edified. We live in a place and in a time with an incredible wealth of Christian resources. We have many fine scholars teaching in our schools and seminaries. Most of them genuinely want to serve the church and further the cause of Christ. They have done us a tremendous favor by learning foreign languages, digging around in the desert, or hunkering down in archives, or committing years of their lives to a single person, place, or idea. Let’s take advantage of the best of their labors.
What does this mean for you as a pastor? I can’t say for sure. But consider subscribing to a good journal like Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society) or Westminster Theological Journal. Don’t dismiss every book that costs more than you think it’s worth. Plow through a book on your shelf that only makes sense half of the time. Find an area or a person you are really interested in and take a few months to read as much as you can. Try to peruse at least one scholarly monograph each year. And best of all, don’t be afraid to read the old, big books that these men and women are writing about.

Check out the original post here.

A Beautiful Way to Tikkun Olam

One of my goals this year (I set new goals every year, a practice I posted about here and here) has been to increase my efforts in tikkun olam, a Hebrew phrase meaning "healing the world." So in addition to giving money and services to church and other causes, sponsoring a child in Peru, and renewing and redoubling our efforts to conserve, reuse, and recycle as much as possible, I have also explored and implemented other ways to make a difference in the world. So I was thrilled to learn through a friend about Trades of Hope.

Trades of Hope provides an avenue for women around the world to create sustainable businesses and improve their lives in measurable ways. For example, some have been rescued from sex slavery. Others are raising handicapped children alone. Some are in war torn countries and others have AIDS. They face daunting obstacles and odds, but are willing to work hard to provide for their families and realize a better life for them.

Trades of Hope markets those women's products through the home party model, so they can put food on their table, a roof over their head, get medical care and an education for their children. They operate separate successful non-profit organizations and businesses to achieve their goals (see here about the Gifts of Hope ministry).

I can testify personally to the beauty and value of what they offer; I gave my wife a Trades of Hope scarf and necklace for her birthday. She loves them. And even more so, wearing them in the knowledge that these beautiful accessories have helped a woman provide for herself and her family.

I want my readers to discover Trades of Hope. I'd love it if some would consider becoming one of their "Compassion Entrepreneurs" (what a great job title!). So for a little incentive, I am offering this handmade journal (see photo at right). For a chance to win it absolutely free (and shipping paid by me), simply visit the Trades of Hope site here and then comment below or on my Twitter feed or Facebook page to let me know you clicked on the link. I hope you'll stay and look around, of course, but a click and a short comment will be sufficient to enter you in the drawing. I'll draw names out of a hat on July 30, and will notify the winner and post his or her name in the comments below.

Church of the Week: Annunciation Church, Milwaukee, WI

Though I have previously featured the spectacular Greek Orthodox Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in the "Church of the Week" feature on this blog (see here), I did so before I had personally visited and worshiped in the church. So today I'm happy to mention the church again, after the lovely Robin and I (and our daughter and two grandchildren) visited on Sunday, July 14. 

We made the trip to visit with our nephew David (above) and his family in advance of their departure from Milwaukee for warmer climes and new responsibilities (in two weeks they leave for southern California, where David will serve the Orthodox community at Camp Pendleton, near San Diego, as a chaplain).

The church is one of Frank Lloyd Wright's distinctive creations. As a visitor approaches, the facility (above) resembles a spaceship sitting in a sizeable lawn. 

After the Sunday morning service (in which David, who has been an associate at the church for two years, gave the sermon, which of course we were delighted and proud to hear), we were treated to a tour. David pointed out that the design motif seen in the carving below the icon (above) is the primary motif of the whole structure; there is nary a straight line in the entire place (not even in the restrooms). 

He also pointed out that the prayer candles which on our entrance illuminated the entryway can be dropped all the way to a destination in the lower level, under the church, from a center opening in the table--an example of Wright's attention to detail and function. 

The sanctuary is round, with curved pews and a curving furnishings all around, making it one of the most unique and delightful settings for worship I've ever seen. 

The pews beautifully echo the motif, turning a usually routine feature of church furnishings into a work of art. 

David took some time to explain the icons in the tabernacle, the area behind the iconostasis (the screen), as well as various other features of the structure. His obvious interest and delight in the history and theology was delightful in turn to us. Our only regret was that we couldn't have had the tour before the service; it would have enhanced much of the experience (but, alas, those Greek Orthodox folks start at 9 a.m., and we were doing well to get there as early as that, having commuted an hour from our overnight accommodations in Kenosha). Nonetheless, it was a rewarding visit, after which we spent a few hours over lunch and conversation with David, Nora, and their four boys, before heading out on the long drive home, glad to have made the trip and to have been welcomed so warmly and treated so well by everyone we met. 

Sherlock Holmes and the Needle's Eye

My first reaction to the recent book, Sherlock Holmes and The Needle's Eye: The World's Greatest Detective Tackles The Bible's Ultimate Mysteries by Len Bailey was, "I wish I had thought of that!" As a writer, amateur Sherlockian--and a pretty big fan of the Bible--I couldn't help being more than a little miffed that someone else had this idea, and executed it so well.

I got over my pique, however, and obtained and read it with great relish.

The "Needle's Eye" of the title refers to a time machine which allows Holmes and Watson (and, in one story, Mrs. Hudson!) to travel back in time to investigate ten Bible mysteries. I was impressed that Bailey mostly captured the flavor and style of the Conan-Doyle stories, and though I wouldn't call any of their investigations "ultimate" mysteries, they were nonetheless interesting and entertaining. The questions they tackle:

  • Why did Ahithophel hang himself?
  • What did Jesus write in the dirt in the episode of the woman caught in adultery?
  • Why did Jesus make the apparent error of citing Zechariah son of Berechiah as having been murdered between the temple and the altar, when the Bible the description fits Zechariah son of Jehoiada?
  • When the Bible says, after Jesus' temptation, that the Devil "left him until a more opportune time," what did it mean?
  • Why did Paul start his Macedonian ministry in Philippi?
  • Why did David choose five smooth stones to fight Goliath?
  • Why did Jesus delay when he heard his friend Lazarus was gravely ill?
  • Why is Jehoiachin's name included in Jesus' genealogy when the prophet had said his heirs would be cut off from the throne of David?
  • Why was Jesus said to have come "in the fulness of time"?
  • Why did the Israelites march around Jericho one time for six days, but seven times on the last day?

As can be expected, some were more convincing than others and some were highly speculative--especially for the world's first and greatest consulting detective. My personal favorites were the chapters on the raising of Lazarus and the woman caught in adultery (though neither fully carried my judgment). The chapter on David's five smooth stones was predictable, and the fact that several chapters departed not only from Watson's first-person narrative but also from his point-of-view was quite irksome to this fan of the Conan-Doyle oeuvre.

Still, The Needle's Eye is an admirable accomplishment--and one which also offers a helpful study guide as part of the package.

Why I Value Social Media for Ministry

I saw this Pew survey chart some time ago (click to enlarge), but it is still relevant (and, if anything, the results would be even more pronounced today). It seems to me that churches that want to appeal to and connect with anyone age 45 or younger clearly need to pay attention to electronic media.

More than 70% of people ages 18-45 use the internet not only for email but for social networking (SNS), video, shopping, banking, and more. Those numbers seem likely only to increase, indicating a potential for outreach and ministry that Jesus might have called "a field white unto harvest."

(NOTICE how few people, percentage-wise, listen to podcasts--one of the few electronic media areas churches pay attention to. By contrast, note the comparatively wide use of social media (SNS) and video, which might indicate where churches can more effectively put their efforts)

The Only True Preaching

From a recent post by Ray Ortlund on his excellent blog:

The prophets will become wind;
the word is not in them. Jeremiah 5:13

“[The sermons] are the words of one who has felt himself forced to speak by a greater than human power. . . . the tremendous impetus behind the preacher.” [A report of the preaching of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, recorded in Iain H. Murray, David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The First Forty Years, 1899-1939 (Edinburgh, 1982), page 144.]

True preaching is more than preaching truth. It is also deeply personal. It rises from within a man. He is fully aware and engaged and intelligent. But he is forced to speak, compelled not by the expectations of others around but by the power of God within.

A man can preach the word, but still the word is not in him. It has not yet become interior to him, experientialized to him, a part of him. Such preaching is mere wind. True preaching is brewed within, as the gospel enters into a man, floods his awareness, rearranges his own interiority, and surges out of him as something divine and yet still his own.

To preach in the power of the Holy Spirit is not to take a good thing and make it even better. Preaching the truth in one’s own strength is destructive (1 Corinthians 1:17). “The word is not in him.” [Jeremiah 5:13] Preaching the gospel in the power of God is the only true preaching. All lesser preaching is sinful and to be repented of.

May the Lord help all of us pastors! May we resolve, God helping us, never again to preach a single sermon without power from on high — and deep within!

Why I Value Female Ministry and Leadership

An icon of Deborah,
the ancient prophetess, warrior,
and judge (leader)
While many in the church still believe and teach that the Bible forbids women from preaching and leading in the church (and often, by extension, in home and society), I value female ministry and leadership as much or more today than ever...for many, many reasons, too numerous to mention. But I will try.

I value female ministry and leadership, first and foremost, because I am utterly convinced that the Bible teaches and portrays its value. Over and over again. Even in the New Testament passages that are routinely used to support and advance patriarchal values. I am thoroughly persuaded by the cogent, thorough scholarship in such works as this article by N. T. Wright and the Grenz and Kjesbo book, Women in the Church: A Biblical Theology of Women in Ministry.

I also value female ministry and leadership because I have profited firsthand from it, in my reading (from Catherine Booth and Phoebe Palmer to Barbara Brown Taylor and Rachel Held Evans), among others; in my childhood and youth (from such women of God as Helen Bender, Arvilla Hostetler, June Rader, etc.); and in my long and winding adulthood (Heather Zempel, Liz Curtis Higgs, Virelle Kidder, etc.).

I have also witnessed firsthand the immense gifts (and often needed balance) women have brought to church teams I have led, to the point that I truly believe all-male church leadership teams are sure to be far more prone to error (see the video at this link for more on this point).

And, not least of all, I value female ministry and leadership because of my wife, daughter, and daughter-in-law. I know these women. They possess incredible gifts that can and should be used accordingly in the church, family, and society. Not to allow them full freedom to do so would be a sin against them, against those they could influence, and against God himself.

Happy Fourth

Happy Fourth of July from all the staff, interns, and volunteers here at the Desperate Pastor Blog.

Blogging may be light this month, as I have been on vacation with the best wife, kids, and grandkids in the whole world (which is where the photo above comes from; my son-in-law Kevin took it at Mission Lighthouse in Old Mission Peninsula, Michigan), and will soon be speaking in Lewistown (PA), Montrose (PA), and Philadelphia (PA), as well as taking a silent prayer retreat in Trappist (KY) with my son. Wouldn't take nothin' for my journey now.

11 Things I Wish More Pastors Would Say

One of my favorite bloggers, Rachel Held Evans, recently posted the following list of "11 Things I Wish More Pastors Would Say." See what you think:

1. “I don’t know.”

2. “I’m sorry. I was wrong. Please forgive me.”

3. “What do you think?”

4. “Sometimes I doubt too.”

5. “I need to take a break.”

6. “I need to spend time with my family.”

7. “I’m not exactly sure what this text means, but I’m going to take a stab at it, present some other views, and then we’ll wrestle with it together.”

8. “We don’t have to agree for you to be welcome here.”

9. “This is Christ’s body, broken for you. This is Christ’s blood, shed for you.”

10. “Let’s pray.”

11. “Let’s eat!”

I’m blessed to have had several such pastors in my life, though I realize such humility isn’t a given. The irony, of course, is that saying these things not only liberates a congregation; it also liberates the pastor. Often, the most meaningful and impactful words a pastor can share are spoken away from the pulpit.

Read the original post here.

Do you agree? Disagree? Would you add anything?

Why I Value Reading

John Wesley, writing to a younger minister, said:

"What has exceedingly hurt you in time past, nay, and I fear, to this day, is lack of reading. I scarce ever knew a preacher who read so little. And perhaps, by neglecting it, you have lost the taste for it. Hence your talent in preaching does not increase. It is just the same as it was seven years ago. It is lively, but not deep; there is little variety; there is no compass of thought. Reading only can supply this, with meditation and daily prayer. You wrong yourself greatly by omitting this. You can never be a deep preacher without it, any more than a thorough Christian. Oh begin! Fix some part of every day for private exercise. You may acquire the taste which you have not; what is tedious at first will afterward be pleasant. Whether you like it or not, read and pray daily. It is for your life; there is no other way; else you will be a trifler all your days, and a pretty, superficial preacher. Do justice to your own soul; give it time and means to grow. Do not starve yourself any longer. Take up your cross and be a Christian altogether. Then will all the children of God rejoice (not grieve) over you, and in particular yours."

(quoted in D. A. Carson and John D. Woodbridge, Letters Along The Way (Wheaton, 1993), page 169)