Monday, September 30, 2019

Three Decades Ago, America Lost Its Religion. Why? — A RESPONSE

"Three Decades Ago, America Lost Its Religion. Why?" is a recent (Sep 26, 2019) Atlantic article written by staff writer Derek Thompson on the rise of the "nones" (non-affiliated religious people) since the 1990s. He cites a sociology and religion professor, Christian Smith, from the University of Notre Dame for the reasons for this upward tick in this sector of society and religion. Professor Smith has come up with several reasons for the rise, with the three main ones being three historical events: the association of the Republican Party with the Christian right, the end of the Cold War, and 9/11.

Many "nones" are young adults disenchanted with the identification of organized, evangelical religion with the Republican Party. "Smith said it’s possible that young liberals and loosely affiliated Christians first registered their aversion to the Christian right in the early 1990s, after a decade of observing its powerful role in conservative politics." Additionally, the ending of the Cold War with atheistic Communism, adding fuel to the "nones" declaration of being unaffiliated with organized, evangelical Christianity and the Church. Finally, the attacks of 9/11 by radicalized Islamic terrorists made all fundamentalist religion suspect to the "nones." These and a few other incentives gave spectacular rise to the "nones" since the 1990s.

I find, however, this analysis wanting and shallow. It fails to recognize the inherently destructive tendencies of secular humanism in our American and Western European societies, societies that have discarded biblical religion and its standards for no religion and the moral decay of ethical standards. Abortion, same-sex marriage, the rise of the LGBTQ community, the rejection of ordained authority and the skepticism of the institutional Church have added fuel to the "nones" insistence of being "spiritual" but not institutionally religious. They have thrown out "the baby with the bathwater," so to speak. 

To the post-modern, post-truth age, there is no absolute truth, no binding ethics, no unwavering morality that cannot be challenged and then discarded. This has been well documented by Christian theologians and philosophers for decades now. We live, as Leonard Sweet would say, in a "cut-flower society," with no rooting and only a dim residue of Christian values and morĂ©s. This drives the heart throb of many "nones." They can therefore be "spiritual" without being biblical. They can own God without knowing the biblical God. They can practice in-house religion without attending the community of religion. 

The deeper problem has always been a failure of the conservative, evangelical Christian Church to offer a thoroughly thought out and biblically supported Christ centered world and life view on everything--from work to politics, from school to play. We have lost the truth that all vocations are God-callings to be served for God and under God's Word. Work has lost its foundational Christian ethos. Colleges have lost their Christian roots, opting for the secularism of an anti-God academic snobbery. Consequently, the "nones" have seen the Church fail them at defining and describing what real biblical Christianity is all about.

"Nones" cannot be reached by contemporary, hiphop music and Christian-light messages aimed to secure their interest in the Church once again. Many are finding their way back to solid, orthodox liturgy and biblical exposition where the Bible is studied, analyzed, explained and applied to their lives. The "old ways" are proving to be the "good ways" back to God and the Bible. 

I know these factors to be true from having a forty plus year experience as a pastor and a church health consultant for the latter twenty of those years. Working with many churches, large and small, and many different kinds of people professing faith in Christ, including young adults, I have found the above factors to be more of an explanation than Smith has given in his analysis of the "nones."

However, there is always hope to recover the "nones." Real authentic Christianity preached and practiced in our churches will help. Ridding ourselves of cultural Christianity and the hypocrisy that it spawns will also help. This is more than staffing food kitchens or providing homeless shelters where they are needed. This is good, but not enough to capture the "nones." We must once again offer captivating, encompassing Christ centered Christianity for them, wherever they call "church." The way ahead is hard, but truly worthwhile, especially for a generation that want to know God, the real, authentic God of the Bible.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Blurring the Lines

During the week of July 5, 2017, President Donald Trump make an impassioned speech to the Polish people in the historic Krasinski Square, in the heart of Warsaw, Poland. Among other things, the President said, "The people of Poland, the people of America, and the people of Europe still cry out, 'We want God.'" (Quoted in God and Donald Trump, by Stephen E. Strang, p. 142) All we heard from the liberal Washington Post was that this was a "dark and provocative address with nationalist overtones." It is no secret that most of the national media and TV and movie people "hate" Donald Trump. They are still smarting from an election they want to call rigged by the Russians and refuse to give evangelical conservatives the voice they deserve on national politics, policies and platforms. From their point of view, we are all bigots, homophobes, hate-mongers and out of step with most of America. What is more disturbing to me, however, is that many church-going, decent, fair minded American people believe the same thing about evangelical, Bible-believing Christians. What is going on?

What is going on is a massive seismic shift in traditional, Bible-based values. The authority of Scriptures has been so eroded, denied and ignored over the past several decades that it has been relegated to a past, pre-enlightenment era of thinking and doing. The obvious traditional definition of marriage, for instance, between one man and one woman is being systematically replaced by same-sex marriage partnerships and alliances. And we are told that all of this is fair, just, needed and reflective of America of today. Anything less, or "biblical," is out of step, old fashioned, and inimical to true freedom and discovery. And current and coming hate-speech legislation will make it a crime to publicly speak against anti-biblical practices and habits. High level, Supreme Court cases are being brought to bear against Bible-centered businesses and business practices. Either we go with the flow, or we will be forced out of business, out of our neighborhoods and even out of our churches. If you don't believe me, watch and learn. But, why is this happening, and can't people see it?

The answers are more complicated than a straight "yes" or "no." There are national, state and local influences that are determined to excise any biblical references or allusions to right and wrong. This is an intentional, deterministic anti-God league of people and powers that desire to denigrate and deny any God-oriented witness and safeguards to the fabric of society and life in general. This is planned, promoted and deviously initiated in our schools, courts and political arenas. It is all done under the guise of love and fairness to all without prejudice. But what is done is very prejudicial to those who believe and want to live out biblical values and priorities. This is a first obvious line of attack.

A second line of attack is promulgated by people who think they are correcting the ship of fairness. They have seen fundamentalist organizations and churches and Christian ministries who have operated out of meanness, narrowness and a spirit of being always against something and someone. They have witnessed Planned Parenthood center marches, tracts and even bombings. They have seen blood-red hatred in the eyes of zealots and fanatics who identify themselves with Bible-believing faith stances. They merely want to do the right thing and be protective of people of different belief systems and faith stances, or no faith stance at all. They want a society where all is love and warmth and personal freedom. Anything that limits absolute personal freedom is to be discarded and legislated against. They believe they are doing society a favor.

A third line of anti-biblical thinking and action is undertaken by those who are confused by a society seemingly divided into opposites. They want nice people with nice stories and non-confrontational agendas to go to school with and be their neighbors, grocery and gasoline clerks and helpers. Whatever they can do to foster a "gentler, kinder America" is what they want. Instead of the rule of law, they want a rule of love and tolerance. So, when the national news media generates a story of children raising money for a local Planned Parenthood or a gay couple who has fallen on hard times, this is Oh, so nice and lovely. This is what we should be doing, they think, especially against those Christians who want to cause division and disruption. Live and let live is their motto. These folks, unfortunately, have forgotten the old story of the frog in the kettle, who while sitting in a slowly increasingly heated kettle was eventually boiled to death. Our society is being boiled to death.

The solution is and always has been justice with love, or love with justice. As a theologian I have had to deal over the years with the false dichotomy of a God of wrath versus a God of love, or an angry God of the Old Testament versus the gentle God of love of the New. This is a false division of Scripture and a flagrant misreading of the nature and character of God. We have a just and righteous God of love. The same God who revealed himself to Moses and the ancient nation of Israel has not changed or been replaced by a new God -- “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6, 7) Ignoring or seeking to replace or recast this God means doing away with Him. We can have the rule of law with the blessings of love and fairness and kindness. It is not and never has been, either/or.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Reformation in Our Day

Reformation in our day. This month marks a big deal in the history of the Protestant Reformation in Europe, namely its 500th Anniversary. A number of writers and bloggers and Facebook fans have posted Reformation type articles and reminders. This may be seen as another addition, though I hope it stirs some to positive and enduring action for the next 500 years, if God so wills.

Reformation must begin in the Church and in God's people, Christ-followers by name and brand. Quite some time ago, the apologist Francis Schaeffer posited that we stand before a "watching world," and that if our behaviors do not radically change, there would be nothing inviting for unbelievers to transfer their allegiances. Many others have followed suit, and we have had "radical" Christianity preached and taught from many pulpits and in many quarters. Yet, the culture and world remain essentially unchanged and unchallenged, not so much by our words, as by our actions and attitudes. The Apostle Peter wrote, "For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?" (1 Peter 4:17) Pontification about what should be done, or not done, without transformed lives doing what should be done, or not done, does little to change or challenge the current atmosphere. We gain nothing by shouting louder than our opponents, or arguing with them better, or writing more books about the truth. Our post-post-Christian (not a typo) world has seen Christians and their churches come and go with very little cultural transformation or impact. I know this because as semi-retired from active pastoral ministry, I have coached and mentored numbers of churches and Christian leaders and followers, and have found the same judgment about Christianity's impact from them.

We must get back to Reformation basics--Scripture Alone, Christ Alone, Grace Alone, Faith Alone, God's glory Alone. Saying these phrases, even in their Latin formulations, does not mean we actually follow them. Scripture Alone, but we have "added" to the Scriptures by our own admission, not in adding actual verses to the Bible, but in summarizing and tweaking them to fit our conceptions of leadership, or fellowship, or Christian theology and philosophy. Anybody can make the Bible say anything they want it to say. What has happened to serious study of the Scriptures, to contextual and careful biblical exposition and development? Many churches do not even bother to reference a verse or two in their Sunday morning presentations, and these are self-proclaimed Bible churches. We have used and re-used the word relevancy so much that it has become our new Bible.

Christ Alone has become stories about Jesus, rather than the solid teachings of Jesus, both positive and negative in our world. We love John 3:16--"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life,"--but we stay away from John 3:36 -- "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him." We especially abhor Romans 1, and ignore its stern warnings about sexual immorality of various sorts and people making their own gods to follow and worship. Until we get away from the "nice" Jesus, the "innocuous" Jesus, the "harmless" Jesus, we shall never know Christ Alone. And it is Christ Alone that can and will save us, not a mishmash of Jesus plus other "good" religions. The Cross and the Resurrection must frame our stories and sermons and writings. Christ must once again become the center point of what we teach and believe and follow.

Grace Alone and Faith Alone have been substituted by doing the best we can to please God. Sad to say, but many Christians and Christian churches have substituted a form of "works" plus faith for the successful and Spirit filled believer. The rules have overcome salvation by grace through faith alone. I am teaching a course on the Letter to the Romans in a Bible based church, only to hear class members bemoan the fact that they have never heard this teaching in the church's public ministry. That is not to say that it was never there, but it has been eclipsed by other "relevant" topics over the years. The sovereignty of God's grace rarely gets a hearing in today's larger churches. And if so, it is shuttled to the side in an obscure small group or sparsely attended class. We need to return to Grace Alone and Faith Alone to have Reformation in our day.

God's Glory Alone is an unknown quantity in our day as well. Many do not even know what it means to "glorify God" in everything we say and do and think. It is a mystical, airy thing floating in the theological stratosphere with no earthly relevance. To glorify God means to have the "weightiness" of God's Word, God's character, God's values informing and impacting our own. It means a world-and-life viewpoint that informs and transforms our work, our play, our schooling, and our lives. Barna Associates have pointed out in survey after survey that over 90% of modern day Christians have little to no idea of a wholistic, 9-5, Sunday to Saturday, 24/7 faith life in Christ. People are not taught to glorify God, and when told to do so, have no idea what that means to the Christian truck driver, or waitress, or stockbroker, or politician, or schoolteacher. We have divorced faith from real life in so many ways that Sunday rarely bleeds over into Monday through Saturday. 

So, on this 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, let us commit ourselves to real reformation, in our schools, our businesses, our recreation and our lives. Let us bravely and courageously adhere to and follow those brave Reformers, many of whom gave their lives for the Scripture Alone, Christ Alone, Grace Alone, Faith Alone and to God's Glory Alone. May the next 500 years find us faithful to a true Reformation.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

What About Trump?

What about President Trump? I have delayed offering my little piece of comments until he was past his 100 days in office and until we could see a pattern emerging. I am no politician and do not write for a political cause or party or platform. I am not part of a political think tank and resist being identified or pigeon-holed, though I am certain this post will be seen that way. I write out of a conservative, evangelical Christian perspective, though have many friends on all sides of the political perspectives. Another thing is that I did not vote for Mr. Trump, nor for Hillary Clinton, in the last Presidential election for personal, convictional reasons, rather than a particular political point of view. So, what about President Trump?

People either love or hate the President. There are many on the left who simply despise the President. This is obvious and tragic, I believe. They are out to get Mr. Trump impeached for criminal activity of some sort. This has been plainly intimated by many on the political left. And this no doubt applies to some conservative Christians. Believers should read and re-read Romans 13 in the Bible for how we should be acting toward and thinking about officials of the state. They are due our honor, obedience and service. After all, the Apostle was speaking of the Roman Empire and its Caesars. As far as I know, the President has not asked us to violate any biblical mandates. In fact, he has worked to uphold some biblical perspectives and premises. Whether or not we agree or disagree with Mr. Trump, he is the President and is due our respect.

President Trump is anti-Establishment. I went to college in the 1960s. Remember those days? Anti-establishtarianism was rampant and strident in those days, certainly on my college campus and across the nation. The moral standards of the 1950s were being attacked and challenged. Anti-establishment people have always faced ridicule and fearful rhetoric by establishment types. My guess is that many older people on the left today marched, smoked whatever, and rallied against the moral order of earlier days and years. They should understand and even appreciate the anti-establishment stance of this President. Or, have we forgotten our sit-ins and rallies and work to shed the rules of the establishment then?

President Trump is a maverick. His Tweets and actions prove it. He is not suave, sophisticated, patient, or "presidential," whatever images that evokes. He is caustic, impetuous, anti-media and likes to shake things up. But this is the man we elected to be the President. Some may challenge that statement and contend that the election was somehow rigged by the Russians, and that the people were deceived or duped into electing a "bad apple." But he was elected, none the less, by our system of government. But we don't know how to deal with mavericks in the Washington establishment, do we? We therefore get frustrated, angry, upset and put out by this President. What did you expect?! If you think we are a Christian, moral nation, wake up! We have been increasingly secularized since the 1960s, and our biblical values and moral codes have been, and are being, trashed by many. If we expect the President to act "like a Christian," we have been living in a time capsule or are just naive.

What, then, should we be saying and doing about our President? We should be praying for him and all the government officials at all levels, whether they are politically right or left or moderate or extreme. That's what my Bible tells me to do. Are you praying, I mean really praying, for President Trump? That God would so direct his actions and words and Tweets and decisions so that, as the Apostle says, we "may lead a peaceful and quite life, godly and dignified in every way" (1 Timothy 2:1, 2). This doesn't mean we give up or give in to bad decisions or incorrect judgments, but it does mean we depend upon God at the end of the day to judge righteously and well. I am not tying my wagon to the President or Congress for that matter. But I sincerely plead with God for their lives and decisions.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Church Growth 101: Some Things Work And Many Do Not

After forty years in active pastoral ministry, and seventeen years as a church health consultant and coach, having worked with larger and smaller churches, I have a church growth observation, especially for those starting out in church ministry. Some things work for church growth, while many do not. I have used most every evangelistic method ever produced over the years. A few have produced some church growth results. Most have not. The latest and greatest church growth program produces the same continuum of results. Churches can be event oriented, seeker targeted, seeker sensitive, assimilation driven places that see little significant growth. Most churches in America are a few hundred in worship attendance, if that. So, what's the problem and, more importantly, what is the solution?

There are numerous reasons why churches do not grow. Most of the time, it has nothing to do with location, except in a few depressed areas of the country. It also has little to do with decent, biblical teaching and preaching. In fact, church health statistics (from Natural Church Development, would say that churches with the most educated pastoral staff show the smallest growth overall. Some of this is due, no doubt, to a disdain for numbers among some pastors and denominations. They minister to the "chosen" people of God, the committed core of Christendom, and are out for church purity and distancing from the secular world. I am not making fun of these places of ministry, just observing them. But what about those churches and ministries really trying to grow and reach a larger audience for Christ and the gospel?

A misplaced dependence on methods or programming or events. This would be a first reason, I believe, for lack of church growth. People are not attracted, in the long run and to regular church attendance and involvement, because of programming and events. Slick and cool graphics and websites and presentations and catchy videos and production elements in services and other church venues do not, by and large, grow churches. I have been to a number of smaller churches where the very latest and best in technology is used, much to no avail in church growth results. Hundreds and even a few thousand can attend a weekend event at a church or ministry with little or no church growth happening. It's just a big production or event, and that is all. Some churches spend a lot of money on these elements supposedly to produce more people in the pews or chairs of the worship venue, and the result is just more money spent.

Attention to demographics and younger people is not the secret formula for church growth. Let's just read the latest George Barna statistics and do what his organization, or a similar organization, advises, and our church will grow. Not really. Most of the time you will simply displace the older generation paying for these ministry venues. Perhaps if we follow the latest Saddleback forty-day ministry and group programming, we will grow. Despite Rick Warren's glowing claims, many churches do not grow in the long run with such programming. In fact, I have coached churches which have tried every church-wide programming tool known to Saddleback, with little or even negative results. Warren would claim that they did not follow the "rules," but that is not true. If such "proven" methods do not work, then what does?

First, church growth is a God-ordained thing. God grows His Church, His way, with His timing, and His purposes. I do not believe that in the long run you can biblically grow a church, any church. God has to grant His blessing and anointing for such growth to occur. Otherwise, it will either not happen or it will be like a shooting star, a flame that burns itself out. Ask those who have seen their churches mushroom and grow. Most, if truthful, would have to say that the bottom line for such growth is that God has blessed them.

Then, it has to be the right people at the right place and the right time for growth to occur. Don't expect a highly charismatic preacher to grow your church. Don't depend on an awesome and gifted church staff to do the same. With God's sovereign blessing and timing, average pastors with less than stellar staff can grow a church. I read a leadership article quite some time ago about one of the largest and growing churches in America. The pastor frankly admitted he did not know why his church grew and continues to grow. He talked about just watching God work around him and many, many people came to his church and stayed and became involved. Andy Stanley might say his systems and expectations were the real reason for growth. I don't buy that. As important as they are, strong leadership, great systems, and high expectations still don't guarantee church growth.

Am I therefore pessimistic about church growth? No, just doggedly realistic and seasoned about the topic and discussions. Can your church grow? I don't know. It may or may not numerically grow. It may grow to a point and then plateau or subside. It might mushroom and grow beyond your wildest dreams or goals or vision. The key thing I do know is to seek God's will and God's blessing upon your ministry and your church. Do the right things at the right time and with the right people in place. While this will not guarantee church growth, it will be what is right to do. And, isn't that what God really expects of us?

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Lessons In 40 Years in Ministry: What Do You Learn After the First 20 Years?

Lessons After 40 Years in Ministry
(What Do You Learn After the First 20 Years?)
Carl Shank

Having read Brian Croft’s 20 Lessons from 20 Years in Ministry*, I took off from his lessons, agreeing with many, adding to some, and developing others. The original Croft lessons are labeled (BC). Any developmental lessons to his I have added are labeled (CS).

1. God’s Word is sufficient to build Christ’s Church (BC), but systems matter (CS).
One of the major lessons in church health I have learned after being a church health consultant since 1998 has been that church systems either hamper or help to build the church. God’s Word provides the foundational building blocks and sustains the church, but outdated or understaffed or wrongly staffed systems can throttle a church and actually destroy it or limit its effectiveness.

2. The Gospel is powerful enough to change lives (BC & CS).
Here I fully agree with Brian. There are and have been decent support group materials and programs and retreats that have helped, no doubt. But I have found that faithful teaching and preaching and application of God’s Word is totally sufficient to build good marriages and solve the most intricate and difficult personal problems.

3. An effective pastor is one who feels deeply (BC), and who thinks clearly about people and issues (CS).
Authenticity of emotion speaks volumes to a younger audience looking for reality in their leaders and in their churches. But we must not let emotion override or replace clarity of thinking and planning and calculating. Authentic emotions plus clear thinking gives effectiveness in leadership and ministry.

4. Hang onto your family (BC & CS).
I could not agree more. I began ministry in the days when ministry was all consuming and took time away from family and needed time with kids and spouse. That was a mistake I have regretted with my first child, and have been trying to make it up to him through the years. Family always comes first after God, and ministry is further down on the list of priorities. It is so hard to regain a spouse’s love and trust if you put ministry commitments over your family.
5. Don’t underestimate the value of older members (BC), but understand their limits in growing a church in the modern age (CS).
The older I get, the more I see the wisdom and need of older members in a ministry and a church. However, not all older people think kingdom directed thoughts, and some actually want to practice nostalgic church patterns and programs which do not work anymore, especially for a younger generation. I have learned to avoid those older members stuck in their ways which do not advance God’s work and God’s kingdom.

6. Pursue being wanted, not needed (BC & CS).
John Maxwell has well said, “people don’t care about how much you know, until they know how much you care.” Every leader and minister is expendable. We need to let go of our egos and our self-proclaimed expertise as ministry goes on. There is always someone better than you are in everything. The sooner we realize this, the better and more effective and blessed our ministry becomes.

7. Don’t neglect your soul (BC & CS).
Good pastors and church leaders first care for their own spiritual condition and health before attempting to care for the souls of others. To do the latter without the former is at best worthless and at worst hypocrisy. You cannot lead where you have not been in the spiritual realm. Self-discipline, self-control, exercising the fruits of the Spirit are crucial to a healthy and lasting ministry.

8. Faithfulness is worth the harshest of criticisms (BC), as long as we understand faithfulness is not the same thing as theological or ecclesiological narrowness or denominational pride (CS).
Like Brian, I have had to make some very hard decisions in ministry and leadership. But I have seen the “faithfulness card” played too often by narrow and bigoted ministers and leaders who claim to follow God just to push their own agendas on people. Good people have been dismissed from churches and ministries because they have disagreed with the leadership. Or they have been silenced or shuttled to the sidelines. We need to make sure our faithfulness to God is really what God wants, not what we think God wants.

9. Authentic brokenness is better than unique giftedness (BC), but this again depends on the type and place of ministry and leadership (CS).
I value and champion authenticity and humility in ministry and leadership. But I also value skills and wisdom in ministry and leadership. Congregations and ministries value authentic brokenness in their leaders, but they still want strength and wisdom and giftedness in their leaders. And they don’t want or value excuses that seem to come from humbleness. They want leaders to lead and with the skill sets to do so.

10. Training men for pastoral ministry is an unspeakable joy (BC), as well as mentoring other leaders in ministry (CS).
I have had the privilege in forty years of ministry to mentor and train and help develop dozens of ministers and other church leaders. This is an absolute joy and fulfillment of ministry. One of my sons is entering professional ministry, and I have had the privilege to see him develop and grow and become a friend of mine, as well as a son, and ask for advice and help.

11. The burden to care for souls is too great for one person (BC & CS).
Amen to this reflection! Care-giving needs to be shared by many gifted people within a ministry or congregation, and not expected only from the senior leader. I have seen a “ranching type” of care giving approach reap vast benefits for the whole of a congregation’s needs and wants. The senior leader trains and organizes and even oversees other caregivers who use their skills and gifts to care for others. This works in smaller as well as larger churches.

12. Pastors will give an account for every soul under their care (BC & CS).
Hebrews 13:17 keeps me humble and often brings me up short in my care for others and ministry to them. I agree with Brian that it is those difficult souls that take the most out of you, but God has given them to you to love and perhaps rebuke and challenge. And there will always be difficult people. I have learned that people are basically the same everywhere, and that the ministry grass is not at all greener on the other side of the tracks or fence.

13. The most crucial pastoral quality might be patience (BC), or at least taking the long view of ministry (CS).
Pastors require many godly qualities, but patience may be the most important because of how it affects other qualities. Patience helps prevent pastors from overreacting. It helps them make decisions and evaluate their church with a long-term perspective and plan in view. We grow in discernment and wisdom when we’re patient, but these qualities are typically absent when we ramrod our agendas through (BC).

14. Be content-driven with music (BC), and flexible with the worship needs of people (CS).
I agree that biblical truth must inform all of our worship, including worship music. That music must also match the communication needs of the people coming to services. And that means often a balance between old and newer forms and formulations of musical styles. Forcing a group of people into a style that does not speak to their worship needs is counterproductive and can be unnecessarily divisive.

15. Learn what not to do (BC) in ministry programming as well as personal priorities (CS).
I believe more clearly now than ever that ministry is like a funnel, big at the inception end and small at the concluding end. We try many things, some good, some not so good, some neutral and some a waste of time in ministry programming and personal achievements. Failure is always an option in ministry programming, so long as it accords with Scripture and seeks to advance the kingdom of God in a certain area.

15a. Not everyone can do everything (CS).
The pastor or minister who thinks he or she can do it all is sadly deceived or mistaken. We all have gifts that differ and gifts that God has distributed to us that are usually different from gifts He distributes to others. We cannot and must not do it all. I have learned through the years that less stress and more productivity in ministry comes from focusing on what you were made to do rather than trying to do what others tell you to do or what you pridefully think you can do.

16. Prayer changes me the most (BC & CS).
I have learned through the years, especially the last twenty years that prayer walks, prayer retreats, taking weekly time off for sustained prayer really do work miracles and solve problems in ministry and churches. The busier you are, the more prayer is needed. I have learned that talking to God and especially listening to God prevents many church catastrophes.

17. Choose battles wisely (BC), and know you cannot win them all (CS).
We need to pick and choose what we fight for and campaign for in ministry and church leadership. Not everything really matters. And, I have learned to lose graciously as well as win graciously. We will not and cannot please everybody, and if one tries to do so, he or she will end up immensely frustrated and may leave ministry altogether.

18. Expect suffering (BC), and plenty of it (CS).
Ministries that matter and lives that matter to God go through plenty of suffering. Nothing really important comes without a great deal of pain and travail. Some of this pain may be brought on by tough decisions, and some of it will come simply through the travails of life and ministry itself.

19. Numbers are not a helpful gauge for determining church health (BC), but they must be figured into church effectiveness (CS).
While nickels and noses are not really the barometer for church wide health and vitality, they should be considered as normal outcomes for effective ministry. As a church health consultant, I fully agree with Brian’s note here, but ministries that attract no one or drive people away in the name of health or so-called biblical purity are misdirected. Healthy churches do indeed grow in numbers and nickels. Not usually into mega-churches or vast campuses but growth in all areas will be noted.

20. Jesus is always enough (BC), and the gospel is always the bottom line and the main thing (CS).
Our worth is not measured by how successful or influential or powerful our ministry has been. Character is always the bottom line here, and character is developed by closeness to Jesus Christ and His gospel. Churches that matter make the gospel the main thing, because at the end of the day, it is the main thing. 

*Editors’ note: The article by Brian Croft originally appeared at Practical Shepherding.
Carl Shank is an executive pastor and church health consultant at Pequea Church in Lancaster County, PA. He has been in the ministry since 1973 and a consultant with ChurchSmart, Inc since 1998. He can be reached at or email at

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Supreme Court Same-Sex Marriage Decision and the Church

A lot of people, from all sides, are responding to the Supreme Court decision making same-sex marriage the law of the land. The claim is that this is what the majority of Americans want and desire. After all, recent polls show the majority favoring such a decision for homosexuals. The ploy by that community of people and their supporters is that everyone will want to be a part of history, and not left behind in such history breaking ground. And that includes the church.

Indeed, many Christian churches have given in to the rhetoric, the poor exegesis of biblical texts and contexts, and the "niceness" of those seeking homosexual affirmation and same-sex unions. My prediction stands that the Christian church, including many evangelical churches, will welcome and affirm homosexual people and same-sex couples as a "normal" part of their services and ministries in the not too far future. We will find openly gay people serving in all parts and roles of ministry in our churches. The LGBT community will be fully accepted in the church of Jesus Christ. We will become rainbow-colored churches. This is a tragedy and an open welcome for God's judgment upon the church.

I am an older evangelical pastor, who happens to believe that biblical truth never goes out of style and that there is always right and wrong in all things. The homosexual community will simply wait us out, no doubt, until we die off, and then they can make their presence and influence known in our churches. My son is studying for the ministry, and he and his kids will find a vastly different (and diverse) church in which to minister God's truth and gospel. But before I go the way of all flesh, let me just say a few things about this turn of events.

First, truth is non-negotiable. No matter what the post-Christian world says, truth is absolute, for all time and for all cultures and communities. Certainly, truth must be joined with grace and graciousness for all people in all circumstances. But that graciousness must not compromise or dilute truth, especially biblical truth. God does not operate on a majority opinion, nor on Supreme Court decisions. And the truth of the matter about homosexuality and its tentacles is that it is wrong-headed and sinful. No matter how much we want to re-interpret the plain texts of the Bible on this subject, the preponderance of truth is that openly gay choices and lifestyles are wrong.

Second, same-sex marriage and homosexuality are choices made, not genetically forced upon us so that we can do nothing about them. A lot of talk is made about homosexual desires and how people cannot help being what they are. This supposedly is a defense of openly gay choices and people. However, we all operate by choices. And those choices can be good or bad or neutral. I can choose to smoke or not smoke. Nicotine habits can be broken. Homosexual choices can be broken. To claim I have to be what I was made to be negates the "new birth" and "new creation" that God does in a person's life and choices. We all do what we want to do--just admit this about gay people and same-sex unions.

Third, we live and operate in an increasingly post-Christian and irreligious America. Everybody agrees with this. It's not a thesis or supposition anymore. It is a fact. We have trashed our Christian and biblically based value systems for a humanistic and me-centered lifestyle. Therefore, the Court simply recognized what is true about American culture and values and societal trends. Again, let's just admit this. However, admission of this cultural shift and trend does not make it right or acceptable in our churches. We still need to proclaim and teach biblical truth and standards and the gospel to a dying world.

Finally, life will get worse, not better, for a Christ-follower and a church committed to the truth of Scripture. Such thinking coincides with a Scriptural model of the end times. The letters of the New Testament talk about deception in the last days, and how people will call truth evil and hold to deceptive and false practices. Christ-followers are called to stand their ground. It will be a battle for the hearts and minds of cultures and communities. I predict a day when churches not accepting openly gay people and couples will lose their government privileges. They will be fined for not marrying same-sex couples. Not just dismissed, but openly challenged. Remember the words of Paul the Apostle, "having done all, to stand firm." (Ephesians 6:13)