Monday 22 October 2012

8 Principles for Churches That Want to Grow, by Mark Driscoll

8 Principles for Churches That Want to Grow, by Mark Driscoll

When it comes to numbers, churches tend to err in one of two ways: They either discount them as unimportant, or they put too much emphasis on them.  The reality is numbers are important, and though they aren’t the only sign of a healthy church, they are an important measure.
For Mars Hill, numbers are a key measure of our health. For us, it’s all about the numbers, if by “numbers” you mean the number of people getting their sins forgiven, getting their lives changed by Jesus and going to heaven instead of hell. We’d like that number to go up. We’re all for that.
When numbers are viewed from this perspective, they are a good thing to desire to see grow. This is why I commend pastors who desire to see the church they pastor grow for the right reasons.

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In my conversations with pastors around the world, many have questions on church growth. So, I thought I’d share eight principles I’ve learned about church growth.

1. Begin with the end in mind and know how large you want to be.

The following is a rough breakdown of reported (which may not be entirely accurate) church attendance. Admittedly, these numbers are a few years old, but, as a general rule, they do give you a rough idea of church-size barriers.
  • Churches with 45 people or fewer = 100,000 churches or 25% of all churches
  • Churches with 75 people or fewer = 200,000 churches or 50% of all churches
  • Churches with 150 people or fewer = 300,000 churches or 75% of all churches
  • Churches with 350 people or fewer = 380,000 churches or 95% of all churches
  • Churches with 800 people or fewer = 392,000 churches or 98% of all churches
  • Churches with 800 people or more = 8,000 churches or 2% of all churches
  • Churches with 2,000 people or more = 870 churches or 0.22% of all churches
  • Churches with 3,000 people or more = 425 churches or 0.11% of all churches
Lyle Schaller, considered one of the best church consultants in the world, states in his book, The Very Large Church, that the two most comfortable church sizes are under 45 people and under 150 people, likely making them two of the hardest thresholds to pass through, in addition to the 800 mark.
In The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell states 150 is also the maximum number of people someone can purposefully connect with, which explains why some people do not like bigger churches. It may also explain why John Wesley divided people into groups of about 150, the average hunter-gatherer village is about 150 people, most military units are under 200 and the Hutterites allow their communities to grow no larger than 150.
Understanding group dynamics like this is important in understanding there are significant challenges that come with each phase of church size, and being aware of where you want your church to grow allows you to begin preparing for those growth phases more effectively.

2. The larger the church, the more different it is from other churches of the same theology and tradition.

As a church grows, while the theology remains the same, the organization complexity doesn’t, often requiring new methods of ministry.
Size affects the number of lines of communication, how an organization stacks or does not stack leadership, access to the senior leader and family, etc.
Simply put, church size does matter for how a church is run. Much like a married couple, who some years later find themselves with a dozen children, cannot simply organize their life as they did with their first child—everything must change.
For those wanting to learn more about the dynamics of church size, Tim Keller has a helpful paper, and Larry Osborne has a helpful book called Sticky Teams.

3. Change is inevitable.

You either move forward or backward.
A living church changes differently than a dying church does, but all churches change.
For a church to grow, it must change. It does not need to change in theology, but it will need to change in methodology.
If a church is unwilling to change their methodology to reach and care for more people, then it is guilty of method-idolatry, which is where we confuse unchanging biblical principles with what are supposed to be changing cultural methods.

4. Don’t assign moral judgments to size and change.

People tend to wrongly attach a moral value to church size, which is unholy, unhealthy and unhelpful. This explains why big churches are accused of being uncaring and small churches are accused of not reaching people or being well led or organized.
I pastored Mars Hill when it was small and saw a lot of people saved by Jesus. And, now that Mars Hill is large, I’m certain we take far better care of our people with far better community than we did when we were small.
Many smaller church pastors, especially those who value theology well above ministry philosophy and size, tend to completely overlook or even deny the importance of church size. They will accuse those who care about numbers to be simply pragmatic, as if wanting more people to meet Jesus and grow in grace were a bad thing.
The reality is Jesus works through churches of all sizes, and if he should see fit to bless a church to grow bigger, that is not a bad thing but a good thing.

5. If you want to grow, you need to prepare for common changes now.

Here are few of the changes you’ll face as you grow:
  • You move from managing workers, to leading managers, to leading leaders.
  • Focus shifts from a survival-in-the-present mode to a success-in-the-future mode.
  • Expectations move from informal to formal (elders, deacons and members).
  • You have to grow from making decisions by general consensus to a handful of people making decisions.
  • Communications becomes formal and written rather than informal and oral.
  • People’s roles move from general responsibility to specialized responsibility.
  • The church moves from being one community to being many communities (e.g., multiple services, community groups, etc.).
  • The senior leaders shift their focus from being primarily caregivers to making sure people are being cared for by raising up leaders.
  • The senior leader shifts from working in the organization to working on the organization.
  • The members move from being connected to the pastor to being connected to other leaders.
  • Focus shifts from drawing people through relationship to drawing them through events and dynamic Sunday services.

6. Be humble as a leader to seek the counsel of pastors ahead of you and receive their counsel.

Over the years, I’ve reached out to many godly pastors who oversee larger churches for advice and counsel as Mars Hill has grown.
Their friendship, advice, prayer and service to our church have been much appreciated and priceless. No man is an island, and it’s crucial to seek godly counsel and humbly receive it.

7. Discern between guilt and conviction in seasons of transition.

Developing this discernment is key, as you cannot do what everyone wants you to do and also do exactly what God calls you to do.
As the old adage goes, if you try to please everyone, you please no one.
Proverbs 29:25 says fear of man is a “trap” or a “snare,” depending upon your translation. Fear of man causes us to live for the approval of our tribe and to fear criticism or ostracism from our tribe. Fear of man is a form of idolatry—living to please someone other than Jesus Christ.
Ultimately, when you get to heaven, you’ll give account to Jesus for your decisions and actions as a pastor. Strive to be faithful to Jesus, not to the demands of people.

8. Pray and plan for people to meet Jesus.

As you often get what you pray for, you need to prepare for it.
Mars Hill has been blessed by God to see a great harvest over the years. Like any large harvest, there is much work to do and it is tiring.
As you pray for many people to meet Jesus, also prepare in faithful expectation for the work that will come if Jesus answers your prayer.
The good news is seeing many people meet Jesus, while demanding work, is the best kind of work there is.  

Saturday 6 October 2012

Stats show only ‘tiny’ proportion of UK is gay, lesbian or bisexual

Stats show only ‘tiny’ proportion of UK is gay, lesbian or bisexual

Only 1.5 per cent of people in the UK are gay, lesbian or bisexual according to new official statistics – not the 6 per cent figure the Government usually claims.
The figure comes from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) which questioned hundreds of thousands of people in the research.
The ONS found 1.1 per cent said they were gay or lesbian, after speaking to around 545,000 adults.


And after quizzing around 220,000 adults, the ONS found 0.4 per cent who said they were bisexual.
According to the study, 2.4 per cent of adults who live in London said they were gay, lesbian or bisexual.
Responding to the figures, and speaking in light of the Government’s plans to bring in same-sex marriage, Mike Judge of The Christian Institute said: “It is staggering that such a monumental change is being carried out on behalf of a tiny proportion of society.”


Commenting on the new figures, Ben Summerskill of homosexual lobby group Stonewall, commented: “We reckon 6 per cent, the figure the Treasury has used for some time, is a sensible estimate.”
In 2003 the former Labour Government endorsed figures from Stonewall which claimed that between five and seven per cent of the population were homosexuals.
The coalition Government is pushing ahead with its plans to redefine marriage despite much opposition.
A number of Government ministers and MPs want to keep marriage as it is and a nationwide petition against homosexual marriage – organised by the Coalition for Marriage – has been signed by over 600,000 people.

Friday 5 October 2012

Academic study of homosexuality and parenting.

Christianity Today, October, 2012

The Regnerus Affair

The embattled sociologist talks to CT about the controversy over his study of homosexuality and parenting.
The Regnerus Affair
If you want to know how University of Texas sociologist Mark Regnerus's summer has gone, look no further than The Weekly Standard. On the cover of the conservative magazine's July 30 issue are two hooded henchmen impishly turning the gears on a medieval torture wheel holding Regnerus, sweating beads as he tries to stay in one piece. The cover copy—"Revenge of the Sociologists: The perils of politically incorrect academic research"—hints at the situation sparked by the publication of Regnerus's newest research as well as the broader political discourse over same-sex marriage.
The survey, known as the New Family Structures Study (NFSS), is remarkable in its scope. It's a random national sample, considered "the gold standard" of social science surveys. NFSS measures the economic, relational, political, and psychological effects on adults ages 18 to 39 who grew up in families where the father or mother engaged in homosexual behavior. Despite Regnerus's repeated caution that the NFSS does not account for stable same-sex marriages (since same-sex marriage as such didn't exist when the survey participants were children), he has undergone professional censure. Social Science Research conducted an internal audit on the peer-review process of the NFSS, and the University of Texas at Austin investigated Regnerus following allegations of "scientific misconduct." (The school has since cleared Regnerus of the allegations.) Regnerus agreed to an e-mail interview with Christianity Today associate editor Katelyn Beaty to set the record straight on the NFSS and its many discontents.
Other studies have been done on the well-being of children raised by same-sex couples, with many sociologists concluding there's no real difference between children raised by same-sex couples and those raised by heterosexual couples. Why was the NFSS needed at this time?
Most family scholars had, until recently, consistently affirmed the elevated stability and advantages [for children] of the married, heterosexual, biological, two-parent household, when contrasted with all other family "makes and models." Other types of family arrangements were perceived to fall short—even if not far short—in a variety of developmental domains such as educational achievement, behavior problems, and emotional well-being.
For the children of gay and lesbian Americans, however, social scientists have largely shifted their sentiment. Since 2001, and picking up steam more recently, scholars have been increasingly quick to declare "no differences," and some have even moved to suggest that same-sex parents may be more competent than a man and woman in a traditional family arrangement. Ten years is pretty speedy to overthrow a long-stable paradigm, and frankly, some of us found it a bit suspicious, so we decided to look into it ourselves.
I don't think there is a time-sensitive component to this study, other than it was time to evaluate what had become a rapidly-shifting consensus on the subject.
How does your methodology compare with those used in previous surveys on this topic?
This is the key area of distinction between my study and most others. Almost all studies that came before this one were small and "nonrandom." That is, we have no idea how similar most other studies' research participants are to the general population they seek to study. And with many previous studies, I think it's fair to be skeptical. For example, if you know you're participating in a small study on gay parenting and that it'll make the news and perhaps have political ramifications, I think it's fair for scholars to wonder whether such a study will yield valid, reliable data.
'Ten years is pretty speedy to overthrow a long-stable paradigm, and frankly, some of us found it a bit suspicious, so we decided to look into it ourselves.' - Mark Regnerus
The NFSS, on the other hand, is much larger than most others, and is a random sample of the population of American adults ages 18–39. I focused not on their parents' sexual orientation—after all, it was a quite different era back then—but on their parents' relationship behavior. So I compared how young adults whose mothers or fathers had a same-sex relationship fared when analyzed alongside other types of arrangements, including the traditional, biologically intact married mother and father.
Explain briefly how you identified "lesbian mothers" and "gay fathers" in the study. These are not established same-sex couples who together chose to adopt or use IVF, correct?
If by "established" you mean stable couples present for their child's entire growing-up years: The data allowed for stably-coupled gay or lesbian parents to emerge, but at least in the era I am assessing, it was uncommon. Moreover, so was surrogacy and assisted reproductive technology (ART). These are all pretty expensive, even today. Another scholar writing on this subject notes that "the literature on same-sex-couple parenting has tended to feature studies of the kind of women who can afford ART: white, upper-middle-class women." But that is the media stereotype of gay and lesbian parents, even though data from the National Study of Family Growth reveal that they're less apt to want children than nonwhite gay and lesbian parents. So the types of couples you are referring to could be in the data, although I did not ask the respondents about the circumstances of their own birth.
From other questions—such as whether your biological mother and father were ever married—I can discern an educated guess about their origins. A majority of such respondents were the product of a heterosexual union that eventually disintegrated. Some suggest these were "mixed orientation marriages," but I wouldn't be so quick to presume that. While the etiology of homosexuality is not under study here, questions about my categorizations seem tacitly to raise the subject of who counts as a lesbian mother or gay father, to say nothing of bisexuality. The study is, however, about what its title states: the adult children of parents who have, or have had, same-sex relationships. In hindsight, I wish I would have been even more vigilant than I was in making sure readers always understood this.
What would you say to religious and political groups that promote traditional marriage and want to use the NFSS results to "prove" that parenting by same-sex couples is damaging to children?
I am neither a theologian nor politically oriented, so I wouldn't presume to tell anyone else how to do their jobs. While social science cannot "prove" things, it can describe social reality. What the NFSS does describe is that the young-adult children of men and women who have had same-sex relationships appear more likely to have experienced problems, and in some cases continue to struggle, than those whose biological parents were and are still married. Why exactly this is the case is an important question that should continue to be explored and debated.
What problems in particular do young-adult children of parents who have had same-sex relationships encounter? Emotional, financial, spiritual?
They report a variety of challenges, especially if they witnessed elevated instability in their household. Most of them have seen some [non-parent adults] coming and going. Among other things, they are more apt to report financial and employment difficulties, to finish less schooling, feel more ambivalence about their family experiences while growing up, smoke more, have more run-ins with the law, and report more sexual partners and greater victimization than those children from biologically intact, stable marriages. I didn't include religion or spirituality in the published study.
'The study itself was neither intended to undermine nor to affirm any legal rights about same-sex marriage.' - Mark Regnerus
What are your personal convictions about marriage structures? Do those convictions introduce a bias into your research, as critics of late have charged?
Every researcher has biases. This is why good survey projects assure participants' anonymity and don't hint to their participants how they ought to answer. This helps allow social science to rise above the personal biases of researchers.
You note that every researcher has biases. How are biases informing the internal audit of your research currently being conducted by Social Science Research, specifically the person conducting the audit, sociologist Darren Sherkat? Didn't Sherkat, who supports gay marriage, publicly criticize your research before the start of the audit?
Yes. I won't fight fire with fire here, but that is true. And yet the audit concluded that the publication process for the study was not compromised. Scholars criticize each other all the time, but it seems to be more personal in this territory.
Does your study have anything to contribute to contemporary debates about the legalization and cultural acceptance of same-sex marriage—especially since the NFSS was retrospective?
The study itself was neither intended to undermine nor to affirm any legal rights about same-sex marriage. That said, the NFSS and other solid studies out there are a good source of information for orienting citizens, regardless of their own personal perspectives.
Looking back, do you think it was responsible as a researcher to receive funding for NFSS from the Witherspoon Institute and the National Organization for Marriage (nom)—two groups known for strong stances on traditional marriage?
No funding came from the National Organization for Marriage, but rather from the Witherspoon Institute and the Bradley Foundation. [Editor's note: Critics of the NFSS have linked Witherspoon and Bradley to nom because Robert P. George, nom's chairman emeritus, has strong ties to the two institutions that helped fund Regnerus's study.] As I've noted in the text of the study and elsewhere, I have always operated without strings from either organization. No funding agency representatives were consulted about research design, survey contents, analyses, or conclusions. Any allegations that the funders might have improperly influenced me are simply false.
How do you understand your calling as a sociologist? What does sociology offer to a broader society that other professions can't?
Among other things, good sociology investigates what culture is, how social structures work, how certain ways of thinking and acting become "normal," how institutions shape our lives, and how social change happens. This may sound abstract and dull, but it's really a fascinating and important way of seeing and thinking about the world and our own lives. Those who apply themselves to wrestling with these kinds of issues often discover how interesting and important sociological analysis can be. And in the process, they often come to understand much more fully their own personal life experiences.

Tuesday 18 September 2012

The Divorced Deacon Dilemma

The Divorced Deacon Dilemma

A safe course here would be to spend all our energies pursuing the multi-faceted question “Can a divorced person be a deacon?” and at the end, choose the safest and most reasonable exit without coming down on a firm position. But where’s the fun in that?
“Let deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well.”  (1 Timothy 3:11)
There it is. One simple sentence that has divided and perplexed and frustrated the Lord’s faithful people for eons.
Let’s state our position up front so there can be no doubt. As a general rule, divorce disqualifies a man from service as either a pastor or deacon. However, there are exceptions.
And by “exceptions,” I most definitely do not mean we must convene an investigating committee to search out the reasons for the man’s divorce and establish a) that he was sinned against or b) that he was unsaved at the time and has since come to the Lord. This kind of scrutiny over a person’s ancient history is outside the capability of any preacher on the planet. All we have to do is look at the Roman Catholic Church’s annulment processes to see a) how complex this can get and b) how hypocritical it all appears to the outside world. We will grant that their intent is good, but the product is a disaster.
The exception–that is, the divorced men who can be considered as deacons–applies when the divorce occurred decades ago and the man has lived an exemplary and godly life since.

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That’s where I am at the moment. Good people will agree and disagree, and I’m fine by that. We each have to come to our own conclusion as to the Lord’s will.
This is an emotional, volatile subject.
Yesterday, I posted this question on Facebook: “Can a divorced person be a deacon?” An hour later, we had over 40 responses. This morning, the number is approaching 150. And as one might expect, the answers were all over the map.
Few people are without an opinion on this subject.
Anyone who wishes to see just how explosive a subject this is should stand in a church business conference and make a motion that the church change its stance on divorce.
Either way, it doesn’t matter. If your church ordains divorced people, move that it reconsider. If your church opposes ordaining the divorced, move that it consider changing and begin ordaining them. Then, stand back and watch the fur fly.
One has to wonder why people feel more passionate about this subject than issues of greater weight such as abortion or integrity or morality or world missions or the displaced people of Sudan or the starving children of Central Africa.
For our purposes here, suffice it to say, “They do.” (Pastors, be forewarned!)

What about the “husband of one wife” passage?

The Greek text of 1 Timothy 3:12 is not a lot of help. It reads “one woman man” or can be interpreted “one wife husband.”
Is this a prohibition against polygamy? For a long time, I thought so. Then, reading everything I could find on the subject, I kept running into scholars who said, “Polygamy was never a problem in the early church.” They ruled that out, and I did too, although reluctantly.
Is the problem divorce? Evidently so.
As long as there have been humans and humans have been sinners, divorce has been with us. Our Lord said the Old Testament provision for it (Deuteronomy 24:1-4) was a concession to the hardness of people’s hearts (Matthew 19:8).
The prophet said God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16).  True, but we ask, who doesn’t?  I don’t know anyone who loves divorce.  Most divorced people hate it.  So to allow a divorced person to teach a Bible class or serve as a deacon (or even a pastor!) is not saying we love or approve of divorce or that we take it lightly.
The “husband of one wife” phrase requires interpretation, no matter what position we take.
Why? Because if taken literally as it stands, it would bar single men and widowers from serving as deacons. I don’t know anyone who wants to do that.  The phrase requires some context and “giving the sense” of its meaning (a reference to Nehemiah 8:8).

Does “common sense” bring anything worthwhile to the subject?

While some Christians reject divorced individuals as deacons because of this text, they have no trouble accepting people with all manners of sordid pasts so long as they have repented and been forgiven and proven themselves faithful.
A friend says a divorced man in his church told him, “I should have just shot my first wife. Then, I could have found a good lawyer and served maybe 5 years for manslaughter. After returning home, I would have walked the aisle of my church and rededicated my life to the Lord, and bingo–in time, I’m a deacon. All I did was to divorce her. Consequently, I’m permanently barred.”
Where is the logic in that?
A pastor’s wife sent me this note.
I’d like to play the devil’s advocate for a moment.
If a man killed his wife and served his time, then got his life right with Christ, could he be elected a deacon?
If a man was addicted to pornography and induced his wife to role-play with him, then he repented and he and his wife came to the Lord, can he be a deacon?
If a man had an affair with another woman, then repented and gave evidence he was genuinely changed, could he be a deacon?
Or say he lived as a homosexual and then God changed him.  Can he be a deacon?
But a man who was married and then divorced, who received counsel and asked for forgiveness for anything he’d done wrong, he cannot ever become a deacon?
What’s wrong with this picture?

What does Christian maturity and faithfulness say?

A pastor friend sent me a note. He said, “I used to have a man in my church who was mature and godly. He came to me privately on one occasion and said, ‘Pastor, if I should ever be nominated for deacon, quietly remove my name.’ He had been divorced early in life and was remarried. He said, ‘I’d rather be in submission to the Word than to hold any position in the church.’”
I said to my friend, “That fellow has just qualified as a deacon in any church I pastor!” Such a godly, submissive attitude commends him as few other things could.
By the same token, the person who grows angry over being unfairly treated on this issue is probably demonstrating he is not qualified in other areas (spiritual maturity being the big one).
When other pastors and I have sat around the table working on this subject, eventually someone will say, “Even though it does seem we discriminate against the divorced person more than others, the point is to uphold the sacredness of marriage. I think the person ought to ‘take it on the chin’ in the interest of the Kingdom.”
After all, someone will add, there is nothing in any church’s bylaws to prohibit a member from serving God’s people in Jesus’ name. And that’s all deacons are–servants. And you don’t have to be ordained to serve.
True enough.
One of my friends said, “When in doubt, I try to err on the side of conservatism.” Another responded, “When I’m in doubt, I want to err on the side of grace.”
Grace. That’s what we are about, isn’t it?

What should your church do?

I’ll tell you what it should not do. It should not change its present policy hastily without a great deal of prayer and study and deliberation.
The tendency is for a church to do whatever its pastor says, particularly if he is strong-willed and takes no prisoners when presenting his position on controversial issues. This is not a good approach, as it leaves the church vulnerable to the next strong-armed leader who shows up with a contrary agenda.
The church should not throw out all prohibitions against divorced men (or women) serving as deacons simply because such a position is politically unpopular and attracts the criticism of the world. Fear is no reason to do anything in the Lord’s church.
The pastor who feels his church has the wrong position on this issue–regardless of which side he takes–will want to proceed with caution. This is not worth dividing a congregation over.  As my pastor says, “I am not willing to die on that hill.”
The first step should be lots and lots of prayer, seeking the Lord’s will and leadership in how to proceed as well as asking for more light on the issue itself. (One Facebooker said rather harshly that we should quit asking one another what we think and everyone get off the computer and on our knees. I don’t doubt the Lord could deliver His will to us on this and any other matter by dropping it out of the sky fully developed and hand-written, but that’s not been my experience. The Lord wants us to prayerfully discuss such issues and to do so in the spirit of love.)
After a season of prayer, as the Lord leads, the pastor may want to teach 1 Timothy, verse by verse. Or he may choose to present a series of sermons or studies on church leadership, any of which would get him to Acts 6 and 1 Timothy 3.
Prayer, teaching, and then discussion. Lots of openhearted talk in the spirit of love.
Finally, wait on the Lord. And do nothing until He has made His will clear to the great host of the church’s most faithful.
Praying, teaching, talking, and waiting. Following these four steps could resolve most of the church’s mistakes, heal its ills, and answer its questions.
The church has long been plagued and hampered by leaders who stood up in the flesh, preaching and promoting positions rooted in their own convictions and based on their dubious interpretations of Scripture, insisting on getting their way, and dismissing all dissenters. We’ve had quite enough of that and don’t need any more.
Let us go forth in love and faithfulness, encouraging one another, and shying away from anyone or anything that would divide the Lord’s body over minor matters. 

Thursday 13 September 2012

Should Churches talk about or celebrate numbers?

I was recently pondering our churches numerical growth (or lack of it!) and was thinking of how our church could break through the 500 barrier.

For a number of months our Sunday morning attendance has fluctuated between 380 and last Sundays 460 ( David Pawson revival).

Why is it that we seem to struggle to break through this barrier of 500 people in church, especially as we have a abuilding that can accommodate 900 people??

So I decided to start a preaching series from the book of Acts 2:41 called "breaking the 500 barrier". What is so amazing (to me at least) is how important numbers are in the Word of God, there is even a book called 'Numbers'.

In a world in which we are constantly being told about the deline in church attendance, we need to contend for numbers of people coming to faith in Jesus Christ.

Steven Furtick: Why We're All About the Numbers

It’s unacceptable to me as a pastor that we would stop growing when the Lord wants to add to our number daily those who are being saved.. Image Info:  

It’s unacceptable to me as a pastor that we would stop growing when the Lord wants to add to our number daily those who are being saved.
I get asked all the time if Elevation is all about the numbers.
Let me just clarify something:
Our church is all about the numbers.

The number of lives that Jesus can permeate and penetrate with the gospel.
The number of marriages that can be restored.
The number of teenagers following the Lord.
The number of depressed people that can find hope in Jesus.
The number of dads who don’t give their kids any attention who will learn to order their lives by the Word of God and start prioritizing their families.

What else matters? What else should we be about?

This might come as a shock to a lot of people, but measuring numbers and putting an emphasis on them isn’t a new phenomenon. 2000 years ago, Luke by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit wrote:
Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day ... And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
- Acts 2:41, 47
Apparently God is all about the numbers. So I want to be, too. And so should you.

It’s unacceptable to me as a pastor that we would stop growing when the Lord wants to add to our number daily those who are being saved. And in order for that to happen, we need to track every scrap of statistical data at our disposal. We’ve got to make sure we’re measuring ministry numbers to measure our effectiveness and enlarge the Kingdom of God. I don’t want to waste a single dollar or second on a program, piece of equipment, or ministry position that isn’t the best option for reaching the most people.

You might be averse to numbers for a number of reasons.

Maybe you don’t like the idea of big crowds. If that’s the case, you wouldn’t have liked the New Testament Church. And you really won’t like heaven.

Maybe you think it steals away from discipleship. It’s possible. But it’s just as possible for that to happen in a church of 10 people as it is in a church of 10,000.

Whatever your reason is, remember: every number is indicative of a story.
Personally, I don’t want to put a cap on the number of stories God wants to redeem. Especially when I read this:
I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God.” - Revelation 7:9-10
Now that’s a number worth shooting for. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to wait until I die to see this. I want to see this partially fulfilled in my lifetime. More people worshipping Jesus than I can count.

I want to see a little heaven on earth through Elevation Church. Through every church. I think it’s what God wants too.

And that’s why we’re all about the numbers.

Saturday 25 August 2012

How to Become an Atheist

How to Become an Atheist

There are two main hard and fast rules for anyone who would like to become an "atheist." If you are tempted, beware. It's not an easy thing to do.

The first rule is to ignore design in nature. You will see it everywhere; from the planets, to the atoms, to the birds and the bees, to the seasons, to the design of the human body, the design of fish, flowers, fruits, feet, and even fungus. And of course, the amazing-looking human eye. Everywhere you look and everywhere you can't look, you will see design.

Now here's the hard part. Ignore your God-given common sense. Admit that everything man made is man-made, but be uncompromisingly adamant that everything in nature came from nothing, with no Designer. Once you have set aside your acumen to do this, crown yourself as being intelligent. Very. Then find other atheists and they will confirm to you that you are indeed, intelligent.

The second rule is to "believe." This is very important, because if you let doubt in, it will let in fear, and that can be a scary thing when the issue at stake is a place called "Hell."

Believe that you are right in your beliefs. Believe that evolution is indeed true. Believe that it's scientific. Believe that there are no missing links, and believe that Richard Dawkins knows what he is talking about.

Believe that you are an ape, that you are not morally responsible because apes have no moral absolutes. Believe that your conscience was given to you by your parents and society, and not by God (always use a small "g" for God, if possible).

To grow as an atheist, you will need to learn believers' language--phrases like "There is no creation," "Evolution is a proven fact," and the powerful "Flying Spaghetti Monster." Learn the fine art of cutting and pasting, and responding with "Straw man!" That means you won't have to respond to anything challenging.

All this will give perceived intelligence. Never question evolution, and don't think for yourself.

Do these things, and you will be able to call yourself an atheist, or even a "new" atheist. How cool is that! Well, I should say, as much of one as you can be called one. No one can be a true atheist because you need "absolute knowledge" to say that there is no God. So until you are omniscient (like God), you will just have to do with pretending to be one.

Photograph by Manuel Brambila. Click on the eye for design details.

Wednesday 4 July 2012

Judging Creflo Dollar

Judging Creflo Dollar

What did you think when you saw this headline, “Pastor Creflo Dollar charged with attacking his daughter”? Maybe you agree with this comment from Twitter when I suggested we pray for Rev. Dollar’s family:
“Why would anyone pray for Creflo Dollar? You pray for the girl, not the money-grubbing scam artist that abused her.”
Maybe your reaction was more along the lines of my friend from Facebook:
“Pray for him sure, but if [it] turns out he’s guilty [I] hope they throw the book at him. No excuse whatsoever for a man to ever strike a female under any circumstances! We’ve all lost our patience with our kids at one time or another, but hitting is never an answer/option.”
Or you may have a completely different take:
“In a world where Black children are shot every day by one another and by the police, the tough hand of a loving parent might be the only thing that keeps that child out of the morgue.  I encourage others to refrain from judging Pastor Dollar’s parenting techniques until the evidence is fully revealed.  Also, I wouldn’t be surprised if one day, his daughter thanks him for his sacrifice.” (You can read the full article here)
Is Creflo Dollar an angry, ego-maniacal prosperity preacher who has finally been revealed for the fraud we knew him to be? Or is he a desperate dad willing to do whatever it takes to protect his daughter from evil?
What would I do if my 15 year old daughter demanded to go to a party I had forbidden her to go to? What if I caught her sneaking out of the house at midnight, and she refused to stop when I told her to? What if there were older boys waiting for her in a car in the driveway? What if I could see that the boy who was driving was obviously drunk? What would I do to keep my 15 year old daughter from climbing in that car, to keep her from going to that party, to protect her from making a decision she could never recover from? Is it possible that I would physically restrain her? Is it possible in the course of a horrible, horrible encounter that she might get a scratch on her neck? And what if she was so angry at me, so enraged that she couldn’t go that party, that she called the police and told them that I had beat her?
I don’t know what happened at Creflo Dollar’s house last night. But I do know that when I choose to judge him, regardless of how I feel about his theology, I am walking into dangerous territory. In John 8 Jesus seems to indicate that the prerequisite for judgement is perfection, and I’m nowhere near that standard.
The reality is that, while they don’t make headlines, I come into contact with stories like this every day. People make decisions I don’t understand, people espouse views I can’t agree with, people fall into the trap of sin that chips away at their soul. I can have one of two attitudes when I encounter the messiness of life in a fallen world:
Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’
But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’
Oh, and one more thing, I’m thankful my kids didn’t have cell phones when they were 15.

Friday 22 June 2012

The 40 / 40 divide. The difference in views between those under 40 and those above 40.

Same-Sex Marriage, Culture Wars, and the Next Step for the Church

As has been observed by many, recent events were nothing less than a cultural earthquake. For the first time in history, a sitting U.S. president endorsed same-sex marriage.
But the larger issue may have been the aftershock. Namely, the debate among Christians as to whether the issue even justifies engagement.
Many discuss the 40/40 divide (my terminology) on the matter. Those under forty tend to support same-sex marriage, and not only believe it is pointless to engage but harmful to Christian outreach. Those over forty believe it is a decisive issue and that failure to speak out and resist comes at great cultural peril.
Let’s dig deeper into the under-forty crowd. What is driving the divide from their elders?
I would argue that it is two-fold: first, they were the generation raised on Will & Grace, followed by Ellen. For them, homosexuality was normalized by the mainstream media. Further, the cultural acceptance of such matters has increased the number of friends and family they know, or know of, that are openly gay. This is a powerful combination.
But second, they encountered the fall-out of the Moral Majority and tend to automatically associate any and all cultural stances of a moral nature with its spirit.
Let’s camp out on the second.
The idea that captivated many Christians in the 80s was the idea that ours was once a Christian nation, and we should actively work to return our governing bodies and laws back to their original intent. Even among those who did not espouse a sense of “returning,” there was often a deep sense of fulfilling a Christian destiny.
To be fair, the idea of “chosenness” and “special blessing” from God has been a constant theme throughout the history of the United States, beginning with the Puritans and their desire that, in the words of John Winthrop in 1630, they should be “as a Citty [sic] upon a Hill.” As historian Conrad Cherry writes, “Throughout their history, Americans have been possessed by an acute sense of divine election. They have fancied themselves a New Israel, a people chosen for the awesome responsibility of serving as a light to the nations...It has long been...the essence of America’s motivating mythology.”
That vision of a Christian America was again popularized in the late 1970s by evangelical authors Peter Marshall and David Manuel in The Light and the Glory. Marshall and Manuel held that America was founded as a Christian nation and flourished under the benevolent hand of divine providence, arguing further that America's blessings will remain only as long as America is faithful to God as a nation. In 1989, a team of evangelical historians (Mark Noll, Nathan Hatch, and George Marsden) attempted to lay this somewhat dubious thesis to rest, but it continues as a popular framework for viewing American history among American evangelicals.
The Moral Majority of the 1980s found its genesis in such sentiments and accordingly formed a “top down” strategy for cultural change. If we could only have Christians in the White House, Congress, and the Supreme Court - or populating other leadership elites - then morality would be enacted and faith would once again find the fertile soil needed to establish its footing in individual lives.
The moral majority “won” through the election of Ronald Reagan as president, and his subsequent Supreme Court appointments throughout the 1980s brought great anticipation for substantive change.
Yet there was little real change to mark as a result.
Even the prime target – the striking down of the Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion – remains the law of the land to this day. Further, the “culture wars” of the 1980s and 1990s is now widely viewed as one of the more distasteful episodes in recent memory, and many younger evangelicals want nothing to do with what was often its caustic, abrasive, and unloving approach toward those apart from Christ.
So the effort to recapture the nation failed as a strategy and alienated a younger generation.
As one who was a college student in the early eighties, I stand with that alienation. I am deeply sympathetic to those who give a resounding “no” to Christians joining any kind of “culture war” again. The idea is that it is ineffectual and offensive to those we are trying to reach.
But I also believe that in so doing, we may be throwing out the proverbial baby with the bathwater.
I have read Christian blogger after Christian blogger (yes, most under forty) jump on the anti-culture war bandwagon over North Carolina passing its amendment against same-sex marriage, as well as outspokenly decry anyone who would, well, outspokenly decry President Obama’s support of same-sex marriage. Yes, it’s all in the spirit of denouncing the failure of the Moral Majority of the 80s and the ongoing alienation of the homosexual community.

But may I offer four rejoinders?

1. It is the responsibility of Christ followers to be salt and light in a fallen world, and this includes politics. We should use our freedom to vote in any way possible to bring the Kingdom of God to greater reality. And yes, the Kingdom of God includes the biblical understandings of marriage and family.
This is not about attempting to impose things through power, but influence. There is a difference. In Jesus' day, salt was one of the most useful and important elements you could possess, but not for the purpose of adding flavor to food. The main use of salt was as a preservative to keep food from rotting. Without refrigerators or freezers, canned goods or packaging, salt was used to keep food from spoiling. If you had a piece of meat that you couldn’t eat right away, you would take some salt and rub it into the meat, which would prevent the meat from going bad. As John Stott wrote,
The notion is not that the world is tasteless and that Christians can make it less insipid...but that it is putrefying. It cannot stop itself from going bad. Only salt introduced from outside can do this. The set in the salt to arrest – or at least to hinder – the process of social decay...God intends the most powerful of all restraints within sinful society to be His own redeemed, regenerate, and righteous people.
Stott continued by noting the obvious – namely, that this influence is conditional. Meaning that for salt to be effective, it must retain its ‘saltness.’ “For effectiveness, the Christian must retain his Christlikeness, as salt must retain its saltness,” Stott observes. “The influence of Christians in and on society depends on their being distinct, not identical.” Even further, this difference must be applied to what is, in fact, decaying. Unless the salt penetrates the culture, the decay cannot be arrested.
2. It is one thing to denounce “culture wars” in the name of the failure of the Moral Majority of thirty years ago; it is another to abdicate our responsibility to be salt and light on today’s contemporary moral issues. Yes, social justice matters, but so does moral order. Lovelessness toward anyone, including homosexuals, must be repented from (as I have written about – see below), but that does not mean we should not continue to speak out on sexual ethics. As Martin Luther is reported to have proclaimed,
“If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at the moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battle front besides is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.”
We can have an honest debate about whether amendments such as the one North Carolina approved are beneficial or unnecessary, but the discussion itself is pivotal.
3. Same-sex marriage is not exactly a fringe issue that propels Christians into the backwaters of culture. Lest we forget, North Carolina was the 30th state to pass such an amendment. That is not just Christians speaking, but by necessity involves the majority of Americans (e.g., one of the major groups supporting Amendment One in North Carolina were African-American Democrats). Could it be that we live under such pressure to be politically correct that polls show a majority in favor of same-sex marriage, but when faced with the opportunity to vote their conscience in private, a different perspective emerges? Whether that is the impetus or not, whenever such an amendment has been presented, it has passed without fail. Thirty for thirty.
4. Refraining to speak out on a particular issue because you fear alienating a particular community or sub-group for Christ is specious at best, heretical at worst. The gospel is offensive. Jesus offended the Pharisees (Mt. 15:12), He offended those in His hometown (Mt. 13:55-57), He offended His family members (Mk. 3:21, 31-35). He offended His closest followers (John 6:60-61, 66) and closest friends (John 11:6). As Peter wrote, Jesus as the living Stone is precious to those who believe, but to those who do not believe, He is the “stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.” (I Peter 2:8 NIV) Or as it says in the NKJV, “a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.”
You can’t escape that word: offense.
I sometimes fear that Christians are so eager to be accepted and honored like, for example, a Bono that they capitulate on key issues (not that Bono does – just let the example play out).
Jesus ended up on a cross to jeers, not a stage to cheers. It is one thing for young adults to leave the church for an unloving attitude toward the gay community (I’ll follow you out the door); it is another for them to leave the church for a moral stance against homoeroticism that is simply culturally unpopular.
I live in North Carolina and saw the debate first-hand between supporters and opponents of Amendment One. There were no “God Hates Fags” signs that I saw. Indeed, there was no incivility by Christians toward the homosexual community at all. When one prominent African-American pastor made a sermonic joke in poor taste (he put his arm around a male choir member and said that if this was his mate, they wouldn’t want him as their pastor), his own church confronted him on the matter, and he immediately apologized to the wider community.
A seemingly small matter, but it shows the degree of sensitivity Christians attempted when speaking to the issue: a sensitivity to speak to the issue, but not engage in ridicule of any kind.
Yes, Billy Graham took a public stand on the issue, but so did Bill Clinton (can you say “robo-calls?”). As did many other prominent non-North Carolina clergy. All to say, it was a refreshingly respectful process that brought no shame on Christians in regard to spirit or rhetoric.
Our goal is not offense for offense’s sake, much less to do so with impunity. But we are not trying to make the gospel socially acceptable or palatable to the masses. If my stance on homosexuality offends a practicing homosexual – despite the fact that my stance was forged on biblical conviction and expressed with compassion – then I cannot help that offense.
Indeed, I cannot escape it, nor should I try.
Our goal is to remove every barrier that exists between such persons and their acceptance of the scandal of the cross…except the scandal of the cross!
Which, of course, calls for repentance.
And that is one cultural war we cannot avoid.
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book is What They Didn’t Teach You in Seminary (Baker). To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, log-on to, where you can post your comments on this blog, view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

Wednesday 30 May 2012

7 Common Traits of Breakout Churches

7 Common Traits of Breakout Churches

7 Common Traits of Breakout Churches
Thom Rainer gives seven indispensable characteristics of churches that move from decline to growth.
I have been a student of American churches for thirty years. That statement really means two things: I’m old, and I’m a slow learner.
In those thirty years, one of my most fascinating learning ventures has been the discovery of breakout churches.
Simply defined, a breakout church is a congregation that has experienced at least five years of decline followed by at least five years of growth.
While numerical growth is not the inerrant barometer for church health, we researchers must use numerical gauges for much of our objective data.

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The Common Factor

As my research team began sorting and analyzing the data of some 50,000 churches, we found a common factor in many of the breakout churches: the breakout took place when the church got a new pastor. While that finding is helpful from a research perspective, it’s not very helpful to many churches. And it’s certainly not helpful to the pastors of struggling churches.
So our research took a new twist. We only looked at churches that experienced breakouts without changing pastors. I was encouraged by our findings.

The Seven Traits

The breakout churches, almost without exception had seven common characteristics. Though I list them numerically here, for sequential purposes, I am not assigning priority by the rankings.
1. The pastor had a “wake-up” call. He stopped denying that his church had a challenge. He became determined, in God’s power, to lead the church to growth and greater health. He would no longer be satisfied with mediocrity in God’s church.
2. The church, under the pastor’s new leadership, developed clarity in its purpose. Most of the churches were previously activity focused. They were busy with the “what” without addressing the “why.”
3. The pastor began assembling the right team for a new era of leadership. That team would include either paid staff or unpaid laypersons.
4. The pastor developed a spirit of tenacity. He knew that the turnaround would not take place overnight. He followed a prayerful plan for the long haul.
5. One of the early moves in these churches was to focus more ministries outwardly. The wake-up call noted above included an awareness that most of the ministries of the church were for the comfort and desires of the members. The leaders began to change that reality.
6. The pastor and other leaders in the breakout churches had deep biblical faithfulness. They saw their mission emanating from God and written in His Word. That faithfulness was the push that moved them forward even in the midst of challenging times and potential discouragement.
7. The pastor invested more time in the preaching ministry. He realized the centrality of the preached Word, and gave it more time and emphasis than any point previously.

The Hope Present in These Churches

Our quest to discover breakout churches that did not change pastors became an exercise in hope for our research team.
We first saw how many leaders transitioned from a lackadaisical attitude to one of enthusiasm and possibility. Some of the leaders told us that their change was more dramatic. They described it as moving from hopelessness to great hope.
Of course, the other great encouragement in this project was discovering the story of entire congregations moving from a inwardly-focused lethargy to an outwardly-focused Great Commission mindset. By the time our research team saw these churches in the “after” mode, we found it hard to fathom they were once lifeless and discouraged.
If I found a single message in the scope of this research, it is simple but profound lesson for churches and their leaders: Don’t ever assume that your congregation has little or no hope.
We found that many of these churches were once in despair, and many members confessed they had no hope. Then the breakout came. Then God showed He was wasn’t done with their church.
That story could very well be the story yet to be told of your church.
Thom Rainer Thom S. Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources ( He was founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism, and Church Growth at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His many books include Surprising Insights from the Unchurched, The Unexpected Journey, and Breakout Churches. More from Thom Rainer or visit Thom at

Wednesday 4 April 2012

Is Hell, going out of fashion? "The death of Hell"

Dear Friend,

Just browsed through an article recently about the 'death of Hell' or the idea that 'Hell is going out of fashion'. This can be seen in a number of ways.

1). Preachers dont preach on the subject as much as they use to (When last did you hear or preach a sermon on Hell?)

2). Newer bible translations use the word less & less.

3). Authors such as Rob Bell 'Love Wins' questioning the orthodox concept of Hell.

To this end, I try to contend for a well thought out biblical attitude towards hell in my

1). Reading: David Pawson "The Road to Hell" / "Once Saved, Always Saved?"

2). Preaching "One Hell of a Sermon" Luke 16:19-31 (some people say this is a parable, however parables do not mention names or know people, also if it is a parable, parables point to a greater truth what is the greater truth of the text?)

3). Hosting the drama production "Heaven's Gates & Hell's Flames"

We always see conversions for Christ when we host these free shows & it is a great way to get people to work together for the Gospel.

Have God day

Clement Okusi