The Gospel Coalition just released the latest issue of Themelios, which has 200 pages of columns, articles, and book reviews. It is freely available in three different formats: PDF (ideal for printing) Logos edition (ideal for research and mobile access) web version (ideal for interacting and sharing) It contains the following 70 contributions: D. A. Carson | EDITORIAL: The […]
Pat Hood explains what it is like to pastor a "sending church."
Tell me about some unique things your church is doing in outreach.
I don't know if we do anything that's really "unique." I would describe our outreach as "simple." I think Jesus' was too. He simply told his disciples, to "Go, make disciples." That's what we teach our people. We challenge them to live sent lives in every domain of their life. We tell our people that we have no marketing campaign. We don't blanket the community with fliers. We don't rent billboards. We tell our people they are the outreach plan.
How did LifePoint transition from a traditional First Baptist to an international, multi-ethnic "sending church?"
In 2004, I felt a clear direction from the Lord to lead our church to a time of prayer, fasting and worship. We would fast for three days and then meet together at night for a time of intense worship: no preaching, just fasting and meeting together to pray and worship.
We had already begun to transition some external things like our music style and dress, and, as a result, had seen lots growth. As a result, we were in the middle of a building program to build a new auditorium. We thought this time of prayer and fasting was to prepare us for what God was going to do when we opened our new auditorium. However, during those three days of prayer & fasting, we realized that God had called us together because He wanted to open our eyes to His heart for the nation. So, our focus changed from bringing more people in to sending more people out.
How did you measure success in the past?
I've always been a pastor who loved people and love seeing their lives transformed by Jesus. But, admittedly, there was a time when I was more ...
Each year at LifeWay Research, we work together with Outreach Magazine to create the Outreach 100 listings of the country's Fastest-Growing and Largest Churches. On one hand, these lists are one of the most anticipated things we do each year. People seem to eagerly await the lists so they can learn from these churches about what God is doing to build his kingdom across the United States. On the other hand, there are those who complain about the lists. They seem to think this is a way of exalting "big churches" in an effort to make them look better than the churches that are not on the list, when nothing could be further from the truth.
Remember folks: facts are our friends.
I love to learn. I have spent a significant portion of my adult life in the classroom, either as a student or as a professor. These lists feed our hunger to learn as we evaluate the temperature of the churches we study in an effort to learn more about the ways God is working. I hope these lists encourage you and challenge you. I hope, like me, you read them and celebrate the ways God is working. I hope they challenge you to think through your own strategy to reach your community with the gospel.
On this year's lists, we noticed many of the same trends we've seen in the past. Among the recent trends, we continue to see multisite churches becoming more and ...
I appreciated Ronnie Floyd's words here. At our church, we don't do a "come forward" invitation-- that does not work in a movie theater-- but we always invite people to Christ at the end of every message. I found his comments helpful.
How church partnerships can help foster multiplication.
Denominations and networks of churches were and still are created for the purpose of partnership in mission. At times, these organizations have successfully unified churches around their common goals and accomplished much. But sometimes the very institutions meant to unify and encourage the mission have inadvertently hindered their own ability to multiply efforts through partnership.
Without a clear avenue to foster partnership for multiplication, the need for these organizations becomes less clear. If denominations and networks do not exist-- at least in part-- to multiply churches, then they have lost a big part of their purpose.
Denominations, networks, and other such partnerships (referred to occasionally as simply "partnerships" for sake of space), when functioning correctly, should help foster multiplication.
I regularly work with a variety of denominational leaders to help them chart a course toward unified missional engagement. There are several points of weakness common to many of the organizations I have seen.
Since these blind spots seem to be somewhat universal, it makes sense to give broad consideration to the ways of overcoming them. So, I have taken a talk I gave to the Evangelical Free Church leadership and modified it a bit to share here.
Hopefully this information can serve other groups as well. Here are six key steps toward creating the type of unity among churches in denominations/networks that leads to sustainable multiplication of a movement.
1. Recognize that Multiplication is Part of Health.
First, your partnership must understand that multiplication is a sign of health.
Healthy churches multiply disciples, groups, ministries, and churches-- and healthy partnerships cultivate ...
Andy Crouch, one of Christianity’s most compelling visionaries on culture, joined Russell D. Moore to talk about his book, Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power. “This book plowed through my heart, leaving idol shards everywhere in its path,” Moore says. “It will cause you to rethink your assumptions and perhaps to reset your priorities.”
Southern Baptist ethicist Russell D. Moore and other human rights advocates have urged congressional leaders to prioritize efforts to breach Internet firewalls established by repressive regimes.
Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission ERLC), and four others wrote the chairs and ranking members of both the Senate and House of Representatives Appropriations Committees to request increased funding for firewall circumvention efforts by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). The BBG is an independent federal agency that supervises all federally supported non-military media in promotion of freedom, including Voice of America, Radio Free Europe and Radio Free Asia.
Moore and the other signers called for Congress to more than double funds for the BBG’s Internet freedom and firewall circumvention programs. Only 2 percent of the agency’s current $720 million budget is committed to that effort. The letter requested that allocation be increased to at least 5 percent.
“A modest and immediate reform of BBG funding priorities will permit an historic breakthrough that will allow millions of isolated residents to scale the ‘great fire walls’ erected by their governments, and become active participants in pursuit of the freedom of information,” Moore and the others said in the Nov. 19 letter.
Authoritarian governments are using a variety of methods — including connection disruptions, content blocking and violence against bloggers — to restrict online speech, according to a 2012 report by Washington, D.C.,-based Freedom House. The report identified Iran, China and Cuba as the countries with the worst Internet freedom. In addition, it included the following among countries that are “not free” when it comes to the Internet: Burma, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Vietnam.
Joining Moore on the letter to the Appropriations Committee leaders were Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals; John Wester, chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Communications; David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; and Frank Jannuzi, deputy executive director of Amnesty International, USA.
They requested the committee chairs, as well as the lead committee members from the minority parties, to include in the final 2014 spending bill a portion of the House version that directs the BBG to “expand unrestricted access to information on the Internet through the development and use of circumvention technologies.” The signers also urged the committee leaders to incorporate language from the House bill that urged the BBG to consider including among its increased efforts the “operational expansion of field-tested programs that provide unmonitored and uncensored access to the Internet for large numbers of users.”
The final bill also should include language from both the House and Senate versions that calls for the BBG to find savings in its operations to strengthen its online freedom efforts, Moore and the others said. Their request is “merely a modest reallocation of existing funds,” not an increase in federal spending, they said.
Internet freedom is vital to religious freedom, Southern Baptist public policy specialist Barrett Duke told congressional staff members and religious liberty advocates in July. In a Capitol Hill briefing, Duke, the ERLC’s vice president for public policy and research, cited seven reasons online freedom is critical to religious freedom:
— “Minority faiths need connection for encouragement and protection.”
— Religious leaders with little opportunity for formal theological instruction need access to the Internet.
— “New faith groups need connection to more mature groups to encourage them and assist them” in faithful growth.
— Cults produced by erroneous theology are “less likely when errant interpretations of Scripture can be thoroughly investigated.”
— “Fellowship and communion” are key parts of expressing religious faith.
— “Religious freedom involves the freedom to seek God,” which includes the liberty to ask others about God.
— Collective worship online is a vital part of religious expression.
The Nov. 19 letter from Moore and the others went to Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D.-Md., and Sen. Richard Shelby, R.-Ala., chairwoman and ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Rep. Harold Rogers, R.-Ky., and Rep. Nita Lowey, D.-N.Y., chairman and ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee.
An Atlantic article entitled, “The Slacker Trap,” described the new lifestyle choice of an emerging generation of Japanese youth who have been impacted by Japan’s extended recession, economic stagnation and job insecurity. “Freeters” as they are called in Japan are mainly younger college graduates who are holding only temporary or part time jobs and are having a tough time making ends meet, let alone becoming more productive adult members of Japanese society.
Ethan Devine, the writer of the article paints a compelling picture of what chronic job instability and underemployment for Japan’s emerging generation might very well mean for the future well being of a nation. While in the 1980?s the world often looked to Japan for its economic vitality and innovation, Devine wants us to look to Japan as America’s canary in a coal mine, an early warning signal of the trouble that lies ahead for our nation, unless we take serious our decline in economic vitality and job creation.
Devine makes this salient point, “Japan’s example raises the stakes for America as it struggles to contain the Great Recession’s damage. Even if it rains jobs tomorrow, America’s current bout of high employment is already the longest in its postwar history. And youth employment is twice the national average.” So how should the Gospel-centered church committed to the common good respond to an economically displaced emerging generation that is facing a very challenging job market?
First, we need to teach a new generation that integral to the life they long to live, the life they were designed to live is work. Slothfulness is not an option. Slacking is not only condemned in Holy Scripture, it is a violation of our creation design and the created order of things. As embodied spirits, each of us was created with work in mind. We were designed with hands and feet for a purpose. To flourish as a human being is to work; and to work is to contribute to God’s good world.
Secondly, we need to remind a new generation that part of a fallen world is a fallen workplace and a fallen economic system. Economic life is always a mixed bag of the good, the bad and the ugly. In our time, rapid globalization and massive technological changes are radically changing human work and the workplace, so diligence, creativity, innovation and continually learning new skills that add value to economic exchange are essential components of a lifestyle of lifetime learning.
Thirdly, the church needs to increasingly be a place and people committed to stewarding their economic vocational power for the common good. Knowing that work matters and that human flourishing includes economic flourishing, the church must increasingly step up to the plate and confront systemic economic injustices, but also encourage risk taking entrepreneurship. How might an older generation with more economic experience and vocational power share their work wisdom and nurture wealth creation with an emerging generation? How might the common good be enhanced if many of the retiring boomers rather than sliding into a self-indulgent rhythm of endless games of their favorite play, would intentionally carve out time and become the mentors and economic tail wind for the emerging generation to begin businesses and companies that will produce new jobs and economic flourishing?
Economics matter to God and economics ought to matter to us. Economic vitality is an important component of human flourishing. The Slacker Trap is not only an insightful article, it is also an open invitation to the church to move from the margins to the mainstream of cultural renewal. For such a time as this…
Just over five years ago, our idea to try to reduce the foster care rolls was nothing but a big dream and a bigger prayer.
We called the budding program, “Wait No More.”
I knew that, as president of Focus on the Family, I wanted to get the ministry directly involved in adoption and orphan care. Part of that desire was rooted in my own childhood: I was orphaned as a young boy, and spent some time in the foster care system. I knew the life of orphans was neither easy nor ideal.
My motivation went beyond my own experience, however. It was a matter of obedience. When I read the words in the book of James: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans…” (1:27) – I knew we had to do something to help.
And so we began. A team at Focus researched how to best help waiting children. We brought in people from all over the country. We asked questions, we listened and we learned.
During this process we learned that, in our home state of Colorado, there were more than 700 orphans in foster care–and about 3,000 churches. If people of faith could be encouraged to step up, these children would all have families. It was then that we realized God wanted us to impact the area of foster care by involving the Church. And that’s when the idea of Wait No More started to take shape.
The concept was simple: Bring together state and local child welfare officials, child placement agencies, churches and ministries to educate families about adoption from foster care. Following this plan, we launched Wait No More in our Colorado Springs backyard. About 1,200 people attended that original 2008 event, with 265 families initiating the adoption process as a result.
This collaborative model has continued to be a huge success. Colorado now has less than 300 kids awaiting adoption, largely because of the ongoing partnership between the state and the faith community. Nationally, our 21 events in 14 states have resulted in at least 2,560 families starting the adoption process. Results like these are why the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute has named Wait No More a national best practice in foster care adoption recruitment.
On this five-year anniversary of our initial Wait No More conference, we are humbled at how God has used our efforts. We rejoice that formerly orphaned children now have hope, love and families. They belong.
We are also thankful for the many things God has taught us during this journey. I’ll share five of those lessons with you, and I think you’ll find them applicable in other endeavors too.
1. Don’t underestimate people’s willingness to help.
As Focus on the Family has partnered with other agencies and organizations to highlight the need for foster care adoption and to clear up misconceptions folks may have, we’ve been amazed at how people have stepped up.
We don’t sugarcoat the reality of adoption at Wait No More, but conference attendees stand in long lines to start the adoption process. With eyes wide open, family after family is willing to open their home to a “messy” child. They know they’re signing up to do the hard work of helping some of these children overcome trauma and abuse. And yet, these families inquire about adopting hard-to-place older children such as sibling groups or those with special needs or troubled pasts.
2. Family ties are stronger than cultural divides.
Turn on the nightly news or check online commentary, and you might think this country is on the verge of breaking apart. There’s story after story of racial division and cultural discord. There seems to be so much that separates us.
And then you see families formed through the gift of adoption. Very often, different races and ethnicities are bound together through a legal commitment, because of love. They’re family, no matter their color or history.
If people can become family despite not sharing the same race or culture, surely we can be better neighbors and co-workers despite any differences we may have. Adoption gives me hope that we can further break down the racial barriers that still exist in our country.
3. It’s good to get out of your bubble.
Wait No More is proof that great things happen when different people rally around a big idea. Liberals with conservatives, government agencies and faith-based organizations–they’ve all worked together to make Wait No More a reality. We’ve cast aside some differences so we can focus on what we do agree on–that our country’s waiting kids deserve forever families.
I’ll be the first to admit that taking the steps to partner with unconventional allies can be a little unnerving at first. It stretched us as an organization. Both sides must take a leap of faith. In the end, though, it’s been worth it. Together, we’ve been more effective. We’ve learned that just because we don’t agree on all points doesn’t mean we can’t work together on some.
4. Adoption needs to be a community effort, and it goes beyond adopting.
Finding homes for children in foster care isn’t the end goal–it’s just the first step. Once a child moves in with his or her new family, they start a long transition process together. These kids often have experienced trauma, and simply being placed in a new home won’t heal that pain. They still need to learn how to trust and how to properly channel emotions. New moms and dads have to learn how to best parent a child they’ve only recently met.
It would be wrong for us to match these kids with their new families and walk away. This is a time for us, as a community, to wrap our arms around these adoptive families and offer them our love and support. After all, we may not all be called to adopt–but we can all provide practical help.
At Focus, we believe that churches can and should have an active role in understanding and providing for the needs of their adoptive families. That’s why part of our orphan care efforts involves post-adoption support. That’s why we encourage other families to provide babysitting, meals and a listening ear to couples who have adopted children. That’s why we strive to equip adoptive families with a wide array of free resources that will help them along their journey.
5. The Bible is right: God redeems our painful pasts.
Many of the kids stuck in the foster care system right now may feel like they have no hope. They might have been abandoned by their birth family. They go to sleep lonely. They wonder what they will do when they age out of the system.
And then “God with skin on” steps into their lives in the form of a family that says, “We don’t care about your past. We’ll help heal your hurts. You’ll belong to us now.” That’s when the promise found in Psalm 68:6 becomes true for them: “God places the lonely in families; He sets the prisoners free and gives them joy.”
In closing, may I suggest something to you? There will never be a “perfect” time to adopt, and it will take some “doing” to make adoption a reality. But for now, would you please consider searching your heart to see if you might have some room to care for a child in need? If you don’t know where to begin, please visit our website.
My wife and I are in the throes of parenting and are surrounded, in our church and among friends, with other couples in the throes of parenting. So my parenting radar is hot. I’m learning, growing and repenting every day as I ask the Lord to make me a faithful dad.
It’s often easier to learn how to be a better parent by observing and owning our mistakes. So as I’ve observed parenting (my own and others’) and tried to admit and learn from my mistakes, I’ve compiled a list of five tendencies Christian parents have. I hope it helps you think through your own parenting journey.
1. We overexpose our kids to the culture. The Bible doesn’t use the term “culture,” but it does use a very similar word, “world.” This is a loose definition of the prevailing thinking in a given society. Typically the values of the culture run counter to the way of Christ. Not always. Sometimes a culture is shaped by Christian influence.
Today, we parents should be cautious in what we allow our kids to imbibe. We can be passive in allowing them to form ungodly convictions based on what everyone else is thinking and saying. What’s more, there are corrosive images that can hurt their souls. This is why we have to be wise in monitoring the media they consume, the time they spend online, and the time they spend with friends.
2. We underexpose our kids to the culture. This is an equal and opposite danger to overexposure. It is easy to adopt a fortress mentality as parents, sheltering our kids so much from the world that they have no ability to discern truth from error, ugliness from beauty. There is a tendency to overprotect our kids so much so that we fail to prepare them for their mission in this world.
Our kids will one day live as adults and will require the requisite skills, both spiritual and social, to make wise choices. If our only parenting mode is protection, we fail to teach them how to apply the Scriptures to the reality of life in a sinful world. What’s more we rob them of the God-glorifying act of enjoying, consuming, and creating the best of culture: art, beauty and grace as expressed by artists whose talent points to a masterful Creator.
3. We mediate all of their petty disputes. I wonder if there is a more difficult thing to resist than the impulse to dive in and solve all of my kids’ interpersonal problems with their friends. But I’ve found that when I become my child’s defense attorney, all the time, it not only harms my child’s ability to make good choices, it destroys the fragile unity among Christian parents. At times there are issues that are serious that must be addressed and there are times when a parent has to step in if a child is being bullied or abused. I’m not talking about these moments. I’m talking about the everyday squabbles that kids have.
Let’s face it, our kids are sinners in a fallen world. They will, at times, say things and do things that surprise and shock and hurt. They will at times be the recipient of hurtful words and actions. If we step in and take it personally every single time a kid calls our kid a name, we’ll not train them for life in the real world. We’ll damage their ability to work out forgiveness and repentance. And when they grow older and face life in the world, they will be in for a huge, rude awakening.
It is said often in Scripture that we demonstrate our love for God by the way we treat people. So we need to let our kids learn these lessons as they interact with their friends.
4. We focus only on short-term behaviors. I’m learning this lesson as my daughter Grace gets older. She’s eight now, and we’ve given her some liberty to go a few houses down and visit with her friends. These are good families with whom we have relationships. At times, we’ve gotten upset with Grace because she made poor choices, such as going past the boundaries we’ve set because her friends encouraged her, or going into someone else’s house or backyard without our approval.
Sometimes it’s a simple act of disobedience. But there are other times when, frankly, she was presented with quick choices and wasn’t sure how to respond. We’ve often just reprimanded her for not getting our permission, but we have realized that we hadn’t always given her the tools to choose wisely. So we’re sitting her down and running through scenarios, trying to train her how to make wise choices in the moment.
We parents have a tendency to allow the frustration of the moment or just pure laziness to set a pattern of simply punishing behaviors rather than trying to set our kids up with the right information and tools to make good choices. We have to remember that there will be a time in the future when they won’t have us around anymore. So if we make every decision for them, if we give them no space to fail and come back and figure out what they did wrong, if we don’t equip them to discern, they will be helpless when the time comes for them to be on their own. We have to remember that we’re not simply training our children to be good, we’re equipping them for God’s unique mission in their generation. Are we doing this?
5. We overcompensate for our perceived childhood gaps. Every generation tends to react to the mistakes or shortcomings (perceived or real) of the previous generation. You hear it in our talk. “My parents never gave me X, so I want to make sure my kids have Y.”
What we don’t understand is that our parents were doing the same thing, and the imbalance we experienced was likely a reaction to their parents. We want to avoid reactive, seesaw parenting if we can. It’s good to highlight areas where we think our parents might have missed the mark, but let’s be careful of the pendulum.
So if you grew up in a legalistic environment and didn’t like that, your tendency will be toward permissiveness. If you grew up in a loose household, you’ll tend toward legalism, especially if you became a Christian late in life. We are wise to recognize the extremes and avoid them.
Furthermore, let’s let the Scriptures and the influence of the Spirit of God guide us. And let’s resist the temptation to reactionary parenting based on what we experienced in our own childhoods. Because, like our parents, we’re fallen sinners in need of God’s grace.
Our parenting will have huge gaps. And in twenty years it may be our children sitting on someone’s couch, lamenting the failures of their mother and father. So let’s have some humility.