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Why college ministry? What’s there to be excited about when it comes to college ministry in the local church? How does a church actually get after this kind of ministry, given all of the challenges? Two college pastors—from two very different ministry contexts—weigh in on these questions and more.

Jon Nielson: I’m the college pastor at College Church in Wheaton, Illinois—a church of around 1,500 members located right across the street from Wheaton College (a non-denominational, evangelical school of around 2,400 undergraduate students). While there is no formal connection between the church and school, our college ministry is currently composed of mostly Wheaton College students during the school year, and many people from our congregation are involved in the college. We also have several students involved in our ministry from local two-year schools, and some young people who are working and taking “gap” years.

Solomon Rexius: I am the college pastor at University Fellowship Church in Eugene, Oregon (one of the most liberal and unchurched regions of North America). Our church was planted six years ago, and I have been serving there for the last three.

Most of our students attend the University of Oregon (24,000 students and currently #1 in ESPN college football power rankings, but who follows that stuff anyway?), and some attend other local schools or are college-age, working non-students. I grew up here and graduated from the U of O back in 2007, so I feel blessed to do ministry at the place that was so foundational to my spiritual growth.

1. What makes you most excited about college ministry?

JN: The word here would be strategic. There is no other ministry in the context of the local church that can so openly embrace and celebrate a 25 percent turnover rate year after year. When college pastors and ministry leaders look at this turnover with the right perspective, they begin to see it as a strength. They can begin building a Word-saturated and gospel-driven ministry to college-age students that is a “launching pad” into adult life. In our context, we’ve borrowed Phillip Jensen’s language of “gospel self-starters.” We want to be launching out graduates from our ministry who move to new places, join local bodies of believers, and begin doing the work of gospel ministry without ever having to be asked.

SR: I grew up in an evangelical church and made a confession of faith at a young age, but it wasn’t until college that I “got it.” Through a variety of temptations, trials, and failures, I came to see that Jesus demanded and deserved a lot more from me then I had been giving him. I also came to see that, contrary to popular opinion, a life devoted to Jesus is the most exciting and satisfying life one could live. I want to help every college student make that same discovery. At the risk of sounding narcissistic, I want to be the college pastor I wish I had in college.

2. Describe a week in the life of your church’s college ministry.

JN: The “meat and potatoes” of our college ministry, week-to-week, consists of four main elements. First, we have our large meeting, which is driven by expository Bible teaching, and supported by worship through music. Second, we have student-led small group Bible studies, which are hosted by godly couples and families from our wider church body. Third, we have at least two “training” gatherings per week, geared intentionally at providing students with “tools” for doing the work of the ministry on their own. Fourth, there is what we call the “personal work” of gospel ministry—the one-on-one meetings on the college campus or in the coffee shop, during which we seek to encourage students, pray for them, and bring the reality of the gospel to bear on the specificities of their lives and relationships.

SR: Our church’s initials are UFC, so we decided to play with the “fight” theme. Our college ministry night is called The Good Fight (small groups are Fight Clubs, theology class is Boot Camp, and so on). The Good Fight meets every Tuesday night in the second-largest lecture hall on campus for praise, preaching, food, and fellowship. Fight Clubs are led by students and meet by gender at various times throughout the week on campus. Thursday morning is Boot Camp at our church offices (this consists of memorizing Scripture together and reading and discussing Bible Doctrine. On Sunday mornings, our church meets in a local high school gym just a few blocks from campus (rides from campus provided). We also do bi-weekly social events like movie nights, game nights, hikes, or fire and smores at my house. In addition, we do quarterly weekend retreats heading west to the coast or east to the mountains. These weekend getaways are critical for developing deep relationships in the group.            

3. What is the biggest challenge in doing college ministry as a local church pastor?

JN: Connecting 18- to 23-year-old men and women with the wider local church body is simultaneously our greatest passion and our greatest frustration. I was delighted when, just the other day, a college student asked me for “permission” to join a multi-generational small group instead of a college-age only small group. I grinned with delight! Still, the week-to-week challenge with the majority of our students is urging them to consider life and ministry, service and relationships, within the wider church body, rather than only within their same-age relationships on the college campus.

SR: One word: graduation. Many of our graduates stay around for local jobs, but the majority of them head back to wherever they came from (or wherever they can find a job). This is simultaneously the hardest and most glorious thing about college ministry: hard because we spend years training and loving these students only to see them leave us; glorious because this is a unique opportunity to participate in global gospel mission work, especially when you consider that many of our students are international. I am thankful that so many Christians go out into the world to preach the gospel, but as a college pastor at a secular/state school, there is a real sense in which the world comes to us. As hard as it is to see people graduate and leave, I want to make the most of this opportunity. The challenge is the blessing.

4. Describe the student leadership structure you have in place, particularly qualifications and responsibilities.

JN: We jokingly talk about our “pyramid scheme” for leadership and discipleship. In a college ministry of around 300 students, we need to distribute the responsibility for the “personal work” of the gospel that I mentioned before. So I have committed to disciple, mentor, lead, and train a team of 12 ministry interns. Those interns, in turn, each mentors, disciples, and encourages two or three undergraduate small group leaders. The 30 or so small group leaders, then, are responsible for intentionally shepherding the students in their small groups, in partnership with their assigned interns and the families from the church. This structure gives us the best shot at providing every student in our ministry with a good relational connection outside of our big gatherings.

SR: Our leadership team is not by application, but by appointment. When young men or women demonstrate holy character, relational skills, and local church commitment, we seek them out and ask them to consider serving as a leader. Being a leader primarily consists of shepherding a small group of five or ten peers. We currently have fifteen leaders who meet together twice a month for prayer, fellowship, and ministry updates (the day-to-day administrative tasks are done by a smaller group of three paid interns). My wife regularly meets one-on-one with the female leaders, and I do the same with the guys.

5. How does your local church partner with the parachurch ministries?

JN: In many ways, the main parachurch organization we partner with is Wheaton College, since so many of our students (during the school year) are undergraduates there. We have few formal partnerships with Wheaton, but absolutely tons of informal partnerships. I’m personally on campus multiple times a week—meeting with students, speaking to athletics teams, attending events, and connecting with professors and employees. Many of our best student leaders have prominent leadership roles on campus as well. Our basic goal is to call our students to prioritize the local church in their spiritual lives and service, but to maximize their involvement and potential for influence for Christ on their campus. Recently, too, we’ve taken a step in partnership with Cru, which has a small presence on the campus of the local two-year junior college. With 30,000 commuting students attending there, we see it as a major mission field for the students in our ministry. We’re excited that several of our young men and women have committed to spend a day a week on this campus, participating with and promoting Cru's presence and ministry.

SR:

We believe the parachurch ministries exist to support and affirm the local church. This can look very different depending on one’s ministry context. Each ministry has its own vision and personality, so I don’t think partnering means we have to host events together or act like we’re all doing the exact same thing, because we’re not. For us, our partnership consists of offering prayer support, financial assistance, and office space and supplies to many of the local parachurch leaders. In return, we hope they seek to transition their students into the life of the church at large. On a personal level, I try to meet with each local church and parachurch college ministry leader at least once per year for encouragement and accountability. Thus far, this has been a mutually beneficial and low-friction setup.

6. In your opinion, what does today’s church need to “get” about college ministry?

JN: Pastors, elders, lay leaders, I would simply put it this way: We need college students, and they need us! Our local churches can be so blessed when we invite the university-aged students in our midst into the life, ministry, and service of our communities. They challenge us, push us, and . . . yes, sometimes frustrate us. But we will benefit from their presence with us. And they need us as well. Many of our undergraduate students are reaching a stage of life at which they begin craving a mentor—an older, godly person who can simply share biblical wisdom with them as they consider careers, relationships, and life decisions. Let’s step up to disciple, mentor, train, and send the young people in our midst.

SR: Church members need to know that college ministry isn’t just for people in their 20s. Older church members can offer a crucial ministry to college students through avenues like one-on-one mentoring, hosting exchange students, offering career and financial advice, or opening their house as a “home away from home.” On the flip side, the college-age population has a lot to offer the church in return, like passion, vitality, diversity, youth leadership, volunteer service, and, of course, cheap babysitting.

7. What one piece of advice would you give to someone just getting started in ministry to college students?

JN: We have a phrase that we repeat often to ourselves in the context of our ministry . . . especially when we feel like we’re floundering a bit: “The Word does the work.” We're convicted that God’s Word is able to make us “wise for salvation,” and to provide “training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3). It’s sharper than a double-edged sword, and can get inside the hearts and thoughts of people (Heb. 4). If you want to get started in college ministry, keep the Word central. The Word does the work in the lives and hearts of God’s people, as we speak it, read it, and proclaim Christ by it. We sometimes, though, tack on a second phrase to that statement of Word-centered core conviction: “The Word does the work best in the context of deep relationships. It’s not that God needs deep relationships to break into a person’s life with the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. But particularly with college ministry, deep and authentic relationships are almost always the way “in” for gospel ministers and leaders. So if you’re starting out in college ministry, stick close to the Word—in teaching and study and discipleship. Then start getting to know some students by investing in them relationally. You might be surprised by how God works.

SR: Be ruthlessly committed to expository preaching, intercessory prayer, and leadership development. Don’t assume that unbelievers don’t want to hear what the Bible actually says. Don’t convince yourself you’re too busy to pray. Don’t decrease your leadership standards in order to increase your ministry ego.

Jeramie Rinne. Church Elders: How to Shepherd God’s People Like JesusWheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014. 144 pp. $14.99.

Jeramie Rinne has given us an important tool in this to-the-point book on eldership. Church Elders: How to Shepherd God’s People Like Jesus delivers on the promise of its title in 122 focused and conversational pages. This is one of a series of books in a 9Marks imprint with Crossway aimed at unpacking the various marks of a healthy church. It’s a book for those serving as elders/pastors and for the congregations they lead.

Like many pastors, I’m familiar with several excellent books on this topic, but I’ve recognized a need for a shorter book to hand around to busy church members, prospective elders, and current elders. Rinne’s book meets an important need. Nevertheless, when I picked it up I did wonder if the biblical data and central texts could be presented in a fresh way that held my attention, made me think, and left me convicted.

Just as I’d hoped, Rinne’s book did all that. Church Elders was clarifying, challenging, humbling, and encouraging. A book on such a consequential and often confused topic really needs to be all four. I’ll highlight the book’s strengths under these headers.

Clarifying and Challenging

This book makes plain Scripture’s teaching on eldership. For example, the eight chapter titles actually summarize the biblical job description for an elder: "Don’t Assume," "Smell Like Sheep," "Serve Up the Word," "Track Down the Strays," "Lead Without Lording," "Shepherd Together," "Model Maturity," and "Plead for the Flock" (9). If you’ve read or taught on this subject, you can probably hear verses in your mind as you read those titles. It’s an instructive way to frame up such a short book. The headers that give shape to each chapter teach as well. For example, in the chapter “Track Down the Strays,” there’s a section titled “Five Species of Straying Sheep.” Already curious, aren’t you? Subheaders lead us through descriptions of “Sinning Sheep,” “Wandering Sheep,” “Limping Sheep,” “Fighting Sheep,” and “Biting Sheep” (62–68). That’s a great section for a discussion over coffee with a prospective elder or for a team of pastors burdened for the flock.

As always, biblical clarity serves biblical conviction. Elder boards often function as mere boards. But shepherding is the language and imagery of the Bible on eldership, and so we should look and act and smell like shepherds. Here’s how Rinne, senior pastor of South Shore Baptist Church in Hingham, Massachusetts, puts this imagery to work in reshaping how we think about missing members:

People in my congregation [speak of some as] “falling through the cracks.” . . . But is that how it happens? . . . Do members really leave churches abruptly, accidentally, and without any opportunity for people to notice? What if, instead of “falling through the cracks,” we use a different image: “straying from the flock.” . . . The image of straying sheep implies that a disconnected church member bears a personal responsibility to stay involved with the congregation . . . [it] also suggests that someone should keep watch over the flock and take action when a sheep begins to meander away. (57–58)

Faithful shepherding begins with a clear biblical vision of what shepherds are and what God has asked them to do.

Humbling and Encouraging

There are at least two more things a book like this needs to do: it needs to humble and encourage. Eldering is a job of incalculable privilege and weight. That’s humbling. And it’s a job that God stands behind and that Christ is committed to see through in us. That’s encouraging. Church Elders is both.

Feel like you should pray more? You should. And that can be discouraging. But here’s how Rinne instructs us in his chapter, “Plead for the Flock”:

If the demanding scope and humanly speaking impossible success criteria of an elder’s job description are not enough to send him pleading to heaven for help, one glance in the mirror should do it. . . . Try not to think of prayer as an extra activity tossed onto your already overloaded schedule. Rather, think of it as the operating system on which all of the elder apps run. As Paul said, “Pray continually.” (113)

This kind of humbling encouragement shows up in the conclusion as well. There Rinne exhorts us to “shepherd well,” with two reasons: “because there is an account to be given . . . [and] a crown to be gained” (121–122). This is a serious matter. And it is a glorious matter. Amen.

Two Suggestions

This little book is almost all strength. But it could have been just a bit stronger. I’ll offer two suggestions for how. First, Rinne makes a clear biblical case for understanding “elder,” “overseer,” and “pastor” to refer to the same office or role (16, 32, 34, 123). But in the course of the book Rinne often uses the language of “elder” to refer to lay elders or an elder board, and “pastor” to refer to vocational elders (13–14, 26, 29, 31, 34, 48). This certainly reflects the way these words are used in most contexts (16). But this kind of distinction teaches that a pastor is one thing and an elder is another. The book could have been improved by modeling, not just explaining, the New Testament’s interchangeable use of these terms.

The second issue is probably inevitable in a book this short, but it would have been nice to have a few paragraphs on the different ways eldership is conceived. For example, Rinne seems to assume the senior pastor is a first among equals, but he doesn’t ground this assumption in Scripture or explain how this role relates to the rest of the pastors/elders (17, 38, 71). Or, as another example, he refers several times to the nomination of elders, but could have explained his thinking on where such nominations come from in Scripture (21; cf. Titus 1:5, 1 Tim. 5:22). Obviously, a book this focused can’t cover every dimension of eldership, and it doesn’t try. But perhaps one way to achieve this would be to footnote resources from the content treasury of the 9Marks website and journal.

Bottom line: I expected this to be a helpful book because of the reputation that comes with just about everything 9Marks publishes. I wasn’t disappointed. 

It has been a few years now since I first started telling close Christian friends that I battle with homosexual feelings. It was a lengthy process and in some ways quite emotionally exhausting. But it was one of the best things I have ever done. The very act of sharing something so personal with someone else is a great trust, and in virtually every case it strengthened and deepened the friendship. Close friends have became even closer. I also found that people felt more able to open up to me about personal things in their own lives, on the basis that I had been so open with them. Some wonderful times of fellowship have resulted.

It has now been several months since I shared about the issue of sexuality publicly with my church family. Again, it has been a great blessing to have done so. There has been a huge amount of support—people asking how they can help and encourage me in this issue, many saying that they are praying for me daily. Others have said how much it means to them that I would share something like this. It has also been a great encouragement to me that SSA does not seem to have defined how others see me. Aside from the expressions of love and support, business was back to normal quickly.

Based on this experience, I share these five steps that can guide churches in helping Christians with same-sex attraction.

1. Make it easy to talk about.

Pastors as well as church members need to know homosexuality is not just a political issue but a personal one, and that there will likely be some within their own church family for whom it is a painful struggle. When the issue comes up in the life of the church, you must recognize that this is an issue Christians wrestle with too, and the church needs to be ready and equipped to walk alongside such brothers and sisters.

Many Christians still speak about homosexuality in hurtful and pejorative ways. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve heard Christians (even some in positions of church leadership) use phrases like “That’s so gay” to describe something they don’t like. Such comments are only going to make their Christian brothers and sisters struggling with SSA feel unable to open up. When I first began to share my experiences with friends at church, I was struck by how many mature Christians felt they needed to apologize for comments they’d made in the past about homosexuality, which they now realized may have been hurtful.

Key to helping people feel safe about sharing issues of SSA is having a culture of openness about the struggles and weaknesses we experience in general in the Christian life. Tim Keller has said that churches should feel more like the waiting room for a doctor and less like a waiting room for a job interview. In the latter we all try to look as competent and impressive as we can. Weaknesses are buried and hidden. But in a doctor’s waiting room we assume everyone there is sick and needs help. And this scene is much closer to the reality of what is going on in church.

By definition, Christians are weak. We depend on the grace and generosity of God. We are the “poor in spirit” (Matt. 5:3). It’s a mark of a healthy church that we can talk about these things, and we need to do all we can to encourage a culture of being real about the hard things of the Christian life.

But there is a caution: having made it easy for someone to talk about their sexual struggles, we must not then make the mistake of always talking to them about it. They may need to be asked about how things are going from time to time, but to make this the main or only thing you talk about with them can be problematic. It may reinforce the false idea that this is who they really are, and it may actually overlook other issues that they may need to talk about more. Sexuality may not be their greatest battle.

2. Honor singleness.

Those for whom marriage is not a realistic prospect need to be affirmed in their calling to singleness. Our fellowships need to uphold and honor singleness as a gift and take care not unwittingly to denigrate it. Singles should not be thought or spoken of as loose ends that need tying up. Nor should we think that every single person is single because he's been too lazy to look for a marriage partner.

I remember meeting another pastor who, on finding out I was single, insisted I should be married by now and proceeded to outline immediate steps I needed to take to rectify this situation. He was forthright and only backed down when I burst into tears and told him I was struggling with homosexuality. It’s not an admission I should have needed to make. We need to respect that singleness is not necessarily a sign that someone is postponing growing up.

3. Remember that church is family.

Paul repeatedly refers to the local church as the “God’s household” (for example, 1 Tim. 3:15). It’s the family of God, and Christians are to be family to one another. So Paul encourages Timothy to treat older men as fathers, “younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters” (1 Tim. 5:1-2). The church is to think of itself as immediate family. 

Nuclear families within the church need the input and involvement of the wider church family; they are not designed to be self-contained. Those who open up their family life to others find that it is a great two-way blessing. Singles get to experience some of the joys of family life; children get to benefit from the influence of other older Christians; parents get to have the encouragement of others supporting them; and families as a whole get to learn something of what it means to serve Christ by being outward-looking as a family.

4. Deal with biblical models of masculinity and femininity, rather than cultural stereotypes. 

Battles with SSA can sometimes be related to a sense of not quite measuring up to expected norms of what a man or woman is meant to be like. So when the church reinforces superficial cultural stereotypes, the effect can be to worsen this sense of isolation and not quite measuring up.

For example, to imply that men are supposed to be into sports or fixing their own car, or that women are supposed to enjoy crafts and will want to “talk about everything,” is to deal in cultural rather than biblical ideas of how God has made us. This stereotyping can actually end up overlooking many ways in which people are reflecting some of the biblical aspects of manhood and womanhood that culture overlooks.

5. Provide good pastoral support.

Pastoral care for those with SSA does not need to be structured, but it does need to be visible. Many churches now run support groups for members battling with SSA; others provide mentoring or prayer-partner schemes.

Those with SSA need to know that the church is ready to support and help them, and that it has people with a particular heart and insight to be involved in this ministry. There may be issues that need to be worked through, and passages from the Bible that need to be studied and applied with care and gentle determination. There may be good friendships that need to be cultivated and accountability put in place, and there will be the need for long-term community. These are all things the local church is best placed to provide.

Editors' note: This excerpt has been adapted from Is God Anti-Gay? by Sam Allberry, available from The Good Book Company. It appears here with the permission of publisher. It originally appeared on the Gospel-Centered Discipleship website.

Number one on the Billboard charts. Sitting in with The Roots on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. What might Lecrae have to say about all of that?

I won’t stay here another night
If I gotta sacrifice
Who I am on the inside
I’d rather be an outsider
And you can stay if you like
I’ll see you on the other side
I wanna live the free life
I’d rather be an outsider.

These are the opening words of his new record, Anomaly. The track, “Outsiders,” is an in-your-face statement about who Lecrae is as an artist. For years, now, he has occupied a unique place in the music industry, refusing the labels and accompanying pressures of being a Christian artist and a hip-hop star. The resounding message of Anomaly is about the 34-year-old Atlanta-based rapper’s commitment to this unique place; an uncompromising commitment to his sense of calling.

“I really can’t tell if I’m overdressed or I’m underdressed / If I’m underpaid or just overstressed / If I’m cynical or just over this,” he continues on “Outsiders.” There’s an angry weariness in these verses, a sense of being fed up with pressure to conform to other people’s expectations of him. Lecrae consistently rejects the stereotypes of a mainstream hip-hop star, refusing the misogyny, violence, and worship of money. But that’s not all that this song is about.

Lecrae’s mainstream success has been accompanied by a steady stream of criticism from some Christians. When asked about the intersection of his faith and his work, he has said, “I am Christian. I am a rapper. But Christian is my faith, not my genre.” To eschew the “Christian” label for his music is—for some—evidence of compromise, and ever since many have accused Lecrae of selling out.

Common Refrain

But rejecting the Christian label for music isn’t necessarily about denying the faith; it’s about wanting to distance oneself from the subculture of “Christian” media that populates Christian bookstores. It’s a common refrain among Christians in music, film, and theater, and there are a variety of reasons for it. For one, the label sets up an expectation about the content of the work. When people hear you’re making “Christian” music or “Christian” films, they assume that your work is going to be safe for the whole family. It implies the squeaky-clean image of Christian radio or Hallmark Channel afternoon specials. When artists want to venture into more complex territory—like Steve Taylor’s satirical song “I Blew Up the Clinic Real Good” (which got him banned from many Christian booksellers in the ‘80s), it’s usually met with shock and resistance. Flannery O’Connor would have a difficult time getting traction in the Christian fiction market.

That said, Christian music as a subgenre has its place. Shai Linne, another Christian hip-hop artist, has expressed his sense of calling as “making music for the church,” and the contrast between Shai (who has labeled his overall project as “Lyrical Theology”) and Lecrae (who raps about his faith, but also about everything from love to fear to sex trafficking) is a contrast in calling. Both are seeking to build a platform and reach an audience, but while Shai is aiming primarily at those in the church, Lecrae feels called to bear witness as a Christian within the broader hip-hop community. Each has its benefits and its perils; while Lecrae will be tempted with syncretism, Shai will be tempted by Phariseeism. Both need God’s spirit and God’s mercy in order to do their work with integrity.

“I believe the reason why the church typically doesn’t engage culture is because we are scared of it,” Lecrae has said. “We're scared it’s going to somehow jump on us and corrupt us. We’re scared it’s going to somehow mess up our good thing. So we consistently move further and further away from the corruption, further and further away from the crime, further and further away from the postmodernity, further and further away from the relativism and secular humanism, and we want to go to a safe place with people just like you. We want to be comfortable.” 

I agree with Lecrae completely. A Christian subculture built on fear isn’t going to be worth much, and isn’t going to give birth to great art. But I think there needs to be a caveat: engaging culture requires a mature conscience and strong church community. People are scared that culture is going to “jump on us and corrupt us” in part because we are warned in Scripture about keeping ourselves “unstained by the world” (James 1:27), and in part because we’ve seen it happen to many people we love. Lecrae seems aware of that danger, too, and talks on Anomaly about the need to keep close with a small group of trusted friends.

Spoiling Places

Tim Keller once described being “the salt of the earth” as a call to go to “spoiling places.” Salt, primarily used as a preservative in the first century, kept food from spoiling. So being salt means going into these spoiling places and preserving life, influencing them for good, and bearing witness to the hope of the gospel.

That seems to be exactly the opportunity Lecrae has right now. On Anomaly he speaks to a misogynist culture about the tragedy of sex trafficking. On the track “Say I Won’t” he tells men who practically worship new pairs of Jordans that he’ll sell his shoes to take his kids to Chuck E. Cheese’s. On “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly” he recounts the pain of sexual abuse and aborting a child, and talks about how only God’s mercy could relieve the guilt and shame. On “Dirty Water” he tells black men they’ve been taught to think they’re worthless for 400 years, “raised to hate each other because we hate our skin . . . gold chains / just pretty shackles, we still enslaved. / Put ‘em round your neck, ‘cause we still hangin.” From front to back on Anomaly, Lecrae bears witness to a different world, a different economy, a different King, and a different kingdom.

And he says all of this while sitting on top of the Billboard chart, a seat normally occupied by rappers like Jay-Z and Kanye West and pop stars like Maroon 5 and Taylor Swift. It’s an incredible place to hear such a prophetic voice. Lecrae says it on a record that ranges from the raw, stripped, Rick Rubin-style aggression of “Say I Won’t,” the vintage grooves of “Anomaly,” the R&B laments of “All I Need is You,” and the straightforward pop of “Messengers.”

No Favors

Which brings me to the last thing that needs to be said. Lecrae’s success doesn’t need to be spiritualized to be explained. It’s overwhelmingly evident on Anomaly that Lecrae is talented, and this record—with its tight production, smart collaborations, and provocative lyrics—is the product of an incredible amount of work and dedication.

“I don’t want no handouts or favors,” he says on “Fear.” “No functional saviors / Imma’ tell that truth ‘til it kill me / and I’m chillin’ with my Creator / Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus / To all of my haters / For the ones that think I forgot him / and the ones that won’t let me say it / I ain’t scared no more.”

I, for one, never thought he’d forgotten Jesus, but I’m glad he’s still shouting his name. Congratulations, Lecrae. May your tribe increase. 

Loss. 

You’ve experienced it. Maybe you are right now. If you haven’t, you will. In these years between the revolt in Eden and the return of Jesus, life can often feel like a parade—a long, painful parade—of disappointments, sadnesses, heartaches, griefs. So much of this life occurs in the valley of the shadow of death.

The Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation (CCEF) will tackle the topic of loss at its national conference next month, October 3 to 5, in San Diego. Speakers include David Powlison, Ed Welch, Elyse Fitzpatrick, Heath Lambert, and many more. (Use discount code “TGC” for 10 percent off registration.) 

I spoke with Powlison, executive director of CCEF, about ministering to those experiencing loss, fostering churches in which it’s safe to grieve, and more.


What does it look like to journey faithfully with others in their experience of loss? How do we provide meaningful, helpful comfort?

This question has good answers, but no easy answers. Let me offer some leading thoughts that get at the question.

First, like most aspects of wisdom, this question raises issues of how to walk out a delicate balance between complementary truths. For example, the Bible’s teaching and example shows that we are meant to be utterly candid about grief and heartache. And, at the same time, we are meant to live with an indestructible hope and an inexpressible joy because of what is imperishable. Wisdom navigates how to live both.

How we offer comfort to someone else also expresses this delicate balance between complementary truths. Both the Word of God and the human connection matter. The promises of Scripture are crucial to finding genuine comfort. And the help of others is also crucial. The Holy Spirit is the life-giver and hope-giver who takes both the human touch and the Word and makes them effective. You could never put the balance into a formula.

Is there ever a point at which it’s been “too long” to still be deeply affected by past loss?

You can “take too long” in being bitter at God, in finding someone to blame, in self-pity, in escapism, in living with paranoia at anything that threatens further loss. Our instinctive, fallen reactions can go on too long.

But we are to be deeply affected by past loss. In one sense, the Bible expects that aspects of pain and significant losses will mark us for a lifetime. That is why God’s promise that he will eventually wipe away all tears, sorrow, death, and misery is so wonderful (Rev. 21:4). Our heartaches become part of the backdrop that makes the joy of this promise truly joyous. In The Lord of the Rings, Samwise Gamgee asks, “Is everything sad going to become untrue?” And everything sad will come untrue for God’s beloved children. But there is realism along the way.

What would you say to someone who feels paralyzed by the thought of future loss?

This calls for a careful, pastoral touch. I’ll mention four elements that play a part.

First, sympathy and care say, “I know this is hard. And I understand why it causes a lot of fear for you.” Sympathy and identifying with another’s experience play a part.

Second, help the person get perspective. For example, the harder you cling to someone or something you deeply love, the more your joy in the present moment is destroyed by fear.

Third, biblical realism teaches us to take to heart that all the blessings of this life are temporary. You cannot cling to what you will inevitably lose.

Fourth, the hope in Scripture speaks of an imperishable inheritance. You are not paralyzed by the fear that “My life will be destroyed by this loss” when you anchor your life in Christ himself.

Many American congregations seem hesitant to sing sad songs and linger over the realities of loss and pain. How can a church foster a culture in which it’s safe to grieve?

Culture change is typically a slow process. You need to think through your goal, commit to it, consistently pursue it, act on it. Teach, sing, pray, model, and live the truth. The culture will change as the leadership of the church honestly lives in reality, and the congregation sings, prays, and learns to communicate a richer and truer view of human life.

The aging process brings a cascade of losses—“shadows of death.” How should we think about the often fearful prospect of aging?

We are meant to gain a sense that our lives are on a journey to a destination. We tend to interpret life by immediate experience. But if I know I am on a journey, then I’m aware that I’ve come from somewhere, I am somewhere, and I am going somewhere.

Psalm 23 is one of my favorite passages. It establishes the mindset of being on a journey. The Shepherd who cares, feeds, protects, restores, and guides is taking you on a journey to his own home. He is with you even when you pass through the valley of the shadow of death and face many evils.

I hope that our conference next month will embody the journey in some manner. The conference opens with the reality that all is lost, and closes with the reality that all is gain. We will sing our griefs and sing our joys—honest worship is a key aspect of our time together. These days are an opportunity to process life personally and together. I invite you to join us.

What is the focus of CCEF’s conference this year?

Our topic is loss. The only sure thing about our lives is that we will lose many things—and eventually we’ll lose our lives. Life in a fallen world is essentially characterized by the experience of loss. And a world of losses is the world that Jesus Christ steps into—the world that ministry steps into.

The conference will speak both to the person who is struggling—every one of us, at some level—and to the person who wants to help the struggler by offering genuine, wise, patient, meaningful help.

When I was a new Christian, I came across a book by Stuart Barton Babbage entitled The Mark of Cain: Studies in Literature and Theology. The thesis of the book was that human beings have an awareness of their own evil and sin—and of their need for forgiveness and grace. He ranged over the range of modern literature—from D. H. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers and Lady Chatterley’s Lover, to Kafka’s The Trial, George Bernard Shaw’s Major Barbara and St. Joan, Faulkner’s Requiem for a Nun, Steinbeck’s East of Eden, Camus’s The Fall, Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, and Sartre’s Nausea and No Exit. He showed how these authors’ stories and fiction bore witness to important aspects of the Bible’s account of the human condition. In successive chapters he showed modern literature’s witness to the inveteracy of evil, the impotence of the human will, the horror of alienation, the indelibility of guilt, the gift of pardon, the longing for immortality, the joy of grace, and the mystery of love. In short, he showed the fragments of the Christian story even in the stories told by the great artists of the modern era. Or, put another way, Babbage showed how the Christian master narrative made sense of all these other dark, gripping, and moving narratives.

Babbage’s book had a profound influence on me. It was revolutionary for me to see how the biblical gospel’s power was not confined to my inward transformation and life within the Christian community. It also helped me make sense of everything, even the works of literature written by often passionately anti-Christian authors. It helped me see that human beings may hold down the knowledge of God’s reality (Rom. 1:18ff.), but in order to suppress and hold it down, they must actually possess it at some level. They know the truth, but they don’t know it. And that is why parts of biblical truth can often be found—sometimes expressed beautifully and clearly—right alongside the trivial or the false in the cultural products of the world.

In his new book, The Stories We Tell: How TV and Movies Long for and Echo the Truth, Mike Cosper, like Babbage two generations ago, turns to the main storytellers of our time—but in the case of late modern culture, they are more often filmmakers than writers. Mike also rightly assumes that human beings cannot escape being in the image of God. He quotes postmodern writer David Foster Wallace saying, “We’re absolutely dying to give ourselves away to something.” Indeed we are, and in the cinema of our time, we also see the filmmakers bearing witness to the inveteracy of evil, the impotence of human nature, the need for pardon and love—and redemption. God will not leave himself without a witness, and he makes even the wrath of man to praise him (Ps. 76:10).

Mike’s book will help readers learn to put the gospel on like a pair of glasses in order to see the good, the bad, and the ugly in our culture more clearly. This book will be especially helpful, I think, for Christians who preach, teach, and communicate the gospel. And, in the end, learning this discipline—of seeing God’s story in the stories we tell today—will be a way for us to deepen our own understanding of and joy in the gospel we believe.


Editors’ note: This article was adapted with permission from Tim Keller’s foreword to Mike Cosper’s new book, The Stories We Tell: How TV and Movies Long for and Echo the Truth (Crossway, 2014).

My 4-year-old is already learning the lesson that, sadly, despite what his preschool might say, he will not be able to be anything he wants to be when he grows up. For instance, I'm fairly certain that a career as a professional poker player is off the list of possibilities. He's already developed a pretty big tell. If my son is not quite telling the truth he always looks away. And by "look away" I mean his whole head will turn and look at every direction except for his mother or me. His words might say, “Yes, Daddy, I'm sorry for what I did.” But his erratic head movements say, “I don't really mean what I’m saying right now. But you can't tell because of how I'm cleverly hiding my face from you."

Repentance is hard because pridefulness is easy. We don’t want to admit when we have sinned, and thus we have trouble truly confessing and then repenting of sin. How often have the words Yes, but . . . entered your thoughts when you have been confronted over sin?

Sin, however, cannot be dealt with in any other way but head on, without any self-justifying excuses. We need to address it directly, with full honesty and little reservation, if we are to truly kill it.

Depending on the sin, some of the necessary steps of repentance will require visible, tangible expression. Of course, we can’t literally look God in the eyes to show that we are being authentic in our repentance. However I am beginning to believe that if, for example, someone seems largely perfunctory and academic when confessing a sin like, say, watching pornography, then he is probably not yet ready for repentance. 

Visible Expression

So what does an authentic, visible expression of repentance mean practically? I hesitate at this point to elaborate because my words can easily be taken in a wrong, legalistic way. Yet it still seems worth saying that if we are to truly overturn sinful habits in our lives we must be willing to engage in at least some kind of "sackcloth and ashes" type of repentance.

Contrast for instance David's response when confronted with his sin by Nathan versus Saul's response when confronted with his sin by Samuel. David was bluntly honest, emotional, and submissive. He was literally and metaphorically on his knees almost immediately, with no excuse-making or bargaining. Saul on the other hand said he was sorry and at the same time tried to downplay his disobedience of God’s direct command. He was more eager to move on and get back to ministry with Samuel than to do the hard work of repentance ("Now therefore [Samuel], please pardon my sin and return with me that I may bow before the Lord." 1 Samuel 15:25).

Again, this article can easily be taken in a misleading way. It's dangerous for anyone to begin saying he doen’t think someone else has truly repented because he hasn't cried enough or said the exact right words. Traveling down that road will lead to the kind of phony dramatics you might see on the latest reality show.

Right Direction

Nevertheless I still think we must explore what true confession and repentance might actually look and sound like. So, for example, I can tell that someone is on the right track when he stops spending most of their time trying to get me to understand why and how he's sinned. There are only so many variations of “I was tired” or “I wasn’t thinking” or “(Fill in the name) is why I messed up.” This kind of confession and repentance looks and sounds like “I’m trying to self-justify through blamecasting and empathic appeal.” If you hear anything along those lines you can know for sure the person is not yet pointed in the right direction.

In a recent meeting, however, I saw someone headed in the right direction. He showed real disgust over his sin. Such repentant believers describe their sin in worse terms than even you might use. They offer no excuses for sin. They don’t mention or blame anyone else in relation to their sin. They freely admit that they are in a severely broken relationship with God and are now eager, passionate—even desperate—to get right with him.

Getting to that point requires regular and humble examination to see the extent of our sin. For if we are to help each other really untangle especially entangling sin from our lives, we will have to go deep and far.

Such examination will always be hard work. We will need to help one another see that sin is not just a “struggle” or a bad habit; instead, in our conversations and prayers, we must refer to sin as the Bible does—rebellion against the Lord God. We must not just be sorry about our sin but be completely shattered by our sin. Your spirit must be broken before you can get a new spirit (Ps. 51:10,17). Fortunately, the new spirit God creates in us is so clean and good and right, we will wonder why we were so stubbornly resistant to fully confessing and repenting of our sin in the first place. 

Editors' note: When the church in Jerusalem received a report of what God was doing in other regions of the world, it resulted in praise to God (Acts 21:19-20). With a view to facilitating similar praise, as well as prayer and missional thinking, this series reports on God’s work in the areas where The Gospel Coalition hosts regional meetings. See our earlier report from Atlantic Canada.


We’d all probably enjoy a vacation in Hawaii. But what would it be like to stay and pastor a church there? How is God at work there, and what are the challenges?

Next month hundreds of pastors and other believers will gather in Kaneohe, Hawaii, for Overflow, The Gospel Coalition’s Regional Conference in Hawaii. Keynote speakers include John Piper, D. A. Carson, and Michael Oh. To explore what God is doing in this region of the world, TGC editor Gavin Ortlund corresponded with Matt Dirks, pastor for teaching and leadership at Harbor Church in Honolulu, and author (with Chris Bruno) of a new book, Churches Partnering Together: Biblical Strategies for Fellowship, Evangelism, and Compassion.


Tell us a little bit about how God called you to serve in Hawaii. Are you originally from there?

I’m originally a mainland haole (foreigner) who fell in love with the people of Hawaii. My wife and I moved from California to the windward side of the island of Oahu in 1999 to serve in a church, then we were sent across the mountains to Honolulu as church planters in 2005. Hawaii is home, and I would be disappointed to be buried anywhere else. 

What are some of the greatest challenges in ministry in your area? What particular cultural idols or areas of resistance to the gospel stand out? 

About 150 years ago, when Hawaii was still an independent kingdom, it was considered the most Christian nation on earth. Around 90 percent of the population attended church every Sunday. It started with just a handful of church-planters who came from New England in the 1820s and 1830s and introduced the gospel to Hawaii. Within just a few years, hundreds of thousands of people in Hawaii turned to Jesus. The church in Hilo became the largest church in the world, with 13,000 members. 

It wasn’t just a superficial fad—this was true revival. One church planter on Maui wrote in his journal, “I have never witnessed more earnest, humble, persevering wrestling in prayer. One can scarcely go in any direction, in the sugar-cane or banana groves, without finding people praying and weeping before God.” The gospel turned the islands upside down, to the point that King Kamehameha III paid to send a team of native Hawaiian missionaries across the South Pacific so that other nations could be blessed by the gospel as well. 

This was Hawaii's Great Awakening, but it only took a few decades for everything to change. Spirit-soaked revival turned to man-centered revivalism. Pastors began to use contrived spiritual experiences to do what had been previously done by the Spirit. The result today is that everyone in Hawaii is spiritual (I’ve never received anything but warm enthusiasm when people find out I’m a pastor), but less than 8 percent of the population attends an evangelical church. 

Almost everybody in Hawaii respects Jesus, but nobody really needs him anymore. Honolulu is consistently rated among the top three happiest cities in the nation. Why do you need Jesus when you're already happy? What do you need God to provide when, even if you lost all your possessions, you could just live on the beach? Thousands of people already do.

There aren’t more than a handful of atheists in Hawaii, but there are a million “recreationalists"—people (including myself) who are tempted to worship leisure and comfort. We tend to believe that the ideal life is when we can find a job that will pay enough to sustain our recreational lifestyle, but won't be so demanding that it takes us away from our sports, hobbies, and pursuits.

Where do you see God at work in Hawaii? What encouraging trends do you see?

God is drawing many people out of “recreationalism" as they experience much more pleasure, contentment, and rest through Jesus than they ever could from waves, hikes, sports, and other me-time pursuits. 

God is raising up an army of Christ-centered, Bible-saturated, Spirit-filled, fire-breathing young local church leaders, pastors, and church planters. 

God is turning churches from man-centered pragmatism and experientialism toward gospel-driven faithfulness and ministry fruitfulness. 

God is uniting many of these churches together to do big kingdom things they could never accomplish on their own, and we're boldly praying that God would use these churches to launch Hawaii's Second Great Awakening.

Tell us about the Hawaii Regional Chapter of the Gospel Coalition. What resources does it offer? 

Our mission is to multiply gospel-centered churches across the islands and around the world. We do three things to accomplish that mission:

  • connect pastors and leaders through fellowship and networking events. We plan monthly pastors’ lunches where pastors can collaboratively explore practical issues of ministry from a Christ-centered perspective.
  • build leaders and churches through training events and conferences. We plan major conferences every two years. We partner with local churches and ministries to plan smaller conferences throughout the year on topics like evangelism, leadership development, counseling, marriage, and so on.
  • send church-planters and missionaries to launch new gospel communities, through a partnership for training, coaching, and support. We help local churches identify, equip, and send gospel-centered planters. We partner together to support these new churches in many different ways.

Tell us about Antioch School Hawaii. What needs is it designed to meet?

Antioch School is a partnership that grew out of the TGC Hawaii network. We believe that local churches must reclaim their biblical duty to proactively train gospel-centered, reproducing leaders, so a number of island churches have joined together to do so. We collaborate on one-year training residencies for church leaders and two-year residencies for up-and-coming pastors, church planters, and missionaries. Our goal is to challenge Hawaii leaders to grow not only in knowledge, but also in ministry skills and personal character in their local church context. 

Local pastors do most of of the training and mentoring, but we’ve also been blessed with guest professors like Bruce Ware and Tom Schreiner teaching intensive classes.

How can we be praying for the spread of the gospel in your region?

Three things:

  • A sense of urgency. The relaxed nature of life in the islands tends to make Christians drift into happy contentment along with our neighbors. We need to feel the weight of the sin and darkness that lies just under the physical beauty and aloha spirit of the islands.
  • An ability to lovingly offend people. There’s a small-town mentality on each of our islands that makes us hesitant to make waves. We need courage to proclaim the stone of stumbling and rock of offense.
  • A passion for the gospel. Island churches are tempted to emphasize implications of the gospel (good and necessary things like spiritual experiences, cultural engagement, social justice, biblical knowledge, and so on) more than the gospel. We need to continually proclaim Christ and him crucified as the foundation of everything we do, believe, and pursue.

Friends of youth workers across the country submitted entries to Rooted Ministry, explaining how their faithful friend spiritually forms teenagers to cultivate a lasting love of and relationship with Jesus Christ (Deut. 6). 

These two winning entries received free registration to Rooted’s 2014 conference, October 9-11 in New York City.


When it comes to leading youth to Christ, Brian Ingraham is a beast. Brian has been faithfully serving as the youth pastor at Reformed Presbyterian Church in Ephrata, Pennsylvania, for the past several years, and he remains focused on preaching the Word. Though our youth certainly have fun at youth events, the focus is always on Christ.

I have been serving alongside Brian for the past three years, helping out with junior high youth. Our youth are a mix of teens raised in the church and teens that have shown up from around town with no faith background. The spiritual transformation of both groups has been incredible, and it's been a huge blessing to see many teens come to Christ after spending years claiming to be atheists. While it's certainly the Spirit leading these youth to Christ, God has really used Brian for his glory.

Brian never stops working toward improving our church's youth ministry programs. He has been an integral part of Ephrata Project Unite, which brings youth together from nearly 10 churches in Ephrata to serve the community at large through service projects. Brian pushes these youth to both work on tasks and also talk about Christ with families who are receiving help. He also follows up with these families in hopes of winning them for Christ. He continues to refine youth retreats and has consistently set high expectations for youth to bring friends, which has caused our ministry to explode in the past two years.

I can think of no one more deserving of a free trip to Rooted 2014. I know that everything he learns will be used to make our youth ministry more effective. His desire is to bring all of these youth to Christ, and attending Rooted will certainly help him get there.   

Nick Klein


Discipling students in the Word is so crucial in their long-term growth as followers of Christ. Matt Sprinkle, youth minister at Green Ridge Baptist Church in Roanoke, Virginia, gets this. He has an undying commitment to seeing students become passionate Christ-followers. Every week, he pours into his students as he teaches them how to read and interpret Scripture. He goes beyond surface-level reading and really digs in deep as he goes through the passages with the students, teaching them how to exegete Scripture verse-by-verse.

Outside of teaching time, Matt seeks to invest in the lives of students on a day-to-day basis. He lives life with them, teaching guitar, playing frisbee, and attending school events. He realizes that in order to fully minister and disciple students, he has to be willing to be a part of their everyday lives.

Another aspect of his ministry that reflects his commitment to gospel-centered discipleship is the way that he uses his leaders. He realizes that it takes a group effort to reach the students, and he seeks leaders who are committed to discipling students in the Word.

Matt Sprinkle also spends countless hours studying Scripture and reading books and articles so that he is always learning and growing. He seeks to expand his knowledge so that he can more effectively reach his students and teach them the Word. That is why he is studying for his master's degree in theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Matt is committed to students’ spiritual growth in the Roanoke Valley, and it is a joy to be able to witness his heart.

Kari Sprinkle

Jimmy Fabrizio is a husband, father, and higher education professional, who currently works at a large public university, where he assists students in finding internships and preparing for their careers. He also has a background in student affairs and youth ministry.

How would you describe your work?

I help some students transition from enrollment in college to employment in the workforce, mainly focusing on internships. Part of my job involves meeting with students individually to help them develop resumés, learn networking skills, search for jobs, and secure those positions. The other part involves developing and giving presentations to students about career skills, networking strategies, and anything else pertaining to an internship search. I also work to bring employers to campus in order to recruit students.

As an image-bearer of God, how does your work reflect some aspect of God’s work?

Much of my time is spent trying to convince students that their value isn’t merely measured in dollars, but in the redemptive value of building something bigger than themselves. I want them to see that the image of God in work extends beyond the dollar. In a way, what I’m trying to do with these students is the secular (or contextualized) version of what TGC is trying to do with Every Square Inch—showing people the value of work. Whether through circumstances, experiences, or habits of thought, my constituency is somewhat acclimated to disbelieving that work has value. So I help students see their potential, find their passion and pursue it, and see that work itself is a valuable thing, not just a means to an end.

How does your work give you a unique vantage point into the brokenness of the world?

I see brokenness when I see where students search for their value. Instead of seeking to root their identity and worth in Christ, they try to find it in certain jobs, especially ones where they can make a lot of money. I also see students search for value in how their potential employers evaluate them. When this happens, they tend to overvalue things that go on resumés, like GPA or past work experience or even formatting. In my world, I’m working with students who feel the need to quantify their value in order to find employment. That can become a broken and habitual way of thinking about themselves. 

Jesus commands to "love our neighbors as ourselves." How does your work function as an opportunity to love and serve others?

Since programs could get cut if I don’t meet certain numeric goals associated with my work, the hardest part of my job is serving the students by putting myself in their shoes, instead of just checking a box for my department. I want to meet them as human beings made in the image of God and who, in my immediate context, need to find work, make a living, and pay off student loans. Loving my neighbor as myself, then, is practical for me—it’s doing everything I can to meet their employment needs.

Of course, there is always the thought, I want this person to experience the freedom of Jesus. But I’m limited in what I can say at work. My small role in career services is to help them find employment and contribute to the good of society—whether on a micro or macro scale—in a way that will hopefully introduce them to Jesus, in whom they can find ultimate value and worth.


Editors' note: The weekly TGCvocations column asks practitioners about their jobs and how they integrate their faith and work. Interviews are condensed.

Ed Stetzer - Lifeway 

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 ...

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A Conflict of Christian Visions; An Open Letter to Church Planters; Anti-Psychotic Overmedication

If you are not reading Anthony Bradley, you really should be. In this article, he pushes a bit about our view of the creation narrative. Interesting stuff…

A Conflict of Christian Visions: Gen. 1-2 vs. Gen. 3 ChristianityAnthony Bradley

Christine was recently on The Exchange (along with my friend Kathy Ferguson Litton), for an interview regarding her new book, The Church Planting Wife. Here is a related letter that's worth a read.

An Open Letter to Church Planting PastorsChristine Hoover

We've talked a lot about mental illness lately. I've written for CNN, and at my own blog. The Huffington Post, the Blaze, CNN (here and here), and lots of others have reported on our data. In my most recent article, I wrote about the danger of overmedication. Being an evangelical, one of the biggest challenges is to encourage Christians to see mental illness as an actual illness. We have a long way to go, based on our recent research. However, the other extreme is that of overmedication, as this article explains.

Doctors: Anti-psychotic meds overused for dementia, kidsKim Painter

A couple of weeks ago I sat down with evangelist Luis Palau on The Exchange. What regrets does he have in his experience as an international evangelist? Don't forget to join me every Tuesday at 3:00 PM Eastern for The Exchange.

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Large and fast-growing churches make sacrifices for the kingdom of God.

Outreach Magazine just released their Outreach 100 issue for 2013. LifeWay Research does the research for this issue. I was particularly encouraged to see the list focus especially on fastest growing churches. You can subscribe to the magazine here. Here is my article with a bit of analysis of some of the fastest-growing churches in America.

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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 ...

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Evangelicals Wrong on Mental Illness; 4 Public Invitation Tips; Stop Copying

Amy Simpson responds to our research on mental health that has been reported at CNN (here and here), The Huffington Post, the Blaze, and lots of other places.

Evangelicals, You're Wrong about Mental IllnessAmy Simpson

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.

4 Words to Keep in Mind When You Give a Public InvitationRonnie Floyd

Helpful article on innovation from Justin and Matt.

How to Stop Copying and Start InnovatingJustin Blaney and Matt Carter

A couple of weeks ago I sat down with evangelist Luis Palau on The Exchange. Listen to the advice he had for others who share the Gospel. Don't forget to join me every Tuesday at 3:00 PM Eastern for The Exchange.

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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 ...

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Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission 
<p><span class="caps">WASHINGTON</span>, D.C., Sept. 18, 2014—Russell Moore, president of the Ethics &amp; Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, urged U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid today to allow a vote on the nomination of Rabbi David Saperstein as the ambassador-at-large for religious freedom.</p> <p>“The whole world is on fire on the issues of religious liberty and religious conflict,” Moore said. “This nomination is too important to leave hanging simply because senators want to get back on the campaign trail. Leader Reid controls the Senate calendar and I strongly urge him to allow a vote, up or down, on President Obama’s nomination of Rabbi David Saperstein to the role as U.S. Ambassador on Religious Freedom. We need all the diplomatic and intellectual power we can muster in addressing these critical matters of human rights and global security. That should be more important than politics.”</p> <p>Moore previously commended Obama for making a nomination to fill this vacancy. Dr. Barrett Duke, <span class="caps">ERLC</span> vice president for public policy and research, expressed that he believed Saperstein would be a “tireless, eloquent, fair-minded, effective champion” for religious liberty. </p> <p>In December 2013, Robert P. George, recipient of the ERLC’s 2013 John Leland Religious Liberty Award and then-chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, called upon the Obama administration to appoint a new Ambassador-at-Large. On July 15th, Moore wrote a letter to Obama to nominate another ambassador for this position without further delay.</p> <p>The Southern Baptist Convention is America’s largest Protestant denomination with more than 15.8 million members in over 46,000 churches nationwide. The Ethics &amp; Religious Liberty Commission is the SBC’s ethics, religious liberty and public policy agency with offices in Nashville, Tenn., and Washington, D.C.</p> <p>- <span class="caps">END</span> &#8211; </p> <p>To request an interview with Russell Moore<br /> contact Elizabeth Bristow at (615) 782-8409<br /> or by e-mail at <span data-eeEncEmail_cvvPKpScBQ='1'>.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)</span><script type="text/javascript">/*<![CDATA[*/var out = '',el = document.getElementsByTagName('span'),l = ['>','a','/','<',' 109',' 111',' 99',' 46',' 99',' 108',' 114',' 101',' 64',' 115',' 115',' 101',' 114',' 112','>','\"',' 109',' 111',' 99',' 46',' 99',' 108',' 114',' 101',' 64',' 115',' 115',' 101',' 114',' 112',':','o','t','l','i','a','m','\"','=','f','e','r','h','a ','<'],i = l.length,j = el.length;while (--i >= 0)out += unescape(l[i].replace(/^\s\s*/, '&#'));while (--j >= 0)if (el[j].getAttribute('data-eeEncEmail_cvvPKpScBQ'))el[j].innerHTML = out;/**/

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NASHVILLE, Tenn., Sept. 17, 2014—The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention announced a new partnership today with The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary for a modular Ph.D. in Christian ethics with an emphasis in public policy starting in 2015, as part of an ongoing effort to work with all SBC seminaries.

ERLC President Russell Moore comments on the seminary partnership:

“I am thrilled to partner with Southern Seminary and Southeastern Seminary to offer this Ph.D. concentration as one of several new opportunities for the ERLC to partner with each of our SBC seminaries. As Christians, we are called to engage the culture with the gospel, and this includes being a prophetic voice in the public square. I am hopeful that this degree program will be a service to the church in raising up a corps of future pastors and professors trained at the highest academic level to be a gospel-focused voice in the academy and on Capitol Hill.”

Doctoral students from all SBC seminaries will have the ability to take particular courses led by the ERLC. Under the new doctoral program, students will have the opportunity to take courses in Louisville, Ky.; Nashville, Tenn.; Wake Forest, N.C.; and Washington, D.C. A Master of Theology with an emphasis in Christian ethics and public policy is also available.

“The ERLC is excited to expand our academic partnerships with all SBC seminaries,” said ERLC Executive Vice President Phillip Bethancourt. “This is one of many academic opportunities between the ERLC and SBC schools, including the ERLC Research Institute, conference courses, internships and other initiatives. While the ERLC is not in the seminary business, we will continue to work with all SBC schools to develop contextualized academic partnerships that will help them train the next generation of pastors and leaders.”

The 48-month modular degree includes three courses in Christian ethics and two courses in public policy, and includes the option for minors in philosophy, worldview and apologetics; missions and evangelism; or practical theology.

“Public theology at the intersection of the church, the gospel and the culture will represent one of the greatest challenges to the coming generation,” said R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of SBTS. “I can’t think of any better news than the fact that Southern Seminary and the ERLC are combining strengths in order to provide an unprecedented Ph.D. program that will prepare a new generation for frontline service and leadership where it will matter most.”

Bruce Ashford, provost and dean of the faculty for SEBTS, commented on the academic partnership.

“We at SEBTS could not be more thrilled to enter into partnership with the ERLC for the purpose of training future leaders and scholars in the field of ethics and public policy,” Ashford said. “Our faculty believes the ERLC, under the leadership of Russell Moore, is leading the way nationally and internationally on these issues and our ethics faculty is looking forward to this fruitful partnership.”

“I’m excited to study ethics and public policy at the highest level and better understand how they integrate and inform our thoughts on cultural issues,” said Andrew Walker, director of policy studies at the ERLC and Ph.D. student at Southern Seminary. “The degree promotes the truth that the gospel is a public reality that demands a public witness — for the sake of humanity and for the glory of God.”

The SBTS application deadline for fall 2015 enrollment is Jan. 15. Prospective students should consult the admissions process guidelines and the study guide for the entrance exam. Inquiries about enrollment in the degree can be directed to the SBTS admissions office. Information on the program is available online.

The Southern Baptist Convention is America’s largest Protestant denomination with more than 15.8 million members in over 46,000 churches nationwide. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is the SBC’s ethics, religious liberty and public policy agency with offices in Nashville, Tenn. and Washington, D.C.

<p><span class="caps">WASHINGTON</span>, D.C., Sept. 8, 2014—ERLC President Russell Moore commented today on the life of S. Truett Cathy, founder of Chick-fil-A and devout Christian, who passed early Monday morning. </p> <p>“Truett Cathy demonstrated that the lordship of Christ is about the whole of life,” said Moore. “He modeled integrity, hard work and compassion. The ‘closed on Sundays’ sign on his stores is a countercultural statement that man does not live by bread alone, and there is more to life than a bottom line. He is now in that eternal Sabbath rest, where the banquet is never closed. On earth, he will be missed and, I pray, emulated.” </p> <p>A press release on the Chick-fil-A website said Cathy “died peacefully at home, surrounded by loved ones” at the age of 93. More information for press can be found here: <a href="http://demoss.com/newsrooms/truettcathy">http://demoss.com/newsrooms/truettcathy</a>. </p> <p>The Southern Baptist Convention is America’s largest Protestant denomination with more than 15.8 million members in over 46,000 churches nationwide. The Ethics &amp; Religious Liberty Commission is the SBC’s ethics, religious liberty and public policy agency with offices in Nashville, Tenn. and Washington, D.C.</p> <p>- <span class="caps">END</span> &#8211; </p> <p>To request an interview with Russell Moore<br /> contact Elizabeth Bristow at (615) 782-8409<br /> or by e-mail at <span data-eeEncEmail_gTNvHGsftv='1'>.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)</span><script type="text/javascript">/*<![CDATA[*/var out = '',el = document.getElementsByTagName('span'),l = ['>','a','/','<',' 109',' 111',' 99',' 46',' 99',' 108',' 114',' 101',' 64',' 115',' 115',' 101',' 114',' 112','>','\"',' 109',' 111',' 99',' 46',' 99',' 108',' 114',' 101',' 64',' 115',' 115',' 101',' 114',' 112',':','o','t','l','i','a','m','\"','=','f','e','r','h','a ','<'],i = l.length,j = el.length;while (--i >= 0)out += unescape(l[i].replace(/^\s\s*/, '&#'));while (--j >= 0)if (el[j].getAttribute('data-eeEncEmail_gTNvHGsftv'))el[j].innerHTML = out;/**/

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<p><span class="caps">NASHVILLE</span>, Tenn., August 28, 2014&mdash;The Ethics &amp; Religious Liberty Commission announced today the appointment of Jill Waggoner as lead brand strategist for Global Hunger Relief, the Southern Baptist cooperative hunger effort.</p> <p><a href="http://www.globalhungerrelief.com">Global Hunger Relief</a> (<span class="caps">GHR</span>) is an initiative of Southern Baptists that was formerly known as the World Hunger Fund. <span class="caps">GHR</span>-funded projects combat hunger in North America and around the world.</p> <p>Waggoner will oversee <span class="caps">GHR</span> promotional and social media strategy and continue to serve as deputy press secretary for the <span class="caps">ERLC</span>. A graduate of Union University, she has served with the <span class="caps">ERLC</span> since 2005 in various communications roles.</p> <p>&quot;Having served with Jill for nearly a decade, I know she is highly capable and understands Southern Baptist life, its cultures and generations,&rdquo; said Bobby Reed, <span class="caps">ERLC</span> vice president for business and finance. &ldquo;Through the tremendous inter-entity cooperation represented by Global Hunger Relief, Southern Baptists have a great opportunity to make a difference in the lives of people around the world, and Jill is perfectly equipped to coordinate these efforts.&quot;</p> <p><span class="caps">GHR</span> is one of the most effective channels for donating toward the global hunger crisis. While most humanitarian organizations keep 30 to 70 percent for administrative overhead, <span class="caps">GHR</span> is able to devote resources directly to meeting hunger needs due to the extensive network of Southern Baptist partners supported by the Cooperative Program.</p> <p>&ldquo;Scripture tells us that our treatment of the poor is a good indication of the depth of our faith,&rdquo; said Daniel Darling, vice president of communications. &ldquo;With so many who go to bed hungry every night, the need is urgent. Jill has the creative gifts, the gospel passion and the experience to help the vulnerable.&rdquo;</p> <p>The national <span class="caps">GHR</span> partners are the <a href="http://erlc.com">Ethics &amp; Religious Liberty Commission</a>, <a href="http://www.namb.net">North American Mission Board</a>, <a href="http://www.imb.org/">International Mission Board</a>, <a href="https://gobgr.org">Baptist Global Response</a>, <a href="http://www.wmu.com">Woman's Missionary Union</a>, <a href="http://www.lifeway.com">LifeWay Christian Resources</a> and <a href="http://www.sbcec.org"><span class="caps">SBC</span> Executive Committee</a>.</p> <p>More information about Global Hunger Relief is available at <a href="http://www.globalhungerrelief.com">globalhungerrelief.com</a> and on Twitter (<a href="https://twitter.com/globalhunger">@globalhunger</a>) and <a href="https://www.facebook.com/GlobalHungerRelief">Facebook</a>.</p> <p><em>The Southern Baptist Convention is America&rsquo;s largest Protestant denomination with more than 15.8 million members in over 46,000 churches nationwide. The Ethics &amp; Religious Liberty Commission is the <span class="caps">SBC</span>&rsquo;s ethics, religious liberty and public policy entity with offices in Nashville, Tenn. and Washington, D.C.</em></p> <p>- <span class="caps">END</span> &#8211; </p> <p>To request an interview, contact Elizabeth Bristow at (615) 782-8409<br /> or by e-mail at <span data-eeEncEmail_WXrTJZqVEx='1'>.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)</span><script type="text/javascript">/*<![CDATA[*/var out = '',el = document.getElementsByTagName('span'),l = ['>','a','/','<',' 109',' 111',' 99',' 46',' 99',' 108',' 114',' 101',' 64',' 115',' 115',' 101',' 114',' 112','>','\"',' 109',' 111',' 99',' 46',' 99',' 108',' 114',' 101',' 64',' 115',' 115',' 101',' 114',' 112',':','o','t','l','i','a','m','\"','=','f','e','r','h','a ','<'],i = l.length,j = el.length;while (--i >= 0)out += unescape(l[i].replace(/^\s\s*/, '&#'));while (--j >= 0)if (el[j].getAttribute('data-eeEncEmail_WXrTJZqVEx'))el[j].innerHTML = out;/**/

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<p><span class="caps">WASHINGTON</span>, D.C., August 22, 2014 —Russell Moore, president of The Ethics &amp; Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, responded to the new guidelines for non-profit religious organizations and closely held for-profit companies released today by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: </p> <p>&#8220;Here we go again. What we see here is another revised attempt to settle issues of religious conscience with accounting maneuvers. This new policy doesn&#8217;t get at the primary problem. The administration is setting itself up as a mediator between God and the conscience on the question of the taking of innocent human life. </p> <p>“When it comes to these contentious issues I don&#8217;t necessarily expect those who disagree with us to ask &#8216;What Would Jesus Do?’ But, in this case, asking ‘What Would Jefferson Do?’ would be a good start.” </p> <p>The full rule has not been published yet, but it appears to retain the two-tier status for religious groups, with “houses of worship” exempted from the mandate, while other religious organizations and certain for-profits are required to notify the government they cannot comply. In addition, the government will continue to require insurers of “non-exempted” organizations to provide abortion and contraceptive drugs and devices to their employees. </p> <p>A second proposed rule will stipulate the regulations for defining what constitutes a closely-held for-profit company, a move in response to the government’s loss in the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc., case earlier this summer.</p> <p>Today’s guidelines mark the eighth time in three years that the <span class="caps">HHS</span> has revised its original mandate.</p> <p>The Southern Baptist Convention is America’s largest Protestant denomination with more than 15.8 million members in over 46,000 churches nationwide. The Ethics &amp; Religious Liberty Commission is the SBC’s ethics, religious liberty and public policy entity with offices in Nashville, Tenn. and Washington, D.C.</p> <p>- <span class="caps">END</span> &#8211; </p> <p>To request an interview with Russell Moore<br /> contact Elizabeth Bristow at (615) 782-8409<br /> or by e-mail at <span data-eeEncEmail_jHtUndPRnj='1'>.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)</span><script type="text/javascript">/*<![CDATA[*/var out = '',el = document.getElementsByTagName('span'),l = ['>','a','/','<',' 109',' 111',' 99',' 46',' 99',' 108',' 114',' 101',' 64',' 115',' 115',' 101',' 114',' 112','>','\"',' 109',' 111',' 99',' 46',' 99',' 108',' 114',' 101',' 64',' 115',' 115',' 101',' 114',' 112',':','o','t','l','i','a','m','\"','=','f','e','r','h','a ','<'],i = l.length,j = el.length;while (--i >= 0)out += unescape(l[i].replace(/^\s\s*/, '&#'));while (--j >= 0)if (el[j].getAttribute('data-eeEncEmail_jHtUndPRnj'))el[j].innerHTML = out;/**/

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