Monthly Archives: October 2007

You Can’t Program Discipleship

First Sally Morgenthaler, perhaps the most influential proponent of the attractional worship paradigm, says the paradigm doesn’t work.

Now no less a church growth icon than Bill Hybels says they “made a mistake”:

James Twitchell, in his new book Shopping for God, reports that outside Bill Hybels’ office hangs a poster that says: “What is our business? Who is our customer? What does the customer consider value?” Directly or indirectly, this philosophy of ministry—church should be a big box with programs for people at every level of spiritual maturity to consume and engage—has impacted every evangelical church in the country.

So what happens when leaders of Willow Creek stand up and say, “We made a mistake”?

Not long ago Willow released its findings from a multiple year qualitative study of its ministry. Basically, they wanted to know what programs and activities of the church were actually helping people mature spiritually and which were not. The results were published in a book, Reveal: Where Are You?, co-authored by Greg Hawkins, executive pastor of Willow Creek. Hybels called the findings “earth shaking,” “ground breaking,” and “mind blowing.”

. . . Hawkins [says], “Participation is a big deal. We believe the more people participating in these sets of activities, with higher levels of frequency, it will produce disciples of Christ.” This has been Willow’s philosophy of ministry in a nutshell. The church creates programs/activities. People participate in these activities. The outcome is spiritual maturity. In a moment of stinging honesty Hawkins says, “I know it might …

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Jesus is For Losers

A few weeks ago our pastor said one of the boldest, riskiest, best things he’s said since he’d arrived at our church in April: “Sometimes you have to let your dreams die.”

It was not said in a woe-is-me and poor-poor-pitiful-you way. It was about God’s will. It made total sense. And yet it is the sort of thing rarely said in churches these days, when the prevailing theme appears to be God Exists to Make Your Dreams Come True.

A few months ago I listened to a podcasted message by the man I consider my mentor-pastor, and while I can’t remember every jot and tittle of his sermon text, one sentence was burned into my brain the moment I heard it and has never left: “To be a follower of Jesus you must renounce comfort as the ultimate value of your life.”

Why do statements like these sound revolutionary?Yes, they challenge our natural bent toward self-interest. Yes, they challenge our cultural premiums on pleasure and independence. But within church culture, why are they so revolutionary?

Some friends of ours visited a church recently and in relaying the quality of the message, one of them said that, teaching from Philippians, the pastor announced that the normal Christian life is characterized by suffering. My friend, a big smile on his face, concluded, “Which, you know, was good to hear.”

It’s not about being joyless or gluttons for punishment. It’s about, partly, not saying to believers who are growing through some terrible, terrible things “You are abnormal; …

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"10 Things" for Starting a Ministry

Actually, this is Gary Lamb’s “10 Things I Wish I’d Known When I First Started Church Planting”, but I’m guessing they may be fairly applicable to any ministry start.

1. Be secure in your calling . . .

2. People who come one time and act like you are the greatest thing in the world, want to sign up for everything after one visit, talk about how they are called to ministry after one visit, etc are the ones that won’t last long. It happens every time.

3. You can NEVER cast vision too much. Volunteers do what they do because of the vision, not because they need something else on their schedule.

4. Small groups are a lot of work and NO ONE is doing them well especially if they are reaching unchurched people. However when they run right there is nothing greater.

5. Who you do this thing with is so important. Do it with friends and people you enjoy being around.

6. Don’t be afraid to talk about money. The bible talks a lot about it and it is part of spiritual growth. Big vision takes big money and God uses people to fund that vision.

7. Be yourself. The world doesn’t need another Ed Young, Andy Stanley, Rob Bell, or Erwin McManus. It does however need you to be you and who God created you to be.

8. Don’t …

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Ecclesial Adultery

This is my first encounter with Gen-X Rising blog (I didn’t even know people still used the label Gen-X except in a historical sense), but this post by Andrew Thompson is a hum-dinger:Cheating On Your Church

A substantial taste:

There are some legitimate reasons to leave a church once you join as a member . . . But they are few in number. And most reasons people leave amount to nothing more than ecclesial adultery. When you promise fidelity to both Jesus and a congregation of his disciples and then break that promise over matters as simple as boredom with worship or frustration with a committee, you are running out on the bride of Christ. It’s cheating on your church, folks . . .

There is, of course, an underlying reason why people instinctively think that seeking out a church that meets all their felt needs is a God-given right. And it has to do with consumerism and the aforementioned market economy. Most Americans simply cannot conceive of the idea of not being able to choose their church the way they do their cell phone plan or where they’ll get tonight’s take-out. But think about what that mindset does to the Bride of Christ: it turns her into a cheap prostitute, who peddles her wares on street corners in the hopes that you’ll condescend to choose her over all her similarly cheap competitors.

If you want to do something truly radical for Jesus (and ‘radical’ is a relative term in our historically …

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The Requisite Osteen Post

You can watch the “60 Minutes” feature on Joel Osteen here, as I did.

It’s fairly bland. Nothing revelatory.Except for the interviewer, Byron Pitts, asking some really, really great questions. He asks why no Jesus in the book. He asks if he’s more like Dr. Phil than a pastor. This is stuff most interviewers would not have the context from which to wonder about.

There’s some stuff from Michael Horton (whose books are in my recommended reading sidebar, fyi) that’s pretty good. He pretty much calls Osteen’s teaching “heresy.”


The Internet Monk has the best barnstorming post on the interview. Read it.

Osteen, by his own admission, says he doesn’t talk about sin. He doesn’t talk about the cross. Jesus shows up at the end of his messages, for what reason I don’t know, because he seems incidental or unnecessary during the message itself.

Sin and the cross are necessary components of the Gospel. Excise them and you’ve got no gospel. No gospel in your teaching means you’re teaching something else. Right?

“I mean, there’s a lot better people qualified to say, ‘Here’s a book that’s going to explain the scriptures to you.’ I don’t think that’s my gifting,” Osteen says.

These facts don’t mean Joel Osteen is not a Christian. But they do mean he is not really a Christian pastor and has no business teaching a church. A Unitarian Universalist church, maybe. A life-coaching seminar, a self-help conference sure.

It is a dangerous business, preaching. Eternal destinies hang in Osteen’s call of “God wants …

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When Buzz Matches Vision

The big idea of what my church is trying to do with Element has to do with discipling folks 18-30something. Experientially, while we do have college students and we do have young marrieds, the majority of our participants are young professionals in their mid to late 20s.What we are doing in terms of our program format — a weekly “generational” worship service and small groups — is not much different from what lots of other churches are doing for young people in that gap when most young people vanish from church. I think what sets Element apart, at least from similar generational efforts in our area, are two things:

a) We are trying to do what we are doing in the context of community (as opposed to merely hosting a program, an event. The Element events, for us, are components of cultivating community, which ideally builds up and bridges to the greater community of our church. (The events aren’t the only components in this effort, by the way. I only mean that the events aren’t meant to be stand-alone attractional alternatives to staying home.)

b) While in format, again, we are not unique among twentysomething services (worship/teaching), I do think we are unique in that our teaching approach is conscientiously cross-centered, grace-driven, and Gospel-focused. The idea is that what people need foremost is the Gospel and application comes secondary. This is a risk on our part, because when asked what they want out of a message, most will say some variation of …

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You Can’t Make this Stuff Up

“I don’t care what the name on that title says. Reach out and snatch it! It’s yours.”

Uh huh. Back here in Normaltown, we call that stealing.

I’ll spare you my rant.

I know I’m supposed to see something like this and laugh it off, consider it marginal or inconsequential, ignore it as an easy target, gloss over it because “picking on TBN’ers is so cliched,” etc.But I think about the thousands (millions, probably) who send these people money. I think about the elderly and the naive, those who are sick or mourning or in huge amounts of debt who are desperate for relief, who are eager to trade their faith for whatever promises can be made for deliverance, and then guys like this say things like this, and it makes me angry like nothing else. I think of people I know who are suffering, hurting, confused in their faith because they’ve trusted God for something big or needful and God has chosen not to give it to them, and then I see guys like this suggest it was withheld because of a lack of faith. I see people every day who are hungry for the Gospel, and most of them don’t know it, and if the only exposure they have to the Christian message is guys like this saying stuff like this, it just makes me want to vomit.

Okay, so I ranted a little bit.

Here’s something similar. I’m not as worked up about this, mainly because it is mostly fascinating in …

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Ministry Engines (and the Starter Switch)

Tony Morgan highlights some insights from Jud Wilhite of Las Vegas’ Central Christian Church.

Something that jumped out at me was this:

Jud indicated for their church it means simplifying their ministry programming to focus on weekends, groups and serving. That’s it. They’ve tried to eliminate anything else that might compete with these primary ways that people take their next steps toward Christ.

It jumped out at me, because this was the original intention I proposed pursuing with Element, our church’s ministry to college students and young professionals. We wanted to orient the ministry more in terms of community, not merely in terms of programming, and in fact, when I was asked about my interest in teaching for it, that was one thing I sort of made my involvement contingent upon — that it not be just a service or just an event, but an attempt at building community, and thereby providing for our demographic an introduction to and bridge into the greater church community. Any other program, in my mind, would likely only forestall the exodus of young people out of the life of the church another four years or so. I didn’t want to be a holding tank for people who’d still leave, but a growing tank for people to grow up into the life of multigenerational Christian community.

So what I proposed were three “tent pegs,” so to speak:- continuing and multiplying the small group structure we already had for the purpose of relationships and in-depth Bible study- service projects- …

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Tuesday is for the Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha

From Lark News, of course:

For church singles groups, it’s all in a name:

The singles group at Sherman Oaks Presbyterian church was languishing, with poorly attended potlucks and a core of only 9 people, five of whom were mentally retarded or had just been released from prison.

“It’s pretty bad when even the singles group leader doesn’t want to go,” says leader Jerry Cook with a laugh.

Cook convinced the church to hire a consulting firm to create a better name than the one they were using, Singled Out. After spending $50,000 and going through hundreds of options, they ditched the old moniker and embraced a new one: 2gather.

What does it mean?

“Lots of things,” says Cook. “Gathering together, building community — all the things singles want.” 2gather quickly gained momentum in the Christian singles market in L.A., and now draws hundreds of singles to its mid-week “2do” parties.

“The cost of the name change was worth every penny,” says Cook, who has been promoted to assistant pastor.

Dozens of U.S. churches are paying consulting firms big money for clever names they hope will turn their fortunes with fickle single church-goers.

“Our old name wasn’t saying anything,” says a Milwaukee singles pastor whose group had attracted mostly divorced men over 45. Now that the group changed its name to 1-2-1, “membership has quintupled, and we don’t get as many …

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What You Win Them With is What You Win Them To

Who first said that? I have no idea. But he (or she) was a very wise person.

What you win them with is what you win them to.

Mark Galli has a good post up at CT on marketing the church. In it he writes:

When we “market,” we try to make a larger audience aware of the value of exchanging a good or service. We assume both parties will benefit from the transaction. Marketing is a wonderful thing. I like to hear pitches about products I might use. I like the fact that my publishers pitch my books to a larger public. Thank God for marketing!Related articles and links

But there’s a reason Jesus said “You shall be my witnesses,” and not “You shall be my marketers” . . .

Should it surprise us that in this church-marketing era, members demand more and more from their churches, and if churches don’t deliver, they take their spiritual business elsewhere? Have we ever seen an age in which church transience was such an epidemic?

Should it surprise us that in this era, pastors increasingly think of themselves as “managers,” “leaders,” and “CEOs” of “dynamic and growing congregations,” rather than as shepherds, teachers, and servants of people who need to know God? And that preaching has become less an exposition of the gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection and more often practical lessons that offer a lot of “take-away value,” presented in an efficient, friendly manner, as if we were selling cheeseburgers, fries, and a shake?

. . …

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