What will church cultures look like in America as it transitions into the post-Christian era? Pivotal for my understanding of a fresh perspective on church life was the study of Gordon Fee’s 967-page book God’s Empowering Presence (1994)—his careful and thorough study of the 169 references to the Spirit in the Apostle Paul’s letters. He […]Read More
Most traditional mainline Christians are still in the Sacred-Canopy Culture that prevailed through previous American history. After World War II the Modern Scientific Culture challenged the traditional. Mainline ministers oriented themselves to addressing that new culture. Traditional churches were on the defensive. But in recent decades young adult Americans have moved on to the Post-Modern […]Read More
A life without a heart is not worth living. Our hearts are the key to the Christian life. It is in the heart that we come to know him and learn to live in his love. And yet life has taught all of us to ignore and distrust the deepest yearnings of our heart. These […]Read More
Standing on the sidewalk outside a church after its worship, I asked a young, professional-looking woman why she came to church that morning. Her answer was immediate: “I feel the power of God here.” She also explained that this church had reached out to her when she was in juvenile detention.
If you were asked that question, how would you answer and how long would you need to think about it? I suspect many traditional Christians from historic church bodies would struggle, only to come up with some version of, “That’s what we do on Sunday mornings,” or “This is where my friends are.”
When my family and I were members of a large Lutheran congregation that finished an impressive new sanctuary 35 years ago, I noticed that the average attendance reported in the weekly bulletin went down. Almost always a new sanctuary attracts more people. I asked the pastor why he thought fewer were attending. All he could come up with was, “I guess our people are losing the habit.” Habit is a very weak motivator for participating in anything . . .Read More
A seldom-referenced New Testament passage helps explain why so many young adults are not in Christian churches today. The Apostle Paul reminded the Corinthians not to associate with sexually immoral people (1 Corinthians 5:9).
Then he clarified that he did not at all mean the people of this world who are immoral and sinners. “In that case, you would have to leave this world. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Exercise judgment on those inside. God will judge those outside.”
In the last several decades a critical balance shifted in the United States. While the majority of Americans still consider themselves Christian, less than half are churched. Yet many preachers continue to operate as if the United States is a Christian nation where Judeo-Christian ethics still apply to all. It is time to teach ourselves to think like Paul and the early Christians living in the pagan Roman Empire.
The current movement toward applying equal rights to homosexuals and marital status to same-sex couples happened quickly in terms of social movements. Young adults take these rights as self-evident. Yet what they hear from so many church leaders is, to them, extremely prejudicial, old fashioned and anything but loving. The result is predictable.Read More
How much energy a congregation has is reflected in how well participants give of their “time, talents, and treasures.” Many other good causes are approaching them for those same personal resources. What makes a congregation’s fellowship different?
The answer gets easy when you recognize a gathering of believers as a “fellowship of the Holy Spirit.” This is the distinctive function the Apostle Paul gives the Spirit in his benediction “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”
Fellowship too often gets trivialized as shallow social interaction. But a key part of a fellowship of the Holy Spirit is the special motivation the Spirit can provide believers gathered around God’s Word. Hearing Scripture proclaimed is basic. But the energy level goes up when participants share what God is doing in their personal lives….Read More
Think about a church’s “spiritual energy” as the total of hours and dollars participants give to the shared life and work of that congregation. Now consider these observations from church consultant Ed Stetzer:
1. The Spirit-oriented Pentecostal and charismatic movements continue to expand, and many are shying away from oddities and excesses in their past, like speaking in tongues.
2. Evangelicals are moving toward the theology of Spirit-filled and Spirit-led ministries.
3. Forty years ago, 30% of the US population self-identified with mainline denominations; now it is about 15%. Their loss of energy is most obvious in empty pews and buildings.
A good way for a traditional church to regain spiritual energy is to focus more on how the Holy Spirit energizes Christian fellowships. Classical Lutheran and Calvinist theology left the biblical teachings on the Third Person of the Trinity poorly developed.
My intent is to offer fresh perspectives on what Jesus teaches about his Spirit and how Paul explains the role of the Spirit in Christian church life. Ultimately the Spiritual energy of a congregation is a reflection of how well the Spirit has energized the individual participants, who add their energy to that church’s fellowship.
A modern term gives focus to the Spirit’s work. It is “motivation”— the understanding of what moves people into action. There is no clear biblical equivalent. Motivation provides the missing link in the classical theology of justification by grace through faith, not by works. The act of trusting God’s love and accepting the free gift of Christ’s redemption brings us into the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, who is God’s empowering presence. Christ’s Spirit works on our hearts and brings new priorities that motivate our behaviors. In addition to being saved as a gift of grace, we can also live by the gifts of the Spirit as a second kind of grace.Read More
Waiting at our local Conrad’s Tire and Auto, I saw a hard-covered book on the history of this 30-store chain. It was started after the War by Joan and Ed Conrad. They were and are a staunch Irish Catholic family. They and their kids went to Catholic schools I recognized from the old neighborhood.
Their story brought to mind a classic Irish Catholic neighbor of ours. Their family’s kids and ours played a lot together. I admire this Mom of seven children. Raised in a faithful Irish Catholic family herself, she did and does go to mass every morning.
As I reminisced, I thought, we know who we are and why we’re here. We are created by God to worship him and to serve others.
Back then both Catholic and Lutheran church bodies had strong institutions, especially with grade schools, high schools and universities. Those institutions are in retreat. The Catholic bishop of Cleveland closed or merged 50 parishes. In the Cleveland area, we lost four Lutheran grade schools in the past ten years, and the city congregations still remaining are barely hanging on.Read More
In 1990, I was called to be a mission developer on the staff of the Ohio District of the LCMS. I was paid district scale, which was generous considering my level of education and that it had been 23 years since ordination. The days of that kind of church planting are gone.
Through a providential set of events, while teaching my D.Min course on Church Management, at 3:00 pm on Monday, January 15, 1990, I felt convicted that God was calling me to plant a new church in the southern suburbs of Cleveland. That call is very comforting when you go through all the ups and downs of church planting.
Since that start in 1990, I know of only one other successful district church plant. This is out of probably 12 attempts. Nobody has ever counted because, I suspect, they don’t want to see the number. From Royal Redeemer, where my work is based, we have had three successful church plants out of four attempts.
My definition of church-planting success is surviving five years and being financially self-sufficient. I have heard lots of young leaders brag about all the churches they planted. By far, most turn out to be small group Bible studies that soon disappear.Read More
It’s there tucked into the middle of John’s account of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, the analogy for Jesus beloved by all (John 10: 1-18). In verse 10 Jesus says, “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10). A more accurate translation is “that they may have life overflowing.”
Who was Jesus talking about? The sheep, of course. Jesus invited us to see ourselves as the sheep he protects and lays down his life for. There was no suggestion he is talking about what will happen in a future life. He addressed our daily life in this world.
What will be overflowing in this abundant life here and now? I believe the Good Life now will be overflowing with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. I trust you recognize that this listing comes from Galatians 5:22, where Paul described the fruit of the Spirit. Understand that “fruit” means what we would call product, that which a business makes and sends out the door. The Spirit produces the inner qualities of love, joy, peace and the other fruit.Read More
The congregations of the once-dominant Protestant established mainline church bodies (Lutheran, Episcopalian, Presbyterian and Reformed) are losing effectiveness in American culture today. The result is the forty-year decline in our memberships and influence. Mainline churches are becoming old-line, old fashioned churches. The driving question today is how we can regain the health and spiritual energy we used to have. My purpose is to offer some new insights and ways to help the Holy Spirit’s work of calling, gathering, enlightening and sanctifying believers through the fellowship of an individual congregation.Read More