Why Go To Seminary?

August 13, 2018 by  
Filed under A Monday AM BLOG

Why Go to Seminary?

Why go to seminary? Why not just take classes online, or learn what you can from your pastor? Why not just get busy doing the work of ministry and learn as you go? Why take the time, why spend the money, why uproot your life?

These are the same questions (minus the online thing) Timothy Dwight had in mind when he stood to address an assembled crowd at the opening ceremonies of Andover Seminary in Massachusetts. Andover, the first seminary in America, opened its doors in 1808. Until its founding, aspiring ministers desiring theological education usually learned what they could through an apprenticeship with a local pastor. However, Dwight, the president of Yale College and grandson of Jonathan Edwards, believed something more than a liberal arts education and a mentor were needed to prepare future pastors. So before the first seminary class was offered in America, Dwight sought to answer the question, Why go to seminary? His answers may be 204 years old, but they can still help us today.

1. Time to Study

Dwight explained that the new seminary would give future ministers sufficient, undistracted time to learn. Too often, he lamented, men began their ministries “very imperfectly fitted for their profession,” because they didn’t have enough money to “pursue their studies through a sufficient length of time.” Andover sought to address this problem by providing instruction, use of books, and, “at least to a considerable extent,” housing and living expenses.

The times of free seminary tuition, food, and housing are long gone. Many today go into ministry “very imperfectly fitted” because they don’t think they can afford the years or money needed to obtain a seminary education. Of those who do attend, too many are burdened with excessive student loans. Seminaries that can keep tuition low and provide substantial scholarships and grants provide a great service to future pastors and their churches. This kind of investment should be a priority of every denomination and local church. By serving students in this way, churches will also bless themselves with pastors who have taken the time to prepare for ministry.

2. The Library

One of the greatest strengths of Andover Seminary, Dwight argued, was that it would have a library “sufficiently various, and extensive, for the purposes intended.” Full-time students have lots of time to read—-more than they’ll ever have in full-time ministry. Broad and deep reading is one of the main purposes of seminary. Professors are there to teach and mentor, but also to force you to read. As you read, you learn and grow, you learn how to read, and you learn what’s worth reading.

You can’t afford all the books, journals, articles, and dictionaries you’re required to read. That’s why strong seminaries and divinity schools have extensive and growing libraries. A good library gives you access to vast amounts of knowledge and distilled wisdom you cannot find online. If you’re in seminary, take advantage of the library—-you’ll miss it when you’re gone.

3. The Faculty

Mastering any one of the “branches of theological learning” (Bible, apologetics, systematic theology, church history, practical theology) is enough to exhaust “the utmost talents of a single man.” Therefore, Dwight observed, it’s impossible for a single pastor to teach all these disciplines to those he mentors. If there were a pastor “ever so competent,” his other pastoral duties would make it “impossible for him to command sufficient time to communicate the knowledge, which ought to be considered as indispensable.”

The seminary, on the other hand, has professors who devote themselves to a level of study and teaching that isn’t possible for a single pastor. Don’t misunderstand Dwight (or me). There are things your pastor can teach you that no seminary professor can. That’s why local churches must not outsource pastoral training to the seminaries. But there are also things that a good seminary can teach you that most pastors have neither the time nor ability to teach. In most cases, it takes both a good local church pastor and a good seminary faculty to train a good future pastor.

4. The Other Students

“All ministers ought to be friends.” And in order to develop friendships, they have to know each other. However, Dwight explained, when “ministers are educated separately and solitarily, this knowledge, in ordinary cases, cannot exist.” But at a seminary, “being educated together, being of the same age, pupils of the same instructors, tenants of the same buildings, engaged in the same delightful pursuits, and actuated, as we may reasonably hope, by the same spirit, they can hardly fail to be of one accord, and of one mind.”

Good seminaries strengthen the unity between churches by building bonds between ministers. The friendships you build while you’re in seminary will strengthen your ministry for years to come. The guy who sits next to you in 8 a.m. Hebrew class may someday lead his church to support your missionaries. The couple you meet at orientation may pray for you and your family for the rest of your life. The classmate you study with for a final may someday labor beside you for reformation in your denomination. So go to seminary, devote yourself to reading, and learn all you can from your professors. But don’t fail to invest time in relationships while you’re there.

5. The Doctrine

In making his case that such a thing as a seminary was needed, Dwight concluded by assuring his hearers, “The doctrines, which will be taught here, are the doctrines of the Reformation.” He went on to explain how Andover’s teaching would be biblical and orthodox and beneficial for building up the church. The seminary, Dwight assured his listeners, would exist for the benefit of the churches.

In 1808 there was only one seminary in America. Today there are dozens. But the fact remains that a seminary’s most important task is to pass on sound doctrine to the next generation of pastors for the benefit of the churches. Choose a seminary that takes this responsibility seriously, and you will bless both yourself and your future church.

All citations are from Timothy Dwight, A Sermon Preached at the Opening of the Theological Institution in Andover (Boston: Farrand, 1808).

Change or DIE!

July 11, 2018 by  
Filed under A Monday AM BLOG

If you owned 100 McDonald’s Franchise Restaurants and 90 of them were unprofitable, you would most certainly seek correction of the factors producing loss. You would do that immediately upon learning the Truth about the bottom line.

If you had a cattle ranch and you learned that you were losing $200 per head when taking the cattle to market, you would either get out of that business, or, discover ways to make your investment profitable.

The American Church – not so much. There are some 350,000 – 400,000 Protestant churches in the USA. 95% of them are NOT healthy. They limp along with dysfunctions that they refuse to correct. Research says that 95% of professing Christians NEVER share the Gospel with anyone in an entire year. That is flagrant rebellion to the person and command of Jesus who is LORD. Yet, these rebels (Hebrew pasha, to rebel) are regarded as ‘members in good standing’. What?

The Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant Denomination in the USA, has been on an unbroken 65 year decline when using numbers as the metric for effectiveness. This is perhaps the heart  of the problem.

Jesus is not impressed with numbers. Not Attendance. Not Offerings. Not Baptisms. Not Buildings. The New Testament Metric for effectiveness in ministry is Transformation. Redeemed people systematically becoming more like Jesus in character and conduct. Until this false Metric of Numbers for ministry effectiveness is abandoned, nothing will change. If you are not seeing God produce transformation that is objective and documented in the people you serve, you are not a church you are a Social Club.

There is no ‘Quick Fix’ for impotence in the American Church. It takes 48-60 months for a church to go from cultural lethargy to biblical effectiveness. The reason – revitalization requires changing the culture of a given church. Culture controls. Such cultures are made up of long standing traditions that have no basis in the New Testament. Churches perpetuate ‘programs’ that will wear you out with activity but never contribute to the disciple making process.

Conclusion – Change or Die! If you as a leader permit the dysfunctional ministry polity and practices currently producing decline and impotence to continue, you are openly declaring that you endorse such tragic hindrance to genuine ministry. Like Joshua said thousands of years ago – ”Choose this day whom you will serve?” (Josh. 24:15).

Church – Culture – Gospel

June 29, 2018 by  
Filed under A Monday AM BLOG

“The calling of the church is to preach the gospel. And whenever that which is central, namely, the gospel,becomes peripheral, then that which is peripheral inevitably becomes central”—Alistair Begg.

The challenge of being in the world but not of it is unrelenting. This article is one perspective on this issue. What the Church MUST do is make certain that the MESSAGE we deliver is the GOSPEL without admixture of error or compromise. (TCF)

Early in my ministry, I found myself suddenly in the middle of a culture war, with no idea where the trenches were. I was a youth pastor, in my hometown, just down the street from an Air Force Base. Like every other evangelical youth minister, I received constant advertisements from curriculum-hawkers telling me how I could be “relevant” to “today’s teenagers,” usually by “connecting” with them through popular culture. I couldn’t do that well, though, so I just fell back on being me, and preached the gospel the best I could.

There were two groups that divided the youth group there in Biloxi. The first group was made up of “churched” kids, those who did what was expected in the Bible Belt and made professions of faith, followed by baptism, as young children.

These kids knew the gospel, from start to last, and could rattle off the right answers at will. The gospel neither surprised nor alarmed them. They knew how to embrace just enough of an almost gospel to stay within the tribe, without embracing so much gospel as to encounter the lordship of Christ.

The “unchurched” kids laughed at the Bible studies based on television shows or songs of the moment.

But as time went on, another group of teenagers started to trickle in to our Wednesday night Bible studies. The second group was mostly fatherless boys and girls, some of them gang members, all of them completely unfamiliar with the culture of the church and with the message of the gospel.

Some of them unwittingly reversed the Protestant Reformation by persistently calling me “Father Moore,” just because the only clergy they’d ever seen were Catholic priests in movies. Prayer request time often proved challenging, with one girl asking for prayer that she wouldn’t get pregnant that weekend since she’d run out of birth control pills and her boyfriend didn’t like to wear a condom. Some of them would show up in a cloud of marijuana. The church was so strange to them that they didn’t know what to hide.

The churched kids, though, learned the dark side of Bible Belt culture — how to know the books of the Bible in order, how to answer all the right questions in small group discussion, and how to get drunk, have sex, and smoke marijuana without their parents ever knowing it. Recognizing that many of the baptized kids in my orbit were, in fact, pagan, I shared the gospel, but I kept hitting wall after wall of invincible intelligence.

The “unchurched” kids laughed at the Bible studies based on television shows or songs of the moment. They weren’t impressed at all by the video clips provided by my denomination’s publisher, or by the knockoff Christian boy bands crooning about the hotness of sexual purity.

What riveted their attention wasn’t what was “relatable” to them, but what wasn’t. They were drawn not to our sameness but to our strangeness.

“So, like, you really believe this dead guy came back to life?” one of the unchurched 15-year-old boys asked me one day. “I do,” I replied. He said, “Wait, for real?” I responded, “Yep. For real.” He blinked and whispered, “Dude, that’s crazy.” But he stayed around, and he listened.

The churched kids, and some of their parents, were outraged. Didn’t I know, they asked, that some of these adolescents were in gangs, that they smoked weed, and had sex? It was beside the point that almost all of these things (save gang membership) were going on among the churched kids, too. The point was they knew how to behave.

I am convinced the next generation of Christian witness will be less like the Bible Belt kids I faced at the start of my ministry.

I explained that “how to behave” could be translated as “how to hide sin” through a cycle of Saturday decadence and Sunday repentance. But that didn’t change their minds. One teenager even quoted to me, “Bad company corrupts good morals” (1 Corinthians 15:33). The congregation was healthy so the vast majority of the parents supported me, as did the senior pastor. But I was rattled that we had to have this argument at all.

What I was dealing with was a culture war, in miniature. The churched families saw the lost kids from the outside as “the culture,” the very thing we were supposed to protect our families from. We were to be a little outpost of the Bible Belt, with pizza parties and family values, protecting our kids from teen pregnancy or drug addiction or anything else that might wreck their lives.

They couldn’t see that we were part of the culture, too, and the culture they wanted to war against was right there, upstairs from them in their own children’s bedrooms. The mission didn’t make sense to them, because they had forgotten who they were. They were not the first.

Increasingly, I am convinced that the next generation of Christian witness will be less like the Bible Belt kids I faced at the start of my ministry, with their rehearsed professions of faith and hidden rebellions.

The next generation will confront us more with that second sort of lostness, those for whom the Christian witness — right down to the basics — seems foreign and irrelevant and antiquated and freakish. Jesus didn’t hide the oddity of the culture of the kingdom, and neither should we.

Let’s listen to what our culture is saying, hearing beneath the veneer of cool the fear of a people who know that Judgment day is coming because it’s written in their hearts (Romans 2:15–16). Let’s listen beneath the cynicism to the longings there, expressed in the culture, longings that can only be fulfilled in the reign of a Nazarene carpenter-king. Let’s deconstruct what they — and we — tell ourselves when it’s nonsense.

But let’s not stop there. Let’s run toward, and not away from, the strangeness of an old gospel of a Messiah who was run out of his own hometown, but who, oddly enough, walked out of his own graveyard. For real.

But let’s do more than talk. Let’s live together in churches that call our neighbors to consider the justice and righteousness they see demonstrated among us. Let’s witness (albeit imperfectly and waveringly) to what the whole universe will one day look like.

Let’s confront culture with the gospel, in all its strangeness, both inside and outside the church.

Let’s groan at the wreckage all around us, in this world of divorce courts and abortion clinics and gas chambers, and let’s pray for the day when, as the hymn puts it, “every foe is vanquished and Christ is Lord indeed.”

Let’s show in the makeup and ministry and witness of our congregations what matters, and who matters, in the long run. Let’s confront culture with the gospel, in all its strangeness, both inside and outside the church. And let’s model what happens to a culture when the kingdom interrupts us on our way to where we would go, if we were mapping this out on our own.

Let’s not merely advocate for causes; let’s embody a kingdom. Let’s not aspire to be a moral majority, but a gospel community, one that doesn’t exist for itself, but for the larger mission of reaching the whole world with the whole gospel.

That sort of kingdom first cultural engagement drives us not inward, but onward.

The Judgment of God

May 28, 2018 by  
Filed under A Monday AM BLOG

Judgment is a recurring theme throughout the Bible (see Psalm 82:8). God’s plan includes a final judgment on the wicked and all who reject the sacrifice of Jesus Christ as payment for their sins (Matthew 10:15; Romans 2:2; Hebrews 9:27; 10:26–27). A cursory reading of 1 Peter 4:17 seems to suggest that Christians may face God’s judgment, too: “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” Is the “judgment” that begins at the house of God the same as the judgment of the wicked?

The context of 1 Peter 4:17 explains more about the judgment that begins at the household of God. In this chapter Peter is exhorting the church—the house of God—which was facing persecution, to persevere. The believers were also struggling to separate from the former worldly sins that had once enslaved them (verses 1–4). Peter reminds them that the wicked will face God’s judgment (verse 5) but that believers in Christ must hold themselves to a higher standard than they once did. The “fiery trials” that they were facing were to help refine them like gold (verse 12).

God allows difficulties and suffering in the lives of His people to purify them. When we are persecuted for the cause of Christ, we share in His sufferings (1 Peter 4:13–14). And when we share His suffering, we know Him a little better (Philippians 3:10). Paul echoes this theme in Romans 8:17: “Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” Part of God’s judgment upon sin is physical suffering. When His own children experience such suffering, it is not for our harm but to make us more like Jesus. “Judgment” for the children of God can be considered discipline (Hebrews 12:4–11). It is designed to purge the sin from our lives and teach us obedience.

A loving father does not discipline the kids down the street, because they are not his. A father disciplines his own children. Likewise, the discipline of our heavenly Father begins at His own household, with His own children, the church. He is reserving for the wicked an ultimate, final judgment that His children will never experience (Romans 8:1). Scripture makes a distinction between God’s purifying discipline of the church and His ultimate condemnation of the wicked: “When we are judged . . . by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world” (1 Corinthians 11:32).

In this present age, God allows painful circumstances in the lives of His own household, not to condemn but to mature, convict, and bring repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10). Through suffering we learn patience (James 1:2–4). This kind of judgment is to encourage us to abandon selfishness and draw nearer to Him (James 4:8). The ultimate, final judgment for unbelievers will be eternal separation from God, from life, and from all that is good and beautiful (Matthew 8:11–12; Revelation 21:8).

The judgment that begins at the household of God also includes church discipline. Church discipline is not for unbelievers but for believers: “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?” (1 Corinthians 5:12). Believers are commanded to take responsibility for other followers of Christ who may be slipping or headed toward sin (James 5:20). First Corinthians 5:11–13 commands us to avoid fellowship with anyone claiming to be a brother or sister in Christ but who insists on maintaining a sinful lifestyle. Jesus lays out the process for church discipline in Matthew 18:15–17. Someone who has been confronted multiple times and warned that the choices he is making are in opposition to God needs to repent. If he refuses to listen to the church, we are to turn away from him in the hope that this drastic action will bring about repentance (see 2 Corinthians 2:7 and Galatians 6:1). As believers, we are to pursue holiness and encourage each other to pursue it, too (1 Peter 1:15–16). We are to judge ourselves as God’s household (1 Corinthians 11:31). In this way, judgment begins in the house of God.

There will be another kind of judgment for all those who have been redeemed by God’s Son. Second Corinthians 5:10 says, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (cf. Romans 14:10). This judgment for those who are “in Christ” is not to determine eternal destiny but to give rewards for godly service and faithfulness (Matthew 16:27; Revelation 22:12). Jesus commanded us to store up treasure in heaven (Luke 12:33). This treasure will be revealed at the judgment seat of Christ. This glorious day will be more like an awards ceremony than a trial, because everyone present has already had their eternal fate secured when they were born again (John 3:3). Jesus Himself will give us crowns and treasure to enjoy for all eternity according to what we have done with all He had entrusted to us (Matthew 25:21).

God’s desire is that His people learn to walk in holiness and fellowship with Him (Romans 8:29). As any loving parent would do, God will bring unpleasant consequences upon His children for rebellion. He expects the ones He has redeemed by the blood of His Son to set the example for the rest of the world. If the church is not in pursuit of holiness, the world sees no need to change its allegiance.

What Is The Church

May 14, 2018 by  
Filed under A Monday AM BLOG

Many people today understand the church as a building. This is not a biblical understanding of the church. The word “church” comes from the Greek word ekklesia which is defined as “an assembly” or “called-out ones.” The root meaning of “church” is not that of a building, but of people. It is ironic that when you ask people what church they attend, they usually identify a building. Romans 16:5 says “… greet the church that is in their house.” Paul refers to the church in their house—not a church building, but a body of believers.

The church is the body of Christ, of which He is the head. Ephesians 1:22-23 says, “And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” The body of Christ is made up of all believers in Jesus Christ from the day of Pentecost (Acts chapter 2) until Christ’s return. The body of Christ is comprised of two aspects:

1) The universal church consists of all those who have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink” (1 Corinthians 12:13). This verse says that anyone who believes is part of the body of Christ and has received the Spirit of Christ as evidence. The universal church of God is all those who have received salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.

2) The local church is described in Galatians 1:1-2: “Paul, an apostle … and all the brothers with me, to the churches in Galatia.” Here we see that in the province of Galatia there were many churches—what we call local churches. A Baptist church, Lutheran church, Catholic church, etc., is not the church, as in the universal church—but rather is a local church, a local body of believers. The universal church is comprised of those who belong to Christ and who have trusted Him for salvation. These members of the universal church should seek fellowship and edification in a local church.

In summary, the church is not a building or a denomination. According to the Bible, the church is the body of Christ—all those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ for salvation (John 3:16; 1 Corinthians 12:13). Local churches are gatherings of members of the universal church. The local church is where the members of the universal church can fully apply the “body” principles of 1 Corinthians chapter 12: encouraging, teaching, and building one another up in the knowledge and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.

7 Characteristics of False Teachers

April 14, 2018 by  
Filed under A Monday AM BLOG

“There were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you.” (2 Peter 2:1)

There are no “ifs, ands, or buts” in Peter’s words. It’s a clear and definite statement. There were false prophets among the people (of Israel in the Old Testament). That’s a matter of history. False prophets were a constant problem in the Old Testament, and those who falsely claimed to be prophets of God were to be stoned. The people rarely had the will to deal with them, so they multiplied, causing disaster to the spiritual life of God’s people.

In the same way Peter says, “There will be false teachers among you.” Notice the words “among you.” Peter is writing to the church and says, “There will be false prophets among you.” So he is not talking about New Age people on television. He is talking about people in the local church, members of a local congregation.

There is no such thing as a pure church this side of heaven. You will never find it. The wheat and the tares grow together. Warren Wiersbe writes:

Satan is the counterfeiter. . . . He has a false gospel (Galatians 1:6-9), preached by false ministers (2 Corinthians 11:13-12), producing false Christians (2 Corinthians 11:26). . . . Satan plants his counterfeits wherever God plants true believers (Matthew 13:38).

Authentic or Counterfeit?

How would you recognize counterfeit Christianity?

In 2 Peter 1 we read about genuine believers. And in 2 Peter 2 we read about counterfeit believers. If you put these chapters side by side you will see the difference between authentic and counterfeit believers.

1. Different SourceWhere does the message come from?

Peter says, “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:16). And then he says the false teachers exploit you “with stories they have made up” (2:3). So the true teacher sources what he says from the Bible. The false teacher relies on his own creativity. He makes up his own message.

2. Different MessageWhat is the substance of the message?

For the true teacher, Jesus Christ is central. “We have everything we need for life and godliness in Him” (1:3). For the false teacher, Jesus is at the margins: “They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them” (2:1).

Notice the word secretly. It’s rare for someone in church to openly deny Jesus. Movement away from the centrality of Christ is subtle. The false teacher will speak about how other people can help change your life, but if you listen carefully to what he is saying, you will see that Jesus Christ is not essential to his message.

3. Different PositionIn what position will the message leave you?

The true Christian “escapes the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (1:4). Listen to how Peter describes the counterfeit Christian: “They promise . . . freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity, for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him” (2:19). The true believer is escaping corruption, while the counterfeit believer is mastered by it.

4. Different CharacterWhat kind of people does the message produce?

The true believer pursues goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brother kindness, and love (1:5). The counterfeit Christian is marked by arrogance and slander (2:10). They are “experts in greed” and “their eyes are full of adultery” (2:14). They also “despise authority” (2:10). This is a general characteristic of a counterfeit believer.

5. Different AppealWhy should you listen to the message?

The true teacher appeals to Scripture. “We have the word of the prophets made more certain and you will do well to pay attention to it” (1:19). God has spoken, and the true teacher appeals to his Word. The false teacher makes a rather different appeal: “By appealing to the lustful desires of sinful human nature, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error” (2:18). So the true teacher asks, “What has God said in his Word?” The false teacher asks, “What do people want to hear? What will appeal to their flesh?”

6. Different FruitWhat result does the message have in people’s lives?

The true believer is effective and productive in his or her knowledge of Jesus Christ (1:8). The counterfeit is “like a spring without water” (2:17). This is an extraordinary picture! They promise much but produce little.

7. Different EndWhere does the message ultimately lead you?

Here we find the most disturbing contrast of all. The true believer will receive “a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:11). The false believer will experience “swift destruction” (2:1). “Their condemnation has long been hanging over them and their destruction has not been sleeping” (2:3).

Jesus tells us that there will be many who have been involved in ministry in his name, to whom he will say, “Depart from me; I never knew you” (Matthew 7:21). Who are these people? Surely Peter is describing them in this passage.

Don’t Be Naïve

We must not be ignorant: “There will be false teachers among you” (2:1). So how do we apply this warning?

First, Peter’s plain statement reminds us that the church needs to be protected. Among the many wonderful people who come to through the doors of the church each year, some would do more harm than good.

They may seem the nicest of people, but they do not believe in the authority of the Bible or the exclusivity of salvation in Christ. We welcome such people, because they need Christ as much as we do, but we must not allow them to have influence in the church.

Second, skeptics will always be able to point to hypocrisy and inconsistency in the church. They’ve always done it, and they always will. One of the strangest reasons for not following Christ goes like this: “I’ve seen people in the church who are hypocrites.” So you will not follow Christ because some people who claim to do so are hypocrites?

The existence of the counterfeit is never a good reason for rejecting the genuine. Peter essentially tells us, “Of course there are counterfeit Christians. Of course there are teachers who do the church more harm than good. What else would you expect in this fallen world? Grow up! Don’t be naïve! Don’t miss what’s real simply because you have seen the counterfeit.”

Point to 2 Peter 2:1 the next time you meet someone hiding behind this excuse.

Ten Year Trends

March 10, 2018 by  
Filed under A Monday AM BLOG

These Trends are posted by Ed Stetzer. I do not agree with everythin he has written (tcf)

3 Important Church Trends in the Next 10 Years

Christianity in the United States may look very different in 10 years. |Ed Stetzer


As someone who both cares about the mission of the church and leads a research organization, I watch the trends in the church and the culture. Occasionally, someone asks me to share some thoughts on the big picture, in the case of the North American context, questions related to “streams” of Protestantism.

Based on research, statistics, extrapolation, and (I hope) some insight, I notice 3 important trends continuing in the next 10 years.

Trend #1: The Hemorrhaging of Mainline Protestantism

This trend is hardly news—mainliners will tell you of this hemorrhaging and of their efforts to reverse it.

Mainline Protestantism is perhaps the best known portion of Protestantism, often represented by what are called the “seven sisters” of the mainline churches. Mainline churches are more than these, but these seven are the best known, perhaps:

  • United Methodist Church
  • Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)
  • Episcopal Church
  • Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
  • American Baptist Churches
  • United Church of Christ (UCC)
  • The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

They tend to fall on the progressive side of the theological continuum, but there is diversity of theology as well (Methodists, as a whole, are probably most conservative, for example).

Mainline Protestantism is in trouble and in substantive decline. Some are trying to reverse this, through evangelism and church planting initiatives.

However, this is an uphill battle and, as a whole, mainline Protestantism will continue its slide.

According to the General Social Survey (GSS), about 30 percent of Americans would self-identify (through their denominational selection) as mainline Protestants in 1972. Now they are down to 15 percent. In other words, based on the GSS, they lost half their people over 40 years.

Now, the GSS is not the same as membership rolls and attendance numbers, but it does reflect people’s connection. And, if that trend continues, the math does not look good.

Trend #2: Continued Growth of Pentecostalism and the Charismatic Movement

The second thing I think you’re going to continue to see is the continued growth of Pentecostalism and the charismatic movement. The Charismatics and Pentecostals have already won the worship war—most churches are now comfortable with what would be “Calvary Chapel” worship in 1980. They are in the process of winning the spiritual gifts debate concerning cessationism, a view which seems in decline in the next generation.

Yes, that growth has slowed in North America and the charismatic practices (both inside and outside of the movement) have also been tamed.

In other words, Pentecostals and charismatics are growing and influencing, but they also look a lot less like the Pentecostals and charismatics of a few decades ago.

Many in the movement are shying away from the oddities and excesses of Pentecostalism, while evangelicals are moving towards the theology of Spirit-filled and Spirit-led ministries.

I see both of those trends continuing.

Trend #3: Networks will Explode in Number and Influence

Denominations still matter—and they actually, for example, do most of the church planting in North America. However, networks are growing in influence and impact.

Ironically, some networks are going to become denominations (or denomination-like). For example, both the Vineyard and Calvary Chapel, some of the early forerunners of networks, basically function like denominations today.

Networks are predominantly made up of nondenominational evangelical churches. The fastest growing category in North America is nondenominational evangelicalism—so growth here is inevitable.

The future is less mainline denominations or flat evangelical denominations, and more nondenominational evangelical networks.

All of these trends have implications—some good, and some not so good. But, facts are our friends. As we look to the years ahead, we need to do so with discernment and hope about what God is doing in the world through his churches.


Can Ministry Effectiveness Be Measured?

February 25, 2018 by  
Filed under A Monday AM BLOG

How do you measure effectiveness in ministry? Among church leaders, the gauge has shifted in the last 20 years.

In the early 1980s, when I began observing ministry closely and editing a journal for church leaders, the prevailing assumption was that effectiveness equaled attracting a crowd. Leaders would downplay the eternal significance of counting “nickels and noses,” but increased attendance and offerings were seen as evidence of success.

“A healthy church is a growing church,” we heard repeatedly.

In the last 20 years, however, we’ve witnessed plenty of ministries that touch lots of people but leave no discernible mark upon them. Some pastors have confessed, “We can attract a crowd but not know what to do with them, other than invite them to come back next week.”

More recently, church leaders have been seeking better ways to gauge whether their ministry is faithful and effective.


The most obvious indicator is lives that are transformed.

In a recent Christianity Today column (“A Healthy Cult”), Charles Colson provides a snapshot of effectiveness, in this case, in a prison ministry. Most prisons, he writes, are dirty, depressing places. “Men and women shuffle around listlessly with vacant expressions and their heads down. Anger, bitterness, and corruption are prevalent; one seldom hears laughter or sees signs of mirth.”

But in a prison in Newton, Iowa, the environment is different. There, after several years of Christian ministry, inmates “have a sense of purpose — people are busy with work or classes from early morning to lights out. There is little time for TV or lying around on bunks. They are building community, helping one another, and willingly obeying the rules.”

It’s a case of a culture being transformed. “The process begins when the believers band together in a loving fellowship, a “church,” really. Then they evangelize … Though in the minority at first, the Christian prisoners take biblical teaching to heart and boldly live it out. Others begin to follow their example and soon they reach a critical mass.”

In time the whole group, almost unconsciously, adopts different standards. Thus, Colson concludes, “we tend to evaluate churches by the classic marks: preaching, the sacraments, and discipline. But a fourth might be added: its impact on culture.”

Colson’s vision of ministry changing an entire culture is breathtaking in its scope. On a more modest scale, how can individual congregations monitor their progress toward that kind of impact, even if their entire city or county isn’t totally transformed within a few years?


Here are vital signs that pastors are monitoring (measured in percentages):

  1. Pre-Christians in worship services and outreach events (start with a goal of 15 percent and work up).
  2. Church members trained in sharing their faith (25 percent and up).
  3. Worship attenders who are part of a small group for prayer/Bible study (60 percent and up).
  4. Church members who have identified their spiritual gifts and are exercising them in some way for God’s kingdom (aim for 60 percent and up). Such “by the numbers” approaches to measuring effectiveness are helpful, but some harder-to-quantify intangibles also help describe a church’s fitness.


Recently Leith Anderson, in a Leadership article (“7 Ways to Rate Your Church”), listed several tests of a healthy church atmosphere:

  1. Do people sense the presence of God here? “Experiencing the supernatural dwarfs everything else in rating a church’s atmosphere,” says Anderson.
  2. Is the church others-centered? Are people interested in new people, in what they need, and how they can help?
  3. Will guests see someone “who looks like me”? The more diversity of race, income level, and age, the more accessible the congregation will be to a range of seekers.
  4. Does the church manage conflict? What makes a healthy church is not the absence of problems but how problems are handled.
  5. Is there a sense of expectancy? Listen to how people describe the church. Is the primary verb tense past, present, or future? Healthy churches don’t focus on what God “used to do” around here, but on what God is doing, and on dreams for the future.

Ultimately, of course, we won’t know until we hear God’s “well done, good and faithful servant.”

Five Reasons Why Churches Are Dying and Declining Faster Today

January 25, 2018 by  
Filed under A Monday AM BLOG

In the past, I’ve been able to lead churches to growth. I can’t do it anymore. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

A pastor shared those sentences with me just three days ago.

He was frustrated. He was confused. He was exhausted.

And he is not alone.

With some exceptions, it is indeed more difficult to lead churches to growth. Such is a reality that is about 15 years in the making. The obvious question is “Why?” Allow me to articulate five of those reasons.

  1. Cultural Christianity is declining rapidly. It is really a misnomer to call it “cultural Christianity,” since it’s not true faith in Christ. In the past, many people felt it was culturally, economically, or politically advantageous to be a part of a congregation, even if they weren’t true believers in Christ. These attending non-believers padded our numbers. Or to say it another way, the pool of willing attenders has diminished greatly.

  2. The exit of the Builder generation. The Builder generation has kept many churches alive, even if the congregations are on life support. This generation, born before 1946, is fiercely loyal to institutions, including local churches. They stuck with congregations in good and bad times. But, in 2015, there were only 28 million Builders left. Another 13,000 Builders die every week. The loyal generation is few in number and will soon be no more.

  3. Migration from rural areas and small towns to the cities. In 1790, only 5% of Americans lived in cities. By the 1960s, the percentage of Americans in cities skyrocketed to 65%. Today over 80% of Americans are city dwellers. Rural and small-town churches held on tenaciously to their members for over two centuries. But the population base for those tenacious churches has dwindled dramatically.

  4. Faster church transfers. Those who are transferring from one church to another are concentrating in fewer churches. Simply stated, a few churches are getting bigger at the expense of smaller churches. While that phenomenon has been in play for quite a while, it is now accelerating. The old barrier that held people in specific churches – family connections, denominational loyalty, and loyalty to a specific congregation – are no longer barriers today. People move with great freedom from church to church.

  5. Slow response to change as change accelerates all around us. Many churches are incredibly slow to change. For most of our American history, the pace of cultural and technological change was sufficiently paced for churches to lag only five to ten years. Now churches are lagging 20 and 30 years as the pace of change increases dramatically. To many attendees and members, the church thus seems increasingly irrelevant. To be clear, I am speaking about issues of style, methodology, and awareness, not changing doctrine or biblical truths. A church guest I recently interviewed said it clearly: “I stuck with my parents’ church as long as I could. But when we had a big blow up over projection screens in the worship center, I had enough. I wanted to go to a church where matters of minutia were not issues to fight over.”

If you think it is more difficult to lead a church to growth, you are right. If you have noticed the decline in your church is greater, you are probably right as well. And if you are to the point of realization that your church may die in the next few years, it may come sooner than that.

Change or DIE!!

January 13, 2018 by  
Filed under A Monday AM BLOG

Another church closed. This church had unbelievable potential. Indeed, it had its own “glory days,” but only for a season. But, 10 years ago, few would have predicted this church’s closure. Today, it is but another statistic in the ecclesiastical graveyard.

I know. We don’t compromise doctrine. I know. We must never say we will change God’s Word.

But many of our congregations must change. They must change or they will die.

I call these churches “the urgent church.” Time is of the essence. If changes do not happen soon, very soon, these churches will die. The pace of congregational death is accelerating.

What, then, are some of the key changes churches must make? Allow me to give you a fair warning. None of them are easy. Indeed, they are only possible in God’s power. Here are nine of them:

  1. We must stop bemoaning the death of cultural Christianity. Such whining does us no good. Easy growth is simply not a reality for many churches. People no longer come to a church because they believe they must do so to be culturally accepted. The next time a church member says, “They know where we are; they can come here if they want to,” rebuke him. Great Commission Christianity is about going; it’s not “y’all come.”
  2. We must cease seeing the church as a place of comfort and stability in the midst of rapid change. Certainly, God’s truth is unchanging. So we do find comfort and stability in that reality. But don’t look to your church not to change methods, approaches, and human-made traditions. Indeed, we must learn to be uncomfortable in the world if we are to make a difference. “We’ve never done it that way before,” is a death declaration.
  3. We must abandon the entitlement mentality. Your church is not a country club where you pay dues to get your perks and privileges. It is a gospel outpost where you are to put yourself last. Don’t seek to get your way with the music, temperature, and length of sermons. Here is a simple guideline: Be willing to die for the sake of the gospel. That’s the opposite of the entitlement mentality.
  4. We must start doing.  Most of us like the idea of evangelism more than we like doing evangelism. Try a simple prayer and ask God to give you gospel opportunities. You may be surprised how He will use you.
  5. We must stop using biblical words in unbiblical ways. “Discipleship” does not mean caretaking. “Fellowship” does not mean entertainment.
  6. We must stop focusing on minors. Satan must delight when a church spends six months wrangling over a bylaw change. That’s six months of gospel negligence.
  7. We must stop shooting our own. This tragedy is related to the entitlement mentality. If we don’t get our way, we will go after the pastor, the staff member, or the church member who has a different perspective than our own. We will even go after their families. Don’t let bullies and perpetual critics control the church. Don’t shoot our own. It’s not friendly fire.
  8. We must stop wasting time in unproductive meetings, committees, and business sessions. Wouldn’t it be nice if every church member could only ask one question or make one comment in a meeting for every time he or she has shared his or her faith the past week?
  9. We must become houses of prayer. Stated simply, we are doing too much in our own power. We are really busy, but we are not doing the business of God.

Around 200 churches will close this week, maybe more. The pace will accelerate unless our congregations make some dramatic changes. The need is urgent.

Hear me well, church leaders and church members. For many of your churches the choice is simple: change or die.

« Previous PageNext Page »