Archives For Culture

Shouting

When it comes to engaging in public policy and challenging today’s culture, one of the least likely strategies is one built around criticism. The growing number of churches and ministries that are constantly “against something” has always been a disturbing trend. On a regular basis, I see an avalanche of direct mail campaigns and magazine articles by organizations upset about the latest movie, court decision, TV show, cartoon series, or mad at the homosexual community or some other special interest group.

But while a healthy debate is the cornerstone of a vibrant democracy, the truth is, just being critical changes very little.  After all, as Christians, we of all people should be known as being for something. We have the greatest story in the world, but instead of focusing on that story, we continually get distracted by turning our focus on issues peripheral to our real calling.

Yes – many of these issues are important. Christians are American citizens, with every right to vote our conscience and speak in the public square. It’s one of the reasons I support My Faith Votes. We also have the right to campaign against candidates or issues…

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Kindness

Years ago, when I was serving as a preaching pastor in a church, I was approached by an eleven year-old in our congregation who wanted to introduce me to his friend, Jared. Jared was on his soccer team, and had never been to church before. After a few minutes of talking, Jared told me that he needed prayer, that his Dad had left, and he didn’t know what his family was going to do. He wondered if I might pray that God would “put my Mom and Dad back together.” I prayed with him, and he turned to go back to his seat. He was wearing a shirt celebrating the inauguration of a President who was unpopular with most of the people in my mostly white, blue-collar congregation. As I watched this young man walk down his first-ever church aisle, to hear the gospel perhaps for the first time, a middle-aged man walked past him and huffed, “We need to get you a better shirt.”

I was incredulous. I wanted to yell, “He’s lost. He’s wounded. He’s hurting. He doesn’t know Christ, and you’re worried about this shirt!” My church member was lacking…

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By Bob Smietana

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — When it comes to finances, the new normal for American churches seems to be “just getting by.”

A third of Protestant senior pastors say their church’s giving was under budget in 2015, according to LifeWay Research.

One in five saw their finances decline.

Overall, about half of pastors say the economy negatively affected their churches this year.

Scott McConnell, associate director of LifeWay Research, says pastors are still uneasy about their church’s finances.

“Wages grew in 2015, and inflation and unemployment remained low,” said McConnell. “Yet the financial picture for many churches did not improve.”

LifeWay Research has polled Protestant pastors about their churches and the economy since 2009. During that time, pastors reported the sluggish economy’s toll on their churches has lessened.

In October 2010, most pastors (80 percent) said the economy negatively impacted their church. That number dropped to 64 percent in 2012 and then 56 percent by 2014.

The most recent telephone survey of 1,000 Protestant senior pastors found 51 percent said the economy is hurting their church – the lowest total since LifeWay began researching the topic. One in 8 (13 percent) say the economy had a positive effect on…

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During this pivotal year of electing the next President of the United States, we need to be wise with our words and actions. There is much passion rising in America during this season.

These are serious times. It is in the air. We sense it, feel it, and know it in our heart. Much is at stake. This is unquestionable and undeniable.

Yet, it may do well for each of us to remember these things during the election season:

1. Keep everything in perspective.

God is sovereign over all human affairs. Regardless of who wins the nomination of your preferred party or who wins the election, God is ultimately in charge. Keep everything in perspective.

I am not advocating passivism. I am calling for each of us to keep perspective. Our hope and trust is ultimately in the Lord.

2. Be involved in the process.

I am deeply convicted that each Christ-follower needs to be involved in the processes of electing our next president. We need to know about the candidates, understand what they believe, measure it by the Word of God, and vote as we believe God is leading us. Yes, we need to vote not only in the…

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By Lisa Cannon Green

No sabbatical. No help with counseling. No clear picture of what’s expected.

Hundreds of former senior pastors say these were the crucial elements missing from the final churches they led before quitting the pastorate.

A recent study by LifeWay Research points to ways churches can encourage pastors to stay in the ministry, said Ed Stetzer, Executive Director of the Nashville-based research organization.

“Almost half of those who left the pastorate said their church wasn’t doing any of the kinds of things that would help,” Stetzer said. “Having clear documents, offering a sabbatical rest, and having people help with weighty counseling cases are key things experts tell us ought to be in place.”

LifeWay Research surveyed 734 former senior pastors who left the pastorate before retirement age in four Protestant denominations.

Trouble begins early, the survey indicates, with 48 percent of the former pastors saying the search team didn’t accurately describe the church before their arrival.

Their churches were unlikely to have a list of counselors for referrals (27 percent), clear documentation of the church’s expectations of its pastor (22 percent), a sabbatical plan for the pastor (12 percent), a lay counseling ministry (9…

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On Wednesday, August 28, 1963, one of the largest and arguably most significant political and human rights gatherings in the history of the United States took place.

Over 250,000 people descended onto our nation’s capital that day for what is called The March on Washington (for Jobs and Freedom), organized primarily by leading representatives of several pivotal organizations to the civil rights movement.

With such legendary artists and activists like Joan Baez, Roy Wilkins, Bob Dylan, Mahalia Jackson, John Lewis, and Marian Anderson all on the program calling for an end to racial injustice, no voice was heard louder and words more memorable than of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the keynote speaker for the event.

What historians regard as the most important speech of the 20thcentury, King, who then was just 34 years old, masterfully fused the words of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bible, and Samuel Francis Smith’s “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee,” in order to share his now infamous dream of a nation free of racism.

While it is nearly impossible to share in one article all of the major progress we have made as a nation as well as…

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Looking at the direction of the culture, the shape of trends, and the current challenges we face, here’s a handful of ideas to look for in 2016. I strongly recommend that you share this with pastors, ministry and nonprofit leaders you know, because from a media perspective, these are the critical areas that I believe we should focus our messages on in the coming year:

People will be looking for deep answers, not just “practical” advice.  The last 20 years has been a time of “practical” teaching in the church. It was based on the assumption (not always wrong) that people needed to look at the Bible for answers to everyday questions. But too many pastors started preaching shallow topics like “The 5 Keys to a Successful Marriage,” “3 Steps to God’s Healing Power,” or “The Secrets of a Better Prayer Life.” Many of those topics may have been helpful, but if you look at the Christian section at a typical bookstore, it doesn’t look much different than the secular self-help section. Our message has become Oprah in a “Christianized” package.

Colleges are getting the same message by the way. After the last 50 years of…

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By Lisa Cannon Green

In January, Americans resolve to cut the carbs, hit the gym — and get right with God.

When Americans make New Year’s resolutions, a better relationship with God ranks almost as high as better health, Nashville-based LifeWay Research finds.

And for many groups, faith actually outranks health. Older Americans, African-Americans, Hispanics, and Christians are all more likely to say they’ve made resolutions about God than about health.

Overall, 57 percent of Americans report making health-related New Year’s resolutions in the past, while 52 percent say they’ve addressed their relationship with God. Those are the top two responses in a LifeWay Research survey of 1,000 Americans.

“We don’t hear a lot of talk about it, but a relationship with God is still something people want,” said Scott McConnell, vice president of LifeWay Research.

“They have time at the holidays to think, and they realize what they didn’t do last year — things they value but are not living out. So they start the year with an aspiration to change.”

Topics of resolve

While health and faith are the leading topics for New Year’s resolutions, Americans also report addressing their use of time (43 percent), relationships with a family…

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It’s happened again. Unbelievable atrocities as terrorists erupt violence on hundreds of innocent bystanders.

The images filling our screens and feeds send a shudder up our spine and fill our minds with questions.  Questions like:

  • Why did this happen?
  • How is this possible?
  • What should be our response?
  • When will the madness end?

The Bible, unlike any other book in history, gives us the:

ANSWERS TO OUR DEEPEST QUESTIONS

1. The answer to WHY is sin, not evil.

Evil is not a presence, principle or person. Evil is an outcome. It is the result of people who have made the conscious choice to act on their sinful nature. Sin is the cause and evil is the effect. The greater a person embraces the sin in their heart, the more heinous are the actions of their hands. (see Genesis 4:7)

And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil.” (John 3:19, NLT)

2. The answer to HOW is confusion.

We have convinced ourselves that diplomacy, policy and democracy have the power to cure or possibly control sin. No amount of teaching, technology, tolerance, treaties or…

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How do we engage the culture with convictional kindness? How do we remain compassionate and loving, even in the face of intense opposition and hostility? If we’re going to be obedient in this, we must have confidence.

As I wrote this, I was simultaneously watching a number of discouraging fissures within churches and ministries. Some of them involved leaders falling. Some involved petty disputes between Christians that resemble Hollywood actors in grudge-matches over whose dressing room is bigger. I told a friend that this made me all the more in awe of the ministry of Paul. After all, we have two thousand years of history behind us. He was battling external threats of arrest, and internal wrestling in the churches with heresy and immorality. And all he had to go on was a career wrecked by a light and a voice.

Paul said that the false teachers were the equivalent of Jannes and Jambres, the Egyptian magicians who mimicked Moses’ and Aaron’s signs from God with their own occultist power (Exod. 7:11-12). God’s servants authenticated their sending from God by transforming a staff into a writhing, living serpent. But Pharaoh’s court magicians turned back their…

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By Lisa Cannon Green

Pope Francis is boosting the reputation of the Catholic Church among Protestant pastors in America.

Nearly 4 in 10 say the pope, known for his humility and concern for the poor, has had a positive impact on their opinions of the Catholic Church, LifeWay Research finds. Almost two-thirds view Pope Francis as a genuine Christian and “brother in Christ.”

However, half of Protestant pastors say they do not value Pope Francis’ opinion on matters of theology.

Changing views

LifeWay Research asked 1,000 Protestant pastors in America about their views in a phone survey from Sept. 8-21, 2015, shortly before the pontiff’s visit to the United States this week.

Pope Francis, who in March 2013 became the first non-European and first Jesuit priest to be named pope, has been outspoken on such issues as welcoming immigrants, shunning materialism, and protecting the environment.

For 43 percent of Protestant pastors, Pope Francis has not changed their views of the Catholic Church. However, half say the current pope has affected their opinions—and almost three times as many cite a positive impact (37 percent) as a negative one (14 percent).

“Our sample itself—Protestant pastors—is named after the Protestant…

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There are two key mistakes American Christians tend to make when thinking about the intersection of religion and culture. The first is to have an attitude of a “majority” culture, a mindset that incorrectly conflates a civic morality with Christianity and seeks to build coalitions to “turn America back” to Christ. But there is another mistake too, and that is to have a fearful, hand-wringing siege mentality. While it’s true that religious liberty is genuinely imperiled, perhaps more than at any time since the revolutionary era, we will not be able to articulate our commitments in this arena if we don’t know how to differentiate between state persecution and cultural marginalization, between public oppression and personal offense.

Several years ago, I was flipping through magazines on an airplane when I came across a couple of pages that spiked my blood pressure. A beer advertisement was tagged with the headline, “Silent Nights Are Overrated.” A few minutes later, in a second publication, there was an advertisement for an outdoor grill which read: “Who Says It’s Better to Give Than to Receive?” My first reaction was a personal, if not tribal, offense. “Would they advertise in…

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