Archives For Culture

It’s been a terrible couple of weeks for much of the world. And when the world shows its terrible side, the church gets to speak prophetically, with truth, grace, and hope to our communities and to our culture. There’s never been a more appropriate time for us, as Christians, to ask ourselves what Jesus wants his movement, his people, his Kingdom to stand for.

We will never agree on every socio-political issue, and we’ll all interpret the Scriptures and the life of Jesus a little differently. But there are certainly some big themes that we can agree on. Some principles reflect the values of Scripture, as modeled and taught by Jesus, and as exemplified by a freshly commissioned early New Testament church. They are timeless values that have the power to bring redemption and healing to a broken humanity. Here are at least 4…

Equality. Justice. Mercy. Liberty.

These are all good ideas. And they were originally God’s ideas.

We stand for Equality

God thought up humanity. He thought you up, along with every other person on the planet. And because we all bear God’s image – old, young, born, unborn, rich, poor, male, female, slave, free – we possess inherent…

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The past week reeks of blood. We saw the cellphone videos of black men killed by police officers in Baton Rouge and Falcon Heights. We saw a terrorist ambush on police in Dallas, killing at least 5 officers and injuring 7. The country reels beneath all this violence. So how should a pastor speak to this on Sunday? Here are a few suggestions.

1) Pray specifically for the families of those killed, by name.

One of the most chilling aspects of the violence we see around us is the attempt at invisibility, as though those who are killed lived lives that didn’t matter. This is not new. After Cain killed Abel, he chafed at even the reminder of his existence (Gen. 4). Read aloud as you pray the names that we have:

Pray not only for their families to be comforted, but also for justice to be served, that others – whether police officers protecting a rally or African-American young men in any given city in America – would no longer be unjustly killed.

2) Lead your congregation in a time of lament.

Too often our worship is discordant from both the example of the Bible and the lived experience…

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By Bob Smietana

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Americans who don’t go to church are happy to talk about religion and often think about the meaning of life.

They’re open to taking part in community service events hosted at a church or going to a church concert.

But only about a third say they’d go to a worship service, if invited by a friend. Few think about what happens after they die.

Those are among the findings of a new online survey of 2,000 unchurched Americans from Nashville-based LifeWay Research. The survey, conducted in partnership with the Wheaton, Illinois-based Billy Graham Center for Evangelism, found more than half of Americans who don’t go to church identify as Christians.

But they are mostly indifferent to organized religion, says Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research.

“Unchurched Americans aren’t hostile to faith,” he says. “They just don’t think church is for them.”

Talking about faith isn’t taboo

For this survey, “unchurched” means those who have not attended a worship service in the last six months, outside of a holiday or special occasion like a wedding.

Among their characteristics:

  • Two-thirds (67 percent) are white
  • Just over half (53 percent) are male
  • About half (47 percent) have a…

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I recently told a friend, who happens to be agnostic, that he “shouldn’t” go to church. I know. That was dumb, right? I really didn’t mean that he should avoid attending church. Rather I meant that he, as a non-believer, wasn’t under any particular moral duty to attend church on the weekends.

Instead of feeling as if he should attend church, I wanted him to understand that he could attend. He could freely and he would be welcome. He would be loved. He would be accepted and treated like family. And… it might even be good for him. No, not a good thing for him to do… a good thing for him. See the difference? I don’t embrace moralistic therapeutic deism. I don’t think the weekend worship service is about making people better.

The worship service is all about magnifying the redemptive Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection for sinners and how he is the one and only saving King for all of eternity! But … I still think church can make life better for people, even when they don’t believe the core message of the Gospel.

Why does this matter? It matters because of where our culture is in relationship to the church. There are two primary reasons people have…

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One of the reasons I say that it is good for American Christianity to no longer think of itself as a “moral majority” is that such a mentality obscures the strangeness of the Gospel. When a vision of Christian political engagement hinges on building a politically viable network of ideologically united voters, Christ and him crucified will tend to be a stumbling block, not a rallying point.

Some sectors of religious activism chafe when we say that Christianity has always been and will always be a minority viewpoint in Western culture. Minorities do not exert influence, they will contend, on the culture or the systems around it. The temptation is to pretend to be a majority, even if one is not.

But this is a profoundly Darwinian way of viewing the world, like a frightened animal puffing out its chest in order to seem larger and fiercer, in the hopes of scaring off predators. Such is not the way of Christ.  The church of Jesus Christ is never a majority, in any fallen culture, even if we happen to outnumber…

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Creativity matters in ministry. It matters because God is creative. He’s the most creative being in the entire universe. It only makes sense that we serve God with our creatively.

How do you develop a culture of innovation in your church?

You need a theology of innovation. We are most like our creator when we’re creative. God wired us to be creative. Children are very creative. They are born creative. It’s normal. We get the creativity kicked out of us as time goes by. We learn to be afraid. But a theology of innovation always reminds us that God intends us to be creative.

You need a creative atmosphere. There are certain environments I can be very creative in, and certain environments where I can’t. At Saddleback, we’ve never had a boardroom or the big boardroom-style table that comes with that. We have recliners. Meetings don’t start at Saddleback until we kick our feet up. It’s when I get in a totally prone position that I can be the most creative and can discover what God would have us do.

You need to stay playful. Playfulness stimulates creativity. When you get people laughing, you get the endorphins…

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Foundations

The Bible says, in John 7:13, “No one had the courage to speak favorably about Jesus in public” (NLT). Even some of history’s greatest spokespeople for the gospel have struggled in their resolve to proclaim the truth boldly. The Bible says in Acts 18:9, “One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: ‘Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent'” (NIV).

In our current cultural climate, it’s more intimidating than ever to stand up for biblical truths that are seen as politically incorrect. And in order to do so, courageously, believers need a thorough understanding of the world that is framed by Scripture.

Everyone thinks about the world through a particular lens, or filter. We refer to this filter as someone’s “worldview.” And in our post-Christian culture, most Christians have a non-Christian worldview. In other words, a big part of our preaching assignment is helping our listeners to see the world through the lens of a biblical worldview.

Our task is not necessarily to shape the specific opinions that people should have on a particular topic, unless the Bible directly and clearly addresses it. Instead, our job is to present a biblical worldview…

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I often hear from some Christians who argue that we should disengage from social or political issues. Particularly around election season, these Christians will reason that we shouldn’t be speaking to political or cultural topics, since the New Testament seems not to.

These Christians have a point. Unlike the prophets toward both Israel and the surrounding nations, Jesus and the apostles seem relatively unperturbed by the moral climate of the Roman Empire. The New Testament church wasn’t mobilizing for political change on matters like slavery or gladiator-fighting or empire-building wars.

But this is to be expected. The New Testament was written almost exclusively to a group of believers who lacked any social or political power, and who thus bore no accountability for decisions made in the cultural and political spheres. But even though Rome was no democracy and the apostles had no say in what the Emperor decided, we can see the New Testament pointing us to callings informed by the gospel, even in what we might consider “politics.”

John the Baptist called the crowds to repentance. A drunk coming to be baptized would have been told to repent of intoxication. An adulterer would have been…

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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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