Monday, May 30, 2011

The Church and numbers and seasons. Good Read

Church Growth vs. Church Seasons
Not every church is in the "my, how you've grown" stage, and that's okay.
Jay Childs

Monday, November 29, 2010

When we first came to Midland Free Church in 1990, about 80-90 people were attending, but shortly thereafter, the church began to grow. Then we exploded with growth. Over the next 15 years, we watched attendance grow to 1,500 on two different church campuses.
These years were fun, stressful, hectic, and exciting. I will never forget them!
As attendance climbed, we did the normal American thing—we built bigger facilities. We assumed the growth would never stop.
In 1996 we moved to a 14-acre campus, then in February of 2005, we moved into an even larger third campus. We beefed up our staff for the next anticipated growth phase É which we all knew was right around the corner.
But then something happened. We stopped accumulating numbers as we had for the previous 15 years. For the first time, we "leveled out" numerically. We kept attracting new people, but we also started losing more than we had before.
The new facility was so spacious that many were caught off guard by a feeling of "being lost in a crowd." Gradually a number of core families, who had been a part of Midland Free for years, began making their way to the exits.
As one exiting, former elder told me, "I didn't sign up for this—large video screens and a loud band … no offense, but it's just not us anymore."
Over the next several years, we lost about a third of our congregation to job transfers and unhappy people leaving our church.
But something else happened, too. We backfilled the people we lost with hundreds of new folks.Today we still have about 1,500 attending, but it is a very different congregation.
We've analyzed the situation again and again and again. We've come to all sorts of conclusions about why there's so much "churn," why the total number isn't increasing. We are still attracting and retaining people, otherwise we would be one-third smaller than we are today.We are still seeing new conversions to Christ, and many getting baptized. We still hear regular stories, from the stage, about how God is touching people through the ministries of Midland Free.
Our finances are doing reasonably well, considering the economic downturn, and we are still sending people to the mission field. Our elder board is healthy, and so is our staff.
Healthy churches also plateau, decline, and receive pruning from God's hand
We launch new initiatives from time to time that seem to energize the congregation. Our facility is used seven days a week by those inside and outside the church, and we have numerous outreach ministries into our community. The consensus seems to be that the preaching and worship services are stronger than ever … but … we are not growing like we used to.
Many keep asking, "What's wrong?"
I've asked it myself. Something changed.
As I've thought about this situation (for five years now), I've come to the following conclusions.

1. Our situation is not unusual. Recently our staff read Gary McIntosh's book Taking Your Church to the Next Level. McIntosh offered some encouraging reminders that the first 10 to 20 years of a church's existence are quite often the best years in terms of numerical growth.
He says that most churches reach their maximum size in year 20 to 25. That was precisely our situation. The book showed us how we were following the common life cycle of a church. McIntosh says that most congregations, regardless of denomination, stop numerical growth around year 25.
"All churches," he writes, "are inclined to follow a basic pattern of growth, plateau, and decline."

2. Nonstop numerical growth is not a biblical expectation. Ever since eminent missiologist Donald McGavran first published his seminal thoughts on church growth,American churches have often fixated on numerical growth. The basic assumption seems to be this: all churches should be growing numerically, all the time, and something is wrong if your church isn't.
But as I've searched the New Testament and read countless other books on the subject, this assumption seems to be alien to the Bible. There is simply no biblical expectation that a local congregation will continually grow in size, uninterrupted. That seems to be an American presupposition forced onto the Scriptures.
If anything, Jesus told us to expect the opposite. He did promise that the gates of hell would not stand against the church, but he also commended the church in Philadelphia for standing firm though they had "little power." He never criticizes any of the seven churches in Revelation for not accumulating numbers. He does scold, however, for moral and theological compromise.
Lesslie Newbigin writes in The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission"Reviewing the teaching of the New Testament, one would have to say, on the one hand, there is joy in the rapid growth of the church in the earliest days, but on the other, there is no evidence that numerical growth of the church is a matter of primary concern. There is no shred of evidence in Paul's letters to suggest that he judged the churches by the measure of their success in rapid numerical growth. [Nowhere is there] anxiety or an enthusiasm about the numerical growth of the church."
If churches never stopped growing—ever—they would take over whole towns. Why is it that virtually every church plateaus at certain sizes and stages?

The reason is that neverending growth isn't realistic; sociologically, theologically, or biblically.I was recently in Israel standing among the ruins of ancient synagogues in Capernaum, Korazin and En-Gedi. As I reflected on these ancient worship sites, I highly doubt if the leadership council at any of these synagogues ever sat around wondering why they hadn't grown recently. I doubt if they worked on gimmicks to grow as we often do in western congregations.Maybe, but I doubt it. They were people of the Book, by the Book, and for the Book—so help them God.

3. Healthy churches go through life cycles of growth, pruning, decline, and blessing. Healthy churches do often grow, and sometimes for long periods of time (i.e. 20-25 years!). But healthy churches also plateau, decline, and receive pruning from God's hand. Size is not in our hands.Size is in the hands of the Sovereign one.
Just like personal evangelism, our role is to communicate a message; it is God's role to bring increase or not. The same is true of church growth. Again, McIntosh writes, "Normally, churches that remain vital for long periods of time experience not one single life cycle but several life cycles of growth, plateau and decline."
We've certainly seen this over the years. Who knows why a church suddenly "starts growing" or suddenly "stops growing." Sure, sometimes it's not difficult to figure it out. But other timesit's a bit baffling. Knowing that nonstop growth is not expected of us is a relief for the pastor trying to cope with the numbers fixation of western culture.
"Success" in evangelism, missions and church size is simply not in our court. It is up to the Holy One.

4. Figuring out what season you're in is important. Churches in seasons of growth need to work strategically while the sun is shining. But woe to the church that believes that this will never end. I remember wondering, early in our season of growth, if this would ever end. I recall telling myself: If numerical growth continues at this pace, the entire county will be worshiping in our sanctuary in less than ten years!
Obviously this didn't happen. Seasoned leaders know not to take too much credit in a season of growth, and also learn not to necessarily take too much blame in a season of plateau, pruning, or decline.
Yes, poor leaders do contribute to the decline of good churches at times. Absolutely! And sinful leaders sometimes bring a church down through stupid blunders. But sometimes they do not. Again, we are responsible for the depth, health, and outreach—God is responsible for size and scope of influence. As one wise church leader told me, "You take care of the depth of your ministry; let God take care of the breadth."

5. The reality of size preference. One of the realities of moving to a new large campus was something I call "ambiance shock." I'd actually written a letter to the flock ahead of time to warn about this.
This is the unsettled, disturbing jolt of being in an entirely new atmosphere. You might have felt it before if your doctor or dentist relocated. We felt it when our favorite Pizza Hut moved into a large new building. It just didn't feel like the old place anymore! We actually don't go much anymore.
While it is indeed nice to walk into a brand new facility, there is also a loss of "the familiar." The new digs can seem impersonal and unwelcoming. It became clear to me, after we moved into our new facility, that many people not only have music preferences, but also a size preference.
Our facility is over twice the size of our former campus. Many, including myself, felt a bit lost in the crowd.Many responded well to ambiance shock, but some did not. A slow stream of core people began to leave. Their complaints shared many similarities: "not friendly anymore," "doesn't feel the same," "too impersonal."
Size matters. Large and spacious is great for some, but not for others, who prefer small and authentic.

6. The real issue is health and witness. The Scriptures teach that faithfulness for a church does not always mean neverending growth, but health, influence, and outreach. This is something that can be worked on in any season of church life.
I know of some very healthy congregations that have largely leveled out in numerical size. They are still offering solid preaching, doing a good job with evangelism and missions, and still discipling and developing leaders. But they are not accumulating a lot of numbers.
Is something wrong? Maybe. But maybe not. They are still having an important influence.They are still a worshiping community that is seeking God together and trying to expand his fame for his glory.
I lead a monthly group of men in a study of Wayne Grudem's systematic theology. A church's ministry is not just measured by its seating capacity, but also by its sending capacity.
Real growth (the Jesus way) doesn't just count noses on Sunday morning (although this is a key data point). It also takes a hard look at other things to make sure it is impacting its community and world. In reality, there are many ways a local congregation can be about the Kingdom work of making disciples.

7. Some things can be done in any season. Whatever season we are in, we should be about Kingdom business. We are to be preaching sound doctrine regardless of what season we are in. We are to be training younger leaders, practicing church discipline, and administering the sacraments no matter what season we are in. Seasoned leaders try to exegete the times and seasons and then seek to stay faithful no matter what season they are in.
Doing and being the church is essential whether numbers are exploding or flat. God has his sovereign reasons and his purposes for each church, no matter where it is in its lifecycle.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

KJV- 400 years old

You know the old saying— ’something gets lost in translation’. That is especially true when we are dealing with a language as different from Biblical languages as English is.   Every translation is already an interpretation because scholars had to decide which of a variety of English words and phrases most nearly and accurately represents what the original text meant as well as said.  And of course in many cases there are no exact equivalent terms.  For example,  there are five or so Greek words for different kinds of love.  In English we just have the word love.   Or take the word kingdom.  In English it always seems to connote a place or at least it is a noun.   But the Aramaic term malkuta  like the Greek Basileia can have either a verbal or a noun sense,  which is why I prefer the translation ‘dominion’   since in English we can talk about having dominion over someone (a verbal sense)  or visiting a dominion ( a noun sense).
With this prolegomena,  it is appropriate since there are all sorts of celebrations large and little of the 400 anniversary of the publishing of the King James Bible in 1611, to ask what we should think of this landmark work, this many years later.   Mark Noll in a lead article in the last issue of CT tells some of the historical tale about the King James Version.   First of all, it is not a translation done by good King James.   It was done by a translation team of scholars from Oxford and Cambridge, and based on the best original language manuscripts they could muster.  And sometimes they were so poor, that the Latin manuscripts were in fact closer to the original than the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts they had to go on.   A translation is only as good as the Biblical manuscripts one has to use as a basis for translation.   And frankly today we are much closer to the original language texts of the Bible than we were in 1611.  We have earlier and better manuscripts to go on, and lots more of them.  For example,  we have about 5,000 whole or partial manuscripts of the Greek NT some going back to the second century A.D.  Lancelot Andrewes and his team of translators in 1611 had no such luxury.   And further they lived in an age before modern textual analysis and reassembling of original readings of a text done in a scholar way.
The history of the English Bible is of course a story in itself, but what we need to know about the KJV is it was not even the most popular translation in its own day, and for about 50 years there after. The Protestant Geneva Bible was more popular and with Catholics  the Douay Rheims Bible was the translation of choice.   Even so, as Alistair McGrath demonstrates at length in his wonderful review of the history of the KJV entitled In the Beginning…. the KJV was not intended to be an entirely original new or fresh translation. To the contrary, the King had said they needed to follow closer prior well known translations, such as the Tyndale Bible and even Wycliffe’s translation, as well as the Geneva Bible.  BTW, it was not the KJV that the Pilgrims tended to bring to America and first use— that was the Geneva Bible for the most part.   Many of them were ‘Geneva Bible only’  kind of folk.   One of the more startling things I discovered when studying Tyndale’s wonderful translation is that many of the famous memorable translation turns of phrase like ‘by the skin of one’s teeth’  or ‘apple of his eye’  or ‘the quick and the dead’ and the like were in Tyndale’s translation and were simply taken over by the KJV translators, which again, were not tasked with creating a completely new translation into English.   Indeed, King James had a political motivation for having the new translation done.  The Geneva Bible, especially in its notes,  seemed to question the notion of the ‘divine right of kings’  to rule.   King James was having none of that.  Politics and religion were all intertwined when the KJV was produced.  We need to understand that some 140 editions (not reprints, editions) of the Geneva Bible had been undertaken between 1544 and 1610.   It was hard to stem the tide of this popular Bible with Protestants.   As Noll chronicles, it was at least 150 years after 1611 when people began to really extol the literary merits of the KJV and even longer before it became the go to translation of Protestants in America.    Indeed one can say that it is really part of the religious history of America in the 19th and 20th centuries that made the KJV as enormously popular as it has become.   King James might well be gratified, but he would be equally surprised.
The KJV of course became the Bible of Presidents in the 19th and 2oth centuries.  Lincoln quoted it liberally during the Civil War, and it was no accident that President Obama chose Lincoln’s own KJV Bible to be sworn in on when he became President.   The New KJV is of course an updating of the KJV eliminating a good deal of the archaic verbage,  but not eliminating many of the questionable textual decisions that with the benefit of many more manuscripts and much more knowledge we shouldn’t be following any more.  For example, the case for maintaining Mark 16.9ff. as an original part of the Gospel of Mark as Mark originally wrote it is not merely weak,  it is frankly  fatally flawed in many ways  (sorry Kentucky snake handlers and poison drinkers).   The so-called long ending of Mark is at best a second century A.D. addendum meant to round out that Gospel properly.   And there is the even bigger problem that when the overarching guiding principle of a translation is not doing a fresh new translation, but being faithful to a now outdated old one,  we already have a problem.   Translators are of course notably conservative by nature.  They tend to follow the examples of translations that have come before.   But when you do that, how will anyone ever know that Hebrews 12. 2 does not say Jesus is the author and finisher  of ‘our’ faith. The word ‘our’ is in no Greek manuscript.  Or how will one learn that the earliest text of Phil. 2.4 does not say ‘look not only to your own interests but also to that of others’  but rather ‘look not to your own interests but rather to the interests of others’.    The answer is no one dependent on English translations that are that tradition bound is likely to ever know the original wording of such verses.  They are stuck in the King James spin cycle and can’t get out.
One might conclude, ye verily,  that I have some ax to grind against the KJV and the NKJV  (which still tends to follow the Western Text and Majority text in ways that don’t amount to sound text criticism) but in fact, I am thankful for any translation that has done as much good for lives Christian and otherwise as the KJV has done.   It has not only shaped English diction in ways that have enriched the language,  it has formed many generations of Christians with memorable and memorizable forms of verses that one keeps in one’s heart forever.     Still to this day,  whenever I am called upon the recite John 3.16  there is a ‘whosoever believeth’ that tends to come out of my mouth.   If you like Shakespearean and 17th and 18th century English from an aesthetic point of view,  it is not surprising you like the KJV.
Lancelot Andrewes and his team were not infallible translators, and no English translation should be baptized and called perfect,  but it was a very good translation for its day considering the state of Biblical scholarship and knowledge of available original language manuscripts in 1611.    If the measure of the worth of something is the impact it has had for good on human lives,  there has hardly been a book that has had more impact on the world since 1611 than the KJV Bible.
So here is where we tip our hats to old King James.  He could never have realized what an impact he would have on the world in a Christian and Biblical way when he tried to have an antidote to the Geneva Bible produced.   He was neither the author nor the authorizer of this translation in the broader sense,  but he was certainly the instigator.   We still have much to appreciate about what his translation team accomplished
Ben Witherington

Friday, May 27, 2011

Wilson- old school marriage part 2

Wilson answers some questions about the vow aspect of marriage in this new post. Conclusion:
If marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled (Heb. 13:4), and if God will judge whoremongers and adulterers, then this means that marriage must be socially and legally visible. There must be something other than the sexual activity which distinguishes the sexual activity which we must all honor, and the kind that God will judge. Given the nature of the case, therefore, there must be vows. The Bible doesn’t tell us what formula the vows must use, but it does require us to develop something that is suitable for the occasion. This is something which our fathers did, and which we are forgetting. We should stop that. We should renew our vows.

(between 2 worlds)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Men- come on man!

by Jared Wilson

“One thing I have noticed at the food pantry where I volunteer is that nine times out of ten a woman comes in to receive food, her male significant other waits in the car. I know this because he and I make awkward eye contact when I help the ladies carry groceries to the car.”

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Wilson on Marriage

Sexual Intercourse, Old School
Culture and Politics Sex and Culture
Written by Douglas Wilson   
Wednesday, May 25, 2011 6:34 am
In order to do a better job defending marriage we have to do a better job defining it. What is marriage anyway? Because false understandings of marriage are common, even among conservative Christians, we are frequently caught flatfooted when it comes to things like the gay marriage debate.
A marriage requires two components or elements. The first is old school sexual intercourse and the second is a socially recognized set of vows, committing the couple to a legally recognized and protected state of marriage. If one or the other is missing, then so is the marriage.
To use the language of philosophy, each of these is a necessary condition for marriage (without which, not), but not a sufficient condition. In other words, you can't have a marriage without the presence of both of these elements, but the mere presence of one of them does not constitute or create the marriage. The absence of either will result in no-marriage, but the presence of either does not automatically result in marriage. You must have both together.
The first element is the one flesh union (Gen. 2:24). And the first thing to note is that it is possible to be sexually immoral without a one flesh union occuring. This occurs, for example, with porn, or with heavy petting, or with oral sex, etc. So the one flesh union is not defined by the presence of one or more orgasms; it is defined by a heterosexual sexual union, as classically understood. If Christians allow their definitions of the one flesh union to broaden, such that it includes "messing around," the problem is that homosexuals can mess around also, and in exactly the same ways. Only heterosexuals can be married because only heterosexuals can perform the central act that is necessary to the establishment of marriage. Homosexuals can't be married for the same reason that bolts are useless without nuts -- key equipment is missing.
The second element would be the vows, legally recognized as such. By vows I do not mean the promises that Billy breathes into Sally's albaster ear in the back seat of the car, to wit, promises to love her "forever and a day." I mean vows and promises that are recorded, however their society records such things, and which are enforceable should one or the other of the parties try to walk away from their promises.
Marriage is a public, social act, and not just a private sexual one. More completely, it is a public act that depends for its authority upon a private sexual act, one that will be performed shortly after the reception.
If a couple have sex without the vows, they are not married. They are not "married in God's sight." They are one flesh, sure, but that by itself is not marriage. Paul says that a man who sleeps with a hooker is one flesh with her (1 Cor. 6:16), true enough, but that does not make them married. If a young man seduces a girl, they are one flesh, but it is still open question whether they will get married or not (Ex. 22:16-17Dt. 22:29). Particularly in the Exodus passage, you can see that the reality of the one flesh union does not force the father's hand -- and if the young man in question is a 14-carat schlub, it must not force the father's hand. The father does not "have" to give permission on the basis of wrong assumptions about them already being married in some mystical way.
So then, in summary, if a man and woman have sex, it does not make them married. If another couple exchange vows, but never have sex, then they are not married either. In the latter case, if a couple separate because of his impotence (say), that is what annullment is for. That would not be a divorce, properly speaking.
You can see how these definitions help us when we work through how various relationships might end. A man visiting prostitutes should repent and stop it. A man sleeping with his girlfriend should repent and stop it. If marriage to her is wise and/or lawful, he should then marry her. If it is unwise or not lawful, then they should break up, and not look back. A man who exchanged vows with a woman who then (for whatever reason, it happens) would not let him sleep with her should seek an annulment. A man who exchanged vows with a woman and had sex with her is . . . married. And in order for that relationship to end lawfully, it would have to be a biblical divorce -- for infidelity or desertion.
So there you have it -- old school marriage.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Monday, May 16, 2011


"We are not faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity. The tide in the affairs of men does not remain at flood-it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is adamant to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, ‘too late.’”
Martin Luther King, Jr.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Left Behind?

I Want to Be “Left Behind”

Here’s his thesis, in essence: “Although many assume that those taken in Matt 24:40-41 andLuke 17:34-35 are taken to be with Jesus and those left behind are left for judgment, this inter pretation should be rejected.”
His conclusion summarizes his arguments:
Throughout the context of these passages Jesus uses judgment language reminiscent of the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem and the subsequent exile of its inhabitants. Those who were taken away were the ones judged by God whereas those left behind were the remnant who received grace.
Furthermore, the teaching of Jesus confirms this thesis. In the Parable of the Weeds the Son of Man sends his angels to gather out the children of the devil and throw them in the fiery furnace whereas the wheat is left behind (Matt 13:36-43).
The context of Matt 24 and Luke 17 also suggests Jesus is intentionally using judgment and remnant language. Such language naturally brings up images of the former destruction of Jerusalem where the enemy came and “took away” (i.e., killed) those in the city.
Finally, the parallel with Noah and the flood in the preceding verses strongly confirms our thesis. Just as in the days of Noah the people were taken away by the great flood, so those who are not prepared will be taken away when the Son of Man returns.

(Between 2 Worlds_ 

Monday, May 9, 2011

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Would you Play Highway to Hell in your Church

Highway to Hell: The Bullpen Responds from Harvest Bible Chapel on Vimeo.

I agree with Greg Laurie. Christian praise and worship bands trying to play secular songs = lame. Please.When I was lost I would have laughed them out of the building. What about you?

Evangelize for His Glory

If a church truly loves God and the fame of His name, it is jealous for more and more people to know and praise Him. Every conversion means one more mouth is praising God, and every church planted is a chorus of mouths. Our love for the world is born out of our love for God. The greater our love for God, the greater our desire for others to display God’s glory by enjoying Him. We know how good and sweet He is.
- Jonathan Leeman
HT: Wax

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Don't tell anyone?

Luke 8:56 "And her parents were amazed, but he charged them to tell no one what had happened."

JD Greear says: 
Why would He do that? Jesus’ primary ministry was proclaiming a Kingdom to be believed. As a sign of that, he casts out demons and heals the sick and raises the dead. And he doesn’t want his secondary ministry to overtake and overshadow his primary ministry. If too many people know about him raising the dead, that’s all they’d care about (this guy can bring back “pa”); we tend to focus more on secondary things like healing than we do on the primary thing, knowing God.

o The greatest gift Jesus can give you is the knowledge of God. And in light of that, even things like bringing back your loved ones and healing your sicknesses are not that important. And if those things get in the way of seeing what Jesus really needs to do for you, they will have become then healing becomes a cursing!

o A lot of people want Jesus to heal their body; take them to heaven; bless their lives. But do you want Him to restore you to God. No one ever turned down one of Jesus’ miracles. But when Jesus started talking about His primary mission being to restore them to God, then they got bored, or even angry.

o Some of you want Jesus for what He can do for you. Do you want Him so you can really know God? The greatest thing you can do in this life is come to Jesus to have your soul healed, to be restored to God, regardless of whether you live in poverty or pain.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Paul's Goal

Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily. Colossians 1:28-29

-how does this line up with your church's strategy?