Is Online Church a Real Church?

Nearly ten years ago my cousin Vinnie (I love typing that) told me I should start an online church for people who were open to Christianity but wouldn’t actually go on Sunday mornings. This was long before live-streaming was accessible and few churches had an “online campus.” Now it is fairly common for churches to offer live-streaming of their services today. Recently, Judah Smith’s The City Church has caused a buzz by announcing the launch of a new church: “the phone in the palm of your hand.” Watch their announcement about ChurchHome below.

There are generally two type of responses to creative initiatives like this. Some will call it heresy and will shout, “That’s not church!” Others will hail it as a creative and relevant effort to reach unbelievers with the gospel. Instead of neatly fitting into either category, I want to walk through a few ways both groups might have a good point.  Continue reading

How Should The Church Respond to Violence?

Another school shooting took place last week. 17 dead in Parkland, Florida as a former student entered campus to take the lives of his classmates and teachers. It seems like this type of violent event keeps happening so frequently we’re becoming numb.

Where so many in positions of legal authority respond with “Thoughts and Prayers” but with little action, the nonChristian world has come to despise the phrase “thoughts and prayers” because it has come to mean, “I’m really sad this happened. Let’s be sad together for a week or two until we all move on… until this happens again.” In this way, “thoughts and prayers” aren’t enough.

So what should Christians and the Church do?

Alone-in-Hallway.jpg

Continue reading

What Makes a Good Sermon?

Ask any church goer and you’ll hear a wide range of characteristics for a good sermon. Some people are looking for compelling stories, others want to laugh, and still others are turned off by humor and desire pure teaching. Here are the characteristics that I keep in mind while preparing to preach.

1. Be biblical

This seems like a no-brainer, but there are plenty of sermons which reference the Bible but they are not built on a foundation of Scripture. Sometimes the preacher seems to have an idea what he wants to say and then uses a Bible verse here or there to prove his point. This is not a biblical sermon. If the Word of God is living and active, a double edged sword that is God-breathed, then we should keep Scripture front-and-center.

2. Be Gospel-Centered

I know “gospel centered” has become something of a cliche over the last five years, but it’s a helpful (and biblical) grid through which to operate. If a sermon doesn’t clearly lead to gospel proclamation, and if it doesn’t clearly flow from the fruit of the gospel… then it isn’t a Christian sermon in any meaningful way. Many preachers have fallen off the cliff of works-righteousness in the attempt to be relevant (“Four keys to building a great marriage,” or “How to be the best you”). Sermons should be robustly biblical and gospel-centered.

3. Be clear

What good is brilliance if it’s so blinding you can’t behold it? Instead, I have always agreed with those who claim you don’t really understand something until you can explain it to a child. Preachers spend an average of 12-20 hours each week on their sermon but the people who listen only hear the final result. Gone are the days when preachers can reasonably assume any measure of biblical literacy, so using phrases like “Most of you know this verse already” only makes to those who don’t “already know” feel stupid and small and unwelcome. If something is worth saying, it’s worth saying clearly enough for everyone to understand. I generally keep seven specific people in mind while preparing the message: a child (kids over age 7 sit through our entire worship service), a teenager, a young parent, a businessman, a tradesman, a nonbeliever (who may be skeptical but is interested enough to attend a worship service), and a senior saint who has faithfully served Christ for decades. If these people can each understand what I have down on paper, then I’m ready to preach.

4. Be helpful

This is where the rubber meets the road and the sermon connects or falls flat. Rather than trying to be relevant, I find it more fruitful to pursue helpfulness. Here are some questions I consider: “What is confusing about this passage that needs to be explained?” “Where does our culture today agree and disagree with this message?” “What challenges will people face in the call to embrace this teaching?” “What is going on in our church where this message applies to either encourage or correct us?”

If a sermon hits in these four marks, I think it will demonstrate pastoral love for the listeners, reverence to the Lord in how Scripture is handles carefully, and great joy because it is anchored in God’s provision through Jesus Christ and the indwelling Holy Spirit.

One final thing to note is this – every preacher needs to first listen to the sermon the Holy Spirit is preaching to him through his sermon preparation. If the preacher hasn’t first been moved by God’s Word through the preparation process then his sermon will be flat, one-dimensional, and either dryly-academic or hypocritical.

Every Christian is a Minister: The Priesthood of All Believers

Who leads Christ’s Church? One of the greatest treasures of the Protestant Reformation is a recovery of the “Priesthood of all believers.” This teaching proclaims that every Christian has access to God the Father because the Holy Spirit has united us with Christ. Because of our standing before God, every Christian is a priest (or minister) in our world.

Today I want to emphasize two things: first, where does the Bible teach “Priesthood of all believers,” and second, what the Priesthood of All Believers actually means for the Christian’s daily life.

Read the Bible Continue reading

The Gospel is For the Street

What good is faith if it only survives in a sterile environment? The gospel belongs not only in our pulpits but on the streets .

Faith shapes life, gives meaning, and inspires hope. If the gospel is only good news to those whose lives are middle-class, then is it truly “good news?” The gospel applies to addicts, the homeless, and to the marginalized.

Jesus came to bring life to the hopeless, rescue for the perishing, and dignity for the beggar. If these are the people whom Jesus came to serve and give his life for, shouldn’t they be welcomed in our churches and in our theologizing?

Woman on the Street.jpg Continue reading

Should The Church be Attractive or Attractional?

The gospel is good news of great joy for all peoples. This is a compelling message that builds the foundation of the Church. Unfortunately today, it’s become increasingly common to hear Christians lambasting the Church. 

Sadly, many Christians give the impression that speaking well of the Church is like putting lipstick on a pig. Jesus doesn’t need “hair and makeup” before going on stage. 

We must not be ashamed of clearly and confidently holding to what Scripture teaches, and inviting people to repent of their sin in order to follow Jesus Christ. Jesus is compelling. Jesus is good news. 

Consider a beautiful woman. She does not need to dress a certain way or work especially hard to be recognized as beautiful. Her beauty is obvious. Meanwhile, others dress and carry themselves in order to accentuate what they wish others to notice (while also concealing things they want to remain hidden). 

How often is this a parable of our churches? We do things a certain way in order to make God look however we think people will find attractive. We preach on grace but not judgment. We speed up the music but fear silence. And we work diligently to avoid causing offense or controversy. 

Consider Mike Leake’s article, “The Difference Between Attrational and Attractive Ministry,” which provided the above parable of beauty… it’s a great article.  Here is what I believe to be the most vital portion, 

“My point here is that whenever churches start asking those questions and focusing on whether or not we are “attracting,” we’ve moved off center. When we do this we become like the Pharisees, who were more concerned about how they were viewed than who they actually were. Maybe even more pathetically, we are like the teenage boy constantly checking out his budding muscles in the mirror in hopes that maybe this will help him finally get the girl to pay attention to him.

This isn’t to say that churches should be intentionally unattractive. In fact, if churches focus on doing gospel things they will actually be naturally attractive—at least to some. The Bible gives evidence of this. Jesus attracted crowds. The disciples, too, attracted a ton of folks who were filled with questions and wondering what in the world was going on with them. There was something about the way they were living that attracted folks and caused them to wonder why in the world these Christians had such hope. They were attractive.
Though it’s a subtle difference, there is a great chasm between being an attractive church and an attractional church. One intentionally tries to draw a crowd, while the other goes about doing their ministry and the crowds show up, maybe. Jesus didn’t have healing services in hopes that people would show up. He healed people because that is who He is and people showed up as a result. The attractional model, though, draws a crowd and hopes to slip the gospel in the backdoor. One has confidence in who they are and they other is like a junior high boy who doesn’t have enough confidence in his person to drop the frills and just be himself.

The Church is the People of God, Bride of Christ, and the Temple of the Holy Spirit. Christians are the children of God. Let us continue to walk as beloved children of God who have been adopted through Jesus Christ. May our identity as God’s people be the core of the Church rather than a desire to be attractive to the world. 

What is the difference between an attractive gospel and an attractional ministry? One preaches a gospel about Jesus who is truly beautiful, the other feels pressure to portray in him the best possible light. 

Five Reasons Christians Don’t Evangelize

Christians overwhelmingly agree they have a personal responsibility to evangelize: to announce the good news that sinners can be forgiven and adopted as children of God because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. LifeWay Research conducted a study regarding evangelism and reported,

“The study conducted by LifeWay Research found 80 percent of those who attend church one or more times a month, believe they have a personal responsibility to share their faith, but 61 percent have not told another person about how to become a Christian in the previous six months.”
LifeWay Research

This got me to ask the question: “Whynot? What is it that keeps us from sharing the gospel with nonChristians?” I could’ve come up with my own reasons, but I wondered if they would match up with the reasons your typical church-going Christian would give. So I asked my Facebook friends for their input and discovered some really great insights that I wouldn’t have considered on my own.

Here are a few of the general themes that emerged from their responses:

SONY DSC Continue reading

Was Paul a Ministry Hypocrite?

I love getting questions from readers. Here’s the latest question I’ve received (you can submit your questions HERE
question mark on sticky noteThere are many times in Scripture where Paul specifically seems to give conflicting advice. One that always gets me:
  • 1 Corinthians 9:22 – “To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.”
  • In Acts 21:17-26, Paul goes and joins the four men in their purification rites, so people can see his still observes the old Jewish customs, even though he doesn’t think they’re necessary. This is kind of all the same strain.
  • Romans 12:2 – “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

If I’m allowed to re-ask the question, I’d put it this way: Is Paul a ministry hypocrite who tells one group one thing and then another group another thing? Let’s look at these individually and then tie them together…

Continue reading

How Jesus Built the Church

Wooden Doors

When most of us think of Jesus, he is a meek and mild Savior who brings comfort and peace. That’s certainly true of him, but the Gospel of Mark highlight’s Jesus’ authority and power. This is a side of Jesus we easily overlook after years of familiarity with the Bible.

The opening verses (Mark 1:1-13) set the stage for Jesus to walk into the spotlight. Jesus is identified by John the Baptist as the Messiah, the long awaited “chosen one” who was foretold by prophets of centuries past. When Jesus is baptized, God himself speaks and identifies Jesus as “my beloved son.” Immediately after being baptized, Jesus endures temptation in the desert for forty days and nights. These present Jesus as the Messiah who is both God and human. These opening verses highlight that Jesus was always God’s “Plan A.”

Mark 1:15-19 is significant because Jesus’ first words are preserved for us (since Mark was the earliest-written Gospel in the Bible) are these: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” He identifies himself as the Messiah who has come to bring the kingdom of God, and he welcomes sinners to enter into it through repentance and faith in the gospel. This is Jesus’ mission… and immediately after his mission is announced, he starts to build his Church by recruiting the first disciples.

Mark 1:21-45 highlight Jesus’ authority over demons and sickness. When Jesus is teaching in the temple a demon-possessed man literally cried out for mercy. The crowds begin to flock to Jesus, seeking deliverance and healing. In v.38 the disciples say, “Everyone is looking for you.” But Jesus responds, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” He could have stayed and built a huge ministry-platform, but he rejected the ministry opportunity in order to fulfill his mission. His time had not yet come to be recognized as the Messiah. While the Gospel of Mark was written in the generation after Jesus’ ascension, the gospel was spreading and Christians were being persecuted and Jesus’ authority was the foundation of their perseverance. These verses demonstrate the power and authority of Jesus, and encourage believers to live in faith rather than fear.

When we look in Mark 1 we see Jesus built his Church through two ministry priorities:

  1. Preaching the good news and inviting sinners to repent
  2. Training disciples

The Great Commission was not something Jesus thought of near the end of his ministry. It was the driving force behind everything he did… that all peoples of the earth would repent and believe in the gospel and become disciples who are “fishers of men.” He would not allow miracles and social ministry to distract him from these two priorities. Obviously, he healed many and performed miracles, but the miracles always led to preaching or proved his authority to say what he said.

Jesus is the savior of those who are desperate and weary from their labors. He also causes demons to shudder and beg for mercy. Jesus brought the kingdom of God, and sinners are invited to enter through repentance and faith in the gospel. Speak the gospel to people with confidence, not embarrasment. Remember the authority of Jesus Christ and confidently proclaim the kingdom of God and invite others to enter in as new disciples, because Jesus continues to build his church through the gospel.

Why Did Saul Become Paul?

 

Boats

“Saul was ashamed of his past, so he changed his name to Paul because Jesus gave him a new beginning.”

When it comes to the Apostle Paul’s name-change, this is the explanation I’ve heard many times. God did give Paul a new identity in Christ, but that didn’t wipe out or erase who he was before. Instead, we see many ways that Paul’s entire life prepared him for his ministry as an Apostle. Likewise, when someone becomes a Christian today, their life history doesn’t get erased and wiped away. Instead, God uses that to fuel their devotion to Christ and to equip them in ministry towards others.

Here’s why Saul’s name changes to Paul throughout the book of Acts and what we can learn from it today.

Continue reading