Christian Martyr Day 2020

Many faithful witnesses have given their lives in service of Jesus. Here is one of those stories.

In 2017 civil war began to ravage the Central Africa Republic. During the first week, six Christian pastors were murdered by an Islamic group, as reported by Voice of the Martyrs, an organization that focuses on Christian persecution. Among the pastors was one, Jean-Paul Sankagui. Years earlier this bold servant of Christ had planted a church smack dab in the middle of a Muslim neighborhood. But the Lord was with him and made his ministry fruitful. According to VOM, the Islamic group surrounded pastor Sankagui’s home and church, shot and killed him, looted the church, and then burnt down both the church and parishioner home.

VOM recognizes this faithful pastor on the Christian Martyr Day 2020. Watch the video below to see pastor Sankagui’s incredible witness to Christ.

Purpose Driven Muck: 5 Reasons Church Growth Strategies Hinder Church Growth

Church growth is all the rage these days. Type it into any search engine and you are sure to yield more results than you can shake a stick at. Church growth has become so popular there are even marketing agencies that will help you.

Much of this movement began in 1995 when popular teacher and pastor, Rick Warren, published his book, The Purpose Driven Church: Growth Without Compromising Your Message and Mission.

The book soared to the best selling list and every pastor that was seeing a decline in their numbers flocked to the bookstores in droves to learn the principles of church growth. Others soon began copying this style and writing their own books, but none saw the same success.  Warren’s premise of church growth was based on five principles which he says he gleaned from Matthew 22:37-40 and Matthew 28:20:

  1. Fellowship
  2. Discipleship
  3. Worship
  4. Ministry
  5. Evangelism

On the surface, these principles seem biblical. These things are certainly in Scripture and we see these things present and real within the early church. For example, Acts 2:42-47 gives us a picture of what the first days of the fledgling church looked like.

 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

The introduction of Warren’s book claims that it is not a formula for church growth but rather a formula for church health. If a church is healthy it will grow. The five principles, then, are the key to having a healthy, growing church. And with Warren recently claiming that Saddleback has matched the growth of the Acts 2 church, more people will now have to run out and invest in the book.

Many pastors jump on board the church growth bandwagon. They reason that if they follow what the early church did, success is certain. All that needs to be done is mimic the same methods that the early church participated in and watch the numbers explode.

But there is something wrong with this way of thinking. There is a lot wrong with this thinking. Specifically, I see five reasons why church growth strategies like the one laid out in Warren’s work hinders church growth rather than aid it.

1. Church Growth Strategies Tend to Focus on the Method

Methods are huge with the church growth crowd. The latest research, demographic dynamics, and what the church down the road is doing seem to be a big focus. While methods can be useful they should never exist as the be-all-end-all for the Church. Many methods are devised specifically to see an increase in numbers, but not always spiritual growth. This means then, that the methods are not Spirit derived but man-made. Anything man-made will not last. Although we are not to sit idly by and do nothing, it is best to remember that God doesn’t need our strategies and methods to grow His church. Jesus has already promised church “growth” to His disciples (Matt 16:18).

2. Church Growth Strategies Often Rely on Guilt-Tripping

Have you ever sat through a sermon where the pastor passionately pounds the pulpit (excuse my alliteration) on the topic of evangelism, all the while pointing his finger at the audience? Most of the time we see this kind of thing in old-fashioned revivals. But many pastors do the same thing when it comes to “growing” the church. ‘Service’ is the keyword. If you’re going to serve then it’s time to get off your duff and do it! Most preachers typically see this as exhorting rather than guilt-tripping. In reality, there is no difference. When service becomes compulsory and obligatory the laity tends to lose interest. Biblical exhortation, on the other hand, is simply an appeal to action rather than compelling. In Paul’s letter to Timothy, he encouraged the young pastor to devote himself to three things: the public reading of Scripture, teaching, and exhortation (1 Tim 4:13). If ever there was a church growth strategy, this would be it.

3. Church Growth Strategies Tend to Focus on Numbers for Success

Most church growth methods that I’ve ever encountered were all about the numbers. No pastor wants to have a small church. Look at any church growth strategy and one of the first things you see is how many people could potentially respond by the church using the latest and greatest method. A numbers-focused method must rely on gimmicks and programs to attract and keep attendance steady. Pastors that become obsessed with numbers eventually give in to the pressure and end up doing silly things like Andy Stanley’s go-go dancers at a Christmas Eve service. The driving force behind any church that claims to worship the true God should be that of holiness and worship (Eph 3:21).

4. Church Growth Strategies Tend To Be Seeker-Sensitive Rather Than Biblically Sound

Seeker-sensitive is commonly described as gently pushing the lost towards salvation. Many of the methods used gear towards a more friendly, non-confrontational form of evangelism. In other words, don’t offend the person. This is often accomplished by refusing to confront people about sin or gradually sharing the gospel with them in pieces. While seeker-sensitive pastors can’t always be called outright heretics, they will compromise the “whole counsel of God” for the sake of keeping up their numbers. This spills over into their church growth ideas and eventually the Scripture messages begin to look more like pep talks on how to have a better marriage, family, well-behaved teens, etc, etc. The worship services begin to mimic secular concerts and entertainment venues, all in the name of making their guests feel “comfortable.” In contrast, even when he was being persecuted in his ministry God encouraged the apostle Paul to keep preaching because He was in control (Acts 18:9-10). Pastors, then, should follow this same example and resolve to preach the Word of God straight even when it isn’t popular (2 Tim 4:2).

5. Church Growth Strategies Often Fail to Prioritize the Preaching of the Word As Primary

In all the articles I examined about church growth strategies there was one thing that commonly missed by all of them: the preaching of the Word of God. The following examples come from the very top hits of church growth. (Example 1, Example 2, Example 3, Example 4) Scripture doesn’t really give us a formula for growing the church, at least not in the modern sense. Therefore, traditional preaching is deemed largely irrelevant to most church growth pastors. When one examines the early church they find the opposite. The Word was front and center. Take our introductory passage, Acts 2:42-47, for example. Luke tells us the laity devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching & fellowship. When the people came to Peter in Acts 6 with a dispute, Peter’s response was not to give up preaching the Word of God, but resolving by appointing others to help with the problem. The early church fathers devoted themselves to preaching and as result church growth exploded within the first three centuries. There was no method or strategy or demographic research. There was just–preaching. Consider the following images below of church growth, taken from Bild.org.

Conclusion

Most pastors that want to grow their church are sincere believers. They love God’s people and they love the Church. In an attempt to prove their dedication they end up sacrificing simplicity (not purposely, in most cases) in the name of numbers. There is one important thing they miss: any time the Bible mentions church growth it always states that God did it. It wasn’t because of a method, or a specific program, or even because of the way they were discipling their people. It was because they feared God and the people took notice of it (Acts 2:43, Acts 9:21).

It’s time for pastors to go back to the simplest form of church growth by preaching the pure word of God and living in holiness so that the laity as well as outsiders will be able to see that we are truly a peculiar people, set apart for God (1Peter 2:1-9).

Although this is not a post to “pick on” Rick Warren please view the video below to see how badly he handles the Scripture. This video is courtesy of Pirate Christian Media, headed by Pastor Chris Roseborough of Kongsvinger Lutheran Church in Oslo, Minnesota.

Into Liturgy: My 5 Reasons Why Liturgical Worship Matters

I belong to a Southern Baptist church. I know it sounds strange for a member of an SBC church to advocate for a liturgy style worship but I was truly astounded on my first visit. Over the past two years, I’ve been studying Lutheranism, and along with it a lot of the early church fathers’ views on worship and the sacraments. Though I’m not a member of a Lutheran church I highly enjoyed my experience at one last year when my family and I attended for a few weeks.

I had been captivated by the use of the Sacraments, order of worship, and the soaking of Scripture that is present within liturgical worship. The sacredness of the entire service was joyful and a refreshing change to the modern-driven, program-saturated, and fluffy “Christian” songs that are typical of most Evangelical mainstream churches. With that in mind, I would like to offer my five reasons why I believe Liturgical services, especially those that incorporate a lectionary, are superior to most modern worship services.

1. No Pressure on the Pastor

If you’re a pastor or one who teaches regularly you understand the pressures of planning and executing a sermon/lesson each week. In a liturgical setting that uses a lectionary, the pressure to come up with the next “big sermon” is eradicated. That’s because the lectionary is a guide in and of itself. It gives several options of Scripture from which to draw the sermon. While I don’t have a hard copy of a lectionary check out the screenshot below from one of the lectionaries in my Logos collection.

Lectionary Passages to Preach from

You can observe that there is an Old Testament, a Psalm, an Epistle, and a Gospel reading. The pastor will choose one of these four passages to preach from. This keeps things in line and ensures that the pastor doesn’t go off on a tangent or personal soapbox, as has been many a person’s experiences, including my own. Lectionaries are a wonderful guide and it keeps the flow of preaching nicely all year long.

2. Liturgical Services Follow the Church Calendar

This is much like the first point. Lectionaries follow the Church calendar, marking the seasons and times of the year. There’s no need, then for the pastor to come up with a Christmas service or Easter sermon every year. And the cool thing is that the lectionary is divided into these seasons automatically.

Lectionary Church Calendar

As you can see the services are conveniently divided by the calendar and provide the Scripture and service details according to the different seasons. This makes it quite easy to choose a text and study and prepare for the sermon. Of course, most will chide the idea and state that simply choosing a book of the Bible and preaching expositorily through it (vers-by-verse) would be far superior. While I agree that expository preaching is the best way to present Scripture, using a lectionary does not do away with it. The preacher may still preach in this fashion. The only difference is that the congregation is getting a well-rounded view of Scripture rather than waiting 1-2 years, depending on the length of the book, to move along to the next portion of Scripture.

3. No Smoke & Mirrors

Most worship services I’ve been in have a high-focus priority on entertainment. The choir sings, the soloist solos while the congregation sit back, smile, and clap when the performance is done. It’s all seemingly harmless and most would say it falls under the scope of Christian Liberty. But there’s something a little sinister (at least to me) about applauding a performance in a setting where the focus should solely be on one Person. Consider the video below of North Point’s Christmas Eve service back in 2016.

This video represents the extreme of self-centered worship but there are far too many churches adapting worldly measures in the name of reaching people. The Body of Christ is supposed to gather in order to pray, encourage one another, and be equipped to go into the world and make disciples. While I certainly believe there is a place for singing (I’m not referring to congregational singing) and artistic expression I hold the view that the worship service should be as sacred as possible. Call me legalistic, but many of the things I’ve experienced in some churches is inappropriate, in my opinion.

4. Congregational Participation

This sounds a little strange. I’m not talking about singing as a congregation or giving to the Church financially. I’m strictly speaking of the Sacraments ordained by the church, namely Absolution & Confession, the Eucharist, and Baptism. During these times, and especially the former two, each congregant participates in a personal way that is very meaningful. This participation then becomes participation, not just in the worship service itself, but in the body of Christ, along with His atoning work and redemption. This was probably the best part of my experience at a liturgical service. The reality of the Godhead and His grace washed my soul anew and I walked out of the service refreshed and exhilarated

5. Scripture Soaking

My favorite reason and argument for liturgical worship is the amount of Scripture present within it. From the time the service began until it ended I was soaked with Scripture. I understand most Evangelical churches base their services around the Word, but truthfully I’m accustomed to hearing only the Scripture passage of the sermon read and then other Scriptures read for support of the sermon text. For the Christian, the Word of God is life! It is what we base our doctrine, practice, and all of life upon. And the amount of Scripture I received was astounding. Along with the catechism book I received upon my initial visit I am always surrounded in the Word of God. The catechism book is one that I’ve been reading to my children at night. It is neatly divided into sections for easy reading.

A Lutheran Service Hymnal has all the Scriptural & responsive readings for the Sunday listed in the Church calendar.

Liturgical Worship was a change for me. I walked in the first time not really knowing what to expect. To be honest, my expectation was that it would be some kind of quasi cult-like ceremony with foreign chanting and figures walking in, dressed in ceremonial robes. But what I found was a God-honoring, sacred assembly of God’s people meeting together to bring glory to the King of Kings. What I experienced was a realization of the forgiveness of sins through Christ’s work and atonement. I’m not saying those things weren’t just as real as they were at my other church. I’m simply pointing out that at a liturgical service I saw those things more clearly than I ever had.

A lot of folks would disagree, and that’s okay. The conclusion for me is that a liturgical service is much more structured, sacred, Scripture-focused, and participatory. I would encourage you to find a church with liturgical worship and at least attend a couple of times. You may just end up coming to the same conclusion that I have. Have a wonderful Lord’s Day and a happy Father’s Day to all you dads!