IGNITING EVANGELISM | POWER OF PRAYER | HABITS OF EFFECTIVE PASTORS
Facts &Trends AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2015 • FACTSANDTRENDS.NET
LIFE | TEXT | THEOLOGY | YOUR CHURCH
from Priscilla Shirer FERVENT A Woman’s Battle Plan for Serious, Specific, and Strategic Prayer by Priscilla Shirer Inspired by the Kendrick Brothers’ new movie, War Room, Fervent is a hands-on, knees-down, don’t-give-up action guide to practical, purposeful praying.
Equip your family with the resources they need to build their very own prayer strategy. Additional books, Bible studies, prayer journals and more are available.
Visit www. W ARR OOM M OVIER ESOURCES .com for more information.
Fight your battles the right way–
Through Prayer THE BATTLE PLAN FOR PRAYER From Basic Training to Targeted Strategies by War Room Creators Alex Kendrick and Stephen Kendrick Inspired by the Kendrick Brothers’ new movie, War Room, this exciting new resource from the #1 best-selling author team behind The Love Dare and The Resolution for Men is designed to help anyone learn how to become a powerful person of prayer.
PETER’S PERFECT PRAYER PLACE by War Room Creators Alex Kendrick and Stephen Kendrick This companion book to the movie War Room will teach young readers an important lesson about talking to God – that He hears us no matter where we pray! And the fold-out prayer chart and stickers in the back of the book will let them track their prayers as well as God’s answers!
Resources available for you and your kids. Visit warroommovieresources.com for more information.
BE THE ONE WHO REACHES OUTWARD Buy 20 copies for $5 each â€œIt is time for church members to become a part of a movement where self is sacrificed and the body of Christ is strengthenedâ€? Thom S. Rainer, president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, respected pastor, research and author of #1 bestseller I Am A Church Member, offers nine simple traits that all church members can incorporate into their lives no matter their background, stage of life, or sense of capability. While I Am A Church Member describes the attitude of church members; I Will compels church members to action.
Free I Will Bible Study at SmallGroup.com @ThomRainer #IWill
AVAILABLE AT LIFEWAY CHRISTIAN STORES.
Contents COVER SECTION 12 Different groups, different starting points What your groups study is critical to the health of your church. By Eric Geiger
16 Just do it Life is messy. But if we apply Scripture to our lives, we can face the issues head on. By Sam O’Neal
20 When the Bible meets life Helping churches connect with members and answer life’s big questions. By Megan Sweas
24 Want to build your dream church? Allow the Word of God to dwell richly in your people. By Kris Dolberry
26 Diving in, digging deeper Explore the Bible gives church a nineyear Sunday school plan. By Meredith Flynn
32 Boys2Men Fathers invest in their sons using The Gospel Project. By Bob Smietana
35 SmallGroup.com Customizing your group’s Bible study. By Aaron Earls
FEATURES 36 Connected to God’s power Helping people live a life of prayer. By Claude V. King
40 War Room A testament to the power of prayer. By Aaron Earls
42 L et’s start a revolution “I will … worship with others.” There’s no substitute for corporate worship. By Thom S. Rainer
45 Transformational churches
IN EVERY ISSUE 6 Inside F&T The gift of a good start. By Carol Pipes
7 From My Perspective Seven habits of highly effective pastors. By Thom S. Rainer
8 Insights eliefs, issues, and B trends impacting the church and our world.
50 On Our Radar Relevant and practical resources for you and your church.
54 Calibrate Quick and easy ideas for your church this fall. By Diana Davis
55 The Exchange Five essential elements of transformational small groups By Ed Stetzer
A church pursues its passion for community. By Chris Martin
46 Igniting evangelism in ordinary people
28 Why theology matters
Create a culture of evangelism in your church where everyone is engaged with the mission. By J. Mack Stiles
Do the people in your church have knowledge about God centered on His Word? By Matt Capps FactsAndTrends.net
Facts & Trends • 5
Facts&Trends Volume 61 • Number 5 • AUG/SEPT 2015
The gift of a good start
FACTS & TRENDS IS DESIGNED TO HELP PASTORS, CHURCH STAFF, AND DENOMINATIONAL LEADERS NAVIGATE THE ISSUES AND TRENDS IMPACTING THE CHURCH BY PROVIDING INFORMATION, INSIGHTS, AND RESOURCES FOR EFFECTIVE MINISTRY. Production Team
ackyard gardening has become a popular trend among my generation, and I am no exception. A couple of years ago I decided to start a garden. Why not? My grandmother was a grand gardener. Certainly, I could manage a 4 x 4 container garden. It must be in the genes, right? I Googled how to build the container, but that was the extent of my research. In deciding what to plant, I let my taste buds do the choosing. My local garden store had a variety of vegetables and herbs. I grabbed plants willy-nilly, my thoughts filled with fresh tomatoes (heirloom and cherry), zucchini, crookneck squash, peppers, cucumbers, basil, rosemary, and mint. I rushed home with my bounty and crammed the plants into my garden. And so the waiting began. I watered and weeded and waited some more. Nothing happened. Oh, I had plenty of herbs. And my zucchini plant produced pretty yellow flowers. I think I harvested one cucumber and a couple of cherry tomatoes. But that was about it. My dreams of a bountiful harvest were crushed. I learned my lesson. The next year I spent more time planning my garden before I ever stuck my hands in the dirt. I’ve since learned which plants grow well in my region and which ones make good garden partners. Now, I keep my herbs in separate pots. And I rotate cool-weather lettuces and veggies with summer tomato and squash varieties. My dreams of backyard gardening have finally come to fruition. It’s amazing what a little research and planning can do. The same can be said for many areas of our lives. In this issue, Eric Geiger writes about the importance of building a wise discipleship plan for your church. “The antithesis of teaching with wisdom is a haphazard plan or no plan at all for developing people in our groups and classes,” he writes. Not sure where to start when looking for a Bible study that fits your church? We’ve got you covered. You’ll read about LifeWay’s different curriculum lines based on four starting points — life, text, theology, and your church. “A group will be frustrated if what it is studying doesn’t match the group’s preferred approach,” writes Geiger. We hope this issue helps you think through what type of curriculum best fits your church. Starting with a wise plan is the first step toward a fruitful group discipleship experience.
Carol Pipes, Editor @CarolPipes | Carol.Pipes@lifeway.com 6 • Facts & Trends
Editor | Carol Pipes Managing Editor | Matt Erickson Senior Writer | Lisa Cannon Green Online Editor | Aaron Earls Graphic Designer | Katie Shull Intern | Ashley Parmer
LifeWay Leadership President and Publisher | Thom S. Rainer Executive Editor | Ed Stetzer Senior Editor | Marty King
Contributors Matt Capps, Diana Davis, Kris Dolberry, Meredith Flynn, Eric Geiger, Rick Howerton, Claude King, Chris Martin, Sam O’Neal, Bob Smietana, Mack Stiles, Megan Sweas
Advertising Rhonda Edge Buescher, director, Media Business Development Jessi Wallace, Magazine Advertising Specialist Tim Huffine, Marketing Sales Strategist Send advertising questions/comments to: One LifeWay Plaza, MSN 136, Nashville, TN 37234 Email: AdOptions@lifeway.com Media kits: LifeWay.com/mediaoptions This magazine includes paid advertisements for some products and services not affiliated with LifeWay. The inclusion of the paid advertisements does not constitute an endorsement by LifeWay Christian Resources of the products or services.
Subscriptions For a free print subscription to Facts & Trends, send your name, address, and phone number to FactsAndTrends@lifeway.com.
Permissions Facts & Trends grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be photocopied for use in a local church or classroom, provided copies are distributed free and indicate Facts & Trends as the source. Contact Us: Email- FactsAndTrends@lifeway.com Mail - F acts & Trends, One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN 37234-0192 Facts & Trends is published quarterly by LifeWay Christian Resources. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, copyright 2009. Used by permission.
FACTSANDTRENDS AUG/SEPT 2015
FROM MY PERSPECTIVE
Seven habits of highly effective pastors
etermining the effectiveness of a pastor is a highly subjective exercise. While certain metrics may prove helpful, they do not tell the whole story. Pastors possess many characteristics: prayerful, committed to the Word, dedicated to their families, visionary, and others. But what sets highly effective pastors apart from most others? I began to think back over my 40 years of serving churches and the pastors I’ve known and worked with along the way. Several of them stood out from the rest. Since I knew each of these pastors well, I began to write down traits that distinguished them from most other pastors. What made them tick? How and why were they so effective as leaders? When I finished this assignment, I discovered seven distinguishing characteristics or habits of highly effective pastors. 1. These pastors have genuine enthusiasm. I’m not referring to the vocal cheerleader type. These pastors may be quiet, but their passion and enthusiasm for their churches, their families, and their ministries are evident in all they say and do. It’s not a contrived enthusiasm; it is real and contagious. 2. They are great listeners. When you are around these pastors, they genuinely want to focus on you. They seem to have little desire to talk about themselves; they would rather hear your stories. They make you feel important, because they genuinely care and genuinely listen. 3. Their identity is not their vocation. They don’t need to climb a perceived ladder of success because their greatest reward comes from serving Christ. You don’t have to worry about these pastors manipulating the system for their own advancement. Their identities are in Christ, not their vocations. 4. They are intentional about personal witnessing. These pastors don’t see the Great Commission as an abstract concept or something others are supposed to do. They love to share the gospel personally with others. They spend time in their communities and naturally share their
faith as they develop relationships with those outside the church. 5. They have unconditional love of their critics. Many leaders, pastors included, have limited effectiveness, because critics constantly hound them. They are drained emotionally and sometimes walk in fear of their critics. Rather than allow their critics to discourage them, effective pastors pray for their critics. They learn to love their critics by asking God to help them have that love. 6. They have a gentle spirit. We often forget gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit. In our hypercritical social media world, aggression and negativity have become normative, even in our churches. Effective pastors, to the contrary, have a calm and gentleness that can only come “THEY DON’T from the Holy Spirit.
NEED TO CLIMB A PERCEIVED LADDER OF SUCCESS BECAUSE THEIR GREATEST REWARD COMES FROM SERVING CHRIST.”
7. They persevere. Ministry isn’t easy. And local church ministry can be especially difficult. Too many wounded warriors limp along in ministry within our churches. Unfortunately, most of their wounds have — THOM S. RAINER come from “friendly” fire (barbs, insults, and accusations carelessly fired by insensitive members and ministry colleagues). Highly effective pastors hang in there. Sure, they get hurt and are often discouraged. But they ultimately keep on doing ministry in God’s power. These seven traits build on the biblical qualifications of a pastor found in Acts 6:4—they devote themselves to prayer and to the ministry of the Word. Without that foundation, the rest of these characteristics are meaningless. If you are a pastor or church leader, ask yourself where you need God’s guidance and correction to be a more effective leader. Thom S. Rainer (@ThomRainer) is President and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources.
Facts & Trends • 7
Beliefs, issues, and trends impacting our world
America’s Changing Religious Landscape Evangelicals gain as religious landscape changes
More people consider themselves evangelical
new survey of the American religious landscape brings encouraging news for evangelicals that few other faiths can claim. While most major religious groups saw declines, evangelicals gained as many as 5 million followers since 2007, the Pew Research Center’s 2014 report on religion in America shows. And young adults are just as likely to hold evangelical beliefs as they were seven years earlier—something no other large Christian group can say.
ADULTS WHO SAY THEY ARE EVANGELICAL OR BORN AGAIN:
Among All Americans:
34% 35% 2007
SIX BRIGHT SPOTS FOR EVANGELICALS: 1. Evangelical ranks are increasing. 35 percent of U.S. adults describe themselves as born again or evangelical, up from 34 percent in 2007.
2. Evangelicals are now a clear majority of Protestants. 55 percent of Protestants identify with evangelical churches, up from 51 percent in 2007.
67% 72% 2007
3. Evangelical beliefs are growing in traditionally non-evangelical faiths. 27 percent of mainline Protestants, 22 percent of Catholics, and 18 percent of the Orthodox say they consider themselves evangelical or born again. Rates are up among every Christian group.
Among Evangelical Protestants:
4. When people change faiths, they tend to go evangelical. “The evangelical Protestant tradition is the only major Christian group in the survey that has gained more members than it has lost through religious switching,” the survey noted.
79% 83% 2007
5. Evangelicals are holding on to their young people. About two-thirds of those raised in the evangelical tradition are staying in the faith—a rate surpassed within Christianity only by the historically black church. While the portion of millennials who claim no religion at all increased from 25 to 35 percent between 2007 and 2014, the share of evangelical millennials stayed the same at 21 percent.
Among Mainline Protestants:
Among Historically Black Protestants:
16% 22% 2007
16% 18% 2007
6. Evangelicals are becoming more racially and ethnically diverse. The share of evangelicals who are non-white increased from 19 to 24 percent.
Source:PewForum.org 8 • Facts & Trends
When people switch religions, evangelicals gain more than they lose
Christianity isn’t dying and no research says it is; the statistics about Christians in America are simply starting to show a clearer picture of what American Christianity is becoming—less nominal, more defined, and more outside of the mainstream of American culture.”
PERCENTAGE OF U.S. ADULTS WHO HAVE … Joined the faith
Left the faith Evangelical 10%
Mainline Protestant Historically Black
—Ed Stetzer, executive editor, Facts & Trends
-8.4 -10.4 -10.9 -12.9
BY THE NUMBERS: EVANGELICALS
1 in 8 Americans is a regular church attending evangelical Source: General Social Survey (NORC.org)
Facts & Trends • 9
Beliefs, issues, and trends impacting our world
Americans’ views of gay marriage are divided by faith and friendship Gay marriage should be legal. Say they have Gay/Lesbian Friends Say they have no Gay/Lesbian Friends
60% Agree 33% Agree
34% Disagree 61% Disagree
6% Not Sure 7% Not Sure
Sex between people of the same gender is sinful, regardless of its legality. Say they have Gay/Lesbian Friends
Say they have no Gay/Lesbian Friends
52% Disagree 37% Disagree
6% Not Sure 9% Not Sure
Note: Totals may not equal 100% due to rounding.
Myth busters: Religion vs. science
ontrary to popular belief, most evangelical Christians don’t view religion and science as being in conflict, according to a study at Rice University. Nearly half of evangelicals (48 percent) believe science and religion are complementary, and 21 percent view them as entirely independent of each other. Only 30 percent see science and religion at odds. Rice sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund said American culture often portrays evangelicals as hostile toward or distrustful of science, but “we found that this is more myth than reality.” Overall, 38 percent of Americans view science and religion as complementary, and 35 percent see them as independent.
of Americans view
science and religion
see science and
religion at odds.
BY THE NUMBERS: AMERICANS BELIEVE CHURCH IS GOOD BUT DYING
80 percent of nonreligious people believe church
Two-thirds of Americans (65 percent) think church
attendance is acceptable, and 43 percent label it
attendance is admirable, and nearly 9 in 10 call it
admirable. Just 29 percent call it useless.
acceptable. Only 11 percent consider church useless.
10 • Facts & Trends
FAITH & WORK
More pastors are More Americans say they have no preaching about religious preference mericans who claim no religious preference are almost faith and work entirely responsible for a continuing slump in church atten-
ecent research from the Center for Faith and Work at LeTourneau University reports that more pastors are preaching about the biblical view of work more often. In 2011, 26 percent of pastors said their sermons addressed faith and work. In 2014, 36 percent of senior Protestant pastors say they preached a sermon on what the Bible says about God’s view of work within the past month, with an additional 36 percent preaching on faith and work in the last six months. And the number of pastors who say they preached about the biblical view of work in the past year was 86 percent. The research also indicates 70 percent of American churchgoers don’t “see how their work serves God’s purposes,” and 78 percent “see their work as less important than the work of a pastor or priest.” So, while there’s encouraging news about pastors talking about faith and work more often, a majority of Christians still believe ministry work is more important than other kinds of work. Dr. Art Lindsley, vice president of theological initiatives at the Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics, suggests four ways church leaders can encourage their people in their work: 1. Interview workers in various professions during services. 2. Pray for people in various professions (and all workers). 3. W atch your language by avoiding elevating ministry work over other kinds of work. 4. Stress that anyone can have a ministry at work. Source: TIFWE.org
dance, the 2014 General Social Survey finds. A record 21 percent of Americans say they have no religious preference, a number that has grown steadily from 8 percent in 1990, with no evidence of a slowdown. And 88 percent of those with no religious preference say they attend services no more than once a year. Those who identify with a faith attend services about as often as they ever did. “We see little evidence of changing religious behavior among Americans who identify with a religion,” the study’s authors note.
…BUT THEY’RE STILL PRAYING
57% of Americans report praying daily.
Though Americans are less likely than ever to be churchgoers (just over 4 in 10 report attending worship services at least once a month), most say they pray every day. The 2014 General Social Survey found: • About 57 percent report praying daily, a rate that has remained relatively stable since the survey began asking the question in 1983. • Nearly 75 percent say they pray at least weekly. Even among those who say they never attend religious services, nearly 30 percent report praying at least once a day, as do 24 percent of those who claim no religious preference. The numbers perhaps reflect a shift in Americans’ views of religion—it’s becoming more personal and private rather than practiced in community, which is a dangerous path. But Christians should see this as an opportunity to seek out their unchurched neighbors and friends. Most likely they will be open to talking about spiritual things and prayer might be a good place to start. Source: General Social Survey (NORC.org)
40% vs 32%
Americans are more likely to believe attendance is
Forty percent of women say the church is growing, and 41
declining (55 percent) or dying (42 percent) than
percent describe it as thriving. Among men, only 32 percent
growing (36 percent) or thriving (38 percent).
think it is growing, and 34 percent label it thriving.
Facts & Trends • 11
Different groups, different starting points WHAT’S THE BEST STARTING POINT FOR YOUR CHURCH?
12 • Facts & Trends
By Eric Geiger
our groups matter. A lot. Research shows that groups remain one of the most effective tools for learning the habits of faith. According to LifeWay’s Transformational Discipleship study, people in Bible study groups pray and confess their sins more regularly, share the gospel more confidently, give more generously, and serve more sacrificially than those not in a small group. We see a deep connection between groups and discipleship, as God uses community that is rooted in Him to mature His people.
But we shouldn’t just settle for groups. We should long for groups built on a solid foundation. What your groups study is critical to the health of those groups. When Jesus prayed for believers to be unified in His famous high priestly prayer, He also prayed that His disciples would be sanctified: “Sanctify them by the truth; Your word is truth” (John 17:17). God wants the people in our churches to be both unified and sanctified. Thus, the community we develop in our groups and classes must be community that is rooted in truth, in His Word. A group should help people encounter and dwell in the Word. Groups built apart from the truth are groups with too shallow a community, groups void of the transforming power of God’s Word. The Word of God gives your groups the solid foundation they need. The apostle Paul said, “We proclaim Him, warning and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ” (Colossians 1:28). Paul wanted to see maturity and development occur in the people he led, and according to this passage, this included proclaiming Christ and teaching with wisdom. The antithesis of “teaching with wisdom” is a haphazard plan or no plan at all for developing people in our groups and classes.
Facts & Trends • 13
CHURCH LEADERS ARE WISE TO GIVE THEIR GROUPS A DISCIPLESHIP PLAN THAT OVER TIME EXPOSES PEOPLE TO THE WHOLE COUNSEL OF GOD’S WORD.
LIFE ISSUES/AREAS OF GROWTH BIBLE STUDIES FOR LIFE
As we design ongoing Bible studies from LifeWay, we long for the studies to provide church and group leaders a wise plan to lead people toward greater maturity in Christ. We are concerned about the long-term consequences for people if there is not a plan, if folks “just wing it.” Church leaders are wise to give their groups a discipleship plan that over time exposes people to the whole counsel of God’s Word.
DIFFERENT STARTING POINTS Because we know every church and every group is unique, we understand that groups and classes can approach a Bible study through different “starting points.” Based on all our conversations with church leaders, we have concluded there are four general starting points: life, text, theology, and your church. Life: Some groups and ministries prefer to start with life issues or a life development framework. They start with “the learner” and want studies formed around how people grow. Text: Other groups and ministries prefer to start with the text. They want to walk people through books of the Bible. Theology: Others prefer a theological starting point, where groups look at the themes of Scripture and see how they all fit together and point to Christ. Your church: Other groups enjoy aligning the group content with the 14 • Facts & Trends
BOOKS OF THE BIBLE EXPLORE THE BIBLE
pastor’s sermons and using the pulpit as the primary driver for group content. A pastor may say, “One approach sounds like practical theology, one sounds like biblical theology, one sounds like systematic theology, and the last one sounds like I’m developing the plan alongside my preaching.” Each approach is valid as long as the people consistently study the Word of God. These starting points don’t mean a group with one starting point never emphasizes aspects of the other starting points. Hopefully, a church or group with the life starting point still emphasizes both the context of the passage and the theological themes. These are simply a description of the overall trajectory of the group or church—what philosophy in approaching the Word of God is most helpful in their context at a given time. When thinking through starting points for your groups, consider these two important thoughts: 1. All of these approaches can be wise as long as they get people in the Word, bring them to Jesus, and challenge people to live out their faith. 2. A group will be frustrated if what it is studying doesn’t match the group’s preferred approach. For example, if people want to see what the Bible says about “real-life issues,” they may feel other approaches aren’t practical enough. Or if a group wants to dive systematically into books of the Bible, the group may struggle with other approaches “being all over AUG/SEPT 2015
THEMES OF SCRIPTURE, POINTING TO CHRIST THE GOSPEL PROJECT
the place.” Picking the best starting point for your people is the first step toward a fruitful group experience.
LIFEWAY CURRICULUM & YOUR STARTING POINT Because we exist to serve churches and groups, we offer different lines of curriculum for these distinct starting points. Each line of curriculum is rooted in Scripture and focused on Christ, but each line approaches the study differently. Life: With Bible Studies for Life, we start with how people grow. For kids, we use the framework Levels of Biblical Learning as a guide for what kids should learn and when. For students and adults, we use the framework behind Transformational Discipleship as a guide so we know we’re helping leaders develop their people with wisdom. For the studies, we begin with real-life issues that people face every day, and we bring the Scripture to bear on those issues. Text: With Explore the Bible, we start with a plan to walk people through all the books of the Bible, to expose them to all the genres of Scripture. We seek to study the text in its context and challenge people to obey it in their own context. Kids, students, and adults study each genre of Scripture every three years. Theology: With The Gospel Project,
PASTOR’S SERMONS DRIVE CONTENT SMALLGROUPS.COM
“SIN DEMANDS TO HAVE A MAN BY HIMSELF. IT WITHDRAWS HIM FROM THE COMMUNITY. THE MORE ISOLATED A PERSON IS, THE MORE DESTRUCTIVE WILL BE THE POWER OF SIN OVER HIM, AND THE MORE DEEPLY HE BECOMES INVOLVED IN IT, THE MORE DISASTROUS IS HIS ISOLATION.” — Dietrich Bonhoeffer
we start with a systematic plan to show people how all Scripture points to Jesus. Beginning this fall, we’ll present the Bible’s basic doctrines and themes as they appear chronologically in the Bible. The studies are going to walk people chronologically through the story of the Bible over three years. Your church: To help churches prepare their own study path, we’ve developed a new tool—SmallGroup.com. It helps leaders develop customized studies in a consistent format based on the themes, topics, or texts of their choosing. We believe in groups. Twentieth-century theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer was right when he wrote, “Sin demands to have a man by himself. It withdraws him from the community. The more isolated a person is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over him, and the more deeply he becomes
involved in it, the more disastrous is his isolation.” We believe healthy groups are formed on the truth. And we believe groups benefit and are served well when a wise plan for discipling people with the truth of God’s Word undergirds the group. And because groups have different starting points, we offer different lines of curriculum, all designed to help churches take kids, students, and adults into the truth of God’s Word. ERIC GEIGER (@EricGeiger) is vice president of the Resources Division of LifeWay. He is also a teaching pastor and a frequent speaker and consultant on church mission and strategy.
DIG DEEPER •F or more on LifeWay’s curriculum, visit LifeWay.com/Go.
Facts & Trends • 15
16 • Facts & Trends
Just do it LIFE IS MESSY. BUT IF WE APPLY SCRIPTURE TO OUR LIVES, WE CAN FACE THE ISSUES HEAD ON.
ust do it.” These days, almost everyone is familiar with Nike’s landmark advertising campaign. The ads first appeared in 1988, and they became so iconic they claimed a spot in the Americana exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum. What’s interesting is that the advertising executives at Nike had no idea “Just do it” would be so successful, according to Art & Copy, a documentary on advertising. “None of us really paid that much attention,” Dan Wieden, co-founder of the ad agency that originally produced the campaign, says in the film. “We thought, ‘Yeah,
BY SAM O’NEAL that’d work.’” So why did “Just do it” become such a cultural phenomenon? Perhaps people responded to the call to action implicit in the phrase. Or, perhaps they appreciated the not-so-subtle reminder to do something with their lives. Whatever the reasons, the spirit behind Nike’s campaign points to a critical truth for those who actively study God’s Word: application is a must.
MOVE BEYOND INFORMATION Many followers of Jesus approach the experiences of Bible study and discipleship with the goal of understanding
what a specific Scripture passage communicates to us—what it means. Because there are so many doctrinal conflicts raging throughout the church at any given time, we tend to invest our discipleship resources in a way that produces a “proper” understanding of the text. Certainly, this is important work. There is much to be gained by “correctly teaching the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Yet we must not stop there. We must push beyond the goal of acquiring information. Life application is the primary goal of Bible study and discipleship. We don’t study God’s Word simply to Facts & Trends • 17
“G o, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” — Matthew 28:19-20
understand what it says—we study so we can obey God. Remember these sobering words from the apostle James: “You believe that God is one; you do well. The demons also believe—and they shudder” (2:19). Similarly, we don’t pour ourselves into the discipleship process simply to produce fellow Christians who know as much about the Bible as we do. We disciple others so they may actively contribute to God’s kingdom in obedience to the King. That was Jesus’ original message in the Great Commission: Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20, emphasis added). As you study God’s Word, remember to move beyond the question, “What does this text mean?” Invest yourself in answering the more important question: “What must I do to obey?”
MAKE IT PRACTICAL
DIG DEEPER •B ible Studies for Life encourages people to connect and discover what God and His Word have to say about the issues we face every day. • Visit BibleStudiesforLife.com.
Given the importance of life application, those who lead groups and participate in discipleship must place a greater priority on helping others actively obey God’s Word. And we must do this in ways that are both helpful and practical. Unfortunately, life application often gets short shrift in our group experiences. Many times it is left until the very end of a group’s time together—which means the group often runs out of time to discuss how to apply Scripture to their lives. And when we do make room for life application, we often rely on vague questions like: • How will you apply these truths in your life this week? • What will you do based on what you’ve learned?
18 • Facts & Trends
• When will you make time to obey Jesus’ command in this passage? The problem with these kinds of questions is they put all the stress on the group member to figure things out. Rather than providing clear and practical options for obedience, they force people to come up with their own ideas—something much easier said than done. To help those we lead and disciple, we must make a concerted effort to offer practical ideas for application. For example, each session of Bible Studies for Life contains three concrete ideas for life application. Each of these ideas offers a specific action to take based on the material being studied. Users don’t have to think of everything themselves—nor do group leaders. In addition, the life application ideas included in Bible Studies for Life follow a Walk/Run/Soar approach. One of the application ideas is simple—something any person could accomplish in a given week. The second is more advanced, and the third would be a challenge even for mature Christians. In this way, we provide clear options for life application that allow group members to confidently obey the Scriptures in ways that fit their level of spiritual maturity. We also provide tools for leaders and disciple-makers to equip those they serve and point them toward obedience. “Go and make disciples … teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you.” These are critical commands from God’s Word and necessary steps for any disciple of Christ. They invite us to move beyond simply learning information to taking action in obedience to God. SAM O’NEAL (@SamTONeal) is editor of Bible Studies for Life.
WHEN THE BIBLE MEETS LIFE 20 • Facts & Trends
BIBLE STUDIES FOR LIFE HELPS CHURCH CONNECT WITH MEMBERS AND ANSWER LIFE’S BIG QUESTIONS
O Above: Grace Apiafi leads a class at St. Stephens Missionary Church through a discussion of Scripture using Bible Studies for Life.
By Megan Sweas
n a Sunday morning, you’ll find Grace Apiafi either in church or in her car. The longtime Sunday school teacher drives 45 minutes or longer to get to St. Stephen Missionary Church in La Puente, California. And Apiafi isn’t alone. St. Stephen has transformed from a community church to a commuter church in recent years as the neighborhood around it has changed. The African-American church has retained its vitality, though, by adapting to the community and providing spiritual sustenance that keeps long-term members returning. “I’m not going anywhere,” Apiafi insists. “This is my church home.” La Puente once had a vibrant African-American population, but the small city east of Los Angeles is now 85 percent Hispanic. Many of St. Stephen’s African-American congregants have moved further east into the Inland Empire, where they can buy more real estate for their money even if it lengthens their commute to both work and church, Pastor Anthony Dockery says. While longtime members like Apiafi are loyal to the 51-yearold church, convincing people to make the drive on their day of rest can be a challenge. A vibrant Sunday school helps bring them back while attracting and retaining new members, Dockery says. “Sometimes the hardest part is keeping people,” he maintains, “so when you’re really feeding people, they also stay.” In 18 classrooms behind the church on Sunday mornings, congregants balance on their laps paper plates full of breakfast treats and Bible study workbooks. On an average Sunday, 800 of the 4,000 church members participate in Sunday school. St. Stephen, which has used LifeWay curriculum for decades, adopted the Bible Studies for Life curriculum two years ago, using it across all age groups, from preschool children to senior citizens.
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“As a teacher, you sit back and say, ‘Wow, this is the Holy Spirit working.’” — Grace Apiafi
WHEN LIFE GETS MESSY Bible Studies for Life has encouraged more discussion on topics that are relevant to people’s lives, says Barbara Ray, the Sunday school director. “It’s teaching like Jesus taught—in conversation.” In the past, Sunday school curriculum could be “too churchy,” Dockery says. “And the world we live in is not churchy.” One Sunday in February, for instance, the groups turned their attention to homosexuality. Apiafi’s class of 31 group members read Scripture passages from Romans aloud together, then ran through a series of questions. The questions started basic, asking what the passage said. Another question asked people to share how they felt talking about homosexuality. Both Ray and Apiafi believe the questions and relevance of the topics encourage people who typically don’t speak up in class to participate. “I’m going to relate this to my family,” says one man in Apiafi’s class, introducing a question about children whom he said he believed were gay at a young age. “Does God hold them responsible for being that way?” he asks. Apiafi addresses his question by returning to the Scripture. It’s the act of homosexual sex that is sin, she says. “People have very legitimate questions,” Apiafi says after class. “Those confusing ideas are kind of resolved right there.”
The lesson also pulls out what’s going on in people’s personal lives or families, giving the class the opportunity to pray for them. “As a teacher, you sit back and say, ‘Wow, this is the Holy Spirit working,’” she says. The man’s question helps move the conversation away from condemnation to how to share Christian beliefs with love and compassion. The lesson plan also guides the discussion in a hopeful, compassionate direction. “Verse 11 reminds us there is hope for all in Christ. How do we reflect that hope to people impacted by homosexuality?” says a group member, reading the last question from her workbook.
BEYOND THE CLASSROOM Before the church started using Bible Studies for Life, Apiafi used her own creativity to make lessons relevant. The new lesson plans are easier to teach, “to the point where I started thinking, ‘Am I getting lazy or what?’” she laughs. “We always encouraged the teachers to do less lecturing, but sometimes that was a little hard,” Ray says. The lesson plans help every class be interactive, no matter who is leading it. But the format also means the group shapes the conversation. Across the hallway, another class starts its conversation with compassion, with members sharing how they handle personal encounters with LGBT friends and neighbors. Across the parking lot, high school
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students sit in a circle to discuss the same topic. Typically, all age groups cover the same Scripture for the week, allowing the whole family to come back together to discuss their various lessons. But the curriculum adjusts content based on maturity levels. On this particular Sunday, the children’s classes are studying a different topic. The goal is to help church members take their faith beyond the classroom to discussions with family, friends, and co-workers. In Dockery’s words, Bible Studies for Life helps people with apologetics—being able to know and defend the faith. Deborah Barber, a member of Apiafi’s class, said she appreciated tackling homosexuality in Sunday school. As a teacher, she has colleagues and parents of students who are gay. The discussion was a good reminder of the need to “love them, but continue to pray for them,” she says. “I have to walk the walk, I have to talk the talk, and I have to model it.” To support this effort, many church members are also part of “Synergy” groups that meet in people’s homes during the week. The groups help the church extend the conversation to the outer communities where some of its members live. “Church starts from the Sunday school class,” Apiafi said. “And when they come in here, what do they do? They take what they’ve learned to their friends.” MEGAN SWEAS is a freelance journalist in Los Angeles, California. March/April AUG/SEPT 2015
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Want to build your dream church? By Kris Dolberry
24 â€˘ Facts & Trends
Allow the Word of God to dwell richly in your people
magine for a minute the kind of church you dream of leading. What does it look like? The answer to that question could take many forms. Some leaders may describe a specific worship style or gathering. Others may desire a certain type of programming or organizational structure. Or maybe you imagined a budget large enough to accomplish the vision God has given you. These are all good things, but that’s not what I’m asking. I’m wondering about the people. What would characterize the people in this dream church? Most pastors would agree their dream church is one where people are growing in their faith, leading their friends and neighbors to Christ and discipling them, and living on mission with God. Imagine people excited about gathering to worship, who sing passionately and worship God authentically, and who genuinely love one another and express patience when conflicts and disagreements occur. Imagine a church unified around a vision and strategy, a church where people are generous with their money and resources because they recognize and passionately pursue the mission of God. Who wouldn’t want to lead a church like that? Experts have written scores of books, led numerous conferences, and created endless campaigns to help leaders achieve this picture of church health. Many have tried changing worship style, moving Bible study groups off campus, or even changing the name of the church to something with more of a “cool factor,” and yet kingdom results remain the same or even get worse. So, what’s the secret? I believe Paul tells us in his letter to the church at Colossae when he simply says, “Let the
Word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Colossians 3:16). In the verses surrounding that powerful command, Paul describes the traits that characterize our dream church. He is saying if you want that kind of church, then do whatever you can to get the Word of Christ to live deeply and richly in your people. How does that happen? The answer, I believe, lies in the way we study God’s Word.
CONTEXT MATTERS D. A. Carson says, “A text without a context is a pretext for a proof text.” If we don’t know the context, we will fall victim to the temptation to find verses that support our feelings, our opinions, and our desires. If we study passages without their context, we won’t truly understand the Bible. And if we aren’t careful, we will produce believers who grab passages to justify their behaviors and their decisions instead of allowing the Word to direct and develop them. Throughout history, people have wrongly taken Scriptures out of context to justify and validate evil actions and used them as weapons to destroy lives. We want to study the Word in context because that is how God has chosen to reveal Himself to us. If we want people to know Him, we must help them know His Word as He has given it to us. If people don’t understand the Word of God, they won’t fully know the God of the Word. For this reason, Explore the Bible is a book-by-book study of Scripture that takes participants deep into the context of God’s Word and challenges them to live it out in their own context. The goal of Explore the Bible is to plant the Word of God deep into the heart of all people and have them better under-
stand individual passages and books of the Bible in light of the larger biblical context. George Mueller, the 19th-century evangelist, said, “The vigor of our spiritual life will be in direct proportion to the place held by our Bible in our life and thoughts.” The reason so many churches don’t look more like our dream church is not because they are missing the latest and greatest church growth model—it’s because the Word of God is only superficially dwelling in them. What’s the secret to building a dream church—one that is healthy, strong, and full of people passionate about loving God, living on mission, and serving others? Simple: engaging with, devouring, and dwelling in the Word of God. Study the Word of God in its context so you can live the Word of God in your context. The only way to experience long-term, lasting church health is by helping people dwell in the Word. KRIS DOLBERRY (@KrisDolberry) is brand manager for LifeWay’s Explore the Bible. He is a pastor, Bible teacher, husband, and father of three.
DIG DEEPER •E xplore the Bible is a book-by-book Bible study for groups of all ages. • Visit LifeWay.com/ ExploretheBible.
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Diving in, digging deeper EXPLORE THE BIBLE GIVES CHURCH A 9-YEAR SUNDAY SCHOOL PLAN
By Meredith Flynn
he Sunday school hour is coming to a close at First Marion, but Sarah Bond needs more time. “I want to take you to verse 6,” she tells the small group at her table. The lesson this morning, from Zephaniah 1, is about what happens when God’s people turn away from Him. And this verse, which lists some warning signs of spiritual apathy, has been laid on Bond’s heart as one that has action steps for her group. Application is important to Bond, a teacher at nearby Southern Illinois University and a leader in her church’s Sunday school class. Bond’s class, which meets in the church gym, is talking about the same lesson as all the other classes in the church. They’re working through LifeWay’s Explore the Bible curriculum, and currently are studying the books written by the minor prophets. She’s found that many in the class have read the minor prophets while reading through the Bible, but never studied them in context
“WHEN YOU PREACH THE WORD OF GOD, THE HOLY SPIRIT WILL SPEAK THROUGH WHATEVER PASSAGE OF SCRIPTURE YOU’RE IN.” — Bob Dickerson, Pastor Every week, Pastor Bob Dickerson preaches from the same book of the Bible his church studies in Sunday school.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY MEREDITH FLYNN
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and in great depth, as they are now. “We’re able to dive in at a deeper level and then make life application to it as well,” Bond says. “And that’s been very helpful.” Last fall, the church started a nineyear plan based on Explore the Bible to study all 66 books of the Bible. In addition to Sunday school, pastor Bob Dickerson preaches his morning message on a different topic from the same book. In some cases, he’s preaching from places in Scripture he’s never preached from before. “This is what’s been especially affirming to me—that the book of the Bible we’re studying is just as relevant as if I picked out a topic from what’s going on in the nation,” Dickerson says. “When you preach the Word of God, the Holy Spirit will speak through whatever passage of Scripture you’re in.” He said one of the church’s senior members told him she might not live the whole nine years. “And I said, ‘Well, no problem. When you get to heaven, just have the Author of the book teach it to you.’”
FROM MILK TO MEAT Jason and Sarah Bond were regular attenders long before they engaged in the mission of their church. “For maybe six years, we would only come on Sunday morning, maybe Sunday night, but we weren’t really involved,” says Jason, who, like his wife, teaches at the collegiate level. What moved the couple from their pew to active roles at church was, first, a saving faith in Jesus. Sarah, raised in the Catholic Church, came to know Christ and was baptized at First Marion shortly after the Bonds married. Jason, who had been baptized at a young age, struggled with doubt over his salvation until he professed faith in Christ after a revival at the church
where their audience can range from people with little church background to others who are seminary educated. The class also includes residents from a nearby shelter, The Lighthouse. On Thursday evenings, the Bonds and other volunteer teachers from First Marion go to the homeless shelter to lead a Bible study session. Sometimes, they use material from Explore the Bible and Dickerson’s corresponding sermons. Participants are invited to respond to the gospel and to come to church down the street, where there’s an outreach Sunday school class waiting for them. Through the end of 2014, Sarah says, eight people had accepted Christ through the ministry at the shelter.
LONG-RANGE PLANNING Sarah Bond and her husband, Jason, were regular attenders without really engaging in the life of the church, she said. A one-on-one discipleship process brought them each to a new point of commitment, and they both serve as leaders in the church’s outreach-focused Sunday school class.
nearly four years ago. He started a one-on-one discipleship process with Dickerson, while Sarah began the same journey mentored by a woman in the church. “That gave us the spiritual discipline with our daily quiet time,” Jason says, “and started the slow process of us coming off the milk to the food of Scripture.” After a few months, Dickerson asked the Bonds to serve as Sunday school leaders. “It was something that intimidated Sarah and me, but God had blessed us with educational backgrounds,” Jason says. “Why would we feel comfortable teaching in the secular world, but not feel like we could give back to the Lord the skill He first gave us? That’s what kicked it off, and started us teaching.” The Bonds are part of a rotating group of leaders in the outreach class,
Back in the church gym, Pastor Dickerson wraps up the Sunday school hour with a preview of this morning’s sermon. He’ll preach from Zephaniah 1:12 on God’s view of complacency. Dickerson says other approaches to Sunday school—topical or theology-based studies—are great. But his church is committed to the nine-year cycle of Explore the Bible. “The best way I can say it is I just think it’s what God has called us to right now,” Dickerson says. It’s also pushing the pastor and his church, which turns 150 years old this year, to dig deeper into the Word. “I’m planning for the next 10 years, and who knows what’s going to happen after that? But at the end of this nineyear cycle, I’m going to be able to look back and say—if Jesus tarries—we got through all 66 books of the Bible. “Let’s do it again.” MEREDITH FLYNN is managing editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper, in Springfield, Illinois.
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28 • Facts & Trends
Do the people in your church have knowledge about God centered on His Word?
By Matt Capps
ave you ever heard someone in your church dismissively say, “Theology isn’t for me” or “I don’t think theology is important; we just need to love Jesus and love people?” While I understand the sentiment behind these statements, as a pastor it grieves me. Far too many people in the church see theology as an abstract academic discipline with no bearing on the day-to-day Christian life. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Theology is inescapable. Every Christian is a theologian. Every Christian, by definition, knows God, thinks about God, and makes statements about God. The very word “theology” means a word (logos) about God (theos). Christian theology is simply talking about God in a distinctly Christian way based on the Scriptures. And if everyone is a theologian, the central question becomes: Is his or her theology distinctly Christian? Recent findings give cause for concern.
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TRUE THEOLOGY POINTS TO GOD LifeWay Research recently studied the theological knowledge of 3,000 adult Americans. The study focused on key theological areas of the faith and revealed several areas where Americans differ from historic, orthodox Christianity. Almost half (45 percent) believe there are many ways to get to heaven. The same percentage say the Bible was written for each person to interpret as he or she chooses. More than half (59 percent) of evangelicals believe the Holy Spirit is a force, not a person. And 29 percent of evangelicals believe God the Father is more divine than Jesus. Where are Americans, and especially evangelicals, getting their theology? Human beings didn’t invent God, and because God exists independently from human experience, theology cannot originate from human thought or experience. Distinctly Christian theology takes its starting point from the belief that God has revealed Himself in His authoritative Word, the Bible. This is significant because the Bible stands as a testimony to the free and intentional act of self-disclosure on the part of a transcendent God. The task of theology has to do with knowing the true God and developing an integrated knowledge about Him in light of His self-disclosure. A distinctly Christian theology is also focused on Christ. In John 5:39, Jesus says the Scriptures testify about Him. Christian doctrine is deeply personal and redemptive—not an outline of abstract formulations or a morality code. The Bible is the unfolding story of God’s rescue and subsequent commissioning of His people through the person and work of Jesus Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, to the glory of God. And that’s why we created The Gospel Project Bible chronological Bible study—to help people see the big picture and to help them see how Jesus is at the center of 30 • Facts & Trends
God’s plan and our faith. Unlike any other curriculum I know, The Gospel Project immerses participants in the gospel through every story, theological concept, and call to missions we read from Genesis to Revelation.
THEOLOGY IS PRACTICAL Theology is undertaken so our hearts might respond to God and that our lives might be conformed to His will. All of life’s central questions are deeply theological. Theology speaks to inquiries as wide-ranging as the meaning of life and as specific as particular events in life. Our questions about the everyday ups and downs of guilt, joy, doubt, peace, suffering, justice, and injustice all require a solid biblical and theological grounding to grasp them from a distinctly Christian perspective. And whether our theology is biblically sound or flawed, its implications will undoubtedly be felt because theology affects lives—both ours and those around us. Theology and the Christian life are not competing interests, but two sides of the same coin. This is why theology is so important to the local church. The church is a community of people on mission with God. And it’s a community where the passing on of the faith is central to its purpose (Matthew 28:16-20; 2 Timothy 4:1-4). Theological formation should be esteemed in the church because the church itself is a gospel-formed theological community. The church is centered on God’s Word, and God’s Word is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). In other words, theology is eminently practical. Theology also engages our emotions and shapes our living. It is not an exercise in head-scratching puzzles, but a discipline that should lead to heart-stirring emotions, which in turn
leads to worshipful obedience in every area of life. It is by knowing God that we come to love Him, and by loving Him that we come to know Him. This is why J.I. Packer has long said theology is for doxology and devotion—that is, the praise of God and the practice of godliness. In other words, loving Jesus and loving people are made possible by a theological vision of God and the Christian life. Theology fuels our devotion to God and our passion for sharing the gospel. A solid theological vision of God and the Christian life is a powerful tool for mission. Imagine if every Christian were a good theologian. Not just a good theologian, but a good theologian in the distinctively Christian sense. Theology matters for your church because theology is for everyone. Every Christian is a theologian. MATT CAPPS (@MattCapps) is former brand manager for The Gospel Project and current pastor of Fairview Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina.
“THEOLOGY IS NOT AN EXERCISE IN HEAD-SCRATCHING PUZZLES, BUT A DISCIPLINE THAT SHOULD LEAD TO HEART-STIRRING EMOTIONS, WHICH IN TURN LEADS TO WORSHIPFUL OBEDIENCE IN EVERY AREA OF LIFE.” —MATT CAPPS
DIG DEEPER •T he Gospel Project is a Chronological Bible Study for adults, students, and kids that examines how all Scripture gives testimony to Jesus Christ. • Visit GospelProject.com.
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Top left: Pastor Chris Griggs and his son Elijah read a Scripture passage. Top right: London England uses his smart phone to read the Bible. Bottom left: Christian Brown plays basketball with Denver Baptist’s youth minister, Michael Salanik Bottom right: Friends Colby Brown and Christian Boyles shoot some hoops before the Bible study.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY BOB LEVERONE
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Boys2Men Fathers invest in their sons using The Gospel Project
by Bob Smietana
bout once a month, a group of fathers and sons at Denver Baptist Church in Denver, North Carolina, gets together for barbecue, basketball, and the Bible. The concerned fathers wanted to spend time helping their sons learn how to better follow Jesus. So they started meeting a few years ago. They call themselves “Boys2Men.” Their pastor Chris Griggs smiles at the name, as it brings back memories of the popular 1990s R&B group Boyz II Men. “I don’t think they know about the singing group,” he says. The group started at a time when the church didn’t have a fulltime youth pastor. Some of the dads had volunteered to lead a youth weekend and came back realizing they wanted to be more involved in intentional discipleship. Griggs, who attends the group with his 10-year-old son, says the dads who started the group felt their sons were learning Bible stories, but not the overall story of the Bible. And they were looking for a way to talk about how the gospel interacts with everyday life. To help them do that, Boys2Men leaders decided to have the group study lessons from The Gospel Project. Each meeting, usually held on a Saturday, starts with a social time. The sons play football and basketball, while the dads sit together and talk about the challenges of raising young men. Then one father gives his testimony, followed by a discussion of that week’s lesson. The Gospel Project serves as a springboard to get the conversation going, Griggs says. “It’s not so much a lecture as it is, ‘Here’s the gospel—how does it apply to your situation in life?’” says Griggs. Kemp England, a police officer and member of Denver Baptist, is one of the founders of “Boys2Men.” He says the group FactsAndTrends.net
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“WE WANT TO HELP AS MANY MEN AS WE CAN FEEL COMFORTABLE PROCLAIMING THE GOSPEL.” — Kemp England
has helped both the men and their sons grow. “We want to help as many men as we can feel comfortable proclaiming the gospel,” he says. During the meeting, each father and son has a chance to discuss how that week’s lesson applies in his own life. For Griggs’ son, it’s about trying to apply the gospel at school, understanding his place in the world, and learning how to make and keep good friends. “For each kid it’s different,” he says. “The struggles you face at 10 are much different from the ones you face at 15.” Because of the success of Boys2Men, Denver Baptist is starting a fathers and daughters group, too—also using The Gospel Project. Griggs says, “These dads really want to invest in the lives of their kids.” BOB SMIETANA (@BobSmietana) is former senior writer for Facts & Trends.
Left: Kemp England, father of London, greets Michael Salanik. Below: Scott Bisson (standing) leads the group through Bible study discussion questions.
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A starting point close to home SmallGroup.com offers customizable studies for churches
here can a church begin looking for the right Bible study materials? For some, it may be within the church itself. Unique circumstances make churches different from each other. For most churches, those differences don’t require Bible study curriculum specifically designed for their situation. But some churches may require customized material. Let’s say a church wants a study to accompany a sermon series or undergird a special church-wide campaign. Customized Bible studies haven’t always been readily available for most churches, according to Michael Kelley, director of Groups Ministry at LifeWay Christian Resources. “Up until now,” Kelley said, “if a church needed curriculum written specifically for them, the only real option was to invest a significant amount of time and money in producing it themselves.” Even for churches that had the resources to manage a project of this size, the work often suffered, Kelley said, “because the church is simply too pressed for time in all their areas of ministry.” To solve that problem, Kelley and others at LifeWay developed SmallGroup.com, a web-based tool that allows churches to create and customize Bible studies for themselves. “With SmallGroup.com, a church can have customized content and still devote their energy to other areas of ministry,” Kelley said. The site has more than 1,200 searchable studies on 400 topics from all 66 books of the Bible. If a passage or topic isn’t available, one of the best features of SmallGroup.com, according to
By Aaron Earls Kelley, is that users can request a study at no additional charge and a LifeWay curriculum specialist will contact them within 48 hours. Users can even add church-specific logos and terminology to their Bible study templates. This was the tool Jorge Molina was looking for. Molina is small groups pastor at Christ Fellowship in Miami. He said SmallGroup.com offers an advantage to churches that take time to hear from their people what is needed for Bible study and create materials to reflect those needs. According to Molina, any church can benefit from the churchbased curriculum. “This system lets you customize the material to what you feel is best for the people you lead,” he said. Kelley noted three specific small group approaches that were part of the development of SmallGroup.com. First, the team wanted to develop something that would help churches that prefer sermon-based content. Chris Surratt, a ministry consultant who used the website at Cross Point Church in Nashville, said he appreciates pre-made studies, but customizable options allow leaders to adjust the content to fit their church. “You have the foundation of a great study with the ability to tweak it to the specific language of your pastor’s message,” he said. Churches can create simple, six-week campaigns to coincide with the weekend sermons. “You can set up your studies with the themes ahead of time and tweak them to fit the messages as you go through the series,” Surratt explained.
The second type of approach considered in developing SmallGroup.com was the long-range planning church, Kelley says. With static curriculum churches are limited in how far ahead they can see the small group material, according to Kelley, “a church could plan months and months of Bible studies according to their own ministry trajectory.” Churches who want to empower their group leaders were the third type of church discussed when planning the resource. “At SmallGroup.com, a church can give every group leader access to the tool,” says Kelley, “allowing each group to have their own custom approach to Bible study. All the while, the church staff can see exactly what each group is studying at a given time.” For churches interested in SmallGroup.com, there is a two-week free trial. Multiple leaders and staff members can sign up for their own trials, so several people within a church can experience it for themselves, according to Kelley. He said subscriptions are intentionally designed to be affordable—starting at less than $20 per month. The pricing scale is set by how many group members are using the content from SmallGroup.com, not the total number of members or attendees at the church, according to Kelley. While other starting points for small group material will always be relevant, many churches can gain a lot from a starting point close to home—their own congregation AARON EARLS (@WardrobeDoor) is online editor of FactsAndTrends.net. Facts & Trends • 35
Connected to God’s
power HELPING PEOPLE LIVE A LIFE OF PRAYER By CLAUDE V. King
36 • Facts & Trends
od has been calling us to be a people of prayer since He said in Isaiah 56 that His house will be called a house of prayer for all nations. In the research for Transformational Church by Ed Stetzer and Thom Rainer, LifeWay Research identified seven elements characterizing churches with significant transformation in the lives of church members and their community. Of those seven elements, only one was found in every transformational church: prayerful dependence. Prayer is not simply a religious activity to check off your to-do list or a slot in your order of worship. Prayer is a relationship with God, and your prayer life reflects the measure of your dependence on Him. God is our only hope for the crises we are facing in our homes and marriages, our churches, our cities, our nation, and the world. Is your prayer life up to the task of seeing transformation in these areas? Would God describe your church as a clear example of a house of prayer for the nations? In order to successfully partner with God to see transformation in these areas, we must be devoted to prayer. If we intend to turn the world upside down (actually right side up) as the early church did, we need to follow their example in their devotion to prayer. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to the prayers” (Acts 2:42, emphasis added). “The Twelve summoned the whole company of the disciples and said … ‘We will devote ourselves to prayer and to the preaching ministry’” (Acts 6:2, 4, emphasis added). In the first-century church, the leadership and the people were devoted to prayer, and God worked through them to change their world. Let’s become
people and churches devoted to prayer by taking the following 11 steps: 1. Follow the example of Jesus and model a praying life for others. Jesus “was praying in a certain place, and when He finished, one of His disciples said to Him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray’” (Luke 11:1). As the disciples watched Jesus talk to His Father in prayer and saw the impact of His praying lifestyle, they wanted to learn to pray like that. Are you modeling a praying life for others? Ask Jesus to teach you to pray in such a way that others will desire to pray like you do. 2. Surrender your all to King Jesus. We have a King in heaven who deserves our loyalty and obedience far more than any earthly king. When we pray, we are entering the very throne room of heaven where King Jesus sits on His throne extending His nail-scarred hands awaiting a pledge of full surrender. What would happen differently in your life or church if you began each day in full surrender to King Jesus? Are you surrendered to Him? 3. Get right with God and one another. James tells us “the intense prayer of the righteous is very powerful” (James 5:16). If God doesn’t seem to be answering your prayers as you desire, you (God’s people) may be the problem. If you want to see powerful responses to your prayers, make sure you’re living rightly before God and in right relationships with one another. Are you living a praying life that is powerful and effective? 4. Rekindle a first love for Christ, the wounded Savior. Jesus told His disciples love for Him would be reflected in their obedience to His commands. At a Lord’s Supper service on August 13, 1727, the Moravian church fell in
love with the wounded Savior. Church members began a 24/7 prayer effort that lasted for more than 100 years. And their obedience to Him resulted in powerful praying that changed their world. One-third of the group went out as missionaries, and one of those bands pointed John Wesley to genuine faith in Christ. The world has never been the same since. Are you wholeheartedly in love with your Savior? 5. Help individuals experience an intimate and personal love relationship with God in prayer. Many in our churches have been reared in families where their distrust of their father or other significant people has distorted their capacity to freely love and trust God as heavenly Father. These wounded souls need prayer and encouragement so they may experience the reality of a love relationship with God that is real and trustworthy. Pray for equipping, direction, and breakthroughs in helping them. This relationship is foundational to a healthy prayer life. 6. Equip members to pray privately and together. Prayer is best caught experientially rather than taught. That’s why small group experiences and one-to-one mentoring should include much prayer. Are you teaching others to pray? 7. Pray for one another while together. This is a great activity for a small group. Ask people to gather in groups of four or five (men with men and women with women). Instruct them to ask one individual at a time: “How may I pray for you?” Focus on personal, spiritual matters rather than physical matters. Sometimes the best instruction for prayer is to cry out to God for the things that really matter. Facts & Trends • 37
“THE INTENSE PRAYER OF THE RIGHTEOUS IS VERY POWERFUL” — James 5:16
8. Be devoted to prayer with God’s people in every setting possible. When Jesus said, “You can do nothing without Me” (John 15:5), He meant it. We demonstrate prayerful dependence on Him every time we come to Him for direction, help, or resources. When we do not pray, we essentially say: “We don’t need You on this one, Lord.” That statement is never true. In everything, pray. Do you demonstrate prayerful dependence on God for everything? 9. Make prayer a primary part of your work strategy in every aspect of church life. For every decision, for every plan or strategy, for every provision, and for every intervention in the lives of people, we need God’s direction. Any time you need to know what to do, pray. Don’t offend Him by ignoring Him. Is prayer a primary strategy in your work? In your church?
DIG DEEPER •W ar Room Bible Study by Alex and Stephen Kendrick
8-SESSION BIBLE STUDY
• The Battle Plan for Prayer by Alex and Stephen Kendrick • Disciple’s Prayer Life by T. W. Hunt • The Armor of God by Priscilla Shirer •P rayerWorks: A Prayer Strategy for Kids by Alex and Stephen Kendrick
38 • Facts & Trends
10. Tell stories and share the testimonies of answered prayer. One great motivation for increased dependence on God in prayer is the testimony of a recent answer to prayer. Ask people in your church to share how God has answered a prayer. Focus on what God has done and not on the contributions of human efforts. Testimonies increase faith to believe God for greater things. Are you able to tell the stories of answered prayer? 11. Pray for God’s assignments to the lost world beginning at home and to the ends of the earth; then obey Jesus’ final command (Great Commission). God has work for us to do. Prayer is our means of submission to Him for the assignments. When He reveals His purposes and His ways, that encounter becomes our invitation to join Him in His work. We need to trust Him and obey! Are you obeying the final command? Is your church ready to respond to this invitation to teach your members to pray with power, boldness, and effectiveness? Are your pastors, staff, and leaders modeling lives of prayerful dependence from which others will learn to pray? Do you have prayer mentors and small group leaders ready to teach others to pray through meaningful prayer experiences? If not, now is the time to get ready for the amazing things God can do in and through your church when you become a house of prayer. CLAUDE V. KING, coauthor of Experiencing God, is discipleship and church health specialist at LifeWay. For more details on being devoted to prayer, go to Claude’s video blog and click on print downloads at blog.lifeway.com/ growing disciples.
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War Room highlights the power of prayer
By Aaron Earls
he tire tracks across young Alex Kendrick’s body are testament to the power of prayer. When he was only 4 years old, the child who would one day become a Christian filmmaker was run over by a car. He walked away from the incident without serious injuries, and he believes it was because his parents prayed for him. “I had tire marks on my body, but no broken bones,” he says. Though the marks have long since faded, Kendrick believes prayer is more important today than ever before. The newest film from him and his brother Stephen, War Room, focuses on the power of prayer. 40 • Facts & Trends
“If there ever was a time God’s people needed to plead with God for direction and intervention, it’s now,” he explains. “We must make sure we are right with Him and seeking His involvement in our culture, government, churches, and families. We’re eroding too fast on too many levels.” War Room may seem like a departure from the Kendrick brothers’ most recent major motion pictures, which drew Christian inspiration from high-pressure situations such as coaching high school football in Facing the Giants, fighting fires in Fireproof, and tackling crime in Courageous. Yet after two years of prayer, asking AUG/SEPT 2015
Left: Miss Clara (Karen Abercrombie) teaches Elizabeth Jordan (Priscilla Shirer) how to pray and fight for her marriage. Right: Brothers Stephen (producer) and Alex Kendrick (writer, director) on the set of War Room, the duo’s fifth film. PHOTOGRAPHS © 2014 AFFIRM FILMS/SONY PICTURES ENTERTAINMENT AND PROVIDENT FILMS, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
God what topic they should tackle next, the two filmmakers decided to make a movie about just that. “We saw a correlation,” Kendrick says, “between a military war room and a prayer closet.” The film follows Tony and Elizabeth Jordan, a middle-class couple who seem to have it all, but their marriage and family are falling apart. With the help of her new friend Miss Clara, Elizabeth discovers she can start fighting for her marriage through prayer instead of fighting against her husband. The film, which premieres Aug. 28, features New York Times bestselling author and Bible teacher Priscilla Shirer in her film debut. For Alex Kendrick, nothing is more important or dramatic than prayer. Although church prayer meetings can be “stale and powerless … when you are truly chasing God and worshipping Him in sincerity, something powerful happens.” And from the beginning of his and
“IF THERE EVER WAS A TIME GOD’S PEOPLE NEEDED TO PLEAD WITH GOD FOR DIRECTION AND INTERVENTION, IT’S NOW.” — ALEX KENDRICK his brother’s movie ministry in their church, prayer has played a key role. “God certainly has done more than we could ever ask or imagine.” While Kendrick would obviously love for War Room to be successful at the box office like their other films, he says that’s not his most important goal. “We hope to see an army of people return to an active, passionate prayer life,” he says. “If we return to the Lord, He may once again bring a fresh revival and turn our nation back to Him. The church needs an awakening again. If we can be a small part of that, then that would define success for us.” The praying doesn’t stop now
that the film is headed to theaters. Kendrick says next up for him and his brother are “a little rest and a lot of prayer. God has another tour of duty for us soon, so we want to be ready. Until then, we have a few books to share, like The Battle Plan for Prayer and a Bible study curriculum on developing prayer strategies. Then we’ll ask God what’s next.” AARON EARLS (@WardrobeDoor) is online editor of FactsAndTrends.net.
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By THOM S. RAINER
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I WILL … WORSHIP WITH OTHERS
rue worship flows from the heart in recognition of and response to the magnificence of Christ, and because of an understanding of the grace found solely in the gospel. Embracing these truths through the practical experience of daily living is imperative in our relationship with God. And while true worship always manifests itself in the individual’s response to the majesty of God, true biblical worship manifests itself in experience with other believers as well. We call that corporate worship. In the vernacular of some, we have called it “going to church.” I love reading the story of the early churches in the books of Acts and Paul’s letters to various churches. Very soon after Peter preached his sermon at Pentecost in Acts 2, the Jerusalem church began gathering in corporate worship. This description in Acts 2:46–47 is one of my favorites: Each day they devoted themselves to the meeting together in the temple complex and broke bread from home to home. They ate their food with a joyful and humble attitude, praising God and having favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to them those who were being saved. Now that’s “going to church!” They devoted themselves to this practice. They did not gather together to check off some legalistic guideline. The word devoted means it was a motive of a passion, heart, and desire. They were joyful. Because their focus was on God, they could only be joyful. They did not go for a worship experience. They went to experience God in worship. They had humble attitudes. That meant they put others before themselves. They
were not there to complain that the music style was not their preference, that the sermon went too long, or that someone had their seat or pew. They were there in humility before God and others. They had favor with all the people. “The people” refers to those outside the church—in other words, the unbelievers. And God used the joyful witness and attitudes of the believers for an incredible result: “And every day the Lord added to them those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). This biblical perspective of corporate worship is so different than how it’s practiced in many of our churches. We should not “go to church” to get our self-centered needs met. Instead we go to worship the one true God as we serve alongside other believers.
IT’S TIME TO SAY, “I WILL” TO CORPORATE WORSHIP One of the definitions of corporate is: “pertaining to a united group assembled for a greater good.” When we worship, we are focusing our hearts on God. When we are in corporate worship, we should be focusing our hearts on God alongside other believers. There is something powerful, even miraculous, about believers united together to worship God. So what can we do to make certain we are truly committed to corporate worship? How can we turn the focus away from ourselves and toward God? Consider the following four simple items of action and accountability. I will attend worship services. It’s just that simple. It’s amazing how we do something when it becomes our priority. Some of you may have neglected the priority of corporate worship. Anything
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“WE MUST PRAY FOR A FOCUS ON HIM INSTEAD OF A FOCUS ON OTHERS.” — THOM S. RAINER
DIG DEEPER • I Will by Thom S. Rainer
and everything becomes an excuse not to attend. See what happens when sports, entertainment, and vacations have a lower priority than corporate worship. See what happens when you make a firm commitment to God that you will attend weekly worship services. I will pray before I attend worship services. Sometimes I might pray the night before. On other occasions, I might pray the morning of worship services. I will pray for my own attitude of worship. I will pray for God to speak to me in the worship services. I will pray for others who are in the worship services. I will pray for my family that we will not have conflicts and get frustrated before we attend. I will pray as I enter the worship center or sanctuary. Once again I will pray for my own heart and attitude. Again, I will pray for fellow believers who are worshipping God with me. I will pray for unbelievers that they will hear the gospel clearly, and that God’s Spirit will convict them of sin and the need for a Savior. Finally, I will pray for all distractions to be removed that I, as well as others, may be focused on the true worship of God. I will pray that I will be a worshipper instead of a judge. Too many times we leave a corporate worship service as if we just judged an Olympic event. We might give the pastor a “7” for the sermon, or the worship leader a “6” for the music. And we might give other worshipers a low “3” because they would not move to the middle of the pews to let us in more easily. When we leave with such judg-
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mental perceptions, we have not worshipped God. Instead we have attended an event to entertain us. We must pray that we will worship God instead of judging aspects of the corporate worship services. We must pray for a focus on Him instead of a focus on others.
THE CORPORATE WORSHIP REVOLUTION It’s both a sad and amazing reality. Many of our congregations consider church members to be in good standing if they attend only twice a month, or once a month, or hardly ever. In just a few short decades, commitment levels to corporate worship have declined precipitously. It is time for a corporate worship revolution. It’s time to make that moment of gathered believers a priority in our lives. It’s time to stop making worship attendance an optional activity. It’s time to ask God to get our hearts right so we desire to worship Him in a corporate setting, not because we have some legalistic obligation to do so. It’s time to urge others in the congregation to make corporate worship a priority. It is truly time for a corporate worship revolution. Will you join me and millions of others in this revolution? Will you make this time a priority in you life? May we shout our commitment with God-given zeal and sincerity. I will worship with others. THOM S. RAINER (@ThomRainer) is President and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. This article is adapted from his new book I WILL! (B&H, 2015).
Transformational churches A CHURCH PURSUES ITS PASSION FOR COMMUNITY By Chris Martin
hen interim pastor and church consultant Lavern “Bud” Brown was leading Mountain Vista Bible Church in Mesa, Arizona, through a time of transition, he decided it was a good time to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the congregation. An experienced church consultant, Brown used the Transformational Church Assessment Tool (TCAT) to study the church’s effectiveness in leadership, community, mission, prayer, worship, and developing relationships with those outside the church. When Brown led Mountain Vista through TCAT, the church was facing a significant amount of debt and other related challenges. Members were searching for a new pastor and hoping for a refreshing change. “It takes a skilled pastor and a willing congregation to turn a church around and move out of a slump and into conversion growth,” Brown says. “The scores [on the TCAT] along with the things I was hearing in personal interviews with church members showed me there was willingness to change.” The assessment forced the church leaders and congregation to take a sober look in the mirror. The TCAT results reflected the strength of the worship experience and the engagement of the congregation.
Having gifted professional musicians enabled the church to produce effective worship services. Members were excited to be in worship and were fully engaged. But the assessment also revealed the church didn’t have a sense of mission. Leaders would need to tackle that first. Brown also realized much of what church members said they valued was not reflected in the way the church functioned. The congregation reported small groups were very important and they saw value in the church leadership being personally involved in the lives of the congregation. Brown saw a disconnect between what the congregation said was important and what was actually taking place. “I slightly disagreed with the congregation on these two points because those values were not visible in the life of the church,” Brown continued. “I was able to say, ‘This is a value you claim to hold, but when we look at what’s happening in small groups, this isn’t really where we’re at.’” Over the course of the next year, Brown helped Mountain Vista establish a new vision for its discipleship ministry, as well as recruit and train new small group leaders. Taking TCAT, Brown says, helped the church gain a sense of urgency and
“THERE WAS A SLOW BOIL DEVELOPMENT OF A DESIRE FOR CHANGE AND A DESIRE TO CHALLENGE THE STATUS QUO.” — BUD BROWN seek ways in which it could improve the ministry. “There was a slow boil development of a desire for change and a desire to challenge the status quo,” Brown said. “The TCAT helped precipitate action and made it much easier to implement changes needed to prepare the church for growth under its next pastor.” CHRIS MARTIN (@ChrisMartin17) is social media facilitator at LifeWay Christian Resources.
DIG DEEPER •M ore information about the Transformational Church Assessment Tool can be found online at tcat.lifeway.com.
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Igniting evangelism in ordinary people
By J. Mack Stiles
donâ€™t know a pastor or church leader who doesnâ€™t desire for ordinary people in their congregations to be ignited with a passion to share their faith. At the same time, I know many churches where it seems like igniting the faithful for evangelism has as much chance of success as setting fire to wet kindling in the pouring rain. What are pastors and church leaders to do?
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START WHERE MOST DON’T Don’t start by teaching on evangelism, or pointing out the need for evangelism, or passing out books on evangelism (as much as I want pastors to do all three!). Those things are helpful, but the first order of business is to help your congregation love the gospel. Sharing our faith must spring from our love of the gospel. And the only way to come to love the gospel is to understand the depth of our sin and the height of His mercy. Looking at the awfulness of our sin may be a counterintuitive place to start developing a passion for evangelism. But when we understand the depth of our sin, deeply rooted in our sin nature, we come to love and understand the height of God’s mercy at the cross. And without this understanding, we’ll have no concern for those around us. I remember leading a Bible study on Luke 7 about the woman who washed the feet of Jesus with her tears. When we came to verse 47, where Jesus says, “He who is forgiven little, loves little,” someone in the class said she identified with Simon the Pharisee. “I haven’t sinned much and God doesn’t have that much to forgive me for,” she said. “So, I have a hard time loving people.” Somehow, she missed that Simon the Pharisee is as much a sinner as the woman who washed Jesus’ feet. She was also unaware of the depth of her own sin. Of course, I can understand where she was coming from. She meant that she didn’t run guns in Afghanistan or sell drugs to children at the local elementary school. But, according to the Bible, her sin is such a huge problem she’s actually God’s enemy, a child of wrath, and, apart from His intervention in her life, she is worthy of eternal death in hell. Only when the depth of our sin is taught and understood can we love God’s mercy. For only when we understand how far we’ve fallen can
“ONLY WHEN THE DEPTH OF OUR SIN IS TAUGHT AND UNDERSTOOD CAN WE LOVE GOD’S MERCY.” — MACK STILES
we understand how great a salvation has been bought for us. This realization motivates us to evangelize. If people are unclear about the depth of their sin, they certainly aren’t going to believe others are hopelessly lost in sin. But if they believe Jesus has saved them from their own wretchedness and condemnation, they can believe He will save others, too.
IT’S NOT ONLY WHAT GETS US SAVED A congregation must also understand the gospel message not only starts the Christian life but also is the very truth that helps us grow our faith. The gospel is a way of life and the center of all we do in living the Christian faith. There have been times in my own life when I’ve operated as if the gospel was merely the message that got people into the kingdom. After that, the Christian who wanted to deepen his or her faith should spend time plumbing the Bible for wisdom on more practical things such as how to have a good Christian marriage or how to be healed from the scars of sin. But there is nothing deeper than the gospel; it relates to all of life. Humbly
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acknowledging our sin, experiencing true repentance, and putting our trust in God leads to restored relationships, both with God and with others. The gospel is the way to a good marriage, to healing, and to life and godliness. When we see how the gospel relates to our everyday Christian life—how we work, how we raise our children, how we relate to our spouses, and how we see our neighbors—it becomes a part of us and will flow out of us in conversations in a natural and winsome way.
DEFINE YOUR TERMS Igniting evangelism in others requires pastors and church leaders to teach two primary things: what the whole gospel is and what true evangelism is. We need to make sure people are on the same page. Here’s an important definition: the gospel is the message from God that leads us into salvation. Since the gospel is a message, we need to understand the message. The message answers five big questions for anyone who would come into a personal relationship with the living God: Who is God? Who am I? Who is Christ? What did He do that has anything to do with me? How do I respond to Him? Here’s a second important definition: evangelism is teaching the gospel message with the aim to persuade. These are two critical building blocks for evangelism. If people don’t understand the message they are to share and how to share it, there won’t be much evangelism.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER IN A CULTURE OF EVANGELISM There’s one final piece that is critical for lighting a fire for evangelism, and that is creating a culture of evangelism. This is where we are all provoking AUG/SEPT 2015
DIG DEEPER •E veryday Church by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis
one another to share our faith. It’s not a group program so much as it is a shared mission. In a culture of evangelism, we look for ways to encourage one another to share our faith whenever we can. So, encourage your congregation to pray for unsaved coworkers and family members. And ask them to talk about their attempts to share their faith. It can be especially powerful to hear how the pastor or other church leaders are sharing their faith. Everyone is encouraged when they hear stories of people coming to faith through the evangelistic efforts of people in the church. A culture of evangelism is the spark that lights the fires of evangelistic zeal. We need one another. We need a
healthy church that loves the gospel and desires to share it with others. Love the gospel and what it’s done in your life. Understand that it’s meant to become such a part of you that sharing your faith comes naturally when the right circumstances arise. And seek to develop a culture of evangelism, a church where evangelistic efforts are encouraged, supported, and celebrated.
•E vangelism Handbook by Alvin Reid •C ompelled by Love by Philip Nation and Ed Stetzer
MACK STILES (@MackStiles) is CEO of Gulf Digital Solutions and general secretary for the Fellowship of Christian UAE Students (FOCUS) in the United Arab Emirates and author of Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus.
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ON OUR RADAR Practical resources for you and your church
Books & Bible Studies Onward: Engaging the Culture with- Teams that Thrive: out Losing the Gospel Five Disciplines of By Russell D. Moore (B&H) Collaborative As the culture continues to change all Leadership
around us, it’s no longer possible to pretend the church and biblical Christianity represent a moral majority, and that’s not an entirely bad thing. Lukewarm, cultural Christianity is not transformative. In these shifting times what’s needed is neither a doubling-down on the status quo nor a pullback into isolation. Instead, the church needs to speak to social and political issues with a bigger vision in mind—the gospel of Jesus Christ. As Christianity seems increasingly strange, and even subversive, to our culture, we have the opportunity to reclaim the uniqueness of the gospel, which is what gives the gospel its power in the first place.
The Things of Earth: Treasuring God by Enjoying His Gifts By Joe Rigney (Crossway)
The world is full of good things. The laughter of children. College football. Scrambled eggs and crispy bacon. But what happens to these earthly pleasures when Jesus shows up? Do the things of earth grow strangely dim? Or does He shine in all that’s fair? In The Things of Earth, Joe Rigney offers a breath of fresh air to Christians who are burdened by false standards, impossible expectations, and misguided notions of holiness. Steering a middle course between idolatry on the one hand and ingratitude on the other, Rigney reminds us that every good gift comes from the Father’s hand, that God’s blessings should drive us to worship and generosity, and that a passion for God’s glory is as wide as the world.
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By Ryan T. Hartwig and Warren Bird (IVP)
What do the top church teams do to thrive together? Researchers and practitioners Ryan Hartwig and Warren Bird studied churches of various sizes and traditions throughout the United States that have learned to thrive under healthy team leadership. Using church examples, they present their discoveries here, culminating in five disciplines that will enable your team to thrive. Their book is a great coaching tool for senior leadership teams struggling to thrive, and a helpful resource for teams doing well but wanting to do even better.
Finding Truth: 5 Principles of Unmasking Atheism, Secularism, and Other God Substitutes By Nancy Pearcey (David C. Cook)
Don’t Think, Just Believe. That’s the mantra in many circles today, but it doesn’t work well in real life. In Finding Truth, Nancy Pearcey explains five principles that penetrate to the core of any worldview—secular or religious—to uncover its deepest motivations and weigh its claims. She shows how the Christian worldview matches reality—that it is not only true
but attractive, granting higher dignity to human beings than any alternative. Using personal stories and real-world examples, the book makes a clear and compelling case for the truthfulness and usefulness of Christianity.
God’s Story in 66 Verses By Stan Guthrie (Thomas Nelson)
The Bible can seem like a big, intimidating book—mysterious, archaic, and often hard to understand. Written over a span of 1,500 years, and completed nearly two millennia ago, God’s Word sometimes feels like a mishmash of stories and literary styles. How can 21st-century readers make sense of it all? Author Stan Guthrie’s answer: begin by zooming in on one key verse for each of the Bible’s 66 books.
Seeking to bring clarity and simplicity to the study of God’s Word, Guthrie has written a concise, easy-to-digest collection of wisdom anchored by one verse for each book that summarizes or lays the foundation for that book and places it in context with the rest of the Scriptures.
Look and Live: Behold the Soul-Stirring, Sin-Destroying Glory of Christ By Matt Papa (Bethany House)
Matt Papa was working in full-time ministry, ready and determined to change the world. All the while he was depressed, addicted to the approval of others, and enslaved to sin. But everything changed when he encoun-
tered the glory of God. The message of his book is not to work or to strive, but to lift our eyes. He says we don’t need more willpower; we need a vision of greatness that sweeps us off our feet. We need to see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Look and Live helps us take our eyes off ourselves and focus on the only One who has the power to change us—the Lord Jesus Christ.
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ON OUR RADAR Practical resources for you and your church
Conferences & Events The National Youth Workers Convention
Future of the Church Summit
Center for Faith & Work Conference
October 8-11, 2015, San Diego, California, and November 19-22, Louisville, Kentucky The National Youth Workers Convention has been training, equipping, and encouraging youth workers for more than 40 years as a part of Youth Specialties. NYWC attracts youth pastors, volunteers, students, and anyone else interested in helping teenagers find and follow Jesus. The conference provides training, resources, community, encouragement, and more. Seminars help youth workers develop their ministries and improve their leadership skills.
October 21-23, Loveland, Colorado A “think-outside-the-box” opportunity to discuss, learn, and help shape what the future of the church may look like. Participate with thought-leaders including pastors, cultural influencers, researchers, and denominational executives as they brainstorm present trends to frame futuristic solutions. Learn why church attendance is declining and what can be done to reverse the trend as well as new approaches to ministry to reach the people not attending your church.
November 6-7, 2015, New York, New York The Center for Faith and Work Conference is a two-day gathering of industry leaders, cultural commentators, and leading theologians to reflect on the intersection of work and faith. The annual CFW conference aims to encourage societal leaders’ discernment of God at work in the world renewing all things. Conference speakers will emphasize the importance of community along with the Holy Spirit’s transforming grace both in individual hearts and the world.
At a glance:
The Hebrews Initiative By Rick Howerton
he post-Christian era has fallen upon the church like an avalanche crashing down on ill-prepared hikers passing through a canyon. The boulders of biblical distortion, theological error, and moral relativity would crush her if it weren’t for this one unchanging, unstoppable overcomer… the Word of God. But many who make up the Western church are drifting. They are drifting from studying, believing, and living God’s Word. They are drifting from bold proclamation. They are drifting from gospel-centered thinking and sacrificial living. They are drifting from being practicing disciples of Jesus Christ. Unlike our brothers and sisters on other To join the movement and for more information go to www.HebrewsInitiative.com. continents who are dying for the cause of Christ, many American Christians are unwilling to face any level of persecution, even emotional martyrdom. We may not fear the lifted sword but, sadly, we seem to fear the lifted eyebrow. We are not the first generation of believers to find ourselves drifting. Hebrews 2:1 reminds a generation of believers who were being questioned and martyred due to their love of and service to Jesus that, “We must, therefore, pay even more attention to what we have heard, so that we will not drift away.” These supremely relevant words come from the book of Hebrews. Hebrews is a book for our time. With its themes of the superiority of Christ, overcoming sluggish Christianity, and the importance of living by faith, it may be the catalyst for today’s church to be renewed and revived. Hebrews shows believers how to live by faith in a faithless society. The Hebrews Initiative is a coalition of willing churches and groups, learning, embracing, and living the truths revealed in the book of Hebrews. LifeWay is inviting churches and small groups to complete two 6-week studies from the Explore the Bible short-term series, Hebrews, Chapters 1–7 and Hebrews, Chapters 8–13, in the fall of 2015. Churches can start and end at the time of their choosing. RICK HOWERTON (@RickHowerton) is discipleship and small groups specialist at LifeWay.
FOLKS WE’RE FOLLOWING Truth without grace is just judgment, but grace without truth is just deception. @JamesEmeryWhite, pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church
My perpetual request of the Lord as a person in ministry: Ever-clearer vision, ever-thicker skin, ever-softer heart. @JenniferWilkin, author of Women of the Word
God doesn’t need us to accomplish His plans. God chooses us to be included in His purposes. @LouieGiglio, pastor of Passion City Church
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Practical ministry ideas for your church
Quick and easy ideas for your church this fall
By Diana Davis Upgrade your fall festival. Whether it’s a pumpkin patch or fall festival, a hayride or trunk-or-treat, add a new focus on outreach with these easy tips:
he air is brisk. The leaves are colorful. The freshness of fall surrounds us. If your church is looking for fresh ideas for fall ministry, try some of these:
• Encourage every church family to bring unchurched friends with them.
Launch new groups. Fall is a great time to start new adult Bible study classes. New groups have a tendency to draw new people. Distribute a list of all small groups or classes with updated meeting locations, age range of attenders, and a star signifying new classes. Begin a newcomers’ class. Since many people relocate this time of year, begin a new small group for newcomers to your town. Advertise in the local paper and through your church’s social media, and ask members to deliver an invitation to new neighbors. Mega-prayerwalk. Here’s a fun, effective way to cover your entire city with prayer in one day! Use online mapping or a large city map to allow church members to highlight streets they’ll prayerwalk on a specific fall day. Or draw a circle around the town’s perimeter, allowing members to mark a short section they’ll prayerwalk. Volunteers pray and walk any time during that day. Welcome university students. Pair university students who attend your church with a church family for encouragement and friendship. Talk with the local university about pairing members with international students for holidays and special events throughout the semester. Pastor appreciation. October is Pastor Appreciation Month. Involve the whole church in celebrating. Provide plenty of sticky notepads in several colors, and challenge everyone to write several things they appreciate about the pastor and ministry staff members. On Pastor
• A 10-second registration card at the entry helps gather family contact info—last name, number of children, email, and phone. A follow-up team emails within 48 hours to thank guests for coming and invite them to church. Appreciation Day, plaster an entire foyer with hundreds of love expressions for your church’s pastor. Honor veterans on Veterans Day. On the Sunday before November 11, plan an after-church reception to honor veterans. Express appreciation and present a gift bag with a military Bible and a handwritten note from a member of your church. Host a ministry scavenger hunt. Youth or adults follow a map to perform short ministry projects around the town. Examples: rake Mr. Kimbrough’s yard, deliver a vase of flowers to a hospital patient, find a policeman and give him a Policeman’s Bible from the church, pick up trash at the school’s entrance, and so on. Plan carefully, make a map, gather supplies, and joyfully minister in God’s name. Outdoor movie night. Invite the whole community for a bring-your-ownlawn-chair event on the church lawn. Project the movie on a large screen or white sheet. Serve soda and popcorn. For a fall theme, scatter hay bales around the area for people to sit on. Provide a printed invitation to Sunday worship services.
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• Add a “Meet our Pastor/Staff” area. • Add a “Free Photo” area with gorgeous fall décor. Volunteers use tripods and digital cameras to snap a quick photo of each child. Printed instructions help parents retrieve the photo online or at church next Sunday. • Provide a list of weekly children’s activities, worship times, and family events. • Every church volunteer is a greeter—from the popcorn server to the sound guy. Guests feel welcome and included. Expect them next Sunday. Fall is brimming with opportunities to tell your community about God’s love. Grab your sweater, and get busy! DIANA DAVIS (DianaDavis.org) is an author, columnist, and minister’s wife in Pensacola, Florida.
5 essential elements of transformational small groups
ransformational discipleship involves moving people from sitting in rows, where they are simply in proximity to one another, to sitting in circles. From there, they move into community with one another. When Eric Geiger and I were writing Transformational Groups, we studied 2,300 churches sponsored by 15 denominations. Fewer than half of those churches said they had a plan for discipling people. Only 63 percent had someone responsible for the spiritual formation of children, students, and adults. The majority of these churches weren’t satisfied with the state of discipleship or spiritual formation. We know there is a great level of dissatisfaction in many churches about where they are on the issue of discipleship, but what is the solution? We also conducted a Transformational Discipleship study of more than 4,000 Protestant churchgoers in North America and asked them about spiritual formation. One of the five items most predictive for spiritual maturity was participation in a small class or group of adults such as a small group, Bible study, or adult Bible fellowship. But what makes a small group thrive? Our studies discovered five elements of a transformational small group environment: mission orientation, Word-driven mentality, multiplication mindset, stranger welcoming, and kingdom focused.
MISSION ORIENTATION First, every small group should be mission oriented and focused on becoming part of and following God in His mission for the world. When someone becomes a believer, he or she takes on the responsibility of being globally
minded; this mindset contributes to his or her spiritual growth and maturity.
WORD-DRIVEN MENTALITY Second, small groups need to be firmly rooted in the Scriptures, which are a source of life and growth. Sharing life’s struggles and encouraging one another is a healthy part of any community. But too much sharing can make the group seem like a support group. The needs people share in the group need to always be hedged-in and examined through the lens of Scripture.
must always be aware of new people in the church and new people in their groups, intentionally creating a welcoming and relational environment for them. Without this the group becomes inward-focused and loses sight of the mission to make more disciples.
A fifth and final component of transformational groups is a kingdom-focused mindset. Group members need to stay focused on what God wants to accomplish in their time together, not how they can be the most exciting small MULTIPLICATION “THE NEEDS PEOPLE group in the church. MINDSET cannot exist A third aspect of SHARE IN THE GROUP Groups for the sole purpose transformational NEED TO ALWAYS BE of emotional support discipleship groups for their members, is a multiplication HEDGED-IN AND but must find their mindset. The purpose EXAMINED THROUGH place in God’s greater of a group is to plan of advancing His eventually reproduce THE LENS OF kingdom. into another group SCRIPTURE.” Transformational that is making and discipleship can growing disciples of — ED STETZER happen when small Christ. This element groups focus on of small groups helps God’s mission, His members stay open to kingdom, and His word, and when they change and inviting to new people. are welcoming to strangers and intent For this element to function effecon multiplying. All of this begins when tively, church leaders need to relinquish people move out of the pew and into ministry and leadership into the hands circles in order to be in community of believers in their church and not with one another and provoke one cling tightly to power. While groups another to love and good deeds. This is can multiply under the leadership of an essential. elite few in the church, the possibilities Small groups that produce transof growth are minuscule compared to formational discipleship are essential what occurs when the laity leads small not only to the spiritual growth and groups. maturity of church members but also to the advancement of the gospel.
A fourth element of small groups is that they welcome strangers. Small groups
ED STETZER (@EdStetzer) is executive director of LifeWay Research. For more visit EdStetzer.com Facts & Trends • 55
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“Pastor, what is my next step?” Now you can have a better answer. The question comes in many forms: What does God want from me? What is God’s will for my life? How do I get closer to God? Essentially, they all point to the desire to be a better disciple. These are not easy questions to answer. But we can help. Just have your congregation take the Transformational Discipleship Assessment (TDA). This simple questionnaire (based on 8 attributes of discipleship that consistently show up in the life of a maturing believer) reveals the specific strengths and weaknesses of your congregation. Individual reports help each person focus on specific areas that need improvement. The group report will help you plan sermons that address the needs that many share in your church.
Learn more at www.LifeWay.com/TDA