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Why we need rural churches


“I finally realized that even if my job isn’t important, the Lord loves me the exact same.”


WHEN YOU GET IT, IT CHANGES EVERYTHING. Moral stories become a master plan. A church becomes a culture of grace. Good deeds become a holy mission. This is the work of the gospel. This is The Gospel Project. Learn how the bigger story centers your church on the gospel at


Contents 28




Read more about the ministry in rural churches in our cover section.


COVER SECTION 12 America’s hidden mission field Why we need rural churches. By Bob Smietana

14 A cross-cultural partnership for the gospel Two small churches making a difference. By Bob Smietana

20 Rebound in the heartland How two struggling Kansas churches grew deep and wide. By Bob Smietana

FEATURES 24 From survivalists to senders How the gospel transforms a church— and a community. By Daryl Crouch

28 ‘Something had to change’ Jackie Hill Perry shares her journey past same-sex attraction to the Savior. By Sara Shelton

32 A Shared Worship Ministry Developing a partnership between sermons and songs. By Mike Harland


36 S mall world, big God, and a local church with a global heart Ways a church impacted a family’s spiritual journey. By Ruth Malhotra

40 Resurrecting a dead church How our church found new life through the gospel. By Mark Clifton

43 6 signs it might be time to build Options for churches who have run out of space. By Dave Milam and Judy Forehand

46 C elebrating Imago Dei How to shepherd your people to care about human dignity By Dan Darling

49 3 reasons to try long-range sermon planning It’s OK to work ahead. In fact, it’s wise. By Brandon Hiltibidal

DEPARTMENTS 4 Inside F&T A church leader’s essential tool. By Carol Pipes


49 6 From My Perspective 7 keys to pastoral longevity. By Thom S. Rainer

7 Insights Beliefs, issues, and trends impacting the church and our world.

50 On Our Radar Relevant and practical resources for you and your church.


Visit for exclusive online content. Read additional pieces from our writers and editors, as well as contributions from other Christian leaders.

Daily Insights Visit to subscribe to our e-newsletter.

FactsAndTrends @FactsAndTrends


Volume 64 • Number 4 • Fall 2018


A church leader’s essential tool

Facts & Trends is designed to help pastors and other Christian leaders navigate the issues and trends impacting the church by providing information, insights, and resources for effective ministry.



hat’s the best gift you’ve ever been given? For me, the answer is simple: A shiny, red Swiss Army knife my father gave me when I moved away to college. I remember opening the small box and thinking: Why in the world would I need a pocket knife? I had the good sense to smother my disappointment and thanked my Dad for the gift. He took such joy in showing me each blade and tool. “It even has a wire stripper,” I remember him saying. Why in the world would I need to strip a wire? Within the first few weeks of moving into my dorm, I had need of this handy device. Cutting open the first of many care packages, I realized my Dad’s genius. Throughout my college years, I managed to use every tool in the kit—even the wire stripper. I still carry around that red Swiss Army knife and use it often. I like to think of Facts & Trends in the same vein—an essential tool for church leaders that helps you navigate the issues and trends impacting the church. We aim to help you cut away the distractions from your mission, drill down and identify the needs of your community, sharpen and refine your approach to ministry, and open your eyes to new and innovative outreach strategies. In February, we began to boost our online presence at We’re on pace to publish twice as many articles this year as last year. We decided it was important to have more day-to-day engagement with our readers. So, in April we launched Daily Insights, an email newsletter that arrives in readers’ inboxes daily, Monday through Friday. Then in August, we welcomed LifeWay Pastors as a department of We’ve seen some great synergy from these recent actions. And we’re now reaching more readers online than we are able to reach through the print edition. Our mission has not changed, and we are committed to reaching a wider audience. For that reason, and to be better financial stewards, Facts & Trends is transitioning to a web-first publication. This issue will be your last quarterly print issue. Many of you have been reading Facts & Trends for decades and we thank you for your dedicated reading. Some of you have only recently discovered us, and we’re so thankful for how you’ve responded to each issue. We hope all of you will continue to find us a valuable digital tool. The website houses all previous digital articles and issues of Facts & Trends, dating back to 2005. To subscribe to the Daily Insights email, visit Thank you for your continued readership. We’ll see you online!

Editor in Chief | Carol Pipes Managing Editor | Joy Allmond Online Editor | Aaron Earls Associate Editor | Aaron Wilson Graphic Designer | Katie Shull LIFEWAY LEADERSHIP President and Publisher | Thom S. Rainer Executive Vice President | Brad Waggoner CONTRIBUTORS Mark Clifton, Mark Collins, Daryl Crouch, Daniel Darling, Jody Forehand, Gibbs Frazeur, Mike Harland, Brandon Hiltibidal, Ruth Malhotra, Dave Milam, Sara Shelton, Bob Smietana, and Justin Veneman ADVERTISING Send advertising questions/comments to: F  acts & Trends Advertising One LifeWay Plaza Nashville, TN 37234 Email: Media kits: 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.

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: Facts & Trends, One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN 37234 Facts & Trends is published quarterly by LifeWay Christian Resources. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Christian Standard Bible®, copyright 2017 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission.

Carol Pipes, Editor in Chief @CarolPipes | 4 • FACTS & TRENDS

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We thought once a quarter wasn’t enough. CONNECT WITH US DAILY AT FACTSANDTRENDS.NET This will be the last quarterly print issue of Facts & Trends. You’ll find practical ministry helps, insights on faith and culture, and news that matters to you and your church on our website. In addition to new and relevant content, houses previous digital articles and issues of Facts & Trends. For fresh content delivered to you daily, visit to subcribe to our e-newsletter.


7 keys to pastoral longevity


ffective pastors are grounded in God’s Word and in prayer, and they are invested in their church. Over the years, I’ve observed that a long-tenured pastor is one of the key requisites for churches to experience revitalization and long-term health. I’ve been encouraged over the last 10 years to see an increase in the average pastoral tenure. A decade ago, the national average of a pastor’s tenure was around four years. Today, average tenure is around six years. That’s great news for pastors and for churches. Pastors who make it to their fifth year have a good chance of experiencing their most fruitful ministry at a church. Sometimes it can take years just to earn the trust of a congregation. Once you gain that trust, that’s when the ministry cylinders really start firing. I realize not every church is conducive to a long-term pastorate. But for those situations where long-term ministry is possible, I believe pastors will see much fruit from their perseverance. Here are seven keys to ministry longevity. Stay spiritually healthy. Many pastors burn out because they get so busy doing ministry that they allow their spiritual lives to drift. The antidote to spiritual drift is to engage in God’s Word daily and seek God continually through prayer. If you need help making time with God a priority, block time off on your calendar. Please God, not man. People-pleasing pastors can fast become ineffective. The problem is you can never please all the members. If you are a church leader, you will have critics. They can be troubling and often demoralizing. But you can’t allow criticism to drive your actions. Instead, focus on the great things God is doing in your church. Follow His will for your church, not man’s. Make family a priority. I’ve seen too many pastors allow their families to become an afterthought. Many of their children grow up to resent the church. Their spouses feel as if they are no longer loved or desired. Some pastors have lost their families to divorce and estrangement. Pastors who neglect their families cannot lead their churches for the long-haul. Focus on the things that really matter. Leaders can easily get caught up in the small details of day-to-day

ministry. Consider delegating these small, yet meaningful tasks to church staff members or lay leaders. Not only does this help develop others for ministry, it allows you to strengthen your vision for one area of the church about which you are passionate. Look beyond the workday. Talk to local leaders about needs in your community. Your vision will expand when you see again the world outside your church. Don’t lose your passion. Most of us agree the way to stay passionate about your calling is to stay consistent in spiritual disciplines. But a common thing that robs church leaders of ministry passion is spending too much time doing things that drain them. We often have to do things we don’t enjoy. But identify what aspects of ministry you are passionate about and spend more time on those. I enjoy planning and content creation. You might enjoy developing other leaders in your church. Or perhaps you like visiting with church members during the week. Spend time on the things that energize you. An energized leader is a passionate leader. Continue to learn. There is evidence of a correlation between healthy churches and pastors who continue to develop as leaders. These churches are seeing the fruits of evangelism, greater assimilation and discipleship, and less conflict. Some leaders choose more formal education, but many are receiving coaching through continual learning programs like the ministry we developed at Technology has opened the doors to all kinds of opportunities to learn. Remember your call. You likely have a clear recollection of the time God called you to ministry and to the church where you are now serving. Remember that call. At times, it’s exactly what you need to hang in there. Imagine what might take place if pastors consistently stayed at their churches for 10 or more years. I think we would see healthier churches that make disciples. I believe we would see more communities transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is my prayer that longer tenures will result in healthier churches and advancement of the gospel. THOM S. RAINER (@ThomRainer) is President and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Read more at


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INSIGHTS Beliefs, issues, and trends impacting our world

Prosperity gospel beliefs commonplace, especially among evangelicals


or some Americans, dropping a check into the offering plate at church is a bit like having a Discover Card. Both offer a cash-back bonus. About a third of Protestant churchgoers say their congregation teaches that God will bless them if they donate money. Twothirds say God wants them to prosper. One in 4 say they have to do something for God to receive material blessings in return. Researchers found more than a few churchgoers believe giving to God leads to financial rewards, said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. “A significant group of churches seem to teach that donations trigger a financial response from God,” said McConnell. Even if they don’t see a direct link between offerings and blessings, many churchgoers say God wants them to do well. Sixty-nine percent agree with the statement, “God wants me to prosper financially.” Twenty percent disagree. Ten percent are not sure. The more people go to church, the more likely they are to think God wants them to do well. Among those who attend at least once a week, 71 percent say God wants them to prosper financially. That drops to 56 percent for those who go to church once or twice a month. Churchgoers who have evangelical beliefs (75 percent) are more likely to agree God wants them to prosper than those without evangelical beliefs (63 percent). Pentecostal and Assemblies of God (80 percent), Baptist (74 percent), non-denominational (67 percent), and Methodist churchgoers (65 percent) are among the most likely to agree. Lutherans, however, are more skeptical. Just under half (49 percent) say God wants them to prosper financially. McConnell said evangelicals appear to be to the most eager to embrace a link between God’s financial blessings and their actions. “A number of high-profile evangelical leaders have condemned the prosperity gospel,” he said. “But more than a few people in the pews have embraced it.”

A significant group of churches seem to teach that donations trigger a financial response from God.” — Scott McConnell, LifeWay Research






Most churchgoers committed for the long haul Mess with the music and people may grumble. Mess with theology and they’re out the door.” —S  cott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research


ost churchgoers will put up with a change in music style or a different preacher. But don’t mess with a church’s beliefs or there may be an exodus. A LifeWay Research study of Protestant churchgoers found most are committed to staying at their church over the long haul. But more than half say they would strongly consider leaving if the church’s beliefs changed. Pastors often worry about changing church music and setting off a “worship war,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. But few say they would leave over music. Churchgoers are much more concerned about their church’s beliefs. “Mess with the music and people may grumble,” he said. “Mess with theology and they’re out the door.” The LifeWay Research survey of 1,010 Protestant churchgoers found most are strongly tied to their local congregations. Thirty-five percent have been at their church between 10 and 24 years. Twenty-seven percent have been there for 25 years or more. Twenty-one percent have been there less than five years, while 17 percent have been at the same church for between five and nine years. “Most church members have been at their church longer than their pastor,” said McConnell.


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Which if any of the following would cause you to strongly consider changing churches?



The church changed its doctrine.

I moved residences.

The preaching style changed.





A family member wanted to change.

Political views different than mine.

I didn’t feel needed.

The music changed.


How many years have you been attending your current church? 21%

Less than 5 years


5-9 years


10-24 years


25 years or more






Beliefs, issues, and trends impacting our world


12% A pastor left.

How committed are you to continuing to attend your current church?


Completely committed


Very much committed


Slightly committed

2% Moderately committed 1% Not committed at all

Source: LifeWay Research FACTSANDTRENDS.NET



Few churches are autism friendly


eAnna Gibson sat in the hallway with her 7-year-old son Zeke and wondered if her churchgoing days were over. Zeke, who has autism, was having trouble with his Sunday School class. He didn’t want to go back inside. And being in the church’s worship service was difficult for him. So the two sat together and waited for the service to end counting down the minutes until they could get out the door. “I thought, what’s the point of coming to church if I’m going to sit in the hallway?” Gibson says. Gibson isn’t the only parent of a child with special needs to ask that question. More than a few decide going to church isn’t worth it. A study from Clemson University assistant professor of sociology Andrew Whitehead has found children with autism are almost twice as likely to never attend church or other religious services. And children with other disabilities— like developmental delays, attention deficit disorder, or anxiety—often are missing from the pews as well. Chances for children with disabilities never attending services: • Children with autism: 1.84 times higher • Children with depression and anxiety: 1.73 times higher • Children with conduct disorder or oppositional defiant disorder: 1.48 times higher • Children with a developmental delay or learning disability: 1.36 times higher • Children with ADD/ADHD: 1.19 times higher So, what can churches do to make kids with disabilities feel welcome? Church leaders will need to consider what special needs ministry looks like for their church. Factors like size, number of special needs families, or even flow of the service plays a part. • Some churches devote entire sensory-minimized services to individuals with special needs. • Other congregations provide buddies to help children navigate services and transitions. • Your church may need to look at modifying spaces to better meet the needs of special needs families: family bathrooms, calming sensory-free rooms, or overflow rooms where the sermon can be heard and those who wander or make noises can be a little less conspicuous.

TOP 5 REASONS WHY AMERICANS GO TO CHURCH Among those who attend services once or twice a month


To become closer to God


So children will have a moral foundations


To make me a better person


For comfort in times of trouble/sorrow


The sermons are valuable




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INSIGHTS Beliefs, issues, and trends impacting our world

Be our guest


early two-thirds of Protestant churchgoers say they’ve invited at least one person to visit their church in the past six months. “It’s a fairly easy thing for churchgoers to do,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. “In any six-month stretch, there are major Christian holidays and often other special events that are perfect occasions for churchgoers to invite friends and acquaintances.” Church invitations are harder to come by in some parts of the country. Forty-two percent of churchgoers in the Northeast say they hadn’t invited anyone, while 37 percent of Midwesterners skipped the invitations. By contrast, only 24 percent of Southerners and 26 percent of those in the West say they hadn’t invited anyone.

During the past six months, how many times did you invite an individual or family to attend a worship service with you at your church? Among American churchgoers


Zero invitations


1 invitation 2 invitations


21% 25%

3 or more invitations I do not know


Notes: Includes repeated invitations to the same person or family. Includes invitations even if they did not accept/attend. Does not equal 100% due to rounding.


Ashes to ashes


ore Americans are taking the phrase “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” literally these days. Cremation, which was once rare, has become the most common way for Americans to lay their earthly remains to rest. Just over half of Americans who die this year will choose cremation (53.5 percent) over burial, according to the National Funeral Director Association (NFDA). That’s up from 32 percent in 2005. If current trends continue, 80 percent of Americans will choose to be cremated after they die by 2035.

6% something else 15% aren’t sure 18% say they prefer to be buried

61% say they prefer to be cremated

Source: National Funeral Director Association



AMERICA’S HIDDEN MISSION FIELD Why we need rural churches



Most Christians in the United States probably wouldn’t think to send church planters to Loving County, Texas. But according to the 2010 U.S. Congregations and Membership Study, almost nobody goes to church there. Only six of the county’s 82 residents had ties to a local congregation, according to the study, which collected data about the number of churches and regular attenders from religious groups in every county in the U.S. Many of the least churched regions were in rural America—where about 14 percent of the U.S. population lives, according to Pew Research. Esmeralda County in Nevada, for example, had only one church with 23 people—in a of the U.S. population lives in county of more than 700 people. RURAL AREAS, which are Counties in Colorado, North Dakota, Vermont, Maine, and Nebraska are also among the least churched in the among some of the most country. UNCHURCHED And perhaps more surprisingly, other Bible Belt counties join Loving as being among the least churched places in the areas in America U.S.—like Mississippi’s Issaquena County, Virginia’s Dick-


Source: Pew Research


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erson County, and several counties in Kentucky. Grant Hasty, pastor of Crossroads Community Baptist Church in Stearns—located in McCreary County, Kentucky—helped plant the church a decade ago. The core congregation is only about 60 people, but they make a big impact in a county where only 1 in 5 residents are connected with a church. They run a restaurant that serves hundreds of free meals every week, mobilize summer volunteers to make local home repairs, organize a laundry ministry, and they’ve just started a tiny homes community for people recovering from drug addiction. Hasty says they also hope to start several new local churches. “A big church won’t work in our area,” he says. “A lot of people don’t feel comfortable in big groups.” Money is another issue rural churches like Crossroads often face. The number of people living below the poverty line in rural areas grew by more than 2 million from 2000 to 2016, according to Pew Research. The growth in poverty means churches often have more needs to meet in their communities—with less money in the collection plate. McCreary County, for example, is not only one of the least churched counties in the U.S.—it’s also one of the five poorest. Pew Research found poor white Americans in the South—where many rural communities exist—are prone to skipping church. A third of white Southerners (32 percent) who make less than $30,000 a year seldom or never go to church. That drops to 27 percent for

those who make more than $100,000 a year. There is some good news for rural churches. Pew Research reports after years of population decline, rural areas have begun to make a comeback: In 2017, they grew by about 33,000 residents nationwide—after losing more than 15,000 residents in 2016. Brad Thie, director of the Thriving Rural Communities Initiative at Duke Divinity School, says in the past, ministers often viewed rural ministry as either a dead end or a stepping-stone. “Rural ministry was a place you served time until you went somewhere more important,” he says. But today, he’s seeing more pastors open to rural ministry as a lifetime calling. Every summer, Thie oversees student interns at small churches in North Carolina. Many come from urban or suburban locations—then head out to a rural church, where they preach their first sermon or perform their first funeral. “They find themselves overwhelmed by the love, the experience of community—and the giving nature of people who live in those spaces,” he says. Thie remains hopeful for the future of small-town churches. Some are struggling and face challenges. But many still have a lot left to give. “As long as Jesus is resurrected from the dead—we ought to be hopeful for rural and small-town churches.”

The number of people living below the poverty line in rural areas grew by more than

2 million from 2000 to 2016.

Source: Pew Research

BOB SMIETANA (@bobsmietana) is former senior writer for Facts & Trends. In September, Bob joined Religion News Service as editor-in-chief.



A CROSS-CULTURAL PARTNERSHIP FOR THE GOSPEL How two small churches are making a difference in their community



Mike Waddey began praying the minute he pulled into the parking lot at First Baptist Church in Maury City, Tennessee. Waddey had come to Maury City (population 665) to interview for the role of pastor at First Baptist. He was familiar with church life in rural America, having been a pastor in Cottage Grove, one of the smallest towns in the state. But Maury City was going to be different. From the parking lot, Waddey noticed about 100 people gathered in a park across the street. That was more people than the population of Cottage Grove. Most of the folks were Hispanic. And Waddey didn’t have much experience with cross-cultural ministry. So he started asking God for help—even before he was called to First Baptist. “I don’t speak Spanish,” he prayed. “And if there is a large Hispanic community here, I want to be able to reach them.” Not long afterward, Waddey’s prayers were answered. One of the first people he met after becoming pastor at First Baptist was Zerafin Guardian, the pastor of a small multi-ethnic church looking for a new home. The two decided their churches would team up. Today First Baptist is home to two thriving congre-


gations, both trying to share the good news in a small town that needs it. Places in rural areas—like Maury City—tend to get overlooked these days. People either assume it’s God’s country—where everyone already goes to church and life is like it was in the 1950s—or it’s a version of Hillbilly Elegy, a memoir that tells the story of a family and culture ravaged by opioids and joblessness. But most of these areas don’t fit neatly into either category. In some places, churches are thriving. In others, there’s a veneer of religion—where people believe in God, but few have any tie to a local congregation. Here in Maury City, it’s somewhere in between, says Waddey. People still want to come to church, he says. But they don’t always show up or have a way to get there. And the surrounding county is becoming more diverse—so there’s a need for new ministries to reach new groups of people. But Waddey maintains it’s still a great place to be a pastor. “Jesus is still a draw,” he says. Giving up on his dream Waddey never expected to be a small-town pastor. He grew up near Franklin, Tennessee, and spent his formative years in a suburban church. When he got the call to ministry, Waddey thought he’d become a church planter. Or maybe a youth pastor.

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Even if someone has never been in your church—chances are they still know your people.” — Mike Waddey, pastor

Mike Waddey pastors First Baptist Church, Maury City, Tennessee (population 665). PHOTOS BY JUSTIN VENEMAN



Pastors Mike Waddey and Zerafin Guardian work together to reach more people in their area. PHOTOS BY JUSTIN VENEMAN

Then he finished seminary. The only call he got was from a church in a place he’d never heard of. “I looked on the map,” he says. “Cottage Grove wasn’t on it. That’s how small it was.” So Waddey and his family went to a town of 88 people, where he learned to love rural ministry. And he learned some humility. In a small town church, the pastor does everything. For Waddey, that meant serving his congregation, spearheading an effort to save the town’s post office, and eventually becoming mayor. It also meant cleaning out the leaves that cluttered the stairwell leading to classrooms in the church basement. At first, he was angry. Waddey had spent years in seminary preparing to be a pastor only to wind up raking leaves. Then he laughed. At least the leaves don’t talk back, he thought. At that moment, Waddey realized he had to be humbled to be effective in ministry. Being a pastor is about serving. Not about being important. “God knew I needed some humility—and so He took me to Cottage Grove,” he says. “There’s no better place to learn humility than the smallest incorporated town in Tennessee.” In those early years, he also learned how to get a lot done with a little bit of money. And he found creative solutions to a community’s problems. Small town churches know how to do both, he says. That’s how they’ve managed to survive for so long. And how they meet the needs of people in the community. First Baptist Maury City, for example, has teamed up with other local churches to run a community thrift store and mission, where they sort through donated


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Church members feel a sense of community and service in their church. PHOTO BY JUSTIN VENEMAN

clothes and other items to determine what should be sold. The proceeds from the sales are used for a community benevolence fund. When someone needs help buying groceries, paying the rent, or paying their utility bills, they call Sissy Davis, who founded the mission about eight years ago. Some of the funds also go to help the local Christian school. The mission started after Davis was up one night praying. She knew the local Christian school was having money troubles. As a pastor’s wife, she was often getting calls from people in the community who needed help. At about four in the morning, the idea for the mission came to her. She wrote it down and started talking to people about it the next day. Most of the local churches got on board, helping out with donations and volunteers.

Church members, and some of the local pastors, like Waddey, shop at the mission as well. “We get super nice stuff,” says Davis. “I mean the Lord keeps blessing every week. I tell people, ‘When you buy from us, you are blessing someone else. Your dollars help put food on someone else’s table. Or keep their lights on.’” Sometimes people call and ask for help. Other times, a pastor or other church leaders will let Davis know that someone from their church or in their community is having a hard time. She says some don’t want to ask for help, even if they need it. Sales at the mission took off when a volunteer’s daughter started a Facebook page for the thrift store. She posts pictures of newly donated items to give customers an incentive to shop. Davis says the mission would never


work without the help of volunteers. She’s glad people from different denominations are willing to pitch in. That kind of community spirit helps hold the town together, she says. “Lots of those women who volunteer don’t have money to donate,” she says. “They couldn’t give me a $20 donation but they go down there to the mission and work their socks off.” Still, she worries about the town’s future. Like many communities, Maury City and the surrounding county have been hard hit by the opioid epidemic. She tries to help people affected by opioids—especially if they have kids. “Little children are innocent,” she says. “They can’t help who their parents are or what their parents are doing.” But she’ll rarely give out cash. Instead, she’ll pay directly for some-


Zerafin Guardian preaches at Vida Nueva. PHOTO BY JUSTIN VENEMAN

one’s electric bill or medicine. And she’s got an arrangement with the local grocery store. She’ll send someone to the store where they can get $40 or $50 worth of groceries and the mission will pick up the tab. By working together, Davis says, the local churches accomplish more than they could on their own. Friendly partners A great example of doing more together is First Baptist’s partnership with Iglesia Bautista Vida Nueva (New Life Baptist Church). Ironically, Vida Nueva’s pastor hadn’t planned to be a small town pastor, either. Zerafin Guardian—also known as “Mister Z”—and his wife, Teresa Guardian, relocated to Maury City about 12 years ago. They had spent a decade living in Michigan, but had to move for health concerns after Teresa was in a serious crash. Doctors had to piece her bones back together with steel plates. Even after she recovered, the cold of Michigan made life miserable. So they moved

south to Maury City, near Teresa’s parents. “This is a better place for me to live with all the gear I have in my body,” Teresa says. Coming to Maury City was like coming home. The Guardians had family nearby and lots of fond memories. They’d met here while working at the local PicSweet Farms when Teresa was on summer break from college. After moving back, both took jobs in the local school system. Zerafin is a custodian; Teresa works in the school health department. Things were hard at first. Making friends took time. And then there were the accents. Many folks nearby have thick Southern accents, which hasn’t always been easy for the Guardians, both from immigrant families, to understand. But they made it work and became beloved in the community. A few years ago, they felt called to start a church. Both had come to faith as adults and wanted others to have the same experience. In January 2013, they held the first service at a local school. Their new church continued to meet


at the school for two years, growing a multiethnic congregation of about 60 people, with bilingual services in English and Spanish. Zerafin preaches and pastors the church. Teresa leads worship. The youth group, in particular, thrived—drawing about two dozen teenagers on Friday nights. When the school district stopped renting space to churches, the congregation at Vida Nueva needed a new home. A friend introduced Zerafin to Waddey and an instant friendship was born. Today, Vida Nueva meets on Sunday afternoons at First Baptist, and the two congregations have developed close relationships. When Waddey and his wife adopted their daughter from China, the Guardians and their congregation sold more than $2,000 worth of tamales in a fundraiser on their behalf. Waddey says church members are glad to host Vida Nueva, especially since Zerafin and Teresa were the leaders. “They are beloved,” he says. The Guardians hope their congre-



gation will one day have a home of their own. For now, they are glad to partner with First Baptist. “We want to reach people for God,” says Zerafin. “That’s the most important mission we have.” Teresa says she hopes small congregations like Vida Nueva can inspire other, larger churches. “Our hope is that bigger churches will look at what little churches do and see that they can do the same things—or even more.”

Our hope is that bigger churches will look at what little churches do and see that they can do the same things— or even more.” — Teresa Guardin, wife of pastor Zerafin Guardian

Jesus is still a draw Before Waddey arrived, the growth of First Baptist Maury City had been plateaued for a while. The former pastor suffered from cancer, and the church had rallied around him and his family. Helping their pastor through the crisis became the focus of the congregation. Church members eventually helped his family move to nearby Jackson when he was no longer able to stay in the ministry. “They loved their pastor through all that,” Waddey said. “That’s one of the reasons I felt comfortable coming here. I knew they would take care of my family. That’s important when you have eight kids.” Having a new pastor in place has allowed the church to refocus on ministering to their neighbors. Attendance in Sunday school has doubled in size since Waddey arrived—and now averages about 80 people. Around 120 people come to services each Sunday. Money can be an issue. Some of the newcomers are learning how to give, says Waddey. And older members don’t always have a steady income. “There’s not a lot of money in rural America,” he says. The church still has a parsonage, which helps. Waddey and other church leaders keep a close eye on the budget. It’s a constant balancing act: The church wants to treat their pastor fairly, but they also want to mobilize ministries of the church. If most of the budget is tied up in a pastor’s salary, says Waddey, that can hurt a church. “If you don’t have money for ministry, then your hands are tied.” These days, church members do a good job of inviting their friends, says Waddey. And when newcomers arrive, church members make them feel welcome. The church also started a new Sunday school class when Waddey began as pastor—that’s been a draw as well. New people feel like there’s a place for them. And often, newcomers to the church will find a friendly face in the pews. “In Maury City, you don’t have a lot of people who are moving in from somewhere else,” he says. “What you have is a community filled with lifelong relationships. Even if someone has never been in your church—chances are they still know your people.”

Teresa Guardian and son Zerafin Guardian Jr. sing during the worship service. PHOTO BY JUSTIN VENEMAN

BOB SMIETANA (@bobsmietana) is former senior writer for Facts & Trends.



REBOUND IN THE HEARTLAND How two struggling Kansas churches grew deep and wide



Back in the 1970s, things looked pretty bleak for a pair of churches in rural Kansas. Alert Covenant Church and Clay Center Covenant Church were small and aging with so little money they were forced to share a retired missionary as pastor. Both were barely hanging on. Then, little by little, things started to change. Some new people showed up at both Alert and Clay Center Covenant. The older members welcomed them with a smile and made room in the pews. Today, both of the congregations are thriving—despite being in an area where few people go to church. Kansas, in general, is a fairly religious state. About three-quarters of Kansans identify as Christian, according to Pew Research. Just over half are part of a congregation and regularly attend services, according to the 2010 U.S. Congregational Membership Report.


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But in Riley County, home to Alert Covenant Church, only about a third of the people have ties to a church. Focused on Families “There are a lot of people here who say, yes I believe in God,” says Dwight Diller, pastor of Alert Covenant. “But they aren’t engaged with a church.” Diller’s been pastor at Alert for more than two decades. It’s the only church he’s ever served. Ironically, the first time the church tried to call him as the pastor he turned them down. At the time, he and his wife were doing ministry with kids and youth— traveling from church to church, running Vacation Bible Schools. One of those churches was Alert Covenant. When their previous pastor left, the church asked Diller to serve as interim, and then later as permanent pastor. He said no at first, thinking he wasn’t ready. But after another pastor came and went, they asked again, and this time he agreed. It’s worked out pretty well, says Diller. The church has seen some changes over the years. When he arrived, the church had about 100 people, he says. Since then, the church has grown to about 140 people. And the average age has decreased, says Diller. “We’ve worked really hard to try and attract families,” he says. “That’s where we’ve seen the most growth.” Like every church, Alert has its struggles. A number of people from church drive to Manhattan, about 35 five miles


away, for work, so they’re less likely to have time for small groups or other church events or ministries during the week. People—even out in the country—are always busy, says Diller. There are other issues in the community. The divorce rate is high. Meth use—a problem that plagues many small communities—is an issue. Jobs aren’t that plentiful. The local food pantry, run by churches, serves about 25 families a week. Still, there are benefits to rural life. Diller says he appreciates the connectedness of a small town, where everyone knows their neighbors and is willing to lend a hand. In their church, some of the church members have three generations worshipping together. “The community is family oriented, and so is our church,” he says. A similar rebound happened at nearby Clay Center Covenant Church. It all started with kindness, prayer, and few tasty treats from a local bakery. A welcome table In 1977, Beth and Maury Catlin, a newly married couple who’d just graduated from Kansas State, arrived in Clay to teach at the local high school. The two had been active in college ministries and wanted to find a church. They ended up at Clay Center, a tiny Covenant church where most of the members were in their 70s. Still, the Catlins felt at home. The sermons were plainspoken and filled with kindness; the congregation was warm and welcoming. One of the

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older couples befriended the Catlins, who had no family nearby, often inviting them for dinner. Catlin said she knew that Clay Center Church was her home not long after her son Ryan was born. He was crying one morning in church, and she got up to leave. Other church members told her to stay. “It sounds so good to hear a baby in church,” one of them told her. “We haven’t heard that sound for so long.” By 1980, when the Catlin’s second child was born, there were five kids in the children’s program, a veritable baby boom. Other young families began attending—some of those families discovered the church through a small Bible study that met in a local bakery. The Catlins and some friends from town had started the study to meet other young couples. Diller, who later became the pastor at Alert Covenant, also took part in the Bible study. Most of the folks from the group joined the church. They wanted their kids to grow up in a church that would love them and nurture their faith, says Catlin. Busting at the seams Within a few years, the tiny church was overcrowded. So, they set up a television in the church’s basement and piped in the service. Newcomers met in the sanctuary, while the regulars watched in the basement. There was no flash to the service. Money was still tight. But people were genuinely glad to see newcomers.

When someone walks in the door, we want them to know we care. You can’t hire someone to do that. You have to have all the people in the church welcoming them.” — Beth Catlin

Anderson did all the small things to make people feel welcome. If someone was missing, he noticed. And the older people took the new people under their wing. Now retired from teaching, Catlin says her next job is to make sure every person who walks in the door feels just as welcome as she did 40 years ago. “When someone walks in the door, we want them to know we care,” she says. “You can’t hire someone to do that. You have to have all the people in the church welcoming them.” Regardless of the perks or problems of their small town, Catlin says she knows this is where they’re supposed to be. “We have a mission field right here.” BOB SMIETANA (@bobsmietana) is former senior writer for Facts & Trends. In September, Bob joined Religion News Service as editor-in-chief.



From survivalists to senders How the gospel transforms a church—and a community By Daryl Crouch



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Total darkness never scares us at home because we know where the furniture sits. Our eyes adjust to the darkness, and we settle in until the morning light. This illustrates a great challenge for the church. By grace, our eyes have been opened to the gospel, but we often forget how dark the darkness really is. We forget what it was like to be, as the apostle Paul said, “without hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12b). When Jesus approached Jerusalem before Passover, however, He saw the darkness of the city, wept over the city—and then stepped into the city at great sacrifice to offer a tangible and lasting hope (Luke 19). That kind of eyes-wide-open compassion creates a gospel-centered culture in churches that changes lives and transforms entire cities. As God works in the church I pastor, He is cultivating a fresh love for souls and for our city. We can see the destructive force of sin, but we can also see how great the light of the gospel is to dispel the darkest dark. As we learn to walk in the light, God is using these five lessons to grow me as a pastor and to use our church for greater kingdom impact. Listen before leading At one point early in my tenure, a leader approached me with a desire to serve homeless people in our community. While I appreciated his compassion for people, his proposal didn’t fit into my vision for ministry. Our church was struggling to find its identity, and I wanted to reserve every possible dollar and volunteer to serve my vision. But after further conversations, I conceded. Then I discovered many in the congregation already saw the city with compassion and were ready to serve. I took a hint from Henry Blackaby’s classic study, Experiencing God. I found out where God was working, and I joined Him. I didn’t bring Jesus to the church with me. He had been working there for a long time. In churches of every size and style, the Holy Spirit is at work shaping hearts, opening eyes, and



preparing people to join His mission. So before I could lead, I needed to listen and learn. Sure, there were layers of dysfunction in the congregation, but under the surface were remnants of a gospel-rich culture waiting to be unleashed. Before attempting to create a new culture, it’s a good idea to discover what God is already doing.

Asking good questions gets you noticed, but doing something about the honest answers makes an impact.” —Daryl Crouch, senior pastor of Green Hill Church, Mt. Juliet, Tennessee

Preach to spur action “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but it is the power of God to us who are being saved!” (1 Corinthians 1:18, exclamation point mine). The gospel is the good news that moves people from death to life in a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. So biblical preaching is more than inherently evangelistic. In a very practical way, biblical preaching lays the gospel over every area of the Christian’s life. As I led our church to the Bible through expository sermons filled with biblical vocabulary, plainly spoken but robust theological themes, and gospel-oriented application, people responded with fresh enthusiasm and intentionality. Few are awed by a single sermon, but consistent, biblical preaching is powerful to challenge our affections and change our priorities. When the message we preach connects to the mission we model, the gospel shapes our church culture and transforms our community. Send generosity ahead Ours medium-sized church had expe-


rienced 10 difficult years prior to my arrival. When I became pastor, money was tight. Part of that was simple math, but part of it was a loss of vision. When paying bills is a strain for the church each week, generosity is not the natural, go-to strategy. Instead, we tend to buckle down and aspire to simply survive. But for a gospel-centered church, survival alone is too small of a vision. Rather than tightening our grip, we opened our hands and gave beyond our own needs. We began giving to Southern Baptist causes through the Cooperative Program. We established a mission fund that would allow us to invest in our community and build a network of church planting partnerships around the world. I preached on generous living and connected it to the great work God had called us to join. By faith, we sent generosity ahead of our ability. Our people not only gave their tithes and offerings but also, as the apostle Paul said of the Macedonians, gave of themselves first. Paying the bills remained a challenge for a while, but God allowed us to bless our city’s first responders and schools, and even help plant a church in the western United States. We didn’t just send our money—we sent ourselves. We engaged in relationships and gospel work that went beyond our congregation. God transformed us from survivalists to senders. When we open our hands, God opens new opportunities to advance His kingdom. Love the people who come A mentor told me early on in my tenure, “Just love and preach to the ones who come.” His words rang out to me as I bemoaned our slow progress and my own insecurities. This advice isn’t just therapy for the disheartened pastor. Instead, it is

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foundational to our mission. Jesus prayed in John 17 for our unity, but not for sentimentality’s sake. Our mutual love and oneness are megaphones that introduce Jesus to the world. In Acts 2, the witness of the church was amplified not by their education or skill but by their Spirit-born unity of heart. As Peter instructed, pastors “shepherd the flock” (1 Peter 5:2). As stewards of God’s grace, we love the people who come, cultivate genuine fellowship, care for the brokenhearted, and discipline wayward members who distract from the mission. But we don’t do this alone. The Holy Spirit helps us and unites every believer to elevate the glory of Jesus and the beauty of the gospel. The wonder of unity, however, is no abstract notion. Instead, it emerges in the common, everyday—sometimes gritty—relationships around a lunch table or in the living room of a broken family. It takes shape in shared experiences on the mission field, at the ball field, or beside a hospital bed. In a relationally disconnected culture, the redeeming work of Jesus connects believers into a fellowship of mutual responsibility and accountability that shines light and welcomes unbelievers into a whole new life in Christ. Show love with questions and solutions Followers of Jesus know that ultimately everyone needs Christ, but unless we ask, we don’t know what else they need. So our church keeps asking our community, “How can we serve you?” As Jesus turned His ambitious leaders into servant-leaders, He said, “just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). Jesus consistently shared the gospel with words and works. His ministry

was marked by practical compassion for hurting people, but Jesus’ service was never a bait-and-switch. It was never a marketing gimmick. He genuinely loved His neighbors, and He often gave Himself to people who never loved Him in return. If we believe every person is created in the image of God and possesses dignity and worth, our love will look like Jesus’ love. If we care about people, we will care about the things people care about. When we began asking, “How can we serve you?” we quickly saw the needs: 1 out of 4 children in the local public schools face food shortage at home, the opioid epidemic is growing, and almost 200 children need a foster home. Asking good questions gets you noticed, but doing something about the honest answers makes an impact. As we responded to those answers, God reshaped our priorities. Food programs, first responder support, school partnerships, and other community initiatives have become a part of our church culture. It’s fueled by gospel intentionality, prayer, financial generosity, community collaboration, and volunteer hours, which God uses to change both our community and our church family. The assistance people receive and the new friendships they enjoy build a meaningful platform for the gospel to turn tangible help into lasting hope. DARYL CROUCH (@darylcrouch) is senior pastor of Green Hill Church in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee.


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‘Something had to change’ Jackie Hill Perry shares her journey past same-sex attraction to the Savior


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By Sara Shelton


If someone had told teenaged Jackie Hill Perry where she’d be today, she probably wouldn’t have believed it. A wife, mother, speaker, poet, and rapper, she’ll add author to her list this fall with the publishing of her first book, Gay Girl, Good God: The Story of Who I Was and Who God Has Always Been. Perry’s journey of faith isn’t your typical teenage coming-of-age story. Instead, hers is one that requires courage and conviction to speak and share. “I wanted to invite people into my world and help them have empathy for something they may not understand,” Perry explains. “I want to allow them to walk in my shoes.” To fully take that walk in Perry’s shoes, you have to go all the way back to her childhood in St. Louis, Missouri. Raised without the consistent presence of a male figure in her home, Perry spent her formative years in the care of her single, working mother. Weekends were often spent with her aunt, and that’s where Perry’s exposure to the gospel began. “My mom had weekend jobs, so I went to church with my aunt on Sundays,” Perry says. “I didn’t realize then, but those Sundays in church were helpful in giving me the foundation for the gospel that would save me in the future. Even when I wasn’t sure what else I believed, I was still certain that God was real.” But Perry was also dealing with a certainty of something else during those early years of life—a quiet struggle deep within her. “I noticed that I liked girls as early as kindergarten,” Perry recalls. “I didn’t know what to call it or what it even was at the time. I knew it was something I felt, but I also knew it was something that wasn’t to be discussed.” As she grew up, she felt that inclination couldn’t stay quiet within her. When she reached her teens, those feelings began to scream so loudly she felt she couldn’t ignore them. “By the time I hit high school, I was getting more and more comfortable with the feelings inside of me. I made up my mind: I was going to pursue them.” At 17, Perry entered a relationship with another girl, a choice she says felt more natural to her than almost anything else she’d experienced up to that point in her life. Unsure of what others might think, Perry kept her relationship quiet at first. Jackie Hill Perry with her husband, Preston.




It’s difficult to learn how to trust God with all of my life, but I’m really thankful He didn’t make it any easier than it was. That’s how faith is really built.” —Jackie Hill Perry

But to those around her, the changes in her life were certainly noticeable. The further into the relationship she got, the more Perry changed outwardly, too. “I was transitioning into becoming more masculine at the time, changing my clothes, and changing the way I carried myself,” Perry says. “It just felt so natural and right to me, and I didn’t really care what anyone else thought about it. I just felt like, This is me.” Soon, close friends began to understand Perry’s new lifestyle. By the time she was 18, her mother made the discovery as well. “My mom didn’t accept it, but she never rejected me. It was just confusing for her because suddenly I wasn’t behaving as the girl she’d raised. Suddenly, I wasn’t the daughter she’d brought up.” Though fully out as a lesbian and involved in a same-sex relationship, Perry still believed the truths she had learned going to church as a child with her aunt. Those convictions had settled within her and proved difficult to shake. “I think it was God in His mercy not allowing me to shake off what little I knew to be true of Him at the time,” Perry says. “I felt convicted constantly during that season of my life. I never deceived myself into believing God was OK with the choices I was making. I knew what He said was true. I knew it everywhere—in the gay club, in the pride parade, in the relationship I was in. I carried it with me.” By the time Perry was nearly 20 years old, those convictions were weighing on

her all the more. And in October 2008, everything came to a head. “There was nothing I could do not to remember what was true,” she says. “It felt like God was speaking right to my heart all the time. And I saw it so clearly all of a sudden; I saw what was going on in my heart. And if what I knew was true—if the wages of sin really was death—it wasn’t optional for me. Something had to change.” Out of the conviction, Perry decided to turn away from the lifestyle she’d come to know as comfortable and, instead, turn toward the God she knew was pursuing her heart. Of course, this meant immediate steps of change in her life. She ended her relationship, detached from friends, and even changed the way she dressed, all in an effort to safeguard herself from the temptations that remained. “I didn’t want to be straight,” Perry explains. “I remember having a conversation with God during that time saying just that. But I also knew I wanted Jesus more than everything else. And I felt like He was asking me to come to Him and not worry about the rest of it. So that’s what I did.” Within weeks, Perry found herself plugged in at a local church. There, she was met with exactly what she needed most in that season—not judgment or consequence but unconditional love. “I needed to see that Christians loved people for real, and that’s exactly what that church did for me,” she says. “They weren’t after just a change in my sexu-


ality but a change in my whole person. They loved me as Jackie, not as Jackie the ex-lesbian.” A few years later, Perry moved to Los Angeles, where she found a mentor to disciple her in this new journey of faith. “It was a slow and difficult period,” Perry recalls. “It’s difficult to learn how to trust God with all of my life, but I’m really thankful He didn’t make it any easier than it was. That’s how faith is really built.” Part of what helped her through the slow and difficult healing process was the written word. A longtime lover of creative writing, Perry started putting pen to paper to express herself. “When I became a believer, I was looking for a way to communicate how I was feeling, and poetry was the best way I could think of at the time. I just started writing and eventually sharing it. And then people were being introduced to God through the things I was saying. It was cool.” God used that poetry to eventually lead her to where she is today. Perry met her husband, Preston, at a poetry event in 2009. Both were there to share their testimonies through poetry. A friendship quickly forged, and over the course of a few years, her affection for him began to grow. “This was a new feeling for me,” Perry explains. “I didn’t really understand it or know where it was coming from, but I shared it with my mentor. She just encouraged me to pray and let God do the rest.”

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By the time Preston reached out with the intention to pursue Perry, her heart was ready. “I felt like it was the will of God. He’s the only man I ever saw myself being willing to trust and love in that way. I just needed to have a willing heart, and God gave that to me.” The two were married a year and a half later. They have since welcomed two daughters, Eden and Autumn. It’s a family Perry herself never thought she’d have. “My story is certainly not the standard,” Perry explains. “It’s just the one God chose to give me, and I’m so grateful for it.” Perry’s ultimate goal isn’t to convert people from gay to straight; it’s simply to share Jesus with the world around her and let Him do the changing. “I hope the book is a great resource for people to understand both the gay community and the gospel of Christ,” Perry says.

The publishing of Perry’s book comes at a moment in culture where more and more people are grappling with questions of sexuality and faith. It’s an ongoing conversation within the walls of the church and beyond, one that Perry encourages leaders in the church to keep having. What would she say to those leaders talking to students like her—the 17-yearold Jackie who was asking the questions so many ask today? “Be willing to commit,” Perry says. “There isn’t a one-size-fits-all method to this. Each person’s journey is unique. So commit to getting to know that person. Understand that story, that world, that life in front of you. “Consistently show up and do a lot of listening, a lot of loving, and a lot of praying. That, in my opinion, is how you start to change a life.”

The Perrys with their daughters, Eden and Autumn. PHOTO BY GIBBS FRAZEUR

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SARA SHELTON is a freelance writer and editor based in the Atlanta area. She writes at





MINISTRY By mike harland



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Developing a partnership between sermons and songs

It’s Sunday morning. The music leader sits down as the pastor walks to the pulpit to start his message. He begins this way: Turn with me to Colossians 1:15-20 and let’s read God’s Word together. As the congregation joins the pastor reading this passage, the worship leader thinks, If only I had known that was his text today! I have a great song set that would have set that up perfectly! And something just like that happens in church after church, Sunday after Sunday. It can be better than that. I once heard a pastor say to a worship leader, “You sing about Jesus and I’ll preach about Jesus and the rest will take care of itself.” It can be better than that, too. How can it work? What can pastors and worship leaders do to make a more meaningful connection between the congregational worship and the sermon? Does it matter? Two leaders, one ministry for all First, let’s establish a definition of terms. The pastor of the church really is the worship leader. Music and worship, though completely connected in the church context, are not synonyms. Worship isn’t just what the church does before the pastor preaches; it involves what we do in every part of the worship gatherings and everything we do as believers living out the gospel in our lives. We worship from the time we wake up to the time we go to sleep at night. Everything else is details about how we worship. Worship, in the simplest definition, is our response to God’s revelation. God reveals Himself, and we worship in response. Our


worship can be in praise through singing or testifying, kneeling, or lifting hands. It can be in our giving and serving as we teach and pray or welcome guests, care for children, or park cars. Revelation is all about the reading and teaching of God’s Word—in our personal study time, in small groups, and in sermons. But it also happens in our singing as we share the rich texts of songs and hymns that contain the truth about God. A worship service is not composed of two things led by two people and enjoyed by everyone else; it is one thing led by two people that involves everyone else. And since the worship services affect the largest part of our congregation week to week, much care should be given to focus the content for the benefit of all. Our worship services can have a rhythm of revelation and response, and the music and the message can work together to accomplish both. But it won’t happen consistently by accident. How do we do that? It takes trust. And time. And it takes two leaders who are willing to open themselves up to each other for honest and consistent conversation about the worship services of the church. It happens when these leaders meet consistently to plan, evaluate, pray, and prepare. The first question the leaders must answer is: What do we hope will be the outcome of


—Mike Harland

the worship services? It could be three simple goals like these: • That the Word of God and the name of Jesus would be pre-eminent in worship services. • That the gospel would be proclaimed with clarity and conviction. • That the congregation will participate in every aspect of the service. It’s helpful to review and honestly assess previous services to determine whether these goals were reached. The pastor should take the lead in setting the goals. He and the music leader should work together to create a plan to accomplish them in every worship service. Then, careful consideration of how those goals will be pursued comes into focus. As this assessment and planning cycle continues, the two leaders can get better at communicating with each other and strengthening the worship plans for the church.


Each one can help the other In an ideal scenario, the pastor shares with the music leader his plans to preach through the book of Romans later that year. The music leader starts reading and studying Romans, becoming increasingly familiar with the text the pastor will be addressing. Songs and worship moments come to mind as the music leader studies the text. The music leader locates and listens to recordings of songs that could be strategic during the series. The pastor starts to live with the songs as the music leader starts to live with the text. They begin to have conversations about the messages and the music and how they will fit together in the flow of a service. One area of focus is the handoff moments in the worship gathering. They ask, How do we transition to the prayer or the offering? What will be the way

We worship from the time we wake up to the time we go to sleep at night. Everything else is details about how we worship.”

Worship Essentials: Growing a Healthy Worship Ministry Without Starting a War! (Available Nov. 1) by Mike Harland Available at LifeWay Christian Stores and


we approach the response time of the worship? Each one is helping the other prepare to lead and worship. Can only big churches plan this way? Some church leaders might think because the music leader is part-time or a volunteer, this kind of planning is not realistic. It most certainly is. We have email, smart phones, and virtual planning tools. Church staff who don’t have adjacent offices have many ways to plan and prepare for corporate worship. All that’s required is dedication to working together. If a pastor and music leader commit to work together, this can happen—no matter the size of the church. It really comes down to whether the leaders see the value of this kind of collaboration. This won’t happen overnight. These two leaders must invest time and energy to build a cadence of healthy worship planning together. But, if they do, I believe they’ll find it to be time well spent. And I’m convinced the members of the congregation—though they likely will never be able to articulate it—will see and feel the difference. MIKE HARLAND (@mikeharlandLW) is the director of LifeWay Worship.

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Small world, big God, and a local church with a global heart


By Ruth Malhotra

Some people’s journey to faith in Jesus involves hearing the gospel in a church service, having a Christian befriend them, or even reading Scripture for themselves. For my mom, it also involved an arranged marriage.

My mother, Veena, was born in a primitive village in Eastern India that still has little electricity or running water. She was raised in an orthodox Hindu family and grew up amidst a polytheistic, works-oriented religious system. Though she moved to major Indian cities such as Calcutta and New Delhi and studied in some of the country’s best schools, her worldview was still limited for the first 26 years of her life, never having left India and knowing hardly any Christians. Then, she married a man she didn’t know and moved across the globe.


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Photos (l-r): Veena and Naresh Malhotra meet for the first time on June 8, 1980. Their wedding ceremony on June 30, 1980, in New Delhi, India. Naresh (second from left) is ordained as a deacon at Atlanta’s First Baptist Church by Dr. Charles Stanley in 1982.

My dad, Naresh, was living in America, having just completed higher education in New York and about to begin a teaching position at Georgia Tech in Atlanta. While he was a graduate student in Buffalo, through the outreach of a local church and a Christian campus community that befriended international students, he started attending church-sponsored socials and gradually developed friendships with believers. He was a strong orthodox Hindu, with a rigorous, ritualistic system of worship, and with no intentions to convert from the Hindu faith. But he thought the ministry’s social events provided good food and a great way to integrate with mainstream American culture. After months of turning down invitations to visit a local church, he reluctantly agreed to visit one Sunday morning at the invitation of a close friend. It happened to be Palm Sunday, 40 years ago (March 19, 1978). As the pastor concluded his message, my dad felt compelled to go forward and accept Jesus Christ as his Savior! Three ladies at the church—a single woman, a widow, and an older matriarch—reached

out and discipled him, and within a very short time my dad became a part of that local church. It was my dad’s first time ever to visit a church, but it changed his life—and our family’s trajectory—forever. When he moved to Atlanta in 1979 to teach at Georgia Tech, he wandered into Atlanta’s First Baptist Church, primarily because of the church building’s proximity to his office and apartment downtown. He didn’t have a car, and the church was within walking distance. This young, single, immigrant from India was instantly embraced by the church community, from young families who invited him over for meals to older couples who offered him counsel, all the way up to the senior pastor, Charles Stanley, who took a special interest in involving him in church initiatives. When my dad told his new pastor and church family he was going back to India to marry a woman he didn’t know, they were bewildered and warned him against being unequally yoked. But caught between India’s intimidating patriarchal culture and his newfound faith and priorities in America, my dad embarked on this matrimonial ven-


ture—realizing it would be impossible to reconcile all the dynamics at play. Hundreds of people at First Baptist were praying for a redemptive outcome to this difficult situation. I still meet people who tell me they prayed fervently during those days. “We were all wondering who he’d bring back with him,” recalls First Baptist staff member Mary Gellerstedt, now 93. “But at that point, all we could do was pray.” And what a venture it turned out to be. “It was a tumultuous time as both my family and his reacted to Naresh’s conversion to Christianity, his rejection of his childhood faith, and the exclusivity of Jesus Christ,” recalls my mom. “But patriarchal pressures were unrelenting, and in their minds our marriage was a done deal. I assumed that with him being a Christian and me remaining Hindu, we could have co-existent religious systems and live with an all-inclusive mindset.” On June 8, 1980, my parents met for the first time. Their marriage had already been arranged by their parents. Three weeks later, on June 30, they were married according to the strictest of orthodox Hindu traditions (at the


But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” —1 Peter 2:9

astrologically determined time of 2 a.m., no less). Three weeks after that, my mom was living in America with her new husband. On July 20, my father brought his new bride to First Baptist to meet his church family. The members of the congregation lovingly welcomed this beautiful young woman dressed in traditional Indian attire. Five weeks later, during a Wednesday evening service, she gave her life to Christ. “It’s hard to imagine just eight weeks prior to my conversion, I was walking around the fire as part of a Hindu marriage ritual in New Delhi, and now I was standing at the altar at First Baptist Atlanta,” says my mom. “The magnitude of that miracle can only be measured in the light of God’s immeasurable grace and goodness, His faithfulness and favor, His mercy and love. I am continually amazed by the scope of God’s redemptive reach, for the providential path He charted as He brought me out of a primitive and polytheistic culture in India to knowledge of the One True God through faith in Jesus Christ.” But it was more than the sound teaching that captured my mom’s heart and mind; it was the welcoming spirit of the congregation. “I loved the church, and I loved the people,” she recalls. “I was moved by how individuals in the church embraced me, even as I felt I was a stranger in a foreign land.” The church’s international ministry had a global reach, with members from every continent, and everyone assimilated with their uniqueness and diversity while adapting to the American culture.


First Baptist not only played a significant role in my parents’ conversion and discipleship decades ago, it remains our family’s home church today. Not a week goes by that I’m not personally reminded of the loving congregation who welcomed my parents so warmly and continues to be an integral part of shaping our family’s trajectory. As I was talking to my parents and reflecting on the ways our church impacted their spiritual journey early on, these three realities stood out as most significant: The church embraced strangers and foreigners. My family is incredibly grateful for a church that welcomes and embraces strangers, whether from around the corner or around the world, recognizing all are made in the image of God and in need of God’s redemptive grace through Jesus Christ. Long before Atlanta became a global city, the church had global membership. This reality continues today, as First Baptist has made extending hospitality to strangers a priority. Under the visionary leadership of Global Missions Director Mary Gellerstedt, the church has expanded the scope of local and global outreach with a thriving international community and numerous humanitarian initiatives. Within a five-mile radius of our church and the I-85/285 intersection, there are an estimated 145 different nations and 761 language groups represented. More broadly, the North American Mission Board estimates there are 2,700 unreached people groups from around the world living in Metro Atlanta, including in Clarkston, Georgia, which

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The Malhotras at Dr. Charles Stanley’s 85th birthday party on September 22, 2017

The New York Times named “the most diverse square mile in America.” The pastor’s sermons clearly communicated the universal scope of the gospel as well as the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. The message that salvation is for all who believe came through in each sermon— as did the imperative for each individual to make a personal commitment to follow Christ as the only Savior and Lord. “Every sermon emphasized that the scope of the gospel is universal, but also highlighted the exclusivity of Jesus Christ as the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” mom recalls. The priority was placed on personal Bible study Week after week my mom grew in her understanding of God’s Word and His purpose in redeeming the world to Himself and in her acknowledgement of the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ in all things. She saw herself as being adopted into the family of God and learned what it meant to worship Him in spirit and in truth—a stark contrast to her former way of life, and a lesson she’d later pass down to my brother and me in a deeply personal manner.

“I perceived the differences between my former religious ritualistic practices and the relational intimacy I now experienced with my Heavenly Father,” she says. “I was led to worship the Creator rather than creation; and I went from dread and uncertainty to trust and dependence on the One who controls our destiny, from deeply embedded fear and fatalism to freedom and faith.” Reading the Bible as a new believer reshaped my mom’s worldview and pointed her to obedience to the one true God. “I’m so grateful to Dr. Charles Stanley for his impact on my spiritual formation these past 38 years, and for the way he has helped me cultivate a biblical worldview based on the doctrine and testimonies of Scripture,” she says. My encounters with different aspects of India’s culture—combined with a more intentional exploration of my family’s spiritual journey—have given me a profound sense of gratitude for my own salvation and a renewed confidence in Christ’s redemptive power. It has given me a deeper burden for the role of the local church in pointing our world to the only One who can offer true life. For the past several years I’ve been privileged to serve in Christian ministry, and much of my personal and


professional interaction is in the context of church gatherings and evangelistic events across America and around the world. Every once in a while, I tear up as I take a step back and reflect on my family’s faith journey and realize just how remarkable and humbling it is that God has brought us this far in one generation. As I ponder the past, anticipate the future, and consider our present cultural moment, I’m thankful my church was and remains a welcoming place for strangers and foreigners. I pray yours is, too. I cherish the people God brought along my family’s path who helped shape our life experiences and eternal trajectory. I pray you play that role in someone else’s life. Most of all, I marvel at our sovereign God who brought us out of darkness and into His wonderful light. RUTH MALHOTRA (@RuthMalhotra) serves as public relations manager for Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, headquartered in Alpharetta, Ga. She is a member of First Baptist Church Atlanta and actively involved in their global missions program and international ministry.


Resurrecting a dead church By mark clifton



Each year hundreds of churches in North America cease to exist. Churches that at one time impacted their communities with the gospel and could only see a bright and growing future now have closed their doors forever. It’s a tragic number. The loss of that many churches is confounding because as Christ followers, we have an unwavering trust in the atoning gospel. We acknowledge that as Christians we have the Holy Spirit to empower us and the inspired Scriptures to equip us. We agree Jesus is the head of the church and He will build it. Surprisingly, the vast majority of those that closed their doors were in communities that actually grew in population. These are communities teeming with people who have never responded in faith to Jesus, and they won’t spend eternity in the unimaginable pleasure of the glory of God but rather as objects of His eternal wrath. Yes, this is a serious matter. Wornall Road Baptist Church in Kansas City, Missouri, was on the fast track to joining that list when God placed me there in 2006 to serve as its pastor. At our first gathering, 18 faithful saints attended our worship service—in a sanctuary that once held more than 600. Most of those remaining members were over 70 years of age.


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It was hardly the kind of church most pastors are eager to lead. I had spent most of my ministry career in a very different setting. As a church planter for more than two decades, I was more familiar with birthing new congregations than helping old ones die. As a child of the church growth movement, it seemed to me that dying churches should just be left to die. Dying churches are like an old stump—“just plow around them” I used to say. After all, it’s easier to start a new church than resurrect an old one (which is true, by the way). But my overly pragmatic approach changed when I thought about the pending death of Wornall Road Baptist Church. The Holy Spirit pierced my pragmatic heart with one single question.

What about a dying church brings glory to God? Frankly, that question forever changed the trajectory of my ministry. Strategically, it made sense to abandon a dying church and start something new down the street. But what does it say about God’s glory when a church closes its doors and leaves the neighborhood. How can we proclaim to that neighborhood that the gospel has the power to defeat death and hell—but it couldn’t keep our church from closing? For the next few years, I leaned heavily on the missionary principles I had used as a church planter. The saints who were still at Wornall Road were ready to embrace Jesus’ plan for their church rather than their plan for their church. Without this change, there can be no replanting of a church. Over the next 10 years, we set


out to replant the church from within. Here are the steps we took to resuscitate this dying church. 1. First and foremost, I committed myself to loving the remaining members God had given me. Instead of loving the church I wished I had, I had to love the church that was actually there. Those remaining members weren’t an obstacle to my ministry. They were my ministry! I loved them, nurtured them, and gently shepherded them toward one single outcome. I desired to see their hearts warm to the gospel. You see, Satan had performed a common and devious transaction on them. He had encouraged them to trade in their love of Jesus and His plan for the church for their own comfort and


familiarity. In a chaotic world that often seemed to be spinning out of control to them, these senior saints could walk back into their church and find great comfort in its sameness. An idol is something we run to for purpose, comfort, and meaning. For many older saints in a dying church, the sameness of that church—which began as comfort—became an idol. You know an idol is false if you fear losing it. They live in fear someone will change something in their church. A redeemed child of God need never fear losing Jesus. My job, as their pastor, was to lovingly help these members realize they didn’t need the idol. They needed Jesus. To do that, I sought to warm their hearts to the gospel by engaging them in frequent gospel conversations and simply preaching Jesus in every sermon. 2. Our church had to learn to love and serve the neighborhood. That church of 18 people didn’t have much to offer the community, but we did have a building. We opened up that building to serve the community. We let other Southern Baptist church plants use it. We let it become a hub of activity for the neighborhood. We served our schools. We served the at-risk neighborhood around us. We did everything we could to make sure our church left a ministry footprint on the community around us. Wornall Road had lost that over time, and it took time

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to knit it back together again. The truth is, you don’t change the image of your church by changing its name, its logo, or its website. You change the image of the church in the community when you love your neighborhood sacrificially—not once a year but each and every day. We said all of the time at Wornall Road, “Those who had been most generously dealt with, should be the most generous people in the neighborhood.” No one has been dealt with more generously than those who have been redeemed by Christ. We needed to be generous with our time, our love, our affection, and our attention to the community—and even with the resources we had left, even as meager as they were. We had to live with an open hand to share whatever we had. If we were going to close as a church, we didn’t want to do so by holding on tightly to our last nickel. Instead, we knew we had to give everything away. A dying church can change its image in the community by loving the people with total abandon and serving the community. If a community sees the church caring for them, the community will respond. 3. We focused on a new generation of leaders. We didn’t just make an effort to attract younger people to the church. We worked diligently to give a younger generation opportunities to come and serve in our church—and to lead it. Granted, this wasn’t easy for the older members of our church. Though these young families were committed to the gospel, were grounded in the Scriptures, and were faithful to Jesus and His mission, their views of how to do church differed greatly from the remaining older members of Wornall Road. Yet despite their different views, these


older saints yielded for the glory of God. They didn’t just make room in their pews for the younger people to attend; they made room for them to lead as well. Young families didn’t come to our church because we had a cool website or a great worship band. Over time, our love of the gospel, our service to the community, and our commitment to a generationally diverse family of God drew them to the church. When those young families arrived, we handed over the leadership of the church and the ownership of its direction. God used all of this to develop a church that would house and or plant nine new church plants in 10 years. It raised a number of pastoral interns who are now serving churches across North America. Wornall Road never became the large regional church it once had been. Instead it became something we greatly need today—a loving, serving, disciple-making, and multiplying neighborhood church. In the decade I served as its pastor, the church grew from 18 to over 100. Many of those in gathered worship could walk to church because they came from the surrounding neighborhood. God worked a miracle in our church and in our neighborhood. Your church doesn’t have to die. I believe there’s hope for every church, but it requires real work. Revitalization usually doesn’t happen quickly and requires tough decisions. But I can think of no better activity to be involved than the work of revitalizing a dying church so God can miraculously bring it back to life. MARK CLIFTON now serves as the senior director of replanting at the North American Mission Board. He is also the author of Reclaiming Glory: Revitalizing Dying Churches. For more information visit

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6 signs it might be time to build


By Dave Milam and Jody Forehand

When churches run out of space, they typically have more options than adding brick and mortar. In fact, the costly decision to increase square footage should be the last resort.

Often, the utilization of space is the biggest problem. Many churches have enough total square footage, but an inefficient floor plan consumes prime real estate in the building’s footprint. Here’s a good rule of thumb to determine if you have enough square footage: your church building should have about 45 to 55 square feet for every attendee. For example, if you have a church of 300 people, your facility should probably be around 15,000 square feet. Depending on your ministry philosophy and style of programming, that rule of thumb generally works for churches up to about 2,000 in attendance. If space utilization isn’t the culprit, perhaps you could use your square footage constraints as an indicator it’s time to launch a new campus or add extra weekend service opportunities. There’s a growing trend of churches starting Thursday night services or alternative venue opportunities to reduce the impact of space and facility constraints. Sometimes building additional square footage is not only the best option, but it may also be the only option left. A lack of space can stunt a church’s growth and frustrate both visitors and your committed



attendees. The trick is to identify the potential barriers or constraints to growth and eliminate them before they stop you in your tracks. Here are six signs that you might be running out of space. 1. Your kids have become sardines. We’ve noticed churches often grow to the area with the tightest constraint. For example, it’s possible your parking lot could be the ceiling to your growth. You can have all the seats in the world, but if you don’t have space for people to park, you’ll never fill your auditorium. Also, it won’t matter how many open seats you have available in your worship center if parents are being turned away, or scared away, from an overcrowded kids ministry area. The reality is, it’s like a three-legged stool. If you don’t have enough kids’ space, parking spots, or worship seats, then you’re out of alignment. The shortest leg of the stool will always determine your capacity. So, if you’re expanding one or two of these areas beyond the capacity of the third, you may be wasting your money. 2. The Sunday morning experience in your building is claustrophobic. It’s nearly impossible for your members to create community and develop relationships when the church’s hallways force people to keep moving. Give them space to breathe and room to slow down. Your lobby needs margin, too. A more right-sized lobby can include seating areas out of the traffic flow, coffee stations, and places for divine appointments to happen. Your people will want to hang around and greet visitors if you give them space. And if


done right, your lobby can also serve as an event space other days of the week. There are also legal ramifications to overcrowding. Some growing churches treat the fire marshall’s capacity rating as more of a suggestion than a requirement. If that ever happens to you, it may be time to explore opportunities to create more space. 3. Closets are becoming classrooms or offices. If you just put the newest staff member in a closet that was converted into an office, you might be running out of space. And if you’ve planned for your next hire to displace your cleaning products, then at this point, you may be just playing a game of whack-a-mole until you add some square feet. Converting a closet to an office or classroom can be tricky. If you’re not careful, you may inadvertently violate a few building codes or other regulations in the conversion. 4. You have traffic jams in your parking lot. Los Angeles highways aren’t known for their peaceful drives and free-flowing traffic. As a matter of fact, they have a terrible reputation for stalled movement and road-raged drivers. If you’re not careful, your parking lot could develop the same reputation among local churchgoers. In most cases, you should have at least one available parking spot for every two seats in your worship center, especially for churches with multiple services. That means if you have 1,000 seats you’ll need at least 500 spots to service all of the cars. You may need even more if you squeeze the time between services down too close and don’t allow time for adequate turnover. But quantity, by itself, isn’t enough. If your parking lot is laid out like a

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Walmart instead of like a sporting event venue, you can have all the spaces in the world and still have road-rage inducing loading and unloading headaches, not to mention pedestrian safety issues. Your typical shopping center has people trickling in and out all day, but your church functions more like a concert or football game with most people arriving in a short window of time and then trying to all leave at the same time to beat lunch crowds coming from the other churches down the street. 5. Your kids area is spread across campus. When your kids’ classes are haphazardly sprinkled throughout your campus, security can easily become a nightmare. Without a main secure environment and strategic flow for parents to drop off and pick up their children, you are asking for trouble. If you’re not providing a safe and secure place for parents to leave their kids comfortably, you’re setting yourself up to a liability issue, and likely will lose a second visit from your guests. You may or may not need new square footage to solve your problem, but you definitely need a major remodel to locate all the kids’ areas together behind one secure entry point. 6. You’re having regular meetings about remodeling to create more space. If you’re having a conversation every month about knocking down walls, the undeniable truth is your church is growing. That’s a good problem to have, but you have to be proactive to stay in front of the demand. Waiting until you’re at 100 percent capacity before beginning the conversation about expansion means you’re still likely at least two years away from a solution by the time design and con-

struction of the expansion is completed. As the church grows, the needs and strategies of ministry evolve. The programming that seemed to work so well years ago no longer serves the ever-expanding needs of the growing community. As a result, your ministry teams are having to create workarounds for their ministry to happen. And when the best option is to convert a closet, your church’s facility has itself may have become a barrier to effective ministry. If the conversation about which walls to knock down has become so commonplace that you caved to the pressure and decided to pull the trigger, you may find out after the fact that all you really did was just tip over the first domino. What you thought was going to be the solution, might have unintentionally toppled over five more dominos. The answer created more problems than it solved. Now you’re thousands of dollars deep into a “solution” that isn’t fixing anything. If you’re still unsure about whether or not it’s time to build, let professionals help you evaluate the signs above to see whether it’s really time to build or not. You might discover all you need is a less expensive remodel or a simple reconfiguration of the existing space. DAVE MILAM (@davemilam) is vice president of strategic design at Visioneering Studios, a team of nationally licensed architects and general contractors. JODY FOREHAND (@jodyforehand) is executive vice president of operations at Visioneering Studios. Visioneering Studios grew out of the desire for the church to regain a leadership position in culture. Since its inception in 2002, Visioneering has grown into a national faith-based design-build firm offering its suite of services to churches, nonprofits, and commercial businesses alike.




By daniel darling

My family recently took a trip Monticello, the estate of Thomas Jefferson. The tour of this historic home was a study in contradictions. On one hand, we marveled at the genius of a man who wrote words that set the trajectory for the American experiment: “All men are created equal.” On the other hand, we lamented the sheer injustice of Jefferson’s engagement in the slave trade. He not only bought and sold slaves; he fathered six children by Sally Hemings, an enslaved woman. Jefferson was no orthodox believer, though he attended an Anglican church. But his moral inconsistencies are not unique to his era, his belief system, or to him. People today walk around with inconsistencies of their own. This means pastors and church leaders must preach and shepherd people in such a way that points out ways in which we profess to believe in human


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dignity but live out a contradictory ethic. My guess is most leaders reading this piece are convictionally pro-life and unashamed to teach this to their congregations. I’m grateful Christians have long stood up for our unborn neighbors. But if we are to be faithful to God’s Word and to shepherd our people, we need to do more than simply acknowledge the evil of abortion. We need to help our congregations develop a consistent, pro-life ethic of human dignity—one that recognizes the value of those inside and outside the womb. Here are three important ways we can help them do that: 1.Preach often on what it means to be human While the Creator spoke most of creation into existence, Genesis 1 and 2 says God sculpted humanity from the dust of the ground and breathes into humankind the breath of life. Humans are endowed—stamped—with the image of God. This truth means we represent God in the world and has profound implications for how we see ourselves—and how we see others. We live in a world that constantly redefines what it means to be human. On one hand, we are encouraged to be God-like, usurping our Creator and creating our own destinies. This only leads to despair. On the other hand, we’re encouraged to be animalistic, giving into our worst temptations and instincts and lusts. This only leads to exploitation of other image-bearers. The people in our congregations need a robust understanding of what it means to be human, to be created by a loving God, to be redeemed from the curse of sin, and what the resurrection means for the way we think about our bodies.

2. Use application in a way that “afflicts the comfortable” An old journalism maxim is that good reporters “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” I think this is good for pastors and church leaders, especially in the way we make application. The temptation for us, when preaching on human dignity, is to point out all the ways in which disagreeing with us is an assault on vulnerable image-bearers. But we shouldn’t just preach for “amens” and retweets. We should also cause our people to think about ways they, in their tribes and associations, may be complicit in attacking the dignity of people created in God’s image. Pastors must not allow the political preferences of their congregation to drive the subject of their sermons. Church leaders should challenge their congregation on any political or cultural issue that seeks to diminish the image of God in others and our responsibilities in light of that—from the way we treat the unborn and elderly to how we view the immigrant and refugee. And we do this, not just with the obvious passages that describe the Bible’s rich vision for human dignity, but also with application in less obvious passages, such as these: • Jesus coming in the flesh shows the goodness of human bodies. • Jesus describes the upside-down nature of the kingdom of God in His discourses. • God used a vulnerable baby in the Nile, and then an old, washed up former prince to bring down Pharaoh, who dehumanized the children of Israel in Egypt. • An aging Apostle Paul finds strength and dignity in human weakness.

Humans are endowed —stamped—with the image of God. This truth means we represent God in the world and has profound implications for how we see ourselves— and how we see others.” —Daniel Darling, vice president of communications for Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission


DIG DEEPER The Dignity Revolution: Reclaiming God’s Rich Vision for Humanity. by Dan Darling Available at LifeWay Christian Stores and

3. Model an otherworldly vision of human dignity in our congregations It’s not enough to simply teach that humans are created in God’s image and have intrinsic dignity and worth. This is what Jesus is teaching his disciples in Matthew 20. When overhearing their pitched jockeying for positions in what they thought would constitute Jesus’ new kingdom, the Lord reminded them that the kingdom of God is vastly different from the kingdoms of this world. The last, Jesus said, would be first. God’s people are tempted, in every age, to adopt the dignity-denying ethos of the surrounding culture. Paul rebuked the church in Corinth for hero worship of those with social status or rhetorical gifts by reminding them that when they were called into the kingdom, “not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth” (1 Corinthians 1:26). James challenged the churches he wrote to not to treat the wealthy better than the impoverished, for “God has chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom” (James 2:5). To fully reflect the biblical view of human dignity in our churches means we not only extend ourselves on behalf of those whom the world has denied worth, but also that we display an otherworldly view of dignity in the way we conduct ourselves as a body. It means we resist the world’s definitions of worth and power. It means we see the Down syndrome child as a fully valuable member of our body. It means we resist the urge to only put on our platforms those who fit the


cultural definition of beauty or masculinity. It means we are the one, and perhaps the only, place in society where people are accepted and loved not because of what they can contribute, but because of who they are in Christ. Those who are disabled or poor— those who don’t neatly fit into our modern notions of success—should have a prominent place in our assemblies. Not only do they have full human dignity as image-bearers of God, but each one is a future king or queen of the universe, who will one day reign with Christ. Imagine congregations filled with people who have nothing in common with one another, other than the fact that they are redeemed people of God and their primary allegiance is to the gospel of Jesus Christ. We should long for this in our churches. But more than that, we should ask ourselves what we are doing to make it a reality. This begins with each of us celebrating the upside-down nature of the kingdom. It begins with serving others because we wish to cultivate their humanity and promote their dignity—not because we wish to feed our ambition or promote our reputation. It begins with treating others with the dignity that the Lord Jesus did, and does, and will. DANIEL DARLING (@DanDarling) is vice president of communications for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. He is also a speaker and author of several books, including The Dignity Revolution: Reclaiming God’s Rich Vision for Humanity.

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3 reasons to try long-range sermon planning By Brandon Hiltibidal


Raise your hand if you’ve ever decided on Saturday what to preach on Sunday. My hand is raised. My head is lowered. When I was a younger preacher, I thought not planning ahead for sermons was holy. I wanted God to speak through me, so I was afraid to prepare much to say myself. Thankfully, a leader in my life said something to me I’ve never forgotten. He said, “The same Holy Spirit who works through your presentation can work through your preparation.” Yes, there certainly are times when we should preach a sermon God impressed upon us the day before, or even the morning of. But it’s OK to work ahead. In fact, it’s wise. Here are three kingdom-shaping reasons to approach sermon prep through long-range planning. 1. Align more ministry to your messages. The “pick your passage the morning of” method won’t stop the impact of God’s Word, but it can hurt the impact of other ministries in your church. When you plan sermons six or 12 months out,

you have time to line up the work of multiple ministries, leverage the creativity of multiple teams, and execute ideas with excellence. When you know you’re preaching a passage on biblical community in four months, you have four months to prepare the entire service to push people into new groups. Advance planning allows your worship and tech team to choose songs and visuals that undergird the sermon topic or series. Your groups ministry can plan content to complement the message. Setting long-term teaching plans helps your ministry team make informed and intentional decisions with plenty of time to execute well. 2. Deliver balanced sermon content. Most preachers have preferred topics and themes with which they are most comfortable. The problem with sermon non-planning is the tendency to rerun our favorites or fly to our comfort zones. This is not only boring for the body, but it leads to an imbalanced approach to the Bible. Our churches need God’s whole Word, and when we discipline ourselves to prepare months in advance, we lead ourselves to lead

our people to a fuller biblical experience. 3. See the Holy Spirit at work. We don’t know the future. That’s not a point of debate. But should we allow our lack of omniscience impact our sermon planning? Since we don’t know what will happen in our world and in our church nine months from now, shouldn’t we wait and see before we plan and preach? No. We don’t have to wait, because we don’t have to know. The God who lives within us as we plan holds the future in His hand. He knows. The answer then is, don’t wait to prepare, but don’t prepare alone. Whether you work with other team members or alone at your desk, pray more than you plan. Ask God to lead your heart as He leads His church and you’ll be amazed how often the sermon you set a year in advance is the right Word for the right hearts on the right day. BRANDON HILTIBIDAL serves with the Groups Ministry team at LifeWay. He is also an elder and a member of the preaching team at The Bridge Church in Middle Tennessee.

DIG DEEPER Looking for an easy way to approach long-range sermon planning? LifeWay has a new resource called Gospel Foundations ( gospelfoundations). This 42-week group study through the storyline of Scripture shows how the whole Bible points to God’s plan to rescue us from sin through Jesus. You can have a plan to preach through the Bible and reinforce the message in your groups through Gospel Foundations Bible studies.



Books & Bible Studies

Unstuck: Fresh Traction for Common Struggles

Who’s Your Daddy? Discovering the Awesomest Daddy Ever

Pathways: How God’s Providence Works in Your Life







e’ve all been there. Things aren’t changing or getting better. They may be even getting worse. You can get stuck in a pattern of thinking or in a place of temptation. You can feel mired in your marriage. You can be depressed. And getting unstuck isn’t easy, especially when you feel emotionally bogged down. In Unstuck, MacDonald shows how God has given us His Word to meet us where we are. He finds us stuck and wants to give us traction. He knows we’re lost and wants to rescue us. He never wants to leave us in a condition that doesn’t reflect His plans for us. Use this study to discover God’s ever-present help for people who are stuck, feel stuck, or have already gained traction and want others to benefit from the biblical principles that set them free.

issy has lived with her new mommy ever since she was adopted from Haiti. But when someone asks little Missy a big question—“Who’s your daddy?”—she starts thinking and learning a lot about daddies. Missy could be sad she doesn’t have a “skin” daddy who can make pancakes and take her to soccer practice. But through lots of talks with Mommy, Missy realizes she does have a Daddy. In fact, we all have the same amazing Father, and Missy can’t wait to tell everyone about the “Daddy” who loves us more than all the stars in the sky. Told mostly through a mother-daughter conversation, Who’s Your Daddy? is careful to affirm relationships with the good, strong daddies here on earth, but it is also comforting for children who might be struggling due to divorce or the loss of a father.


od has a purpose for you life, and every action that occurs within it has been used to make that purpose a reality. The story of Esther appears to be a series of coincidences strung together to deliver the Jews from certain death. However, God selected Ester for a particular purpose at a particular time. Discover your own pathway to purpose through learning principles on providence as Tony Evans takes us on a journey of epic proportions.

FALL 2018

ON OUR RADAR Practical resources for you and your church



izing up the Holy Spirit based on a few of his gifts is a big mistake. Living right here in the Spirit is the source of the most meaningful, creative, satisfying life possible. If we relate to the Spirit primarily regarding the presence or absence of his miraculous gifts in our lives and in the world, we distort and limit our understanding of the their person of the Trinity. He should be known for much more. Who is the spirit? Is he a person or a spiritual force? How are we meant to relate to him? Can we pray to the Spirit? Worship the Spirit? These are some of the questions Here in Spirit will explore. Instead of narrowly to the Holy Spirit, this book will broaden your engagement with him by touring aspects of his vast character often unexplored.

Sacred Holidays: Less Chaos, More Jesus BECKY KISER (B&H)


o you enter every holiday wanting it to be meaningful for your family, only to find it feels chaotic with no direction? Holidays are meant to be more than chaos with glimpses of grace, they are meant to draw us closer to God and one another. We aren’t quite sure what to do with Halloween as Christians. We feel less than grateful at Thanksgiving because it’s full of complicated people. Even Christmas becomes a challenge as celebrating Jesus gets lost behind twinkling lights and a mountain of gifts. Sacred Holidays is part book and part resource meant to help you avoid what has tripped you up in the past. Becky Kiser offers insights, tips and tolls to make your holidays less chaotic and more about loving Jesus and others.

What About Kids Ministry? Practical Answers to Questions About Kids Ministry EDITED BY BILL EMEOTT (B&H)


ever are people more impressionable, more passionate, or more eager to learn than in their childhood years. For this reason, those who parent and minister to children have incredibly consequential jobs, but they often lack the answers and solutions to some of their most important questions. In What About Kids Ministry?, kids ministry expert Bill Emoett has curated a series of questions and answers from some of the most authoritative voices in kids ministry today. In doing so, he has created the go-to resource for every kids and family minister or parent seeking practical answers to their questions about how to minister to children.


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Profile for Facts & Trends

Facts & Trends - Fall 2018 - Hidden Mission Field  

Facts & Trends is designed to help pastors and other Christian leaders navigate the issues and trends impacting the church by providing info...

Facts & Trends - Fall 2018 - Hidden Mission Field  

Facts & Trends is designed to help pastors and other Christian leaders navigate the issues and trends impacting the church by providing info...