Killing Children Instead of Saving Them

The tragedy of this story is almost beyond words. First, a child was raped. As a result of that horrific act, she suffered from depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and anorexia.

The tragedy did not end there.

She attempted to enlist the involvement of doctors for assisted suicide. While unclear to what degree they assisted, she wrote a “sad last post” on Instagram saying she would be dead soon, and then her death was officially announced by her sister. 

She was 17.

In legislation passed in 2001, the Netherlands (where the young girl lived) became the first country to legalize assisted suicide. Under the law, euthanasia by doctors is allowed in cases deemed as “hopeless and unbearable” suffering. As demonstrated in this case, it need not be merely physical. 

Under Dutch law, children as young as 12 may request euthanasia, but those between the ages of 12 and 16 must have parental consent. (In 2014, Belgium became the first country to legalize assisted suicide for children.)

The sixth commandment of the famed Ten Commandments says, “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13, NIV). The key word there is “murder.” It doesn’t say “You shall not kill,” but “You shall not murder.” There is a Hebrew word that could have been used for the more generic term “to kill”—the term used in this verse is laser sharp.

The sixth commandment speaks specifically about the deliberate, willful, premeditated taking of a human life out of hatred, anger, greed or self-centered convenience. The sixth commandment is not talking about the killing that takes place in war, in self-defense or even in capital punishment. Those are important discussions, and the Bible has a lot to say about them, but they’re not the focus of the sixth commandment. And the sixth commandment doesn’t speak to the killing of other creatures – such as animals – but of human beings.

And the reason is simple—it’s because life is sacred. Not just some lives, but every life. As Scripture says, “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27, NIV). The fact that each and every one of us was created in the image of God gives each and every one of us infinite worth and value.

Taking it upon ourselves to end a life is the ultimate act of defiance against God, for life is His and His alone to give and take. It doesn’t matter what the quality of life is for that person. It doesn’t matter what the cost of their life will be to society. It doesn’t matter how productive they are, smart they are, beautiful they are. It doesn’t matter whether we like them. All human beings have infinite worth because they are made in the image of God. And the taking of a life – any life – is showing contempt for God and His image. Life is sacred. It is not ours to do with as we please. Only God can end it or direct its ending. 

This includes suicide. 

We do not have the right to murder ourselves.

This includes euthanasia, or assisted suicide—usually performed because the person is old, in pain or terminally ill. The word euthanasia is from two Greek words—eu, that means “good” and thanatos, that means “death.” So the word literally means “good death.” Those who support euthanasia also use terms trying to make it sound like a good death, such as “mercy killing” and “death with dignity.”

The rationale is that individuals or family members have the right to end their own life or someone else’s life if they feel it seems unbearable.

To be clear, this isn’t the question of whether to use extraordinary means to extend the process of dying when there is no hope for extending life; what is often called “passive euthanasia.” What we are talking about is the direct killing of a patient because a disease may be terminal, or the withholding of assistance that would prolong life in a substantive way simply to avoid pain or difficulty.

And it is every bit as much the taking of a human life as any other form, because it’s not our life to take or our decision to make.

The news of the young girl’s choice, and how it may have been enabled under Dutch law, has shocked the world. This was a case where she didn’t need parents and doctors to help her kill herself; she needed parents and doctors to help her find emotional, psychological and spiritual healing.

As Pope Francis weighed in on the tragedy, “Euthanasia and assisted suicide are a defeat for all. We are called never to abandon those who are suffering, never giving up but caring and loving to restore hope.”

Yes.

James Emery White

 

Sources

Isaac Stanley-Becker, “Anguished Dutch Teenager, Who Was Raped as a Child, Dies After Euthanasia Request,” The Washington Post, June 5, 2019, read online.

Gallup's Annual Morality Poll

The Gallup organization conducts an annual poll on American values and beliefs. From a list of 21 behaviors, they rank what is currently considered morally acceptable and morally wrong.

Here’s a précis:

The three most morally acceptable behaviors are birth control, drinking alcohol and getting a divorce. The least acceptable behaviors are extramarital affairs, cloning humans, suicide and polygamy.

There were some (disturbingly) fascinating comparisons. For example, more people think it is morally wrong to buy or wear clothing made of animal fur than doctor-assisted suicide (euthanasia).

The list also gives insight into what we think makes something immoral. For example, the most reprehensible behavior on the list was having an extramarital affair. Yet the poll also found that birth control, sex between an unmarried man and woman, having a baby outside of marriage, and gay or lesbian relations were morally acceptable. Only sex between teenagers was felt to be wrong. So the heart of the perceived moral affront of an affair is the betrayal of assumed sexual loyalty.

Here’s the full list of results:

MoralAcceptability.jpg

Perhaps most fascinating of all are the trends the poll reflects, since Gallup conducts this annually and has for many years. It has, as you might guess, shown an increasingly liberal stance on almost every issue.

Based on this year’s findings:

  • The percentage of Americans who say buying and wearing clothing made of animal fur is morally acceptable has fallen seven points since last year to 53%, the new historical low for the measure by one point.

  • Two of the behaviors – cloning animals and pornography –which hit their high points in moral acceptability last year, have settled back in line with the previous trends.

  • Sex between an unmarried man and woman is at its highest point in the Gallup trend, edging up two points to 71%.

  • Americans’ views that divorce is morally acceptable have risen 10 points since 2012 to 77% and are currently the highest they have been. 

And finally, ideology matters. When Gallup evaluated the results based on whether someone considered themselves “conservative” vs. “liberal,” the percentages changed dramatically. For example, 81% who self-identify as liberal endorsed gay or lesbian relations, while only 45% of those who considered themselves conservative considered it morally acceptable. That is a difference of 36 percentage points. The most divisive issue ideologically remains abortion, reflecting a difference of 50 percentage points.

One could have wished for more nuance with the questions. Consider abortion—if asked, “Is abortion wrong?”, many would rightly respond, “When?” If the question refers to “late-term abortion,” the number finding it morally unacceptable would surely rise as opposed to those who might find abortions before a heartbeat, or brainwave activity, morally acceptable.

But regardless of drawbacks, it’s a fascinating and important cultural map. 

James Emery White

 

Sources

Megan Brenan, “Birth Control Still Tops List of Morally Acceptable Issues,” Gallup, May 29, 2019, read online.

Toddler Baptism and the Loss of Half the Kids

It has not been a good news cycle for Southern Baptists heading into next month’s annual meeting in Alabama. As Christianity Today titled their story on the convention’s most recent statistical report, “Southern Baptists Down to Lowest in 30 Years.”

Membership? Down.

Attendance? Down.

Number of churches? Down.

Baptisms? Down.

Last year, a historic low of 246,000 baptisms were recorded by Southern Baptist churches. To put that into perspective, that is about how many people were baptized by the denomination back in the 1940s when it was less than half its current size.

As another Christianity Today article noted, “New findings released this year show the Southern Baptist trajectory more closely resembles the downward trend among the United Methodist Church (UMC), the nation’s largest mainline Protestant body, than fellow evangelicals in non-denominational traditions.””

SBCStatisticalSummary.jpg

There are many dynamics to this decline that can be explored: the rise of the “nones,” the growing influence of neo-Calvinism and the unavoidable missional debate it brings within the convention, outdated methods and misguided strategies… the list goes on. All have been discussed and debated at length.

But equally unsettling was the news story that only half of kids raised Southern Baptist stay Southern Baptist. In other words, not only are they not reaching new converts, they are not even keeping their own.

This has not been well-explored.

And to venture into uncharted territory even further, consider this question: What is the relationship between the rise of “toddler” baptism in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and the recent rise in the number of Southern Baptist kids who do not stay Southern Baptist? 

Just a handful of years ago (2014) it was revealed that the only demographic group within the SBC that was consistently growing in terms of baptisms were children younger than five years old.

Yes, you read that right. Less than five years old.

Let’s bracket off those traditions that practice infant baptism coupled with a later confirmation. I do not hold to that practice, but I respect the tradition. What is beyond my thinking is to hold a theological conviction in believer’s baptism, as Southern Baptists do, yet practice “toddler” baptism. Not only is it theologically incoherent, but arguably spiritual malpractice.

I have a five-year-old granddaughter, and eight more grandchildren under the age of five. I can tell you right now, as much as they would tell you they love Jesus, they don’t know what that means. They do not understand the cross, the nature of sin or what salvation means, much less how to ask for it. They do not understand heaven or hell. They have no concept of repentance (trust me on the repentance thing). They simply cannot enter into the kind of “belief” necessary to warrant baptism.

I love my grandchildren.

I want them to accept Jesus and be baptized.

But doing it now, at their age, would be ridiculous, no matter what might come out of their mouths. Side by side with “I love Jesus and have asked Him in my heart” could be “And I have 11 babies, three of which are unicorns.” 

Could this be why, if we baptize them at this age, we create a spiritual crisis – or at best confusion – later on in life that leads them away from their spiritual roots rather than cements them? Granted, there are many, many more dynamics to consider (see above), but this can’t be helping the situation.

Our church recently had another of our weekend baptism celebrations where 174 people were baptized. Yes, there were children, making up around 30 or so of the total. 

But they were ready.

Here’s why.

At Meck, we do not baptize any child before they are in 2nd grade. Then, for those children between 2nd and 5th grade, we require a baptism orientation class that they take with one or more of their parents. 

In that class, we go over the meaning of salvation, the meaning of baptism and much more—all to make sure they understand it, and have come to the decision on their own (and not just because Mommy or Daddy want them to do it). They must then write out a testimony of their decision, and have it reviewed by members of our MecKidz staff. 

If all is well, then – and only then – do we publicly baptize them.

So what of those children, younger than 2nd grade, who make a sincere profession of faith? 

I have no doubt that there is much parental pressure on pastors and churches, born out of spiritual insecurity, to get their children baptized as soon as they think they’ve “decided.” But since most Protestant Christians do not believe that baptism is “causative” (meaning that the act itself saves you), but “declarative” (it represents your salvation and constitutes your public profession of faith), there is no reason why you could not – and should not – delay that event for a child until they are of an age where the decision is truly consciously made, settled and the memory preserved.

There are many holes in the slowly sinking SBC ship. I hope they are patched. But let’s be sure to add to the list of concerns not only the shrinking numbers of people being baptized, but the readiness of those who are.

James Emery White

Sources 

Kate Tracy, “Five Reasons Why Most Southern Baptist Churches Baptize Almost No Millennials,” Christianity Today, May 29, 2014, read online.

Lisa Cannon Green, “ACP: Worship Attendance Rises, Baptisms Decline, Baptist Press, June 1, 2018, read online.

Kate Shellnutt, “Southern Baptists Down to Lowest in 30 Years,” Christianity Today, May 23, 2019, read online.

Ryan P. Burge, “Only Half of Kids Raised Southern Baptist Stay Southern Baptist,” Christianity Today, May 24, 2019, read online.

Why We’re Ending Our Multi-Site Approach

Mecklenburg Community Church is closing all of its satellite campuses and ending the multi-site approach to growth we have embraced for nearly a decade. The sites are not being spun off into independent churches, but simply being consolidated back into our original campus through the planned expansion of weekend services and future building efforts.

The multi-site model is not complicated to understand. The goal, at least for us, was never to simply make it more convenient for current Meckers to attend. The goal was to break down geographic barriers that might inhibit extending an invitation to an unchurched person. And I am sure that the multi-site approach can and still does work for many churches. 

But we’re now going to chart a different course.

It is not because our sites were failing; they weren’t. Most were growing.

It is not because the church as a whole is in decline. In fact, Meck continues to grow robustly and is now in one of its most accelerated seasons of numerical growth. We recently experienced the largest-attended slate of Christmas services in our history, the largest Easter weekend attendance in our history, and saw more than 400 people baptized in the last year. 

So why are we ending our multi-site approach?

It is because we practice what we preach when it comes to strategic church leadership. Namely, that methods must be ruthlessly evaluated in light of missional effectiveness. This not only means asking if they are still “working,” but how well they are working. And perhaps most importantly, how their degree of effectiveness compares to the potential effectiveness of other possible investments. If a method is found wanting, or there is a better method to pursue, then no matter what that method is, no matter what the outside optics might be, no matter how much time and money and effort has been invested to that point, there can be no sacred cows. 

We have decided that it is time for the multi-site approach, for us, to end and to have those resources and efforts be more strategically invested. And in so doing, we honor the hard work and prayers of those who helped launch our sites and worked tirelessly to serve their effort—those people are heroes. What they have done over the last several years mattered and was, to our thinking, the most strategic investment we (they) could have made. Marriages have been restored, families strengthened and eternities altered.

But it’s time to move to a different approach.

Here’s why:

It’s Dated
This will sound odd to many, as all things “multi-site” seems to be one of the newer approaches to church growth. But it’s not, at least in the fast-paced nature of our modern world. The multi-site approach came on to the scene in the late ’90s and early 2000s. The earliest books outlining the approach were written in 2005 and released in 2006 (e.g., The Multi-Site Revolution by Geoff Surratt, Greg Ligon and Warren Bird). A two-decade-old approach is not exactly cutting edge.   

But more to the point is that the entire multi-site way of thinking predated the greatest shift our culture may have ever experienced to date—namely, the internet in our pocket. Lest we forget, the first iPhone wasn’t released until 2007. That very same year Facebook left the campus and entered the wider world, Twitter was spun off, Google bought YouTube and launched Android, Amazon released the Kindle, and the internet crossed one billion users worldwide—the tipping point to it becoming the fabric of our world. No wonder New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman once wrote, “What the h*** happened in 2007?” And all of this after – after, mind you – the multi-site approach was conceived and began to spread. 

Which brings us to the next point.

It’s a Physical Approach in a Digital World
We must engage the reality of our new digital world and the promise it holds, not to mention the changes it is creating in regard to pursuing the mission. I have been blogging about this extensively in recent months, such as “A True Megashift: From the Physical to the Digital” and “The Phygital Church.” 

The multi-site approach is a physical approach in a digital world. Even worse, a physical response to a digital demand. Yet as my friend Carey Nieuwhof has written, “the internet is the venue in which the entire community you are trying to reach lives.”

We are finding that when someone is invited by a friend, instead of attending a physical campus, people first visit our website or some other online venture, and then – as a secondary step – attend one of our internet campus services. Our attenders even intuitively recommend that process. In fact, our internet campus is now our fastest-growing and second-largest collective venue.

Many years ago, I wrote the book Opening the Front Door, making the case for the weekend service being the front door to exploration. That is no longer true. The “front door” of the church is not even a physical place. The role of the multi-site approach was to remove geographical barriers; today, those are not the barriers that need to be removed. The unchurched do not begin with geography—they begin online. 

Which bring us to the third consideration.

The 20-Minute Rule Is Obsolete
Because of the new digital realities of our world, once someone is exposed to a church online – and, hopefully, intrigued – traveling beyond the “20-minute barrier” becomes largely irrelevant.   

If you’re unfamiliar with the “20-minute” mantra, many strategists maintain that people will not travel more than 15-20 minutes from their home to attend a church. 

That may have once been true, but no longer.

Ironically, the multi-site approach itself, in light of a digital age, proves its obsolescence. The multi-site approach is based on a church having a regional appeal that allows it to establish a campus outpost outside of that mythical 20-minute window due to existing attenders in that 20-minute-plus area. 

Translation: They already have people commuting from 20-plus minutes away. 

Further translation: People most certainly will travel in the 20-plus-minute range for a church they are both attracted to and have come to experience and value. 

In a pre-digital world, it was only the initial invitation that was thwarted by the 20-minute rule, because the only invitation to explore involved a physical attendance. But in a digital age, you’re not asking people to explore things physically. They can, and even desire, to do it all from the comfort of their home. Once they are intrigued by a church through all things online, they think little of driving to experience what they saw online, even if it takes longer than 20 minutes.        

It’s Often a Situational Need
The next reason for our decision is one that, granted, is not a factor for many churches. But the dynamic behind it may be relevant to enough churches to warrant its inclusion in this list. 

When we began our approach, our lone campus was on an 80-acre tract of land that was purchased in light of the pending completion of an outerbelt around the city of Charlotte that would have a destination exit about a mile from that campus. We knew that with 80 acres, the “shoe” would never tell the “foot” how big it could get.

Yet the completion of that outerbelt took years longer to complete than anyone forecasted, with the final leg – the one that would serve our campus – not completed until just a few years ago in 2015. It has only been within the last several months that the secondary road infrastructure serving that exit to our campus has been completed. 

This forced us into a multi-site approach to serve the regional nature of our church community as major areas of Charlotte were a 45-minute or more drive away. Even suburbs considered in our immediate area involved lengthy drives. But now that the outerbelt has been completed and secondary roads have filled in, there are few places in Charlotte that are more than a 25-minute drive to our original campus. My oldest daughter and her husband recently bought a house that five years ago would have taken at least 25 minutes to drive to our original church campus. 

It now takes her less than 10.

We Asked
In the final stages of our evaluation of the multi-site approach, and it has been heavily under our microscope for months, we surveyed nearly a thousand of our attenders and found several confirming realities: 1) they were bypassing inviting friends to our newer sites, and instead were inviting them to the original campus (no matter where they lived); 2) if they weren’t inviting them to attend the founding campus, they were intentionally inviting them to online experiences such as our internet campus, or to listen to a weekend message on our app; 3) no matter where they lived in Charlotte, they didn’t feel sites near them were needed for reaching their unchurched friends; and 4) they were most comfortable inviting them to non-video venue events and services (Like most multi-site churches, our sites were “live” in regard to worship, but used video for the message.).  

In essence, we were putting a tool in their hands they didn’t ask for, didn’t feel was needed and, as a result, didn’t use. At least for the mission. They may have attended one of the sites out of convenience or a sense of duty, but they didn’t use it for their unchurched friends.

Oh, the Places We Can Go
There are other reasons churches might consider following our course, not the least of which are those outlined in a recent article you can read HERE on the challenges the multi-site approach presents for leadership, pastoral oversight, moral train wrecks and more. 

But for us, it was a missional decision many months in the making, and made from a position of health. As I said at the beginning, the biggest reason for ending the multi-site approach is what we could do in its place with those resources and energies. Meaning, the clear sense that there is a better investment. It’s a digital world, and we dream of expanding our digital footprint, making our website so much more than it now is (particularly making it work seamlessly with mobile technology), using social media to reach out in unprecedented ways, staffing our internet campus as if it were a physical campus, exploring the cutting-edge of physical engagement through “pop-up” events, and so much more. 

So might we one day return to some form of a multi-site approach if our cultural context shifts again? Of course. And we wouldn’t be awkward or embarrassed about it. I would return to door-to-door visitation, Sunday School, revivals and a bus ministry if I felt they were most effective. Methods change; only the message, vision and values remain sacrosanct. 

But for now? 

We are officially no longer “one church in multiple locations.” Instead, we will be trying to be one church in a digital world. Which hopefully means one church steadfastly intent on staying on the front lines of reaching our unchurched, far-from-God community that we so dearly care about.

James Emery White


Sources
 

Thomas Friedman, Thank You for Being Late.

Leonardo Blair, “Why Many Multisite Churches are Now Moving Toward Autonomous Congregations,” The Christian Post, May 12, 2019, read online.

Annual Summer Reading List

Since this weekend is Memorial Day weekend, and the unofficial start of summer, I thought I would begin making this the time for my annual summer reading list. These are books that I have either read over the past year or plan to read myself over the summer. Most are brand new. A few, here and there, may be older works that I’m only now discovering myself or wanting to re-read. They are often a blend of history, fiction, biography and more. 

Here they are, listed in alphabetical order by author:

Auletta, Ken. Frenemies: The Epic Disruption of the Advertising Industry (and Why This Matters).

Auletta came onto my radar with his prescient book, Googled, and hasn’t left it. I now read whatever he writes, and this book doesn’t discount that decision.

Diamond, Jared. Upheaval.

In a groundbreaking conclusion to the trilogy started with Guns, Germs and Steel and Collapse, Diamond offers a theory as to why some nations recover from crisis and some do not. Love him or hate him, his provocative writing is essential reading.

Land, Stephanie. Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive.

This is a good and important book to read to enter into a world that many of us will never enter voluntarily.

Goodwin, Doris Kearns. Leadership in Turbulent Times.

An examination of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson. It’s just good. Really, really good.

Kotler, Philip. Marketing 4.0: Moving from Traditional to Digital.

Important reading for the most significant cultural shift of our day.

McCullough, David. The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West.

McCullough is the best living historian of our day. Period. Read anything he has written, or (God willing) will continue to write.

Roberts, Andrew. Churchill: Walking with Destiny.

A landmark biography of one of the most significant lives of our day. I’ve read many biographies of Churchill, and this stands among the best.

Noble, Alan. Disruptive Witness: Speaking Truth in a Distracted Age.

A book that charts how counter-cultural, how “disruptive,” Jesus is in our day.  And, I might add, should be.

Sansom, C. J. Tombland.

If you follow this blog and my summer reading lists, you know that I am an over-the-top fan of C.J. Sansom and his Matthew Shardlake mystery novels. Read them all.

Smith, Steven D. Pagans & Christians in the City: Culture Wars from the Tiber to the Potomac.

If you think contemporary culture wars are, well, contemporary, think again. This is a very important book that grounds you in the flow of history and how it repeats itself—how we can learn from our mistakes.

Volf, Miroslav. For the Life of the World: Theology That Makes a Difference.

Yes.

Six Very Honorable Mentions:

Brinkley, Douglas. American Moonshot: John F. Kennedy and the Great Space Race.

Gould, Paul M. Cultural Apologetics: Renewing the Christian Voice, Conscience and Imagination in a Disenchanted World.

Harari, Yuval Noah. 21 Lessons for the 21st Century.

Hunter, James Davison. Science and the Good: The Tragic Quest for the Foundations of Morality.

McLaughlin, Rebecca. Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religion.

Sauls, Scott. Irresistible Faith: Becoming the Kind of Christian the World Can’t Resist.

James Emery White

Beth Moore in the Pulpit

I do not personally know Beth Moore. I only know that I intuitively like her from a distance and greatly respect her teaching ministry and love for the Scriptures. She has been in the news of late, largely because of a contingent of Christians who do not believe she should be platformed at churches to teach. Why? Because she is a woman, and that means she would be teaching men.

This is what the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy: “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent” (I Timothy 2:11-12). 

I believe in the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture, so I accept that verse to the core of my being as authoritative and true.

I also celebrate that half of our upcoming summer teaching team will be women, and that half of our ministerial/pastoral staff are women, including campus directors, Meck Institute teachers and directors, and more. Women also play a prominent role on our board of Trustees.

There are two primary views when it comes to women in ministry. The Egalitarian view that wants to see, in one form or another, equality—no distinctions, a level playing field. Then there is the Complementarian view that sees women as equal in God’s sight as His children, but with differing roles.

My views on the matter please neither side. But I am convinced (not belligerently, but humbly) that it is the biblical perspective, otherwise I wouldn’t hold to it.

Let’s return to Paul’s admonition to his younger apprentice. There are four important considerations to keep in mind when reading his words:

  1. In that day and culture, women had virtually no rights whatsoever. In fact, in the Jewish tradition there was a prayer where men thanked God they were not a slave, a Gentile or a woman. Christianity freed women from these sexist ideas, and taught that women were human beings who were not second-class citizens.

  2. Paul clearly did not mean to say that women could not teach in the church because women were involved in teaching, including the teaching of men, throughout the Bible (e.g., Deut. 6:7; Proverbs 1:8; Acts 18:26; II Tim. 1:5; 3:14ff; Titus 2:3-5).

  3. Paul also did not intend to say that women couldn’t talk or make noise during a worship service, because in another of his letters he talks about what should take place when women pray or speak in public services (see I Cor. 11:5-6).

  4. Paul did not want to say that women couldn’t lead in the church’s services, because he himself recognized the leadership of such women as Phoebe and Priscilla (see Romans 16).

These four things are decisive to understand, because they uphold the important dynamic of letting Scripture help interpret Scripture. In other words, the importance of taking the full context of the canon into account when interpreting the meaning of any one passage, much less verse.

So what was Paul after?

As with much of the Bible, we must sort out what was intended to be “universal,” and what was meant to be “cultural” or unique to that particular setting. To say it is all cultural is a disservice to the text, and to say that it is all universal is equally wooden.

It’s clear that the thrust of Paul’s concern was the issue of authority, and that would be the “universal” part of the matter. Since the Bible speaks approvingly of women in other settings being allowed to lead, teach and speak, women being silent or not teaching was clearly a “cultural” aspect unique to the Ephesus situation (where Timothy was serving in leadership at the time).

(By the way, if you do not embrace a cultural dynamic to this section of Scripture, along with women never teaching, you will also have to insist that men always lift up their hands when they pray (v. 8), and women must never braid their hair or wear jewelry (v.9).)

But the universal is clear: the Bible teaches that women should not have spiritual authority over a man or relational authority over a man in marriage. 

God has designed for there to be order implemented in society regarding government, the church and the home. Having order implies submission. To submit simply means to acknowledge or recognize your place within the God-given order of things, and to accept the authority that God has instituted. The word submit is not a call to mindless obedience. It also doesn’t have anything to do with who is smarter, better or stronger.

It’s about leadership. And submitting is very conditional on the leadership being Christ-centered

When it comes to order in the family, God says that there needs to be a leader. And not just any leader, but a loving, servant-hearted, caring leader who is charged to have the best interests of the family in mind. In essence, God says to the wife in the family, “I’d like that leader to be your husband. Not because you can’t lead, or you are inferior, or because I love you less, but because it needs to be settled. I’ve made the call, and I’m asking him to lead. And for the sake of the family, I’m asking you to accept it and follow.”

When it comes to the church, there is order as well, and that order – that authority – is to follow the pattern of the home. So when it comes to talking or teaching, it is not to be done by women in such a way that it takes away the leadership role God gave to men. 

Apparently some women in the early church to which Paul wrote were not only going a little loose with how they dressed, but they were also using their newfound freedom and equality through Christ to throw out all parameters and order. This is fleshed out by the word Paul used for the “teaching” he did not want them to embrace. It was not the normal Greek word for “instruction” or “leadership” – both of which were fine – but it was a word that meant doing it in way as to “have authority over.”

Paul wanted them to stop it and, for that culture, that not only meant stopping that kind of teaching, but to be silent in those settings, because that was the way that particular culture understood submission and the acknowledgement of authority and order. For them, to teach or to talk in those settings claimed authority.

But that’s not what violates authority for us today.

So the key for today’s Christian in contemporary Western culture doesn’t have to do with either teaching or silence, but authority, because that’s what is the “universal.”

So what does this mean for women in ministry?

I share many of the conclusions espoused by John R.W. Stott’s magnificent commentary on I Timothy, but most importantly the following two ideas:

It means that women can teach, lead, speak and serve in any way they are so gifted. 

It also means that whatever is done must not violate God’s order in the church. For that reason, Mecklenburg Community Church is led by a male senior pastor. It doesn’t mean a woman can’t serve in a pastoral role, or even be ordained to ministry. The key is whether they serve under the authority of Scripture and as a member of a pastoral team whose leader is a man as a contemporary symbol of God’s designed order for the church. If that’s in place, then there are no barriers.

Or as Stott himself put it:

“Why should it be thought inappropriate for women to exercise such servant leadership? They have done so throughout biblical history…. The New Testament is now complete, and all Christian teachers are called to teach humbly under its authority. If then a woman teaches others, including men, under the authority of Scriptures (not claiming any authority of her own), in a meek and quiet spirit (not throwing her weight about), and as a member of a pastoral team whose leader is a man (as a contemporary cultural symbol of masculine headship), would it not be legitimate for her to exercise such a ministry, and be commissioned (ordained) to do so, because she would not be infringing the biblical principles of masculine headship?”

Precisely. 

So I would not only welcome Beth Moore to teach/preach at Meck, I would be in the front row, taking notes.

James Emery White

 

Sources

“Beth Moore Takes a Theologian to Task About Why Women Can and Should Preach in Church,” Relevant Magazine, May 13, 2019, read online.

John Stott, Guard the Truth: The Message of I Timothy and Titus.

Ten Books for Spiritual Growth

What should I read for my spiritual life?

I get asked this question so many times that it’s “time” for a super-short, but to the point, blog.

So, in no particular order:

The Life You’ve Always Wanted by John Ortberg.

The Fight by John White.

The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning.

Introduction to the Devout Life by Francis de Sales.

Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster.

The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence.

Improving Your Serve by Charles Swindoll.

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis.

Ordering Your Private World by Gordon MacDonald.

The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul.

What’s So Amazing About Grace by Philip Yancey.

Each of these books is worth a careful, prayerful read. And even more, a careful, prayerful application.

James Emery White

Ten Things Every Church Should Stop Doing to First-Time Guests

We all know about making “to do” lists; less frequently pursued are “stop doing” lists. But sometimes, that’s the more important list to make—particularly when it comes to what the church should stop doing to first-time guests. So in that spirit, here are ten things every church of any size should stop doing—and not only should, but can:

1.      Make them stand out.

Don’t ask your guests to stand and be recognized, wear “first-time guest” badges, or anything else that makes them feel awkward or singled out. Instead, do everything you can to make them feel at home.

2.      Assume they know the ritual.

Regardless of your church, you have certain things you “do” routinely. Perhaps everyone stands during the reading of the Scripture, or knows to kneel during a particular moment. You have a ritual; don’t assume a guest will know it.

3.      Expect them to understand your language.

When someone new to church comes and hears words like “Hosanna,” “redeemed,” “blood of the lamb” or even “grace,” don’t assume they know what it means. It’s a foreign language to them, and you shouldn’t speak it without interpretation.

4.      Force them to figure the building out.

You don’t put signage up for people who are regular attenders, you put signage up for those who aren’t. Make it clear where restrooms are located, where to go if it is your first time, where to get questions answered, where the auditorium is and more.         

5.      Hit on them to give.

One of the worst things you can do is to hit on someone to give when they first walk in the door. If anything, encourage them not to give. Make it clear you are more interested in them than what’s in their wallet.

6.      Drop the ball in children’s ministry.

If there is a church growth 101 lesson, it’s this: you can ace the service, but drop the ball in children’s ministry, and you won’t have much of a chance of that family ever returning. But if you nail it with the kids, even if the service is on life-support, you can live to see another day.

7.      Force them to give you information.

You want as much information you can get from first-time guests, but that’s your end of the deal. They tend to want to remain anonymous, and the last thing they want is to get a phone call or home visit later in the week. So put whatever informational requests you make in their court, meaning let them give you as much or as little as they want.

8.      Unnecessarily shame or offend them.

Ever heard the joke about “Chreasters” (Christmas/Easter attendees) or “CEOs” (Christmas and Easter Onlys)? Ever heard the joke made from the pulpit on Easter or Christmas? Or imagine an unchurched person comes to your church and hears a demeaning joke about Democrats, and they are a Democrat; or a dismissive joke about Trump, and they voted for Trump. Feel free to unnecessarily shame or offend. Also feel free to experience a lot of “one and done” guests.

9.      Talk to them as “them.”

There is a tendency at many churches to speak of the unchurched (which many of your first-time guests will undoubtedly be) as if they aren’t present. Instead of referring to them as “you,” it is “they.” This not only excludes those in that category who are present, but makes them feel objectified and like an outsider.

10.    Expect them to be there this weekend.       

It’s a simple idea. If you think you’ll have a number of first-time guests this weekend, you’ll prepare accordingly. Give that extra effort. Rethink that message. Tweak the service. Maybe even spruce up the building and grounds. If you don’t think you’ll have guests this weekend, then it will be business as usual.

By the way, if you wish this list was longer, there’s an easy way to make additions. Just ask yourself what you wouldn’t want done to you if you went to a new church this weekend.

James Emery White

Is it Okay for a Christian to Watch “Game of Thrones”?

Without a doubt, Game of Thrones is the hottest show out there. It doesn’t hurt (sorry, small spoiler), that Arya is kicking butt.

But is it okay to watch if you’re a Christian?

Actually, there are a lot of things we would put in the “is it okay for a Christian to” category: get a tattoo, attend a gay wedding, be cremated, practice yoga, gamble, smoke marijuana, have cosmetic surgery.

So how do you find the answer in light of an increasingly complex cultural context?

Let me suggest a matrix.

OKAYFINAL.jpg

Finding out whether something is okay begins with the top left box, which reflects going to the Bible to see what it has to say. If you want to know whether something is okay for a Christian to do, then you need to start with the authoritative guide for Christ-following.

When you do, you’ll find that the Bible gives you one or more of three answers: permission, prohibition or principles.

If blanket permission is granted, your investigation is complete. You are free to partake or pursue. 

If there is a direct prohibition, then you are not.

But most of the time, particularly in regard to many of the issues puzzling Christians in our culture, there is neither a blanket permission or prohibition. More often than not, it’s thrown into the “freedom” box of life. 

But it’s not cut-loose freedom; it’s freedom within the confines of a set of biblical principles, principles that form the boundary lines for freedom in Christ.

So is that the end of it? You simply pursue the freedom you’ve been given in light of the principles of the Bible? 

No. 

There is another box, perhaps best labeled “wisdom.” While you and I may have joint freedom in Christ on a particular issue, it might be foolish for me to exercise it, but not for you. We all have backgrounds and dispositions, histories and inclinations, strengths and weaknesses.

Less sophisticated is just common-sense wisdom. Just because you’re free to do something, doesn’t mean it’s smart.

(You may be free to get that tattoo, but having “I love Samantha” inked on your arm at 16 may not be smart when you might start dating Sarah at 17, or want to marry Sharon at 23.)

Finally, if you consult the graphic, there is the consideration of living out our lives before a watching world. In this regard, first, do not do anything that would lead the world to believe you have disavowed Christ and worship another god; second, do not exercise your freedom in a manner that would lead a fellow believer in close proximity into sin themselves. 

Let’s call these ideas “witness” and “weakness.”

This is the gauntlet you run the questions of life through. 

Sounds simple enough, but knowing how to do this is one of the principle lessons of discipleship, and few invest the time and energy needed to engage its dynamics.

At Mecklenburg Community Church, we completed an eight-week journey through this very exercise. Here were the eight topics we explored:

Is it okay for a Christian to…

… watch Game of Thrones? (or anything rated “R”)
… drink wine or smoke marijuana?
… gamble?
… practice yoga?
… participate in, or even go to, a gay wedding?
… vote for_________? (many ways to fill in that blank)
… get a tattoo, be cremated or have cosmetic surgery?
not go to church?

If you’re interested in the series, you can find it HERE in both .mp3 and .pdf formats. It has already proven to be one of the most popular series in the history of our church through the various metrics we track. 

Why?

People want to know what’s “okay.”

They just don’t know how to find out.

James Emery White

The Phygital Church

There’s a new, and important, word: “phygital.”

It reflects the growing necessity for the seamless flow between the physical and the digital. As an article on Bizcommunity put it, in relation to the retail world:

Innovative phygital business models, where bricks and mortar and digital seamlessly integrate, are popping up across the globe. But the best phygital experiences still remain aligned with old-school sales strategies: customer attraction, retention, engagement, experiences, loyalty and the brand itself. The factors that keep shifting are shopping behaviour and new technology. The upshot is: to keep in the retail game, phygital is the way to go and it’s currently an adapt or die situation. 

And here are the six ways it suggests that “adapt or die” applies:

1. The agile store.

The concept of the role of a physical shop has changed. Whereas before a storefront used to be a part of the shopper psyche there are now young customers who have no knowledge of physical stores dominating the landscape. Nils Van Dam of Duval Union Consulting estimates that between 30—40% of supermarkets will shut their doors within the next decade.

2. Retail business model disruption.

Never seen or experienced before phygital stores are being built, the biggest ones being Amazon and Alibaba. These mega-online players are laying new foundations with bricks and mortar shops—Wholefoods and Hema respectively. The rule of thumb seems to be: whatever bases you’re not covering, cover. Another thing to note about disruption is that agility and adoption are different in terms of what product you sell. According to PWC, in a category such as fashion, 43% of consumers already consider themselves to be omnichannel shoppers, buying both offline and online.

3. Different strokes for different folks.

Quite surprisingly, another reason for bricks and mortar may be Gen Z. Not because they love shopping malls but because they demand that every option is available to them. Seventy-five percent of Gen-Zers surveyed by Newsroom Synchrony say they prefer shopping in stores with engaging experiences, while 45% say the experience of buying something is as important as the product itself. Another interesting fact about Gen Z is that if they have a product in their shopping cart while shopping online, they expect to this to be seamlessly integrated into their in-store shopping experience.

4. Covering all bases.

Agile retailers are upping the ante with online and in-store technology. The more common in-store phygital tech includes self-scanning, digital signage tablets and smart tags. Other innovations being tested are things like AR-powered virtual demos, smart mirror beacons, personal in-store digital avatars, face-detection software that can guess a shoppers’ gender and age, as well as interactive fitting rooms with a touch screen kiosk.

5. Uber-experiences.

A bricks and mortar store should look to incorporate whatever the “new fashion” is—be it cooking workshops or yoga. For example, Green Swan the owners of Intertoys, plans to rent out toys for children’s parties. And for the ultimate in-store trend, see the 185-year-old “most beautiful department store” in Zürich—Jelmoli. This old-school bricks and mortar retailer has ten large and small restaurants where they can grill your steak for 90 seconds at 800 degrees. 

6. The human role.

Keeping it real and human with bricks and mortar is particularly relevant… [for this] fascinating demographic of shoppers who, on the one hand, consider a trip to the mall a memorable family experience and on the other, … shop “off the radar”, buying from spaza shops in townships and rural areas and belonging to stovels. In both instances, the human connection is vital to the shopping experience. Malls may need to up their game on the experiential level and spaza shops should be taken more seriously by mainstream retailers.

This conversation is not simply for the retail world. “Phygitality,” for lack of a better world, is here to stay. It does not represent the elimination of bricks and mortar, but the importance of what we do physically to integrate with what we do digitally. And, ideally, to have the two create a synergy that is more strategic than either alone.

Consider someone who is wanting to explore a particular church. That used to be a strictly physical process—now it is phygital. When invited by a friend, the invitation is often to explore the church digitally through a website or internet stream. If all goes well, from this comes a physical visit. 

The implications are vast, but much of the fruit is low-hanging:

  1. Your digital presence is now the front door of your church. As such, it must be designed as a front door. Just as in the ’80s churches learned that the weekend service was the front door of the church, and needed to be “opened” in a purposefully sensitive and strategic way for unchurched guests, today we must open the front door of our websites and social media in a way that is inviting and compelling.

  2. Previous barriers that you thought were first and foremost in terms of someone exploring your church – such as having a campus in close physical proximity – are largely muted as the initial exploration is digital instead of physical. And if they like what they experience digitally, the physical location is less of a factor for a subsequent physical exploration.

  3. Your digital front door must seamlessly integrate with the physical experience of attending, most obviously by having the experience reflect the digital image and promise you projected.

  4. Don’t let the digital remain simply a front door—let the phygital nature of your church be manifest in every conceivable way, including how children’s ministry check-in might be handled online, an app that offers ways to be served in terms of additional content or learning in light of that weekend’s message, and so much more. A guest will walk in because of a digital exploration and have their smartphone in hand. Keep the dynamic going in ways that both serve their exploration and foster a culture of assimilation.

  5. Your physical experience must also provide what a digital experience cannot. We already know that the digital world is limited in terms of what it can provide in light of a biblically functioning community. But the person exploring your church most likely does not. They should be enticed by the digital, but then, upon experiencing it physically, should be reminded that whatever they streamed on the front end can never take the place of what they experienced on the back end.

We’re all just beginning to scrape the surface of the phygital demand, whether in the retail world or the church world. But make no mistake—the depths are there to be plumbed for enormous kingdom impact. 

James Emery White 


Sources

Eben Esterhuizen, “Phygital: 6 Ways to Adapt, or Die,” Bizcommunity, April 30, 2019, read online.