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.

How to Find a Church

Another one came this week. We often get emails from current attenders of our church who are moving out of the area, and want to know if we can recommend a church like ours where they are moving.

Here’s what the latest one said that was sent in to one of the members of our staff:

I hope you are having a great week. We spoke briefly on Sunday about a possible church recommendation from Meck for something in [our new city]. [We] love Meck so much, it’s one of the things we will miss the most when we move this summer. [We] are always talking about how much we will miss Meck… We intend to visit frequently but will also need something in [our new city]. If by chance someone on staff knows of a church in the same vein as Meck we would appreciate that input a great deal. Thanks a bunch and have a wonderful day. 

The staffer on the receiving end queried a few folks if they knew of any churches in that area. I loved how another person on our staff responded:

I don't know of a great way to find one other than an internet search. I found this listing when I did a Google search that's Yelps 10 Best Churches…

What I would tell them to do is to use the internet search to find a listing, and then do the following:

1. Checkout their website to see what they can find out about them, particularly their doctrinal statement or anything describing their mission, vision and values. If they have sermons online that they can listen to, listen to several of them to see if they like the pastor's speaking style, and feel that what he's talking about is biblically sound.

2. Visit their Facebook/Twitter/Instagram pages - this will give them a sense of the things that they do and post about, and a general idea about the size of the church based on the number of people following.

3. In person visits. As they move down then check them out in person. They know what Meck is like and should be able to see if they are a welcoming/friendly church and will get the best feel for it once they're there.

That's my best advice for them. I hope that helps!

That’s pretty sound. Check out a church in terms of doctrine, mission, vision, values. Listen to talks online. Check out social media feeds. And then, if/when you visit, check it out in terms of friendliness/community.

P.S. If moving to Charlotte, just come to Meck. :)

James Emery White

Church Membership Is Down (You Should Bring It Up)

Are you a member of a church?

Most would answer, “no.”

Well, half would answer that way. 

Church membership among adults has gone into a freefall, from 70% in 1999 to 50% in 2019. This, after holding steady at approximately 70%, as charted by Gallup, for more than eight decades.

MembershipDecline.jpg

Let me put this out there: If you are a follower of Christ, you should be a member of a church. Period.

Here’s why.

Once you come to Christ and go public with that decision through baptism, the Bible says the third step is to get connected with the community of a local church. If for some reason that’s not possible, do it digitally. (Yes, I believe I can make a missional case for that, but let’s keep going.)

If you take a walk through the New Testament, and specifically the four biographical accounts of the life and teaching of Jesus, you’ll notice a distinct pattern. Jesus asked people to follow Him. And when Jesus asked someone to follow Him and they said “yes,” the next relational step was always to join with the community He was building in order to do life with others who had also made the decision to follow Him.

This was so ingrained in those who chose to follow Jesus, that you find a beautiful description of the early church that Luke was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write. It is found in the second chapter of the book of Acts, after Peter stood up and called people to faith in Christ and some 3,000 responded. It reads this way:

“They devoted themselves to... the fellowship... All the believers were together and had everything in common... Every day they continued to meet together... They broke bread in their homes and ate together....” (Acts 2:42-47, NIV)

I like how Eugene Petersen paraphrases this section in The Message:

“That day about three thousand... were baptized and were signed up. They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, [and] the life together....” (Acts 2:42, Msg)

But this wasn’t just some generic kind of community. It wasn’t just a loose network of relationships. 

It had a name. 

It was called church. 

The word church is a translation of the Greek word ecclesia, which means “the called out ones”—the new community established between human beings in and through Christ.

But this community isn’t just some turned-inward “lovefest” that’s all about hanging out together, doing life together, supporting each other and growing tight. Yes, the Bible talks about church being a fellowship or, as it refers to it in the Greek, a koinonia. But if that’s all you have, you don’t have koinonia, you have “koinoitis.” We’re supposed to be a community on mission.

We’re trying to redeem the world,

... which means we’re trying to bring the light of the message of Christ to people who have yet to experience Him as Forgiver and Leader in ways that penetrate the post-Christian culture.

We’re trying to restore the world,

... which means we’re trying to address the brokenness of poverty and hunger, racism and injustice, to stop the hemorrhaging of this world before it bleeds to death.

And we’re trying to renew the world,

... which means we’re trying to bring forth the good, the true and the beautiful through art and policy, education and media, creating a culture that offers glimmers of the shining glory of the Kingdom of God.

And you aren’t a part of it?

You say, “But it’s just a man-made organization.”

Let’s bracket off that you put your name on the rolls of a lot of man-made organizations: country clubs, homeowner’s associations, YMCAs, soccer leagues, etc.

But is the church in that camp?

Um, no. 

Take a look at the words of Jesus Himself:

“... I [am putting] together my church, a church so expansive with energy that not even the gates of hell will be able to keep it out.” (Matthew 16:18, Msg)

Or maybe your objection is that you don’t believe in organized religion.

Okay, but does that mean what you’re after is DISorganized religion?

Another reason may be that you think something else is already the church for you.

I’ve had students in college say that their campus group is their church; I’ve had people say their Bible study or small group is their church; I’ve had people say that their family functions as their church. I’ve even heard some people say (God theologically help them) that they “home-church.” I even had the CEO of a bottling company tell me that his business was the church!

Let me say this as clearly as I can:

A company is not the body of Christ instituted as the hope of the world by Jesus Himself.

A marketplace venture that offers itself on the New York Stock Exchange is not the entity that is so expansive with energy that even the gates of hell can’t withstand its onslaught. 

An assembly of employees in cubicles working for end-of-year stock options and bonuses is not the gathering of saints bristling with the power of spiritual gifts as they mobilize to provide justice for the oppressed, service to the widow and the orphan, and compassion for the poor.

Neither is your family, your small group, your Bible study, parachurch group, television ministry nor anything else you want to put in place of what the Bible so clearly describes. If everything is the church, then nothing is the church. You can’t just call any gathering of Christians the church.

The Bible is very clear.

The church is where there is a clearly defined community, made up of people of faith of every race, ethnicity, gender and age. 

The church has defined entry and exit points, so that it can have integrity as to who is part of the church and who is not.

It must be a place where the Word of God, as put forward in Scripture, is proclaimed in its fullness. 

It is to have clear organizational roles, such as set-aside pastors, as well as corporate roles based on spiritual gifts, such as teachers and leaders.

The church is to gather for public worship as a unified community of faith, including the stewarding of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

And, of course, the church is to organize and then unleash itself for the mission of Christ to this world.

That’s the church.

And you are to be a member of one.

Yes, member.

Card-carrying, signed-on, name-on-the-line member.

As the apostle Paul wrote,

“... you are a member of God’s very own family... and you belong in God’s household with every other Christian.” (Ephesians 2:19, LB)

So,

… are you?

James Emery White

 

Sources

Jeffrey M. Jones, “U.S. Church Membership Down Sharply in Past Two Decades,” Gallup, April 18, 2019, read online.

6 Demographic Trends Shaping the U.S. and World in 2019

In light of the annual meeting of the Population Association of America, Pew Research Center offered six “notable demographic trends.”

Notable indeed. They are the six trends shaping the U.S. and the World in 2019. Here’s a précis of their report:

1.   Millennials are the largest adult generation in the United States, but they are starting to share the spotlight with Generation Z. 
This year, Millennials (ages 23 to 38) will outnumber Baby Boomers (ages 55 to 73), according to Census Bureau projections.   

Although the nation’s 73 million Millennials are the largest living adult generation, the next one – Generation Z – is entering adulthood. Gen Zers (those ages 7 to 22 this year) are on track to be the best-educated and most diverse generation yet. Nearly half of Gen Zers (48%) are racial or ethnic minorities.

2.   Hispanics are projected to be the largest racial or ethnic minority group in the U.S. electorate when voters cast their ballots next year. 
The number of eligible voters who are Hispanic (32 million) is projected to surpass that of black eligible voters (30 million) for the first time. The projections indicate that whites will account for two-thirds of the electorate—a declining share.

HispanicVoters.jpg
 
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3. The American family continues to change.
A growing share of parents are unmarried. Among parents living with a child, the share who are unmarried increased from 7% in 1968 to 25% in 2017. Part of this increase is due to a growing share of unmarried parents cohabiting, as 35% of unmarried parents were in 2017. Over the same period, the share of U.S. children living with an unmarried parent more than doubled, from 13% in 1968 to 32% in 2017.

Stay-at-home parents account for about one-in-five parents (18%), which is roughly similar to 25 years ago, despite some fluctuation in the intervening years. For some parents, caring for a child isn’t their only responsibility: 12% of all parents with a child younger than 18 at home are also caring for an adult.

Americans generally see change on the horizon when it comes to the future of the family. A majority of Americans (53%) say that people will be less likely to get married in the year 2050, and 46% say people will be less likely to have children than they are now.

4. The immigrant share of the U.S. population is approaching a record high but remains below that of many other countries.
The 44 million foreign-born people living in the U.S. in 2017 accounted for 13.6% of the population. That is the highest share since 1910, when immigrants were 14.7% of the total population. The record share was in 1890, when immigrants were 14.8% of the total. According to United Nations data, 25 nations and territories have higher shares of immigrants than the U.S. They include some Persian Gulf nations with high shares of temporary labor migrants, as well as Australia (29%), New Zealand (23%) and Canada (21%).

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5. The U.S. unauthorized immigrant population is at its lowest level in more than a decade.
There were 10.7 million unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S. in 2016, the lowest total since 2004. The decrease is due mainly to fewer Mexicans entering the U.S. without authorization. Only three of the nation’s 20 largest metropolitan areas had larger unauthorized immigrant populations in 2016 than in 2007. Nationally, unauthorized immigrants are one-quarter of all U.S. immigrants.

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6. Incomes are rising in the U.S., but the increase is not being felt equally by all Americans. 
Household income in the U.S. is at or near the highest level it has been in the last 50 years. At the same time, income inequality continues to grow, and the growth has been more pronounced among some racial and ethnic groups than among others. For example, the gap between Asians at the top and bottom of the income ladder nearly doubled between 1970 and 2016. Over that period, Asians went from being one of the groups with the lowest income inequality to the highest.

The share of Americans who are in the middle class has fallen over the last several decades. About half (52%) of adults were considered middle class in 2016, down from 61% in 1971. The share of adults in the middle class has stabilized around half since 2011. Meanwhile, median incomes have grown more slowly for middle-class households than for upper- or lower-class households.

More broadly, the public also sees differences by race and ethnicity when it comes to getting ahead in the U.S. today. A majority of Americans (56%) say that being black hurts a person’s ability to get ahead a lot or a little, while 51% say being Hispanic is a disadvantage. In contrast, about six-in-10 (59%) say being white helps a person’s ability to get ahead in the U.S. today. Views on the impact of being Asian are more mixed.

So there you have it. Six trends shaping the world.

And each worth reflecting on deeply.

James Emery White

 

Sources

Anthony Cilluffo & D’Vera Cohn, “6 Demographic Trends Shaping the U.S. and the World in 2019,” Pew Research Center, April 11, 2019, read online.

The Monday after Easter

This is a blog with a very specific audience. I know it may exclude some of you, but it may be healthy for you to eavesdrop.

This is for all the church planters and their volunteers on post-Easter Monday, struggling to make it from week-to-week, and for the leaders and members of established churches that are anything but “mega”—well below the 200 threshold in terms of average attendance.

I don’t know how Easter Sunday went for you, but I have a hunch.  

It was bigger than normal, but less than breakthrough. It was good, but not great. Your attendance was large, but not staggering; worth being happy about, but not writing home about. You are grateful to God but, now that Easter is over, there’s a bit of a letdown. You wanted so much more.

It was, in the end, a typical Easter Sunday.

And you are normal.

When you lead a church, you can't help but dream—and dream big. I think that’s one of the marks of a leader. But for most, it’s not long before the dream comes face to face with reality.

When I planted Mecklenburg Community Church, I just knew the mailer I sent out (We started churches with mailers in those days.) would break every record of response and that we would be a church in the hundreds, if not already approaching a thousand, in a matter of weeks or months.

Willow Creek? Eat our dust. Saddleback? Come to our conference.

The reality was starting in a Hilton hotel in the midst of a tropical storm with 112 dripping wet people, and by the third weekend – through the strength of my preaching – cutting that sucker in half to a mere 56.

Actually, not even 56, because our total attendance was 56. This means there were 15 or 20 kids, so maybe 30 or so people actually sitting in the auditorium. 

(As a good church planter, I think we also counted people who walked slowly past the hotel ballroom doors in the hallway.)

Yes, we’ve grown over the years. 

But that’s the point. 

It’s taken years.

It usually does.

I know the soup of the day is rapid growth, but please don’t benchmark yourself against that. It’s not typical. It’s not even (usually) healthy. So stop playing that dark, awful game called comparison. It’s sick and terribly toxic. 

Really, stop it.

I don’t care who you are, there will always be someone bigger or faster-growing. So why torment yourself? Or worse, fall prey to the sins of envy and competition, as if you are benchmarked against other churches?

(Rumor has it the true “competition” is a deeply fallen secular culture that is held in the grip of the evil one. Just rumor, mind you.)

The truth is that on the front end, every church is a field of dreams. After a few months, or a year or two, it morphs from a field of dreams to a field to be worked, and your field may not turn out as much fruit – much less as fast – as you had hoped.

That’s okay.

You can rest assured that it probably has little to do with your commitment, your faith, your spirituality, your call or God’s love for you. 

I know it’s frustrating. We’ve got a lot of the world in us and thus look to worldly marks of success and affirmation.

But what matters is whether you are being faithful, not whether you are being successful. You’re not in this for human affirmation, but a “well done” from God at the end.

Did you preach the gospel yesterday?

Then “well done.”

Did you and your team do the best you could with what you had?

Then “well done.”

Did you and your church invite your unchurched friends to attend?

Then “well done.”

Did you pray on the front end, have faith and trust?

Then “well done.”

Ignore the megachurches that tweet, blog and boast about their thousands in attendance.

Yep, even mine.

It’s not that we don’t matter. We do, and we’re very proud of the hard work of our volunteers and the lives we have the privilege of changing. There’s a place for us.

It’s just that you matter, too.

And you may need to remember that.

And perhaps most of all on the Monday after Easter.

James Emery White

 

Editor’s Note

This blog was first published in 2012 and has been offered annually on Easter Monday since that first publication.

Reclaiming the Prophetic Mantle

Here’s a conundrum:

According to a new report released by the Barna Group, nine out of 10 Christian pastors say “helping Christians have biblical beliefs about specific issues is a major part of their role as clergy.”

Yet half feel they can’t. According to the study, they feel “limited in their ability to speak out by concerns they will offend people.” Specifically, homosexuality, same-sex marriage, abortion and sexual morality.

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Translation: they know their responsibility as a pastor to speak truth and help those they pastor embrace and embody that truth, but the risk of offense silences their voice.

Friends, it’s time to reclaim the prophetic mantle.

Biblically, there are three primary voices you can use when speaking into culture: the prophetic, the evangelistic and the heretical. 

The prophetic voice, such as Jeremiah’s, was clear in its denunciations and warnings. The prophetic voice is an admonishing one, a “thou shalt not,” a clarion call to turn to God and get right with God. 

No, it is not a popular voice for culture to hear. But it is an important one. 

The second voice is the evangelistic voice. It is the voice attempting to build bridges across cultural divides, to explain things, to make apologetic cases. The evangelistic voice is focused on calling people into a relationship with Christ as Forgiver and Leader. It’s more invitation than admonishment.

The final voice is the heretical voice. Heretical voices in the Bible are never celebrated, but they are noted as existing. This is the voice that not only speaks against the gospel but, more specifically, attempts to distort the very content of the gospel in its presentation to culture.

In light of these voices, there are three ways we’re failing to speak effectively into culture.

The first is speaking the prophetic voice without the evangelistic voice. That comes across as just judgmental and even hateful. It’s condemning without redeeming. It’s all truth without grace. Even at its best, they know what we’re against, but not what we’re for.

The second is speaking the heretical voice in the name of the evangelistic voice. This is watering things down to try and get a hearing, or to be liked or accepted. That’s not a good voice. The “relevance” of a church is not found in its capitulation to culture, but its transformation of culture. We do not gain the world’s attention through a compromised voice, but through an alternative voice.

The third mistake is speaking the evangelistic voice without the prophetic voice. This is different than the heretical without the prophetic. This isn’t denying orthodoxy as much as it is burying it; avoiding it. This is all grace and no truth.

Today, few want to use the prophetic voice. In fact, it is often seen as undermining the evangelistic voice. I’ve often heard pastors, particularly of large churches, say that they do not want to speak out on the issues of the day for the sake of keeping their focus on the gospel and not alienating people on the front end. 

But that’s not the full gospel.

So what kind of “voice” should we use? 

The evangelistic with the prophetic.

If I may be so bold, this is the “Jesus voice.” I’ve always marveled at how Jesus could proclaim absolute truth without compromise to those far from God, and then have those very people invite him to their parties. It’s because He wed the prophetic with the evangelistic.

He spoke truth and grace.

Jesus accepted the woman at the well in what can only be deemed by any careful reader in (then) culturally scandalous ways, but followed the acceptance by challenging her directly about her serial promiscuity. He also stopped the stoning of a woman caught in adultery, made it clear He was not going to condemn her, but then pointedly admonished her to turn from her adulterous ways.

Grace and truth flowed from Jesus in a way that can only be deemed inextricably intertwined. Jesus offered neither a feel-good theology that airbrushed out any real talk of sin, nor legalistic attitudes of harsh condemnation and judgment. 

Now, about that offense…

Yes, you will offend with the proclamation of the truth. But it’s a necessary offense if you are going to present the full nature of the gospel. In the past year or so, we’ve dealt with everything from racism to #MeToo, gay marriage to living together. We don’t focus solely on social issues; we just don’t avoid the elephant in the room.

I am reminded of an early adherent to the Protestant Reformation who, in 1526, said:

“If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christianity. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battlefield besides is mere flight and disgrace to him, if he flinches at that one point.”

Yes.

James Emery White

 

Sources

Griffin Paul Jackson, “Half of Pastors Worry Speaking Out on Social Issues Will Offend People,” Christianity Today, April 5,2019, read online.

“If I profess…” This is often attributed to Martin Luther, but erroneously. It is said to actually come from a follower of Martin Luther, April 2, 1526, quoted in Chronicles of the Schönberg-Cotta Family (New York, 1865), p. 321.