Renewing Your Church: Church Revitalization as a Humbling Experience

God works through people and churches who depend on him.

I accepted my first pastorate in 2004 at First Baptist Church in Castroville, TX as a 25-year-old recent seminary graduate. I had not given much thought to leading revitalization throughout my studies, but I found myself leading a church that was still in the process of healing from previous hurt.

They were suffering dysfunction, and decline.

As a new pastor, I did what I thought was best, and that was to thrust myself fully into pastoring by working hard, not being above any task, and doing whatever I thought needed to be done. In many ways, I thought I was being noble, but in reality I was trying to pastor in my own strength and was keeping others from serving.

The result was that I was on the cusp of burnout, and I was disillusioned that revitalization was not happening the way I wanted and in the time I expected. This was humbling because my approach to life and work had provided a degree of success and recognition during college and seminary, but was not working in the church. Then, God graciously brought people into my life who guided me to healthier ways of leading and challenged me to grow in certain areas.

One of the areas of growth was that God led me to step out in faith by providing a vision of the church getting out of debt with the goal of the church calling a youth pastor once the church got out of debt. At the time, the church still had around 15 years on the note, so we set the goal for five years to get out of debt and call a youth pastor. Because the church had limited resources, the goal of five years seemed impossible to me.

But the church had the faith to trust God.

As soon as we stepped out in faith, God began to provide for us in ways I could never have imagined. For example, a predominately African-American …

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Mideast Christians See Russia—not the US—as Defender of Their Faith

Perplexed by America on Syria, Russian evangelicals and Middle East Christians debate if Moscow really cares.

War was swirling in Syria. Rebels were pressing. And Maan Bitar was the only hope for American help.

“Because I am evangelical, everyone thinks I have channels of communication,” said the pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Mhardeh. “Syrians believe the United States has the power to stop the conflict—if it wants to.”

In the early years of the civil war, Bitar’s Orthodox neighbors were desperate to convince the US and its allies to end support of rebel forces. Mhardeh, a Christian city 165 miles north of Damascus, was being shelled regularly from across the Orontes River.

But salvation came from a different source. Russian airpower turned the tide, and Syrian government-aligned troops drove the rebels from the area.

Russian intervention on behalf of Mideast Christians has pricked the conscience of many American evangelicals. Long conditioned to Cold War enmity, the question is entertained: Are they the good guys in the cradle of Christianity? Or are persecuted Christians just a handy excuse for political interests?

“The news tells us Russian troops are bringing peace to the region, said Vitaly Vlasenko, ambassador-at-large for the Russian Evangelical Alliance. “Maybe this is propaganda, but we don’t hear anything else.”

Created in 2003, the alliance represents all evangelical denominations in Russia. Before assuming his position, Vlasenko worked 11 years with local Baptists in their external relations department.

President Vladimir Putin, recently reelected with evangelical support, “is seen as playing a big role to protect the Christian faith,” said Vlasenko, “and a sense of international brotherhood is deep within the heart of Russian Christians.” …

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Brazil’s Soccer Stars Love Jesus. But They Can’t Thank Him for World Cup Wins.

What a team ban on religious celebrations reveals about evangelicals in South America’s biggest country.

In Brazil, the country of international football, the relationship between religion and the soccer ball is an old one. Brazilian athletes have long played with crucifixes, medals of saints, or wrist tapes honoring the deities of the local Candomblé cult.

But in recent years, explicit evangelical expressions of faith in Christ have dominated the South American nation’s sporting scene.

Perhaps not surprising in a country where nearly 25 percent of the population is Protestant, Brazil’s national team prays before and after games and celebrates goals by displaying T-shirts with Christian messages. At least six athletes on the current national team playing in this summer’s World Cup have declared themselves to be evangelical, including Fernandinho, Thiago Silva, Alisson, Douglas Costa, Willian, and the team’s star, Neymar.

But unlike previous international tournaments, the team has been banned from celebrating any of its on-field successes through religious expression.

Just before the 2018 FIFA World Cup, the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) banned the team from religiously themed celebrations, claiming that the practice could divert focus on competition and constrain athletes who practice other beliefs or are agnostic. The measure, announced in June, is in line with guidelines from FIFA itself, which controls the world of football and which, since the 2006 World Cup, has been restricting religious demonstrations on the field.

Religious celebrations have long been part of Brazilian soccer. After winning the 1994 World Cup, Cláudio Taffarel and Jorginho attributed part of their victory to divine action. An image of Taffarel in ecstasy, kneeling on the field in front of Roberto Baggio, an Italian …

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What Jordan’s Evangelicals Think of Templeton Winner King Abdullah’s Interfaith Acclaim

The ruler was awarded the prestigious $1.4 million prize for modeling Islamic tolerance internationally. Here’s how Protestants in his home country gauge his leadership.

For his lifelong commitment to religious peace, King Abdullah II of Jordan recently became the second Muslim ever to win the prestigious, $1.4 million Templeton Prize. And Jordan’s Christian minority is celebrating with him.

“I believe in our king,” said Imad Shehadeh, president of the Jordan Evangelical Theological Seminary, following Wednesday’s announcement. “He is a kind, wise, loving, humble, and effective leader.”

Established in 1973, the Templeton Prize is awarded for exceptional contribution to “affirming life’s spiritual dimension.” First given to Mother Teresa, previous winners range from Billy Graham to the Dalai Lama. More recently, Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga and Jean Vanier of L’Arche have won the prize.

But this year, Abdullah was honored as a ruler who has done more promote inter-Islamic and interfaith harmony than any other living political leader, Templeton said.

Since assuming the throne in 1999, the 56-year-old son of the beloved King Hussein has rallied scholars against declaring apostasy against fellow Muslims. In 2006, he sponsored the Common Word initiative, inviting Christians worldwide to join Muslims in their joint commandments to love God and love their neighbor. Abdullah is responsible for launching World Interfaith Harmony Week in 2010, generally acknowledged as the first and only UN declaration to cite belief in God.

“Our world needs to confront challenges to our shared humanity and values,” said Abdullah, in videotaped remarks accepting the prize. “They are the very ground of the coexistence and harmony our future depends on.”

For Christians, Abdullah has been a key partner in the Middle East. His Hashemite …

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#StuffChurchpeopleSay: The Funniest Sermon Responses

Let’s get a laugh or two, or even a raised eyebrow, from our fellow well-intentioned congregants.

EAP @eadampeek: “You told too many circumcision jokes, so we are leaving the church. If we wanted to hear a comedy routine, we would have just watched a Will Ferrell movie.”

Jeremiah Clements @JremiahClements: “Early in my first pastorate I had a guy stop me after service to introduce himself: “You know how Paul said he had a thorn in the flesh?” I nodded & he continued, “I’m yours.”

Liam Thatcher @liamthatcher: “I couldn’t focus for the entire talk coz you were wearing new glasses”

Brett Landry @BrettLandry: “That was, like, a really good TED Talk about Jesus!” (Excited guest who’d never been to church before)”

Scott Slayton @scottslayton: “Your preaching has gotten worse since your baby was born. It’s like you’re not as passionate about God as you were before.”

Jason Spears @Jason_Spears: “Coming from my other church and my former pastor to here listening to you is like going from filet mignon to ground beef hamburger meat.” … “Unfortunately, in my youthful insecurity, the next week I handed her a small bottle of A1 steak sauce and encouraged her to go back if she saw fit.”

Christopher Cahall @chriscahall: “Would you like me to tell you how many times you said “um”?”

Hershaelyork @hershaelyork: “I preached in Grenada, MS, and a guy came up to me afterward, shook my hand and said, “Spurgeon! Charles Spurgeon.” I was flattered, but thought he was overstating things a bit and I told him so and he said, “No, that’s my name. I’m Charles Spurgeon.”

Kris Freeman @PastorKris: “That was an amazing message. Too bad no one …

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Make Worship Patriotic Again? The Top 10 Songs for Fourth of July Services

A look at America’s favorite God-and-country tunes, from Revolutionary War anthems to a Trump-inspired musical number.

At Sunday services this weekend, churches across the country will direct congregants to flip to the section of classic patriotic songs in their hymnals or display lyrics to more recent nation-centric tunes like Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA,” Chris Tomlin’s “America,” or even “Make America Great Again,” a song composed at First Baptist Church of Dallas using President Trump’s famous slogan.

Despite ongoing concerns over conflating worship of God with worship of country, the majority of churches in the United States mark the Fourth of July in song—a tradition that in some places goes back to the years surrounding America’s first Independence Day.

LifeWay Research found that two-thirds of US churches include America-themed music in worship services around the holiday. The top patriotic songs sung in churches, ranked by Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI), span contemporary contributions and American classics:

1. “America the Beautiful” – Katharine Lee Bates and Samuel A. Ward

The lyrics first appeared as a poem in the Fourth of July edition of the weekly church publication The Congregationalist in 1895.

2. “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory (Battle Hymn of the Republic)” – Julia Ward Howe

The abolitionist’s famous tune almost became America’s national anthem. Despite the theological references throughout, it’s now seen as more of a mishmash of Christian doctrine.

3. “My Country ’Tis of Thee (America)” – Samuel Francis Smith

The fourth verse in the Boston Baptist’s famous song goes, “Our fathers' God to Thee, author of liberty, to Thee we sing / Long may our …

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Make Worship Patriotic Again? The Top 10 Songs for Fourth of July Services

A look at America’s favorite God-and-country tunes, from Revolutionary War anthems to a Trump-inspired musical number.

At Sunday services this weekend, churches across the country will direct congregants to flip to the section of classic patriotic songs in their hymnals or display lyrics to more recent nation-centric tunes like Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA,” Chris Tomlin’s “America,” or even “Make America Great Again,” a song composed at First Baptist Church of Dallas using President Trump’s famous slogan.

Despite ongoing concerns over conflating worship of God with worship of country, the majority of churches in the United States mark the Fourth of July in song—a tradition that in some places goes back to the years surrounding America’s first Independence Day.

LifeWay Research found that two-thirds of US churches include America-themed music in worship services around the holiday. The top patriotic songs sung in churches, ranked by Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI), span contemporary contributions and American classics:

1. “America the Beautiful” – Katharine Lee Bates and Samuel A. Ward

The lyrics first appeared as a poem in the Fourth of July edition of the weekly church publication The Congregationalist in 1895.

2. “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory (Battle Hymn of the Republic)” – Julia Ward Howe

The abolitionist’s famous tune almost became America’s national anthem. Despite the theological references throughout, it’s now seen as more of a mishmash of Christian doctrine.

3. “My Country ’Tis of Thee (America)” – Samuel Francis Smith

The fourth verse in the Boston Baptist’s famous song goes, “Our fathers' God to Thee, author of liberty, to Thee we sing / Long may our …

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Juveniles Stuck in the Justice System: How Can the Church Respond?

YFC JJM stands ready to equip, enable, and empower the local church to make a long-term impact for high-risk teens in local communities.

“What do you want to do when you grow up?” This is the classic question to young, aspiring, and hope-filled teenagers.

However, for a high-risk young person this question feels foreign, perhaps even outrageous.

For these teens, their focus is on the next 24 hours. Surviving until tomorrow is often the extent of the Dream for high-risk young persons when all they can think to do is hustle to meet their most basic needs. They sell drugs to help a struggling mom pay rent, shoplift to provide dinner for hungry younger siblings. They simply have no capacity or inclination to think about longer term plans or dreams.

In this America, there are no positive adults, no horizon-expanding opportunities to see the world through a different vantage point. This isn’t Hollywood; there is no Morgan Freeman or Hillary Swank to swoop in and transform their difficult circumstances.

This is life in Survival Mode, until the system catches up with them.

This evening nearly 80,000 of these young people spent the night in a locked facility in the United States: 54,000 are in youth prisons or other out-of-home confinement; 20,000 in juvenile detention centers, 4,200 youth are in adult jails or county lock-ups; and 1,200 youth are in adult prisons serving a long-term sentence.

Most of these young people aren’t public threats nor have they committed violent crimes; however, in a punitive juvenile justice system, many times kids serve the time regardless of the crime. Without intentional intervention from caring, committed adults, the vast majority of teens will be re-incarcerated within two years of their initial release.

A Desperate Need of Positive Christian Relationships

Enter the Body of Christ.

Young people in the system believe …

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Fear, Power, Nostalgia, and the 81 Percent

An evangelical historian searches for the roots of Trump-friendly evangelicalism.

John Fea has two intended audiences for his new book, Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump. On the one hand, he dedicates this book “to the 19 percent”—to the segment of white evangelicals who (at least according to exit poll data) voted against Trump in the presidential race. But in another sense, Fea is also writing to the remaining 81 percent, to those who decided that Trump could best advance the cause of Christianity in America.

Fea writes as both a historian (he teaches at Messiah College) and a self-identified evangelical. In this second vein, he offers a sympathetic portrayal of the predicament in which evangelicals found themselves during the 2016 election season. He frames his discussion of the Obama administration as a period of intensifying fear for American evangelicals. Once the Obama administration sided with progressives on the same-sex marriage issue, he writes, it “became relentless in its advocacy of social policies that not only made traditional evangelicals cringe but also infused them with a sense of righteous anger.” According to Fea, the speed with which evangelicals found themselves “marginalized and even threatened” is “difficult to overestimate.” With important institutions seemingly “crumbling around them,” they were increasingly worried about the health of American society. At that point, many Republican candidates were more than willing to exploit these fears for political gain.

In other ways, too, evangelicals will see Fea as one of their own. In discussing abortion, he states his own position plainly: “The taking of a human life in the womb via the practice of abortion is a horrific practice.” Nor is he …

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Interview: Q&A: Marriage App Founder Says Couples Benefit from Digital Therapy

The founder of the Lasting app aims to offer portable counseling support to married millennials—especially those with kids.

In the lives of married millennials, having kids changes everything, according to Lasting, a marriage health app that so far has over 125,000 respondents to its marital health survey. Couples without children tend to report being more satisfied with their marriages than couples with children. In response to statements like “My partner is a great listener,” only 30 percent of people with kids agreed, while 45 percent of people without kids agreed.

The company’s dataset may be the largest marriage survey sample size ever gathered. Most users are between the ages of 20 and 35 or in their first 15 years of marriage (80 percent of users were married after 2010). Regardless of their parenthood status, men and women overall reported significant differences: Nearly 67 percent of women disagreed with the statement “My partner is a good listener” while only 51 percent of men disagreed.

The data gathered, while interesting on its own, contributes to the app’s function as a marriage counseling product. When users first log in, Lasting walks them through the 27-question marriage assessment survey. Based on the results, the app identifies a couple’s weaknesses and then gives tailored recommendations derived from decades of scientific studies on marital health. There are 18 topics total (called “series” in the app) broken up into smaller sessions. Each session begins with a podcast or TED Talk–style lesson, and each series is filled with exercises to practice what you learned.

While its users aren’t all Christians, the app creator Steven Dziedzic wants his content to pass the “gospel test” as well as the “science test.” Dziedzic, whose first start-up …

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