Six Reasons Comparisons Hurt Churches By Thom Rainer

15Mar 2014

Six Reasons Comparisons Hurt Churches

March 15, 2014

When I wrote I Am a Church Member, I noted the key role 1 Corinthians 13 plays in defining what should be expected of a church member. Of course, many view this “love chapter” without understanding that Paul wrote it in the context of speaking to church members about their attitudes and behaviors in a local congregation.

So I often propose “What if?” questions to church leaders and members with 1 Corinthians 13 in the background. What if I am patient with members and leaders in my church? What if I am always kind to them? What if I put their needs before my own? What if I viewed my church with all of its imperfections in light of unconditional love?

You get the picture.

Unhealthy churches have numbers of leaders and/or members who do not practice 1 Corinthians 13 in their local congregations. These persons tend to seek their picture of an ideal church rather than loving their current church, her leaders, and her members. They are thus constantly comparing some aspect of the church with some other church or members or leaders. As a result, six unhealthy consequences unfold when these comparisons take place.

  1. Comparison creates dissatisfaction among members with the pastors and staff. “The current pastor does not preach like the pastor at some other church.” “Our student pastor is not as dynamic as the other guy at the other church.” “If only our pastor would keep his sermons as brief as my former pastor.” “I know that the pastor at the other church visits the members more than our pastor.”
  2. Pastors and church staff can have the “green grass” syndrome when they compare their churches and its members with some other church. I once asked a friend to name his favorite church of the several he had served as pastor. His response was both amusing and sad: “The next one.” He would move from one church to another seeking that perfect congregation. Of course, that place does not exist.
  3. Comparisons create unhealthy expectations. Being a church member is somewhat akin to being married. How many of us have thought our marriage could be so much better if our spouse could become something he or she is not? No church is perfect. All struggle in some way or another. When we compare our church to some other congregation, we may be creating an expectation that is neither realistic nor healthy.
  4. When we compare, we become consumer members instead of serving members. The role of church members and leaders is to serve. We are to serve God first, and our fellow members next. When we compare churches, we are putting our self-interests and perceived needs ahead of others. We engage in “church shopping,” a phrase you will find nowhere in the Bible.
  5. Comparing creates a culture of criticism. Leaders and members constantly note where the church and its members fall short. They regularly assess the pastor and other leaders as to ways they don’t meet expectations. The natural outflow of such a mindset is unholy dissatisfaction and criticisms.
  6. When we compare, we don’t take time to “look in the mirror.” In my first church where I served as pastor, I became irritated and frustrated with the members. My experience was nothing like I had anticipated or hoped. When I started complaining to God about “those people,” God convicted me of my own inadequacies, my own sins, and my own problems. I had spent too much time looking at the splinter in others’ eyes rather than the log in my eye.

I have been guilty of comparisons in local congregations, both as a church member and as a pastor. But I have found the greatest joy when I stop comparing and start serving. I’ve got plenty for God to fix without spending an inordinate amount of time worrying about how other church members, pastors, and staff can become better from my own imperfect perspective.

Pain and Ministry – for my pastor friends.

I’ve had some wicked awful shoulder pain from a lifting injury the last week and half. Pain has a way of drawing our focus. One wrong move with the arm and the pain shoots and stops me.

The trouble is there are some pains that do not go away. The pain of saying more than you should have (yes of course seeking grace and forgiveness or at least get to an ‘agree and disagree in love’ is a goal – but often only possible to release disagreements to God).

The pain of people who refuse to understand another’s point of view.

The pain of people who refuse humility or refuse to act in the best interests of others.

This is the pain of ministry.  Below is a nice article on the pain of ministry.  I never understood it until I became a lead pastor.

The Secret Pain of Pastors

Peter Drucker, the late leadership guru, said that the four hardest jobs in America (and not necessarily in order, he added) are:

  • The President of the United States
  • A university president
  • A CEO of a hospital and
  • A pastor

Is that true? Pastors love God and love people. They get to pray for people, lead people to a faith in Jesus Christ, and teach the Word about God.

That’s the dream job. You can read the Bible all day, pray, play a little golf, and preach. I want to do that!

Here is the secret. Being a pastor is hard work. It’s not for wimps.

This is the reality—the job of a pastor can be 24/7 and carry unique challenges.

Some pastors wear themselves out trying to help people. Some wound their family because they are so involved in ministry. Others flourish in their ministry and personal life.

Approximately 85% of churches in America have less than 200 people. Sixty percent of churches are under 100 people. The average size congregation in the U.S. is 89 people, according to The Barna Group. Staffs are small, and needs are great. In many situations, the pastor needs to be a Bible teacher, accountant, strategist, visionary, computer tech, counselor, public speaker, worship director, prayer warrior, mentor, leadership trainer, and fundraiser.

Who can be all of that?

  • 90% of pastors said the ministry was completely different than what they
    thought it would be like before they entered the ministry.
  • 70% say they have a lower self-image now than when they first started.

Personally, I love being a pastor. I have a great staff. We have great people in our church; I am content whether going through good times or difficult seasons. Of course, it’s a lot easier to be “content” when things are good. I have great friends who are pastors. My marriage is strong. I am a better man because of my time in ministry.

Some of the unique problems that pastors’ face are:

1.  Criticism. 

Pastors can be criticized by a lot of people for a multitude of things.

“Music is too loud. Worship is not long enough. It’s too long.”

“Sermon is not deep enough. It’s too long.” 

“Pastor thinks he’s too important. It took me 3 weeks to get an appointment.”

“You talk too much about money.”

“…can I talk to you for a minute, Pastor?” This simple question can cause a pastor to think: “Oy vey.  Now what?”

We pastors need to find a way to not take criticism so personally and learn from truths that could be hidden in the criticism.

2. Rejection.

Members leave, leaders leave, and pastors’ friends leave. The reality is—people leave.

The smaller the church, the more obvious it is when people leave. Some leave for reasonable decisions; many leave ‘ungracefully.’ They leave the big churches, too—by the thousands.

People leave TD Jakes’ church, and they leave Andy Stanley’s church.

When our church had about 150 people and some would leave, it was so disappointing. I tried to console myself by thinking, “They may be leaving by the dozens here at Oasis, but thousands have left Jack Hayford’s church, and he’s a great pastor.”…That only helped for a minute.

“I’m leaving.”

“We want something deeper.”

“My needs aren’t getting met.”

These comments can feel like a personal rejection.

Every pastor has heard, “I’m not getting fed here.” Bill Hybels has heard it. Wayne Cordero, Dino Rizzo, Ed Young, Craig Groeschel, Steven Furtick, and Matthew Barnett have heard it.

Really?  Not getting fed? In those churches? How is that possible?

One of the most difficult conditions to achieve is to have a “tough skin and a soft heart.” Love people, hold them lightly, and don’t take it personally.

“…uhhh, OK.  Lord, help us.”

3.  Betrayal.

Trusting church members with personal burdens can backfire. They may end up telling the pastor’s personal issues to others. Staff leaders can take church members away. The pastor trusts a person with the platform or title, and that person uses the influence given to them to take people away.  The Judas kiss.

Church staff causing problems is a betrayal. Pastors rightfully think, “I’m paying you to solve problems. I can get new problems for free. I don’t need to pay someone a salary to create them.”

  • 40% report a conflict with a church member at least once a month.
  • 85% of pastors said their greatest problem is they are tired of dealing with problem people, such as disgruntled elders, deacons, worship leaders, worship teams, board members, and associate pastors.
  • The #1 reason pastors leave the ministry is that church people are not willing to go the same direction and goal of the pastor. Pastors believe God wants them to go in one direction, but the people are not willing to follow or change.
  • 40% of pastors say they have considered leaving their pastorates in the last three months.

We pastors have to find a way, with God’s grace, to love people as if we have never been hurt before.

4.  Loneliness.

Who’s my friend?  Who can I trust? If I tell another pastor my problems, will he criticize me, tell others, or just treat me differently?

  • 70% do not have someone they consider a close friend.

Are my friends really my friends or a church member who is a temporary friend who may leave any day now?

Healthy friendships are crucial to a fulfilling life, especially to the well being of a pastor. Put special effort in this area.

5.  Weariness.

50% of the ministers starting out will not last 5 years.

70% felt God called them to pastoral ministry before their ministry began, but after three years of ministry, only 50% still felt called.

Keeping personally refreshed is an art and a science…and extremely important.

When fatigue comes in, you not only look ½ empty, but also dirty, contaminated, and undrinkable.

6.  Frustrations & Disappointments.

Disappointments come in many ways.

Because of smaller congregations, the average compensation package for pastors is between $35,000 – $40,000. There are many things pastors in this salary range are not able to do for their family that other people around them can do.

There are many areas of ministry that judging “success” is difficult. Pastors can be hard on themselves. We work in an area that good work and good effort does not always guarantee success.

Many pastors work hard but are missing some kind of “X-factor.” They are good people, sincere believers, love God, know the Word, have great content in their sermons, but somehow it’s not clicking.  It’s frustrating.

It’s like a worship leader who loves Jesus and has a great singing voice but somehow cannot lead people in an effective worship experience.

Some days, leaders feel like they can’t seem to do anything right. The ministry finally gets momentum, and then a leader in the church falls. Things are going well, and then a couple of your biggest givers leave.

The church needs money, but the pastor doesn’t want to put too much focus on money. It’s not about the money—but it becomes about the money.

All of this can be overwhelming.

  • 4,000 new churches begin each year and 7,000 churches close.
  • Over 1,700 pastors left the ministry every month last year.
  • Over 3,500 people a day left the church last year. 
  • 50% of pastors feel so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if
    they could, but have no other way of making a living.
  • 45.5 % of pastors say that they’ve experienced depression or burnout to the extent that they needed to take a leave of absence from ministry. 

This is not the case for all pastors. In fact, many that I know have managed to handle these issues well. 

How Christians and church members can help:  

Pray for your pastor.

Pray for guidance, protection, healthy friends, their marriage, and family. Pray for inspiration, anointing, the leadership team, unity, and clarity.

Protect your pastor.

As best as you can, don’t allow or participate in gossip and criticism. How can you serve and problem solve to prevent overload?

Encourage your pastor.

Thank him for his or her work and ministry. Thank them for their sacrifice. Tell them a specific time in which you or someone you know experienced a life change in their church. Honor them to others.  Let your pastors know you are praying for them. According to the Barna report—the profession of “Pastor” is near the bottom of a survey of the most-respected professions, just above “car salesman.”

To Pastors.

Don’t give up, pastor! Persistence is powerful.

Keep on. Really! Your work, your labor of love, and your sacrifice matters.

I realize the last thing a pastor needs is another sermon. But these verses have helped me. Hold on to God’s Word with your life.

So do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord. Remember the great reward it brings you! Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised. Hebrews 10:35-36 NLT

So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time, we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. Gal. 6:9 NLT

Be careful of the comparison trap.

Looking at other ministries can be inspiring. Comparing yourself to other churches can be destructive and discouraging.

Make new pastor friends. Expose yourself to new influences, new leaders, churches, or ministries that are doing some things differently.

Discover to some fresh views and ideas. Sometimes, it just takes one or two new ideas that can change momentum around.

Pastors that are struggling or are no longer in ministry may have unresolved hurts. I encourage you to find healing. Seek counseling; find a local Celebrate Recovery group; equip yourself with resources on healing (some examples are Safe People or Boundaries) and share your secrets with safe people.  Remember you’re only as sick as your secrets.

*The Fuller Institute, George Barna, and Pastoral Care Inc. provide the statistics I have used in this post.


Hebrew Roots makes a good study or a bad cult

Shel: Over the years I’ve had several friends who think that they must take on the practices of Torah to be good followers of Messiah.  Note: That also includes calling all things outside of Jewish roots “pagan”.  So obviously worship (moved in the NT immediately) must go back to OT. The name Jesus is often suspect.  And the legalistic (often twisting the law) list goes on.

They cannot figure out Paul nor the fact this battle was fought in NT and it was declared gentile DOES NOT automatically = pagan in the condemned sense under Christ. Moreover aspects of the law were the shadow and the substance is Christ and the indwelling Holy Spirit.  Which was not possible for all people under the law. Only unique empowerment for a few for special tasks.

The reality is that most of the more cultic expressions are not applying torah as it was nor can they! Moveover the 1st Church Council in Acts 15 made the decision settlement on this issue. If you disagree with that, then you are also throwing out Messiah and His living body.  Oh foolish Galatians who has bewitched you!?


So here are some good (I do not endorse all these authors say or believe BTW just good summaries of THIS ISSUE) thoughts on when the interest in Hebrew roots becomes a cult:

The Hebrew Roots Cult


Titus 1:10-11, 13-14 For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach…For this reason reprove them severely so that they may be sound in the faith, not paying attention to Jewish myths and commandments of men who turn away from the truth.

What an insidious and devious Enemy we have! The ability to take devout men and women of God who are zealous for good works and twist their desires so as to put them back into bondage to the Law illustrates the truly evil nature of Satan.

I had the recent misfortune of encountering a cult which is growing in influence within Christianity. It is not to be confused with Messianic Judaism or simply seeking to explore the Jewish culture within which most of the Bible was written. Although there are many organizations which are promoting this general view and their specific doctrines often vary, it is generally known as the Hebrew Roots Movement.

Why Haven’t I Heard About This?

As a rule, this spreading wave of false doctrine is not being addressed by the church. This is due to several reasons:

  • There is a fear of appearing anti-Semitic
  • The depth of the movement’s doctrinal heresies is not generally known
  • There is within the church in general a reluctance to address false doctrine
  • The movement usually hides their beliefs and presents itself as simply seeking to educate Christians concerning their Jewish heritage. As they become acclimated to the Jewish orientation the more aberrant doctrines are slowly introduced.

The influence of this movement is working its way into our churches and our seminaries. The longer we refuse to address it directly and publicly the greater the damage will be to our brothers and sisters and to the core doctrines of our faith. If it is not the responsibility of the clergy to correct issues of doctrine, then whose responsibility is it?

A Few Symptoms

Allow me to delineate some of their more common symptomatic doctrinal heresies:

  • All Christians should adhere to a kosher diet
  • The Sabbath can only be observed on Saturdays
  • The Jewish festivals and holidays should still be observed today

I addressed in a previous article why these are not sound doctrinal stances so I will not reiterate them here.

The Cause

The root of their symptomatic heresies is hermeneutic (having to do with the methodology used to interpret scripture) in nature. The Protestant Reformers used a grammatical-literal hermeneutic when interpreting scripture. In other words, it means what it says unless there is a significant reason to believe otherwise. This movement uses a grammatical-historical hermeneutic with a twist. Their underlying assumptions when approaching any scripture are:

  • Whatever God has ever commanded of those who seek Him (i.e., the Jews, their ancestors, their descendents, and Christians) is still in effect today (including the Levitical law)
  • Gentile followers of Christ were “grafted into” the Jews which they interpret to mean that Gentiles must assume Jewish customs if they really want to mature and please God

Based on those unquestionable assumptions, they then decide how they can best interpret a given scripture to support those beliefs.

The farther down this rabbit hole they go, the more bizarre their doctrines become. Many see the New Testament as inferior to the Old (or a conspiracy by the Catholic church). More still say that Paul’s teachings are contrary to Christ (since they have trouble with his obvious statements against their beliefs) and, therefore, reject his epistles as scripture. Some say that the only reason we aren’t still sacrificing animals and stoning people for their sins is because there is no Temple and no Sanhedrin. But when they are restored then these will resume. Others go so far as to eventually reject Jesus as the Messiah and simply say that He was just a Rabbi. The inevitable outcome of following this train of thought is to put people back into bondage to the Law.

The Truth

These heresies are so fundamentally and obviously wrong that I hesitate to even address them. However, it is apparently not obvious to the adherents of this cult so I will briefly spell out a few.

We (as Gentile believers) were not grafted into the Law and Judaism but into the faith of Abraham which preceded the Law and Jewish customs (Romans 4, Romans 11:17-24, Galatians 3:15-18). The law was given because of transgressions and to be our tutor to lead us to Christ (Galatians 3:19,24,25). Jesus fulfilled all of the requirements of the law (Matthew 5:17-20) for all time (John 19:30, Romans 5:12-21). We were “made to die to the Law through the body of Christ” so that we might be joined to Him (Romans 7:1-6, Galatians 2:19,21) because Christ is “the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4). You mature in Christ and please Him by the same means by which you were saved…by faith…not by following the Law.

Galatians 3:1-4 You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain–if indeed it was in vain?

No where in the Bible do we find Gentile believers being instructed to follow Levitical laws or Jewish customs. In fact, just the opposite (see my previous article). However, we do find several examples where Jewish Christians are reprimanded for trying to convince Gentile Christians to follow the Law (Acts 15, Galatians, Romans 14, Titus 1).

Those in the Hebrew Roots cult have stumbled over the Great Stumbling Block (1 Corinthians 1:23,24, Galatians 5:11). This heresy goes all the way back to the first century but like a bad penny it keeps turning up every few centuries. Beware of those who come to you professing to educate you about your Hebrew roots in order to “make you a better Christian” or to “restore your Biblical Hebrew heritage.” Question them closely concerning these heresies to prevent them from being introduced into your churches and families (as they have been introduced into mine).

Below are some websites with more information concerning the Hebrew Roots Movement as well as relevant scriptures for you to consider. Test the spirits, my brothers and sisters and refute unsound doctrine (Titus 1:9).

Jews for Jesus warn of the dangers of the Hebrew Roots Movement

Critical explorations of the Hebrew Roots Movement

Galatians 3:28,29 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.Romans 2:17-21 But if you bear the name “Jew” and rely upon the Law and boast in God, and know His will and approve the things that are essential, being instructed out of the Law, and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of the immature, having in the Law the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth, you, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself?

1 Timothy 1:3, 6-10 As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines…For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion, wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions. But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully, realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching

2 Peter 2:1 But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves.


call me a pente-anabaptist…revivals are dirt AND Divinity

Shel – I am not anti-revival.  Today I am more than ever “p”entecostal and anabaptist – Spirit and Jesus.  (I guess that’s why I like AB Simpson and the Alliance ;-) ). This article I am sharing was wonderfully encouraging.  I believe that God will send a very unique move of the Spirit to Sioux Falls because there are many of us hungry for the Holy Spirit/Jesus-Magnifying church to grow in our city.

The Enduring Revival

The ‘Toronto Blessing’ in 1994 was odd and controversial—but its benefits have lasted.
Lorna Dueck/ March 7, 2014
The Enduring Revival

Image: Courtesy of From Here to the Nations

Early in 1994, a small church in a strip mall near Toronto Pearson International Airport had thousands of people waiting at its doors night after night—50,000 unique visitors, as we’d say today, in the first six months of the year, enough to make it “Toronto’s top tourist attraction of 1994,” according to Toronto Life magazine. The Toronto Blessing was falling.

Laughing, falling over, shaking, roaring like a lion, and being “drunk in the Holy Spirit”—the Toronto Blessing was a charismatic revival featuring manifestations of spiritual power more commonly associated with the Great Awakenings of the 18th and 19th centuries. Thousands registered first-time conversions to Christianity at the services. Every evening people lined up to stand or fall under shouts of “More, Lord!” while hands were laid on them in prayer.

The atmosphere felt just the same as it did 20 years ago as I made my way through a crowd that had turned up two hours early to celebrate the revival’s anniversary on January 20, 2014. The services were held at Catch the Fire, formerly known as the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship, which was the Toronto Airport Vineyard at the revival’s inception. The church has grown from its storefront to a 3,200-seat auditorium, 8 satellite campuses, 23 church plants, and a global Catch the Fire church network.

I hadn’t been back to the church for a long while, but I was drawn to this celebration. I was grateful for what I had received there 20 years before. As a side task, I had taken CT up on its invitation to write about my reunion experience.

A Mixed Blessing?

In 1994, I was a young reporter assigned to cover the Toronto Blessing. I was significantly discouraged aboutChristian ministry at the time. In spite of my angst, I was curious about the bizarre stories of spiritual manifestations coming from the airport church pastored by John and Carol Arnott. I remember going to the back of the church, phoning my sister, and complaining, “Everyone is getting this ‘Father’s blessing’ here but me.” My charismatic sister told me to put down my notepad, stop being a reporter, and just receive. What I experienced was so significant that I divide my own spiritual journey into pre- and post-Toronto Blessing eras.

My sister’s advice still applies. It’s hard to rationally account for the results of the Toronto Blessing over the past two decades. A few themes, though, are consistent. This revival attracted people who wanted their spiritual condition to change, and it commissioned people to live for God’s service and glory. Such spiritually charged events often devolve into massive scandals—like the one that enveloped evangelist Todd Bentley in the wake of Florida’s “Lakeland Revival” of 2008. Not so with the Toronto revival, which has had a remarkably scandal-free track record.

Many of the Toronto Blessing’s critics have moderated their concerns in the last two decades. Dr. James Beverley, professor of Christian thought and ethics at Toronto-based Tyndale Seminary, published one of the most detailed examinations of the revival, Holy Laughter and the Toronto Blessing, in 1995. At the time he concluded that the revival was at best a “mixed blessing,” with an undue emphasis on extreme and bizarre manifestations and a tendency to exaggerate claims of signs, wonders, and prophecies.

Nearly 20 years later, Beverley strikes a more appreciative tone, emphasizing the positive and lasting impacts of the revival. “Whatever the weaknesses are, they are more than compensated for by thousands and thousands of people having had tremendous encounters with God, receiving inner healings, and being renewed.”

Beverley is still reluctant to identify the more extreme phenomena of laughing, crying, “birthing,” or roaring as straightforward manifestations of the Spirit of Christ. He interprets them as signs of deep pain and a need for emotional and spiritual comfort. “The whole thing is an indication of how much people want to feel close to God and have a sense of his presence. This does not excuse or explain everything…. To know it in detail, you would have to inspect story after story, but there is no doubt that the vast majority of people have been helped, and there have been radical conversion experiences and radical renewal in many lives.”

That renewal has had far-reaching and long-lasting effects. One of many famous visitors to the revival was Nicky Gumbel, best known as the leader of Alpha. The Guardian reported in 2000 that “a quarter of a million agnostics have found God through Gumbel.” And they reported that “the Toronto Blessing was the kick-start Alpha needed.”

“I don’t talk about it now,” Gumbel told The Guardian. “It divides people. It splits churches. It is very controversial. But I’ll tell you—I think the Toronto Blessing was a wonderful, wonderful thing.”

Beverley thinks the harshest criticisms of the movement were always overblown. “This has largely been a great movement because it has led people to Jesus. There are dangers, and the revival could have been even better than it has been if its leaders had controlled some of the movement’s weaker elements. But overall, I have never worried about the Toronto Blessing as a dangerous cult-like movement. I am happy that the renewal has lasted two decades.”

His remarks hint at something of a shift in his own evaluation of the movement. “My concerns have changed a bit. I regret saying that they did not give enough attention to Jesus. I think that was too hard. The leaders and the people—they love Jesus. We all do not give enough attention to Jesus.”

Carpet Time

I ended up attending for a week in the Toronto revival’s early days. On those nights I was prayed for I spent a few hours of my own in “carpet time,” the Catch the Fire term for what happens when people are knocked down, “slain in the Spirit,” and leave mysteriously strengthened and renewed in their love for God.

The 20th anniversary contained all those same elements. Not much has changed in the Arnotts’ attitude and approach. The love of John, now 73, and Carol, 71, for their staff, congregation, and visitors seems unforced and unfeigned. They still see themselves as “stewarding what God is doing.”

During the anniversary meetings, the Arnotts welcomed international Vineyard Church leader Blaine Cook to the reunion stage. In 1996, the American Vineyard Board and Council decided to cut the association’s ties with the Canadian congregation. At the time, John Wimber stated that the Toronto revival needed more emphasis on “the main and plain things in Scripture.”

At this reunion, the two distinct churches apologized for any hurt the separation may have caused, emphasizing their shared love and respect for God’s work in their organizations. Vineyard pastors around the world now engage with the “Revival Alliance,” a group that includes the Arnotts, Bill and Benni Johnson, Randy and DeAnne Clark, Georgian and Winnie Banov, Che and Sue Ahn, and Rolland and Heidi Baker—all global charismatic leaders of movements that expanded as a result of the Toronto Blessing.

To some critics, the Revival Alliance extends beyond the boundaries of mainstream Christianity. Beverley notes the connection between several Revival Alliance members and the New Apostolic Reformation, which tends to grant extraordinary amounts of power to particular “apostolic” leaders. Beverley sees Catch the Fire as largely distinct from these more radical movements, but the relationships and mutual endorsement remain.

One figure who links the Revival Alliance with the New Apostolic Reformation is Randy Clark, a former Southern Baptist pastor who preached for 42 of the first 60 consecutive days of the revival in 1994. His preaching opened the 20th-anniversary revival conference, with his familiar text (John 7:37–38) and familiar theme of developing a “thirst for more” of God.

When asked about unorthodox elements or exaggerated claims of spiritual power among members of the Revival Alliance, Clark responded, “Our unity is not based on doctrinal agreement. Our unity is based on the experienced presence of God and how it renewed us and our commitment to a gospel of the kingdom.”

“Our legitimate critics would say we are weak on a theology of suffering, and I think it’s an appropriate critique,” said Clark. “But I am convinced we have a solid biblical basis for what we teach. I believe my critics have an under-utilized eschatology. They’re putting off into the millennium what God has made available for the present.”

I have nothing but admiration for the leadership and members of Catch the Fire, and their ministry in our metropolis. But I do wonder how they manage the expectations encouraged by the style of prayer practiced at Catch the Fire and by Revival Alliance leaders. Hoping for a “magic touch” in prayer can manipulate people into yearning for a particular style of “anointing.” They start to hunger for the visible manifestations of bodies fallen, resting peacefully, or shaking uncontrollably as if by a mysterious voltage. Their hope for physical healing is often disappointed.

And what do you do during the long seasons when you walk with little sense of experiential “anointing”? Those years of normal life when the Word made flesh, the enduring truth of the Resurrection, is all you have to go on?

The anniversary was a good time for me to reflect on these questions. I know I received a profound inner healing at the revival. We have been given beautiful gifts in the Toronto Blessing, and beautiful gifts too in those who critique it. I’m thankful that in God’s wide family we have both—servants who steward Word and Spirit.

Lorna Dueck is the host and executive producer of Context with Lorna Dueck. Context’s Stephen Lazarus provided additional research for this article.


An Open Apology to the Local Church

An Open Apology to the Local Church

Though much have I attended you, late have I loved you.
Katelyn Beaty/ March 7, 2014
An Open Apology to the Local Church

Image: iStock

Dear Church,

I trust this letter finds you sustained by your Groom as you face bombings and threats on one side of the hemisphere, and attacks of a more offhand sort on the other. By now you have likely received word of a popular blogger confessing his boredom with your recent Protestant iterations, noting that he instead connects with God by building his company. At the least, I was heartened to see it spark a lively discussion about who you are and what exactly the Spirit had in mind when he showed up in Jerusalem 1,980 years ago to kick off this whole crazy thing. (I imagine those are sweet memories for you, seeing your people giving their things away with abandon, like it was the end of the world.) As you near your 2,000th birthday, we rugged individuals in the land of a thousand denominations are wise to get reacquainted with you.

Outside your walls, of course, you continue to be derided for all manner of intolerance, backwards thinking, and political apathy. But inside your walls, at least from my narrow vantage of Christendom, you are quite the hot ticket these days. A whole generation of evangelical Christians has grown impatient with inherited ways of gathering together.

From pastors like Eugene Peterson, we have learned to question modes of worship that mimic the mall and the stadium. From theologians like Robert Webber, we have discovered a much longer and richer history than our Sunday school teachers ever mentioned. We bandy about words like ecclesiology and sacramentality to demonstrate our new, sophisticated ways of thinking about you. Just this week, we wore our ashes proud. And when the popular blogger confessed to finding you a bit hard to get through, we were quite ready to pounce with charges of individualism and narcissism, and proclaim our love for you, the institution.

You might think I’m writing to throw my lot in with your strongest defenders. After all, I’ve faithfully attended one of your high-church Anglican iterations for seven years, watching with disdain as peers hop from building to building, seeking an “awesome” and “powerful” worship experience (and attractive members of the opposite sex). Instead, I’m writing to apologize. While claiming publicly to have loved you as Christ does—like a spouse—in spirit I have loved you like an on-again, off-again fling. My faithful attendance suggests a radical commitment to gathering with your people. But many Sundays, my heart is still in it for me. And while I think the blogger is ultimately misguided about his relationship (or lack thereof) with you, I can appreciate his honesty. At least he’s not leading you on.

Here’s where I need to confess my true feelings about you, Church: The romance of our earlier days has faded. The longer I have known you, the more I weary of your quirks and trying character traits. Here’s one: You draw people to yourself whom I would never choose to spend time with. Every Sunday, it seems, you put me in contact with the older woman who thinks that angels and dead pets are everywhere around us. You insist on filling my coffee hour with idle talk of golf, the weather, and grandchildren. As much as I wax on about the value of intergenerational worship, a lot of Sundays I dodge these members like they’re lepers. (This is of course my flesh talking, to borrow a phrase from one of your earliest members.) Many Sundays I long to worship alongside likeminded Christians who really get me, with whom I can have enlightening, invigorating conversations, whom I’m not embarrassed to be seen with in public. I confess to many times lusting over one of your sexier locations, wondering if I would be happier and more fulfilled there.

It hasn’t helped that you have made growing demands of me, something I also confess to resenting. Truth be told, it strikes me as a bit clingy. I’ve now served on the church board, played piano at Friday night worship services, taught Sunday school. You also want me to give you money every week—when I still have student loans to pay off? I am there not to be served but to serve, of course. But I do wonder when these investments of time and energy will pay off. A bit of appreciation from fellow members would help.

While we’re at it, let me make one more confession: I resent how much you want to go out these days. I don’t understand why we can’t stay inside and reconnect over a cup of wine. After a stressful workweek, I want to be renewed and refreshed, to feel myself falling in love again with the Groom. I want the kind of connective mornings we had when I first met you. I admit to finding our morning routine a bit snoozy as of late, especially on Sundays led by a guest preacher. (Another sports metaphor?) And you think going out and mixing it up with refugees and orphans and homeless people is what we need? Granted, their needs are a bit more tangible than mine, but I’m starting to think mine are being ignored entirely.

Well, this letter turned out to be more negative than I wanted. But with all the conversations about your central place in the life of God’s people, I needed to put all my cards on the table. And to apologize. Because even though in practice the aforementioned blogger and I are worlds apart, in spirit we are more similar than might be assumed. The difference is that I mask my Sunday morning self-centeredness with a “nuanced” theology of worship.

I believe your Head would have choice words to describe me. Make no mistake: Until he changes my heart from the inside out, stoking in it an ever increasing flame of sacrificial love for you, I’m no better than a whitewashed tomb—or, to put more fine a point on it, a worshiper who in truth longs to get back under the covers.

In remorse—and hope,


Katelyn Beaty is managing editor of CT magazine.

My (Initial) Thoughts on Jesus Calling

Jesus Calling by Sarah Young is a little devotional book that has exploded in the Evangelical Industrial scene.  I have had people ask me about it many times.  So here are my thoughts having read most of it last summer on a trip.

(1) We all need to learn to hear God’s voice and speak in God’s name.  I am unashamedly a Spirit-filled believer who affirms that God does speak (usually through impressions, leadings, etc.) to apply the Scriptures and bring His personality/energies directly into our lives. 1 Cor.  Chs 12,13,14 are clear there is a prophetic gift, available to all, to encourage, console, and build up.  John Howard Yoder the esteemed and disgraced Anabaptist theologian put Anabaptist and Pentecostal theology well when he said,

“The New Testament does not abolish the priest or the prophet. It abolishes the laity. Everyone is in some sense prophet or priest.”

a) These leadings – if we speak them or act on them – more than simply words of peace -need to be tested by Scripture (first order and trumping revelation tested by the church and time) and spiritual community of a real local church small group.

b) Just because it claims to be God’s voice – our bias should be caution.

2) Sarah writes in a way that reflects how millions of Spirit-filled believers themselves “hear” God’s voice.  This is nothing new.  She just cleaned, edited and marketed it well through the Evangelical Industrial machine.

3) HERE comes the concern.:”The machine” that produces religious goods & service (AKA the sad state of theology in music and pop christian writing) has a non-Biblical agenda: reselling you the parts of the American Dream/Material Dream that conflict with teachings of Jesus.  Lulling you to inaction on the Kingdom while making you think you are acting in  false-peace.

3a) The Holy Spirit speaks to empower and push us into the edges of the world that need the love of the God in the Gospel.  Not just giving away material things but giving and going to SPEAK the Gospel to those outside the Kingdom.  Sarah’s ability to discern God’s voice should include sharing Jesus and those uncomfortable conversations.

NOW in her defense – I believe she has had those at one point – given her mission.  BUT not providing those as well gives a very one-sided shallow Jesus.  The Spirit speaks not only for comfort – but to empower us to enter VERY HARD situations for His glory.

3b) Folk Religion Jesus, Angels, etc. is an idol in the American Church.  If Jesus doesn’t challenge our hearts – then it might not be Jesus we are hearing. OR we simply have not matured enough to hear the “hard sayings” of Jesus.

SO (for now  – this is a rough draft)

Read it, use it, make sure you are asking – “Jesus, what thing large or small should I/we be doing to bring Your peace, love and hope to others?”

Ask the outward questions. Know the Holy Spirit “makes Jesus real” (AW Tozer) but not just the parts that soothe but also thrust us out into His mission of love.


Elders and Gender

Shel – The Christian & Missionary Alliance has gone from having women elders to not having them, to “allowing” churches to have women on the board but not  call them elders.  All of this based on a certain priviledging of Paul over Luke and in particular a Certain kind of reading of Paul.  M. Bell makes some good points:

Elder Qualifications: Difficult Issues in Translation and Interpretation

21 Feb by


Temple of Artemis, Ephesus

I have been having a wonderful experience leading a small group through the Sermon on the Mount.  We got side tracked a couple of weeks ago when we started talking about how we interpret the Bible, and so we spent one evening going through Michael Patton’s Biblical Interpretation in a Nutshell  This is an excellent resource and is really worth reading.

In short, Michael Patton shows how the process of interpreting starts with understanding what the text meant to the ancient audience, extracting the timeless truth being taught, and then applying that truth to our circumstances today.

This process is not without its pitfalls.  Many will read the same text and come to different conclusions as to its meaning to the ancient audience.  This of course then leads to a different formulation of the timeless truth, which then leads to a different application.

I would like to walk us through one passage which has had many different interpretations, in order to show how difficult this process can be, and to maybe give a slightly different take on the passage.

The passage that I would like to look at is 1 Timothy 3.  The list of qualifications for Elders and Deacons:

3 Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. 2 Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full[a] respect. 5 (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 7 He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.

8 In the same way, deacons[b] are to be worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. 9 They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.

11 In the same way, the women[c] are to be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything.

What you may not have realized is that I may have already influenced your understanding of this text.  How?  I called it a list of qualifications.  When we read this text in just about any translation we read a comma delimited list:  distinct items, separated by commas.

One of our problems in reading Koine Greek is that it has no punctuation.  So the translators have to supply it for us.  This can result in different understandings of the text.  For example, Bruce Metzger points out that in Revelation 5:1 the scroll held in the right hand of God can be understood as either “written on the inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals” or “written on the inside, and sealed on the back with seven seals.”

Why is that important here?  What if the text in 1 Timothy 3 is not a list but a primary point with a series of secondary points?  What if we understand that the first phrase should not be followed by a comma, but a colon?

We would then read the start of verse two as:  “Now the overseer is to be above reproach:…”

Is the primary concern of this passage about being above reproach?

Several things tell me that in fact it is:

  1. The importance of being above reproach or its semantic equivalents is repeated over and over in the passage.  Above reproach (vs 2), worthy of full respect (vs 4), a good reputation with outsiders (vs 7), not fall into disgrace (vs 7), worthy of repect (vs 8), nothing against them (vs 10), worthy or respect (vs 11), trustworthy in everything (vs 11).

  2. The concept is the first one introduced in each of the first three sections.

  3. It also serves as a summary statement at the end of the first section.  That is, not only must the overseer be above reproach (inside the church) for all of the first set of items.  “7 He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace…”

  4. Opening and closing a section with a summary statement or parallel summary statements in stylistically quite common among Hebrew scriptural texts.  While Paul was not writing in Hebrew, he was well versed in the language.  (For those who have had to write essays for School, we do the same thing in our language.

  5. All of the items listed in this chapter could quite easily fall under the category of being “above reproach.”

  6. The context supports it.  Paul begins his instructions on behaviour in the previous chapter.  2:8:  “ Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing.”  The “therefore” here is very important.  As a seminary professor once said to our class, “Whenever you see a therefore, you need to find out what it is ‘there for’.  The reason for the therefore can be found in the first four verses of chapter 2.  “ I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

So if I was to summarize all of chapter two and chapter three into one summary timeless truth it would be this:  “God wants all people to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth so therefore…  you had better act in a way that is above reproach.”

When we do this, not only do the sub points become secondary, they are given clarity.

Let us look at the second item for example.   The Greek is literally “of one woman, a man”.  Translators have a great difficulty with this one.  Consider these:

  • Faithful to his wife (NIV)

  • The husband of one wife (KJV) (ESV) (ASV) (NET)

  • Married only once (NRSV)

  • Be faithful in marriage (CEV)

  • Committed to his wife (The Message)

  • He must have only one wife (The Living Bible)

  • A one woman kind of guy (Seminary professor translation)

You will note that the translations vary in their emphasis.  Some are very male centric, some try to balance the idea of maleness with the idea of faithfulness, and some completely make the text gender neutral.  Some focus on the concept of “one” wife, while that emphasis is dropped from other translations.

It is no wonder then that interpretations and application are all over the board.  Interpretations range from:

  • Elders must be men.

  • Elders must be married (and therefore not single, divorced or widowed.)

  • Elders must be married to one person (As opposed to multiple people. This issue has come up in African situations that I am aware of.)

  • Elders cannot be remarried (whether widowed or divorced)


  • Gender and marital status is not what is being discussed here.

  • It is about the type of person you are in relationship commitments.

  • Elder’s must be faithful to their significant other.

What I would argue here is that all these interpretations fail to see the proverbial forest for the trees.  The timeless truth that is being communicated has to do with the importance of being above reproach, but more specifically, being above reproach so that it does not become a hindrance to the gospel. (God…wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.)  The question we need to ask ourselves then is not so much what it meant to above reproach so not to hinder the gospel in the ancient culture (although that has some bearing), but what it means to above reproach so not to hinder the gospel now.

Let us take the issue of whether or not the intent was to restrict eldership to men.  In that culture would women in that leadership position have been a reproachable hindrance to the gospel?  Quite possibly.

I have not touched on historical/cultural issues here, but here is a quick quiz for you?

  1. Where was Timothy when 1 Timothy was written?

  2. What do we know from scripture about this location?

  3. What do we know from other sources about this location?

  4. How might that impact our understanding of this passage?

Short Answers:

  1. Ephesus.

  2. Acts 19:21-41.  Ephesus housed the Temple of the Goddess Artemis.

  3. The temple of Artemis was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world and had tremendous influence in the region.

  4. This can impact our understanding of the passage in many ways.  One of the best books on the subject is:  Paul, Women Teachers and the Mother Goddess at Ephesus: A Study of First Timothy 2: 9-15 in Light of the Religious and Cultural Milieu of the First Century.  It is out of print and hard to find, but worth the hunt.  (The picture by the way is that of the Goddess Artemis)

If we are to properly apply this passage we must ask a slightly different question:  What does being above reproach for the sake of the gospel mean in our society today?  How would it apply to our elders?   Would restricting eldership to men be above reproach and help to advance the gospel, or would it be reproachable and serve to hinder the gospel?  I would argue that the latter is true, and that restricting women from leadership positions is now considered very reproachable, and I have personally seen how it has hindered the gospel.  In this case, because of the timeless truth that is being communicated, our application might be very different to the first century application.  Not being faithful to your partner, on the other hand could be considered just as reproachable and a hindrance to the gospel today as it was in the time of Paul and Timothy.

There is so much more that I could say on this topic and I have just begun to scratch the surface.  I am very interested in how my ideas resonate with you.  Let the (cordial) debate begin!

Final note: I do need to give credit to Miguel Ruiz, as the idea for this topic came from a facebook discussion that we had on a facebook post he had made. His perspective may differ.

Best Exegesis on Divorce and Remarriage I’ve Read in a While Dr. Keener

Shel: I’ve had several people ask me about this over the years.  I also have a family full of divorce.  Craigs first post:

then the follow on:

When would Jesus permit divorce?

22 February 2014 by Craig Keener

In the previous post, I emphasized Jesus’s teaching on preserving and, where possible, restoring marriage. Jesus used graphic language to challenge some of his religious hearers’ insufficient commitment to marriage. In doing so, however, he was not seeking to make matters worse for those whose marriages were being broken against their will. Indeed, as noted briefly in that post, these were the very people that Jesus was defending.

Here I will first raise a problem—a way of reading a verse that some have used to prohibit and even break up remarriages. I will then show from the context of Jesus’s larger teaching on divorce, and other New Testament interpretations of his teaching, that this first way of reading the passage takes Jesus’s point out of context.

When Jesus speaks of remarriage after divorce as “adultery” in Mark 10:11, what does he mean? When used literally, adultery means sleeping with someone who is married to another person, and/or sleeping with someone other than one’s own spouse. (Most of the ancient world gave more license to the husband so long as his paramour was single, but the New Testament does not allow this double standard.) Thus, if Dedrick is married to Shamika and sleeps with Shonda, that is adultery.

But Jesus here seems to be saying that if Dedrick divorces Shamika and marries Shonda, that is still adultery despite the official divorce; that is, he treats Dedrick as still married to Shamika. In other words, he speaks as if human, legal divorce does not actually end a marriage in God’s sight.

The question is: Does Jesus mean this literally, or is he simply using a graphic way of warning against divorce? I argue here that he is using a graphic way of warning against divorce—that he is using hyperbole, that is, a rhetorical overstatement to drive home a point. Keep in mind that the point of hyperbole is not so we can dismiss its message, saying, “That’s just hyperbole.” Rather the rhetorical and literary device of hyperbole is a way to challenge us to examine whether we are living up to its message. How we take this matters: strongly warning against divorce is not the same as denying that God recognizes the legitimacy of new marriages.

Like (but even more than) many of his contemporaries, Jesus used graphic hyperbole to communicate many of his points. Anyone who is not willing to recognize that a given teaching at least might be hyperbole, before examining it, needs to reimmerse himself or herself in Jesus’s teachings. A camel does not normally literally fit through the eye of a needle; scrupulous Pharisees did not normally literally gulp down camels whole; and we have no record of Jesus’s first followers moving any literal mountains. These were graphic ways of communicating a point.

Moreover, the literary context of at least one of Jesus’s divorce sayings involves hyperbole. Just before his teaching about remarriage and adultery in Matthew 5:32, Jesus warns that whoever looks on a woman to covet her sexually has committed adultery with her in his heart (5:28). I often tell my students that I am proud to see that none of them has committed this sin. How do I discern their innocence? The solution to this sin, which appears in the next verse, is for the transgressor to tear out his eye. In fact, nearly all of us recognize that command as hyperbole—a graphic way of underlining the point that we must put away sin. No sane reader will follow this command literally.

Further, it may be relevant that Jesus does not tell a woman married five times that she was married once and that all the rest of her relationships were adulterous. Rather, he says that she has had five husbands but the man with whom she lives now is not her husband (John 4:18). One could argue that Jesus is speaking literally in John 4:18 but figuratively in Mark 10:11, or one could argue the reverse; but one who affirms the authority of both texts cannot easily have it both ways. Further evidence shows which reading is likelier.

Matthew and Paul recognize exceptions to Jesus’s graphic statement. In Matthew, Jesus says that a man cannot divorce his wife and remarry unless the wife is unfaithful (Matt 5:32; 19:9). (Some try to make the exception here something narrower than adultery, but the Greek term is actually broader than, rather than narrower than, adultery. It is only the context that limits it even to adultery.) The basis for remarriage being adulterous would be that God did not accept the reality of the divorce (all monogamists recognized that a valid divorce was necessary for remarriage). Here, however, God accepts the reality of the divorce if the spouse was unfaithful.

Yet if Shamika is not still married to Dedrick, how can Dedrick still be married to Shamika? If even an explicitly guilty party is not married to their first spouse in God’s sight, we cannot say that God literally regards the first partners as still married, or that remarriage is therefore literally adulterous. That a true follower of Jesus should work to preserve their marriage is clear, but that anyone should break up remarriages as adulterous unions, as some suggest, is not.

Paul explicitly allows the believer abandoned by an unbeliever (someone who is not following Jesus’s teachings) to remarry. (Laws in Corinth treated marriage as a matter of mutual consent; the departure of either party legally dissolved the marriage.) When Paul says that the believer is “not under bondage,” or “not bound” (1 Cor 7:15), he uses the exact language of ancient Jewish divorce contracts for freedom to remarry. This is precisely what the language meant when people in antiquity discussed divorce, the issue that Paul addresses here.

We should note what the two clear exceptions have in common: in neither case does Jesus’s follower break the marriage covenant; it is broken by the other person. One person working hard can often lead to the restoration of a marriage, but it is not guaranteed; the partner has their own will and can still choose to do the wrong thing (1 Cor 7:16). Paul had to address a local situation that Jesus did not explicitly address. Today we might think of physical abuse as an analogous kind of situation where the abuser is the one breaking the marriage covenant. Beyond such extreme circumstances, however, we need to be very careful, recognizing that some people will take any excuse to opt out of responsibility for a marriage (such as burning the toast, as mentioned in the earlier post). Paul makes clear that we are expected to do our best.

Not only do the biblical exceptions suggest that Mark 10:11 includes hyperbole, but so does that very verse’s context. Jesus demands, “Therefore what God has joined together, LET no one separate” (Mark 10:9). The point remains that we must not break up marriages. Yet the wording shows that marriage is not indissoluble in God’s eyes; Jesus warns against breaking marriage, rather than arguing that it is impossible to break. That is, the context of Mark 10:11, like Jesus’s and Paul’s other teachings on the subject, shows that Mark 10:11 uses hyperbole.

Jesus graphically summons us to commitment to marriage. Yet to break up remarriages (the solution that some readers have argued) actually undermines his point. Moreover, Jesus is certainly not seeking to make matters more difficult for those divorced against their will, as some churches have done. Treating someone divorced against his or her will to “stand against divorce” can be like treating someone raped or murdered against his or her will to stand against those actions.

I recognize that short posts cannot address all situations; these two posts have explored principles, but pastoral counselors must apply those principles in a wide range of concrete situations. What I hope is clear is that the biblical issue is less about whether someone eventually remarries than about the need to be faithful to marriage to begin with. (From a counseling perspective, it is unwise to enter a new relationship immediately after a divorce even if one was completely faithful to one’s previous marriage; the wounded heart is too vulnerable and needs time to heal. But at this point the expertise belongs not to me but to pastoral counselors and related professions.)

The narrowness of the explicit exceptions reminds us, however, that Jesus wants us to value and be committed to marriage. The point of exceptions is that they must be a last resort (though of course someone in physical danger is probably already at that point). Counseling or therapy can often save marriages. But we need to recognize that just as prayers for healing are not always answered (everyone acknowledges, for example, that godly people are not immortal), neither are prayerful attempts to save marriages when they involve only one party.

Believers must do their best to preserve marriage, but we must not abuse those whose marriages have broken, especially if it was not their choice. Jesus warned some religious people: “If you had understood the meaning of these words—‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice’—you would not have condemned the innocent” (Matt 12:7).

“Online Campus?” = Worship Experience?

Shel: being highly influenced by neo-anabaptism and pentecostalism I cannot help but ask some critical (in the sense of “is it to be blindly assumed to be good”) questions about technology and worship.  Thom is a Southern Baptist, makes some great points here.  What do you think?  (see it all:

Feb 2014

Six Major Issues Regarding the Digital Church

A point of clarity is in order. In this article I am referring to “the digital church” in a very specific way. I am not referring to the many uses of the Internet available to churches: church web sites; social media; and a plethora of training tools. Instead I use the phrase to refer to those churches that view a significant part of their constituencies to be online rather than in person.

The “digital church attendees” likely view the worship services online. They may be in some type of online small group. They have the ability to minister to others via the Internet. And they can support the church financially online as well.

Some churches now view these persons as integral participants in the life of the church. A small but growing number are willing to grant them membership. And many churches see the digital church attendees as an extension of the ministry of the church, even if they do not have full membership status.

This phenomenon is not transitory. It will be with us for the foreseeable future. As I speak with pastors and other church leaders across America and beyond, here are the key issues being discussed.

  1. There is a lively debate regarding the status of the digital church attendees. What are the ecclesiological implications of the digital church attendees? Are they really a part of the church? Is physical presence necessary to be connected with a church? Should they be granted membership? Should they participate in communion/Lord’s supper?
  2. Many churches are using a “both/and” approach to the digital church. They have worship services and small groups where people gather and meet in person. But they also have an extension of their ministry that includes the digital church attendees. Some church leaders have shared with me the particular effectiveness for homebound persons and military persons deployed around the world. Only a small number of churches today are digital churches only.
  3. The digital church movement is growing. My information at this point is anecdotal, but I hope to have some good data from LifeWay Research in the future. Still, I have little doubt that the movement is growing and will continue to grow.
  4. Church leaders are struggling to find meaningful metrics for the digital church. Do such metrics as pageviews or unique visitors have any meaning for the effectiveness of the ministry? Do donations from digital attendees have any implications for the health of the ministry? What metrics are possible and also meaningful?
  5. Many digital church attendees are faithful financial givers to the church. I’ve been somewhat surprised to hear from church leaders about the financial support the church receives from the digital attendees. From my conversations, I’ve learned that the financial support is proportionate to the effort the church expends in connecting to digital attendees.
  6. The digital church is rapidly evolving. In a few months, much less a few years, we will know more about the digital church. For now, we know it is both growing and changing. This movement, for better or worse, may be one of the most significant in churches across the world for years to come.

I almost always ask for feedback from the readers of this blog. For this post, I particularly hope to hear from you. I know that many church leaders will be looking to this particular article to get insights from others. Please take a few minutes to share with the readership any insights, experiences, or opinions you have about the digital church. You readers are incredibly bright. I look forward to hearing from you.


Piano Lessons

You may not be aware, but this year we are homeschooling our two youngest children.  This is the trial year.  There are many reasons why we went down this path – and if you would like to know I would be more than happy to talk about it.  Let’s just say the school they were in and our choices failed us.

Anne is doing most of the heavy lifting and we have found various curricula that are working well.  My role in all of this is teaching music.

I grew up taking voice and piano, was in All-state and honors choir, and started as a music-major on scholarship in college.  Decided I wanted to go another direction as I got into it.

(that’s whole discussion)

So music it is.

At first I had reservation about teaching my own children – but as it has gone on we enter into a different mindset when doing lessons.  It’s weird role-shifting.  The amazing thing is they are learning and progressing!  We’ve used a simple music method and they are learning technique, theory, lessons, and a some repertoire.  They both made their first public performances at the MK’s christmas program and Christmas Eve.

It’s really wonderful to see their progress.

Who knew?