To Christians Who Talk, Type or Text

To Christians Who Talk, Type, or Text

Oakwood has a Publix!! Well not exactly, but the food store did recently open within walking distance of the school. (The fact that I am so excited about the opening of a grocery store is either a reflection on Huntsville or a childhood issue I have yet to confront…. either way, there’s reason for concern.)

I was at the cash register, when a magazine caught my eye. There they were.  Kanye and Kim West, aka Kimye, on the cover of In Touch Magazine, the kissing cousin of the National Enquirer. The caption read, “It’s Over! Kanye Leaves Kim After Massive Fight.”

Now I have to tell you, I’m not a fan of the Wests, and I am even less a fan of gossip magazines. But a quick glance at other media reveals that the Wests are not only together, they are building an economic empire that could rival a small country. Now all of that could change by next week, but as of today, they are together.

What’s the point? That magazine is trafficking one of the most profitable but destructive commodities in popular culture. Rumor. Gossip. It’s big business. Unfortunately, it’s no stranger to the church. The Adventist church at times seems to be a rumor mill of “Jesuits”, affairs, and apostasies.

Gossip, rumor, and tale-bearing have always been a problem in the church. James 3 makes it clear that the tongue is the single part of our anatomy that is totally beyond our power to control.  Of the 6 things that God is said to hate in Proverbs 6, half of them have to do with the tongue.

But destructive words have gone viral in recent years because of the explosion of social media.  A piece of gossip or half -truth, traditionally died before it could get across the church. Today those same words can get across the world with the stroke of a key.

We Are Christians On and Off-Line

This is a point that’s easy to forget. We are no less Christian when we type than when we talk. We should be always courageous enough to speak truth to power. There is no shortage of corruption and dysfunction in the church to address. But Ephesians 4:15 instructs us to speak the truth in love. It’s not always what you say, but how, when, and where you say it.

These are 3 basic Christian communication principles that I hope to master some day!

Watch What You Say!

Ephesians 4:29, “Don’t let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

Proverbs 17:9, “Whoever covers or forgives an offense seeks love, but whoever repeats or gossips about a matter separates friends.”

Easy to type. Impossible to live- in our own strength. Whenever you talk or type, make it your goal to inform and uplift. There are appropriate times to challenge and protest. Actually, there’s no real growth without conflict. But fight the right way.

Limit What You Say

James 1:26, “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.”

The unfortunate truth is that most of us just talk too much. The permanence of what we post on- line makes the problem even worse. Every week we hear another politician, or athlete, or preacher forced to explain words they wrote years, sometimes decades earlier. Generally, the less one says, the better.

Popular society seems to define strength as conquest. Who can talk; cruder, louder, longer, and over the other. Our nation is polarized around issues of race and politics and religion. But Christ reminds us in Mark 10:43, “But it must not be like that among you…” We are held to a different standard.

This week I posted some thoughts about the “Me Too” movement. I’m a strong supporter of the movement, but I was sloppy with some of my comments and they were misunderstood. It was my fault. It reminded me that in some sensitive areas, it’s better to let your actions demonstrate your support than your words.

Do What You Say

As Christians we are agents of transformation. Our limited but well-chosen words must be followed by something even more rare and important. Actions. At times it’s easier to talk the talk than walk the walk.  Another reason to be careful what you say.

So, watch what you say, limit what you say, and do what you say. What do you say? Ever been the target of gossip or misinformation? How did you handle it?

3 Often Ignored Reasons That Churches Don’t Grow

3 Often Ignored Reasons Churches Don’t Grow.

I had a fantastic time in Las Vegas earlier this week!…..wait, that didn’t come out right. I should explain. I was there with Jose Cortes and the North American Division Evangelism Advisory. We had a fascinating time together addressing the challenge of church growth in the stagnant States.

We looked at the few bright spots and believe me there were few. A creative small groups program here. A church revitalization program there.  A successful evangelistic campaign over there. But in the main, things seem to have slowed to a snail’s pace. Most of our churches are struggling to grow.

And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to explain many of our growth challenges. We share them with other evangelical churches in the U.S.:

  • Materialism
  • Lack of prayer
  • Loss of mission
  • Theological battles
  • Isolated Christians
  • Outdated methodologies

These problems can certainly be the kryptonite to church growth. But while driving from my hotel this week, some other practical reasons came to my mind. So here are 3 often ignored reasons that many churches are not growing today.

The Location of the Church

Our Las Vegas meetings were actually held in Henderson, Nevada. Henderson is a suburb of Las Vegas and it’s at the front of Nevada’s growth spurt. Neighborhoods are going up everywhere. Schools are filling up as fast as they finish construction.

As I drove through Henderson it occurred to me that you could put an Adventist church practically anywhere in Henderson and it would grow. Or a Baptist church, or a Methodist church, or an Independent church for that matter. Why? Because the area is exploding with new growth.

Churches tend to grow in areas of new growth. And church growth tends to slow when neighborhood growth slows. Period. I’m certainly not minimizing God’s power to raise a great church in an unlikely location, but that doesn’t often happen. Many of our historic churches were once large and thriving but now they are small and dying.  At times, it has less to do with waning spirituality and more to do with shrinking neighborhoods and changing demographics.

We would be wise to avoid spiritualizing away practical reasons for struggling evangelism. It’s hard to grow an Asian church in a now Hispanic neighborhood. It’s hard to grow a working class black church in a gentrified white neighborhood. It’s even harder to grow a church-any church- in a neighborhood where there are….no people.

The Condition of the Church

The longer we remain members of a local church, the more comfortable we become with our surroundings, good or bad.  We get comfortable in church buildings that many visitors would find uncomfortable. Insufficient lighting. Incomplete repairs. Uneven pavement. Absence of fresh paint. Ancient sound system.

And for parents of young children, the church facility can be an immediate deal breaker. If they find the building unappealing or unsafe, they will probably not be as patient as the congregation. Parents are literally driving away from the churches of their childhood to find a better place for their kids. Same for potential members.

The Reception of the Church

How does your local church receive visitors?  What is a visitor’s initial impression of the church? Not the building but the people.  It’s cliché, but we never get a second chance to make a first impression. Surveys still indicate that the primary reason people attend a church or leave a church, is the people.

Church members need to understand that they are walking advertisements for their church, especially on Sabbath or Sunday morning. Their attitudes can make or break a visitor’s experience.  A smile or warm handshake can mean the difference between a single visit and a potential member.

So, those are 3 reasons that many churches are struggling to grow. How is your local church doing in those 3 areas?

Non Adventists in Adventist Pulpits?

Non-Adventists in Adventist Pulpits?

It’s amazing what 4 little words can do.  They can pave the way for a pastor’s removal. They can make conference presidents drive hours to referee a business meeting. They can even change a religious community’s attitude about an Adventist church. The 4 little words, “Non Adventist Pastors in Adventist Pulpits” have done all that and more.

The battle has raged for years. It ebbs and flows. But don’t be fooled, it’s a sensitive topic in many circles. In his 2014 Annual Council address, President Ted Wilson discouraged Adventist pastors from inviting ministers of other denominations into their pulpits. He noted that this was his counsel and not an order, but he raised strong concerns against “ecumenical entanglements purporting to bring unity.” (1)

He’s right about the danger of pursuing a false unity. He’s right about acting as if differences don’t matter. He’s right about ignoring the important distinctives and contributions of the Adventist Church. But he misunderstands the motivation of most pastors for inviting non Adventists into their pulpits.  He also underestimates the benefits.

Listen. We should be cautious when inviting ANY guest into our pulpits. Adventist or non Adventist. But let me give 5 reasons it’s dangerous to prohibit non Adventists from preaching from our pulpits.

Because Relationships Matter

Ministers have incredible influence. Even in this age of suspicion and leadership distrust, pastors impact the lives of millions in our communities. As Christians, we are in the people business.  It makes sense for us to establish relationships with people who influence people. When pastors forge friendships across denominational lines, they not only discover common concerns, but the potential for theological dialogue is real.

A number of years ago I was able to share my understanding of glossolalia – tongues- to a group of prominent Pentecostal pastors in Southern California. They initiated the conversation because they trusted me. I was a friend. And there is probably no greater sign of trust, than when a pastor invites another pastor to share the pulpit. I had preached for them and they had preached for me. All of them? No. Just the ones I trusted.

Because It’s Arrogant 

“Some of them (ministers of other denominations) who have rejected the light may be dishonest, critical and sharp…… but there are others who have lived up to the best light they had upon the scriptures.”  (2)

Interesting insight from Ellen White over 130 years ago. Spoiler alert! Adventism is not the only faith community that trusts and believes the word of God.

  • Adventists are not the only ones who love Jesus.
  • Adventists are not the only ones who believe in holiness
  • Adventists are not the only ones who believe in the Sabbath.
  • Adventists are not the only ones who believe in the second coming of Jesus Christ.
  • Adventists are not the only ones who believe that worship can get out of hand

A quick glance at our fundamental beliefs reveals very little that Adventists believe that is not shared by most mainline denominations. Our history and theology have a prominent Methodist influence. When a godly minister of another denomination preaches on a belief we share, it’s a blessing.

Because It’s Dangerous

Something interesting happens when the only voices you hear are familiar voices.  You don’t realize it, but you go through life talking to yourself.  You live in an echo chamber. You say something and the words come right back at you. No opposition. No contradiction. No change. That’s dangerous!

Adventists face the dangers of living in a bubble. We have our own everything. Adventist academies. Adventist universities. Adventist television.  Adventist music. Adventist hotdogs and ham! But its’ difficult to see the problem when the problem is you. Outsiders can be our salvation if they help us appreciate our strengths and confront our weaknesses.

Because It’s Inconsistent

Saturday morning, Adventists across the world will gather in local churches and sing hymns that have strengthened their faith through difficult times. Some will complain that the problem with the church today is that we don’t sing enough of these great hymns. They not only inspire us but teach us. We’ll sing:

  • Amazing Grace
  • How Firm a Foundation
  • Lift up the Trumpet
  • When We All Get to Heaven

All written by amazing musicians. Not one Adventist in the bunch. There are certainly impressive works by Adventists, but not on that list. So, we sing non Adventist hymns with no problem. But we can’t listen to a non-Adventist preacher without a problem? That’s a problem. Hymns teach. Books teach. Teachers teach. Preachers teach. We must be careful and use our judgement with them all.

Because It’s Judgmental

For Ted Wilson, his opposition to non -Adventists in Adventist pulpits goes to the idea that we don’t want false unity and weakening distinctives.  I get that. But what I don’t get are Adventist Christians who claim that ministers of other denominations are false prophets- all of them. It’s insulting, judgmental, and frankly incorrect. Ellen White again. “Ministers (of other denominations) have been treated by some of our laborers very much as if they were heathen-and they feel it.” (3) It’s wrong.

Finally, for the local pastor who has the liberty to invite non-Adventists into the pulpit, be careful. First, you need to be super critical about whoever feeds your flock. Period. Adventist or non -Adventist. Some churches are not mature enough to handle a non -Adventist voice.  You shouldn’t allow your liberty to become a stumbling block, even as you are helping them to mature.

And then, everything rises and falls on the preacher you pick. I’ve been blessed over the years to hear giants like Gardner Taylor, Charles Adams, and Sandy Ray bless Adventist congregations. The tradition continues today with the likes of Ralph West, William Curtis, Charles Booth and others.  Frankly, I’ve had few problems with guest Adventist preachers in my pulpit, and never a problem with a non-Adventist guest. Perhaps it’s because I vet them all, and outsiders more carefully than insiders. That’s good counsel and an even better place to stop.

So what are your thoughts? Share this with everyone you can, because it’s a conversation we need to have.