Thursday, June 30, 2016


“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.” Matthew 13:45-46
One hundred-foot-long tugboat Michael lumbered along at the sleepy speed of three knots. It towed the semi-submersible barge, Gabriella, loaded with the million Chinese Bibles in 232 waterproof wrapped one-ton packages. By 9 p.m. on that historic night of June 18, 1981, Michael and its crew of twenty men weaved through a maze of anchored Chinese navy ships in the darkness near the port city of Shantou, southern China. Thousands of local Christians waited patiently in the darkness on the appointed beach.
The off-loaded floating packages were towed to shore by small rubber boats. Chinese believers came out in the water—some up to their neck. They pulled the blocks up onto the beach and cut them open with shears, handing the 45-pound cardboard boxes of Bibles to one another up the sand to the tree-line.
Two hours later, Michael and Gabriella and the crew left the scene with one million Bibles in the care of Chinese believers. They promised to circulate them across the entire country. In some cases, that process took as much as five years and many Chinese Christians paid dearly for it.
Over the past 30 years, Open Doors has received documented story after story—often from unusual places and situations—of the impact of those Bibles on the fast growing church in China. Project Pearl Bibles have been seen in virtually every province of the country.
A former colleague of mine from Singapore continues to minister in China. In the late 1990s, he met a large house church network of Christians in central China who still had no contact at all with foreigners from outside the country. They testified that it was the receiving of many Project Pearl Bibles that encouraged them and motivated them to share the gospel widely and thus grow to their current significant numbers.
One of those pocket-sized Bibles was received by a young Christian who had been praying for a Bible of his own for three years. After reading it through three times in three weeks, he felt God calling him to become one of the many itinerant evangelists preaching in China’s countryside. After fifteen years of ministry, he pastored a network of house churches that grew to over 400,000 members. His network of churches continues to need more than 20,000 Bibles a month just for new believers.
RESPONSE: I will appreciate the several Bibles I have and commit myself to learning and living from it.
PRAYER: Pray for Christians today in a variety of situations who are still waiting for their first copy of God’s Word.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016


As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by failing to pray for you.                                                                                                                               1 Samuel 12:23a
An important aspect of prayer is to pray patiently. God meets our needs “at the proper time” (Galatians 6:9). Too often Christians weary of praying, and give up. This is often justified on the basis that God's failure to answer means the request is not according to His will. 

Remember, God can:

Deliver - whatever we ask in His name;
Delay - to fit His perfect timing (only He sees the end from the beginning);
Deny - and say ‘No’ because we ask amiss or give a
Different and better answer.
Jesus urges us to be persistent in prayer (Luke 11:5-8). This does not mean that God does not want to meet our needs and that we need to try to persuade Him. It simply means that only God, who completely understands the whole situation, can know when and how to answer. Only when we have assurance in our hearts from the Lord, should we remove a matter from our prayer list.
Many times Christians lose heart in prayer because they do not recognize when the Lord does answer their prayers. Sometimes this is due to the fact that they did not pray specifically enough and sometimes because they have decided in advance how God must answer. Perhaps they think that only a great miracle can meet their need.
But the Lord may change the circumstances so that the need seems to be supplied “naturally.” Mature believers will recognize that the events of everyday life also come from the Lord. Our daily bread and safety are miracles of God in this troubled world Let us not presume to tell God how to answer, and let us praise Him for His daily care.
RESPONSE: Today I will acknowledge God gives His best to those who leave the choices to Him.
PRAYER: Lord, help me to be patient and persistent…and leave the answers to my prayers in Your hands.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

What God gives to me, He wants to give through me.

“God, who supplies seed for the sower and bread to eat, will also supply you with all the seed you need and will make it grow and produce a rich harvest from your generosity. He will always make you rich enough to be generous at all times, so that many will thank God for your gifts which they receive from us. For this service you perform not only meets the needs of God’s people, but also produces an outpouring of gratitude to God” (2 Corinthians 9:10-12 TEV).
What God gives to me he wants to give through me.
God is looking for people that he can bless the world with. He looks around and asks, “Will you be a cup, or will you be a straw?” If you’re a cup, you just get filled up, and that’s it. But if you’ll say, “God, I’ll be a straw, and you can channel your blessing through me to other people,” then that’s the kind of person God wants to bless.
The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 9:10-11, “God, who supplies seed for the sower and bread to eat, will also supply you with all the seed you need and will make it grow and produce a rich harvest from your generosity. He will always make you rich enough to be generous at all times” (TEV).
This promise is built on your willingness to share what he supplies to you. Are you willing to pass on God’s blessing to others?
You may say, “Wait a minute! I’m not rich enough to be generous.” Oh, yes you are! No matter how much you’ve got, you can be generous. There’s a story about a woman in the Bible who only had two pennies, yet she gave them away. It’s a myth that “I don’t have enough to give.” You can always give something. In fact, you have to give something, because God is testing you. Verse 12 says, “For this service you perform not only meets the needs of God’s people, but also produces an outpouring of gratitude to God.”
When you’re going through a tough time, and you say, “God, I don’t have much, but whatever I’ve got, I’m willing to share. I’ve only got a little food here, but I’m willing to invite somebody over for dinner. I’m willing to share whatever I’ve got.” God promises to do three things for you: First, you will grow spiritually. Second, he will use you to meet other people’s needs. And third, God is praised.
When you give whatever you have, God will open the door of blessing in your life like you cannot imagine.

Monday, June 27, 2016


These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Deuteronomy 6:6-7
An extraordinary life in Christ does not just depend on teachings, circumstances or comfort. In many countries in the world today there are severe restrictions and obstacles facing parents in instructing their children in the ways of the Lord. In communist countries like China and Vietnam it is officially against the law to share the gospel with anybody under the age of eighteen years, including your own children.
In the Middle East, Christian schools are non-existent and Christian children are forced to attend Muslim schools and receive instruction from the Koran and Muslim teachers. Yet, it seems as if Christian families in restricted areas are more Godly and committed to the Lord than their counterparts in the west, where opportunities abound and Christians live in abundance.
The lessons that we learn from the persecuted church are of far more value than seminars or devotionals can ever be—the lessons of true discipleship and wholesome living. Lessons that are neither theology nor speculation but teachings of life, reality and practice.
Gerhard Hamm was one of the thousands of faithful believers through whom God’s light continued to shine in the Soviet Union during the years when communism reigned there.
He grew up in the Ural Mountains where his parents farmed. But then communism arose and in 1929 the “bandits” came, as Gerhard later often called the Bolsheviks. Because his father was a Christian and of German descent, he was arrested and exiled to Siberia. The farm was confiscated.
Mother Hamm and her twenty children also moved to Siberia. For a few years, the family was together. Then Gerhard’s father was taken away from his family and never came back. None of the family knows where his grave is. All the churches were closed and atheistic propaganda was being disseminated all around
As a young boy Gerhard lost his father, his security, his home and his freedom—all because of the name of Jesus. Hunger and cold were his daily lot, an obvious reason for a young teenager to resent God and His commands. But despite the difficulties, ridicule and persecution, Mother Hamm prayed every day with her children, and they read the Bible together.
When Gerhard Hamm died in 1999 at the age of 76, he left a legacy of faithful children behind. All of his children and their spouses were devoted Christians. His grandchildren have all committed their lives to the Lord. All of Gerhard’s nineteen brothers and sisters and their spouses and children followed the footsteps of Jesus and many are still involved in various ministries reaching all corners of the globe.
RESPONSE: Today I will take seriously the challenge of teaching, training and discipling my children or young people with whom I have close relationship.
PRAYER: Lord, help me to live a life of self-sacrifice so young people will see You and want to follow.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Back in the Wesleyan Church!

Words cannot express the emotions I feel coming back to the Wesleyan Church.  

I first attended a Wesleyan Church with friends when I was in high school. I had not be raised in a Christian home and the church soon became a safe place for me to make new friends and begin to explore my journey toward God.  As I entered into my senior year of high school it seemed the future was planned out for me as I was honored to be awarded the Governor's Honor Scholarship to the Air Force Academy with the rank of Colonel in Jr. ROTC. I went with the youth group to a youth conference in December 1972 and it was there that I came to the decision to accept Christ as my personal savior and Lord. I sensed a call to ministry and attended Southern Wesleyan University  ( it was really College when I attended).  

I received my first ministerial credentials from the NC District at the annual conference in July 1976. This year marks my 40th year of ministry in the Wesleyan Church. Soon after the district conference this year I will be installed as Lead Pastor of Gastonia Wesleyan Church scheduled for Sunday July 17th.  We plan to relocate to Gastonia the first week of August. 

Here is a clip that summarizes the heart of the Wesleyan Church as I know it. 

Saturday, June 25, 2016

8th Grader Jack Aiello - Priceless

The Arlington Heights middle schooler from Chicagoland is fastly becoming a web sensation for his astonishingly polished, witty and stand up comic graduation speech which includes impersonations of the 2016 presidential candidates: Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. It will leave you gobsmacked!  Here he is on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon:

Friday, June 24, 2016

The Pebble in Your Shoes

What Is Your Pebble?
from The Pebble in the Shoe
by Jim Fannin
Everyone has had a pebble in his or her shoe. You may have one or two now. It's the small, nagging thoughts that eventually weigh you down. Some pebbles have been hidden, undetected for years. Others push, prod, and make their presence felt every day. Each pebble intrudes into the lives of the unsuspecting. At different times in life the pebbles arrive. Although they are small and mostly undetected, they represent many unresolved thoughts, images and experiences. Some are pebbles of doubt. They form from a single thought that occurred years, months or weeks before. Some pebbles are lodged only in your business shoes. Some reside in your house slippers that you tuck under your bed. Some pebbles find their way into your golf shoes while others form in the shoes worn while you parent. Unfortunately, some pebbles travel in all your shoes regardless of where you walk or run.
Some pebbles are of fear. Others are created from guilt, rejection or shame. Maybe not today, but they eventually arrive unannounced and usually at the most inappropriate time. What challenges do they present?
To run the marathon race of life at your most efficient speed, you must be free of embarrassment, guilt, rejection, fear, envy, jealousy, anger, impatience, frustration and worry. All can be lodged in any shoe, from a pair of loafers worn by a city dweller in Manhattan, to a pair of boots on a farm in Montana. These intangible pebbles are crippling. They destroy relationships. They contribute to overeating and gaining unhealthy weight. They coax us into drugs, alcohol and other addictions. They destroy families and alienate friends. They thwart the potential of our children and physically snuff extra years from our life. These are the pebbles in the shoe.
The pebble can cause you to quit or perform with complete indifference. It can help instigate a fight or add disrespectful silence to an otherwise dynamic relationship. Even the desire for fame, fortune or power can turn into a pebble in your shoe if left undetected. Most pebbles stir up the past, cloud the future and keep the present to a blink of the eye. Like a garden that's been freshly tilled, a pebble can reappear without warning or detection. Prevention and removal are your only options for simplicity, balance and abundance.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Congrats to Rev. Graham Smith

The last several days Sharron and I have been at the District Conference of the North Carolina West District of the Wesleyan Church.  It has been an amazing 3 days I we have been welcomed back to the Wesleyan Church.  Over and over we heard the words, "Welcome Home".  
A highlight of the conference was the ordination service last Tuesday evening.      It has a joy and honor to be present for the ordination of Graham Smith.  Graham and his wife Kelsey  are part of the pastoral staff that I will be working with when we begin our ministry with Gastonia First Wesleyan Church. I took my iphone 6 plus and recorded this for Graham:

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Keeps me singing as I go....

There’s within my heart a melody
Jesus whispers sweet and low,
Fear not, I am with thee, peace, be still,
In all of life’s ebb and flow. 

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus,
Sweetest Name I know,
Fills my every longing,
Keeps me singing as I go. 

 All my life was wrecked by sin and strife, 
Discord filled my heart with pain, 
Jesus swept across the broken strings, 
Stirred the slumb’ring chords again.


Feasting on the riches of His grace, 
Resting ’neath His shelt’ring wing, 
Always looking on His smiling face, 
That is why I shout and sing.


Though sometimes He leads through waters deep,
 Trials fall across the way, 
Though sometimes the path seems rough and steep, 
See His footprints all the way.


Soon He’s coming back to welcome me, 
Far beyond the starry sky; 
I shall wing my flight to worlds unknown, 
I shall reign with Him on high. 

 ~Luther B. Bridgers

Now, You sing along....

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

10 Signs That Say “You Are Not Welcome in This Church"

By Joe McKeever

Is your church welcoming to outsiders?

“You shall love (the stranger) as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt”                                                                                                                    (Leviticus 19:34).

As a retired pastor who preaches in a different church almost every Sunday, a fun thing I get to do is study the church bulletins (or handouts or worship guides) which everyone receives on entering the building. You can learn a great deal about a church’s priorities and personality in five minutes of perusing that sheet.

As an outsider—that is, not a member or regular here—I get to see how first-timers read that material and feel something of the same thing they feel. I become the ultimate mystery shopper for churches. That is not to say that I pass along all my (ahem) insights and conclusions to pastors. Truth be told, most leaders do not welcome judgments from visitors on what they are doing and how they can do it better. So, unless asked, I keep it to myself. And put it in my blog. (smiley face goes here)

Now, in all fairness, most churches are eager to receive newcomers and want them to feel at home and even consider joining. And the worship bulletins reflect that with announcements of after-benediction receptions to meet the pastors, the occasional luncheon for newcomers to learn about the church and get their questions answered, and free materials in the foyer.

Now, surely all the other churches want first-timers to like them and consider joining. No church willingly turns its nose up at newcomers, at least none that I know of. But that is the effect of our misbehavior.

Here are 10 ways churches signal newcomers they are not wanted.

1. The front door is locked.

One church where I was to preach has a lovely front facade which borders on the sidewalk. The front doors are impressive and stately. So, after parking to the side of the building, I did what I always do: walked to the front and entered as a visitor would.

Except I didn’t go in.

The doors were locked. All of them.

After walking back around the side and entering from the parking lot, I approached an usher and asked about the locked door. “No one comes in from that entrance,” he said. “The parking lot is to the side.”

I said, “What about walk-ups? People from the neighborhood who come across the street.”
He said, “No one does that.”

He’s right. They stay away because the church has told them they’re not welcome.

One church I visited had plate glass doors where the interior of the lobby was clearly visible from the front steps. A table had been shoved against the doors to prevent anyone from entering that way. I did not ask why; I knew. The parking lot was in the rear. Regulars parked back there and entered through those doors.

That church, in a constant struggle for survival, is its own worst enemy. They might as well erect a sign in front of the church that reads, “First-timers unwelcome.”

2. The functioning entrance is opened late.

Even if we understand why a rarely used front door is kept locked, it makes no sense that the primary door should be closed. And yet, I have walked up to an entrance clearly marked and found it locked. The pastor explained, “We unlock it 15 minutes prior to the service.”

If that pastor is a friend and we already have a solid relationship, I will say something gracious, like, “What? Are you out of your cotton-picking mind? A lot of people like to come early. Seniors do. First-timers like to get there early to see the lay of the land. That door ought to be unlocked a minimum of 45 minutes prior to the announced worship time.”

If the pastor and I are meeting for the first time, I’ll still make the point, although a little gentler than that.

3. The church bulletin gives inadequate information.

The announcement reads: “The youth will have their next meeting this week at Stacy’s house. See Shawn for directions. Team B is in charge of refreshments.”

Good luck to the young person visiting that day and hoping to break into the clique. He has no idea who Shawn is, how to get to Stacy’s house or what’s going on if he dares to attend.

So, the youth does not return. Next Sunday, he tries that church across town that is drawing in great crowds of teens. For good reason, I imagine. They act like they actually want them to come.

4. The pulpit is unfriendly to first-timers.

The pastor says, “I’m going to call on Bob to lead the prayer.” Or, “Now, Susan will tell us about the women’s luncheon today.” “Tom will be at the front door with information on the project.”
By not using the full names of the individuals, the pastor ends up speaking only to the insiders. Outsiders entered without knowing anyone and leave the same way.

5. The congregation sends its own signals.

Is visitor parking clearly marked? And when you park there, does someone greet you with a warm welcome and helpful information? Or, do you find a parking place wherever you can and receive only stares as you approach the entrance?

Did you get the impression that you were sitting in someone else’s pew today?
Did anyone make an effort to learn your name and see if you have a question?

Or, was the only handshake you received given during the in-service time as announced in the bulletin? (Those, incidentally, do not count when assessing the friendliness of a congregation. Only spontaneous acts of kindness count.)

This week, a pastor and I had lunch at a diner in downtown New Orleans, which I’ve visited only once and he not at all. We were amused at some of the signs posted around the eatery. One said rather prominently, “Guests are not to stay beyond one hour.” My friend Jim laughed, “I guess they’re saying we shouldn’t dawdle.”

Churches have their own signs, although not as clear or blatant as that. Usually, they are read in the faces, smiles (or lack of one) and tone of voice of members.

6. The insider language keeps outsiders away.

Now, I’m not one who believes we should strip all our worship service prayers and hymns and sermons of all references to sanctification, the blood, justification, atonement and such. This is who we are.
However, when we use the terms without a word of explanation—particularly, if we do it again and again—first-timers unaccustomed to the terms feel the same way you would if you dropped in on a foreign language class mid-semester: lost.

We signal visitors that they are welcome in our services when we give occasional explanations to our terms and customs which they might find strange.

7. No attempt is made to get information on visitors.

Now, most church bulletins which I see from week to week have the perforated tear-off which asks for all kinds of information and even gives people ways to sign up for courses or dinners. But I’ve been amazed at how many do not ask for that information.

So, a visitor comes and goes. The church had one opportunity to reach out to him or her and blew it.
A church which is successful in reaching people for Christ will use redundancy. That is, they will have multiple methods for engaging newcomers, everything from greeters in the parking lot to friendly ushers to attractive bulletins and after-service receptions.

8. No one follows up on first-timers.

One of the ministers of my church helped me with this. He said, “Asking people to fill out a guest card implies that there will be some kind of contact with them afterward.” He pointed out that our pastor informs them “no salesman will call,” but even so, “Someone phones many visitors and letters go out to most.”

The first-timer who visits a church and does everything right has a right to expect some kind of follow-up from a leader of that congregation.

We’re frequently told that people today cherish their privacy and do not want to give their name and contact information until they decide this church is trustworthy. My response to that is: It’s true, but not universally true. Many people still want to be enthusiastically welcomed and will respond to invitations to give given the grand tour and taken to lunch afterward.

In most cases leaders can tell from guest cards whether a visit will be welcomed. If not, at the very least a phone call should be made. If the caller receives an answering machine, he/she leaves the message and may decide this is sufficient for the first time. (Every situation is different. There are few hard and fast rules. Ask the Holy Spirit to lead you.)

9. Intangibles often send the signals loud and clear.

In one church I served, a couple roamed the auditorium before and after services in search of anyone they did not know. Lee and Dottie Andrews greeted the newcomers, engaged them in conversation and quickly determined if an invitation to lunch would be in order. Almost every Sunday, they hosted a visiting family at the local cafeteria. At least half of these joined our church.

In another church, a husband and wife who sold real estate brought their clients to church with them. Some of the most active and faithful members who joined during my years in that church were introduced by Bob and Beth Keys.

Often, it’s nothing more than a great smile that seals the deal. Or a warm, genuinely friendly handshake.

A friendly, “Hey, have you found everything you need here?” may be all that’s needed.

Some churches install a newcomers desk in the foyer, where visitors can meet knowledgeable leaders, pick up material and get questions answered. Those can be great, but there is one caveat: You must have the right people on that desk. Individuals gifted with great smiles and servant spirits and infinite patience are ideal.

10. What happens following the service can make the difference.

You, the newcomer, have enjoyed the service, you were blessed by the sermon, and you would like to greet the pastor and begin an acquaintance with this church. Most churches are set up for you to do just this. But not all.

I’ve been in churches where within five minutes after the benediction, the place was deserted. People were so eager to leave, they hardly spoke to one another, much less guests. The signal they send the visitor is clear: “We don’t care for our church and you wouldn’t either.”

Healthy church congregations love each other and welcome newcomers and their people are reluctant to leave following the end of services.

One wonders if pastors and other leaders realize just how scary it can be for a person new in the city to venture into an unfamiliar church. It is an act of courage of the first dimension.

The Lord told Israel to reach out to newcomers and welcome them. After all, they themselves knew what it was to live in a strange country where the language and customs were foreign and they were missing home. God wanted Israel to remember always how that felt so they would welcome the stranger within their gates.

How much more should a church of the Lord Jesus Christ.  

Monday, June 20, 2016

Eight Indicators that Pastors Are Expected to Do Most of the Ministry

Okay, I admit it. 
I can’t stand the terms.

When you even speak of clergy and laity, you are implying that Christianity has a social caste system. There are the professional Christians and the ordinary Christians.
There are points in Scripture where some differentiation is made. For example, in Ephesians 4:11-12, Paul said God gave us “pastors and teachers for the training of the saints in the work of ministry to build up the body of Christ.”
Contrary to most of the indicators today, the Bible says the laity (saints) are to do the work of ministry. Most of the ministry should not be in the hands of pastors, but in the hands of the church members.
Unfortunately, we often reverse the biblical truth. We expect ministry to be done by the pastors and staff. Here are eight indicators of that reality.
  1. “Pastor, will you ask the blessing for the meal?” If an “ordinary” Christian voices the blessing, the food will immediately turn into strychnine and maggots.
  2. “The pastor needs to be on call to counsel our members.” When I was a pastor, people stopped coming to me because they told me I made them feel worse.
  3. “After all, pastor, that’s what we pay you to do.” For many Christians, ministry is pay as you go. You pay the pastor and the pastor goes.
  4. “You need to host that missionary, pastor, because you are in the same line of work.” I thought all Christians were in the same line of work.
  5. “Here’s someone you need to visit, pastor.” If a non-pastor Christian visits them, the people will experience boils and locusts.
  6. “I saw our pastor at a football game. Pastors are not supposed to act that way.” You are exactly right. It’s in Hezekiah 4:19: “Pastors are not to get excited or yell in competitive sports.”
  7. “I saw our pastor at the beach. He was in a swim suit!” “No, please don’t say it’s so. He could not have fallen that low.”
  8. “Pastor, I don’t think my neighbor is a Christian. You need to visit them and share the gospel.” Matthew 28:19 is clear: “Go, therefore, only the select few of you who are ordained and have the title of reverend, and make disciples of all nations.”
I’m certain you have heard one or more of these sentences, or sentences similar to these. They are all indicators we have a long way to go before we have truly unleashed the people of God to do the work of ministry.
Let me hear from you.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Happy Father's Day

On this Father's Day I thought I would draw from my files for some of my favorite Father's Day illustrations and a video I used at church a few years ago. 

ILL.- A small boy said, "Father’s Day is just like Mother’s Day, only you don’t spend as much on the gift."

And I say, "What gift?"

ILL.- Mark Twain said, "When I was a boy of 14 my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to the 21, I was astonished at how much the old man learned in 7 years."

ILL.- Someone wrote these humorous word entitled, "The World According to Dad." These are words that most dads have said at some time or another to their children.

- This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.

- Quiet. I’m watching the ball game.

- Don’t forget to check the oil.

- Bring back all the change.

- How should I know? Ask your mother.

- I’m not made out of money!

- When I was your age I walked 5 miles to and from school each day and it was uphill both ways.

- You are going and you will have fun!

- Who’s paying the bills around here, anyway?

- If you break your leg don’t come running to me.

- Don’t put your feet on the furniture. Your mother will kill you.

- Get down before you kill yourself. On second thought, go ahead.

- Quit playing with your food.

- Be quiet! Can’t you see I’m trying to think!

- Why? Because I said so!

- If you don’t quit that I’m going to call your mother.

- You better get that junk picked up before your mother comes in here.

- Just wait till you have kids of your own.

- I was not asleep. I was just resting my eyes.

Brethren, I suppose we who are fathers could probably add a couple of quotes to this list.

Being a parent and a father can be an interesting and trying experience.

ILL.- Someone said, "Parents spend the first part of a child’s life urging him to talk and walk, and the rest of his childhood telling him to sit down and keep quiet."

ILL.- One father said to his teenage son, "Do you mind if I use the car tonight? I’m taking your mother out to eat and I would like to impress her."

ILL.- Father said to his daughter, "What’s wrong, Judy? Usually you talk on the phone for hours. This time you only talked for 30 minutes. How come?"

Judy replied, "It was the wrong number."

ILL.- A letter from a college student to his parents read, "Please send food packages! All they serve here is breakfast, lunch and dinner."

ILL.- Another son wrote home to his dad. He said, "Dear Dad, Please let me hear from you more often, even if it’s only five or ten."

Both parenting and fatherhood can be a real trial. And yet a real blessing.

Dad's enjoy this little clip dedicated to you:

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Waning of the 'Worship Wars'

Praise bands and informality are rising, along with Hispanic leaders and unaffiliated churches, finds latest National Congregations Study.

BY: Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra      [ POSTED 1/6/2016 02:36PM ]
AllStars Youth / Flickr

Out: Organs, bulletins, and choirs.

In: Spoken amens, raising hands during worship, and using projection equipment for song lyrics and sermon notes.

This change to the American church is deeper than just a formality swap, said the authors of the latest National Congregations Study (NCS).

Instead, it’s part of a “decades-long trend in American religion away from an emphasis on belief and doctrine and toward an emphasis on experience, emotion, and the search for a least-common-denominator kind of worship in a time of ever less salient denominationally specific liturgical and theological content,” wrote the authors of the latest wave of the three-part NCS, one of the most rigorous surveys of local religious congregations in the US.

National Congregations Study
In the last 17 years, traditional service elements like using organs, bulletins, and choirs have dropped by about 10 percent.

At the same time, more informal elements are on the rise. Saying “amen” spontaneously in the worship service is up by 6 percent, hearing testimony from members is up 7 percent, and jumping or shouting is up 8 percent.

Applause is up 10 percent, while raising hands and using drums are both up 14 percent. And the use of projection equipment is up by 23 percent.

While the study encompasses all religious congregations, the use of organs “decreased significantly only among evangelical congregations, while fewer choirs and more raising of hands happened only in evangelical and mainline Protestant congregations.”

The change in choirs is driven by larger churches. In evangelical congregations with fewer than 100 people, one-third had a choir both in 1998 and in 2012. But the nearly 7 in 10 churches (69%) with more than 100 people that had a choir in 1998 dropped to about 3 in 10 churches (36%) in 2012.

Meanwhile, the use of electric guitars, which jumped from about 24 percent in 2000 to 33 percent in 2005, has remained steady, according to a new survey from Faith Communities Today (FCT). In 2015, nearly 35 percent of congregations were using electric guitars.

More evidence that the worship wars are fading: holding multiple services in order to accommodate different worship styles is less common, according to NCS.

While almost all (90%) of larger congregations—those with more than 150 adult participants—held multiple weekend worship services in 1998 and 2012, smaller congregations saw a significant decrease.

Seven in 10 congregations with less than 150 adult participants said they had more than one worship service each weekend in 1998. In 2012, that number fell to 57 percent.

When congregations do have more than one service, they’re less likely to separate them by traditional and contemporary worship styles.

In 2006, about half of congregations (48%) with more than one service reported important differences between these services. Six years later, only 30 percent reported such differences.

“Perhaps the ‘worship wars’ are less of an issue for congregations than they once were,” the study authors wrote.

The battle may be waning, but it isn’t completely finished.

“When multiple services do differ from each other, it is mainly because of differences in formality and music,” the report said. In 2012, 15 percent of congregations with more than one weekend service said the music was significantly different in each one; 22 percent said the level of formality was a marked difference.

Other differences were much smaller. For example, only three percent of congregations said language was a significant difference between their multiple services.

What is giving praise bands and informal practices the upper hand?

It might be a wider acceptance of Pentecostal-style worship—speaking in tongues is now present in 30 percent of congregations, up from 24 percent in 1998—or the spread of evangelical worship style, made popular by megachurches and contemporary worship music, the study said.

Or it might be that the decline of mainline and Catholic congregations are shrinking the number of more formally-worshiping congregations.
But it’s likely broader than that.

“More likely, congregations share in a wider cultural trend towards informality,” the report said. “People dress more informally at work and social events as well as at churches and synagogues. When talking with each other, we are less likely to use titles like Mr. or Mrs., Doctor, or Professor, and more likely to use a first name, or even a nickname.”

Whatever the causes, increasingly informal worship is part of a movement away from belief and doctrine, the study said. And "its rise does not seem to have peaked."

The study also noted:

  • The number of congregations that aren’t affiliated with a denomination rose from 18 percent in 1998 to 24 percent in 2012. White evangelical (30%) and black Protestants congregations (25%) have the highest rate of non-denominationalism.

  • White evangelical congregations are, on average, about 30 years old. By comparison, the average black Protestant congregations is 68 years old, the average Catholic parish is 96, and the median mainline Protestant congregation is 122. The evangelical church-planting culture means that more new congregations appear each year, but they don’t all last for many years, the study said.

  • As a result, white evangelical churches are more likely to be led by their founding pastor (21%, compared with 27% of black Protestants, 3% of Catholics, and 1% of white mainline churches).
National Congregation Study
  • As a church grows past 200 members, it is likely to add more staff, changing its staff/participant ratio. For evangelical churches, that ratio stabilizes when a church reaches 600 adults or more, keeping the staff to participant ratio to about 1 to 200.

  • The average length of a white evangelical or black Protestant worship service is 90 minutes, with sermons averaging 35 minutes.

  • Nearly three quarters of head clergy in white evangelical churches (72%) and about half (47%) of black Protestant church are full time. In 14 percent of white evangelical and 22 percent of black Protestant churches, the head pastor is a volunteer.

  • About 10 percent of evangelical pastors and 2 percent of black Protestant church pastors were born outside of the US. About 43 percent of white evangelicals and 17 percent of black Protestants belong to a congregation with at least some recent immigrants.

  • In addition, the number of Hispanic evangelical leaders rose from 4 percent in 1998 to 10 percent in 2012. While most Hispanic churchgoers (63%) are in Catholic churches, about a third (31%) are evangelical.

  • About 4 in 10 evangelical congregations (41%) and 7 in 10 black Protestant churches (70%) said they accept women senior pastors in theory, but only about 3 percent of evangelical churches and 16 percent of black Protestant churches are led by women. The number rises for support staff: about 27 percent of evangelical churches employ women as secondary ministers, while 47 percent hire women for part-time positions.

  • The average evangelical senior pastor was 51 years old in 1998, 52 in 2006, and 53 in 2012. Assistant pastors are quite a bit younger: more than half of evangelical secondary clergy (52%) were under 40 years old in 2012; just 9 percent were over 60.

  • About 2 in 5 white evangelical senior pastors (41%) hold a graduate degree. So do 29 percent of senior pastors at black Protestant churches. In both categories, about 30 percent of senior pastors did not go to college.

  • About 23 percent of evangelical churches are politically active, considerably less than mainline (33%), black Protestant (45%), and Catholic (75%) churches. Evangelicals’ most popular political action: handing out voter guides.

  • The larger the church, the less each member gives. An evangelical congregation of 100 adults receives an average of $1,750 per member, while a congregation of 400 receives $1,480, and a congregation of 1,000 receives $1,140.

  • Very few evangelical pastors (6%) serve more than one congregation, compared with nearly 2 in 10 black Protestant pastors (18%). However,     2 in 5 evangelical pastors (39%) and well over half of black Protestant pastors (57%) also hold a second job outside the ministry.