Category: Church news

A Critique of the Film “Divided”

I recently was asked by a church publication in Taiwan to respond to the controversial film, Divided.  Here is my response. I would be interested in yours.  If you haven’t seen the film, here’s the link to the film’s website.

A Pastor Looks At the Film “Divided”

The recent film, Divided, has attracted national media attention for its critique of age-based church ministries, targeting youth ministry in particular.  But despite the film’s message that families should be more involved in faith development in their own children, the film makes questionable connections in its attempt to discredit any and all age-based church ministry, including Sunday School.

Despite its message that family is the basic unit of faith development, the film’s weaknesses overshadow its main point.  Apparently it isn’t enough to suggest that age-based ministries might not be effective.  The filmmakers not only attempt to discredit youth ministry, Sunday School, and other forms of age-based ministry, but they seek to demonize them as well.  By linking Plato, Rousseau, and Robert Raikes, the founder of Sunday School, into a “pagan” conspiracy to rip children from their parents’ influence, the film fails in intellectual and historic honesty.

Demonizing those who differ with us has become standard practice in politics in the United States, and now apparently it is standard practice in discussions about church ministry as well. The film seeks to equate age-based ministry with public education, the welfare state, and other public institutions that have fallen out of favor politically in the United States.

The film also speaks of “the church” as though the only expression of the church was in the United States of America.  And, despite the appearance of two African-American pastors as interviewees, the film seems to direct its critique of church ministry toward white, middle-class American church congregations.

Completely lacking in the film is acknowledgement that the church of Jesus Christ is a multi-faceted, multi-cultural body that finds unique expression within the cultural contexts in which it exists.

While there is no doubt that church attendance in the United States has been declining, the film Divided does not provide an answer to that decline.  Credible church historians and academics see multiple reasons for the decline in U.S. church attendance, and none have suggested that age-based programs are the reason.

The film and its producers could have done the church in the U. S. a great service.  Instead, they have produced a film that supports one questionable perspective on church life in white middle-class America, which will be largely irrelevant to other expressions of church in other nations and cultures.

Join BCL’s Small Church Webinar, May 6

Tim Avery of Christianity Today’s BuildingChurchLeaders.com has asked me to co-host a small church webinar with Brandon O’Brien.  The Strengths of the Small Church will air on May 6, 2010, from 11 am to 12 noon. It’s free and you can register here.

Brandon O’Brien, associate editor at Leadership Journal, and author of The Strategically Small Church, is the main guru for this webinar.  O’Brien’s book looks at the inherent advantages of small size in doing ministry.  He cites some amazing examples of churches that stayed small or got small by breaking into small congregations, so they could do ministry more effectively.  Here’s a video promo clip I sent Tim to promote the webinar.  Join us on May 6 at 11 am — it’s going to be fun and informative!

Religion News Service Features Quote

The Religion News Service (RNS) picked up a quote from my article on the arrest of 10 Southern Baptist church members in Haiti.  The article first appeared here, and then at EthicsDaily.com.

Small Church Issues Covered At SmallChurchPROF.com

SmallChurchPROF.com links to the best news, ideas, insights, and information relevant to small church ministry.  The site features articles in eight categories of interest to small church leaders and members:

  1. Featured. These articles are the latest of the web’s ever-changing content that have application to small churches.  Links to events, people, and issues that are making news or creating conversations are featured here each day.   A recent feature, “What comes after contemporary worship?”, focused on a small church that was re-establishing traditional worship after 15 years.
  2. Small Church News. Small churches and their people make the news, too.  This section curates the best of small church newsmakers and recently featured an article about the CIA shooting down a missionary airplane 9 years ago, killing a young mother and her infant in the process.  “When Mission Trips Go Bad” focused on the plight of 10 Baptists who went to Haiti and were arrested trying to transport Haitian children across the border.
  3. Outreach. A recent article told the story of a Nashville, TN church that uses mixed martial arts to reach young men.  The story ran in the New York Times, so small churches can have a national influence in the mainstream media.  The Outreach section often showcases successful outreach ideas or concepts, such as the post, “How Can We Get Some Young Folks in Our Church” written by Jeremy Troxler of Duke Divinity School’s Thriving Rural Communities program.
  4. Discipleship. This section links to articles that either reflect issues of interest to those seeking to follow Christ as disciples, or specific instances of discipleship in action.  When the Archbishop of Canterbury challenged Wall Street’s greed and materialism, that’s of interest to those seeking to follow Christ’s teaching that you cannot serve God and money.
  5. Leadership. The Leadership category finds the most helpful and insightful web articles about leadership development, characteristics, and examples available.  Some articles come from the business world, others from the non-profit world, or a valuable leadership resource.  All of the links in the Leadership section provide insight into being an effective leader in the 21st century.    Seth Godin’s “Who Will Save Us?” was a recent post revealing the struggles of leaders to adapt to our changing times.
  6. Service. Service tells the stories of churches working to make this world a better place.  A recent link from the local Nashville, TN paper, The Tennessean, revealed that the traditionally isolated Churches of Christ in middle Tennessee were cooperating with other denominations on community ministry projects.
  7. Worship. Featuring creative worship ideas, sermons, and other links pertinent to small church worship, I recently linked to a story about “Dinner Church.” Dinner Church is the nickname a new church start, St. Lydia’s in New York, gives to its combination of dinner and worship, patterned after Jesus habit of breaking bread with the disciples.
  8. Technology. Finally, the most current technology developments, such as the rise of mobile smart phones, Twitter, Facebook, sound systems, video, and even Apple’s iPad, get recognized in this section.

You can bookmark the entire site, SmallChurchPROF.com, or subscribe to each category in a separate feed if your interest runs only to one or two areas.  Simply click on “More SCP Links from Publish2” at the end of each category for access to the RSS feed.

Or you can subscribe to all the articles I link to in both SmallChurchPROF.com and NewChurchReport.com by pasting this link into your feed reader:  http://www.publish2.com/journalists/chuck-warnock/links.rss

I hope you find both SmallChurchPROF.com and NewChurchReport.com helpful to you as a pastor or church leader. I edit both sites, and select all the articles that are featured.  I choose articles to link to that are relevant, interesting, helpful, and challenging, even if I don’t always agree with their point of view.  If you want to suggest an article for either site, please email me at chuckwarnock [at] gmail [dot] com with the link.  The system I use requires that the article be available on the web at a linkable URL.

You can also find me on Facebook, where all the articles I select are also posted.  Or on Twitter where the same thing happens.

Thanks for visiting SmallChurchPROF.com!

When Mission Trips Go Bad

Logan Abassi / The United Nations
Boy receiving treatment after Haiti earthquake. Logan Abassi / The United Nations

The arrest of 10 Southern Baptist church members on a self-styled rescue mission in Haiti provides churches with a sobering reminder — even if your motives are pure, you must know and follow the laws of the country you are in.

Members of the Eastside Baptist Church in Twin Falls, Idaho, and the Central Valley Baptist Church in Meridian, Idaho are still being held in two small concrete rooms in the judicial police headquarters building. According to USA Today, their lawyer says they are being treated poorly, and have not been charged with a specific crime yet.

Identical messages on both church websites state —

A ten member church team traveled to Haiti to help rescue children from one or more orphanages that had been devastated in the earthquake on January 12. The children were being taken to an orphanage in the Dominican Republic where they could be cared for and have their medical and emotional needs attended to. Our team was falsely arrested today and we are doing everything we can from this end to clear up the misunderstanding that has occurred in Port au Prince.

I checked the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board website for an official denominational response, but could not find one.  Baptist Press does have an extensive article with details not reported in the secular media.  For example, the team and children were turned back at the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic and informed that they needed “one more piece of paperwork” according to the BP article.  Upon their return to Port-au-Prince, they were detained as child-traffickers.

A statement on the Utah-Idaho Southern Baptist Convention, the state-level denominational organization, praises the team for their intentions, but then offers this cautionary note —

The Idaho Mission Team in Haiti went on a mission trip that was not a mission trip organized by the Utah-Idaho Southern Baptist Convention. As a state convention we encourage churches and mission teams to work through the state convention, North American Mission Board, International Mission Board and Global Baptist Response when dealing with a disaster in North America and other nations.

Although these churches had conducted mission trips before, the trip to Haiti was their first in disaster relief.

I have travelled internationally to China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Mexico and found much of the bureaucracy redundant, and at times infuriating.  But, in each instance I had to comply with the requirements of each government for visas, passports, and information regarding how long I intended to stay, where I was going to stay, why I was making the trip, and who my US employer was.  American know-how and ingenuity is not rewarded in many countries, especially if it appears that Americans are attempting to circumvent the laws of the host country.

The exciting possibility of international missions involvement and of making a real, hands-on difference cannot overshadow the need for careful adherence to all the laws and customs of the country visited.  Good intentions can be misconstrued, as is the case here.  And while stories of Bible smuggling and dramatic rescues make great books, the reality of violating local laws presents a lesson in international precaution.

What do you think?  Has your church ever skirted the law while trying to do good?  Or has your church ever been frustrated in its attempts to minister because of local laws, either in another country or your own?  While there are lessons to be learned from their experience, our immediate concern is for the safe release of these who meant to do good, but were caught up in the chaos and uncertainty of the situation in Haiti.

I’m at The Cove this week

photo1I’m back at The Cove this week leading conferences for the Billy Graham School of Evangelism.  Yesterday we covered “Keys to Thriving in the Smaller Church.”  About 150 pastors, spouses, and church leaders attended the back-t0-back sessions and offered great stories from their own small churches.

Today I’m leading a second session on “Using Social Media in Outreach” at 11:45 am.  The first one went well yesterday, and all the techie stuff worked, unlike last May when we had “technical difficulties beyond our control.”

This afternoon, I’ll wrap-up with two more back-to-back sessions on “Outreach Ideas to Help Your Church Change Your Community.”  I’ll tell the story of what our church has been doing, plus the stories of other smaller congregations that are doing some amazing things in ministry. Later this week I’ll post the powerpoints to both the church seminars.

The Cove nestles into the unspoiled vistas of the Blue Ridge Mountains near Asheville, NC.  The Billy Graham School of Evangelism offers pastors and church leaders inspiration, information, and lots of free resources.  If you haven’t been, check out the Schools for next year.  You’ll be glad you came!

Free article, journal, video, and book

In the gift economy, information wants to be free.  So, here are the latest freebies I’ve run across that are both free and excellent.

The new Neue Quarterly will be out soon, and my article “Remembering Why You Said Yes” is in this issue.  You can read my article for free, compliments of the folks at Neue by clicking here.  The entire quarterly, all 200+ pages of it are free, here.

Scott Linklater sent me a link to a free video, What is Simple Church? The vid provides great interviews with simple church pastors who are doing amazing things on very little money.  These churches are a model for the church of the future, and you ought ot watch this, then share it.  And, it’s free!

And, if you missed it, Chris Anderson’s new book, Free: The Future of a Radical Price, is well….free!  Click Google’s Books blog for all the ways you can get Free for free.  Chris Anderson wrote The Long Tail, and is an editor with Wired magazine.

I’ve written about this before here, and Free supports my point that you ought to make as much stuff free as possible, and that it pays off in the long run.  Besides, shouldn’t we as followers of Christ be giving away the insights God gave us that will help others?  I think so, and Chris Anderson’s book proves it. He’s given away 100,000 free digital copies, and this week the book premiered at number 12 on the New York Times Non-Fiction Bestseller list.  Free works!

Enjoy the free stuff!