Tag: chuck warnock

Now, back to our regularly scheduled program…

lJust a quick update on my health: after spending the past two days at doctor’s offices, I am both frustrated and determined. I am frustrated that no one seems to know what to expect about the regression of my symptoms, or how I’m to wean myself off the dozen medications I am now taking. The good news is that I am slowly improving. Today I am walking without my cane, albeit slowly.

This morning I determined that no one is in charge of my health but me. So I’m taking more control of my own recovery. I’ll start physical therapy next week, and that should help me recover my strength and balance. The doctors gave me some leeway in fooling with my medications, morphine being the big one I want to get rid of. If I get off the morphine, then I can also ditch a couple of others that counteract the effects of morphine on some body functions. Of course, I’m not going to do anything totally crazy, but I am determined to be more aggressive in asking questions and posing possible scenarios for my recovery to my doctors.

All of that leads me to this disclaimer: since I am not dying today (or hopefully anytime soon), this is the last post about my health that I’ll write. The rest of this journey is just going to be determination and some work on my part regarding diet, exercise, and regulating my medications. So, if you got on here during my illness, thank you for your prayers and concern.

Tomorrow this blog will return to the theme I have been pursuing over the past 7-years. Of course, that’s small church stuff, and I have some new insights, ideas, and articles that are churning around in my head. If you got on to keep up with my health and  feel the need to cancel your subscription, I understand, and again thank you for your prayers and interest. I’m going to be fine, and the best way I know to be fine, is to get back to my life as it was 6 weeks ago and press ahead. For those of you who will be sticking around, I promise you won’t be disappointed. Thanks, again, for each expression of concern — now back to our regularly scheduled program!

Strengths of a Small Church webinar now online

For those of you who missed the webinar, The Strengths of a Small Church, with Brandon O’Brien and me, the video is online now.  Tim Avery at BuildingChurchLeaders.com put it up yesterday at their site.  The seminar was well-attended with lots of participation in the comments and chat portions of the webinar screen.  The webinar ran about an hour, so grab some coffee, get comfy and tune in when it’s convenient.

We’re Ranked #105 in the Top 130 Church Blogs

ChurchRelevance.com ranked Confessions of a Small Church Pastor as #105 in the annual Top 100 Church Blogs rankings.  Of course this year they threw in 30 more blogs, so we made the cut in the Top 130!  Am I wrong, or is this the only small church blog that made the list?

Give yourself a giant pat on the back because YOU made this happen.   Readers make blogs, and you’re the greatest bunch of blog readers any blogger could hope for. (This is where the violins start.) No joke, and thanks for reading.

Looking For Churches Doing Cool Outreach Stuff

Okay, enough of the shameless self-promotion.  Here’s your opportunity to have the spotlight for your very own 15-minutes of fame.  I’m always looking for churches doing cool outreach stuff, particularly churches that run 300 or less in attendance.  If your church is doing something interesting in outreach, or you know of a church that is, please let me know.  You just might get featured either here or in my Outreach magazine column, Small Church, Big Idea.  Thanks.

What Are You Doing for Palm Sunday and Easter?

Finally, I’m interested in what your church is doing for Palm Sunday and/or Easter Sunday to connect with your community.  I’m working on a column of ideas for that week, and would love to include yours.  Email me at chuckwarnock (at) gmail (dot) com with a paragraph or two about your plans.  Please include your church name and location, a link to your website, and any photos or artwork you can attach (without crashing google’s servers) and I’ll include that, too.

For those who do sermon outlines or manuscripts, I’ll link to your Easter sermon if you’ll provide the link, your name, your church, and the text you’re using.  These will go up on Friday before Easter if I get enough, so let me know.  Remember, I need a link, not the whole sermon, so you have to post it somewhere yourself.  Thanks.

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!

Over 300,000!

international_fireworks_2_bToday Confessions of a Small-Church Pastor passed 300,000 page views!  Readership has grown by 50,000 page views per year since I started this blog in December, 2006.  Thanks for reading and commenting and sticking around for three years.

You can help spread the word about this blog, which is devoted to churches under 300 in attendance, by telling your friends, fellow pastors, church leaders, and others interested in small church ideas and issues. When I saw Ed Stetzer at the National Outreach Convention again this year, he commented, “I like the blog.”  Ed had told me last year that Confessions was the largest small church blog around, so I took it as a compliment that he still likes it.

A couple of interesting things have happened as a result of the reach of this blog:

  • Outreach magazine has just named me Contributing Editor for small church concerns;
  • a major Christian publisher is talking with me about a small church book;
  • and, I’ll continue writing the Small Church, Big Idea column for Outreach, in addition to other articles I’m working on about small church ministry.

I’m also looking for stories of small churches doing exciting, innovative ministry.  If your church has a story of a successful ministry experience, I’d like to hear it.  Email me — chuckwarnock [at] gmail [dot] com — and provide a brief summary of your church story.  Who knows — your story might end up in Outreach magazine or in an upcoming book chapter. BTW, this blog is now available to Kindle owners through Amazon’s Kindle Store for the ridiculously low price of $0.99 per month.  Of course, it’s free here all the time.

Again, thanks for sticking with me for three years.  Slowly but surely, small churches are being celebrated for the incredible work they are doing in urban, suburban, rural, and small town settings, and you’re an important part of that story.

Sermon: Nominalism – Why Don’t We Walk Like We Talk?

This is the third sermon in an eight part series titled, “Seven Cultural Challenges Every Church Faces.” I’m preaching this one tomorrow, and I hope your Sunday is a great one.  Happy Fathers Day to all the dads out there, too!

Seven Cultural Challenges Every Church Faces:
Nominalism — Why Don’t We Walk Like We Talk?

In his startling book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience, Ron Sider said out loud what had become all too apparent — America’s most conservative Christians, evangelicals, live no differently than other Americans who claim no relationship to Jesus Christ.

George Barna, Christian pollster and trend watcher, said, “American Christianity has largely failed since the middle of the twentieth century because Jesus’ modern disciples do not act like Jesus.”

Sider points out in his book, subtitled Why Are Christians Living Just Like The Rest of the World?, that Christians are no different than the general population when it comes to failed marriages, domestic abuse, sexual conduct, materialism, and racism.  And if you find that hard to believe, let’s do the numbers:

  • Marriage and Family. In 1999, Barna reported that divorce rates for evangelicals and the total population were exactly the same — 25%.  Brad Wilcox, a Christian sociologist pointed out that “Compared with the rest of the population, conservative Protestants are more likely to divorce.”  Sadly, in many families that stay together, domestic abuse occurs within evangelical families at approximately the same frequency as in the general population.
  • Materialism and Stewardship. By 2001, evangelical Christians were giving 4.27% to their church, down from 6.15% in 1968.  And, from 2000 to 2002, evangelicals who tithed (gave 10% of their income) dropped from 12% to 9%, and the trend continues downward.  One study pointed out that if all evangelicals tithed, we would have over $143-billion dollars to send to world missions, hunger relief, poverty eradication, and other ministries.  The UN has estimated that it would take $70-80-billion per year to provide the world’s 1.2 billion poor with essential services like basic health care and education.  In other words, if only half of evangelical Christians tithed, we could raise the standard of living for the world’s poorest to a more humane level.
  • Morality and Sexual Conduct. In 1993, the Southern Baptist Convention started a sexual abstinence program for young people called True Love Waits.  About 2.4-million kids signed the promise to keep themselves sexually pure until marriage.  But researchers from Columbia and Yale Universities tracked 12,000 teens who had signed the “I’ll Wait” pledge.  The results were disheartening — 88% of those who had signed the True Love Waits pledge had engaged in sexual intercourse before they were married.  Only 12% maintained their promise.
  • Racism. In a 1989 survey, George Barna asked different groups whether they would object to having an African-American neighbor.  Only 11% of Catholics and non-evangelicals objected.  16% of mainline Protestants objected, but 20% of Southern Baptists objected to having a black family on their block.  Hopefully, since 1989, some attitudes have changed.  Southern Baptists have gone on record as apologizing for the enslavement of black Africans, and for the role slavery played in the founding of the Southern Baptist Convention.  But, some have viewed that apology with cynicism, citing SBC studies which show that for Southern Baptists to continue to grow, we must reach out to minorities and establish minority churches, and train minorities for leadership positions within the SBC.  Still our denomination remains one of the most segregated of denominations in our nation.  11 o’clock Sunday morning is still the most segregated hour in America.

The act of failing to live up to the teachings of Christ is called nominalism, from the Latin word nomen, which means name.  Nominalism, then, distinguishes that which is real from that which is in name only, or nominal.  In other words, evangelical Christians are for the most part, Christians in name only.  Our walk does not match out talk.

Mahatma Gandhi is reported to have said, “I would become a Christian, if I could see one.”

How Did We Lose our Way?

Why did I include nominalism under these 7 cultural challenges that churches face?  Because culture plays a tremendous role in influencing all of our society, including those of us who claim to be followers of Christ.

Paul writing to Christians in the first century who were in the midst of the culture of Rome, had this to say about the Christians and popular culture —

1Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. 2Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.  — Romans 12:1-2

Christians in the 21st century, it seems, have become so enmeshed in the culture in which we live that we have been conformed to the culture — the world — rather than being transformed by Christ.  But how did this happen?  Well, there are several answers.

The Marriage of Church and State

The first answer to that question is found in the 4th century.  For its first 250 years or so, Christianity was a minority and persecuted faith.  All of the apostles were martyred, with the possible exception of John.  The story goes that authorities attempted to kill John, but he survived and instead was banished to the Isle of Patmos where he received the great apocalyptic vision we call the Book of Revelation.

That book, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, is about the persecution of the people of God, the church.  Written during the reign of the emperor Domitian, John’s vision gives hope to the Christians of the first century that their deaths were not in vain, that God saw their suffering, and that they had a special place in God’s kingdom.  And, most importantly, one day Jesus himself was coming with the whole host of heaven to vindicate the martyrs, and take them to their eternal glory as all things were made new by Christ.  In other words, God was giving hope to his persecuted people.

The early church was persecuted because the followers of Jesus were not like those around them.  In an age of dishonesty and everyman for himself, Christians were honest.  In an empire where sexual promiscuity was celebrated, Christians maintained the bond of marriage.  In a culture where the weak were viewed as a drag on society and were outcast or overlooked, Christians were generous and cared for the poor and the widows.  In a culture where rich masters owned slaves, Christians put aside positions of class in the ekklesia and slaves often served as leaders of the congregation.

Gerhard Lohfink has called the early church a “contrast society.”  And it was.  The values and lifestyle of the Christians of the first and second centuries contrasted dramatically with that of the culture around them.  Barry Harvey says the early church saw themselves as “another city” — in contrast to the great city of Rome, the Christian community became “another city” in governance, values, lifestyle, relationships, and conduct.

Because of their contrasting lives, Christians were easy targets for the failing Roman empire.  Nero was the first to blame Christians wholesale for the failures of his regime.  Subsequent emperors seized upon Nero’s idea, and expanded the blame placed on Christians until it reached fever pitch during the reign of Domitian.

But, as Christianity spread and grew, and Christians became more numerous, the empire began having second thoughts.  When Constantine ascends to the emperor’s throne, he needed to do something to bring a decaying empire together.  Christians were now as sizeable part of the population, and so Constantine decided to embrace Christianity as the unifying factor in his empire.

The famous legend of Constantine’s vision of the cross in the sky, and Christ’s words to him, “By this sign, conquer” makes for a great legend, but Constantine was no committed Christian, only accepting Christian baptism as he neared the end of his life.

For centuries, the church celebrated their new found status in the empire, sharing some power with the emperor himself.  As is always the case when the religious community seeks favor with politicians, the church woke up one day several hundred years later to its own corruption and loss of witness.  The church had become nothing more than the extension of the state.

That’s the historical setting, but it doesn’t fully explain how we in the 21st century, almost 500 years after the Protestant Reformation, are still being conformed to culture, rather than to Christ.  And, how culture shapes us, rather than Christians shaping culture.

A Missed Chance at the Reformation

It seems that even the Reformers — Luther, Calvin, Knox, and others — also fell for the same fatal idea: church and state should be one.  Which meant that church and culture would become one, and we live with that bad bargain made 500 years ago still today.

Of course, Baptists and American evangelicalism contributed the idea that religious freedom should prevail in America.  That we should be free from government establishment or prohibition of religious expression.  Baptists were highly influential in persuading Thomas Jefferson, and other colonial leaders, to write the Bill of Rights, which first took hold in Virginia where the Episcopal Church has already been established as the official state church.   The Episcopal Church was disenfranchised, and freedom of religion became the law of the land.

But, escape from government control did not mean escape from cultural influence.

The stories of faith and freedom were so closely tied in the newly-born United States that we as a people assumed they were one and the same.  And, the slide into Americanized Christianity took place over that past 250 years or so.  Now, American Christianity contributed some great things to the cause of faith — we focused on the individual, not the class or family, so that individuals were free to trust Christ without the constraints of social status or family heritage.  As a matter of fact, John Wesley’s Methodism sought out the disenfranchised first in England, and then in America, and presented the Gospel to them as well.

But, God and country are not the same, and when pressed to pledge allegiance to one or the other, Christians should have chosen God, as they did in the first century.  Instead, too often we chose American culture.

An example of the choosing of culture over Biblical faith is the founding of our own denomination — Southern Baptists.  Prior to 1845, with slavery becoming more widespread in the South where labor intensive crops like tobacco and cotton dominated the economy, Baptists in the North began to object to Baptists in the South holding slaves.  That objection extended to the rejection of mission offerings from Baptists in the South, until such time as these southern Baptists divested themselves of their slave holdings.

Baptists in the South were outraged and offended.  So, in 1845, the Southern Baptist Convention was born, allowing Baptists in the South to send their own missionaries to China and India and Africa, without the judgmental interference of their Northern counterparts.  Clearly, our Southern Baptist forefathers gave in to the culture and the economy, rather than to the Gospel of Christ.  Of course, numerous passages of scripture were quoted and re-quoted justifying slavery, and bolstering the status of Southern Baptists.

With 150 years of hindsight, slavery is a sin of which we should still repent.  One wonders if a denomination born in strife, and on the backs of enslaved human beings, can or should survive.  That is a debate for future Baptists, but I wonder if the fractious history of our denomination, which continues to this day, is a part of our denominational DNA.

The State Cannot Impose Our Values On Others

History is full of failed moral experiments, Prohibition being one of them.  During Prohibition, our country learned that you can’t legislate one morality for all people.  While the Temperance Movement was thrilled when Prohibition passed, legions of Americans (including many in our own community) broke the law to either get a drink or make liquor out of economic necessity.

So, before I go any further, let me state that I do not believe that the Bible teaches that we as followers of Christ should impose our moral system, whatever it is, on others.  We cannot make people act like Christians, who do not follow Christ.  Of course, some laws that accomplish our purposes are laws passed for the common good.  Laws that protect children from being exploited either by unscrupulous factory owners, or pornographers, are good laws.  They serve Christian purposes, but also the higher good.  So, we are not opposed to laws that protect and define conduct that makes the world a better place for all.

Back to my illustration of Prohibition.  Even though it is now legal in many places, including Chatham to sell and purchase alcohol, it is not legal to drive while intoxicated, sell alcohol to minors, or sell non-tax paid liquor, known as moonshine.  All of those laws serve our Christian idea of good, but are not specifically Christian laws.

No, the answer to why we don’t walk like we talk is not found in the local town ordinance, the state legal code, or federal law.

We Lost Our Way, Because We Have Left The Way

I believe that Christians have lost influence with our society because we have lost our way, The Way of Jesus.  You and I could debate endlessly what a Christian could do, should do, and ought to do.  That, in part, is why we have so many denominations.  Some find great latitude in how to live the Christian life, others like our Amish brothers and sisters, follow a much more narrow path.

But being a follower of Christ is about being a follower of Christ.  When we began to look for the loopholes, the exceptions, when we begin to ask ourselves “where’s the line?” in our conduct, we have missed the point completely.  The Pharisees were far better a walking that fine line between religious legality and illegality.  Jesus completely dismantled their thinking every time he said, “You have heard….but I say unto you.”

For it is not in the letter of the law that we find Christ, it is in the Spirit of the law.  It is not a matter of how little do we have to do, or how much can we get away with in living and still be called Christian.  Rather, we should live our lives with Jesus, as though he were here, present with us.  For he is.

Jesus said, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. 20Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. 21They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me. 22If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin. 23He who hates me hates my Father as well. 24If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. 25But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’

26“When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. 27And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.” — John 15:18-27

Why don’t we walk like we talk?  Partly because we don’t want the world to hate us.  We want to fit in, we don’t want to stand out.  We want to be like everybody else, and that is our problem.  We want to be like everybody else, when we ought to want to be like Jesus.

Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no one comes to the Father except by me.”

Jesus did not say, “I know the way” or “I’ll teach you the way” or “This idea is the way.”  He said, “I am the Way.”  Period.  In the first century Christians were called followers of The Way.  It was Jesus’ Way because the Way was Jesus himself.

We do not walk like we talk because we are not following Jesus.

More than 25 years ago, Graham Cyster, a South African Christian struggled against the wickedness of apartheid — the institutionalized racism and genocide of the South African government.  Other groups were also working to move South Africa away from the apartheid, and Communists were among those working in South Africa to bring equality to all South Africans — black and white.

Graham Cyster was smuggled into an underground Communist cell of young people one night, in hopes of presenting the message of Christ.  Amazingly, the young Communists gathered that evening said, “Tell us about the gospel of Jesus Christ,” half-hoping for an alternative to the armed, violent struggle they knew they faced.

According to Ron Sider, Graham gave a clear and powerful explanation of the Gospel, telling how faith in Christ can transform individual lives.  He talked about how Christian love could break down the barriers that separated people, and quoted from the Apostle Paul that there was no longer male nor female, Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, but that faith in Christ builds a new community where all God’s people live together in love.

One 17-year old exclaimed, “That’s wonderful!  Show me where I can see that happening!”  Graham’s face fell as he had to report that sadly, he knew of no place in South Africa where that was true, even though there were many churches in South Africa.

With that the young man cursed, and left the meeting.  Less than a month later, he had joined an armed band of Communist guerrillas who were committed to the violent overthrow of the South African government.

The world around us is not interested in what we believe.  Nor are most of them interested in where they will spend eternity.  The world around us wants to see that the message of Jesus, the message of God’s love is possible.  For if it is possible, then there is hope.  If it is possible, then there is a heaven.  If it is possible, then there is a God who loves even me.