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Sunday Journeys: Celebrating at James River Church, an Assemblies of God Church in MO

By Ed Stetzer James River Church is a people of worship and prayer I was recently back at James River Assembly in Springfield, MO (I was there in 2011 and again in 2012). It’s a flagship church in the Assemblies of God and one of the most welcoming churches I ever visit. I was there to preach and do a seminar from my book (with Eric Geiger) Transformational Groups. I’ll share the normal things about such a church, but then at the end, I want to focus on something about their personal ministry time. First, the worship is high energy and passionate. The praise band and team were participative and enthusiastic. John Lindell is the pastor (he’s written for The Exchange, too). You can tell he loves the church and he loves Springfield. The church has two services in its largest location, but has other locations as well. The folks at JRC sent me a pic of my preaching time. In my view, that’s too many pics of Ed Stetzer at one time. 😉 There is so much you could talk about from JRC. They run James River Leadership College. They are convictionally Pentecostal. They are …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Amplifying Evangelism—One Way to Amplify Our Gospel Witness...Unplug!

By Ed Stetzer Evangelism is not possible until we engage those around us Okay, so this is how I would listen to records as a kid: I had a small stereo in my bedroom and my mom did not like me playing it too loud. I would put on The Who, Stevie Wonder, Super Tramp, or some other album, and lie on my back on the floor in the middle of my room. I had positioned two speakers facing each other about two feet apart. I would place my head directly between the speakers and turn the volume up as loud as I could without hitting a level that would bring my mom into the room. In these occasional moments alone in my room, I could amplify my music to a level that I could hear nothing else. I could close my eyes and forget the world around me. I could block everything else out. This experience I had as a kid is no longer a rare moment; it is now the norm…it is the world in which we live. So many people are plugged in and blocked out much of the time. We wear ear buds that pipe music, talk, or pump other content into …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Your Kids Don’t Need a Megachurch

By Amy Julia Becker What children learn about community without the bells and whistles It was a typical Sunday morning. We got to church early for Bible study, and our kids—Penny, 10, William, 7, and Marilee, 5—scampered downstairs to play. They emerged 45 minutes later to serve as the week’s greeters. Despite some conflict over who got to shake hands and who got to hand out the programs, they managed to greet each visitor with a hug or handshake—Penny’s 70-year-old “prayer buddy,” a former babysitter, a classmate, the head of the volunteer fire department. During the service, William, wearing a blazer and tie, read Scripture with his dad. When it came time, he moved a small red chair behind the pulpit and stood up tall to read aloud about Jesus’ transfiguration. In the car after church, William said, “I had to say thank you about a bazillion times!” because so many people had praised his reading. Our church has one Sunday school for children from kindergarten to fifth grade. Most mornings we have 6–8 children and about 60 adults in the pews upstairs. I used to think that the smallness of our church would hinder our kids’ spiritual development. Our former, nondenominational church counted over 400 members, …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Shutting Down: America’s Largest Distributor of Christian Products

By Kate Shellnutt Send the Light Distribution was finally felled by Amazon Prime and Family Christian bankruptcy. The largest distributor of Christian products in the United States has announced plans to shutter operations due to competition from online retailers and the financial hit after the bankruptcy of Family Christian Stores, a major client. Send the Light Distribution (STL)—which shipped to more than 10,000 Christian retailers, mostly US bookstores—will wind down its 42-year-old business this summer. The Tennessee-based company used to ship more than 25,000 Bibles a day. But these days, it’s a lot easier—and often, cheaper—to get a Bible on Amazon. “When companies get creative and find new and better ways to do things, like Amazon Prime … at the end of the day, that kind of thing also destroys the current or past way that business had been done,” Send the Light president Glenn Bailey told CT. “That’s our basic problem.” While Amazon was one of Send the Light’s biggest customers, the majority of its business was conducted with independent Christian retailers. “They’re being put out of business left and right,” he said. “Many of our best customers are no longer what they once were.” Christian bookstores have been shutting down by the dozens in recent years, …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Interview: Grieving Together: How Orlando's Hispanic Evangelicals Are Reaching Out

By Interview by Kate Shellnutt A local pastor shares on-the-ground efforts to pray for, comfort, and serve their LGBT neighbors. For a Latino, Pentecostal megachurch just 10 minutes south of the Orlando nightclub Pulse, the scriptural call to “mourn with those who mourn” has become their heartbreaking reality in the wake of Sunday’s deadly rampage. This week, Iglesia El Calvario prepares to host funerals for victims, offer grief counseling, and conduct ongoing outreach for their city and its LGBT community. The nearly 4,000-person Assemblies of God church prayed, gave blood, and passed out water on Sunday, while death counts climbed from 20 to 30 to 40 to 50. That evening, they heard from Governor Rick Scott and Lieutenant Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera in a citywide vigil held in their sanctuary to remember the lives lost—many of them Hispanic and gay, at the club for Saturday’s Latin night. Gabriel Salguero, a pastor at Iglesia El Calvario and founder of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, joined his LGBT neighbors in relief efforts. He offered prayers in Spanish and English at an 8,000-person event hosted this week by Equality Florida, a gay advocacy group. When local reporters inevitably asked about the tension between evangelicals and the gay community, he …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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3 Challenges in Urban Ministry

By Ed Stetzer Urban ministry engages depravity, longevity and community. While cities are an excellent place for gospel advancement, urban ministry is not without its challenges. Some of these challenges can be better explained by three words: depravity, longevity and community. Depravity is everywhere, not just cities Quite a few Christians view cities as depraved. Undoubtedly depravity seems more evident in a city because there are many people in close proximity. The reality, however, is that sin and brokenness are everywhere. In the midst of the overwhelming evidence of depravity is the opportunity for the gospel to shine forth. When sin abounds, the gospel can abound even more. Cities are fundamental to God’s design and intent for the world, because while he begins his story in the Garden of Eden . In light of this, Christians need to move away from their fear of the city and stop seeing cities as inherently wicked. Instead, they need to see cities as good and full of opportunity. God is at work in the midst of depravity and brokenness. Some of the most vibrant Christian communities are found in cities. The gospel is going forth. Lives are being changed. Christians who love mission should view our world’s cities as great places for …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Churches in America—Part 3

By Ed Stetzer Convictional Christians are not leaving the faith. In addition to vital trends associated with Protestants and evangelicals, there are three more vital trends that are necessary to make sense of America’s religious landscape. The rise of non-denominational churches. The growth of nondenominational churches is often overlooked in analyses of U.S. religious data. These are congregations that are not affiliated with national church organizations like the United Methodist Church or Assemblies of God. The rapid growth of these churches demands attention. For example, the majority of the 100 largest churches in the U.S. are nondenominational. Soon, the largest evangelical ‘denomination’ will be nondenominational. The stability of historic African-American churches. Historically, African-American churches and denominations have continued to report steady numbers overall. These include denominations like the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the National Baptist Convention, and the Church of God in Christ, which emerged during segregation. Historic African-American churches tend to hold similar beliefs to evangelical churches, but do not prefer to use the evangelical label. Pew Research has found that about 7% of Americans identified with a historically African-American Church in 2009, and a similar number (6.5%) in 2014. The largest among these churches comes from charismatic and Pentecostal expressions, says Johnson and Melton from Baylor. In …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Interview: Forming a Society Worthy of Humans

By Interview by Joseph E. Gorra Robert Sirico says that in order to get economics right, we must first understand what it means to be human. Robert Sirico, a Catholic priest and co-founder of the Acton Institute, is perhaps one of the most economically literate clergymen you will find among America’s public intellectuals. While most seminaries do not train future pastors and lay leaders to think theologically about economics, Sirico says understanding questions about economics is necessary if Christian leaders want to rightly seek the good of society and train others to do the same. Joseph Gorra, founder and director of Veritas Life Center, talked Sirico about economic life and human flourishing. At this year’s Acton University conference, you spoke on how love is an indispensable basis for economic life. To some, that might seem odd if economic life is viewed as the maximization of utility and material well-being. We can’t enter the marketplace as something other than what we really are, and real human love demonstrates the impossibility of being merely homo economicus (“the economic man”), which is essentially a thesis that reduces human beings to their materiality. Humans are simultaneously material and transcendent, individual and social. We are not merely individual entities, though we are uniquely …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Russia: The Other Christian Nation

By Andrey Shirin A cozy relationship between church and state has lasting implications. Last Thursday, Russian president Vladimir Putin signed a new anti-terrorism law, which, among other things, restricts missionary activities in Russia significantly. As was the case in the Soviet Union, believers will be able to evangelize only on property that belongs to their religious organizations and affiliated institutions. Violators may be subjected to steep fines. In addition, the law would tighten government control over Russian Internet providers. While it would be easy to blame these events on the history of communism in Russia, the relationship between church and the state has a longer and more influential history in Russia. A “Harmonious Relationship” Between Church and State In contrast to the cherished ideals of religious liberty and the separation of church and state held in the United States, a major contributing factor to the recent events in Russia is the concept of symphonia, or institutionalized “harmonious relations,” between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian state. This intentional connection between church and state allows the Orthodox Church to enjoy all the attendant privileges of political preference and feeds into a uniquely Russian national identity. This recently signed legislation goes a long way toward preserving this …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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News: Quitting While Ahead

By Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra Why some United Methodist evangelicals suggest a split, even though their side is winning. Every four years for the past four decades, America’s second-largest Protestant denomination officially debates homosexuality. And each time, the United Methodist Church (UMC) affirms the position that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” Contrary to other mainline groups, the UMC’s stance is increasingly unlikely to change. Approximately 5 million UMC members are in Africa, compared to 7 million in the United States. The socially conservative African contingent gains 200,000 members each year as American churches lose 100,000. And attempts to let Americans set policies without African input were soundly defeated at the denomination’s two most recent conferences. Yet this year, 80 evangelical Methodist pastors and theologians proposed that traditionalists and progressives, like Paul and Barnabas in Acts, “part amicably.” Decades of fighting over the issue have been “emotionally draining” and “spiritually nullifying,” said Maxie Dunnam, a former Asbury Theological Seminary president who organized the public letter. A tipping point came when some bishops refused to discipline pastors who married gay couples. Dunnam believes ministry by both sides would be more effective without the distracting debate. Pastors have suggested multiple models for parting ways. Kansas megachurch pastor Adam Hamilton …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Deadly, Healing Medicine

By J. Todd Billings I had to ingest poison if I hoped to live. Incurable cancer. I could hardly believe it when I heard the diagnosis. My wife and I had just celebrated our tenth anniversary, and our lives were spinning in joyful commotion with one- and three- year-olds at home. Initial testing brought back some worrying results. I had researched the possibilities, and I didn’t sound like a likely prospect for this cancer. The average diagnosis age is about 70; I had just turned 39. But here it was: an active cancer that had already been eroding the bones in my skull, arm, and hip. With the Psalmist I cried out, “Heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony. My soul is in deep anguish. How long, Lord, how long? Turn, Lord, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love” (Ps. 6:2b–4). What was this “healing” for my bones and soul? The cancer has no cure, but it can be fought with special treatment. This treatment to extend my lifespan was not going to come through a gentle pill. Ready or not, I was in the midst of a battle. I needed strong medicine for healing to come. Within a week I was …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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20 Truths from Family Life of a Christian Leader, by Ajith Fernando

By Ed Stetzer Joy is not complete until it is shared. 1. Belief is one of the basic values of Christianity and it applies to every area of life. (9) 2. It goes without saying that the greatest desire of Christian leaders for the members of our families is that they become God’s children and follow him. (10) 3. One of the most obvious signs of the primacy of God in the Christian home is prayer. (14) 4. After 38 years of marriage and countless counseling appointments, I have come to realize that what most often takes away the joy and peace of our homes is the refusal to crucify self. (16) 5. If we are causing hurt and unhappiness in our family life because of some problem on our part, we must regard it as an urgent matter that requires immediate attention. (21) 6. A key aspect of the biblical understanding of love is that love is an end in itself and not simply a means to an end. (22) 7. It is very easy for couples to take each other for granted and in the process to overlook expressing their love and concern for each other. (26) 8. One of the most important areas of growth in the Christian …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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The Sacred Ritual of Church Suppers and Snacks

By Rachel Marie Stone By honoring the gift of food, we honor the body of Christ. The apple juice didn’t taste quite right. Neither did the cookies, which were the store-brand imitation of the better-tasting, more expensive version. And there was always fear that there wouldn’t be enough. There would be pushing and grabbing, big kids taking six cookies, and occasionally tears. Always small for my age, and the pastor’s daughter to boot, I didn’t have it in me to jostle and struggle against the other children for the snacks at coffee hour, at Vacation Bible School, at Sunday school. It wasn’t worth it. “Why does the apple juice at church taste weird? Why do we have ‘creme-filled sandwich cookies’ instead of Oreos?” I asked my mom. Maybe the budget didn’t allow for better. This was a generation ago, and “organic” was not a commonly used term. And anyway, we were just kids. Did it matter, really? The grownups got weak and bitter coffee with powdered non-dairy creamer in thick white Styrofoam cups, and those little powdery donuts that came in white and blue boxes from the grocery store shelves and mysteriously stayed fresh for weeks. Church ladies bought several boxes on sale and stored them in …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Clergy Working Fewer Hours, Getting Paid More

By David Brigg Counting the cost is getting easier. The wages of battling sin are getting better for men and women of the cloth. Non-Catholic clergy have experienced significant increases in income even as their work weeks declined by more than 15 percent in recent decades, according to a major new study of clergy compensation published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. (While the non-Catholic category was primarily Protestant, it did include a small number of non-Christian clergy, the study said.) The study is believed to be the first to take into account the benefits clergy receive in the form of housing allowances or living in church-provided residences, which usually cause difficulty in any wage comparison of clergy to the general public. Overall, in inflation-adjusted wages, non-Catholic clergy made $4.37 more per hour in 2013 than they did in 1983. That figure is more than double the wage increase of the average worker with a college degree. In 2013, the average American made $49,225; non-Catholic clergy earned $46,216. Put another way, the general population averaged $21.20 an hour, while church clergy pulled in $18.85 an hour. (Clergy that worked elsewhere, like in hospitals or administration, earned $21.79 an hour.) Like most everyone else in …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Am I Humble Enough to Learn from Millennials?

By Nicole Sheets, guest writer Learning from my elders is easy. Learning from those younger than me—not so much. I was at a garden party last summer with my new baby. A group of twentysomethings smiled at her between bites of flatbread pizza and fruity, boozy popsicles. One of them admitted that the baby was cute, but asked: Doesn’t having a baby cramp your style? I told him I was really glad that someone was cramping my style, that I was starting to be afraid no one would ever cramp my style, that I’ve had so much time with my style! It’s one of the big benefits of being an old new mom. If turning 30 meant saying goodbye to my young youth, then 40 is saying goodbye to my youth, period. It’s accepting that some of my wildest fantasies involve eight consecutive hours of sleep, or sitting down in a chair with a magazine, or trying out a new kale soup recipe. As I try to figure out this new stage of life, I find myself more and more irritated by the ideas and habits of younger people. But to my surprise, I’m also discovering how much I have to learn from them. I teach English …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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An Invitation To Our First Billy Graham Center Vision Gathering

By Ed Stetzer We are building a Center that is rock solid on a vision to build One Body of Christ that shows & shares Jesus well in our broken and hurting world. Join us August 25 in Jackson, MS, to learn more! Just a little over a month ago I became the new Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism at Wheaton College. When I accepted this role, I knew the team at the Center was already doing some great work. So my primary goal here became two-fold: (1) to build on the legacy and work we have done in order to (2) create a Center where partnerships and coalitions are formed and sustained on a level that create deep change across dividing lines and leads us towards a new level of unity around our calling of showing & sharing the love of Jesus in a broken and hurting world. You will be hearing that a lot from us in the days to come: ‘showing & sharing.’ The proclamation of the gospel can never be divided from the demonstration of the gospel. Sometimes one rises in urgency over the other, but when laid side by side, the two can never be …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Ten Christian Athletes Who Were Tebowing Before Tebow

By Paul Putz and Art Remillard Christian sports stars have a long history of using their public platform to display their private faith. Clergymen hovering along the sidelines; athletes proselytizing like revival preachers; and “Jocks for Jesus” steadily colonizing locker rooms nationwide. This was the brave new sports world that journalist Frank Deford described in a 1976 three-part series for Sports Illustrated on religion and sports. “It is almost as if a new denomination had been created,” Deford posited. “Sportianity.” Deford was writing at a unique historical moment. Newsweek had proclaimed 1976 “The Year of the Evangelical,” as presidential candidate Jimmy Carter identified as a “born again” Christian. Evangelicals, it seemed, were everywhere—even in the games that people played and loved. More than simply documenting this trend, though, Deford channeled his inner-most H. L. Mencken and produced a whimsical and astute lament of the burgeoning Sportian movement. “They endorse Jesus, much as they would a new sneaker or a graphite-shafted driver,” he quipped. In the 40 years since Deford’s profile, Sportians have become increasingly ubiquitous. Indeed, the mere fact of their presence is no longer noteworthy. It takes a more conspicuous act or angle to get attention: think of A. C. Green’s celibacy, Orel Hershiser’s singing of the doxology, or …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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God Is Not Out to Get You

By Jeremy Treat The Lord delights in you and sings over you. Can you believe it? My high-school basketball coach was a classic, old-school screamer who motivated with fear and shame. His voice was powerful, but I heard it only when I did something wrong. If I turned the ball over on offense or blew my assignment on defense, practice would stop, and the shaming would begin. Red in the cheeks and foaming at the mouth, he would scream until I had to wipe the spit off the side of my face. I never really knew him outside of basketball practice, but I know he was an angry man. Many people have a similar view of God. They believe he’s a grumpy old man who has to get his way, and that when he doesn’t, he will shame, guilt, and scare people to get them in line. Although most wouldn’t say it out loud, deep down even many believers think of God as “the God who is out to get me,” that he is waiting for us to mess up so he can meet his divine quota for punishing sin. Perhaps this comes from a particular teaching or from a bad experience with a church …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Diaspora Missions: Diaspora Churches as Equal Partners in Mission

By Stanley John Hispanic, Korean, Chinese, and Nigerian churches embody the vitality and vibrancy of Global Christianity. A few weeks ago I had the privilege of attending the first united symposium of the Chinese Alliance churches in Canada. These churches are part of the Canadian Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA) and offer services in Mandarin, Cantonese, and English languages. They represent nearly 100 churches which account for 20% of all C&MA churches in Canada. There, I met Pastor Solomon Chiang, a seasoned church planter who was pastoring in Taiwan and came to Canada for his theological studies. He then pastored a Chinese church in Parsippany, New Jersey, before moving to the greater Toronto area, where he planted three churches in the last two decades, all of them exceeding several hundred members. He focused his ministry on reaching the Mandarin-speaking new immigrants from mainland China. When asked of the reason why the churches are growing, he simply responds that the church demonstrates Christian love and that is the catalyst that draws people to Christ. On the States’ side, diaspora churches now account for more than 46% of the nearly 2,000 C&MA churches in the Unites States. Pew Forum’s 2014 Religious Landscape Study reports ethnic diversity among North American …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Trump Won. Here's How 17 Evangelical Leaders Feel.

By Compiled by Emily Lund Pastors, authors, and others weigh in on 2016 election. This week, a divisive and unprecedented election season culminated in a win for Republican nominee Donald Trump. Exit polls reported that four out of five white voters who self-identified as “evangelical” voted for him. Following the election, CT surveyed the reactions of evangelical leaders. Responses are listed alphabetically. Matthew Lee Anderson: “I have not lost any of the skepticism” Founder of Mere Orthodoxy “As one who opposed both our major party candidates, I am glad that the campaign is over and hopeful that America will endure the four years ahead. … Yet while the hope I feel is real, I have not lost any of the skepticism I have frequently registered about the effects of a Trump presidency on evangelicalism, on racial minorities, and on America. That skepticism will not be alleviated for a long time to come.” Thabiti Anyabwile: “Now the work begins afresh” Pastor, Anacostia River Church, Washington, DC “I am doing well following the election. Our political process worked again, and that’s a blessing. The result is not what I wanted. Ideally, I longed for a way for both major party candidates to lose. And Mr. Trump’s election was, by a sliver, the worse possible …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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