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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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BAMCinemafest 2016 Round-Up

By Alissa Wilkinson Five films worth looking for. At Christianity Today we try to cover festivals all over, as much as we can manage. Just in the last year, we’ve reported extensively from the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah; the Berlin International Film Festival in Berlin, Germany; True/False in Columbia, Missouri; South by Southwest in Austin, Texas; the New York Film Festival in upper Manhattan; and the Tribeca Film Festival in downtown Manhattan. We believe film festivals are a vital place to take the pulse of our culture and to sample the broad spectrum of creativity, imagination, and earnest questioning on offer. They’re a great place to develop your palate as a discerning filmgoer while also supporting artists, many of whom poured years of their lives and their savings into their film. They’re also an important place for aspiring filmmakers and critics to begin joining the “guild,” so to speak—to see the breadth of filmmaking that goes way beyond the Hollywood genre-movie factory and develop an imagination and a community. (Plus a lot of these movies will make their way to …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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Why Can’t We Christians Laugh Anymore?

By Leslie Leyland Fields At a time when evangelicals feel culturally embattled, it seems we’ve lost our ability to laugh. When 50 Shades of Grey took over the world last year, it spawned so much Christian outrage that I took to satire and wrote a piece called “A Modest Proposal: 50 Shades of Grey in Every Classroom.” In it, I commended the author for successfully ignoring ISIS and the wars around the world and instead using her artistic skills toward a far greater social ill: puritanical mores and sexual repression. Both were clearly harming marriages and hampering our over-studious youth. A copy of 50 Shadesin every classroom should do the trick! So many of my (mostly Christian) readers were incensed and offended at my “proposal” that I had to explain I was using satire. And then, to some, I had to explain satire. (My shorthand definition: “When people are deaf,” wrote novelist Flannery O’Connor, “sometimes you have to shout.”) Last week I ventured into political commentary on social media. Along with the cascade of Republicans who were struggling to express their qualified support of Trump, I joked that I too found a way I could support Trump. First, he’d have to choose a smart, non-racist, …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Border Crossing: 5 Ways to Move Church Voting Beyond the Status Quo

By Elizabeth Drury Church voting should reflect vision, not current reality. If your church’s voting isn’t diverse, your church isn’t diverse. Like many other tribes, my denomination elects regional officers, committees, and boards at conferences during the summer months. Too often, the voting process works against the values we espouse. I’ll posit a hypothetical Huckleberry District as if it were my own. In a representative governance model like ours, the election process culls a handful of trustworthy people from the mass of larger bodies to form smaller working groups that can efficiently make decisions. Local churches elect delegates, who then elect leaders at an annual regional meeting. At each level, those elected represent equitably the concerns, commitments, and strategic sensitivities of the Huckleberry District. But what is the Huckleberry District? When I try to imagine God’s perspective on this question, a seemingly minor change in focus seems necessary. If the Huckleberry District is primarily the 350 people gathered in the room for annual conference, and if committees and leaders are supposed to reflect that larger body (egalitarian in this example), then based upon the faces historically present, we need to be electing maybe one woman and one person of color. The rest should continue to be white males, as a …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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Ghostbusters

By Alissa Wilkinson I ain’t afraid of no ghosts. Your questions, answered. Is this new Ghostbusters movie funny? Yes. How funny? On a scale ranging from whatever Adam Sandler is subjecting us to these days to the Jump Street series? Depends on what tickles your funny bone. You’ll laugh, but sometimes you’ll groan. There are good one-liners and gags (I’m partial, for personal reasons, to Melissa McCarthy’s ongoing war with the Chinese food delivery guy over the number of wontons in her soup), and others that feel half-baked. But on balance, it’s a good time. Why are there a bunch of women starring instead of men? Is this some kind of man-hating gimmick? Why is this even a question? Ghostbusters never succeeded because of its cogent social commentary, thoughtful themes, or innovative plotting. Born of sketch comedy, it’s all about the performances. The original Ghostbusters (which is about six months younger than me) featured mostly actors known for their hilarious work on Saturday Night Live. This one does too. Anyone with half a brain watching SNL these days knows the women have far outpaced the men in the cast for a while. Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones, Melissa McCarthy (who’s hosted SNL to great effect), and, above all, the great, zany Kate …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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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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Does Your Church Talk About Prison?

By Morgan Lee The disparities in America’s criminal justice system find an echo in which churches do, and don’t, discuss the issue. In a study of 1,000 mainline and evangelical pastors conducted by LifeWay Research this year, only 26 percent said they had addressed the country’s incarceration rates in the past six months. Four out of five pastors (83%) said they had visited a correctional facility, and about three out of four pastors whose churches averaged 250 or more attendees reported that individual members were ministering to those in correctional facilities (80%), the families of the incarcerated (73%), and those coming home (78%). But these same churches were far less likely to have formal programs: Just over half (53%) said a team from their church worked in correctional facilities. About 1 in 4 churches had a formal ministry to families of incarcerated people (24%) and people leaving correctional facilities (22%). Responses varied dramatically by race. One third of African American pastors (32%) reported mentioning mass incarceration in the last month, compared with only 7 percent of whites. White pastors were most likely to say that they had never addressed it in a sermon (41%). That’s partially because of their audience: About one third of African American pastors …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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I Overlooked the Rural Poor—Then Trump Came Along

By Tish Harrison Warren This election has urban evangelicals paying more attention to the plight of small-town America. I never saw the Donald Trump phenomenon coming. Even as someone with many conservative friends and family members, I didn’t know anyone who supported him during his Republican run. But nearly everyone I know either has a college degree—which statistically narrowed one’s chance of voting for Trump in the primaries—or lives in a city, or both. Trump’s ascent ultimately revealed a large demographic of Americans who were off my radar. Early primary polls showed that his supporters were more likely than voters overall to be poor, white, without higher education, and from rural counties or small towns. Though class conflict and rural/urban divides are not one and the same (there are people of all classes in small towns and in cities), their overlap exposes profound class and cultural divisions in America. Many evangelical leaders have publicly grappled with Trump’s popularity. As America clusters in cities and suburbs—now home to a record 80 percent of the population—our church planting, poverty relief, and outreach ministry have shifted accordingly. For many, rural communities and small towns are faceless places we road-trip through on our way somewhere else. The rise of Trump brought for …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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