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Amid ‘Evangelism Crisis,’ Southern Baptists Bring In $400 Million More

By Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra While the No. 1 evangelical denomination reports the highs and lows of 2015, America’s No. 3 reports just highs. Over the past year, Southern Baptists went to church less, gave less to missions, and baptized fewer people. Yet new churches continued to open, and the people actually in the pews donated more dollars. These are among the mixed findings of the 2015 Annual Church Profile (ACP) of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). The report is released each year in advance of the 15-million-member denomination’s annual meeting. Last year, the SBC immersed about 295,000 people, down from about 305,000 baptisms in 2014. At the same time, SBC pastors planted almost 300 new churches, bringing the total number of SBC churches to about 46,800. Church membership dropped by about 204,000 people to 15.3 million, and average weekly attendance dropped by about 97,000 people to 5.6 million. In contrast, undesignated giving increased more than $406 million to surpass $9 billion. Giving to Great Commission ministry programs was down by about $24 million to $613 million, but since October, giving to North American and international ministries has been rebounding, SBC president Ronnie Floyd noted in his reaction to the report. Last year, budget constraints forced the …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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3 Ways Suffering Produces Sanctification

By Ed Stetzer Suffering for the believer is never without purpose. “Why?” is the question many of us ask of the Lord when something tragic happens in our lives or in the life of someone we know. There’s story after story of suffering in the Bible, but very seldom do we know why the people suffered. On this topic Paul wrote: We also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance products proven character, and proven character produces hope. This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. Romans 5:3-5 Rejoicing in the midst of suffering focuses our attention on the knowledge of what the Spirit produces in us through that suffering. The result is threefold: suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope. Suffering Unleashes Endurance Endurance in the Bible means steadfast adherence to a course of action in spite of difficulties and testing. As we go through trials, we develop greater perseverance to deal with increased challenges. Consider James’s words on the subject: Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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A Tale of Two Billy Graham Statues

By Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra Dual delays on efforts to honor ‘America’s pastor,’ while researchers rank his admiration in 30 countries. Yesterday, contractors working to dismantle the familiar 9-foot statue of Billy Graham outside of LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville ran into trouble. LifeWay, which sold its 15-acre downtown campus last year, plans to move the statue to the entrance of its Ridgecrest Conference Center near Graham’s home in North Carolina. But today the statue still stands in Nashville, delayed “because it was attached to the ground differently than expected,” LifeWay stated. The removal has been rescheduled for June 25, LifeWay spokesperson Marty King told CT. It was secured by grout, reportedThe Tennessean. When the statue does come down, it will be stored until its new site is ready in the fall. LifeWay’s new headquarters is only three acres, making the mountain retreat “the most optimal location,” King told the Nashville newspaper. The statue depicts Graham in a three-piece suit, standing by a 17-foot cross. His arms are outstretched; his left hand is wrapped around a Bible. The piece was sculpted by pastor Terrell O’Brien and donated to LifeWay by two Southern Baptist businessmen in 2006. “Ridgecrest is a perfect location for the Graham statue,” stated …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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A Meditation on the Orlando Shooting

By Mark Galli This latest attack is part of a pattern, and the pretext for a remarkable prayer. We at Christianity Today are deeply grieved by the shooting in Orlando that killed 50 people. Our heartfelt sympathies go out to friends and family of the victims. In this case, the attack was targeted at one group, and so our prayers go up for gays, lesbians, and other sexual minorities who now live with a heightened sense of fear. We are glad to hear of so many Christians, from many theological persuasions, reaching out to comfort them in their grief. This weekend’s murders unfortunately remind us of the LGBT community’s place among the many groups who have been singled out for mass killing by hateful people. Just five examples since 2000: African Americans: The most recent attack we are remembering just this week: On June 17, 2015, nine people were murdered at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Sikhs: On August, 5, 2012, six people were killed and three injured at a Wisconsin Sikh temple. Christians: On December 9, 2007, two people were killed at a Youth With A Mission training center in Arvada, Colorado, and another two at New Life Church in Colorado Springs. Jews: …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Weekend Edition—June 3, 2016

By Ed Stetzer British Evangelicalism, A Confession, Military chaplains, church signs and more! British Christianity isn’t dying. It’s sleeping. Evangelism can awaken it—Tim Stanley Great analysis from a British historian. A Confession of Liberal Intolerance—Nicholas Kristof Self-examination is essential for any movement. The Crisis in Flint Isn’t Over. It’s Everywhere.—Ben Paynter Leaving aside politics for a moment, there are a lot of people suffering in this debacle. What happens when the military chaplain is shaken by war—Michelle Boorstein The cost of war to soldiers is great, as is the cost paid by those who care for them. 3 Shortcuts Leaders Should Never Take—Eric Geiger Eric brings his ongoing great insight into leadership. Want to read a weekly digest of The Exchange blog? Click here to subscribe to Christianity Today’s Newsletter for The Exchange to get weekly wrap-ups direct to your inbox. Don’t forget to subscribe to the The Exchange Podcast in iTunes. Earlier this week on The Exchange The Ministries of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism Trends in Church Staffing: Executive and Campus Pastors Amplifying Evangelism—Helping Non-Christian Friends Hear God’s Voice How Events Help People Share the Mission Church Signs Bring Your Own Bolt …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Trends in Church Staffing: Executive and Campus Pastors

By Ed Stetzer Administrative tasks in growing churches need a focus person. Thom Rainer, back in 2013, referred to the executive pastor position as becoming a “hot” position. I think he is right. So just what is an executive pastor? It is a pastor that works for or with the senior or lead pastor to execute the ministry and mission of the church. How do they specifically execute the ministry and mission of the church? According to Thom, there are two historical broad paths that executive pastors have taken. Some execute their role through staff oversight, making sure the staff is fulfilling the vision of the church as it relates to their specific area of ministry. Other executive pastors execute their role as the business administrator—something similar to that of a CFO in the corporate world. In some cases, executive pastors fulfill both roles. I’d also add that another position with growing presence is the campus pastor position. As multisite has become popular, so has this position. The campus pastor role functions similar to that of an executive pastor, given that the campus pastor position tends to be a non-preaching role. Therefore, the role is filled with people who have a pastoral heart and …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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The Ministries of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism

By Ed Stetzer More info about the important work of the BGCE For the past year I have been serving as Senior Fellow at the Center and have been really impressed by the amount of ministry that happens through such a relatively small group of people. Over the past nine months, we have Equipped nearly 70,000 people for evangelism both in person and online Organized and hosted two major conferences to engage Christians in the global refugee crisis Started four new senior pastor cohorts in the Evangelizing Churches Initiative Launched the largest-of-its-kind research project to study the unchurched and churches reaching them Launched ReKindle, a YouTube channel designed to equip Christians for better gospel witness Launched the EMQ podcast designed to equip the Church to more effectively minister to the unreached Expanded the Evangelism Initiative conversation to 40 Christian colleges and universities Now let me share in more detail. Training. A number of our staff speak both nationally and internationally in churches, at conferences, and in college settings on missions and evangelism. We have invested deeply in mentoring communities and are committed to walking alongside the next generation of Christ-followers through discipleship. We also have several online training resources to engage Christians …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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Saturday is for Seminars—Disaster Relief Conference

By Ed Stetzer Disaster Relief and Amplify Let me share two conferences coming up on the Wheaton College campus this summer! Caring for the Vulnerable, June 7-10, 2016—Wheaton, IL Click this link to register for Caring for the Vulnerable Disaster Ministry Conference. Amplify Conference, June 28-30, 2016—Wheaton, Illinois Click here to register for the Amplify Conference. Coming Soon June 13, 2016Southern Baptist Convention Pastor’s Conference St. Louis, MO June 28-30, 2016Amplify Conference Wheaton, IL July 18, 2016Church of God General Assembly Nashville, TN August 12-13, 2016Gideons Global Impact Conference Toronto, Ontario, CA September 9, 2016Capacity Conference Atlanta, GA September 16, 2016American Association of Christian Counselors National Meeting Dallas, TX September 30, 2016MissioNexus Louisville, KY … …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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New Emoji Bible Recalls Age-Old Translation Debate

By Kate Shellnutt Popular Christian symbols rank among the most confusing. Have you heard the Good News? 🙂 Sites from The New York Times to Forbes are reacting to a new emoji-studded Bible translation—the latest effort to make the Holy Book appeal to young readers. “Bible Emoji: Scripture 4 Millenials (sic)”—now available for $2.99 on Apple’s iBooks—comes from the Twitter account @BibleEmoji, which replaces select words in Bible verses with corresponding smiley faces or other small icons used in text messages and on social media. This version follows other lighthearted 21st-century translations such as the LOLCat Bible and the Lego Brick Bible. But for all the hype over this particular digital-era adaptation, the emoji Bible actually doesn’t contain that many emojis. It’s a King James Version (KJV) with 10 to 15 percent of the text swapped for emojis; about one or two symbols appear in each verse. (The KJV is the most-read version of the Bible by far, and despite the popularity of the NIV for new purchases of the Bible, remains the most-searched version online. It’s also in the public domain in the United States, so changes can be made without seeking permission or paying a fee.) This distinctly 21st-century twist on …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Kids Want What We Teach Them to Want

By Jen Pollock Michel Habit proves to be powerful liturgy. “Do your kids ever complain about going to church every week?” my friend asks. She and her husband were raised in small countryside churches in the south of France, and while they were never zealous for the faith, they dutifully attended mass on Christmas and Easter until recent years. My friends accept the seeming inevitability of spiritual lapse. Sunday worship, hardly exhilarating in its own right, stands to compete with birthday parties, competitive sports, and the luxury of sleeping late. Remarkably, our five children don’t complain. This isn’t to say that our 13-year-old son doesn’t occasionally look bored during the sermon. It isn’t to deny that our twin eight-year-old boys wiggle distractedly during prayer, asking in loud whispers, “When is this going to be over?” On any given Sunday, our children may be more or less engaged in the 90-minute liturgy that moves us from a call to worship to a final benediction, but they do come willingly. Everyone is a worshiper, and every habit is a liturgy. This is the central premise of James K. A. Smith’s research in the last several years, whose work David Brooks highlighted in his recent New York Times column, <a target="_blank" …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Is Bernie Sanders Religious?

By Yehiel Poupko No. But he’s deeply influenced by the modern Jewish experience. The following exchange took place between Anderson Cooper of CNN and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in the March debate in Flint, Michigan: Cooper: “Senator Sanders, are you intentionally keeping your Jewish faith in the background during your campaign?” Sanders: “I am very proud to be Jewish, and being Jewish is so much of what I am. Look, my father’s family was wiped out by Hitler in the Holocaust. I know about what crazy and radical and extremist politics mean. I learned that lesson as a tiny, tiny child when my mother would take me shopping and we would see people working in stores who had numbers on their arms because they were in Hitler’s concentration camps. I am very proud of being Jewish, and that is an essential part of who I am as a human being.” Once again we are in presidential election season. The candidates are, each in their own way, projecting what they want the electorate to know about their faith. We Americans are used to this quadrennial exercise. This election cycle, however, is exceptional. Senator Bernie Sanders has advanced further in the presidential campaign than any other Jewish citizen before him. …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Fearfully and Autistically Made

By Valerie Dunham, guest writer Acceptance means seeing autism as part of who my son is. It took seven months on a waiting list before my son could be evaluated for autism. That time was a curse in many ways. Things got worse. He gave himself black eyes and gashes on his forehead because his body craved more input. He slept without clothes because he became too overwhelmed by changing them in the morning. He went on unaware of how to commune with other people, oscillating between entirely ignoring his peers and tackling or laying on them. But those seven months were a gift, too, because that turned out to be the amount of time I needed to make peace with autism. Despite the fact that Declan could have benefitted from an earlier evaluation—despite the fact that close friends and family encouraged us to seek one—my own fears inhibited me. While we waited, I began to reconcile a disorder I understood little about with the child I’d rocked to sleep for three years. That reconciliation resulted in a drastically different understanding of autism spectrum disorder, one that enabled not just awareness of ASD, but also acceptance of it. The word autism is derived from the Greek “autos,” …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Died: Robertson McQuilkin, College President Praised for Alzheimer’s Resignation

By Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra He left Columbia Bible College short of retirement to care for his ailing wife. Robertson McQuilkin, who stepped down from the presidency of Columbia Bible College and Seminary (now Columbia International University) in 1990 to care fulltime for his ailing wife, Muriel, has died. He was 88. McQuilkin, whose father was Columbia’s first president, met Muriel when they were both students there. During their 55-year marriage, they raised 6 children and served for 12 years as missionaries in Japan. Both eventually worked at Columbia—Muriel taught and McQuilkin became the president in 1968. Their love story went national when Muriel developed Alzheimer’s disease and was eventually terrified to be without McQuilkin. Some of his friends advised him to put her into an institution. But he chose instead to leave Columbia eight years short of retirement in order to care for her. McQuilkin explained his decision to CT: When the time came, the decision was firm. It took no great calculation. It was a matter of integrity. Had I not promised, 42 years before, “in sickness and in health . . . till death do us part”? This was no grim duty to which I stoically resigned, however. It was …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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African Pilgrims Pour into Uganda for Martyrs Day

By Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra President wants Protestants to replicate the tourism success of Catholics. Today tens of thousands of Christians in Uganda will dip themselves and their children into a lake where executioners reportedly washed off the blood of dozens of martyrs. It’s an annual ritual to remember 45 Catholics and Anglicans who were killed by sword or fire by Ugandan king Mwanga between 1885 and 1887. (A Ugandan film released May 30 retells the story.) Twenty-two of the martyrs were Catholic. Those men were beatified by Pope Benedict XV in 1920 and canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1964. Their shrine in Namugongo can seat 1,000 and has been visited by three popes, including Pope Francis. Last year, 500 Catholic pilgrims from Kenya spent more than a month walking 300 miles to reach it for the annual Martyrs Day. The June 3 observance draws millions of pilgrims across East Africa. The other 23 martyrs were Anglican. While there is also a shrine to the Protestant martyrs, it’s nothing like its Catholic counterpart. In fact, the Protestant presence is so small that originally Uganda president Yoweri Museveni said he thought there were only Catholic martyrs. He criticized Anglicans for not popularizing their …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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"Lord, I Thank Thee That I am not Like Those Evangelical Trump Supporters"

By Ed Stetzer Extending grace should not depend on the voting booth. In the 18th chapter of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus tells a story about two men who go up to the temple to pray. One is a Pharisee, known for his strict piety: he fasts twice a week, tithes faithfully, and doesn’t cheat on his wife. The other, a tax collector, is a train wreck who has sold out his people by collaborating with their Roman overlords. He’s the worst person in their world. “God,” the Pharisee prays, “I thank You that I’m not like other people—greedy, unrighteous, adulterers, even like this tax collector.” This parable came to mind recently, inspired in part by some of the response to the surprising popularity of Donald Trump among evangelical Christians. In recent decades, white evangelicals—and yes, that’s a statistically identifiable voting bloc and I’m using it as such in this article—have been among the most consistent supporters of the Republican Party. Most of the time, they’ve been so-called “values voters” who demanded that their leaders be people of faith, committed to traditional moral principles, and who stand up for the 10 Commandments. Trump Evangelicals Yet they’ve turned out in droves to vote for Trump, who has certainly broken a few of those commandments. …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Why God Gives us Weakness

By Sarah Lebhar Hall How I’ve come to identify with Gideon the wimp. During a late-night conversation a few years ago, my husband and I realized that any time we commit to doing service for the kingdom, we seem to get slammed. The days leading up to ministry are full of mini-disasters. The kids get sick. We get sick. The car breaks down. The water heater conks out. Jon’s insomnia kicks in. Our budget takes some unexpected hit. My stomachaches kick in. And everyone in our support network is simultaneously out of town. Sometimes the disasters aren’t so miniature, and the pain is amplified. Many friends of ours describe this kind of barrage as spiritual attack. If so, we wondered aloud that night, what exactly is the point of the attack? Is the Evil One trying to prevent us from finishing the ministry at hand? That rarely works. Does he want to distract us, so that we won’t do it well, or so that we won’t abide in the Lord while we’re doing it? Or is the point to discourage us from saying “yes” to anything like this ever again? That night, we concluded that if this is Satan’s tactic, it might just work. There are many reasons …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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Why You Can Still Bet Your Life on Christ

By Michael Rota An updated version of Pascal’s wager offers a powerful argument for Christian commitment. Many Christians believe in God fundamentally because they sense his presence. But what if you don’t sense his presence? Or what if it comes and goes—at times deserting you and leaving you doubting? What should we do when certainty proves elusive? Should we commit to living a devout Christian life only if we are absolutely convinced that Christianity is true? Blaise Pascal, a 17th-century thinker, famously addressed these very questions. An influential mathematician, scientist, and inventor, Pascal was also deeply religious. In his early 30s, he had a religious experience so powerful that he kept a written description of it stitched into his coat until his death at 39. Pascal left behind a major, unfinished work of apologetics, but notes for the project were found among his belongings, compiled by editors, and published as the Pensées. In one of his notes, Pascal makes several attempts at a pragmatic argument that one should commit to living a devout Christian life even without certainty that God exists. “Pascal’s wager,” as the argument is called, can be summed up in a single sentence: For those who choose the way of Jesus, there is …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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4 Responses to Cultural Change

By Ed Stetzer Christians must know how to engage culture. As followers of Christ, we won’t always fit into the world in which we live. In fact, we’ll often find ourselves going against the flow of popular culture in certain areas of life. It’s necessary for us to have a solid biblical foundation to stand on in the midst of a rapidly shifting cultural landscape. We need to know how the eternal Word of God shapes our understanding of current issues and how we can share the gospel compassionately and courageously with the people around us. Here are four possible responses to cultural change. 1. WE CONFORM. We start compromising what we believe and the way we act in order to appeal to and appease the surrounding culture. We may even genuinely believe that doing so is both loving and strategic, hoping somehow people will be attracted to Jesus through a less offensive form of Christianity and will ultimately be saved. However, we have to realize that our goal isn’t to make following Jesus easier. The message of the gospel is necessarily countercultural and offensive to the human heart. 2. WE CHECK OUT. The opposite extreme is to secede from culture, distancing ourselves so completely that we never have …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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