If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere

If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere

I’m in New York City speaking at a conference on how to mobilize a movement of gospel ministry across the city. The audience is full of church planters, clergy, and denominational leaders, all trying to figure out what Christian mission could look like today. The challenges for the church here are significant. The conditions prevalent in New York City create an interesting crucible in which to do mission. I agree that Christians ought to be present and engaged in every type of context. But across the world people are flocking to cities at the rate of millions per year. So it makes sense that Christians should be moving to cities in the same proportions as the people they want to reach. More than that, the social conditions experienced by New Yorkers are really very similar to those present in other cities, only writ large. As cities grow, and the world become increasingly urbanized, looking to what the churches in cities like New York are doing becomes important for church leaders everywhere. As the song goes, “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere.” So, what are those conditions?   Transience: New Yorkers are phenomenally transient. No one stays there very long. In fact, most churches can expect to lose a third of their members every year. One church

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Christians can really suck, but not always

Christians can really suck, but not always

Last weekend I spent a few days working with a network of churches called COS I Love You (COS is the airport code for Colorado Springs). It’s a partnership between around 35 churches from across the Springs (as the locals call it), and involves them mobilizing thousands of volunteers to work in community service projects over one weekend in October. Their goal is to help beautify, rebuild, and restore special places in Colorado Springs, including public schools, parks, local businesses, and non-profit organizations in an effort to meet the immediate needs of the city. Earlier in the week, church leaders had hosted a reception, at which the mayor of Colorado Springs, John Suthers, shared both his gratitude for the work they were doing, as well as his heart for how to make COS a truly great city. Then on the Friday night, I spoke at their citywide worship gathering, a beautiful, ecumenical service that brought me to tears at one point. An offering was collected with the aim of raising half-a-million dollars for the Springs Rescue Mission, a homeless shelter downtown (COS I Love You has previously raised $750,000 for the Mission). On Saturday I spent much of the day visiting projects, including seeing people: cleaning up trash from the hiking trails in the Garden of the Gods state park; helping

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The Gospel Coalition and that heresy hunting thing they do

The Gospel Coalition and that heresy hunting thing they do

The last execution of a heretic occurred in Valencia on 26 July, 1826. After a two-year trial, the Spanish Inquisition convicted the schoolmaster Cayetano Ripoll of deism and sentenced him to hang for his unorthodox beliefs. Today, heretics are tried via blogs and executed with a tweet. And most of the modern-day heresy hunting seems to be conducted by a network called The Gospel Coalition.   Gospel Coalition Canada investigates Bruxy Cavey Recently, the Gospel Coalition’s Paul Carter decided to undertake an exhaustive examination of the theological views of Bruxy Cavey, the teaching pastor at The Meeting House, a megachurch just outside Toronto, Canada. Apparently, Carter had heard some bad stuff about Cavey’s teaching (maybe from this brutal assessment that he’s a “false teacher” by Jacob Reaume) and decided to interview him in order to make his own informed determination. Fifteen-thousand words later (not counting footnotes), Carter brought down his verdict that, “Bruxy Cavey is not a heretic. He’s an Anabaptist.” Cavey and Anabaptists everywhere must have breathed a collective sigh of relief [sarcasm alert]. Nonetheless, Carter went on to damn him with faint praise, “I have no interest in bringing the Anabaptists into my metaphorical bed, I am merely arguing for their right to exist within our ecclesiological neighborhood.” I know, it sounds smug, patronising, and sanctimonious, but I

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5 Ways Jesus Would Respond in Today’s World

5 Ways Jesus Would Respond in Today’s World

Russia probes, nuclear summits, refugee crises, #MeToo, and more—these days it feels like everything is in flux. How would Jesus respond to the political and social upheaval we’re currently experiencing? Not with acquiescence and passivity. Not by giving in to the arresting powers of conformity and privacy. But by building a new world order—what Jesus called the Kingdom of God. Here are five things I’m pretty sure Jesus would do in today’s world.   Side with the poor, not with a party It has been claimed that partisan politics is an even more divisive issue in America today than race. Whether left or right, Democrat or Republican, each side lives in its own echo chamber, with its own preferred TV news networks, talk show hosts, newspaper columnists, social commentators, blog writers, conventions, etc. We all seem to exist in huge feedback loops, squelching dissent and growing more extreme in our thinking, blithely ignoring evidence that our respective positions might be wrong. In fact, we want little to do with each other. In a recent Pew Research survey, it was found that 68 percent of Republicans and 62 percent of Democrats say they identify with their political party primarily out of their opposition to the other party. Indeed, 45 percent of Republicans and 41 percent of Democrats felt that the other

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Franklin Graham’s strange inconsistency on teen sexual sin

Franklin Graham’s strange inconsistency on teen sexual sin

Either your sexual behavior as a teenager matters or it doesn’t. After myriad messages from the sexual purity movement telling teens not to practice pre-marital sex, we now hear that Franklin Graham thinks your behavior as a teenager isn’t relevant to your character in adulthood. Commenting on the recent allegations of sexual assault made against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh when he was a teenager, Mr Graham said, “There’s a lot of things that I’ve done when I was a teenager that I certainly am ashamed of and not proud of. People are up in arms over this like ‘oh, this is such a disaster.’ You’re talking about two teenagers 40 years ago. That has nothing to do with what we’re talking about today about this man being a judge on the Supreme court.” Remember, Franklin Graham also defended Judge Roy Moore, a man accused of sexual misconduct against nine women when they were teenagers, by saying he was “a courageous man… willing to stand for God’s moral laws.” And this is the same Franklin Graham whose own denomination founded True Love Waits, a ministry for promoting sexual abstinence outside of marriage for teenagers and college students. TLW is sponsored by LifeWay Christian Resources. TLW tells teens that if they signed an abstinence pledge and followed the biblical model of

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“You’ve got ten minutes!”: learning how to preach in the church of Apple

“You’ve got ten minutes!”: learning how to preach in the church of Apple

On September 12, Apple hosted its latest product launch with the tagline “Gather round”, at which they introduced the new Apple Watch Series 4, and the next generation iPhones. The 1,000-seat Steve Jobs Theater in the Apple Park campus was packed for the 2-hour event. But the intriguing thing about Apple Events is that no video or speaker ever takes more than 10 minutes at a time. At the September 12 event, Apple CEO Tim Cook kicked things off with a five-minute update on sales and products and introduced the subjects of the day: the Apple Watch and new iPhones. Then Apple COO Jeff Williams came on stage and talked for two minutes about the new Apple Watch and they played a video. Williams then presented a scripted ten-minute presentation (maybe a little longer because he was regularly interrupted by applause) before introducing the president of the American Heart Association who spoke for two minutes about the new health feature on the Apple Watch. Back comes Jeff Williams with another four-minute presentation and another video, this one of Apple’s chief designer, Jony Ive speaking for two minutes about the watch. Tim Cook returned to introduce marketing chief Phil Schiller who took over the iPhone portion of the presentation. And so it goes. Ten speakers.  And no one spoke for more

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Hey Church, you’re not Serena so stop losing like her

Hey Church, you’re not Serena so stop losing like her

Recently, the church has to learn how to lose with dignity, and we don’t like it. After several self-inflicted losses, as well as a groundswell against the church even having a voice in society, a lot of Christian leaders feel like they’re fighting a losing battle for the hearts and minds of Western society. Not accustomed to losing, a lot of white church leaders don’t do so very graciously at all.   In fact, often when the church loses it does so like Serena Williams in the US Open. We kick and scream and accuse others of orchestrating our downfall. We say the umpire of secular humanism isn’t fair, that it doesn’t treat us the same as others. We claim discrimination and bigotry. Our language become intemperate. We sound irrational and impetuous. Everything that Serena Williams’ critics are saying about her now. But actually, the situation couldn’t be more different. Despite her spectacular success, Serena Williams has had to overcome sexism and racism throughout her career. She had to fight alongside other female players for pay parity, with Wimbledon becoming the last grand slam to offer equal prize money in 2007. But that tournament still refers to women by designations like Miss and Mrs on the scoreboard. Still, outside the major tournaments, the gender pay gap in tennis is a chasm.

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The interlocking cogs of social justice and evangelism

The interlocking cogs of social justice and evangelism

I am all for a statement that provides a clear, biblical integration of both evangelism and social justice. For most of the 20th century these two aspects of the mission of God’s people were considered to be competing interests in the life of the church. Even still today, for some people, evangelism and social justice are seen as polar opposites, so they assume the more committed you are to one, the less interested you are in the other. So when I’d read there was a new major statement being issued about these two areas of Christian responsibility I had hoped we could at last put to bed the idea that commitment to one necessarily crushes interest in the other. Imagine my disappointment when I read that one of the original signatories of the recently drafted Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel, was evangelical church leader, John MacArthur, who recently wrote, “Evangelicalism’s newfound obsession with the notion of ‘social justice’ is a significant shift — and I’m convinced it’s a shift that is moving many people (including some key evangelical leaders) off message, and onto a trajectory that many other movements and denominations have taken before.” Firstly, evangelicalism does not have an obsession with social justice. I wish we did. Anyone who has ever tried to mobilise the evangelical church in

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What would Newbigin have said if he’d been invited to that White House dinner?

What would Newbigin have said if he’d been invited to that White House dinner?

Last week, President Donald Trump hosted a White House reception for 100 Evangelical leaders, including such figures as Paula White, Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell Jr., Darrell Scott, Robert Jeffress, Eric Metaxas, Ralph Reed, and Tony Perkins. The president was lavish in his praise for those leaders who had supported his presidency. And he was equally lavish in his self-praise: “We’re here this evening to celebrate America’s heritage of faith, family, and freedom. As you know, in recent years, the government tried to undermine religious freedom. But the attacks on communities of faith are over. … The support you’ve given me has been incredible. But I really don’t feel guilty because I have given you a lot back, just about everything I promised. And as one of our great pastors just said, ‘Actually, you’ve given us much more, sir, than you promised.’ And I think that’s true, in many respects.” It seems the Evangelical leaders present thought it was true too. During the dinner, Florida pastor and Trump’s “closest spiritual adviser” Paula White presented the president with a Bible, “signed by over a hundred Christians, Evangelicals that love you, pray for you,” and inscribed with the following message: “First Lady and President, you are in our prayers always. Thank you for your courageous and bold stand for religious liberty, and for

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They’re fiddling while young lives burn

They’re fiddling while young lives burn

To fiddle while Rome burns (idiomatic) To neglect helping when one’s time is needed most; to ignore the major problem at hand (whilst doing something less important); to be idle, inactive, or uninterested in a time of great need.   The Emperor Nero certainly did not play the fiddle during the great fire that ravaged Rome for a week in July, 64 A.D., destroying 70 percent of the city and leaving half its population homeless. Not that it was beyond him to be so insensitive, but because the fiddle, or any instrument like it, wasn’t invented until the 11th century. He probably sang instead. The posturing Nero fancied himself as something of an ancient rockstar. He loved performing, and craved recognition in the musical world so much he launched his own singing competitions (which he won himself, of course). So when Rome went up in flames, even though he threw open his gardens and public buildings to the homeless and brought in grain from the neighboring towns, all anyone remembered was what Tacitus reported: “…he had mounted his private stage, and, typifying the ills of the present by the calamities of the past, had sung the Destruction of Troy.” Can you picture it? The injured and dispossessed survivors of the firestorm who took refuge in the imperial gardens, having lost everything

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If Your Church is Honestly Mediocre offering sharper ecclesial infotainment won’t turn it around

If Your Church is Honestly Mediocre offering sharper ecclesial infotainment won’t turn it around

Are your singers regularly off-key or flat? Do you have musicians who struggle to keep up with chord changes? What about poor sound, poor lighting and a mediocre team running it all? A lame website? A church sign that’s advertizing out of date events? Yep, you got it… YOUR CHURCH SUCKS!!!!   Well, at least that’s according to an increasingly infamous blog post doing the rounds at the moment. In his article, 7 Signs Your Church Is Honestly…Mediocre, Canadian pastor Carey Nieuwhof identified a series of key indicators of church averageness. It’s not quite 50 shades of grey. More like seven shades of suckiness. According to Niewhof, some of the fault for a church’s mediocrity is down to sloppy admin and IT and a talentless worship team, but most of it is down to your mediocre pastor. He/she is responsible for two of the seven reasons. Niewhof says that in mediocre churches the pastors are (a) resigned to mediocrity and (b) too afraid to change. (I know they sound like the same thing, but, hey, these listicles have to have seven points so we might as well give pastors a double serving of shame). And to think people regularly accuse missional thinkers like me of being too critical of the church!!   In fact, central to the missional vision is a

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Exactly how xenophobic are Christians allowed to be?

Exactly how xenophobic are Christians allowed to be?

This week in the Australian parliament a newly minted senator called on the government to stop accepting any immigrants who do not reflect “the historic European Christian composition of Australian society and embrace our language, culture and values as a people.” In particular, he wanted to ban all Muslims from entering the country, a return to what was termed the “White Australia Policy”, a discriminatory immigration policy dismantled way back in the 1960s. Of course, this doesn’t sound too different to the stated desires of Mr Trump regarding US immigration policy, albeit a less sophisticated version (although when you think about it, being less sophisticated in policy to Donald Trump is quite an achievement). Britain has its own versions in Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson. What might surprise some is that Fraser Anning, the Australian senator in question, and the US president, both claim to be committed conservative Christians. Indeed, in the case of the senator from Down Under, he wants a discriminatory immigration policy precisely because he is a Christian. Farage, who has confessed to only praying “sometimes”, nonetheless wants the UK to stand up for Judeo-Christian culture and values. So, is it appropriate for Christians in Western countries to call for the banning of Muslim immigration to their shores? These attutides are usually characterized as xenophobia, a term that comes

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