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 A church sign that’s advertizing out of date events?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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Pastoring in a post-Hybels world

Pastoring in a post-Hybels world

“Ministry means the ongoing attempt to put one’s own search for God, with all the moments of pain and joy, despair and hope, at the disposal of those who want to join this search but do not know how.” ― Henri J.M. Nouwen   I’ve never read a Bill Hybels book or attended the Global Leadership Summit. These days that sounds like a badge of honor. But before it was a virtue, and for the longest time, I felt out of the loop with all my friends in ministry who were deeply informed by the Christian leadership industry of which Hybels and the GLS were central. Part of my disconnect with that whole world had to do with my sense that it was drawing on my own worst impulses. When I did read any books by Christian leadership gurus, or listen to talks by them, I couldn’t get past the fact that they were asking me to be me only better. You see, I’m already wired to be a performer. I’m already driven to achieve, to win, to succeed, to influence. You might have thought that being told to achieve more, perform more, influence more, would have been music to my ears. But even I knew that just trying to be me only better wasn’t going to get me closer

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Bill Hybels and the cycle of sexual predatory behavior

Bill Hybels and the cycle of sexual predatory behavior

This is Pat Baranowski. In the 1980s, she was the executive assistant to Bill Hybels, the senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church. Recently she revealed that while she was in her 30s she was repeatedly sexually abused by her boss over an eight year period. It occurred shortly after she had divorced her first husband. Baranowski is the latest in a string of women who have alleged mistreatment by Hybels. These most recent allegations were a bombshell, resulting in the resignation of one of Bill Hybels’ successors (Hybels retired from Willow Creek earlier this year). But with the fallout of Ms Baranowski’s revelations, and widespread complaints of the church’s handling of the many allegations, it is easy to overlook the lessons to be learned from this sordid tale for anyone in ministry, or working for someone in a position of power. The account of the abuse suffered by Pat Baranowski’s makes for informative reading, according to Dr Julia Dahl. Dahl says this case has all the hallmarks of the cycle of sexual predatory behavior and the abuse of power by someone with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). She outlines the abuse cycle this way:   1. SELECTION It begins with selection. Pat Baranowski talks about Bill Hybels approaching her in the church parking lot. Here’s the New York Times account of

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Can you imagine Jesus delivering a TED talk? No, me either.

Can you imagine Jesus delivering a TED talk? No, me either.

“I hate TED talks. I can’t abide the way presenters pace around the stage, I hate the gravity with which they deliver their message, and being patronised by a smug, overconfident ‘thought leader’ is pretty intolerable.”   Julie Bindel is an English writer and co-founder of the law-reform group Justice for Women. And she hates TED talks. She particularly hates the presenters (whom she calls TED-bots) strutting around the stage, “delivering well-crafted smiles and frowns, well-placed pauses and casual hair flicks.” According to Bindel they’re all overconfident, over-rehearsed, and overly dramatic. This might come as a surprise to those of you who enjoy public speaking, especially preaching, because the rise of the TED talk was always taken as an indication of the fact that the monologue presentation isn’t dead. It is argued, often by preachers, that even though the research tells us people learn very little from a monologue, the popularity of TED talks suggests otherwise. See, the preacher says, it’s not that the monologue is dead. It’s just that people like short, sharp, engaging presentations like TED talks. In other words, sermons need to be more “TED-worthy”. Well, Julie Bindel wouldn’t agree. And the popularity of her Guardian article, “Why I’d never do a TED talk”, suggests she’s not the only one. As most people know, TED is a four-day

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Franklin Graham is coming to town and he’s already having the opposite effect of his father

Franklin Graham is coming to town and he’s already having the opposite effect of his father

It was recently announced that Franklin Graham, the son of the famous evangelist Billy Graham, will be touring Australia in 2019. He’s coming for the 60th anniversary of Billy Graham’s historic 1959 crusades in Melbourne, Sydney, Hobart, Launceston, Canberra, Adelaide, Perth and Brisbane, which attracted over 3 million Australians (and another 350,000 across the ditch in New Zealand). Franklin Graham will retrace his father’s steps to six of those Australian cities as part historical commemoration, part evangelistic campaign. The ’59 crusades, which lasted four months, were unquestionably historic. Karl Faase, a member of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association Australian board, says it was the closest thing Australia has come to experiencing a religious revival. One hundred and forty six thousand people went forward as “inquirers” at the end of the rallies. But Karl Faase says the effect could be seen in more than just the size of the crowds. He says there were appreciable drops in crime, alcohol consumption, ex-nuptial births, and bad debts, as a result of the ’59 crusades. Theological colleges saw a boom in student numbers, as did mission societies. And Bible sales went through the roof. That all sounds definitely worth commemorating. And you’d think Franklin Graham should be the one to do it. He’s not only the great evangelist’s son, he’s the current president and CEO

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Let’s be freed from our obsession with the bad president

Let’s be freed from our obsession with the bad president

Let’s get a little perspective, people. I’m just getting so tired of all the ire and high dudgeon. It’s exhausting. The anti-Trump outrage is at fever pitch at the moment and it’s making my ears ring. The fury and the intensity of the attacks on Donald Trump are becoming so frenzied I fear we’re all starting to lose perspective. And I say that as someone who has been more than willing to criticize the President.   In the 90s it was the Republicans who were in full outrage mode. Remember when Kenneth Starr was the Robert Mueller of the Clinton administration? The news cycle was dominated by Whitewater, the firing of White House travel agents, the alleged misuse of FBI files, and the sexual harassment lawsuit filed by Paula Jones. And then along came Monica! The anti-Clinton rhetoric was venomous and relentless, and lasted for years. But by 2004, it was the Democrats turn. Michael Moore released his incendiary film Fahrenheit 911 alleging presidential incompetence by George W Bush for his response to the September 11 attacks and the hastily cobbled together Coalition of the Willing’s invasion of Iraq. And then the so-called evidence for there being WMDs in Iraq all came to nothing. The attacks on Mr Bush’s character and intelligence were unending. The critics claimed he was surrounded by

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How one religious idea gave us integrated lunch counters (and so much more)

How one religious idea gave us integrated lunch counters (and so much more)

Sure, religious zealots have done some terrible damage throughout history, but some beautiful religious ideas have also shaped history for the better. This post is part of a series looking at some of the ways religion has changed the world. I look at how the Benedictines figured out how to make amazing beer here, how a Calvinist preacher created a world where John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme was possible here, and how an 18th century renewal movement unleashed the abolition movement here. Here’s a fourth religious idea that changed the world.   THE IDEA: THAT HUMAN SUFFERING CAN BE REDEMPTIVE The idea that the suffering of one Christian can be used by God for the benefit of others is as old as the Christian movement, but one regularly ignored or forgotten by believers and nonbelievers alike. Christians believe that Jesus’ suffering on the cross pays the penalty for their sins, but even before his death Jesus taught his followers that their own suffering could have a redemptive power. In Matthew 5:38-39, he said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” It’s a well known saying, but its meaning

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How one religious idea produced the greatest activist you’ve never heard of

How one religious idea produced the greatest activist you’ve never heard of

We often hear about all the harm caused by religious people in the name of their religion, but good religious ideas have continually made the world a better place. I can think of plenty of simple religious ideas that have created such a ripple effect that they changed the course of history. In an earlier post I looked at how the Cistercian idea of work created an economic boom. In a second post looked at how the idea that beauty is the key to understanding God led to some of the world’s most magnificent architecture, film and music. Here’s the third in this series. How a single religious belief unleashed a remarkable activist and a global movement.   THE IDEA: THAT EVERY PERSON CAN HAVE A SUBJECTIVE EXPERIENCE OF GOD’S GRACE In the 17th and 18th centuries, there arose a Protestant movement referred to as Christian Enthusiasm. We don’t use that term much these days but its adherents were so transformed by its central idea that they turned the world upside down. Today, we use the word enthusiast to refer to someone who’s really passionate about a hobby or interest. Hence we have car enthusiasts and football enthusiasts, etc. But in around 1700 that term was used in a very specific way. The Greek from which we derive term, enthusiasm, connotes being taken

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How one religious idea gave us the best album of all time

How one religious idea gave us the best album of all time

Recently, I met a gentleman who, upon discovering I taught theology, asked me what was the good of studying religious ideas in our secular world today. When I told him religious ideas have continually made the world a better place, he challenged me to name one. I told him there are plenty of simple religious ideas that have created such a ripple effect that they changed the course of history, and shared a few of them with him. I’ve decided to turn my response into a series of blog posts. The first one, about how the Cistercian idea of work created a Europe-wide economic boom in the 12th century (and helped produce some amazing beer), is here. Here’s the second of those world-changing ideas.   THE IDEA: THAT BEAUTY IS THE KEY TO UNDERSTANDING GOD The Christian doctrine of creation is a bit different to that of other religions. Christians don’t believe that God created the world and then sat back and admired his creation from a distance. Instead the church teaches that while God is separate and beyond all creation, he is nonetheless integrally involved in that creation, sustaining the universe from moment to moment. Theologians and writers from Irenaeus to Thomas Aquinas to Julian of Norwich wrote about how creation is an ongoing process, with God actively involved in the

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How one religious idea gave us the best beer in the world

How one religious idea gave us the best beer in the world

Recently, I met a gentleman who, upon discovering I taught theology, asked me what was the good of studying religious ideas in our secular world today. When I told him religious ideas have continually made the world a better place, he challenged me to name one. I told him there are plenty of simple religious ideas that have created such a ripple effect that they changed the course of history, and shared a few of them with him. In coming weeks I’m going to share a series of posts on a number of them. Here’s the first of those world-changing ideas.   THE IDEA: THAT RELIGIOUS DEVOTION CAN BE EXPRESSED THROUGH MANUAL LABOR In the 11th century, a group of extremely devout monks withdrew to a monastery in Cistercium, near Dijon, to live under the strictest interpretation of the Rule of St. Benedict. They embraced a severe form of asceticism, seeking to be purified and strengthened for a life-long labor of prayer. They also refused to accept any feudal revenues, believing it to be sullied by the church’s collusion with the state. We’re talking about hardcore monks here. They combed the writings of Benedict, looking for ever-more demanding ways to submit themselves to God, when they came across this reference in the forty-eighth chapter of the Rule, which states: “…for then are

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Don’t let policymakers tell you we don’t care about the poor

Don’t let policymakers tell you we don’t care about the poor

“It’s an 80-percent issue, people want to close down the borders.” – Deputy White House press secretary Hogan Gidley   “80 percent of Australians do not support any further spending on foreign aid.” – Australian minister for international development and the Pacific, Concetta Fierravanti-Wells   Sometimes, when you read the studies into attitudes toward the most needy in our world you wonder where all this heartlessness has come from. We’re told people want DACA dismantled and immigrants deported. We’re told people want a great big wall on America’s southern border. We’re told Australians want refugees incarcerated on Pacific islands, and cuts to foreign aid. When did everyone get so stingy?   LIES, DAMNED LIES AND STATISTICS Relying on a Lowy Institute poll that said 80% of Australians supported reductions in overseas aid, the Australian federal government recently did just that. They lowered the level of foreign aid in the national budget. In fact, the minister responsible for international development quoted the poll itself to justify the cuts. Which must have made the folks at the Lowy Institute a bit uncomfortable. Being cited while they take money away from the neediest people in South East Asia and the Pacific wouldn’t sit well with me either. So they decided to dig a bit further. And what they found surprised them. Yes, it’s

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