“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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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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