When the Pastor Says It’s ‘A Time to Sow’

By FRED BARNES

In 2007, my wife Barbara and I left The Falls Church, which we had happily attended from the time we became Christians a quarter-century ago. It’s a 277-year-old church in northern Virginia well-known for its popular preacher, the Rev. John Yates, its adherence to traditional biblical teachings and its withdrawal in 2005 from the national Episcopal church. Our three grown daughters and their families stayed behind at The Falls Church.

We didn’t leave in anger. We didn’t have political or theological anxieties. Rather, we left for a new church because our old church wanted us to. The Falls Church has become entrepreneurial as well as evangelical. It’s in the church-planting business. And we were encouraged by Mr. Yates to join Christ the King, the church “planted” near our home in Alexandria. We were a bit ambivalent about the move, but when Christ the King opened its doors in September 2007, we were there.

Well, not quite its doors. The church began with a monthly service in a 600-seat school auditorium. About 30 people showed up, mostly members of the seed group dispatched from The Falls Church. Soon Christ the King, which was launched with a grant of $100,000 from The Falls Church, rented an assembly hall, seating about 100, in a private school and started regular worship every Sunday. Now, with 130 adults and 40 kids, we meet Sunday mornings in another church, whose own service is held in the evening.

But we don’t just meet one day a week. One of the problems for a new church is that most of the parishioners don’t know one another. They’re not yet a community. Barbara and I knew fewer than a dozen of the original members of Christ the King. So David Glade, the 35-year-old pastor, organized everyone into dinner groups that gather monthly. Indeed, they had better gather: When our group skipped a month, Mr. Glade wanted to know why.

Three men’s Bible studies have popped up along with a women’s group. There is a prayer ministry, a vestry, and a choir led by a volunteer music director. A church retreat is set for August. Newcomers tend to be singles or young couples, and six baptisms are scheduled for the Sunday after next. Barbara and I are the old folks.

“It’s a pretty amazing start,” Mr. Yates told me. But it’s not unusual. Church planting is a burgeoning movement among evangelicals who are conservative in doctrine (but not fundamentalist) and inclusive in their outreach to nonbelievers and lapsed Christians. It’s a growing missionary field.

There’s a theory behind church planting. It rejects the idea of trying to fill up existing churches before building new ones. Old churches are often “closed clubs” that don’t attract new residents or young people or “the lost,” says the Rev. Johnny Kurcina, an assistant pastor of The Falls Church. Besides, population increase far exceeds church growth in America. This is especially true in cities.

As an Episcopal Church rector, Mr. Yates began thinking about planting churches 20 years ago. But the bishop of Virginia “wouldn’t allow us to discuss it,” he says, fearing that new Episcopal churches would lure people from older ones. In 2001, he was allowed to plant a church, but only a county away in a distant exurb.

Mr. Yates was strongly influenced by the Rev. Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian in Manhattan. Mr. Keller has led in creating new churches — Redeemer has planted more than 100 churches in New York and other cities around the world. Innovative new churches, he has written, are “the research and development department” for Christianity, attract “venturesome people” as fresh leaders, and have the spillover effect of challenging existing churches to revitalize their ministry.

Leaving the Episcopal denomination (while remaining in the Anglican Communion) has given Mr. Yates the freedom to plant churches in urban areas amid many Episcopal churches. (One is next door to Christ the King.) His goal is to plant 20 churches in northern Virginia before retiring. Christ the King was the third, and a fourth was recently planted in Arlington. Mr. Kurcina, 33, who is my son-in-law, is preparing to plant a fifth in Fairfax County.

For a growing number of young preachers like Christ the King’s Mr. Glade, planting and then leading a new church is an ideal option. As orthodox Anglicans, they didn’t feel welcome in the Episcopal church. And they felt a strong calling to lead their own parish. Mr. Glade grew up as an Episcopalian in Jacksonville, Fla. After graduation from Florida State, he came to The Falls Church as an intern and spent four years as a youth leader before attending Trinity Seminary outside Pittsburgh. He returned to The Falls Church eager to lead a theologically conservative Anglican congregation. “In order to do that, you had to go out and do it yourself,” he told me.

“Every new church has an awkward phase, figuring out who they are and getting to know each other,” Mr. Glade says. That phase is over. Christ the King has also become financially self-sufficient. It aims to be a “healthy church,” like its parent. “A healthy church reproduces itself,” Mr. Glade says. Christ the King may soon do just that. Its assistant rector wants to plant his own church.

Mr. Barnes is the executive editor of the Weekly Standard and a Fox News commentator.

Doing God’s Work—At the Office

We are called to be co-creators of a flourishing life on Earth.

By ROB MOLL

Christian business professionals have long had an uneasy relationship with the church. Not only does the church tend to privilege church and missionary service over business, but it often condemns business practices and implies the guilt of any participants. Yet there are signs that this dynamic is changing—not least because churches rely on the donations of business professionals.

Many pastors now visit their congregants at work to better understand their professional lives. Justin Buzzard, pastor of the Garden City Church in San Jose, Calif., wrote last year about ministering to professionals in his congregation. “It shows them that I care about their callings, how they spend 50-plus hours of their week.”

Organizations such as Corporate Chaplains of America and Marketplace Ministries have sprung up in the last 20 years to offer chaplaincy services and Bible studies to offices. And among a younger generation of Christians in business, working as financial analysts and engineers is itself Christian service.

Their mindset is captured by Dave Evans, co-founder of the videogame giant Electronic Arts and a design professor at Stanford. Mr. Evans talks more like a theologian than a former Apple engineer. He points out that Genesis says that humans were created in the image of God, so all of our work—not just church work—is holy. We are called to be co-creators, with God, of a flourishing life on Earth. “It is really a profound act of engaging the kingdom of God,” says Mr. Evans.

When he began work in the 1970s, integrating faith and business amounted to little more than being ethical and trying to make converts. Much has changed, he says, as a younger generation seeks to sanctify the corporate world. “The glory of God,” Mr. Evans says, “is humans fully alive. Work itself has value. It’s a huge countercultural behavior to train yourself to value work for its own sake and to see it as a service to God.”

Mr. Evans will be speaking this weekend at a conference of 250 MBA students from the country’s top schools. Organized for the past six years by Yale’s MBA Christian fellowship, the conference marks a transformation in how Christians and other religious professionals seek to integrate their faith and their work.

The so-called faith-at-work movement has more than a century-long presence in American business, says David Miller, a former finance executive and now the director of Princeton University’s Faith at Work Initiative. Mr. Miller, who helped start the conference when he advised Yale’s MBA Christian fellowship, says that it attracts people from a variety of religious traditions who are looking for meaning in what they do. “The good life isn’t accumulation of things, but it’s what you do with your gifts and talents,” he says. “People are asking these big questions.”

For many religious professionals, this means making their beliefs relevant to ethical dilemmas at work. Bob Doll, the chief equity strategist for fundamental equities at BlackRock, says he’ll be encouraging students at the Yale conference to pursue excellence in family life, church life, and career alike. On-the-job pressure provides an opportunity to “live out your faith in front of colleagues.” he says. “How do you treat employees? Do you lose your temper?”

Jeremy Foster, a Yale MBA student who helped organize the conference, says that “Young people today see business differently. They want to know how their values play out in their career.” They’re attracted by social entrepreneurship and other paths that embrace the market but allow the faithful to do well by doing good.

“I believe God has called me to the business world,” says Brian Myhre, who will graduate from Harvard Business School in May and return to work at the Boston Consulting Group. At last year’s conference, says Mr. Myhre, “I appreciated the speakers who have led organizations and are able to treat employees as Jesus would and distribute profits as Jesus would. It made me think differently about the purpose of business and how we can be co-creators with God, reflecting the divine character at work.”

Mr. Moll, author of “The Art of Dying: Living Fully into the Life to Come” (IVP Books, 2010), writes on faith and business for Christianity Today.

Pros and Cons of Empathy

By Mary DeMuth

I had the privilege of taking the Strengths Finder when we were church planters in France. I remember three of my strengths today:

1. Achiever (Oh how this makes sense! Those of you who have read my writing or heard me speak know I tend to equate my worth with what I produce.

2. Communicator. (Yep, this makes sense. I’m almost a hyper-communicator, written and spoken.)

3. Empathy. (I actually think this one was #2, something that surprised the person who administered the test. “You don’t see a lot of achieving empathizers,” he said.)

Empathy is where I get in trouble. While I love that God has made me empathetic, it does have its negatives.

Positive: I can meet someone and almost always assess their emotional state.

Negative: If someone is distraught, it’s hard for me to get beyond that. I tend to take in their pain, feel it, and then never let go.

Positive: I listen well and help people feel understood.

Negative: I can’t get a person’s sad story out of my head. It replays. It affects my mood.
Positive: I can see potential problems and discern people’s hearts in a few meetings.

Negative: This can make me overly cautious around people, or I can enmesh myself.

Here’s the odd part of empathy for me. Although it endears me to folks, and folks to me, it can be isolating. And it can break my heart. Proverbs 4:23 says: “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”

When I receive people’s family secrets for My Family Secret, I cringe. For the moment, I am with the person, feeling the pain, dying inside, wishing and praying for healing. It’s hard for me to shrug the pain off. Yesterday when I was a guest on Moody Midday Connection, we received three calls, all very, very hard to hear. Tales of abuse. Unmentionable pain. Broken lives. In the aftermath of the interview, I received several emails of folks sharing their broken hearts, their fractured stories. I couldn’t shake the sadness. I kept it to myself. And I felt alone, carrying a burden way too heavy.

I need to guard my empathetic heart. (And please hear me when I say I’m not 100% empathetic. I fail in this area also). I need to throw my burdens at Jesus’ feet. And I need to learn how to cast others’ burdens there as well. Only then will my load lighten.

But even as I type this, I wonder. How must Jesus feel? He possesses the most empathy on earth and heaven. Hebrews 4:15 says, “This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin.” He understands. He shoulders. He knows. He’s been here. What must it be like to be Jesus? He knows EVERY painful story of every single human being. Even the secret stories. And he graciously bears them all.

My own inability to bear the weight just makes me love him more.

Mary DeMuth is an author and speaker who loves to help people turn trials to triumphs. She lives in Texas with her husband and three kids.

Led By the Spirit or Driven By Need?

By Arloa Sutter

I have been leading Breakthrough Urban Ministries in Chicago for eighteen years. We care for people who have become crippled by unemployment, homelessness and addiction in a neighborhood where poverty and crime make life stressful. Overwhelming brokenness and need carries with it the reality that there is always more I could do. People often ask what keeps me going. What keeps me from experiencing burnout?

Well, I have experienced burnout and it’s not pretty. When I was in my twenties I worked with kids who were referred to me by juvenile justice officers and school social workers.  I met with groups of young girls who were in crisis. I loved taking them hiking, cross-country skiing and spelunking, but I was unaware of my own codependency tendencies. It felt good to be needed and I found myself pulled into the drama of their lives. I would get calls in the middle of the night to pick up a girl who had passed out drunk in an alley or to negotiate a family dispute. I once called 911 in desperation as a young woman overdosed on my living room floor. My work was compelling: girls in need, in pain, and in trouble, and they were looking for me to rescue them. But by the end of four years I was exhausted. I cringed every time the phone rang for fear of hearing about another suicide attempt.

I know now that much of my early energetic zeal was rooted in my own pride. I had entered ministry recognizing my need for a Savior, but then had begun to attempt to rescue and save others in my own strength on behalf of the Savior. The burnout I experienced as a result would forever change me as I learned the importance of waiting on God in contemplation before rushing in with my own agenda. I learned to be led by the Spirit instead of being driven by need.

Today I start each day in prayer. I ask God to orchestrate my day, to guide and direct me. I ask for Divine connections, for wisdom to know what to do and what not to do. I have learned there is always enough time to do what God wants me to do.

I also listen to my body. I have learned to recognize the difference between good stress that pushes me to my best, and bad stress that means I’m attempting to do something that is not mine to do. When my shoulders tense and my stomach knots, I do a “gut check” and ask myself if this really is my responsibility.

To be led by the Spirit rather than driven by need. That’s my goal. When the chaos mounts, I take a break. Even an hour of contemplation clears my mind and tells me which tasks need to be tossed to someone else and which are mine to juggle.

Arloa Sutter is the founder and Executive Director of Breakthrough Urban Ministries which provide services to homeless adults and runs a community youth program in an impoverished community on the west side of Chicago. She is the author of “The Invisible: How the Church Can Find and Serve the Least of These.”

Sharing Your Faith Part 2: Conversation Stoppers

Sharing Your Faith Part 2: Conversation Stoppers

by Jonalyn Fincher

When stumped by a difficult question about Christianity, have you ever been tempted to say, “I just take it by faith”?  A simple, religious sounding response that keeps our faith safe and often deflects the anxiety we feel.

But it also stops the conversation.

Not because God doesn’t care about faith; He does. But because “take it by faith” in today’s culture sounds like we’re saying, “I have no idea; I just believe blindly.”

In Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, she writes, “If faith were rational, it wouldn’t be-by definition-faith.  Faith is walking face-first and full-speed into the dark . . . a leap of faith” (P 195). Gilbert, like many secular people, thinks religious faith means doing scary, often silly, things.

Haven’t you heard phrases like “blind faith” or “leap of faith”? Atheists and skeptics use their secular definition of “faith” as one more reason to mock Christians as blind and irrational.  The skeptic’s dictionary defines faith as “a non-rational belief in some proposition.”

As an apologist this concerns me because God talks about “faith” differently.  God wants people’s faith to grow out of knowledge (Search biblegateway.com with the words “know the Lord”). God cares about his reputation among all peoples (Isaiah 45:5).  He came to earth as a human because he wants to be known, loved and trusted.

In Scripture “faith” is synonymous with trust; we have faith or trust in the faithfulness of God.  Faith or trust requires good reasons. Nowhere does God advocate “blind faith” or taking a “leap of faith.”  These very words or concepts are never found in Scripture.

The more we know and can share about who God is, the more our faith and our friend’s faith grows.  Faith and reason work together.

Imagine yourself praying for a friend’s healing.  Will your faith be increased or decreased if God heals your friend?

Why?  Because when we see God at work we have more reasons to trust him, and our faith grows.  In fact, given how our own ears have grown accustomed to thinking of “faith” in non-biblical ways, practice replacing “faith” with the word “trust” as you read Scripture. You’ll get closer to the heart of the Bible’s meaning.
When sharing our love for Jesus, we need to be sensitive to the ways Biblical words are heard in our friend’s ears.  Faith is a good word, but its meaning has been held hostage.

If we are going to share the good news of Jesus with others, we need to make a point to avoid the phrase, “Just take it by faith.”  It does not help anyone step closer to who Jesus really is.  It demotes Jesus into an item on the buffet of religion. By using this phrase we inadvertently tell our friends that Jesus is not real enough to know and we have no good reason to believe in him.

Evangelistic Tagging: Part One

Evangelistic Tagging: Part One
By Jonalyn Grace Fincher

I recently unearthed my major difficulty in sharing my faith: I assumed that people who think differently about Jesus were dangerous.  I felt afraid of them, and it showed.

At a book convention, I stood beside two Christian women as they responded to a secular book seller.  He had just recommended a book that suggested all people go to heaven. I reacted inwardly much like the Christian women reacted outwardly.

“That’s not what the Bible teaches!” they retorted.

“The author makes some good points from the Bible . . .” the bookseller began.

“Well, if you read the Bible you’d know!” both were giving him a severe stare before they walked away.

When you hear someone distorting the gospel how do you feel? Do you ever think, “What can I say to this person in one minute-the only minute I have for them-that would convince them to repent and turn to Jesus?”

We burden ourselves with responsibility to convert someone or get out of there.  We have no idea what it must be like to walk in their shoes, what help or solace their current beliefs give them. We only need to ask to find out, but maybe instead we’re just relieved that we brought God up in conversation. We call it spreading seed, but to our unbelieving friends our witnessing might feel more like the quick, cold-hearted work of a graffiti artist, “tagging” an area for dominance.

Tagging is a term I learned when I lived in Los Angeles. Gang members would spray-paint a wall of a building or underpass to claim their ownership. Friends I shared my faith with in high school later confessed to feeling cornered.  They felt tagged as my projects.

When we moved to Colorado, my husband taught me another meaning of tagging.  He purchased a hunting tag, which meant some elk had a death warrant on its head.

To those who don’t know Jesus our church culture can appear to be issuing hunting tags for their souls.  We can even wield church sanctioned disciplines like apologetics or theology as weapons.  In the process, we become more hunter and gang member than neighbor, failing to look into our neighbor’s eyes and notice they are people, not prey.

As a trained theologian and apologist, I find it too easy to judge people by their ideas before seeing the human that the Bible tells me is made in his image.  But that has changed.

I’m learning to notice people’s eyes before I notice their words. I, like all of us, need to pause and ask myself better questions of those before me. What do they need? Are they friend or prey? How do I tell a friend about Jesus’ good news for them, with their pain, their needs, their questions?

In the process sharing our faith will look more like God’s unrushed, fearless love for this world and less like a hunter taking aim.

Adapted from Coffee Shop Conversations: Making the Most of Spiritual Small Talk (Zondervan 2010).

The Perils of ‘Wannabe Cool’ Christianity

By BRETT MCCRACKEN

‘How can we stop the oil gusher?” may have been the question of the summer for most Americans. Yet for many evangelical pastors and leaders, the leaking well is nothing compared to the threat posed by an ongoing gusher of a different sort: Young people pouring out of their churches, never to return.

As a 27-year-old evangelical myself, I understand the concern. My peers, many of whom grew up in the church, are losing interest in the Christian establishment.

Recent statistics have shown an increasing exodus of young people from churches, especially after they leave home and live on their own. In a 2007 study, Lifeway Research determined that 70% of young Protestant adults between 18-22 stop attending church regularly.

Statistics like these have created something of a mania in recent years, as baby-boomer evangelical leaders frantically assess what they have done wrong (why didn’t megachurches work to attract youth in the long term?) and scramble to figure out a plan to keep young members engaged in the life of the church.

Increasingly, the “plan” has taken the form of a total image overhaul, where efforts are made to rebrand Christianity as hip, countercultural, relevant. As a result, in the early 2000s, we got something called “the emerging church”—a sort of postmodern stab at an evangelical reform movement. Perhaps because it was too “let’s rethink everything” radical, it fizzled quickly. But the impulse behind it—to rehabilitate Christianity’s image and make it “cool”—remains.

There are various ways that churches attempt to be cool. For some, it means trying to seem more culturally savvy. The pastor quotes Stephen Colbert or references Lady Gaga during his sermon, or a church sponsors a screening of the R-rated “No Country For Old Men.” For others, the emphasis is on looking cool, perhaps by giving the pastor a metrosexual makeover, with skinny jeans and an $80 haircut, or by insisting on trendy eco-friendly paper and helvetica-only fonts on all printed materials. Then there is the option of holding a worship service in a bar or nightclub (as is the case for L.A.’s Mosaic church, whose downtown location meets at a nightspot called Club Mayan).

“Wannabe cool” Christianity also manifests itself as an obsession with being on the technological cutting edge. Churches like Central Christian in Las Vegas and Liquid Church in New Brunswick, N.J., for example, have online church services where people can have a worship experience at an “iCampus.” Many other churches now encourage texting, Twitter and iPhone interaction with the pastor during their services.

But one of the most popular—and arguably most unseemly—methods of making Christianity hip is to make it shocking. What better way to appeal to younger generations than to push the envelope and go where no fundamentalist has gone before?

Sex is a popular shock tactic. Evangelical-authored books like “Sex God” (by Rob Bell) and “Real Sex” (by Lauren Winner) are par for the course these days. At the same time, many churches are finding creative ways to use sex-themed marketing gimmicks to lure people into church.

Oak Leaf Church in Cartersville, Georgia, created a website called yourgreatsexlife.com to pique the interest of young seekers. Flamingo Road Church in Florida created an online, anonymous confessional (IveScrewedUp.com), and had a web series called MyNakedPastor.com, which featured a 24/7 webcam showing five weeks in the life of the pastor, Troy Gramling. Then there is Mark Driscoll at Seattle’s Mars Hill Church—who delivers sermons with titles like “Biblical Oral Sex” and “Pleasuring Your Spouse,” and is probably the first and only pastor I have ever heard say the word “vulva” during a sermon.

But are these gimmicks really going to bring young people back to church? Is this what people really come to church for? Maybe sex sermons and indie- rock worship music do help in getting people in the door, and maybe even in winning new converts. But what sort of Christianity are they being converted to?

In his book, “The Courage to Be Protestant,” David Wells writes:”The born-again, marketing church has calculated that unless it makes deep, serious cultural adaptations, it will go out of business, especially with the younger generations. What it has not considered carefully enough is that it may well be putting itself out of business with God.

“And the further irony,” he adds, “is that the younger generations who are less impressed by whiz-bang technology, who often see through what is slick and glitzy, and who have been on the receiving end of enough marketing to nauseate them, are as likely to walk away from these oh-so-relevant churches as to walk into them.”

If the evangelical Christian leadership thinks that “cool Christianity” is a sustainable path forward, they are severely mistaken. As a twentysomething, I can say with confidence that when it comes to church, we don’t want cool as much as we want real.

If we are interested in Christianity in any sort of serious way, it is not because it’s easy or trendy or popular. It’s because Jesus himself is appealing, and what he says rings true. It’s because the world we inhabit is utterly phony, ephemeral, narcissistic, image-obsessed and sex-drenched—and we want an alternative. It’s not because we want more of the same.

Mr. McCracken’s book, “Hipster Christianity: Where Church and Cool Collide” (Baker Books) was published this month.

They Will know we are Christians by our love

by John Fischer

One of our readers from a few years ago introduced us to a term from her training as a massage therapist known as UPR (“Unconditional Positive Regard”). I’m bringing it up again because I think this is an excellent tool for helping us think about people who may or may not be Christians.

This is an excellent way we can cut through people’s barriers and preconceptions about Christians and Christianity. Get to know people first as human beings. Don’t lead with your Christianity; lead with your love, care and friendliness. Find common ground with people and show an interest in what interests them. (A good reason, by the way, for having lots of varied interests and concerns. The more interests you have, the more people you can connect to.)

Listen. Learn. Develop meaningful relationships based on shared concerns and then when someone finds out you are “one of those Christians,” they will have to rethink their idea of what a Christian is, or make an exception for you. Either way, you’ve broken through their resistance, and who knows what might happen after that?

To this end, I think we should borrow this phrase from our reader’s massage therapy manual and give out lots of Unconditional Positive Regard (UPR) to everyone we meet. I can’t think of a better way to express how we should regard all people. Everyone is made in God’s image, loved by God, forgiven by Jesus, and precious in His sight. That’s a lot of positive regard, and that’s just for starters!

1 Peter 3:15 says: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…” – “respect” being the operable word here. Let’s focus on giving out lots of UPR today!

AM I AVAILABLE?

The Book of Esther in the Old Testament is the story of a young Jewish woman who, based on her beauty and desirability before the king, became the queen of Persia in a time when Jews were living there in exile. And when a plot is uncovered to kill the Jews, Esther puts her life on the line to thwart it.

Mordecai, who raised Esther after her parents died, challenged the queen with the opportunity her position gave her. “For if you remain silent at this time,” he told her, “relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14)

Mordecai presents us here with two seemingly contradictory things. (I have come to expect this kind of thing from the truth.)

1) Don’t think you are indispensable.
2) Don’t sell yourself short.

Somewhere between being dispensable and being Johnny-on-the-spot lies the will of God for Esther, and in turn, I think, for all of us. We mustn’t think too highly of ourselves. God will not be without a witness. I mean, historically God has used angels, pagan kings, donkeys, and bushes to speak for Him if needs be. He can certainly fill in for you if you decide to take yourself out. At the same time, He puts us in places where our influence can make a big difference, and we are the ones who lose out if we don’t rise to the occasion.

The will of God is an opportunity and a destiny. It is a very cool thing, actually. Not something you have to do, but something you get to do. Who wouldn’t want to step out under those conditions? And when you step into it, you step into the flow of God’s plan and provision. Resources you didn’t know you had become available.

Think about it this way. God doesn’t need you (He can do fine without you, thank you), but He wants you (He wants to bring you into His plan and accomplish something together with you). He’ll use somebody or something else if you bail out, but why would you do that? Why would you miss the opportunity of a lifetime?

We see this reality in a historical moment in the Esther story, but I think this story there to teach us this truth is also at work in our lives daily. There will be opportunities today to step into the will of God or miss it. If you miss it, you are the one who loses; someone else gets the action. Based on other assurances in scripture, that doesn’t mean you won’t get to your ultimate destination, it’s just that you will miss a good deal of adventure along the way.

Think about the fact that you are alive today for such a time is this
.         Don’t miss it

Why So Many Churches Hear So Little of the Bible

“It is well and good for the preacher to base his sermon on the Bible, but he better get to something relevant pretty quickly, or we start mentally to check out.” That stunningly clear sentence reflects one of the most amazing, tragic, and lamentable characteristics of contemporary Christianity – an impatience with the Word of God.

The sentence above comes from Mark Galli, senior managing editor of Christianity Today in an essay entitled “Yawning at the Word.” In just a few hundred words, he captures the tragedy of a church increasingly impatient with and resistant to the reading and preaching of the Bible. We may wince when we read him relate his recent experiences, but we also recognize the ring of truth.

Galli was told to cut down on the biblical references in his sermon. “You’ll lose people,” the staff member warned. In a Bible study session on creation, the teacher was requested to come back the next Sunday prepared to take questions at the expense of reading the relevant scriptural texts on the doctrine. Cutting down on the number of Bible verses “would save time and, it was strongly implied, would better hold people’s interest.”

As Galli reflected, “Anyone who’s been in the preaching and teaching business knows these are not isolated examples but represent the larger reality.”

Indeed, in many churches there is very little reading of the Bible in worship, and sermons are marked by attention to the congregation’s concerns – not by an adequate attention to the biblical text. The exposition of the Bible has given way to the concerns, real or perceived, of the listeners. The authority of the Bible is swallowed up in the imposed authority of congregational concerns.

As Mark Galli notes:

It has been said to the point of boredom that we live in a narcissistic age, where we are wont to fixate on our needs, our wants, our wishes, and our hopes-at the expense of others and certainly at the expense of God. We do not like it when a teacher uses up the whole class time presenting her material, even if it is material from the Word of God. We want to be able to ask our questions about our concerns, otherwise we feel talked down to, or we feel the class is not relevant to our lives.

It is well and good for the preacher to base his sermon on the Bible, but he better get to something relevant pretty quickly, or we start mentally to check out. Don’t spend a lot of time in the Bible, we tell our preachers, but be sure to get to personal illustrations, examples from daily life, and most importantly, an application that we can use.

The fixation on our own sense of need and interest looms as the most significant factor in this marginalization and silencing of the Word. Individually, each human being in the room is an amalgam of wants, needs, intuitions, interests, and distractions. Corporately, the congregation is a mass of expectations, desperate hopes, consuming fears, and impatient urges. All of this adds up, unless countered by the authentic reading and preaching of the Word of God, to a form of group therapy, entertainment, and wasted time – if not worse.

Galli has this situation clearly in his sights when he asserts that many congregations expect the preacher to start from some text in the Bible, but then quickly move on “to things that really interest us.” Like . . . ourselves?

One of the earliest examples of what we would call the preaching of the Bible may well be found in Nehemiah 8:1-8:

And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the Lord had commanded Israel. So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month. And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law. And Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that they had made for the purpose. And beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand, and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam on his left hand. And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood. And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, �Amen, Amen,� lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord. Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading with their faces to the ground.

Ezra and his companions stood on a platform before the congregation. They read the scriptural text clearly, and then explained the meaning of the Scripture to the people. The congregation received the Word humbly, while standing. The pattern is profoundly easy to understand – the Bible was read and explained and received.

As Hughes Oliphant Old comments, “This account of the reading of the Law indicates that already at the time of the writing of this text there was a considerable amount of ceremonial framing of the public reading of Scripture. This ceremonial framing is a witness to the authority of the Bible.” The reading and exposition took place in a context of worship as the people listened to the Word of God. The point of the sermon was simple – “to make clear the reading of the Scriptures.”

In many churches, there is almost no public reading of the Word of God. Worship is filled with music, but congregations seem disinterested in listening to the reading of the Bible. We are called to sing in worship, but the congregation cannot live only on the portions of Scripture that are woven into songs and hymns. Christians need the ministry of the Word as the Bible is read before the congregation and God’s people – young and old, rich and poor, married and unmarried, sick and well – hear it together. The sermon is to consist of the exposition of the Word of God, powerfully and faithfully read, explained, and applied. It is not enough that the sermon take a biblical text as its starting point.

How can so many of today’s churches demonstrate what can only be described as an impatience with the Word of God? The biblical formula is clear – the neglect of the Word can only lead to disaster, disobedience, and death. God rescues his church from error, preserves his church in truth, and propels his church in witness only by his Word – not by congregational self-study.

In the end, an impatience with the Word of God can be explained only by an impatience with God. We – both individually and congregationally – neglect God’s Word to our own ruin.

As Jesus himself declared, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”