A Study in Declining Churches

In 1972 Dean M. Kelley released the results of a sociological study of religion titled, “Why Conservative Churches Are Growing,” the conclusion was because they were conservative.

But what does being “conservative” mean? It doesn’t mean conservative culturally, socially, ethically, or politically.

A new study from Wilfrid Laurier University and Redeemer University College in Ontario Canada concluded that the reason some churches decline while others grow is largely based on their theological beliefs. If the members of a church and its clergy embrace conservative theological beliefs, they tend to be growing. If they don’t, they tend to be in decline.

What we shouldn’t do is what declining churches do…blame society for the dropping interest in church/religion.

The reality is that growing churches hold more firmly to traditional Christian beliefs/doctrine and are more diligent in, or value prayer and Bible reading. They tend to take the Bible at face value as truth, and believe that God is alive and active in the world. These values are actuated within our churches being demonstrated by reality of demonstration. In other words, we do what we say we do!

This is reveled when asked; 93 percent of pastors in growing churches said they agree with the statement: “Jesus rose from the dead with a real, flesh-and-blood body, leaving behind an empty tomb.”

Declining churches? Only 56 percent.
Many would say: “My goodness! If you don’t believe that, what kind of Christianity are you advocating?”

My main point is…if we water down our faith so that it matches the world’s values and ideals, then we end up having nothing to offer the world that it does not already have.

We won’t get the attention of a post Christian world by voicing the convictions they already hold as true…the voice that gains the attention of the world will be convict them, being clear in its message, substantive, being really-real in its content, and bold in its challenge.

Pride, the Ivory Tower

The ivory tower of my pride, my own (self-perceived) judgments which by our impeccable morality seeing so clearly the gaping pits into which others have stumbled? It is my natural inclination to say, “How could they be so careless, and so stupid? Wasn’t it obvious to them that these decisions were wrong? How could they let themselves get here in the first place?” I mean, is it really that hard?

Have you ever found yourself saying these words?

My tower is pretty high, so high that I am oblivious to my immediate surroundings of my own weaknesses. My whitewashed fortress, my self-righteousness gets me through the day digging a pit of my own, and I am completely blind to it.

Scripture tells us that “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah. 17:9).

When I attempt to identify my own areas of vulnerability, my pits, I am pretty shortsighted. Why; because I gravitate toward the places where I am weak, forgetting my strengths can be my weakness.

For example:

Abraham’s great strength was obedience. Where did he fall? Obedience (Gen. 12:13, 16:2).

Noah’s great attribute was discipline. Where did he fall? Discipline (Gen. 9:21).

Isaac’s great asset was truth-telling. Where did he fall? Truth-telling (Gen. 26:7).

Moses’ great strength was meekness. Where did he fall? Meekness (Num. 20:10-12).

David’s great character trait was integrity. Where did he fall? Integrity (2 Sam. 11:3-27).

Elijah’s great attribute was faith. Where did he fall? Faith (1 Kings 19:3-13).

Uzziah’s great strength was adherence to God’s Word. Where did he fall? Adherence to God’s Word (2 Chr. 26:16-21).

Peter’s great asset was courage. Where did he fall? Yup. Courage (Luke 22:34-62).
Boasting about Weakness

2 Corinthians 12:9; “And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.”

Why would Paul rather boast about his weaknesses instead of his strengths? Because God’s power is perfected in my weakness…it shores up a defense against our enemy, the flesh, the world, the devil in the area’s of my life where I am most susceptible.

We ignore the area’s in which we are strong, Why, because we assume these are the areas we will never fail so they are often ignored, and we fall into a pit of susceptible to the weakness of our strength.

Do you ever remember saying; “I will never do that, or fail in this area?”

Where are you strong? Inspection of those areas ensures you are on guard.

Many times weaknesses of our strengths are only seen after our failure. How else will we find the weak-link of the armor of our self-righteousness?

Proverbs 4:23; “Keep your heart with all diligence, For out of it spring the issues of life.”

1 Corinthians 10:12-13; “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. 13 No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”

Scripture tells us in 1 Peter 5;8 to be sober and diligent…the why is found in the preceding verse 6-7; “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.”

Humility is the ultimate “self-awareness.” It tears down our Ivory Tower of pride enabling us to see the reality in our lives where we are susceptible to temptation and failure, even where we think we’re strong.

1 Peter 1:3-6;Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”

Do You Feel Deserted?

Paul felt deserted by everyone but God. (2 Timothy 4:9-18)
Throughout Paul’s ministry, he suffered trials and persecution for the sake of Christ. He was stoned, beaten, imprisoned, shipwrecked, and betrayed. He often went without food, sleep, and shelter. During his Roman imprisonment, he also felt alone with no other person to support or defend him. Demas left him because he loved the world. Alexander did him “a great deal of harm.” But through it all, the Lord stood with him, comforted and strengthened by God’s mighty presence.
There are so many things that not recorded in Scripture. If we could sit down with Paul, perhaps he would recount all the Gospel victories and tell me more about the suffering he endured for the name of Christ. Pain and struggle may have marked his life, but God’s mercy and grace sustained him every moment.
Paul’s life stands as a testimony to God’s power and grace working in the lives of His people to carry out His purposes.
Paul’s last written words, in his second letter to Timothy, reveal the reality of God’s strength made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9):
“For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:6-8, NIV)

Truth and the Christian

Here is a list of things that I have observed about Christians and their reactions to Truth.

1. They do not become offended.
Matthew 11:6; “And blessed is [he], whosoever shall not be offended in me.”

2. They have great peace.
Psalm 119:165; “Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them.”

3. They will listen and finds repentance.
Matthew 18:17; “And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.”

4. Disobedience can’t hide behind our false hypocritical self-protective arguments.
2 Corinthians 10:5; “casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ”

5. Truth (good confession) enables the saint to fight all the way to life, having a good witnesses to all those around them.
1 Timothy 6:12; “Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

6. Truth does not judge hypocritically.
Matthew 6:1-7; “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

7. Those who cherish the truth don’t stumble, because they don’t disobey the Word.
1 Peter 2:8; “And “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.”

8. Truth and love are not opposites. Love, the motivation for all we do, say, and are. Who we say we are must be grounded in truth, and lived out in love.
1 Corinthians 13; “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;”

Be Real

If you’re like me, you’ll remember our school days where we learn that the cool kids table is occupied by those who have a nearly perfect life. They don’t seem to be vulnerable, always gets the breaks, teachers love them…these are the cool kids. But what we don’t see from the outside is that their image of perfection and invincibility is a mirage.

When we seek to be cool, hip or whatever (archaic) word used to describe this attempt to create an image which is not truthful. So many times we are trying to set ourselves up as having their lives all put together. When we project coolness, our audience may be impressed, but what about our audience of One, Jesus? Are we inclined or even lust to have people desiring to be like you, instead of being like Jesus?

Real Verses Cool

There is a better quest than to be cool, the in-crowd, the “perfect”. The appeal of Jesus was not that he would be measured by the qualities we use to measure our image of “coolness.” By no measurement would Jesus have been considered cool. Do you ever wonder why the powerful (the in-crowd) of his day were repelled and revolted against him, with the outcast drawn to him?

Jesus wasn’t cool; he was real. He was the same in every crowd. Jesus treated everyone fairly. The life he projected was the life he lived. There was no indication of hypocrisy or division. He was real.

Realness should be our passionate pursuit; to portray ourselves truthfully in our mannerism, our online persona, in our day-to-day relational life. In this way, people will see that we don’t have it all together. We should never project a mirage of dauntlessness, perfection, but continually show the true picture of our own struggle to live out a life of faith as fallen people in a fallen world.

Realness doesn’t mean we publicize private things. Being too transparent is possible…being too real! Transparency requires etiquette, and discernment, not as some do in the name of realness, have turned their lives into a reality show. Of course, these are not those that portray themselves as perfect, without blemish. But those who think that by demonstrating their crudity somehow will give themselves a kudos with others.

In genuine realness others will see us, understand our humanness and see God’s work in the midst of our own brokenness…this should be the desire of every one of us who, regardless of it being intentional or unintentionally.

The Most Important Thing Today’s Christians Are Missing

There are plenty of habits, we as Christians need to be practicing, such as prayer, Bible reading, and study, corporate worship, singing, sharing the gospel, and helping and loving others. These spiritual disciplines and their purpose is for spiritual growth are to be done out of loving obedience.

The question is; what is the one single habit that’s the most important?

It is this one grounding habit that will make the difference for every believer, the weekly habit that is utterly essential to any healthy, life-giving, joy-producing Christian walk: corporate worship!

It is all too often neglected, or taken very lightly, in our day of cultural separation and in our tendency to being noncommittal. In fact, I do not think it is too strong to call corporate worship the single most important habit of the Christian life.

The reason to make corporate worship a habit is not to check the box on perfect attendance, and not because corporate worship alone is enough to fully power the Christian life, and not because mere attendance in worship will save your soul.

But as the single most important habit for Christians, corporate worship is where we find encouragement in all the other spiritual habits vital to the Christian life. Believers are meant to be together, to learn together, worship together, to pray for each other, and encourage each other.

We need to harness the power of habit to rescue our souls from empty excuses that keep us from spiritual riches and increasing joy. Negligence and chronic minimizing of the importance of corporate worship reveal something unhealthy and scary in our souls. Let’s resist it with a ferocious tenacity as we would anything else that would endanger our souls.”

Hebrews 10:24-25 reads; “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

By clearly defining a bad habit that we must not develop — “neglecting to meet together” — Hebrews makes it clear what good habit we should cultivate, and feed: meeting together.

Today’s temptation to underestimate the importance of the weekly assembly is as old as the church itself. The great irony in this is the habit of meeting together with Christ’s people to worship him is utterly crucial for the Christian life but in today’s church, it is often the most neglected.

Ask yourself this one question: Is the biblical practice of this “assembly of the saints,” the practice that I neglect? If the answer is yes, then correct it, plain and simple.

True for You but Not for Me: Overcoming Objections to Christian Faith

True for You but Not for Me: Overcoming Objections to Christian Faith

Excerpted from Paul Copan’s book

Many Americans today don’t believe in absolute truth.  Instead, they simply accept the relativistic philosophy that’s so popular in our culture.  Christians who reach out to them too often struggle to respond successfully to their objections about the faith.  But some thoughtful comments can help clear up people’s confusion and pique their interest in seeking Christ themselves.

Here are some statements people commonly make when objecting to Christianity, and how you can respond:

“That’s true for you, but not for me.”  It doesn’t make sense to say that no belief is true for everyone, because by making that statement you’re claiming that your own viewpoint (relativism) is universally true – and thereby contradicting yourself.  And simply living life depends on belief in truth of some kind; everyone must implicitly trust that certain things exist in order to survive.

“So many people disagree – relativism must be true.”  Just because it’s sometimes difficult to discern the truth doesn’t mean that truth doesn’t exist or can’t be discerned.  The fact that people disagree doesn’t say anything about an issue’s truth or falsehood.  Often, people don’t have full knowledge about the reality that exists.

“What right do you have to convert others to your views?”  If you’re trying to persuade me not to share my viewpoint, you’re trying to convert me to share your own view that people shouldn’t evangelize.  Faith may be personal, but that doesn’t mean it’s private.  Everyone naturally wants to share what they’re passionate about with others.

“You can choose whichever religion you want.”  If you build your own religion simply by personal preferences rather than according to truth you seek, you’re dangerously out of touch with reality.  It may seem safe to create God in your own image, but it actually will end up destroying your soul.

“Who are you to impose your morality on others?”  When you denounce imposing morality on others, you’re taking a moral position yourself (saying it’s wrong to impose moral values).  You don’t use moral standards only when they suit your agenda.  All people intuitively recognize certain moral basics.

“We can be good without God.”  Goodness must have its source in a good God.  If God doesn’t exist and people are the product of valueless processes, why would valuable people with moral rights exist?  Practical reason alone can’t give people morals, help them act ethically, or give rise to human dignity.

“All religions are basically the same.”  World religions actually differ in major, profound ways.  Some aspects of various religions may help pave the way to the Gospel’s truths, but only Jesus fulfills the ultimate hopes and aspirations in all religions, philosophies, and cultures.

“If you’d grown up in Thailand, you’d be a Buddhist.”  God graciously reveals Himself to people throughout the world.  God knows people’s hearts, wherever they live, and reaches out to those who seek Him.  While people do grow up in diverse cultures – some of which make it easier to hear the Gospel message than others – God does break through and it’s not arrogant for people to reject beliefs that ultimately prove to be unworkable for them in favor of Christianity.

“Mahatma Gandhi was a saint if ever there was one.”  There is more to true religion than moral decency.  Even atheists can be morally good, since everyone has been created in God’s image.  The ultimate problem is people’s alienation from God, and that can only be solved through saving relationships with Jesus.

“You can’t trust the Gospels – they’re unreliable.”  The Gospels – and the entire New Testament – are actually more reliable than other ancient documents, which don’t have as many manuscript copies existing or as much historical evidence supporting their claims.  Furthermore, there’s no good reason to doubt the Gospels, yet they’re criticized much more severely than other ancient documents – probably because they portray an unsafe, untamable God who reaches out from the pages to make personal demands on readers.

“Jesus is just like any other great religious leader.”  Jesus stands out from the pack of other religious leaders because He claimed to be divine.  He can’t simply be a great teacher; His claims about Himself leave only two options: Either He really was who He said He was – God’s Son – or else He was a flagrant idolater.

“People claim JFK and Elvis are alive, too!”  Only the story of Jesus’ resurrection is supported by real historical evidence – an abundance of it.  Consider the context, purpose, and evidence for stories that claim to parallel Jesus’ resurrection and you’ll quickly see that they don’t hold up to scrutiny.

“It doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you’re sincere.”  People can sincerely believe something and yet still be wrong because the object of their sincerity is flawed.  The essential question to ask is, “How reliable is the object of your trust?”.  Also, you can’t rely on sincerity for divine acceptance, because salvation is based on God’s grace rather than on what people do to try to reach Him.

“If Jesus is the only way to God, what about those who have never heard of Him?” God’s good, trustworthy character assures us that He will do what’s right for every person He has created and deeply loves.  Also, God makes Himself known in many ways to people, prompting them to seek Him, and He has promised to reveal Himself to those who seek Him with their whole hearts.  God won’t condemn people simply because they haven’t heard the Gospel.  God will judge people who have not been evangelized based on their responses to natural revelation (such as creation, conscience, reason, and experience), which His Spirit can use to bring them to salvation.  Also, God often uses the world’s natural revelation about Himself to prepare people to respond to the Gospel once they do hear its message.