5 Key Things People are Searching for in a Church
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How can you get your church to grow?

I want to tell you the 5 key things all the experts are raving about that will totally transform your church.

But first, let me tell you a quick story. This past weekend I had my second church plant gathering with my core team. Our objective for this meeting was to create a vision board of the kind of church we would love our church plant to be. Each of the core team members came with printed pictures and, after sharing the heart behind the pictures, stuck them on the board.

Now none of us are church growth gurus. And trust me, despite the fact that I talk about church culture alot, I am an amateur. But I was blown away that every person in the team who shared their heart instinctively repeated the 5 keys for church growth that all the experts are raving about. And what’s amazing about these 5 keys is not simply what they include, but what they leave out as well.

Without further ado, here are the 5 key things that can get any church to grow:

Meaningful Community

By Meaningful Community, what is meant is a church that is more than just a weekend club. People actually care for each other, pray for each other, serve each other and do life together throughout the week. People cry together and laugh together, they celebrate wins and mourn losses as one family. A meaningful community is one that occupies such a beautiful place in your life that you don’t want to miss out on being with one another and when someone is missing, everyone notices.

Active Discipleship

Active Discipleship is about having a church culture that focuses on transforming lives through the gospel. This isn’t about church growth or tacking on a sexy number of baptisms each year. Baptisms are awesome, yes! But the real goal is for anyone at any stage of life to come in and not only feel like they belong, but go on a journey of growth from wherever they are to a fully committed follower of Jesus whose entire life is redefined by the kingdom of God. And everyone is a part of this! The pastor is growing as well as the new believer - all of us on a journey together toward Jesus and his kingdom call.

Authentic Worship

Authentic worship is something that transcends the tired worship war debates. This isn’t about telling people there is only one way to worship or about trying to put together slick worship sessions complete with fog machines and lasers. This is about pouring our hearts out to God in a safe place where we can be vulnerable, real and open. Style of music matters less in this space than the heart of our worship. In this space we want to sing together, kids included, by integrating everyone and showering our God with our thankful praise as one voice. This is also a church that prioritises prayer and where everyones Bibles are falling appart from use.

Outward Focus

One of the points that was repeated throughout our session was ‘Why is it so hard for local churches to actually be local?’ The vision is not just to have a spatio-temporal location with an address in our city but to actually be a light in that city. To transfrom the community, to have a voice and change statistics - a presence that matters because its designed from the ground up to focus outwardly instead of inwardly.

Jesus-Centred Evangelism

Everything is about Jesus. He is the centre of the story we tell and the life we live. We want Jesus to be the core and everything of what we do and say. This is a church that goes beyond propositional doctrines and into the living, active and beautiful life Jesus is calling us to. This is a church that welcomes the lost, the broken, the rejected and says, “Jesus is for everyone.” To borrow from church planter Larry Krausse - this is a church that exists “for those not here yet”.

And that’s it!

Those are the 5 key things that everyone mentioned. And you know what? These are the 5 key things people are looking for when they come to a church everywhere. No one in our group (a group composed of modern, young, innovative and cool Gen Xer’s and Millennials) mentioned a super cool stage, a lit band or a pastor in skinny jeans (yes, I still wear them). No one asked for a giant budget, for a watered down gospel or for a copy and paste of Hillsong. Now, I’m not saying Hillsong is bad (Hi guys) or any of that other stuff (except watered down gospel - thats definitely bad) but what I am saying is that all the things we normally associate with a growing church are not really what people are looking for. Instead, they are searching for something infinitely more profound and - heres the best part - FREE!

They are searching for real friendship, real faith, a real God and a real purpose that points to a real story that transforms, redefines, and metamorphs their life.

So how is your local church doing in these 5 areas? And what can you do to help it thrive?

Share your comments below and lets work together to redesign Adventism for mission!


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3 MORE Simple Ways to Love Your Youth (with Amy Lee Turner)
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What is the secret to keeping our young people in church?

What if I told you that for the first time ever, there is a solid answer to this question?

Like many of you, I grew up in a church with lots of young people and very few of them are still in church.

Many of them left for all kinds of reasons. Some felt judged. Others felt ignored. And others still just didn’t connect for a variety of reasons.

And for years, church leaders have been publishing articles on why young people leave and the reasons feel as endless as the articles. In the end, it’s all super overwhelming.

But what if instead of asking - why do young people leave? We asked instead, Why do young people stay?

Asking this question is the foundation behind the groundbreaking book “Growing Young: Six Essential Strategies to Help Young People Discover and Love Your Church”.

In this book, the authors share how they went on a journey with a number of churches succeeding at retaining their young people. They were curious - what is it about these churches that makes young people stay when so many of them are leaving other churches?

The result of all their research were 6 essential things that all these diverse churches had in common. And these six keys are seriously the best answer to the question - how can we keep our youth? Here are the keys below:

 
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Now of course, if you really want to get the most out of this research you have to get the book! However, I have also taken the time to do two interviews where we explore all six keys outlined in the book. The first interview released a few weeks ago and you can catch it here.

The second interview I am publishing new this week! I sat down with Assistant Youth Director of the Western Australian Conference, Amy Lee Turner, to talk about keeping our young people!

We chatted about judgmentalism, rigid doom-and-gloom preaching and church boards that scare their youth away. But we also talked about community, mentorship, Jesus-centered leadership and the beauty of relationships in our churches.

This is one interview that is going to keep you shouting “yes!” over and over again. Don’t miss it! Listen below:

Connect with Amy

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Search for Amy Lee Turner on Messenger

Or email her at amyturner@adventist.org.au


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5 Worst Church Website Mistakes and How to Avoid Them
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Ah yes, the Adventist church website. Isn’t it wonderful? Don’t those super outdated interfaces and mediocre looking font types just make you want to pop into the local church the next weekend you are in town?

I’m totally being sarcastic. And here’s why: SDA church websites are usually really, really wack. So in todays post, I want to stir the pot and offer some good advice on how you can design a missional website that doesn’t bore your neighbors away. In order to accomplish this simply and quickly, I am going to focus on the 5 worst church website mistakes Adventist churches usually make and how to avoid them.

1. YOUR CHURCH WEBSITE HAS AN OUTDATED AND CLUTTERED UX (OR IT’S SO PLAIN IT’S BORING)

The church website is a powerful tool for connection. In one of my churches, a well designed website repeatedly attracts new visitors searching for a church. When they see our website, they are usually sold. This is because we designed it to be a simple and stress free experience that tells visitors “we are thinking of you”.

Sadly, the same can’t be said for all Adventist church websites. Although I have noticed them getting slightly better in recent years there are still some key mistakes we keep repeating. The first is that many of our websites are using interfaces that are old and old translates as irrelevant in modern society. So if your church website is old, most people searching for a church will bypass your church for that reason alone. In addition, a lot of our church websites are cluttered. It’s like we are trying to stuff as much info into the front page as possible and this creates an overwhelming and anxious experience which is totally not cool.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, I have seen lots of Adventist church websites that are just sooo boring. By boring I mean the entire website looks like a copy and paste “insert-name-here” template that was done with an absolute minimum “lets just have a face on the internet” approach. And if your church website is boring, what that tells me is you are boring.

To the contrary, a church website should have a modern look - clean, trendy and inviting. Unfortunately, most conference provided free church websites are not capable of this. Even recent updates are still below the mark. So my advice is for your church to jump on Wix, Squarespace or Nucleus. They are not free, but totally worth it.

Of course, you still have to use these resources right. They are not magic solutions. For starters, your front page must be super simple to use. Avoid stuffing as much information into the front page, stay away from the sliding image thingy, and keep your tool bar links to a minimun (5 is generally good). The main idea is you want a persons eyes to go to one central place on your front page and not have 5 different things competing for their attention.

2. YOUR CHURCH WEBSITE LACKS NEW VISITOR INFORMATION

There is nothing worse for a visitor then arriving at your church website and feeling like its not made for them. Your church’s contact info, service times and location should be super duper easy to find. You would be suprised how often they aren’t.

The best way to get around this is to always include a heading or button with the title “I’m New Here” and put all guest information into that space. And make sure that its one of the first things a person sees when visiting your church website. It should not be tucked away somewhere.

3. YOUR CHURCH WEBSITE IS LOADED WITH CHEESY STOCK PHOTOS

If you are going to create a church website, please stay away from stock photos! There is nothing worse than a church website with pictures of people who don’t even go there. It’s fake and if you think visitors won’t notice, think again. Its super obvious.

The same goes for your social media accounts. Stock Photos are just plain bad! Now with this bit of advice I need to include another HUGE recommendation. Please don’t forget this one. I am noticing a trend lately of Adventist churches opening a Facebook account or website and the main image is an image of their church building. Seriously - why?

Think about it. No one is going to look at a picture of your church building and think, “Wow, just look at that architecture! (Most of our churches have plain architecture anyways), And that paint job!” or, “Wife, I just found an amazing church! Just take a look at this photo of their church sign! Isn’t it great?”

Let me make this simple as possible. When it comes to your church building and its clever sign - NO ONE CARES.

Instead, have photos of your actual church - the people! Thats the kind of stuff people are attracted to - not buildings.

My advice is have someone in your church with a good camera and decent skills capture photos of church life. Have lots of pictures of church members smiling together, talking, laughing etc. Use those as your church website photos. They don’t have to be award winning photos, but they do need to be authentic (and decent of course). If you don’t have a single person in your church who can take good photos (And no, elder Francisco with his $2,000 DSLR that he just bought last month and now thinks hes a photographer doesn’t count), hire a local photographer to do it for you. But NO stock photos or pics of your church building!

4. YOUR CHURCH WEBSITE USES WORDS NO ONE ELSE DOES

Your website should be written to speak the language of every day people because every day people will be visiting. Make sure you avoid any and all use of churchy language like “Sabbath School, AY, Potluck etc.” - every day people don’t talk like that. Use simpler more general words like “Bible Study, Youth Program, Lunch" etc.” instead.

The best way to do this is to have a non-church friend read through your website and give you feedback. What parts did they not understand? Make them understandable.

5. BASICALLY, YOUR CHURCH WEBSITE IS DESIGNED FOR MEMBERS

Every single mistake mentioned above happens when we design our church websites for ourselves. My suggestion is that our church websites should be a missional tool. We use them to reach others, not just to communicate amongst members. If you sit down with a team and ask - “How can we design a wesbite that will make visitors want to visit our church?” you will avoid most of the mistakes church websites tend to make.

That’s it for me! Any other church website mistakes to avoid? Share them below!


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3 Simple Ways to Love Your Youth (with Martin & Alina Van Rensberg)
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I’m so excited about this weeks podcast interview!

I sat down with youth ministry extraordinaires Martin and Alina Van Rensberg to discuss the Growing Young project and the 6 (well, we only got to 3) simple ways for every local church to love and empower their youth to build the kingdom of God.

With so much conversation on why young people leave the church, we turned our focus on why they stay and how we can do more of that.

You don’t want to miss this episode! Listen below and share with your church :D

Connect with Martin and Alina


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3 Big Lies Most Adventists Believe About Church
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Most church members today have no idea what church is in the Bible and we can see the effects all around us. Adventist churches are dying, splitting and barely functioning. For a while I used to believe the problem was laziness but lately I have been thinking that maybe the problem begins with the fact that most of us have no idea what church really is.

Now I’m not going to lie. My blog today is going to make some of you uncomfortable but before you send me that angry email, make sure you read everything. I have a feeling you might be a little less angry if you do (just a little). Today, I want to look at three popular lies about church most people have not only fallen for, but lies that we tend to really like. I want to weigh them up against scripture to see what we discover.

LIE ONE: THE CHURCH IS A SACRED BUILDING

One of my favorite verses in all of scripture is Exodus 25:8 where God says to the nation of Israel: “have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them.”

God has set his people free from slavery and, as they journey through the dessert, he instructs them to build a “sanctuary”. And the reason is simple - “that I may dwell among them”. 

Now this isn’t the first time this idea is seen in scripture. Way back in Genesis we see God personally designing humanity out of the dust of the ground. And as God finishes his design, the Bible says he breathes into man’s nostrils the breath of life. There is something special taking place here. There is this inanimate biological entity laying on the ground and the creator leans in and breathes. And man, the Bible says, became a living being.

The rest of creation God speaks into existence. But man? He gets personal on that one. It’s as if God is saying, “I like to be with people.”

Fast forward to Genesis 3:8-9 and man rebells against God. God’s responce is amazing,

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?

Do I really need to comment on how cool it is that in their moment of rebellion God seeks man out? It’s as if God is saying, “I know what you have done. But I love you and like to be with you. So please tell me where you are!” And as the narrative unfolds we are introduced to a tragic plot twist - sin now seperates us from the God who likes to be with us.

Fast forward to Exodus 25 and God calls a nation of slaves to keep his story alive on the earth and then tells them, “make me a sanctuary so that I can dwell among you.” Why? Because God likes to be with people.

Fast forward to the New Testament and speaking of Jesus an angel says, “Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’” (Mat. 1:23)

Why God with us? Because, God likes to be with people.

Fast forward to the death of Jesus and the curtain in the temple, representing our separation from God, is removed. “At that moment” Matthew writes, “the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” (Matt. 27:51) At this moment, heaven is shouting to humanity - the separation is ended! Jesus is the sacrifice that reconnects us to the father. In him we are reconnected.

Notice what Paul adds in Hebrews 10:19-22 - “Therefore… we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God…”

Why? Because God likes to be with people.

And notice how the story ends in Revelation 21:1-3

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.

God likes to be with people. And all throughout scripture, he is working to close the gap, to draw near and end the separation. In the Old Testament, he closed that gap via the sanctuary which served as a symbol of God’s desire to be with people. But after the death of Jesus something amazing happens. The temple is no longer the place where God meets with man. Instead look at what‌ Paul says to the church:

Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in your midst? - 1 Cor. 3:16

Now here is the thing. Paul is not talking about the church building! Because nowhere in the NT do you ever find any reference to the church as being a building. Instead Paul is talking about the people because in scripture the church is not a building it is people. God dwells in us, not in a building. And the beauty of church being a people is that instead of “going” to church, the New Testament teaches we “are the church”.

This means that while the temple was the place where God dwelled with people in the Old Testament, in the New T‌estament the people are the place where God dwells. In short, You are God’s temple - individually and collectively God dwells with humanity through us - flesh and bone.

But somehow, we have bought into this big lie that church is a building. And that big lie results in three tragic outcomes.

  1. First, people begin to think of a church building as “sacred space” where you have to behave extra well but when they aren’t in the building they can do whatever they want. And I do this sometimes. Been impatient with the kids all morning and irritating and not loving at all and then I get to church and suddenly my frown turns into a smile and its like nothings wrong. We all do it. We live this divided life where we can be one person out there and the moment we walk into the church building its like Dr Jekyl turns back into Mr Hyde. And this is not biblical like at all. The church building doesnt even exist in the NT and we treat it as some super holy space where you cant do x y z and then we leave the building and its like - “phew I’m not in Gods presence anymore so now I can gossip”. Where do we read this in scripture?

  2. Because of this, people no longer live in the presence of God on a daily basis. Its like he is only there in the building. And so people are no longer living in the presence of God always but compartmentalise God’s presence to a man made structure.

  3. And finally, people lose sight that they are the church. So everything God centred gets relegated to the building and its services. And today many Christians think that church is a building and dont realise that they are the church every day and every where, God dwells with man through them - not buildings.

LIE TWO: THE CENTRE OF CHURCH IS THE MAIN SERVICE

The sanctuary reveals that God likes to be with people. What this demonstrates is that the center of scripture a relational God who wants to be in relationship with people. And when the early church gathered under this idea, they ate together, read the word together and celebrated the last supper (communion in which we ‘commune’ with God and celebrate our ‘union’ with him).

Why? Because God likes to be with people. Luke records:

Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:46-47)

and,

They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (Acts 2:42)

In the new testament there was no such thing as a church service. The central aspect of a church gathering in the NT was communion in which we celebrate the end of separation from God and the sanctuary nature of God.

Why? Because God wants to be with people.

But what is church today?

Fracis Chan captured it pretty well when he said,

Church today has become predictable… You go to a building, someone gives you a bulletin, you sit in a chair, you sing a few songs, a guy delivers maybe a polished message, maybe not, someone sings a solo, you go home… is this all God intended for us?

Let me frame it this way: Where in the NT do you find instructions on when the church should meet? Or how many songs to sing? Or whether there should be a platform party at the front or not? Or whether we should sit in rows or tables? Where in the NT do we see people stressed out with questions like: Is the program running smooth? Is the song service running too long? Have the details been organized well? Is the bulletin accurate? Did we miss an announcement? Was the special item good? Was the preacher inspiring?

Now none of that is inherently bad. There is nothing wrong with being organised, that’s biblical. The problem is we spend all our energy doing what God has never spoken about and have little time to do what he has. In fact, I have been to churches where they haven’t reached a soul for ten years (which God commanded us to do) and no one seems fussed. But you touch one detail in the program and its an all out war! It’s like “yes! we will die for what God has not spoken about while ignoring the clear commands he has given us.”

And this brings me to my final lie for the morning.

LIE THREE: THE CHURCH’S MISSION IS THE PASTORS JOB

The sanctuary nature of God means God wants to be with people. Sin separates us from him but God initiates a plan to bring us back to himself – this is the sanctuary. By the way my dear fellow Adventists, the sanctuary is not the church building - I think maybe its time we stopped calling it that? The sanctuary is God’s heart, his relation to humanity and his redemptive plan.

But here is the cool thing. Part of God’s plan to bring people back to himself involves a secret weapon.

Let me share this secret weapon with you. Im going to quote from Ephesians 3: 3, 5-6, and 10-11. Paul writes,

God himself revealed his mysterious plan to me… God did not reveal it to previous generations, but now by his Spirit he has revealed it to his holy apostles and prophets.

And this is God’s plan: Both Gentiles and Jews who believe the Good News share equally in the riches inherited by God’s children. Both are part of the same body, and… belong to Christ Jesus.

God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was his eternal plan...

Did you catch that? Through the church, God not only reaches out to the people he likes to be with but through it God reveals his heart to the entire universe.

But here is the crazy thing. Gods secret weapon is the church but the church is not a building and its not a program, the church is people. But its more than that! Notice what Paul says about these people just a chapter before:

Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil…. All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else. (Eph. 2:1-3)

In other words, God’s secret plan to defeat evil, dwell with humanity and glorify himself is a group of people (the church) but not just people - broken people - just like everyone else! God bypassed perfect and loyal angels and instead has chosen, from history past, that his secret weapon would be broken messed up people who are just like everyone else. And what does he do with this group of broken messed up “just like everyone else” people? Peter hits the nail on the haid in 1 Peter 2:9 when he writes:

But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.

Please tell me you caught that! God’s secret weapon is shockingly unexpected. Instead of angels or super holy people, God’s secret weapon is broken people - just like everyone else - whom he would transform into priests - a kingdom of priests - and that through them he would reveal his heart to the world and beyond. This means you are a priest. All of you. And what is a priests job? To help bring the sinner into contact with God! It’s about bringing the two together. And that is you and that is me, all of us priests because God has called all of us to be a part of his dwelling with humanity because God likes to be with people.

The mission of the church doesn’t belong to a pastor. It belongs to people - broken people, just like everyone else, saved by grace and called to be priests on the earth.

Wow.

Most church members today have no idea what church is in the Bible and we can see the effects all around us. Adventist churches are dying, splitting and barely functioning. For a while I used to believe the problem was laziness but lately I have been thinking that maybe the problem begins with the fact that most of us have no idea what church really is. We think its a building with a program and its own fultime CEO pastor who does it all so we can sit back and enjoy the show. But this is not church. You don’t find that anywhere in the NT. Instead, the Bible declares that you are the church, that the centre of church is not a program but people and that each of us broken, messed up people - liars and thieves, gossips and narcissists, addicts and slaves - have been reclaimed by God’s grace and called to be a kingdom of priests with one mission: To bring sinners to God.

Because God likes to be with people.


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The Future of Adventist Evangelism (with Lisa Clark Diller)
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The most amazing thing happened last week!

On Friday, I got to spend a whole hour with professor of church history at Southern Adventist Universtity, Lisa Clark Diller! We chatted about nerdy things, CS Lewis (more nerdy things) and the past, present and future opportunities and challenges for Adventist evangelism.

If you love Adventist evangelism but have wondered why it doesn’t seem to connect with emerging generations, you don’t want to miss this episode!

Listen below and don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast, leave a review (sooooo helpful!) and share it with your church leaders (also super helpful!)

CONNECT WITH LISA

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To contact Lisa Clark Diller visit her SAU page here: https://www.southern.edu/people/ldiller


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How to Create a Church that Connects with Secular Culture
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Assistant editor to The Atlantic, Faith Hill, recently published an article titled, “They Tried to Start a Church Without God. For a While, It Worked” where she traced the demise of the secular church movement which, despite starting with a bang in 2012, has already begun to die off. However, Hill doesn’t simply explore the secular church movement from a historical perspective but also offers her own observations about the trend and its future. Her overall point is that in order for it to succeed, secular churches “need to do a better job of imitating religion.” In doing so, she hands the church the keys to connecting with secular culture on a silver platter.

A Bit of History

For those entirely unfamiliar with the secular church movement, it was essentially an attempt to give secular people an alternative to church. As Hill described, “Members gather on Sundays, sing together, listen to speakers, and converse over coffee and donuts. Meetings are meant to be just like Church services—but without God.”

Once again, the movement started off looking super strong. Not only did they grow rapidly in their early years but, as Hill indicates, they were “heavily covered by media outlets.” “The Hot New Atheist Church,” was one of the hit articles, published in 2013 at the Daily Beast. BBC, the Economist, Huffpost, the Insider, the Guardian, Vox, Salon and Wikipedia where among the other media outlets that reported on the phenomenon. The numerical growth was so impressive early on that “HuffPost noted that the number of [secular] assemblies had doubled in a single weekend in 2014.”

Those of us familiar with the book of Acts will see some parallels here. As the early church began to sweep into the culture of the day, Luke reports incredible numerical growth. Three-thousand in one day (Acts 2:47), another five-thousand plus overnight (Acts 4:4) and “multitudes” more (meaning large enough that Luke couldn’t be bothered guesstimating) as the apostles continued in their mission (Acts 5:14).

However, the parallels between the early church’s explosive growth and the secular church movement sort of end there. Hill takes us on a journey to the next phase of the secular church’s growth which was marked by, well, no growth. “[E]ven as the growth of ‘nones’ has revved up in the intervening years” she writes, “the growth of secular congregations hasn’t kept pace. After a promising start, attendance declined, and nearly half the chapters have fizzled out.”

To the contrary, the Christian church continued to spread. Despite being persecuted and scattered nothing was able to stop it. The impact was so strong, that the governing powers of the day described its leaders as “men who have turned the world upside down…” and freaked out that they had “come here too.” (Acts 17:6).

So why the distinction? Why did the secular church movement collapse?

1. It Didn’t Offer Enough

Hill points out some interesting perspectives. For example, she notes that this experience proved that “[b]uilding a durable community of nonbelievers… is more complicated than just excising God.” Later she adds that, “The yearning for belonging is not enough, in itself, to create a sense of home.” As her exploration continues, she references religious scholar Linda Woodgead (Lancaster University, Great Britain) who said, “Even more challenging than the logistical barriers are the psychological ones…. Meeting in a building with the same group of people every week … I don’t think there’s any natural need for that”.

Woodgead is entirely correct. There is no natural need for “meeting in a building” repeatedly week after week with the same folks. In fact, I will point out later on that one of the reasons I think this movement failed is because it attempted to copy the modern church - a system of church that is not only unbiblical but entirely unnatural and unnecessary. More on that later. (wink-wink)

2. Fragmentation

Neverhteless, Woodgead does believe that community is super important but her overall point is that “you can’t just meet for the sake of community itself. You need a very powerful motivating element to keep people coming, something that attendees have in common.” And herein lies another one of the movements major issues. Hill is clear that the secular church movement is plagued by a sense of fragmentation in which “different groups with different priorities” are gathering together and failing to find common ground outside of their dislike of God. In some ways, it seemed the only thing the attendees had in common was what they were against and “dislike of anything” is what Alan Cooperman, director of religion research at Pew Research Center, refers to as “the least effective social glue, the dullest possible mobilizing cry, the weakest affinity principle, that one can imagine.”

3. Spectatorship

The other significant problem the young movement faced was logistical. In their attempts to copy the typical western church, the secular church organizers found that they were having to put on “a big show on a regular basis.” This created a logistical and financial nightmare. Bands had to be booked. Chairs had to be set up. Food had to be organised. “Some leaders” Hill points “told me they’re trying to make those weekly meetings so interesting, so entertaining, so powerful that people will keep showing up.” Hill later describes how “Organizers hope that other adults will see how wonderful it is to be accepted and accepting, to sing Bon Jovi badly in an abandoned church building or hear a talk about quantum physics in a local Y with other like-minded and familiar people. And that, having had these experiences, they’ll keep showing up.”

Sounds like most of our churches doesn’t it?

It was this need to put together a show each weekend that Anne Klaeysen, a secular church organiser identified by Hill, refered to as “unsustainable”. Hill then quotes another organiser - Justina Walford - who pointed out that, in putting on this weekend show “You’re competing with hundreds of other events at the same time…. Getting enough people to show up felt impossible.”

Once again, the tragedy in this entire scenario is that, in their attempt to create an alternative to the local church, secular church organisers immediately resorted to a “show”. What this demonstrates with ironic tragedy is that in the eye of the secular culture, church is a essentially a well-oiled “show”. It may have other elements, but when it boils down to the essence, that’s basically what you are trying to recreate.

What this Means for Adventist Churches

As the article nears its close we encounter a variety of elements and pillars which are purported to exist within local church congregations that gives them a sense of meaning - and thus a greater likelihood of success - not present in secular churches. Some of the key pillars secular church organisers have pointed our are the presence of costly sacrifice (you have to give up things in order to join the local church as opposed to secular churches which are basically communities “without costly rituals—one[s] that lets you do what you want”). Other elements pointed out are the need for meaningful rituals, stories, transcendence, and a sense of sacredness attached to the rituals, traditions, and ideals (completely missing in secular churches). “The irony is that to get away from religion,” says anthropologist Richard Sosis, “they may need to re-create it.” Sanderson Jones, leader of one of the more successful secular churches named “Sunday Assembly” has also “developed a framework of five core components in any congregation: ‘community life,’ ‘transformational gatherings,’ ‘personal growth,’ ‘helping others,’ and ‘changing the world’” - structural keys that one can find in just about any modern church with business driven strategic models.

However, there is one thing that the secular church movement can’t get around. It is what Cooperman referred to as the real “overwhelming number of people who were raised religious but now have left report being pretty content.” This sense of contentedness is not something the secular church has been able to break through and it’s also something our local Adventist churches have likewise been unable to overcome. And the reason is simple - our churches essentially run the same as a secular church. They revolve around a show with a few extra elements (like standards) sprinkled on top. But overall, we are not that different. Yes we talk about God, but do we really need him? If we did not have the Holy Spirit our church services would still run as normal. We have our church manual, traditional structures and financial backing to keep us ticking without God’s help for decades to come! Is it no wonder that the Growing Young research project found that “from 2007 to 2014, mainline Protestant adults slid from 41 million to 36 million, a decline of approximately 5 million” which, the authors summarise saying, “no major Christian tradition is growing in the US today. A few denominations are managing to hold steady, but that’s as good as it gets”.*

The Solution

I don’t have all the answers, but in this article I feel that Hill gives us three keys to connecting effectively with secular culture - keys we would be dumb to ignore. Here they are:

  1. In order to reach the culture, we have to move away from a spectator show. As pointed out by Woodgead, the thing we call church is simply not natural. We don’t need it. Is it no wonder that most people who attend church would not experience any major change in significance or purpose if they suddenly stopped attending? Sure, we might miss it because we are used to it but that’s not the same as undergoing an existential crisis. On the other hand, if the apostle Paul disconnected from church his entire life would have been turned upside down. This is because church was not a show for Paul. It was a way of being. A calling that transcended organised gatherings and redesigned his entire identity. Paul did not go to church. In fact, none of the early Christians did. Instead, they were the church and this impacted the way they interacted with society, politics, relationships and just about any other aspect of reality. When they did gather, the gatherings were simple revolving around eating, reading the word and celebrating communion. There was no show.

    Sadly, most of our churches today revolve around a 2 hour show that is exhausting to organise week after week. And my suggestion is that if secular people can’t put on a show for secular people that secular people will want to keep going back to then we sure aren’t going to do it. It’s time to redesign our churches away from revolving around a “show” to fostering true and meaningful relationships and discipleship. In short, we need to offer more and maybe the way to do that is to offer less. Less entertainment, less spoon-feeding and less lectures. More relationships, more time in the word and more prayer.

  2. In order to reach the culture, we should not shy away from “costly sacrifice”. Many modern churches, in their attempt to reach the culture, have assumed that we need to get rid of “standards”. However, what even secular people are starting to realise is that what doesn’t cost you something is not valuable. As a result, we should forgo any temptation to make following Jesus “easy”. Love will cost you something. Jesus will cost you everything. And we shouldn’t shy away from that in order to reach people. They might like us more yes, but that doesn’t mean they will find our faith meaningful. Meaning is found in sacrifice.

    Now of course, this can be interpreted in many ways so I want to be clear. This is not a pass for ultra-conservative Adventists with their ridiculous/ unreasonable standards and judgmental attitudes to run around saying “see? we told you?” Equally true is that many of the secular people who have abandoned church have done so because church was full of ridiculous rules that caused spiritual and damage and nurtured exclusivism, narcissism and elitism. The recent experience with former fundamentalist pastor turned atheist Joshua Harris** is evidence enough of this. So the call here is for us to return to a love-ethic, a balanced and centrist view of sacrifice that actually beautifies the world while demanding radical obedience of us.

  3. In order to reach the culture, we must emphasise our unity in Jesus. The one thing missing in this entire article is how the main glue that kept the early church alive was the union that all believers have in the resurrected Christ. In Jesus, Paul says, we are one. He has removed the walls of hostility and brought us together. The church is far from perfect, but there is a sense in which it is Jesus, in his broken body, who holds us together and keeps us moving despite our natural human tendency to mess things up. You can remove everything else, and this one thing will remain. Is it no wonder that Jesus said, “by this will all men know you are my disciples if you love one another.” (John 13:35)

    Somehow, our unity in Jesus is an incredibly powerful key that keeps the church alive despite its human weaknesses. We need to pursue this unity more. In creating churches designed to connect with the secular world we must demonstrate to them something they cannot find anywhere else - a unity that celebrates the agape love of God and the Triune nature of his being. As people see this super natural union and love exhibited among us, they will be drawn to the Jesus that it all points back to.

So those are my thoughts for now! Of course, there is so much more to say about this amazing article. Please take some time to read it in its entirety and share your thoughts below! I’d love to know what amazing insights I missed and how we can embrace those elements to create local Adventist churches that truly connect with secular culture.

_____

Original article cited in this blog: https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/07/secular-churches-rethink-their-sales-pitch/594109

* Growing Young pages 5 and 7

**On Joshua Harris: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jul/29/author-christian-relationship-guide-joshua-harris-says-marriage-over


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Pastor MarcosComment
How to Stop the Never-Ending Youth Exodus
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Happy monday story-tellers!

This week, I want to focus on my fellow millennials.

Yes, I am one of them. But the sad truth is, so many of us who grew up in church are no longer in it! And just in case you are tempted to think I’m just peddleing the timeless youth exodus myth, allow me to share some stats from the experts:

 

 
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Now here is what makes this youth exodus thing so exhausting - everyone thinks they know why they leave and how to stop it. And of course, everyone has a different opinion. Navigating through all that can be pretty annoying for those who are looking for a solid foundation.

However, there is one resource that I feel outshines every other and can offer the most balanced and wholistic perspective to this issue. Its the book “Growing Young: Six Essential Strategies to Help Young People Discover and Love Your Church” by Brad Griffin, Jake Mulder, and Kara E. Powell.

What makes this book cool is that rather than asking why young people leave, the researchers went on a journey to understand what makes them stay and the results of all their digging are these six essential keys that have proven time and time again to keep young people engaged in the kingdom of God.

In this weeks podcast, I share a recent sermon where I explore these six essential keys with one of my local churches. Give it a listen below and make sure you get yourself a copy of Growing Young from Amazon or wherever you bookshop!

*Quote images are from the resource “Heartbeat: How to Revive Your Local Adventist Church”. Click here to purchase and download your copy.


FREE EBOOK DOWNLOAD

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Metamodernism & It's Impending Challenge
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Postmodernism is dead…

- David Guterson, Novelist

It’s a new week at The Story Church Project and I have three exciting things to share!

First, the podcast series “Help! My Local Adventist Church Sucks” is officially over which means you can hear the entire thing here.

Second, if you want to share the entire series with your church leaders but can’t get them to listen to a podcast - no worries! You can download the entire thing as an ebook below! It’s titled, “Heartbeat: How to Redesign Your Local Adventist Church”.

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Third, with this series finished, I am turning my focus for the rest of the year toward developing a really good understanding of the emerging secular ideologies that surround us and discover ways in which the local Adventist church can intertact meaningfully with those shifts.

To start off with, I want to focus on the death of postmodernity and the emerging metamodern oscillation that is already in full swing all around us. If you want to read about this in more detail, make sure you get the ebook “How to Study the Bible with Postmoderns” here. You can also check out my article “Metamodernism and It’s Impending Challenge to Christianity” at The Compass Magazine.

In fact, this weeks podcast will simply be a condensed version of that article.

Now here is why I think its so important to talk about the Metamodern arrival.

Adventists started talking about and responding to the postmodern challenge when postmodernism was already on its death bed. Since the 70's, a new perspective has been arising to take postmodernisms place: metamodernism. My hope is that Adventists invest in understanding this emerging vision of reality and find ways to reach this culture today, not 70 years from now when its old news.

Click Here to Read the Whole Article or listen to the podcast episode below!


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Help! My Local Adventist Church Sucks (part 6)
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We have reached part 6 of the series, “Help! My Local Adventist Church Sucks”.

This is the final episode for this series. I truly hope it has been a blessing and has given you some awesome things to think about. Most of all, I hope it has provided you with a neat and simple process for redesigining your local Adventist church for mission.

If you haven’t heard the first 5 episodes, hear them first before listening to this one. You can find them here.

If you feel like you need more then don’t worry! The book “Story Church: How to Awaken Your Church’s Wolrd Changing Identity” is on its way and will be released later this year. This book will include the steps in our podcast series but will also fill in all the space in between and beyond providing you with the simplest and most comprehensive book for local Adventist churches to redesign for mission. Make sure you are subscribed to my newsletter to be the first to know when it releases (subscribers will also get a subscriber discount when the book releases). Subscribe here.

Now, onto our final episode. In this episode we wrap up the series by bringing it all together and asking the question, “What exactly is your church trying to do?”

This question, much like “Why does your church exist?” and “How will your church accomplish its mission?” is a church-transforming question. If you never ask it and explore it, your church will never thrive. But once you have asked it, it can open the door to some wild new horizons.

I explore that with you in our final ep. of the series today. Check it out below!


Want to Share this Series with your Church?

The entire series is now a downloadable ebook!

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Help! My Local Adventist Church Sucks (part 5)
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Welcome to part 5 of “Help! My Local Adventist Church Sucks”. If you have not heard parts 1-4, make sure you do so here!

In part 5, we are going to explore the most controversial part of any local church redesign - the Cosmetics!

This is where the worship wars, dresscode battles and divisive culture skirmishes take place. How should you approach this issue in the local church?

That’s the key thing we explore this week. Listen below!


Pastor MarcosComment
Help! My Local Adventist Church Sucks (part 4)

Do you hate board meetings?

How about business meetings?

How about any and every meeting?

Many church leaders enjoy doing ministry but when it comes to the administrative side we roll our eyes and secretly wish it could dissapear for ever. Can’t I just focus on bringing people to Jesus? I’m sick of being at all these meetings while so many are out there who don’t know Jesus! All this admin is a waste of time…

And guess what? I totally agree.

But what if I told you that with a few simple steps you could forver transform the way your church admin operates so that it becomes something you actually enjoy?

Because it turns out the real problem with admin in many local churches is not the admin itself (we’d be gone without it!). The real problem is how it functions. To put in in plain language, many of our church boards and committes operate for maintenance and not mission.

And if you are honest with yourself, its the maintenance you hate, not the admin itself.

Can we redesign our church structure (its muscle) to be focused on mission instead of maintenance?

Yes! And I share one way to do it in part 4 of “Help! My Local Adventist Church Sucks”.

Check it out below!

PS. Make sure you listen to part 1-3 first before listening to part 4.


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FREE EBOOK REVEALS THE 3 MOST OVERLOOKED SECRETS TO REACHING A POSTMODERN WORLD…

Download Your Copy Today:


Pastor MarcosComment
Help! My Local Adventist Church Sucks (part 3)
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Welcome to part 3 of the 6 part series, “Help! My Local Adventist Church Sucks”. If you havent heard part 1 and 2, make sure to go here and hear them first.

In part 3, we are going to take a look at what it really means for a local Adventist church to redesign itself from the ground up.

But here is the crazy thing. In the last 5 years of investing in this journey I have found that the entire process for local church redesign begins with one simple but powerful question.

I want to make sure you get this. Im not talking about any old question.

This question, and the process it spawns, is seriously the secret weapon toward redesigning your local Adventist church for mission. I have used this one secret repeatedly to redesign youth groups and local churches over and over again. It is absolutely amazing!

And I reveal it all in this weeks podcast!

Check it out below:

PS. Download your free copy of the "Find your Heartbeat” PDF below! (Explained in the episode)


LETS CREATE A BIBLE STUDY SET AND YOUTUBE CHANNEL THAT TEACHES THE NARRATIVE OF ADVENTISM TO MILLENNIAL, POSTMODERN GENERATIONS!

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Imagine a YouTube channel where millennials and postmoderns could explore the narrative of Adventism in language that makes sense to them?

One where they could send in questions and receive, not just surface answers but deep theological content?

A channel that teaches them how to understand the narrative of scripture, how to explain it to their secular/postmodern friends and how to apply it in every day life?

A channel that empowers Adventist millennials everywhere to be agents of change in our world?

But there’s more.

Imagine a brand new Bible study set designed to explore the 28 fundamental beliefs of our church with millennials, post-moderns and post-Christian culture?

A set designed to speak life into their worldview, values and interests while inviting them into a totally new experience in knowing God and living out his purpose?

And what if that set was tied into the YouTube channel above and provided extra insights, training and skills for youth who want to share God with their secular friends?

The Story Church Project wants to make all of this happen!

But there is a big obstacle.

Both of these projects will cost money that TSCP doesn’t have (designers, equipment, advertising etc).

So today, I am inviting you to consider joining TSCP in making these two projects (plus many others) possible by becoming a Story Church Project Patreon. For as little as $7 a month you can help me achieve the two projects above (plus other TSCP projects) and open the door for many other future innovations. And if you want to help me get the projects going faster, there are other tier options you can choose from as well.

What About a One Time Donation?
If you want to support the project but can't commit to be a monthly patron, you can donate via PayPal. Just send the donation to marcostorres@adventist.org.au and specify in the comments exactly what you want the donation to go toward (Bible Study set, YouTube channel, or 'Whatever Helps' the project).

Alternatively, go to www.thestorychurchproject.com/store1 and purchase one of the eBooks! All the funds go toward expanding project and launching new future initiatives.

Looking forward to working together!

Pastor Marcos

Help! My Local Adventist Church Sucks (part 2)

Welcome to part 2 of “Help! My Local Adventist Church Sucks”. If you missed part 1, make sure you go back and listen to it first so that part 2 makes sense.

In this 6 part podcast series, we are looking at the 3 bottom line things you need to know in order to redesign your local church for mission. And in this weeks episode, I explore the following:

  • The ONE thing that is killing your church

  • Why modern, hip churches tend to fail just as much as traditional ones

  • The single thing you need to know and do if you want your church to come alive

  • Plus more…

Now before you go ahead and listen to part 2, I need to make something very clear. When it comes to the topic of church revival, a lot of people immediately think of church growth. However, church growth is NOT what this podcast series is about. In fact, church growth is not the focus of TSCP period. Instead, the focus is church health. That is, how can we redesign our churches to be healthy and redemptive communities of faith?

Now why don’t I focus on church growth? There’s three simple reasons that I’ll expand on more in a future post but here is a brief overview.

  1. The first is that we don’t grow the church. Acts 2:47 tells us that it was God who added to the church daily those who were being saved, not the apostles, pastors or church leadership gurus. Our job is not church growth. Its something else entirely. When we do our job, God begins to add.

  2. Second, church growth overall is a terrible way of measuring success. Here are a few reasons why. A) Its a finite metric that fails to capture the infinite nature of the battle we are in. You can read more about that here. B) No matter how healthy your church is, some churches will simply not grow to astronomical numbers for a variety of reasons. And that’s OK. So instead of thinking we need big baptismal numbers to be successful we ought to measure success by how much our church impacts our community. In our modern age, that impact may not necessarily translate to baptisms - at least not right away - so we need to measure success differently. My suggestion is that we measure success by how many lives are impacted through our presence rather than how many people get dunked at the end of the year. If you focus on becoming that kind of church, God will take care of the numbers. For some churches that will mean explosive growth and for others, a slow and steady increase. We need to be okay with that. C) Church growth is a result not a foundation. Sadly, numbers are the main thing that we use to measure success in a local Adventist church. Some of you may even be thinking, “Marcos, why should I listen to you?” And if I said, “I grew my local SDA church from 70 to 500 members in 3 years” you would be all ears. But what I I said, “My church hasn’t grown in any dramatic way, but the culture has changed, the people have locked into mission, the spirit and vibe has moved from exclusion to inclusion, from preservation to innovation. No, we haven’t magically grown by hundreds as a result but we have developed a local church ministry that makes a real difference in real lives.” Would you be into that? I hope so.

  3. Third, church growth as a whole is a term that has been co-opted by the mega church movement - a movement that local Adventist churches simply can’t emulate for theological and practical reasons. You can read more about that here.

So, before you go on and listen to part 2 I want you to be aware of what this series is all about. It’s not about how to grow your church and make everyone else jealous. Its about how to transform your church from an insular self-focused community to an outward, other-centred ministry that impacts its community meaningfully. The result of this may in fact be explosive growth, but I’m not promising that. Instead, most likely you will begin to experience a slow and beautiful growth but more importantly, you will become a centre of influence and hope in your community. And that’s what its really all about.

So there you go! Part 2 is waiting for you below:


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Pastor MarcosComment
Help! My Local Adventist Church Sucks (part 1)
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Is your local Adventist church dead?

Are you bleeding young people and scaring visitors away on a regular basis?

Does your community have no idea you exist as a church? Would they go on life-as-usual if your church suddenly closed down?

Then seriously, don’t miss out on the next 6 podcast episodes which will cover the absolute bottom line things you need to know to bring your church alive. Before you read that book, implement that strategy or make that change, trust me, you want to hear this first!

This six-part series is going to rock your world. You will either shout for joy that someone else is saying what you have been saying all along or you will be like, “boom! Mind-blown…!”

 
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Make sure you share this with your church leaders, pastors and whoever else has a heart for redesigning the local Adventist church for mission. While this series doesn’t cover everything, it gives you the most solid foundation you need to get started.

Listen below!


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Pastor MarcosComment
How to Free Your Local Church from Last Generation Theology (with pastor Mike C. Manea - part 2)
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A couple of weeks ago, pastor Mike and I sat down and talked about the challenges posed by Last Generation Theology and how to heal our local churches. In this episode we dive a little deeper and discuss questions such as:

  1. Can we have assurance of salvation? What did Ellen White mean when she said we should “never be taught to say that [we] are saved”?

  2. Did Jesus finish his work/ atonement at the cross? Or not?

  3. Do we have to reach a state of sinless perfection before the close of probation?

  4. Must I remember and confess every sin or else God will bring it against me in the judgement?

  5. How do I free my local church from these beliefs?

The goal of this episode is to show how rejecting LGT does not mean a person has to go to the opposite extreme of cheap grace and can instead revisit each of these themes through the beauty of God’s heart revealed at the cross. The end result is a narrative of belief that can fuel mission and nurture local churches capable of effectively connecting with the lost.

Listen below!


For a more indepth analysis of LGT, including Ellen White quotes on assurance of salvation, see the article “REclaiming Adventism”. Click here.

To explore the connection between the sanctuary and assurance of salvation in more detail, see: “How Adventism Ended the Gospel Wars” Click Here.

Further Reading

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5 Beliefs That Kill Local Church Mission
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Last week, pastor Mike and I sat down for an interview titled, “How to Free Your Local Church from Last Generation Theology.”

The episode has quickly become one of the most popular for The Story Church Podcast which prompted Mike and I to agree to a follow up! That followup will be published next week (I hope), and for this week I do a follow up of my own by addressing 5 beliefs that kill local church mission in the Seventh-day Adventist movement.

Those 5 beliefs are:

  1. The belief that the law of God is an imposed legal construct.

  2. The belief that sin is a choice and not much more.

  3. The belief that we must become perfect to be saved (or for the Great Controversy to end).

  4. The belief that we alone have the truth (no one else!).

  5. The belief that our job is to warn the world about all the bad stuff.

Of course, there are other unhealthy beliefs that damage our capacity to do mission as local Adventist churches, but these 5 are the ones I highlight this week.

Check out the episode below! Don’t forget to subscribe, comment and share!

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How to Free Your Local Church from Last Generation Theology (with Mike C. Manea)
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Transforming your church is not simply about changing its structure, methods and leadership mechanisms. If you want to truly transform your church, you have to go deeper into its story. Sadly, in Adventism, many local Adventist churches are plagued by unhealthy theological paradigms that affect its capacity to do mission. Some of these beliefs include perfectionism, how we understand the nature of sin and the law, distorted versions of the gospel and - a shockingly common one - the idea that the battle between good and evil can’t be won until a group of last day believers achieve sinless lives.

This last view is a common idea taught by a theological paradigm within the church known as Last Generation Theology. And until it is addressed and discarded, the vast majority of local Adventist churches will simply never thrive.

 

Want to explore a healthy, gospel centred approach to Adventist theology?

Check out these books!

 

But why? Why are these ideas so dangerous to the mission of the local Adventist church?

This week, I share a new interview with pastor Mike Cyprian Manea as we discuss the root of the problem and how a healthy, Biblical alternative is imperative if we want our churches to thrive.

This episode is fire, so don’t miss out!

Listen below.


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Is Your Adventism Beautiful?
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Jewelry.

It’s a word that ruffles lots of feathers in Adventism. Some Adventists believe you can’t possibly be Adventist if you wear it. Other Adventists believe there is nothing wrong with it. And others still take a functional approach that supports the use of jewelry (like watches, tie clips, wedding bands) while rejecting jewelry that only serves adornment purposes (like ties I guess?). But to be honest, I kind of don’t really care. In fact, the whole debate pretty much bores me. But there is an angle on the whole theme of adornment and jewelry that I never hear during these debates, and its the one that I happen to find really interesting.

In Isaiah 61:10 the Bible says,

I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

Now notice the imagery here. The text is saying that God adorns us like a bride adorns herself in jewels. Picture that for a moment. A bride getting herself ready for her wedding. She is careful to comb and braid her hair just right. Her skin is brushed to perfection. She hangs a necklace around her neck and earrings that match. The jewels themselves can’t be just any old jewel. They have to be just right - not so strong that they steal the show and not so weak that they look out of place. They have to compliment her eyes, her dress - even the shape of her jaw and the length of her neck. It’s a work of art intended to enhance her beauty and draw attention to her joy.

The Bible says that this is what God does for us. He adorns us. He clothes us in his promise of salvation, in a robe of his perfect life and love. The picture Isaiah is painting is clear. God isn’t interested in dragging us into a religion full of rules and weird standards. The exact opposite is happening. God courts us romantically and then, the day we embrace him, he adorns us in all the beauty heaven has to offer.

In other words, God wants us to be beautiful.

David put it best in Psalm 90:17 when he wrote, “let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us…”

In other words, its not simply that God adorns us with his grace and forgiveness. According to David he adorns us with himself. He is like a jewel that enhances our beauty and draws everyone’s attention to his heart. (Too bad this amazing point is often absent in our silly debates over jewelry.)

But it goes deeper than this. God is not simply an adornment upon you and me that others see when they interact with us. Instead, the Bible paints an even crazier picture. Notice what Isaiah says in chapter 62 verse 3.

You will be a crown of splendor in the LORD's hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God.

Not only does God adorn us with himself, Isaiah goes so far as to say that he adorns himself with us!

Did you catch that? Not only does God adorn us with himself, Isaiah goes so far as to say that he adorns himself with us! Imagine God placing a crown on his head, or a royal ring upon his finger. That crown and that ring represent you and me. It’s not that God needs us to make himself more beautiful because he is the height of beauty. However, in some weird way I don’t fully understand God still describes his people as jewels he wears upon himself. I would suggest that because the great controversy is a battle over the character of God - is he good or not? - then the biblical picture of God wearing his people as jewelry has theodical significance. In other words, when we live beautiful lives we beautify God in the eyes of people who think he is ugly. Our lives are the jewels that catch their attention and enable them to see the true beauty of his heart.

Zechariah also captured a similar picture when he wrote, “The LORD their God will save his people on that day as a shepherd saves his flock. They will sparkle in his land like jewels in a crown.” (Zech. 9:16) and speaking through the prophet Haggai, God said to Zerubabbel, “I will make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you…” (Haggai 2:23)

So let me ask again. Is your Adventism beautiful? Is your faith like a jewel that God would want to wear? Because buried beneath endless ping pong battles over whether jewelry is cool or not lies a narrative significantly more meaningful and important for us to ponder. I have never met a lost person who rejected church or Christians because they wore too much jewelry. But I’ll tell you what I have met - countless people who have turned away from God because supposed believers live lives that make God look ugly. Judgmental, arrogant, disconnected, sectarian, holier-than-thou, argumentative, critical, fault-finding, condemnatory, negative, obsessed with rules, traditions and mindless customs, tossed around by conspiracy theories and full of hatred toward those different from themselves. That’s the sort of stuff that makes God look ugly. Not your necklace or wedding band but your character.

So my question today is, is your Adventism beautiful? Is your life beautiful? Are you adorned with the character of Jesus? Are you kind, fun to be around, and encouraging? And on the flip-side, if you were a jewel would he put you on? Would your life be filled with care for the poor, the vulnerable and the lonely? Is it the kind of life that would make others say - “wow, God really is beautiful.”

The answer to these simple questions is the difference between a life of missional effectiveness and failure. So today I want to invite you, regardless of what your convictions on jewelry are - stop and think if you are adorned in the beauty of God and if, in turn, God would adorn himself with the beauty of you.


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3 Reasons Why "Jesus Loves Me" Is Not Enough
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The title of this weeks blog might surprise you.

Since when is the love of Jesus “not enough”?

Haven’t I consistently written that the love of God is the theme and song of all of scripture? Have I suddenly changed my mind?

The answer is no. I have not changed my mind. I wholeheartedly believe the foundational point of all of scripture is to bring us face to face with the unending and life-transforming love of God. Jesus is the centre and aim of every theme, prophecy and doctrine. It’s all about him, plain and simple.

I wholeheartedly believe the foundational point of all of scripture is to bring us face to face with the unending and life-transforming love of God.

However, here is my point. In an increasingly secular and post-Christian society where emerging generations are exposed to worldviews, philosophies and ideologies that impact the way they understand the nature of being, the meaning of life and the destiny of the human story you and I had better be able to say something more than, “Jesus loves me.”

Allow me to explain. Just a few months ago I read an article (can’t remember what it was called) about a conversation between an atheist and a Christian. The atheist was well schooled and a student of minds such as Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Friedrich Nietzsche. The Christian was a member of a church where it appeared the only thing anyone ever really talked about was “Jesus loves you.” As she sat face to face with profound existential questions related to suffering, injustice and ethics she found herself unable to say anything beyond, “Jesus loves me.” The atheist walked away underwhelmed by the exchange. The girl walked away flustered by the plethora of questions she was incapable of answering. It was an interactional train wreck.

With that foundation in place, let me now explain the 3 reasons why I believe that “Jesus loves me” is not enough.

1. A “Jesus Loves Me” Theology is Weak.

I can’t stand churches obsessed with doctrine. Particularly when doctrine is elevated above Jesus and relationships. However, I have an equal aversion for churches who reject doctrine in the name of “all that matters is Jesus.” Both of these camps are fuelled by people who clearly have no intimate contact with contemporary society.

If you are obsessed with doctrine, with rules and regulations and with unbending theological formulas then I invite you to hang out with some real people outside of your echo chamber. I guarantee, the stuff you think is so clear and important will start to fall apart rather quickly.

And if you are one of these, “just focus on Jesus’ love” people, I invite you to do the same. Explain to an atheist the dichotomy between the love of God and the injustice of the historical and modern church without resorting to cheesy one liners. Explore the nature of being with a postmodern, questions of origin, destiny and identity with an agnostic. See how far a shallow, “all that matters is Jesus love” theology gets you when you look into the eye of a self-proclaimed meta-modernist who wants to understand the logic of your faith but rejects the popular Christian tag lines of the day as reductionist and idealist foundations that function more as escapism than robust ideas capable of speaking life into societies crushing problems. I guarantee you, your “forget doctrine, Jesus love is all that matters” formula wont be able to handle the pressure.

So reason number one is that a “Jesus loves me” theology is simply too weak to interact with the complexity and agony of the human experience.

2. A “Jesus Loves Me” Theology Misses the Love of God

The love of God is the central theme of all of scripture. But that theme isn’t revealed in romanticised poetry. It’s revealed through profound metaphors, archetypes, and narratives arc’s known as doctrine. Thus, while the central theme remains the love of God, the doctrines enable us to explore that love in technicolor. A doctrinal system that overlooks God’s love totally misses this. But a focus on God’s love that rejects doctrine is doomed to forever remain shallow and consequently, it misses the very thing it claims to celebrate.

3. A “Jesus Loves Me” Theology is Corny

Doctrinal systems that ignore the love of God tend to be self-focused. Churches in this mindset are all about “right teaching” but often ignore “right action”. The end result is churches that will rush to condemn someone who steps out of their theological box, but that remain silent in the face of issues like discrimination against women, racism and the systemic suffering of the poor and marginalised in their communities.

However, a reductionist “Jesus loves me and that’s all that matters” worldview is just as incapable of fuelling individual and social transformation. As a result, we end up with churches filled with young people whose theology doesn’t go much further than the latest “Jesus loves me” worship song. This is not only a denial of discipleship in which Jesus instructs us to teach “everything” (as in, you know, ‘everything’) but a recipe for a corny faith that is incapable of sustaining our youth as they grow and encounter challenges, disappointments and attacks against their faith. In light of this, I am not surprised when Barna Research reports one of the reasons why young people leave church is that “[t]eens’ and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow.”[1]

Barna Research reports one of the reasons why young people leave church is that “[t]eens’ and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow.”

So then, what solution is there? I propose two things. First, we need to develop a simpler, more relevant understanding of our own faith that is likewise profound. This can only be accomplished by revisiting our theological narrative with the goal of re-experiencing it and contextualising its depth and beauty to the questions and needs to modern generations. Second, our churches need to develop discipleship strategies where our members, youth and guests can grow deeper in their experience with God in a step by step fashion that includes theology, service and missional living.

To help with this journey, I have written three books for church leaders and members. The first one, “How to Study the Bible with Postmoderns” is free and will give you insight into living missionally in our secular society. The second is “Weirdvolution: Adventism for a Post-Church Generation”. This book explores Adventist theology in depth but also in simple language. The objective of this book is to help you redesign your personal faith and also your church’s culture from either doctrine or non-doctrine focused to a truly Jesus centred expression of faith that has explanatory and applicatory power in post-church culture. The third is titled “The Hole in Adventism: Making Total Sense of the Old & New Covenant”. This book also explores Adventist theology in depth with a focus on Jesus and how the tension between the Old and New Covenant can bring our churches a renewed passion for the story we have been called to tell the world.

Regardless of whether any of the above resources work for you or not, here is my invitation - don’t settle for a cheesy expression of faith when there is so much beauty we can rediscover and offer to our broken culture. Search for that beauty. Equip your young people to search for it as well. And lets work together to bring Christ to a culture increasingly isolated from the profound story of his love.

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[1] Barna Group. “Teens’ and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow,” [Web: https://www.barna.com/research/six-reasons-young-christians-leave-church/]


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