Category Archives: Preaching

The Dwindling (Active) Church Member

EmptyPewHouston has a problem.  So does Phoenix, Seattle, Denver, St. Louis and other cities.

But it ain’t just in the big towns.  Small town and rural USAmerica are experiencing the crunch too.  It’s a problem so big that Thom Rainer, a notable church researcher rightly observed:

“About 20 years ago, a church member was considered active in the church if he or she attended three times a week.  Today, a church member is considered active in the church if he or she attends three times a month.”

In his apologetic, Rainer cites five reasons for this shift:

  1. The local church has been minimized.
  2. Americans idolize their activities.
  3. We take vacations from church.
  4. Members aren’t held to high expectations.
  5. Churches make infrequent attendees leaders.

While I appreciate Rainer’s astute analysis, I do think the real reasons are much deeper, even different.  Yes, times have changed.  There’s no question the local church has lost influence and pull.  For most of two millennia the church was the center of a local culture.  That’s why steeples and bells were needed.  Churches doubled as schools, community centers, voting places and other social spaces.  Many pop historians think the television did more to erode the influence of the local church than anything else.  Television became the new conduit for Faith thanks to guys like Billy Graham, Robert Schuller, Jimmy Swaggart and other televangelists.

And don’t forget a Millennial generation that dined on Veggie Tales.

Do USAmericans idolize their activities over church?  Take vacations from church?  No doubt.  But WHY do they find other social gatherings, events and pastimes more inviting?  Why do people avoid going to church when they’re on vacation?

I have lived both sides of the ecclesiastical fence.  I’ve been both a pastor and pew-warmer.

I grew up in a small church (attending easily 3 times a week) during the ’60s and ’70s.  I loved the community, security and the opportunity my home church provided.  Monthly fellowship dinners. Sunday and Wednesday night church. All night prayer vigils.  All day service projects.  Two-week revivals and VBS.  In my church we had but one paid position: the preacher. Everyone else were volunteers, including janitorial and secretarial. Every child learned ministry as soon as they could help. I washed communion cups as a preschooler, served offering and communion as a child, led worship for Sunday church as a junior higher, preached and took communion to shut ins as an older teen.

In my church we didn’t have a youth minister.  We made ministers of our youth.

But something happened during the 1980s and 1990s. Church went from being a place of mission to a Sunday morning “show.” Even worship pastors think it’s a concert, asking–sometimes forcing–people to “stand” to worship (as if that’s the most “spiritual” posture). Preachers have turned incredibly territorial. Back in my youth I remember elders preaching and lots of guest preachers (missionaries particularly). Today, church has become what one of my grad students labeled just a “Ted Talk and a concert.” In my Christian Church tribe, weekly communion has become a drive-by event.  Anybody remember the pastoral prayer?  In the church of my youth, I recall several minutes reserved to pray for the needs in the body.  I remember elders praying for communion, deacons praying for offerings and even moments of silent prayer.  Not anymore.  Some churches barely have a prayer…literally.

For many it’s practically not worth the time to get dressed for church anymore.  Unless church is on the way to some other Sunday activity, it’s just as easy to catch a few more winks and watch the live-stream service in pajamas.

I’ve been blessed to experience hundreds of different churches, from home-based to megachurch, from rural to urban, and nearly every denominational flavor you can imagine. I’ve enjoyed church in every state except New Mexico and Hawaii (with hopes to knock that latter one off in 2017) and on three continents from South Africa to Tanzania to Moldova to Mexico to Canada.  I’ve talked to countless people about why they no longer regularly attend church and the reasons generally fall into a few main themes related to community issues, pastoral leadership or church vision.

1. WE CAN BAIT’EM BUT WE CAN’T BAG’EM!  Most churches are great at “welcoming visitors” but have no clue for how to engage and assimilate guests into the mission and ministry of a local church. Visitors feel welcomed but many returning guests grow confused.  People don’t need another coffee mug, but they would love a friend.  When guests enjoy the “show” (worship and preaching) but feel no connection or community, they quickly convert to spectators.  And if you’re not feeling up for the “show,” you stay away.

2. THE WORSHIP IDOL!  Most people, even guys, will sing and worship if it’s real and moving, but let’s be honest:  the whole “show” thing is troubling and many Christians–including very devoted ones–refuse to partake. I attended a church for a couple years that purposely hired “worship artists” to lead their Sunday gatherings.  So it was no mistake that church turned into a concert with light shows, high-tech visuals and even fog machines.  Some churches now pass out earplugs for sensitive ears.  But look around and you’ll see very few are singing.

3. THINK “CHEERS!”  We all want to go where “everyone knows my name.”  That’s why bars are packed on Saturday nights and churches are emptier on Sunday morning.  When was the last time you went to church expecting to meet a new friend or improve a relationship?  Simply put, all churches need to create space and time in the worship experience for community. I’m not talking that “meat and greet” thing to waste a few minutes so the musicians can fix/tune/change instruments. I mean, REAL time (up to 10 minutes) where people can connect, reflect, share, pray and discover friendships.

4. BORE NO MORE!  Preachers need to realize in a YouTube, Ted Talk and Twitter culture that less is more and that’s why more are staying away. The 30 minute sermon was a very productive tool in yesterday’s church but today’s postmodern prefers preachers to set the table and let them TALK about it. “I don’t need some guy on a stage to tell me how to live,” one Millennial opined, “I only need that guy to help me understand God’s Word and let me talk it out with a friend.” Preachers could easily do that under 15 minutes and I show you how in my book Sermons Reimagined.

5. A TRUE RESTORATION MOVEMENT!  I’ll confess my choice of churches is limited (at least for regular attendance).  I can put up with a lot of ecclesiastical stuff–including some poor theology, occasional bad preaching, church cliques and other shenanigans–but I have one requirement of the church where I choose to attend regularly:  weekly Lord’s Supper.  It’s more than a tradition for me.  It’s where I connect with Christ in my life.  I look forward to the Lord’s Supper more than singing praises, more than the sermon, more than the coffee and day-old donuts in the lobby.  I love this ancient biblical tradition.  Another one is baptism.  What a beautiful picture of community, grace and new life!  So I’m calling all churches to re-emphasize the biblical sacraments of baptism and weekly communion.

Ultimately, the Church will reorientate, reimagine and, hopefully, restore itself.

It has too.

In today’s 21C culture, one of the few truly radical “alternative lifestyles” left is a conservative, Bible-believing, Scripture-quoting, amen-shouting, hymn-singing Christian.

 

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The Starfish Church

StarfishSometimes I fear we’ve got it all backwards.  I mean, what if we’ve been missing the point for centuries?  What if we’ve wandered far from God’s true Desire and Design for His Church?  It’s certainly hard to believe.  Most Christians, including many church leaders, have little idea about their history.  We just blindly keep doing what we’ve been doing out of tradition.

One of my favorite leadership books is The Starfish and the Spider by Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom.  It describes the difference between centralized (spider) and de-centralized (starfish) organizations.  In nature a spider and a starfish look similar, but they possess great difference in how they’re organized.  A spider’s power is centralized.  Lop off a spider’s leg and it’s disabled.  Cut off a spider’s head and its dead.  Starfish are different. It’s power is spread throughout the body. Every ounce is alive with reproductive potential.  Cut off a starfish leg and it’ll grow it back.  In fact, some starfish will remove their own legs to reproduce!

Brafman and Beckstrom use starfish as a metaphor to highlight how de-centralized organizations survive and thrive.  In reality, de-centralized organizations, tribes, communities and businesses have always been among us.  However, the rise of the Worldwide Web has flattened and decentralized nearly everything–and this cyber culture is unlike anything that’s ever existed in human history.  For up until the 1990s, centralized organizations, including national governments, have ruled.  Egypt was centralized around a Pharaoh.  Babylon around a king.  Rome around an emperor.  The Catholic Church around a pope.  The Indian tribes around a chief.  For thousands of years, the world has operated from its middles.  The power was focused.  Consequently, all institutions found centralized frames beneficial, whether in commerce, media, education or religion. We were a world of bosses, CEOs, principals, presidents, directors and head honchos.

But the emergence of a web world changed everything.

Today anyone can be a content creator.  YouTube makes everyone a filmmaker.  Twitter makes everyone a commentator.  eBay makes everyone a seller.  Consequently, the middles are collapsing.  Middle class. Middle management. Mainline churches. Mainstream media.  What’s exploding are “starfish” organizations, gatherings and communities.  From Sturgis to Burning Man, from ISIS to the Tea Party, from Drudge to Huffington, from Facebook to Pinterest, from Craigslist to Amazon, from A.A. to Celebrate Recovery.  Furthermore, every web-connected person on the planet can now access information.  Online learning continues to grow.  Web meetings and e-conferences are routine.  TedTalks is the new classroom.

The GOOD NEWS for the Church, particularly the American Church?  A decentralized frame has always been God’s desire for His People.  In the Old Testament, the nation of Israel disintegrated within generations of centralization (around a king).  Prior to “king” Saul, Israel was a decentralized spiritual community.  Leaders abounded, but no one leader controlled.  Even under Moses, the community was led more by its priests and judges than its prophet.  It wasn’t until Israel asked for a king, centralized religion in Jerusalem (thanks to King David) and put God in a temple box (thanks to Solomon) that everything went south.

So it’s not surprising when God relaunched His New Covenant Church in the first century, it was decentralized.  Every congregation met in homes, was led by a body of elders and served by deacons and deaconesses.  In the book of Acts as well as the epistles, we catch glimpses of decentralization.  For example, Paul wrote to the Corinthians and Romans how the Church is like a body (with Jesus as the head).

The first step to radically restore the Church is to confess we’ve got our frame wrong.  It’s like God gave us the blueprint and we built the house our own way regardless.  It’s not that buildings, lead pastors, priests, popes, or programs are bad and that God can’t use them.  He does.  It’s just not how He planned it.

God designed the Church to operate as a STARFISH and we converted it into a SPIDER.

It’s time to RESTORE authentic Christianity and reclaim our STARFISH design.  A Church of the people, by the people and for the people.  And the real good news is I believe the American Church will lead the way.

After all, at the heart of decentralization is autonomy, freedom and democracy.

And that is the American way.

NEXT TIME:  WHAT A DECENTRALIZED CHURCH LOOKS LIKE

Snore No More! How the church can avoid this silent killer

I think the American church suffers from ecclesiastical sleep apnea. This silent killer is choking her influence in postmodern culture, but there’s a solution!  Learn four strategies to CPAP your ministries.

Source: Snore No More! How the church can avoid this silent killer

Four Truly Surprising Future Trends for the USAmerican Church

shaping-the-futureRecently, church researcher Ed Stetzer cited four “surpising” future trends for the church.  I have no disagreement with him, though it was a pretty safe list…and hardly surprising (despite the baited headline).  Most of his four trends revolved around the “end of nominalist” Christianity.  Essentially the cultural Christians will go the way of the dinosaur, checking “none” as their religious preference.  Since we’re pretty much seeing this now, it’s hardly a future trend…nor all that “surprising.”

Most futurists who peer more than five years forward are prone to error and therefore are excused for their safe prophetic announcements about anything “future.”  I hope you’ll do the same for me.  Nevertheless, I feel somewhat confident that four (truly future) trends will mark the U.S. church in the next quarter century…and I suspect these will also truly surprise many:

1) The end of the lecture (a.k.a., sermon) on Sunday morning.  I have a new book set for release in January detailing this huge change for the emerging, postmodern Church (now rising in American culture).  Currently, the vast majority of churches (most still run by baby boomer modern ideologies and practices) remain woefully wedded to a rhetorical strategy to communicate and disciple: a 30-50 minute spiritual/biblical monologue or lecture.  Protestants think this is the way it’s always been, but that’s not true.  The Reformation in the 1500s elevated Scripture and the homily (now called a “sermon”) was expanded to become an academic tool to persuade, explain, reveal and proposition.  The Catholic and Orthodox churches, far more ancient, still prefer the short 10-minute homily.  So what’s going to replace this Sunday lecture?  I believe it’ll be an interactive, visual experience where the preacher operates more as the guide from the side than a sage from the stage. It’ll be the only way to recapture postmodern attention and affection for Christianity (and has proven popular already).  The generations born since 1960 have largely left the Church, including the Millennials (which enjoyed the greatest season of children’s and youth ministry the modern Church ever produced).  Sermons, like college lectures, will go the way of the dinosaur.  They simply do not communicate effectively in a YouTube, Twitter, Google world.

2) The end of the church building as a primary gathering spot.  This is a tough church pill to swallow, given the 1500 year history of tax-exempt status for churches (originally started by Constantine in his state religion reforms of 325 AD). But as western and northern governments, including the U.S. government, becomes more antagonistic towards Christianity, these tax exemptions will be questioned, debated and eventually lifted.  In America, crippled by debt, church property becomes a source of revenue long considered off limits.  When tax-exempt status is removed, many church buildings will head straight for foreclosure.  Currently, banks are holding countless church loans in default because no financial institution wants to call a church’s loan, but don’t expect that to happen much longer.  Many current church buildings will become community gathering spots. The older the building the more attractive it’ll be for conversion into a private home, bar, restaurant, coffee shop or retail store. Larger buildings will serve local governments or convert to community centers, office space, learning halls and gyms.  Persecution will drive USAmerican Christians back into their homes. Small will be the new big.

3) The end of denominationalism and ecclesiastical labels. Future Christianity will have various expressions (charismatic, conservative, liberal, etc.) but the modern labels (Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Assembly of God, Baptist, Nazarene) will disappear.  Postmoderns view truth in two categories:  Absolute and personal.  Moderns were grooved by Renaissance mechanism and Enlightenment rationalism to put everything in a box and objectify truth, including Christianity.  But emerging generations don’t think outside the box…they think without boxes.  Consequently, postmoderns value the journey, the experience and the conversation.   Authentic Christianity will truly rise and replace cultural churchianity in the coming years and replace the labels attached by modern church leaders in the past 500 years.

4) A new age for the northern and western Church that’s marked by biblical ignorance and intense persecution. Every 250 years or so, there’s a turning or a season (just like spring turns to summer and summer turns to fall).  As a student of church history, it’s easy to see these seasons (and I’ll write about them in the future), but roughly every 1000 years there’s a period of darkness, ignorance and persecution for the Church.  The first-century church was born into this “winter” season (AD 30-325) and experienced a second “cold” season during the Dark Ages (c. AD 1000-1250).  We’re now set for a third ice age for northern and western Christianity.  Consequently, the Church will be most vibrant in the East (China, Korea, Thailand) and South (America and Africa). Actually this last trend is already happening.

In the end, I do agree with Stetzer’s final conclusion:

The lasting effects of these shifts will force churches to make a critical decision. They will either become a cultural church that allows the societal trends to dictate their ever-changing beliefs. Or they will become a counter-cultural church that faithfully adheres to Scripture and proclaims the gospel in a carefully considered way. The latter church will offer real hope in the midst of an adversarial culture and is the only real future for the American church.

The Bottom Line:  The Church of tomorrow will need to be Christ-centered, culturally-relevant, intentionally missional and strategically fluid to find traction in our postmodern culture.  And I’m betting it will be smaller, leaner and more irresistible (Acts 2:42-47).

How To Preach Without Converting Anybody (Charles Finney)

ImageThe great 19th century evangelist Charles Finney wrote this timeless critique of sermons in his day titled “HOW TO PREACH WITHOUT CONVERTING ANYBODY.”  Still seems rather relevant:

Preach on every doctrine that centers the attention on man rather than Jesus. Teach every doctrine that makes man the center of God’s attention rather than God the center of man’s devotion. Tell people only what God will do for them.

Avoid preaching about the necessity of a radical change of heart, through the truth revealed to the heart by the agency of the Holy Spirit.

Let your supreme motive to be popular with all people, then, of course, your preaching will be suited for that purpose, and not to convert souls to Christ.

Avoid preaching doctrines that are offensive to the carnal mind, so that no one should say to you, as they did of Christ, “This is a hard saying, who can hear it?”

Make no distinct points, and do not disturb the consciences of your hearers so that they may become truly alarmed about their souls.

Avoid all illustrations, repetitions, and expressive sentences that may compel people to remember what you say.

Avoid all heat and enthusiasm in your delivery, so that you never make the impression that you really believe what you say.

Make appeals to the emotions, and not the conscience, of your hearers.

Be careful not to testify from your own personal experience of the power of the gospel, so that you never should produce the conviction upon your hearers that you have something which they need.

Do not stir up uncomfortable memories by reminding your hearers of their past sins.

Denounce sin in a general way, but make no reference to the specific sins of your present audience.

Do not make the impression that God commands your listeners here and now to obey the truth. Do not let them think that you expect them to commit themselves right on the spot to give their hearts to God.

Give the impression that they are expected to go away in their sins, and to consider the matter at later time of their convenience.

Preach salvation by grace; but ignore the condemned and lost condition of the sinner so that he never should understand what you mean by grace, and know his need of it.

Preach the gospel as a remedy or a cure, but conceal or ignore the fatal disease of the sinner.

Do not speak of the spirituality of God’s holy law (by which comes the knowledge of sin), so that the sinner never should see his lost condition and repent.

Make no appeals to the fears of sinners; but give them the impression that they have no reason to fear.

Preach Christ as an infinitely friendly and good-natured being. Ignore those scathing rebukes of sinners and hypocrites which so often made His hearers tremble.

Do not rebuke the worldly tendencies of the church, so that you should never hurt their feelings, and finally convert some of them.

Admit, either obviously or casually, that all men have some moral goodness in them; so that sinners should never understand that they need a radical change of heart, from sin to holiness.

Say so little of hell that your people will think that you do not believe in its existence yourself.

Make the impression that, if God is as good as you are, He could not send anyone to hell.

Make no disagreeable reference to the teachings of self-denial, cross-bearing, and crucifixion to the world, so that you should never convict and convert some of your church members.

Do not rebuke extravagance in dress, so that you should never make an uncomfortable impression on your vain and worldly church members.

Encourage lots of church socials, and attend them yourself.

Aim to make your hearers pleased with themselves and pleased with you, and be careful especially not to wound the feelings of anyone.

Make sure you avoid preaching to those who are present. Preach about sinners, but not to them. Say “they,” and not “you,” so that anyone should never take your subject personally, and apply it to their own life, Securing the salvation of their soul.

Preach that the new birth is something God deposits in people, not a fundamental change in the ultimate purpose of our lives.

Never tell people that they must cease from serving self and serve God and do His will.

Never tell them that repentance is man’s ability and responsibility to turn from his sin to God! Teach them to delay turning away from all known sin toward God.

Preach predestination in such a way that results in fatalism and apathy on the part of all people. Make each person believe that God has already determined who shall be saved, and nothing can change His will. You never want anyone to think that their actions can make any difference.

Preach that man is totally unable to obey God. Teach him that no one can turn to God, but he must wait upon God to turn (change) him. Make sure that no one realizes his true responsibility requiring him to repent in order to be saved. You never want anyone to know that man can turn from sin to God but the real problem is that he will not!

Preach that everyone is born a sinner and a criminal. Teach that every baby is born guilty before God. You never want anyone to consider the fact that man is born morally innocent. You do not want anyone to know that he becomes a sinner because, in his rebellion, he has refused to love God with all his heart according to the light and has selfishly sought his own happiness above all else.

Preach that a person can be saved without making Jesus his lord.

Teach that holiness is just an option and not a requirement of the gospel. Teach them that they can be Christian without becoming true disciples.

Preach eternal security in such a way that requires no perseverance in faith or continuance in holiness on the part of the believer. Make every person think he has his ticket to heaven that is all paid for so that he will always safely scoff at all calls for repentance and righteous.

Teach Christians that sin is a normal and natural part of their everyday life and that they can never truly expect to ever overcome sin through the power of Christ.

Preach that no Christian needs to do anything. Teach them that they are safe and heaven bound even if their lives are disobedient and rebellious.

Sermon on a Stick: A Roast to (Modern) Preaching

preachingWhat have we become…as preachers of the Word?

Let me meddle a bit…with the person behind the pulpit.  But let me warn you, it’s probably not what you want to hear.

After all, if you go to the average church this Sunday nearly every preacher (I’d say ALL but refuse to use generalities!) will speak for 30-50 minutes employing the least effective (for retention of material) technique: lecture/monologue.

Yes, I pointed out the elephant in the sanctuary:  most sermons communicate little to nothing.  Communication is more than talk.  Communication is retention (understanding) and practice (application).  If what you say doesn’t produce changed minds, attitudes and lifestyles, then you’re not communicating.

And most sermons don’t communicate.

Think about the last homily you heard? What do you really remember?  Be honest.  At best you recall how you felt (inspired, angry, confused, sad).  Maybe you can recite a point or general idea, but largely we’re just left with a feeling.  And for many church-going folk they feel bored and that’s why preacher makes a good roast for Sunday dinner.

Perhaps this is also why we want our members to take notes.  I know its WHY professors want their students to take notes!  Somehow academicians feel if their learners fill up notebooks with their brilliant insights and ideas then they will do better on tests (some truth to that) but its what happens after the class is over or when the degree is issued that matters.  I used to have dozens of notebooks for classes (or files) and most have been slowly and systematically trashed.  I only took good notes to please the professor not for my own future use.

I think deep down we know if our people don’t write what we say down, it’s basically speaking into the wind. We KNOW it’s not that effective in a visual, experiential and interactive culture but keep doing it anyway.  Perhaps out of tradition.  Perhaps out of habit.  Perhaps out of laziness.  Perhaps out of self-interest.  After all, if we become “less” important to the Sunday morning experience, the people might get the idea we’re not needed.  Which says more about what you do the rest of the week than on Sundays!

If visuals are used by a preacher, it’s a poorly- or minimally-produced PowerPoint with words only or a few scattered, poorly picked photos.  Granted, some preachers are better than others in this department, but far too many sin in a basic communication principle.  After all, if a “picture is worth a 1000 words” then why say a thousand words when one picture will do the trick?  Great communicators employ visuals because they preach deeper, longer and harder than mere words.

Many preachers in larger churches use the jumbo screens for a better view of themselves. This isn’t exactly the visual that I’m talking about!  I understand the need to be seen, but I do wonder how Jesus taught thousands without the benefit of large screens. Probably because he realized that the MESSAGE was more important than the MESSENGER.

If video is used, it’s used to introduce a message not supplement and I have NEVER witnessed a preacher who gave up his sermon time to show a lengthy video (something teachers do all the time).  And yet, if we’re honest, a few of those short 15-20 minute videos out there (beautifully produced, insightful and memorable) are a far better pick for retention.  What’s the last movie you saw?  Chances are you can remember MORE of a two-hour movie (plot, quotes, characters) than a twenty-minute sermon.  Now do you SEE my point?

Perhaps a little history is helpful.  The idea of the sermon as central to the church service is a novel innovation of the Protestant Reformation.  Martin Luther (a trained teacher, by the way) re-engineered Lutheran services to focus on the Word rather than the Eucharist.  At that time, people were ignorant of church stuff.  The liturgy was performed in Latin and German people couldn’t understand a syllable.  Thank God for stained glass windows to tell the story of the gospel (a visual)!  Luther and other reformers made preaching (and teaching) the Word central to the worship service and, to be fair, in balance with the Eucharist celebration.  Catholic churches, to this day, still have short homilies (around 10 minutes).

The Protestant Reformation merged with the Enlightenment and eventually modern cultural sensibilities produced strategies rooted in reason and words.  A sermon had a point (eventually three) and relied upon clever oratory, debate and motivational techniques.  Sermons also continued to lengthen.  In a pre-visual media age there was no harm here.  People would listen to favorite orators (like today) for hours, even days and weeks.

But in case you haven’t noticed that world is history.  Music videos and commercials are brief.  The most viral YouTube videos are 3-5 minutes at best.  TedTalks are less than 20 minutes.  The only people who don’t get short messages are politicians, professors and preachers.  The world has changed.

In a post-modern culture, the communicators use much shorter messages (15-20 minutes) and employ visual stimuli (vibrant photos, compelling videos, engaging objects), sensory experiences and interactivity to weave their messages.  Rob Bell’s Nooma videos are a perfect example.

The biggest problem is we’ve re-defined preaching largely as talking (a lot).  I get that.  The few references to preaching in the New Testament suggest a verbal strategy.  But with exception to Paul’s “talking on and on” until Eutychus fell asleep and to his death (Acts 20:7-12), all other examples (including Jesus’ famed “sermon on the mount”) are rather short.  In fact, it’s probable Jesus’ “teaching” (see Matthew 5:1-2) was a collection of short homilies not one long one as captured by Matthew.

And I’m not sure Paul appreciated Luke’s retention of his fatal story for all time!  How would you like to kill someone with your preaching and have it forever captured and broadcast on YouTube?  It’s not a model of great preaching and I imagine Paul would say it wasn’t one of his better “talks.”  Thank God for resurrection, eh?  Paul was far more interactive in his preaching.  A better example is his message to the Athenians (Acts 17:16ff).  Paul’s talk here is brief, interactive and visual…and it had better results!

Let me wrap this up:  in a postmodern culture the Vertical Church focuses on the Message not the messenger.  The purpose of our gatherings is to reproduce what the early Church did so well and that’s a devotion to the apostle’s teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread (an early reference to the Lord’s Supper) and to prayer (Acts 2:42).  In today’s churches we have it strangely backward:  we start with prayer (maybe), sing some songs and greet a neighbor (and call it fellowship), distribute communion (quickly) and then devote most of the time to one man’s ideas and insights.  The result?  Just look around.  Passivity.  Biblical ignorance.  Apathy.  Could it be HOW we deliver the “apostles’ teaching” is the problem?  I believe so.  Could we be more concerned with our legacy than evangelism, discipleship and equipping leaders?  I’ll confess I had such inclinations.  Play it safe and keep the paycheck.  Do what was expected and stay in the job.  Don’t rock the boat and avoid criticism.

I think that’s why Paul never stayed any place very long.  Outside of Ephesus (three years) and Corinth (18 months), Paul preached, converted, taught, discipled, equipped and then vacated the premises.  Today we celebrate preachers who have served churches for lengthy terms and criticize those who move every few years.  And yet the best test of a preacher is not his tenure but his departure:  for WHEN he leaves or retires does the church continue to grow or decline?

Face it, people today have itchy ears.  Preachers like to scratch the itch.

Frankly, I’d rather cure it.

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