Culture Change

Warning If You Track Church Attendance: The Numbers Are Lying to You

There is much conversation in my church right now about whether we are a declining church body and whether or not we will survive this decline.  So, purveyors of statistics tell us that we are in for a long slow, steady dip before we hit rock bottom and recover.  Not exactly the message you want to hear if you are a believer faithfully caring out the work Christ left the church to do.  Here’s the thing, the numbers are the numbers, right?  We have to trust the numbers, the numbers wouldn’t lie, right?  Na, Na I say the numbers are lying. Here is what we know about the church. Chuck Colson summarized it nicely in his book, The Body, 1992, Word Publishing, p. 70.

“Yet membership in a confessing body is fundamental to the faithful Christian life. Failure to do so defies the explicit warning not to forsake “our assembling together.” His understanding of this prompted Martin Luther to say, “Apart from the church, salvation is impossible.” Not that the church provides salvation; God does. But because the “saved” one can’t fulfill what it means to be a Christian apart from the church, membership becomes the indispensable mark of salvation.

“So highly does the Lord esteem the communion of His church,” Calvin wrote,” that He considers everyone a traitor and apostate from religion who perversely withdraws himself from any Christian society which preserves the true ministry of the word and sacraments.””

The Lie.

If we measure the success of the gospel by church attendance and dollars in the offering plate, then we have to also admit that the life-saving message of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins is not working.  That is what the numbers say, right?  No matter how faithfully you preach and teach the gospel and administer the Lord’s Supper and baptize, it won’t change the numbers.  We continue to see a steady decline in the numbers of people coming to church and supporting the work of the church.  What we don’t want to deal with is that if we believe the numbers, our work is ineffective.  The gospel has lost its power.  Stop and think about that for a moment.  Is that what is deflating morale in our churches?  We see the numbers, and our answer to stop the decline is to do what God called us to do, and it is not working.  The numbers do not define the power of the gospel.  Attendance is not a reflection on God’s word.  The lower offering numbers do not mean we have no mission left to accomplish.  It’s lies all lies.  God made us a promise, and God keeps his promises. In Isaiah 55,

10 Just as the rain and the snow come down from the sky
and don’t return there without watering the earth,
making it conceive and yield plants
and providing seed to the sower and food to the eater,
11     so is my word that comes from my mouth;
it does not return to me empty.
Instead, it does what I want,
and accomplishes what I intend.


The numbers do not define us, they serve as useful data.  But God’s mission is still needed.  If anything, the numbers prove that God’s mission is needed more than ever.  The church is facing stiff competition for the heart of culture.  This writer captures the challenge well by comparing the church to sports.

“Football in the fall. Basketball in the winter. Baseball in the spring and summer. This pastor has been an avid sports fan all his life. But I’ve had it! I quit this sports business once and for all. You can’t get me near one of those places again. Want to know why…

Every time I went, they asked me for money.
The people with whom I had to sit didn’t seem very friendly.
The seats were too hard and not at all comfortable.
I went to many games, but the coach never came to call on me.
The referee made a decision with which I could not agree.
I suspected that I was sitting with some hypocrites — they came to
see their friends and what others were wearing rather than to see the game.
Some games went into overtime, and I was late getting home.
The band played some numbers that I had never heard before.
It seems that the games are scheduled when I want to do other things.
I was taken to too many games by my parents when I was growing up.
I don’t want to take my children to any games because I want
them to choose for themselves what sport they like best.”- Author Unknown, At Calvary, Covington, KY.

Be Encouraged.

One of the most hurtful things the idea of church attendance has planted in the America Christian psyche is that “if you are not growing as a church you are a failure as a pastor and congregation.” So, we play the comparison game with our younger self.  So, how were we doing 10 years ago today?  Imagine doing that in your life now.  Compare your fifty-year-old body to the body you had in your twenties, how is that comparison going to turn out? And we judge our shepherds on the number of new converts.  And our church body on the number of new churches planted.

If you want to stop that madness, then we need to find new ways to gauge the congregational health and denominational health.  By putting the health report numbers of attendance and weekly offerings in the Sunday bulletin, we are asking those reading it to judge our success based on those measurements.  And we are buying into a false narrative about the effectiveness of the Word of God.  When the church continues to miss the mark of the weekly recording of those numbers it only serves to further demoralize the membership and even an entire church body.   So, if you don’t want to be judged by those figures and feel like you are losing the battle, start tracking other things.  Not to mention the numbers are Holy Spirit driven numbers, and we can’t control His work anyway.

Instead, track numbers that help hold your church accountable for those things that the church in Acts was measuring: people studying God’s word, the number of individuals engaged in living life together in community, the number of people helped with the offerings of God’s people, the number of prayer gatherings and the number of answered prayers.  Imagine measuring in church what God is doing among his people vs. the number of individuals coming on one day a week?  Isn’t faith a 24/7 thing not just one hour on Sunday?

Discussion questions for your leadership:

What are the things we want to measure?

What steps do we need to take to accomplish this shift in our culture?

More on Metrics:

Community Outreach, Congregational Life and Ministry, Creating a Multiplication Movement

The Church Was Built for Multiplication


When it was built for an international exposition in the last century, the structure was called monstrous by the citizens of the city, who demanded it be torn down as soon as the exposition was over. Yet from the moment its architect first conceived it, he took pride in it and loyally defended it from those who wished to destroy it. He knew it was destined for greatness. Today it is one of the architectural wonders of the modern world and stands as the primary landmark of Paris, France. The architect, of course, was Alexandre Gustave Eiffel. His famous tower was built in 1889. In the same way, we are struck by Jesus’ loyalty to another structure –the church– which he entrusted to an unlikely band of disciples, whom he defended, prayed for and prepared to spread the gospel. To outsiders, they (and we) must seem like incapable blunderers. But Jesus, the architect of the church, knows this structure is destined for greatness when he returns.  -John Berstecher.

The fourth mark of an authentic missional church is discipleship and multiplication.


  1.     A Disciple-Making Culture

The church is called by Christ in the Great Commission to develop disciples who in turn produce other disciples. Authentic missional churches recognize the crucial importance of developing leaders who are equipped for ministry in this age. These churches develop a plan to send followers out to equip new leaders for future ministry needs in the local church. The tireless work is to expand the scope and number of their leaders, while we continue to develop current leaders for more active service.

Christian discipleship addresses every dimension of faith and life. It is concerned not only with doing the right thing in every circumstance but also doing the right thing for the right reason.

“Most important, live together in a manner worthy of Christ’s gospel. Do this, whether I come and see you or I’m absent and hear about you. Do this so that you stand firm, united in one spirit and mind as you struggle together, to remain faithful to the gospel.” Phil. 1:27

Christian discipleship requires more than preaching alone can achieve. I love the analogy that preaching to make disciples is like going into a nursery and spraying the milk on the newborn babies.  Preaching is powerful; it has behind it the full power and might of the Holy Spirit.  But notice Jesus did not just preach to the disciples, he lived on the mission with them.  We need to be on a journey with the people we are called to equip for service to develop a multiplication culture.

The fifth mark is how the authentic missional Church engages its community.


  1.      Service to the Community

 “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.” Matthew 10:8

Jesus was telling the disciples in Matthew chapter 10 verse 8 to do what he had empowered them to do in verse 1. “I gave you these gifts so that you can use them to benefit others.” The marks of an authentic missional Church are ones that care for the community in which God has uniquely positioned it to serve.  The Church has been called to help the hurting. By meeting physical needs it opens the opportunity that goes deeper into their spiritual needs. Through being the hands, feet and the heart of Jesus, our mercy ministry has kingdom impact. It becomes more than giving people handouts, it is about being the hands, the heart, and the feet of Jesus and then inviting them to meet this Jesus we love and serve. As the Church notices the type of people that Jesus stopped along the side of the road and loved, the ones Jesus ministered too, the people Jesus said are important; then like Jesus, we realize that their lives matter. Whether it is the man born blind or the woman with 12 years of bleeding or the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus noticed people in need. And He did not just say be well and fed. He stopped and met their physical needs and then their spiritual needs. The key to a fruitful ministry is to find a need and fill it. That’s what Jesus has called us to do.

Church members are intentionally evangelistic. The Great Commission compels missional churches to go to the ends of the earth to find the lost through various methods. These churches don’t see evangelism as a program but as a relationship. They seek opportunities to share the gospel with others they encounter in everyday life.

The sixth mark is one that we don’t always feel comfortable talking about, giving generously.



  1.      Kingdom Generosity

In Malachi 3:10-12, you have what amounts to a lover’s quarrel over money. And God is beginning to dominate the conversation in this lover’s quarrel.  God tells them how to solve the problem.

“Bring the full tithe into the storehouse that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. I will rebuke the devourer for you so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts. Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts.” 

As you listen to this lovers’ quarrel, when you get to the end of verse 12 listen for the response of God’s people. God has done a lot of talking here. What do God’s people have to say in response? There’s nothing there, is there? God’s people don’t respond. Could it be that the prophet Malachi didn’t include the people’s response because he wants to let us think about how we would complete this story and reflect on how we would respond to God, how we would end this lovers’ quarrel? Are we willing to return to the Lord, the Lord who promises to come back to us?  Church members in an authentic missional Church understand generosity and are prepared to accept God’s challenge to give at a level that tests his ability to bless us.

Church members are focused kingdom managers of time, talents, and treasures. These churches foster a climate of generosity. They are not concerned about what they will receive but accept that challenge of Paul in Corinthians to be hilarious givers. Members look for opportunities to help others with all that God has entrusted to them.


Videos That Will Make you Think

TED Talk: What Soccer Can Teach Us about Freedom

“Soccer is the only thing on this planet that we can all agree to do together,” says theater maker and TED Fellow Marc Bamuthi Joseph. Through his performances and an engagement initiative called “Moving and Passing,” Joseph combines music, dance and soccer to reveal accessible, joyful connections between the arts and sports. Learn more about how he’s using the beautiful game to foster community and highlight issues facing immigrants.

Congregational Life and Ministry, Wisdom From Our Church Fathers

The Church Needs Theological Accountability

Weight Scales

Charles Swindoll shares this story in his book, “Living Above the Level of Mediocrity.” Several years ago, I met a gentleman who served on one of Walt Disney’s original advisory boards. What amazing stories he told! Those early days were tough; but that remarkable, creative visionary refused to give up. I especially appreciated the man’s sharing with me how Disney responded to disagreement. He said that Walt would occasionally present some unbelievable, extensive dream he was entertaining. Almost without exception, the members of his board would gulp, blink, and stare back at him in disbelief, resisting even the thought of such a thing. But unless every member resisted the idea, Disney usually didn’t pursue it. Yes, you read that correctly. The challenge wasn’t big enough to merit his time and creative energy unless they were unanimously in disagreement!

Now while that works for Walt Disney because his creativity was far ahead of his peers, that does not work with the truth of God’s Word.  We as pastors and church leaders are not called to create some new creative truths that are not grounded in what is already written in Scripture.  The apostle John gives a stern warning against such theological creativity at the end of the Book of Revelations. 1I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, 19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.”  In an attempt to create a theological checks and balances Luther describes the danger of any church leader, even the Pope, claiming to have supreme authority.  In an earlier post I review the three walls Luther challenged, because they were ignoring warning signs that have led to doctrinal impurity in the church.  And now that these errors were in the church’s teaching, the walls were preventing the church from correcting the false teaching.  These walls are easy to build but even harder to tear down once they are erected.  In this final post we examine the final wall.

In his 1520 Letter to the Christian Nobility. Luther’s attacks the premise that only the Pope can call an Ecumenical council to deal with errors in church doctrine.

It is important here to define what an Ecumenical council is: ecumenical councils are assemblies of Patriarchs, Cardinals, residing Bishops, Abbots, male heads of religious orders, and other juridical persons, nominated by the Pope. The purpose of an ecumenical council is to define doctrine, reaffirm truths of the Faith, and extirpate heresy. Council decisions, to be valid, are approved by the popes.[1] Participation is limited to these persons, who cannot delegate their voting rights.

Luther’s argument: For when the pope acts contrary to the Scriptures, it is our duty to stand by the Scriptures, to reprove him, and to constrain him, according to the word of Christ in Matthew 18:15: “If thy brother sin against thee, go and tell it him between thee and him alone; if he hear thee not, then take with thee one or two more; if he hear them not, tell it to the Church; if he hear not the Church, consider him a heathen.” Here every member is commanded to care for every other. How much rather should we do this when the member that does evil is a ruling member, and by his evil-doing is the cause of much harm and offense to the rest! But if I am to accuse him before the Church, I must bring the Church together.

They have no basis in Scripture for their contention that it belongs to the pope alone to call a council or confirm its actions; for this is based merely upon their own laws, which are valid only in so far as they are not injurious to Christendom or contrary to the laws of God. When the pope deserves punishment, such laws go out of force, since it is injurious to Christendom not to punish him by means of a council.

Summary; no person regardless of their place, position, or education level can be considered errorless. That position is reserved only for the Word of God.  We need to have in our congregations, our churches and church bodies a way to regularly have a healthy check and balance on our theology. It is easy to get sloppy and allow all kinds of false teaching and practices to creep into churches.  We need to regularly be in God’s Word and not be tempted to have reached a level where continued growth is not needed.

As Luther points out in this letter, Let us, therefore, hold fast to this: No Christian authority can do anything against Christ; as St. Paul says, II Corinthians 13:8: “We can do nothing against Christ, but for Christ.” Paul says to the Corinthians, II Corinthians 10:8, “God has given us authority not for the destruction, but for the edification of Christendom.” Who is ready to overleap this text? It is only the power of the devil and the Antichrist which resists the things that serve for the edification of Christendom; it is, therefore, in no wise to be obeyed, but is to be opposed with life and goods and all our strength.

[1]Hubert JedinKleine Konziliengeschichte, Freiburg, Herder, 1960, 9

Congregational Life and Ministry

The Marks of the True Church: Prayer and Worship


The second mark of the true church is an active prayer life.

  1. Empowering Prayer Life.

The church seeks to know and to follow God’s will. An authentic missional church is a praying church. It never loses sight of the fact that they are God’s people, who are sustained by God’s power and acutely aware that they are guided by God’s purpose and plan. Christians are committed not only to doing God’s will but also to doing ministry God’s way. How is that accomplished through praying with bold persistence?

“And I tell you: Ask, and you will receive. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened to you. Everyone who asks receives. Whoever seeks, finds. To everyone who knocks, the door is opened.” Lk 11:9-10

The Apostle Luke shares with the world what Jesus taught them about praying, with a bold persistence.  Jesus uses an illustration of a man coming to a friend for help.  At first, the friend says it is late, and the children are in bed.  In other words, this is an awful time.  Come back at a more acceptable time.  Because to go and unbolt the door would awaken the children.  However, the friend was bold in his tenacity.  He would keep asking, keep knocking and keep seeking.  The lesson for the Church about prayer to our Lord revolves around these three different aspects.

  • Keep Asking

The concept of “Ask” is commonly used for prayer.  To best understand this, it must explain that in the Greek it is not an imperative of command (“You must ask to receive”) but as an imperative of condition (“If you ask, you will indeed receive).  The force of this Scripture is not a command of Jesus to pray, but instead an invitation to prayer.

Therefore, our Heavenly Father proves to us that he is our Father, and we are, indeed, his precious children by giving to us those things that are beneficial to us.

  • Keep Searching

“Searching” is frequently used to describe seeking after/for God

You will seek the Lord your God from there, and you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your being.” Deut. 4:29

“Seek the Lord when he can still be found; call him while he is yet near.” Isaiah 55:6

I like to describe it this way.  God places a God-size hole in the human soul.  That can only be satisfied and filled with the presence of the Almighty.  For us to seek God is to desire that spiritual connection with God’s face through prayer.

  • Keep Knocking

I have heard this described as we “knocked at the gates of mercy and finding that they were open to us.”

This verse is an example of the divine passive (“it will be given to you” means God will give it to you.  In saying “it will be opened to you” means God will open it to you) and of Jesus’ use of exaggeration, makes it very clear that not all prayers are answered. Prayers that are answered are those in line with God’s will and would include an implied reference to Jesus’ prayers in the garden before His date with Calvary “…yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

With consistency and bold persistence, the Church learns to develop a healthy, vibrant prayer life.

The third mark is one that is often controversial in our Church because we have very definitive ideas of what worship should contain.  I will not get into forms or structure. That is for another time.


  1. Vibrant and Christ-centered Worship

The authentic missional church is a place of dynamic, engaging Christ-centered worship. The styles may vary, but the worship strokes the heart and soul of the worshipper. The Word of God engages and involves people in the mystical union of God and His people. This vibrant worship happens as the Word of God is preached and Christ’s body and blood are shared in the breaking of bread. In worship, the people engage God in corporate and individual prayer which invites God’s will to be done in their midst and in the lives of those in the community they have been called to serve. For those who have taken advantage of God’s invitation to honor the Sabbath, when they leave the House of God there is little doubt that they have been in the presence of Almighty God.  The members have been impacted by the power of the Holy Spirit working through God’s Word, music, prayer and the Means of Grace.  That is what vibrant worship looks like, and it is not based on a form it is based on the substance of the worship service.


Other posts in this series:


Congregational Life and Ministry, Millennials

Millennials Want a Courageous Church


This post continues a series on the kind of church young people today are seeking.  It should be clear by now that this is not all that different from what most people are seeking. However, there are some stark differences in the level of importance one group places on these factors over and above another.

Millennials are seeking a courageous Church

Courage is doing what you’re afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you’re scared.[1]According to Barna Research on Millennials a common struggle young people today are faced with are cultural challenges.  And the issue the church faces is how does it respond to that challenge of teaching cultural discernment to young adults?  Here is how Barna describes the landscape: “Millennials need guidance on engaging culture meaningfully and from a distinctly Christian perspective. This idea of finding a way to bring their faith in Jesus to the problems they encounter in the world is one of the most powerful motivations for today’s practicing Christian Millennials. They don’t want their faith to be relegated to Sunday worship, and this desire for holistic faith is something the Church can speak to in a meaningful way. “

So, what does this mean?

People in their twenties want to be challenged to think about difficult messages. They don’t just want to have easy topics each week. Millennials want to dive into difficult-to-understand topics and passages and explore how they apply. Take young people on a spiritual journey of discovery through the preaching and teaching of God’s Word.  Provide an environment where you can have a dialogue to discuss real issues. For example, “Here’s why you should stay sexually pure until marriage. Here’s why it’s good to tithe. How do you witness to the LBGT community?”

Imagine a sermon series that address the question, “Can I be a Christian IF…” and you fill in the blank with some of the tough issues of our day, such as woman’s reproduction rights, social justice, race relations, and there is even some question if you can be a Christian if you are on one political side or the other. I understand there are some pastors out there getting nervous just thinking about taking on such possibly divisive issues.  Something for you to consider, if we can’t have these conversations in the church where can we have them?  Where can members go to get a balanced biblical dialogue about the questions that are running through their minds?  The internet is not the new source of truth.  And who better to lead this discussion than a person well versed in the understanding of the truth of God’s Word and the compassionate soul to respect other viewpoints, yet still point people to God’s divine plan for humanity?  Of course, to pull this off requires courage.

A Word of Caution

Jim Fiebig says, “There’s a fine line between courage and foolishness. Too bad it’s not a fence.”  This post is not a license to be mean or condescending.  Millennials and no one else wants to be apart of a church that condemns and appears intolerant. We want to approach tough issues with sensitivity and love while still holding to the truth of God’s Word.  That is a fine line and I don’t know where that line is until we cross it.  But we need to find a way to lead in this changing, scary at times post-Christian society.  May God gives us the courage and the wisdom to do just that.

[1] Eddie Rickenbacker, Bits & Pieces, April 29, 1993, p. 12.

Other posts on the topic:

Urban Ministry

The Wind City Is Primed For a God-Sized Movement


I love the term revival, but I am aware that the word can be loaded, with negative images of a departure from the focus of Jesus and his work of redemption to an overemphasis on the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  Spiritual revivals must be centered on the work the Holy Spirit was charged to do, leading people to faith in Jesus as the means of their salvation.  With that being said, it is time for Chicago to have a good old fashioned revival.  A reconnection with the Holy Spirit of Pentecost, so that He can produce what the Holy Spirit was sent to do, create faith and change lives.

James Packer in his book, “Your Father Loves you” lays out a biblical three-step approach to revival.  Imagine what our urban centers could become if the Spirit of Pentecost could descend on them fresh in this manner.

The Explanation of Revival

Packer defines a revival as “the visitation of God which brings to life Christians who have been sleeping and restores a deep sense of God’s near presence and holiness. Thence springs a vivid sense of sin and a profound exercise of heart in repentance, praise, and love, with an evangelistic outflow.”

It is hard to argue with this description.  What Christian and nonbeliever alike would not benefit from gaining a deeper sense of God’s presence in their daily live?  Daily prayer and the study of God’s Word are two foundational ways to remain connected to the presence of God.  In our broken world, God’s holiness drives a wedge between God and us because of our sin.  God’s holiness shines brightly on our sins and reveals what perfection truly is, God.  Revival would cause those who are sleeping comfortably in their sin and unaware of their brokenness to awaken to the grace available through faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection for the restoration of their souls.  Repentance then allows believers to share the forgiveness of sins won for those seeking relief through faith in Jesus Christ.

Packer points out that while each revival movement has its distinctive features, the pattern is the same every time.

  1. God Comes First.

On New Year’s Eve 1739, John Wesley, George Whitefield, and some of their friends held a “love feast” which became a watch night of prayer to see the New Year in. At about 3 a.m., Wesley wrote, “the power of God came mightily upon us, insomuch that many cried for exceeding joy, and many fell to the ground.” Revival always begins with a restorative presence, and a divine connection with the Ancient of Days, God.

Spiritual renewal in Chicago begins with prayer.  I am praying that God’s presence falls fresh on this great city.  God can use believers to create a spiritual movement among us that will transform Chicago.  Every day we hear stories of lives torn apart by gang-related violence, drug addiction, failing education systems, financial hardships, and community services cuts and this ongoing, consistent pain breaks my heart.   There are so many hurting people.  So many broken families and hopelessness in the human spirit. They are people hurt by life’s circumstances.  Families that are dealing with broken dreams, broken relationships, and broken systems.  We don’t need more taxes and government programs we need more of God’s presence among us, flowing through us, transforming us, making us reflect more the presence of our creator. Join with me in praying that God would come first and replace the hole in people’s hearts and lives in Chicagoland. Pray for people to desire God’s presence in their lives.

2.  That Jesus message of salvation is loved as never before.

When I was serving in a congregation in Milwaukee, the one thing that shocked me most was why new members joined our church.  People joined because they said, “your church preaches about salvation with a freshness that, I love like never before.”  We need to teach about Jesus, with such power that people sense God’s nearness.  Our preaching should create an overwhelming awareness of our sins and our sinful nature, and counter sin by preaching with equal boldness, the cleansing power of the blood of Christ.  We are always pointing the masses to the comfort and healing power of the cross of Jesus. People in Chicago need a real Jesus, with real power, which deals with the everyday disappointments and struggles of life.  Chicagoans need a king who powerfully sits on the throne. A king who conquered Satan, sin, and death.  The church proclaims that Jesus is greater than all the forces of darkness around us.  Let’s lift up that Jesus to the City and to the world.

3.  The Spirit’s works multiplication.

Finally, when the Spirit moves, godliness and multiplication happen.  Through the Spirit’s movement, Christians mature in their faith, and those disconnected masses discover the Savior.  Even though Paul was at Thessalonica for less than three weeks, God worked quickly, and Paul left a virile church behind him. The Christian movement is witnessing explosive growth at Pentecost.  This increase was not due to some programs or reproducible material but due to a work of the Holy Spirit.  If Chicago is to truly have a Pentecost movement it will be the work of God through ordinary believers doing extraordinary work. It is my prayer we can see that in my lifetime.  Wouldn’t it be great to see the Windy City on fire with Holy Spirit revival?  Join me in praying for a God-sized movement in the Windy City.

So, what is next?

Find the best and brightest people who have a passion for Chicago and form a task force to pray, dream, seek and execute God’s will for new and revitalize ministry in the Windy City. If you want to know what to specifically pray for pray for that next movement of God.

Congregational Life and Ministry, Urban Ministry, Videos That Will Make you Think

TED Talk: Reimagining Chicago


Theaster Gates, a potter by training and a social activist by calling, wanted to do something about the sorry state of his neighborhood on the south side of Chicago. So he did, transforming abandoned buildings to create community hubs that connect and inspire those who still live there (and draw in those who don’t). In this passionate talk, Gates describes his efforts to build a “miniature Versailles” in Chicago, and he shares his fervent belief that culture can be a catalyst for social transformation in any city, anywhere.

Culture Change, Mission

The Marks of the True Church, Part 1


I would like to believe that a distinctly, authentic Church is a Christ-centered, mission-driven, people-focused, community-transforming church. But what does that mean?

This opening illustration frames this discussion. A missionary in Africa was once asked if he liked what he was doing. His response was shocking. “Do I like this work?” he said. “No. My wife and I do not like dirt. We have reasonable, refined sensibilities. We do not like crawling into vile huts through goat refuse. But is a man to do nothing for Christ he does not like? God pity him, if not. Liking or disliking has nothing to do with it. We have orders to ‘Go,’ and we go. Love constrains us.” –Our Daily Bread.

I want to begin this by discussing the churches in the Book of Acts. The struggle I run into when talking about the Church based on what was happening in Acts is that we tend to see those churches through rose-colored glasses. These marks are not all characteristics of the Churches in Acts.  We see the explosive growth, we see the unity, but we fail to look at the flaws. And to be honest, all churches have flaws. Here is what we know about those early century churches.

  • On that first Pentecost 3,000 souls were added to the church in Jerusalem.
  • The church was founded on strong biblical teaching and sound doctrine.
  • The believers had a habit of gathering together daily for prayer and the breaking of bread.
  • The result of this growth in the faith led the people to a life of generosity.
  • There was unity as the worshippers gathered daily in the temple.
  • Yet, it was not all happiness and joy; there were still deep and at time heart-wrenching conflicts.

As we set out to lay the marks of an authentic church we use as our foundation the missional churches of Acts.  However, this time we will pull back the veil and reveal more than just the positives we tend to highlight. We need to be prepared for all the issues the churches in Acts faced. As a matter of insight, “Whenever you attempt something great for God and His kingdom, Satan will do everything possible to derail those attempts.”  There are seven marks that this article will examine in some detail.   We begin with the most critical.  Any church needs to have strong Biblical teaching.

  1. Strong Biblical Teaching.

“The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers.” Acts 2:42

At the heart of any authentically missional church is the gospel message of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection. If we are preaching anything but Christ and Him crucified, then we are doing harm to those outside of God’s grace.  The world needs strong biblical teaching from the church because the natural tendency of the human heart is to drift back into the mode of trying to please God by doing good and in doing so feeling the full weight of God’s wrath.  You can hear that in Luther’s words just how deeply he felt the weight of God. How deeply he was tormented by his sins and how that sin weighs on the heart of the sinner.

“Though I lived as a religious leader without reproach, I felt, with the most disturbed conscience imaginable, that I was a sinner before God. I did not love. Indeed, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners.” Dr. Martin Luther

The quote points to just how deeply Luther felt convicted by God; how Luther was profoundly aware of his sinfulness and the impact of God’s judgment on him for his sins. At the heart of the Reformation, this was the tension with the Roman Catholic Church over the issue of solid biblical doctrine. The Catholic church taught Christians they had to earn the merits of Jesus’ forgiveness. Nothing was free. Christ’s death for them was only a starting point; there was much more the sinner needed to do to achieve salvation. That need to earn forgiveness lead to a deeper faith crisis.  Now Christ’s death and resurrection are not enough.  If that were the case, this uncertainty left many good faithful Christians feeling the weight of being inadequate. Very little has changed today.  This issues of trying to appease an angry God runs through the lives and hearts of many religions. An authentic mission church points people back to the grace, but good works cannot and will not save us. When we approach the throne of God with only our good works as a sacrifice, we quickly realize just how inadequate that appears before a perfect God. To extend our pitiful gifts to the God who created the universe seems quite small.

Deep down the human heart knows that we are born in sin and have no legitimate way to earn the forgiveness of those sins. The frustration that humanity has when attempting to earn favor with God through works is the feeling of being mistreated. Unfair treatment angers a lot of people, especially people like Luther who desperately want to play by the rules.

The first mark of the Church is foundational, to point the saint and sinner back to the cross of Christ and the grace of God. Luther like many souls are feeling the full weight of God in their life, but the true Church leads the troubled soul to the knowledge that Jesus took that pressure to Calvary’s cross on their behalf.  Now nothing in our past is too big even for Jesus to forgive, nor anything is too big that the blood of Jesus cannot cover. The Church proclaims to the world God’s relentless grace.

The second mark of the authentic missional church is the church founded on an empowering prayer life.  Check in on Thursday’s as the four-part series continues.


Other posts in this series:


Devotional Message, Faith Conversations

Can We Really Be All​ Things to All People?


The Times-Reporter of New Philadelphia, Ohio, reported in September 1985 a celebration of a New Orleans municipal pool. The party around the pool was held to celebrate the first summer in memory without a drowning at the New Orleans city pool. In honor of the occasion, 200 people gathered, including 100 certified lifeguards. As the party was breaking up and the four lifeguards on duty began to clear the pool, they found a fully dressed body in the deep end. They tried to revive Jerome Moody, 31, but it was too late. He had drowned surrounded by lifeguards celebrating their successful season. -Times-Reporter, September 1985.

From a very early age, God put on my heart a passion for connecting wayward souls to the life-saving gospel of Jesus Christ.  It comes from a sincere place.  My father lived his life on the edge of uncomfortable for me.  He wasn’t a churchgoer.  I believe he had faith, but his life called that into question.  When he died on Christmas day nearly 11 years ago, I was called upon to do the funeral.  That was the toughest funeral of my ministry.  I had done funerals for young victims who had their futures snatch away by a stray bullet.  I have done funerals for the very young and the very old who left behind a wife who was not prepared to spend her waning years alone.  But no burial was as personal, it felt like I had personally failed my calling as my dad’s son (pastor?).  I keep hearing Paul’s words in my head, “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews, I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law, I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak, I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means, I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel that I may share with them in its blessings. [1]” 1 Corinthians 9:19-23

Why do these words haunt me? Because I have heard sermons on this text preached so condemningly, with the message that if you are not sold out for the gospel like Paul, somehow you are a failure as a Christian that I have tremendous guilt.   Dear readers, dear saints, if you have ever felt that way I pray this post gives you a sense of comfort.

What does Paul by “I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them?” Is Paul permitting us to put our Christianity and our witnessing on the shelf for the sake of reaching the lost? And if Paul were saying that how does that look?  I got the privilege to serve in Milwaukee for nearly ten years, and the is Harley Motorbike country.  I have always wanted to bike, is Paul permitting me to buy one and put on my leather jacket and hang out with unchurched bikers?  I am all over that.  Not exactly.  What Paul is saying is that his goal as a follower of Jesus Christ is to put himself in the place of the person far from God.  He sought to get into their souls, to cloth himself with their feelings and argue life from their perspective.  Imagine taking that posture in our sharing of the gospel with people.  What approach does the gospel need to take to be most effective for the hearer?   For example, for the Jews who were under the burden of the law, Paul preached freedom from the law.  “Sin will have no power over you because you aren’t under Law, but under grace.” Romans 6:14

For the weak Paul pointed those to the strength and sufficiency of God.  So, for the Jew, he made himself a Jew in feeling, with the Greek a Greek in feeling, with a slave a slave in feeling.  Paul connected and tailored the gospel in such a way that the person heard God’s grace applied to their situation.  I realized that I did do that to the best of my ability with my father and only prayed that he heard God’s message of forgiveness for a prodigal son.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Co 9:19–23). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.


Congregational Life and Ministry

Church Worker’s Kids: Living Life in a Paparazzi World



I did not grow up as a pastor’s kid but I married one. My wife’s experience shaped many of the tough decisions I had to make as a father first, parish pastor second. One of those tough decisions was how to protect my wife and children from the incredibly high expectations the church would place on them. I signed up for this high calling, my lovely wife agreed to come along for the ride, but my children had no voice in the decision. They were a gift from God, but as children, they still had the right and healthy right to make mistakes.

No matter how much I wanted it to be different, children take risks, they break things, they make bad choices, they do interesting things with crayons and paint. Children are supposed to experiment, make mistakes, learn that every action has consequences. Bumps and bruises, breaks and brokenness are all a part of our formation. But as a pastor there was enormous pressure to make sure my children were perfect. Every time a child cried in the church I prayed it wasn’t mine. The need for perfection was not just at church, it was in school, at restaurants, and stores, on vacation. My children had to be perfect anywhere a church paparazzi might be larking. The bigger the congregation or the smaller the community the more likely a church paparazzi was in earshot. Imagine parents living life in the fishbowl and we wonder why so many pastors and church worker kids reject the church. This is not a church hit piece. I loved most of my time in the parish, but my kids were expected to live up to unrealistic standards.

Why are well losing Church Worker’s Children? Is this the result of living under immense pressure?

I don’t like making untested assumptions so here are some data to back up my claims.

The Reasons Pastors Believe their Kids Struggle with Faith from Barna Research

1. Pastors’ (and I would add many church workers’) kids are raised in a unique culture of expectation.

My kids discovered early on that their words and actions, even their attitudes reflected directly back on me and my leadership as the head of the household and the one who held the office of the Holy Ministry. I remember one time in particular when someone approached me about something they thought my child did and questioned my fitness for the office. My response back was simply and respectfully that, “Of course my child is a sinner, they are a chip off the old block.” Just a reminder you called your pastor or your church worker to the ministry not their spouse and definitely not their children.

The survey results show pastors are not oblivious to this heightened scrutiny of their family.

  • ” In fact, pastors (28%) name unrealistic expectations of their kids as the number one reason pastors’ kids struggle in the development of their own faith.
  • ” The second reason listed by pastors (18%) is exposure to the negative aspects of the church.
  • ” Nearly two out of 10 (17%) pastors link their own preoccupation as too-busy parents with the frustrated faith of their children.
  • ” And about one-sixth of pastors trace the prodigal tendencies of their children back to the lack of faith modeled consistently at home (14%).
  • ” Other reasons given by pastors include the influence of peers and culture (9%), the child’s free will (7%), and their never making faith their own (6%).

    2. The Parenting Successes and Regrets of Pastors

You may never grasp the pain associated with the regret church workers have when their children stray from the faith. These faithful workers sacrifice so much of themselves and their families to be there for others in their hours of deepest needs, walking people daily through faith crisis after faith crisis. Yet, how heartbreaking when your own child needed that same spiritual guidance and you were not there for them.

Here are the statistics on parental regrets:

  • ” When asked what they feel they’ve done best in raising their kids, pastors (37%) overwhelmingly answered that they introduced their children to Christ and maintained a Bible-focused home. Only 5% wish they had done better in this area, by giving their children more biblical instruction.
  • ” Overall, a startling 19% say they wouldn’t change anything in their parenting methods, even if they could turn back time. Yet for those who do admit parenting regrets, things get a little more personal.
  • ” While 21% of pastors believe they were good parents in terms of supporting and spending time with their children, twice that amount have regrets in this area – 42% say they wish they had spent more time with their kids. Perhaps in reference to the unrealistic expectations pastors agree are placed upon their children, 8% of pastors also said they wish they had been more understanding with their kids.

The point of this post is not to make anyone feel guilty but I beg you, the church, to help support those who care for you. Encourage them and support them as they care for their spouse, their children, and finally themselves. They are a gift from God to help advance His kingdom.