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Posts from January 2015

Guest Blogger Ashley Tarkington: "My Journey From PK to Child of God"

Growing up in a pastor's home is not easy. Oh it can be a tremendous blessing, but there are also the pressures that those who do not live in this "fishbowl" just don't understand. My daughter, Ashley, is graduating from the University of North Florida this spring. She has been a pastor's kid (PK) her entire life. She's known no other story. While many PKs find themselves pushing strongly against the values and biblical worldview that is taught in the home and echoed in the church, and thereby creating the bad stereotype that is joked about often within church circles. However, there are many more PKs who discover a faith that is their own, not just a carbon copy of their parents. That faith is right and true and Gospel-centered and leads them onto journeys that rightfully bring glory to God.

This summer, Ashley plans to serve internationally as a summer missionary. As always, God has the right to change those plans, but her prayers and opened doors seem to leading down this path. In preparation for this summer, she must be able to clearly articulate her story of faith (i.e. her personal testimony.) She has been journaling for years and today at lunch, she shared the following with me. So, here's Ashley, my "Guest Blogger" speaking truth as a Pastor's Kid, but more importantly as a Child of God. . .

In 2000, a movie was released based on the popular book series, Left Behind. Now, it wasn't a great movie, but there was a message at it's core that had me asking questions. I was only six years old and up to that point (and even up to today) I had been in church all my life. At the time, my dad was the youth pastor at our church. You could say that I had never missed a Sunday or Wednesday service. As a child, my life revolved around church. Not only did I attend all the children's activities and events, I was also "cool" enough (at least that's what I still believe) to go to many youth events.

Staff - atarkAt the time of this film release, I was six years old. I was in first grade. I knew right from wrong. I knew that every Sunday I would sit in the front pew with my dad, while mom sang in the choir. Dad would stand down front at the close of each service with our pastor waiting for people in the congregation to come forward for prayer or to make a spiritual decision public in their lives. At this time, to me at least, it seemed like people were coming down front following the worship services to make a decision every week. It always seemed like there were baptisms happening as well.

Now, as much as my six-year-old self could understand, this was a great thing. People were being saved! Then, I thought to myself, "Am I saved?" 

I knew who Jesus was. I knew most of the major stories in the Bible. I knew Jesus going to come back one day. The Left Behind film was shown at our church when it was released and the building was packed. The story showed how horrible scenario was for those who were not saved. To me, so many in my church were making decisions for Christ and the thought came to my mind, "What if what happened in the movie happened now? I would be left behind. I'm only six-years-old, my mom pretty much did everything for me. I can't be by myself."

It was a moment of panic for me.

One Wednesday evening after church, I was riding home with my dad in the backseat of our Honda. I was asking questions. I didn't want to be left behind. The movie was just that. . .a movie, but my dad shared more about God and his promises. I prayed to God and received Jesus into my life as Savior. I was so excited. A few weeks later, I was baptized, and the cool part was that my dad baptized me. It was a great day! I even told my teacher at school about what happened.

But, life just kept going. I still attended every church thing that was offered. I grew in knowledge and as a Christian and did all the "churchy" stuff. As the years went by, some things changed in our lives. Right before I entered high school, my dad became the Lead Pastor at our church. Our previous Senior Pastor retired. I always said that dad was now the "big man." It was cool, I guess, but there weren't as many fun trips with him anymore. 

I went to the youth group, but it wasn't the same as when my dad was the youth pastor. High school was. . .well, high school. It didn't change me. I knew who I was and I was not ashamed of it, but I was pretty quiet most of the time. I behaved like I was expected to, how a PK should. I never pretended to know it all. Lord knows I never did. . .or will, but people would act like I did, or should. That was probably one of the most frustrating things.

I thought youth group was supposed to be more than it was. I wanted to be more involved and be a leader so I could make an impact. My life was pretty busy, though. I played basketball at school and during the season we had a lot of mid-week games, so it was impossible to make the leadership meetings.

I felt like I had nothing to offer. I was not blessed with the ability to sing or play an instrument. I wasn't super-outgoing and bubbly, so I wasn't sure how to engage with new people. I wasn't sure how to relate to people. In some ways, I felt that people were intimidated by me because of who my dad was. I hated going to youth group at times. I felt as if I didn't really belong, but no one could tell. I was good at putting on masks.

This was high school and at this point you're supposed to figure out where you belong and somewhat about who you are, right?

Then, my senior year began (2010-2011.) It was finally here! I was so excited. This was the year that I was going to become somebody and excel in the sport I loved. I was so ready for basketball season to begin. I had the potential to play in college. There were three schools looking at me at this point. Then, during our first game of our season, I suffered an injury - an ACL tear. I was  so angry and upset. 

Why me?

Wasn't I showing Christ to my teammates?

Did I not use my ability to play basketball to impact people for Christ?

My basketball career was over. I didn't know what to do.

This was the first time I cried out to God. I knew He had it all under control and that he had plans for me (Jeremiah 29:11), but I had to get to the point I truly believed that. I had to be able to see my complete identity in Christ. 2011 was the year that I felt I really became close with Christ. Our relationship went to an entirely new level for me. I knew I didn't want to just settle and live comfortably. I wanted to live for Him. I wanted, and still do, want people to see Christ in me way before they even see me.

Now I know this is pretty long and I've been told that testimonies, if you call this that, should only take two minutes to share, but this was just the beginning of my story. It's still being written. God is always working in my life, giving me desires and passions for Him and His glory that I never thought possible.

I find my identity in Christ. In some ways, I always have. I had to figure out how to bring Christ everywhere I went, to live for and become more confident in Him. 

It does not matter that I have not been given a talent as a singer or artist. God can, and does use me the way I am, exactly how He created me. 

I'm not as quiet anymore (I know some of my friends and family would laugh in agreement with that statement.) It's funny - when you get excited about Christ and what He does for you, you just can't really shut up about Him.

So, here's my two minute "testimony":

I was lost. I asked questions. I didn't want to be left behind. Christ died for me. He forgave me. I live for Him. I can't just keep that to myself.

I mess up. I sin. Yet, He still loves me and his grace is overwhelming.

I am saved. 

Now, I'm ready to go into all the world.

To tell others.

Everyday I try to live for Him and become more like Him.

As I said before, my story isn't over. Christ has put a passion within me that I am ready to act upon. Im ready to be sent. That could be across the street or across the world. I want to make an impact for His kingdom. I want to pour into teenagers and college students the truth of the Gospel. I want to be a part of the "big picture" - to live missionally and worship Him daily. To encourage, engage and serve.

I want to go.


The Church Doesn't Need Volunteers

It's sounds totally opposite of what we (church leaders) have been saying for decades, but hear me out.

For years we have sought to find volunteers in our churches to serve in positions of leadeship and even behind-the-scenes roles. Most often these seem to center around the need for leaders in areas such as preschool and children's ministries. The truth is that I have never been in a growing church that reaches families where all needed leaders in these areas were in place. 

However, even as volunteerism seems to be on the rise and the millenials seek to find causes to support, the type of volunteerism that is propagated outside the church may not be the type that is needed within the church.

One of the reasons, I believe, is that the form of volunteerism that seems to be increasingly promoted is centered on the volunteer more than the service being done. It may be due to the growth of required community service needed by high school students and others. Perhaps it is due to the "need" to be a part of something larger than oneself. Consequently, volunteers are continually being sought for good causes and events throughout our communities. 

Don't get me wrong, I really see nothing wrong with people stepping up to serve in areas where there is a cause and a need. I think of the cancer walks and the community events and the school activities where volunteers are continually needed. (BTW - I believe in most cases, the church should step out to live missionally and engage, but that's a posting for another day.)

It is within the church that I have heard statements such as. . .

  • I'm a volunteer. You can't fire me.
  • I'm a volunteer. It doesn't matter if I show up.
  • I'm a volunteer. If I don't do it (whatever "it" may be) someone else will.
  • I'm a volunteer. Can I get a letter for community service hours?
  • I'm a volunteer. This is just short-term.

With these built-in excuses for not being fully committed to the cause, volunteerism in the church has become little more than spiritual tourism with no lasting life-change. 

Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, penned these encouraging and challenging words to the church in Corinth. . .and ultimately, to us as well:

For we are God's fellow workers. You are God's field, God's building. 1 Corinthians 3:9 (ESV)

"Fellow workers" or as some translations put it - "co-laborers." This phrase speaks more deeply than simply volunteering. 

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The church does not need volunteers. The church is to be made up of co-laborers. We have a stake in this story. Our service is not about us, but about bringing glory to God. It's more than just a catchy phrase, a T-shirt, a bumper sticker or a trending hashtag on social media. This cause is deeper than any other the world would place before us. 

Perhaps the local church needs to stop trying to pigeon-hole every Christ follower in the congregation into a systematic form of discipleship and help believers discover their unique SHAPE for ministry so that we can get on with making disciples.

The church was never commissioned to go and make volunteers. We are to go and make disciples. 


A Challenge to a New Generation: Part 5

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Worship is a touchstone for generational and religious controversy. The worship wars of a generation ago left many frustrated with empty arguments over style (i.e. contemporary, traditional, blended, etc.) and eventually added to the growth of the "dones."

Ultimately, God determines what worship is. He is the audience. When that is missed. . .worship is more of a good idea than a reality.

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It's Time to Stop Justifying Our Lack of Racial Diversity in Church

On this day of remembering the life of civil rights leader and pastor, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the nation pauses to reflect on those who suffered for years in a culture of racial inequality, remembering a march on Washington DC that changed the course of our nation and declare that Dr. King's dream is coming to fruition.

Well, at least that's the idea.

477879_32397088While we have come so very far, as we reflect on the news stories of the past year and see tensions grow stronger in many areas of our nation between the races, the inevitable question arises, "Have we really made much progress?" 

Life is always filtered through current events and personal circumstance. In the larger picture, much progress has been done. No longer are there "Whites Only" and "Colored" water fountains in public places. There are no legally designated "black schools" and "white schools." No one can legally be denied service due to the color of their skin in our nation. That which would be categorized as unthinkable if not impossible about five decades ago has occured in our culture - a black man has been elected President. 

Yes, progress has been made in some areas.

We still have so much further to go. 

Sunday Is the Most Segregated Hour

Years ago, Dr. King stated that Sunday morning was the most segregated hour in America. He was referring to the reality that church gatherings, for the most part, were far from racially diverse. While marches and protests were happening calling to allow people of differing races to go to school together, sit on busses together or even have a sandwich together in a restaurant, many were satisfied with keeping their houses of worship segregated. This is a generalization and this feeling was not held by all, at least intentionally.

Recently, LifeWay Research released data collected regarding diversity in churches. The results have been shared in numerous venues and news outlets with varying degrees of response and interpretation.

Here are some highlights of the research:

  • 8 out of 10 congregations are made up predeominantly of one racial group.
  • Two-thirds of American church-goers state their church has done enough to be racially diverse.
  • Fewer than half believe their church should do more to be racially diverse.
  • Evangelicals are most likely to say their church is doing enough.
  • Whites are least likely to say their church should become more diverse.
  • African-Americans and Hispanics are most likely to say their churches should become more diverse.

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"Surprisingly, most churchgoers are content with the ethnic status quo in their churches," Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research, said. "In a world where our culture is increasingly diverse, and many pastors are talking about diversity, it appears most people are happy where they are -- and with whom they are." (Read the full article at Baptist Press here.)

Are you a Black Church or a White Church?

Author, blogger and church consultant Scott Williams (Big is the New Small) shares of when he was attending college and visiting local churches. He was getting his shoes shined and preparing to go to a predominantly black church one week when he struck up a conversation with the man shining his shoes. The man began to tell him about his church to which Scott asked, "Is your church a black church or a white church?" The man's response was classic. He said, "Young man - that's the stupidest question you could ever ask. It's not a black church. It's not a white church. It's God's church."

 

That is the right perspective.

But, We Worship Differently

As LifeWay's data has been shared, I have read some of the reader comments provided. In most cases, there is a common theme of "Yes, we need to be God's church and let racial barriers melt." However, there are many comments that are obviously well intentioned that seem so short-sighted and wrong. In these cases the argument goes something like this. . ."Each culture and race worships differently and therefore, segregated Sunday mornings are a good thing."

I don't discount that different groups have unique worship styles and practices. Our missionaries are educated in this as they serve in international locations in order to keep from leading those in other cultures to "do church the American way."

While there are numerous churches in my community with varying styles of worship, music and instrumentation, teaching styles, and meeting times, to say that we are satisfied being identified as a "white church" or "black church" or some other shade of melanin is to say that division is godly.

I have a dream, too. Mine is that the color designators of church will one day fade into history and that we will become wise as a shoe shine man and with our diversity, uniqueness and varying backgrounds settle only for being part of God's church.

Diversity's Symphony from Emanate Media, Samson Varughese on Vimeo.

 


When You're Done With Church

I shared some info this morning at church that struck a nerve with some of the people in attendance. This wasn't a controversial topic or something from Scripture that necessarily elicits debate. It was a reference to a segment of people in our culture who used to be faithful, active and engaged in their churches, but now are done.

That's right, they're DONE.

Lightstock_116950_medium_david_tarkingtonAs a parallel to the popular NONE grouping that researchers have identified among the American population (those who designate "NONE" as their religion of choice) the DONES truly exist and most of us who serve in church or have been a part of a local church for any length of time can attest, we know them.

Here's the information I presented from Thom Schultz's blog "Holy Soup":

At Group’s recent Future of the Church conference, sociologist Josh Packard shared some of his groundbreaking research on the Dones. He explained these de-churched were among the most dedicated and active people in their congregations. To an increasing degree, the church is losing its best.

For the church, this phenomenon sets up a growing danger. The very people on whom a church relies for lay leadership, service and financial support, are going away. And the problem is compounded by the fact that younger people in the next generation, the Millennials, are not lining up to refill the emptying pews.

Why are the Dones done? Packard describes several factors in his upcoming book, Church Refugees (Group). Among the reasons: After sitting through countless sermons and Bible studies, they feel they’ve heard it all. One of Packard’s interviewees said, “I’m tired of being lectured to. I’m just done with having some guy tell me what to do.”

The Dones are fatigued with the Sunday routine of plop, pray and pay. They want to play. They want to participate. But they feel spurned at every turn.

Will the Dones return? Not likely, according to the research. They’re done. Packard says it would be more fruitful if churches would focus on not losing these people in the first place. Preventing an exodus is far easier than attempting to convince refugees to return.

Of course, as I mentioned this morning, there is a danger in shirking the Gospel for the sake of keeping attendees in church. Sometimes, those within the fellowship who are disheartened and frustrated are so due to personal sin, perhaps, or lack of understanding God's vision for the church. Of course, there is also the real possibility that the church leadership is missing the message of the Gospel as well and moving forward with no thought to the church membership at all. 

Nevertheless, in the church where the Gospel is preached, Gos is worshipped in spirit and truth and the pastor and leaders are seeking the face of God and leading humbly, there are still some within the body who have served, declare their love for God and yet, find themselves done with it all.

And this truly is a problem. 

While it’s easy for an expert to proclaim what to do at a conference (no disrespect intended - I appreciate the data,) the reality is that without a movement of God among His church, a willingness for his church to listen to Him, and ultimately do as He is guiding and live for Him, we will not “gain the land” so to speak and when a generation forfeits this simple plan, the “nones” are born and a generation is lost.

I, for one, am not willing to forfeit the calling.


"Touring Heaven" - A Marketable Genre, But Bad Theology

There have been numerous books, and even movie adaptations, focusing on heaven experiences over the past few years. It seems that the infatuation with angels that many in our culture had in the 1980s and 1990s has been replaced with stories of "touring heaven." These stories of people dying, going to heaven, encountering dead loved ones, strange animals, Oz-like venues and even hanging out with Jesus personally have become best-sellers. 

I would say that most of the lure of these stories has little to do with God and Jesus and much more to do with the seeking of hope and answers regarding the eternity and whereabouts of loved ones who have died. As I have had the honor and privilege of preaching at numerous funeral services, the grieving families and friends are often grasping to know if they'll ever see their loved ones again.

I believe that is the pull of such stories as Todd & Colton Burpo's book Heaven is For Real

For some time, even though many Christian bookstores and sales outlets have carried the "Heaven Tourism" genre of books, many believers have warned of the dangers of such books, declaring them unbiblical. 

Heaven tourism is in the news again this week due to the revealing letter written by Kevin Malarkey, author of one of the first popular books in this genre titled The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven (since pulled by the publisher and removed from most bookstores.) Here's the content of his letter to LifeWay and other booksellers:

An Open Letter to Lifeway and Other Sellers, Buyers, and Marketers of Heaven Tourism, by the Boy Who Did Not Come Back From Heaven.

10928626_10204948860017913_449404330_n-1Please forgive the brevity, but because of my limitations I have to keep this short.

I did not die. I did not go to Heaven.

I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention. When I made the claims that I did, I had never read the Bible. People have profited from lies, and continue to. They should read the Bible, which is enough. The Bible is the only source of truth. Anything written by man cannot be infallible.

It is only through repentance of your sins and a belief in Jesus as the Son of God, who died for your sins (even though he committed none of his own) so that you can be forgiven may you learn of Heaven outside of what is written in the Bible…not by reading a work of man. I want the whole world to know that the Bible is sufficient. Those who market these materials must be called to repent and hold the Bible as enough. 

In Christ,

Alex Malarkey.

Alex is a quadriplegic as a result of the accident that prompted his heaven story and the subsequent book. The letter is brief, but to the point and is affirmed by his mother, who began sharing of Alex's recounting of his story as far back as 2012. 

Some would say that Alex's statements do not disavow the entire genre of stories and ultimately, that would be true. However, it should be noted that the sufficiency of Scripture is paramount here. No extra-biblical accounts are truly needed if we believe in the inerrancy and infallibility of God's Word. 

While more stories and personal accounts will undoubtedly rise up, more movies will be made (there's a "90 Minutes in Heaven" one in the works, apparently) and more books published, I would encourage people to skip these stories of false comfort and go to the source itself. 

In my previous post regarding this subject, I shared Dr. David Platt's (President of the International Mission Board, SBC) addresses this. His clarity is refreshing. I re-share that video here for you to view:

 


A Challenge to a New Generation: Part 3

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We are a forgetful people. Whether it's our keys, where we parked or even loved ones' birthdays, there are times we forget important things. The tragic thing is when we forget God. . .and yes, it happens. This message looks at God's warning for when we forget.

Remember


A Challenge to a New Generation: Part 2

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We love lists and at the end of each year, numerous "Top Ten" lists trend, but what if you had to designate one Bible verse as #1? Which one would you say? Which one did Jesus was was at the top?

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