When Graduation Becomes a Protest

Students are putting on ill-fitting mortarboards and unattractive robes as symbols of accomplishment throughout our nation. It is that time of year where high school students receive their diplomas and college and university students are honored with their degrees. 

Commencement ceremonies, with all the pomp and circumstance, are wonderful events. They bring families and friends together for a time of celebration. For many parents of college students, the moment feels like their boss just gave them a raise (that is if they were paying for their child's schooling.) 

Yet, as we now know with our cultural and sexual revolution in full-swing, no public gathering will take place without a worldview divide revealed. Division has always existed among people, but the lines have shifted most recently and dramatically, at that. 

Everything is Political

Politics is divisive by nature. It always has been. Yet, now more than ever in the US with President Trump's administration in place and the Republican led House and Senate, the dividing lines seem to be painted more boldly. Of course, it may be due to the vast increase of media outlets online and the mostly left-leaning mainstream traditional news outlets. Thus, the battle for the news, whether it be real or fake.

Recent incidents have revealed the political and social worldview divide on the public stage. Recently, graduates from Bethune-Cookman University loudly protested the introduction of commencement speaker, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.  The disruption at the ceremony led the university's president to threaten cancellation of the ceremony with a promise to mail the degrees to the graduates. Secretary DeVos was allowed to continue her speech at that point. (Story here.)

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Most recently, the most popular Roman Catholic university in the United States, Notre Dame, held it's graduation ceremony. It too made headlines based on a student protest. Vice President Mike Pence was the guest speaker and when introduced, a large crowd of students stood and exited the room. It was noticeable and captured on video to be shared globally. News agencies picked up the story and while it was unprecedented, it was far from surprising. 

Why the protest of Pence?

News sites have numerous interviews with students and seem to be leaning on two stories as to why the protest occurred. One has to do with Pence's position in the Trump administration. Therefore, President Trump's immigration policies among many other things, were being protested by the students. 

The other issue had to do with Pence's positions on family, marriage, abortion and LGBT views that were center-stage when Vice President Pence served as Governor of the state of Indiana. Pence's views and opinions on these issues have not shifted and that is the problem.

 

It's strange, however, that the public views and policies of the Vice President actually line up with the stated views of the doctrines of the Roman Catholic church and therefore, of the University of Notre Dame. Yet, it is at this university where a divide was viewed most clearly. That is what makes this even more intriguing. If this protest took place at the University of Florida, Florida State University or any other publicly funded university, there would be no story. But, this was at a religious university, affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church. 

The New York Times reports...

“Of course we welcome and support free speech on campus,” Mr. Miranda (Luis Miranda - a 29-year-old masters graduate who walked out - DT)  said. “But commencement is not a moment for academic exchange or political dialogue. It’s a celebration of all of our hard work.”

Mr. Miranda added that Mr. Pence’s role in graduation was particularly unsavory for some students and their families — including gay people and immigrants — who might have been hurt by the policies favored by the Trump administration.

Protest organizers estimated that more than 100 people had walked out. On social media, many could be seen wearing rainbow pins or flags, which were also hung from windows around the campus as a symbol of gay pride.

And there it is.

A few things stand out to me, but primarily, as a parent who has funded one university graduate's complete tuition and fees and currently is doing the same for another, the statement that the commencement ceremony is "a celebration of all our hard work" reeks of self-centeredness. But, who can blame him. In a culture where child-worship begins at birth and lasts through adolescence into young adulthood, this is expected.

While I do not know Mr. Miranda, nor do I know how he paid for his education, I do feel it safe to say that the majority of graduates have experiences from childhood through elementary, junior high, high school and college that reveal others along the way who supported, provided and sweat along with them for this special day. Of course, I understand that the student is the one receiving the degree. The study, work, and testing was done by that student and it was and is hard. Believe me, I'm back in school as well.

Nevertheless, a self-centric focus that states that the event is "all about me" is asinine and wrong. 

Mr. Miranda's family may applaud his protest. I just wonder how many other parents of students who walked out felt betrayed, not by the commencement speaker (even if they disagreed with Mr. Pence greatly) but by their student for daring to do what they did? Truth be told - I have one child who would likely want to walk out as did the protestors at Notre Dame, for the very same reasons. I would disagree with just about every reason. Betrayal would be one feeling that would surface.

It's a mixed bag. I'm sure some were heralded as bold while others were chastised by loved ones. 

Yet, the point is clear - we live in a divided culture. Is it more so than in the past? That's hard to determine. We didn't live in the past with the age and experience we now have. Yet, historical analysis reveals that our dividing lines are pretty unique. The sexual and LGBT revolution have determined such.

I think back to my graduation from the university. It was a big deal. I finally made it. However, do you know what I don't remember?

I don't remember who the commencement speaker was. Neither do I remember what he or she said.

I do remember that I didn't walk out.

Of course, I'm sure my speaker wasn't as politically connected or globally popular. Nevertheless, I graduated and my wife and parents were there with me. They celebrated along with me because my walking across that stage in Denton, Texas was as special a moment for them as it was for me.

Worldview Division

News stories like this come and go. They get shared on social media. Radio and television talking heads dissect the details. Christians get caught up in the stories as well and the danger is to not become that negative stereotype that blasts the younger generation. Seriously - being that old guy standing outside yelling "get off my yard" to the next generation is not the model we should follow.

Yet, as Christians, we must see things for what they are.

Worldviews matter. The sexual and moral revolutions in our culture have and are happening at breakneck speed. It's evident in these graduation ceremonies. More things like what happened at Notre Dame will happen and will eventually not make the news - because it will be so common.

Christians are forced with hard questions of faith and biblical truth. When the dividing lines have been drawn (regardless who drew them,) on what side do those who seek to follow God's Word stand?

Loving people is not up for a vote. It is a mandated command from Christ. Nevertheless, love does not mean total absolution of biblical truth. In fact, it means just the opposite. Love does not mean affirmation for sin. This is the challenge of the church—how to love God, love people, and make disciples of Christ without compromise or becoming the negative stereotype that those on the other side of the divide are devising? 

It is possible. It is happening. One protestor held a sign that said "Love Trumps Hate" with obvious intonations toward the President. Even in the snarky protest, the truth is on that placard. Love does trump hate. Love does win. Just not the version of love that culture defines. 

The win is found in the Gospel—the Good News. The good news is that God loves. So. Very. Much. And that love through Jesus Christ gives us hope. That love is not self-centric. That love is God.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 (ESV)


Is Wednesday Really a Church Night?

Here in the South, the previously known "Bible Belt," many local schools and youth sports leagues used to avoid scheduling games and practices on Wednesday evenings. Some leagues and schools still avoid this day for sports. For those who live anywhere else in the United States or Canada, this seems odd. 

WHY IS WEDNESDAY ANY DIFFERENT THAN OTHER WEEKDAYS?

The answer is simple, and it has nothing to do with it being "Hump Day"! (You just said that sentence like the camel in the GEICO commercials didn't you?)

For decades, Wednesday has been viewed as the "other holy day" on the evangelical church's weekly calendar. 

Sundays have been the gathering day for churches for, oh about two thousand years, but Wednesdays? That's another story.

I found an online forum where someone asked "When did Wednesday church become a thing, and why?" Here are some of the most common answers...

  • Growing up Lutheran in heavily Catholic Buffalo, I never heard about church on Wednesday. In the various cities where I've lived, same thing: church services were held on Sunday, with the popular Saturday night services for Catholics. I never heard of church on Wednesday until I moved to northeast Ohio. When I tell others about it, the response is generally along the lines of "Well, duh!", as if I told them I didn't know people went to church on Sunday.
  • Never heard of it. I've lived in Philadelphia, Miami, Houston and several countries other than the USA.
  • A Wednesday evening service is standard in the Protestant South.
  • I've always associated it with the Baptists. Seems all my Baptist students have some church activity or another scheduled for Wednesday night. Never any other denomination, to my recollection.
  • Most Baptist and Evangelical Christian churches that I'm aware of, both east coast and west coast, have Wednesday night services. I've been to them in California, Ohio, Atlanta and Florida.
  • When I last attended public school (Iowa, early 1980s), I assumed Wednesday was the night for church youth groups. Didn't know it was part of any denomination, altho our district was probably 75% mainstream Protestant and another 20% Holy Joe.
  • I grew up in South Dakota, and Wednesday nights were always 'Church Night', and there were no activities related to school (such as sports, besides practices) pretty much statewide. In fact, the calendar included with the monthly school bulletin had all Wednesdays marked as 'Church Night'.
  • Relatively few churches around here have mid-week services. A few have contemporary services and I suppose some of them are held on Wednesdays, but not to the extent that it would have a big impact on secular scheduling. I suspect it may be more a tradition in Baptist churches, though I'm basing that on the one Baptist family I'm friends with....and that is more their Awana night, which I think is like an intensive Sunday School for the kids. I suppose if there is a large concentration of Baptists in your area then it may be tradtional to schedule around that night. But us United Methodists don't block that day out permanently.
  • I grew up in Texas. My family was Methodist, and our church did nothing special on Wednesdays. However, Wednesday evening services seemed nearly universal among the local Baptist* churches, of which there were many. Wednesday was "off the table" when setting the practice schedules in the local youth soccer league, for example, and the reason why did not normally need to be explicitly mentioned in conversation; it was considered common knowledge.

Well, it seems the South is not the only Wednesday church area, but as the comments reveal, there is an obvious reality here. For highly churched areas (where Baptists are a majority it seems,) Wednesdays have been a staple for decades. The comment that the local youth soccer league had Wednesdays "off the table" regarding practices and games is more common in southern and midwestern areas. Yet, even that trend is changing.

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WEDNESDAYS NIGHTS - THE SACRED COW OF MANY CHURCHES

In a recent conference I attended led by Tony Morgan, he asked about the very real issue of "sacred cows" in our local churches. Borrowing the term from Hinduism, the Baptist and evangelical sacred cows have nothing to do with the walking beef we see in fields and on ranches. The sacred cows that develop in our churches are ministries or programs that have developed in our churches having most likely experienced their era of usefulness, but still remain in the budget or on the calendar. They remain because no one in leadership is bold enough to say "that needs to go or change." One pastor at the conference responded that Sunday School was a sacred cow in his church. You could almost hear the air leave the room. For many Baptists, Sunday School has been untouchable. It is the the one program that must never be eliminated or changed, it seems. At least that's how many feel. Yet, this pastor mentioned it and many others in the room (myself included) agreed that in some cases, even Sunday School may need to change or be eliminated based on a church's structure, model, and culture. 

I'm not saying Christian education and discipleship need to go, but an ineffective model may.

Wednesday night programming is something that also may need to be addressed. 

The same questions many churches are asking about Wednesday evening programming were asked about Sunday evening programming not that long ago.  I see very few churches in our city pushing a traditional Sunday evening service schedule. While some do (and it works for them), most are going to home groups, special events, committee meetings, or simply nothing on Sunday evenings. 

One pastor I know says that the sign of a dying church is when they cancel Sunday night services. Try as he may to prove that statement correct, many churches have proven that wrong. Ultimately, a calendared event is not the sign of a healthy, growing church.

But, what about Wednesday?

I do believe there is validity in having a mid-week gathering for Bible Study, fellowship and other things for the local church. However, those gatherings do not have to be large group settings. They also do not have to happen in a church's facility. For student ministry, a mid-week worship service or Bible teaching time is great. In fact, many teenagers may connect mid-week where they would never on an early Sunday morning. Yet, just because a youth service gathered 100 students ten years ago does not mean it will today. That is true for all ministries. As long as we are organized and structured to do what worked a decade or two ago, we will continue to develop ministry strategies designed to reach people that existed a decade or two ago.

With the growth of church plants and churches who rent space in schools and other locations on weekends, the idea of a mid-week gathering at a church building is not an option.

WEDNESDAY IS NOT REALLY A CHURCH DAY

We categorize church days as those when the church meets for worship and gathers together. For the vast majority of us, that day is Sunday. Though, with changing schedules and church space issues, some churches have "church day" on Saturday or another day of the week.

When speaking of Wednesday as a "church day" it hearkens back to an era when even those not in church agreed that church activities (mostly children and youth activities) were on Wednesdays and should be. Therefore, nothing else would be scheduled to compete with that.

Those days are gone.

Perhaps church leaders should put Wednesdays on the table for evaluation and have honest discussions regarding the mid-week schedule? I am not advocating the cancellation of Wednesday activities. However, I am advocating an honest discussion on the viability of such mid-week gatherings. If a church holds Wednesday services solely because it always has...that's the making of a sacred cow at worst, or a frustrating ministry at the least.

BUT, WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY?

Once you start talking about ministries, programs, and schedules in church, people get really concerned. The good thing about such concern is it often pushes church members to the point of asking questions that were never addressed prior. Questions like "Why?"

Does the Bible say that we need to gather together as a church? Does the Bible say that we need to do that twice on Sunday and again on Wednesday? What does it say?

The writer of Hebrews gives us this information that should be taken to heart when considering the need for corporate worship and the gathering together of the church.

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

The Christian should not be seeking ways to NOT gather together and meet as the church. The Hebrew writer makes this clear. There is value and power when two or more are gathered in Christ's name. As Christians, we do need each other and there is much value in coming together for worship, fellowship, study, and prayer. In fact, these should be non-negotiable.

There are numerous examples of the church gathered throughout the New Testament. In fact, each letter of Paul written to a church was to be read to the people as they were gathered, which was considered normative and expected.

In the book of Acts, we see a snapshot of one of these gatherings with Paul

On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight. - Acts 20:7 ESV

Therefore, the question is not "Should the church gather often?" That answer is a resounding YES and the Bible speaks of that. In a culture where interconnectedness occurs in various ways through personal interaction (still the best) and through telephone, texting, social media, etc. there is even more need for the church to be connected. Yet, the question must be asked by each church regarding weekly schedules.

Oh, and just because you ask "Should we meet on Wednesdays?" does not mean the answer must be NO. In fact, for many churches the very best time to connect during the week with fellow Christians and community members remains Wednesday evenings. Just don't allow the long-held traditions of what Wednesday church has been become a "sacred cow" and leave you perpetuating a broken model that does not help make disciples or engage an unsaved world.

Oh, and don't be that church that looks down on other churches for having the gall to change the weekly schedule. That's how Pharisees are made.

 


The Questions Pastors Must Ask

It seems that as pastors and ministry leaders we continually find a full calendar of events and "opportunities" for those in our church. All this is good, because the ultimate goal is to reach more people for Christ and to make disciples.

Yet, is it possible that our programming may be doing more harm than good?

Questions that must be asked regularly are:

  • What should we keep doing?
  • What should we stop doing?
  • What should we start doing?

Easier said than done, but it must be done. Otherwise, we will just keep greasing the gears of this machine called the local church and could miss the mission.

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Photo credit: Ciccio Pizzettaro via Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-SA

Seriously! Why Do We Need ANOTHER Church on Fleming Island?

By now, many in our community know we're launching a new campus of our church in the community known as Fleming Island (yeah, we know...it's not really an island.) When those in our launch team and others in the church share about this new campus to meet in Paterson Elementary School, the most common question asked is "Why do we need another church on Fleming Island?"

Great question.

When I open Google Maps and type "church" in the search box, the following appear on the map (and to be honest, that's not all the churches that gather on "the island."

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Granted, these churches express a wide variety of faith traditions. While all have the name "church" on their signs or websites, there are some pretty significant differences among doctrine held by those gathering. So, I'll just speak of those who are in our tribe (Southern Baptist) and in our denomination, there are already three SBC churches in this area. That leads to an even more pointed question, right?

Why do we need another Baptist church on Fleming Island?

Jon Wood, our Campus Minister, wrote of this on his blog not too long ago. Here's what Jon wrote (blog here):

We don't need another church on Fleming Island. But, we do need new disciples of Jesus Christ and the best way to make new disciples is through new work. Here are some stats that have been discovered over recent years in the US regarding church planting and community engagement:

  • A new church gains 60-80% of its membership from new conversions.
  • A new church baptizes 1 person for every 13 members (legacy churches have a ratio of 1 baptism for every 52 members)
  • A new church will bring six to eight times more new people into the life of the body of Christ than an older congregation the same size.

While there are nuances to every statistical analysis, these have proven to be true, especially as we see the rise of the "Nones" in our culture. Hey, do you remember the "Bible Belt"? Yeah, that's fiction. The truth of the matter is that even with almost 20 churches of various flavors on Fleming Island, there are more people living in the community disconnected and unengaged from church and more importantly from Christ than there are those who attend and participate regularly.

We've talked with some of the pastors of sister churches in the area and all agree - no one is doing enough to reach these people.

So, opportunities present themselves. A venue is open. God provides funding and leadership. Through prayer and seeking His lead, we step into a story that some say we should've been in about twenty years ago. Yet, now is the time. It's time for a new campus on Fleming Island.

Every new church plant and pastor starts with the same concept. I've heard it dozens of times - "We want to reach the people other churches aren't." 

It's not revolutionary. I mean, what pastor would actually say "We just want to reach the people who already attend other churches but are bored and need something 'cooler'?" No one says that. Well, some people actually strategize to do that, but no pastor would ever say that.

So, we are pushing against the easy way. Anyone can build a crowd. Most people have enough friends at other churches who will "help just to get it started" and develop a gathering. In some cases, it feels like success. Yet, if all we do is plant a new campus or church and simply borrow (or steal) members from other churches, we are doing a disservice to the Kingdom. That happens all too often. 

What If?

What if this works? I mean, really works. What if God has positioned us to come alongside our sister churches and those unengaged nones actually get reached?

We believe. 

But it won't be easy.

How We Will Know If We've Done This Wrong

And, if we end up with a room full of people gathering weekly who have a church membership resume of local churches that reveals little more than systematic hopping to the latest version of church (you know, the church that "meets my needs" or "feeds me") then we will be guilty of launching a church campus that was not only NOT needed, but harmful for Kingdom growth.

That's not the goal (and seriously, why would it be?) But, apparently this happens often. So, we have to continually push against that model.

The unengaged and unsaved population dwarfs the church crowd. (Well, in some cases the church crowd actually could be categorized as unsaved. Yeah...I said it.) That's why we need another church on Fleming Island. That's why we need to pray for our sister churches on the island who are preaching the Gospel and making disciples as well.

Maybe....just maybe....we're supposed to reach this community together? 


God Hates Divorce...But, What About Divorce in Same-Sex Marriages?

It seems that we are addressing issues that were never even thought of prior to our current era.

While the nuances may be unique, the truth remains. There truly is "nothing new under the sun.

We are almost two years removed from the landmark Obergefell vs. Hodges case where the US Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage throughout the United States. 

As predicted, churches and Christian denominations began to discuss, or continued discussions, related to the recognition of such unions and the hosting of same-sex weddings. As expected, traditionally conservative denominations and churches have mostly held to the orthodox view that biblical marriage being between one man and one woman for . On the other hand, churches with more moderate or liberal viewpoints have declared acceptance of such unions. In some cases, strong affirmation has been stated. Truth be told, most of these groups had walked away from biblical inerrancy and truth so many decades prior that to have them state anything other than affirmation for that which stands opposed to biblical truth would be shocking.

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Photo credit: peetje2 via Visualhunt / CC BY-NC-SA

While the law of the land is likely not changing, the marginalization of those holding to traditional, biblically orthodox viewpoint will increase. This seems to be inevitable.

Many conservative evangelicals (of which I would be counted) continue to seek engagement of those in our communities and neighborhoods with the truth of the Gospel, while not capitulating on what we deem to be biblical truth. This leads to conversations with those self-identifying as LGBT. I do mean conversations, in that engagement with those in our community requires both talking and listening. Yet, based on the wide differences between the culturally-accepted and prevalent worldview and the biblical one, these honest conversations will eventually be less about the weather, sports, and our children's school events and ultimately will lead to deeper questions regarding truth and life. Missional engagement requires such.

Marriage and Divorce

When conversing about same-sex marriage, the evangelical church must readily admit that the track record for pure heterosexual marriage, even within the church, has not always been stellar.

For far too long, many churches (even, conservative evangelical ones) have winked at divorce among members and many pastors have refused to preach on the topic for fear of an upheaval among members (and likely financial supporters.) The sin of omission regarding divorce lands under the category of "fear of man" and therefore is often never addressed. So, in this sense, when Christians started railing against the prospect of the legalization of same-sex marriage, many on the other side of the debate responded with accusations of hypocrisy based on the divorce rate and broken families of those standing under the "family values" banner.

The church must have a biblical stance on same-sex marriage. However, in many cases, the church must reevaluate it's stance on heterosexual marriage as well and seek to value it more deeply.

God speaks of this.

"Let marriage be held in honor by all..." (Hebrews 13:4a ESV)

Conversely, He declares his opinion regarding divorce.

"For I hate divorce, says the Lord..." (Malachi 2:16 NASB)

Most of us who have been in church at length have heard the verse from Malachi. Other translations allude to that phrase as well. As the context reveals, God's desire is that covenants be kept. The passage states much more than just this one phrase and actually declares why divorce is hated by God. Click here to read more from gotquestions.org on this matter.

The question remains...

Let's presume the Bible to be true (which I do) and that God's truth is absolute regardless of culture, circumstances, or the reader of the Word's preference. In our current state where legalized marriage between two people of the same gender exists, how does God's view same-sex divorce?

This is the question never addressed by prior generations because the boundaries of acceptable morality and legal definitions were different. Yet, today, here we are.

Does God hate gay divorce?

The Bible does give instances where divorce is allowed. Yet, in every case, the relational definition remains heterosexual. Even when a believer marries a non-believer (which is not God's desire, either) the marital union between man and woman fits the design by God as expressed in Scripture. Dr. Russell Moore of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the SBC stated it well in this article from Christianity.com...

Even if these marriages were entered into sinfully in the first place, they are in fact marriages (emphasis added) because they signify the Christ/church bond of the one-flesh union (Eph. 5:22-31), embedded in God’s creation design of male and female together (Mk. 10:6-9).

Therefore, from a biblical viewpoint, the marriage between two men or two women does not represent the image of the covenant relationship between Christ and the church. In other words, though legal in the eyes of the state, biblically the relationship is not truly a marriage.

Moore's statement continues...

Same-sex relationships do not reflect that cosmic mystery, and thus by their very nature signify something other than the gospel. The question of what repentance looks like in this case is to flee immorality (1 Cor. 6:18), which means to cease such sexual activity in obedience to Christ (1 Cor. 6:11). A state, or church decree of these relationships as marital do not make them so.

And...that means divorce, from a biblical standpoint, does not actually enter the equation. God hates divorce. This truth has not changed. However, in the case of same-sex marital relationship, there is no marriage biblically and therefore, no divorce.

 


GUEST POST: "Hard to be a Christian in the 'Church World'" by Ashley O'Brien

Ashley O'Brien has been active in church her entire life, raised in a pastor's family and now serving on the Leadership Team of firstFAMILY (FBC Orange Park) as Director of Social Media

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I genuinely get excited when someone surrenders their life to Christ. When a person listens to God and steps out to serve and be a part of something bigger makes me glad. It's inspiring and exciting when a man and wife plant a church intent on reaching the unreached. It's so exciting when Christians act like Christians! I love when people get excited about the Gospel and have to do something about it. However, sometimes it seems the steps taken seem to be focused wrongly. That's is what has led to my frustration.

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Ashley and her husband Jordan

I, just like other Christians, want to reach people for Christ. I want everyone to be involved in church -  a solid, biblically-focused church. I want people to know what they are getting into when they accept Christ. I believe they should feel at home when they enter the church's facility. Like many, I want to create a place that is attractive and inviting and what some would call “trendy.” Yet, I don’t want to sacrifice the Gospel for that. Jesus himself is attractional to a degree. Just look at the crowds that gathered to see him during his time of ministry around Galilee.  Of course, not everyone in the crowd were truly followers. In fact, most were not followers of Jesus, just fans. Jesus' words were offensive. The religious leaders didn't like what he said. Eventually, those who were just there for the show walked away. Apparently, they were offended as well, or perhaps when they truly listened to what Jesus was saying (i.e. "Carry your cross") they decided it was too much. 

Too many churches are founded on how to make church look “cool.” The flashy lights, the cool logo, the unusual name that hides the fact the group is truly a church all are part of the marketing strategy to reach Millennials. The great graphics and promos, the promise of free food and maybe a coffee mug, or whatever gets people to take a second look, to ask a question, to check it out are used by just about every new church, church plant, and legacy church seeking to engage the culture. In many cases, these things work. The room is filled. People come. Even Millennials show up. That’s the target audience is seems for most new churches now. And though it is exciting to reach this generation (my generation), the "stuff" that's offered can sometimes be nothing but "fluff." That’s the frustrating part. We fill the “church facility" (whether it's an established church building, a rented school cafeteria, a theater, warehouse, or even restaurant) but are we seeing transformations? Are we seeing people surrender their lives to Christ? Or are we filling up a room for an awesome production for people who look like they are worshipping (and in truth, many truly are) and appear to understand what God is saying through the pastor's message. But, let's be honest. sometimes the appearance or worship and engagement are based on what we think we're supposed to look like. You know, "This picture of me standing and worshipping will look great on Instagram or Snapchat!" Sorry, if that sounds cynical, but I have grown up in the era of big worship production events and while I love the music and the gatherings, it is just way too easy to fall into the trap of performance (even when you're not on stage) rather than truly worship.

It’s hard being a Christian in the world for obvious reasons. This is not earth-shattering. It's always been hard to be a Christian in the world. Why? Because the world never celebrates Christ. Believe me, as difficult as it is to be a follower of Christ in a post-Christian culture, I know what we face here in the west truly does not even compare to what our brothers and sisters in Christ face throughout the world, especially where persecution means death and not just being made fun of on social media. 

Yet, I’m finding it becoming more difficult to be a Christian in the "church world." This was something I never expected. My frustration is growing in the area of church life that seems so close, but yet so far from what living missionally truly is.

I want to invite people to church, but I won’t apologize for when they hear the Gospel preached. If anything other than the biblical message is preached, then calling the gathering a church is debatable.

If a church spends all their capital seeking to not look or sound like God's church, then at some level either the Gospel is not being preached or the group has pulled off little more than a "bait and switch." It's one thing for the pastor to be versed in apologetics (contending for the Gospel and defending the faith,) but something totally different if the pastor is apologizing for the Gospel, seeking not to offend.

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I would feel dissatisfied if all they heard was a therapeutic message. These types of messages are prominent and the crowd can listen without being able to discern if the message was from from the Bible or just a self-help book. The Gospel is offensive. It is truth. And, we all know that at times, the truth hurts. We don’t need to create churches that ignore truth. We don’t need another pastor building his kingdom and ultimately mar the Christian name. We don’t need a church that stands alone, either overtly or covertly building their crowds from those already attending solid (and maybe multi-generational) churches in the area. We need something else ... and I have no idea what that is, other than the truth and the Gospel.

New church plants are exciting. I believe they're needed. The numbers bear this out. My generation is growing less and less connected with the church. Yet, superficial fluffy entertainment-driven gatherings are not really the answer, are they?

So, from my perspective, our current churches, new campuses, and new church plants must have these:

  • Founded on Truth not a pastor's personality
  • Deemed successfully engaging not by how many Christians from other churches they can gather in a room weekly, but by how many lost are reached
  • Brokenness for the lost in the community, even if they don't fit the prescribed demographic of choice
  • Seeking the unengaged, not just the disgruntled attenders of other churches
  • Passion for the Gospel
  • Love of God
  • Love of people
  • Desire to make disciples...not just photogenic "worshippers"

As Christians, if we are obedient to what God has called us to do, God will be obedient to what He said he will do.

So, your gathering may have really cool stage lights and a smoke machine (those aren't bad...our church has them), a worship leader and band that does well, and maybe some really good coffee (free trade coffee, of course) and a bagel or even a free coffee mug or T-shirt for first time guests.  In fact, there's nothing wrong with any of those things. Do it. I like coffee mugs and free T-shirts.

But...don't miss the point.

Churches don't exist for us. They're for God. They're his to begin with.

Be attractional. No issue there, just don't focus so much on the things that don't matter in eternity and miss the Gospel.

Church planting is an exciting and scary adventure for most. I pray those pastors and launch team members hold tight to the truth and the reason behind it all. Reaching lost people for Christ.


It's Not Just the Prosperity Gospel That's the Problem - The Dangers of the Therapeutic Gospel

The Prosperity Gospel

As Baptists and Bible-believing evangelicals, the lies of the prosperity gospel are easily identified. This "name it and claim it" theological version of the gospel that lives somewhere at the far-end of DirecTV and on late-night television has been gathered funds from less-than-discerning followers for years. Years ago John Piper took a moment at a conference where he was speaking to share about his feeling regarding the prosperity gospel. It went viral and a few versions of that brief message are available on YouTube. I've linked one below:

For the most part, pastors and church leaders in the Baptist and evangelical world discount the false promises of the prosperity gospel and distance themselves from such. 

However, there is another false gospel that exists and it seems to be gaining traction, even within the framework of biblically-centered Gospel-focused churches. Sometimes, it sneaks in as a "short-term small group study" and sometimes in sermons or Sunday School classes.

The Therapeutic Gospel

We live in an age where therapy is not only accepted but marketed as needful for all. When it comes to therapy, I do not discount the need for such. I believe in counseling as a help for those in need. As a pastor, I offer counseling as well. Biblical counseling (not to be confused with what is often marketed under the broad term "Christian Counseling") is a powerful use of offering help and hope to those in need through the inerrant truth revealed in Scripture.

It's the focus on "felt needs" that drives this.

David Powlinson, author, teacher, and counselor shared these distinctions regarding the contemporary therapeutic gospel back in 2010. Not much has changed (full article here).

The most obvious, instinctual felt needs of twenty-first century, middle-class Americans are different from the felt needs that Dostoevsky tapped into (in his book The Brothers Karamazov). We take food supply and political stability for granted. We find our miracle-substitute in the wonders of technology. Middle-class felt needs are less primal. They express a more luxurious, more refined sense of self-interest:

  1. I want to feel loved for who I am, to be pitied for what I’ve gone through, to feel intimately understood, to be accepted unconditionally;
  2. I want to experience a sense of personal significance and meaningfulness, to be successful in my career, to know my life matters, to have an impact;
  3. I want to gain self-esteem, to affirm that I am okay, to be able to assert my opinions and desires;
  4. I want to be entertained, to feel pleasure in the endless stream of performances that delight my eyes and tickle my ears;
  5. I want a sense of adventure, excitement, action, and passion so that I experience life as thrilling and moving.

The modern, middle-class version of therapeutic gospel takes its cues from this particular family of desires. We might say that the target audience consists of psychological felt needs, rather than the physical felt needs that typically arise in difficult social conditions. (The contemporary “health and wealth” gospel and obsession with “miracles” express something more like the Grand Inquisitor’s older version of therapeutic gospel.)

In this new gospel, the great “evils” to be redressed do not call for any fundamental change of direction in the human heart. Instead, the problem lies in my sense of rejection from others; in my corrosive experience of life’s vanity; in my nervous sense of self-condemnation and diffidence; in the imminent threat of boredom if my music is turned off; in my fussy complaints when a long, hard road lies ahead. These are today’s significant felt needs that the gospel is bent to serve. Jesus and the church exist to make you feel loved, significant, validated, entertained, and charged up. This gospel ameliorates distressing symptoms. It makes you feel better. The logic of this therapeutic gospel is a jesus-for-Me who meets individual desires and assuages psychic aches.

Pastors lament the consumer mentality of many in the world today and yet, sometimes that which is complained about is propped up unknowingly by a version of the gospel that is less than complete. A less-than-complete gospel is a false gospel.

Signs That Your Church Members Just Want Therapy, Not the Gospel

Tweet: Every pastor, at some point in time, will hear church members state that they're looking for a new church. https://ctt.ec/KqG2f+Every pastor, at some point in time, will hear church members state that they're looking for a new church.

Most often the church members and friends do not state these directly, but just fade away in attendance and participation and eventually share that phrase with mutual friends or other church members. Then, over time, that phrase hits the ears of leadership.Sometimes God actually calls members of a local body of believers to unite elsewhere. However, unless that calling leads to missional engagement and missionary living, it all to often seems to be based on a desire for a new version of church, and sometimes is fueled by disagreement with pastoral leadership, theology, or programming.In all candor, it has been my experience that theological differences rarely are the tipping point. This proves to be the case when members join another local church that holds to the very same theological understandings. 

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Photo credit: Chicago Running Tours & more via Visualhunt.com / CC BY

Those who have itchy ears for the therapeutic gospel (which, in case it's not clear, is a false gospel) tend to offer one of the popular statements such as...

  • "I'm not being fed"
  • "I need...something from someone"
  • "I'm not being discipled"
  • "We need a better group for our kids"

...or other such phrase. 

Acquiescence to the therapeutic gospel is often identifiable through the overuse of "I" or "we" statements when it comes to what the church offers or does not offer. 

The church and pastoral leadership do not get a pass here. Poor leadership leads to ineffective discipleship. Inwardly focused churches are not disciple-makers. Therefore, they are prone to offer therapeutic philosophy disguised as biblical truth. Pastors and leaders must continually push against the drive (even within themselves) to build small kingdoms, keep the tithers happy, and bow to the false god of self-preservation and self-worship.

Powlinson addresses the five elements of the therapeutic gospel biblically this way:

  1. “Need for love”? It is surely a good thing to know that you are both known and loved. God who searches the thoughts and intentions of our hearts also sets his steadfast love upon us. However all this is radically different from the instinctual craving to be accepted for who I am. Christ’s love comes pointedly and personally despite who I am. You are accepted for who Christ is, because of what he did, does, and will do. God truly accepts you, and if God is for you, who can be against you? But in doing this, he does not affirm and endorse what you are like. Rather, he sets about changing you into a fundamentally different kind of person. In the real gospel you feel deeply known and loved, but your relentless “need for love” has been overthrown.
  2. “Need for significance”? It is surely a good thing for the works of your hands to be established forever: gold, silver, and precious stones, not wood, hay, and straw. It is good when what you do with your life truly counts, and when your works follow you into eternity. Vanity, futility, and ultimate insignificance register the curse upon our work life – even midcourse, not just when we retire, or when we die, or on the Day of Judgment. But the real gospel inverts the order of things presupposed by the therapeutic gospel. The craving for impact and significance – one of the typical “youthful lusts” that boil up within us – is merely idolatrous when it acts as Director of Operations in the human heart. God does not meet your need for significance; he meets your need for mercy and deliverance from your obsession with personal significance. When you turn from your enslavement and turn to God, then your works do start to count for good. The gospel of Jesus and the fruit of faith are not tailored to “meet your needs.” He frees from the tyranny of felt needs, remakes you to fear God and keep his commandments (Eccl. 12:13). In the divine irony of grace, that alone makes what you do with your life of lasting value.
  3. “Need for self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-assertion”? To gain a confident sense of your identity is a great good. Ephesians is strewn with several dozen “identity statements,” because by this the Spirit motivates a life of courageous faith and love. You are God’s – among the saints, chosen ones, adopted sons, beloved children, citizens, slaves, soldiers; part of the workmanship, wife and dwelling place – every one of these in Christ. No aspect of your identity is self-referential, feeding your “self-esteem.” Your opinion of yourself is far less important than God’s opinion of you, and accurate self-assessment is derivative of God’s assessment. True identity is God-referential. True awareness of yourself connects to high esteem for Christ. Great confidence in Christ correlates to a vote of fundamental no confidence in and about yourself. God nowhere replaces diffidence and people-pleasing by self-assertiveness. In fact, to assert your opinions and desires, as is, marks you as a fool. Only as you are freed from the tyranny of your opinions and desires are you free to assess them accurately, and then to express them appropriately.
  4. “Need for pleasure”? In fact, the true gospel promises endlessly joyous experience, drinking from the river of delights (Ps. 36). This describes God’s presence. But as we have seen in each case, this is keyed to the reversal of our instinctive cravings, not to their direct satisfaction. The way of joy is the way of suffering, endurance, small obediences, willingness to identify with human misery, willingness to overthrow your most persuasive desires and instincts. I don’t need to be entertained. But I absolutely NEED to learn to worship with all my heart.
  5. “Need for excitement and adventure”? To participate in Christ’s kingdom is to play a part within the Greatest Action-Adventure Story Ever Told. But the paradox of redemption again turns the whole world upside down. The real adventure takes the path of weakness, struggle, endurance, patience, small kindnesses done well. The road to excellence in wisdom is unglamorous. Other people might take better vacations and have a more thrilling marriage than yours. The path of Jesus calls forth more grit than thrill. He needed endurance far more than he needed excitement. His kingdom might not cater to our cravings for derring-do and thrill-seeking, but “solid joys and lasting treasures none but Zion’s children know.”

May we diligently focus on the truth of the Gospel and not settle for less than God truly offers. When our theology centers on self, and ultimately becomes a "me-ology" the church ceases to be church. This may be one of the greatest challenges we face nowadays, especially as the generations of church members and attenders dwindles. The natural response from many church leaders is to "offer what the audience wants" while sacrificing what we truly need.

What is needed? The Gospel.

The true Gospel.


Putting a Stop to the Youth Exodus in the Church

For the past few years, church leaders and evangelicals have been lamenting the loss of younger people in the church. While some new church starts and mega-box churches have seen growth in seeming success in reaching the younger generation, the statistics show a loss overall. Much has been written about this and most hearkens back to Pew Research Center's 2015 report. While that report is two years old, it is likely no significant changes have occurred.

Generational labels differ based on what study is cited or book read, but by and large, the Millennials (born between 1981 and 2000) and Generation Z/Boomlets (born after 2000 ) are trending away from the church. There's not as much data regarding Generation Z, but the older portion of the generation are in high school and graduating this year. 

Generation Z/Boomlets

This generation has been described this way (from MarketingTeacher.com):

  • In 2006 there were a record number of births in the US and 49% of those born were Hispanic, this will change the American melting pot in terms of behavior and culture. The number of births in 2006 far outnumbered the start of the baby boom generation, and they will easily be a larger generation.
  • Since the early 1700s the most common last name in the US was "Smith" but not anymore, now it is "Rodriguez."
  • There are two age groups right now:
    • Tweens.
      • Age 8-12 years old.
      • There will be an estimated 29 million tweens by 2009.
      • $51 billion is spent by tweens every year with an additional $170 billion spent by their parents and family members directly for them.
    • Toddler/Elementary school age.
  • 61 percent of children 8-17 have televisions in their rooms.
  • 35 percent have video games.
  • 14 percent have a DVD player.
  • 4 million will have their own cell phones. They have never known a world without computers and cell phones.
  • Have Eco-fatigue: they are actually tired of hearing about the environment and the many ways we have to save it.
  • With the advent of computers and web-based learning, children leave behind toys at younger and younger age. It’s called KGOY-kids growing older younger, and many companies have suffered because of it. Most recognizable is Mattel, the maker of Barbie dolls. In the 1990s the average age of a child in their target market was 10-years-old, and in 2000 it dropped to three-years-old. As children reach the age of four and five, old enough to play on the computer, they become less interested in toys and begin to desire electronics such as cell phones and video games.
  • They are savvy consumers and they know what they want and how to get it and they are over saturated with brands.

The Numbers

Pew Research shared the following:

Religious “nones” – a shorthand we use to refer to people who self-identify as atheists or agnostics, as well as those who say their religion is “nothing in particular” – now make up roughly 23% of the U.S. adult population. This is a stark increase from 2007, the last time a similar Pew Research study was conducted, when 16% of Americans were “nones.” (During this same time period, Christians have fallen from 78% to 71%.)

Overall, religiously unaffiliated people are more concentrated among young adults than other age groups – 35% of Millennials (those born 1981-1996) are “nones.” In addition, the unaffiliated as a whole are getting even younger. The median age of unaffiliated adults is now 36, down from 38 in 2007 and significantly younger than the overall median age of U.S. adults in 2014.

Yet numbers can be confusing and sometimes do not tell the full story. In a 2016 article, Pew reveals the factors leading the growth of "nones" in the US:

Indeed, our Religious Landscape Study finds a clear generational pattern: Young people who are not particularly religious seem to be much more comfortable identifying as “nones” than are older people who display a similar level of religious observance. Nearly eight-in-ten Millennials with low levels of religious commitment describe themselves as atheists, agnostics or “nothing in particular.” By contrast, just 54% of Americans in the Silent and Greatest generations who have low levels of religious commitment say they are unaffiliated; 45% claim a religion. A similarly striking gap between Millennials and others is also seen among those with a “medium” level of religious commitment.

What Can the Church Do?

Normally, at least it has been my experience, when data like this surfaces, churches and denominations react, rather than respond. In many cases, the exodus of young people comes as a surprise, all too late. Parents who had faithfully attended church, signed their children up for every program and event from AWANA to DiscipleNow, youth camp, mission trips, etc. wonder where they went wrong when the now adult child seemingly walks away from church with no intent of coming back. 

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In the past, churches would say (well, not out loud, but it was a predominant thought) "Just wait until they get married and have kids. Then, they'll come back to church." Maybe that was true a generation ago, but it doesn't seem to be now. The fact is that young parents who just attended church and were entertained as teenagers seem to find more community in social networking sites, school activities, athletic endeavors for kids, and other areas and church is not avoided...it just never come across their minds.

Yet, all hope is not lost.

Reaction is not the answer, but godly response is. 

What we are facing is not new. Have you ever read the Old Testament? When you read Moses' commands to the next generation in Deuteronomy 6 regarding the passing on of truth to the next generations, there is a since of fear in his words. The fear is that unless the family teaches of God, models worship in the home, and remembers the covenant past with God, the kids and grandkids will not only forget, but walk away. The journey away from God is not without consequence.

What faithful parent or grandparent of a prodigal hasn't shared similar lamentation in prayer?

Since trends tend to raise awareness, let's look at observable trends of those who have not abandoned the faith.

Jon Nielson, Pastor of College Church in Wheaton, Illinois, recently shared an article highlighting some of the trends he has personally observed of faithful Millennials and young adults (full article here).

  1. They are converted. Sometimes, we deem attendance as a faith indicator. Yet, just being in the youth room or the church building does not a convert make. Teenagers from "good families" who get good grades, play football, cheer, get accepted to multiple schools, etc. are considered by many in the church to be "good kids" and while they may comparatively be, the problem is when salvation is presumed. Christians truly don't abandon Christ. Church attenders and members do.
  2. They have been equipped, not entertained. Oh boy, this is big. "Come to our youth group. It's really fun!" isn't a bad thing, but when everything in the ministry is focused on the student or young person, rather than on the God we worship we perpetuate a "better than the church down the street" model that defaults to the latest events, concerts, praise band, dodgeball tournament, ski trip, and other such events (which are not bad...they're just no the ultimate point.) I'm all for fun and I like being entertained, but if we're simply creating consumers of Chrstianese rather than making disciples, no wonder the younger generation walks away. "Big church" will never be that fun. Seriously - the deacon retreat is not quite the level of youth camp. 
  3. Their parents preached the gospel to them. Better yet, their parents worshipped with them and not just at church. The gospel was lived out, modeled, and shared. Normative home life was Christ-centric. Parents who are discipled well disciple well. When the parents are not believers, the church fills the gap. The problem occurs when Christian parents outsource discipling their children to the "professional Christians" at the church. Let's just say that after decades of promoting this model, the proof is in the pudding. It does not work.

Walker Moore of Awe Star Ministries developed a model of student ministry years ago where students led. The gifting of "significant tasks" to students for the health of the ministry allows God to work in and through young people at levels where the "come into the youth room and wait for the adults to feed you" model never will. 

So, what can we do? We can remember. God has not abandoned young adults and teenagers. And, God is not through with the older generations, either. It's not like all the Boomers and Gen Xers are believers, right?

I'm not pessimistic when I read the statistics. I'm actually happy that the scales are now falling off our eyes. Sure, many are walking away, but it's not too late. We (the church) are now being forced back to Scripture and the model is clear. Disciple-making is our commission. It begins in the home, not the church building. Family equipping discipleship is more than a model. It's a biblical command (Deut 6). 

I believe God is recalibrating our focus. While we may be as fearful as Moses, the hope we have in Christ remains. So, don't lose heart. 


The Danger of Living in an Echo Chamber

Last year's election cycle revealed what many of us already knew - echo chambers exist and it's easier to see that others live within them and difficult to acknowledge when we do.

What is an "echo chamber?"

The practical definition is an enclosed space where sound reverberates...or echoes.

In this aspect, however, we are not speaking of physical sites where sound reverberations can be heard, but social sites, mostly online, but not limited to that. 

The Washington Post ran an article last year titled "Confirmed: Echo chambers exist on social media. So what do we do about them?"

In Christine Emba's report, she shares results from social scientists on the reality of such chambers. 

The study focused on how Facebook users interacted with two narratives involving conspiracy theories and science. Users belonging to different communities tended not to interact and tended to be connected only with “like-minded” friends, creating closed, non-interacting communities centered around different narratives — what the researchers called “echo chambers.” Confirmation bias accounted for users’ decisions to share certain content, creating informational cascades within their communities.

Recently, one of my online friends who holds vastly different views politically, socially, and theologically, shared a story online that was opposite my view on many levels. We discussed the views cordially and I shared the reality that the views espoused were simply echoes of others. The concept of living in an echo chamber is a reality, and I am not immune either. 

The Echo Chamber of Politics

Social scientists and political scientists have studied the surprising (to some) results of last year's US Presidential election. As results came in where states were colored either blue (Democrat) or red (Republican) to indicate Electoral College votes, our news showed the county-by-county vote totals of our state, Florida. 

I would not be surprised to see other state breakdowns to show similar results. Here are Florida's results (screenshot from The Guardian)

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Screenshot from The Guardian

For the most part, the blue counties are where large universities are located (FSU, UF, UCF, USF, UM, FIU, FAU, etc.) They are also the locations, other than Alachua County, of urban areas in our state. 

This is no surprise in that many students in university settings are challenged intellectually regarding their belief systems and sense of fairness. It seems that over the decades, many of our universities have embraced a humanist worldview that leans left ideologically, politically, and theologically. This is not news. 

However, I am not saying that individuals abandon their convictions and beliefs just because they enroll in college. In fact, no university populace is homogenous (well, except for Saturdays in the fall during football season) in their beliefs or support of ideologies. Yet, it is true that many students find themselves exposed to a worldview that sees things vastly different than the one experienced growing up under parental authority once at college.

It is at this level, the echo chamber develops. 

And it is not just in the liberal, humanistic worldview world. 

Just in case it's misunderstood, I'm not saying that the red candidate's voters were not in echo chambers. They were, too.

I am just pointing out how so many who leaned left were surprised at the election results primarily because they were trapped in an echo chamber. The same has been proven true for other sides over the years.

No one is immune.

The Christian Echo Chamber

As Christians, we must guard against the echo chamber as well.

Dr. Albert Mohler, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary shared this in The Briefing from August 4, 2016 in a story about Roger Ailes and Fox News:

But as we’re thinking about the entire question of this media ecology, there are two other issues that thinking Christians should keep in mind. This has to do with the echo chamber and what is known as confirmation bias. One of the great risks to all of us, whether of the left or the right, Christian or non-Christian, is that we will situate ourselves within a cocoon in which we hear no dissenting voices and no contrary arguments. This is probably, to be honest, more a problem for liberals than conservatives in terms of the print media because of the dominance of the liberals in major newspapers and editorial boards. But on television Fox News largely leveled the field, and now there is the risk that anyone of the left or the right or any other perspective can spend 24 hours a day listening to nothing but the echo of one’s own political positions and the bias of hearing confirmation of what one already believes.

This is where Christians need to understand the discipline of forcing ourselves to hear contrary arguments in order to understand evangelistically and apologetically the worldview of those who may not agree with us on so many issues. The political and moral—the worldview divide in America is now so deep that we can cocoon ourselves and hear almost no one who disagrees with us.

Some fear that even listening to dissenting political or ideological opinions flies too close to "the appearance of evil" but I hearken back to Paul's encounter at Mars Hill. To lovingly engage those far from God with the Gospel leads us out of the echo chamber (which for Christians can be filled with empty "Amens" on social issues apart from biblical foundation.) 

If you check my Twitter account, you'll see that I follow many people. Many of those I follow view the world through a lens (a worldview) vastly different than the biblical one I do. They hold to beliefs of Scripture that I do not. They argue in favor of things that I believe are evil and wrong or at best, short-sighted. Yet, I "follow" them. To be clear, just because I follow you online, does not mean I agree with you. 

Yet, to be clear, as a Christian I must spend the bulk of my time in God's Word when it comes to having a biblical worldview. Apart from the Gospel, I have no valid discourse with those who are pre-Christian.

Winning debates is not the goal.

Watching God win souls is.


PASTORS: Watch Out for This Scam

Internet and Email scammers have been around for years now and unfortunately, many have lost money and some have been "catfished" through the process. It makes for interesting stories on news programs and talk shows.

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Photo credit: BioDivLibrary via Visual hunt / CC BY

Last week, I received an email (actually the second time I have received such an email) that on the surface looks somewhat legit, but ultimately is a scam designed to play on the egos of pastors (yeah - I said it) and the opportunity to preach the Gospel in an international venue.

This email seemingly originated from the United Kingdom. Take a look below:

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When I first read the email, I was suspicious. Primarily because I received a similar one a couple of years ago, but the names of the church and pastor were changed. However, I do have friends who serve as pastors and missionaries in the UK, so there was this slight chance that this was authentic. I even shared the info with one of my friends, but approximately five minutes after asking him if he knew the church, I discovered what I just knew to be true - THIS IS A SCAM!

Pastoral Catfish Scheme

Things that made me question the authenticity of the request:

  • I have never met Pastor Sherard Wood and know no one who knows this man.
  • Passion Conference is a strange name for a local church's event in that Louie Giglio founded and hosts the Passion Conferences annually. Sometimes these are international events and most local churches would see the problem in naming their event the same thing. 
  • The website included in the email for Victory Church is authentic and actually goes to the church in Wales. However, there is no one listed on the Leadership Team named Sherard Wood.
  • Most churches now have email domains that match the church website, so the Gmail account was strange. It's not unheard of for a church to use Gmail. It is not even a bad thing, but it did look suspicious.
  • Under "Events" on the church tab, there is no indication that a "Passion Conference" is scheduled this spring.
  • Since I have many friends in Wales, where this church is located, it does seem strange to call the church Victory Church UK in the email. Most of my Welsh friends actually indicate "Wales" as their home and location. Just as my friends in England tend to say "England."

I did a quick Google search of the story and found that many have been scammed. It seems that when pastors respond, another email is sent with PDF documents attached which must be completed to allow the church to pay honorariums. The documents are actually authentic, but the rest of the story reveals how the scammers work.

This is the same strategy that King from Nigeria uses to get you to send money as well as all the other "Send money" emails people get from other sources. It seems there is a fee due to process the forms and yes, that needs to be paid, so just wire the money to the church's bank account and all is good.

Right.

That's the deal.

There's no conference in the UK paying thousands of dollars to American pastors who are mostly not known outside their region. It's flattering and it's a lie. 

Be careful. Be smart.

Here are a couple of sites where others have broken down the scam just in case you may think your email is legit: