If you live long enough, you will observe major shifts in the focus of churches in North America. (I can’t speak for other continents.) When I was younger and working in Baptist churches the focus was on evangelism. Our denomination had a goal of making sure everyone on the planet had a chance to hear the gospel. We counted success by the number of baptisms.

Now the focus has shifted to discipleship. It seems like everything I hear these days is about making better followers of Jesus. Success is counted in different ways (ie. how are people growing in their faith). To hear folks talk today, especially those in the missional movement, you’d think evangelism is a dirty word!

Of course these are artificial distinctions. When Jesus said “Go and make disciples”, this obviously involved evangelism and discipleship. They are two parts of the same process.

These days Baptists are fighting over the differences in reform and non-reform theology. Thirty years ago it was over Pentecostal and non-Pentecostal practices. It seems we have a difficult time stating what we believe and what we value without pitting our beliefs and practices against those of other Christians.

I keep coming back to that quote form Jesus “Wisdom is justified by all of her children” (Luke 7.35). To me, this means that wisdom is not found in separating me from you because we practice our faith differently. But rather, wisdom is displayed when we embrace the truths we share together and work towards the common goal.

Looking at it in another way, Paul said that “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers…”  I think and act a lot more like an apostle than a pastor. (That’s why I do what I do for a living.) I’ve got friends who are wired to be prophets, others who are fantastic at sharing God’s story in an evangelistic way and still others who are great teachers. Paul’s point (if you read on in that passage) was that all of these people are important in building up the body of the church. If we only focus on our differences, all of the apostles would get together, all of the prophets, all of the evangelists, and etc.  And the church would be totally dysfunctional.

So let’s work on getting rid of the “vs.” and replace it with an “and”.




I almost never get involved in Southern Baptist politics. I had enough of that when I was young. I watched as the SBC went from a missional movement to a theological entity. I remember when “Unity in Diversity” was considered one of the strongest values of the convention. Then some folks believed diversity to be wrong, and placed theology over mission as the definition of what makes a Southern Baptist.

On the one hand, I certainly understand that there have to be boundaries – even in diversity. There must be a core of beliefs that are non-negotiable. The problem always comes when people begin to define what is and what is not within that core of beliefs.

Fast forward to today. It is Southern Baptist Convention time, and this year the leadership has decided to do something about the “elephant in the room” as last year’s SBC President Bryant Wright called it (http://www.sbclife.org/Articles/2013/06/SLA1.asp). So what is this elephant: Inerrancy? No. Women in ministry? No. Homosexuality? No.  All of those issues have been used in the past to further divide the people called Southern Baptists. Now the issue is Calvinist/Reformed verses Arminian/Wesleyan.

Level headed leaders in the convention are calling for unity of mission to trump these theological differences (where have we heard that before?). But the reality is this: As long as the SBC is to be defined along theological lines, it will become an ever shrinking convention. That is sad. Sure, these theological differences are important, but I agree with the sentiment of Wright: “Wright said he was concerned that Christ-centered, Bible-believing Southern Baptists will be so engaged in correcting one another’s theological views when it comes to election and salvation that they will be distracted from their mission of rescuing captives who need to be liberated by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

I have close pastor friends who are Reformed and close pastor friends who are Arminian in their views of salvation. Then I’ve got close pastor friends who don’t know where they stand on these issues. But in our association, we rise above this and work together to reach out to people far from God. We have a mission – given by God – that drives what we do. We are a Network of churches, equipping churches for kingdom ministry. We will all never agree on theology, but we all love Jesus and want to obey the commission he gave us.

I hope the Southern Baptist Convention finds its way through this situation. If it does, much great kingdom work can result. If it doesn’t, it is just one more issue to weaken the witness of this great organization.


How Many Churches Are Dying?

I get this question a lot: Of the 63 churches you work with, how many won’t be around in five to ten years?  I was asked this again yesterday as a matter of fact. I have heard lots of people make predictions about the percentage of churches in America that will be dead in five years. What I have found is that the answer just isn’t that neat. Churches have an amazing ability to stay on life support for years as long as there is money in the bank. They tend to die very slowly.

Perhaps a better question is: How many churches are on a trajectory that will, if not reversed, eventually lead to their death? I can answer that question with more confidence. As a matter of fact, a lot of churches are on that trajectory. Here are some signs that point to this path.

1. The church members cannot articulate a clear vision for the future. They may have vague notions but not a vision. Often when I ask people what their church will look like in five years I get wishes like: more young families, more children, more youth, etc. But they don’t have a clear picture of what that would look like.

2. The church members can’t articulate a specific mission or purpose. They often answer “to spread the gospel”, or “to grow God’s Kingdom” or “to reach our community”. But nothing they do matches these vague concepts. In reality, for many people the mission of their church is to hang in there long enough to bury them. That sounds harsh, but there is some truth in it.

3. The church members cannot point to young leaders who are being developed to step into leadership roles in their church. There is no process or plan to develop the next generation of leaders. Often they will say, “I wish we had some young people to develop”. But, the reality is that even when they had young people they didn’t have a process for training them up to lead.

4. The church is surviving off of the past. As I mentioned, a lot of churches will keep on doing the same thing the same way as long as they can pay the bills. There is no sense of urgency. And, by the time things do get urgent they have depleted the resources that could help them make a turn around.

I really like a concept I read from Will Mancini about how churches look at the future http://tinyurl.com/6nwvzqq. The concept can be illustrated like this:

Most churches that are declining are in quadrant#1 Same Thing/Same Way.

Change will never happen in that quadrant. In fact, the only church that should operate in this quadrant is the one that is successfully growing. And even then, you can’t stay there forever. Stay tuned for more about this in another post.