HOUSEFIRES | Grace Midtown

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Born out of their small group house churches, Grace Midtown has recorded a collection of songs I have had on repeat on my iPod for the past few months.   While the live moment, with all of it’s repetitions and raw spontaneity, can lose you at a casual listen, this album has the ability to sweep you into their living room.  The  entire record is acoustic driven with percussion, piano, and light violin/cello decorations. It really puts in you in the living room along with their leaders as they bring you through their churches journey one song at a time.  The organic feel is reminiscent of the Ben Paisley works with 100 Portraits and Waterdeep on the Enter the Worship Circle albums which lends itself to a strong sense of authenticity.

All in all HOUSEFIRES is a great album and, according to their twitter feed, they have begun recording a follow up that I am looking forward to hearing.  Get the album free on NoiseTrade here.

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State of Church in America

I don’t typically re-blog but this article was incredibly interesting!  If you are at all concerned about the state of Church in America, you should read this [original blog at Ed Stetzer’s blog The Exchange]:

The State of the Church In America: Hint: It’s Not Dying

Is the American church really dying? |
The State of the Church In America: Hint: It's Not Dying

ELIZABETH TAYLOR / FLICKR

The church is not dying.

Yes, the church in the West—the United States included—is in transition right now. But transitioning is not the same as dying, particuarly if you hold the belief that Christianity is represented by people who live for Christ, not check “Christian” on a survey form.

While I believe we need to understand reality inside our ranks, I don’t believe the situation is quite as dire as many are making it out to be. Actually, no serious researcher believes Christianity in America is dying. Not one.

Instead, I believe this current cultural shift is bringing clarity that will assist in defining who we are as Christians, and that is a good thing in some ways.

I have talked about this before, but I think it bears repeating, if for no other reason than to encourage us in our shared mission once again.

In the American context, 2009 was a turning point in regards to the perception of Christianity’s health in the United States. That year, the results of the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) caused quite a stir. In its wake were several articles in prominent national publications touting the coming demise of Christianity in America. And Americans bought in.

The ARIS results showed the percentage of self-identified Christians had fallen 10 percentage points, from 86 to 76, since 1990. It also showed that the “Nones”–those who claim no religious affiliation–rose from 8 to 15 percent in the same time period.

Following the release of the results, Newsweek ran a cover story entitled “The End of Christian America.” Earlier the same year, Michael Spencer–the Internet Monk–penned “My Prediction: The Coming Evangelical Collapse” that was picked up by the Christian Science Monitor. The settled narrative became that Christianity was in precipitous decline. The sentiment has continued to grow ever since.

An October 2012 Pew Research Study added fuel to the fire, stating that the “Nones” had increased more than five percent in the previous five years alone. A cursory look at the numbers may very well lead people to frightening conclusions, and the numbers are only going to get worse when you look at people who call themselves Christians.

That being said, the sky is not falling. Christians are not leaving the faith in droves, even though some people are screaming that loudly. In many cases, people who once called themselves Christians are simply no longer doing that. That is a different issue, which I explained further in my USA Today column last year.

Most believers likely realize that though 86 percent of Americans checked the “Christian” box on a survey in 1990, the population was not made up of that many genuine followers of Jesus. For many, the idea of being Christian and being American are one-in-the-same. But the church defines “Christian” differently than culture at large, and the distinction is an important one to make.

People who once called themselves Christians are simply no longer doing that.

Around 75 percent of Americans call themselves Christians—they “self identify” as Christians, regardless of how others might define them. I find it helpful to separate those who profess Christianity into three categories: cultural, congregational and convictional.

Now, these are NOT exact numbers, but broad categories. The numbers are different from region to region, but as a whole, the categories might be helpful.

The first category–Cultural Christians–is made up of people who believe themselves to be Christians simply because their culture tells them they are. They are Christian by heritage. They may have religious roots in their family or may come from a people group tied to a certain religion, e.g., Southern Evangelicals or Irish Catholics. Inside the church, we would say they are Christians in name only. They are not practicing a vibrant faith. This group makes up around one-third of the 75 percent who self-identify as Christians—or about a quarter of all Americans.

The second category–Congregational Christians–is similar to the first group, except these individuals at least have some connection to congregational life.They have a “home church” they grew up in and perhaps where they were married. They might even visit occasionally. Here again though, we would say that these people are not practicing any sort of real, vibrant faith. They are attendees. This group makes up another third of the 75 percent—or about a quarter of all Americans.

The final group–Convictional Christians–is made up of people who are actually living according to their faith. These are the people who would say that they have met Jesus, He changed their lives, and since that time their lives have been increasingly oriented around their faith in Him. Convictional Christians make up the final third of the 75 percent—or about a quarter of all Americans.

The Church is not dying. It is just being more clearly defined.

Interestingly, since 1972 and according to the General Social Survey, the percentage of the final type of Christian in the U.S. population has remained generally stable. On the other hand, mainline Protestantism has declined, but other areas within evangelicalism have grown slightly to offset that loss.

As I see it, the numbers of people who those of us in the church would say are actually committed Christians—those who are practicing a vibrant faith—are not dying off. The Church is not dying. It is just being more clearly defined.

The “Nones” category is growing quickly, but the change is coming by way of Cultural and Congregational Christians who no longer feel the societal pressure to be “Christian.” They feel comfortable freeing themselves from a label that was not true of them in the first place. Convictional Christians are not leaving the faith; the “squishy middle,” as I like to call it, is simply being flattened.

So for those who really don’t have any skin in the game, shedding the label makes sense.

As Christians find themselves more and more on the margins in American society, people are beginning to count the cost. While it used to serve Americans well to carry the label “Christian” in most circumstances (think about running for public office, for instance), it can actually be polarizing or considered intolerant now. So for those who really don’t have any skin in the game, shedding the label makes sense.

As the trend continues, we will see the “Nones” continue to grow and the church lose more of its traditional cultural influence. Christians will likely lose the culture wars, leading to difficult times ahead for us. But we do not need to lose hope. This is not cause for despair. It is a time to regroup and re-engage.

Christianity may be losing its top-down political and cultural influence, but Jesus spoke of His followers making an impact in a very different manner. He taught that God’s kingdom was subversive and underground. He used examples like yeast, which changes things from the inside, and mustard seeds, which are small and must be planted in order to grow up and out.

As the distinctions between Christians and an ever-growing post-Christian culture emerge, we will have to set aside any nominal belief systems and become active agents of God’s Kingdom. The answer is not found in waging cultural wars incessantly, or in making a theological shift to the left to pacify a culture offended by the gospel. The answer is in all of God’s people, changed by the power of the gospel and propelled by love, moving into the mission field as agents of gospel transformation.

This is no time to panic or exaggerate the situation. As I said in Lost and Found, in the midst of a hysterical panic about 94 percent of evangelical young adults leaving church, “Crises sell books but usually don’t fix problems.” (And, it is nowhere near 94 percent.)

Yes, we need a serious dose of what I write in Christianity Today a few years ago: Curing Christians Stats Abuse.

Facts are our friends, and the facts do point to a cultural change. And, in the midst of that cultural change we do see that American looks more like a mission field. However, what we need is a mobilized—rather than demoralized—mission force.

Bad stats and hyperbole do just that—demoralize God’s people.

Today, we need a mobilized mission force in the midst of this mission field. So, it’s time to time to work for the sake of the gospel, and to live for the cause of the gospel, not run around proclaiming the sky is falling.

 

 

Here are some other resources that I believe are worth reading in regards to The Church in Exile:

 

 

 

Fade / Forever

Grass Withers Slide

There is one thing in common over years, ages, epochs, governments, writings,

influencer, teachers, empires, eras, styles, trends, people groups,

languages, and tribes! Did I cover it all?  They will fade.

BUT

“The word of the Lord stands forever.”

Don’t take it for granted! Read God’s word.

Chew on it, devour it, & ingest it.

The Church In Exile

The Church In Exile Graphic

I recently saw NT Wright speak at a local Bible College.  It was obviously thought provoking and filled the typical challenges you would come to expect from a theologian such as NT Wright. Oddly, the part that stuck with me wasn’t Wright but the man who introduced him to the stage.  He was a representative from Fuller Seminary and this is what he said:

“The church is no longer at the center of influence in our culture…we must be preparing the church for exile.

This thought isn’t new and physical exile isn’t necessarily what he was referring to.  In fact Judeo-Christianity has had plenty of historic moments in exile.  The most well known is, of course, found in Exodus as God’s people roamed around in a desert for 40 years as well as their life under the Roman regime during most of the New Testament accounts.  I believe he was referring to a time soon-to-come that places Christianity as oddities culturally, politically, and socially to the extent that we will be exiles on our own soil.  Neil Cole mentions his speculations on this in a recent blog series he posted.

One reason the statement caught my attention was the matter-of-factness with which he stated it.  He ASSUMED a tipping point had occurred and most of us listening had an understanding of what he was referring.  It would be foolish to ignore the fact that the christian influence in America has waned and will, most likely, continue over the next few years.  Maybe God has revival in our future but I too sense the church is heading into a time of cultural exile in America.  I believe, as a church leader, that I am responsible to prepare God’s people for it.  Not simply for the purpose of survival but for thriving within the pressure of this exile.  This preperation involves:

  • how we are to live in loving, gospel community together
  • how we are to present an alternative lifestyle contrary to the dominant culture we are immersed in
  • how we are to adhere to and protect God’s word
  • and how we are to be on mission in a new context where christian values are not embraced or even tolerated.

The questions to ask:

  • Are we adequately preparing the church?
  • Is the church actually as aware as this man supposed?
  • If he is correct, what should we do to prepare?
  • Are we willing to let go of old paradigms [traditions] to channel the gospel in new ways?
  • Are there aspects of our current expression of church that can’t survive without government help?

Again, it wouldn’t be the first time God’s people walked in exile. In fact the church often moves into a stage of spontaneous, unstoppable expansion when put under pressure.  I believe we can learn a lot from the scriptures and how God guided His people during those times [the book of Acts would be a great starting place] and that we should prayerfully consider how God might want us to live in the exile to come.

REST

RestGraphicFlyerThe ministry that I lead will be studying this all sumer.  Can’t wait [not pun intended] to see what God reveals to us through this study and the what it could do to change lives for the expansion of God’s Kingdom!  More info here.

 

In Phil Wickham’s Silence God Speaks.

 

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“I THINK I’M LEARNING SOMETHING ABOUT IDENTITY, WHICH WEAVES INTO CALLING WHICH THEN BECOMES OUR LEGACY.” -Phil Wickham

Phil Wickham, a leading voice in the modern worship music scene, began to struggle with his vocals while on tour in New England. It eventually led to the doctor’s telling him he had to remain silent for an undetermined amount of time.  Given the opportunity to listen more intently, Phil recieved some understanding about his IDENTITY, how his gifting wrapped into that identity, and the legacy it was leaving.

Due to the loss of his voice, Phil had to cancel a few dates including the conference Catalyst.  He decided to write a letter to share at the conference what had happened and what God was teaching him through it which he posted on his site. I resonated with Phil’s letter because identity has been a major theme in my life which has been reflected in the ministry that I lead at Faith Bible Church.  I would encourage you to read Phil’s letter here and reflect on it!

*The College ministry that I lead put together an EP based on the theme of identity.  Check it out here.

Rejoicing

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“The apostles left the Sanhedrin,

rejoicing because they had been counted

worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.”

-Acts 5:41

 

Rejoicing is possibly the most powerful word in this verse.  It’s definitely not the word I would have chosen. If persecution…or should I say WHEN persecution comes upon us [John 15], the example we are given is to rejoice!

Why?!

We are not willing to suffer inconveniences for much so my guess is that we are not willing to suffer ridicule or physical harm for hardly anything.  In this context, it is simply out of gratitude for being counted worthy of suffering for the Name.  How incredible!  A name so famous, powerful and renown that it deserves the definite article “THE” and we know of whom it speaks.

Jesus.

We will find courage not only to endure but to embrace and rejoice under intense persecution, and even death, if the one we suffer for is worthy; if the cause we suffer for is worth it.

God, make us bold as lions to serve, endure, embrace and walk into whatever the future holds for your people and for Your Kingdom.  For the King of kings and the Name above all names: Jesus who is the messiah.

More on this subject.