Church & Ministry

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Posted 7/31/17 at 2:17 PM | Mark Ellis

Finland: Hundreds of Muslim refugees converting to Christianity

By Mark Ellis

Muslim asylum seekers from the Middle East are converting to Christianity by the hundreds, according to Evangelical Lutheran church leaders.

A church in eastern Finland is conducting classes for the new believers from Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq, according to a report by the Finnish news organization Uutiset.

Conservative estimates of the number of exiles who have renounced Islam for Christianity is several hundred in the last few years, Marja-Liisa Laihia, an administrator for the Evangelical Lutheran Church, told Uutiset.

About 20 young Afghani men are currently involved in pre-confirmation teaching at a church in Imatra, Eastern Finland. They have been provided copies of the New Testament in the Dari language, their heart language. They are instructed in English, with a Dari interpreter helping via Skype.

Training for the new converts began a year ago, following the establishment of a reception center for the refugees in Imatra.

“Asylum seekers began attending our services so we reacted by starting up the lessons,” pastor Vesa Julin told Uutiset.

One of the first questions by many of the new converts is about baptism. “I haven’t been baptized yet, but I’m looking forward to it and I’m sure I will be a good Christian,” Aliraza Hussaini said. FULL POST

Posted 7/31/17 at 2:07 PM | Mark Ellis

God used fighting between two villages to bring salvation

By Mark Ellis

Imie and Amy Mark consider themselves “expendable for the King” in their service as missionaries in Papua New Guinea with Ethnos360.

Amy, and their two youngest children, had the opportunity to spend part of their spring break in North Wahgi visiting another of the missionary families affiliated with Ethnos360 ministering among the people there.

During their visit, they learned about recent fighting that had broken out between two neighboring villages. Sadly, hostilities began over a refusal to lend less than $2 and escalated into an all-out battle between the villages, Imie recounts on their blog.

To escape the fighting, some people in one of the villages came to stay with the missionary family Amy was visiting. While they were there, they were invited to hear the Foundational Bible Teaching (where they teach through Creation to Christ to present the gospel in the full context of the whole of Scripture).

The power of the Word and the Spirit touched several who were there. “Two of these men believed and became new brothers in Christ!” Imie reports.

“They went back to their village and told their families and others that they needed to hear this teaching because it is unlike anything they had ever heard.” FULL POST

Posted 7/20/17 at 4:17 AM | George Smith

How Should Christians Dress While Attending Church?

Generally, Christian congregation members dress up for church, wearing at least business casual attire out of respect for the religion and other congregation members. But how important is dress to your faith, really? Would God care if you came to church in sloppy casual attire? Does dressing comfortably, rather than fancifully mean that your faith isn’t strong, or that you’re somehow less invested than your peers?

What the Bible Says About Dress
Let’s start with the primary source to see if there are firm “rules” for what people should wear, both to church and in general society. What does the Bible say about dress?

In the Old Testament, there are a few explicit rules mentioned: cross-dressing is not permitted, and wearing clothes made of wool and linen in combination is forbidden (though it’s not entirely clear why this was ever important). The New Testament does state that the rules of the Old Testament don’t need to be strictly followed, however.

In the New Testament, there are a handful of specific requirements for both men and women, but clothing in the age of the New Testament was far different from modern society; we generally don’t have to think about or follow the rules for things like cloaks, tunics, veils, and turbans. Other than that, the biggest general concept related to dress that’s discussed is “modesty”—and for women, in particular. FULL POST

Posted 7/19/17 at 5:29 AM | George Smith

How Important Is Going to Church Every Week, Really?

Christian tradition suggests that Christians should attend church services regularly, preferably at least once a week on Sunday. But for millions of Christians, going to church is more of a chore than an enlightening experience, and some go purely to maintain the tradition, rather than to enjoy some spiritual benefit.
Still, millions of Christian leaders insist that attending church service—as regularly as possible—is vitally important to your faith and your salvation. So just how important is going to church every week, really?

Benefits of Going to Church
These are the main benefits of going to church:

  • Remembering the faith. Making a weekly habit of your church attendance forces you to remember your faith. Walking into the building and being confronted with religious imagery, and singing and praying as a group will remind you why you’re a Christian, and equip you with a sense of belonging and understanding that you can carry with you for the rest of your week.
  • Engaging with the community. Just as important, if not more so, is the sense of community that you’ll reap and contribute to by attending mass. People in a church community are there to help and support one another; you’ll meet people who are more than willing to talk to you about or lend a hand with your problems, and you’ll get the chance to be the same person.
  • Reflecting. Despite the communal and outward-focused aspects of church, it’s also an opportunity for internal reflection. This is your chance to recount the experiences of your week, decompress, and prepare for the week ahead.

These benefits are important, but is church really the only way to get them? FULL POST

Posted 7/7/17 at 3:43 PM | Mark Ellis

Vietnam: Imprisoned pastor eats insects, mice and frogs to survive

Pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh, imprisoned since 2011, was placed in a solitary cell in the Xuan Loc Prison in Vietnam’s southern province of Dong Nai since October 2016. He suffers from sinusitis, arthritis, high blood pressure and inflammation of the stomach, but has received no medical treatment from the prison’s authorities, according to his wife.

By Mark Ellis

In Vietnam’s Central Highlands, pastors imprisoned for their faith are languishing, facing dire conditions that make it difficult to survive.

Pastors on trial are rarely given access to an attorney, and the length of their prison terms is almost irrelevant, as labor camp officials can extend them indefinitely over the pettiest violations.

“One pastor we know was sentenced for 11 years, but it has already been extended to 20,” Su*, the director of an indigenous ministry told Christian Aid Mission (CAM). “This happens if you don’t get up on time or don’t accomplish your task.” FULL POST

Posted 7/7/17 at 3:32 PM | Mark Ellis

Former leader of church planting movement transitions to female

Before and after transition

By Mark Ellis

Paul Williams, the former leader of a church planting organization known as the Orchard Group, has transitioned to female and is now known as Paula, according to the New York Times.

From his earliest memories, Paul was not comfortable with his gender identity. He followed his father’s footsteps into ministry, married a minister’s daughter, and fathered three children. Living in Long Island, New York, he enjoyed hiking and mountain biking, according to the Times.

But he kept his battle with gender "dysphoria" a closely guarded secret.

In late 2012, he couldn’t contain the secret any longer and confided in his son Jonathan – the leader of a church plant in Brooklyn funded by Orchard Group.

Paul told his son he wanted to live as a woman – transgender.

“I was relieved for a split second, not really knowing or understanding what it was,” Jonathan told the Times. “This was before Caitlyn Jenner or ‘Transparent.’ FULL POST

Posted 6/30/17 at 9:36 AM |

Popular speaker and bible teacher to keynote at major international conference

For the first time in over six years, a woman will be the keynote speaker for the Faith Community Churches International (FCCI) annual conference to be held in Malawi, July 10-13. Dr. Deb Waterbury has been chosen to address delegates representing 45 nations in seven different world regions including Africa, Europe, South America, South Pacific and Middle East. Dr. Waterbury has been a long-time member of FCCI, as well as a frequent speaker at churches in Africa for the past seven years. Less than a year ago, Dr. Waterbury’s ministry, Love Everlasting Ministries, formed the “Reap What You Sew” project which offers tailoring and business training to widows and destitute women in Malawi, the second poorest country in the world.

“Malawi was largely decimated by the AIDS epidemic,” says Dr. Waterbury. “Hunger and poverty has left them not only with thousands of orphans to feed, but thousands of women left to take care of the children. These women have no skills and no way to provide for themselves and their children. This school has allowed women to learn a trade to feed their families. We already have a waiting list of nearly 100 women who want to enroll.” FULL POST

Posted 6/23/17 at 6:06 PM | Audra Jennings

Congregational transformation is fueled by personal renewal

Part 2 of an interview with Jim Herrington and Trisha Taylor,

Authors of Learning Change

Learning Change by Jim Herrington and Trisha Taylor

In Learning Change: Congregational Transformation Fueled by Personal Renewal (Kregel Ministry), authors Jim Herrington and Trisha Taylor share stories from a community of pastors who tell of their journey to discover whether real change in their congregations was possible. Many felt trapped in unhealthy, even toxic, church situations and were desperate for hope. Yet their journey eventually led them beyond all their expectations. Learning Change chronicles these transformations lived out in practice, in community, and over time in a wide variety of congregational contexts.

Q: How did you find and collect the stories of churches who were able to institute lasting change in their congregations for this book?

We were invited by leaders from Western Theological Seminary, Reformed Church in America and the Christian Reformed Church to develop a collaborative process focused on personal and congregational transformation. Based on our previous work in a variety of settings and using content from our previous books, Leading Congregation Change and The Leaders Journey, we designed what has become Ridder Church Renewal (named after Bud and Lenora Ridder, donors who funded the pilot project). We did a 30-month pilot project with 16 congregations. All of the writers who contributed to the book were in that pilot project. As they applied what they were learning and because we worked together more than five years, we were able to see the unfolding stories of transformation in their individual lives and in the lives of their congregations.

As a result of the process we have been through with more than 100 congregations now, the stories pour in. People love to share the ways they are seeing meaningful change in their personal lives and forward movement in their congregations. The book includes just a few of the stories connected to this group of contributors. The stories in real life are a lot messier than they sound in this book, even though we tried to tell them as honestly as possible. We would encourage the reader to remember that learning is gradual and there’s lots of messiness along the way.

Q: In what ways did the churches participating in the study most need to change? Did they all share a common goal?

They all needed deep change in the mental models guiding the decisions they made about how to impact their communities effectively with the Gospel. This included confronting and changing mental models about things that are dear to us as Christians: discipleship, mission and the role of the church. They all also needed support and encouragement as they worked to change those mental models. The common goal was renewed hope they and their congregations could thrive in the 21st century.

Q: Tell us about your observations and research that led to the pilot programs you started in Houston to reconnect pastors and congregations to their calling.

In 1990, Jim was serving as the executive director of Union Baptist Association. They conducted a 40-year longitudinal study of the success and impact of their 400 congregations. They combined that with a series of 25 listening sessions with pastors of different-size churches from different parts of the city and from different language and culture groups. The research showed two overwhelming realities. The first was 80% of their congregations were plateaued or declining despite being in a massive mission field. The second was pastors were largely demoralized. As one pastor said, “I’m working harder than I’ve ever worked for less results than I’ve ever gotten. My health is failing. My family is struggling. All my denominational leaders can tell me to do is work harder at what I’ve been doing.” We became convinced we needed to find systemic, innovative solutions to the challenges facing pastors and congregations.

During that same period, Trisha was working one-on-one with pastors and ministers and their families in counseling and in a local pilot leadership development process for pastors called LeadersEdge. Her experience lined up with what several national studies were showing; many pastors were emotionally, relationally and spiritually weak and unhealthy, and they were ineffective leaders because their seminary programs had not trained or equipped them to lead. Many had trouble spiritually forming a congregation because they didn’t understand the process of spiritual formation. These pastors felt the pain of their ineffectiveness but were turning to programs to grow their churches rather than engaging a deep process of personal transformation. As pastors engaged in counseling, peer groups and LeadersEdge, they enthusiastically reported their experience of deep change. However, in most cases, the changes the pastors were experiencing didn’t translate to congregational change. We then began wondering how to set up a process for transformation and learning that would lead to change in pastors, lay leaders and congregants.

Q: Who is the intended audience for Learning Change, and how should the book be used?

The intended audience is pastors and congregational leaders who are faced with the challenge of congregational revitalization. Many pastors — particularly those who have recently finished seminary and are in their first call — have a good background in theology and church history but lack the relational skills to pastor a congregation. While they can’t learn these skills from reading our book, the book will alert them to some of the skills and values that are necessary and will invite them into a community of learners.

We’re particularly enthusiastic about the potential of this book to provide an introduction and reference guide for lay leaders to engage some of the best information out there about congregational leadership, spiritual formation and missional living and to hear the stories of others who are also putting these things into practice in their congregations.

This book will be most effective when it is used in community — small groups of people who are committed to learning together. We’ve already heard about church staffs, denominational teams, study groups and gatherings of friends beginning to work through this book together. We would say this to the reader: If you read to gain information, this book will be helpful; it has lots of good information and can serve as a resource for that. If you read to increase your own self-awareness and think through your own leadership, it will be even more helpful. If you do the exercises, think through the questions, practice being different, learn to use the tools in real life, share your learning with others and receive their feedback, it will be life-changing.

Q: In the second section of Learning Change, you write about the four core values that drive our process of learning and effect change. What are those values, and why are they imperative?

The values are authenticity, integrity, courage and love.

We believe the core values are essential for two reasons. One, we hold a deep conviction (taught by Jesus and the prophets) that when it comes to transformation, the how is even more important than the what. Two, deep change has to come from deep places; surface-level behavior change isn’t what we’re after. These values help us start from a different place and guide us as we learn to live a different way.

Q: Part three of the book delves into mental models and shifting the way we think about ministry and the church. What are some of the old ways of thinking that need to be reexamined in order to move forward as more missional congregations?

The fundamental shift is one that disrupts the separation of the secular from the sacred. Until congregational leaders recognize the mission of the church is in the world — the workplace, the schools, the neighborhood — they will continue to languish. This will include disrupting the assumption the professional minister is doing ministry and everyone else is working in the “real” world. This must shift to the ministry team empowering, coaching and celebrating those people in the congregation who are on mission in the world.

A second shift is challenging the assumption that knowledge of the Bible translates into effective leadership. While knowledge of the Bible is essential, knowing how to collaborate, listen and create are also essential skills.

Another important shift is from the goal of preserving and extending the church system as it currently exists, in exchange for joining God in God’s redemptive, restorative work in the world. This means letting go of some of my own preferences and moving out of my own comfort zone.

Q: What are some of the additional tools offered in the last section of the book for more effective leadership?

The tools we offer in the last section of the book are designed to help leaders understand their own part in the corporate change process and manage themselves. We start with helping leaders understand their autopilot — how they show up the way they do — so they can choose differently, starting with healing the wounds involved in creating that autopilot. We then move to helping leaders develop their skills with dialogue, learning to listen deeply and to talk in ways that facilitate change. Finally, we offer life-giving accountability as an essential part of the change process — a lifelong process of coaching and being coached.

Learn more about Learning Change at


Posted 6/23/17 at 6:04 PM | Audra Jennings

The keys to lasting change

Part 1 of an interview with Jim Herrington and Trisha Taylor,

Authors of Learning Change

Learning Change by Jim Herrington and Trisha Taylor

Change is seldom easy for an individual, much less an entire group of people such as a church congregation. In Learning Change: Congregational Transformation Fueled by Personal Renewal (Kregel Ministry/May 27, 2017), authors Jim Herrington and Trisha Taylor share the stories of church leaders who were able to transform their congregations by first making changes in their own lives.

Q: Explain the learning process involved with making a change. How is the transformational learning model different from other methods or models of learning?

Traditional learning involved mastering information. If I’m trying to improve my marriage or learn to be a good deacon, I go to this class, read this book or listen to this podcast. I get information. The transformational learning model involves three movements: gathering information, putting it into practice and then reflecting on the results. This is an ongoing process that increases one’s mastery throughout time. For us, learning has not occurred when you master the information. It has only occurred when you master the practice. In other words, it’s not enough to know different until you can actually do different. Because we believe in the power of the learning community, we believe this happens most effectively when we are engaging these three movements together with other people and sharing our learning.

Q: What are the keys required for real change?

First, the pain of not changing must be greater than the pain of changing. There must be an intrinsic motivation for learning because almost all learning involves loss: giving up some things to gain other things. Unless there is intrinsic motivation, you will rarely stay the course. Second, you need hope about a possible future that inspires you. Third, you need a good coach who can encourage you and hold you accountable to do the hard work.

Q: Why is dreaming such an integral part of change?

There is both a push and a pull to change. The push is the lack of results, the breakdowns, the awareness that what you are doing is not getting you the results you want. The pull is a vision of what is possible for you as a fully alive human being and what is possible for us in our families and communities. Without the pull, the push can’t be sustained throughout time.

The dream is the “hope about a possible future” mentioned above. We need to have a picture of what God can do that is increasingly clear and compelling. It’s crucial that this dream opens up new possibilities to us; without a clear and compelling dream, we will settle for doing more of the same, just a little bit differently. This is much of what the Bible offers us — stories, poems and word-pictures about God’s dream for us and for our world, what it will look like when the shalom of God is realized in our lives.

Q: How does a church leader take what he/she learns about change and the changes he/she makes personally and move the congregation to changing as a whole?

First, we don’t believe a leader can do this. It takes a leadership team committed to the journey of deep change throughout time. In our book we talk about 10 practices (four values, five skills sets and one end game) congregations can master to journey into the future effectively. A team of leaders who are at the center of the life of a congregation can begin by taking their own journey of mastery. Leaders need to learn together to embody the skills that empower effective change. Second, they need to help their congregation engage a posture of ongoing learning. They need to create systems and structures, experiences and processes that help more and more people in the congregation: (1) know what the practices are, and (2) have safe, shame-free learning environments where an increasing number of people are gaining greater mastery of the practices.

Leaders are most effective when they are learning to live differently and then sharing their learning with others. This is different from telling people how they should change. As leaders are taking on this learning in their own lives — and joining with others who are doing the same — they will also learn important skills to lead change (for example, the chapter on Generating and Sustaining Creative Tension) and to see the system as a whole and intervene effectively. They will be able to manage their own anxiety in the natural pushback of the system.

Q: What kind of leadership is required to move a congregation of many views and opinions through a process of change as one body?

There are several parts to this answer:

  • We see the power of loving, patient, persistent, long-term (10-15 years) leadership. There are no quick fixes to the deep challenges and changes that this new era demands.
  • We believe it’s a kind of leadership that grows increasingly comfortable with sustaining creative tension as missional experiments are conducted off the map.
  • It is leadership focused on managing ourselves in an anxious system, not on changing others.
  • It is able to tolerate the discomfort and even pain of leading change in a system that naturally resists change, as all systems do.
  • It is leadership that can let go of control and move toward dialogue, collaboration and partnership, especially across boundaries.
  • It’s leadership that is willing to let go of the posture of the expert and take on the posture of a learner.

Q: In what ways is the church losing its impact here in America? What does and doesn’t need to happen for the church to regain its ground?

There are a number of major studies documenting the deep and growing decline of the church, both in terms of constituencies and influence. The world is changing at the pace of a jet in flight, and the church is changing at the pace of a horse and buggy. What doesn’t need to happen is for congregations to double down and work harder at 20th-century strategies and ways of thinking. What does need to happen is nothing short of the transformation of congregations across the country. We hold this congregational transformation is not possible apart from a journey of personal transformation. Personal transformation is found in the lost art of spiritual formation. That lost art is recaptured in our work in the Faithwalking ministry.

Also, we are actually not interested in helping the church regain its ground or recover something it had in the past. We believe God is doing a new work in a new era, and we want to equip churches to join that work. History tells us the church might have to decrease in order to increase, that it may have to give up influence or power to engage the culture differently. The culture is changing more rapidly than we even fully understand. We can’t go back.

Q: Is there a destination churches should hope to arrive at after reading Learning Change?

There is not so much a destination as there is growing capacity to stay deeply and meaningfully engaged in an ongoing journey of joining God on God’s mission in a rapidly changing world. As that journey unfolds, congregations will have to reinvent themselves over and over. There is a lot of hope to be found when you have confidence you have the tools to change (reinvent yourself) as your context changes.

Learn more about Learning Change at


Posted 6/23/17 at 5:42 PM | Audra Jennings

Discipline is a sign of love, even within the church

Part 2 of an interview with Jeremy Kimble,

Author of 40 Questions about Church Membership and Discipline

40 Questions about Church Membership and Church Discipline

In 40 Questions about Church Membership and Discipline (Kregel Academic), Dr. Jeremy M. Kimble recognizes and addresses questions church leaders and members have on the subjects. With succinct chapters, this book is a practical resource for any church leader, elder board, seminary student or new member seeking a foundational understanding of how the church should function.

Church discipline is an often thorny topic, but Kimble describes discipline as a proper demonstration of the biblical concept of love. He writes that God disciplines those whom he loves, and thus a church who claims to love its members without disciplining them contradicts Scripture and offers a different kind of love than God does.Church discipline can potentially be a painful process, but as a spiritual family we are called to work through such matters faithfully and gently.

Q: How did you come to write a book on church membership and discipline?

There has been a resurgence of discussion about membership and discipline in recent years due to the ministries of people such as Mark Dever, but there is certainly more to be said. Because of this, the topic intrigued me, so I decided to write my doctoral dissertation on the subject.

After completing my degree, teaching in a Christian university setting and serving as an elder in my local church, the ideas of membership and discipline continued to make their mark on my thinking. I realized that if we want to persevere in our faith and progressively grow as disciples, church membership and discipline would be key factors in that growth. I am passionate about educating church leaders, members, and seminary students about this important subject, which is why I wrote 40 Questions About Church Membership and Discipline.

Q: What is church discipline, and why is it necessary for the church to function properly?

Church discipline is divine authority delegated to the church by Jesus Christ to maintain order through the correction of persistently sinning church members for the good of those caught in sin, the purity of the church and the glory of God. Discipline is a practice that should occur regularly within the church, and it is intended to keep God’s people on the path of perseverance and to exhort the one under discipline to repent. This can be thought of in both formative and corrective terms, the former refer­ring to typical church life and practices intended to help all Christians grow in their faith (e.g., preaching, teaching, counseling, small groups, etc.), the latter referring to specific correction meted out to those involved in ongoing, unrepentant sin. Discipline is necessary and vital for the health of the church because it reminds us what we are doing as members, namely, pursuing growth in love and holiness.

Dr. Jeremy Kimble

Q: Explain what you mean when you write, “As counterintuitive as it sounds, discipline is a proper demonstration of the biblical concept of love.”

Love is not mere tolerance. Love is the overflow of joy in God that gladly meets the needs of others (2 Corinthians 8:1–15), the biggest need being conformity to the image of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:28-29). To that end, God disciplines those whom He loves (Hebrews 12:6–11), and thus a church who claims to love its members without disciplining them contradicts Scripture and offers a different kind of love than God does. Church discipline can potentially be a painful process, but as a spiritual family we are called to work through such matters faithfully and gently. As such, not only are we called to go through this process in a loving manner, the very act of discipline should be seen as an act of love.

Q: Many people may argue excommunication, the final step of church discipline, is harsh, but why it is sometimes necessary? How is excommunication often misunderstood?

When people think of church discipline in general, they often just think of excommunication, which they understand as “kicking people out of the church.” What fails to be understood is typically churches follow a process from Matthew 18:15–20 before excommunication ever happens. There we are told we should confront the individual multiple times, long before excommunication is considered, with the hope they will repent of their sin. If repentance never happens after this process, with grief and sorrow the church must obey the teachings of Jesus and remove this person from membership. However, this is to be done in love and with the hope the person under discipline will repent and be restored. Thus, it is not merely “kicking someone out.” If excommunication does occur, people should fervently pray and take opportunities to encourage the person toward repentance since restoration is the real goal.

Q: How are church membership, discipline and discipleship all interrelated?

Church membership is the front door of church life, and discipline (especially excommunication) is the back door. When one comes into the front door of membership they are ushered into a community that fellowships around the truths of the gospel. They are committed to one another, encouraging each other to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. We seek to imitate God, walking in love (Ephesians 5:1–2), and we aim to be holy because God is holy (1 Peter 1:15–16). All that is described here could also be deemed discipleship, as we continue in community to learn from Jesus to live like Jesus. Discipline comes into play because at times we are not in step with what Jesus is calling us to do, pursuing sin instead. When this occurs, sin must be confronted with the hopes that the rebuke is heard and the pursuit of faithful discipleship is taken up with renewed vigor.

Look for part 1 of this interview where Dr. Kimble discusses church membership.

Learn more about 40 Questions about Church Membership and Discipline and the other books in the 40 Questionsseries at


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