Marty Sampson, a well respected Hillsong musician recently announced in social media that he has either lost or is losing his faith. The original posts have been deleted, so it’s hard to find the exact message.
I’m not here to condemn anyone, but there is a long list of ministry fatalities in Hillsong and other mega churches.
I suspect that most mega churches are great leadership raising machines that spit out amazing people, but it seems the fatalities are also amazing. My observation from attending years of Hillsong conferences was that there is a huge amount of pressure put on people to perform to a high level of excellence. Some thrive, and others crash and burn.
Looking through Scripture I don’t see that model being promoted anywhere. There is pressure, but the pressure is from persecution rather than from driven leadership.
In fact, Jesus demonstrates a very laid back approach. Jesus made this very laid back invitation
Matthew 11:28-30 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
I feel that the church in many places has lost track of something important: our primary task is to love God and love people. If only we can love extravagantly, then many of the issues that come from burnout, disappointment and unrealistic expectations could be headed off.
I have been reflecting a lot on the parable of the lost son. It seems to me that Jesus is trying to show us a God who loves us abundantly (prodigally) despite our poor performance. If only we can get our heads around that kind of love and start living from that place.
The trouble with love is that it takes time to pursue. Loving God is more than a 5 minute devotional. Loving people means investing ourselves into them, and that takes time, empathy and sometimes money. In our culture, time is too precious a commodity that we are reluctant to give it away.
This isn’t just a city phenomenon. Country people can often feel pressured by long commutes or the pressures of surviving in drought.
Churches must develop a culture of love, investing in solid relationships that strengthen over decades. We have found cell church is an effective way of doing this- combining large group and small group worship. The advantage of cell church is that people are weekly encouraging each other to go deeper in their walk with the Lord and to share the gospel in little ways as a part of normal discipleship.
If any of the big name falling away christians were to turn up in our church, we would encourage them into a cell group and help them to find their way back to Jesus. We would find ways of loving them until they can see Jesus again. It isn’t a formula or a process, just what Jesus calls the church to do.
A minor hiccup in power supply threw the south east of England into an unplanned “Earth Hour.” And it was all caused by wind generators.
Just before the blackout, the National Grid reported that fully 47.6% of the nation’s power was being generated by wind. Suddenly two small generators- one wind and the other gas- went offline. These generators account for less than 3% of power demand.
Immediately, the grid frequency fell from 50 Hz to 48.9 Hz and the power grid shut down to protect itself.
What is this Hz thing? Well, electricity mains systems use alternating current which in simple terms means that the electrons that flow to give us power are oscillating backwards and forwards at 50 times per second. If the frequency changes by a significant amount the whole grid can become unstable. In order to protect transformers etc, there are automatic switches that shutdown parts of the grid when the frequency gets out of a very narrow range.
This is what happened in London, and in South Australia three years ago.
In a traditional coal fired power system, electricity is produced by forcing high pressure steam past enormous turbines, which weight 200-800 tonnes. They are huge things and, once started, maintain a very steady speed even if there are changes in the rate of steam flow. Their inertia keeps the whole grid stable, so that if something goes wrong somewhere else, they still keep pumping out their power at 50 Hz.
But when smaller, more dispersed power generators dominate the grid, there is much less inertia to keep the power supply stable and things turn to custard very quickly.
The giant battery in South Australia is not there to keep the quantity of power flowing- it only has enough storage for a few minutes of power demand. It’s main role is to keep the frequency stable. Now power companies have to pay the battery for a service that coal powered generators provide for free- that’s progress.
All of this talk of grid stability and inertia made me think of how unstable our society has become, particularly over the last decade. What was once unthinkable has become normal, and it seems that every week there is some new perversion being promoted. Pornography is everywhere, families are disintegrating, and an epidemic of fatherlessness is being played out in mass shootings, suicide and violence.
The reason for this, I believe, is that we have bought into the lies of individualism. People think they have the right to do whatever they like, to indulge whatever desires and whims they might have, and all without any consequences.
Individualism has been around for a long time. Some people trace it back to the New Testament and the idea that ever single person is loved by God.
Previous generations had the church as the equivalent of the steam turbine. The morality and ethical standards of christianity have been taught, and continue to be taught, unchanging through the centuries. The word goes out steadily year after year, Sunday by Sunday, moderating the wild impulses of human flesh.
Then in the 1970’s people stopped going to church.It was deemed to be irrelevant and oppressive. People decided they could set their own moral codes. Everyone can do what they like without reference to anyone else, and it is all coming unravelled.
Without the steady inertia of the church, the moral grid of the nation has slowly turned to custard. The lights are going out, and we call it progress,
Mass murder, debauchery, and the stress of nations—these things press on us daily. We can feel the crushing weight of inadequacy. We ask: Can we stay sane? Is the moral situation so far gone that we must withdraw into our ‘faith cocoons’ and just endure, hoping we outlast the madness?
Ephesians 6:10 says, “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.’ But, how do we apply all that power and might to this flood of evil and stress that is bombarding us every day?
Not only can we apply it, we are expressly called—and uniquely equipped—to express the power of God. The legacy of our faith demands it. The nature of the Holy Spirit—and the Word of God demand it. There is no holding-pattern for us. God only leads forward.
The religions of the world teach escape. They deem the world to be too dangerous for their devotees. Whether it is a Buddhist Monastery or a Muslim Caliphate, the message is clear: They can’t coexist with secular culture. They require physical separation, cleansing rituals, strict diets, or the total subjugation of infidels.
With just a few simple words, Jesus revealed the vast superiority of our victory compared to all the religions of the world. He prayed to the Father, “I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one.” (John 17:15)
Supernatural peace can quell the deep frustration from hearing the insane ideas and words of politicians.
When Jesus prayed that prayer, He was praying for us, His flock, to remain in the culture. We are to be warriors. We are to be salt and light. These are not just fighting words—they are an in-your-face smack down of evil.
While cultural contact withers the faith of false religions, it enhances the Christian—it sharpens their faith, brightens their light, and deepens their authority.
You must understand why you are here. You must see the astounding picture of the army you belong to. Our very presence on earth is God’s way of saying, victory is available. He keeps us here because we can win!
Think of soldiers in an army who are only aware of the battle they are fighting in their own little sector. They are being hard-pressed, and things are going against them. If, for one moment, they think it is just their fight, they will soon be defeated. But when they remember they are only a part of a great and mighty army, and that the Captain, their Leader, the God of the Armies of Heaven is directing it, immediately the situation is transformed. In other words, we have got to realize God is involved in this battle with us. We are only here because of God.
The 3 steps I am about to declare will bring victory over the present evil and stress. They hit me, when I saw two groups of people. They were hundreds of years apart and in totally different circumstances, but they took these identical 3 steps to victory.
One was a prophecy by Daniel around 600 B.C. The other, occurred in 31 AD.
In his prophecy, Daniel described how the Maccabean revolt would triumph in 167 BC. The second instance happened when the people in the land of Gennesaret welcomed Jesus. The former liberated Israel—the latter wiped out sickness and disease. Again, they both took the same 3 steps. Here are the scriptures:
Daniel 11:32 “Those who do wickedly against the covenant, he shall corrupt with flattery; but the people who know their God shall be strong and carry out great exploits.”
Mark 6:53-56: “When they had crossed over (the Sea of Galilee), they came to the land of Gennesaret and anchored there. And when they came out of the boat, immediately the people recognized Him, ran through that whole surrounding region, and began to carryabout on beds those who were sick to wherever they heard He was. Wherever He entered, into villages, cities, or the country, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged Him that they might just touch the hem of His garment. And as many as touched Him were made well.”
Here are the 3 key words in both these victories: KNOW, STRONG, CARRY. The first group knew God. They were strong. And they carried out exploits. The second group did those same 3 things. They recognized (knew Jesus). They ran (showed strength). They carried others who received miracles (exploits).
Take these 3 steps to defeat today’s stress and evil:
1. Obey God’s pull. He is pulling you to know Him in deep intimacy: Psalm 27:8 says “When You said, “Seek My face,” My heart said to You, “Your face, Lord, I will seek.” What is your reaction to God’s call? He wants to do a secret work in you. Are you saying, “Yes”?
I believe Jesus is using this message from me to draw you into special closeness with Him. If you say, “Yes,” special things will begin to happen. You will instantly conquer fear and worry. Isaiah 26:3 says, “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You. “
Your faith for mighty things will multiply. Jesus said,” If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.” (John 15:7)
God not only knew that the insanity of today was coming—He took steps to prepare a special relationship that would produce special powers for His children. We can blame no one but ourselves if we neglect this astonishing invitation.
2. Become strong. What did Isaiah say would happen to those who heeded the call to wait on God? “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)
Your new-found and deep connection to God the Father will create strength. Note once again, the amazing parallel between the phrases, “they shall run and not be weary,” and “they recognized Him and ran.”
‘Touchy-feely’ faith is out. This is the era of strong Christians. Tomorrow belongs to Christians who are stronger than any headline—stronger than threats—stronger than anything unfolding on the earth.
3. Accept your mission: You have a mission, you have an ordained exploit. It is ironic that the true cure for today’s fear and stress is: to think big and take on massive vision. Fresh vision always chases away depression.
An exploit that summons up all your talent and every drop of your courage and combines it with His limitless resources, is comfort food for the Spirit-empowered believer.
The bottom line: We are subjective creatures. We live in this unhealthy psychological generation that starts with man and ends with man. Most of our troubles are due to that. We are full of self-pity. We are always looking inward and feeling sorry for ourselves. We are always looking for something to help us. Get rid of those things! Forget about yourself for a moment, and realize that the battle belongs to the Lord!
You can know Him. You can become strong. And you will accomplish amazing things in Him!
The future of your church isn’t the legacy generation. Your seniors, whether Boomers or Builders, have largely brought your church to where it is – for better or worse. But they won’t be around in a few years, most haven’t invited anyone to join them for worship in months or years. Your legacy generations are definitively not the future of your church.
And as hard as it is to swallow, the future of your church isn’t the youth. We know that at best 60 percent of them will leave the church forever at the first possible opportunity for the them to quit. And the 40 percent who remain involved in the church will almost certainly be involved in some other church in some other city. The youth may be the future of somebody’s church, but they’re not the future of your church.
The same goes for your children … children turn into youth who largely turn away from the church.
That pretty much leaves your young adults. It’s true that young adults are the hope and the future of the church. They’re the ones who buy houses and invest in the community, including their church. But are they the future of your church?
Not if they’ve been there for more than a year.
Young adults who’ve been members of your congregation for twelve months or more are unlikely to invite anyone into the congregation on a consistent basis (or even at all). Most of them have already invited “everyone” they know and they’ve lost their zeal for inviting. Which is to say, young adults may be the future of the church, but not if they’re your longer term members.
All that’s to say that the future of your church, should you plan on your church being around a decade or so from now, is in the hands of those who aren’t there yet …
What are you doing to connect future members to your church?
A church without God, seems kind of pointless to me. Some people tried it anyway. It turns out you have to have a reason to belong, something bigger than yourself– like Jesus. Vague belief in nothing much at all won’t keep people engaged.
Why Secular Church Started So Well, but Finished So Poorly (and Quickly)
We’ve all heard over the past few years of the move among Nones to start something like church, with all the bells and whistles, talks and coffee, singing and platforms. Something like church but with one small variable – no Jesus.
They began to meet in buildings across all the funky cities in the world and things blossomed quickly. They gathered to hear inspiring talks and sing anthems such as “Livin’ on a Prayer” (no, seriously!), and fill the void that church once filled before things got seriously secular.
Proof if you need it that it’s not really the case that they love Jesus but hate the church, it’s more the other way around!
We’ve all heard how that worked out too. Things declined quite quickly, despite only being a seven year project so far. It’s as if these secular churches compressed the life cycle of an entire church movement, birth through to death, in a petri-dish experiment, even at the time that the Nones are increasing in number.
And now there’s a great article exploring the psychology behind what went wrong in the latest copy of The Atlantic. You can read the whole piece by Faith Hill here.
It’s interesting that of the groups to survive, it’s those that were built around ex-religious people who replaced love for Jesus and the church with distrust/dislike of Jesus and the church, that have survived. In other words, communities need to have a centre, even if it’s a negative one. As it turns out the desire for community itself is not strong enough to hold the community together.
Which kinda reminds us as Christians that community is not the goal of the gospel, but the fruit of the gospel. As Hill states in the article:
If the sudden emergence of secular communities speaks to a desire for human connection and a deeper sense of meaning, their subsequent decline shows the difficulty of making people feel part of something bigger than themselves. One thing has become clear: The yearning for belonging is not enough, in itself, to create a sense of home.
And it’s not that the non-religious are any lazier than the average church attendee. They did their fair share of chair-stacking, event organisation, roster-writing, and goodness knows what else goes in to creating a weekly meeting for the (un)faithful. But at the core, that’s not enough, as Alan Cooperman, the director of religion research at Pew Research Center, observed:
On what basis would you pull them together? Being uninterested in something is about the least effective social glue, the dullest possible mobilizing cry, the weakest affinity principle, that one can imagine.
But here’s what’s really interesting, and it’s a reminder to us as pastors and church leaders lest we forget; the key to church appears to be that it offers something transcendent.
Anthropologist Richard Sosis, who studies the history of religious communes is quoted in the article as saying that without it, transcendence, there is little meaningful reason to meet:
… there has to be a sense of transcendence … Transcendence is what gives the community a higher level of meaning than going to Johnny’s Little League game.
Okay, okay, Johnny’s Little League game may occasionally be more exciting than church can be, no argument there, but what it offers is an immanence that ultimately dissipates the moment one leaves the playing field. As Hill observes:
It might mean that ideals they already espouse—such as helping others, or finding wonder in nature—get elevated to a sacred level. The irony is that to get away from religion, they may need to re-create it.
But we knew that already, didn’t we? Those of us who have read Charles Taylor. We knew that the secular frame needs to have a story bigger than itself in order to sustain itself. And we knew from listening ad infinitum to that David Foster Wallace talk, that there is no such thing as an atheist and that we all worship.
And it takes a lot of hard work, money, time, effort and emotional smoke and mirrors to make the non-transcendent even look vaguely transcendent. It’s a task that would tax the Wizard of Oz. And then once you turn your back the whole thing can easily collapse into immanence again. I mean, whose got the time and energy for that? Not the Nones, if the evidence of their numerical collapse in a few short years is any indication.
Of course there’s more than just transcendence. Or to put it another way, transcendence needs to look like something if a community is going to survive the biggest threat to its existence- its members.
Think about it. Who are the biggest threat to the existence of your church community? The community members themselves. And that’s what we have in common with all communities. And that’s just in the central meeting! We do gatherings with each other the rest of the week with all sorts of diverse people from church. How do we stop that tearing itself apart?
It’s at this point, however, the church of Jesus Christ has a distinct advantage over Jesus-less ekklesia. When communities fall into strive and unforgiveness, how is that resolved? When Christ’s church is unforgiving we read the command “Forgive one another as God in Christ has forgiven you.” How do Christless churches leverage forgiveness. Where, or Who, is their lodestar?
And love? Today love is love is love is love ad infinitum! But how does that stack up with “This is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and gave His Son as a propitiation for our sins.”
And never mind inside a church meeting, what about the rest of the week? What would compel us to bear someone else’s burdens better than the reality that in so doing we “fulfil the law of Christ”?
And the list goes on. It turns out that the centre of the community has to be strong enough to keep it together, and healthy enough to keep it a safe place to be. Jesus ticks all those boxes in the most transcendent way possible.
And lastly, and perhaps most importantly, our eschatology and hope draws us, keeps us gathering. Hebrews is instructive here: “Do not neglect meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” It’s not simply that we’re gathering around something that will transcend, it’s that we’re meeting in anticipation of something – of Someone – who will descend! Our hope is not otherworldly transcendence, but a this-worldly descending by King Jesus.
Faith Hill writes in The Atlantic:
Some leaders of Sunday Assembly and Oasis told me they’re trying to make those weekly meetings so interesting, so entertaining, so powerful that people will keep showing up.
To which I might say “Ouch, that sounds scarily familiar.” Perhaps it’s better to offer our people the one thing that differentiates us – the one Person who, as Ephesians tells us, contains all of God’s unsearchable riches – Jesus himself. I don’t think we’re good enough to do interesting, entertaining and powerful in such a way to draw people and make them stick.
The mystery product of God made known! I know that there are many times I don’t want to gather in community with God’s people because the event itself is not particularly interesting, certainly not entertaining and definitely feels on the weaker side of powerful. But because Jesus is there it changes everything and that makes it worth showing up.
Maybe the Secular Church will rise again as the number of Nones increases further. Maybe not. But without Jesus at the centre, it will struggle to last another decade, never mind two millennia.
Great words of encouragement from Ann Voskamp for when things are not okay in your life. Read the whole article here
So you can look up at the calendar today and exhale: “It’s okay to feel bone tired — you have One who gives His bone and His body for you and beckoned: Come Rest.”“It’s okay to feel bone tired — you have One who gives His bone and His body for you and beckoned: Come Rest.”
It’s okay to feel bone tired — you have One who gives His bone and His body for you and beckoned: Come Rest.
It’s okay to feel disillusioned — you have One who destroys cheap illusions of perfection and offers you His.
It’s okay to feel done — you have One who listens to the last nail be driven in and proclaims all the hellish things finished.
It’s okay to feel battered and bruised — you have One who storms your battles, takes back everything that needs a comeback, and proves His side won.
It’s okay to feel a bit like a fool — you have One who proves that real love always makes anyone the wisest fool who gives more, lives more, forgives more, because love defies logic, because love is the self-giving, cruciform foolishness that is the ultimate wisdom of the universe.
It’s okay to feel behind — you have One who is the Head and the Author and the Maker and the Finisher and the Carrier and the Warrior and nothing is over until He carries you over the finish line.