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Growth in the Rural Church

It was once quipped that trying to turn a rural church around is harder than reaching a group of practicing Muslims. Gloomy as it may sound, rural churches are facing some unique challenges, especially as it concerns membership. The allurement of the city and the agricultural mechanization of the last fifty years has left rural America in a steady decline. The church has felt the effects. I don’t think too highly of statistical research, but both Barna and Pew have suggested that the overwhelming majority of rural churches have, at best, no increased growth and, at worst, decline.

Despite such gloomy sentiments it seems the rural church can grow. A couple of years ago W. Scott Moore assessed growth patterns in rural churches that had experienced a significant increase in membership by those who were previously unchurched. And guess what? He lived to write a book about it!

So how does one “grow” a rural church? Of course, growth is ultimately dependent on the Spirit alone. Paul reminds us: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6). So perhaps it should be asked: what are unchurched people looking for in a rural church? Surprising as it may seem, […]

Even Though It’s Not A Game

Let’s try out a phrase: “spectator Christians.”

The trend toward spectatorship is a culture-wide phenomenon seeping into the church. Sports used to be something we did; now it’s something we watch. Music used to be a reason to get together with neighbors and have fun; now it’s something our headphones use to keep us separate from others. Christianity is, to my eyes, similarly and increasingly becoming a spectator event. 

A Church Planting Testimony

On the evening of September 11, around two hundred people gathered as the Marion Reformed Presbyterian Church was organized by the presbytery in Marion, Indiana.  One of the highlights of the evening was the history of the work uniquely expressed by Scott Hunt, an attorney in Marion who was installed as a ruling elder in the new congregation. With his permission I am sharing this history below.

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Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers,.. And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah,…and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon….and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ. So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations. Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way (Matthew 1:2, 6, 11, 16-18).

It is clear from a cursory reading of God’s Word that the history of His people is important.  Whether it is the descendants of Adam in Genesis or a list of David’s […]

Two Types of Sinners

According to the Bible, several ways exist to classify sinners. First and foremost, we can simply state the universal truth.  All men are sinners!  Both the wicked and the saint alike! Romans 3:23 sums it up clearly, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” The saint has been forgiven his sin, but as Luther stated he is still simul justus et peccator – at the same time righteous and a sinner. In what follows, the church must not forget this universal truth.

However, the Scriptures do make other distinctions regarding sinners. They can be labeled according to the types of sin they commit, such as adulterers, liars, murderers, etc. (I Cor. 6:9-10; Rev. 22:15). Also, the ungodly can be classified with respect to their disobedience to the Word, where they can resist it immediately, receive it joyfully at first then fall away, or let it be choked out over a period of time (Matt. 13:3-9; 18-23). Another way to view sinners, somewhat akin to Dante’s hellish circles in his Inferno, is to think of them with respect to the degree of depravity they have reached. All men are sinners, yet people to various degrees become hardened and fall further into the depths of sin, with some even reaching the […]

Grateful Presbyterianism

When I became a pastor in the RPCNA, one of the vows I took went like this:

Do you believe it to be the teaching of Scripture…that the permanent form of church government is presbyterian?

So, yeah, I do. And I made a vow to that effect, so fat chance getting me to turn my back on it now. I’m presbyterian by conviction, because I really do believe it’s how Scripture shows the church ought to be led. Presbyterianism strengthens the church’s ability to submit to her leaders, trusting that when things go wrong (and they do), there is a higher authority ready to right the ship. As I’ve reminded my congregationalist friends, any church government works when everything’s going well. But presbyterianism works when nothing is going well.

But this past weekend, I was reminded in a few powerful ways that the greatest benefit of being presbyterian isn’t the structure of authority existing over individual sessions and the ability to work through discipline cases effectively. The greatest benefit of being presbyterian is being loved, pursuing Christ’s kingdom-on-earth together in a community of true and mutual care. 

Qualities of Urgency in Preaching Seen in Peter’s Pentecost Sermon

Martyn Lloyd-Jones once stated to preachers, “You are not simply imparting information, you are dealing with souls, you are dealing with pilgrims on the way to eternity, you are dealing with matters not only of life and death in this world, but eternal destiny. Nothing can be so terribly urgent.”

With that quote in mind, what does urgent preaching look like? With over half of its content sermonic, the Biblical record contained in the Acts of the Apostles would support the thesis that true preaching is urgent preaching.  Using Peter’s message at Pentecost as a paradigm, we can see urgent preaching would appear to possess at least these seven qualities.

1) A yearning to glorify God for his salvation (Acts 2:17, 22, 36). Peter makes it clear throughout his message that salvation is the work of God from beginning to end.

2) An aim in the message to touch hearts as well as minds (Acts 2:14, 22-23, 29, 36-37). When those gathered at Pentecost heard this message, they were “cut to the heart,” which is clearly Peter’s aim.

3) An eschatological sense that the gospel is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Eleven of the twenty-three verses of Peter’s sermon are Old Testament quotations, which add […]

Doctrine and Evangelism

Several months ago I received the following email from a former student at Indiana University.

“You do not remember me but I was in one of your Biology classes at IU. I teach science and frequently integrate information from your class. Before I joined the Army, you loaned me a book from your church. As I was unpacking at our new house I found it. I cannot tell you how influential you were for me but years ago, as I was reading it, I was saved and baptized while serving [in the military]… Anyway, I would like to return the book to you if you wouldn’t mind giving me the best address to do so. I am truly sorry I have kept it so long!”

This was a student I taught nearly 15 years ago, who was prompted to join the military in the wake of the 9/11 bombings. In nearly 20 years of college teaching, I’ve had numerous opportunities to minister to students in various ways. I’ve given out a lot of books. I could remember this student, but I could not remember what book I’d given out. What book would I give to a young […]

Homosexuality: A Losing Battle?

Guest Blogger: Michael LeFebvre 

Dr. LeFebvre is the pastor of Christ Church on the west side on Indianapolis, IN, and editor of The Gospel and Sexual Orientation. This post was originally given as a talk in January of 2014 and has an audio link at the bottom of this article.

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The title for this morning’s workshop points our thoughts in two directions. The title is, “Homosexuality: A Losing Battle?” This question confronts us on two levels.

First, and in my view most importantly, it confronts us on the personal level. For those who personally experience this battle, it can often feel hopeless. The phrase that we hear so often today, and that captures this feeling of hopelessness, is the phrase, “You cannot pray the gay away.” That popular phrase communicates hopelessness to those who experience same-sex temptations. Furthermore, by citing prayer as the cure that fails (“you cannot pray the gay away”), that popular phrase is a direct challenge to the church—indeed, to Christ as the one who has let us down. In the face of such a message, how is a Christian caught in this battle to feel? Is this battle, faced on the personal level, a losing battle?

Secondly, this question […]

Shepherd the Shepherd

It wasn’t until I was nearly twenty-two years old that I first became a member of a church. In the college town where I was, there was a small Presbyterian congregation that seemed to fit with my changing convictions. I was and still remain thankful for the three years I spent there before going to seminary. As a dating couple my wife and I were taken under the wings of the pastor and his wife, we enjoyed a lot of friendships and fellowship, I was learning a lot, and it was also the church where I preached my first sermon! However, all of this was mixed with profound sorrow when spiritual tragedy struck our small congregation.

Only weeks after he married us it was discovered that our pastor was being unfaithful to his wife of twenty-five years. His family was left utterly shattered and broken as a result of his sin. But his adultery also affected each member of the congregation in different ways. For my family—as we looked toward seminary and the pastorate—this was deeply discouraging. I remember telling my wife with tears that if this would be the result of my future ministry then I’d rather not even begin […]

Presence & Absence

A couple weeks ago I wrote about a vital ministry skill, knowing how to take a punch, being able to minister to someone despite the hurt they may inflict on you in the process.

What’s on my mind this week is another ministry skill that’s sometimes hard to come by: a commitment to presence and an understanding of absence. Or, more broadly, knowing and practicing the power of presence with the hurting as well as knowing and practicing the helpfulness of absence.