Barna on Adoption

BU-110513-infographic2As many of you know, we are in the process of adoption. Max was placed with us back in October and we are working our way through the steps toward finalization. For the last couple of years, our awareness of adoption has grown, which caused me to check out this article from the Barna Group.

Through our own consideration of adding to our family through adoption and several of our friends who have adopted or are considering it, I found this information to be interesting.

Here are the highlights of the article. You can read the entire article on the Barna Group website.

1) Today, there are more than 150 million orphans worldwide.

An orphan is defined as a child with at least one deceased parent, and there are enough orphans in the world today to fill a Super Bowl stadium—not just once, but 180 times. There are also 18 million “double orphans,” those who’ve lost both parents, in need of a home.

2) While one–quarter of all adults say they have seriously considered adoption, only 2% have actually done so.

Adoption serves one of the world’s greatest needs, but while it’s deeply meaningful, it’s not always easy, for many reasons. And the gap between those considering adoption and those who go actually adopt reflects the many challenges that crop up to prevent needy children from finding homes.

3) Practicing Christians are more than twice as likely to adopt than the general population.

While Christians have built a reputation for many of the things they are against, adoption and foster care are emerging as a cause they are for. While only 2% of all Americans have adopted, this rises to 5% among practicing Christians.

4) The global weight of adoption efforts is carried by just 2% of Americans.

As some of the most privileged people in the world, it’s no surprise that Americans are leading adoption efforts internationally. But when this is put into statistical perspective, this disproportion becomes far more striking: Since American adoptions comprise nearly half of all adoptions worldwide, this means the global weight of adoption efforts rests on the shoulders of the 2% of American adoptive parents.

5) The typical adoptive family is a multi–ethnic one.

Altar Ego

Altar_Ego_Series_-_Art_Preview_587x327My wife attended a Catalyst One Day event last spring with her church staff and heard Craig Groeschel speak. I have heard him on LifeChurch.tv and on some podcasts, but haven’t heard him live. She enjoyed his speaking style and was encouraged by what he said, so I got her a copy of Altar Ego. Since we share a Nook library, I had access to the book and finished reading it this week.

I’ve read Groeschel’s book, Chazown, and appreciate his straight forward writing style. He is transparent about his own failures and how God uses him despite his past. This is a big part of his writing in Altar Ego.

His encouragement in this book is to become who God says you are. In one of the early chapters, he makes the point that we are God’s masterpiece and are called to do His good works. I thought this phrase was pretty powerful: “You have everything you need to do everything God wants you to do.

Through scriptures and stories from his life and others, Groeschel encourages the reader to become the person God says each of us is. I appreciated how he tried to made practical application to anyone who might read this book. At times he spoke to parents, to kids, to college students, to single moms, to men, to women, all in attempt to bring some practical steps to becoming the person God has in mind for each of us.

If you like straight forward writing, mixed in with humor (and occasional sarcasm), while pointing back to God’s Word, you should pick up Altar Ego.

The Rippling Effect of Influence

churchYesterday we combined with another church in our community for our Sunday morning worship service. We are a predominantly white church and they are an African-American church and we worshiped together with a third church joining us about a year ago. For our service yesterday, some of their praise team members joined us for the music portion. Since our churches have different styles of music, they had to learn the songs “our way.” One of the songs was brand new to them (or at least most of them) and they had less than a week to feel comfortable with it. They were great!

A large portion of the service was given to testimonies and we had several individuals share. A recurring theme was how the influence of our church (which has been around for over 50 years) made a difference in the lives of people.

Here are a few examples:

– one gentleman who shared is in leadership in another church in Wilmington. He came to faith sometime after his teen years. He said some of the early seeds of faith were planted in him at the High School Prayer Breakfast our church offered when he was a student.

– another testimony was given by a man who recently moved back to Wilmington and has found a place of acceptance and support in our men’s group called “The Cave.” During his testimony he shared how he remembered coming to church here as a young boy. Now he is back and his kids are involved in our children’s ministry.

– one of our elementary aged boys was baptized near the beginning of the service. He was baptized by his grandfather who is a retired Baptist preacher who is serving as an interim minister at a local church. He meets with our pastor and several other pastors for prayer each Wednesday. He said he came to Wilmington to retire, but instead found revival. The father of the boy who was baptized grew up here at the church and has several family members who are still a part of our church family. He and his wife also serve in our student and young adult ministry.

I was impressed with the idea of how God has used this particular church family to influence so many individuals and families. While our church is far from perfect (just like any other church you would visit), God has used her to be a place of growth and life change for many individuals. Sometimes it is good to stop and celebrate who God is, what He has done and how He uses people to accomplish His purposes.

Men Not Singing In Church

worshipYesterday, a member of our church family tagged me in an article called “Why Men Have Stopped Signing In Church.” I have pasted the content of the article below or you can click on the link in the previous sentence. The nice thing is that the tag on Facebook contained a compliment to me (thanks Marilyn!) and even generated a couple of comments.

I thought the article was well-written. It contained a history of congregational singing provided a perspective of how worship has changed over the years.

While we certainly haven’t cornered the market on wisdom regarding worship in the church, I had a couple of observations related to what the author of the article set forth.

In regards to men singing in church, I think we need to recognize that there are some men who just won’t sing. Regardless of who is leading or what songs are used, there are some men (and women, too) who just don’t like to sing. I can think of a couple of different men who are believers and leaders in our church, but simply don’t sing in a group. I don’t think it is a sign of lack of maturity or an indication that they don’t worship. They just don’t choose to express it through singing.

I do think it is important for the worship leader to use songs that each congregation is familiar with so they can sing along. When we introduce new songs (and there are a lot of good ones out there), we use it several times in a short period of time so our church family can learn it. With the growth of Christian music, a lot of people can listen to the worship songs outside of the Sunday morning experience. That is helpful in shortening the learning curve, but not everyone will hear it outside of the worship service.

We take our time in adding new songs to the rotation so that people are familiar with what we are singing. One very large church that would fall into the description the author of the article uses (band, lights, screens, etc.) uses a rotation of about 25 songs. They acknowledge that not all those who attend their church are present every Sunday, so they limit the number of songs they use to increase the chance people have learned the songs.

I don’t think you can judge worship by musical style because there is just so much music out there and many different preferences. The article was good food for thought and should encourage worship leaders to examine what we do on Sundays in leading people in worship.

Here’s the content of the article:

It happened again yesterday. I was attending one of those hip, contemporary churches — and almost no one sang. Worshippers stood obediently as the band rocked out, the smoke machine belched and lights flashed. Lyrics were projected on the screen, but almost no one sang them. A few women were trying, but I saw only one male (other than the worship leader) making the attempt.

A few months ago I blogged, “Have Christians Stopped Singing?” I did some research, and learned that congregational singing has ebbed and flowed over the centuries. It reached a high tide when I was a young man – but that tide may be going out again. And that could be bad news for men.

First, a very quick history of congregational singing.
Before the Reformation, laypersons were not allowed to sing in church. They were expected to stand mute as sacred music was performed by professionals (priests and cantors), played on complex instruments (pipe organs), and sung in an obscure language (Latin).
Reformers gave worship back to the people in the form of congregational singing. They composed simple tunes that were easy to sing, and mated them with theologically rich lyrics. Since most people were illiterate in the 16th century, singing became an effective form of catechism. Congregants learned about God as they sang about God.

A technological advance – the printing press – led to an explosion of congregational singing. The first hymnal was printed in 1532, and soon a few dozen hymns became standards across Christendom. Hymnals slowly grew over the next four centuries. By the mid 20th century every Protestant church had a hymnal of about 1000 songs, 250 of which were regularly sung. In the church of my youth, everyone picked up a hymnal and sang every verse of every song.

About 20 years ago a new technological advance – the computer controlled projection screen – entered America’s sanctuaries. Suddenly churches could project song lyrics for all to see. Hymnals became obsolete. No longer were Christians limited to 1,000 songs handed down by our elders.

At first, churches simply projected the songs everyone knew – hymns and a few simple praise songs that had come out of the Jesus Movement. People sang robustly.

But that began to change about ten years ago. Worship leaders realized they could project anything on that screen. So they brought in new songs each week. They drew from the radio, the Internet, and Worship conferences. Some began composing their own songs, performing them during worship, and selling them on CD after church.
In short order we went from 250 songs everyone knows to 250,000+ songs nobody knows.

Years ago, worship leaders used to prepare their flocks when introducing a new song. “We’re going to do a new song for you now,” they would say. “We’ll go through it twice, and then we invite you to join in.”

That kind of coaching is rare today. Songs get switched out so frequently that it’s impossible to learn them. People can’t sing songs they’ve never heard. And with no musical notes to follow, how is a person supposed to pick up the tune?

And so the church has returned to the 14th century. Worshippers stand mute as professional-caliber musicians play complex instruments, sung in an obscure language. Martin Luther is turning over in his grave.
What does this mean for men? On the positive side, men no longer feel pressure to sing in church. Men who are poor readers or poor singers no longer have to fumble through hymnals, sing archaic lyrics or read a musical staff.

But the negatives are huge. Men are doers, and singing was one of the things we used to do together in church. It was a chance to participate. Now, with congregational singing going away, and communion no longer a weekly ordinance, there’s only one avenue left for men to participate in the service – the offering. Is this really the message we want to send to men? Sit there, be quiet, and enjoy the show. And don’t forget to give us money.

There’s nothing wrong with professionalism and quality in church music. The problem isn’t the rock band, or the lights, or the smoke machine. The key is familiarity. People enjoy singing songs they know.

How do I know? When that super-hip band performed a hymn, the crowd responded with gusto. People sang. Even the men.

The Church and Spiritual Formation

churchOur current sermon series this month is titled Roots: Maturity and it is focusing on spiritual formation. This morning I saw a link on Tony Morgan’s blog to an article called “12 Reasons Why Your Church Doesn’t Produce Spiritual.

Mr. Morgan had read the book Move: What 1,000 Churches Reveal about Spiritual Growth by Greg Hawkins and Cally Parkinson. I had not heard of the book, but I thought the highlights Mr. Morgan shared were interesting and gave some food for thought for those who work in the church. I shared it with our Senior Minister to see how some of these might apply to us.

Here are Tony Morgan’s highlights from Move.

1. You focus more on Bible teaching than Bible engagement. – “We learned that the most effective strategy for moving people forward in their journey of faith is biblical engagement. Not just getting people into the Bible when they’re in church—which we do quite well—but helping them engage the Bible on their own outside of church.”

2. You haven’t developed a pathway of focused first steps. – “Instead of offering up a wide-ranging menu of ministry opportunities to newcomers, best-practice churches promote and provide a high-impact, nonnegotiable pathway of focused first steps—a pathway designed specifically to jumpstart a spiritual experience that gets people moving toward a Christ-centered life.”

3. You’re more concerned about activity than growth. – “Increased church activity does not lead to spiritual growth.”

4. You haven’t clarified the church’s role. – “Because—whether inadvertently or intentionally—these churches have communicated to their people that, no matter where they are on their spiritual journey, the role of the church is to be their central source of spiritual expertise and experience. As a result, even as people mature in their beliefs and embrace personal spiritual practices as part of their daily routines, their expectation is that it will be the church, not their own initiative, that will feed their spiritual hunger.”

5. You’re focused more on small groups than serving. – “Serving experiences appear to be even more significant to spiritual development than organized small groups.”

6. You’re not challenging people to reflect on Scripture – “If they could do only one thing to help people at all levels of spiritual maturity grow in their relationship with Christ, their choice would be equally clear. They would inspire, encourage, and equip their people to read the Bible—specifically, to reflect on Scripture for meaning in their lives.”

7. You’re unwilling to admit that more is not better. – “Based on findings from the most effective churches, however, this ‘more is better’ way of thinking is not the best route for people who are new to a church, and it is particularly unsuitable for people who are taking their first steps to explore the Christian faith… Instead of offering a ministry buffet with multiple tempting choices of activities and studies, these churches make one singular pathway a virtual prerequisite for membership and full engagement with the church.”

8. You haven’t raised the bar. – “Too many churches are satisfied to have congregations filled with people who say they ‘belong’ to their church—who attend faithfully and are willing to serve or make a donation now and then. But that belonging bar is not high enough; simply belonging doesn’t get the job done for Jesus.”

9. You’ve created a church staff dependency. – “Taking too much responsibility for others’ spiritual growth fostered an unhealthy dependence of congregants on the church staff.”

10. You believe that small groups are the solution to spiritual formation. – “Based on the churches we have studied, including our own, there is no evidence that getting 100 percent of a congregation into small groups is an effective spiritual formation strategy.”

11. You focus on what people should do rather than who people should become. – “Unfortunately, churches often make things harder still by obscuring the goal—to become more like Christ—with a complicated assortment of activities. For instance, encouraging people to: Attend teaching and worship services every week. Meet frequently with small community and Bible study groups (often requiring follow-up communications and homework). Serve the church a couple times a month. Serve those who are underresourced on a regular basis. Invite friends, coworkers, and family to church, special events, support groups, etc. When the church incessantly promotes all the things people should do, it’s very easy for them to lose sight of the real goal—which is who they should become.”

12. You aren’t helping people surrender their lives to Jesus. – “Spiritual growth is not driven or determined by activities; it is defined by a growing relationship with Christ. So the goal is not to launch people into an assortment of ministry activities; it is to launch them on a quest to embrace and surrender their lives to Jesus.”

90 Day Challenge – Week 5

GOYOYesterday’s reading completed Day 35, which signified the end of week 5 in our 90 Day Challenge. Now that we are over one-third of the way through, hopefully we are saying consistent in our reading and, more than that, growing in our understanding of God and His Word.

We are moving swiftly through the book of Acts and it presents such a great picture of what the church should look like. As they met together, they shared whatever they had with one another and met each other’s needs. Because of how they loved each other and treated each other, God brought more people into their fellowship. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of a group that loved genuinely and served selflessly?

As persecution comes on the church, the followers of Jesus spread out from city to city and village to village. As they went, they shared what they knew about Jesus. As you read the sermons and testimonies that were shared, the followers of Jesus always came back to His life, death and resurrection. It was simply about Jesus.

Hopefully we are reminded and encouraged to simply share what we know about Jesus with those we encounter. Keep up the good work in your 90 Day Challenge.

Deep & Wide review

deep & wideLast night I finished reading Andy Stanley’s latest book, Deep & Wide. It was written to tell the story of North Point Ministries, how they started and why they do what they do. While Stanley doesn’t insist that the way they do it is the best way or the way everyone should do it, he does explain their philosophy, core values and how they evaluate what they do. He also makes a point to explain how they continually look at what they are doing so they don’t stray from their intended purpose.

What I heard most about Deep & Wide when it was first released was the opening chapters where Andy Stanley reveals some of his personal life, including his parents’ divorce, and how his life experiences lead to the start of North Point. It was a pretty transparent telling of events and more than most pastors would reveal. If you have been through a divorce or are close to those who have, you are familiar with the pain and lasting impact it has on those involved. Stanley’s sharing of his story illustrates that God can redeem even the most difficult circumstances.

Deep & Wide shares a lot of good insight for those who work in the church, whether in a leadership role or serving in a specific ministry. Stanley offers some challenging thoughts and intentionally creates discomfort for the reader in some of what he writes. He shares some of the things they have learned at North Point in regards to creating a welcoming environment, communicating to both church and non-churched (or de-churched) people, leading a church through change and the importance of leadership.

Stanley is a good communicator and has some good statements in the book. Here are a couple I highlighted:

“The most ineffective way to begin a conversation about change is to talk about what needs to change. You should never begin a conversation about change by addressing where you are now. You should always begin with where you want to be.”

“Knowledge alone makes Christians haughty.  Application makes us holy.”

“We ask of every environment:  Was the presentation engaging?  Not, was it true?  Churches aren’t empty because preachers are lying.”

Deep & Wide is a good read and a good resource for those involved in the local church.  Andy Stanley’s passion comes through in what he writes and he offers some good insight, questions and suggestions for church leaders to consider and then implement in their setting.

Effects of Divorce on Kids Involvement in Church

churchOne of the regular emails I receive is HomeWord’s Culture Brief. It is designed to help parents and ministry leaders stay current with youth culture.

In the January 18, 2013 edition they referenced an article from the Chicago-Tribune that highlights research that indicates that kids raised in happy, intact marriages are twice as likely to worship later in life than children whose parents divorce amicably.

I think this speaks to different groups – both the church and to parents. The church continues to struggle to address the issue of students that grow up in the church that don’t return once they hit adulthood.

It speaks to parents as yet another negative effect of divorce. I thought it was interesting that the article used the word “amicable” to describe certain divorces. In my experience, I don’t know if you can really put the words “amicable” and “divorce” together, unless it is simply to make the adults in the dissolving relationship feel better about what is taking place.

I certainly don’t have more answers than anyone else; just found this to be an interesting insight into the impact divorce has on the kids involved. While God is certainly able to work in the lives of divorced parents and kids from divorced homes, I think this research sounds another warning bell for today’s families.

Here is that portion of the article featured in the HomeWord email:

Seeking to highlight a phenomenon that has become so common that it’s often overlooked by clergy, a new analysis of data about children of divorce reveals that kids raised in happy, intact marriages are twice as likely to worship later in life than children whose parents divorce amicably. Researchers say they hope the unprecedented project will awaken pastors to a common oversight contributing to the decline in mainline Christian denominations and religious affiliation in general. “Children of divorce are on the leading edge of the well-documented spiritual-but-not-religious movement,” said Elizabeth Marquardt, the project’s lead author. “These are potential leaders. As we grapple with more and more people growing up without a married mom and dad, the church can make more sense of that.

90 Day Challenge – Week Three

GOYOWe are done with week three of our 90 Day Challenge. Yesterday was day #21 and we are beginning week four today. If you are taking the challenge, stop for a moment and give yourself a hand (go ahead, I’ll wait)…

I do think it is important to celebrate our progress along the way. Maybe for some of us, this has been the most consistent we’ve been or even the longest we’ve stayed with a reading plan. Even if you have fallen behind, don’t get discouraged. Remember – our goal is to develop the habit of spending time regularly with God. The 90 Day Challenge is just a tool to do that.

One thing that has grabbed my attention as we have gone through the Gospel of Luke is Jesus’ teaching on prayer. In Luke 11 the disciples ask Him to teach them to pray. He gives the model prayer and then tells a story about a neighbor who comes at midnight and knocks on the door asking for bread. In Luke 18 we hear the Parable of the Persistent Widow. In both stories, the point seems to be that a request is granted because the person was persistent in asking.

In Luke 11, the NIV uses this phrase to describe the request: “shameless audacity.” In Luke 18, the judge grants the widow’s request because she “keeps bothering” him.

Jesus characterizes God as a Father who cares about His children and loves to give good gifts to them. So, rather than seeing God as a judge to be bothered or a neighbor to be woken up, we should see God as a Father who wants us to ask. The takeaway from these two teachings for me has been that I should ask God for the things on my heart. As I look at the decisions that need to be made in the coming months, I should ask God for His direction. I guess the question I could ask myself is this: have I brought my requests to God with “shameless audacity?”

Top Worship Songs at WCC in 2012

worshipI got this idea from a worship leader’s blog I receive. He listed the top songs they did at his church in 2012. It was a listing not of his favorite songs, but those which they did most frequently.

It got me to thinking about which songs we used most often last year. We try to use a variety of songs (not sing the same songs over and over). We also have tried to introduce some newer worship songs while utilizing the songs our congregation responds to in worship. So here are the songs we used based on how many times we sang them in 2012.

1) At Your Name (Yahweh, Yahweh) – new one we introduced in 2012
2) Awesome is the Lord
3) Be Glorified
4) Beautiful One
5) By His Wounds
6) Come Just As You Are
7) Draw Me Close
8) Everlasting God
9) Give Us Clean Hands
10) Glory to God Forever
11) Hallelujah (Your Love is Amazing)
12) Here I Am to Worship
13) Holy is the Lord
14) How Great is our God
15) I Will Follow
16) It is Well (Todd Fields arrangement)
17) Jesus Messiah
18) Jesus, Son of God – this was new this year, too
19) Mighty to Save
20) Our God
21) Shout to the Lord
22) We Fall Down
23) We Want to See Jesus Lifted High
24) Worthy is the Lamb
25) You Alone Can Rescue

There were many other songs we used, but these were the ones we used more often than the rest. Kind of interesting to see. Any good worship songs that are on your list?