Heard the Negative Stats about Christians?

Last week I received my copy of Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites…and Other Lies You’ve Been Told by Bradley R. E. Wright, PhD.

I want to share with you how Wright begins chapter one. If this resonates with you, you might want to get a copy and read his findings.

“You may have herd the bad news about Christianity in America: The church is shrinking; Christians get divorced more than anyone else; non-Christians have a very low opinion of Christians; and on and on it goes. This disheartening news is often given to us in the form of statistics, which we seem to encounter everywhere. We find them in sermons, articles, books, and day-to-day conversation; and these numbers, based in research, seem official and trustworthy.

But there is a hitch.

Many of the statistics currently bandied about regarding the Christian faith in the United States are incomplete, inaccurate, and otherwise prone to emphasize the negative. Bad news has pushed aside the good news about the Good News.”

The first example Wright examines involves a provocative headline: “Only prostitutes rank lower than evangelicals in terms of respect in the mind of the public.” Having skimmed through the book, I can tell you this is but the first of many examples Wright examines in this book that shatters many of the myths created by both secular and Christin media.

When Helping Hurts

Over the last few weeks I have been reading When Helping Hurts: How To Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting The Poor…And Yourself by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert.

We live in a time when poverty is getting our attention. People are becoming more aware of poverty around the world and in their own backyards. Churches are remembering the call to care for the poor revealed in the Old Testament law and prophets and the ministry of Jesus and his apostles in  the early church. People are responding to that awareness. Churches are responding to that call.

And if you are concerned and you are responding; if your church is concerned, and your church is answering the call — you need to read this book!

When Helping Hurts will tell you what not to do and make sound suggestions of what you can do to apply the gospel to a broken world.  The truth is — many of our efforts to help do more harm than good. As a result, many will quickly tire of such efforts and they could end up setting back church ministry interest for years.

I have been involved in ministry to the poor and homeless for 25 years. Had this book been available 25 years ago I might have made far fewer mistakes.

First Tested

For some time I have been reading a chapter a day of Bill Hybel’s book, Axiom: Powerful Leadership Proverbs. I have thoroughly enjoyed being reminded of important church leadership principles through the use of quick stories which function like parables.

Hybels addresses a number of important issues that will be familair to anyone who has been involved in church leadership. I may not always agree with how Hybels deals with a particular situation, but reading his insights always makes me think through how I would act or react in a particular situation. One refreshing feature of this book that makes it real and accessible is that Hybels is not afraid to admit his mistakes and at times be very specific about how he has mishandled certain situations.

Check out the following from page 80.

“What’s the biggest mistake you’ve ever made as a leader?” It’s one of the most frequently asked questions I’ve received since I began coaching pastors and church leaders.

My answer’s always the same: “Placing people in significant leadership roles who were not first tested.” Truly, most of the worst managerial calamities I’ve caused — ones in which people got deeply hurt — can be traced back to my being overly optimistic putting people in roles they were ill equipped to play.

More times than I care to admit, I shouldered people with meaningful ministry responsibility before I’d adequately assessed their spiritual depth, their relational savvy, their capacity to operate effectively within a team environment, and their ability to deal with a crisis. Time and again, a stiff penalty was paid by all.

Hybels goes on in this short chapter to tell of ways he “first tested” men and women before they were entrusted with leadership roles.

If you are looking for a book that addresses common church problems with practical approaches, you might enjoy this easy-to-read book.

The Living Church

I have been reading The Living Church by John Stott. In this book, subtitled Convictions of a Lifelong Pastor, Stott shares about maintaining spiritual vitality and mission commitment over a long span of time. I especially appreciate his desire to communicate with both traditional and emerging churches.

Here are a few quotes from the opening chapters:

“It is not that the church’s calling is to ape the world, for it is called rather to develop a Christian counterculture. At the same time, we must listen to the voices of the world in order to be able to respond to them sensitively, though without compromise. “
John Stott, The Living Church, p. 12

“For the church lies at the very center of the eternal purpose of God. It is not a divine afterthought. It is not an accident of history. On the contrary, the church is God’s new community. For his purpose, conceived in a past eternity, is not just to save isolated individuals and so perpetuate our loneliness, but rather to build his church, that is, to call out of the world a people for his glory.”
John Stott, The Living Church, p. 19.

“We believe that the church has a double identity. On the one hand we are called out of the world to belong to God, and on the other hand, we are sent back into the world to witness and to serve.”
John Stott, The Living Church, p. 20.

“Moreover, the mission of the church is modeled on the mission of Christ. He himself said so. ‘As the Father has sent me, I am sending you’ (John 20:21). His mission meant for him the incarnation. He did not stay in the safe immunity of his heaven. Instead, he emptied himself of his glory and humbled himself to serve. He actually entered our world. He took our nature, lived our life, and died our death. He could not have identified with us more closely than he did. It was total identification, though without any loss of identity, for he became one of us without ceasing to be himself. He became human without ceasing to be God.

And now he calls us to enter other people’s worlds, as he entered ours. All authentic mission is incarnational mission. We are called to enter other people’s social and cultural reality: into their thought- world, struggling to understand their misunderstandings of the gospel, and into the pain of their alienation, weeping with those who weep. And all this without compromising our Christian beliefs, values, and standards.”
John Stott, The Living Church, pp. 20-21.

“. . .what is God’s vision for his church? What are the distinguishing marks of a living church? To answer these questions we have to go back to the beginning and take a fresh look at the first Spirit-filled church in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost. Mind you, as we do so, it is essential that we are realistic. For we have a tendency to idealize or romanticize the early church. We look at it through tinted spectacles. We speak of it in whispers, as if it had no blemishes. Then we miss the rivalries, the hypocrisies, the immoralities, and the heresies which troubled the first-century church as they trouble the church today.”
John Stott, The Living Church, p. 21.

The Shack

Looking for a good book to read this summer? Whether you are going to vacation at the beach or staycation at home, I want to suggest The Shack by William P. Young. The novel is a story in which the main character has his life shattered by personal tragedy. He then experiences a spiritual journey that transforms his despair and opens a new understanding of God’s grace.

Young grew up in a missionary family among the Dani tribe of Western New Guinea. He originally wrote the book as a gift for his six children with no intentions of having it published. However, when he showed the book to a few friends, they convinced him to seek publication. Several publishers turned him down. Christian publishers found it “too edgy” while secular publishers considered it “too Christian.”

Finally the book was published and the results have far exceeded any expectations the author may have had. My wife and several other friends have the read the book in recent weeks. Though I rarely read fiction, I plan to begin reading it over the next week.

Again, if you are looking for a good book to rwead this summer, check out The Shack which is available at out local Lifeway store or from Amazon.