A Place to Talk about God in a Grown-Up Way

By Joe Allison

Last week, the Pew Research Center released the results of a poll of 35,000 people throughout the United States concerning their religious affiliation. They found that the number of people who describe themselves as “Christian” declined by 8 percent since 2007, while those who see themselves as “atheist” or devotees of “nothing in particular” rose by more than 7 percent.

Christian leaders have been wrestling with these numbers, trying to find some good news among the bad. Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention thinks the study does not signal a real decline in Christianity but rather greater freedom among atheists and “nones” to admit where they really stand. “We don’t have more atheists in America,” he blogged. “We have more honest atheists in America.”

That sounds plausible, and we’re all in favor of greater honesty when it comes to people’s faith convictions; but other commentators believe the study reflects an important shift in the public’s perception of the church.

Gary Hall, dean of the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., believes the study reveals “the church’s declining credibility as a place for people to pursue their spiritual questions.” In an interview with National Public Radio, he says:

One of the things that the survey says pretty strongly is that the people who are religious continue to have very strong desires to pray, to do important social justice work and community work with people, but they don’t see the church as the place to do that.

Hall’s entire interview is worth a listen. He says the American church needs to make significant change to fulfill its mission as Christ’s Body in this world. We need to encourage candid discussion of faith, build communities of mutual support, and engage people in meaningful community service.

I think one of the things the Pew study suggests to us is that if the church can get over its anxiety about talking about God in a grown-up way, we would actually reach out to and speak to more people than we do right now.

A discipling congregation encourages people “to pursue their spiritual questions” and “talk about God in a grown-up way” because honest talk can lead to genuine change.

A former missionary to Papua New Guinea has this motto hanging on the wall of his office:

Jisas he tok tru.

Indeed He does. So must we. Otherwise people will seek the truth elsewhere.

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A Season of Preparation

Easter consummates a season of spiritual preparation.

Lent has given us six weeks for self-examination, confession, and renewed devotion before we meet our resurrected Lord. It has invited us to break up the fallow ground of religious routine, and interrupted our rituals of worship so we could see the One we worship.

Now we hear the searching question that Christ asked Peter: “Do you love Me?” And, as with Peter, the Lord will not be satisfied with a casual word of assent. In the shadow of the Cross, we dare not be perfunctory in what we say or do. In the radiant light of Easter morning, we do not live as if this were just another day. We shout:

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

Yet words cannot express our joy at His appearing; only consecrated lives can. So that’s what we’ve been preparing since Ash Wednesday. —  J.D.A.

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The Gospel of Dirty Diapers

We invited 7 teachers of children to Warner Press recently to assess the curriculum materials offered by various publishers. One of them shared a moment from her own experience that vividly illustrates the importance of discipleship groups. She was presenting the week’s lesson in her usual way when one of the preschool boys raised his hand. “Who’s this Jesus you keep talking about?” he said. “I never heard of him.”

Before she could frame a response, another boy leaned into the circle and exclaimed, “WHAT?!? You don’t know who Jesus is?”

This little fellow was a street urchin, unwashed and ill-mannered, who came to the class every week. Without a moment’s hesitation, he said, “Jesus is the one who loves you when nobody else does. Why, Jesus loves you even if you have dirty diapers!”

The teacher’s mind flashed back to another week when she told the class about Jesus’  disciples’ trying to prevent children from crowding around him. “Let them come,” Jesus said, “for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”

She had pointed out that Jesus laid no minimum requirements on that invitation. She imagined that many of the children had dirty diapers in that day before disposables; yet he invited them to sit on his lap. She supposed many children had head lice, but he didn’t keep them at arm’s length. They must have been dirty and smelly, but he held them close and taught them about the love of God. That story had burned itself into the mind of the street boy. So he knew immediately who Jesus was: The one who loves you when nobody else does!

That exchange between two early-elementary boys in Sunday school has a lot of vital insights for anyone who leads groups in the church, but be sure to note this one: We best learn the Christian life with others who are learning. Discipleship is not a solitary pursuit.

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Intergenerational Ministry in Fortville, IN

A Glimpse of Interwoven on Vimeo-1New Life Christian Fellowship in Fortville, Indiana, is a pioneer of intergenerational ministry in the Church of God (Anderson, IN). Children and youth of the congregation are intentionally engaged in activities of the church as part of an emphasis called, “Interwoven.” Pastor Mark Adcock summarizes it well in this recent video clip from Vimeo. “We have a profound problem in the church today, that our children and our youth are…walking away from the faith primarily because they have been segmented from the ministry of the church,” Pastor Adcock told the congregation. “They don’t have relationships with you, the men and women of the church. Therefore, there’s [nothing to] draw them back to the church when that time comes.

“I have been praying and asking God to send the youth back into the heart of our worship so that we can join them and help them realize that they are loved.” So this emphasis seeks to  integrate all age groups into the vital worship and service experiences of the church. The theme of Interwoven is, “One Body: Moving. Speaking. Doing.”

Pastor Adcock is an emerging voice for intergenerational ministry, author of A Call to Grandparenting (Warner Press: 2013), which describes how elderly Christians can disciple children in Christian faith. This first volume of Warner Press’ “New Life Together” discipleship series. (Free sample chapter available here.)

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The Thoughtful Christian

Thoughtful Christian 001

An ecumenical resource for small discipleship groups, thethoughtfulchristian.com provides brief studies on a wide variety of subjects, from Bible study to current events. Unlike traditional Sunday School electives, which are designed to impart information, these studies prod users to reflect on their own belief and practice.

This approach can be unsettling for teachers who are used to a pattern of lecture/discussion, but it is more likely to help believers understand and articulate what they believe. According to the website, The Thoughtful Christian is “dedicated to helping Christians and seekers understand, share, practice, and be challenged in their faith.”

All of the studies can be downloaded electronically from the Thoughtful Christian website. They are inexpensive (sometimes free), and can be used in a variety of settings, not just a formal classroom. These flexible, provocative resources are highly recommended for individuals and small groups who are ready to wrestle with difficult spiritual questions.

–Joe Allison

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“New Life Together” Releases 2 New Books

Church of God Ministries, Inc. (CGM), is delaying the full release of its new generation of discipleship resources known as “New Life Together” to allow the new CGM General Director and his team to assess the ministry needs of the church. Details about that strategy will be announced in the coming months. However, two core books of the “New Life Together” program are being released in November.

Every-Member-WebEvery-Member Ministry, by Dr. Kevin Earley of Metropolitan Church of God in Detroit, shows how to engage an entire congregation in active ministry. Dr. Earley explains that all spiritual gifts are given for the good of the community. The challenge is for every congregation to learn how to develop and use those gifts in “the priesthood of all believers” (1 Pet. 2:5, 9). To order this book, click here.

 Grandparenting-WebA Call to Grandparenting, by Pastor Mark Adcock of New Life Christian Fellowship in Fortville, Indiana, summons older Christians to disciple their grandchildren. This kind of spiritual mentoring is needed more than ever, and grandparents are ideally positioned to provide it. A series of stories from Mark’s own childhood show how powerful the influence of a godly grandparent can be. To order this book, click here.

“We have developed leaders’ guides, video discussion starters, and other tools to help congregations experience ‘New Life Together’ to its fullest,” says Joe Allison, CGM Coordinator of Publishing. “Their release will depend on strategic decisions that our General Director is preparing to make. In the meantime, we hope many churches will use Pastor Earley’s and Pastor Adcock’s books.”

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Covenant Produces NLT Videos

Anderson University’s Covenant Productions has completed 7 videos that will be part of the “New Life Together” discipleship series coming from Warner Press in December. The multi-media Resource Packages containing study books, leader’s guides, video DVD’s, and other materials can be ordered from Warner Press in November.

 Appearing in a video segment for Every-Member Ministry are (l. to r.): Dr. Kevin W. Earley, Rev. Ann E. Brandon, and Rev. Johnny L. Newton.

Appearing in a video segment for Every-Member Ministry are (l. to r.): Dr. Kevin W. Earley, Rev. Ann E. Brandon, and Rev. Johnny L. Newton.

The first two modules of “New Life Together” are based upon new books by Kevin W. Earley and Mark R. Adcock. Dr. Earley’s Every-Member Ministry explains how laypersons can discover their spiritual gifts and begin to use them for ministry. Rev. Adcock’s A Call to Grandparenting shows older believers how to lead their grandchildren to Christ and disciple them as new Christians.

Covenant’s videos provide additional background information and discussion starters for each book. They help a small group to delve into these resources and apply them to their daily lives.

Covenant Productions was won numerous awards for its work, including a 2010 Emmy for “A Ripple of Hope,” a documentary concerning Robert Kennedy.

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