Why I’m Not Giving Up on the Church

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Six years ago, I wrote this article for Relevant, and in light of my recent message from Ephesians 4 and my posts earlier this week, I think it is still as relevant as ever. It begins this way, but you can read the entire article here.

In 2011 the largest denomination in the United States, the Southern Baptist Convention, announced the results of a survey showing a significant decline in baptisms and church membership. Ed Stetzer, a missioligist and researcher with Lifeway Research, commented at the time: “This is not a blip. This is a trend. And the trend is one of decline.”

In the very same year, across the Atlantic, a report on the Church of England highlighted the challenges it was facing: aging congregations, faltering clergy recruitment and waning attendance. While church leaders used words like “crisis” and “time bomb,” the report predicted the church would likely be extinct within 20 years.

More recently, the Pew Research Center released a study on the state of religion in the United States entitled “‘Nones’ on the Rise.” The study brings into focus the increasing growth rate of those who do not identify with any religion at all. Nearly one-fifth of the U.S. adult population—and one-third of those under the age of 30—identify in this way; an increase from 15 percent just 5 years earlier.

For many people, these are signs that the church is, if not already dead, steadily moving toward the grave. And many have been calling for followers of Jesus to return to the original vision for our faith.

I have lived within the inner workings of the church for the past 15 years, and I will be one the first to agree with many who point out that the Church is full of brokenness.

When you stand on the inside of the church, you see the good, the bad and the ugly. I have been disheartened by the hypocrisy within the leadership of churches. I have experienced disillusionment when it seems like the church is more about ‘nickels and noses’ then it is about real life transformation. To be even more honest, I have seen my own failings and weaknesses as a supposed leader and wondered if this thing called church is truly real or worth it. There are times when I have wanted to give up on the church and ministry altogether.

But I’m not ready to sound the death toll for the Church. Here’s a story to tell you why.

[Read the entire article here.]

Attention as a Key to Wisdom

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The distractions of our lives slowly become the purpose of our lives when inattention and lack of focus reign within our souls.

The more information we have, the less true knowledge we attain. The less knowledge we attain, the more confusing our life experiences become.

Lacking knowledge and meaningful experience in a whirlpool of information, the more improbable becomes the development of wisdom in our lives.

One key toward gaining wisdom in our engagement with the world around us is attention.

Attention involves an extension of the self into the world, so that the world is more powerfully received into the self. It is the essential and necessary means of our growth in knowledge and of any progress that we make on the path toward wisdom. Attention shapes what we know and value, and therefore determines who we are and can become. – Christopher O. Blum and Joshua P. Hochschild,  A Mind at Peace: Reclaiming an Ordered Soul in the Age of Distraction (Manchester, NH: Sophie Institute Press, 2017), 120 [italics mine].

Without attention, we lack the ability to focus in our growth into true knowledge. Without attention, knowledge will not mix with our experience to become wisdom. While not the only key to wisdom, without the ability to attend to people, objects, and experiences around us, we will never move forward in gaining true wisdom.

Ban the Laptops?

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Peter Arkle

Does technology help or hinder learning? Putting the question so baldly likely will not lead to meaningful answers. However, as many social commentators call for deeper reflection on the impact of technology on our lives, increasing attention has been focused upon not only the benefits of technology in education, but also the drawbacks to true learning and human formation.

I’m hardly a Luddite, but I often advocate for discerning engagement with technology, including social media. In fact, our entire family was challenged to rethink our technology strategies while reading Andy Crouch‘s book The Tech-wise Family, a forced family read-a-loud while I was on sabbatical this summer.

Then, I encountered the following article in the New York Times, “Laptops Are Great. But Not During a Lecture or a Meeting,” by Professor Susan Dynarski from the University of Michigan. At least take a moment to read some of these excerpts below, if not the entire article, and let me know your thoughts:

with laptops, students can, in some ways, absorb more from lectures than they can with just paper and pen. They can download course readings, look up unfamiliar concepts on the fly and create an accurate, well-organized record of the lecture material. All of that is good.

But a growing body of evidence shows that over all, college students learn less when they use computers or tablets during lectures. They also tend to earn worse grades. The research is unequivocal: Laptops distract from learning, both for users and for those around them. It’s not much of a leap to expect that electronics also undermine learning in high school classrooms or that they hurt productivity in meetings in all kinds of workplaces….

The researchers hypothesized that, because students can type faster than they can write, the lecturer’s words flowed right to the students’ typing fingers without stopping in their brains for substantive processing. Students writing by hand had to process and condense the spoken material simply to enable their pens to keep up with the lecture. Indeed, the notes of the laptop users more closely resembled transcripts than lecture summaries. The handwritten versions were more succinct but included the salient issues discussed in the lecture….

The best evidence available now suggests that students should avoid laptops during lectures and just pick up their pens. It’s not a leap to think that the same holds for middle and high school classrooms, as well as for workplace meetings.

[Read the entire article here.]

MLK: ‘I Have a Dream’

dr-martin-luther-king-i-have-a-dream-speechOn this day celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr., I want to remind us of one of the unparalleled moments in his life and work.  While there is much that could be said about Martin Luther King, Jr., as a leader, orator, pastor, and husband, I want to encourage you today to simply read, listen to, or watch (below) the roughly seventeen-minute “I Have a Dream” speech that King gave over fifty years ago. The vision he articulated transcends his individual life and puts into eloquent words the deepest longings of many people then and now. This speech still rings with power, reminding us that, as he said, “Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning.” We have come so far but we still have so far to go.

A Call to Prayer and Forging a Way Forward

On Monday morning, December 22, I had a meeting scheduled with a group of five pastors (three African-American pastors and two Caucasian pastors) to discuss how we might stand together in the midst of the racial tensions in Milwaukee. Ironically, as we were walking into the meeting, the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office announced that there would be no charges in the Dontre Hamilton shooting case. This quickly changed the agenda and sense of urgency within our meeting.

The Dontre Hamilton case has added to the stream of cases, particularly over the past year, which raises questions about systemic issues of racial disparities in the implementation of justice in our nation. Along with the well-known cases of Trayvon Martin in Florida, Michael Brown in Ferguson, and Eric Garner in New York, the shooting of Dontre Hamilton increases the subtle sense that something is amiss in the way African-American men, even if committing crimes, are experiencing the implementation of justice in our nation. This is a complex situation that is bigger than just one element, whether law enforcement, educational opportunities, employment possibilities, or more.

I have talked with many individuals over the past few weeks who are trying to understand exactly what happened, what the meaning of this outcome is, and how we should respond as Christians in the face of these challenging times. As a pastor of a multiethnic church here in Milwaukee, I believe that the strongest witness happens when we journey together across our diverse backgrounds into a learning process that involves listening, speaking, and some very healthy reflection. Regardless of your opinions on the above matters, as followers of Jesus Christ we must approach these issues based upon God’s Word in the Scriptures.

A clear biblical response to this situation is to grieve. The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 12:15, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” We should mourn with the family of Dontre Hamilton, who lost a loved one in a way that no one would ever desire. Regardless of our ethnicity, we should mourn together as one with the African-American community who sense that things are not as they should be. Regardless of our opinions, we should mourn for the tragic killing of two police officers in New York City in an apparent act of vengeance for the outcome of the Eric Garner case. Regardless of our politics, we should mourn over our own city which ranks so highly in ethnic segregation, poverty, violent crime, racial disparities for incarceration, and more. A healthy biblical response is to grieve about this local situation in Milwaukee, as well as the situation that is shaking our nation.Read More »

Statistics on the US and Milwaukee

This past weekend in my message at Eastbrook Church entitled, “More,” I mentioned some statistics about the state of Christianity in the United States and also some statistics about Milwaukee. I am including those statistics here, along with the source for each, as a few people asked me for the specifics.

The United States:

  • Less than 20% attend church regularly
  • 50% of churches didn’t add one new person through conversion last year
  • 43,000 people are leaving every week
  • 100 years ago: 28 churches/10,000 people; Today: 11 churches/10,000 people
  • (source for above, Dave and Jon Ferguson, Exponential, page 14)

Milwaukee:

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Notes on Diversity and Multi-Ethnicity in Scripture

Last week, some of our staff at Eastbrook Church spent time reflecting on diversity, multi-ethnicity, and the international perspective within God’s plans for His people within the Scripture. We read some portions of the Bible aloud, then reflected together on what we were seeing there. What follows are the unedited notes from that time together.

Isaiah 66:18-2118 “And I, because of what they have planned and done, am about to come[a] and gather the people of all nations and languages, and they will come and see my glory. 19 “I will set a sign among them, and I will send some of those who survive to the nations—to Tarshish, to the Libyans[b] and Lydians (famous as archers), to Tubal and Greece, and to the distant islands that have not heard of my fame or seen my glory. They will proclaim my glory among the nations. 20 And they will bring all your people, from all the nations, to my holy mountain in Jerusalem as an offering to the Lord—on horses, in chariots and wagons, and on mules and camels,” says the Lord. “They will bring them, as the Israelites bring their grain offerings, to the temple of the Lord in ceremonially clean vessels. 21 And I will select some of them also to be priests and Levites,” says the Lord.