Church members often expect a silver bullet. I’ve learned over the years that church members can see a consultation to be like taking a car to be serviced and repaired. Once a few issues are handled, the car (or the church) is like new, and they can get back to business as usual. Church members are ready to accept change until the change affects them. When church members hear the caution that a consultant will likely recommend changes for the church, they often accept that they are fine with it. And they are fine with it until it affects them personally.
I did my first church consultation in 1988. Since then, I have been involved in hundreds of consultations of different ilk and varying depth.
I am not the brightest person, but I can lead a church consultation with ease. I am glad, because we had more consultation requests in 2023 than I have ever seen in my experience in this ministry. The ease by which I consult is not due to my intellect, but to the fact that I have done so many. Patterns develop. Solutions become obvious. Objections can be anticipated.
When a church leader contacts us to discuss a consultation, that leader often asks us about our “success rate.” For most church leaders, they define success as a numerical turnaround. Others have a specific problem they want us to solve. For them, the consultation is a success if the problem goes away.
So, how do we answer the question? What is our success rate? If you define success like church leaders did in the previous paragraph, our consultation success rate is only about one-half.
In case you did not read closely, I want to say it again. We only succeed in our consultations in one out of two cases. That is 50%. That is abysmal.
But on the positive side, we’ve learned the one major factor that most often determines success in church consultations. Let’s look at that one key factor. You might be surprised.
The Main Factor
I love my primary physician. He is not only a great doctor, he’s a very good friend. Though I don’t frequent his office that much (I am thankful for good health), I do enjoy (most of) the visits. Recently, we got into a discussion about his “success rate.” He is considered one of the best diagnostic physicians in the business.
Though my doctor did not give me a quantitative success rate, he did tell me that it is lower than he wishes. Of course, I asked him why.
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By Steve McAlpine — 5 months ago
First, Christians can call secular leaders to account with grace and humility. Even the tone and shape of our political disagreements must adorn the gospel. Second, Christians who are in political power must maintain the tension of holding moral certainty with political reality. It cannot be the case that the winner takes it all.
The funeral of Queen Elizabeth II in 2022 will be seen as the last great public acknowledgment in the West of a transcendence that limits temporal power. In our secular age, religion is reduced to a privatized experience. The public square declares, “No heaven above us and no hell below.” The Queen’s funeral, replete with the language of temporal power being given by God, threw down a challenge to the rulers of this age: there is a God in heaven.
Such a challenge isn’t new. And neither is the idea.
We meet it most significantly in the book of Daniel, the exile template par excellence of the Old Testament. Daniel specifically states to King Nebuchadnezzar, “There is a God in heaven” (Dan. 2:28). This theme is repeated throughout the book, particularly in the narrative chapters 1–6, as are synonymous titles such as “Most High” and “King of heaven” (e.g., 2:18, 37; 3:26; 4:2, 37; 5:18).
Daniel’s message of God’s transcendent rule is a timely word for us today as the West polarizes politically with a left and right divide, a divide mirrored in lamentable ways within the church.
We’re being pressed with two extremes in the political realm. First, there’s the seemingly ascendant progressive political agenda that, as Mark Sayers puts it, “seeks to gain the fruit of God’s kingdom—such as justice, peace, prosperity and redemption—but without the King.” The left craves human rights that are the fruit of the gospel throughout history but despises the roots.
Yet there’s an equal and opposite push. Perhaps we could call it “Christendom without Christ.” This is a move from the right that even some in the church espouse. It’s a call for a return to the supposedly golden age of politics past, in which a Christianized culture set the political tone and agenda. We don’t need everyone to be saved. That’s not possible. But we should use temporal power to make the culture as “Christian” as we can—all within a democratic setting, of course. The trick is how to sell the product at a time when the percentage of church attendees is in decline and the percentage of “nones” and “dones” is on the rise.
The movements have more in common with each other than adherents would care to admit. Their actions either refute or negate the central truth that there’s a God in heaven.
By Bruce Lowe — 5 months ago
What does this mean for the Christian living in a given neighborhood? What does this mean for a Christian going to work? What does this mean for a Christian taking their child to soccer practice and how they mix with other parents? What does this mean for the children themselves and how they act towards their friends on the team who are not Christians? This is where the rubber meets the road, isn’t it? And from 1 Peter the answer should be quite obvious. The kind of true revolution we are talking about, the one that Paul himself spoke about in 1 Corinthians, where it is truly a work of God in people, not just a work of humans, is one where the Holy Spirit transforms lives and those lives shine out to others. No gimmicks, no shortcuts.
When the first Christians were in process of becoming something big, something substantial from the perspective of all around them, a Jew named Gamaliel stood up and gave this speech:
35 And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. 36 For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. 37 After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered. 38 So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” (Acts 5:35-39)
From this it seems that there can be no “theories” of effective revolutions. They just are. They must just happen. The Holy Spirit either will or won’t blow with gale force strength in the direction he intends, carrying along the otherwise pathetic little boat, taking it to exactly the place he intends it. This is about absolute divine agency. Paul writes about this too by way of his strategy in evangelism:
And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:2-5)
Note, however, there is still a strategy here, its just a strategy to focus on the right things, things that will rightly direct people towards God and his power, not towards human powers.
Not too long ago I was inspired by something I read in Fredrick Nietzsche. (I know, but stick with me….) It was in a section on how to learn from history. Nietzsche was walking a tight rope – on the one hand, as a true modernist, he wanted everyone to find their own way, not looking always backwards to tradition, yet on the other hand he recognized that to take a completely renegade attitude risked failing to learn good lessons from the past. So, Nietzsche advocated a balance, sifting through what is good and inspirational from the past and taking it on board, while at the same time never being bound by the parameters of the past. As an example of such inspiration, Nietzsche gave the Renaissance, a movement form the 13th century, predominantly in Florence, wherein roughly two hundred people had a common vision which they worked out together. Pause and consider! If one knows anything about the effects of the Renaissance on the history of Western Civilization, it is quite extraordinary to realize that it all started with roughly two hundred people.
Also not long ago I read Immanuel Kant’s little essay, Was ist Äufklarung? (“What is Enlightenment?”). In this powerful little essay Kant effectively warned that the Enlightenment would never become an effective movement while people in their enthusiasm were just dislocated, just running madly in their own individual directions. The world traditions, the systems of society, will take such enthusiasm and simply crunch it up, grind it to dust. So, in order to really have an Enlightenment movement, Kant argues, what is needed is group support, people striving together for the cause.
What both Nietzsche and Kant say is quite similar: we must all at least have a vision and know where we are going.
None of this will sound very novel. It is simply the stuff of good management. One needs to set a vision of which people can grab hold, and one needs to unify people around that vision. But missing are Gamaliel and Paul’s insights: respectively, things failing unless God is in them and making sure that God is at the center, not people.
The danger here is that we see both Gamaliel and Paul as presenting an alternative to what we learn from Kant and Nietzsche: worldly effective revolutions have vision and commonality, but Christian ones have neither, they are just carried by a force bigger than any human force.
In this essay I want to briefly explore 1 Peter, because it seems to me that 1 Peter presents us with something of a middle-ground in this whole debate (and possibly also then a middle ground between James Hunter and his critics). 1 Peter is a letter about a Christian revolution, a revolution that is anticipated and expected to impact the whole of society. What Peter touts is quite clearly a God-centered Christian revolution, but it is not at all “disorganized” in a kind of “let-go and let-God” kind of way. It has definite structure to it. It is also revolutionary in the truest sense of the word too. In other words, it is not just a benign kind of pattern being presented. Everything in 1 Peter shouts: “Here is how Christianity will turn the world upside down!” So what does it say? What is the message?
Ancient letters kept a standard form, a normal way to write them. Just as children in more modern times have been taught to start a letter with “Dear John” and finish it with “Yours Sincerely,” so in the ancient world letters had a form. What is often unrecognized is that this form included a section where the author was meant to tell the audience why they were writing. This is gold! This is extraordinary, because if we are able to learn to pay attention to this it will make it a whole lot easier trying to understand the purposes of the many letters in the New Testament of the Bible. 1 Peter was a letter, and it also followed the form-guide in terms of having a section intended to disclose the purpose for writing. Here is the relevant section, according to letter theory:
11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (1 Peter 2:11-12)
Three clues show the first readers (and us) that this is meant to be Peter’s statement for writing: the position of these verses (coming after the prayer of thanksgiving), the word “urge,” and the direct address to the readers.
So, what is the outcome Peter hopes to see? A revolution. He hopes that when God comes to visit an expansive number of people will glorify God. This sounds an awful lot like the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, which asks: “What is the chief end of man?” The answer: “To glorify God and enjoy him forever.” 1 Peter 2:11-12 is revolutionary in that it describes a movement throughout humanity, among not just Christians but the wider society, such that those who are not Christians will either become Christians or at least be directed towards God’s overall glory in the future.
Then notice here is what comes next. 1 Peter has much in common with other New Testament letters, especially Ephesians and Colossians. All these letters have large sections at the end where they go through different classes of people and tell them how they should behave. But interestingly in 1 Peter there is a difference. Whereas in Ephesians and Colossians the direction of discussion seems to be about unity of the body of Christ and also protection against future attacks—do these things and you will be an effective Church for effectiveness sake—in 1 Peter pretty much everything is directed towards the impact such behavior will have on the outside world.
By Tim Wilson — 1 year ago
She was a woman in constant demand. Pastors from the US praised her for her importance to Spurgeon’s church. Women from across the world wrote to her for advice in their own endeavours. Even in semi-retirement, men begged her to speak to women at their churches.
The streets of London were at a standstill.
Thousands crowded the streets to say goodbye to a dearly loved teacher. The Metropolitan Tabernacle was too full to hold the mourners.
Charles Spurgeon the following Sunday said this: “I have this day lost from my side one of the most faithful fervent, and efficient of my helpers, and the Church has lost one of her most useful members.”
Who was this faithful helper?
Mrs. Lavinia Strickland Bartlett.
Who was Lavinia? And what made her such a valued fellow servant of the great Charles Spurgeon?
Frequently, in history women’s stories remain untold. But such was her fame that Lavinia’s story was recorded by her son Edward H. Bartlett. It’s hard to find today but in this article I will give a quick overview of her life.
So set aside a few minutes to read a brief summary of her amazing story and what we can learn from her life.
Even at an early age, Lavinia showed the heart of an evangelist.
She read hymns to her her younger brothers before bed.
In her teens, she taught the “preaching, praying class” at Sunday school.
She even set up a school for girls.
But in her town, she was best known as “the praying girl.”
Their local parson failed to care for his flock. So for a time, a dissenting deacon “Pattern Wade” was called to death beds to support those in need.
However, eventually Pattern Wade was called home. He was soon replaced by Lavinia. Her son describes how she prayed with “harlots, poachers, burglars and prizefighters…at all hours of the day and night.” She walked miles and miles to visit those in need.
One story demonstrates her character. In the town was a horse breaker, the father of one of the members of her Sunday School. He was opposed to Christianity and boasted that he’d entered church twice in his life: when his mother took him to be Christened and when his wife took him to be married.
On his death bed, he refused to see any clergyman, even shouting them out of the house. A butcher friend encouraged him to see “the praying girl.”
Lavinia arrived and gave “a simple appeal to the love of Christ”. Amazingly, the man was soon in tears. He trusted Jesus and was soon ushered into eternal life.
The Praying Mother
But as a result of this, the “praying girl” became the “praying mother”. She devoted herself to her sons. Their father died when the boys were teenagers but she took upon herself to raise them in the Lord.