God & Charles Dickens: Recovering the Christian Voice of a Classic Author.

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: Like many people at Christmas, I’m fond of Charles Dickens’ stories, especially “A Christmas Carol.” I even adapted Dickens’ story for a Christmas production that ran for over 10 years, involved over 20 churches and raised money for a Christian retreat center.

I knew that Dickens had a strong faith in Jesus Christ, and that he often referred to “real Christianity” as those who modeled Jesus’ life. 

A helpful, scholarly book has come out describing how Dickens faith contributed to the long lasting message of his books. It is titled, ”God and Charles Dickens: Recovering the Christian Voice of a Classic Author” and available from the usual online sources.

Below is an interview with the author. I found especially memorable the following paragraphs:

Scholar and author Dr. Gary Colledge has studied the legendary 19th century English writer extensively. The Akron, Ohio, native even studied in the United Kingdom, earning a Ph.D. at the prestigious University of St. Andrews for his work on the faith of Dickens.

“That’s what’s going to be prevalent in anything we read by Dickens — that idea that ‘real Christianity,’ and Dickens uses that term ‘real Christianity’ a number of times in letters and in his writing,” Colledge told CBN News. “‘Real Christianity’ is being like Jesus.”

God and Scrooge: Finding the Faith of Charles Dickens

By Mark Martin, CBN News, 12/24/19.

…Scholar and author Dr. Gary Colledge has studied the legendary 19th century English writer extensively. The Akron, Ohio, native even studied in the United Kingdom, earning a Ph.D. at the prestigious University of St. Andrews for his work on the faith of Dickens.

“That’s what’s going to be prevalent in anything we read by Dickens — that idea that ‘real Christianity,’ and Dickens uses that term ‘real Christianity’ a number of times in letters and in his writing,” Colledge told CBN News. “‘Real Christianity’ is being like Jesus.”

Lessons from Scrooge

During his research, Colledge discovered that Dickens was a Christian and his faith in Jesus Christ surfaces throughout his works — in the themes and characters.

Colledge read a letter from Dickens to one of his critics:

“‘All my strongest illustrations are derived from the New Testament. All my social abuses are shown as departures from its Spirit. All my good people are humble, charitable, faithful, forgiving, over and over again. I claim them in expressed words as disciples of the Founder of our religion.'”

Read the full interview here… https://www1.cbn.com/cbnnews/us/2012/december/god-and-scrooge-finding-the-faith-of-charles-dickens

CHRISTMAS & “A Christmas Carol With a Rich Legacy,” new article by Bob Whitesel published in #BiblicalLeadershipMagazine.

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 12/23/19, Biblical Leadership Magazine.

Most people are familiar with the classic and oft sung Christmas carol: “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” Fewer people may realize that it was Charles Wesley who wrote the words to this tune. Still fewer people may know that Charles Wesley had an important leadership principle in mind when he penned his Christmas classic.

IMG_1151.jpegCharles, and his more well-known brother John, were the practical and theological leaders of the Wesleyan Movement, which today has grown into many varieties of Methodism, including the United Methodist Church, African Methodist Episcopal Church, African Methodist Episcopal Zion, Christian and Missionary Alliance, Church of God in Christ, Free Methodist, Freewill Baptists, Church of the Nazarene, Assemblies of God, Seventh-day Adventists, Church of Christ, Foursquare Church, Calvary Chapels, Vineyard Churches, Salvation Army, many others and, of course, Wesleyans.

In fact, a sizable 26% of all Christian denominations can trace their history back to the Wesleyan revival.

And music was an important leadership principle in that revival. Charles wrote between 5,000 and 8,000 hymns (it depends upon who you ask). He wrote the lyrics, putting them to carefully selected tunes by composers of the day. In fact, it is said that Charles dictated to his wife his final hymns from his death bed.

Charles’ motivation was because he realized that good biblical leadership required hymns to meet the needs of the congregants who sung them. And, in part his hymns were written to address an important need.

Most of Charles’ listeners where were biblically illiterate and many were functionally illiterate too. Therefore, Charles wrote hymns with clear theology, but in memorable phrases. His goal was to help those singing remember biblical truths that they could not read.

Who cannot forget memorable refrains, such as:

Hail the Heav’nly Prince of Peace!

Hail the Son of Righteousness!

Light and Life to All he brings,

Ris’n with Healing in his Wings.

Mild he lays his Glory by,

Born—that Man no more may die,

Born—to raise the Sons of Earth,

Born—to give them Second Birth.

Even in the time of the Wesleys, the religious story behind Christmas was being discarded in favor of rampant commercialism. Only a year after his conversion Charles Wesley penned these words to educate people to the unimaginable sacrifice that God took by sending his son to earth as a newborn infant.

John Wesley even said that Charles Wesley’s hymn book was the best theological book in existence. 

Leaders should understand those they lead. And for Charles this meant using seasonal celebrations combined with poetry and finely crafted theology to educate those who knew little of God’s Good News.

I’ve observed that church leaders usually spend a great deal of time selecting the right music for Sunday services. And they should. But, I’ve also noticed that some music, both traditional and contemporary, tends to be weak in theology and message. Perhaps such songs are utilized because of the catchy music attached, rather than the principles embraced.

Today Christian leaders often worry about a decreasing knowledge of Christianity amid the rampant commercialism of Christmas. Charles saw a solution (which has survived almost 300 years). He wrote finely crafted and theologically powerful songs, set to memorable tunes by contemporary composers.  

In an increasingly biblically unaware world the Christmas Carol, “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” can serve as an example of how Charles Wesley wrote lyrics that educated while they inspired. So the next time you hear the Christmas Carol, “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” make up your mind to follow Charles’s example by picking or crafting songs that not only inspire, but also enlighten. 

For more on the amazing stories of the men, women and children see … www.Enthusiast.life

And click here to read the article in Biblical Leadership Magazine.

ADVENT & The tradition of child bishops teaches the meaning of the Magnificat. #creativity #GoodTheology #AdventMeaning

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: Here is another unique way to share the theology of Advent. At this time of year when people are more likely to attend church, the decorations and the consumerism can sometimes cloud the supernatural power of God sending his son to earth as a child. Here is how one church helps emphasize the theology behind Christ’s Advent.

by Chris Karnadi, Faith & Leadership, 12/10/19.

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Last December, 10-year-old Prakash Keeley proudly donned the gold-and-white bishop’s robe and miter, gripped a staff that towered over him by a half-foot, and blessed a kneeling congregation with the words of Jesus: “Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall never enter it.”

Since 2012, St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, has annually enthroned a fifth grade boy such as Keeley, giving him bishop’s regalia and letting him lead the service for the Dec. 6 Feast of St. Nicholas. The tradition of the “boy bishop,” with roots dating back to medieval times, emphasizes the upside-down aspect of the Advent season.

The making of boy bishops, if only for a service, illustrates the words of the Magnificat in a physical way: “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly” (Luke 1:52 NRSV).

Read more at … https://faithandleadership.com/tradition-child-bishops-teaches-meaning-magnificat

CHRISTMAS & LifeWay Research asked people when they are more open to considering matters of faith. Christmas was the most common response. Almost half (47 percent) said they were more open to thinking about faith during the holiday season.

by Aaron Earls, LifeWay, 12/4/19.

Four in 10 Americans who never attend church (41 percent) say Christmas should be more about Jesus.

In 2015, LifeWay Research found 61 percent of Americans typically attend church at Christmastime. And among those who do not attend, 57 percent said they were likely to attend if someone they knew asked them.

In 2010 LifeWay Research asked people when they are more open to considering matters of faith. Christmas was the most common response. Almost half (47 percent) said they were more open to thinking about faith during the holiday season.

Read more at …https://factsandtrends.net/2018/12/12/why-x-mas-actually-keeps-christ-in-christmas/

ATTENDANCE & When Easter and Christmas near, more Americans search online for “church” #PewResearch

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: I tell church leaders not to plant a church in the fall or launch a new service or venue at that time. That is because while there is a peak of interest in going to church before Thanksgiving, the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is the lowest time of the year for people to be interested in attending church.

It is much better to launch new multiplication efforts during Lent in the Spring run up to Easter as depicted in the chart below.

When Easter and Christmas near, more Americans search online for “church”

by Nobel Kuriakose, Pew Research, 5/18/14.

More Americans search for “church” around Easter than at any other time, with the Christmas season usually ranking second, according to Google Trends data between 2004 and 2013. Google’s Trends tool measures the popularity of a search term relative to all searches in the United States. Data are reported on a scale from 0 to 100…

In 2013, the highest share of searches for “church” are on the week of Easter Sunday, followed by the week of Christmas and the week of Ash Wednesday, the day that marks the beginning of Lent.

The lowest share of searches occur on the week of Thanksgiving in November each year, and the summer months have consistently low levels of interest in web searches for “church.” Sociologists also have previously reported low levels of church attendance during the summer months. Laurence Iannaccone and Sean Everton analyzed weekly attendance records from churches and argued that people are less likely to attend church when the weather outside is just right in a journal article titled “Never on Sunny Days.”

Read more at … https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/04/18/when-easter-and-christmas-near-more-americans-search-online-for-church/

CHRISTMAS & How carols can open the door for dialogue – from the pen of my friend and colleague: Denn.

Do you hear what I hear?  Actually, the question should be, do they hear what I hear?  The other day while strolling through Walmart I heard a traditional Christmas Carol being played and if people had listened they would have heard of a virgin birth, celestial choirs and the birth of Jesus.  But how many people actually listened to the words that were being sung?  I would suspect that for many the words of the song sounded much like Charlie Brown’s teacher’s voice.  Just a mumble of sounds.

Every year millions of Canadians hear the words of the Christmas story sung in stores and on the radio and yet I have never heard of anyone who points to Christmas songs being sung in public as their point of salvation.

I wonder if Jesus was thinking of Christmas when he said, ‘When they look, they won’t really see. When they hear, they won’t understand.’?

But at Christmas we have an incredible opportunity to leverage those songs and to tell people that there’s a lot more to the story.

And while I’ve never heard of anyone who became a follower of Jesus because of the words of a Christmas song, I’ve met countless who were introduced to Jesus by the words of a friend.

Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

Read more at … https://mailchi.mp/0ff1fbdc9fd2/penn-of-denn-dec-12?e=933e1a0279

CHRISTMAS EVE & Non-Christians are more likely to come to worship services on Christmas Eve than any other day of the year, including Easter. What churches are doing.

by Thom Rainer, Facts and Trends, 12/6/18.

…Non-Christians are more likely to come to worship services on Christmas Eve than any other day of the year, including Easter. Church leaders get it. They are putting more prayer, preparation, and strategic thinking into the services.

There are three popular times for the service. Whether a church has one or multiple Christmas Eve services, three times are more popular than others: later afternoon (typically for families with young children and for older adults); early evening (the more traditional time); and late evening (for empty nesters and families with teenage or grown children).

The services are traditional. They include traditional hymns and carols. They may include some time for the lighting of the final advent candle.

The services are brief. The typical length is 30 to 45 minutes.

The pastor’s message is brief. The typical length is 10 to 15 minutes.

Most churches include candlelight services. They are now expected by Christians and non-Christians alike.

Read more at … https://factsandtrends.net/2018/12/06/9-trends-in-christmas-eve-church-services/

BEYOND HOLIDAY CHARITY & How to be a good-doer, not a do-gooder #YearAroundService

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 6/12/10.

A church that brings food a couple times a year to a needy family does little to minister to their long-term physiological needs or safety needs. Such churches in Dan’s mind were comprised of “do-gooders.”

Action C: Be a Good-doer, not a Do-gooder.

The difference between a do-gooder and a good-doer was revealed to me ten years ago. Dan was auditioning to be the drummer in a worship team I led. Though he was more than suitable for the task, I was confused because he looked familiar. “You visited me last Christmas,” Dan responded noticing my bewilderment. “Brought a lot of nice things for the kids.” Each year our church visited needy residents, giving them gifts and singing carols. “You were nice enough to come,” Dan would say to me later. Dan and I had become friends, and now our team was planning to visit needy households. “You go, I won’t,” Dan stated. “I want to be a good-doer, not a do-gooder.” Further conversations revealed with Dan saw a difference between “do-gooders” and “good-doers.” On the one hand, Dan saw do-gooders as people who go around doing limited and inconsistent good deeds. He perceived that they were doing good on a limited scale to relieve their conscience. Thus their good deeds were perceived as self-serving, insincere and limited. A church that brings food a couple times a year to a needy family does little to minister to their long-term physiological needs or safety needs. On the other hand, Dan saw “good-doers” as those who do good in a meaningful, relevant and ongoing manner. And, he was right. In hindsight I had been striving to do good, not trying to do good better. Therefore, a church should connect with its community by offering ongoing ministry and not just holiday help.

Excerpted from Spiritual Waypoints: Helping Others Navigate the Journey (Indianapolis: Wesleyan Publishing House, 2019), pp. 48-49.

TRADITIONS & Why You Need a Come-as-you are Worship Service at Thanksgiving, Christmas & Easter (and how to plan it).

by Bob Whitesel, D.Mn., Ph.D., 10/25/15.

We cannot compromise the Biblical or theological threshold for becoming a follower of Jesus, but we can minimize the cultural one.

A student once commented,

“While I too grew up getting dressed up for church, I now work at a church that is anything but formal. Granted you do have those who wear suits etc. but the vast majority of people come in pretty normal, everyday types of clothing (this includes the pastoral staff)…. This has been a shift that has taken place over the last several years but we now are at a very casual, ‘come as you are’ kind of place. Generally speaking I like this a lot, but there are those times that it’s nice to dress up a little bit for church and you see this to be the case for others around Easter, Christmas, Mother’s day, etc.”

The student was right. 

Evangelistic churches try to make the cultural threshold low for those coming to Christ.  In other words, we cannot compromise the Biblical or theological threshold for becoming a follower of Jesus, but we can minimize the cultural one (have relevant worship music, language, dress down, etc.).

However, as the student noted, people still often dress up around Easter, Christmas, etc.  And yet, these are the days that many unchurched people first start attending church.  Thus, I wonder if our dressing-up for Easter inhibits this.

How to Plan a Come-as-you are Worship Service at Thanksgiving, Christmas & Easter.

Therefore, I have suggested that churches hold extra “come-as-you-are” services at Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter – perhaps in conjunction with a picnic, outdoor service (in the South), etc. to help people with less fashionable (or dressy) clothes feel at home.

Now, you don’t want people to feel like this is a service for the less-fashionable in your community. So, tying it to a picnic, carry-in, youth service, etc. can make your extra holiday worship expression more naturally down-to-earth.

CHRISTMAS & Christmas A Non-Religious Holiday For Half Of Americans #PewResearch #InfoGraphic

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: “This research shows that Christmas is increasingly becoming a cultural holiday and that most people say their church attendance on Christmas has declined almost 25% since they were children. This is a reminder to the church that marketplace forces are eroding our primary celebratory occasions. To offset this it’s important for church leaders to understand and to increase market differentiation. This means reminding people about the difference between the cultural holiday and the religious one, e.g. maybe fewer singing Christmas trees and more focus of the manger scene.”

By Pew Research, 12/3/13christmas2013-1Nine-in-ten Americans say they celebrate Christmas, and three-quarters say they believe in the virgin birth of Jesus. But only about half see Christmas mostly as a religious holiday, while one-third view it as more of a cultural holiday. Virtually all Christians (96%) celebrate Christmas, and two-thirds see it as a religious holiday. In addition, fully eight-in-ten non-Christians in America also celebrate Christmas, but most view it as a cultural holiday rather than a religious occasion.

christmas2013-2… But fewer Americans say they will send Christmas or holiday cards this year than say their families typically did this when they were children.

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The share of people who plan to go caroling this year also is lower than the share who say they typically did so as children. And while about seven-in-ten Americans say they typically attended Christmas Eve or Christmas Day religious services when they were children, 54% say they plan to attend Christmas services this year.

Read more at … http://www.pewforum.org/2013/12/18/celebrating-christmas-and-the-holidays-then-and-now/

OUTREACH & When Easter and Christmas near, more Americans search online for “church”

by Noble Kuriakoae, Pew Research Center, 4/18/14

“Priests and ministers have long noted a sharp increase in church attendance around the two most significant Christian holidays, Christmas and Easter. Some have given those who attend services only at those times of year a name — “Chreasters” — and churches have launched campaigns to get them to attend more regularly.

Google searches for "church" spike during Easter and Christmas seasons“More Americans search for “church” around Easter than at any other time, with the Christmas season usually ranking second, according to Google Trends data between 2004 and 2013. Google’s Trends tool measures the popularity of a search term relative to all searches in the United States. Data are reported on a scale from 0 to 100.”

Read more at… http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/04/18/when-easter-and-christmas-near-more-americans-search-online-for-church