THEOLOGY & What Exactly Solomon Meant When He Wrote: “to every thing there is a season.”

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: During the social upheavals of the 60s and 70s, a song by The Byrds titled “Turn, Turn, Turn” (based upon Solomon’s words in Ecclesiastes 3) had a deep, yet complicated, influence upon young people like me. As I matured in my understanding of Scripture and theology, I came to understand this scripture is much more profound than I had thought. And I discovered it points to something even more exciting! Here LifeWay writer Aaron Wilson succinctly points out what that future is.

“The Bible passage people mistake for good news,”

by Aaron Wilson, LifeWay, 6/22/19.

…despite its popularity, Ecclesiastes 3 may also be one of the most misunderstood sections of the Bible. This is because people often interpret the chapter as containing reassuring news about the balanced nature of the universe. But really, the chapter is more of a lament, one that points to the need for Christ.

SOLOMON’S GRIEVANCE WITH LIFE

At its core, Ecclesiastes describes the brutal reality of life under the curse. It’s strange therefore, when people describe chapter 3 as comforting and uplifting when Solomon says in the same book that life is wearisome (1:8), miserable (1:13), and distressing (2:17).

Given these gloomy descriptors, why is Ecclesiastes 3 so popular? Part of it likely comes from the poetic beauty Solomon uses in the first half of the chapter to juxtapose life circumstances. “There’s a time to give birth and a time to die,” he writes, “a time to plant and a time to uproot.”

Solomon goes on to pair other activities such as weeping and laughing, mourning and dancing, and war and peace. He then summarizes the list by writing, “He [God] has made everything beautiful in its time.”

People often quote this chapter of Ecclesiastes at funerals and memorial services. But while it’s true God sovereignly works all things together for the good for those who love Him (Romans 8:28), people who seek to find solace from Ecclesiastes 3 are missing the author’s point.

Solomon didn’t pen the words, “to everything there is a season,” to provide a grateful tribute to a balanced universe—a philosophy that more closely resembles some eastern religions or “the force” from Star Wars than it does Scripture. No, Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes 3 to lodge a complaint he had with a world he saw as meaningless.

VANITY UNDER THE SUN

Solomon begins Ecclesiastes with the blunt statement, “Absolute futility! Everything is futile.” He then spends the next 12 chapters of his book systematically unpacking the meaninglessness of life under the sun.

One of Solomon’s greatest frustrations with the world is the prevalence of death and how it infuses vanity into life’s pursuits and activities. His goal therefore in writing, “there’s a time to die” isn’t to inspire comfort. Instead, he’s declaring death a plague—a fate no person escapes because, under the curse, there’s sadly a time for it.

…Given the reality of such brokenness, Christians should be leery of using the phrase, “there’s a time for everything” as encouragement. Instead, they should read Solomon’s words and respond, “Oh man, there really is a time for sin and suffering in this world. Who can save us from this futile way of living?”

The answer, of course, is Christ.

TWO KINGS—TWO STATEMENTS

One of the most beautiful promises in the Bible comes in Revelation 21:4 which speaks of Christ wiping away every tear from the eyes of the saints. John describes this future moment of restoration by writing, “Death will be no more; grief, crying, and pain will be no more, because the previous things have passed away.”

Read more at … https://factsandtrends.net/2019/06/07/the-bible-passage-people-mistake-for-good-news/

TRENDS & 7 Surprising Trends Of Today’s Worldwide Growth of Christianity via #LifeWay

by Aaron Earls, LifeWay, 6/11/19.

…The Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary regularly publishes the Status of Global Christianity. Evaluating their research and predictions provides an encouraging and potential surprising picture for the current and future state of Christianity.

1. CHRISTIANITY IS GROWING FASTER THAN THE POPULATION.

Globally, Christianity is growing at a 1.27% rate. Currently, there are 2.5 billion Christians in the world. The world’s population, 7.7 billion, is growing at a 1.20% rate.

Islam (1.95%), Sikhs (1.66%) and Hindus (1.30%) are the only religious groups growing faster than Christianity, though followers of Jesus outnumber every other faith and are predicted to continue to do so at least through 2050.

2. PENTECOSTALS AND EVANGELICALS ARE GROWING THE FASTEST AND ARE STILL PICKING UP SPEED.

Among Christian groups, Pentecostals (2.26%) and evangelicals (2.19%) are growing faster than others.

They are both also growing faster than they did just two years ago. In 2017, Pentecostals’ growth rate was 2.22% and evangelicals was 2.12%.

3. ATHEISM HAS PEAKED.

There are fewer atheists in the world today (138 million) than there were in 1970 (165 million).

Since 2000, atheism has rebounded slightly—only by 0.04%—but it is expected to decline again and fall below 130 million by 2050.

Agnosticism has maintained a small growth rate of 0.42%. After reaching 716 million this year, however, it is expected to drop below 700 million by 2050.

4. CHRISTIANITY IS GROWING IN CITIES, BUT NOT FAST ENOUGH.

Today, 1.64 billion Christians live in urban areas, growing at a 1.58% rate since 2000.

But more than 55% of the world’s population lives in cities and that is only continuing to grow.

The global urban population is growing at a 2.15% rate.

5. THE CENTER OF CHRISTIANITY HAS MOVED TO THE GLOBAL SOUTH.

In 1900, twice as many Christians lived in Europe than in the rest of the world combined. Today, both Latin America and Africa have more. By 2050, the number of Christians in Asia will also pass the number in Europe.

Currently, Christianity is barely growing in Europe (0.04% rate) and only slightly better in North America (0.56%).

Oceania (0.89) and Latin America (1.18%) have marginally better rates, but the faith is exploding in Asia (1.89%) and Africa (2.89%).

Read more at … https://factsandtrends.net/2019/06/11/7-surprising-trends-in-global-christianity-in-2019/

TRENDS & 73% of American churches are declining & we are seeing a marked decline in fast-growing churches (from 12% to 3%) and a marked increase in churches declining toward death (10% to 19%). #LifeWay

by Thom Rainer, LifeWay, 6/3/19.

Based upon an aggregate of several research projects, I made some notes of growth and decline rates of churches and summarized my estimates into five categories by worship attendance changes over the previous five-year period. I compiled the following numbers ten years ago:

Growth and Decline Categories of North American Congregations 2009

  • Fast-growing (growing greater than 5% annually): 12%
  • Growing (growing nominally to 5% annually): 23%
  • Steadily declining (declining 0% to 3% annually): 34%
  • Rapidly declining (declining 2% to 5% annually): 21%
  • Declining toward death (over 5% decline annually): 10%

This past week I conducted the same exercise based on some of my updated research and the research of others and estimated the following:

Growth and Decline Categories of North American Congregations 2019

  • Fast-growing (growing greater than 5% annually): 3%
  • Growing (growing nominally to 5% annually): 24%
  • Steadily declining (declining 0% to 3% annually): 32%
  • Rapidly declining (declining 2% to 5% annually): 22%
  • Declining toward death (over 5% decline annually): 19%

My numbers admittedly are estimates, but they do have some quantitative basis, such as denominational statistics, research by LifeWay Research, and the data available in the increasing number of consultation and coaching requests we receive.

Obviously, the staggering reality of these numbers is the pronounced change in the two extreme categories. We are seeing a marked decline in fast-growing churches and a marked increase in churches declining toward death.

Read more at … https://thomrainer.com/2019/06/the-faster-pace-of-decline-toward-death-of-many-congregations/

ATTENDANCE & Most Young Adults Drop Out of Church Between Ages 18-22 For These Reasons #LifeWayResearch

by Aaron Earls, LifeWay, 2/18/19.

… Two-thirds (66 percent) of American young adults who attended a Protestant church regularly for at least a year as a teenager say they also dropped out for at least a year between the ages of 18 and 22, according to a new study from Nashville-based LifeWay Research. Thirty-four percent say they continued to attend twice a month or more.

While the 66 percent may be troubling for many church leaders, the numbers may appear more hopeful when compared to a 2007 study from LifeWay Research. Previously, 70 percent of 18- to 22-year-olds left church for at least one year.

“The good news for Christian leaders is that churches don’t seem to be losing more students than they were 10 years ago. However, the difference in the dropout rate now and then is not large enough statistically to say it has actually improved,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research.

“The reality is that Protestant churches continue to see the new generation walk away as young adults. Regardless of any external factors, the Protestant church is slowly shrinking from within.”

When They Drop Out

The dropout rate for young adults accelerates with age, the study found.

While 69 percent say they were attending at age 17, that fell to 58 percent at age 18 and 40 percent at age 19. Once they reach their 20s, around 1 in 3 say they were attending church regularly.

“Overall Protestant churches see many teenagers attending regularly only for a season. Many families just don’t attend that often,” said McConnell.

“As those teenagers reach their late teen years, even those with a history of regular church attendance are pulled away as they get increased independence, a driver’s license, or a job. The question becomes: will they become like older adults who have all those things and still attend or will students choose to stay away longer than a year.”

Ben Trueblood, director of student ministry at LifeWay, said those numbers speak to the issue at hand. “We are seeing teenagers drop out of the church as they make the transition out of high school and student ministry,” he said. “This moment of transition is often too late to act for churches.”

Why They Drop Out

Virtually all of those who dropped out (96 percent) listed a change in their life situation as a reason for their dropping out. Fewer say it was related to the church or pastor (73 percent); religious, ethical or political beliefs (70 percent); or the student ministry (63 percent).

The five most frequently chosen specific reasons for dropping out were: moving to college and no longer attending (34 percent); church members seeming judgmental or hypocritical (32 percent); no longer feeling connected to people in their church (29 percent); disagreeing with the church’s stance on political or social issues (25 percent); and work responsibilities (24 percent).

Almost half (47 percent) of those who dropped out and attended college say moving to college played a role in their no longer attending church for at least a year.

“Most of the reasons young adults leave the church reflect shifting personal priorities and changes in their own habits,” said McConnell. “Even when churches have faithfully communicated their beliefs through words and actions, not every teenager who attends embraces or prioritizes those beliefs.”

Among all those who dropped out, 29 percent say they planned on taking a break from church once they graduated high school. Seven in 10 (71 percent) say their leaving wasn’t an intentional decision.

“For the most part, people aren’t leaving the church out of bitterness, the influence of college atheists, or a renunciation of their faith,” said Trueblood.

“What the research tells us may be even more concerning for Protestant churches: there was nothing about the church experience or faith foundation of those teenagers that caused them to seek out a connection to a local church once they entered a new phase of life. The time they spent with activity in church was simply replaced by something else.”

Read more at … https://lifewayresearch.com/2019/01/15/most-teenagers-drop-out-of-church-as-young-adults/

RECLAIMED & Why brokenness is better than giftedness in ministry.

by Brian Loritt, LifeWay, 12/8/18.

…At 25, I became the first African-American pastor at a historic white church in Southern California.

The best pastors I know aren’t necessarily the most gifted, but the most wounded.  The most dangerous are the gifted ones who can’t empathize.

Along the way I was plagued by an eerie sense that my platform was a lot larger than my character infrastructure could support. Or to say it in football language: I was out-punting my coverage.

I was gifted.

But I was also tragically unbroken, and the symptoms of this disorder manifested itself in the following ways:

  • An inability to connect with those who were afflicted and beaten down by life.
  • A nauseating arrogance seen in the judgmental spirit I nurtured towards those who made mistakes. I would often find myself thinking: What a loser. Why can’t they get it together?
  • Intense isolation. Because my ministerial paradigm made no room for those who had been wounded or defeated, I had to become my own personal PR management firm. The truth is we all have wounds and struggles, but no one could see mine.

In life and in ministry you’ll have trouble. You’ll deal with ungrateful parishioners. You’ll have leaders within your church who have one agenda—to get you out.

People will gossip about you, and even betray you.

I had these wounds; I just wasn’t broken. There’s a difference between the two.

Wounds are painful things that happen to us. Brokenness is the redemptive, Christ-exalting response to those wounds.

In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul—in painfully autobiographical terms—pulls us into his journey of wounds, describing his “thorn in the flesh”. While we can make good guesses as to what it was (probably some lingering health issues from his stoning in Lystra), at the end of the day they are exactly that—guesses.

What we do know is that it was painful, shameful, and constant.  Paul prayed several times for God to take it away, and God responded by saying in so many words—no.  More accurately, God tells Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you.”

The best pastors I know aren’t necessarily the most gifted, but the most wounded.  The most dangerous are the gifted ones who can’t empathize.

The word “sufficient” in 2 Corinthians 12 is a poignant one, because it speaks of grace in both quality and quantity. God will give Paul not just general grace, but a specific measure of grace to get through the wounds in his life in a way that gives God glory and blesses His people.

…limp.

A LEADER’S RESPONSE TO BROKENNESS

What was the result of Paul leaning into God’s grace and experiencing Christ-exalting brokenness?

  • He was able to connect in a tender way with those who were hurting. Writing to the Thessalonians he says, “But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children” (Thessalonians 2:7).
  • He possessed a deep-seated humility seen in his repeated refrain of being the least among the disciples, or the chief of sinners.
  • He was transparent about his weakness. We know those who have not just been wounded, but redemptively broken. They’re people on public record when it comes to their weaknesses. This is Paul: “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness” (2 Corinthians 11:30).

Read more at … https://factsandtrends.net/2018/12/03/why-brokenness-is-better-than-giftedness-in-ministry/

SPIRITUAL TRANSFORMATION & Statistics on the Decline in Conversions in Churches.

by Aaron Earls, LifeWay, Christianity Today, 3/6/19.

…Church conversions

The lack of growth in worship attendance in most churches is matched by a lack of new commitments to Christ last year.

Fifty-four percent of pastors say fewer than 10 people indicated a new commitment to Jesus Christ as Savior in 2018, including 8 percent who had none.

In some ways, however, those numbers mask deeper evangelistic issues. When evaluating churches based on the number of conversions per 100 attendees, 67 percent had fewer than 10 per 100 people attending their church. Around a third (35%) had fewer than five new commitments for every 100 people attending their worship services.

Forty-six percent of smaller churches (fewer than 50 in worship services) say they had 10 conversions or more for every 100 in attendance, while only 18 percent of churches 250 and above meet that benchmark.

While there are no major differences between evangelical and mainline churches in terms of new converts, denominational differences do exist.

A majority of Pentecostal pastors (57%) say they saw 10 or more new commitments to Christ in their church last year per 100 attendees. The next closest denominations are Lutherans (39%), Holiness (38%), and Baptists (35%).

A quarter of Methodist (25%) and Presbyterian or Reformed pastors (23%) say they had 10 or more new commitments to Jesus in 2018 per 100 attendees. Half of Methodist pastors (50%) had fewer than five new commitments last year.

Read more at … https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2019/march/lifeway-research-church-growth-attendance-size.html

CHURCH HEALTH & The Big Get Bigger While the Small Get Smaller

by Aaron Earls, Christianity Today, 3/7/19.

…Growth is not absent from American churches,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. “But rapid growth through conversions is uncommon.”

The research gives a clear picture of the state of Protestant churches in America today.

  • Most have fewer than 100 people attending services each Sunday (57%),
  • including 21 percent who average fewer than 50.
  • Around 1 in 10 churches (11%) average 250 or more for their worship services.

Three in five (61%) pastors say their churches faced a decline in worship attendance or growth of 5 percent or less in the last three years. Almost half (46%) say their giving decreased or stayed the same from 2017 to 2018.

More than 2 in 5 churches (44%) only have one or fewer full-time staff members. Close to 9 in 10 pastors (87%) say their church had the same or fewer number of full-time staff in 2018 as they had in 2017, including 7 percent who cut staff.

In 2018, few churches added new multi-site campuses (3%) or were involved in some form of planting a new church (32%). Sixty-eight percent say they had no involvement in church planting. Around 1 in 10 (12%) say they were directly or substantially involved in opening a new church in 2018, including 7 percent who were a primary financial sponsor or provided ongoing financial support to a church plant.

“The primary purpose of this study was to obtain a set of objective measures on churches’ reproduction and multiplication behaviors today as well as to understand their core context of growth,” said Todd Wilson, chief executive officer of Exponential. “By combining these measures, we can help churches think about multiplication.”

Declining, plateaued, or growing?

Twenty-eight percent of Protestant pastors say their church has seen worship service attendance shrink by 6 percent or more compared to three years ago.

Another 33 percent say their church has remained within 5 percent, while 39 percent say their congregation has grown by at least 6 percent since the first quarter of 2016.

Read more at … https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2019/march/lifeway-research-church-growth-attendance-size.html