While this site continues to be available on the web (and has some useful resources in it, so we’ll leave it that way for now) you should know that the Center for Renewal was closed in 2014 as a result of budget cutting at Grand View University. Many of the references and dates are obsolete and will not be updated. But feel free to look around at the good work that was done during the seven years of the Center’s existence.

I recently had the opportunity to engage 33 pastors from five denominations in two events that featured intentional conversations about what I call the “dirty words” of the church: stewardship and evangelism. Martha Grace Reese, writing in Unbinding the Gospel, notes that a good many people have taken to calling evangelism the “e-word.” I heard recently that someone else had called stewardship the “f-word,” that is, finances. There is reluctance in the church to engage these topics. These conversations also revealed that there is hope, if we can address them not only from a “gathered church” perspective, but from the viewpoint of the “scattered church” as well.

To facilitate and report back on the conversations I used two similar worksheets, “Redefining Stewardship” and “Redefining Evangelism.” There were two columns on each worksheet; on the left participants were asked to define topic at hand “in institutional terms”; on the right they were asked to define each topic in “life in the world” terms. Based on one participant’s comment about the unfortunate pejorative connotation of “institutional”, and in keeping with the overall direction of my recent work, I’ve changed the left column to “in the church.” If you make it to the end of this report, you’ll find that I’ve changed it even further based on what I learned.

With each worksheet I asked participants to work alone on the left column for a few minutes to establish a baseline understanding of the topic. I told them that I expected they would write down legitimate, theologically valid definitions of stewardship/evangelism in the left column definition. I then told them they had permission to add jaded, stereotypical definitions as well. Continue Reading »

Enough moaning, already.

I’ll admit it: I’m guilty of doing my fare share. In various places, I have lamented the paradigm shifts that the North American church is facing. For example, in a paper I wrote when I was interviewing for the job I now hold, I wrote:

We no longer hold the privileged position we once held as America’s moral and spiritual voice. For many people, religion is simply a private matter that encompasses little more than self-esteem or the maintenance of personal values and mores. People inside the church are left wondering, What happened to the church that we once knew and loved? People outside the church have little reason to re-evaluate their judgment that the Christian faith has little or no place in the contemporary world, outside of the individual believer’s life.

crisisAnd I’m not the only one. Maybe it’s just the friends I keep and the news feeds I read, but I constantly see posts and articles about the decline of the church, the irrelevance of the church, the stubbornness of the church, and what looks like the end of the church as we have known it. The sky is falling, and we’ve been saying that to one another for more years than I care to remember. Enough already.

Continue Reading »

I preached an experimental sermon this past Sunday. And I got some amazing results. In fact, they were results that I never thought to anticipate.

Inspired by a book I had read (The Art of Curating Worship), a friend of mine who is a gifted leader of creative worship, and by a conversation with the staff member at our church who is responsible for crafting a new kind of worship service, I set out to experiment with a participatory sermon. I had my fair share of time to talk, but I involved the congregation in several ways.

The text was Mark 6:30–34, 53–56, the story of the disciples and Jesus responding to the needs of the crowds swarming around them. Inspired by another friend’s exploration of the Greek, I called attention to the different pronouns that Mark uses in the two halves of the reading. In fact, this was the first bit of participation Continue Reading »

It has a chance of becoming one of the defining characteristics of the present age. It even has an acronym: SBNR. And, of course, it has a web page and a Facebook page. Being “spiritual but not religious” is often an explanation, sometimes an excuse, but mostly it seems to be an attempt at self-definition meant to set a good many people apart from what I’m guessing are perceived societal norms.

Unlike a lot of what I’ve read about this trend, I suggest that 1) we can learn a lot from the SBNR trend, 2) the discussion of this topic has largely been limited by a false dichotomy, 3) there is a better way to talk about what is at stake, and 4) the church can and should respond. Continue Reading »

The Barna Group recently published results of a study they did on young adults and faith. One of the articles about their research was entitled, “Five Myths about Young Adult Church Dropouts.” It is a worthy and helpful read that examines young adult dropouts from several perspectives. Three comments caught my attention—riveted me, actually, to the point where I had a hard time catching my breath. In three different places the article said: Continue Reading »

I was given three opportunities to put something in the offering plate in worship this morning. Well, almost. The usher in the center aisle made two feints, uncertain whether he should send the offering plate down the aisle to us and the other couple sitting in our row. Seeing nothing in our hands, he moved on to the next row, just as the usher in the side aisle sent a plate down our row. All pointless, it turned out, as none of us had anything to put in it.

You already know what is happening. In our case, we make an offering once a month, so the other three or four Sundays we have nothing to put in the plate. And we are among the few who still write out a check for our offering. Increasingly, people are contributing by direct deposit, a change that is less trouble for contributors and a boon to the cash flow of congregations.

So what is a church to do? Continue Reading »