This Gospel | Book Review


The first time I heard veteran missionary Dick Brogden preach was in August 2014 at the Centennial Celebration of the Assemblies of God in Springfield, Missouri. Karl Adams once quipped that Karl Barth’s commentary on Romans dropped a “bombshell on the playground of the theologians.” After hearing Brogden’s sermon, I commented on social media that he had just dropped a bombshell on the playground of comfortable Pentecostals.

That sermon — “Abide, Apostle, Abandon” — is included in This Gospel (pages 85–94). “We’ve probably all heard about what has happened in Iraq,” Brogden began. “Children butchered, women raped, men forced to convert to false religion, villages attacked, fear spread throughout the region, heads cut off and displayed to intimidate any who dare resist.”

Most thought, reasonably enough, that he was talking about the depredations that ISIS was committing at that very time. But Brogden was talking about “the Assyrians in the time of Jonah, 2,500 years ago.” The more things change, the more they stay the same, it seems. “To me,” he went on, “the miracle of Jonah is not that the sea calmed when Jonah was thrown in or that the fish swallowed Jonah in order to save him.” Rather, “the great miracle is that the intimidating, bloodthirsty, disobedient, false-religion-spouting city of Nineveh repented!” If God could do that then, He can do that now as well. “All He needs are a few Jonahs.”

Modern-day Jonahs, Brogden explained, will be characterized by three traits: First, they will abide (John 15:5) “We must return to and maintain the simplicity of just having Jesus.” Second, they will apostle, that is, “advance together in planting the church where it does not exist” (Romans 15:20). And third, they will abandon. “We must embrace suffering for Jesus’ sake as part of our normal reality” (Acts 9:16).

Summarized this way, Brogden’s points may not strike you as all that bombshellish. But it seemed to me when I first heard this message, and it still seems to me as I reread it, that his points are indeed explosive, for they confront the comfortableness of American Christianity.

Take abide. Jesus said, “If you remain [i.e., abide] in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Here, abiding and fruitfulness are sequential. Do the one, and the other will result. But how often do we rest our hopes for fruitfulness in ministry on our wealth, education methods, programs, worship styles and whatnot rather than on spending “extravagant time with Jesus”? This challenges the depth of American Christian spiritual discipline.

Or consider apostle. “Missions is not even strictly an issue of lostness,” Brogden writes, “for there are lost people everywhere in the world.” Instead, he goes on, missions is “an issue of access. Missions means that we take the gospel where it has not gone.” The problem, though, is that today, there are too few missionaries in those regions of the world that have the least access to the gospel. This challenges the distribution of American Christian missionary resources.

Then, abandon. The idea of embracing suffering as normal challenges the American Christian expectation of prosperity at its core. So much so that Brogden builds a biblical case for the notion that Christians will suffer as they take the gospel around the world, drawing especially on the example of the apostle Paul, whose missionary commission included the promise of suffering (Acts 9:11–16). Of course, Paul was to simply follow Christ, so, Brogden asks: “Christ loved us enough to die for us. Do we love Christ enough to die for Him? If the price of world evangelization is our own discomfort and demise, will we not willingly and joyfully pay it?” That strikes at the core of our desires, does it not?

“Abide, Apostle, Abandon” is one of 25 “missions sermons” included in This Gospel. The others expand on these themes or introduce new ones. I’ve selected the Centennial sermon because it captures the core of Brogden’s convictions as a missionary, as well as the central practices of the Live Dead movement, in which he is a leader.

A final, personal note. Dick Brogden is a friend. His messages are earnest and to the point. What words on a page don’t capture, however, is the spirit of joyfulness that Dick exudes personally. That’s something to keep in mind as you read these sermons, which challenge but also inspire.

Book Reviewed
Dick Brogden, This Gospel: A Collection of Missions Sermons (Springfield, MO: Live Dead Publishing, 2018).

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The Assemblies of God among the Megachurches


Over on my Facebook page, I posted the Facts & Trends story, “Where Are All the Megachurches?” earlier this morning. However, I dug around a bit in the data underlying this story and found out that the Assemblies of God (USA) has the fifth largest group of megachurches among Protestant congregations. Of the 1,667 churches in the Hartford Seminary database of megachurches, here are the top five groupings:

  1. Nondenominational (458)
  2. Southern Baptist (260)
  3. Unknown denomination (187)
  4. Baptist, unspecified (120)
  5. Assemblies of God (109)

Another way to look at this is that the AG has the second largest grouping of megachurches among America’s Protestant denominations. Why? First, factor out the “Nondenominational” and “Unknown denomination.” Then, factor out “Baptist, unspecified” because those churches could belong to one of over 60 Baptist denominations in the U.S. That leaves the Southern Baptists and the AG as discrete denominational entities.

With that in mind, consider yet another way of looking at these numbers. The Southern Baptist Convention claimed 15.22 million adherents in 2016. It has 260 megachurches. That’s a ratio of 58,538 : 1. The AG claimed 3.21 million adherents in 2016 and has 109 megachurches. That’s a ratio of 30,283 : 1. Per capita, then, the AG has more megachurches than the SBC.

Fun with statistics, I guess.

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P.S. If you’d like to review Hartford Seminary’s Data, go here: http://hirr.hartsem.edu/megachurch/database.html. You can sort by congregation, denomination, state, and size.

P.P.S. I had the joy of working with Doyle and Connie Surratt at SeaCoast Grace Church, one of the churches on the list. Hi, guys!

‘Against the Wind’ by J. Don George


From the latest issue of Enrichment comes this excerpt of J. Don George’s new book, Against the Wind:

Jesus came to seek and save the lost. He didn’t leave the world in its status quo. He stepped out of heaven to make a difference. It cost Him dearly. Are the people in our communities worth the price we have to pay to reach out to them? We must overcome old, suspicious, stiff, self-absorbed, lethargic ways.

Many pastors see a few black or Hispanic faces in their congregations on Sunday and assume they are reaching these cultures. They may be doing a great job of connecting cross-culturally, but they may be doing nothing at all. We need to gauge the effectiveness of our cultural awareness and outreach by the comparison of our church demographics with community demographics. In 1995, Calvary was 98 percent white. Today, we are a clear reflection of Irving and the surrounding community: 30 percent white, 30 percent black, 30 percent Hispanic, and 10 percent Asian.

Love propels action; but, when love is absent, we withdraw into the safe confines of the status quo. We are glad when someone responds to the gospel, but we seldom invest our time, energy, or reputation in pursuing outcasts, sinners, or foreigners.

We need to ask penetrating questions:

  • Do we see people of other races, cultures, genders, and ages as annoyances that ask too much from us?

  • Do we see them as projects to pursue?

  • Or do we love these people so much that we’re willing to take any risk and pay any price to reach them?

Read the whole thing here. And watch J. Don George’s message on the same topic from this year’s General Council in Orlando, Florida.

GC13 Communion Service from Assemblies of God USA on Vimeo.

Robert Madu on Jesus, Grace, and Truth


This week, I’m going to post highlights from the 55th General Council of the Assemblies of God, which met last  week in Orlando, Florida. GC13 kicked off with the Influence Conference, which featured four speakers. The first was Robert Madu. he preached a great message on how Jesus fully, even if paradoxically, combines within  himself the virtues of grace and truth. His texts were John 1:14, 17; and 8:1-11.

Believing God for Greater Things


The fall 2013 issue of Enrichment is now available online. My opening editorial is below.

The founders of the Assemblies of God were audacious people. At the 2nd General Council in 1914, at the Stone Church in Chicago, they committed themselves and the Movement to Him “for the greatest evangelism the world has ever seen.” That was big talk coming from a few hundred people with limited resources, education, and opportunities.

Ninety-nine years later, the Assemblies of God worldwide is no longer a few hundred people but approximately 65 million strong. We are part of an uncoordinated revival — uncoordinated by men and women, anyway — that had multiple starts in many places around the world: Wales, India, the Korean peninsula, and, of course, Azusa Street. Today, one of every four Christians in the world is Pentecostal or charismatic. The growth of the Assemblies of God specifically and Pentecostalism generally is impressive. Arguably, the Pentecostal revival is one of the greatest people movements in history.

There is a tendency in people movements, including spiritual revivals, to lose momentum over time. They are birthed, they grow, they stagnate, they decline, and then they die. From a historical perspective, this seems natural because it happens so often. The question the Assemblies of God — especially in the United States, but also around the world — needs to ask itself as it approaches its centennial is whether this tendency will be our own.

I hope, for the sake of the world, that we answer with a resounding “No!” Pentecostals and charismatics may number approximately 1 out of every 4 Christians globally, but approximately 2 out of 3 people in the world are not Christians. There is no pride in being the growing piece of a shrinking pie.

Instead, I hope we offer a resounding “Yes!” to God and to His mission for us to the world. I hope, in other words, that as we end our first century and begin our second, the same Spirit that fanned into flame the faith of the Assemblies of God founders will fan into flame that same faith in us. The greatest evangelism the world has ever seen is not over; it has barely begun.

The theme of the 55th General Council is Believe. In line with that theme, we asked the Executive Leadership Team of the Assemblies of God to share with you what they are believing God for. We asked them to share these things because they lead our Fellowship. But we also want their essays to spark a fire of faith in your own heart. It is not enough to follow the faith-filled dreams of your leaders. You must have faith in God for your life, your home, and your ministry.

The founders of the Assemblies of God were audacious people. We need to be audacious people in our own generation. So, what are you believing God for?