The Better Way of Neighborly Love | Influence Podcast


“While the divisiveness of our current moment in the United States may be regrettable and fatiguing, it also represents an incredible opportunity for Christians,” writes Don Everts in the current issue of Influence magazine. He goes on to say, “As church leaders, our job is not only to help Christians recognize the temptations we’re facing, but also to highlight another way: a way of neighborly love that can cut through all the yelling and point others to the beauty of the gospel.”

I’m George P. Wood, executive editor of Influence magazine and your host. In this episode of the Influence Podcast, I’m talking to Everts about how Christians can be good neighbors in a divided culture. This conversation arises from his Influence cover story, “Neighboring for the Common Good,” which is based on his forthcoming book, The Hopeful Neighborhood, published by InterVarsity Press.

Don Everts is a writer for Lutheran Hour Ministries and associate pastor at Bonhomme Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, Missouri.

After COVID, What? | Influence Podcast


“With the massive disruptions we’re facing as a result of the COVID-19 crisis of 2020 and beyond, the problems could not be more disruptive or obvious,” writes Karl Vaters. “From the lockdowns, to the unspeakable pain of the illness and death of loved ones, to the colossal financial upheavals, it is likely that we’ve never faced such a long-term disruption in our lifetimes, possibly even surpassing those that resulted from the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.”

In this episode of the Influence Podcast, I’m talking to Karl Vaters about what churches—especially smaller churches—can do to recover from the massive disruptions of the COVID pandemic. I’m George P. Wood, executive editor of Influence magazine and your host.

Karl Vaters is teaching pastor at Cornerstone Christian Fellowship in Fountain Valley, California; a small-church leadership guru; and author of The Church Recovery Guide, published by Moody. (He’s also a longtime friend and fellow Assemblies of God minister.) He blogs regularly at KarlVaters.com.

P.S. This podcast is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

The Multiethnic Church as a Solution to Racism | Influence Podcast


The death of George Floyd has sparked a nationwide conversation about racism. As our fellow citizens talk about how to reform public policy, it’s also important for the Church to look inward and see how we can better embody the truth of Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

In this episode of the Influence Podcast, I’m talking to Mark DeYmaz about how the multiethnic church offers a solution to the problem of racism. I’m George P. Wood, executive editor of Influence magazine and your host.

One of the architects of the contemporary multiethnic church movement, Mark DeYmaz is the cofounder, CEO, and president of Mosaix, “a relational network of pastors and planters, denominational and network leaders, educators, authors, and researchers alike, that exists to establish healthy multiethnic and economically diverse churches for the sake of the gospel throughout North America and beyond.” This October, Fortress Press will release a new version of his classic book, Building a Healthy Multi-Ethnic Church.

This episode of the Influence Podcast is brought to you by My Healthy Church, distributors of Radiant Life Sunday School curriculum.

As a leader, it can be frustrating when you don’t have the tools your teachers need to engage students in the Bible. Radiant Life Sunday School curriculum is designed to be engaging and easy to use for any teacher, so that leaders can create a thriving ministry that changes lives. Radiant Life is also available in Spanish.

Visit RadiantLifeCurriculum.com to learn more.

Compassion and the Mission of God | Book Review


Compassion and the Mission of God has two purposes, which Rupen Das articulates in the book’s Introduction, the first as a statement and the second as a question. First, the statement: “This book will revision some of the biblical narratives to try and understand where the poor and the broken fit within the economy of God and why” (15–16, emphasis in original). Second, the question: “Why does God care for the poor, and as a result, why should we?” (16, emphasis in original).

Chapter 2, “Issues That Frame the Discussion on Compassion” (17–41), examines “four foundational issues that influence different perspectives on whether compassion is a fundamental biblical value and whether the church should respond to poverty and other social issues. These are: (1) how is Scripture read and understood, 92) can theology be contextual, (3) the exact nature of the mission of the church, and (4) how one views the poor” (18).

Chapter 3, “The Biblical Basis to Understand the Poor and Poverty: The Old Testament” (43–71), examines what the Hebrew Bible teaches about the cause and cure of poverty. Das argues that the Wisdom tradition largely sees poverty as the result of “laziness and lifestyle choices” (71), the legal and prophetic tradition took a more systemic view of the matter. “A social-scientific and historical approach to the study of poverty in the Bible helps explain the history and the social, economical, and political contexts that created and entrenched poverty in Old Testament society and which then are the reason for the teaching on the issues of poverty, care of the poor and of justice” (70). Obviously, these two explanations—bad choices, unjust systems—continue to characterize the contemporary debate over poverty.

Chapter 4, “The Biblical Basis to Understand the Poor and Poverty: The Gospels” (73–86), focuses on “the socioeconomic context of the Gospels rather than an analysis of the teachings on the poor and poverty” (73). Das argues that the causes of poverty in Jesus’ day were the same as in the Old Testament, though with different elites. “The causes of poverty continued to be exploitation by the ruling business, political and religious elite” (85).

Chapter 5, “Teachings and Practices of the Early Church: The New Testament and Church History” (87–103), address three topics: (1) “the context within which the early church lived” (87); (2) “the practice of charity by the early church and its impact” (88), showing that “Christian and Jewish charity”—which Das sees as one thing, not two, so perhaps Judeo-Christian would be the better term—was “a completely new departure from existing [i.e., Greco-Roman] values and practice” (92); and (3) “the teachings of the early church fathers” (88). Das argues that the early church clearly valued charity, but also notes that the justice theme of both Old and New Testaments is not as prominent. Regardless, “The Central truth through all the teaching was that the only way one could demonstrate that they were true followers of Christ, was if they showed mercy and compassion toward the poor” (102–103).

Chapter 6, “Theological Challenges” (105–121) looks at three theological debates that have divided Protestant Christianity, affecting how it ministers compassionately to the poor: (1) the nature of the gospel, whether Jesus’ “kingdom of God” or Paul’s “justification by faith”; (2) the nature of “righteousness,” specifically whether it is “moral perfection” or “obligation”; and (3) the nature of the Millennium, where some interpretations effectively separated “evangelism and discipleship” from “justice and compassion.”

Chapter 7, “Healing the Divide” (123–134), surveys the history of the modern missions movement regarding the relationship between “the verbal proclamation of the gospel” and “addressing social and physical needs” (123). Das examines the great century of Christian missions (the nineteenth), which practiced both, though without “a clear theological understanding of whether social issues should be addressed” (123). In the nineteenth century, if Liberation Theology and the World Council of Churches swung to the extremes of social concern over evangelism, evangelical missiologists (led by Donald McGavran) swung the other way. The Lausanne Covenant brought evangelism and social concern back into relationship for evangelical missions, with evangelism still considered “prior” in some sense. The integral mission of the Micah Declaration, Das argues, “finally provided the right balance between the verbal proclamation of the gospel and the demonstration of its reality. Neither operates independently and each has significant implications for the other” (134).

Chapter 8, “Transformation or Witness: The Challenge of Transformation” (135–163), asks: “Does the compassion of God focus on only meeting immediate needs through charity or is God concerned with the underlying issues that cause poverty and in the transformation of the world?” (135). It answers affirmatively. However, it adds: “But it is God who transforms and he invites us to partner with him. God is already in the process of redeeming human beings and creation, and will transform us all when created time melds into eternity” (161, emphasis in original).

Chapter 9, “Transformation or Witness: Being a Witness” (165–179), takes up the flip side of the coin. Christian mission involves both transformation and witness. This call to conversion is a hallmark of evangelical missions in particular. However, missionaries who combine evangelism and social concern must face several challenges: (1) “there should be no conditionality in the assistance that is provided” (175), and “there is no conditionality and proselytism to force individuals to change their social group and religious affiliation” (179). Bearing witness is the Church’s work. Converting people is God’s.

Chapter 10, “The Face of Compassion” (181–195), outlines “three dimensions of compassion” that God exemplifies and that his disciples should exemplify too: (1) “God seeks to bless human beings and his creation”, (2) “He defends and protects those who are the victims of evil,” and (3) “God desires his creation to be restored to him” (186, emphasis in original). These three dimensions—blessing, justice, redemption—should also characterize the people of God.

Chapter 11, “Conclusion: A God of Compassion” (197–202), rounds out the book with this strong statement: “The ministries of compassion and social justice are in effect prophetic ministries because they embody the values at the core of the kingdom of God. Most people encounter the invisible kingdom for the first time through these ministries and realize that maybe there is an alternative to the realities of the world they live in. This opens them to the possibility of a God who is compassionate” (201). And, “To be compassionate in the midst of a culture which robs people of life is what it means to be the people of God in the world that we live in” (202).

Book Reviewed
Rupen Das, Compassion and the Mission of God: Revealing the Invisible Kingdom (Carlisle, UK: Langham Global Library, 2015).

P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

How to Relaunch Your Church | Influence Podcast


After weeks of being closed by state and local public health orders, many churches are beginning to reopen their doors for ministry to their communities. Rather than merely reopen, however, the present moment offers churches an opportunity to relaunch. We’ll explore what relaunching your church might look like in this episode of the Influence Podcast.

I’m George P. Wood, executive editor of Influence magazine and your host. My guest today is Dr. John Davidson. He is director of Leadership and Development for the Church Multiplication Network of the Assemblies of God. In that capacity, he oversees CMNLead.com , a website providing free resources for pastors.

Over the past few weeks, CMNLead.com has published—and will continue to publish—resources to help local churches respond to the coronavirus pandemic. Spanish-language resources are available at CMNLead.com/Spanish. One resource you’ll want to look at particularly is the Church Relaunch Kit, which we’ll talk about in this conversation.

The Narcissistic Leader | Influence Podcast


“While it seems as if the church should be the last place narcissism shows up,” writes Chuck DeGroat, “it does indeed—in ordinary laypeople, in clergy across all theological spectrums, and in systems that protect narcissistic people and foster abuse.”

In this episode of the Influence Podcast, I’m talking with DeGroat about what narcissism is, how it deforms both individuals and systems, and how churches can heal from the emotional and spiritual abuse that come in narcissism’s wake. I’m George P. Wood, executive editor of Influence magazine and your host.

Chuck DeGroat is professor of pastoral care and Christian spirituality at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan. He’s also author of When Narcissism Comes to Church, published earlier this year by InterVarsity Press.

Recommended Reading for Leaders | Influence Magazine


I recommended the following three books to church leaders in the May-June 2020 issue of Influence magazine. As always, if you like my recommendation, please click “Helpful” on the Amazon review pages for each book!

WHEN NARCISSISM COMES TO CHURCH
Chuck DeGroat (IVP)

“Narcissistic pastors are anxious and insecure shepherds who do not lead the sheep to still waters but into hurricane winds,” writes Christian psychologist Chuck DeGroat. In this book, DeGroat draws on his extensive counseling experience and academic research to illuminate narcissism in all its variety, demonstrate its negative effects on both church members and church systems, and outline a plan for healing its victims, including the narcissists themselves. The good news? The “radically humble, self-giving way” of Jesus Christ.

Link to Amazon

HOW TO MAKE BIG DECISIONS WISELY
Alan Ehler (Zondervan)

“Big decisions shape the course of life,” writes Alan Ehler. The question is how well you’re making those decisions. In this book, Ehler introduces Story Shaping, a four-step model useful for making personal and organizational decisions, as well as for resolving conflict. The four steps are: 1) read the backstory, 2) catch God’s story, 3) craft a new story, and 4) tell the new story. It is “a prayerful process integrating Scripture, theological reflection, and skills derived from decision science and neuroscience.”

Link to Amazon 

THE MOTIVE
Patrick Lencioni (Wiley)

In this book, Patrick Lencioni tells a fable about two CEOs, which identifies two motives for leadership. Reward-centered leadership believes that “being a leader is the reward for hard work; therefore, the experience of being a leader should be pleasant and enjoyable.” By contrast, responsibility-centered leadership believes that “being a leader is a responsibility; therefore, the experience of leading should be difficult and challenging.” Although written for business leaders, this book has multiple applications for pastors and other church leaders too.

Link to Amazon

Analog Church | Book Review


Jay Y. Kim’s Analog Church had the misfortune of hitting bookstores at the precise moment American churches were rushing to go digital due to COVID-19-related shelter-at-home orders in many places across the nation.

Bad timing aside, the book’s message is timely. “People are hungry for human experiences,” Kim writes, “and the church is perfectly positioned to offer exactly that.” The longer people shelter at home, the more that hunger will grow, and the greater the Church’s opportunity will be.

But will churches be able to satisfy that hunger? Kim worries they won’t. (His worries long predate the current crisis.) The reason is not that churches use digital technology. Rather, it is that they often embrace digital values, which Kim enumerates:

  1. Speed. We have access to what we want when we want, as quickly as our fingers can type and scroll.
  2. Choices. We have access to an endless array of options when it comes to just about anything.
  3. Individualism. Everything, from online profiles to gadgets is endlessly customizable, allowing us to emphasize our preferences and personalities.

Kim acknowledges that digital technology has made “major contributions to the improvement of human experience.” Sheltered at home with my family, I can confirm that a speedy internet, multiple iPads, and an array of online entertainment choices vastly improved our experience of confinement. Additionally, digital technology made church services and small groups accessible to believers who couldn’t walk through their church doors.

And yet, those digital values also have a downside. In Kim’s words:

The speed of the digital age has made us impatient.
The choices of the digital age have made us shallow.
The individualism of the digital age has made us isolated.

Digital values are good if you’re talking about consuming things. If you’re talking about making disciples, however, impatience, shallowness and isolation are nonstarters. Consequently, Kim warns: “Leading our churches headlong into digital spaces in hopes of creating an easy-to-consume Christian product severely diminishes our ability to meaningfully impact the culture around us and invite them into more meaningful spaces.”

Because of this danger, Kim encourages churches to “lean into analog opportunities” in three areas: worship, community and Scripture. He captures the basic difference between digital and analog with this couplet: “Digital informs. Analog transforms.”

Both information and transformation are important, of course — the former as the means, the latter as an end. But, as opposed to analog, digital has the quality of seeing rather than being. (These are my words, not Kim’s.) Seeing pictures of Yosemite, for example, simply cannot capture the wonder of being there.

So how does this information-transformation distinction apply to worship, community and Scripture?

By worship, Kim means the public gatherings of Christians characterized by “songs and sermons,” two forms easy to represent via digital media. The danger of digital worship is that it takes place in your head, not your whole body. Seeing others sing or preach isn’t the same as being in the room where it happened. An observer isn’t a participant.

The being-there quality of analog applies even more to community. “Digital technologies are exceptional and efficient when it comes to the exchange of information,” Kim writes, “but they are abject failures when it comes to the exchange of presence.” We may speak of “online communities,” but that is a useful fiction. Communities must commune, not just communicate.

The gospel didn’t come to us as a movie played on the screen of heaven, after all. It came as Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, who gathered around himself a community called His “body.” Digital technology cannot do this. It cannot reproduce the embodied character of community.

Finally, Bible. Digital technology provides tremendous tools for Bible study. I use YouVersion’s search function all the time, for example. The problem is that a search-function approach to Scripture is reductive.

Consider that God did not inspire the Bible as an answer to a Google prompt, “What does the Bible say about ______?” Instead, over the course of 1,500 years, He inspired 66 books that tell a unified story: the gospel. Understanding that story requires reading slowly for “deep comprehension,” rather than swiftly searching for “self-help tidbits or small morsels of encouragement or inspiration for the day.” Unfortunately, this latter approach is how millions now “read” the Bible.

Kim concludes Analog Church by talking about Communion, which is so analog — “you can’t eat and drink together online” — that it is an antidote to digital values. Given the extraordinary circumstances of the current pandemic, some have experimented with “virtual communion” as a concession to short-term realities.

Pandemic aside, though, the long-term reality is that the Church is intrinsically analog. Facebook and FaceTime may supplement a church’s communication capabilities, especially in a crisis, but they cannot substitute for face-to-face experience. If we Christians fail to remember this, we fail to feed the very hunger our contemporaries so strongly feel.

Book Reviewed
Jay Y. Kim, Analog Church: Why We Need Real People, Places, and Things in the Digital Age (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2020).

P.S. If you like this review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

P.P.S. This review appears in the May-June 2020 issue of Influence magazine.

How to Lead When Your Church Is Closed | Influence Podcast


The coronavirus pandemic is temporarily changing the way Americans live, work, and use their free time. The federal government has asked citizens voluntarily to “[a]void social gatherings in groups of more than 10 people,” but many state and local governments are imposing bans on such gatherings. This negatively affects the ability of local churches to gather for worship, most immediately, but it also may have other longer term effects.

How should—how can—pastors lead their congregations when their churches are closed?

That’s the question I’m asking Dr. John Davidson in this episode of the Influence Podcast. I’m George P. Wood, executive editor of Influence magazine and your host. Davidson is director of Leadership and Development for the Church Multiplication Network of the Assemblies of God. In that capacity, he oversees CMNLead.com , a website providing free resources for pastors. Over the next few weeks, CMNLead.com will publish resources to help local churches respond innovatively during the coronavirus pandemic. Spanish-language resources are available at CMNLead.com/Spanish.

P.S. This podcast is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

What Effective Board Governance Looks Like | Influence Podcast


“Church boards exist in all shapes and sizes, and they vary across theologies and tradition. But what if you compared those boards that view themselves as ‘effective’ against those who do not? What would you learn?”

That’s the question asked in Unleashing Your Church Board’s Potential, a new study by the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA). It’s also the question I’m asking Dan Busby and Warren Bird in Episode 209 of the Influence Podcast. I’m George P. Wood, executive editor of Influence magazine and your host.

Dan Busby and Warren Bird serve with ECFA, whose mission is “Enhancing trust in Christ-centered nonprofits.” Busby is president of ECFA,  and Bird is vice president of Research and Equipping. Both are published authors. Most recently, Busby coauthored More Lessons from the Nonprofit Boardroom with John Pearson, and Bird coauthored Liquid Churchwith Tim Lucas.

This episode of the Influence Podcast is brought to you by My Healthy Church, distributors of MEGA Sports Camp, a unique VBS that makes it easy to reach new families.

Children’s ministry leaders often feel frustrated and disappointed that their summer outreach program doesn’t bring in new kids. MEGA Sports Camp gives leaders a fun, unique summer outreach program so that they can welcome new families, engage new volunteers, and impact the community.

To find out more, visit MegaSportsCamp.com.

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