Missional Public Opinion Researchj


Twenty-some years ago, I served as a counselor at a weeklong Christian summer camp for abused and neglected children. For chapel, one evening, a puppet evangelist told the story of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac (Genesis 22) as an example of the Father’s willingness to sacrifice His Son for us.

A graduate student in theology at the time, I remember thinking there was something wrong with the ventriloquist’s analogy. Wouldn’t Jesus be like the ram God provided, not Isaac? I thought. Then I noticed how quiet, still, and wide-eyed the kids were. Slowly, I realized that many of these kids had witnessed horrific acts of violence perpetrated by their parents or guardians against them and their siblings. In fact, over the course of five years as a counselor, two of my campers — brothers — had witnessed their dad murder their mother and kill himself.

In my opinion, this well-meaning puppet evangelist failed to communicate because he didn’t understand the audience he was preaching to. Ministerial education focuses on teaching pastors the proper exegesis of the biblical text, but in my experience, we need more help in the proper exegesis of our culture.

That’s why I’m an avid reader of public opinion research. When Pew, Gallup, Barna, or similar organizations release a new study, I pay attention. Credible data on what people believe and value helps me better understand the people and culture God has called me to serve as a witness to the gospel.

Obviously, public opinion doesn’t determine what you and I say. The Bible is God’s inspired, inerrant Word. Our message about Jesus Christ comes from its pages, not from the pages of a newspaper or website.

On the other hand, public opinion can help us shape how we share our message. Think of how the apostle Paul preached the gospel to different audiences in the Book of Acts. In Pisidian Antioch, Paul preached a sermon to fellow Jews in the synagogue on the Sabbath that was a master class in the exposition of Scripture (Acts 13:13–52). In Athens, on the other hand, Paul cited Greek poets more than Scripture in his dialogue with Greek philosophers (Acts 17:22–34).

What accounts for the difference? Paul knew that the Jews shared his commitment to Scripture. So, he reasoned from the Bible with them. On the other hand, he knew that Greeks didn’t share his commitment to Scripture, so he reasoned to the Bible with them. In both cases, what Paul said was substantially the same, but how he said it was radically different.

Late last year, Barna Group released Barna Trends 2018, which is chock-full of good information about how contemporary Americans both inside and outside the church view culture, life and faith. I was particular impressed by the feature article, “The Truth about a Post-Truth Society.” It identified five reasons why Americans have such a hard time agreeing about anything: (1) distrust of authority, (2) an erosion of the sacred, (3) a battle between feelings and facts, (4) unbelievable (“fake”) news, and (5) the rise of tribalism.

The challenge for pastors and church leaders is how to cultivate faith in a culture characterized by systemic distrust. We can only begin to do this when we understand the reasons for that distrust, which comes by paying careful attention to our audience’s beliefs, values and practices. The better we understand them, the better able we will be to share the gospel with them.

Unlike that well-meaning puppet evangelist, who was never invited back to camp.

Book Reviewed:
Barna Group, Barna Trends 2018: The Truth about a Post-Truth Society (Grand Rapids, MI Baker Books, 2017).

P.S. This article originally appeared in the March/April 2018 edition of Influence magazine and appears here by permission.

P.P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

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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).

Preaching with Cultural Intelligence | Influence Podcast


In this episode of the Influence Podcast, I talk to Matthew D. Kim about his new book, Preaching with Cultural Intelligence (Baker Academic).

Dr. Kim is associate professor of preaching and ministry at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts, and author of the book, Preaching with Cultural Intelligence: Understanding the People Who Hear our Sermons (Baker Academic). Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

I think this book is timely because America is becoming an increasingly diverse nation, and so are American churches. This diversification raises an important question: How should pastors and other church leaders preach and minister in this new cultural context?

Take a listen to Dr. Kim’s answer!

Friday’s Influence Online Articles


Today, over at InfluenceMagazine.com:

  • Chris Railey continues his series, “A Team Approach to Teaching,” by focusing on who should be part of your teaching team. “Prioritize teamwork over talent,” he writes, “and you’ll find a group of people who fit well together.”
  • Jim Bradford encourages ministers to take a vacation in “Unstring the Bow”: “Taking a true vacation is, for some of us, an actual act of humility by which we surrender our sense of indispensability and trust God to take care of things for a while. It also confronts the human tendency to confuse our ‘self’ with our ‘work,’ an identity confusion that seriously depletes us over time.”
  • George O. Wood — aka, “Dad” — encourages us to “Leave Bad Enough Alone.” He offers this insight: “There’s an important difference between being at peace with all people in God’s sight and pleasing them according to their carnal natures. It’s usually the carnal nature that keeps unhappy people unhappy.” Then he concludes with some practical advice: “So stay on the positive, creative edge. Keep doing what God has called you to do. While He hasn’t called you to be insensitive or rude, God also hasn’t called you to pander to malcontents.”
  • Finally, we note a new Gallup report about American marijuana usage. The title of our note gives it away: “Nearly Half of Americans Have Tried Marijuana.” Joseph Batluck, president of Teen Challenge USA, offers this advice to Christians: ““The Christian’s perspective should always be to see God and live in a clear, efficient and impacting way. Distorting reality, through the use of chemicals, is not an option for those who belong to Christ.”

Please make sure to follow and like InfluenceInfluence magazine on Facebook, Twitter, and iTunes!

Tuesday’s Influence Online Articles


Today, over at InfluenceMagazine.com:

  • I write about the Lord’s Prayer: “we need to remember G.K. Chesterton’s advice: ‘If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.’ Even if we stumble to our knees and mumble through our requests, even if we talk to God inconsistently or incoherently or inconsiderately, it is better that we pray badly than that we not pray at all. Of course, it would be best if we prayed well, but that takes a lifetime of practice, and all of us must start somewhere. So why not start where we are, wherever that may be?”
  • Joy Qualls offers expert advice to preachers about how to break bad verbal habits when speaking: “The frequent use of filler words or other meaningless language can detract from the message and the credibility of the speaker. As communicators of the gospel, how can we keep our delivery uncluttered and on point so that people will hear the Word, not our filler words?”
  • We note a new report form Gray Matter Research about the discrepancy between how much people give and how much they think they give. “Just 8 percent of American donors give 10 percent or more of their household income to charitable organizations and places of worship, the report found. Yet the average donor believes he or she gives 8.4 percent of household income to charitable organizations, not including places of worship — a figure that far exceeds reality.” I wonder if stewardship sermons don’t accomplish their aims because listeners think they’re already giving generously…even though they’re not.

Please make sure to follow and like InfluenceInfluence magazine on Facebook, Twitter, and iTunes!

John Lindell | Influence Podcast


John Lindell recently reached an important ministry milestone. Lindell is lead pastor of James River Church, a multisite congregation in and around Springfield, Missouri. He has led the congregation since 1991. On Sunday, June 26, he preached a sermon from the final verses in the Gospel of Mark, and in doing so, completed sermons on every book of the New Testament.

To mark this milestone, I sat down with John for a conversation about expository preaching—that is, preaching through Scripture in a systematic, sequential fashion. In addition to making a case for why preachers should preach expository sermons, John gives practical advice about how to do so more effectively.

Wednesday’s Influence Online Articles


Today, over at InfluenceMagazine.com:

  • Mike Burnette issues a stirring call to expository preaching: “Preach the Word of God with boldness; lead people to surrender fully to God’s will and God’s Word. Study and prepare, and come ready to capitalize on this precious time so you can give your best in delivering God’s Word. Then watch as it becomes alive and active in individual lives, transforming people from death to life, and bringing them to new life in Jesus.”
  • Karen Blandino talks about the power of relationship building in ministry: “When you have more than you need, build a longer table, not a higher fence.”
  • We note a frankly alarming statistic from a recent Gallup poll: “Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of all U.S. adults say a doctor should be able to end the life of a terminally ill patient if the patient and family members request it. Fifty-five percent of those who attend church weekly agree with that stance, along with 66 percent of those attending church nearly weekly or monthly. Almost 9 in 10 (87 percent) of those who never attend church are in favor of legalizing euthanasia.”

Please make sure to follow and like InfluenceInfluence magazine on Facebook, Twitter, and iTunes!