Puerto Rico: 3,000 Churches Damaged, Fewer Christians Left to Rebuild

Attendance drops as 400,000 island residents move to the mainland.

The evangelical church in Puerto Rico won’t be the same after Hurricane Maria.

Even congregations that have resumed their regular gatherings after repairing buildings and regaining power are still missing a major part of church life: some of their members.

An estimated 400,000 of the island’s more than 3 million residents have left the US territory for the mainland since the record-setting September storm. Like every other aspect of Puerto Rican life, church attendance has taken a hit.

Gadiel Ríos’s 350-member congregation in Arecibo, La Iglesia del Centro, saw five to six families relocate to the mainland after enduring ongoing power outages and financial hardship—a number similar to losses experienced by fellow pastors.

About a third of Ríos’s congregants still don’t have power—the same proportion of electricity customers island-wide who are still waiting for service. He estimates Sunday attendance has dropped 5 to 10 percent.

“All of this is putting a lot of strain on families,” he said. “Remember that Hispanic families are very close and tend to live in clusters to support each other; now Maria is disrupting this way of life.”

Meanwhile, Spanish-speaking congregations in the States have welcomed the Puerto Ricans who have fled, particularly those in Orlando, where the “great migration” is expected to transform the city. Of all the people who moved to the continental US from the Caribbean island in the past four months, more than 300,000 settled in Florida alone, according to the Sunshine State’s division of emergency management.

Members of Calvario City Church greeted arrivals from Puerto Rico as soon as they landed in the Orlando …

Continue reading…

Should Churches Handle Sexual Abuse Allegations Internally?

The Andy Savage case should lead us to question the way many churches are handling the issue.

Many observers were troubled when Andy Savage, a pastor at Highpoint Church in Memphis, received a standing ovation from his congregation for his admission of a “sexual incident” with a 17-year-old high-school student when he was a youth leader at Woodlands Parkway Baptist Church in Texas. They have reason to be troubled.

Though the congregation was probably unaware that the woman involved described the “incident” as an assault, at least one pastor at Woodlands and the leaders of Highpoint were aware. The alleged victim claimed that Larry Cotton, an associate pastor of Woodlands at the time, urged her to stay quiet about what happened. And only after the alleged victim made the case public did Highpoint’s pastor Chris Conlee admit that the information was not new to him or to the church leadership. Conlee went on to support Savage and his continued ministry at Highpoint Church.

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for churches and religious organizations to try to handle sexual assault allegations internally. Bob Jones University, Sovereign Grace Ministries, the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism, and the Institute in Basic Life Principles have all come under fire in recent years for not adequately addressing sexual abuse within their communities. Some of these organizations have been accused of blaming the victims—even those who were children at the time of abuse—and pressuring them to forgive their abusers rather than report them.

Many church leaders probably react to these stories by thinking that they would never do such a thing. They would never intentionally cover up allegations of sexual abuse in their church. But what if intentionally covering up the truth is not the …

Continue reading…

God’s Letter to Us

How evangelicals read Scripture.

It nearly goes without saying that evangelicals have a special relationship with the Bible. It’s not the same as their personal relationship with Jesus Christ, but it can sometimes come close.

For one thing, when we talk about “the Word,” it is sometimes hard to tell if we’re talking about the Bible or the person of Jesus, for we generally capitalize Word in either case. And we tend to talk about the Bible as if it is a living thing, as per 2 Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is God-breathed.” It harkens to Genesis, when God “breathed into [Adam’s] nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (Gen. 2:7).

As such, we talk about a Bible passage that “speaks to us” or about how we “heard God” as we read a passage of Scripture.

To remind us of the personal nature of the Bible, we often remind one another that, as much as anything else, the Bible is to be read as a personal letter from God to us. This analogy was eloquently advocated by the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard:

My listener, how highly do you value God’s Word? … Imagine a lover who has received a letter from his beloved. I assume that God’s Word is just as precious to you as this letter is to the lover. I assume that you read and think you ought to read God’s Word in the same way the lover reads this letter.

In another essay he casts a distrustful eye to learned commentaries—in his view, they often obscure the plain meaning of the text as they explore the linguistic and historical context of a passage. Instead, he says,

Each of us should read this letter solely as an individual, as a single individual who has received this letter from God. In reading …

Continue reading…

Interview: My Larry Nassar Testimony Went Viral. But There’s More to the Gospel Than Forgiveness.

Former gymnast Rachael Denhollander spent years discovering God’s perspective on sexual abuse. Then her advocacy for survivors cost her her church.

Sixteen years after Larry Nassar first sexually abused her, Rachael Denhollander decided to publicly reveal that she had been one of the many victims of the USA Gymnastics team doctor. The former gymnast, who was a 15-year-old homeschooler when she says Nassar started abusing her, became the first to publicly make allegations against the respected Michigan State University faculty member.

Last week, Denhollander became the last of more than 150 survivors—all women and almost entirely former gymnasts—to share her impact statement in court with Nassar, who was convicted of seven counts of first-degree criminal sexual contact last fall and sentenced to up to 175 years in prison last week.

“I pray you experience the soul-crushing weight of guilt so you may someday experience true repentance and true forgiveness from God, which you need far more than forgiveness from me—though I extend that to you as well,” she said. (Read her whole impact statement.)

Denhollander’s decision to invoke her faith at Nassar’s sentencing drew widespread attention in national and Christian media. But in her statement, the lawyer and mother of three also told the courtroom that speaking out for sexual assault victims “cost me my church and our closest friends.”

“Three weeks before my police report I was left alone and isolated,” she said.

Today, Denhollander and her husband, Jacob, are members of Reformed Baptist Church of Louisville. (Jacob graduated with an MDiv from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and he is currently a PhD student in systematic theology there.)

In an interview with Christianity Today, Denhollander shared more details about her break with her church community, how poor …

Continue reading…

The Enneagram for Pastors

9 different ways pastors look at the world, and what it might mean for your ministry.

My husband, Joe, is a pastor. In other words, he is teacher, public speaker, counselor, children’s story teller, youth leader, HR director, master of ceremonies, facilities coordinator, volunteer coordinator, mission trip coordinator, hospital chaplain, creative designer, office equipment technician, mediator, fundraiser, finance officer, funeral director, father, and grandfather.

Does he excel at every one of those tasks? How could anyone? He thrives in some parts of the ministry, and in other areas he merely gets by. For 2,000 years, men and women have tried to discern a call and find their way in the ministry, only to find a world of expectations that cannot be met.

Through his 40-plus years of pastoral ministry, Joe has found a number of tools to manage the range of expectations that come with ministry. None have been as helpful to him as the Enneagram. The Enneagram is a tool that helps us identify ourselves as belonging to one of nine personality types. Those types aren’t so much about what we do, as they are about our motivation for doing the things we do.

The Enneagram explains the differences in those who have filled the pews in the churches we were appointed to serve. It has helped us become aware of how we all see the world differently, how we respond differently to what we see, and the specific steps we can take to become more like Christ.

Of course, like any self-assessment tool or personality test, there is a danger in making the Enneagram more than it is. It is simply one helpful tool as we journey toward understanding who we are, who God is, and who we are in relation to God. By itself, the Enneagram doesn’t have much to offer, but when combined with prayer, Bible study, and other spiritual …

Continue reading…

A Wall of Security or a Table of Fellowship?

Matthew Kaemingk makes a political and theological case for welcoming Muslim immigrants.

Osama is blind. According to an NPR report, he lost his eyesight in 2012 when a mortar shell exploded nearby, killing everyone around, except him. He, his wife, and four children were Syrian refugees in Jordan for three years before learning the US State Department had approved them for asylum. To obtain the relevant visas, however, Osama and his family required a sponsor: a family to welcome them and assist in their transition.

The sponsor for this Muslim family? A Christian congregation—Nassau Presbyterian Church in Princeton, New Jersey. The family had almost no information about the congregation. They were told only that someone would greet them. But soon enough, they received free housing and a kitchen stocked with food. A team of congregants undertook various gestures of hospitality, even inspecting the house to ensure it would be safe for a blind resident.

The family was overwhelmed by the generosity of the Nassau congregation, and the church was enriched in turn. As one congregant remarked, “the family’s presence has been a blessing to us all.” An immigrant family had need, and the church met it, in keeping with God’s Old Testament command: “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born” (Lev. 19:34).

In 2016, the United States admitted approximately 38,000 Muslim refugees, according to the Pew Research Center. This figure is up considerably from the year prior, and more than double that of 2011. One reason for the increase is the staggering number of refugees spilling out from Syria and surrounding areas, where civil war and ISIS brutality have caused a mass exodus. Refugees from Syria alone have ballooned in number over the past five years, from around …

Continue reading…

The Multiplying Leader

Founder of The Unstuck Group is the third entry in a new series.

I’ve always believed healthy leadership in the church is less about the leader and more about those being led. The real leadership development ‘win’ happens when all of God’s people are fully equipped to do his work. That means we should be intentional about identifying leaders and helping them discover the unique gift mix God has designed for their lives.

In the work my team and I do helping churches get unstuck at The Unstuck Group, leadership development consistently arises as a core issue churches say they are facing. The pastors we serve know it is important, and they know there is a strategy problem, but they feel stuck. The things they have tried aren’t working. If you can relate, here are two questions to ask yourself:

1. Are you programming instead of personalizing?

Churches that fail to develop leaders often try to program leadership development, instead of taking a more personal approach.

Another class or teaching most likely won’t create the culture you’re after. You must invest quality time and resources into key staff and lay leaders—and by that I don’t mean send team members to a conference and buy them a couple of leadership books each year. Real leaders see potential in people and proactively invest in them personally.

Create opportunities for them to implement the skills they are learning. Include lay leaders in your efforts. Doing so will help you find future staff who already have the DNA of your church. The results of proactively investing in leaders cannot be measured. People who have experienced this tend to keep the cycle going, and it builds a culture of leadership development.

2. Are you ignoring the leadership development pathway principle?

All leaders …

Continue reading…

Personality Tests—A Waste or a Resource?

Personality tests are helpful tools to understand the gifts and abilities that the Lord has given us.

Most of us have taken at least one personality test over the course of our lifetime. Some prefer StrengthsFinder, others appreciate Myers–Briggs, but each with the same objective: to better understand who we are and what we should do.

The popularity of these tests has only skyrocketed in recent years. Thousands of companies use them as recruiting tools and countless individuals use them as a means to answer some of life’s big questions.

And these tests (or inventories) appeal to a part of us because we sense a certain longing to know why we’re here and, most importantly, what exactly we were placed on earth to accomplish.

We Are Made for a Purpose

As Christians, we know that the time and circumstances of our birth were not arbitrarily selected or the product of random chance. We worship a God who, before our birth, knew us in the womb and took the time to know each of us intimately. As scripture reminds us, “Even the very hairs on our heads were carefully numbered.” Everything we are and anything we dare to do is ultimately a gift from our Creator.

These truths—that God created and intimately knows each and every one of us—are certainly the starting point to any fruitful journey of ‘self-discovery,’ but by no means should we stop there. Although many skeptics might disagree, I see personality tests as helpful tools we can use to keep the conversation going as we seek to better understand the gifts and abilities that the Lord has so generously given us.

While the old maxim ‘to each his own’ rings true, I have personally found Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator helpful over the years. And as it turns out, so do around 10,000 companies, 2,500 colleges and universities, …

Continue reading…

Demonic Cheese-Donkeys and Immortal Peacocks: Augustine Does Science

How a church father loved God with his rational mind.

Augustine of Hippo (AD 354–430) loved God with all his mind—his rational mind, his scientific mind. Yes, that’s right: History remembers him as the revered church father, brilliant theologian, and ground-breaking philosopher, but what is perhaps not so well known is that he was, at times, a good scientist too.

Which makes it rather interesting that Andrew Dickson White (founding president of Cornell University), who crystallized the modern narrative that Christianity is anti-science, chose to single out Augustine as an example of the pathetically irrational early church. Augustine, he says, blindly accepted local folklore about magical cheeses and immortal peacocks, stories that White said “would now be laughed at by a schoolboy”:

St. Augustine was certainly one of the strongest minds in the early Church, and yet we find him mentioning, with much seriousness, a story that sundry innkeepers of his time put a drug into cheese which metamorphosed travelers into domestic animals, and asserting that the peacock is so favored by the Almighty that its flesh will not decay.

White wrote this in his mammoth 1896 work A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom—an attempt to utterly demolish dogmatic theology by pointing out that it had always gotten in the way of science and rational thought.

Although White’s conflict thesis has been utterly debunked by modern historians of science—who have instead found a great deal of evidence that the church has generally benefited science—this message has not filtered down to the general public. It was in the process of researching for a new popular-level book on the topic that I stumbled across White’s bizarre claim …

Continue reading…

Political Exegesis: On Mulligans and Turning Cheeks

What Tony Perkins gets almost right and Jerry Falwell Jr. gets wrong.

We at CT are reluctant to enter the political fray on most issues because they rarely touch on core causes or issues for us. But when fellow evangelicals start exegeting and applying Scripture in the public square, we think we have something to add to the conversation. Two recent comments by evangelical leaders deserve comment.

The first comes from the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins in an interview with Politico reporter Edward-Isaac Dovere:

Evangelical Christians, says Perkins, “were tired of being kicked around by Barack Obama and his leftists. And I think they are finally glad that there’s somebody on the playground that is willing to punch the bully.”

What happened to turning the other cheek? I ask.

“You know, you only have two cheeks,” Perkins says. “Look, Christianity is not all about being a welcome mat which people can just stomp their feet on.”

This has received a fair amount of criticism, including from Christians like this:

As I understand Perkins here, there is a limit to Christianity. You can follow it so far, but when it doesn’t work to get power in the situation, you resort to whatever tactics might be necessary.

To be fair to Perkins, however, the call to turn the other cheek is not a universal guideline for Christian behavior. It is a very good guideline in many, many situations, and one Christians should instinctively start with. But it doesn’t take deep imagination to recognize that Jesus does not call us to simply absorb evil in every instance. He certainly didn’t. He called out the Pharisees in the strongest language—“hypocrites,” “blind fools,” “sons of vipers” (Matt. 23)—and he turned …

Continue reading…