What Student Ministry Really Needs? Homework.

Teens should take Bible study as seriously as school and sports practice.

I’m frequently asked what discipleship resources I recommend for teens. My answer is simple: Give them the Bible itself. Ask students to be students of the Scriptures.

When addressing biblical illiteracy among adults, Bible teachers must start by getting them to recall what it means to be a student and learn a subject in a structured way. Adults may not even associate a structured learning approach with being a disciple of Christ. For many, discipleship is almost wholly defined by doing—sharing the gospel, volunteering, giving, or going on a mission trip.

Teens, on the other hand, know exactly what it means to be a student. They fill the role in school five days a week. Yet we often communicate to this age group that their faith is a matter of feelings and impressions, of subjective observations or experiences, rather than of earnest study.

In Jesus’ day, the term “disciple” would have been inseparable from that of “learner” or “student.” Learning a rabbi’s teachings was foundational to doing what those teachings required. And that is still the case today. We are transformed into doers of the Word by first being hearers.

Today’s high schoolers learn physics and calculus and foreign languages. They are expected to annotate literature and draw critical conclusions about its meaning. They complete hours of homework. They seek tutoring when a subject is difficult. They work hard to learn because learning points to definable future outcomes. They are disciples of their teachers, learning with great discipline the various disciplines those teachers instruct.

By contrast, when these same students show up at church to be discipled in their faith, what will be asked of …

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Calvin of Arabia: Protestant Theology Translated into Arabic

Labor of love brings the Reformation’s seminal work into the Middle East.

Most of the theological writings that shaped Western society over the last 500 years cannot be found on Middle Eastern bookshelves. Few Arabs have ever read anything from John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, or Karl Barth.

The reason is simple: Almost none of the Protestant canon has been translated into Arabic.

The dearth of Christian religious texts in the world’s fourth-largest language is especially pronounced within Protestantism, which developed in European languages such as Latin, French, German, and English. The Reformation has barely broken into the Arabic-speaking world, dominated by Islam and where most local Christians—whose numbers are dwindling fast—are inheritors of Orthodox or Catholic theologies.

Nearly a decade ago, George Sabra, president of the Near East School of Theology (NEST) in Beirut, had the notion to translate perhaps the most influential writing of the Reformation, John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, into Arabic for the first time.

“It’s a major work of the Reformation, which has shaped European and American Protestantism and societies for centuries and, in a way, is still with us,” Sabra said of the French reformer’s systematic theology. “The effects of it—the whole Calvinist influence on society and in the church—are still there, even though people don’t recognize it.”

In 2008, Sabra brought the idea to NEST’s then-president, Mary Mikhael. She was receptive and helped raise funds. The process of finding a translator and ensuring consistency throughout the manuscript caused delays, but a little less than a decade later—just in time for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation—Sabra’s dream …

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The Gospel Turns the ‘Try Harder’ Mentality on Its Head

Our own strength is insufficient to carry us to places of greater faith

It’s that time of year again—New Year’s resolution time, that is. Just as soon as we finish packing up the lights and de-cluttering our houses from all the Christmas cheer, we’ve moved on to our next task: setting goals.

As we reflect on 2017, many of us naturally look for areas of improvement and ask the question: What could be better? Realistically, what we’re asking ourselves is this: What about me could be better? A year of examining ourselves in the mirror across a toothbrush each morning has no doubt left many us wishing that certain things were different.

In light of these longings, roughly 40% of Americans break out their journals and resolve each January to improve themselves once and for all. Some of us plan to read more and scroll through social media less. Others of us want to swap out the carton of ice cream we’ve been noshing on for some carrot sticks. Like a marketing agency of sorts, we aim to build a better personal brand so as to more effectively sell the ‘new and improved us’ to unsuspecting buyers.

The American economy, of course, eats all of this up like a left-over Christmas cookie. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent each year on self-help books alone. Another $60 billion is spent in our nation by individuals trying to lose weight by means of gym memberships, weight-loss curriculums, and diet food products.

Unfortunately, after all the goal setting is said and done, only about 9% of Americans self-described as “successful” with the follow through. You know those gyms that everyone joined on January 1st? Well, 67% of those that purchased memberships never actually made use of them. Americans made promises, but few of them were actually kept. …

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Top 10 Posts of 2017

It’s that time of year.

(10) Hank Hanegraaff’s Switch to Eastern Orthodoxy, Why People Make Such Changes, and Four Ways Evangelicals Might Respond

Let’s follow Jesus, keep sharing the simple gospel, focus on the Bible, and think like missionaries in order to translate that truth to our modern context.

(9) Kaepernick, Speech, and a Job: The Cleat May Soon be on the Other Foot

Free speech is important, but is it always helpful, and how does it relate to employment?

(8) Southern Baptists, Racism, and the Alt-Right: It’s Time to Make This Right, Plain, and Clear

(7) No, the World Won’t End Next Week and There’s No Such Thing as a Christian Numerologist

If we start speaking up about bad “Christian” reporting, maybe people will do it less.

(6) Facts Are Our Friends: Why Sharing Fake News Makes Us Look Stupid and Harms Our Witness

Christians are supposed to be the people who think the “truth will set you free.”

(5) #Charlottesville, the Christian Response, and Your Church’s Call

Silence on matters of hatred and bigotry is antithetical to the gospel.

(4) No, Christians Don’t Use Joseph and Mary to Explain Child Molesting Accusations

Doing so is ridiculous and blasphemous.

(3) Open Letter to John Piper on White Evangelicalism and Multiethnic Relations

A guest post from Raymond Chang, ministry associate for discipleship in the Chaplain’s Office of Wheaton College

Lecrae, Truth’s Table, and an Asian American ministry leader

(2) Dear Fellow Christians: It’s Time to Speak Up for Refugees

If we are pro-life, we are pro-refugee.

(1) Some Christians Hate Joel Osteen More Than They Love The Truth. And That’s Wrong.

Be silent until there is something to say.

Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished …

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The Top 20 Christianity Today Articles of 2017

The theology beneath the Trump-Comey conflict, BSF rewrites the rulebook, and Benny Hinn’s nephew shares his testimony.

Did you catch all of the most-read CT articles from 2017?

Here’s a look back at what readers kept clicking this past year.

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The Christian Leader’s Guide to Economics

The so-called “dismal science” is a powerful tool for wealth creation, but also for healing broken communities.

I open my car door, sit down, and turn the key. Carefully balancing my coffee, I put my foot on the brake, shift into reverse, and gently press the gas pedal as I pull out of my driveway on my way to work. As I head down South Broadway, I remember a quip my undergraduate economics professor once made: “The economy is like a car engine. Most of us don’t understand what’s happening under the hood. We just hit the gas and hope it works.”

We seldom pause to appreciate the vast ecosystem of buying, selling, labor, and wealth creation that makes up the modern economy. Most of us take its benefits for granted. I simply expect restaurants to have food, water to flow from my faucet, and my car engine to start when I turn the key.

Yet the reason we have everything from SUVs to grande peppermint mochas is a well-functioning economy, which is fundamentally dependent on love, says Tom Nelson, senior pastor of Christ Community Church near Kansas City and author of The Economics of Neighborly Love: Investing in Your Community’s Compassion and Capacity.

The words “love” and “economics” are used in the same sentence about as much as “toothpaste” and “opera.” But Nelson is convinced that if we genuinely want to fulfill Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor as yourself,” the church needs a renewed focus on our economic life.

A Tool for Leaders

Just mentioning the word “economics” tends to elicit one of three responses: anxiety-inducing memories of college exams peppered with spreadsheets and charts, heated political debates about the role of the government, or glazed-over confusion at bewildering technical terms like “quantitative easing.” …

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Interview: Matt Chandler Never Wanted a Big Church. How He Ended Up With Six.

Over the next five years, each Dallas-area location gets a Village of its own.

Matt Chandler never wanted a big church. He envisioned himself leading a modest suburban congregation. But as the cliché proved true, God had other plans.

Since Chandler became senior pastor of The Village Church in 2002, it has planted five churches and launched six campuses across the Dallas area, drawing in over 10,000 worshipers a weekend. This fall, though, The Village Church announced plans for each campus to become its own church, as its Denton location did in 2015.

After years of growth expanded Chandler’s vision—and voice—across a wider swath of the Dallas Metroplex, the 43-year-old Southern Baptist will soon be able to focus back on his neck of the woods, Flower Mound.

Even as multisites send campuses off on their own (The Village and Tim Keller’s Redeemer Presbyterian as the most prominent recent examples), the movement lives on, strong as ever.

Multisite churches grow faster and plant more churches than their single-location counterparts, according to Leadership Network. The National Congregations Study indicated that 1 in 11 Protestant churchgoers now attend a multisite congregation. As the model has become more popular, it has drawn criticism within evangelicalism for promoting celebrity pastors, fostering competition for church size, and using video streams to build church “franchises.”

Chandler said that in the early years of his ministry at The Village, “I asked some questions about multisites that nobody could answer. Like, where does this end? Thirty years from now are there six teachers in evangelicalism? Is this healthy? Is this good? Can we develop leaders?”

The Village Church went from turning people away at each of its six services to shuttling sermon …

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Interview: Creating Worship Songs for a Welcoming Community

Isaac Wardell’s latest collaborative project, The Porter’s Gate, marks a change from Bifrost Arts.

Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ, for he is going to say, “I came as a guest, and you received me.” And to all let due honor be shown, especially to the domestics of the faith and to pilgrims. … Let the head be bowed or the whole body prostrated on the ground in adoration of Christ, who indeed is received in their persons.
— The Holy Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 53, “On the Reception of Guests”

Imagine this: You’re visiting a church for the first time. As you approach the entrance, you spot the designated greeter, who is wearing a nametag and a warm smile.

You’re expecting the usual handshake and hello. Instead, the greeter suddenly drops to ground, lies face down at your feet, and pronounces a blessing of peace upon you.

If you were a medieval traveler, walking your way across what is now Europe, you’d be used to it. Every time you stopped to spend the night at a monastery on your journey, you’d be greeted that way.

There may have been no more welcoming place than monasteries of the Middle Ages. They took hospitality seriously, treating every guest as if he were Christ himself.

Isaac Wardell would like to see a little more of that in modern churches. Maybe not to the extreme of falling prostrate before every visitor, but at least in the spirit of such Benedictine hospitality.

That’s why Wardell, director for worship arts at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Charlottesville, Virginia, has launched The Porter’s Gate Worship Project, a self-described “creative movement aimed at reimagining and recreating worship that welcomes, reflects, and impacts both community and the Church.”

When Christianity Today recently sat down with Wardell …

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Rhinos, Rabbits, and the Challenges of Multiplying a Church Planting Movement

Partnering together for the sake of the gospel

It is unfortunate, but the White Rhino appears to be on a trajectory to extinction. And there’s little wonder why. Human and environmental factors aside, the rhino has a built-in malefactor that hinders their own proliferation—a gestation period of 16 to 18 months. It takes a year and a half for a rhino to have a baby, meaning that even if all others variables are ideal, the birth rate is going to be excruciatingly slow.

Yet, all other factors are never ideal, so some rhino babies do not make it to birth, while others die soon after. As a result, you’re unlikely to hear about rapid rhino multiplication. Instead, expensive and painstaking management is required simply to avoid extinction.

Contrast rhinos with rabbits. The animal’s name itself has become a synonymous symbol for rapid multiplication. Why? Rabbits have a gestation period of 31 days—one month. This system of rapid multiplication allows the rabbit to persist and flourish despite various environmental impediments that should cause its demise.

Not Either/Or, but Both/And?

But a holistic picture of a successful urban missiology necessitates that churches behave like both rhinos and rabbits.

Churches with a rhino-like gestational cycle may not multiply quickly, but they can multiply effectively. A slower rate of reproduction can allow the church to build a robust infrastructure capable of deploying missionary members and church planters into the harvest.

Self-less pastors in these environments can work to develop systems to train leaders with a unique blend of ecclesiological precision and leadership ability. Given enough time, open-handed rhino-like churches can gain relational authority with other churches in a region such that they are seen …

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What Christmas Tells Us About the Person and Character of God

So the world will know that hope has come

Today, we celebrate the coming of our Savior and King. Prophets foretold his birth for centuries and, finally, after years of waiting, Christ the Messiah came into the world. The wait for redemption is finally over.

Christmas is a time to celebrate the fulfillment of longings.

We long to be cared for, understood, and known. We want someone to look at our hearts, see who we are, and deeply love us nonetheless. The coming of Christ is the truest fulfillment of our deepest desires and means that we can live lives free of estrangement from the One we we’re created for. He is finally here.

In yesterday’s article, I spoke a lot about anticipation and all the things our human hearts so naturally long for. I guess the question is: What are you waiting for this Christmas? Are you waiting for a Christ who loves unconditionally? One who accepts strangers and welcomes wanderers?

I can promise you that this tiny baby born in a manger so many years ago is all those things and so much more. In looking at the circumstances of his coming—the dirty stable and lowly shepherds with their sheep—we see a God who aimed to turn people’s expectations completely upside down.

He came in humility, through the most unexpected yet beautiful of means, to draw the lowliest and most undeserving among us to himself.

Christ Looks at the Heart

I don’t know about you, but if I were God (be glad I’m not), I’m not confident that I would have chosen a poor, young, inexperienced girl to become my earthly mother. Mary was likely in her teens and lived in a humble home with her mother, father, siblings (and likely several other relatives). She may have spent her days laboring long hours over hot ovens, dirty clothes, and cooking …

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