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Posts from Jonathan Sherwin about the church.

Here’s a video from Os Guinness on the state of the Christian Church in the West. (YouTube)

Found at A Better Hope

On Sunday morning, or whenever you corporately meet, take a second to glance around and conduct a quick demographic survey. If your church is like mine there’ll be a fairly healthy smattering of kids, married couples and older folk but there could well be a gap in 20-30 single somethings, and an even bigger gap where the guys should be.

You could dismiss this by saying something like, “Young people grow up and then move away for university” – but does this answer the question? If you’re in a town or city then surely there will be people moving in to the city replacing those who are moving out.

I think it’s time to own the fact that by and large many churches struggle with retaining young men and women when they enter their twenties. Rather than simply explaining away this phenomenon I think it’s pertinent that we work out how we’re losing these people and how we’re going to get them back.

Being a man isn’t a problem, it’s the solution

The church was started by a man in his thirties with a bunch of his mates. They all had jobs and some had families. After 3 or so years of training Jesus (the guy who started the church) left eleven guys to get on with it. Of these eleven, ten were martyred for their beliefs. The love that these men had for Jesus led them to give everything they had for the church. This is the calibre of man that Jesus picked to lead the church. 2,000 years later and the job spec hasn’t changed, but perhaps the candidates have.

To succeed as a man in life you need to show some determination. To father and lead a family, hold down a job, provide a future and encourage men around you takes grit and courage. Through all of this a man’s character is shown and every aspect of his god-given manhood is used. My question is, do we encourage any of this in church or not?

Let me explain what I mean.

I wonder if you know of this man? He’s competitive, and likes sports. He’s stubborn and doesn’t like to admit he’s wrong. He wants to be right and win the argument, oh, and he wants to have lots of great sex.

Stereotype? Maybe. But here we have him. Now, let’s look at how some churches may see him. He’ll be branded as: strong and not meek/mild, proud and not soft-hearted, arrogant and divisive, and lustful and degrading to women. He’ll know sooner rather than later that he’s just sinful and all he desires are wrong. He’ll either have to neuter himself or leave the church. Not once will he be encouraged in who he is.

However, I don’t think this is how Jesus sees him. Sure, he might be misusing his passions – but our God is a redeemer, not a large anti-testosterone pill. Instead of pre-condemning the up-and-coming men in the church we should celebrate them and encourage them. Let’s look at them the way that a loving father who wants the best will look at them.

This guy I mentioned could be viewed this way. He is competitive; he’s not satisfied till he gives his best. He’s stubborn; he’ll fight for his faith. He regards truth highly and wont settle for anything less. Oh, his healthy sex-drive is a great ingredient for a healthy marriage, which is the core of a healthy family.

If we decide that we don’t need to defend truth, or work hard for our Lord and Saviour, and that easy compromise is preferable and healthy families don’t rate that highly then sure, we don’t need young men in the church. We can condemn all manly desires as sinful and not welcome and we can effectively skim off the boys as they reach manhood.

But if we wake up and realise that we value God’s truth and that it is under attack, that compromise is as disgusting as it is rife and that the family model is so far off from God’s plan, then maybe we’ll think about making at an effort to keep our boys instead of repelling them and take the effort train them to become the men God is calling them to be.

If we lose the young men, we lose the church. Game over. But if we give the guys a glimpse of how God sees them and how He wants to use them, then watch their natural talents come into play as they grab hold of life and pour their lives out for the church in love for their leader, Jesus.

Carl Beech has just finished a four-part series entitled ‘Real Men Don’t Do Church’ over on the CVM Blog. Looking at why men might not find church in the UK appealing today, Carl analyses the problem before offering helpful advice on what to do about it.

“Most men completely by-pass church.  They see it as a place that according to a BBC radio survey is for wimps, women and irrelevant!  Let’s not make the mistake of thinking that when the “wheels come off” in a man’s life they look to the church.  A small minority might, but for the most part their perception of what/who Jesus is and stands for will be quite the opposite of what they feel they need in a crisis.  So what are we going to do to put hairs back on the chest of the Gospel?”

Read more …

At last night’s service in Bath with Dr. J. I. Packer we were treated to a quick question and answer time before the main message (which incidentally was taken from Luke 1:67-80 entitled, “Safety, Certainty, and Enjoyment.”) From this Q & A session I want to highlight three questions and their answers that I found particularly insightful and helpful.

1. What advice would you give to Christians young in the faith?

  • “Soak yourselves in Scripture.” Packer hit first and foremost the absolute neccesity that we need to be in the Bible often. Packer is in his 80’s I believe and he mentioned that fact that people don’t read their bibles as their fathers and grandfathers once did. What does that mean for me who could be his great-grandson?!

    At this point he talked about the ESV Study Bible for which he served as Theological Editor and mentioned that is much more than just another study Bible, but rather it is, “put together as a resource for the Christian life.” That is, that the study Bible complete with articles, notes, charts, maps etc. was designed to help the Christian in all matters of their faith.

  • The next point that he made was that we need to be in prayer. We were exhorted to, “practice prayer, both in company, and on your own.” As well as having a life of personal prayer we need to, “get into a prayer group.” Packer stressed the importance of the Christian walk being that as a walk of fellowship, and not isolation.

    I thought that was great coming from a man who might actually be able to remember the beginning of modernity. I find that many among the crowd who want to do church in a ‘post-modern’ way seem to think that they have discovered ‘community’ for the first time. Ahh, but not so. Because it, as with other doctrines, have been dismissed by some in some generations in the past does not mean that it is a new or bold discovery.

  • Dr. Packer also told us that we need to be actively seeking to discover what gifts God has given to us. When we discover our gifts we can then begin to use them! We are “saved to serve” and church is not a place to sit idly by without joining in and fulfilling our own unique role in the body (Col. 1:24 – verse added).

And what about Christians at the other end, those much older in their faith?

  • “Remember that the Good Lord never changes.” I’m only 25 so I’m nodding appropriately and writing and thinking that hopefully one day this might mean a little more to me. All I can take it for is that when you have seen a lot of life, and a lot of change, we must remain strong and take heart in the Unchanging One.
  • “Remind yourselves of the works of God.” This is one that I think is good for us all. We must remember to be thankful and give praise to God for the wonderful things that He has done in our lives.

3. For what can we pray for you?

Finally, the question was asked for what can we pray for Dr. Packer? As you may know, Dr. Packer and others from his church have been having a rough run of it of late. The whole sad ordeal to me highlights the state of some parts of the church. The glimmer of hope to be found is in the people who made a stand, take God at His word and take His Word very seriously.

It is a brave man who is still very much passionate about His God to stand firm, when He has been standing so strong for all his life. Dr. Packer in this regard is an inspiration to me and a testimony of the Holy Spirit’s grace that enables sinners to run hard, run strong, and finish well. My prayers will be with him and his church over the next few weeks.

The Cause

May 11, 2009 — Leave a comment

Yesterday a new sermon series, The Cause, began at Bath City Church. This ongoing series, from Ephesians, should be quiet exciting. I’ll be studying the book over the next month or so myself and look forward to learning much from it.

Mars Hill Church

April 21, 2009 — Leave a comment

Mars HillOn Sunday I had the privelge of attending Mars Hill Church in Seattle for the first time in person. As one who frequently listens to the podcasts it was a pleasure to visit the church and see first hand what goes on.

Walking into the Ballard campus I knew I was at Mars Hill straight away by the familiar branding and themes that pretty much encompassed everything. Finding my way to a seat the service began with a short time of worship followed by Pastor Mark preaching and then more worship, including communion and a chance to give. The sermon was top notch, as I’ve come to expect, and I left wondering how one man can preach the 4 or 5 times each Sunday, as well as every other commitment he keeps. Quite astounding.

Looking around I could see that many people were young and yes, there were many guys there (which is something that’s profoundly interesting to me as men in England don’t seem to like church that much, especially the younger ones). I was at the 11:15 service (there are several services across several campuses a day) and it wasn’t just all families – young people actually got out of bed to attend the service.

The literature I picked up had plenty of great information and I felt that if I were to stay in Seattle and make Mars Hill my church that I would be able to fit in very quickly. The ways to get connected were numerous and highlighted. I opted to fill in the visitor card which resulted with a voicemail that I found after touching down in Chicago saying thanks for getting in touch and telling me who to call if I want to find out more. I thought that was pretty neat!

I really enjoyed my time at Mars Hill and the time that I got spend in Seattle. It’s true, the city is a little weird, but then again I’ve spent quite a bit of time on the north-shore of Maui which is just as weird. But weird or not, people seem to be connecting with the gospel as it’s preached faithfully and repeatedly and so I praise God for that. Mars Hill has a vision of expanding to 50,000 members and I pray for their success. It’s a bold vision, but there are some bold people behind it. And as someone once said, “One on God’s side is a majority.”

In studying the Reformation recently I am amazed at the work of God who in His faithfulness kept the church – His bride – on track. Now, historically I became queasy when Christians started talking about brides and bridegrooms outside of weddings. I have pictures of women (and, sadly, men too) thinking that they’re the bride and Christ is the bridegroom, which is just weird. But recently I’ve began to appreciate the idea a little more.

Ephesians 5:25 shows a man how he should love his wife: the same way Christ loved the church (i.e. became man, lived a life of rejection, humiliation, stress, pain and ultimately death). In essence, to man-up is to become Christ-like. A husband is to give his life for his wife, which is what Jesus did for the church. Which, as a side note, is one very good reason for believing in the church and not saying nasty things against it. Because in the words of one my professors, “The one way to really get a guy angry is to start sounding off against his bride.”

And Jesus did give himself for the church. He is in relationship with us, and he cares. So it’s no wonder that we had a Reformation, when we look at it from Jesus’ perspective. From our perspective, it’s nothing short of a miracle that the church could get back on track after doing an excellent job of losing it. But Jesus takes the relationship quite seriously. In his sovereignty he steered us back in the right direction.

Now, the Reformation started almost 500 years ago. Where are we today? I think of England. A once mighty, holy, pious nation that sent out missionaries to the ends of the earth and stood strongly for Jesus. I think of Scotland, which – after the efforts of John Knox – became known as a bastion for Biblical Christianity, in to which men were born that later went on to help shape the theological foundations of the United States. We barely find a shadow of the past alive today. Why? What happened? What disaster took place? Francis Schaeffer says this about the evangelical church in general …

“Here is the great evangelical disaster – the failure of the evangelical world to stand for truth as truth. There is only one word for this – namely accomodation: the evangelical church has accommodated to the world spirit of the age.

And let us understand that to accommodate to the world spirit about us in our age is nothing less than the most gross from of worldliness in the proper definition of that word. And with this proper definition of worldliness, we must say with tears that, with exceptions, the evangelical church is worldly and not faithful to the living Christ.”

Francis Schaeffer, The Great Evangelical Disaster

Francis Schaeffer wasn’t really accepted in England all that much, from what I can gather. By his time, perhaps, too many leading Christian intellectuals were of a liberal persuasion and had already devalued the word of God and rejected truth.

What we need today is men who aren’t going to cowardly succumb to the age of the day. We need guys to take a stand against all the ridiculous nonsense coming from inside the church and put God back on the throne. The Bible, once more, needs to be elevated to it’s proper authority. Jesus needs to be proclaimed unashamedly and boldly, as King of all – and Christians need to start living as if He really is King of their lives. John Calvin correctly understood that if Jesus really is Lord, then He’s Lord of all. We need to grasp this truth once more. We also need to pray, hard. We need to pray for our nation and for God to move. What we need, is another Reformation.

The last Reformation came at a cost. Many men lost their lives, their jobs and were kicked out of their countries. The cost again will be high. But is it worth it? I suppose the only questions really is: is God worth it? Will we man up and “get in the game” or will we melt into compromise and worldliness?

Sometimes I become depressed. What a job we have before us! But my God is an unchanging God. He’s the same yesterday, today, and forever. His promises never change and His word is true. When our courage fails, He is faithful. But now is not the time to melt to nothingness. Now is the time to stand up and boldly, loudly, unashamedly preach Jesus, Lord of all. There is hope for my nation. I am still proud to be British. Into this nation I was born, and for it I shall pray. Jesus, come for your bride. Bride, we need to awake and get to it.