You Are What You Sweep

Why being made of dust is both terrifying and encouraging.

Dust goes unnoticed, for the most part. It surrounds us, but unless we work in construction, we hardly ever see it. When we do, it is usually because we are trying to Hoover it up or sweep it away. Although we are continually touching and inhaling a cocktail of hairs, pollens, fibers, mites, and skin cells, we try not to think about it.

Dust speaks of decay. It comes about through the decomposition of other things, whether animal, vegetable, or mineral. Dust in a home means our cells have died recently. At a building site, it means something has been knocked down or destroyed. Ghost towns and postapocalyptic movies are covered in it, highlighting the loss not just of creatures or structures but of civilization itself.

And God says: You are made of that.

It doesn’t sound very encouraging. Being dust-people means that one day we will be dead people. When humanity fell in the Garden, the resulting curse—“for dust you are and to dust you will return” (Gen. 3:19)—clearly referred to mortality. In a world where people pursue the elixir of life as enthusiastically as ever, the Bible makes the certainty of dying unmistakably clear: “People are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Heb. 9:27). We came from the soil, and one day we will again be part of it.

People sometimes talk as if Christians believe in immortality and secular materialists don’t. The reality is almost the opposite. The certainty of death (something inescapably on our minds amid current coronavirus fears) is integral to Christianity. Our future does not depend on immortality but on resurrection, while those most eager to postpone or even escape death typically have no resurrection hope whatsoever. Early ...

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What Do Pastors Need Today? Assessing Our Status in Order to Move Ahead

Pastor, you’re not doing well as you want to be… and that’s ok.

This past week we hosted our Amplify Conference and my notepad is filled with ideas not only for evangelism but also how to think through conferences and gatherings during this unique season.

One thing that particularly emerged across multiple breakouts and plenary sessions was a thankfulness among those who joined at the opportunity to be refreshed. This refreshment came in many forms: for some it was the space to be vulnerable in their questions, while for others it was the recognition that they were not alone in feelings of exhaustion or loneliness.

We knew going into Amplify that this season had been particularly difficult for pastors and ministry leaders. In a study we conducted with Exponential on the impact of COVID-19 on the church, we found 3 out of 5 have reported a significant increase in workload with over a third adding that the pace has either remained or continues to grow.

Moreover, only 22 percent reported no increase at all. This is not surprising when we consider the many hats pastors wear not only in their organization but in their community. Consider the organizational, ministry, financial, and pastoral dimensions of leading a church in this season.

Like many other organizational leaders, pastors have had to move their staff online. Many leaders have found that the challenge of learning how to hold remote meetings, manage projects while disconnected, and install operating and communication policies that are healthy and productive is far more difficult than they believed.

Just as challenging has been the transition of church ministries and the Sunday services to online. More than just creating engaging services, this transition for churches comes with many complications in learning how to reinvent small groups, ...

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“You are a Compromised Coward”—Discussing How to Resume Gathered Worship

Leading your church to decide about when to meet.

I recently tweeted:

“If you open your church, you don’t love your neighbor.

If you don’t open your church, you’re a compromised coward.

False dichotomies dividing the body of Christ.

Local situations are different and responsible pastors will follow appropriate guidelines. Have some grace, folks.”

For a lot of pastors, this is what they are hearing from their congregations. Not simply a wide range of opinions on when and how to begin gathering again, but an intensity that often spills over into accusations of sin.

A graphic is going around in pastor text chats—several have sent it to me, but there was no source. It gets at the challenge.

Now, I do not know of one pastor who signed up for a life in ministry thinking everyone would like every decision. But the uncertainty of this crisis combined with our polarized culture has led us to this moment when pastors face one of the most contested decisions in the life of their church. One that will be weighed and measured for years to come regardless of how the pandemic plays out.

In the next few months, pastors will face the task of leading divided congregations to make unified decisions. I don’t know when, and that’s a local decision, but what I do know is this: as of now, it seems we are running headlong into a very divisive time.

And that’s why we need good leaders.

This is the reality for many:

Leadership

Leadership is defining reality. At no time is this more important than in a time of crisis or confusion. As churches edge toward more in-person gatherings in various states, how do we best decide and then communicate important decisions impacting our people while we seek to lead well in a fluid and divided time?

I want to encourage ...

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The Church Proved It Can Get Creative. Let’s Not Stop Adapting.

How rethinking worship can improve accessibility for people with disabilities.

Over the past few months, faith communities around the world have adapted to gather and worship remotely during the pandemic. While doing church online has had a learning curve, it has also removed barriers for some people with disabilities, allowing access to communities and spaces that were inaccessible before.

Yet, some disabled churchgoers have remarked how frustrating it is that it took a global crisis for many churches to offer more inclusive and accessible options for their full involvement and participation.

As the whole church is now reexamining what church means and how we do it, Christians have an opportunity to create communities of true access and welcome. This moment invites us to be flexible with how we structure our church meetings for the sake of including more members of Christ’s body.

When I (Bethany) worked as the director of a seminary’s accessibility office, I encountered people at all points in their disability journeys. Being a self-advocate and navigating unwelcoming structures are things many people with disabilities have to learn as a basic survival skill, but they can also take time to develop. Some students expressed what tremendous effort it took just to contact the accessibility office in the first place. Some did not have a disability you would notice upon meeting them and didn’t use mobility aids, but the need to walk on uneven terrain or climb stairs made some environments inaccessible to them.

Point being, there may be people in your community for whom meeting in homes (or potential other new spaces or models for gathering that church leaders may choose in the interim) will make it impossible for them to participate—because of literal steps to enter the space or another ...

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George Floyd, a Central Park 911 Call, and All the Places Without Cameras

Because we all are made in God’s image, we’re called to be our brother’s keeper.

It happened again yesterday.

This time, one Minneapolis police officer knelt on the neck of a black man until he could no longer breathe.

The man’s name was George Floyd and his hushed and desperate “I can’t breathe!” reminded many of us of Eric Garner, both in the words and the situation. And, in both cases, their cries did not stop the officers and neither did they stop their deaths.

Onlookers reacted differently than the fired officers, many pleading for the officer to get up. As one Washington Post article explains,

“Witnesses begged the white officer to take his knee off the man’s neck. ‘You’re going to just sit there with your knee on his neck?’ one bystander said on the video….

‘Bro, he’s not even f------ moving!’ one bystander pleaded to police. ‘Get off of his neck!’

Another asked, ‘Did you kill him?’”

Based on what they saw, the Minneapolis police department acted swiftly, firing the officers.

Anger

How can we not be angry about this?

Indeed, anger is the appropriate response, but not the only response. And, this moment should remind us that cameras tell us what happened, but they also remind us of how many incidents there have been without those cameras.

All of us, if we follow the news on a semi-regular basis, have seen way too many moments like this.

I am weary. And I am mad.

Cameras continue to show us what many African Americans have known for years.

And if one video a day was not enough, a thousand miles away, Amy Cooper (a white woman) was walking her dog off leash in a part of Central Park (NYC) when Christian Cooper, a black man who was bird-watching, asked her to leash her dog in the area—which is designated ...

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Understanding, Engaging, and Deploying the Generations Present in Your Church, part 1

We can learn from different generations by knowing the important trends and distinctions of each.

This is my first post of six dealing with generations. Let's start with a generational quiz. Can you name this show based on its opening song?

"Here's a story, about a lovely lady." If you know this from childhood and not reruns on Hulu, you recognize it as the Brady Bunch. And you are likely a Baby Boomer.

Here's another:

Do you know who KITT is (the car) and recognize the name Michael Knight? If you wanted a car like that as a child or knew that David Hasselhoff played Knight and became an international sensation, you are most likely a Gen Xer.

One more:

As a child, did you watch Mr. Feeny and the escapades of Corey, Topanga, and Shawn? If you grew up enjoying Boy Meets World, you might be a Millennial.

We live in a world of over seven billion people, half of whom are under age 30. In the United States, we now have four different generations functioning together in the workplace, which brings its own challenges and opportunities.

A Disclaimer

Since this is the first of a six-part series on generations, let me give the disclaimer at the beginning. Every generation has both identifiable trends and a number of outliers as well. Howe and Strauss, researchers on generations, describe the "peer personality" of a generation, which is "a caricature of its prototypical member." They add, "A generation has collective attitudes about family life, sex roles, institutions, politics, religion, lifestyle, and the future."[1]

Think of a great river like the Amazon. There are a number of unique tributaries joining the river as it flows to the ocean. But the river itself is clearly distinguishable from the tributaries. We can argue a bit over starting and ending dates and recognize exceptions in ...

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When Not Helping Hurts

We’ve long preached sustainable development over handouts. The pandemic forces us to change our approach—for now.

The coronavirus pandemic is having a devastating economic impact on people living in global poverty. We are in a moment that requires immediate, full-scale relief.

Such a statement may come as a surprise to those who know me. As head of a Christian organization focused on economic development and microfinance, I have been a vocal critic of indiscriminate charity and long-term handouts. Too often, misapplied relief is like a Band-Aid stuck on a broken bone. Instead, it’s jobs and sustainable development that can make a marked difference in the lives of individuals, families, and even entire communities.

Spending the last 20 years in international development, I’ve seen firsthand how charity efforts have not only failed to help but have caused lasting damage in communities around the globe. Books like Dead Aid, Toxic Charity, and When Helping Hurts have put to paper what the world has experienced when aid has been misapplied.

Yet, over the past few months, even this pro-business, pro-entrepreneur, and pro-sustainability leader has become pro-relief. We’ve seen the coronavirus pandemic wreak havoc across our world—precipitating country-wide lockdowns and sending the global economy into a tailspin. The impact is even more severe among families living in poverty. Many of these families were the least equipped to deal with COVID-19 and have been the most devastated by it.

In the wake of an emergency, families do not need another microloan, more skills training, or even a safe place to save their money. Right now, from India to Zimbabwe, people living in poverty are telling us the same thing: We need relief, and we need it now.

Pivoting our priorities

Some economists estimate that the impact of COVID-19 ...

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Jesus’ Re-Shaping of a Post-Pandemic Church

So, now what?

For many, the fruit of this pandemic has been troubling, confusing, and spiritually disorienting.

But not for all.

For some, this season of cultural turbulence has brought greater clarity to their spiritual intuition. They’ve witnessed many moorings of tradition exposed as skimpy vestiges that could not possibly survive this test. They’ve watched our sacred ecclesiastical proxies evaporate – vaporized by an imperceptible virus. Elaborate systems that have long served as safe, synthesized surrogates for a more substantive participation in Christ’s mission have come to a sputtering and inglorious end.

So, now what?

Speak Courage. Ironically, some who regularly proclaim from our pulpits that “all members are ministers” and that “we are all missionaries,” have been very silent on directions for their ‘minister-mission-force’ in the season of a scattered church. Instead, we most often hear of a longing, languishing, desperate, yearning to fill the empty pews – as if to concede that the scattering has altogether thwarted the church’s mission. But surely God is still at work.

If the church’s mission is essentially seen as one of gathering, then we have enough evidence to see that an invisible virus is more powerful than that version of church. This is a conclusion that many have realized – well before the pandemic hit. The Holy Spirit has revealed to many through an honest reading of the New Testament, that Jesus’ church was never meant to be a weekly worship experience, but a unified, commissioned, and sent people living synergistically in the world under the authority of Christ. We know this. But do we have the courage to voice it?

The Courage ...

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Trump, Governors & Churches: We Need Communication & Collaboration

We don't want to rush ahead of the governor, but there is a significant and growing angst among many church attenders and many church leaders.

In a press conference today President Trump called churches, synagogues, and mosques all "essential services" and called on governors to reopen them "right now." Where I live, Illinois Governor Pritzker has already said that churches are essential, and I agree with them both.

That’s not really the question.

The question people are asking is how and when can churches (and other religions congregations) gather together in groups larger than 10 or larger than 50?

And, with President Trump’s comments, I imagine the pressure will grow to ignore the directives of stricter states like CA and IL.

Actually, the Justice Department recently sent a letter to Governor Newsom of California regarding his policies on houses of worship gatherings. Here in Illinois, as I recently wrote for RNS, my concern is that Pritzker has not been communicating with church leaders by doing so while putting off gatherings of more than 50 to his final phase where there's a vaccine, much lower level of community spread, or higher level of treatment.

This approach moves churches meeting together to some far distanct, uncertain time to be determined. It is creating tension among church leaders and congregants.

In a press conference today, Gov. Pritzker said he has been collaborating with church leaders, but we cannot discern who those leaders might be.

Along with James Meeks, pastor of an African American congregation in the South, and Wilfredo de Jesus, a Hispanic pastor, both of whose communities have been hit particularly hard, we have asked the governor to open a conversation with faith leaders and the health department so we can follow the science and open at a later date in a safe way in cooperation with one another.

We do ...

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Trump Declares Churches ‘Essential’ as CDC Releases Reopening Guidelines

More than 1,000 pastors in Minnesota and California plan to resume worship by Pentecost Sunday, despite state restrictions.

President Donald Trump’s declaration that houses of worship are “essential places that provide essential services” comes at a precarious point in the national balancing act that pits the call of worship against the risk of coronavirus.

Even before Trump’s comments Friday, which came alongside the release of guidance for reopening faith organizations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Christian leaders in several states made plans to welcome back congregants on the week of Pentecost, May 31.

The new CDC guidance could energize houses of worship that might want to reopen their doors, despite evidence of ongoing risk of the virus spreading through communal gatherings. While it suggests steps such as asking congregants to cover their faces and limiting the sharing of worship aids, the CDC document says it is “not meant to regulate or prescribe standards for interactions of faith communities.”

The guidance released Friday is similar to draft guidance drawn up by the CDC more than a month ago but shelved by administration officials. One difference: The earlier version discussed opening in stages, such as video streaming and drive-in services, with later phases allowing in-person gatherings limited in size and with social distancing. The guidance released Friday has no discussion of a phased-in opening.

Tension over when and how to reopen houses of worship has varied depending on the state, as different areas set their own pace for easing pandemic stay-at-home orders. Trump called for the resumption of in-person religious services repeatedly this week and said Friday that he would “override” governors that did not do so, though it's unclear ...

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GOD TV Dispute Has Israel Talking About Messianic Jews

Christian broadcaster's expansion into Hebrew cable channel may be short-lived, but raises profile of followers of Yeshua.

An evangelical broadcaster who boasted of miraculously securing a TV license in Israel now risks being taken off the air over suspicions of trying to convert Jews to Christianity.

The controversy over GOD TV has put both Israel and its evangelical supporters in an awkward position, exposing tensions the two sides have long papered over.

Evangelicals, particularly in the United States, are among the strongest supporters of Israel, viewing it as the fulfillment of biblical prophecy, with some seeing it as the harbinger of a second coming of Jesus Christ and the end of days.

Israel has long welcomed evangelicals’ political and financial support, especially as their influence over the White House has risen during the Trump era, and it has largely shrugged off concerns about any hidden religious agenda.

But most Jews view any effort to convert them to Christianity as deeply offensive, a legacy of centuries of persecution and forced conversion at the hands of Christian rulers. In part because of those sensitivities, evangelicals, who believe salvation can only come through Jesus and preach the gospel worldwide, rarely target Jews.

When GOD TV, an international Christian broadcaster, reached a seven-year contract earlier this year with HOT, Israel’s main cable provider, its application stated that it would broadcast “Christian content” for an “audience of Israeli viewers” in both Hebrew and English.

In a video message that has since been taken down, GOD TV CEO Ward Simpson suggested its real aim was to convince Jews to accept Jesus as their messiah. The channel, known as Shelanu, broadcasts in Hebrew even though most Christians in the Holy Land speak Arabic.

“God has supernaturally opened the ...

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