How Can So Many Pastors Be Godly and Dysfunctional at the Same Time?

Illuminating the blind spots in most approaches to spiritual formation.

Pastors can be godly and dysfunctional at the same time. They can be holy and not whole. They can be biblically faithful and psychologically broken. They can be prayer warriors and control freaks, spiritually mature and emotionally repressed. They can sincerely love Jesus yet be addicted to food or porn or pain meds. I know this to be true from experience.

For many years as a pastor, I was godly and dysfunctional at the same time. If you had come to live with me for a week in January 2015, slept on my couch, shadowed me through my day, you would have come away thinking, He’s a godly guy. He loves Jesus. He loves the Bible. He loves thechurch. He cares about his wife and children andmaking a difference in the world for Jesus. But you would have also seen that I was dysfunctional.

In 2015 I was granted a three-month sabbatical. Here’s what I had planned: I was going to finish writing one book, start writing another book, read through Calvin’sInstitutes of the Christian Religion, memorize the Book of James to preach from it in the spring, and brush up on my Hebrew. When I shared these plans with the elders, one of them wryly said, “You going to do anything else?”

But I wasn’t going to dive right in. I was going to take the first week to rest. It was a sabbatical after all! I made it to Wednesday before I started to come unglued. You may know someone with a serious substance abuse issue, a chemical addiction to alcohol or some other drug. Perhaps you’ve seen a documentary on 60 Minutes about people trying to kick their drug habit and going through withdrawal.

That was me in early January 2015. I went through real, physical signs of withdrawal: irritability, uncontrolled craving, edginess, ...

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Americans Who Know Religion Best Hold Worse Views of Evangelicals

Pew: Religious literacy usually helps Americans appreciate other faiths. Evangelicals score highest when it comes to their own.

There’s an adage that sometimes comes up in the church: “You can’t love what you don’t know.”

Research has shown that people with the greatest understanding of other faiths tend to have more positive views of outside traditions. But a recent survey found one key exception: evangelical Protestants.

The people who know the most about religion—and scored the highest on Pew Research Center’s religious literacy quiz—actually had worse views of evangelicals than the average American or those with low scores.

“Higher scores on the overall (32- point) religious knowledge scale tend to be associated with warmer evaluations of most religious groups,” the researchers wrote. “One exception to this pattern is evangelical Christians, who are rated most warmly by those at the low end of the religious knowledge scale.

Meanwhile, evangelical Protestants actually know more than the average American about religion, due largely to their familiarity with their own faith. While few in the US can parse Protestant theology or define the prosperity gospel, evangelicals were among the top-performing faith groups in a religious literacy quiz, ranking after Jews, atheists, and agnostics and above other Christian affiliations and religious nones.

Evangelicals—in this survey, a multiethnic sample grouped by affiliation—know the Bible and Christianity better than anyone else, but when it comes to other traditions, their standings fall. Only evangelicals who said they regularly dedicated time to learning about world religions knew more than average about other faiths.

The issue of religious literacy matters more than ever in America’s pluralistic context, and evangelicals have ...

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God Blessed My Church with Migrants

I don’t want to imagine my community without faithful leaders like Cesar Quintero.

Editor’s note: Last Thursday, Politico reported that Trump administration advisers had proposed dropping the US refugee cap to zero next year, to the dismay of advocates like the National Association of Evangelicals’ humanitarian arm World Relief.

The Trump administration already cut the number of refugees the US will accept by more than half of the typical 75,000–95,000 range. Another reduction, advocates say, will prevent family reunifications and leave thousands in peril. Some warn that this move would actually increase the number of asylum seekers at the US southern border.

Faced with the threat of blocking nearly all refugees, many leaders have ready testimony of how their congregations have been blessed and strengthened by migrants who fled to the US.

Eric Costanzo leads a church in suburban Tulsa, Oklahoma. Over the past decade, the government has resettled increasing numbers of refugees in their city, the largest group being evangelical Christians from Myanmar . Many have found an unlikely home at South Tulsa Baptist Church , a congregation of around 1,200 people which now has more than 150 immigrants and refugees from 30 countries involved in its programs. These refugees and immigrants serve in ministries like sewing classes, a Chinese school for all ages including families who have adopted from China, and international potlucks.

Costanzo’s church recently opened a refugee resource center where some of the refugees themselves volunteer. Other refugees and immigrants have connected the church to mission trips, partnerships, and church planting opportunities.

The Oklahoma pastor shared with CT about one leader in his church who has demonstrated the potential among refugees when given the ...

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Christians Fleeing Persecution in Russia Can Stay in Germany

Faced with mounting threats and anti-missionary laws, Baptists win asylum appeal despite supposed constitutional protections in their home country.

As evangelicals increasingly become the target of Russia’s severe anti-evangelism laws, a German court ruled this month in favor of a Baptist family who fled attacks, insults, and threats in their homeland.

Germany’s Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) initially rejected the Russian Christians’ asylum application because it did not consider their persecution to be the result of the Russian government, which guarantees freedom of belief in its constitution, the evangelical news outlet Idea.de reported.

But a Düsseldorf court overturned the decision in early July. The decision cited Russia’s 2017 ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses and concluded that it’s probable for Baptists, as a fellow evangelistically oriented faith group, to suffer government persecution as well. They have been granted the right to stay.

“In general, Germany is very sympathetic to persecuted religious groups, especially to Christians,” Thomas K. Johnson, special advisor for the World Evangelical Alliance’s International Institute for Religious Freedom, told CT. “This is not a precedent; the precedents are already very old. This is a continuation.”

While in Russia, the Baptist family suffered repeated insults, physical violence, and threatening phone calls over their missionary activities, and police refused to offer protection, according to the family’s lawyer, Zaza Koschuaschwili. They said they were followed by young men in black uniforms.

Last year, Pentecostals and Baptists faced the most punishments under Russia’s anti-missionary laws, which bar adherents from sharing their faith anywhere but designated church sites.

The religious freedom news service Forum 18 shared ...

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From DC to Mecca, Should ‘Human Dignity’ Be the New ‘Religious Freedom’?

Shift in human rights language could allow for greater acceptance in the Muslim world.

In his opening remarks at the second US Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo challenged every major world religion and secular society—and also invited them in.

“We all agree that fighting so that each person is free to believe, free to assemble, and to teach the tenets of his or her own faith is not optional,” said Pompeo last week to the almost 1,000 participants from civil society and more than 100 invited foreign delegations gathered at the US State Department. “Indeed, it is a moral imperative that this be permitted.”

But do all actually agree? A change in human rights language might make the difference.

And could Saudi Arabia improbably become the next champion?

At the first ministerial last year, the State Department invited participating nations to sign the Potomac Declaration and Call to Action, validating a vision of religious freedom grounded in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

At a side event during the second ministerial, Knox Thames, the State Department’s Special Advisor for Religious Minorities, spelled out several international cooperative accomplishments. But he told CT that it would have taken far too much negotiation to get other nations to put their pen to the Potomac paper.

The panel, organized by the Religious Freedom Institute (RFI), studied six recent international human rights declarations, including the Potomac one.

RFI’s director for education, David Trimble, emphasized that each generation does well to restate the UDHR, because “language changes” and the once-meaningful 1950s concept of freedom of religion has faded with the millennial generation.

Thus, the term might need to be updated, and ...

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Interview: What the Ordination Debate Misses: Laywomen in Ministry

Complementarians and egalitarians share common ground in lay leadership.

As managing editor of the Christian Research Journal and a women’s ministry trainer in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), Melanie Cogdill has had ample opportunity to closely observe the unique discipleship challenges faced by evangelical women. In Beyond the Roles: A Biblical Foundation for Women and Ministry, Cogdill has gathered essays from various authors who explore a theological foundation for women’s ministry and also delve into 14 practical issues often found in female-centered ministries. CT spoke with Cogdill to find out more about her burden for women’s discipleship in the church.

Why were you particularly burdened for a book that went “beyond the roles”?

Several years ago, I was in the exhibit hall for the Evangelical Theological Society, where the attendees are more than 95 percent men. The books some publishers had put out were ones for women that focused on marriage and motherhood. Literally hundreds of books come across my desk at work each year, and I have very rarely if ever seen a volume that addresses laywomen in ministry.

Sure, many books address exegetical issues regarding women’s roles in ordained leadership but not the particular issues women face as they minister to other women. As someone on the national women’s leadership team for my denomination, I wanted to let church leaders know that there is a fully developed ministry philosophy that doesn’t focus on a woman’s stage of life or marital status but that is all about equipping women in discipleship in the local church.

These essays don’t cover the exegetical debate about women's ordination. Why not?

I have spent my career working in theology and apologetics, and I have seen many, ...

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You Don't Accidentally Evangelize: If You Don’t Prioritize It, It Won’t Happen

We need to bring intentionality to our gospel witness today.

Evangelism has fallen out of style.

Sure, some of us are trying to keep it at the forefront of our churches’ thinking, but stats don’t lie: While 79% of unchurched people said they would engage in a faith conversation if asked, only 39% of Christians have shared how to accept Jesus in the past six months. That’s a wide margin by any measure.

This means that over 60% of people are not telling our world about Jesus—even on an annual basis. This is a sad reality. Of all the activities in the church, evangelism is most likely to be neglected and thus, we actually do need to make it great again in a world which offers us so many competing priorities.

Both evangelism and social action are part of the mission of Jesus. Jesus came to serve the hurting (Luke 4:18ff) and save the lost (Luke 19:10). We do similarly as we join Jesus in that mission.

However, in almost every era, when Christians hold the values of gospel proclamation and gospel demonstration, it is proclamation that gets lost. So, I believe in what is often called “integral mission,” but I also think we have to find a way to be sure that evangelism does not get lost.

And, in 2019, evangelism is getting lost.

I call this being an “integral prioritist.” I love mission, social action, and discipleship. These are all good things — even essential things. But I have to find a way to prioritize the thing that gets lost— to prioritize evangelism. In 2019, we all need to consider how to be sure that evangelism does not get lost.

Historical intentionality

If we go back to the 1930s and 40s and look at the Wesleyan, Pentecostal, or Baptist traditions, Spring and Fall revivals were commonplace. These were intentional times where ...

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6 Keys to Reproducing Normal-Size Churches

All churches can, and should, reproduce.

Language of sending is common in evangelical vernacular in recent years. Church planting initiatives rank at the top of the agenda of denominations and networks throughout North America. It’s exceedingly clear that lasting change in the evangelization of North America requires far more healthy, faithful churches than we currently have. But what part does the normal church play in getting us there?

Granted, “normal” is a vague word—loaded with assumptions and baggage. For the sake of conversation, let’s define “normal” based on church size alone and provide a simple metric. The normal church in North America is a church with fewer than 200 people in attendance on any Sunday. Some would go further and suggest that the normal church is far smaller, something akin to an average Sunday attendance of 75 people. But for our purposes the threshold of 250 will suffice. Others note that many of these small churches have aberrant doctrine, anemic leadership, and divisive congregations. This point is hard to argue, yet it’s overly simplistic and naive to suggest that this reality is the only rationale for the size of a church. Thousands upon thousands of these churches—in which the Bible is taught, the gospel is proclaimed, and disciples are made—need to know how to reproduce. Here are a few suggestions.

Die to the Inferiority Complex

The first key for the average church to reproduce is mental. We must die to the belief—stated or assumed—that our normal churches are inferior to a few megachurches and their prominent pastors. We praise God for those in positions of cultural influence and we should pray for them and their flocks, but we must not measure our efforts against ...

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Canadian Anglicans to Continue Same-Sex Ceremonies, Even After Failed Vote

The church’s bishops are “are not of one mind” on the definition of marriage.

Though the Anglican Church in Canada last week failed to amend its canon to sanction same-sex marriages, in the wake of the narrow vote, dioceses have opted to continue with them anyway.

The amendment, first passed in 2016, required a two-thirds majority vote among lay delegates, clergy, and bishops at two triennial general synods in a row. While it met the threshold among lay and clergy (80.9% and 73.2%) during this year’s synod, the bishops’ vote last Friday fell just short of two-thirds (62.2%).

On Monday, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, the Primate of Canada, read a statement to the delegation saying the bishops “are not of one mind” on the issue, but that “we are walking together in a way which leaves room for individual dioceses and jurisdictions of our church to proceed with same-sex marriage,” according to Anglican Planet.

The initial rejection came as a blow to the majority of Canadian Anglicans, who support same-sex marriage, which has been legal in the country since 2005. But after Monday’s announcement, several bishops indicated that they would be taking advantage of the “local option,” which permits dioceses to follow their “contexts and convictions” on this issue, the CBC wrote.

The conservative minority in the Anglican Church in Canada has raised concerns over the decision to permit same-sex ceremonies despite the failed vote.

“In a church that affirms the ‘One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church’ I can’t make sense of what local option means in this context or in the global Church,” Bishop Joey Royal, a suffragan bishop of the Arctic, told Anglican Planet.

“This is something that has not yet been fully acknowledged despite ...

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On Court Prophets and Wilderness Prophets

Christian responses to the president.

Recently our president made the latest in a long line of comments demeaning immigrants and minorities. The furor brings to mind two biblical prophets, both for their differences and for what they hold in common.

Nathan was an advisor to the royal court and a messenger of God. He pronounced God’s covenant with David, supported the ascension of Solomon, and wrote histories of the legendary kings. The Bible rarely speaks positively of court prophets, who often serve as apologists for rulers who flout the will of God. Yet Nathan was a court prophet, and a good one. Most memorably, he approached King David and convicted him of his sin against Bathsheba and Uriah. Nathan might have lost his head. Instead he won a repentant king.

John the Baptist is the very image of a wilderness prophet. His ministry raises a clarion cry in the desert, far from the center of political power. He wore a camel-hair shirt, ate locusts and honey, and heralded the kingdom of God. John the Baptist condemned the marriage of Herod Antipas. Unlike Nathan, he ultimately paid with his life.

One was a court prophet and the other a wilderness prophet. One was welcome in the precincts of power. The other was not. What does this have to do with us today?

Some of our readers voted for Trump, in enthusiastic support or in reluctant pragmatism. Others rejected him. Christianity Today should be a place where brothers and sisters in Christ reason with one another passionately and charitably. Let’s seek to understand as much as we seek to be understood.

As for me, I wonder if we have too many court prophets in an era when wilderness prophets are needed. I also wonder if our court prophets are willing to call out sin when they see it. Whether you view Trump as ...

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One-on-One with J.D. Greear on the Gospel ‘Above All’ Else

“What the church needs now is what the church has always needed: a return to the gospel.”

Ed: What prompted you to write Above All?

J.D.: Evangelical Christians have always been gospel people. It’s in our very name! The word, “evangelical,” is a transliteration of the Greek word “gospel.” So, in that sense, the gospel has always been our “brand.”

But it seems like a lot of us are increasingly tempted to turn elsewhere for renewal and life and to give our energies to other agendas. I wonder if Paul’s words to the Galatians might characterize a lot of our attempts at ministry today: “You foolish (Evangelicals)! Who has cast a spell on you? … Are you so foolish? After beginning by the Spirit, are you now finishing by the flesh?” (Gal. 3:1–3).

We get engaged in a lot of things—important things—that end up keeping us from the one essential thing—the gospel.

Think about this: The gospel is the one thing in the New Testament, other than Jesus himself, that is referred to as the power of God. Not contains the power of God. Not channels the power of God, but is itself the raw, unstoppable, death-defeating power of God.

Paul referred to the gospel as “of first importance,” and put so much emphasis on it that he told the Corinthians that he only wanted to talk about one thing with them: the cross of Jesus. Most scholars say that was an overstatement; after all, his letters to the Corinthians are filled with many important instructions for the Christian life. But in Paul’s mind, the gospel was so important he didn’t mind saying it was all he wanted to be known for.

We should be known as a gospel people. We only have bandwidth in our communities to be known for a couple of things. I want that thing to be the gospel. ...

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