Why Suffering Belongs in Our Sermons

Matthew D. Kim believes addressing pain is part of a preacher’s calling.

Matthew D. Kim is no stranger to pain, either personally or as a pastor. In Preaching to People in Pain: How Suffering Can Shape Your Sermons and Connect with Your Congregation—which won CT’s 2022 Book Award for church and pastoral leadership—Kim encourages preachers not to avoid addressing pain from the pulpit. Kim served for many years as the director of the Haddon W. Robinson Center for Preaching at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s recently been appointed the Hubert H. and Gladys S. Raborn Chair of Pastoral Leadership at Baylor University’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary. Author and Denver Seminary professor Angie Ward spoke with him about how preaching to pain is a critical aspect of church health.

Your book focuses on an often-overlooked reality for preachers: In any congregation receiving a sermon, there will be listeners who are in pain. To begin, how do you define pain and suffering?

Pain is something that’s universal and yet also so individualized. Even though we all share in pain, we’re not going to experience or process pain and suffering in exactly the same way. So I would say that suffering and pain are about where we each experience discouragement or loss. They have to do with an internal discouragement, frustration, or anger with a situation and feelings of hopelessness about it.

In your book, you mention six universal types of pain: painful decisions, painful finances, painful health issues, painful losses, painful relationships, and painful sins. Have you seen an increase in particular types of pain over the past two years?

I think most of us recognize that loneliness, anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues seem to be at the forefront in ...

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After 2,000 UK Church Buildings Close, New Church Plants Get Creative

In England, some rally to restore aging and emptying Anglican sites, while diverse congregations look beyond traditional sanctuaries.

A survey released by evangelical organizations in the United Kingdom last month found that, while around half of the country’s population identify as Christian, only 6 percent are “practicing” and active enough in their faith to attend church at least once a month.

The attendance decline is one reason over 2,000 churches have closed during the last decade. Communities are grappling with whether or how to save the historic buildings as new expressions emerge through church planting.

“If you were running a commercial organization, and you had a branch on every single High Street in the country but dwindling numbers of people visiting them, you would go bust if you didn’t close some branches,” said Theos senior fellow Nick Spencer. “That is the reality facing the church.”

The number of churches in the UK fell from 42,000 to 39,800 in a ten-year span, according to a 2021 report from the Brierley Research Consultancy.

“If you have churches in rural areas, and there are fewer people going into them, and indeed fewer people living in rural areas, and you don’t have the money to keep churches going, then they’re likely to close,” Spencer said.

A recent report from the Church of England found that up to 368 churches could be at risk for closure in the next two to five years, though the church said the rate of closure is slowing. These numbers of course don’t take other denominations into account, but many of the buildings belong to the Anglican Church.

Declines in attendance—and, in turn, involvement and giving—have left churches with fewer resources to maintain their aging buildings. Even churches with a fairly large worshiping ...

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Theologians Craft Wesleyan Agreement for a Divided Methodist Era

64 scholars sign document they hope will ground more Christians in holiness doctrines.

Sixty-four scholars and theologians have signed on to a “Wesleyan witness,” a six-part, 62-page document they hope will shape the future of Methodism, define orthodox Wesleyanism, and ground more Christians in the story of sanctification and restoration through grace.

“This is classic, orthodox Wesleyan theology,” said Asbury University New Testament professor Suzanne Nicholson, who is one of the authors. “The power of the Holy Spirit is greater than the power of sin. It doesn’t matter your class, your race, your gender, God is at work among the faithful, and that leads us to a full-orbed devotion to who God is.”

“The Faith Once Delivered” was first drafted in January at a summit for “The Next Methodism.” Scholars allied with the evangelical wing of the United Methodist Church, as well as holiness and Pentecostal denominations, came together, formed five working groups, and co-wrote statements on five theological topics: the nature of God, Creation, revelation, salvation, and the church. A sixth section on eschatology or “the fullness of time” was added later.

Three editors—Wesleyan scholars Ryan Danker, Jonathan Powers, and Kevin Watson—revised the final document. It was published online by the John Wesley Institute on Monday.

Danker, who is director of the institute, told CT the document is not intended to be polemical, or even really original. The hope is to offer “a constructive voice” that clearly articulates the Wesleyan understanding of Christian orthodoxy.

“These are faithful Wesleyan scholars who are committed to the faith once delivered, to Nicene Christianity,” he said. “Methodism is entering a period ...

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Pastors in the Valley of Death Row

While a win for religious liberty, the Ramirez ruling will take a traumatic toll on an already burdened profession.

On April 21, 2022, the state of Texas executed 78-year-old Carl Buntion, who shot and killed police officer James Irby in 1990.

But Buntion wasn’t alone when he died. Beyond the usual prison staff, his spiritual adviser Barbara Laubenthal was also in attendance at his execution. She had come to know “Carl” as the man he became after serving three decades behind bars.

Later, Laubenthal admits she felt deeply affected by her experience. In a statement on Twitter, the political activist said: “After witnessing tonight how a human being was killed in front of our eyes, we are convinced more than ever that the death penalty is inhumane and has no place in a democracy in the 21st century.”

Her shock is not unique—even among those who support the death penalty. And with a recent Supreme Court decision, this traumatic experience will soon be shared by many other faith leaders across the nation.

Thanks to the March 24, 2022, ruling in Ramirez v. Collier, death row inmates will now have more access to a spiritual adviser of their choosing in their final moments.

As a pastor of 17 years, I have witnessed death firsthand in hospitals and homes. The ministerial calling often requires going into uncomfortable or difficult situations that I will never forget. The moment I read about the religious liberty victory of the Ramirez ruling I was conflicted. What if I was asked to be there?

In 2004, Texas inmate John Henry Ramirez robbed and then stabbed convenience store cashier Pablo Castro 29 times. Texas law has fluctuated regarding access to chaplains, but the Ramirez case was unique in that he requested his pastor maintain physical contact with him as he passed. He won.

The case is ...

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Church of Scotland Approves Same-Sex Marriage

(UPDATED) Traditionalist minority worry disagreement on the issue will make it harder to work together on mission.

Update (May 23): Church of Scotland ministers are now permitted to perform same-sex marriages if they choose.

The church’s General Assembly approved an overture that allows parish ministers and deacons to apply for authorization to marry same-sex couples. It passed on Monday by a 274-136 vote.

The Presbyterian denomination is preparing new suggested liturgy to bless same-sex marriages as well as guidance for the change in church law.

Those in favor of same-sex marriage have celebrated the move as welcoming, but others in the church fear that even though they would not be forced to participate, the move puts pastors who oppose same-sex marriage in a more difficult position.

“When asked, ‘Can you marry us?’, the answer will have to be, ‘No, because I choose not to,’ rather than, ‘No, that’s something that I cannot do,’” Ben Thorpe, a minister at Sandyford Henderson Memorial Church in Glasgow told The Independent, “and that creates pastoral difficulties as well for everyone on both sides of the debate.”

The moderator of the Church of Scotland General Assembly, Iain Greenshields, acknowledged the diversity of beliefs on the issue among the church, which has debated the move for years, as well as the pastoral implications.

He advised that “all celebrants would be expected to take account of the peace and unity and pastoral needs of the congregation and any parish or other grouping of which it is a part while considering to conduct a same-sex marriage ceremony."


Original post (April 29): The Church of Scotland—the largest Protestant church in the country—is another step closer to allowing its ministers to officiate same-sex weddings. ...

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Switzerland’s Original Reformer Was Creative, Combative, and Frequently Controversial

A new biography captures the misunderstood faith of Huldrych Zwingli.

Huldrych Zwingli (1484–1531) has not usually fared well at the hands of historians. Whether cast as Martin Luther’s antagonist or as John Calvin’s (largely forgotten) understudy, the Zurich reformer has been widely misunderstood, oftentimes vilified, and frequently ignored. Even in death, Zwingli proved to be controversial: Though a fierce opponent of the Swiss mercenary system, he perished in battle, sword in hand, seeking to extend Reformed Christianity to neighboring Catholic territories.

In his insightful new biography, Zwingli: God’s Armed Prophet, historian Bruce Gordon offers a compelling interpretation of this 16th-century preacher, theologian, political strategist, and self-styled prophet, demonstrating that Zwingli’s creative vision of church, sacrament, and sacred community forged a new form of Christianity that came to be known as the Reformed faith. For Gordon, Zwingli’s creative but combative leadership in Zurich proved to be “remarkably generative, fecund, and destructive.”

The embattled reformer

Born in the high Alpine village of Wildhaus on January 1, 1484, the boy Huldrych Zwingli grew up in a world of subsistence farming, Catholic piety, and stunning natural beauty. From an early age, he developed a deep attachment to the Swiss Confederation, its land and people.

Zwingli’s formal schooling took him to Basel, Bern, Vienna, and then back to Basel (where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1504 and a master’s in 1506). This academic journey instilled in him a permanent love for humanistic learning, including the study of classical Greek and Roman literature, the mastery of the biblical languages, and the application of Scripture for the renewal of ...

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Pro-Life Ob-Gyns: Ectopic Pregnancy, Miscarriage Care Will Continue After Roe

Even if the pills and procedures seem similar to elective abortion, doctors know the difference between treatment when a pregnancy ends and treatment to end a pregnancy.

Roughly 10 percent to 20 percent of known pregnancies end in miscarriage, and one in 50 pregnancies will be diagnosed as ectopic pregnancies, a potentially fatal condition in which an embryo develops outside the mother’s uterus.

Both miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy can be physically and emotionally painful. For Christians who believe human life begins at conception, losing a baby even early in pregnancy is a singular kind of grief. There are ministries for families suffering miscarriages, and many churches hold funerals or memorial services for babies who have died before they were born.

But pregnancy losses aren’t merely a spiritual matter. They also have a clinical term: abortion. Miscarriages are described in medical language as “spontaneous abortions.”

That can lead to confusion as Americans debate abortion policy after a leaked draft opinion from the US Supreme Court signaled the possible overturning of Roe v. Wade. Outside of a medical context, “abortion” is used colloquially to describe “elective abortion,” or the intentional killing of a healthy and growing preborn child.

In the aftermath of the leaked opinion, some abortion advocates have suggested that new abortion restrictions enacted could endanger health care for pregnant women. They worry that pregnancies that end through miscarriages or as a result of ectopic pregnancies will be wrapped into the new state laws.

But many Christian ob-gyns, including those at major antiabortion institutions, such as the Charlotte Lozier Institute and the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists (AAPLOG) say restrictions on elective abortions have nothing to do with miscarriage care.

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This Is the Southern Baptist Apocalypse

The abuse investigation has uncovered more evil than even I imagined.

They were right. I was wrong to call sexual abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) a crisis. Crisis is too small a word. It is an apocalypse.

Someone asked me a few weeks ago what I expected from the third-party investigation into the handling of sexual abuse by the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee. I said I didn’t expect to be surprised at all. How could I be? I lived through years with that entity. I was the one who called for such an investigation in the first place.

And yet, as I read the report, I found that I could not swipe the screen to the next page because my hands were shaking with rage. That’s because, as dark a view as I had of the SBC Executive Committee, the investigation uncovers a reality far more evil and systemic than I imagined it could be.

The conclusions of the report are so massive as to almost defy summation. It corroborates and details charges of deception, stonewalling, and intimidation of victims and those calling for reform. It includes written conversations among top Executive Committee staff and their lawyers that display the sort of inhumanity one could hardly have scripted for villains in a television crime drama. It documents callous cover-ups by some SBC leaders and credible allegations of sexually predatory behavior by some leaders themselves, including former SBC president Johnny Hunt (who was one of the only figures in SBC life who seemed to be respected across all of the typical divides).

And then there is the documented mistreatment by the Executive Committee of a sexual abuse survivor, whose own story of her abuse was altered to make it seem that her abuse was a consensual “affair”—resulting, as the report corroborates, in years ...

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Southern Baptists Refused to Act on Abuse, Despite Secret List of Pastors

Investigation: SBC Executive Committee staff saw advocates’ cries for help as a distraction from evangelism and a legal liability, stonewalling their reports and resisting calls for reform.

Armed with a secret list of more than 700 abusive pastors, Southern Baptist leaders chose to protect the denomination from lawsuits rather than protect the people in their churches from further abuse.

Survivors, advocates, and some Southern Baptists themselves spent more than 15 years calling for ways to keep sexual predators from moving quietly from one flock to another. The men who controlled the Executive Committee (EC)—which runs day-to-day operations of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC)—knew the scope of the problem. But, working closely with their lawyers, they maligned the people who wanted to do something about abuse and repeatedly rejected pleas for help and reform.

“Behind the curtain, the lawyers were advising to say nothing and do nothing, even when the callers were identifying predators still in SBC pulpits,” according to a massive third-party investigative report released Sunday.

The investigation centers responsibility on members of the EC staff and their attorneys and says the hundreds of elected EC trustees were largely kept in the dark. EC general counsel Augie Boto and longtime attorney Jim Guenther advised the past three EC presidents—Ronnie Floyd, Frank Page, and Morris Chapman—that taking action on abuse would pose a risk to SBC liability and polity, leading the presidents to challenge proposed abuse reforms.

As renewed calls for action emerged with the #ChurchToo and #SBCToo movements, Boto referred to advocacy for abuse survivors as “a satanic scheme to completely distract us from evangelism.”

Survivors, in turn, described the soul-crushing effects of not only their abuse, but the stonewalling, insulting responses from leaders at the EC for 15-plus years. ...

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Abortion Bans Should Ban Abortion

Miscarriage and ectopic pregnancies are not abortion. Pro-life Christians urge clear distinctions in state laws.

In the recent breathtaking development from the US Supreme Court, a leaked draft opinion for the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case indicated that abortion rights would be reversed.

In the fallout, headlines appeared warning women that if the rulings Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey are overturned, their access to healthcare would be compromised—not just for abortion, but also their treatments for ectopic pregnancies and miscarriages.

While news reports declare “Overturning Roe v. Wade Will Make It Harder to Treat Miscarriage” and “Overturning Roe Could Make Ectopic Pregnancies Extremely Dangerous,” some pro-life advocates are saying there should be no cause for concern—and that to say otherwise is to play into the agenda of abortion advocates.

As a Christian woman who’s been involved in the pro-life movement for well over a decade, both professionally and personally, it deeply matters to me that the pro-life movement always provides the utmost care and concern for both a woman and her preborn child.

I worked on Capitol Hill for the sponsor of much of the pro-life legislation, like the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act” and the “Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act,” and I’ve volunteered with local pregnancy centers, advocated for children in foster care, and now my husband and I are in the middle of an adoption.

Statistics show that approximately 10–20 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage, which is when the embryo or fetus does not survive by 20 weeks gestation. In an ectopic pregnancy—just 1–2 percent of the time—the embryo improperly implants outside ...

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Died: Fred Carter, Little-Known Black Artist Behind Chick Tracts

“Shy” creator drew stories of sin and salvation seen by millions.

His name did not appear on his art. Most of the millions who have seen it do not know who he is.

But Fred Carter’s art is unforgettable.

He drew bodies that were heavy—weighted with humanity and the possibility of redemption. He painted biblical characters who seemed real enough that their struggles and stories could be the viewers’ own. He depicted sin so that it was tempting; salvation so it mattered.

And his art was reproduced by the millions. It was distributed across the country and around the world while he remained in anonymity.

Carter—an African American artist who drew gospel tracts, evangelical comic books, and Black Sunday school curricula—died on May 9 at the age of 83.

He was the close collaborator of Jack Chick, pioneer of the popular evangelistic cartoons known as Chick Tracts. According to Christian Comics International, more than half of Chick Tracts were drawn by Carter.

Carter worked with Chick for eight years before Chick acknowledged the partnership, despite the obvious, dramatic difference between the men’s two art styles. Some suspected Chick was trying to hide Carter’s contributions, perhaps out of a desire to claim all the credit or out of fear the presence of a Black man would spark controversy.

Chick, for his part, said the decision was Carter’s.

“Fred is rather shy and declines to put his name on the art,” he said.

Carter appears to have only given one interview in his 49-year career, speaking briefly to a Los Angeles Times reporter in Rancho Cucamonga, California, in 2003. His statements were simple and straightforward.

About his calling: “It’s almost not like a job. It’s like a ministry I always wanted ...

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