Thursday, October 29, 2009

Religious Faith Increases Happiness

In a conversation I recently had with some spiritual skeptics they asserted that people who were religious were unhappy due to a sense of guilt that faith unfairly pushed on them. I challenged their assumptions based on my own life experiences but they insisted they were right and said they had "facts" to prove their claim. Despite their adamant insistence, they failed to cite a single scientific study or survey that backed up their outrageous claim. So I decided to do some research on my own. I discovered a report on WebMD that said that "people who attend religious services, or who feel they are spiritual, experience lower levels of depression and anxiety; display signs of better health, such as lower blood pressure and fewer strokes; and say they generally feel healthier."1 That same website revealed that not only are religious people healthier, they also live longer. In a study of over 4000 people, Dr. Harold G. Koenig, of Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina, reported that "people who attend religious services at least once a week are less likely to die in a given period of time than people who attend services less often."2 I found a number of other studies that said similar things and a simple Google search will reveal them to anyone interested in checking those claims out on their own.

But does being healthier and living long actually make religious people happier? In February 2009, Andrew Clark, from the Paris School of Economics, and Dr. Orsolya Lelkes, from the European Centre for Social Welfare Policy and Research, analyzed a variety of factors among Catholic and Protestant Christians and found that life satisfaction seems to be higher among the religious population. The authors concluded that religion in general, acts as a buffer that protects people from life's disappointments.3 The connection between happiness and faith is not just true for our European friends. The highly respected Pew Research Center discovered that in America "people who attend religious services weekly or more are happier than those who attend monthly or less; or seldom or never. This correlation between happiness and frequency of church attendance has been a consistent finding for years."4

People who are deeply religious don't need a survey or study to tell them they are happier than their non-religious counterparts. They already know this because they experience that happiness on a regular basis. That does not mean that religious people don't have bad days or have periods of life in which they feel depressed, but it does mean that as a general rule, they do live happier lives than those who are not religious. This may not be politically correct in today's pluralistic culture, but it is scientifically accurate. Though some people may not like religious faith, there is simply no denying that faith improves a person's quality of life. We may all be entitled to our own opinion on the subject, but we are not entitled to our own facts. Facts are facts regardless of what our opinion is. And the facts are clear, religious faith makes us healthier, happier and results in us living longer. Perhaps it's time for more people to get back into church and discover what they are missing!





Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Faulty Logic of Deconstructing Christianity

Recently I have been reading several books that seek to “deconstruct” Christianity. I am reading these books in order to understand first hand why some people are so anti-god. I have noticed a number of similarities in these books. They are all written by people who had a connection with some type of highly formal church during their childhood but dropped out of church in their early adult life. They dropped out because that highly structured and often overly ritualistic church experience did not meet their spiritual needs. They falsely believe that their church experience is the norm for all churches and therefore conclude that no church can meet the spiritual needs of modern people. There are hundreds of millions of Christians around the world from a variety of religious backgrounds that would testify to the wrongness of that idea.

Another similarity is that they tend to find extreme examples of religious abuse and then try to make the case that the extreme is actually the norm. For example, most of them will refer to violence that has happened somewhere in the world due to religious extremism. They then wrongly conclude that all religious people are prone to violence. This could not be farther from the truth. This simply ignores the reality that the vast majority of the followers of all religions are non-violent. While there will always be some crazy person somewhere who uses religion, or money, or politics, or education, or legal technicalities to force their will on others, it has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with the quest for power.

Another similarity is that they omit any discussion of the weaknesses of non-religious people. As mentioned above, they will discuss in great detail the violence of a handful of religious extremists but fail to mention the violence of atheist governments such as China, Cuba or the former Soviet Union. These nations did terrible things to their own people in the name of atheism. And they were not led by a handful of extremists; they were led by large numbers of officials that enacted policies for the entire nation. Yet, somehow this fact escapes the notice of those who want to portray only religious people in a negative light.

But perhaps the saddest similarity I found in these books is their false assumption that their ideas are “logical” while religious ideas are “illogical.” The train of thought these anti-religious people create usually goes something like this:

1. There is evil in the world.
2. If God is real I feel that He would stop evil.
3. Since God has not stopped evil I feel that He either must not exist or if He does exist I feel He is not worthy to be followed.
4. Since I feel this way, everyone else should feel this way too.
5. If you don’t feel this way, you must be ignorant.

There are obvious variations on that flow of logic, but the basic ideas are the essentially the same. Anti-religious people say this is a logical conclusion based on reasoning and facts. But if you look at the flow of ideas carefully, it is not based on logic, but on feelings. They feel a certain way about God. They feel a certain way about people who believe in God. They think their feelings are “right” and everyone else’s feelings are “wrong.” But the whole argument is based on feelings. Feelings are not the same thing as logic, no matter who has them. In a pluralistic society, anti-religious people have the right to feel however they want to. But they do not have the right for force their feelings on other people under the guise of a thinly masked “logical” argument.

As I read through these books I have a great sense of sadness in my spirit for anti-religious people. Their books are filled with anger, frustration, misunderstanding and sometimes even depressing conclusions that would lead a person to despondency and despair. I am thankful that I have found a faith that satisfies me. I pray that those who have embarked on this journey toward emptiness will have a change of heart and discover the joy that faith brings to life.

Dr. T

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

How Do Baptism and Church Membership Connect?

I have a very high view of the importance of biblical baptism. Baptism is how we publicly proclaim our faith in Christ. Baptism is also a powerful symbol of how Christ was crucified, buried and rose again for us. The Bible teaches clearly that baptism should always come after a person has trusted Christ in a personal way. Regretfully many churches get the order of baptism backwards and baptize people who are too young to make a personal decision to follow Christ. In my experience, this usually hinders that person’s spiritual development instead of helping it.

One reason pre-mature baptism is such a hindrance is that it is often closely tied to church membership. In many churches, when a person is baptized they automatically become part of that church or denomination. The problem with this is that often when people grow up they want to change churches in order to grow more in their faith. But they are often hesitant to do so because they feel guilty about leaving the church they were baptized in. Over 40% of American adults have changed their denominational affiliation, so this is a bigger issue than most people realize. When people want to change churches, but feel guilty about doing so, the frequent result is that they simply drop out of church altogether. The church they were baptized in as an infant no longer meets their spiritual need but they feel guilty about changing churches so they just don’t go anywhere. Obviously that is not good for their ongoing spiritual development. Therefore, what well meaning parents thought was a help, actually became a hindrance.

Even if a person was not baptized as an infant, we must still be careful about how closely we connect this wonderful Christian rite with church membership. While there are a number of scriptures in the New Testament that do seem to link baptism and church membership, there are also many that separate these two issues. For example, the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8 came to personal faith in Christ and was baptized in the middle of the desert. There was literally no church for him to join. Philip baptized him anyway, resulting in him being a baptized Christian but not a member of any particular church. He most likely became part of a church at some future date (google him, there is a whole legend about the church he started which still exists!), but he did not become a member of a church at the moment of his baptism. This passage indicates that baptism and church membership are not automatically connected. Please understand; I am not against church membership. It is very important for people to make a commitment to a specific church and join it so they can serve the Lord with their spiritual gifts and be accountable to the biblical authority of that church. But the Bible does not teach that baptism and church membership should be as closely connected as many churches have made them.

Even in churches that only practice believer’s baptism, if we automatically link baptism and church membership, we may well be hindering instead of helping people’s spiritual growth. In the particular church where I serve as an elder, baptism makes an individual eligible for church membership, but does not automatically add them to the membership role. After they are baptized, if they want to become a member of the church, they go through a separate process. Though this approach goes against the tradition of most churches in our own particular denomination, we feel that it more accurately follows the biblical model. Church traditions have their place, but when they go against the Bible or they come between a person and their spiritual growth, then it’s time to cast aside tradition and embrace the Bible’s path to spiritual maturity.

If the link between baptism and church membership has been keeping us from obeying the Lord’s command to be baptized, then we must prayerfully consider that the biblical teaching on these two issues do not have to be automatically connected. We should seek baptism as soon as possible after salvation. It was clearly commanded by Jesus. Then we should prayerfully seek a church we can join that helps us grow in our faith. It may indeed be the same church that we were baptized in, but it may not be. The goal is to grow in faith, not just add our name to a roll. Let's press onward toward the goal of our high calling in Christ Jesus.

Dr. Terry W. Dorsett is a church planter in New England. He also writes books and leads seminars on how to help churches be more effective in their ministries. Check out his resources at:

Monday, October 12, 2009

How Do We Know If We Are Called To Vocational Ministry?

One of the most rewarding aspects of my ministry to teens is that I get to interact with some of the most Spirit-filled teenagers that I have ever met. They may not be perfect, but they are fired up about Jesus. In this world when so many teens are going astray, getting to interact with some that are right on track is refreshing. It is not uncommon for teens who are deeply involved in the church to wonder if they might be called to ministry in some vocational way. When assisting teens in discerning God's calling on their lives, I encourage them to think through these seven principles regarding vocational ministry.

1. There is a special calling for vocational ministry.
God calls every Christian to minister using the spiritual gifts He has given them. Therefore every Christian ought to be involved in some type of ministry in whatever church they attend. But God has also called some people to the special role of serving in ministry as their profession. That is what it means when we talk about "vocational ministry." A vocation refers to the job that allows a person to make a living. While every Christian ought to be serving the Lord in some way, some Christians will feel led to completely immerse themselves in service to the Lord by serving as a pastor, missionary, music minister, chaplain, Christian school teacher, youth worker, seminary professor, church planter, or some other vocational ministry role. The first step in determining if a person has a vocational call to ministry is to pray and seek confirmation from the Lord if this is what the person should be doing as their vocation.

2. Seek wisdom on what type of call God may be issuing.
As mentioned above, there are a variety of different ways a person can serve the Lord in vocational ministry. Often the Lord calls a person to serve in a particular role because of their personality or talents. Sometimes that calling even shifts some as a person moves through life. They may start as a youth worker in a church but eventually become the pastor. Or they may start as a teacher in a Christian school and later sense led to become a missionary. There are many ways in which to serve and a person must ask God to show them which one is right for them at that particular stage in their life. Then they must be willing to obey whatever God leads them to do, even if it was not what the person had in mind when they first felt called to vocational ministry.

3. Seek advice from a trusted minister.
A great help in determining both the calling to vocational ministry and which type of ministry a person might be called to is talking to a person who is already serving in vocational ministry. Ask what it is like to serve in that particular ministry as a profession. Discuss the many different types of ministry careers that are available. Discuss what type of training might be required for different types of ministry. Ask the person to pray with you and help you walk through this exciting time of decision in life.

4. Develop personal spirituality.
If a person wants to be in successful in ministry, they are going to have to be a spiritual person and live a righteous life. Reading the Bible, having a strong prayer life, and eliminating unholy habits are important. No one is perfect, but it is important to start living a holy life as soon as a person thinks he or she may be called to ministry. God can use anyone, no matter what their background, but obviously it is more difficult for people who lacked personal holiness in the past and are carrying a lot of baggage around with them to serve as effectively in ministry as a person who has been focused on a living a holy life for a long time. Begin focusing on being a spiritual person, a righteous person, a holy person. Even aspiring ministers will make mistakes, but if personal spirituality remains the focus, it is possible to avoid making any mistakes that would significantly hamper future ministry.

5. Prepare for ministry through training.
Don't just read the Bible, start studying the Bible intently. Invest in some good commentaries and other Bible study aids that will aid in explaining the Bible in order to teach others. Attend programs, classes or conferences aimed at improving ministry skills. If possible, enroll in a Bible college or seminary for professional training. God does use people who have not been to Bible college or seminary, but most ministers affirm that what they learned in Bible college or seminary was a significant help to them in ministry. Therefore it is good for a person who feels called to ministry to plan to attend an accredited school for ministry training if at all possible.

6. Ask the local church to examine your calling.
Every church has different methods of helping a person confirm their calling to ministry. Find out how your church does it and then start the process. If a person is really called by God to ministry, then the church will recognize that calling and affirm it. If the church is unwilling to affirm that calling, it is important to examine your heart and make sure you have heard from God correctly about your calling. In some ministry roles a person needs to be licensed or ordained. There is normally a process that needs to be worked through in order to receive those credentials. Take the time to work through that process as the church requires. It will be worth it in the end.

7. Begin looking for ways to serve now while preparing for the future.
When a person first begins to feel a call to vocational ministry, they should look for ways to serve in volunteer ministry. It may be several years before the person has received enough training and been through whatever processes are required to actually serve in a vocational way. But that person should immediately look for smaller ways to serve. If a person cannot teach Sunday School faithfully, how will they ever be able to preach regularly? If a person cannot lead music once a month in church, how will they ever become a music minister? If a person cannot teach for one week in the summer Vacation Bible School, how will they ever be able to teach daily in a Christian school? The reality is that the quality of service a person does for the Lord right now is a reflection on the quality of ministry they will do in the future. And if a person is not serving the Lord right now as a volunteer, it is unlikely that person will be able to serve Him in the future in any vocational way.

Like any other profession, ministry has it's challenges. But serving the Lord is very fulfilling. Helping people find peace, hope and joy in their lives is a wonderful thing. Helping people find faith in Christ and security for eternal life is the most rewarding of all. If you are feeling called to vocational ministry, be prepared for a challenging but extremely rewarding life.

Friday, October 9, 2009

What Can Churches Do To Reach Teens?

Many churches today are having a very difficult time reaching teenagers with the message of Jesus Christ. Not only are they struggling to get teens from outside the church to discover Jesus, they are also not having much success keeping the teens who grew up in the church and should already be committed to Jesus. While the majority of churches are struggling to reach teens, some churches are succeeding in this area. What is the difference between those churches that are effectively reaching teens and those that are not? I have spent a lot of time reflecting on this question. Based on my experience in reaching teens and in working with a variety of churches, I have come up with these suggestions for how churches can reach teens more effectively.

1. Teens will attend a church that makes them feel loved.
This does not mean the church has to agree with everything teens do. Nor does it mean that churches cannot preach strong messages about sin that apply to teens. But it does mean that churches demonstrate love and acceptance to teens. Teens are struggling with a lot of issues. Their lack of emotional maturity will result in them doing things they should not do. Knowing there is a group of people that love them no matter what is very important to teens. They will go to a church that shows such love.

2. Teens will attend a church that proves love by its actions.
Teens are used to being told that someone loves them, but they see very little actual evidence of that love. Parents tell teens they love them, and then proceed to get a divorce because they love their new girlfriend or boyfriend more. Teens go too far sexually in a relationship because they are told they are loved, but once the other person gets what they want from the teen, the relationship ends and the teen is left wondering what happened to love. Churches say they love teens, but then fail to do anything that proves that love. If churches really love teens, they are going to have to put actions behind their words.

3. Teens will attend a church that speaks their “language.”
Teens have a number of ways in which they communicate, but the two that adults misunderstand most often is their love of music and their love of technology. Teens love music. Teens communicate in music. Teens use lyrics for their Facebook status and MySpace updates. Teens use music to communicate their feelings about relationships and events. Teens generally like music that is more upbeat than most adults, but more important than the beat is that music has deep meaning and communicates something important. In church related music, teens want to talk “to” God, not just “about” God. Churches that want to reach teens will probably need to speed the music tempo up, but they will also need to select songs that speak powerfully about how God can interact in their daily lives.
Teens also love technology. They have been immersed in various video gadgets almost since birth. They have a hard time learning and communicating to others without the aid of technology. Churches that want to communicate with teens are going to have to learn to use technology both to reach out to teens and to help teens worship and learn.

4. Teens will attend a church that lets teens be involved in leading.
Teens are not interested in just sitting in the back pew and watching. Teens want to be involved in leading the music, taking the offering, saying the prayers and teaching the classes. Though they will need guidance in these types of leadership areas due to their maturity level, teens can lead effectively in the church. Churches that do not let teens lead will not keep teens very long.

5. Teens will attend a church that makes sermons and Bible studies relevant to their real life experience.
People of all ages find it difficult to be faithful to church when the sermons and Bible studies do not seem relevant to real life. Teens find it almost impossible. This is why many churches cannot keep the teens that grew up in their churches. The topics covered during times of worship and Bible study seem to have little bearing on real life experiences. Pastors and Bible study leaders need to think carefully about how they teach the truth of the Word. They do need to give solid doctrine and historical Biblical context, but they also must have up to date applications of how that teaching impacts real life. Churches that fail to do this will not only lose their teens, but will eventually enter into a state of decline as people of all ages look for a church that is more relevant to life.

By following these principles, churches can reach out more effectively to teens and help them discover a life changing relationship with Jesus Christ.

Learn more about reaching young people in Dr. Terry Dorsett's book, Mission Possible: Reaching the Next Generation through the Small Church.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Secret to Financial Security

Sometimes we feel like we work as hard as we can in our jobs but still have little to show for it. Sometimes it seems like we try and try and try to make our personal finances work out but still hit a brick wall at the end of the month. When we feel like that, we might consider reading some of the passages from the Old Testament books of Haggai and Malachi. These books are not the most popular in the Bible, but they do have some powerful things to say about how to have greater financial security. I was first taught these concepts in my 8th Grade Sunday School class. They have had a significant positive influence in my life.

Consider was the prophet says:

Haggai 1:6-7 “You have planted much but harvested little. You eat but never have enough to be satisfied. You drink but never have enough to become drunk. You put on clothes but never have enough to get warm. The wage earner puts his wages into a bag with a hole in it. The LORD of Hosts says this: Think carefully about your ways.”

Does that describe how we feel sometimes? We plant and plant but harvest little. We put our wages in a "bag" but it seems like the bag has a hole in it. Wow, that just sounds like real life to me!

Why does all this happen to us financially? Consider another prophets words:

Malachi 3:9-11 “You are suffering under a curse, yet you—the whole nation—are still robbing Me. Bring the full 10 percent tithe into the storehouse so that there may be food in My house. Test Me in this way, says the LORD of Hosts. See if I will not open the floodgates of heaven and pour out a blessing for you without measure. I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not ruin the produce of your ground, and your vine in your field will not be barren, says the LORD of Hosts.” (For a complete study on Malachi, see: "Malachi: Finding Hope in the Midst of Adversity.)

These are sobering thoughts. We don't like to think about robbing God, yet many of us have done exactly that when we have failed to honor God with our tithes.

The scripture is clear that if we do not tithe to the storehouse (the local church) then we cannot be blessed by God in our finances. If our financial situation has been not as prosperous as we had hoped, we should consider our commitment to tithing. Once we begin to tithe faithfully, then we can watch the miracles that God does in our lives.

It is important that our commitment to tithing does not come from a heart that wants to gain something in return, but from a heart that simply wants to walk in obedience to the Lord. God looks on our hearts and knows our true motives. Even though receiving back from God may not be our motive, God has said that He will indeed bless us for giving. What a great God we serve.

We may think that we cannot afford to tithe, but we need to read those verses over again. They indicate that we cannot afford NOT to tithe. God protects us from financial harm when we tithe with a right heart attitude. God keeps the devourer away. When we fail to tithe, then we suffer the devastating effects of real life without the blessing of God to protect us.

When thinking about tithing, it is important to remember that the church’s expenses continue whether we happen to be present on a particular Sunday or not. Even if our schedule keeps us away for a couple of weeks, the church's electric bill still has to be paid. The pastor's salary still has to be paid. The benevolence programs for the poor and the outreach programs to the community are an ongoing need, even if we happen to miss church from time to time. Learning to tithe is also about learning to be faithful. God cannot bless unfaithfulness. We must learn to tithe consistently. The reality is that if we want the church to be there for us when we need it, we must be faithful to tithe even when we are not there.

Statistics tell us that senior adults are the most likely to tithe and many have done so for most of their adult lives. Statistics also tell us that only 1% of young adults under the age of 25 tithe. If we do not turn this trend around, many churches will not exist when young adults need them. Let each of us examine our own hearts and lives on this issue and respond in obedience to the Lord.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Importance of Meaningful Relationships

My wife and I were watching a movie the other day about a young man who decided to move to Alaska and live all by himself in an old bus in the middle of nowhere. He felt was able to survive by himself without the companionship of other people. The movie portrayed a number of relationships that others tried to have with him but that he walked away from. He walked away from those relationships because he had been hurt by a close relationship he had in his childhood. That made him afraid to have another deep relationship. The movie then gave a very moving depiction of how he made a mistake in reading his book on plant life and accidentally ate a poisonous plant. Regretfully, that led to his death a few days later. He died as he had lived, isolated and alone. The movie was based on a true story that was portrayed in a popular book written by the young man’s family after his body was found several weeks later by hunters.

As I have reflected on that movie over the past few days it occurs to me that it is a picture of the lives of far too many young people. Many young people have been hurt in their lives and that hurt has caused them to emotionally isolate themselves from those around them. They think they can make it all on their own without other people. But God has designed us to need each other. We need relationships with others. Even though we can be hurt by relationships, we really cannot live without them. Had that young man in the movie had some other people with him, they might have noticed when he mistook a poisonous plant for an edible one. Or perhaps they would have been able to help him hike back to town and seek medical help. Even if he felt he really needed some time alone, had he been willing to share his life with others, they would have known where he was and could have come looking for him when he did not return. Unfortunately since he told no one where he had gone, no one could come rescue him. The story had a sad ending, but what made it even sadder was that it did not have to end that way. He did not have to die alone and isolated far from home in an abandoned school bus. But he was not willing to open himself up to other people and trust them. His determination to do it all on his own resulted in his untimely and tragic death.

As I think about how all this relates to the young adults I minister to, it becomes obvious to me that I must help young adults be willing to trust. I must help them be willing to open themselves up to having deep and meaningful relationships. Even though we may have been hurt in the past, and there is a chance we may be hurt in the future, the reality is, we cannot live happy productive lives without relationships. Relationships are a risk, but we must realize that relationships are a risk worth taking.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Biblical Baptism

The church I serve in Vermont has a large number of people attending who did not grow up going to church on a regular basis. Many of the people either have no affiliation with a church or have a very loose connection to some church that they were never really very connected with and have not attended in many years. As a result of this lack of regular connection to a church, many of my friends who come to church don't know much about some of the basic pieces of theology that are important to a healthy spirituality. One of those issues of that baptism. I have found it important to teach what the Bible says about this subject on a somewhat frequent basis. This frequent teaching has helped many people find a great sense of peace as they consider this most important Christian experience.

According to the New Testament, baptism is the way that Christians publicly proclaim their faith in Christ. It is a picture of how Christ died for us, was buried for us, and rose again for us. When we stand in the water we are saying that we are taking our stand for Christ. As we are dipped under the water it symbolizes us "dying and being buried" to our old way of life and when we come up out of the water it symbolizes how we are raised to "new life" through our faith in Christ.

Baptism does not "save" us, but it does show the world that we have already been "saved" from our sin. The New Testament makes it very clear that every person who has trusted Jesus as their Savior and made a commitment to follow Him should be baptized after making that decision. Obviously, if a person has never been baptized at all, then it makes sense that they would be baptized after they make a sincere commitment to Christ. If we realize we are in this category, we should pray about getting baptized right away out of obedience and devotion to Christ. It will enhance our connection to God and improve our personal spirituality.

Sometimes people were baptized by their parents before they were old enough to understand what it was all about. While that is a very lovely ceremony to watch, we cannot find any examples in the Bible of an infant or small child being baptized. In the Bible, people were always baptized only AFTER they made a deep and sincere commitment to Jesus Christ. When people who were baptized by their parents finally make the choice for themselves to become Christians, they should get re-baptized as a testimony of their own faith. It does not mean they didn't appreciate what their parents did for them, nor does it "undo" their previous baptism, it simply means that now they are making this decision for themselves. Parents should rejoice that their kids have come to a place of committed faith in Christ and support them in their own faith decision.

While there is no "perfect" age to be baptized, it is very common for young people ages 13-24 to have the spiritual and emotional maturity to be able to think this through on their own and come to this conclusion for themselves. Therefore that is a common age for people to be baptized once they have trusted Christ as Savior.

There is something powerful about being baptized. It gives us a sense of spiritual cleansing. It makes us feel close to God. It is also a step of obedience to God, since He is the one who told us to do it once we had trusted His Son as our Saviour.

If you want to be baptized, talk to your pastor. If you live in the Central Vermont area, send me a message on Facebook or by email and we can set up a time to talk. Once you feel like you understand it all, I would consider it an honor to baptize you. Pray about it.

Dr. T