Wednesday, February 24, 2010

How Churches Can Relate to Postmodern Young Adults

Most churches are struggling to reach young adults because life as a young adult in America today really is different than it was twenty years ago. Some of the church's struggle comes from a lack of understanding of the postmodern worldview which most young adults in America have now adopted.

Researcher George Barna describes the postmodern viewpoint as one in which each person makes decisions about how to live based on feelings and experience. He goes on to explain that in this world view no one has the right to say any of those decisions are wrong. Instead, if a choice is deemed right by someone, it is therefore right for that person and others must be tolerant of that choice. Because postmodern young adults see life as a series of subjective experiences, the things that matter most to them are having experiences and building relationships with others. Many postmodern young adults consider themselves to be quite spiritual and may even believe in the existence of a personal God, but they do not feel they have the right to compel anyone else to believe in God.

Because so many young adults now share this worldview, when church leaders attempt to share Christian concepts with these young adults, it may require different methods than in the past. One effective method is to use stories from our own lives, especially about our failures and weaknesses. Postmodern young adults grew up in a culture of brokenness. There is a good chance their parents are divorced. A large number of them have at least one parent who is suffering from some type of addiction. One out of three of the young ladies and one out of seven of the young men have been sexually abused. Life has been very hard on them even though they are still young. They are not interested in hearing how "perfect" we are or how "perfect" we think our faith makes us. They are not interested in hearing about a fairy tale world where people just say a prayer and all their problems go away. They know that world does not exist. Instead they need to hear about our own spiritual journey with all its bumps, setbacks, troubles and hardships. They need to hear about the times we doubted and were afraid. They also need to hear that somehow we received enough strength from our faith to keep going despite our troubles. They need to know that there is hope to be found through faith in Jesus Christ.

When we discuss spiritual issues with young adults, we should be prepared for them to bring up complex issues. Their questions will not be simple or easy. If a young adult has made the effort to show up at church or seek counsel from a pastor or youth minister, they are not interested in a light devotional or a pre-packaged answer. They want to wrestle with the tough questions about life and discover deep answers to life's perplexing problems. They want to know why evil exists and why there is suffering in the world. They want to know why God lets bad stuff happen to good people if God really is so powerful.

The day of eating pizza and having a 15 minute "feel good" devotional for youth group is over. Today, churches that want to minister to young adults had better plan for lengthy discussions that will not have simple conclusions or easy answers. That doesn't mean they still don't like to eat pizza, it just means that free pizza will no longer satisfy the deep longing young adults have for answers to the complex world they have been thrust into. Churches willing to invest the necessary time, energy and love into the lives of young adults and journey with them through the difficult questions and experiences, will find those young adults quite interested in what the churches have to say.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Amazing Grace, My Chains Are Gone

A sermon based on Acts 16:16-34 - Preached by Dr. Terry W. Dorsett on February 21, 2010 at Faith Community Church, Barre, VT


  • Paul was on his second missionary journey.
  • Though he had planned to revisit all the towns that he had started churches in on his first journey, God sent him a supernatural vision that told him to go to Macedonia instead.
  • Paul obeyed the vision, changed his plans, and ended up in Philippi, which was a key city in Macedonia.
  • There he met a business woman named Lydia, who became a Christian because of Paul's ministry.
  • Paul stayed in Lydia's home and shared Christ with anyone in town who would listen.


Verse 16 - Once, as we were on our way to prayer, a slave girl met us who had a spirit of prediction and made a large profit for her owners by fortune-telling.

  • They were on their way to pray when they encountered a demon possessed slave girl.
  • This slave girl could tell the future through the demon that possessed her.
  • The owners of this slave girl made a lot of money off of her fortune telling.
  • Most fortune tellers in our modern times are fake, but a few have real power.
  • When people display unusual powers, they either get them from God or from Satan. There is no other source for spiritual power.
  • Demon possession does give a person power but it will make the person a slave to the demon because a demon does not care about the person.
  • The spiritual power of darkness is not something to be played with.


Verse 17 - As she followed us she cried out, "These men are the servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation."

  • It is fascinating that demons know the truth!
  • James 2:19 - You believe that God is one; you do well. The demons also believe—and they shudder.
  • Even though demons know the truth intellectually, they have refused to accept the impact of the truth in their inner spirits.


Verse 18 - And she did this for many days. But Paul was greatly aggravated, and turning to the spirit, said, "I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!" And it came out right away.

  • The demon possessed slave girl followed Paul and his group around for days telling everyone who Paul was.
  • The Bible says that Paul became aggravated about this and cast the demon out of the girl.
  • Why would Paul be aggravated by the girl telling everyone that he was from God and his message was the way of salvation?
  • The Greek word for "aggravated" is diaponetheis. Though it is translated in this verse as aggravated, in many other places the word is translated "burdened."
  • Paul was not as much aggravated at the girl herself as he was burdened about her situation. She was after all demon possessed!
  • When we minister to people whose lives are messed up by sin, we must be careful not to get aggravated at the person.
  • Instead, let us be burdened for how the sins they are bound by are slowly destroying their lives.
  • Paul decided to do something to help this young lady.
  • Using the power of Christ, he commanded that the demon leave the girl.
  • Notice he did not use his own power, but the power of Christ.
  • The demon had to obey because Jesus Christ is on the throne and Satan is just a pretender.
  • Satan only has power if we let him have it.
  • But when we walk with Jesus, then Jesus' power triumphs over Satan.


Verse 19 - When her owners saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to the authorities.

  • The slave owners did not care if the girl was freed from the spiritual chains that bound her.
  • All they cared about was money. When they realized they would not be able to exploit the girl any longer, they got very upset.
  • What people get upset about reveals a lot!


Verses 20-21 - They said, "These men are seriously disturbing our city. They are Jews, and are promoting customs that are not legal for us as Romans to adopt or practice."

  • The slave owners exaggerated the situation by saying Paul was disturbing "our city" when really he had only helped a girl.
  • Beware of the mysterious "we" that some people use to inflate their influence.
  • Notice they used a racial slur, "They are Jews." Racism has been used to justify many sins throughout the ages.
  • Notice they appealed to their customs and their laws.
  • But their customs and laws allowed little girls to be enslaved for the profit of others. It was time for the customs and laws to be changed!


Verse 23 - After they had inflicted many blows on them, they threw them in jail, ordering the jailer to keep them securely guarded.

  • Paul and Silas were arrested, beaten up and thrown in jail.
  • The jailer was specifically told to guard them "securely," which meant to put them in the maximum security section of jail.
  • The world's reaction to the things of God sometimes seem severe. But remember, Satan was fueling this response because he had lost a major battle in the spiritual war.
  • Ephesians 6:12 For our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the powers of darkness and the spiritual forces of evil.


Verse 25 - About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.

  • Paul and Silas had been beaten by a mob and then chained to the floor in the maximum security section of the jail.
  • Their response to their situation was to start praying and singing to God!
  • Notice that the prisoners were listening!
  • How do we respond when we are treated unjustly?
  • Other people are watching how Christians respond to unjust difficulties.
  • We must learn to use the power of prayer and the power of praising God.


Verse 26 - Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the jail were shaken, and immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone's chains came loose.

  • Though we might be tempted to think that the earthquake was caused by the terrible singing of Paul and Silas, it was actually caused by the POWER of their prayers and praise! Never underestimate the power of prayer and praise!!!!
  • When God's people start praying and praising, the foundations of Satan's deepest cells are shaken.
  • When God's people start praying and praising, the doors of every kind of barrier that holds us back are opened!
  • When God's people start praying and praising, the chains of every sin that binds us come loose!
  • Why in the world aren't we praying and praising God more!!!!!


Verse 27 - When the jailer woke up and saw the doors of the prison open, he drew his sword and was going to kill himself, since he thought the prisoners had escaped.

  • In those days, if a prisoner escaped, the jailer would be executed publically.
  • When the jailer saw the doors of the prison opened, he assumed all the prisoners had escaped and he decided to kill himself and get it over with.


Verse 28 - But Paul called out in a loud voice, "Don't harm yourself, because all of us are here!"

  • Paul saw that the jailer was about to kill himself and called out to stop him.
  • Paul had been beaten by a mob, arrested unjustly, chained to the floor of cold stone cell and yet he still cared about the jailer, whom most would have considered his enemy.
  • How we treat our enemies says a lot about the kind of people we are.


Verse 30 - Then he escorted them out and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?"

  • Notice the change in the jailer's behavior.
  • He had chained them to the floor but now he was "escorting" them out of the jail.
  • When God gets a hold of our lives, we often begin to change our behaviors without anyone having to tell us to do it.
  • But an outward change of behavior is not the "final" answer.
  • The final answer is an inward change of spiritual condition.
  • The jailer asked the most important question that anyone can ask, "What must I do to be saved?"
  • We are all sinners and because of our sin we all deserve to spend eternity in hell apart from God, family, friends and all that we hold dear.
  • Many people ask why a loving God sends people to hell.
  • The answer is that God does NOT send people to hell.
  • People send themselves to hell as a result of their own wrong choices.
  • No one forces us to sin, we do that quite well all on our own.


Verse 31 - So they said, "Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household."

  • Paul answers the jailer's question by telling him to believe on the Lord Jesus.
  • If we want to be saved from a dark eternity separated from God and all that we hold dear, then we must believe in Jesus.
  • Believing in Jesus means beleiving that Jesus is who He said He was and trusting Him to guide us in our lives.
  •  Notice that Paul calls Jesus, "LORD Jesus."
  • A "lord" is a ruler that tells others what to do.
  • But Jesus is not a cruel ruler who tells others to sacrifice while He sits in a castle living well.
  • Jesus is the kind of ruler that gave Himself for those who follow Him.
  • Jesus is the kind of ruler we WANT to follow.
  • Believing in Jesus is more than just an intellectual acceptance of the historical Jesus.
  • Believing in Jesus is allowing Jesus to become the Lord, or ruler, of our lives.
  • If we want to be saved from a dark eternity in hell, we must believe Jesus is who He said He was AND we must allow Jesus to become the ruler of our lives.


Prayer for Salvation:

  • Dear Lord, I know I am a sinner and I deserve to be separated for all of eternity from You and from all that I hold dear. But right now I turn from my sin and place all of my hope in You. I want You to be the Lord of my life and help me know how to live. With Your help, I will do my best to follow You and serve You for the rest of my life. Thank you Lord, Amen.


Verse 33 - He took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds. Right away he and all his family were baptized.

  • As soon as the jailer made this personal commitment to Christ, his life was changed.
  • The jailer took Paul and Silas home and washed their wounds. What kind of jailer does this for his prisoners?
  • The jailer and his entire family were baptized as an outward of expression of their new faith. Baptism is IMPORTANT!!!!!



1. We are in a spiritual war against evil.

2. There is power in prayer and power in praise that will overcome both evil in the world and difficulties in our personal lives.

3. Outward behavioral change will only last if it comes from an inner spiritual transformation resulting from believing and following Jesus as our Lord and Savior.


Have we committed our lives to Jesus?

Are we using the power of prayer and praise?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Challenges of Teaching Today’s Teens

Our church has a large youth group. We have 180 teens enrolled in the program with an attendance of 55-75 each week at our main youth gathering. A team of caring adults volunteer to lead the program each week and we all take turns teaching this lesson. As the pastor of the church, I normally do the teaching two times a month. Last week I spent extra time preparing what I thought was going to be a really great lesson. It didn't go as well as I'd hoped and several of the teens talked through the whole thing and others spent the entire time texting on their phones. This experience was a great reminder to me that teaching Christian concepts to today's teens and young adults is a greater challenge than ever. We can spend time cursing the rudeness of teens who don't pay attention to the lesson, or we can ask God to help us discover ways to capture teen's attention and point them to Christ.

Our leadership team has learned that it is vitally important that interactive and experiential methods be utilized to effectively teach today's teens. In an era of short attention spans, teens do not want to sit and listen to someone else talk. They want to do something. This means that our lessons must be interactive. We ask a lot of questions during our lessons. They are not rhetorical questions, but questions that we actually want the students to answer. Questions that can be answered with a "yes" or "no" are least effective. Better questions are ones where two are three students might give different answers or perspectives. The leader can then use one or more of those answers to clarify whatever point is being made. When we engage students in more of a "discussion" or "group conversation" than just present a "lecture," the students tend to focus more and retain the concepts we are trying to convey.

Our leadership team has also learned the value of using music videos that engage students' eyes as well as their ears. We often use such videos at the beginning or the end of the lesson. We normally find videos on YouTube. We often post the videos on Facebook prior to the youth meeting and ask the students to watch the video ahead of time. Though we normally use videos of Christian music, we occasionally use a secular music video if it reinforces the point without compromising biblical principles.

Music videos are not the only technology that we employ. Most of today's teens grew up surrounded by technology. It is the only way many of them know how to learn. We use this to our advantage and utilize many different technological tools. One that we use almost every week is power point. We use it to project the scripture verses, application points and illustrative pictures on the wall. Students will remember more when they hear it, see it and read it. Power point helps us accomplish that. Technology can also be used to encourage discussion and Bible study before or after the lesson. Facebook or MySpace are great tools for posting review questions or to start follow up discussions from lessons. We have our own group on Facebook and post pictures, announcements and other relevant information on it. Review questions or follow up discussion starters can also be emailed to students or sent via a group text message.

Using experiential and interactive teaching methods requires a lot of work and can be a challenge. Even when they are used effectively, they don't guarantee that the students will always stay focused. But we must learn to overcome such challenges so we can reach out more effectively to the next generation. Research shows that only 4% of this age group has a relationship with Jesus Christ. While no teaching method can replace the power of prayer and reliance on the Holy Spirit, learning to use interactive and experiential methods, combined with technology, will help us to communicate Christian principles more effectively to today's teens. As we become more effective, we will see that statistic change and revival come to the next generation.

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

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Danger of the “I Versus YOU Syndrome”

A couple of weeks ago I was taking part in a Bible study discussion group at a fairly traditional church in a nearby town. We were studying a very powerful passage of scripture that I have enjoyed studying in the past. We were given a Bible study book published by a major Christian publishing house to use as a basis for the study. While I agreed with much of what the study book said, it was difficult to get past the constant "I" and "you" statements made by the author. The author would relate how he had learned some truth and how he had put it into practice. Then he would challenge his readers to do the same thing. While that is certainly appropriate in certain contexts, the constant use of "I" statements gave the impression that the author somehow thought he was "holier" than the rest of us. The text, perhaps unintentionally, seemed to imply that he had all the answers and had figured everything out. The lesson was filled with such statements as: "you need to do this," "you need to do that," "you need to stop this behavior," "you need to change the way you think, feel, act, or believe." It became clear that the writer assumed his readers could not possibly be living correctly until they had read his book and followed his teaching. After a while, the lesson became insulting.

Please don't misunderstand me, I actually agreed with what the writer said from a theological perspective. It was HOW he said it that was a problem. As we moved through the lesson, it occurred to me that there was no one in the room other than me who was under age 45. In fact, most of the others present were nearing retirement age or were already past that point in life. While there may have been many reasons why there were no young people there, I'm fairly certain one of them was the "I versus you" style of teaching. I have found this style of teaching fairly common in traditional conservative churches. The impression given by such lessons is "I" (referring to the pastor, teacher, or leader) know it all and "you" (referring to the audience) must be ignorant. Furthermore this style of teaching implies that if "you" will listen to how well "I" am doing, then "you" can have a great life like "I" have. Young people don't respond well to this style of teaching. If we want to reach postmodern young people, we must learn to use "we" and "us" statements instead of "I" and "you" statements.

Most postmodern teens want to feel like they "belong" to the group. When the teacher creates an artificial division between himself and the hearers, that sense of belonging disappears. Teachers and preachers seeking to connect with postmodern young adults need to retrain themselves to use statements that help those young people feel part of the group instead of isolated from the group. This does not mean that we cannot warn them about dangerous behaviors; it just means that we cannot create a "you" versus "them" atmosphere. They will perceive that type of atmosphere as judgmental and it is unlikely that they will return for a second dose of hearing how great the pastor/teacher/leader thinks he or she is.

Here is a practical example:

An ineffective statement might be: If you continue in your addiction, you will never have a happy life. Trust Christ and He will help you overcome your addiction. I trusted Christ and it helped me I overcome my addiction and I have been happier ever since.

A more effective statement might be: Many of us have struggled with various addictions in our lives. We know what it is like to overcome such addictions and we know what it is like to give in to those addictions. But as we have learned to trust in Christ we have found new strength to overcome our addiction.

Older generations were more willing to be lectured or instructed by a person who had it all figured out already. Young generations want to journey together with their leader and figure it out as they take that journey together. This requires us to retrain ourselves to teach those important truths of our faith in new and fresh ways. Learning to retrain ourselves to use "we" and "us" statements instead of "you" and "I" statements can be a challenge. But it is a challenge worth accepting because it will help us reach more young people for the Lord. 

Let US work together to practice this new style of teaching and in the end WE will see greater results!

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

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Passive or Active for Christ

Earlier this month I was at a meeting in Atlanta with a group of mission leaders from around the nation. We had gathered to strategize how to join God in what He was doing to start a church planting movement in North America. As a part of our discussion we brainstormed how to get everyone in the church involved in church planting. One of the people present suggested that we might be trying the impossible. He said "In church life, 20% do a lot, 30% do a little and 50% do nothing. We tend to appeal to the bottom 50% but they are the least likely to respond. We need to focus on the 30% who do a little in order to get them to do more." I have been reflecting a lot on that statement over the past month.
While I am not sure about the accuracy of the exact numbers, I think the concept is valid. I think that a significant portion of people in the church have become takers. By that I mean that they are content to sit back and let others do the hard work while they reap the benefits. This is definitely true in church life, but I think it is also true in other areas of life too. Too many people are content to live on welfare instead of work. Too many people are willing to let others volunteer in community organizations and schools. Too many people are willing to let others make the decisions politically. Far too many people in our culture are willing to enjoy the benefits but are unwilling to put forth the energy to produce those benefits. This is not good for our culture as a whole, nor for the church, which remains a key part of that culture.
When a church becomes passive, that church will begin to decline. A church can only decline so far before it dies. Hundreds of churches across America close every year. Those churches were once vibrant lights in their community, but somewhere along the way too many people sat back and let too few do the work. Eventually the few just couldn't do it anymore and the church died. If we think our church or denomination is immune to such demise, we are ignoring reality.
What can we do about it? I suppose if we are in that bottom 50% that simply does nothing; we will just shrug our shoulders and do nothing. But if we are in the top 50% who are already engaged, we should ask if we are doing enough to make our church healthy. We may never get "everyone" involved. There will always be takers who want the benefits without the responsibilities. Therefore, we must focus on our raising our own activity levels. We must also encourage others who are already engaged to become more active. Though we hope that the "do-nothing" crowd will one day become active, we cannot wait for them to wake up. We must be deeply involved ourselves and work with others who are similarly engaged. We must create a coalition of the willing, roll up our sleeves and get the job done. Is this fair? No, but it is the reality of the world we live in. Let's stop wasting time brow beating the "do-nothing" crowd and start working with the ones who are doing something and together become all that God wants us to be.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Life Can Be Painful, But There is Hope

Life can be painful. A few months ago I spoke to a large group of teenagers who had gathered for a youth rally in our area. Though I did not know all the teenagers who were there, I knew enough of them to know it was a room full of pain. The "normal" painful things were represented, like broken homes and financial needs. But there were also five teenagers present who had lost at least one parent to death, two only 48 hours before the rally. There were teenagers present who had been physically abused as well as some who had been sexually abused. At least one I knew in the group bounces from house to house, never quite knowing where "home" is any particular week. A number have lost friends in car accidents and/or in a tragic house fire that took several lives four years ago. Several of those present were struggling with addictions in their own lives or in the lives of their parents. There were at least two "cutters" in the group and at least three who were struggling with their sexual identity. WOW, what a lot of pain for one room. Whatever happened to teenagers just hanging out and being kids!

My experience speaking to that group reinforced in my mind that the current generation is a generation of pain. They are a generation of broken families and emotional problems. They are the first generation that will most likely be less well off than their parents. They are inheriting an economy that is in shambles, morality that has collapsed and a nation that is not as well liked around the world as it once was. With so much stacked against them, the last thing they need is a church that does not care about their pain or help them with their struggles. Yet, that is what most of them find.

Young people are leaving the church in large numbers. It is not that they don't believe in God, statistics actually say that today's teenagers are more likely to believe in God than their parents. It is just that they are not finding God in most churches. So they look for Him in other places. Yet the church has been called to hold the keys to the Kingdom of God. Too many churches have lost the keys they are supposed to be holding. Churches need to rediscover those keys before they lose a whole generation. One of the ways churches can rediscover the keys to the Kingdom and unlock spiritual truth for teenagers is to help them deal with the pain they have experienced. Fortunately, we have an Advocate who stays closer than a brother. Christ is the One who was wounded for our transgressions and by His stripes we can be healed. So we have a lot to offer to young people that can ease their pain, if we are willing to offer it. Encourage your church to be a voice of healing for a generation in pain.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Being Quick to Wait Upon the Lord

A Sermon from Acts 16:11-15

Preached by Dr. Terry W. Dorsett at Mettowee Valley Church, West Pawlet, VT on January 31, 2010 and at Faith Community Church, Barre, VT on February 7, 2010


  • Paul had begun his second missionary journey, taking Silas along with him and picking up Timothy along the way.
  • Paul's plan was to revisit all the churches that he started on his first missionary trip.
  • But when he was in Troas he received a supernatural vision that he was to go to Macedonia instead and preach the Gospel.

Verses 11-12 – Then, setting sail from Troas, we ran a straight course to . . . Philippi, a Roman colony, which is a leading city of that district of Macedonia. We stayed in that city for a number of days.

  • Once Paul sensed a supernatural calling to do mission work in Macedonia, he altered his plans and set sail for Philippi, which was a key city in Macedonia.
  • Though they could have traveled by foot or by horse, sailing was the fastest way to travel to such coastal cities.
  • When we sense the Lord leading us to do something, we should alter our plans and obey.
  • We should start obeying just as soon as possible.
  • If we procrastinate in our obedience, our hearts may begin to grow hard.
  • If we stall long enough, we may no longer hear God's voice clearly.
  • They took a "straight course" to Philippi in response to their calling.
  • They did have to stop a couple of times along the way, but immediately started going again as soon as they could. They refused to get sidetracked.
  • Too often, we start walking in obedience to the Lord, but then something happens along the way that causes us to get sidetracked. If we don't immediately start back, we may lose our momentum, and that is very hard to regain.
  • Choosing to disobey God will always have negative effects on our lives in the long term.
  • When we choose to obey God, it often takes us to places that we did not expect to be.
  • Sometimes we end up in the LAST place we would expect to be.
  • Philippi would be the last place one would expect Paul to try to start a new church.
  • Philippi was a Roman colony, which meant it had its own government separate from the surrounding area and Paul could not count on legal protection from Jerusalem.
  • Philippi was a popular place for Roman legionaries (military officers) to retire.
  • At the time, Christianity was still a persecuted group.
  • The Roman government was suspicious of this new faith so the presence of many retired Roman military officers made Philippi an unlikely place to start a church.
  • Philippi did not have a large Jewish population, which is who Paul normally started a church with.
  • These were all reasons why Philippi was not the "perfect" place to try to start a church.
  • Yet, it was where God told Paul to go.
  • Though Philippi may not have fit Paul's normal church planting motif, it fit God's motif because God desires non-Christians to come to faith.
  • God often works in places and in ways that don't fit what we think of as normal. We must learn to listen to God's voice even when it does not seem to make sense to us.
  • Though Paul and his group immediately obeyed and changed their plans and went right to Philippi without letting anything sidetrack them, once they got there, they had to wait a while before they saw fruit from their efforts.
  • They had to "hurry up and wait."
  • It is important for us to remember that God works on His schedule, not ours.
  • God is always on time, but He is not always on OUR time.
  • Sometimes we wait so that WE will be more ready. Sometimes we wait so that OTHERS will be more ready.

Verse 13 – On the Sabbath day we went outside the city gate by the river, where we thought there was a place of prayer. We sat down and spoke to the women gathered there.

  • Normally Paul went to the Jewish synagogue on the Sabbath to explain to the Jews that Jesus was their long awaited Messiah.
  • But there were so few Jews in Philippi that no synagogue had been established.
  • Jewish tradition required that 10 married Jewish men were needed to establish a synagogue.
  • Apparently there were not 10 married Jewish men in the entire city or at least not ten men willing to be faithful in serving the Lord.
  • Even though the men had failed to be spiritual leaders in Philippi, some Jewish ladies would gather for prayer outside the city.
  • These ladies were faithful in following the Lord even when others failed to do so.
  • Our obedience to God should not depend on others.

Verse 14 – A woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God, was listening. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was spoken by Paul.

  • In the midst of this group of Jewish ladies was a business woman named Lydia.
  • Lydia was from the Greek city of Thyatira.
  • Lydia was a Greek name, not Jewish.
  • Scholars say that these two facts indicate that Lydia was not Jewish, but was a Gentile who was seeking to discover the real God.
  • God calls many people to follow Him and race or the religious background of one's family has no bearing on whom God calls.
  • Since there was no synagogue for Lydia to learn about God at, she attended the women's worship service held outside the city.
  • If people really want to discover the Lord, one of the best ways for them to do so is to attend a vibrant worship service with some Christians who know how to worship the Lord in spirit and in truth.
  • Vibrant worship does something to a person's heart and draws them closer to Christ.
  • Likewise, if a person is trying to discover the Lord, one of the worst things that can happen is for them to attend a worship service that is dead and boring.
  • Dead and boring worship also does something to a person's heart and pushes them away from Christ.
  • That is why it is so important that our worship is always vibrant and full of the Spirit. That may be the one week a person comes who needs a touch from God.
  • If they don't get it, they might never come back.
  • Lydia was a business woman who sold purple cloth.
  • Purple die was expensive and only rich people could afford it. If her clients were rich, then Lydia was probably doing fairly well herself.
  • God calls the "up and out" as much as He calls the "down and out." We must all listen!
  • Lydia was listening to what Paul was saying during the service.
  • She did not come just to be entertained, she came to worship and to hear from God.
  • That is why all of us should come to church, to worship with our whole heart and to hear from God.
  • If we want to really know the Lord, we must have a heart that listens.
  • We should listen to sermons at church, on the Christian radio, to Christian music, to the advice of more mature Christian friends, to the Bible in our own daily reading and to the still small voice of the Holy Spirit.
  • The Lord opened Lydia's heart so she could understand the message.
  • No one comes unless the Spirit draws. (John 6:44)
  • Think of how many sermons we heard before our heart was opened and it began to make sense to us.
  • God is the one who helps us understand His Word.
  • If we are having trouble understanding the Bible, we should pray and ask God to open our hearts and give our minds the wisdom to grasp the truth of the Bible. Then expect God to answer that prayer and help us to understand it more.

Verse 15 – After she and her household were baptized, she urged us, if you consider me a believer in the Lord, come and stay at my house. And she persuaded us.

  • Notice that as soon as she believed, she was baptized as an outward demonstration of her inner faith.
  • Baptism is very important for a person to experience after they become a Christian.
  • In the New Testament, no one was baptized BEFORE they became a Christian.
  • In the New Testament, EVERYONE who became a Christian got baptized by being immersed under water as a symbol of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.
  • Today it has become popular to be baptized in other ways and at other times than what the Bible teaches.
  • If we are struggling with understanding what the Bible says about baptism, we should pray and ask God to help us understand it better.
  • Notice that as soon as she believed, she wanted to do something to help spread the Gospel.
  • She did this by inviting the missionary team to come stay at her house.
  • Being a successful business woman, Lydia probably had a nice large home to offer.
  • We may not have a home to offer in service to the Lord, but we all have something we can do to share our faith.
  • Sharing our faith is very important for Christians to do.
  • It should be a normal part of our Christian life.
  • Though we may all share our faith in different ways, this is something we should incorporate into our daily walk with God.
  • Who have we shared our faith with lately?


  • We should seek to obey the Lord as soon as we know what He wants us to do.
  • Even as we give the Lord quick obedience, we must be patient for the Lord to open the doors that we need to walk through.
  • We must trust God to open our hearts and the hearts of others to understand God's calling on our lives.
  • We must do whatever is needed to share our faith with a broken and hurting culture.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Reaching Postmodern Rural Communities - Part 7 – Seven Ways Rural Churches Can Reach Postmodern People Philosophically

In my previous posts I have explained how rural communities have been changed by postmodern ideas and people which have moved into rural areas. I have already addressed how churches can make minor modifications to their actions to regain their position as the social, ceremonial and physical center of the community in the eyes of postmodern people. In my last post I began the discussion of the more complicated issue of how rural churches can bridge the philosophical gap between themselves and their postmodern neighbors. In this post I want to list seven specific things churches can do to begin to address this philosophical divide. This is a complicated issue and it is unlikely to be "solved" by a simple blog post, but it is my hope that this post can help churches begin to think more specifically about this issue instead of feeling overwhelmed by the rapid change going on around them.

In order to bridge the philosophical gap, rural churches should consider these concepts:

  • Practice the faith outside the church that is preached inside the church through being involved in community organizations and activities that address real community needs.

Postmodern people often lament that while the church talks about serving their community, such service to the community is actually rarely seen outside the four walls of the church. In order to reach postmodern people, churches should consider if their actions match their words. Daybreak Community Church of Colchester, Vermont, has reached many postmodern people by sponsoring community activities that met real needs the church members saw around them. For the past six years they have helped facilitate the annual Relay for Life event in their community. This event helps raise funds and spread awareness of breast cancer. The church receives no direct benefit from sponsoring this event other than the goodwill of the community. Daybreak has also helped with an annual summer marathon. Their duties in the marathon include picking up all the rubbish left behind by the onlookers. This may not sound like a spiritual investment in the community, but as the community has seen the values of the church lived out in real life, they have responded well and many previously unchurched people now worship regularly at Daybreak.
  • Show Christian love through compassion ministries.
Closely aligned with a sense of serving the community is the idea of meeting the needs of the less fortunate. Even rural communities have people who are hungry, homeless and hurting. The church should be leading the way in meeting the needs of these types of people through their various compassion ministries. Barre Baptist Fellowship, Barre, Vermont, sits on a side street of a small town in a traditionally rural region of the nation. Ten years ago they started a soup kitchen to meet the needs of the homeless people who they saw hanging out on the corner down the street from the church. Since then their ministry to the homeless has grown to include serving nearly 5000 hot meals each year. The church also provides blankets, socks and coats to the homeless during the winter months. Members of the church often help people find jobs and sit with them through court hearings and legal proceedings. The congregation is now made up almost entirely of people who were reached through one of these compassion ministries.
  • Help church members recover personal evangelism by sharing their own difficulties in life and how their faith gave them hope.
Postmodern people are often under the false impression that to be a Christian means living a perfect life. When postmodern people discover that Christians have struggles too and that faith helps Christians overcome those struggles, there are interested in learning more. Faith Community Church of Barre, Vermont, has excelled in reaching troubled teenagers. I currently serve as an elder at this congregation and have been deeply involved in this ministry to teenagers. One of the methods Faith Community Church has used is to help teenagers who have become Christians learn how to share the stories of their own struggles in life. During their youth worship services the church utilizes interviews with teens that grew up in difficult situations but found hope through Christ. Many of those interviews have been put on the local television station or posted on YouTube. Some have been recorded on DVDs and distributed to other teens. As postmodern people have seen the power of the Christian faith to change those teenagers' lives, they have become more interested in having that kind of faith for themselves.
  • Offer bold preaching that is relevant to daily life instead of a diluted or contrived message.
The tendency of some mainline Protestant churches to water down the Gospel message has not been successful in bringing postmodern people into the Christian faith. The tendency of some conservative Protestant churches to attempt to force the message on postmodern people has not worked either. What is working is the combination of bold preaching with relevant applications to daily life. Christ Memorial Church in Williston, Vermont, has become well known for its bold but relevant preaching. Their sermons, often lasting 45 minutes, speak to relevant issues in the lives of postmodern people but hold firmly to biblical teaching. As a result, Christ Memorial has excelled in recapturing people who grew up in church but dropped out because they just didn't see any connection between the sermon and real life. Many people in the congregation previously had a connection with various mainline Protestant churches and sensed that the lukewarm sermons were not helpful. Typically they strayed away from church for many years until discovering the bold and relevant teaching at Christ Memorial.

  • Work hard at letting everyone know they are welcome to attend any church services or activities regardless of their religious affiliation or lack thereof.
A church must help everyone in the community know they are welcome to attend church services and activities even if those people are not yet sure if they even believe in God. While churches will obviously need to limit who may officially join the church to those who agree with the church's doctrine and religious practices, making the services open for anyone to attend is important. Churches often unintentionally portray their membership requirements as attendance requirements. Churches should make it clear both in printed material, on websites, and in sermons that anyone is welcome to attend worship services or take part in church activities regardless of their religious affiliation or lack thereof. When members of Daybreak Community Church volunteer at the Relay for Life or at the city marathon, they intentionally invite non-Christians to participate with them. The church also makes it clear that any Christian who wants to connect with one of their service projects is welcome regardless of their denominational affiliation or lack thereof. When Daybreak Community Church started, they made a crucial decision not to put their denominational affiliation in their name even though they are strongly connected to a major American denomination. That decision was based solely on their desire to make sure everyone in the community felt welcome, regardless of what religious label those individuals may use to describe themselves. Faith Community Church also left out the name of their denomination for the same reason, even though the state office for their denomination is located in their church building. As a result, both churches have a variety of people from a variety of religious backgrounds attending their services.
  • Work hard at expressing love to those who are bound up in sin while patiently showing a biblical way out of the pain their sin causes them.
Postmodern people decide what truth is based on their experiences and relationships instead of objective truth. This approach to life often leads them to become involved in unhealthy activities and poor lifestyle choices which lead to significant amounts of personal pain. The church understands those unhealthy activities and poor lifestyle choices to be sin against a holy God. It is easy for biblically minded Christians to forget to express the love of God while exposing sin for what it is. But churches that can find that right balance between expressing love while also pointing out how sin hurts will be able to resonate with postmodern people. Christ Memorial Church has discovered that balance. At a worship service I attended a few months ago, the sermon touched on the dangers of excessive alcohol use while at the same time acknowledging how hard it is to overcome an addiction to alcoholism. The church made the scriptural truth clear, but also offered love and hope to those present who were trapped in the pain of that sin.
  • Embrace technology and innovation without losing the sacred aspect of church.
Many postmodern people had a connection of some kind to a traditional church while they were growing up. Though they may have wandered from that connection and question the historical teachings of the church, they still have a memory of the sacred. These same postmodern people now live in a very technological world and have come to expect technology to play a significant role in their lives. Churches that can learn how to combine those two elements will find ministry to postmodern people to be productive. Faith Community Church uses a high degree of technology in their services. All the songs are projected on the wall, as are the scriptures and notes from the sermon. It is not unusual for them to incorporate a video into the worship service. Despite all their use of technology, Faith Community Church also lights candles during their services, quotes the Lord's Prayer at almost every service, encourages people to use kneeling benches in both private and corporate prayer and celebrates communion together much more frequently than many churches in their denomination. Combining these modern technological and ancient sacred elements has allowed Faith Community Church to connect to a large number of people who had a religious background as a child but have not been very connected to religion as postmodern adults.

Rural churches are finding that their communities are rapidly changing due to an influx of urbanites and the progressive postmodern ideas that increased use of technology has brought to their communities. In order to reach the postmodern people who now live in their communities, rural churches will need to make changes in their thinking and practices. Some of those changes will be relatively easy and will cause little discomfort to the current members. Other changes will be more significant and will bring a higher level of tension to the situation. But if rural churches are to continue to fulfill the vision of reaching their community with the gospel, then such changes cannot be avoided.

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

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Reaching Postmodern Rural Communities - Part 6 - The Rural Church as the Philosophical Center of the Community

In my previous posts I explained how rural communities have been changed by postmodern ideas and people which have moved into rural areas. Rural churches can reach postmodern people by capitalizing on four reliable practices, each of which I deal with in separate blog posts. I already addressed how churches can use technology to promote their own activities to newcomers; how churches can allow outsiders to use their building for various ceremonies; and how the church can more effectively take advantage of their physical location in order to reach people who have moved into their area.

In postmodern society, with fairly easy modifications, many rural churches can remain the social, ceremonial, and physical center of their community. These are the three areas that are relatively easy for a rural church to make adjustments in. Historically, the rural church has also been the philosophical center of rural communities. It is in this area that the rural church will have the greatest struggle. Though the community may have ideologically agreed with the church in previous generations, this is less true today. Increasingly the rural church finds itself out of step with the postmodern worldview of its own community. Rural churches that seek to impact the changing values of their communities will have to do more than just make minor adjustments in the three areas I have already discussed. They are going to have to grapple with the hard philosophical questions of what is actually Biblical and what is just tradition. Churches are going to have to let go of some of their traditions while maintaining fidelity to core Biblical values.

Mainline Protestant churches often chose to respond to the changing culture by essentially adopting the community's growing postmodern values as their own. Thus those churches became more liberal in how they viewed Christian principles and values. Perhaps surprisingly to those congregations, this has seldom drawn the community in and many mainline Protestant churches are still in steep decline. While there may be a variety of reasons for this continued decline, the primary one is that they changed their values but kept their traditions. Perhaps the values themselves were not as much of a problem as the traditions that no longer spoke to society in a relevant way. Many mainline Protestant churches chose to jettison the wrong thing and it has not helped them reach more postmodern people for Christ.

Many conservative Protestant churches have responded to the changing culture with a fortress mentality. These churches are determined to continue to hold to their traditions by keeping the world out. Such churches encase themselves in a spiritual bubble that is rapidly shrinking. Just like their mainline Protestant cousins, these conservative churches refuse to consider any significant change in methodology or practice, even when those methods and practices fail to communicate the Gospel. A number of recent surveys have shown young people are leaving the church at an alarming rate. Researchers vary in the exact numbers, but most agree that between 61% and 88% of young people leave the church after high school and that only 35% return, usually around age 30. Somehow churches are failing to communicate Biblical truth to these young people in an effective way. Rural churches are going to have to learn how to communicate more effectively in order to reach postmodern people for Christ.

Communication is only one issue. How the church is perceived by the postmodern community is also a problem. Often, those who hide inside the fortress assume they are more spiritual than the rest of the community. The community seldom agrees with that assumption and increasingly views the church as self-righteous and irrelevant. If rural churches want to impact their postmodern community, they are going to have to learn to venture out of the fortress and engage people in the community once again. If rural churches fail to engage their community, many of them will not exist in twenty years. Though the decline in conservative Protestant churches is slower than what is being experienced by mainline Protestant churches, the decline is beginning to take its toll. As such congregations age, the decline will begin to accelerate. Rural churches should take action now instead of waiting until they reach the point of no return.

Clearly the fortress mentality adopted by some conservative Protestant churches is not working any better than the mainline Protestant efforts to grow by liberalizing its values. So how can the rural church bridge the philosophical gap between themselves and postmodern people who have moved to their community? I will address this issue with seven specific ideas in my next post.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Reaching Postmodern Rural Communities - Part Five - The Rural Church as the Physical Center of the Community

In my previous posts I explained how technology has changed rural communities by bringing postmodern ideas and people into rural areas. These postmodern ideas are a new challenge for the rural church to grapple with. Rural churches can reach postmodern people by capitalizing on four reliable practices, each of which I deal with in separate blog posts. I have already addressed how churches can use technology to promote their regular activities to newcomers to the area and how churches can allow outsiders to use their building for various ceremonies so long as they do not violate the church's theology. In this post I will address how the church can take advantage of their physical location in order to reach people who have moved into their area.

Many rural churches have a choice and advantageous physical location, such as at the center of the community or at a major crossroads. These rural churches will have a distinct advantage over other rural churches do not enjoy such a great location. Those churches that are not in a choice location often were built at a time in which there were a small number of large families living in that particular area. The location was chosen more for convenience of those particular families than for the community as a whole. As the size of the American family has gone down, churches in less advantageous locations may find there is not much of a community left from which to draw. Such churches may have to consider relocating to a better location or merging with another congregation that is already in a more advantageous location. That is an emotional decision to make, but rural churches in such difficult locations must ask themselves if the church is for their own enjoyment or for the expansion of the Kingdom. If it is about expansion of the Kingdom, then sacrifice may be required in order to follow God's plan for reaching a community for Christ.

Those churches that do find themselves in a choice and advantageous physical location should use that location as an advantage. The building should look good from the road. Keep the grass mowed and plant some flowers around the front door. Make sure the paint is not peeling off and that it looks like someone actually cares about the building. If the church facility looks unkempt, then sophisticated postmodern people will drive right by.

The church sign should be easy to read and have the main service times prominently displayed. There is a small church in the town in which I live which is on a main road and has a very nice size piece of property. Without question, it is in a prime location. But the small painted sign is faded and hard to read. It does not list the time for the worship service, only the name of the church and the denomination to which the church belongs. I have lived in this area for over 16 years and their sign has always looked like that. I often wonder how they expect newcomers to show up if they do not even know what time the worship service takes place. Knowing what time the main services are scheduled is much more important to postmodern people than denominational affiliation. Postmodern people seldom care what the denominational affiliation of the church is. This does not mean that a church should give up or hide such an affiliation, it simply means that having the denominational name in huge letters on the sign will not draw as many postmodern people as the time of the worship service will. Likewise most postmodern people will not be moved by descriptive phrases about the church that are on the sign. Even the pastor's name in large letters on the sign is unlikely to attract people as much as the time of the upcoming church dinner or the youth rally or a special concert. Churches might consider buying a banner to hang from their sign to promote special events. Using a sign well and having a building that looks good from the road will catch the attention of those who have moved to a rural area and are looking for a place to connect with others.

Churches that fail to capitalize on their location will struggle to attract new people. Churches that learn to use their location to their advantage will find it easier to reach newcomers to the community. A good location is not a guarantee of success in reaching new people moving into rural areas, but if used well, it can be a huge help.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Reaching Postmodern Rural Communities - Part Four - The Rural Church as the Ceremonial Center of the Community

In my previous posts I explained how technology has changed rural communities by bringing postmodern ideas and people into rural areas. These postmodern ideas are a new challenge for the rural church to grapple with. Postmodern people are interested in spirituality, they often do not think of the local church as the exclusive source of such spirituality. Rural churches can reach postmodern people by capitalizing on four reliable practices, each of which I will deal with in separate blog posts. I have already addressed how churches can use technology to promote their activities to newcomers to the area. In this post I want to discuss how churches can become what I call the ceremonial center of the rural community.

In the past, a rural church building was often the ceremonial center of a rural community. Weddings, funerals, baccalaureate programs and Christmas Eve services have always been hosted in the rural church for the entire community, not just for the members of the church. In my first post I discussed how the church can attract new people to come to various events that members of the church were holding. Though this post may sound like a similar concept, the difference is that not all the events I will discuss in this post will be for members of the church. This post deals with allowing non-members to use the church for various events or ceremonies that are of importance to them.

The use of the church building by outsiders for various ceremonial purposes is important because postmodern people want to "belong" before they "believe." This does not mean postmodern people want to join the church organizationally, it means they want to feel part of the group relationally. Henry Zonio, who is on staff at Redwood Park Church in Thunder Bay, Ontario, explains it this way, "We turn church into a club with membership requirements, which if not met means exclusion from the benefits of being part of the club." Zonio goes on to say, "It is our job as citizens of the Kingdom to welcome people from all walks of life and at all points of their spiritual journeys into our communities. Doing that, though, takes risk. It takes willingness to struggle through the mess. It takes an unconditional love for people that goes beyond our preconceived ideas of what it means to be a part of a faith community." Rural churches are going to have to deal with such questions as: Can non-members use the church for a funeral, or a wedding, or a 50th anniversary party? Can non-members host an AA group in the building or a scouting troop? Rural churches will have to decide how much they love postmodern people in order to determine how much they are willing to let them "belong" before they believe.

In addition to allowing non-members to use the building for their own events, rural churches will also have to grapple with the question of how much they will allow postmodern people who are not members of the church take part in some of the ceremonies the church. Would the church allow a family to take part in the annual child dedication service on Mother's Day if the family is not a member of the church? If an individual became a Christian and wanted to be baptized at the Easter baptism service but did not want to actually join the church due to family pressure, would that be acceptable? Many of these questions have never been considered by the rural church before. But postmodern people are asking these questions and are expecting a response from the church.

Churches obviously need to think about the theological implications of allowing those who may not yet be Christians participate in various ceremonies, but should also keep in mind that many postmodern people will not chose to become Christians until they feel they are a part of the group. Finding that balance between theological integrity and intentional outreach can be a challenge, but it is a challenge worth engaging in. For example, the state that I live in allows homosexual marriage. Such a union goes against the deeply held theological understanding of our church. Therefore we do not allow such unions to take place in our church. Though it is possible that we might reach more postmodern people if we allowed our building to be used for such ceremonies, it would violate our beliefs to do so. So while we allow many things that we might not have allowed in the past, we have drawn a line regarding issues that go against our theology. These are the types of issues that rural churches will have to decide, and different churches may come up with different answers. But clearly, the more that postmodern people can be included BEFORE they believe, the more likely they will choose to become Christians and find their way into the church.

It is also important to note that postmodern people are not interested in taking part in empty rituals. The ceremonies they are allowed to take part in must have real meaning and purpose. Postmodern people are looking for meaningful relationships and they believe they can find those relationships by taking part in the various ceremonial functions of the church. If rural churches want to reach postmodern people, they will need to spend time praying, discussing and considering how many ceremonies they allow the community to take part in.

Will allowing people outside the church to use the building or take part in the ceremonies of the church automatically fill the building with new people? No, of course not, but it is one step that rural churches can take to reach out to postmodern people who now live in their communities.