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Barna Study: Even Christians Are Leaving Our Churches


Why Christians are Leaving ChurchThe church may want to stop focusing on those elusive and extremely sensitive “seekers” for a while, because now, even believers are starting to leave the church.

We were warned back in 2005 that this was coming, but few paid attention to it then.  Many scoffed and pretended it could never happen.  But it is happening. That is what a recent poll by the Barna Group has uncovered, and the implications of it are alarming.

In this article, I want to share some of Barna’s findings with you.  I warn you:  Brace yourself!

I invite you to join the discussion in the comment section, as well as answer the polling questions (there are two polls at the bottom of the post) so we can get a better idea of what is going on from your perspective.   In the next post we will offer our analysis about why it is happening.

“What, if anything, helps Americans grow in their faith?”

When the Barna Group asked this question, people offered a variety of answers:

  • Prayer
  • Family or friends
  • Reading the Bible,
  • Even having children

But CHURCH did not even crack the top 10 list.

That is staggering in its implication.  Christians of all Read the rest of this entry

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The Top 10 Posts of 2014


 

Not for itching ears top 10 2014That’s right, my friends.  The following post contains our own version of the Top 10 list:  The top 10 posts written at Not For Itching Ears this year.  We want to thank all of you for taking time to visit our site, read the articles, like them and comment on them.  It means a lot to us and it makes blogging fun!

We work hard on all our posts and are glad when they get attention. Starting it off, we have  Questioning Our Protestant Tradition of Sola Scriptura.  We wrote it in December and it is this year’s winner in two categories.  The most read and the most commented on.   In fact, it received more comments than any post ever.  All time!  Surprisingly, the debate was friendly.

We didn’t expect the About Jim  page to get a lot of activity and boy were we wrong!  Who knew? It is the 10th entry this year.  There are some thought provoking articles in between those two.  You may or may not agree with our conclusions, and that is perfectly fine.  We want Not For Itching Ears to be a place to discuss the issues without the name calling that is sadly typical in the blogosphere.  We might not agree on anything, but it is enriching to discuss the issues, get clarity on other peoples positions and agree to disagree if need be.

So without further commentary, here are our Top 10 Posts of 2014!

Our Top 10 Post of 2014

Questioning Our Protestant Tradition of Sola Scriptura

Worship: Why Your Church Is Failing And What You Can Do About It

Is the Casual Approach to Church Producing Casual Christians?

Why God Might Not Be Concerned About Our Doctrinal Differences

Idol Worship: How Your Church May Be Doing It and How To Fix It

It’s Official: People Don’t Want to Sing So Much on Sundays

God Doesn’t Need Our Worship….We Need It!

How To Get More Men into Your Church Service…the Easy Way

An Open Letter to the Worship Leaders in the Evangelical Church

About Jim  

Is the Casual Approach to Church Producing Casual Christians?


it's worseIt is worse than it looks!

It doesn’t  matter which study you read about the church, because they all say pretty much the same thing:  The church is in decline.

The church is in trouble.  I don’t need to read a study to know this.  I have observed it over the years in countless churches that I have visited.  Churches are weak and though they may have exciting services, they are largely failing to develop strong, grounded and mature Christians.  The church at large (there are exceptions, of course) is also failing to impact the lost around her.

The statistics on this are over-whelming and should stop every pastor and leader dead in their tracks so that we immediately fall on our knees to cry out to the Lord “What are we doing wrong?”  Sooner or later that will have to happen.  Let’s pray it is the former!

Is This Decline the Result of a Flawed Church Model?

I have a theory.  It goes something like this:  The decline we are seeing in the church is directly related to Read the rest of this entry

The Whole World Stops For 4 Weeks Tomorrow. So Must We


world-cup-2014Every four years, the world effectively shuts down for the greatest sports event on the planet.

What is that event?  Most Americans can’t answer that question so we share the answer here:

The World Cup!

That time is upon us, it starts on Thursday.

Not many people know this, but over here at Not For Itching Ears, we are hard core futbol, or soccer fans. We watch every single game. No matter what time the game is on, we watch it.   What’s not to like about it?  204 teams compete over a three year period to win an invitation to the World Cup, which happens every 4 years.  The host country team gets  in free.    So there is some great competition.

To make room in our schedule, Not For Itching Ears will be on vacation until the World Cup ends.  We have priorities, so we will also be foregoing all yard work.  All items on the “Honey Do” List have been temporarily removed.   We were supposed to be in Brasil for the games, but alas, we are not!

Soccer is God’s greatest gift for world evangelism.  It is an instant conversation starter.  Just ask ANY non-American, male or female, who they are rooting for or what they think or their countries chances and you’ll have a 5 – 10 minute conversation about soccer.  After that, the rest is up to you.

Our staff is rooting for in this order:

1. The USA and Ecuador (it’s a tie actually) Neither will win, but Ecuador has the best chance of advancing out of their group.  Sadly, the USA is in the “Group of Death”

2. Any South American Country

The teams we most want to lose: Ghana, (sorry friends, you have beaten us one to many times) and Mexico. You can’t throw beer bottles at the USA team on their home field in the USA and expect us NOT to despise your team (we love you though!)

Take my advice: Stop blogging for a month and enjoy the World Cup. See you Mid-July!  If you don’t know much about it check out this article on the Ten things Non-Soccer Fans Need To Know About the World Cup. 

Everything I Know About The Lord I Learned In Church?


study the word“Your challenge is NOT that people won’t believe what you teach.

Your challenge is that most people are going to believe EVERYTHING you teach.  When you stand in the pulpit and teach God’s word, you better make sure you know what you are talking about!”

I have never forgotten how my Greek professor started that Intro to Greek class.  He laid out a challenge to the entire class that has shaped me all these years.   When I was preaching every week, it guided my preparation time.    It is why I spent 30-40 hours every week as a pastor studying the texts I was teaching on.  I took it THAT seriously.

A lot of us out here in the blogosphere know how to study the scriptures for ourselves. We read books and articles all the time that help shape our faith and practice.  Still, vast majorities of people rely on the church corporately and pastors specifically to teach them the faith.  How are we doing?

According to a report by George Barna, the church is failing miserably in this area.  “Believers” know less and less about God and understand the Bible less and less.  Yet it is the Church’s job to make disciples and to “Teach them to Obey everything I (Jesus) commanded you.”

Why is this happening?  If you read this blog, you know that I don’t lack an opinion on this!

Could one of those reasons be the failure of our younger pastors to grasp the significance of their preaching task?  I have been to over 30  40 different churches in the last 8 years.  One of the things I have noticed is the casual manner that a majority of pastors have towards their preaching.  I can tell when someone has prepared.  It is obvious to a wordsmith when a fellow wordsmith has put in the study and preparation time.  It is just as obvious when they are winging it.

From what I have seen, many pastors are winging it!

The reasons for this can be summed up into to broad categories:   Time Management and Skill/training

Pastoring has never been an easy job.  Preaching week after week is not for the faint of heart.  The demands of today’s ministry on a pastor’s time only make it harder to be faithful in your study.  I am no longer pastoring, and I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to get quiet alone time to study in today’s world.

For many pastors, there just isn’t enough time to adequately study AND keep up with the ever increasing demands of today’s ministry.  The only solution I know for this is to let other things go.  Pastor, if you find that you don’t have time week after week to study the word and show yourself approved, you need cut other less valuable things out of your schedule.  You know what those things are.

The other issue that may be causing this “Wing It!” mentality is a lack of skill in studying the Bible.  Judging by what I’ve seen, our seminaries may no longer teach Hermeneutics.  I doubt they are teaching Homiletics.   If you don’t know how to study a text or passage, and you are a preacher, you need to stop reading this and go learn how to do it!

When you stand in that pulpit to teach God’s word, we are listening!  We are ready to believe what you teach.  Many of us will believe what you teach even when you are off base and wrong, due to a lack of serious thought on the text.  For our sake, and for His sake, take some extra time and prepare the way you should.

If your pastor is already doing this, rejoice!  Send him a note and thank him!  Encourage him to keep doing it!  Find out when he studies and never call or email or text him during those times, unless it is a real emergency.   Teach others in the congregation to do the same.  Help guard your pastors study time, and you, he and the entire congregation will be the better for it!

Idol Worship: How Your Church May Be Doing It and How To Fix It


American Idolatry_revised“If it feels good, do it!”

This has been one of our favorite slogans since the 1960’s.  It seems that the American church has adopted a similar pragmatic view for church: “If it makes people come to church, we should do it.” Today, church leaders of every persuasion are willing to try anything if it works in drawing more people into their services.  If it “works” then it must be fine and stamped with the  approval of God Himself.

I can hear you now saying “Of course this is true!  Why on earth wouldn’t it be?”

Because it wasn’t!

One of the things that is clear for any to examine is that… Read the rest of this entry

How To Get More Men into Your Church Service…the Easy Way


bethechurch“Whatever Works!” 

That is the take many younger pastors have on Paul’s “I have become all things to all men…” mission strategy.   Now, we take it to the next level.

It is always a challenge to get men to attend church.  They just don’t want to come.  They see it as a complete waste of their precious time.  Yet, somehow we must reach them. I absolutely believe THAT!  But how to do it?  Perhaps a little creativity is in order.  So, if you don’t mind thinking waaaaay outside the box, or care about church history or any parameters the Scriptures might lay out, try these pragmatic suggestions.  Several studies suggest that this new approach will pack the house. Read the rest of this entry

Is God Really Calling You To Plant a Church?


cross-with-roots3-e1288037811724“Do we really need another one?” I asked with an annoying tone. I must have been bothered by it, because I asked my passenger Dakota her thoughts on the subject. Dakota is my Golden Retriever, and from what I could tell she was all for it, as long as they gave away tennis balls to all visitors.

In my town, it would seem there is a new church starting every couple of weeks. I understand the idea behind planting a new church. It is suppose to be the most effective form of evangelism known to mankind. At least that is what I was told in seminary, and it would seem our young leaders are being indoctrinated with the same idea.  But is it true?

I think the greatest form of evangelism is one on one. More people are still introduced to God and Jesus Christ via interaction with people outside the congregational walls. Period.

Church planting certainly has its place.   Is it possible to over plant the church? Can there be too many churches in a city? If you are considering planting a church where the church already exists in abundance, it would be wise of you to thoughtfully and unselfishly pondered that question.   I think the answer is a resounding YES!  Take a look at Colorado Springs, CO.  Do you think it needs one more evangelical congregation?  The red dots are churches.

Churches in Colorado Springs

Over church planting in a city can cause a stumbling block for evangelism.  So many different churches can lead non-christians to believe that even Christians can’t figure this stuff  about ultimate issues out.    I can imagine the questions that arise in the mind of the non-Christians: “Why are there so many churches if the claims of Christianity are true?  Isn’t the fact that there are so many different churches PROOF that Christianity is false? Why are they starting another one?  Why do they all believe different things?  If they can’t agree on what the truth is, maybe they are all just a bunch of misguided, well-meaning people who I should not take seriously.”

We won’t even talk about how one more church plant will dilute the scarce resources of leaders, servants, and dinero.

I applaud you for wanting to step out in faith and make a real difference in people’s lives.  Still, I want to issue a challenge to if you are thinking about planting a church.   If God is calling you to a particular area that is church saturated, perhaps it is NOT to plant your own church.  Perhaps you are being called  to come alongside someone else. Here’s an idea:  If God has called you to come to a city where there are hundreds of churches, why not find a job like Paul did and the rest of us do.  Why not volunteer to help another local church like the rest of us?  Why start something new?

Be honest with yourself, isn’t what you are thinking about starting exactly the same thing as the last 35 guys who came here to start something?  Does God really need 36 congregations that are essentially the same thing?   Perhaps it would honor God more and make a bigger impact on the community if you went and helpedp the last guy God sent here.  They don’t have enough money to pay you, but they need your help.  Just a thought.

Want to be challenged more or get more upset?  Read our post “Would The Apostle Paul Plant a Seeker-Sensitive Purpose Driven Church?

Check out the result of 4 different polls and the challenging conclusions arrived at in our post It’s Official: People Don’t Want To Sing So Much On Sundays.

Why Christians Should Let Non-Christians Off The Moral Hook


I'm Right and You're WrongI feel like I need to get something off my chest.   It bothers me that Christians continually express shock, disapproval and judgment at the way non-Christians live.

You’ve seen it, and maybe even done it:

Doesn’t anyone believe in marriage anymore?

I can’t get over how many people today smoke weed.

Can you believe they just sleep in instead of coming to church?

Did you hear they moved in together? That’s so bad!

What’s wrong with our government? Why don’t they uphold biblical values?

Whenever I hear that, I  feel like saying “Do you seriously expect non-Christians to behave like Christians?”

This article was not written by us over here at NotForItchingEars.com.  I found it over at www.Careynieuwhof.com.  You can read the article on Carey’s site here:  http://careynieuwhof.com/2013/02/why-christians-should-let-non-christians-off-the-moral-hook/  I think he makes some great points in this article, and I thought it was worth reposting.  So here it is:

Think it through.

Most people in the West no longer consider themselves Christian.

Or even if they use the term “Christian” to describe themselves, few believe in the authority of scripture or profess a personal faith in Jesus Christ.

So why would we expect them to behave like Christians? Why would we expect people who don’t profess to be Christians to:

Wait until marriage to have sex?

Clean up their language?

Be celibate when they’re attracted to people of the same sex?

Pass laws like the entire nation was Christian?

Seriously? Why?

They’re not pretending to be Christians. Why would they adopt Christian values or morals?

Please don’t get me wrong.

I’m a pastor. I completely believe that the Jesus is not only the Way, but that God’s way is the best way.

When you follow biblical teachings about how to live life, your life simply goes better. It just does. I 100% agree.

I do everything I personally can to align my life with the teachings of scripture, and I’m passionate about helping every follower of Christ do the same.

But what’s the logic behind judging people who don’t follow Jesus for behaving like people who don’t follow Jesus?

Why would you hold the world to the same standard you hold the church?

Before you judge a non-Christian for behaving like a non-Christian, think about this:

1. They act more consistently with their value system than you do. It’s difficult for a non-Christian to be a hypocrite, because they tend to live out what they believe. Chances are they are better at living out their values than you or I are. Jesus never blamed pagans for acting like pagans. But he did speak out against religious people for acting hypocritically.

2. Your disapproval is destroying the relationship (if you have even have a relationship in the first place). Some of the most judgmental Christians have zero non-Christians friends. Is that a surprise, really? I mean, on a human level, how many people have you made time for this week that you know disapprove of who you are and the way you live? Exactly.

3. Judgment is a terrible evangelism strategy. People don’t line up to be judged. If you want to keep being ineffective at reaching unchurched people, keep judging them.

4. Judging outsiders is unChristian. Paul told us to stop judging people outside the church. Jesus said God will judge us by the same standard with which we judge others. Paul also reminds us to drop the uppity-attitude; that none of us were saved by the good we did but by grace.

So what can you do?

1. Stop judging non-Christians. Start loving them. Very few people have been judged into life-change. Many have been loved into it.

2. Empathize with non-Christians. Ask yourself, “If I wasn’t a Christian, what would I be doing?” Chances are you might be doing exactly what the non Christians in your neighbourhood are doing. Understanding that and empathizing with that completely changes how you see people. And they can tell how you see them.

3. Hang out with non-Christians. Jesus did. And caught plenty of disapproval for it. I have a friend who continually drops f-bombs in my presence. As much as it bothers me, I never correct him (he’s not a kid, he’s my peer). But I do pray for him every day and we talk about my faith. I pray I see the day when he’s baptized.

4. Pray for unchurched people. It is impossible to remain enemies with someone you genuinely pray for daily.

5. Live out your faith authentically. Your actions carry weight. Humility is far more attractive than pride. When a non-Christian sees integrity, it’s compelling.

I just have a feeling if we in the church loved the world the way Jesus did, the world might come running to Christ.

And, then, the change we long to see might actually begin to happen.

Visit Carey’s site for more of his take on Church life and Christianity:  http://careynieuwhof.com/

Are You Running from God in The Valley of Transformation?


running from dangerDuring the 1996 Superbowl, Nissan launched its now famous “Life is A Journey, Enjoy the Ride” advertising campaign. In the two-minute spot, a young boy finds himself in an underground garage, where a mysterious man shows him some old cars. As the boy begins to leave, the old man offers him a parting word of sage advice: (You have to say this with a thick Japanese accent for the full effect) “Remember….Life is a journey. Enjoy…..the ride.”

Of course the commercial was designed to sell Nissan’s, so people could “enjoy the ride” in a nice car! It had a different impact on one young pastor who was watching.

I paused to reflect on my life and the journey I was on Read the rest of this entry

Holy Week Prayers: Maudy Thursday


lastsupper“Almighty Father, whose dear Son, on the night before he suffered, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood: Mercifully grant that we may receive it thankfully in remembrance of Jesus Christ our Lord, who in these holy mysteries gives us a pledge of eternal life; and who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”

Christian Bloggers of the World…We Need Your Help!


help wantedI have a hunch, a hypothesis, a gut feeling.  That is, that singing in church is not as important to most of us who attend regularly.  We don’t dislike singing, and are not theologically opposed to it.  However, most of us, I propose,  don’t give it as much weight as our worship leaders or senior leadership do.

That has been what I have observed in congregation after congregation that I have visited in the past 4 years.  These polls are an unscientific way of trying to get a more objective view.   The answers to some of these polls has been rather eye-opening, and seem to confirm my gut feelings.  I will be spending time writing about what I have learned as a result in the not too distant future.

I need more answers to these questions, and so I am putting a link to our polls in this post.  Please feel free to use them in your own blog posts.  The results are available for all to see, and you can use the gathered information for any observations you would like to make.  The more votes we get, the better understanding we will have.

So here are the links:

What Are the Two LEAST Important Elements of Corporate Worship for YOU Personally?   http://poll.fm/45vog

Do You Think We Spend Too Much Time Singing In Church?  http://poll.fm/45rag

What Would You Do If Your Church Eliminated Singing from the Service? http://poll.fm/31app

What is the Most Important Element of Corporate Worship for You Personally? http://poll.fm/2hazg

What one thing would you like to see changed in the American Church?  http://poll.fm/2ga0u

Do We Spend Too Much Time Singing In Church?


The End of the Beginning is Here


It has been a while since my last real post.  Many of you have wondered out loud if I am  A) dead, B) seriously ill, C) in exile or D) just not writing.  The answer is … Read the rest of this entry

Is the Current Church Model Doing More Harm than Good?


The Barna Group just came out with a new research report. In it, they describe six mega-themes relating to the state of the church in America. I want to discuss two of those themes here. I believe they have a cause and effect relationship. I also believe that the Seeker-Sensitive church model is directly responsible for the findings detailed in the Barna Report.

Barna says: “Change usually happens slowly in the Church. But a review of the past year’s research… provides a time-lapse portrayal of how the religious environment in the U.S. is morphing into something new.” Stop for a moment and think about what you just read: Christianity in America is morphing into something new.”

Is the American church morphing into something better and more God honoring? The findings in the Barna Report would argue in the negative. Here’s two of them: Read the rest of this entry

Shouldn’t Christianity Make a Bigger Difference?


“There are two ways,  one of life and one of death, and there is a great difference between these two ways.”

So begins my favorite non-canonical writing from the early church, The Didache, (pronounced Dee-Dah-Kay). If you have never read it, find some time to.  It is well worth it.  You can find The Didache here.

This opening phrase has been occupying my mind of late.  Like an Ipod stuck on repeat,  playing the same song over and over again.  I wake up in the middle of the night to find it still echoing in my mind. The part that grabs me is the ending phrase, “…and there is a great difference between these two ways.”

Is there really?

One could argue that the entire history of God’s people in both the OT and the NT illustrate the truth that there are two basic categories of how to navigate life:  a life with God and a life without Him.  Jesus described this life in Read the rest of this entry

Have You Read the Oldest Christian Sermon Outside of the New Testament? Part 2


I have listened to a lot of sermons in the past 25 years. I have also read many old sermons from the great preachers of the past. I have amassed a huge library of books from great authors, both past and present. Many of these works have impacted my life in big and small ways. But none more than the writings and messages of the early christian church leaders.

In my quest to figure this thing called Christianity out, I have found it helpful to go back and read how the earliest Christ followers understood Christianity. For some reason unknown to me, many of my contemporaries Read the rest of this entry

Have You Read the Oldest Christian Sermon Outside of the New Testament? Part 1


I have listened to a lot of sermons in the past 25 years. I have also read many old sermons from the great preachers of the past. I have amassed a huge library of books from great authors, both past and present. Many of these works have impacted my life in big and small ways. But none more than the writings and messages of the early christian church leaders.

In my quest to figure this thing called Christianity out, I have found it helpful to go back and read how the earliest Christ followers understood Christianity. For some reason unknown to me, many of my contemporaries Read the rest of this entry

Is the “Worship” Centered Church Model Bankrupting Christianity?


Bankrupt. Destitute. Impoverished. Insolvent.  Whichever word you choose, they all carry the same basic idea: They describe the inability to meet one’s obligations.  These  words are used to describe people that have been reduced to a state of financial ruin.  We also use the term to depict an individual or organization that is completely lacking in a particularly desirous quality or attribute.   One might be morally bankrupt or spiritually impoverished.  You get the idea.

While sitting in a church service the other day, I came to a conclusion about the church at large, which has serious ramifications for my life.   It was a long time in coming.   I am not sure why it happened that day, but I can’t ignore that it did.  This conclusion was fueled, in large part, by my own journey through the church world:  I have been a senior pastor, a worship pastor, an associate pastor, a volunteer, and a normal guy in the pew who isn’t doing anything.  Over the last three years I have “worshipped” in close to 30 different congregations with varying denominational or non-denominational affiliations.  I haven’t seen it all, but I think I have seen enough! Read the rest of this entry

How Would You Like to See the American Church Change?