Carey Niewhopf on Mediocre Churches

Today I give you this piece from Carey Niewhopf entitled “7 Signs Your Church Is Honestly Mediocre“.  This is representative of where a goodly portion of the leadership in evangelicalism is these days.  This quote encapsulates the gist of Niewhopf’s article:

When your church is mediocre, it should be no surprise unchurched people aren’t lining up to join you and that you’re not attracting and keeping the amazing leaders who might attend your church but don’t want to get involved because things are so sub-par.

…So, how do you know your church is mediocre? Here are 7 signs to look for.

1. You have non-singers singing and bad players playing
2. Bad Production
3. School Play Quality Live Streams
4. A Lame Website
5. Your Info Isn’t Current
6. You’re Resigned to This
7. You’re Afraid to Change

As Niewhopf develops each of these subpoints, it is clear that he is not calling for churches to go all big-budget and try desperately to live the sprawling suburban megachurch dream.  Instead he is basically asking churches to just take a look at things through the eyes of outsiders and make some simple changes if necessary.  For instance, he isn’t asking churches to go out and hire professional-grade musical talent, he is asking them to choose musicians who can actually carry a tune.

I get that.  There are lots of churches out there that genuinely struggle with the issues Niewhopf enumerates.  Many are powerless to do a thing about it without a lengthy business meeting featuring more violent deaths than a Game of Thrones episode.  Many of you have probably been in such churches at some point.  If I had been in such a church, I would be more sympathetic to Niewhopf’s point of view.


We live in an age in which 81 percent of American evangelicals are enthusiastically and unashamedly enamoured of a president whose message is the exact opposite of anything even remotely connected to Jesus Christ.  The black evangelical universe is reeling from scandals involving T. D. Jakes, Eddie Long, and other prominent leaders in that world.  The Catholic Church has a grease fire on its hands right now because of a basic failure to protect its youngest and most vulnerable members.  Willow Creek, one of the largest and most influential churches in all of American evangelicalism, also has a grease fire on its hands because its leadership has taken a deny-everything-blame-the-victims-they’re-all-liars approach to handling allegations of sexual misconduct against its pastor Bill Hybels.  The SBC just escorted Paige Patterson, one of its longest-tenured and most influential leaders, out of the building because a pattern of wrongheaded counsel to women in troubled marriages and failure to report domestic abuse made him too toxic to keep around.  And over here we have John MacArthur waxing hypocritically about how social justice is the greatest threat to the Gospel while leaders from his Master’s University basically re-rape a rape victim and then respond with obfuscations and outright denials when she goes public with her story.  And let’s not forget the completely and utterly contemptible act of caging immigrant children separate from their parents, with which 81 percent of American evangelicals seem perfectly okey-dokey.

And Carey Niewhopf says the real problem facing American churches is…wait for it…mediocrity.


Sorry people.  I just had to get that out of my system.

Fr. Stephen Freeman: Consent to Reality

Today I give you a post from Fr. Stephen Freeman.  Freeman is one of the most influential Orthodox bloggers, and he blogs at Glory to God for All Things.

This post is entitled “Consent to Reality“.  The big idea is that our modern cultural landscape is marked not so much by one set of ideas that has given way to another, but rather by a once-widely shared consensus on some basic points giving way to a bewildering variety of competing and contradicting claims on those basic points.  We disagree–not just about conclusions but about facts, how the facts are to be considered, what constitutes a fact, what constitutes considering, etc.  We do not want to disagree, so we seek out affinity groups of people who share our way of looking at things.  But these are not people who are free from inner contradiction; these are just people who share the same inner contradictions as us.  This state of affairs is not normal; it is a strictly modern phenomenon.

But as Christians, we are part of a story that we did not choose or make up.  Instead we are witnesses to things as they really are.  Our story–that we were made out of nothing, that we are sustained in our existence by God himself, that Jesus Christ is God-made-man, that he was crucified for our sake and rose from the dead–is not something we have chosen, instead it is something we have received.  We could not have made any of this up even if we wanted to.

This is the antidote to our crazy contradictory modern existence:  to receive the Christian story and adopt it as our own, and to live in consensus with all who share the Christian story.  This restores us to sanity and reconnects us to God who is ultimately the ground of reality.

Haters Gonna Hate: John MacArthur on Social “Injustice”

Everybody’s favorite charismatic–and all-purpose–hater is at it again.  This time, it is the so-called social justice movement in evangelicalism that has found itself in John MacArthur’s crosshairs.

ICYMI:  John MacArthur dropped this little diatribe last week.  After a lengthy intro about his involvement in ministry during the civil rights era (who knew?), he comes to his point:

Evangelicalism’s newfound obsession with the notion of “social justice” is a significant shift—and I’m convinced it’s a shift that is moving many people (including some key evangelical leaders) off message, and onto a trajectory that many other movements and denominations have taken before, always with spiritually disastrous results.

Over the years, I’ve fought a number of polemical battles against ideas that threaten the gospel. This recent (and surprisingly sudden) detour in quest of “social justice” is, I believe, the most subtle and dangerous threat so far.

In MacArthur’s way of looking at things, social justice is the exclusive province of the godless liberal mainlines who are now withering on the vine.  Evangelicals are now inexplicably looking on with envy and adopting a fascination with this notion of social justice–as he puts it, the idea that one ethnic group must make reparation for the sins of its ancestors against some other ethnic group.  This smacks of law and must be resisted by all who are true to the Gospel, unless we as evangelicals wish to suffer the same awful end as the godless liberal mainlines who are all about social justice.

Reality check:  Evangelicalism has always been about social justice.  The Gospel has clear and inescapable implications for how you treat other people; thus evangelicalism has been at the forefront of the abolitionist movement, women’s rights movements, and other such movements in history both here in America and abroad.  To say that social justice is a “newfound obsession” requires a profound level of historical ignorance.

It also indicates that MacArthur’s understanding of the Gospel is way too small.  Of course it is legitimate to criticize culture war Christianity, and I will continue to do so vociferously.  That is because culture warriors, especially those on the right, adopt means that are contrary to anything even remotely connected to Jesus in order to accomplish ends that are supposedly connected to Jesus.  But that is not MacArthur’s beef.  MacArthur’s beef is with the very concept of social justice itself, which indicates that his understanding of the Gospel is blind to its implications on how we are to treat other people.  Jesus came to change the world, not just to assuage the guilt of individual consciences.

A New Direction for the SBC? Nope

ICYMI:  The SBC has a new president.  Just a few weeks ago J. D. Greear was elected to the office, the youngest person to hold it in decades.  His election signaled a possible shift in direction for the SBC, as his support came largely from younger voters disenchanted with their denomination’s unabashed attachment to Republican politics and Donald Trump and anxious for a new direction.

But far away from the halls of power in the SBC, it is a completely and totally different world.  This piece by Stephanie McCrummen at the Washington Post looks at a smalltown church in southern Alabama.  What happens when the pastor–who is an unabashed Donald Trump supporter even after Golden Showers, Stormy Daniels, Charlottesville, “shithole countries”, “grab ’em by the &#(!!”, and all the rest–decides to preach a sermon series on the Ten Commandments?  What happens when he gets to #6 (“Thou shall not commit adultery”)?  Knowing that his man Donald Trump is a serial adulterer and he is going to have to speak to that in some form or fashion, what does he say?  Well you’ll have to read the story to find out but yeah, it goes down about like you would expect.

Pete Enns: The Path of Wisdom

Today I direct your attention to a post by Pete Enns entitled “The Path of Wisdom:  The Bible Actually Invites Us on a Quest“.  Enns takes issue with the traditional evangelical view of the Bible as owner’s manual, field guide, etc. and that the aim of faith is to achieve certainty, which the Bible provides.  In his view, the Bible exists not to provide answers but to cultivate wisdom, a thing which is learned over a lifetime of wandering along the unscripted journey of Christian faith.

Read:  The Path of Wisdom:  The Bible Actually Invites Us on a Quest by Pete Enns