Top 10 Articles of 2017

It’s become a tradition of sorts to look back at the previous year’s ten most read articles. Last year was exciting for Apostolic Voice; I kept my vow to be more prolific (by a slim margin), our readership has expanded, and we launched the Apostolic Voice Podcast.

Since it’s the time of year for setting goals I’ll mention a few of mine regarding AV. I’ve heard your requests and I do plan to review more books this year. I’m currently finishing Whisper by Mark Batterson and the review is coming soon. I’ve also been humbled by all the requests to write a book. I plan to at least make a strong effort to do just that. I promise to say “um” less on the podcast. Similarly, I vow to never begin another podcast episode with the phrase, “the boys are back.” Ok, that’s not a firm promise, but I’ll try. Seriously though, I do plan to write more on the subjects of marriage, parenting, and family this year because so many of you have reached out wanting resources on those topics.

I truly appreciate your readership and your listenership. May God richly bless you in this new year. The articles are listed in descending order beginning with the tenth most read article and ending with the number one article of 2017.

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8 Preacher Traps – That Can Develop Over Time

I’m a fierce advocate of preachers and preaching. I’ve written in defense of preachers on numerous occasions here, here, and here. That doesn’t mean I view preachers as superhuman or little deities, however, God clearly ordained the foolishness of preaching as the mechanism for reaching the world with the Gospel (1 Corinthians 1:18-21, Acts 17:18, Mark 16:15). Preaching is also Divinely designed to preserve, encourage, strengthen, equip, and correct the Church (1 Corinthians 15:2, 1 Peter 1:25, 1 Timothy 4:13, 2 Timothy 3:16). Bottom line, preaching is really, really, really vital for the overall health of the Church and the advancement of the Gospel. It only makes sense that Satan would set traps for preachers faster than a poacher on a wildlife preservation.

Without descending into a pit of needless negativity, I can safely assume everyone reading this post has witnessed at least one sincere preacher turn, shall we say… less than sincere. With very few exceptions, preachers do not begin ministering with nefarious intentions. For the most part, preachers make tremendous sacrifices to enter the ministry. Preacher problems develop over time as they fall into traps either because of carelessness or unresolved character flaws the enemy cleverly exploits.

My motivation for writing isn’t to berate the fallen, there’s plenty of preacher bashing going on without me jumping unceremoniously into the ring. Instead, I’m writing with the earnest hearted preacher in mind. Additionally, I’m writing for those who may have stepped a toe across a line, yet still have the capacity to feel a surge of conscience. One thing is for certain if you labor in ministry long enough you will be forced to navigate around or fight your way out of a preacher trap. I’ve identified eight common traps in the hopes of building awareness, fortifications, and wisdom.

1. Success & popularity. Most preachers have tons of incredibly humbling moments in their early days of ministry. To this day, my brother has a “blackmail tape” containing one of the first sermons I ever preached. I sounded like a scared parrot that only knew four words. After those four words, everything else was just squawking and weird chirping sounds. It was horrible. God bless that precious congregation and Pastor James Fielder for loving me enough to be encouraging despite that pathetic, although sincere attempt to preach.

Yep. Early days of ministry are filled with epic fails, empty blusters, false starts, zealous stumbles, learning curves, knowledge gaps, unrestrained enthusiasm, and embarrassing awkwardness. Some endure that maturation process longer than others, but over time the resilient step into a season of ministerial success. Now, measuring ministerial success can be tricky because it really has nothing to do with money, fame, large congregations, or popularity. God defines success differently than most people define success, but that’s another post for another day. Regardless, even achieving a godly standard of success can suck the humility right out of a sincere heart. Once that humility is gone, all kinds of nasty things compete to fill the void.

Success is not the problem. Success is a good thing. Responding correctly to success is the key. Most people spend a lot of time figuring out how to deal with failure, but very little time preparing their heart to handle success and popularity.

2. Talent. The moment a preacher realizes he is talented enough to move a crowd without relying on the anointing his foot is poised above a preacher killing landmine. Lawyers, politicians, comedians, actors, false prophets, and motivational speakers move crowds emotionally every single day without the help of the anointing. Having talent is great, terrific even, but it is the anointing that breaks the yoke (Isaiah 10:27).

I firmly believe that preachers should work to develop strong communication skills. I believe preachers have an obligation to work as hard as they can to communicate biblical truths effectively and with as much excellence as possible. This is partially what the Apostle Paul was alluding to when he admonished Timothy, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).” But all the talent, work, study, and charisma in the world is no substitute for prayer, fasting, and humble reliance upon the Lord.

Every talented preacher should remember the warning of the ever-somber prophet Jeremiah: Cursed is that man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength (Jeremiah 17:5-9). Learning how to move a crowd emotionally is a cheap substitute for the genuine power and demonstration of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:4-5).

3. Loving preaching more than people. This is one of the most common traps to ensnare preachers. It shames me to admit that I’ve had to fight my way out of this trap a time or two. This one takes a lot of self-introspection to detect.

Upon reflection, I’ve pinpointed a few things about my preaching while wriggling out of that devious little trap. One, I preached way longer than needed to communicate what God laid on my heart. Two, I chased a lot of rabbit trails that interested me but were of little help or value to the hearers. Three, I resisted the Spirit when it prompted me to deviate from my prepared notes. Four, I rebuked out of personal anger rather than true righteous indignation. Five, I spent less time weeping over the lost and broken than concocting just the right wording for each sermon point. Six, in the preparation process I resisted the directing of the Spirit opting instead to build my favorite soap box or pursue topics that were intellectually stimulating to me personally. Seven, I was more passionate about winning arguments than winning hearts. Eight, I preached condescendingly, smugly, and arrogantly.

To be clear, preaching cannot and should not be solely directed towards the “felt” needs of a congregation. Neither should preaching be spineless, compromising, or afraid of necessary confrontation. Nothing mentioned here should leave the impression that preachers should be push-overs, milquetoasts, or overly obsessive about offending the hearers. But the fact remains a preacher’s motives matter. Preachers should always stand behind the sacred desk driven by love for God, God’s Word, God’s Church, and lost people.

4. Forgetting the main mission. As I mentioned earlier, preaching has many noble purposes, but none more vital than the propagation of the Gospel (Matthew 28:19-20, 2 Timothy 4:17, 2 Corinthians 10:14, Acts 8:12-17). Preaching can quickly devolve into mere motivational jargon if it isn’t Christocentric. During the endless quest to remain relevant, creative, interesting, inspiring, and fresh some preachers lose sight of the Great Commission and ultimately fail their mission.

5. Valuing crowd size above the spiritual growth of the congregation. I’ve written a good bit on church growth here, here, here, and here. No preacher in their right mind wants seats to be empty while the Word is being preached. Every empty seat represents a soul that needs God. Regardless, God never called preachers to build large congregations. Rather, we are called to plant the seed; God alone gives the Harvest (Matthew 9:38). Every preacher reading this knows that is the case, but it doesn’t stop us from feeling like failures when church attendance dips or doesn’t grow at the pace we had envisioned. All of that is normal and acceptable to a certain degree, yet very dangerous if we begin to value large crowds above the actual spiritual health of the people.

Obviously, just gathering large groups of people together every Sunday isn’t the ultimate spiritual objective. Otherwise, the NFL would be one of the most spiritual organizations in America. When preachers become inordinately focused on crowd size instead of spiritual maturation they will suffer depression, discouragement, insecurity, jealousy, and struggle with the temptation to become people pleasers rather than God pleasers. Which leads nicely to the next trap.

6. Willingness to sacrifice scriptural integrity for any reason at all. There are many reasons a preacher might be tempted to compromise biblical truths. Some compromise due to the illusion of assured numerical growth, desired popularity, personal carnality, outside pressure, peer pressure, spiritual battle fatigue, greed, or any number of other factors. Regardless, failing to preach the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth is a gross betrayal of God’s calling and of the trust placed in us by others.

7. Burnout. Unresolved physical, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion can result in burnout and burnout produces bitterness. For every preacher with a golf course “ministry” reputation, there are ten others burning the candle at both ends. As I’ve written before, ministry is incredibly demanding. Burnout usually manifests itself as depression or anxiety or both. The tragedy of the burnout trap is that it takes advantage of a preacher’s good intentions. We want to be all things, to all people, all the time. It’s just not humanly possible.

8. Ministering to others while neglecting family. I understand that a preacher’s family must be willing to make sacrifices for the sake of ministry. I get that. Been there. Done that. Still doing that. But a preacher’s first ministerial obligation is to his family (Genesis 18:19, 1 Samuel 3:13, 1 Timothy 3:1-12, Titus 1:6). Many dynamic ministries have been rendered powerless because their family fell apart. They were so busy ministering to others they lost sight of their primary responsibility.

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Just Another Article About Why Millennials Are Leaving Churches

Everyone seems to be consumed with the question of why Millennials are leaving churches. Just google “why are millennials leaving the church and you’ll have a month’s worth of reading material. Millennials are writing “open letters” to the Church like doctors write prescriptions. America has shifted its focus from the Baby Boomer generation to the Millennial generation. The reasons are many, Millennials by most estimations have surpassed the Baby Boomers in number, they are taking over the workforce, and shaping culture in countless ways both good and bad.

Full disclosure, at 33 I am technically a millennial. For those who have remained blissfully unaware, the consensus seems to be that Millennials are comprised of those born from 1982 – 2012 (although there is some debate). So, I squeaked into what is often called “the worst generation”. Good for me!

Having said that, it should be noted that Millennials are not monolithic. We simply cannot be lumped into one big pile. I think that’s one of the most interesting and underreported aspects of my generation. We are radically different from person to person. This can be attributed to the massive amounts of data and information that have become accessible to us from our youth via the rise of the internet, social media, education, and other media sources. In fact, we have so much data we’re literally drowning in it.

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Regarding the hysteria surrounding the so-called mass exodus of Millennials from churches, this is not a new issue. Every generation has had a falling away (check out this article written in 1993 regarding the Baby Boomer generation). I’m a fifth-generation Oneness Pentecostal Christian, and every generation in my family has bemoaned the departure of large portions of their generation from the Church.

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So why all the frenzy? One, there are more people polling, studying, analyzing and collecting data about Christianity than in days gone by. Second, the rise of blogs (like this one), social media, and the internet in general spreads the word beyond the stuffy conversations of church board meetings. Third, my generation doesn’t leave quietly. We make a big deal over it. We whine and write and vlog and yada-yada-yada about it. The result is that this feels like a brand-new problem when it’s really just an old problem with a new label.

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As this study points out, young adults commonly leave churches for a season only to return later in life. Jesus parabolically described this very thing in the story of the Prodigal Son. Marriage, the birth of a child, a life crisis, or the realization that secularism is full of emptiness often draws people back to their childhood faith. My grandparents used to call this phenomenon “sowing wild oats”. I still have no idea what that means.

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Please don’t misunderstand, I’m not saying this isn’t a problem, it is. It’s just not a new problem. Beyond that, I think overreactions and knee-jerk responses to the perceived death of Christianity are ridiculous, unnecessary, and unhelpful. I would even argue that the overreacting has contributed to the problem.

Recently, an article caught my attention on Facebook called 12 Reasons Millennials Are Over Church. I’ve read countless articles like it but this one gives a clear window into the heart of the issue. I’d like to address several things the author mentions head on (from one millennial to another so to speak).

It’s probably the narcissistic millennial part of me, but I think being at the upper end of the age spectrum gives me a unique insight into the issue at hand. In other words, I see both sides of the coin; sometimes I think like a typical millennial and other times millennial thinking makes me want to hang my head in shame. Regardless, bridges must be built between the generations, but they must be properly built on foundations of truth and honesty; not hypocrisy and cheap compromise.

Back to the 12 Reasons Millennials Are Over Church, the first complaint on the list is Nobody’s Listening to Us (don’t worry I won’t take the time to address all 12). At the risk of sounding like a broken record, this also is not a new problem. Every generation has felt undervalued, unappreciated, and unheard. We are in the throes of a generational clash. Every younger generation has felt they could do it better, run it better, make it better, etc. Sometimes they’re right and sometimes they’re wrong.

Growing pains are tough and feeling marginalized is tougher. Generational clashes are as old as time, we’ve all heard the platitudes about kids who thought dad didn’t know anything about anything until they had kids of their own. This is the natural order of life, but it must be addressed and discussed.

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While it is true that Millennials don’t know everything many of us are sincere (although we are often sincerely wrong). Approaching sincere Millennials with bad assumptions about our character and name calling will alienate us further. Opening channels of communication is imperative if you want us to feel connected to the future and health of the Church. On the flip side, we Millennials must learn that listening is just as important as being heard. The generations ahead of us endured tons of obstacles to get where they are and when we insult their dignity they automatically (and understandably) question our motives.

This brings me to my biggest problem with my generation. Lack of respect. I know, I know. Respect must be earned, but a vast majority of Millennials struggle to respect any traditional authority structures. Mountains of research have been compiled on this very subject. Like most Millennials, I’ve seen many “heroes” fall both secular and religious. This has produced a general mistrust towards leaders of all kinds, which is reason number 7 (Distrust & Misallocation of Resources) in the article we’re discussing.

Since we Millennials love to point out hypocrisy, I’ll shine a little light on one of my generations hypocritical conundrums. Many of my peers may be shedding the “chains” of Christianity and parental dominance, but they are trading them for a secular dogma that they pursue with religious fervor. Their preachers call themselves professors, their bishops are politicians, and science is their Bible. They even have an apocalyptic End Times theology called global warming. Taxes are nothing more than tithes in the mega church of government, and morality is not sexual but it is social. Here’s the problem, politics and science and social justice warriors have far more scandals, greed, misappropriation of funds, antipathy, complacency, inconsistencies, and general fraud than all the churches in all the world could ever dream of having. For example, here’s a list of solutions that the author has given to help churches overcome the distrust Millennials have towards financial stewardship within churches:

Actually, I think all those things are great ideas, and many churches do that stuff and much more. But as Millennials become increasingly politically active why are we not voicing the same concerns towards the almighty federal government? Where is the outrage over the waste and fraud within beloved government social programs? Millennials supposedly value consistency above all and when the Church fails the test we’re out, right? Why then aren’t we imposing these same concerns in the realm of politics?

Moving on, reason number 3 on the list of why Millennials are over church: Helping the Poor Isn’t a Priority. This one always irks me a little bit even though I think I know where he’s coming from. Honestly, it seems like every mega church in America is more concerned with sending water to Africa than actually preaching the Gospel (no need for hate mail, I’m all for sending water to Africa). The social gospel movement dominates western Christianity. Helping the poor is important, vital, necessary, and Christ-like. But nothing could be more compassionate, life-changing, and elevating than the Gospel. That’s why the Great Commission is Gospel-centric not welfare oriented.

But therein lies the true problem my fellow millennial is addressing. To some degree, I’m jumping to conclusions here, but it’s fairly safe to assume based on his description that the author attends a typical semi-mega church. Meaning that the Gospel is so watered down and shallow it’s just a shell of the authentic truth of the Bible. Performance has replaced praise and relevance has replaced righteousness. And these are the kinds of churches that Millennials are fleeing like a religious Titanic.

Churches like this rail against the culture (see point 4) but they are saturated with the culture. They preach sermons based off movies and incorporate secular music into their services. Millennials spot the hypocrisy a mile away. They see churches filled with a form of godliness yet denying the power of it (2 Timothy 3:5). It’s a point I’ve previously made here, many heterosexual Millennials supported gay marriage because they watched churches wink at adultery, divorce, and various other sexual sins while bellowing against the gay lifestyle. Let me be clear, all those things are biblically unacceptable, but many American churches lost the moral high ground a long time ago in the name of relevance. These churches thought they were making the Gospel more palatable, but they really just perverted it.

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So, churches that are like the culture have no room to rail against the culture. It’s like the proverbial pot calling the kettle black, or to use one of Jesus’ analogies; it’s like the guy with a beam in his eye pointing out a speck in the other guy’s eye (Matthew 7:3-5). And we’ve circled right back around to hypocrisy; we millennials hate hypocrisy even if we don’t always recognize it in ourselves.

Reason number 7 (We Want to Be Mentored, Not Preached At) is probably the best example of how I see both sides of the coin. On the surface, I agree with the statement but once he starts elaborating he loses me. I do see a dearth of one on one mentorship in the average church. Jesus said to go and make disciples (Matthew 28:19). His whole ministry was a combination of public preaching and private teaching. Millennials are desperate for godly mentors, especially with the overwhelming absence of mothers and fathers due to divorce, careers, and addiction.

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But I fear that the minimization of preaching and the weird comfort level that Millennials have with virtual pastors is a product of weak pulpits. Meaning, the average commercially relevant Christian church is preaching watered down sermons thinking that’s what it takes to connect. When in reality they are disconnected from the anointing and the biblical authority they desperately need.

Here’s a point to ponder for holiness pastors such as myself; Millennials are not afraid of biblical righteousness if it is correct, sincere, consistent, and kind. That may rock your boat a little but it’s true. Millennials are not afraid to be counter-cultural if it is presented to them truthfully, sincerely, convincingly, and directly.

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Which leads me to reason number 9 on the list of why Millennials are over church; We Want You to Talk to Us About Controversial Issues (Because No One Is). This is the most important point in the entire article, and it is 100% accurate. For too long now churches have remained alarmingly silent on the big issues. Hollywood, social engineers, politicians, and liberal professors don’t have any qualms about facing the big controversial issues head on. So why should the Church? Churches need to talk about jobs, money, careers, sex, marriage, dating, addiction, social issues, and more. As he said, I understand all these topics can’t and shouldn’t be discussed in the main sanctuary. However, opportunities need to be provided to face the controversial issues head on.

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For my fellow Pentecostals, there is some good news regarding the scary millennial statistics and the general decline of American Christianity. While mainline, denominational churches are dying Pentecostals are experiencing growth (check out this fascinating article Why Do These Pentecostals Keep Growing? by Ed Stetzer).

While Pentecostals may have declining ranks of Millennials, statistics strongly indicate that we have much better retention than mainline denominational churches. Why? Because we have what the apostles had, the power of the Holy Spirit. We have not allowed liberal theologians to create contempt and mistrust for the Bible. While imperfect, we are distinct and separated from the world. Is carnality creeping into many of our churches? Yes! And that will be the death of those churches. Because Millennials hate hypocrisy. So, if you want to impress Millennials, “…be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58)”.

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Finally, Millennials are ultra-social conscious. We want to see poverty, disease, and anguish eradicated. We may be more sensitive than our predecessors in petulant ways, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t earnest. That’s great news for true Bible believing Apostolics because we know that the Gospel can genuinely change lives. The Holy Ghost can lift a drug addict out of crippling addiction, restore marriages, heal sickness, and turn a liar honest. What could be better for broken communities than hundreds of thousands of Spirit transformed people? Apostolic revival is the greatest social program of all time. The Acts 2:38 message can still turn the world upside down (Acts 17:6).

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A Oneness Pentecostal – Making A Difference by Ellington Haywood Ellis

I was pleasantly surprised to see an article in The Huffington Post by Ellington Haywood Ellis entitled A Oneness Pentecostal – Making A DifferenceI hope you will read the article for yourself. Ellis claims a direct correlation between the dynamic Oneness Pentecostal movement in Ethiopia and subsequent economic growth. Interestingly, Ellis mentions that the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Hailemariam Desalegn, is a Oneness Pentecostal believer.

On a personal note, Ellis cites my father’s tremendous book at about the halfway point of the article. As many of you know, my father, Dr. Talmadge L. French is one of the premier scholars and historians within the Oneness Pentecostal movement. Here’s the quote:

“…the Oneness Pentecostal movement centered on a charismatic Leader, Garfield Thomas Haywood. According to Talmadge L. French in his book, “Early Interracial Oneness Pentecostalism (2014), the African American Leader, Garfield T. Haywood was its primary architect and figures most prominently into the movements history, not only as one of its leading proponents, but as its central interracial voice, as well as its most renowned leader.”

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