Should Christians Celebrate Christmas?

The irony of the Christmas debate never ceases to amaze me. On the one hand, secular culture tries hard to take Christ out of Christmas. To them, Christmas is just another holiday. On the other hand, a noisy minority of Christians consider Christmas a pagan practice. The rest of us are uncomfortably sandwiched in between these two extremes. Before the rise of social media, these debates seemed a little vaguer and obscure. Everyone pretty much just did their own thing and went on with their lives. But social media gets people from every side of the Christmas issue at one another’s throats. Many people feel the need to state their opinions firmly, and just about everyone else feels the need to be offended by everyone else’s opinion. Yeah, it’s about as crazy as it sounds.

Secular Objections to Christmas

Let me respond to the secular objections to Christmas first. They find offense at the elevation of one religion over others. And, in some cases, the elevation of any religion at all in the public domain. Their solution is to dechristianize the season and replace it with strictly secular terminology and traditions. Santa, elves, and reindeer fit nicely into this agenda because the childish make-believe parts of Christmas have no distinctly Judeo-Christian roots. When you peel back the layers, you’ll find the secular motivation for attacking Christmas is mostly rooted in rabid Christophobia (hatred of Christianity).

When you peel back the layers, you’ll find the secular motivation for attacking Christmas is mostly rooted in rabid Christophobia (hatred of Christianity).

Without getting too far ahead of myself, this alone is a pretty compelling reason to celebrate Christmas louder and louder every year. If “pagans” consider Christmas too Christian for comfort, Christmas is clearly not a pagan holiday. On that note, Jesus said, if you’re ashamed of me, I’ll be ashamed of you (Mark 8:38). Christians should never shy away from any opportunity to talk about Jesus openly. Like it or not, America was founded on Judeo-Christian values. Sadly, I don’t consider us a genuinely Christian nation any longer; however, we Christians have every right biblically and constitutionally to voice our faith loud and long.

If “pagans” consider Christmas too Christian for comfort, Christmas is clearly not a pagan holiday.

I think capitulating to secularism would be a tragic mistake and offensive to the Lord. Of course, we should never be intentionally offensive or ugly, but just celebrating the birth of our risen Savior is well within our reasonable rights. If speaking the name of Jesus or talking about Emmanuel (God with us) publicly is offensive, we must be offensive; if Christians become timid about a story as innocuous as the Messiah’s birth, then we won’t have the courage to talk about His death and resurrection. I have no sympathy for the secular objections to Christmas, and you shouldn’t either.

If talking about Emmanuel (God with us) publicly is offensive, we must be offensive; if Christians become timid about a story as innocuous as the Messiah’s birth, then we won’t have the courage to talk about His death and resurrection.

Christian Objections to Christmas

Ok. Let’s shift gears and address the Christian objections to celebrating Christmas. Their concerns usually center around five different issues. One, we don’t actually know the date of Jesus’ birth. Two, the Bible doesn’t specifically instruct us to celebrate Jesus’ birth. Three, they argue that Christmas itself and the surrounding traditions are rooted in paganism. Four, a Scripture that appears to forbid Christmas trees. And five, the crass commercialism surrounding the Christmas season.

There are good and sincere people who make these objections compellingly. Others make ignorant claims that are more ludicrous and argumentative than necessary. I’ve certainly seen Christians from both sides of the issue display less than Christlike behavior when debating the points mentioned above. It’s mostly ugly, unnecessary, and destroys everyone’s credibility. While I believe that celebrating Christmas is a good thing (probably even a wonderful thing), I am painfully aware of how it feels to have deeply held counter-cultural convictions that others love to belittle. I have genuine sympathy for sincere Christians who simply can’t feel comfortable celebrating Christmas. Regardless, I do believe anti-Christmas beliefs are not founded on concrete facts. Nor do I think anti-Christmas convictions are worthy of imposing on fellow believers.

Indeed, we don’t actually know the exact date of Jesus’ birth. And it’s improbable that Jesus was born on December 25. It’s also true that Christians didn’t start celebrating Christmas until hundreds of years after the resurrection. And my response boils down to a shrug of the shoulders. So, what, I don’t need an exact date to celebrate and reflect on my Savior’s birth. It’s nice to have an agreed-upon date so everyone can celebrate at the same time. It’s also worth remembering that early Christians were understandably busy avoiding martyrdom and being mutilated by lions. Furthermore, arguing that because early Christians didn’t celebrate, Christmas means Christmas is somehow prohibited today is a pretty awkward theological and intellectual leap. Celebrating all things about Jesus seems like something every Christian should be excited about.

It’s true the Bible never specifically commands us to celebrate the birth of Jesus. The word Christmas is not in the Bible. And again, my response is a disinterested shrug of the shoulders. If the Bible prohibited celebrating the birth of Jesus, I would be all ears and entirely on board with anti-Christmas sentiments. However, Scripture gives us important details surrounding the miraculous birth of the Messiah (Matthew 1:1-24Matthew 2:1-23Luke 1:26-66Luke 2:1-40John 1:1-16). In each of these passages, angels and people celebrated the birth of Jesus. Many Old Testament prophecies revolved around Jesus’ birth (Genesis 22:18Numbers 24:17Isaiah 11:1Jeremiah 23:5-62 Samuel 7:12-14Micah 5:2Isaiah 7:14Psalm 72:9-10Jeremiah 31:15Hosea 11:1Isaiah 9:6-7). It’s safe to say many Scriptures affirm the celebration of Christ’s birth, and none forbidding it.

Regarding the concern that Christmas is rooted in paganism, the evidence for such a claim is far from clear. The origins of so many modern traditions are unsubstantiated and often misinformed. Sources claiming Christmas’ pagan roots contradict one another and rarely have any reliable verification methods (please don’t send me weird internet links… I’ve seen them all… sigh). While some minor Christmas traditions like holly were probably used in pagan rituals, this doesn’t make Christmas evil by association. Many things were used in pagan rituals that we use daily. For example, oak trees were revered almost universally by pagans, and yet Christians don’t refrain from using oak trees and oak wood in their homes and yards. Even the Nike logo was originally a pagan symbol. But the association has been changed and no longer has pagan connotations. Either way, a Christian concerned about pagan symbolism could still celebrate Christmas and simply refrain from the particular traditions they find worrisome. This concern doesn’t require throwing Christmas out completely.

The Christmas Tree Debate

The Christmas tree debate is probably the most common concern for Christians. It’s an extension of the pagan roots concern, but this concern should be taken a little more seriously because two Bible passages can be distressing at first glance (Jeremiah 10:1-16Isaiah 44:9-18). The most cited passage comes from Jeremiah chapter ten, verses three and four:

“For the customs of the people are vain; for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the ax. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.”

When looking at the passage in context, it’s clear that Jeremiah is referring to craftsmen who cut down trees to create idols. The decorating referred to here is not the decoration of a tree but the decoration of a carved idol. Even more specifically, Jeremiah is expressly forbidding falling down and worshipping handmade idols. This biblical command applies to everything other than God alone. Worshipping a tree or anything else would indeed be idolatry of the worst kind. I’ve known people who worshipped trees, but they were not Christmas trees. Even so, I could understand someone feeling uncomfortable with a Christmas tree. However, simply avoid the tree and celebrate the Savior if your conscious demands it. If you’re uncomfortable with my quick explanation of Jeremiah 10:3-4, check out John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible on verse three HERE and on verse four HERE.

A Christian Objection to Commercialism

The last objection that many Christians raise is reasonable and should be heeded. Christmas has been hijacked by secularism and crass commercialism. There is a sense in which Christmas can become about receiving and not giving. The pressure to buy irresponsibly can be overwhelming at Christmastime. All the reindeer and elves can crowd out the message of Christmas if we aren’t careful. All the decorating, cooking, buying, and wrapping can become a silly substitute for reverencing the miracle birth of Jesus. Christians should guard against this mindset and strive to keep Jesus at the center of the season.

The benefits of Christmas, in my opinion, far outweigh any of the negatives. The world is almost universally exposed to the story of Jesus’ entrance into the world. That revelation alone leads to more and more questions about who Jesus is and what He did while He was here. This opens tremendous opportunities for Christians to share their faith and talk about Jesus openly. Christmas brings families together and connects thoughts of Jesus with happy family memories. Christmas brings out the selflessness in many people. Charitable giving goes up drastically during the Christmas season. Many hard hearts grow tender towards God as they consider the Christmas story. Churches fill up with people who usually would not make church a priority exposing people to godly environments that can implant a seed of God’s Word into their consciousness.

Christmas brings families together and connects thoughts of Jesus with happy family memories.

A Most Wonderful Time to Witness the Oneness

For Oneness Pentecostals, Christmas is a fantastic opportunity to expose others to the great revelation that Jesus was the mighty God in Christ. For example, does it really make sense that a separate deity would send a son (who is also a coequal deity) to die on his behalf? What kind of father would send his son to be tortured and killed on his behalf? No. Jesus was the Word incarnate (Colossians 1:15John 1:1John 1:14Philippians 2:6-71 Timothy 3:16). Christmas is an excellent time to emphasize that Emmanuel (Isaiah 7:14Matthew 1:22-23) means “God with us.” Jesus was not one of three distinctly separate deities born of a virgin. He was Emmanuel in the flesh. He is referred to as the Son of God because He had no earthly father (Luke 1:35). I don’t usually like the New American Standard Version, but I think it gives the most precise translation and explanation for why Jesus is referred to as the Son of God in Luke 1:35:

“The angel answered and said to her, The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; AND FOR THAT REASON the holy Child shall be called the Son of God (emphasis is mine).”

For Oneness Pentecostals, Christmas is a fantastic opportunity to expose others to the great revelation that Jesus was the mighty God in Christ

What kind of deity would send a coequal deity to die on his behalf? What kind of father would send his son to be tortured and killed on his behalf? No. Jesus was the Word incarnate (1 Timothy 3:16).

Even the disciples seemed slightly confused about what this terminology meant. In John chapter fourteen, Jesus was comforting them because He was leaving (John 14:1-6). He mentioned the mansions in the Father’s house and how no one could get to the Father but by Him, causing Thomas to ask Jesus where He was going and how would they know the way (John 14:5)? In verse six, Jesus’ most famous response is where He says, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life… (John 14:6)”. But, people often overlook John 14:7:

“If ye had known Me, ye should have known My Father also; and from henceforth ye know Him, and have seen Him.”

Jesus clarified that because you have known Me, you know the Father, and you have seen Him! Wow! That’s an epic revelation. But Phillip was still struggling to catch Jesus’ implication, so he asked Him to show them the Father (John 14:8). So, Jesus gave one of the clearest of all answers in Scripture about His deity in John 14:9-10:

“…Have I been so long a time with you, and yet hast thou not known Me, Philip? He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, ‘Show us the Father’? Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me?…”

Jesus made the messianic claim that He was literally God in human flesh. That is the quintessential message of the Christmas story; God came to dwell with us. I can’t see how that is anything other than wonderful to celebrate.

Jesus made the messianic claim that He was literally God in human flesh. That is the quintessential message of the Christmas story; God came to dwell with us.

“For unto us a Child is born, unto us, a Son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder. And His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).”


Podcast | Should Christians Celebrate Christmas?

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Kanye West Might Be Sincere (But Sincerity Alone Is Not Salvation)

If you’re a social media user it might feel like a non-stop Kanye West extravaganza has taken over your feed lately. The frenzy from all directions has been palpable. Many people in my inner circle didn’t even know who Kanye was until a few weeks ago. For me, his name was associated with lyrics and artists that I purposely avoided because of the vulgarity, sexuality, violence, and substance abuse they promoted.

This article is late in the making. Frankly, I just didn’t care about the Kanye kerfuffle until the noise escalated into a fever pitch. Beyond that, lots of people have already been contributing wise words to the ongoing (seemingly neverending) conversation. One of my favorite Apostolic bloggers, Search of Kings has a must-read article about the “Kanye Conversion”. Others have convincingly commented that Kanye’s sincerity might be less suspicious if he would remove all his old music from circulation. I’ve noticed several people expressing frustration at the Apostolic hype over Kanye’s new album Jesus Is King, by pointing out the lackluster support Apostolic artists typically receive. We Apostolics do tend to demean our own and glamorize (perhaps even idolize) artists who are distinctly non-apostolic.

Speaking of idols, the flip side of the coin is the ardent, almost breathless support many Christians have afforded Kanye’s new album. It reeks of an adolescent desire to finally be accepted by the “cool” kids. The internet is littered with comparisons of Kanye’s conversion to Saul’s transformation into Paul. Others dream of stadiums packed with people who would never listen to “Jesus” music being deeply impacted by Kanye’s newfound faith. Many elders felt this way about Elvis Presley in past decades. I still frequently hear people mention how sincere Elvis was about his Christian (perhaps even Apostolic) faith.

So, the speculation about Kanye’s sincerity has become a lightning rod of controversy. For what it’s worth, I think Kanye might be sincere. Admittedly, I don’t really know if he’s sincere or not. I struggle to know if people around me are sincere sometimes. I’ve never met Kanye and I doubt anyone reading this has either. Sincerity is a hard thing to judge in a short period of time. It’s even harder to judge from a distance. Even Paul had to undergo many years of scrutiny and training before he was fully accepted as a new creature in Christ Jesus. That’s one of the reasons Paul wrote to Timothy and said, “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)”. Regardless, Kanye’s sincerity or lack thereof is a moot point. Why? Because sincerity is not salvation.

Yes, sincerity is a good thing. I like sincere people. Most of us are drawn instinctively to sincerity. In fact, sincerity is so compelling we often trust sincere people even when they are completely wrong. Sincerely incorrect people can unintentionally do great damage to their circle of influence in countless ways both big and small. For example, it took thousands of years for doctors to finally realize that bloodletting was actually more likely to kill than to cure patients (read this disturbing article, 7 Unusual Ancient Medical Technique). Last year statistics shockingly revealed that over 800,000 people died because of medical devices prescribed to them by very good and sincere doctors (read that article HERE). Lets not even start thinking about how many sincere judges and juries have sentenced innocent people to prison or death (How Many Innocent People Are Sentenced to Death? and A Leading Cause for Wrongful Convictions: Experts Overstating Forensic Results). Clearly, in certain situations, sincerity without correct information is extremely dangerous.

We easily understand that principle when it comes to the physical, but we’re a little fuzzy when it comes to spiritual things. We don’t just want doctors to be sincere, we want them to be sincere and correct at the same time. Frankly, the latter is far more important than the former. But when it comes to spiritual leaders and influencers we’re a little less cautious. Maybe its time to consider that we Christians are overly concerned with sincerity? Perhaps we’ve elevated sincerity above biblical sanctification? Is it possible many Apostolics, either consciously or subconsciously, equate sincerity with salvation? Do we believe that sincerity without biblical salvation can save us? If so, we are doomed to become just another variation of the Catholic church. The Catholic church now officially teaches that Muslims, Jews, and really any sincere person can be saved without converting to even the mushy Catholic perversion of the Gospel (Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 1260).

If the prescription for sin is the blood of Jesus it can only be accessed via the Gospel of Jesus Christ (John 14:6, 1 Timothy 2:5, Acts 4:12). At the heart of the Gospel is the teaching that we must undergo our own spiritual death, burial, and resurrection just as Jesus did physically (Romans 6:3-8Galatians 2:20Colossians 2:12-13). There is one recorded instance in the Bible where bystanders clearly asked a question about salvation (Acts 2:37). Peter gives the most concise biblical answer in the following verse and everyone in the early Church followed that apostolic foundation for salvation. The apostle Peter preached: “…repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost (Acts 2:38).” That precise formula is the only way to be birthed (John 3:31 Peter 1:23) into the Kingdom of God.

Essentially, repentance is our spiritual death (Galatians 5:24Romans 6:11Galatians 2:201 Peter 2:24Romans 6:6)baptism in Jesus’ name is our spiritual burial (Romans 6:3-4Colossians 2:12-13), and the infilling of the Holy Ghost is our spiritual resurrection (Romans 6:5Colossians 3:1Romans 8:8-14). Furthermore, the infilling of the Holy Ghost is first evidenced by supernaturally speaking in unknown (previously unlearned) tongues (languages) just as they did in the book of Acts (Mark 16:17Acts 2:4Acts 10:46Acts 19:6) and every time from then on. And, baptism is only salvific when done in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:12Colossians 3:17Acts 2:38Acts 22:16Galatians 3:27Acts 10:48Romans 6:3).

After we are obedient to the fullness of the Gospel all the old sinful things pass away and we become a new creation in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17). We walk in agreement with the Spirit (Galatians 5:16). Meaning, God not only saves us from our past sin, but He also empowers us with His own Spirit to live righteously (2 Peter 1:3-4). The extra good news of the Gospel is that God doesn’t just save us and leave us the same: He saves us, changes us, dwells within us, and continues to strengthen us daily.

Having said all of that, I am far more concerned with Kanye’s salvation than I am his sincerity. I hope he’s sincere and that his sincerity leads him to salvation. Otherwise, his sincere religious error will probably do far more damage than good. Furthermore, any sincere, yet theologically incorrect preacher is more dangerous than any charlatan could ever hope to be. Charlatans are eventually exposed, but sincerely wrong people fight with misled convictions that are deeply influential to others.

Let me leave you with a passage of Scripture to ponder where Paul addresses the issue of zealousness for God without a proper understanding of God’s word. This passionate sincerity without knowledge will cause them to be lost unless they learn to walk obediently to God’s plan.

Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God (Romans 10:1-13).

Hey, if you’re looking for awesome Apostolic music check out Nathan + Rachel. You’re welcome!

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Should We Still Dress Our Best For Church (En Español)?

The original article Should We Still Dress Our Best For Church has been circulated hundreds of thousands of times. Shockingly, it’s quickly approaching the million click mark!

Recently the article has been translated into Spanish. You can read that article HERE. I wanted to make it available for my Spanish speaking friends and family.

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

Preachers need our prayers and support more than ever before. 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 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 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.

Preaching is 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).

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.

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 criticize 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 sure 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.

One thing is for sure if you labor in ministry long enough, you will be forced to navigate around or fight your way out of a preacher trap.

1. Success & Popularity

Most preachers have tons of incredibly humbling moments in their early days of ministry. My brother has a “blackmail tape” containing one of the first sermons I ever preached to this day. 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.

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.

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 hearts to handle success and popularity.

Most people spend a lot of time figuring out how to deal with failure but very little time preparing their hearts to handle success and popularity.

2. Talent

When 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 day without the anointing’s help. Having talent is great, terrific even, but it is the anointing that breaks the yoke (Isaiah 10:27).

When 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 day without the anointing’s help. Having talent is great, 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 think preachers should work as hard as possible 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.

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).

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 many 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 real 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 Spirit’s directing, opting instead to build my favorite soapbox 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.

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.

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.

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, engaging, inspiring, and fresh, some preachers lose sight of the Great Commission and ultimately fail their mission.

Preaching can devolve into mere motivational jargon if it isn’t Christocentric. During the endless quest to remain relevant, creative, engaging, inspiring, and fresh, some preachers lose sight of the Great Commission and fail their mission.

5. Valuing Crowd Size Above the Spiritual Growth of the Congregation

I’ve written a fair bit on church growth 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. Instead, 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 people’s actual spiritual health.

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.

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 suffer depression, discouragement, insecurity, jealousy, and struggle with the temptation to become people pleasers rather than God pleasers.

6. Willingness to Sacrifice Scriptural Integrity

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 the trust placed in us by others.

Failing to preach the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth is a gross betrayal of God’s calling and 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, the 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.

Unresolved physical, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion can result in burnout, and burnout produces bitterness.

Burnout usually manifests itself as depression or anxiety. 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.

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 thirty-three, 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, I should note 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 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 drowning in it. This is not a new issue regarding the hysteria surrounding the so-called mass exodus of Millennials from churches. 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 mourned the departure of large portions of their generation from the Church.

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. 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.

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 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 want 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 adequately 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 thought 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.

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 flawed assumptions about our character and name-calling will alienate us further. Opening communication channels 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 essential as being heard. The generations ahead of us endured tons of obstacles to get where they are. When we insult their dignity, they automatically (and understandably) question our motives, which 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 generation’s 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 megachurch 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 widespread 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:

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 irks me a bit even though I think I know where he’s coming from. Honestly, it seems like every megachurch 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 essential, 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 actual problem my fellow millennial is addressing. To some degree, I’m jumping to conclusions here, but it’s pretty 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 on 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. So, churches that are like the culture have no room to rail against the culture. It’s like the proverbial pot who called 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. I agree with the statement on the surface, but once he starts elaborating, he loses me. I do see an absence 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. 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 presented to them truthfully, sincerely, convincingly, and directly. This leads nicely 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). It’s 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.

There is some good news regarding the scary millennial statistics and the general decline of American Christianity for my fellow Pentecostals. 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)”.

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 most outstanding social program of all time. The Acts 2:38 message can still turn the world upside down (Acts 17:6).

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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