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News: When Tithing Comes With a Money-Back Guarantee

How did churches like NewSpring and Life.Church get thousands of Christians to start giving? By offering a refund if God isn't faithful.

This month, hundreds of Christians at a South Carolina megachurch can request a refund on all the money they’ve given since March.

NewSpring Church, led by pastor Perry Noble, is one of hundreds of congregations across the country that have offered 90-day tithing challenges.

Participants sign up with a commitment to give 10 percent of their income or more, and if “God doesn’t hold true to his promises of blessings” after three months, they can request their money back—no questions asked. It’s the church’s version of “satisfaction guaranteed.”

The challenge pulls inspiration from the last book of the Old Testament, Malachi, which states:

Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it (Mal. 3:11, NIV).

“God literally says, ‘Test me out, see if I’m God,’” Noble preached. “You and I cannot out-give him.”

About 440 Christians joined NewSpring’s most recent challenge. Of the more than 7,000 participants over the past four years, fewer than 20—that’s a fraction of 1 percent—have asked for their money back.

“Tithing is about being obedient, putting God first in our finances and training our hearts to trust him at his word,” church spokeswoman Suzanne Swift told CT. “It's one of the hardest next steps for many people to take, and the 90-day tithe challenge is one way we can help people with that step.”

Hundreds of congregations—including non-denominational, Southern Baptist, ...

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3 Challenges in Urban Ministry

Urban ministry engages depravity, longevity and community.

While cities are an excellent place for gospel advancement, urban ministry is not without its challenges. Some of these challenges can be better explained by three words: depravity, longevity and community.

Depravity is everywhere, not just cities

Quite a few Christians view cities as depraved. Undoubtedly depravity seems more evident in a city because there are many people in close proximity. The reality, however, is that sin and brokenness are everywhere. In the midst of the overwhelming evidence of depravity is the opportunity for the gospel to shine forth. When sin abounds, the gospel can abound even more.

Cities are fundamental to God’s design and intent for the world, because while he begins his story in the Garden of Eden it ends in a city (Revelation 22). In light of this, Christians need to move away from their fear of the city and stop seeing cities as inherently wicked.

Instead, they need to see cities as good and full of opportunity. God is at work in the midst of depravity and brokenness. Some of the most vibrant Christian communities are found in cities. The gospel is going forth. Lives are being changed.

Christians who love mission should view our world’s cities as great places for gospel advance. People are moving into cities (albeit at a slowing rate in the US), which means churches should be moving into cities as well.

Loving a city means longevity

Another challenge of urban ministry is longevity; this type of ministry is not a quick fix. I planted my first church in Buffalo, NY among the urban poor and spent six years doing the hardest work I had ever done. We grew slowly and incrementally. The 20 megaton growth of a suburban mega-church rarely happens in a downtown urban context.

It takes longevity—in ...

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What to Expect When Youre Expecting (a Church)

Birthing a new church is not without pain.

A mother church experiences stress when birthing. The pains are physical, spiritual, emotional, and financial. Starting a new church sounds exciting, but a church needs to prepare for this birth in the some similar ways that a mother prepares for a new baby.

Having a Baby Creates Challenges

A mother church needs to expect to go through the rollercoaster challenges of mothering. Simply put, there’s going to be some confusion and conflict. Churches are not always prepared for how demanding birthing a new church is.

When Donna was in her final days of her third trimester with one of our daughters, she would ask (often through gritted, and smiling, teeth), “What did you do to me?” When she was delivering, she said, well, more things!

It’s a good thing children are so cute, because mom soon forgets about the pain and surprisingly they often want to have another one. Having a child is strenuous, but it’s amazing. (Isn’t there something in John’s gospel about this?)

It’s difficult and it’s often messy.

Just like Donna was (jokingly) mad, sometimes that “mothering pain” can really strain relationships.

When I was a seminary professor, one class researched 10 different churches planted by a mother church. Seven of the 10 had broken relationships with their mother church by the time they launched.

That is not a representative sample by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a significant example. A mother church has to expect difficulty and plan in advance for a proper response.

Here are three ways that I think mother churches can have a healthy birth of a new church.

Develop Church Planting Champions

A mother church needs two key champions to effectively plant a new church. ...

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Why Complementarian Men Need Complementarian Women

In the midst of our civil war on the Trinity, we need to put down our arms and remember that men and women are in this together.

Being outnumbered by men has always been part of my life. I was raised in a family of brothers. I’m the mother to three sons. I’m also the only female editor at the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW), so I’m all too familiar with what it’s like to be the only woman around.

Amid the recent “civil war” among complementarians about the Trinity and Christ’s subordination (recap by CT here), Christians following the back-and-forth on social media have been asking—where are all the women? Well, here’s one of them. I can tell you from personal experience that being the only woman in a room of complementarian men doesn't mean that I’m ignored, overruled, or seen as a token female. At CBMW, I’m frequently called on to provide my unique perspective. More often than not, my male colleagues yield to my opinion. (And yes, that is consonant with our views.) More often than not, they’re interested in how a woman might perceive what goes up on our site. Even as we work through this Trinity debate, I’m hardly a doormat in these conversations.

From its inception, CBMW has included women—from drafting the Danvers Statement in 1987 to speaking at present-day conferences. The female voice has not been silenced. It has been preserved and heard. Nonetheless, even though women are present and accounted for in our camp, we need more women to speak up and participate in the Trinity discussion and other debates, as well. We acknowledge that our view can easily be distorted by well-intentioned people—and we acknowledge that we haven’t always gotten practical application quite right—but that doesn’t mean we want to throw the baby ...

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Gospel-Centered Evangelism for a Multiethnic World

So what does high-definition evangelism look like?

The vast majority of local churches in America are not growing.

This should break our hearts. This statistic means that more and more people in America don’t know the redemptive power of Jesus Christ. This fact will increase divorce, addiction, injustice, greed, sexual immorality, idolatry, oppression, and a multitude of other sins that destroy people’s lives. We need evangelistic local churches, fueled by Christ-followers who see themselves as missionaries. We need “good news” local churches filled with “good news” people.

So what does high-definition evangelism look like? Here are three characteristics of gospel-centered evangelism for a multiethnic world:

1) Evangelism must be rooted in a gospel-centered vision. What is the good news? It’s the announcement that Israel’s Messiah has accomplished what He came to do. Jesus has defeated sin, death, and evil through His sinless life, atoning death on the cross, resurrection, and ascension to the right hand of His father, where He is now our high priest.

Jesus now rules His kingdom at the right hand of God the papa. By grace alone, through the Holy Spirit’s power, people who trust in Jesus are swept up into his glorious kingdom. This redeemed, multicolored people become a “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation,” proclaiming the “excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9–10).

2) Evangelism must be rooted in gospel-centered worship. Gospel-centered worship is not simply singing, but a lifestyle submerged, interwoven, and united to Jesus’ very life. When worship is a lifestyle, evangelism is not an activity but an identity. A congregation ...

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The Nations Have Come to Our Cities

We cannot overlook the influx of "the nations" ready for the gospel.

Our first public service for Church of the Beloved launched on a cold Saturday afternoon in the diverse Near West Side of Chicago, surrounded by different African American, Mexican, Chinese, even historically Italian neighborhoods. Within walking distance is the University of Illinois at Chicago, one of the more internationally diverse universities in the country. We didn’t know it at the time, but from this location we started a church that would welcome people from different cultures and backgrounds.

Within a few months of planting, I felt prompted to ask my new congregation to stand if they were born outside of the States. I wondered what God was up to when more than half of the church stood up. The nations were coming to our church.

Our first conversion was a Thai American anesthesiologist. The day after his conversion, he shared his testimony with a group of international students who had just moved from Thailand. Through a translator, I was also able to share the gospel in their heart language. Only one person in the group had an idea of who Jesus was. This was their first time ever hearing of Jesus and it was in Chicago!

As I was finishing my gospel presentation, one of the students cut me off, exclaiming, “If this is the gospel, it’s too good to be true!” I replied, “Then you understand the gospel!” In that group of Thai students, one of the students turned to Christ and was baptized five days before she moved back home.

Soon after, a group of students who had moved from China that week walked into our church and filled up two rows. After the service, they approached me and said they had never been to church until that day. Because their English (especially theological English) was ...

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California's Religious Liberty Moment—Coming to a State Near You

On the verge of a precedent that should not be set.

The California legislature is poised to consider legislation that could destroy the ability of numerous faith-based colleges and universities to pursue the mission for which they were created. SB 1146, one of two similar bills recently introduced into the California legislature, would essentially restrict fully faith-based education to seminaries.

As explained in the Biola University news:

If passed as is, this bill would strip California’s faith-based colleges and universities of their religious liberty to educate students according to their faith convictions.

The proposed legislation seeks to narrow a religious exemption in California only to those institutions of higher learning that prepare students for pastoral ministry. This functionally eliminates the religious liberty for students of all California faith-based colleges and universities who integrate spiritual life with the entire campus educational experience.

Biola is one of the schools potentially affected if SB 1146 is passed into law. Barry Corey, the president of Biola, expressed his concerns to me via email while on his way back from Ethiopia:

California’s faith-based colleges and universities make profound contributions to the common good of society, not in spite of but because of our deeply held faith convictions. It would be a step backwards if California, a state that has long been a leader in diversity, inclusion and pluralism, could not find a way to value and honor the religious freedom of Christian universities like Biola while at the same time respecting the dignity of our students.

Richard Kriegbaum, president of Fresno Pacific University, writes on the school blog:

Stated very simply, SB 1146 would severely restrict the free and full exercise ...

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Dont Call Me Out at Your Wedding for Being Single

The church can model a more inclusive community, one that doesnt divide over marital status.

Here’s a new wedding tradition I recently heard about: Instead of tossing their bouquets, Christian brides give each single woman at their reception a flower from the bunch and pray individually for them to find a husband.

Compared to the ritual of competing to catch the bouquet, this approach was “sweet,” “thoughtful,” and “selfless” according to the women I saw discussing the idea on Facebook—plus a unique addition for brides eager to do something new and memorable at their weddings.

As a single woman, I immediately thought, No way. I tried to imagine attending a wedding where the bride tried to do that to me. I can only picture myself declining the flower and leaving the event altogether. It’s a well-intentioned but condescending gesture. It’s pretty presumptive to assume that all the single women you know would want a husband right now. Just because you did doesn’t mean I do.

This new ritual got me thinking about what it means to be single, specifically a single Christian woman, during wedding season. Never am I more aware of my singleness than in the summertime, when my calendar is dotted with weekend ceremonies and I’m under pressure to find a date or prepare to sit through another wedding solo.

When I turned 16, my dad made me a wooden hope chest. Before bridal showers and registries, girls received hope chests to fill dishes and doilies and linens in anticipation of when they would be married and setting up house with their new husband. That year, I spent all my birthday money on dishes and silverware and glasses to put in the chest. My grandma sent me doilies she had crocheted, and an elderly woman in our church knitted me an afghan. Once the chest ...

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Weekend Edition—June 24, 2016

Church members, Stats, Singing Scripture, Church Signs, and more!

Five Reasons It Is So Painful For A Pastor To Lose A Church MemberThom Rainer

If you are a pastor who hasn’t suffered this pain, you will.

Singing Scripture is really good for youAaron Armstrong

And the psalms are a great example of it.

where are God’s people to end slavery? slavery could end — and it begins hereAnn Voskamp & Gary Haugen

A strong reminder about a crucial problem.

Gay Marriage in the U.S., After Obergefell v. HodgesMarina Koren

This is included to bring you the latest stats.

Success Focused on Yourself Poisons Your SoulChris Martin

Success as a byproduct is great. As a goal, it can be trouble.

Don’t forget to subscribe to the The Exchange Podcast in iTunes. Click here to listen to my interview with Dr. Bruce Ashford.

Earlier this week on The Exchange

As goes the mainline, so goes the nation

The Future of the SBC—Is Not White

What the Tower of Babel Can Teach Us about Our Desire for True Gospel Witness

The Future of the SBC—State Conventions

Some SBC Reflections—a Short Series

Saturday is for Seminars—and Preaching in Chicago Area Churches

Missional Hymns—An Interview with Keith Getty

Church Signs

So say we all.

Can we agree opinions are mixed on this sentiment?

Judging from the colored letters the meeting’s in a hair salon.

Thanks to Scott, Duane Biggs, and Jonathan Jenkins for the church signs this week. As always you can tweet your church sign pics to @EdStetzer.

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Across 198 Nations, Christians Face More Terrorism But Less Government Hostility

Pew finds that terrorism threatens to surpass the traditional persecutors of the global church.

From some angles, it looks like the beginning of a hopeful trend among the steady stream of persecution headlines.

Both government and societal harassment of religion dropped worldwide in 2014, according to a Pew Research Center study released today. This is the second year in a row that researchers found such a drop.

Overall, religious restrictions were high in 34 percent of the 198 countries and self-governing territories Pew examined in 2014, down from 39 percent in 2013 and 43 percent in 2012. About half of the countries (51%) saw decreases in government restrictions, while about a third (36%) saw increases.

But the news was more mixed for Christians, which make up about 30 percent of the world’s population. Once again, Christians were the most harassed religious group, facing arrest, discrimination, and assault in 108 countries, up from 102 countries in 2013 (but falling short of the 110 countries in 2012).

Pew has measured persecution both by governmental sources and societal pressure since 2009, when it launched its landmark analysis. In 2012, religious hostilities hit record levels.

Overall, about a quarter of the world’s governments (24%) had high or very high levels of restrictions against religion in 2014, down from 28 percent in 2013 and 29 percent in 2012. (In other words, nine nations have dropped out of the “high” category since 2012.) Nearly half of the countries examined (46%) saw decreases in the level of government restrictions, while about a third (29%) saw increases.

That meant fewer governments interfered with worship practices, Pew stated. “There also was a sizable drop in the number of countries where governments used force against religious groups that resulted in individuals ...

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