Friday, January 23, 2009

Church, Inc. Pt. 1

All indicators, both statistically and through observation, show an overall decline in Christian churches in America. It seems that too many ministries are just simply ineffective. What's to blame? Breakdown of families that once were the pillars of community churches? Outdated methods of worship? The spread of moral relativism? The scandals that cause scores to fall away from the faith? All of those things may play a part, but most are given too much weight. I think there is another key reason for the seeming stagnation of the American Church.
The Church has become Incorporated.

In saying this I mean that most churches are not only chartered with their respective states, have written bylaws, filed 501c3 paperwork, and established procedures, but have also taken on the qualities and spirit of a secular corporation. We have allowed the standards, practices, and indicators of successes and failures to be patterned after profit-seeking businesses. Churches are no longer the organic gatherings of Christian believers that they were meant to be. Instead, members are investments who are expected to produce a material "return". Lost souls and those seeking a church to call home are "customers" whose likes and dislikes are translated into marketing campaigns and ever-changing worship styles. Services are simply sales opportunities.

Let me be clear. Organization is good. Nothing bugs me more than an unorganized or of sync church where no one knows what's going on. And true enough, someone in the church needs to have some business sense for the purposes of handling funds, property, and necessary business. (I believe the Bible calls these people "Deacons") But organization should facilitate the mission of the church, not hinder it. Where we err is in getting caught up in the "bottom line" mentality that keeps us focused only on our ABC's...... Attendance, Buildings, and Cash.

Desire to increase attendance should never supersede efforts to save souls and transform lives. We are most guilty of mimicking the business world, willing to do just about anything to get a few more people under the false pretense that God wants us to draw people in by "any means necessary". While there are many approaches to ministry, the Bible is pretty clear that the preaching of the Gospel and the love and concern of the believers will draw people to Christ, not hip lingo, updated music, or marketing gimmicks

The perceived need to build bigger and more glorious structures should not outweigh the mission to build community. Notice I said "community", not communities. A sense of "community" is needed among believers and spread to those surrounding them before any physical area or region can be improved. This is a spiritual process, not a physical one. So the biggest, fanciest building will not draw people. The average community member may actually resent the deep commitment church members have for their building while not showing much concern for the people around them. In fact, the "church building" we are so familiar with is not even mentioned in NT scripture.

And the receiving of financial gifts is only one way of many to accomplish the goals of kingdom building. How sick are we of hearing the church talk about money? Not because the Bible doesn't speak of money, but because of the unbiblical, high-pressure, snake oil salesman-like approach most preachers take to discussing money. (no offense to you snake oil salesmen out there). But the bigger issue here is that the church too often views cash as it's only worldly resource. All this attitude does is condition leaders to focus less on the talents and vocational offerings of the church members and community members and more on their ever dwindling pocketbooks. Fact is, there are many products and services that the church seeks out, that could be very well provided in house with little or not cost. But instead the church automatically seeks cash to pay someone outside source for labor and/or materials.

So what's the solution, you ask? Well, you got me there. But a good place to start might be Acts chapters 2:42-47 and 4:32-37.

elder todd

Thursday, January 15, 2009

A Perfect Storm

cli- ch̩ [klee-shey] Рnoun
1. a trite, stereotyped expression; a sentence or phrase, usually expressing a popular or common thought or idea, that has lost originality, ingenuity, and impact by long overuse, as sadder but wiser, or strong as an ox.
2. (in art, literature, drama, etc.) a trite or hackneyed plot, character development, use of color, musical expression, etc.
3. anything that has become trite or commonplace through overuse.

Well, here we are in the third week of January and while most meteorologists are calling for cloudy days, snow showers, bitter cold, and icy conditions, I've got a forecast of my own. For the next few weeks, expect heavy rain. A heavy rain of catchphrases and mindless verbal expressions, that is.

Recent events have dictated that for the foreseeable future we are going to be inundated with unreasonable amounts of simple observations that will supposedly put us back into correct spiritual perspective. But instead I suspect these "gems of truth" will only force thousands of Optometrists to work overtime treating masses of churchgoers for "Acute Eye-Roll Strain".

Who are the culprits? Our pastors and other spiritual commentators. Their weapon of choice? Their tongues aka (the cliche gun). The ammunition? A triple round comprised of a unique blend of events that are of national interest. Let's take a look at them:

The Super Bowl
Here's an annual favorite of mine. This is the time of year when far too many pastors all but demonize the very act of watching professional sports. They'll remind us of how those pro sports stars really don't care about the fans, lament how many of us have already tuned out their sermons thinking about the game (don't they know we check scores on our cell phones now?), claim that some have made football their God (really?), and my personal favorite: proclaim how Jesus scored the ultimate Touchdown for us on the cross.

I won't even bother rebutting most of those precious gems of wisdom, but I will caution our leaders that comparing our Christian faith to a sports past-time only serves to cheapen the importance of our faith to mere athletic endeavors, and deprive the hearers of more meaningful spiritual instruction and inspiration. And who's to say Christ didn't score many more touchdowns? I wouldn't be surprised to discover the Son of God was quite the half back at East Nazareth High.

The Wall Street Bailout
Honestly, the less I hear about greedy corporate CEOs running businesses into the ground and then being rewarded with "bailout" funds which never seem to make it to their intended destinations, the better off I am. But no, I must be reminded week after week of what a failure any bailout will be. Think I've been watching to much CNN? I probably have, but I've heard this far more over the pulpit than over the airwaves. I don't know too of my peers who have been salivating and rubbing their palms together in anticipation of their slice of the bailout pie. Besides, they're too busy salivating and rubbing their palms together in anticipation of that other "free giveaway", their tax refund. Get a grip everyone, the key word is REFUND. It was yours to begin with.

Anyway, from what I hear in church, I need to get my head out the clouds and stop checking my mailbox for a bailout check and instead "look to the hills......". Yeah, I get it, now let's get back to real preaching and teaching. Now before I get accused of being to cynical, again, I point out that by lending ourselves to these cheap observations, we are robbing ourselves of prime opportunity to minister to people who are truly hurting and needful with words of genuine wisdom and Godly assurance concerning his provision.

And finally,

Barack Obama
Seriously, what did this guy do to deserve the wrath of preachers everywhere? Ok, so a few right-wing nuts claimed that Obama was the antichrist, even going so far as producing a Youtube video linking him to prophecy in Revelations. So, he's a political liberal and vague about his faith. Fact is, most politicians are just like him for fear of alienating an entire voter base. Newsflash - Muslim-Americans have the right to vote too!!

Anyway, I'm proud to say I voted for President, not pastor. Anyone looking to ANY secular figure to be their moral compass is certainly misguided. But I won't deny the sense of pride and hope (if only momentary) I feel in knowing that my generation has seen the election of the first Black president. As a student of African-American history and one who has counted Dr. King as a personal hero since my elementary days, I see nothing wrong in acknowledging those good things that do occur within our culture and taking time to celebrate such a monumental achievement. So pastors, your perspective is sorely needed, but don't be the rain on our parade. See? Even I can use one once in while.

elder todd

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

George the Baptist

This past Sunday, our church held its first Baptism Service of 2009. Now I was baptized as a young Christian and I've seen my father, Pastor George Johnson, Sr., perform dozens of such services. But as we made preparations for this recent service, I found myself suddenly struck by the sheer magnitude of what it means to be Baptized. To watch my father leading believers to the water just like John the Baptist did some 2,000 years ago, to see the faces of those willing and ready to "take the plunge" both physically and spiritually, it is simply amazing to consider the Biblical significance of the moment. As the candidates cautiously approach the steps of our spacious, indoor, heated pool, do they realize they are mimicking the very actions of Christ? Do they see the Holy Spirit descending upon them like a dove? Do they hear the voice of God Himself voicing His heavenly approval of their faith? I hope so, and if not now, perhaps as they grow and mature in Christ.

Which leads me to my next thought. What has happened to the Church as a whole honoring the Ordinances of Christ? This isn't meant to be an argument as to what should be considered as the Ordinances of Christ, for that will be a never-ending debate. Some churches/denominations recognize as few as 1, others as many as 4 or more. But I think the two most can agree on is the celebration of the Lord's Supper and Water Baptism. But it appears that the practice of Water Baptism has gone underground. Ministries in my city and around the country go to great lengths to promote musicals, concerts, conferences, convocations, theatrical productions, cake walks, prayer breakfasts, spaghetti dinners, Men's/Women's Days, Youth Explosions, but you never hear of a church announcing it has welcomed new souls into the kingdom and they will be affirming their faith in Baptism. When did what the Bible described as a public declaration of faith become a private affair?

I'm just a young man, but I've heard the stories of the saints of old, making their way to the river bank singing "Take Me To the Water" or "Let's Go Down by the River". In those days, the service was by default a public affair that mirrored the ministry of John the Baptist and the practice of the early Church far more closely than what we see (or don't see) today. Sure enough, some churches have pools within their sanctuaries while others can rent out a pool facility, such as the local YWCA (as we did before moving into our new building). But should these luxuries cause us to privatize the public profession of faith? I would say no. Rather, I'd challenge all who proclaim Christ, including my own church, to restore this wonderful event to its proper public status; not to the embarrassment of the candidates, (which shouldn't be an issue anyway - Mark 8:38) or to make a spectacle, but as a witness to the world that Jesus still saves, renews, restores, and regenerates all those who trust in him.

So here's hoping in 2009 that between the announcements for BBQ dinners, church anniversaries, bake sales, and choir musicals, we'll see in our local newspapers an announcement that yet more souls have been rescued from darkness and believers everywhere are invited to celebrate and share in their Baptism.

elder todd

Matthew 3:13-17
13 Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him.

14 But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?

15 And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him.

16 And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him:

17 And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

How to subscribe to agape speaks

Glad to hear that a few people would like to subscribe to agape speaks, but don't know how. All you have to do is click " follow this blog" or visit and sign up with an existing email address and a password you create. You can then choose a display/user name and voila! you're in! (you'll probably get an email from google to confirm your email)

Once you're signed in just come back to agape speaks, and click on the link "follow this blog" and you'll be able to comment.

Thanks for your support.

elder todd

Friday, January 9, 2009

'tis STILL the season for giving

Christmas has passed, the bell ringers have packed up their red buckets, most churches and shelters have served the last of their community dinners, and that wonderful feeling of generosity and goodwill towards men seems to have been packed away with the lights and garland.

But lest we forget, there are still scores of needy people all around us, families are still struggling in these, the worst economic times we've seen in decades, and the weather outside is still frightful, even more so, as in my neck of the woods, when the worst of the winter weather occurs after Christmas (like the 4-6 inches we're expecting this weekend).  While we consider the plight of retail stores who face a dramatic slowdown following the shopping season, don't forget the countless shelters, missions, churches, and community centers who also face a post-christmas drag.

So in between self-administered pats on the back for the good work we've rendered to our fellow man during the holidays, let's remember that need doesn't know a season.

Mat 25:44-45  
44 Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee hungry, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? 
45 Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.  

elder todd

Welcome to agape speaks!!

This is the inaugural posting of agape speaks. This is my first attempt at managing a blog, and I'm sure it will take some time to build an audience. Hopefully, you'll find my posts interesting as I sound off on current events, Biblical topics, and share some thoughts on the goings on at my home church, Agape Assembly Church (

So let's get going!

elder todd