Every important action you will ever take is based on one of only two human motivations: fear and aspiration.

That’s according to marketing guru Seth Godin, who might as well be talking about the Christian gospel. Over the years Evangelicals have yo-yoed between positive and negative motivations as the basis for our message.

Old Holy Bible

The old gospel, the one ante-millennials cut their teeth on, was based on fear—the fear of hell.

The new gospel, the one we began using sometime in the 1990s, appeals to an aspiration—personal well-being or success.

Is one better or worse?

Actually, both are wrong. It’s time to return to the other gospel, the one Jesus preached.

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As a pastor for most of the last 30 years, I had one burning question: Am I doing this right? The reason pastors wonder about that is that (a) there are many different ways to do church these days, and (b) there are so many people telling us we’re doing it wrong.

The word "PASTOR" written in vintage metal letterpress type in a wooden drawer with dividers.

Given that leadership theory is now the dominant way of evaluating pastoral effectiveness, it’s fitting to apply the advice of  Warren Bennis, the grandfather of modern leadership theory, to pastoral ministry.

Thirty-five years ago, Bennis said, “Managers are people who do things right and leaders are people who do the right thing.”

Rather than asking “Am I doing this right?” a better question for pastors is “Am I doing the right things?”

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Lifestyle evangelism, aka friendship evangelism, is a strategy for making converts by living an attractive life among non-Christians so they will be drawn to the gospel and want to know more about Jesus.

Photo Courtesy of Hugo Chisholm

This strategy has been popular since the 1990s, and most Evangelicals would probably say that they share their faith primarily by building relationships with nonbelievers.

Of course, lifestyle evangelism works only if your lifestyle is distinctively Christian. Otherwise, it’s just networking.

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The task of a spiritual leader is to inspire people to see and enter the other life, the life of the spirit. It isn’t that spiritual leaders don’t have to deal with mundane concerns. Even Francis, the most inspirational Pope in recent memory, has spent his share of time revamping the Curia and reeling in renegade bishops.

But spiritual a spiritual leader’s primary task is not directing the affairs of an organization. That’s the work of deacons, useful chaps who are great at setting goals, forming strategies, measuring results—the very things we wrongly label “leadership.”

As the spiritual leader of a congregation, a pastor’s job is quite different. And my greatest mistake as a pastor was to set aside my true work to become the CEO of a nonprofit corporation called the local church.

Here’s how it happened.

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Pastors have a lot on their minds each week. They have a huge task, and there’s much to remember. Heading toward Sunday, a minister may be preoccupied with dozens, even hundreds of concerns.

They think about:

The shreds of biblical language they learned in seminary.
The number of dollars they’re behind on budget for the year.
The number of volunteers needed to make Sunday happen.
The calls they need to return.

But there’s one all pastors forget eventually. And when we do, it tanks our effectiveness harder and faster than missing budget or blowing a board meeting.

I know this because I’ve done it myself.

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We have always been told that there is only one remedy for sin, salvation by grace through the blood of Christ. But that is not true. At least not the whole truth. The atoning death of Christ frees us from guilt, but there is more to sin than guilt just as there is more to the flu than nausea.

Concept of justice. Law scales on blue background. 3d

There is more to salvation than justification by faith. Much more.

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Fewer people are attending church these days, and the reason is not what you think.

The Pew Research Center dropped a bombshell yesterday. The center for the study of religion in American life released a new study based on a survey of 35,000 Americans, which finds that Christians have declined sharply as a share of the population while the number of religiously unaffiliated and other faiths have continued to grow.

Though some see good news in the study for Evangelicalism, I strongly disagree. Though historically evangelical denominations may have gained about 2 million members, that gain was purely from “religious switching.” Evangelicals as a percentage of the US population declined by about 1 percent. There is no positive spin on the decline of Christianity in America.

Detail of the church seats with Bibles

The Pew research mirrors other data on the decline of church attendance, so it’s not really news. Still, it begs the question: Why don’t people go to church?

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