The Rising Decline of the American Church – Christian Penumbra

Living in Southern California, we have our share of good and bad. The good is the fantasic weather we experience year round. The bad is that occasional shaking called earthquakes. This past weekend, we had a moderate tremor which shook the foundation of our house. The damage was minor but left its mark with broken glass on the floor, books scattered along the ground, and cracks in our wall.

Earthquakes are part of the reality of our geography. Living on a fault line means that one day, we will be dealing with earthquakes. But there are different types of earthquakes that can shake the foundation and core of our beliefs. Organizationally, this week World Vision changed their policy same-sex hire before reversing back to their original statement because of the outcry of many conservative Evangelicals.

Underneath the the rumblings of social issues, there is a deeper fault line that is on the verge of shaking things up in our Evangelical subculture. This is the danger of “Christian penumbra” – the residue of religion.

The question we need to address is what is our identity as Christians? Or better yet, what should our identity be? If we are to make a difference in our culture do we live “with” the world – assimilate, accommodate. Or, do we live “from” the world – confront, challenge. Both are questions that we need deep theological reflection.

To begin this process, I read this op-ed piece  from the New York times  this past weekend. I was struck by the the concept of “Christian Penumbra.” I would love to get your thoughts on this article. Without a doubt, the landscape of Evangelicalism is shaking and splintering. The question for us now and in the future is “how do we brace ourselves and what should we do with the aftershocks?”

Here is the article. I would love to get your thoughts on this.


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HERE is a seeming paradox of American life. One the one hand, there is a broad social-science correlation between religious faith and various social goods — health and happiness, upward mobility, social trust, charitable work and civic participation.

Yet at the same time, some of the most religious areas of the country — the Bible Belt, the deepest South — struggle mightily with poverty, poor health, political corruption and social disarray.

Part of this paradox can be resolved by looking at nonreligious variables like race. But part of it reflects an important fact about religion in America: The social goods associated with faith flow almost exclusively from religious participation, not from affiliation or nominal belief. And where practice ceases or diminishes, in what you might call America’s “Christian penumbra,” the remaining residue of religion can be socially damaging instead.

Consider, as a case study, the data on divorce. Earlier this year, a pair of demographers released a study showing that regions with heavy populations of conservative Protestants had higher-than-average divorce rates, even when controlling for poverty and race.

Their finding was correct, but incomplete. As the sociologist Charles Stokes pointed out, practicing conservative Protestants have much lower divorce rates, and practicing believers generally divorce less frequently than the secular and unaffiliated.

But the lukewarmly religious are a different matter. What Stokes calls “nominal” conservative Protestants, who attend church less than twice a month, have higher divorce rates even than the nonreligious. And you can find similar patterns with other indicators — out-of-wedlock births, for instance, are rarer among religious-engaged evangelical Christians, but nominal evangelicals are a very different story.

It isn’t hard to see why this might be. In the Christian penumbra, certain religious expectations could endure (a bias toward early marriage, for instance) without support networks for people struggling to live up to them. Or specific moral ideas could still have purchase without being embedded in a plausible life script. (For instance, residual pro-life sentiment could increase out-of-wedlock births.) Or religious impulses could survive in dark forms rather than positive ones — leaving structures of hypocrisy intact and ratifying social hierarchies, without inculcating virtue, charity or responsibility.

And it isn’t hard to see places in American life where these patterns could be at work. Among those working-class whites whose identification with Christianity is mostly a form of identity politics, for instance. Or among second-generation Hispanic immigrants who have drifted from their ancestral Catholicism. Or in African-American communities where the church is respected as an institution without attracting many young men on Sunday morning.

Seeing some of the problems in our culture through this lens might be useful for the religious and secular alike. For nonbelievers inclined to look down on the alleged backwardness of the Bible Belt, it would be helpful to recognize that at least some the problems they see at work reflect traditional religion’s growing weakness rather than its potency.

For believers, meanwhile, the Christian penumbra’s pathologies could just be seen as a kind of theological vindication — proof, perhaps, of the New Testament admonition that it’s much worse to be lukewarm than hot or cold.

But it’s better to regard these problems as a partial indictment of America’s churches: Not only because their failure to reach the working class and the younger generation is making the penumbra steadily bigger, but because a truly healthy religious community should be capable of influencing even the loosely attached somewhat for the better.

The problems in the penumbra also have an unacknowledged place in our current controversies over religious liberty, from the debates (which reached the Supreme Court last week) over the scope of religious exemptions from the health care law’s contraceptive mandate, to the legal questions raised by the advance of same-sex marriage.

These arguments turn on constitutional issues, competing visions of freedom, the scope of pluralism versus the rights of gays and women. But they’re also partially about what kind of institutions are best equipped to address social problems in an individualistic age, and whether we should want the Christian penumbra to be reclaimed for religion or become more thoroughly secularized instead.

Among religious conservatives, not surprisingly, the hope is that traditional forms of faith — if left to build, or re-build, without being constantly disfavored, pressured and policed — can make a kind of comeback, and fill part of the void their own decline has left.

On the secular side, though, there’s a sense that there’s a better way — that a more expansive state can offer many of the benefits associated with a religious community, but in a more enlightened, tolerant, individual-respecting form. And if delivering these benefits requires co-opting or constraining religious actors — be they charities and schools or business owners — well, that’s either a straightforward win-win, or a relatively modest price to pay.

In this sense, the Christian penumbra isn’t just a zone of social disorder. It’s a field of ideological battle.

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Empowering Across Ethnicities in the Body of Christ Racial and cultural differences must not keep us from empowering our brothers and sisters in Christ.

I have had the opportunity to serve the Lord in a number of capacities over the course of my life. I am a Korean-American evangelical Christian pastor that has been empowered significantly by the majority culture of the American evangelical church and it’s been a blessing throughout my time as a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

While I realize that not every Asian American has experiences like mine, I think we can all agree that the Body of Christ would be better if we were willing to invest in each other. Each of us is a byproduct of the people that have invested in us. As I think about how we can move forward together in a multicultural society, I want to suggest four things to remember as we work together for the kingdom:
1. Christ and His Gospel are our primary focus.
It’s critical to “keep the main thing the main thing.” Our racial and ethnic identity is a part of who we are and it is to be celebrated. However, we must not lose sight of God’s mission of making disciples of “all ethnic” groups, all people. This is what unites us.
2. We are all created in the Imago Dei, yet we are fallen.
We are all created in God’s image with the same need to be loved, to believe, and to become. But we are also fallen people who are in a desperate need of a Savior. Our culture and ethnic background color our perspectives, but nonetheless at the core we are, part of the same fallen humanity. This means we must treat one another with grace and forgiveness, especially when we see things differently.
3. We must first walk in grace and humility
Whenever race becomes an issue of injustice, there are no winners. Pastor Ken Fong, pastor of Evergreen Baptist Church of Los Angeles, described it this way:
“When I was at the Urbana 2000 speakers’ retreat (in 1999), we all got a chance to hear from the new apologist for our upcoming missions conference. I believe his last name was something like Raminchandra—he was the former top nuclear physicist for Sri Lanka, I believe, but was now serving as the head of the IFES movement in that part of the world (InterVarsity outside of North America). A quietly brilliant and humble man. He told us that our greatest apologetic is the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ. The pursuit of justice, he said, will never result in lasting peace. Why? Because those who have been wronged will pursue their oppressors, calling for justice, and often themselves committing acts of violence and aggression towards them. As a result, their oppressors feel like victims of injustice and cry out for justice. And on and on and on. Only the cross of Christ can break this cycle—even though seeking justice seems righteous and justifiable and worthwhile. For only by bringing our pain to the cross of Jesus and leaving it there for Jesus to handle will any of us ever find real and lasting peace.”
These are pretty profound words. The default mode of any oppression is to rely upon God’s ultimate vindication and justice. Romans 12:19 reminds us, “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.”
4. We must intentionally seek to invest in “others” who might be different than us.
One of the lessons from my own life is that people from “outside” my culture, context and heritage invested in me. It was at the intersection of two cultures that we both learned more about the other person but also, we learned about ourselves. We learned what is appropriate, what is funny, what is offensive. But most of all, we learned to overlook our mistakes, forgive, and move beyond. Interestingly, my current pastoral staff is now a mixture of different backgrounds, ethnicities and races. Most of my staff of 13 pastors, interns, and staff are non-Asian. We have a ratio of 60/40 (white/Asian). By learning to live in community together, we learn that while we may be different in our backgrounds, at the core we really are the same.
Continuing the Journey
Reflecting on my experiences of being a recipient of so much grace from the larger and broader “white” Evangelical community, I realize that my experience might not be the normative experience for many Asian Americans. Some may have experienced constant oppression, intentional or unintentional, from the majority culture. My encouragement for all of us is to demonstrate lives of humility, grace and being “conformed” to the image of Christ, loving and serving one another. Partnership as co-laborers in Christ for the sake of the Gospel will ultimately bring about true unity and racial harmony.

When all’s said and done, this is what heaven will look like: “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9).
I’d love your feedback about this article. Please connect with us at Ambassador Network was founded with the vision of becoming a catalyst to support a multi-ethnic church planting movement by investing in young leaders. Through Ambassador Network, we are able to also help existing churches with their current ministry needs like church health, church staffing, as well as church consulting. If you would like to further interact with Ambassador Network, you can email me at

Originally from:

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Doctoral Thesis Abstract


In the past twenty years, there has been a growing awareness and renewed focus on church planting in North America. This project examines one of the ways to increase effectiveness in church planting through the development and execution of a church-based church planting residency program. It examines the assessment, training, and support provided to church planters through case studies of two different types of church planting residency programs. These case studies outline the assessment and recruitment strategies, and then examine their training and equipping models. Finally, it describes how these planters are supported after completing their residency. The goal of this study is to assist Ambassador Church in developing a church-based church planting residency program.

A summary of the findings from the two case studies is found in eight best practices. First, the senior leader of the church must hold to the vision of church planting and be able to disseminate the vision to other key leaders. And, the passed down vision needs a clear missional focus. Second, financial investment is important in starting a church based residency program. Third, a qualified leader needs to oversee the program to guide the residents in recruitment, training and coaching. Fourth, a clear assessment process needs to be established in recruiting the best church planting candidates. Fifth, the best method of training church planters is through a combination of classroom learning and on the job training. Sixth, since each resident brings an unique background in experience, personality and spiritual gifts, the residency needs to be adaptable and flexible. Seventh, in addition to financial support, other support systems such as coaching, emotional and spiritual support need to a part of a long-term development of the resident. Finally, the two case study churches developed partnerships and cooperation with other churches and organizations to assist in their recruitment, training and support structures. This allowed the churches use their resources.

Download Here: DMin Dissertation Final

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Developing a Culture of Internships in the Local Church

Creating a Culture of Internship in the Church

There are many factors that contribute to who we are and what we are about. Whether people, circumstances, or books, God can bring various experiences along our paths that shape us and our ministry. For me, 1991 was a one-year experience that served as the profoundly formative experience of my life.

Growing up at church, my understanding of ministry was either by sheer observation (usually what not to do) or just learning by doing (usually being told what to do). There was very little guidance.

After finishing at two seminaries with two Master’s degrees, I was as one person remarked, “educated beyond my intelligence.” I had all the theory without practice, until a friend told me about an internship at a large church in Fullerton, California. It was pastored by one of my preaching heroes, Chuck Swindoll. Just an opportunity to be trained under this gifted leader was one of my dreams.

When I applied, I had very little hope that I would be selected. Each year, they would select two full-time interns who would not only work with Pastor Chuck but would also be the interns with the church. This radically changed my understanding of ministry. The internship became the most valuable, formative experience for me. I call this year the seminary learning I never got from seminary, or simply the missing year of seminary.

In our internship year, the church was dealing with an elder convicted of child molestation. We saw how the church dealt with crises and how sin was confronted. We saw how the staff supported each other through the day-to-day grind of ministry rather than creating silos. We saw the key element of trust fostered and nurtured among the church board and staff. We saw worship joyfully experienced and God’s Word faithfully taught. We were also given opportunities to teach, lead and learn from all the staff.

I look back at that year as the most foundational and formational year of my life. It was an internship that was personal and practical. It focused on exposure and experience. It gave full access to learning.

Because of the value of internships in my life, I wanted to make this a part of our culture when we planted a church in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. The church plant began with five interns from Talbot Seminary and their spouses as the core group. It became a laboratory for these interns to learn how to do ministry. While nothing was set up, they established ministries like small groups, worship, young adult, outreach and assimilation. From our core group of six families we grew to about 60 adults and launched our church.

From this experience, I have learned some principles of developing a culture of internships or residencies. In my doctoral thesis, I examined two case studies of churches who had well-developed “internship” or “residency” programs. For the sake of this article, I will use the terms synonymously. While some have called an internship “slave labor” or “free work no one else wants to do,” the goal of an internship is to “provide supervised practical training.” The focus is more on the intern rather than the job. It is an investment for the long-term rather than for short-term ministry gain. While churches and ministries may gain from interns, it really serves to invest in building up workers for God’s kingdom.

So how does a church, regardless of size, develop a culture of internships? Here are some practical questions and principles to consider.

Do you have a vision for investing in younger leaders? It begins with the senior leader or leaders. If internship is truly to be a value, then it has to be a value with the person steering the bus. Leaders provide the access points for internships and should lead the church to value the process.
Are you willing to make financial investments? It takes more than a willingness to bring on interns. It takes resources. Will the church structure or restructure resources to invest in interns? The great news about interns is that it doesn’t take a lot.
Is there someone who can personally oversee the interns? Whether the senior pastor or a staff member, churches of all sizes can offer practical learning if time, direction, and guidance is given.
Are you willing to give a realistic assessment of the interns? Feedback is important during an internship process. Whether they are serving, teaching, or leading, there must be an assessment process.
Is there a training process in place? Some of my early internship experience was just about doing. I was a hired gun for a particular need like youth ministry, but there was no training. Training involves both classroom and on-the-job training. It also has to fit with the unique background and personality of the intern.
As I reflect on my days as a pastoral intern, it was one of the most important years of my life. All five principles were integral in the internship. The church was completely on board with this internship. It was celebrated from the senior pastor to the person sitting in the pew. They paid me a full-time salary. The senior associate pastor personally oversaw the process and met with us weekly to go over what we learned. To this day, he is still one of my personal mentors. We had consistent times of reflection and assessment. From the personal interviews at the beginning to internships to feedback through the year, we were constantly challenged to look at how God wired us as leaders. And, the training was both the reading of books and the studying of Scripture together (Pastoral Epistles) as well as on-the-job training. All of this contributed to developing me into a better pastor and leader.

For the sake of the kingdom, we can help the next generation become better pastors and leaders as well.


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AW Tozer, “Don’t Suffer Shipwreck”

Spiritual Warfare and Sin: Don’t Suffer Shipwreck

This charge I commit to you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies
previously made concerning you, that by them you may wage the good
warfare, having faith and a good conscience, which some having
rejected, concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck….
–1 Timothy 1:18-19

Yet the ministry is one of the most perilous of professions. The
devil hates the Spirit-filled minister with an intensity second only
to that which he feels for Christ Himself. The source of this hatred
is not difficult to discover. An effective, Christ-like minister is
a constant embarrassment to the devil, a threat to his dominion, a
rebuttal of his best arguments and a dogged reminder of his coming
overthrow. No wonder he hates him.

Satan knows that the downfall of a prophet of God is a strategic
victory for him, so he rests not day or night devising hidden snares
and deadfalls for the ministry. Perhaps a better figure would be the
poison dart that only paralyzes its victim, for I think that Satan
has little interest in killing the preacher outright. An
ineffective, half-alive minister is a better advertisement for hell
than a good man dead. So the preacher’s dangers are likely to be
spiritual rather than physical, though sometimes the enemy works
through bodily weaknesses to get to the preacher’s soul. God Tells
the Man Who Cares, 90-91.

“Lord, the battle is intense and the enemy is strong. I pray for
every one of my fellow-servants this morning, especially those who
may be close to succumbing. Give Your great grace and victory
today. Amen.”

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A Short History on Taiwan with Stetzer

Ed Stetzer gives a brief overview of the history of Taiwan and some of the spiritual obstacles confronting this nation.

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Asian American Engagement in God’s Global Mission

Last night, Ed Stetzer and I got into a taxi to discuss how Asian Americans can engage in God’s mission in Asia. As an Asian American, I had an unique perspective. Much of my past (son of a Korean immigrant) with my present (A pastor of a multi-cultural mostly Asian American congregation), opened my eyes to the need and opportunity in presenting the Gospel. We can definitely relate to the customs, but more importantly, we can better contextualize the Gospel.

In this video, Ed Stetzer and I discuss this in our Vision trip to Taiwan.

From Ed’s Blog:

Video number 4 from the Jet Set Vision Trip in Taiwan all goes down during a cab ride through Taipei as Ray Chang and I talk about how second generation immigrant churches in America can be involved in God’s global mission. Ray is the pastor of Ambassador Church (an Evangelical Free congregation) in Brea, CA.

Watch and listen as a second generation Asian American leader talks about his vision for the nations. It’s worth your time!

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