Monday, August 8, 2016


This post comes from Scot McKnight and his blog JESUS CREED

What is conversion? Maybe the better question is When is conversion?
Do you think folks convert at a single moment or do you think it happens (for some) over time? Do you think it happens different for different people — some all at once and others over time?
Let me give a big sociological sketch first as this will help us rethink conversion. Studies reveal that folks, in a general sense, “convert” to the Christian faith in one of three basic ways:
  1. through a church process of being nurtured into the faith,
  2. through another church process of ongoing exposure to the sacraments, or
  3. through a personal decision emphasis.
My own contention is that denominations and local churches tend to favor — putting it mildly — one of these processes, and they build institutional life in that church or denomination upon their theory of how conversion occurs. The result is that nurturance converts can be a bit nervous with sacramental converts and personal decision converts can break out in a rash when they encounter either. Studying how conversions take place is discussed in two of my own studies: Turning to Jesus and Finding Faith, Losing Faith.

Tell me: Does your church tend to favor one of these models? Do you think conversion is a process? Or do you think there is a distinct, conscious moment of conversion for anyone who is converted?

Our studies conclude that everyone’s conversion — whether through nurturance, sacraments or personal decision — involve six dimensions: converts emerge out of a
(1) context because of
(2) a crisis of some sort. This crisis prompts
(3) a quest to solve the crisis. The quest leads to
(4) an encounter and interaction with someone or something that advocates conversion.
That encounter prompts
(5) a commitment and
(6) consequences.

Because it is easy to talk theory but theory must be confirmed by experienced reality, we tell stories for each of these dimensions in our study Turning to Jesus.

One of the more interesting features of learning to see all conversions in these six dimensions was the discovery that patterns emerge when you begin to explore different experiences. Thus, we discovered that Jewish conversions to the Christian faith have a pattern, that evangelicals who convert to Roman Catholicism have a distinct pattern as does the pattern of Roman Catholics who become evangelical (this study was written by Hauna Ondrey in Finding Faith, Losing Faith). What surprised me the most was that stories of those who abandon the Christian faith also settle into a recognizable pattern.
The upshot of this is clear: conversion is a process. Perhaps my biggest hope for rethinking conversion is that churches will become sensitive to the various contexts of various peoples so that each person is given the opportunity to experience the grace of God in various ways.

Thursday, July 7, 2016



Sooner or later most pastors are seized withe urge to rebuke.  Being nice is not good enough.  People are hearing messages clothed in graciousness and adorned with gentle prodding and they are not even remotely under conviction.  The Holy Spirit may be knocking at the door but the music of their denial is too loud to hear it.

Those of us entrusted with the Word of God know fully well that rebuking is one function we are to carry out.

"All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,  so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." - 2 Timothy 3.16-17

We all know preachers who thrive on beating up on their flocks--who critique, criticize; who ignore any dimension of goodness and withhold encouragement.  And then we know of pastors who preach around every short-coming, rationalize away their peoples' sins, and affirm peoples' goodness to point of enabling mass denial.

When you see the need for rebuking and summon up the courage to do so, here are some things to remember as you craft that message,

1. Make sure your rebuke comes from the Word of God and is appropriate to the situation. The rebuke should be for ignoring God's standards and expectations--not your personal prejudices and your culture's world view.

2. Make sure that your motivation is God's prompting not your frustration or impatience.  "Quick to listen, slow to anger, slow to speak."

3. Don't rebuke a whole congregation for a few people's disobedience.  Too many pastors fight personal battles from the pulpit.

4.Always provide a clear way to apply and embrace the truth.  Problems without solutions tend to provide frustration or worse.

5. Remind the people that you are speaking the truth in love.  You are on their side and your rebuking them because they will not be able to be the persons God created and redeemed them to be. (Ephesians 2.10)

Do you have other words of counsel?

© 2016 by Stephen L. Dunn.  You have permission to reprint this provided it is unchanged, proper authorship is cited, it is in a publication not for sale, and a link is provided to this site or to For all other uses, contact Steve at 

Wednesday, June 8, 2016



Early in my pastoral ministry, one of my elders gave me a tremendous gift.  It was the gift of honesty. It was early in my ministry at an urban-suburban church that I really was in love with.  The people there had struggled with pastoral leadership that had changed too frequently and I was following someone they had fired. They seemed to really like me and were enthusiastic about my preaching.  Each week after worship I would stand at the door greeting them warmly and receiving their compliments.

But one Sunday, Bob, the elder, lingered in the narthex until everyone had departed.  Then he approached me.  "Pastor, I feel I need to say something."  Bob was always very supportive and had blessed me with consistent affirmation and good counsel.  "Sure, Bob."

The smile left his face and he said to me, "Pastor, I have watched you and I perceive you are a people pleaser."

Talk about being hit with a ton of bricks.  I knew that was not a compliment.

Bob continued.  "Each Sunday I listen to you preach and then I watch as people greet you at the door.  You thrive on their compliments.  Your smile grows larger and larger and you enthusiasm multiplies.  You love what they are saying to you.  You love it when they say 'Great sermon,' 'Loved the message," "I really enjoy your preaching."

I nodded my assent.

"Did you ever think that  maybe that's not a good thing?  That maybe some people should shake your hand quietly but avoid looking you in the eye?  That some should even appear unhappy or angry when they leave?" 

I had not.

"Each Sunday you have people in those pews who are being disobedient to God, who are sinning and are comfortable with it, who are behaving badly, ignoring the truth. If you are really telling them what God needs for them to hear--you should be disturbing them, making them uncomfortable, reminding them of their sin--the sin they are denying."

I thanked him.  It was the best advise I had every received.  When I enter the pulpit I am speaking on behalf of God.  I am delivering his message.  I don't need to be needlessly offensive but I need to be concerned that my message pleases God--not the person listening to it.

Who are you trying to please when you preach?

© 2016 by Stephen L. Dunn.  You have permission to reprint this provided it is unchanged, proper authorship is cited, it is in a publication not for sale, and a link is provided to this site or to For all other uses, contact Steve at 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015