Category Archives: Ministry in LDS Culture

Our Mission at Utah Advance

The Intermountain West was colonized by the Mormon Church, creating a religious culture historically unfriendly to evangelical faith. Thus the spiritual need in Utah is great. Only 2-3% of Utah’s population attends an evangelical church on any given weekend.Utah on map

Utah has 1 evangelical church for every 6,400 Utah residents. Most are small—under 100 members.
Kansas has 2.8 million residents, almost the same as Utah. In Kansas there is one evangelical church for every 1,580 residents.

Utah needs not just more churches, but healthier churches – churches equipped to thrive in this religious culture. Utah needs churches that know how to apply the good news of God’s grace in Jesus Christ to the unique dynamics of life in this region.

Five counties in Utah and one in Idaho have no known evangelical church.

But while the challenge is great, God is at work. Now is a time of great opportunity in Utah. People are increasingly dissatisfied with Mormonism.  Utahans are more open to spiritual conversations than ever before. Many energetic new congregations have been started in recent years. For the first time in history, God is raising up an indigenous church in Utah – a church of Utah natives and long-term residents.

Utah Advance Ministries stands poised at this crossroads of need and opportunity to help Christian churches in Utah – and beyond – to be wiser, more focused, and more effective by adapting their ministry to the surrounding culture. We help existing churches refine their ministries. We help new churches get a healthy start. We also help ministries which encounter Mormonism throughout America and the rest of the world.


“Living in Utah” series

I have just completed a series designed for small groups or Sunday School classes called “Living in Utah”. You can find it at ( is a resource library for discipleship conversations).

series-titleIt’s not easy living as a minority in a dominant religious culture. “Living in Utah” explains how non-Mormons can develop the right understanding and attitude not only to survive, but to thrive. Like all PursueGOD resources, it is free of charge. It should be especially helpful to Christians moving in to Utah or other predominantly LDS communities.

The tone of the series is positive, not combative. It is honest about differences between Mormonism and biblical Christianity, but encourages a respectful encounter.

Lesson One: Living as a Religious Minority
In Utah, Mormonism and its influence are like part of the air we breathe. That may seem daunting to non-Mormons, especially newcomers. But there is hope.

Lesson Two: Introduction to LDS Culture and Beliefs
This lesson provides a brief summary of what Mormons believe and how they live, to help non-Mormons understand how our neighbors think and what matters to them.

Lesson Three: Mormons and Non-Mormons
This lesson explores how Mormons typically relate to non-Mormons, in order to understand the attitudes and experiences one can expect to face in Utah.

Lesson Four: How Would Jesus Relate to Mormons?
To help us understand how to respond to our LDS neighbors, we consider the example of how Jesus might relate to Latter-day Saints – based on his interaction with Samaritans.

These lessons are based on my 30+ years as a pastor in Utah, after growing up in an active LDS family. I have borrowed liberally from the work of others, particularly Scott McKinney’s “Living in Utah” class, which he has offered for years as the Senior Pastor at CenterPoint Church in Orem. I am also indebted to the work Ken Mulholland and others did in the BRIDGES curriculum. Ken is the President of the Western Institute for Intercultural Studies.

“What Mormons Believe” series

Series-Featured-ImageI’ve just completed a brief video series called “What Mormons Believe.” It’s designed to catalyze conversations in families and small groups, or with mentors or friends. The series covers 5 basic topics:

  • The nature of God
  • Scripture
  • The nature of human beings
  • What is salvation
  • What happens in eternity

The series was prepared for the resource web site You can find it here. Each video is 5-8 minutes long, and there is a workbook to help you discuss what you learn. (Be sure to check out all the resources in the growing library at

This series definitely has its limitations. It’s just an introduction, so a great deal more could be said about each of these rich topics. It doesn’t give all of the biblical data on each subject, but just enough to put the LDS ideas presented into some context. And it’s not really about “what Mormons believe” because there is no single point of view shared by all Latter-day Saints. It’s more about what Mormonism and LDS authorities teach. But I’m hopeful that it can help you be better prepared to have informed, meaningful spiritual conversations with LDS friends and relatives.

Apologetics and cults

As I mentioned in a recent post, I was asked to do a series of lectures on “Cults and Apologetics” for the Church Birthing Matrix. This has me thinking about apologetics and its proper role in the Christian church and its witness.

What Is Apologetics?
The word “apologetics” comes from the ancient Greek word “apologia”, meaning “a verbal defense” (Phil 1:7; 1 Peter 3:15).  Apologetics is the branch of study that seeks to make a defense of the Christian faith against objections. This involves properly explaining what the Christian faith actually asserts, against false portrayals. It also involves giving reasons why the Christian faith is credible, specifically in response to attacks from its critics.

Apologetics as Boundary Maintenance
The Bible warns about false teachers and emphasizes the importance of testing truth claims (Matt 7:15; 1 John 4:1; 2 Peter 2; 1 Tim 4:1-3; Jude). Christian leaders are called to protect God’s people from false teachers (Acts 20:28-30) and to instruct those who oppose the truth (2 Tim 2:25-26). In light of this, apologetics is addressed not only to those who attack the Christian faith, but also to those who might be swayed from their faith by such attacks. Apologetics helps us determine who is legitimately part of the Christian family and who is not, in order to help discern whose message to hear and whose to reject – and why.

Apologetics as an Aid to Evangelism
Apologetics is not evangelism. Evangelism is declaring the good news of the offer of God’s gracious salvation in Jesus Christ. A defense of the faith is not the same as sharing the faith. Yet apologetics assists in the presentation of the good news by giving answers to honest questions. It can help the person considering the Christian message to understand the reasonableness of embracing the Christian faith.

Apologetics as an Attack
Apologetics often crosses the line into polemics, as arguments are mustered not only to defend and explain the faith, but to attack the faith of others. I call this “negative apologetics.” In the strictest sense, apologetics is about giving reasons why we believe. It is a response to attacks of others. When Christians go on the offensive against the beliefs of others, this goes beyond the biblical use of the word “apologia.” Yet there is a fine line. The biblical writers often attack false teachers. Peter calls them “unthinking animals” and “a disgrace and a stain” (2 Peter 2:12-13) – although he seems to be referring to a general type and doesn’t name any particular people. Also, to protect God’s people from false teachers seems to require that we point out specific flaws and problems of those teachings. Since Mormonism, for example, aggressively targets members of existing Christian churches for conversion, it makes sense to offer our church members a specific critique of LDS truth claims.

Evangelism / Apologetics / Polemic? A Biblical Pattern
I find it informative to see how the apostle Paul shared the good news of Jesus. Consider three examples from Acts 13-17. To a Jewish audience in Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13), Paul appealed to the Jewish scriptures, to show how they were fulfilled in Jesus as the Messiah. He did not attack the prevalent Jewish understanding of the Bible to make his case. To a rural pagan audience in Lystra (Acts 14), Paul appealed to the common goodness of God as Creator. He did refer to the local worship customs as “worthless”, not as an insult but in the sense of “unable to save.” But his predominant message was that they could know the living God. Then, to a sophisticated pagan audience in Athens (Acts 17), Paul appealed to their inherent religious interest, and started with their “unknown God” to explain the general goodness of the true Creator. He quoted one of their own poets, leading to a declaration of Jesus’ resurrection. Again, Paul did not attack the beliefs of his audience even though many of them responded with open contempt.

We see more in Acts 19. In Ephesus, many people came to Christ in an experience of powerful divine transformation. The effect on the city was so radical that it threatened the economic status quo. The silversmiths, who created images of the gods, found their income threatened, so they began a riot against the Christians. But it was recognized by one of the city’s prominent leaders, in quelling the riot: “they have not spoken against our goddess” (Acts 19:35-37). Ephesus was the world center of Artemis worship. Devotion to Artemis was central to the entire cultural experience of the city. Clearly the worship of Artemis was contrary to God’s revealed truth. But whatever Paul said and did, somehow it was possible for the word of God to spread powerfully in Ephesus without a direct attack on the city’s most important deity.

Apologetics is important. We need to provide sound answers for spiritual seekers, as well as to protect our own people from falsehood. So there is a place to evaluate the truth claims of other faith groups. But Paul’s example strongly suggests that if we want to offer the good news of God’s grace in Jesus Christ to those outside the faith, negative apologetics (polemics) is not the way to do it.

What is a “cult”?

I’ve been working on a series of lectures I’ll be giving for a ministry training program called Church Birthing Matrix. The title of the class they’ve asked me to lead is “Cults and Apologetics.” So I’ve been thinking about the definition of “cult” – and how that applies to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  (I also address this in chapter 1 of my book “Understanding Your Mormon Neighbor.”)

There is no single definition of a cult that everyone finds useful or acceptable. Typically, two kinds of definitions are given: sociological and theological. (For a detailed analysis, see this article.)

Sociological Definition
Sociologically, a group is considered a cult if it has socially deviant or novel beliefs and practices. It may emphasize the authority of a charismatic leader, promote isolation of its members, and exercise a high degree of control over them. Types of control might include behavior control, as when members are pressured to conform to high expectations, or when leaving the group is strongly opposed. Cults also practice information control, as when alternative sources of information are forbidden or people sharing alternative ideas are vilified. A cult may exercise a degree of control over thoughts and emotions as well. Of course, no one can control another person’s interior life, but a cult uses various techniques to covertly exercise dishonest influence. For example, the group might say, “If you leave you will lose all your family and friends” or “If you don’t comply you will be put to shame before others.”

Theological Definition
Theologically, a cult is a group whose beliefs and/or practices are considered unorthodox compared to the essential teaching of the mainstream movement to which the group compares itself. Thus there can be cults of Islam, like Sufism or the Nation of Islam. A cult of Christianity, then, is a group of people claiming to be Christian, but who embrace doctrines which deny (explicitly or implicitly) one or more of the central doctrines of the historic, biblical Christian faith. Cult groups usually deny biblical teaching in one or more of these six key areas:

  • How God has revealed himself
  • The nature of God
  • The nature of Jesus
  • The nature of salvation
  • The nature of the church
  • What happens in the future

Should We Even Use the Word?
The LDS Church certainly qualifies as a cult of Christianity on theological grounds. Many people believe it qualifies on sociological grounds as well. But in popular usage, a cult is a group of strange people, out of step with ordinary society, brainwashed to believe and do bizarre things, and being held emotionally captive by some magnetic leader. People think of Jim Jones’ followers drinking poison Kool-Aid. These negative stereotypes – and the emotional tone associated with them – render the term “cult” less than useful for any meaningful discussion.

It is no surprise that Latter-day Saints are offended when their church is called a cult. If we want to have real conversations with our LDS neighbors that open up opportunities to share our faith when them in a positive way, labeling them as cult members is unnecessary and counterproductive. Besides, Mormonism is much more than just a theological position. It is a way of life, an identity. This calls for a broader approach to faith-sharing than resorting to perjorative labels.