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The Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News collect 380 allegations spanning 20 states in an unprecedented look at sexual misconduct across the denomination.A landmark investigation into hundreds of cases of sexual abuse in Southern Baptist churches opened with a collage of pictures of the offenders, row after row of headshots and mugshots of men who had been accused of abusing a total of 700 victims over the past 20 years.In Sunday’s report, the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News were able to do what victims say the nation’s largest Protestant denomination has failed to for years: provide a picture of the extent of the abuse within the Southern Baptist Convention and a database of those found guilty of their crimes.With allegations against 380 church leaders in 20 states (a majority of whom were convicted or took plea deals), it’s believed to be the biggest report on sexual abuse among Southern Baptists in the movement’s history. The report confronts the longstanding defense that the organization can only do so much to monitor abuse since affiliated congregations operate autonomously.Another set of pictures captures a sense of the impact of abusers in Southern Baptist congregations. In response to the investigation, Southern Baptist women and fellow Christians shared childhood photos on Twitter from the age when they first suffered abuse.Dozens joined a thread started by Living Proof Ministries founder and popular Bible teacher Beth Moore, including advocate and abuse survivor Jules Woodson and other ministry leaders.Over the past couple years, the #MeToo campaign has raised awareness about abuse within the SBC and galvanized official efforts to improve the denomination’s response. Last December, as the Fort Worth Star-Telegram rounded up more than 400 allegations among independent Baptists, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission ...Continue reading...
Numbers are not the only way to measure church health and effectiveness, especially in smaller churches.There are healthy churches of all sizes.In recent years there’s been a renewed emphasis on defining health numerically. But that’s not the only way to measure church health and effectiveness.In my previous article, Effective Small Church Metrics: Why Average Results Aren’t Typical Results, we saw that statistics, surveys and comparative metrics are not as helpful in assessing small church health as they are in assessing big church health.So, what’s a small church to do?Today, we’ll take a look at 8 helpful ways to assess the health and effectiveness of a church without using numbers.1. Ask “What Should We Be Doing And How Well Are We Doing It?”Jesus gave us the Great Commandment and Great Commission. That is the mission of every church. But the way one church is called to do that is going to be different than the way another church is called to do that.Every leader of every church needs to know how their church is fulfilling the Great Commandment and Great Commission within their context.We must constantly assess the health and effectiveness of the congregation based on the following questions: Are we a worshipping church? A loving church? An evangelistic church? A compassionate church? A discipling church?But, without a numerical component, how do we assess how well we’re doing those things? That’s what points 2-7 address.2. Talk To The People In The ChurchIn the 1980s, Ed Koch, the mayor of New York City, was famous for walking through the streets of Manhattan, asking everyday citizens “how am I doing?”As you can imagine, he didn’t always hear the answers he wanted, but the fact that he kept asking the question is an important lesson for all leaders. ...Continue reading...
This phenomenon affects many, and pastors may be particularly susceptible.“You’re a fraud.”“Everyone’s going to find out…eventually.”“Just stop, it’s not worth it.”“What difference do you think you’re actually going to make?”If you feel like I’ve just read your mind, welcome to the club! You’re officially a member of Imposter Syndrome Anonymous. In fact, since you’ve had these thoughts for a while, you might as well become a lifetime charter member. There’s just one catch—you can’t cancel your membership. It’s kind of like Hotel California: “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave!”In 1978, researchers Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes coined the phrase—the Imposter Phenomenon—and captured the essence of this very thing that seems to be progressively troubling so many of us. And with our lives increasingly being lived online, along with our follower counts displayed in a showcase for the world to see, this topic is of particular importance. After all, what’s healthier than comparing ourselves to one another in all of our filtered glory?Although Clance and Imes initially researched how Imposter Syndrome affected high achieving women in a pre-internet and pre-social media world, 40+ years later it’s become quite apparent that this syndrome now affects everyone.After all, when was the last time you found yourself in a room and felt like you didn’t belong—even though you had the academic credentials, degrees, experience, or whatever else you needed to get in? Or, have you ever wondered when people were going to find out and discover the real you? The you underneath the surface that you’ve hidden away? ...Continue reading...
Statistics, surveys and comparative metrics are not as helpful in assessing small church health as they are in assessing big church health.One of the challenges of pastoring in a small church is that there’s nothing typical (or normal) about anything we do.Our schedule, our skill-set, our facilities (or lack of), our staff (or lack of), our salary (or… you get the idea…). None of it is typical.Our friends and colleagues in big churches are able to collect information, assess data and find numbers that help them understand what a healthy church looks like statistically, but those metrics fall apart as churches get smaller.Here’s why.The Big/Small DifferenceImagine that a collection of large churches sends in their data for assessment. It might be discovered that they have 35-45 percent of their offerings going to salaries, and 50-60 percent of their weekend worshippers involved in small groups on average. If so, almost all the healthy churches surveyed might fall within those parameters, and if they’re outside them, it will only be by a percentage or two. If they’re WAY outside them? That’s a sign of imbalance and ill-health.In healthy big churches, average numbers will be typical numbers.On the other hand, if you collected the data from a bunch of small churches, the averages might show 50-60 percent of their offerings going to salaries and 30-40 percent of their weekend worshippers involved in small groups. (These numbers are used as examples, not based on actual satistics). But that won’t tell you what a typical healthy small church looks like.Instead of most of the small healthy churches landing within those narow ranges, as we saw in bigger churches, healthy small church percentages will land all over a much wider range.Healthy small churches can have a pastoral salary range from zero percent to 80 percent ...Continue reading...
Six next steps for ministry leaders who desire to humbly engage with questions surrounding sexual violence.In Between Two Worlds, John Stott charges preachers to address controversial topics: “Christian people are crying out for guidance...Shall we abandon them to swim in these deep waters alone? This is the way of the coward.”If the recent GC2 Summit Responding to Sexual Harassment, Abuse, and Violence said anything, it was this: Church, we will no longer walk in the way of the coward. We will not abandon our people to navigate these waters alone. Still, the church’s question in this season of lament is the same one the prophet Jeremiah asked of God in his: How?How, God, can we right these wrongs? How can we do better?As a woman in church leadership and a survivor of sexual assault, I’d like to suggest six next steps for ministry leaders who desire to humbly engage with these questions. These are by no means comprehensive—others will have crucial expertise and wisdom to offer.Nonetheless, may these steps encourage us all as we seek to answer our hows.1 – Learn from women—purposefully. After hearing complaints about their male-dominated structures and strategies, the elders at Redeemer Fellowship in Kansas City spent time meeting with groups of female church members, asking questions like: What has been hurtful? Where have we overlooked you? What do you long for?Sarah Davidson, one of the women involved, described the experience as safe and powerful: “The elders didn’t counsel or coddle. They humbly listened, affirmed, and apologized.”As a result, the church strategically hired more female staff, launched a women’s ministry, changed female titles from “directors” to “ministers,” and invited women to lead on stage.To Leaders: with a posture ...Continue reading...
Around the globe, female followers of the faith suffer sexual violence, forced marriage, forced abortions, travel bans, and trafficking.For years, Nigerian doctor Rebecca Dali has cared for her country’s poor and widows. But it was her most recent efforts—reintegrating former Boko Haram captives—that won her the United Nations’ 2017 Sérgio Vieira de Mello humanitarian award.Dali offers psychological support and practical skill training for Christian girls and women who are often suffering from intense trauma brought on by kidnapping and sexual assault. Many of them have children or are pregnant by their rapists. Because of the stigma this carries, she’s had to talk women out of abandoning their children. And because of their Boko Haram ties, these girls and women are often ostracized by their own communities. As a result, Dali advocates on behalf of survivors whose families and husbands refuse to take their daughters and wives back.Dali’s work serves but a tiny number of the millions of women around the world who suffer from persecution. Of the 245 million Christians attacked for their faith last year, many are women and girls who are specifically and most frequently targeted through forced marriage, rape, and other forms of sexual violence. These are the findings of Gendered Persecution, an Open Doors report that examined the differences in persecution by gender in 33 countries for women and 30 countries for men. (An updated report will be released this March.)While forced marriage is the “most regularly reported means of putting pressure on Christian women” and “remains largely invisible,” when analyzing the data on female persecution, researchers Helene Fisher and Elizabeth Miller found thatAmong all forms of violence… the one most often noted [for women] was rape. The research ...Continue reading...
In case it's not crystal clear, let us be emphatic: The sole individual responsible for sexual violence is the perpetrator.In the movie Good Will Hunting, there is a poignant scene in which Will (Matt Damon) talks with his therapist Sean (Robin Williams) while Sean cradles Will’s counseling file. The folder is jammed with gruesome pictures of injuries Will experienced at the hands of his alcoholic dad.Sean quietly declares that the pictures exposing Will’s brutally beaten body were not his fault but Will quickly dismisses Sean’s statement and remarks that he knows that already. Yet Sean sees through Will’s veneer of disregard and continues to proclaim Will’s innocence.Will suddenly erupts in anger as he backs away from Sean, but eventually Sean’s words seem to penetrate his soul and he begins to weep as Sean embraces him. Yet, even though Sean repeatedly tells Will that the abuse was not his fault, Will cries out three seemingly perplexing words: “I’m so sorry” (Schultz & Estabrook, 2012).What incited Will’s words? Why was he sorry?In a different culture, in a different time, penned on the pages of Scripture, Tamar, the daughter of King David, who was on the precipice of being raped by her half-brother Amnon, cried, “Where could I get rid of my disgrace?” (2 Sam.13:13).Discussions about this deeply felt sense of disgrace or shame that survivors frequently experience regarding the violence done to them are resurfacing through the #MeToo movement and the sundry of sexual violence stories perpetrated by both male and female clergy who victimize girls, boys, women, and men within sacred places.However, the question remains: Why are people who are sexually violated and victimized sorry about what was done to them? The reasons for the self-condemning experience of shame among ...Continue reading...
How long should a sermon be? As long as it needs to be.People don’t hate long sermons.They hate boring sermons. Irrelevant sermons. Impractical sermons. Uninspiring sermons. Unprepared sermons. Over-prepared sermons… You get the idea.A bad sermon can’t be short enough, but an engaging sermon can go longer than you think.However, before you let your next sermon drone on and on, make sure it’s everything it needs to be.A Tale Of Two SermonsRecently, I heard two sermons that went well over 45 minutes each. Both were good. They had great content and I was moved by them.One of them, while good, would have been even better with some editing. The speaker could have dropped up to 50 percent of it and a very good sermon could have been a great one. The other sermon, though long, felt rushed. It could have gone 10-15 minutes longer and no one in the room would have complained.The issue wasn’t the length, or even the quality of the sermons, but the fit. One sermon was the right fit for the content and left us wanting more, while the other was too long for the content and left us wanting less.A better question than “what’s the right length for a sermon?” is “what’s the right length for this sermon?” or “what length of time will help it do everything it needs to do in the best possible way?”Make Room For What Needs To Be SaidToo often, we limit what we can do with a sermon by the format of the church service.Why not give the sermon the time it needs by putting a little wiggle room in our Sunday service format?Got a short sermon? Let the worship go longer. Got a long sermon? Maybe get to it earlier in the service than you usually would so the worship and announcements don’t crowd it out.People have longer ...Continue reading...
Small church ministry isn't about following trends, it's about knowing people.In a couple recent articles, I wrote about current trends in church worship music. (You can read them here and here.)If you worship or serve in a smaller church, you may have read those articles and shrugged, or maybe you saw the titles and didn’t even bother to read them.I don’t blame you.While our brothers and sisters in bigger churches look for trends, compare notes and learn from the latest innovations, small churches usually let those trends pass us by without a ripple.It’s not because small churches don’t care, it’s because current trends almost never apply in smaller churches the way they do in bigger ones.Here’s why.The Unique DNA Of The Small ChurchThe smaller the church is, the more unique their DNA is.Especially in a church of 75 or fewer (that’s over half the churches), the mix of personalities makes every church a unique place.The bigger the church becomes, the less each individual personality affects the whole, so it becomes more helpful to know the latest trends. Not necessarily to keep up with them, but to have the ability to speak into them.But when a church is small, it isn’t nearly as important to know the latest trends as it is to know the individual people in your congregation and your surrounding neighborhood. To know their needs, their histories, their strengths, their personalities and their relationship with Jesus (or lack of).Knowing People, Not TrendsIf you pastor a church of 50 in an agricultural community, you don’t need to use the latest social media app. If you oversee a small denominational church in a once thriving, but now dying inner city, you don’t need to study blogs about the latest church trends.In both situations, you need ...Continue reading...
Why being ‘spiritual' is never enough, how Kate Bowler experienced Christ in her cancer, and 10 lessons from same-sex abuse inside the church.Read CT Women’s most-read articles of 2018, ranked in order of which ones our online readers engaged most.Continue reading...
Simple steps to help you prepare better, preach stronger and have a greater impact.One of the greatest challenges of pastoring is coming up with something fresh to say to the same people week after week.As a pastor, I’ve been preaching for over 30 years. Over 4,000 messages. For many years I would regularly run out of things to say – or, more accurately, new ways to reinforce the same foundational truths - but Sunday was coming whether I was ready or not.If you’re a preaching/teaching pastor, you know the Saturday Night Dread. The “what am I going to say this week that they haven’t all heard 100 times before?” panic.It still happens to me occasionally, but it doesn’t happen as much as it used to, because over the last three decades I’ve learned a few tools that reduce the pressure and make Preacher’s Block a little less frequent.What To Talk About?The main issue in Preacher’s Block is coming up with a subject. An idea valid enough to be worth saying, but fresh enough to keep people’s interest.That’s easy when the audience is new. Or when you’re new to them. But when you’ve been at the same church for years, even decades, you can’t keep saying what you’ve said before – even (especially) if you’re reinforcing the same foundational Bible principles you’ve taught dozens of times.Over the decades I’ve discovered a handful of tools that help in this task. They’re not the “right” way to preach and/or prepare. They’re some tools that work for me. And maybe they’ll help you, too.1. Preach In A SeriesYeah, I know. This is not exactly a new idea. But of all the ways to reduce the “what am I going to preach about?” panic, this is the best one, by far.By preaching ...Continue reading...
Good leaders never make their decisions based on personal preference. They make decisions based on the mission.Good leaders have strong opinions.And they should.But our decisions should be guided by the mission, not by our opinions.This is especially true in church leadership. The importance of Christ’s mission should be communicated in everything we do and say. Including in subtle cues that often remain under the surface.The Importance Of Saying “No”One of the most important aspects of leadership is the courage to recognize and stop bad ideas so that better ideas can thrive. Saying “no” is hard. If it’s done badly it can lower a team’s morale, and even lose good people.But it must be done. So it’s essential that we learn how to do it well.Unfortunately, one of the easiest and most common ways we express our disagreement with a new idea is also one of the worse.Saying “I don’t like that” is one of the fastest ways to kill innovation and stifle a church’s mission – especially when it’s said by the person in the lead position. In a church, that’s usually the pastor.Here are five reasons “I don’t like that” (or something similar) should be banished from the vocabulary of every leader.Saying “I don’t like that”...1. …makes it more about the leader than the missionGood leaders never make their decisions based on personal preference. They make decisions based on the mission. “What are we trying to do and how well will this idea get us there?” is all that matters.The reason we don’t like something may, in fact, be because it doesn’t move the mission forward. If so, we need to say it that way. When we phrase our disagreement as if it’s a personal preference, we subtly divert the ...Continue reading...
Researcher Mary Lederleitner explores the confusions and frustrations they face.What distinctive gifts do women have for the global church? Is the church helping or hindering women leaders? In Women in God’s Mission: Accepting the Invitation to Serve and Lead, missions researcher Mary Lederleitner describes both the particular obstacles women leaders face and the unique blessings they offer the body of Christ. Drawing upon two decades of personal experience and interviews with more than 90 women serving in roughly 30 different countries, Lederleitner outlines an emerging model of leadership that is faithful, connected, and holistic. Amy Peterson, adjunct professor at Taylor University and author of Dangerous Territory: My Misguided Quest to Save the World, spoke with Lederleitner about her research.In your preface, you mention never having expected to write a book about women in leadership. What changed?I’ve met a lot of women who are hurting because of divisive claims about what women can and can’t do in mission and ministry. The complementarian-egalitarian framework isn’t serving the global body of Christ well. Once you are in one or the other theological camp, the other group often wants little to do with you. Sometimes it seems like the two groups are enemies rather than people who are destined to live and serve God together for all eternity. I believe our Lord wants us to find a better way to dialogue about women in mission and ministry.I’ve met women who are the first females to fill their leadership role in mission agencies, and they often feel so alone. Many are struggling to figure out how to lead effectively without the benefit of female role models.What are you finding that men and women most appreciate from your research?At a recent conference, a male leader ...Continue reading...
Meet the conservative Baptists who don't like Billy Graham.On Sunday, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram published a four-part series on more than 400 allegations of sexual misconduct affiliated with the independent fundamental Baptist movement. The scope of their reporting spanned nearly 1,000 churches and organizations across 40 states and Canada. The report noted: One hundred and sixty-eight church leaders were accused or convicted of committing sexual crimes against children, the investigation found. At least 45 of the alleged abusers continued in ministry after accusations came to the attention of church authorities or law enforcement.But what is the independent fundamental Baptist movement?Historically it has meant a firm belief in the “fundamental doctrines, that is to say, the essential doctrines of the Christian faith” and “an insistence that you should only extend Christian fellowship to people who profess to believe the gospel.” said Kevin Bauder, a research professor of systematic theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of a two-part volume on Baptist fundamentalism.But that’s not necessarily what people hear, Bauder acknowledges.“The term ‘fundamentalist’ has sort of been co-opted by Martin Marty’s Fundamentalism project, where he made it a sociological designation for any extreme group,” said Bauder. “None of us are really happy with that label these days, because of the connotations it carries now.”(Perhaps one way to see it could be as the inverse of historian George Marsden’s remark: “An evangelical is someone who likes Billy Graham.”)Bauder joined digital media producer Morgan Lee and editor in chief Mark Galli to discuss the history of fundamentalism, why ...Continue reading...
We are going to hear the voice of survivors, trauma counselors, and Christian leaders who will call evangelicals to a better way.Maya Angelou once said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”The reality of that agony is more real than ever as this powerful imagery speaks volumes to an important issue we face as a nation, and inside our church walls, today. The issue of sexual abuse and scandal has rocked and ravaged our front pages, our computer screens, and our congregations within the past year.Women across the country—and around the world—have put up with too much for too long. The tidal wave of reports bringing their stories to the surface in a tidal wave of reports called us all to reckon with the #metoo movement.Last year, Time Magazine’s person of the year was actually more than one person. That annual high-profile cover showed us “The Silence Breakers,” those behind the movement that gave voices to so many women.But well over a year after this all began, we still have so far to go—especially in the church.What followed #metoo was #churchtoo—the telling of stories of abuse specifically within the context of church life. The posts, tweets, and hashtags once again flooded our social media pages and dominated conversations everywhere. And still, the stories haven’t stopped.Most are aware of the fire being felt by the Catholic Church for the behaviors of priests and bishops towards children. Some of the headlines this past year alone have read, “American Priest is Accused of Molesting Boys in the Philippines” and “U.S. Catholic Church Hit with Two National Lawsuits by sex-abuse victims” and “Catholic Priests Abused 1,000 Children in Pennsylvania, Report Says.” The pope, in response to what happened in Pennsylvania, wrote ...Continue reading...
This may be the biggest reason great ideas die too soon. We're creating buzz, but we're not building substance.If you have a message, idea or product you want the world to know about, there’s never been a better time than right now to build the platform for it.Technology has enabled anyone, anywhere to take an idea (it doesn’t even have to be a good one) and make it available to everyone, everywhere.At the press of a button.While sitting in your living room.In your PJs.Teams Build SubstanceBecause of this, it’s easy to have an unbalanced approach to creating and promoting a new program or idea.The biggest mistake we make? Sinking all our energy into using technology to build a platform, while shortchanging the necessity of building a team to sustain that platform.But building that team is as important as it’s always been. Maybe more so.Since everyone else has access to the same technology (more or less) team-building is what usually makes the difference.This happens in the church, too. Someone comes up with a great idea for an outreach, a sermon series or an event, and the first step we take is to start thinking of ways to promote it.We create graphics, shoot videos, and bombard social media with the images. But in too many cases we’re promoting something that doesn’t have the team to sustain it.Ideas Are Easy, Teams Are HardThis may be the biggest reason great ideas die too soon. We’re creating buzz, but we’re not building substance.Why do we do this?Because buzz is fun. It’s fast. And technology has made it easy.Team-building is hard. It’s slow. And even with the best technology and creativity in the world at our disposal, it takes the long-term, old-school application of high-commitment people-skills to build and sustain a strong team.Everyone can have an idea. Anyone ...Continue reading...
From Billy Graham to Bob Dylan, how a youth movement briefly changed the world.Imagine Christianity suddenly became cool.It may seem impossible, especially since Christianity has always been rooted in timeless tradition and wisdom.Sure, pop musicians and actors may embrace the Christian faith in carefully considered ways, but when talking about it, they tend to keep their theological cards close to the vest.What if rebirth, exclusivity of the gospel for salvation, good works accompanying genuine faith, and an explicit hope for Christ’s second coming became explicit as part of a cultural phenomenon?On the second episode of Living & Effective, Richard Clark explores the origins and effects of one of the most impactful Christian youth culture movements in modern history. With special guests Larry Eskeridge, Greg Thornbury, and Trevin Wax, Clark finds out exactly how the Jesus Movement was so successful in thrusting the Bible into the mainstream, and what happened after public fascination with the movement faded away. Continue reading...
How, the late pastor asked, can you shepherd a flock you don't know?Eugene Peterson—who died in October at age 85—is best known, perhaps, as the author of The Message, his vernacular paraphrase of the Bible. But for many pastors and church leaders, Peterson was also a mentor who taught them to be shepherds rather than CEOs—in large part by modeling that approach himself. Drew Dyck, acquisitions editor at Moody Publishers, spoke with Peterson in 2017 as one of his final books (As Kingfishers Catch Fire) was published. They spoke about recent developments across the ministry landscape, the seriousness of the pastoral calling, and how The Message sprouted from his desire to truly know and listen to the people in his ministry. Pieces of that interview appear here for the first time.In the preface of As Kingfishers Catch Fire, you write that the Christian life is “the lifelong practice of tending to the details of congruence.” What does that look like in a pastor’s life?As pastors we’re interested in getting people to live a life that is congruent with the gospel. One of the things I realized from day one is that I needed to listen to congregants and not just put things into their heads. This is one of the wonderful things about being a pastor. You get the time and the opportunity to make connections with the everyday lives of people in your congregation. You can’t just treat Christianity as a pile of ideas from which to add and subtract.You grew up in farming country, and your father was a butcher. Did that environment shape you as a pastor?By all means. People who work with the soil and with animals learn to respect what they’re doing and the subjects of their work. My dad had one man working for him who he would send to the farms or ranches. ...Continue reading...
The odd Old Testament episode is a sharp reminder of our need for Jesus.It’s been a bad year for pastoral scandals in the church. Whether Roman Catholic cardinals or high-profile Protestant pastors, it’s been devastating and sobering to read about sins and abuses by those entrusted to preach the gospel and shepherd God’s people.Besides the horror of the abuses themselves, the sharp contrast between an outwardly successful ministry and the apparent darkness within is deeply discouraging. If our spiritual leaders cannot be trusted, who can?I’m reminded of the shocking deaths of Nadab and Abihu by divine fire in Leviticus 10. At this point in the Hebrews’ journey to the Promised Land, things are going swimmingly. The Tabernacle is built. Moses has the instructions for the sacrifices. Aaron and his sons are being consecrated for ministry. On cue, God’s glory appears, and fire consumes the burnt offering; the people are overjoyed (Lev. 9:24). But that joy suddenly turns to shock and sorrow when Aaron’s sons try to offer up fire to the Lord—and flames burst forth and consume them instead (10:1–2).Most read this and naturally balk, asking, “Why is God so harsh? Isn’t this just another sign of an arbitrary, angry, erratic God?”The natural question isn’t always the right one, especially when taking the whole narrative context into account. This is the merciful God who redeemed Israel from Egypt, met them at Sinai, gave the covenant Law, forgave their infidelity with the golden calf, and instituted the priesthood and sacrifices precisely so sinful Israel could enjoy his holy Presence. We should ponder instead, “What went wrong?”Leviticus is light on explanation, but there are a few narrative clues. For one, the fire ...Continue reading...

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