Have We Prepared Our People for Antichrist?

The Apostle John wrote this: “Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour” (1 John 3:18, ESV).

Depending on your eschatological views, antichrist may be a spirit of evil throughout the entirety of Christian history, a growing opposition to Christianity as the return of Christ draws near, a specific person – the Antichrist – who figures prominently in end-times events, or a combination of the three. I lean toward the latter. I believe there will be a person, but I also believe there has been and will continue to be a growing opposition to the Gospel and those who believe it – an opposition that is deeply rooted in the spiritual forces of evil.

So I ask this question: Have we prepared our people for antichrist? Here’s the answer: No.

In the latter part of the 20th century, cultural opposition to Christian beliefs and morality was on the rise. The growth of social media and the ease of making comments online led to people expressing opposition to Christianity. But as I recall, that opposition showed itself primarily through intellectual/philosophical objections to the Bible and the Christian message. But that has changed. Presently, reactions to Christians and Christianity are more emotional, more venomous, more hate-filled, and more intolerant.

Over a decade ago, during a sermon, I read some rather hateful comments someone had made online about God, Christianity, the church, and Christians. The response in my congregation was a a gasp of surprise. For those who were older and had grown up in “friendlier” times, to think that someone could and would say such horrible things about Christians and the Gospel message was stunning, and I saw many folks shaking their heads in disapproval. A common response was a puzzled “How could they say that?” But “they” were saying that.

Fast forward to July, 2020.

Over the last 5 months we’ve watched the world change. Life is going to be different as we go forward, and I’m not talking about how many people can fit into a dining room or whether we will be able to find toilet paper. We are seeing radicalism that goes much deeper than a response to social injustice. And while a radicalized young adult population, products of universities that are themselves hostile to Christianity, seems to garner the headlines, there are well known public figures are also openly hostile to evangelical Christianity.

So how do we respond?

It is interesting that the New Testament letters speak often about persecution and suffering. But do we? And when we do preach and teach those passages, do we deal with the reality of what Christians around the world are facing and what we might soon face, or are we still fussing about Christmas being turned into “Happy Holidays,” or whether the Ten Commandments should be on the walls of government buildings? Is it possible that we’ve not seen the gathering storm, and that we’ve failed to prepare our people for real opposition?

The solution is not to run and hide. Nor is it time to hoist the American flag and think that our claims to freedom of speech and freedom to worship as we choose is going to matter to people who hate us. No, it’s time to teach our people that the spirit of antichrist is here, that it has been here for a long time, and that it’s going to be here in growing intensity until Jesus returns. In other words, get ready for some turbulence.

This is not a time for light “inspirational” preaching. Nor is it time to be thinking about how our churches can market themselves to be more attractive. It’s time for pastors to teach their people who God is, about how we are to live in hostile culture, and about how our beliefs (which so few Christians can articulate beyond a elementary summary) will help us stand firm if times get tougher in our lifetime.

Young pastor, this blog is directed at you. Please teach your people the Bible! Please go deep! Please bring them face to face with God! I’m not suggesting that every sermon has to deal with suffering. But I do want to ask: are you teaching your people what the New Testament writers taught? Are the themes they emphasize the ones you emphasize in your preaching?

If so, you can’t miss the subject of hostility toward God’s people. So guard your flock. Tend to your sheep. And teach them how to hold on to God in the face of antichrist.

Christians Behaving Badly

I can remember when the internet first became a resource for the public. Prior to the internet one would hook up their computer to a modem via their phone line, listen to annoying squawking sounds while modems connected, and then access the information highway at the pace of an overweight snail. I go back to the days when the online experience involved CompuServe, Delphi, America Online, Prodigy, and public bulletin boards.

Now we turn on our computers, our tablets, our phones, and in some cases our watches, and access the internet. My grandchildren can’t imagine life without it and have a hard time thinking that there was a day when it didn’t exist.

There’s a lot of good that comes from the internet, email, and the like. Being able to interact almost instantly with missionaries on the other side of the globe or with family who live at a distance are great blessings. Because of the internet, millions of kids were able to continue their education, and millions of adults were able to retain their jobs during the coronavirus pandemic. As a baseball fan, I am able to follow my favorite sport in greater detail. And there are a host of great resources for every interest.

But I also realize the internet can be a great distraction, and that some of us have a hard time being separated from our technology. In addition, like anything humanity touches, the internet can also be used for great evil.

For a long time Christians have been urged to avoid the immorality that is pervasive online. But I’m beginning to wonder if it is time for us to back away from social media too.

Listen, I was a Facebook user back in the day. It was fun to catch up with old friends (“Oh! Guess who I found on Facebook?) and see what current friends were doing. However, I’m not sure that the benefits of Facebook, or Twitter, or Instagram, or other sites that some younger folks have gravitated to (Facebook is kind of, you know, for older people) outweigh the negatives. I’ve hardly conducted world-wide research, but several people, including some pastors, have expressed concern over the way that social media has become a playground on which Christians are behaving badly.

In the last paragraph I said I “was” a Facebook user. Past tense. One reason I closed my account was because I grew tired of people telling me things like “I’m really busy right now and don’t think I can continue helping in nursery once a month” and then sending me an invitation to play FarmVille. To me, Facebook became a time-waster. So I ditched it. Yet I have ways of accessing content on those rare occasions when I want to. And what I see isn’t good.

Back in December I wrote the following about the 2016 election: “I remember some of the exchanges I read on Facebook and hearing of online conflict that took place within congregations and families over the two principal candidates, both of whom were polarizing figures. Frankly, some of what I read was horrible.” Has it gotten any better?

There are two possible answer to that. You choose: No or No.

This is what Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere” (2 Cor 2:14 ESV). That’s what we’re supposed to be doing, but it is subverted big-time when the rancor and disagreement gives off a strong whiff of evangelical stink. When you look at what your people are posting, what are you smelling?

Yes, social media can be valuable for ministry. But I wonder how many wince-inducing posts exist there are for every one that is uplifting?

So here’s the bottom line. Most of us – at least here in the US – have been locked away for three months. The use of social media has been one of the ways people have been able to “get out of the house.” But as we start to regather into our congregations I wonder if turmoil that began on social media will carry over into regular church life.

Maybe its time to encourage people to take a break from social media. To give up the political debates, the social arguments, the criticism of their churches (yup, that happens too!) the snarky complaints, the cute animal stories that we are urged to pass on, and all the other inane detritus that litters our online life. How much of it do we really need?

How to do it? I don’t know if I’d start bashing social media right away. But as you preach you can point out some of the problems that unfiltered, emotional, confrontational posting creates. If in your preaching you touch on the themes of unity, speech, witness, or other related topics, you can gently point out how our online conduct needs to be controlled by the admonition of Colossians 3:5-17. And maybe you can probe a bit and ask how much of social media is all that helpful. You’ll be poking the bear and some might accuse you of meddling, but doesn’t the Gospel “meddle” in everything we do?

Younger Pastor – Watch Over the Kids!

It doesn’t take long to realize that pastoral life is busy and demanding. That’s true whether you’re a solo pastor or whether you have a position on a multi-staff church. We learn quickly that we can’t be involved in every single facet of our church, and that we depend on others to do the work. And of course, that is how it should be. That’s God’s plan, according to Ephesians 4:1-16.

Most churches have more people involved in children’s ministry than any other part of the program. If your church does not have someone overseeing the entire kids’ program, you likely have people who lead the various ministries. These people are typically competent and caring, and we trust them with our kids. However, I would encourage you to keep a finger on the pulse of what is going on with your church’s ministry to kids children.

One reason for wanting to stay close to what’s happening is that children’s workers can burn out pretty fast. Some churches have had more success finding people to teach one Sunday each month rather than taking a class every week. Others give their teachers a break during the summer months. Arranging your teachers’ responsibilities in this way will keep them from feeling that they have been given a life sentence. No matter how much they love kids, teaching them is not the easiest thing in the world. If you question that, try taking a turn in a children’s church program for a Sunday or two.

By far the most important reason for keeping an ear close to the ground with your children’s program is the need to make sure that your children are taught accurately. In spite of their best intentions, it is possible that well-meaning teachers teach heresy. Yeah, I know that sounds extreme, but hear me out.

Who would tell an unsaved adult that Jesus is happy with them when they obey authority? No one who understands Scripture would say that. We know that people outside of Christ do not earn God’s favor by their actions. But how many children – especially little ones – have been told that Jesus is happy when they obey mommy and daddy (or share their toys, or be kind, etc.)? Sadly, I think the answer is that way too many kids have been taught that error.

One of your greatest areas of concern should be to teach teachers how to explain the Gospel clearly to children. They should not ask kids, “Who wants to go to heaven?” or “Who wants to ask Jesus to be their special friend?” Expressions like this may be viewed as bringing the Gospel to the level of children, but they end up mis-stating what Scripture says about how we come to Christ.

Teachers need to be given materials that are Gospel-rich. The Jesus Story Book Bible is a great resource for teachers. I made sure each department in our church had at least one copy of this wonderful book. (By the way, when we dedicated children, I gave the parents a copy). There are some very good curricula available such as The Gospel Project. Both of these will help your teachers state the gospel clearly. We need to remember: there is no such thing as a children’s version of the Gospel.

Finally, beware of teaching materials that assume that the children of your church are all little Jesus-followers. Until they understand and accept the Gospel on their own, they are lost. Cuteness, sincerity, being good, and things like memorizing Scripture do not necessarily mean a child has been converted. Rather than use curricula that teaches kids about living out the Fruit of the Spirit (as an example) it is better to use materials that focus on God and his works, using the great stories of the Bible, taught in a way that is appropriate to the age, building on past knowledge, so that children will know that God is, that they are separated from him because of their sin, that they need a Savior, and that their hope of a right relationship with him is through faith in what that Savior did. That is the message that saves.

So let me ask: what is going on in your children’s departments? Are they being taught in a way that leads them to a sound understanding of Christ? Do they encounter doctrine (I didn’t focus on this one) or do your teachers depend on teaching tools that emphasize character? Do your teachers know how to explain the Gospel clearly, or do they take shortcuts that end up circumventing the heart of the Gospel?

You need to know the answers to those questions. You may encounter some resistance. You may not convince teachers that the phrases they’ve been using for years are not helpful to children. But here’s the bottom line: as someone entrusted with preserving sound teaching, have the same level of concern about preserving sound teaching to children (and teens, by the way) as you have for the adults you minister to.

Nine Questions to Ask As We Transition Back to “Normal”

It had been my hope that this pandemic would give pastors an opportunity to rest a bit. I didn’t expect that pastors would be lounging on the sofa all day eating chips and drinking soda, but I thought the pace of life would slow a bit and provide a (much needed) opportunity to refresh. Apparently that hasn’t happened for many of you. Between working to making online sermons not look like your grandfather’s vacation movies and care given to the flock, some pastors have experienced anything but rest.

Regardless of whether you move toward the end of this very strange time1 feeling more rested or more stressed, it certainly should have been a learning experience. Here are ten questions that will help you evaluate your ministry during this period as well as going forward.

  1. As you look back over these last weeks, what did you learn about your congregation? Were they spiritually stronger than you thought? Weaker?

  2. How does the way your people handled the pandemic affect the way you plan to minister to them going forward? For example, will this affect the content of your preaching?

  3. Do your people have a reason to come back? I’m thinking especially of the way your church conducts its worship and the content of your preaching. Has it been so “light” that people have learned they don’t really miss it or need it, or has it been “meaty” enough to draw them back in?

  4. Have you carried the burden of shepherding on your own shoulders, or have you shared that burden with other leaders in your church?

  5. How will the shepherding patterns you’ve adopted during this pandemic carry on after it’s over?

  6. How are you? If you’ve worn yourself out during this time, why? What are you going to do to care for your own needs as you get back into a different, but still busy, schedule?

  7. What do you wish you had done differently during this pandemic?

  8. One hates to think worst-case scenario or delve into conspiracy theory, but IF something like this were to happen again, either because of another health crisis or (and we hope this never happens) because of governmental regulation, should you and your leaders make plans for carrying on ministry?

  9. Does your leadership team (elders/deacons/staff) have a plan for re-opening that is workable, considers the needs of those who will be cautious, and is prepared to deal with differences of opinion among church members on what it means to go forward safely?

To come away from this time without having learned something about ourselves, our people, and the priorities of ministry would be unfortunate. I hope these will give us insight into improving our ministry in the days ahead. Have a great weekend!

  1. I almost feel the need to include the phrase “whatever that looks like” when I refer to the pandemic being over, this period of time coming to an end, or when we return to normal.

A Semi-Reluctant Repost About Pastoral Care

This blog has had a very short life compared to most Christian blogs. I began For Younger Pastors back in June, 2019 and to date have posted a little over 130 times. What I am posting today is a lightly edited re-post of something I wrote back when the blog was new and I had about 5 people reading it.😁

On Wednesday I suggested that lessons learned during the current pandemic could hopefully lead to ushering in a new era of pastoral care. That doesn’t mean pastoral care is not happening. But an argument could be made that today’s church seems driven more by setting goals to expand size and programs. I have no way to judge someone’s motives, nor am I interested in doing that. But as I look at church websites and read church literature there is a subtle (and sometimes not all that subtle) self-promotion that concerns me a bit. So I wrote the following piece back in early August.

The reason for re-posting it is not that because it’s the last word on this subject. Others have done a far better job of analyzing and speaking to the concerns I raise. But I wanted to call attention to this issue again as we head (hopefully) toward the post-pandemic normal and resume our ministries. To some who follow this blog, this may be new reading. To others, I hope it will be a helpful reminder.

Let’s start off by looking at what David writes in Psalm 23:1-4 (ESV):

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

I began thinking about this post after being asked a question and then reading an article. The question I was asked had to do with challenging our people without beating them up. The article I read talks about how we come across to our people. These verses speak to both the question I was asked and the article I read.

I wonder if you’ve ever considered the relevance of Psalm 23 to pastoral ministry. There are several attitudes and behaviors exhibited by the shepherd that the New Testament says ought to describe elders/pastors/teachers. And that leads me to ask how well we emulate the model that the David sets before us.

In Psalm 23 I see tenderness. I see awareness of the needs of the flock and I see determination to provide for those needs. God, the Shepherd, is leading David to rest and refreshment. He is guiding David in the right path and protecting him from that which would bring him harm.

When it comes to motivating our people, we may need to be firm, yet we should always be gentle. We do not need to breathe fire, nor do we need to yell at them. Back in the day people might have been motivated that way, and in some circles maybe they still are. But that doesn’t make it right. Rather than venting at our people or trying to guilt then into some response, we are to follow Paul’s advice to Timothy: “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Tim 4:2, ESV). That’s what the Shepherd would do.

What do people sense when we preach and when we lead? Do they sense anger? Disappointment? Disapproval? There are times when we need to “reprove, rebuke, and exhort.” But we should never be heavy-handed. We do not have the right to bear a whip that punishes when our Shepherd carries a rod and a staff that guides and protects.

To summarize so far, people should never feel that we are angry with them when we preach. Be firm. Be pointed. Be clear. But be gentle and loving. In addition, when we challenge our people as we must, we are to do so with “compete patience and teaching.” The New Living Translation puts it this way: “Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching.” So, when we speak to the flock we speak with the care of a shepherd for his sheep.

But this all leads to a rather important question: do you see your people as sheep, or have they become something else? Let me explain.

More and more I find churches describing themselves by a desire to be influential. That particular word is not used, but it summarizes what is often found in the mission statements or purpose statements on church websites. And while there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be a light in the darkness, we are not thinking clearly if we trade our focus as shepherds for one that increasingly calls its people to more and more activity. In other words, to put it plainly, our people do not exist in order to accomplish our goals for our churches.

We exist for them, not them for us. Is it possible that some of us have forgotten that?

Have you ever heard a Christian author or speaker speak (disparagingly) about the so-called “holy huddle?” The “holy huddle” usually refers to the idea that Christians and churches are inward-focused at the expense of those who are outside of Christ. That certainly should not be true of any of us.

But let me suggest that those who raise what I think is often a straw man argument about this “holy huddle” kind of church forget that, unlike those of us in ministry, our people spend their days working in a messy world. They are immersed in an increasingly godless environment. They deal with far more “yuck” in the workplace than most of us in ministry have had to deal with for a long time.

Pastors are not required to sit through diversity seminars that promote a morality that is unbiblical. But our people have to do that. Pastors have the privilege of working on a daily basis with fellow-Christians. But the people in our churches work with those who can’t go a few sentences without using extreme profanity. If they are identified as Christians, they may be called Bible-thumpers. They are in a world that beats them down. They come to church on Sunday worn and weary. They are desperately in need of encouragement and sound teaching. They need a shepherd to lead them to where their souls can be restored. But do they find restoration or are they regularly being challenged and recruited for our next big thing?

Look, I get it. Buildings need building, parking lots need paving, and broken stuff needs fixing. There’s an ongoing need for workers. People need Christ. But we can never forget that our primary pastoral function is to feed, guide, and protect the flock. That takes precedence over whatever project we think needs to be done and whatever programs we come up with. And here’s why: God clearly wants your people to grow to be like Jesus. But it’s very possible that he doesn’t want your church to be larger and influential. He may want your church to be overwhelmingly ordinary. And the irony is that if we neglect the care of our people, or subordinate the task of building them up, we may end up failing to equip them to be lights in the darkness they live in five or six days a week.

In no way am I advocating that we abandon a godly desire for our church to accomplish much for the Lord. We don’t want to ignore lost people around us.

But as pastors, if our dreams (or ambitions) – however noble – for impacting our world are the main driving force of our ministry, we will end up viewing our people more as the means to accomplishing our goals than as people who need quiet waters, green pastures, and restored souls. Our people will become beasts of burden, constantly called to work harder.

Where that happens our forgetfulness of our primary role will only come back to hurt us in time. And that’s because it’s going to lead to a church full of tired, discouraged sheep.

May God give us the grace to shepherd the flock that has been entrusted to us.

What Comes Next? (Part 2)

I began a short series on Wednesday in which I shared thee answers to questions I asked some pastor friends. These are guys with a pastor’s heart. They are faithful men, having served in their church for a year to two to several decades.

I wanted to know their thoughts about how pastoral work during the pandemic might carry on after life is back to whatever life is going to be like. But I also asked about what they’ve been reading during this time.

One pastor said, “I’ve really been enjoying Tim Keller’s new trio of little books, On Birth, On Marriage, and On Death.”

Another said, “There are two Biblical Theology books I have been spending time reading. The first is one that my excellent friend purchased, The Story Retold by G.K. Beale and Benjamin L. Gladd. The second one is A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the New Testament, edited by Michael J. Kruger. These are excellent for getting back to the basis of the author’s intent to help me understand why the particular book was written.”

A third said, “Things have been busier than before, so not a lot of time for extra reading, but my daily reading through the New Testament this year has seemed more meaningful and deeper. And looking at some sermons that I had preached in previous years has proved beneficial. That’s something I rarely have had time to do before!”

Just commenting on the latter response, it’s helpful to review your sermons for several reasons. Regardless of how long you’ve been preaching you can see progress or pick out ways in which you need to improve.

The final question I asked was “What have you learned from this time that you’d like to share with other pastors?” Here are the responses:

One pastor wrote, “It has been meaningful to me to be home 4-5 nights a week. I’d love to figure out how to accomplish this once life gets back to “normal.” In this regard, I don’t want to go back to normal if that means being out 15 nights a month.”

(Me – Amen, brother!!)

He continues:

“Our people have a greater capacity for handling change than we thought- especially if the change is seen as necessary. We’ve seen a lot of people transition to on-line giving- something that we would not have expected prior to these events. We’ve had people share that they didn’t think that they would like having worship services online, but are appreciating them greatly.”

“Now that most of us are becoming “televangelists,” please LOOK AT THE CAMERA when you preach. Don’t be creepy about it by staring it down. But please stop relying on your notes. You don’t need them. They are a crutch. Go back and watch your last sermon. Count how many seconds you are looking up and how many you are looking down. Better, let someone else count. If you are looking down more than 10 seconds out of 60, you are missing a huge chance to connect. Know the medium. This is not radio. People see you- and only you. Let them know that you care enough about them to look at them. You may think that you are fooling people, but we know when you aren’t looking at us. By the way, this is advice that applies just as much when people are in the room. The difference is that now you can see for yourself what everyone else has been seeing for years.”

Good words! Another pastor shared the following: “The level of our importance must be wrapped around the words of encouragement and support. It is not so much of sharing how much we know of the Scriptures but instead sharing our love as we guide them into the Scriptures.”

A third pastor wrote this: “I am praying that God uses this virus to bring an awakening to our churches and our nation, but so far, it seems to me that most Christians have not been impacted, spiritually, by the new norm. For example, I thought believers would be hungry for fellowship and worship, via zoom, but that’s not been the case. I fear that too many church folks are just waiting out the storm instead of seizing the opportunities before them. I also would love to see local churches and especially pastors supporting one another, but everyone seems busy with their own congregations. So once again I am learning to be faithful; love the flock; draw close to the Lord; keep up my exercises and reaching out to others; and trust Him!”

One other pastor put it quite simply: “Never take the gathered church for granted!”

I appreciate each of the responses I received. I hope you can see the pastor’s heart I referred to in what they have said, and I hope that you will find some encouragement and challenge in their words.

What Comes Next?

Some places around the world are starting to open up. Hopefully it won’t be too long before pastoral life returns to normal. But what will that normal look like?

I asked several pastor friends to answer three questions about re-opening, what they’ve learned, etc. Here is the first one:

  1. The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way pastors minister in some significant ways. Is there something you have started doing, or something you have started doing differently, that you plan to continue when things get back to normal?

One pastor shared this:

We started a weekly “Pastors Chat” where two of us do a 10 minute video just talking about what is happening at church. We also try to include a little bit of our lives in the conversation so people can connect with us better. We have been asked by multiple people to continue this mid-week video even after the crises ends.

Maybe the obvious answer for many congregations, including us, is that we finally got our worship service online. We’ve had great response from shut-ins asking that this continue. For that matter, others are excited that they will be able to stay connected with the church even when they are out of the area or sick. I already hoped to have this option for guests so that they can know what to expect before setting foot on our church property.

Another pastor wrote:

The pandemic has caused me to be more mindful of checking in on all our people more regularly than before. That feels like something I should have been better at before the crisis, but certainly ought to continue beyond.

A third pastor shared these thoughts:

I started several Zoom meetings, but the one, in particular, I am going to stay in is the Wednesday night Bible Study. Even when we return, while we are in the room together, I am going to have my laptop and log onto Zoom, so those unable to attend physically will be able to join. I also started Facebook live with my wife, and we will continue to do Bible studies each week. We started YouTube live-streaming on Sunday and will continue with that. We have simplified our ministry of which, I am pushing toward keeping it simple and take out the need for being out each night. We are looking at doing Zoom meetings with the Elders and deacons more frequently.

Finally, a fourth pastor answered this way:

Recording my sermons on You Tube has proved very helpful in people sharing it with others, including the unchurched, so that is worth looking into. I think zoom small group meetings could prove helpful is for some reason we couldn’t meet in person, like because of weather.

It seems pretty clear that the technology adopted during this time has some significant uses going forward. Whereas broadcasting live used to be quite an effort, options exist for it to be done much more simply, and as the fourth pastor said above, having services online – whether live or archived on YouTube or the church website – makes it possible for people to point friends to their church.

In addition, it appears that the ability to conduct meetings online will allow church leaders to spend more time at home and less time traveling to meetings. In order to fully participate all committee or board members will need to be technologically savvy enough to use these tools. But anything pastors can do to make their leaders lives a bit easier, considering they are already busy people, is worthwhile.

I also like the idea of allowing people who can’t come to a small group meeting to attend via Zoom or some other service.

On Friday I’ll share the responses of these good men to my second question, which is:

Is there anything you’ve read during this period where things might be a bit slower that has been meaningful to you?

If you’re a pastor, how would you answer these first two questions? Share your answers in the comments section. Thanks for stopping by.

Children and the Gospel

For several weeks now I’ve wanted to post some thoughts about teaching the Bible to children. Right now that post is marinating – I’m not sure it’s done yet so I’m going to wait. However, when I looked at the list of Kindle books that Tim Challies linked to this yesterday, I thought I would highlight one of his entries.

Several years ago Sally Lloyd Jones produced a children’s storybook called Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name. You can buy it for $2.99 today on Amazon.

I would suggest that you find a way to get this book into the hands of each of your children’s teachers – toddlers all the way up through elementary school. In fact, I’d give it to anyone who teaches because even adult teachers can benefit from it.

If you haven’t seen it, the Jesus Storybook Bible contains a broad selection of Bible stories, but does so in a way that the Gospel is a point of focus (rather than just point out behavior lessons) and yet explained well.

At some point I want to write about this issue, because it’s one that is close to my heart. But for now, let me suggest you hop on this deal for yourself – even if you have the hardcover – and that talk to whomever you need to talk to in order to get copies for your teachers. It will help them be better communicators of God’s truth.

If you want to check out some reviews, here are two I found online:

Reformation Theology’s review can be found here.

Tim Challies reviewed it here.

I received an email this morning from Christian Focus. They have a sale through Monday on Bible materials for kids. If you’re not doing something for your church kids during this time, here’s an opportunity to either provide the materials yourself or share this with parents.

Have a great week!

Little Things That Make A Difference

When we think about effective pastoral ministry, we tend to gravitate toward the major functions of what we do. Giving attention to preaching, how we conduct our worship services, counseling, and church administration are obviously important, and failing in one of those areas can substantially impact one’s ministry. But there are little things that make a different too, and I thought I’d share some random lessons I learned through the years.

Be ignorant about your people’s giving.

I think it is best for pastors not to know who gives what to the church. The IRS does require that churches keep records, and our church photocopied checks each week as part of that record keeping. But I went out of my way to avoid looking. There’s a temptation to treat people differently if we know that they give a little, or if they give a lot, and we can’t do that.

Remind your leaders of the need for confidentiality.

Church leaders discuss many topics, most of which are not even remotely confidential. But confidential discussions do take place, and leaders need to be trustworthy in this area. Board minutes are not intended to be read by the wives of those in leadership. In some cases, people’s privacy and reputation are at stake. Remind your leaders that what happens in leadership meetings stays in leadership meetings, and that they need to make sure documents are not left laying around at home or at church.

Ensure that church finances are a group activity.

If they do not exist, you should lead your church to adopt policies that protect both the church and the financial team from mismanagement and breaches of integrity. There should always be at least two people counting the money, and it would be best to have teams that rotate. While you will likely have one person act as treasurer, that person should not have power to control the church finances. I could tell stories.

Don’t Assume Your People Know How to Read the Bible

Pastors want their people to know the Bible. But statistics show that many believers don’t read their Bible at all. We might blame the lack of Bible reading on laziness, and certainly that can be a factor. But I wonder if part of the reason our adults don’t read the Bible is that we haven’t ever taught them how to do it.

I’m not suggesting that every believer needs a college-level class in hermeneutics. What I am suggesting is that we need to describe what it means to read the Bible for personal profit, and we need to do it often. It can be done as an aside in a sermon, in a bulletin insert, or on your church website. You may be surprised at how many of your people struggle with Bible reading because they don’t know what they’re supposed to be looking for. Help them!

That’s a pretty random set of topics, isn’t it? But they came up in conversations or in my own thinking and might be of help to you. Have a great day!

In A Time Such As This

I was going to take a brief break, but changed my mind. And I may be wrong, but . . . .

Yesterday I read that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told churches not to meet.1 If they continue meeting during this pandemic their leaders face the possibility of prosecution and the congregants will be told to disperse.

That order was immediately met with an outcry from pastors in New York as well as from around the country. This, they claim, is the first step on the slippery slope toward setting a precedent for government to shut down religion and remove our rights.


I know that the separation of church and state that we enjoy under our constitution has been under attack. I also understand that if government on any level made this kind of decision it would be uncomfortable to people of faith. But in such a time as this, is it best for Christians to be playing the “rights” card?

Going back to the days of the “Moral Majority” (look it up if that term is unfamiliar), evangelicals have been active in protesting the loss of not only religious freedom, but of religious recognition. At times it has been incredibly silly. I wish that I had saved an email from one Christian watchdog group that urged us to boycott a particular pet supply chain because they had changed their Christmas catalog to a Holiday catalog. My sarcastic bent wants to run wild with this, but I’ll behave. And besides, a mayor insinuating that churches must be closed is far more serious.

Perhaps, though, our reaction to this story, assuming it is accurate, should not be about our rights. Perhaps it should be to ask why the Mayor has been put in this position in the first place.

We are in a pandemic. Tens of thousands of people have contracted the coronavirus. Hundreds of thousands of people world-wide will die. People have been urged to stay home, yet some churches (and other religious groups) are going to go ahead and meet, thereby ignoring our leadership during this crisis.

I am reading 1 Peter during my morning Bible reading. Today I happened to read these verses:

Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. – 1 Peter 2:13-15 (ESV)

Thinking about this passage and how it relates to the issue of churches defying the instructions of government, I want to ask two questions:

First, in such a time as this, do our “rights” trump the well-being of our neighbor? Again, I understand the potentially dangerous precedent of any government interference in the area of religious freedom. We may well see the day when government infringement upon our religious liberties becomes more commonplace. But to me, we’re missing the forest for the trees if we choose this hill to fight on. People are dying, folks. And the virus spreads where gathering is not contained. How is continuing to meet as a church loving our neighbor. How is it even loving ourselves as a church body? People smarter than most of us are telling us to stay home. In a time such as this, shouldn’t we be subject to the human institutions that God has put in place?

Second, in a time such as this, do our “rights” trump our witness? What kind of impression do we think we give if our churches meet? Do you think those meetings are viewed with admiration? That non-Christians are saying, “Wow, they’re incredible?” I doubt that. There’s enough hostility toward Christians in our day without giving our opponents even more ammunition. Let me ask: how would you feel if you drove past a mosque or synagogue and saw they were open for business as usual? Would our response be any different than the way we viewed college students partying in Florida or the crowds that gathered in New Orleans for Mardi Gras? Would we be happy to see them exercising their rights, or would our response be somewhere between being bemused to being outraged? So how do we think unbelievers look at us if we continue to meet, going against the best medical minds in our country? Where churches are creating a situation where government has to step in and say stop? I can tell you that the non-believers I work with weren’t impressed with the churches that decided to stay open. In such a time as this, shouldn’t our witness trump our rights?

It’s possible that time will prove my view to be naive. If government officials are successful in closing churches during this time, maybe it will have paved the way for greater interference in the future. I don’t know. But for the sake of our families, our neighbors, our churches, and our witness I think we need to take that chance, and trust God with the outcome.

  1. I’ve linked to the Fox News site, but other outlets are reporting this as well.
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