Ortlund: Should Churches in California Defy Government Restrictions? A Response to John MacArthur

Originally posted by Gavin Ortlund on 08/02/2020 at https://gavinortlund.com/2020/08/02/should-churches-in-california-defy-government-restrictions-a-response-to-john-macarthur/amp/?__twitter_impression=true. Reposted by permission.

“Yesterday John MacArthur released a video update to his church family. As is well-known, Grace Community Church has chosen to defy the state order issued by Governor Newsome banning indoor worship services. At 10:35-10:50 of the video, MacArthur states:

Churches are shutting down—large churches shutting down until, they say, January. I don’t have any way to understand that other than they don’t know what a church is, and they don’t shepherd their people.

He further intimates that pastors and church leaders who choose not to resist the Governor’s order lack the courage to direct the church to her calling in this time.

As a fellow minister of the gospel here in Southern California, I want to articulate why I believe cooperating with the current restrictions is not necessarily a cowardly desertion of our calling, but may instead reflect the path of wisdom, responsibility, and love. My motive in writing is not to attack MacArthur, who is my brother-in-Christ, but from sincere concern about the impact of his views on other pastors and churches.

Let me begin by saying that I stand with MacArthur in affirming the vital importance of corporate worship, as well as the importance of standing up for religious liberty. Moreover, I believe that there are certainly times to disobey the government, and I would gladly give my life for the sake of gathering to worship, if it ever became a capital punishment.

However, it seems to me that the current situation is more complicated than MacArthur’s perspective allows. To my mind, there are at least four biblical values that should inform our decision-making in this situation:

  1. the importance of worship (Hebrews 10:25)
  2. love for neighbor (Mark 12:31)
  3. obedience to government (Romans 13:1-7)
  4. maintaining a good witness (Colossians 4:5-6)

What concerns me about defying the state order right now is that it seems to prioritize 1 at the expense of 2-4. Regarding (2), one way we can love our neighbors is by helping to stop the spread of a dangerous and highly infectious disease. Gathering for worship without requiring masks or practicing social distancing or adjusting the elements of worship (e.g., reducing/discontinuing singing) risks causing a significant increase in transmission of the virus, particularly in the case of a mega-church. It is not merely those in attendance who are potentially affected by such a decision, but the entire community with which attenders subsequently interact.

Failing to take actions to slow the spread of the virus does not help our witness to the world (4). As the church, we want to be seen to care about the welfare of our communities, and to be helpful citizens who are willing to do our part to serve the common good. We want to make it clear to the watching world that we are not just concerned with defending our rights, but that we are willing to lay down our rights for the sake of others.

Regarding (3), I do believe there are times to engage in civil disobedience, as well as times to practice nonviolent civil protest. However, I don’t see civil disobedience as the appropriate response to the current restrictions, because the restrictions are temporary and purposeful. We are not being singled out for our religious beliefs; we are being directed to participate in a broader effort throughout our entire society, and throughout the entire world. (To the extent that restrictions are or become unfair to churches or religious groups as compared to secular entities, we should certainly speak out against that. I think engaging in protest before outright disobedience is often the wiser path, but I wouldn’t ever want to take civil disobedience off the table. That would be the choice I would make if the current restrictions were to continue indefinitely.)

Putting these four values together is complicated, and I have no one-size-fits-all answer for every situation. Our church has chosen to meet outdoors, while providing video options for those who choose to stay home. We’d rather be inconvenienced by the outdoor heat and noise than risk violating values 2-4. But I recognize that that may not be the best option for every church.

My main concern is not so much with MacArthur’s position—I think this is a complicated and unprecedented situation, and it is important to show a measure of grace to other churches following different policies. My main concern is with the judgment he passes on those who don’t defy the government restrictions right now.

To claim that those complying with the government restrictions “don’t know what a church is and … don’t shepherd their people” is both unhelpful and unkind. It oversimplifies a complicated situation, and places further pressure on already-burdened pastors whose consciences lead them differently. I worry the statement will breed suspicion, reinforce pride, and stir up dissension.

I suspect that a major part of the reason MacArthur and the leadership at GCC would apply values 2-4 differently to this situation is that they don’t regard COVID-19 as an actual threat. For instance, in the addendum to their statement, GCC clarified that “guarding public health against serious contagions is a rightful function of Christians as well as civil government,” and stated that this is why they followed the original government orders in March. What led GCC to change positions from March to July is that they now believe that “the virus is nowhere near as dangerous as originally feared.”

So in principle, MacArthur and GCC seem to recognize the possibility of jurisdictional overlap between the state and the church. For instance, if, hypothetically speaking, the government had evidence that there was a bomb under the sanctuary of a church, I’d bet that just about everyone would recognize the government has the right to lock down the building, even if it was Sunday morning. In general, I know that MacArthur has a deep respect for value (3) identified above, respect for government. He has even stated that the founding of the United States of America was disobedience to Romans 13. It’s difficult for me to understand how MacArthur adjudicates when to follow Romans 13 and when not to follow this passage.

I don’t share MacArthur’s perspective that COVID-19 is not a real threat. However, I hold my views about the virus loosely. I am not an epidemiologist, and I suspend judgment about exactly what the long-term effects of this pandemic will be. So let’s suppose that I’m wrong (as, evidently, GCC would likewise have been wrong to close down in March of this year). My point here is simply this: such a potential error does not necessarily constitute a bowing down to Caesar. It would be an error in the application of principles 2-4 listed above, based on a particular judgment drawn about the nature of COVID-19. And my burden is this: Christians can and should disagree about the severity of COVID-19 without questioning each other’s commitment, courage, or pastoral care. We must remember that the same Scripture that calls us to gather for worship also calls us to accept other Christians amidst our differences (Romans 14:1-12). This, also, is a biblical mandate. So is our love for one another (John 13:34).

Our church will continue to worship outside, at least for the time being. Christ has commanded us to gather, but He said nothing about doing so indoors. So this option enables us to be obedient to Christ while also giving due consideration to the well-being of our neighbors and the edicts of the authorities over us. Again, my heart goes out to churches that do not have this option, and I pray God gives them wisdom to know how to proceed. I will not be quick to judge them, whatever they decide. Although I do not agree with those calling for civil disobedience, my main goal is not to criticize their decisions but to encourage and defend those whose consciences lead them differently.

My concluding appeal is this: let’s be very careful before engaging in civil disobedience. There is a time for it. But it should be a last measure, when conscience absolutely requires it, when no other pathway, however inconvenient, lies available to us by which we can honor both Christ and Caesar. And let us be keenly wary of the danger of lionizing civil disobedience for fleshly reasons.

Christ, not Caesar, is head of the church: and when the two conflict, we must obey Christ. But when we seek to avoid undue defiance of Caesar, we also act in obedience to Christ.”

-Gavin Ortlund, https://gavinortlund.com/2020/08/02/should-churches-in-california-defy-government-restrictions-a-response-to-john-macarthur/amp/?__twitter_impression=true

MacArthur: Should Churches Reopen?

John MacArthur on churches reopening despite government suggestions and policy:

“Yeah, let me make very clear this question because it keeps coming up. If the government told us not to meet because Christianity was against the law, if the government told us not to meet because we would be punished, fined for our religion and our religious convictions, we would have no option but to meet anyway. And that takes you to the fifth chapter of Acts where the leaders of Israel said to the apostles, “Stop preaching.” And Peter’s response was very simple. He said, “You judge whether we obey God or men,” then he went right out and preached.

If the government tells us to stop worshiping, stop preaching, stop communicating the gospel, we don’t stop. We obey God rather than men. We don’t start a revolution about that; the apostles didn’t do that. If they put us in jail, we go to jail and we have a jail ministry. Like the apostle Paul said, “My being in jail has fallen out to the furtherance of the gospel.” So we don’t rebel, we don’t protest. You don’t ever see Christians doing that in the book of Acts. If they were persecuted, they were faithful to proclaim the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ even if it took them to jail; and that’s been the pattern of true Christianity through all the centuries.

But this is not that. Might become that in the future. Might be overtones of that with some politicians. But this is the government saying, “Please do this for the protection of this society.” This is for greater societal good, that’s their objective. This is not the persecution of Christianity. This is saying, “Behave this way so that people don’t become ill and die.”

Now you may not think that you’re going to have that impact on somebody, you’re not going to be the one that becomes a carrier and causes something to be passed on to somebody else down the road and somebody dies. You may think that’s going to be you. But you cannot defy the government. And I don’t think pastors should do this. You cannot defy the government and say, “We’re going to meet anyway because God has commanded us to meet, no matter what damage we do to people’s lives.”

I mean, what should mark Christians is mercy, compassion, love, kindness, sacrifice. How are you doing that if you flaunt the fact that you’re going to meet; and essentially you’re saying, “We disregard the public safety issue.” You don’t really want to say that. That does not help the gospel cause.

What helps the gospel cause is to say, “Of course, we don’t want to be the cause of anyone’s sadness, anyone’s sorrow, anyone’s sickness, and certainly anyone’s death. So we will gladly comply. This is consistent with what Scripture says, that we are to live quiet and peaceable lives in the society in which we live. We don’t rebel, we don’t do protests, we don’t fight the government, we don’t harass and harangue, we don’t march, we don’t get in parades, we don’t stop traffic; we lead quiet and peaceable lives, and we pray for those in authority over us, and we submit ourselves to them.

In Romans chapter 13, Paul says, “You submit yourself to the government, the powers that be.” But Peter adds to that, “You submit yourself to the governor and the king,” whoever that personal authority is. I’ve heard people say, “Well, this isn’t constitutional.” That’s irrelevant. That is completely irrelevant. When you’re told by an authority to do something and it’s for the greater good of the society physically, that’s what you do because that’s what Christians would do. We are not rebels and we’re not defiant, and we don’t flaunt our freedom at the expense of someone else’s health.

How do we back out of that to communicate the love of Christ? Look, Jesus came and basically banished disease from Israel. He was a healer. The last thing the church of Jesus Christ would want to be is a group of people that lived in defiance and made somebody sick, caused somebody’s death. So you restrain yourself from that.

Again, the issue is so clear that even going back to Richard Baxter back in 1600s, Richard Baxter has a great section in one of his books where he says, “If the magistrate,” as he calls it, “asks you to refrain from meeting because of a pestilence, you do not meet. On the other hand, if the magistrate tries to force you not to meet because of persecution of Christianity, you meet anyway.” I think that’s the dividing line.”

-John MacArthur

Wax: The Wonder of Sunday Morning

by Trevin Wax

Every Sunday, a deacon unlocks the door, an usher picks up a stack of bulletins, a pastor kneels in the study, and they wait. Soon, the parking lot fills, and people from all walks of life stream into the building for weekly worship.

They are not paid to be here. They are not forced to be here. Yet they come and serve in beautiful ways.

In the nursery, volunteers change diapers without complaint, step in to mediate the toddlers’ dispute over sippy cups, and dole out a weekly supply of animal crackers.

Down the hall, men and women open their Bibles and discuss the meaning and application of God’s inspired Word. A doctor with more than a decade of education in medicine takes notes as a construction worker who never went to college exercises his gift in teaching the Scriptures. The small groups then rearrange their classroom space in preparation for the homeless women they will shelter during the week.

The choir and praise team are warming up and running through the songs they will lead in the upcoming service. The hallways are buzzing. Greeters seek out newcomers, teenagers gather near the front of the sanctuary, and the anticipation builds: the worship is about to begin.

This is a place of music, where hundreds of voices soar to the ceilings and the echo of praise hovers over the people. A man who can’t carry a tune lifts his kid up on the pew in front of him and sings along anyway. Some raise their hands. Some kneel. Some close their eyes. Some look to heaven. Various postures, all united in worship.

Then they pray — for the lost, the sick, the hurting in their community. In this moment, the people’s concern for their city is like the ocean tide gathering up its waves of compassion into this place of prayer before rolling their acts of mercy into the city throughout the week.

The pastor opens the Bible. The sermon exalts the Savior and exhorts the saints. Yes, they are saints. All of them, even with their ongoing sins and struggles, their failures and flaws — they are washed in the blood of a spotless Lamb. Forgiven, adopted, and made new. This is not a crowd; it’s a church – a people who have been called out of the world and changed by grace.

From the feast of God’s Word to the feast of the Lord’s Table: now they eat and drink to the glory of God. Christ’s body broken for them. Christ’s blood shed for them. Time stands still, for in this moment, these people are carried back to their Savior’s cross and ushered forward to His return.

The dawn of resurrection morning has given way to the sunlight of noonday. Energized and equipped, the blood-bought saints go out. It may seem like the service is over, but the truth is, their service is just beginning.

-Trevin Wax, http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevinwax/2015/03/23/the-wonder-of-sunday-morning/

What Hipster Coffee Shops & Young Churches Have in Common

by Jefferson Bethke

IMG_8402I’m a big fan of coffee. Like a I-drink-it-black-every-morning-from-my-personal-aeropress type of fan (if you don’t know what that is, and you like coffee, def worth googling).

One thing that has fascinated me lately is the absolute surge in high end experience coffee shops all across the nation (think hipster shops with coffee gadgets and whole bean roasting machines behind the counter). One thing though has also really bothered me lately about this surge.

To put it bluntly, some independent coffee shops I go to across the nation, for the most part, treat you like a complete idiot. And are incredibly rude.

How dare you ask for vanilla syrup in your latte. Oh you don’t know the difference between a drip filter or a press filter system? Let me enlighten you (insert condescending tone and look). What began as a love for coffee and it’s experience has transformed into complete arrogance and exclusivism.

Oh, and if you even mention Starbucks, then you can expect to be kicked out immediately. The look you get is as if anyone who drinks Starbucks is the least cultured, least informed, and obviously least cool person they know.

You might think I’m belaboring the point but there is literally a high end coffee shop in New York named ‘Everyman Espresso’ to combat this very thing the owner saw in other shops as well. A journalist said “if you’re tired of nerdy coffee shops that deliver great drinks but make you feel like a moron, then get yourself to the super-friendly Everyman Espresso.

So it got me thinking. How’d the culture turn like this so sharply and quickly?

I came up with two main reasons.

1). They forgot they are primarily there to serve. Without the customer they wouldn’t be in business.

2) They forgot where they came from, or who set the ground work for them to be there in the first place.

You might be asking, Jeff what does this have to do with anything?

For me, when I started chewing on this (or should I say sipping since we’re talking coffee?) I started to see eerie parallels between these coffee shops and some churches.

Since a lot of my job is on the internet, and because I get to travel to different parts of the country a few times a month, I’ve guess you could say I’ve got a little bit of a bird’s eye view on different churches. Sadly, every once awhile I come across a church that seems to resemble these hipster coffee shops. They have all the latest gadgets. All the cool and well-dressed people seem to go there. They roll their eyes at “the old way of doing things.” If a church wants to sing from a hymnal or dress up on Sundays they cry legalism. Rather than serve, they act almost inconvenienced by those who walk in the door.

Because here’s the truth—if a church’s main virtue isn’t humility in line with the steps of Jesus, and suffering sacrificial love that puts others above self, then it will turn into something it wasn’t intended to be. It really doesn’t matter if you are a hip church or a more traditional church, the thing that makes it turn sideways is the spirit and posture of the people.

Like the coffee shop, we sometimes forget that one of the main missions Jesus gave us was to serve, just as He did to us. And in that, we can sometimes forget that no matter how innovative or powerful of a current move of God there is in our church or neighborhood we can never forsake those who came before us.

See the thing that really bothers me about the hipster coffee shops is when they make fun of Starbucks. They don’t realize they literally wouldn’t have a job or a coffee culture to build on without Starbucks. They should be incredibly indebted and grateful to the big green mermaid. Starbucks created the “third place” as Schultz likes to call it (not the home, not work, but the third place where community and interaction are binding). Before Starbucks, if you wanted coffee then you could go to aisle 11 at the grocery store and get it. But Coffee wasn’t an art, it wasn’t a culture, it wasn’t enjoyed like it is now without Starbucks.

Sadly, us in the church can be the same. We make fun of those who came before us, we call them traditional, we roll our eyes at the ways they do things, but realizing we are standing on their shoulders. The Christian family is a community of honor, thankfulness, and humility. Smiting the people who laid the very foundation for us to do what we do doesn’t encompass any of those three virtues.

So don’t be afraid to be new, don’t be afraid to innovate, and don’t be afraid to do things differently. But if you do, remember the banner we as Christians should always wave is the banner of service. And let us always speak gently and humbly with indebted thankfulness to those who came before.

-Jefferson Bethke, http://jeffbethke.com/what-hipster-coffee-shops-young-churches-have-in-common

(thumbnail via Cubby Graham)

Could the Persecuted Church Rescue American Christianity?

Christianity in this country is big, powerful, and familiar. We need it to become strange again.

An edifying article by Russell D. Moore.

“I was distracted at the Baltimore Orioles’ game the other night. At the end of the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), my wife and I joined friends at Camden Yards, but a new friend with us there in the stands kept driving my attention to a jail cell overseas.

A few hours earlier, that new friend, Naghmeh Abedini, had joined me on the platform of our gathering of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. I called the SBC to stand with her husband, Saeed, an American citizen who is imprisoned in Iran for his evangelical faith. As we ate hamburgers and watched umpires call balls and strikes, I wondered what was happening, at that very moment, to Saeed. Was he being beaten? Was he, like Paul and Silas of old, singing hymns behind the bars?

I couldn’t help but wonder if we were living a parable.

After all, before and after we had prayed for Saeed and the persecuted church on our knees on the convention floor, we had prayed for awakening and revival in our American churches. Southern Baptist baptism rates are robust compared to tanking mainline Protestantism, but they are anemic given our history and our aspirations of reaching our neighbors with the gospel.

It would be easy to assume that American evangelicals are the “strong” ones, standing up for our “weak” brothers and sisters imperiled around the world. In one sense, that’s obviously true. We can pressure the State Department to act. We can send relief to communities in peril. We can use information technology to alert the global community to what is happening to religious minorities (not only Christians) due to persecution.

But more and more American Christians are recognizing that we should not only advocate for our persecuted brothers and sisters; we should also learn from them how to live as Christians.

Evangelical leader Francis Schaeffer warned in the 1970s that affluence is spiritually dangerous for Christians. He pointed to the ancient words of the Hebrew prophets and said that those who need never to wonder where daily bread will come from soon stop praying for it — and turn to immorality.

It’s hard to question his diagnosis, especially since it echoes Jesus himself.

For a generation, American evangelicals have talked quite a bit about “faith” and “values.” We want “faith-friendly” movies and we build coalitions of “people of faith.” We talk about “traditional values” when it comes to policy questions. But “faith” and “values” aren’t necessarily praiseworthy. Jesus told us there are all sorts of faith responses to the Word he was preaching. He compared these to seeds that fall on different kinds of soil. The seed that falls on rocky ground, Jesus said, appears to be vital, until persecution comes and then the hearer walks away.

But what happens when there is no persecution?

We have grown accustomed to an American civil religion, nominally Christian, where in many places it does someone social good to join a church. To say “I’m not a Christian” has been in those places the equivalent of saying “I’m not a good person.” This has inflated membership rolls, yes, but it has done so at the expense of what Jesus calls the gospel: the call to carry a cross.

Moreover, this nominal Christianity has emphasized the “values” and “meaning” aspects of Christianity while often downplaying the “strangeness” of Christianity, namely the conviction that a previously dead man is alive and returning to judge the living and the dead.

This Bible Belt experiment will not long survive the secularizing of American culture, where increasingly even the “values” seem strange to the culture. The church will survive, and, I believe, flourish — but it will mean the stripping away of the almost-gospels we’ve grown accustomed to.

In the “religion” aisle at any given bookstore, one can see volumes promising “every day a Friday” and so on. Jesus is the totem to acquire what American culture has told us we deserve. This is closer to Canaanite fertility religion than to the gospel of Jesus Christ. We have become the people Jesus warned us about.

When we encounter those persecuted around the world, we see a glimpse of what Jesus has called all of us to. We see the sort of faith that isn’t a means to an end. We see the sort of faith that joins the global Body of Christ, across time and space, in the confession of a different sort of reign. We see a gospel that isn’t the American Dream with heaven at the end.

When we pray for those in prison for their faith, we remember that the gospel came to us in letters written from jail. When we plead for those whose churches are burned in Egypt, we remember that our hope isn’t in building religious empires but in a New Jerusalem we’ve never seen. When we weep for those crucified in Syria, we remember that our Lord isn’t a guru or a life coach, but a crucified Christ. That can remind us of the gospel we signed up for in the first place, and free us from our fat, affluent, almost-gospels that can never save.

Maybe at next year’s denominational meeting, we’ll go to another ball game. And, I pray, it’s possible that not only Naghmeh but also her husband can join us — as a free man. We’ll celebrate, and we’ll pray for those still in chains. But then I think we’ll just ask him to preach.

We American evangelicals need our persecuted brother more than he needs us.”

-Russell D. Moore, http://www.faithstreet.com/onfaith/2014/06/18/could-the-persecuted-church-rescue-american-christianity/32586


4 Questions to Ask Before Joining a Church

by Brian Croft

I’ve been asked this question many times not just through my Practical Shepherding website, but even more recently in my own church by visitors. It is a common scenario. You move to a new area. You get find your new residence and job. You get the kids enrolled in school. Where you settle in a local church often becomes a longer, more drawn-out task.

After checking out all the churches you desire to visit, here are four questions to ask yourself as you narrow the search to make a decision.

1. Is this a church where my family will be regularly fed by God’s Word?

This is the first question that needs to be asked. Not just are they faithful to the Word of God, but will this church preach and teach in such a way that my soul and the souls of my family will be nourished? In other words, are they preaching expositionally through books of the Bible as the regular, steady diet of the congregation? This approach does not automatically answer this question, but it is a great place to start and evaluate.

2. Is this a church where I am convinced the care of my soul will be a priority?

Does this church have real pastors/elders who see their primary task to be the spiritual care and oversight of the souls of the members? In other words, just because they have powerful, biblical preaching does not mean your individual soul will be tended to on a regular basis. Ask the pastors. Ask other church members. It will not take much investigation on whether this work is a priority of the leadership of the church.

3. Is this a church where my family will experience meaningful Christian fellowship and accountability?

To know this, it will require a bit of a commitment to one church for a time to build relationships, attend some church fellowship events, and get to know some of the pastors and leadership. Yet you must have a realistic expectation as you are not yet a member, so do not expect to be treated as one.

4. Is this a church where I can serve God’s people and use my gifts for its benefit?

It will help to know where you are gifted and what some of the needs of the church are. Some needs can be filled by your simple presence and commitment. Also, do not assume you know what those areas of need are by your limited observations.

You should be able to know the answers to these questions within a few months of attending one church if you give yourself to the process. If you can answer in the affirmative to all four of these questions, it is a good possibility you have found your next church. At that point I would encourage you not to delay but to pursue membership.

Important Final Note

One final element is the key to persevering with the zeal required in this search. You and your family should feel a sense of persistent unease knowing that you are not in covenant fellowship with a local church and are not under the authority of undershepherds caring for your souls. The freedom and absence of accountability many experience in the search for a new church can cause a sinful complacency.

In other words, you do not ever want to become comfortable being one of God’s sheep who has wandered away from the fellowship of the flock and the accountability of shepherds to care for you, even if that journey at the time feels fun and exciting.


Gaining By Losing – Sending Out Some of Our Best to Plant Churches

by J.D. Greear

A few weeks ago, I sat at a table with our four church planting leaders, listening to them address our team as they prepared to be sent out from our church. A small lump formed in my throat. Was it a lump of sadness, or one of joy? Honestly, I’m not sure. Probably both. With maybe a little fear mixed in there, and seasoned with a little panic. Was I really excited about this? “Sending” preaches more easily than it is executed. Our church will look different next year when these guys leave. They will leave significant gaps. And of course, as soon as they go, we’ll replace them with four more full time planters, some of whom will come right out of our staff team. And it is painful to think about sometimes.


As I sat listening to these guys that morning, I had to force myself to open my hands to God. Opened in surrender. Taking my hands off of one of the most precious earthly things to me—my church. Open as on offering of praise and faith in Jesus’ promise. Open in the belief that God builds his kingdom as we let go, not as we hold on. I did it under the table so that no one could see. These open hands represent one of my greatest, and most difficult, acts of faith. But I believe. Lord, help my unbelief.

-J. D. Greear, http://www.jdgreear.com/my_weblog/2014/04/gaining-by-losing-sending-out-some-of-our-best-to-plant-churches.html

10 Reasons Big Easter Giveaways are Unwise


By Jared C. Wilson

We are nearing the day many Christians look forward to all year. Yes, there’s the somber reflection and penitence of the Passion week, culminating in the resurrection of Jesus to celebrate on Easter Sunday, but there’s also some fabulous cash and prizes. Every year some churches seek to outdo themselves — and their local competition — by luring unbelievers (and I suppose interested believers) to their Easter service(s) with the promise of big shows and in some cases big giveaways. One guy in Texas made national news for giving away new cars. Another church has dropped prize-filled Easter eggs out of helicopters to gathered crowds below. Local churches with more modest budgets sometimes promise door prizes like iPods or iPads or gift certificates to local restaurants.

I think this is profoundly unwise and in many cases very, very silly. I want to offer ten general reasons why, but first some caveats: I’m not talking about a church giving out gifts to visitors. Gift cards, books, etc. to guests can be a sweet form of church hospitality. What I’m criticizing is the advertised promise of “cash and prizes” to attract people to the church service. Secondly, I know the folks doing these sorts of things are, for the most part, sincere believers who want people to know Jesus. But I don’t think good intentions authorizes bad methods. So:

Ten reasons luring people in with cash and prizes is not a good idea.

1. It creates buzz about cash and prizes, not the Easter event. When the media takes notice, nobody wants to interview these pastors about the resurrection. They want them to talk about the loot.

2. It identifies the church not with the resurrection, but with giving toys away. It makes us look like entertainment centers or providers of goods and services, not people of the Way who are centered on Christ.

3. Contrary to some offered justifications, giving prizes away is not parallel to Jesus’ providing for the crowds. Jesus healed people and fed them. This is not the same as giving un-poor people an iPod.

4. It appeals to greed and consumerism. There is no biblical precedent for appealing to one’s sin before telling them to repent of it. This is a nonsensical appeal.

5. Yes, Jesus said he would make us fishers of men, but extrapolating from this to devise all means of bait is not only unwarranted, it’s exegetically ignorant. The metaphor Jesus is offering here is just of people moving from the business of fishing to the business of the kingdom. There is no methodology being demonstrated here. (But the most common one would have been throwing out nets anyway, not baiting a hook.)

6. It is dishonest “bait and switch” methodology. Sure, the people coming for the goodies know they’re coming to church. But it’s still a disingenuous offer. The message of the gospel is not made for Trojan horses.

7. It demonstrates distrust in the compelling news that a man came back from the dead!! I mean, if nobody’s buying that amazing news, we can’t sell it to them with cheap gadgets.

8. It demonstrates distrust in the power of the gospel when we think we have to put it inside something more appealing to be effective. What the giveaways really communicate is that we think the gospel needs our help, and that our own community is not attractive enough in our living out of the implications of the gospel.

9. The emerging data from years of research into this kind of practice of marketing/evangelism attractional church stuff shows the kind of disciples it produces are not strong. I have no doubt these churches are going to see decisions Easter weekend. They’ll herald them on Twitter and on the blogs. As questionable a practice as that can be, I’d be extra interested in how discipled these folks are in a year or two years or three. Hype has always produced “decisions.” Would anyone argue that after 30 years or so of the attractional approach to evangelism the evangelical church is better off, more Christ-centered, more biblically mature?

10. What you win them with is what you win them to.

-Jared C. Wilson, Read Jared’s original post here.

How Many People Go To Your Church?

by Tim Challies

“So how many people go to your church? This is question nearly every pastor faces at just about every conference he attends. I’ve written about the question before but, having spent the week at Together for the Gospel, and having been part of many conversations, it seems like a good time to revisit it. It usually doesn’t take long for a conversation with a pastor to progress to that point. For the pastor this can be a moment of pride or humility, freedom or shame. And somehow it is a question that always seems to come up. And it comes up for those who are not pastors as well; you begin to talk about your church and the other person inevitably asks that same question. So how many people?

I’d like to make the same two-part proposal I made a few years back: Let’s stop asking, “How many people go to your church?” And when someone asks us that question, let’s not feel obliged to give a direct answer. …”

“…I wonder, what would happen if we found better questions to ask and better ways to answer them. Instead of going to the easy question of, “How many people go to your church?” why don’t we ask things like this:

  • How have you seen the Lord working in the lives of the people in your church?
  • What evidences of the Lord’s grace has your church experienced in the last few months?
  • What are you excited about in your church right now?
  • Who are you excited about in your church right now?
  • What has the Lord been teaching you?
  • Who have you been discipling recently? Tell me about some of the future leaders at your church.

When asked, “How many people go to your church?” why don’t we consider answering something like this:

  • As many as the Lord has determined we can care for at this time.
  • Enough that we are actively working toward planting a church.
  • I don’t know, but let me tell you about a few of them…

-Tim Challies, read the full article here: http://www.challies.com/articles/how-many-people-go-to-your-church

A Singing Church

by Jordan Stone

IDC“When I first began the journey of planting a church one common refrain of encouragement from seasoned planters was, “Identify your church’s core values. Communicate them clearly and often.”

Now, this isn’t the place to quibble with whether or not mission statements and core values ought to be a “first order of business” reality in planting a church. When used rightly, just like church confessions, core values function as faithful identifiers of what a local church understands and treasures about its faith and practice.

So we came up with what we call at Imago Dei Church, “Things We Want to Be True.” Things that we hope would permeate our church’s life together and witness to the world. One of those things is that we would be “A Singing Church.”


Why have a specific desire to be a singing church? Two things come immediately to mind.

1. Singing mirrors the character of God.

Zephaniah’s only recorded sermon helped bring spiritual revival to God’s people after the long and disastrous reign of Manassah. For three chapters Zephaniah has detailed the “day of the Lord,” a day when he would, according to chapter 3, “Pour out upon them [His] indignation, all [His] burning anger . . . all the earth shall be consumed.” The picture is bleak. It’s as though God announces that His storm of judgment is coming and His people stare at a sky swelling with rolling and thunderous clouds. And just before judgment bursts forth in power, a single ray of sunshine breaks through and shines down. Zephaniah says sadness and depression isn’t the order of the day for everybody. The sun of salvation is going to burst upon the earth because “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save. He will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” (Zeph. 3:17) Our God is a singing God!

Faithful singing then is little more than a mirror of the great God who sings over His people. Our singing God creates and commands His people, which leads to the second point.

2. Singing is a mark of obedience.

God not only creates His people, but commands His people and one command is that we sing. As best I can tell, there are some four hundred references to singing in Scripture and over fifty commands to sing. God’s salvation compels the commands of Zephaniah 3:14, “Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem!” Did you notice from where our singing is to come?  ”Rejoice and exult with all your heart.” What matters most in singing is the state of our hearts. God is honored when our hearts sings unto Him in joyful humility and honesty.

This is why we sing, because it mirrors God is and is a mark of obedience. Said another way, “We sing because He sang first over us.”


Another question worth pursuing on the topic is, “What singing does singing actually do?” If we long for a culture of singing in our churches, what kind of culture are we longing for? Among the myriad of things singing does, I believe there are four worth particular mention.

Singing glorifies God.

Spirit-filled churches, according to Ephesians 5:19, are those that sing and make melody to the Lord with all their heart. The first function of singing is vertical, a harmonious declaration of all His wonderful works (1 Chron. 16:9).

Singing teaches.

One way we teach one another is by “singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Col. 3:16). Singing is biblical and systematic theology set to meter and melody. Want to help your church understand sin has the two-fold effect of curse and corruption, and that Christ justifies and sanctifies? Have them sing good Mr. Toplady’s “Rock of Ages”:

“Be of sin the double cure, save from wrath and make me pure”

Singing encourages.

The horizontal dimension of singing to “one another” (Eph. 5:19) means teaching and encouraging. They are closely related and functional synonyms, but it seems wise to distinguish them. Has a church member in your congregation recently lost a child through miscarriage? Help your church encourage them by singing “How Firm a Foundation”:

“Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed

For I am thy God and will still give thee aid

I’ll strengthen and help thee, and cause thee to stand

Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand”

 Singing humbles.

I don’t have an explicit reference for this, but I am increasingly convinced few things fuel humility like faithful singing. It is so common, isn’t it, for Christians to think, “If the music is just right, or is to my particular stylistic liking, then I will be able to sing along.” But the vertical and horizontal dimensions of singing compel us to praise even when the music may not be to our personal preference. We see that glorifying God and encouraging one another is more important than my hope that the musical glory of “Enter Your Favorite Band Here” invades the congregation.

This is why, if our churches are ever to be singing churches, we pastors must give our people a grand view of our majestic God. God’s majesty, not man’s music, must ultimately compel our singing. What unites us together in life and worship is not stylistic preference, but God’s majesty as revealed in Christ. Personal preference in man’s music can never truly unite a church in the bonds of peace, but prioritization of God’s majesty will. Pursue the majesty of God more than the music of men and find your church become a singing church.


I hope then it is clear why we pray for God to form us into “A Singing Church.”

We want to mirror God’s character, so we sing.

We want to be obedient to His word, so we sing.

We want to glorify God, so we sing.

We want to teach one another in truth, so we sing.

We want to encourage one another in the Spirit, so we sing.

We want to humble our hearts before God, so we sing.

By His power and for His glory, may He form us all into singing churches.

-Jordan Stone, http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgcworship/2014/03/20/a-singing-church/