Tag Archives: God

John Piper Tunes in and So Can You: The Henry Center Website Report

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An update from the Henry Center on its website.  We’ve been pushing the site in recent days, and it’s great to give a very brief public report:

What do folks like John Piper, Justin Taylor, Millard Erickson, and Thabiti Anyabwile have in common?

Answer: They all check the HCTU website and listen to its content.

Plenty of other folks have been, too. Let us give you some exciting stats that show how successful the year has been for the Center:

  • Over 100 people tuned in via webcast for the Ravi Zacharias lecture
  • Top five pages on the HCTU site in the last year: 1) Media, 2) Blog, 3) Trinity Debates, 4) Piper-Carson, 5) Scripture & Ministry
  • In the last year, between 15,000 and 20,000 unique visitors have browsed the site (!)
  • Traffic on the site in general is up nearly 200% from previous years
  • Over 1000 people watched the Ware-Grudem debate from one year ago, including people from Australia, Germany, China, and numerous other countries

There’s a snapshot for you.  We at the Center want you to know that we are committed to providing excellent content, offered for free, that will benefit the Lord’s church as it seeks knowledge of God, understanding of the Almighty, in pursuit of His maximal glory.

So please–keep checking the site, and encourage others to do the same.  We’re thankful that folks like John Piper, Justin Taylor, Millard Erickson, Thabiti Anyabwile, and you are doing just that.

*******

Plenty more to come in coming days: a Rich Mouw lecture, a debate on evangelism of the Jewish community, and a conference in July 2010 in Tokyo, among many other things.

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G. K. Beale: God’s Sovereignty in Creation Leads to His Sovereignty in Judgment and Redemption

CreationI recently read this little nugget in the dissertation of Wheaton New Testament scholar G. K. Beale, a work entitled The Use of Daniel in Jewish Apocalyptic Literature and in the Revelation of St. John (University Press, 1984).  Commenting on how the creation motif fits into the general flow of Revelation 4-5, Beale drops this little jewel:

“We see that God’s sovereignty in creation is the basis for His sovereignty in judgment and in redemption, which is especially understood against the background of Daniel 4:35-37…in Revelation 4:11b.”

That’s a thought worth pondering.  The sovereign God establishes His authority in creation, and extends it in the age to come.  It is difficult to see how we could affirm the Lord’s utter dominion in creation if we do not affirm His corresponding dominion in matters of salvation.  He is the Sovereign.  He is the Lord.  His revelation reveals Him from first to last as the One who needs give no account to anyone–but to whom we must all give account.

(Image: Akhtarnama–ironically, I think)

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The Gospel of Sex Vs. The Gospel of Christ

jones1Recently read The Gift of Sex by New Testament scholar Peter Jones of Westminster West (CA). In the text, Jones argues provocatively that in this world two options, in essence, vie for the mental and spiritual embrace of humanity. The first is “pagan monism,” which “abhors the Creator, hates his creation and creation’s structures, and promotes anything-goes “liberated” pansexuality.” The second is “biblical theism,” which “loves the Creator, celebrates the creation he has made, and submits to the structure of heterosexual monogamy” (194).

It may not appear at first glance that only two options confront us, but Jones, in the final analysis, is right. After all, either God—and His plan for humanity—is true and best, or He (and it) is not. If He lives and rules over all, then we must obey Him. If He does not exist and therefore does not reign, then we may live any way we please.

Some people seem to not believe in God and thereby pursue sexual gratification as they see fit; others disavow belief in God as a means to unbounded sexual gratification. Both groups make a tragic mistake, and neither tastes the goodness of God and His plan for creation.

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Are Roommates the New Family?

Just found an interesting article that captured a cultural trend.  The New York Times writer Stephen Williams penned a piece called “Home, Hangout, Departure Lounge” that profiles a group of roommates living together in New York City.  It’s a short but noteworthy article that includes the following:

nytHere’s how the group came together: “The four roommates from Grand Rapids became friends in high school. Each of them eventually made it to New York, where all but Mr. Armstrong attended the Fashion Institute of Technology. It was there that Mr. D’Adamo joined the crew. He now works in sales at the Mitchell Gold & Bob Williams furniture store in SoHo.  About four years ago, everybody except Miss Scott rented an apartment together in Harlem. It had a huge kitchen and living room and four bedrooms, and cost $2,600 a month. Then Miss Scott moved in, staying in whichever room was empty — all of the roommates spent (and continue to spend) many nights with their significant others. When it was decided that Miss Scott needed her own room, they started looking for a five-bedroom place to share. They like hanging together.”  

Here’s how they think about family: “It’s nice to have some sort of family here where you know each other’s business, their parents, everything,” Mr. Vosovic said.”

They live separate lives together: “It’s a great little commune, especially because while the residents hang out now and then, and give birthday parties for one another, they still live separate lives. So far, there are no plans to break up a good thing. But Mr. Vosovic has ideas for the future. “Hopefully the girls will get pregnant and we’ll have babies with live-in baby sitters!” he said.”

Clearly the roommates are nice people.  They prize that most precious of modern buzzwords, “community.”  That’s no bad thing.  They sound fun and caring, and it seems that they have created their own little family.  It seems, though, that they have accepted the current generation’s radical redefinition of family–where once it referred to a “nuclear” unit composed of husband, wife, and children, now it refers to any number of shifting collections of friends and acquaintances.  Having seen many couples seemingly fall out of love, observing the fragmentation and geographical isolation of the modern family, groups like this are recreating family the best they can.

But this comes with a price.  It means that one lives as one likes.  It means the delaying of responsibility and maturity.  As a new father, I can say that I have found fatherhood to be one of the most spiritually stimulating experiences of my life.  It is a blast, simply put, though it involves tons of dedication, sacrifice, and hard work.  I’m very much figuring all that out, but I can already see how fatherhood helpfully changes us and robs us of our selfishness, if we allow it to do so.

Though this modern way of living–with relationships, work, and friends neatly compartmentalized–seems optimal, it can mask a pervasive narcissism and refusal to mature.  The call to make a family, which many of us will hear, brings together all aspects of life, unifies them as a single whole, makes us whole people.  One can’t have a “life” at work, another with one’s boyfriend or girlfriend, another with one’s roommates.  Rather than accepting a new definition of the family, an unbiblical one, Christians need to be salt and light by transmitting the beauty of the natural family to a confused, compartmentalized world.

In the end, it strikes me that these young people are looking for something that they can’t find outside of Christ–a family greater than their own.  This little group of roommates, in their own way, is reaching for a community they cannot enter, a joy they cannot taste, unless God makes them His own by giving them faith in His Son through the work of His Spirit.   

Whether single or married, we need to call all people to the true family, the family of God.  Our natural families, saturated with goodness and blessing, are just a snapshot of the beauty of God’s spiritual family in which both all people may find ultimate fulfillness.  In New York City or rural South Dakota, the local church beckons to the sad and lonely, calling all to join it in its journey to the lasting home, the dwelling place of God.

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Bad Parents! The New Yorker Scolds the “Helicopter Parent”

From Joan Acocella’s just-published New Yorker article entitled “The Child Trap: The Rise of Overparenting”:

helicopter-parenting“We’ve all been there—that is, in the living room of friends who invited us to dinner without mentioning that this would include a full-evening performance by their four-year-old. He sings, he dances, he eats all the hors d’oeuvres. When you try to speak to his parents, he interrupts. Why should they talk to you, about things he’s not interested in, when you could all be discussing how his hamster died? His parents seem to agree; they ask him to share his feelings about that event. You yawn. Who cares? Dinner is finally served, and the child is sent off to some unfortunate person in the kitchen. The house shakes with his screams. Dinner over, he returns, his sword point sharpened. His parents again ask him how he feels. It’s ten o’clock. Is he tired? No! he says. You, on the other hand, find yourself exhausted, and you make for the door, swearing never to have kids or, if you already did, never to visit your grandchildren. You’ll just send checks.”

The entire article is worth reading. A review of Hara Marano’s A Nation of Wimps and a few other recent works on “helicopter parents,” it raises questions that every Christian parent should consider, as do the books reviewed briefly in the article.

I’ve been surprised at the amount of secular-seeming, child-centered, sin-gratifying parenting I’ve seen in the evangelical community. One would think that Christians who have a robust doctrine of sin would govern their children accordingly, and teach them that they must deny their natural, narcissistic instincts, learn to revere their parents and other adults, and speak and act with decorum and wisdom. Instead, many parents seem to indulge the base instincts of their children, mirroring a more worldly style of parenting.

What does this look like? Like this: one’s child, as mentioned in the above quotation, dominates conversation. Children have little respect for adult interaction and constantly interrupt. Oftentimes, children run wild around the home. When discipline is attempted, often with gentleness of an extreme degree, the child erupts in volcanic fury, leaving the parent, who cares more for their appearance than for their child’s spiritual health, to try as best as humanly possible to placate the child’s wrath. This generally does not go over well, of course, leading to embarrassment on the part of the parents and awkwardness on the part of the guests.

This problem began far before the eruption, though today’s children “erupt” far more often than they used to (if I had regularly thrown public tantrums as a child, I would have met some alternate fury; used to be that parents did not allow tantrums to happen, period). This problem began with parents who have bought into the modern parenting culture, which so emphasizes a child’s self-esteem, needs, and wants that it essentially erases the traditional concern for the child’s heart and behavior.

This is a very bad situation. It compromises the unique character and witness of Christian homes and robs them of the chance to look different from secular homes and thus testify of a greater reality, a life-and-home transforming reality. It means that parents are not really the authorities but are held captive to the will of a dearly beloved little sinner (or collection of sinners). Many of the parents who practice this model love their children very much, provide a warm and happy home for them, and avoid the past mistake of all discipline and no love. But they swap out the old problem for a new one, failing to hold law and grace in balance.

I am a very young parent. I don’t speak with years of practical experience. But I do hope to raise my daughter in this balance of law and grace. Though I have an excellent wife who is a natural mother, I must not cede my daughter’s formation to my wife, as so many passive Christian fathers seem to do. As a father I must often personally shepherd my little girl and train her not to be narcissistic, not to throw tantrums, not to mess up other people’s homes, not to interrupt adults, not to act up in church but to sit quietly and listen, not to develop a short attention span through a constant stream of movies and tv that will handicap her for life, not to refuse to speak to adults when they address her, and much, much more. In short, I have to apply my healthy doctrine of sin to my sweet, lovely little daughter’s life. I must be gentle, but I must also be strong, both in tone of voice and in physical bearing. I must not be a weak or wimpy father.

A book that has proved very helpful in developing my understanding of biblical parenting is psychologistrosemond-parenting John Rosemond’s excellent Parenting by the Book. Rosemond’s exegesis is sometimes suspect, I don’t agree with all of his conclusions (spanking is a helpful device in my book), and he doesn’t provide a lot of source material, but he has tremendously helpful practical advice on biblical parenting, and he soundly refutes what he calls “postmodern psychological parenting.” Every parent–especially every young parent–should buy this book. My wife and I have read through it, chapter-by-chapter, and we have been thoroughly instructed and challenged by it. You will be too.

Here is hoping for Christian parenting that is anything but cultural, that testifies by its very character to a God who is neither all law nor all grace, but is a perfect balance, and a model for all who seek to raise their children well.

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The Beauty of HBO’s “John Adams”

john-adams-presidentAmerican history is a larger-than-life enterprise, filled with lofty characters who scarcely seem like ordinary people.  Franklin, Edwards, Lincoln, both Roosevelts, and the list goes on.  One of the most important figures of the American past is the Massachusetts politician and farmer John Adams.  Second president of America, close friend of Thomas Jefferson, Revolutionary War leader, Adams looms large in our nation’s memory.

The 2008 HBO miniseries entitled, simply, “John Adams” explores the life and times of the man, revealing him to be a very human character indeed.  Though some out there might be surprised to hear that a series produced by HBO is worthwhile, I assure you that it is.  There is a bit of medically related nudity in part six of the seven-part series, but other than that, the film is splendid.  I would highly encourage all Christians to watch the film, and would think it will prove an excellent companion to home-schooling historical study or public school learning.

As I said, the film makes Adams a real person, showing not only his great oratorical gifts, his strong character, and his keen mind, but his forceful pride, his self-pitying nature, and his need for his wife.  Adams, played by Paul Giamatti, shares a very close relationship with Abigail, his wife, played by Laura Linney.  Both actors turn in exceptional performances of the highest caliber.

In the end, the series reveals that even the most full of lives cannot satisfy the restless heart of man.  Even with an impressive past and a wonderful marriage, true and lasting satisfaction evades Adams.  Though a believer in God, Adams and his family evince little deep faith, a matter treated well by David McCullough’s magisterial John Adams, the book upon which the miniseries is based.  Spirituality was not alien to the Adams home, but neither was it preeminent.  This results in much sadness in the children, as John’s politics take him far away from his family.  The sacrifice was worthy on many accounts, but carried a deep cost, as the film clearly shows.

The film shows the glories of America’s founding, and it allows the viewer to experience the drama of early American history, as characters like Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, and Thomas Hamilton play key roles in the story.  As a student of American history, I thoroughly enjoyed this aspect of the film and found myself almost gleeful at the opportunity to see even a fictional Thomas Jefferson and a pretend Ben Franklin.  The struggle to form the republic in which we live is poignantly and dramatically depicted, and the strength of Adam’s character shows itself as he refuses to descend into mere partisanship throughout his career, choosing instead to put his country, and not his name or his party’s cause, first.  He emerges as a flawed but deeply honorable man, more wise and less narcissistic than the brilliant Jefferson, and Giamatti’s performance is superb in capturing both sides of Adams.

Friendship is a key theme of the miniseries, and the film never becomes more touching than when it covers the end of the marriage of John and Abigail and the termination of the friendship of Thomas and John.  Married couples will find this a most moving depiction of the realities and deep bonds of covenanted life, and friends of all kinds will find the twilight years of the Adams-Jefferson friendship stirring.  The sadness of life without faith in Christ and the promise of eternity with Him comes through powerfully as the series wears on, as it is almost unbearable for Adams to part with his wife and his friend.

Rent or even just buy the film. You won’t regret doing so.  You’ll learn or re-learn a great deal of American history and watch as one of the most amazing political developments in all the eras of the world plays out before your eyes through the leadership of a small band of imperfect men.  You’ll also receive fresh encouragement by which to reach out to those around you who have even the best sort of earthly life and tell them of the only enduring hope they may possess, regardless of achievement, investment, or interest.

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The Harris Twins Rebel–Against Low Expectations, That Is

harris-twinsYou may not have heard of the Harris twins, Brett and Alex, the little brothers of evangelical mega-author and faithful pastor Josh Harris. They have a great website, the Rebelution, and a recent book called Do Hard Things in which they urge teens and people of all ages to work hard in life for the glory of God. Christianity Today just interviewed the twins and I found one section particularly interesting for people concerned with the structure and mission of the local church:

CT: What does your message mean for adults?

Alex: The low expectations for young people are not coming from just the world — the media and MTV. They are in schools and the church, too. But teens are hungry for more. They are hungry for doctrine and theology. They want to know about God and not just have pizza parties at youth group. They believe they can accomplish things for God. They need older, wiser mentors and adults in their lives to come alongside them and be the wisdom that complements their strength and energy and excitement.

In addition, recognizing that culture has turned teens into mere targets of our consumer culture changes the way you teach them. We have had parents read the book and say, “Hey, you’re right. I don’t want my daughter to just be a little Bratz doll. I want to prepare her for a serious time of preparation and launching.”

The message of the Rebelution also speaks to adults to do hard things. Adults get stuck in ruts where they are not going outside their comfort zones. Adults need to do more than is required. They need to dream big. They need to be faithful in the little things, and they need to take a stand.”

There’s a good deal of wisdom here. Maybe we can change this culture in years to come and teach our children the highly counter-cultural message that youth is not to be wasted upon foolish pleasures, but is a season of preparation for the demands, joys, and high calling of adulthood.

In our day, of course, we need to teach this lesson not only to teens, but to twenty- and even thirtysomethings. Life is not meant to be lived for one’s own desires, for the gratification of our immature desires. Adulthood and maturity are good. They are not evil. Conformity on some levels to common standards of maturity is not bad–it is good, and part of being an adult. Self-expression is not the chief good of life. It is better to learn self-control, and then to fit in self-expression.

I could go on. There’s a great deal of ground to make up on this point, and much of what the culture offers youth today goes directly against the Harris twins’ biblically grounded message. But that’s where excellent parents and vibrant local churches come in, right?

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The New Yorker’s Take on Evangelicals and Abstinence Education

Found this in the New Yorker and thought that this outsider’s take on evangelicalism and its approach to sex was quite worth reading, if over-heated and wrong-headed in places:

“The “pro-family” efforts of social conservatives—the campaigns against gay marriage and abortion—do nothing to instill the emotional discipline or the psychological smarts that forsaking all others often involves. Evangelicals are very good at articulating their sexual ideals, but they have little practical advice for their young followers. Social liberals, meanwhile, are not very good at articulating values on marriage and teen sexuality—indeed, they may feel that it’s unseemly or judgmental to do so. But in fact the new middle-class morality is squarely pro-family. Maybe these choices weren’t originally about values—maybe they were about maximizing education and careers—yet the result is a more stable family teens1system. Not only do couples who marry later stay married longer; children born to older couples fare better on a variety of measures, including educational attainment, regardless of their parents’ economic circumstances. The new middle-class culture of intensive parenting has ridiculous aspects, but it’s pretty successful at turning out productive, emotionally resilient young adults. And its intensity may be one reason that teen-agers from close families see child-rearing as a project for which they’re not yet ready. For too long, the conventional wisdom has been that social conservatives are the upholders of family values, whereas liberals are the proponents of a polymorphous selfishness. This isn’t true, and, every once in a while, liberals might point that out.”

–From “Red Sex, Blue Sex” by Margaret Talbot.

There are several matters with which to (strongly) quibble here.  The idea that children born to working parents who had children later in life are better off than children from more traditional evangelical families is shaky at best, for example.  By what standard–stats?  That’s not enough for me.

The article generally tries to make the point that despite strenuous sex education efforts, evangelicals turn out children who are more sexually promiscuous than the children of non-evangelicals.  It follows the line of a recent book entitled Forbidden Fruit: Sex and Religion in the Lives of American Teenagers by Mark Regnerus.  Though one would certainly cite some different factors than do either Talbot or Regnerus for this phenomenon, it seems that they are onto something.  Evangelicals as a culture do seem to be failing at sex education.  Talbot’s words in the above paragraph heap shame on us, for even a writer for the New Yorker realizes that we do a poor job of practical instruction of our children when it comes to sex.

This is a travesty, a recipe for disaster, because we live in a sex-drenched society.

What is the solution?  Local churches that train parents not simply to answer tricky questions about sex, but to provide a personally enveloping and spiritually captivating worldview that approaches sex from a deeply theological point of view.  Children need to learn that sex, like all things, was created for the glory of God, that it is not dirty or unmentionable but is inherently good, and must not be enthroned as the chief good of life.  Instead, sex, like all good gifts, must be carefully stewarded in service to Christ.

Boys and girls and men and women who preserve themselves sexually do not merely check off the right boxes, but do something far greater than merely gratifying their pleasures.  They reflect glory back to God and stand with Christ in the great story of the ages, preserving their souls and bodies for the realm of heaven.  To sinfully gratify, then, is to offend God and to coarsen our existences, to choose something lesser for ourselves.  To preserve ourselves is to honor the Lord and participate with Him in the great and glorious fight against darkness.

Once a worldview is in place, then parents need, under the headship and accountability of the local church, to involve themselves very carefully in the lives of their children, helping them choose good friends, participate in helpful social circles, discern good and bad in culture, and learn to love what is beautiful and good and true.  Biblical education of an ongoing, world-encompassing sort, the kind advocated in Deuteronomy 6 and taught in the van, at the dinner table, on walks, and after church, will do far, far more to train children in righteousness than pawning one’s kids off on the local youth minister, which many parents today seem to do.  You cannot franchise out your child’s spiritual development; we who are parents have to take up the continual work and stay close to our children if we would see them become holy in an unholy world.

When the New Yorker is lecturing us on parenting, it’s time to take it with deadly seriousness.  For generations, we’ve let others–coaches, teachers, youth ministers–train up our children, and we’ve acquiesced to a wealth culture that harms the traditional family by removing Mom and preoccupying Dad.  The results are disastrous.  Perhaps we will see a return in the church to the simple but powerful way of raising children: close to the hip, saturated in the gospel, practical and honest to the end.

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The New York Times on the Difficulty and Glory of Writing

Anyone who writes regularly knows that it is difficult stuff. A recent article by David Gessner in the New York Times magazine, entitled “Those Who Write, Teach”, captured some of the storm-and-thunder involved in wrestling through the creation of words that form stories and arguments and descriptions and so on. Gessner is a young professor who is currently struggling with the desire to write in the midst of a busy life. Whether you’re a professor or not, his words are worth reflecting on:

“Even if we grant that you can be as original within the university as up in your garret, we must concede the possibility that something is lost by living a divided life. Intensity perhaps. The ability to focus hard and long on big, ambitious projects. A great writer, after all, must travel daily to a mental subcontinent, must rip into the work, experiencing the exertion of it, the anxiety of it and, once in a blue moon, the glory of it. It’s fine for writing teachers to talk in self-help jargon about how their lives require “balance” and “shifting gears” between teaching and writing, but below that civil language lurks the uncomfortable fact that the creation of literature requires a degree of monomania, and that it is, at least in part, an irrational enterprise. It’s hard to throw your whole self into something when that self has another job.”

I like this description a good deal. It makes me laugh to think of traveling “to a mental subcontinent”, but it’s true. To write is to leave this earth for a while and anchor somewhere else. Furthermore, it’s not easy, light-hearted work. Writing is indeed an exercise of “anxiety” and “exertion”. It involves pushing through mental tiredness and clutter and earthly distraction in order to get to that far-off subcontinent. I find that I often have trouble interacting with real-world people after living in the fantasy world in which I am creating a written work. Much like a mad scientist fresh out of the basement chamber has a difficult time chatting about the weather, so too does a writer (a kind of mad scientist, one supposes) struggles to enter back into ordinary conversation and action.

In this second excerpt Gessner describes the urge to write that currently is building inside him like pressure in a bottle:

“I don’t know how long I can survive in captivity. For the time being I will continue to throw myself into teaching and try to take Stegner’s advice about the summers, while hoping my job doesn’t get in the way of my work. I do love teaching and recognize how lucky I am to be living for at least a part of each day in the real world, but while I try to be commonsensical, lately I have begun to feel something rising up inside me. A part of me misses the glee and obsession and even the anger. And a part of me worries that my work has become too professional, too small, and worries that I don’t spend as much time as I should reading or brooding or even fretting. Yes, my lifestyle is more healthful, but is health always the most important thing? The part that answers no to that question is now lying in wait, looking for ways to undermine my so-far-successful teaching career. In fact you could argue that that part of me had a hand in writing this essay, which I am finishing now, a few weeks before going up for tenure. After all, what would that part, my inner monomaniac, like more than to tear off his collar and sabotage the job that keeps him from running wild?”

I understand the bohemian desire to leave the 9 to 5 world behind and go off somewhere to write. I feel it myself at times. The soul of the writer is, I think, a little wild. One has to be a little crazy to work very hard for a long period of time on one piece of work. Of course, in the craziness, in the wildness, one seems to find some deeper purpose, something like the communication of the soul, the unleashing of the mind. If this is surely not the highest purpose in life (being the glorification of God through a heart redeemed by Christ), is it not yet a powerful, soul-gripping endeavor?

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Comments on God Delighting in Small (New England) Churches

From Paul Buckley in Methuen, MA (check out his excellent, Christ-exalting blog)–

“I pastor a Sovereign Grace Ministries Church in New England, King of Grace Church. Thanks for your encouraging post! Pastoring in New England has been a wonderful adventure of learning to glory in Christ and the precious folks he does give us and not in our relative church size. It is one thing to say I am pastoring for God’s glory, it is another to be tested with small success yet still labor. There are many here as Josh said who have labored faithfully for years (far beyond mine). They are my heroes.

I trust their faithful prayers and labors will indeed be answered in time with new converts, new church plants and a region full of disciples who will surpass them in zeal, knowledge and faithfulness. We intend to labor for Christ and His glory regardless of outcome yet we continue to ask for a greater harvest.”

From Mike Freeman in Ohio (formerly of Maine)–

“Having grown up in a Maine small church, I agree with Owen. Additionally, I have labored as a lay youth leader for the past six years at at a church in southwest Ohio. I can say with certainty that the folks in Maine, by and large, “get it.” In Ohio, the bible belt, many people go to church because that’s what you are supposed to do- even fundamental evangelical churches. In Maine, most people don’t go to church; the ones that do come actually seem to want to be there.”

Are there other pastors out there who want to comment on the original blog I wrote? I would love more testimony on what it is like to pastor a small church and how you handle it.

To my knowledge, this subject is not often talked about. Small churches are something of the elephant in the room in many evangelical circles. We all know they’re there (in large numbers), but as our environment is suffused with notions of success and grandiosity, we don’t want to talk about them much or really even acknowledge they’re around. We’d much rather talk about the “success stories” than the churches who are, in their quest for faithfulness, achieving a certain numerical mediocrity.

This (extended) blog is no attempt to demonize large churches. Far, far from it. I give thanks to God for large churches that are faithful to the gospel. God often uses them in special ways. God blesses many, many people through them. For Bethlehem and Covenant Life and other churches of similar size and gospel focus, I am thankful to God. But we must not think that these churches alone are faithful and glorifying to God. If our definition of God’s glory is measured along metric lines, we are surely off. If faithfulness must in some way equal numerical prosperity, we are certainly wrong. The very message of the Bible is that God takes pleasure in the few. God, unlike men, does not need recognizable size and prosperity–in terms of His followers–to be delighted. The message of the Bible is that God loves His people. He loves the few. He loves the remnant. He delights in the faithful, self-sacrificial lives of His people. It is not massive size that He searches the earth for. He searches it for faithfulness.

The Bible is rife with stories that support this basic idea. Try it out–test this theme out. Read through your Bible, and see how often God delights in a people who are small in number but great in devotion. See how little emphasis there is on the mere size of things. Tiny Israel, puny David, Gideon’s 300, the faithful remnant, the mustard seed, the scattered disciples, the overmatched apostles, the slain martyrs–this is just a tiny selection of biblical matters that show with clarity the joy God takes in the few. In so many of these things, in fact, it is God’s explicit design for His numbers to be small.

When a church is small, then, we must not rush to feel bad for it, or wonder what has gone wrong, or contrive many ways to fix it. Perhaps change is needed. But it may well be that God is delighting in the small size of the congregation, taking joy in their gathered worship, smiling as they evangelize and celebrate His supper and struggle to fill an oversized room. Knowing God’s character from the Bible, wouldn’t it be just like Him to do so?

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