Think about Scripture while Singing in Corporate Worship Gatherings

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!

Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!

Psalm 100:1-2

The Psalmist shows us that singing exists as one important aspect of worshipping God. Psalm 100:2b asserts, “Come into his presence with singing!” Thus, singing should have a part to play in corporate worship gatherings. I think that worship in song sets the stage for the preaching of the Word of God. To put it another way, music has the ability to prepare one’s heart for the message.

Music is a powerful tool for the Christian because God created us as complex beings made in his image. Music allows us to be creative, which reflects our Creator who created the world ex nihilo, i.e., out of nothing. Music has the ability to impact our emotions. Music can be used to help us remember certain biblical truths. On this last point, music serves as a phenomenal resource for teaching children Bible verses and the gospel.

Nevertheless, how many people think about the words they sing in worship gatherings? Perhaps many followers of Christ do not take time to think about the lyrics of a song because they have not been taught how. Therefore, many of us are unintentionally neglecting the cognitive attributes that music plays in worship services. My goal for this post is to assist you in thinking deeply about the music we sing at church services. However, before I do this, I will need clarify one presupposition that supports this statement.

Thinking deeply about the music we sing in worship requires us to know the Word of God intimately. While the truths of Scripture can be sung, we must know where the location of those same truths are found in Scripture. Our time in God’s Word will strengthen our appreciation for Christ and grow our love for God in corporate singing. How can you sing about the faithfulness of God, if you have not seen the faithfulness of God throughout the pages of Scripture? I would argue you can still sing about it, but the depth of those words will not have the same impact on you until you have first drank deeply from the Bible.

One goal in singing is to take the lyrics and connect them to God’s Word in our minds. Again, my assumption about having a healthy diet of God’s Word assists in thinking about songs in corporate worship. For example, Maverick City Music recorded a song called, “Promises.” Probably one of my favorite songs to sing right now. The first lyric reads, “God of Abraham, God of covenant and faithful promises, time and time again, you have proven, you’ll do just what you said.” Now, let me show you how to think about Scripture when singing this song in a corporate worship gathering.

To begin, we will need to know the biblical narrative of Abraham. You can find Abraham’s testimony and experience with God from Genesis chapter 12 to Genesis chapter 25. Take one aspect of Abraham’s life to see how God is the God of covenant and faithful promises like the song suggests. God made a covenant with Abraham (to all you Bible scholars, yes, I know he was Abram at the time of this promise) saying, “And I [God] will make you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. . . . and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:2-3). This promise was exceptional because Abraham and Sarai, his wife, had no children, and Scripture suggests that Sarai may have had infertility issues (Genesis 16:1; Genesis 18:9-15). Yet, God promised Abraham that Sarai would conceive and bear him a son, Isaac (Genesis 17:15-19).

At the age of 90 years old, Sarai conceives and bears Isaac like the Lord had promised. Genesis 21:1 reads, “The Lord visited Sarah as he said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised.” This example serves to illustrate that when we sing about God’s faithfulness and covenant keeping attributes that have been recorded in Scripture, this will deeply impact the way we sing in worship services.

Most of all, songs should lead us to a deeper appreciation and love of the gospel. When I sing “Promises,” I reflect on God’s promise to Abraham as it relates to Christ. Matthew 1 records Christ’s genealogy all the way back to Abraham. When we reflect on the promise God made in Genesis 12, we remember that it is through Jesus Christ that “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3b). When I sing the first lyric, I reflect on the promise that God would save people from their sin through the Savior and this was promised to Abraham before Jesus took on flesh (see John 1:14).

You may be thinking, “Does he really think about all of this when he sings?” Yes, I picture God speaking to Abraham about Isaac. I picture Sarai laughing, and the following year she gives birth to Isaac. I think about Jesus who is the promised Messiah in Genesis 12:3 from Matthew’s genealogy. I am reminded that God is the God of the living and not the dead (Mark 12:27), including Abraham who was saved by his faith in God’s future promises (Hebrews 11:8-9). All of these truths scroll through my mind when I sing the first line of “Promises.”

In conclusion, music has the ability to engage our entire being. Our emotions may be stirred, our hearts may be warmed, and our bodies may sway back and forth from the music, but we should not forget that singing should also engage our brains. Next time you sing in church, see if you can sing those lyrics while your mind reflects on Scripture. My belief is that you will not only be meditating on the goodness of God who you are singing to, but also preparing your heart for the message that will most likely be preached after the music ends.

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How to Die as a Christian

This blog post comes out of a sermon I preached on 7/25/2021 at First Baptist Church Spring Hope. -Jeremy Bell When is the last time you ever heard a sermon about dying well as a Christian? The chances are probably never, and I find this extremely odd. If the gospel is to be at the … Continue reading How to Die as a Christian

Young Pastor, Practice the Spirit’s Fruit of Patience

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23 Before coming on staff at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, I served as a Lead Pastor at a normative size church in South Carolina. Words cannot express all the lessons that I learned in this pastorate, … Continue reading Young Pastor, Practice the Spirit’s Fruit of Patience

How to Pray for #SBC21

This coming Tuesday and Wednesday registered messengers from all over will join together in Nashville, Tennessee for the annual Southern (Great Commission) Baptist Convention. For those unfamiliar with Baptist polity, this will be a well-attended business meeting. Reports indicate that approximately “20,000 messengers and guests” will be in attendance. I will be in attendance as a guest not a messenger, but this does not mean that I am absolved to pray for unity.

SBC President and my pastor, J.D. Greear, believes this will be one of the most important annual meetings that “will determine the basis for SBC unity.” My goal for this post is to encourage all who read it to that end. To specifically, pray for unity at #SBC21.

In John 17:20-21, Jesus prayed, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:20-21 ESV). This verse has been in my mind and on my heart leading up to this annual meeting. My prayer is that as we come together, we come with a spirit “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). Think of it like this, that we pray to be an answer to Jesus’s prayer for us in the Gospel of John.

I would like to show you two ways to pray leading up to and during SBC21:

  1. Pray we would be one (John 17:21). Jesus was asking the Father as he prayed for not only the disciples with him that day, but also “for those who will believe in me through their word” (John 17:20). Did you see that? Jesus prayed in this prayer for future disciples, which includes those who have placed their faith in Jesus going to the annual meeting in 2021. What a humbling thought to know that Jesus prayed for our oneness. May we all pray with this type of fervency for oneness going into and coming out of this meeting. Yes, there will be disagreements on issues, but when these discussions arise, we will be in a better position to work them out if unity is our desired outcome.
  2. Pray the world will see Jesus in our meeting (John 17:21b). Look one more time with me at John 17:21. Jesus’s prayer states, “so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21b, emphasis added). Unity reaches a community for Christ. Many people will be watching this meeting with great interest, but in our prayer for unity, may they see Jesus who came to reconcile sinners to God. Jesus’s emphasis at the end of this prayer is missional. Jesus says it again, “I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:23). Pray that our unity (our witness) at this convention in 2021 would bring others into God’s Kingdom through the perfect life, sacrificial death, and glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.

As I stated earlier, my goal is that all who read this would take a moment to pray for unity at SBC21. May the world see the gospel in action during this time in Nashville, Tennessee. Thank you for joining in me in prayer over the next several days.

Think about Scripture while Singing in Corporate Worship Gatherings

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! Psalm 100:1-2 The Psalmist shows us that singing exists as one important aspect of worshipping God. Psalm 100:2b asserts, “Come into his presence with singing!” Thus, singing should have a part to play in … Continue reading Think about Scripture while Singing in Corporate Worship Gatherings

Review of Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship by John MacArthur

This book could be considered by some to be outdated since it was written in 2013, but the Charismatic Movement remains a prevalent false theology that permeates society today. Renowned theologian, John MacArthur, has such concern for the unbiblical views of this movement that he decided to both confront the theology and leaders within this … Continue reading Review of Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship by John MacArthur

A Common Mistake Believers Make When Sharing Their Testimony

The other week I was sitting in our small group, and I made this comment, “When sharing your testimony, do not glorify sin because it will take away from the glory of the Savior who redeemed you.” I was asked by one of our small group members to further explain my statement. The context of this discussion came out of our group studying Ephesians 2. In our discussion, we challenged each other to share our testimonies using Ephesians 2 as our guide (i.e., life before Christ, salvation in Christ, and life after Christ).

At the beginning of this chapter Paul states:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience–among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

Ephesians 2:1-3

Notice how Paul talks about all people before he gets to conversion in Ephesians 2:4-9. He uses words like “dead,” worldly, followers of Satan, “disobedient,” “carrying out the desires of the body and the mind,” and “by nature children of wrath.” What do all these words have in common? Sins destructive power in our lives. All the brokenness we see in our lives, in our world, in our relationships, in our minds, in our hearts, can be traced back to Adam’s sin in Genesis 3:6-7. When Adam fell, the entire human race fell with him as Paul taught in Romans 5:12, and thus, we live out our deadness in life prior to Christ.

The Common Mistake

How does this impact the way we share our testimony? Many times Christians will talk about their sinful past with a sense of pride. Believers will almost relish in how much they used to drink or party or (fill in the sin here). They will almost present Ephesians 2:1-3 to unbelievers in a positive light. In my statement above, I call this the glorification of sin because we elevate sin to a level that doesn’t seem so destructive.

I understand that it is tempting to glorify sin. In some ways, we are connecting with those who are still in Ephesians 2:1-3. Many Christians who glorify sin in their testimony may have positive motivations for doing so. They might be trying to establish a connection with the person or try to show the unbeliever how “bad” they were before Christ redeemed them (Eph. 2:4-9). I think this is a common mistake when believers share their testimony with others.

The mistake resides in taking glory away from our Savior, Jesus Christ. The main problem I see with the glorification of sin in a testimony is that this type of wording portrays sin in a positive light to the unregenerate person. If we paint sin with a sense of pride, why would an unbeliever repent of it and turn to Jesus? Think of it like this: A lost person hears us boastfully speak about how much we used to sin, but now we are saved by God’s grace in Christ. An unbeliever will ask themselves the question: If they talk about sin in this way why would I need to stop sinning and turn my life over to Jesus? This seems to degrade the gospel of its life giving message.

My point is that when we glorify sin in a testimony we take away from the glory of Jesus Christ who came to save us from our sin. To pull us out of Ephesians 2:1-3 by Ephesians 2:4-9 so that we can live in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Therefore, we need to think rightly about how to share our Ephesians 2:1-3 experience when we are sharing our testimony.

A Better Way Forward

The way forward is the reduction of glorifying sin in our testimonies and sharing how living in Ephesians 2:1-3 brought about extreme brokenness in our lives. Unbelievers will understand that truth, and will follow that realization with a question: How do I get out of this vicious cycle of hurt and pain that comes from “being dead in … trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1)? When an unbeliever gets to this question, the opportune moment has arrived for the gospel to be shared. To put it another way, tell them about the glory of the Savior who heals and redeems all people who call upon his name (Romans 10:9-13).

Let me provide an example of what this looks like: Let’s say you were a classical utilitarian. This type of lifestyle seeks to elevate pleasure and/or happiness and reduce pain and suffering. In other words, do whatever makes you feel good and avoid anything that makes you suffer as long as it doesn’t effect the happiness of those around you. The problem with this philosophical worldview is that no matter how much happiness you try to gain, suffering and pain always accompany these types of actions. For example, when people consume large amounts of alcohol, they may experience happiness for a short amount of time, but the next day they will experience the effects of pain that the alcohol takes on the body. They sought pleasure through sin, but in the end, it only brought them pain and suffering.

The other issue is that no matter how much pleasure or happiness you seek it will never be enough. By indulging your sinful desires of the mind and body, you will still feel like something is missing. So, you continually seek more ways to live out your classical utilitarian worldview, but nothing ever satisfies. Eventually, you will find yourself like the prodigal son in Luke 15–completely broken and longing to be fed. When this type of lifestyle begins to take its toll on your life and relationships, you begin to show the person that you are witnessing to how sin only brings destruction. Therefore, you needed a way out of your classical utilitarian worldview, and you found that salvation and new life in Jesus Christ by God’s grace (Eph. 2:4-9).

Do you see how this is a better way forward when sharing your testimony? You are not glorifying sin by making it sound like a good thing. You are explaining how living in Ephesians 2:1-3 brought about severe pain, suffering, and destruction in every area of your life. Lost people can relate to all of that, but as a Christian, you get the privilege in that moment to extend to them the only hope that will pull them out of the destructive spiral they are experiencing, and his name is Jesus Christ. Therefore, use this better way forward to go and make disciples who make disciples in Jesus’ name when sharing your testimony.

5 Helpful Tips for Scripture Meditation

Though God in this threefold revelation has provided answers to our questions concerning Him, the answers by no means lie on the surface. They must be sought by prayer, by long meditation on the written Word, and by earnest and well-disciplined labor. However brightly the light may shine, it can be seen only by those who are spiritually prepared to receive it.

A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, p. 14.

Tozer’s words remind us that we must think well when it comes to knowing God as he has revealed himself through Scripture and through the Incarnate Word, Jesus Christ (John 1:14). The Knowledge of the Holy encourages believers to meditate on God’s Word. With Tozer’s writing in mind, when is the last time you just sat and thought about God? Admittedly, taking time to sit and think or just thinking in general does not come easy to us who live in a fast-paced American culture.

The internet has exacerbated our thinking problems, and social media has, in some sense, taken away our time to just sit and think due to our fear of missing out in the online world. To illustrate the busyness of the American culture, I was pastoring a church a few years ago, and I had them sit in silence after the service ended for about a minute. The silence made some people in the room uncomfortable–including me–because our lives are so “noisy” with everything happening around us.

My goal in this post is to provide you with 5 helpful tips that I have utilized when meditating on God’s Word. This week, I decided to sit down and think about and write down what God tells us about himself as our Father. The concept I wrestled with was: Lord, please help me understand the attributes about you as my heavenly Father that you have revealed to me in Scripture.

Here are the 5 steps that I implemented during this time of meditation that I hope you will find helpful in your own spiritual walk with Jesus.

  1. Pray. Prayer is probably the most important step when it comes to meditating on Scripture. Praying before you meditate allows you to get into a posture of submission before approaching God’s Word so that the Holy Spirit will illuminate the text for you. A good way to open in prayer would be to ask the Holy Spirit to open your heart and mind to his Word, and to expose the glory of God and exalt Jesus during your study. We should not approach meditation as merely an academic exercise or the emptying of our thoughts, but rather as growing in our relationship with the living God by learning more about who he says he is in the Bible.
  2. Read. Depending upon what you are trying to accomplish in your time of meditation, read the Bible passage over and over again. For example, if you decide to meditate on one text of Scripture, consume yourself with reading it as many times as possible. If you are going to take a topic (like I did), read all the passages you can that convey that subject. To put it in the context of this article, read all the passages in Scripture that discuss God as Father by using a concordance. Immersing yourself in God’s Word will help you with the next tip–thinking.
  3. Think. As you read, think. Take a moment to pause and reflect upon what you just read. Thinking correlates with meditating. Take time to really give yourself a mental workout by concentrating on what the text says and what God meant when he wrote it. Meditating will not be easy work because during this time, we are thinking about an infinite God as finite human beings. We are trying to grow in our love and knowledge of God, which will be difficult work because we have so many things in life that prevent us from learning more about our Lord who is holy. However, the difficulty of this act should not prevent us from doing it as believers, but rather challenge us to work at it so that we will do it well.
  4. Write. This point has two concepts associated with it. First, writing will help you as you think. Write your thoughts down in a journal and read over your words. Are you thinking about God correctly? What is God teaching you about himself? Moreover, keep writing until your mind feels like it has nothing left–then, read and write some more. Second, writing down your thoughts will allow you to remember and reflect at a later time what you have meditated on in the past. When you return to your thoughts at a later date, you will be amazed at one of two realities: 1) how much you have grown in your walk with God, and 2) recalling the biblical attributes of God that you had forgotten since the time of your writing. I highly recommend getting a prayer and meditation journal to do this activity because you can go back and physically see how God is working in your life.
  5. Pray. Before you end your time of meditation, pray. Thank God for that precious time with him in his Word. Show gratitude to God for what you have learned about him during this activity. Praise God for opening your heart and mind even if you feel it was only a little. Meditating on God’s Word should never be considered time wasted because God’s Word always works in our lives. Of course, we will have better days than others, but we need to remember we are growing in our relationship with an infinite God so enjoy the process and do not be too hard on yourself. In whatever God reveals in his Word during this time of devotion, praise and thank him for it when you are done.

The list I have provided may not be exhaustive when it comes to meditating on the truths found within God’s Word, but perhaps it will help some readers who have never included this form of spiritual discipline into their personal time of devotion. My encouragement for those who have never practiced meditating on the Word of God is to start out slow and build as you grow. Our fast-paced American society has hurt us in the area of sitting still, in silence, and thinking about God. Therefore, it will take time to overcome our busy habits, but spending uninterrupted time meditating on the truths of Scripture will be a joyful experience as you reflect on a living God who desires to walk with you in life and who has saved you from your sin through Jesus Christ.

“For as the rain and snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

Isaiah 55:10-11

Online Church Is A Necessary Abnormality: A Warning for Christians Post-Coronavirus

Shelter in place. Practice social distancing. These are the recommendations rightly being passed down by our government’s leaders during an unprecedented time in our nation’s history. COVID-19 has caused many institutions, businesses, and churches to rethink the way they operate in order to relieve stress on the health care system and protect those most vulnerable to the virus. My post intends to discuss the latest trend with many churches moving to online only formatting in order to “equip the saints for ministry” in a time such as this (Eph 4:12; Est 4:14). My goal is to warn all believers to not let these online experiences become the new normal of our lives (even though it makes Sunday super easy), but rather to express the biblical importance of physically attending a local church when this pandemic ends.

To be completely honest, doing church online is weird. I’m a pastor who is posting worship services on the internet in order to protect the vulnerable and honor our leaders, and yes, I think this to be a strange method in an even stranger time. Is an online only worship format a necessity during this season? Yes. Is there any other way to do a corporate worship gathering and still practice social distancing? I’m sure there are, but online seems to be one of the best options available to a majority of people. However, this form of internet worship seems to be unnatural.

Why does worshiping online feel so abnormal? Here is one reason online worship feels odd, and some incentives on why I am looking forward to getting back into the church with brothers and sisters in Christ. I pray these reasons will be a sound caution for you to do likewise in the near future as these guidelines become lifted when our government officials think it is safe for us to carry about business as normal.

We should first start with a theological presupposition: people were made for community (Gen 2:18). I have seen many posts on Facebook that discuss how this virus has caused the church to “go be the church.” In some aspects, I understand what they are trying to convey, but let’s not throw the importance of a local gathering out by only focusing on the Great Commission (Matt 28:18-20). Believers, we need to be active in both. We need a time to gather together as followers of Christ in order to be equipped to go be the church (Eph 4:12).

At the beginning of creation, God created man and woman in his own image (Gen 1:27). However, before he created woman, he created Adam–the first man (Gen 2:7). The only time in creation that God declared that an aspect of his creation was “not good” was when he looked and saw that the man was alone (Gen 2:18). Therefore, he brought the woman to the man, looked and saw all that he had done and declared, “It is very good” (Gen 2:21-22; Gen 1:31).

From the creation narrative, my reason for declaring online only gatherings as abnormal is that online communities are not ideal for biblical community. Yes, it allows us to see and speak with each other, but physical presence makes our relationships bud into authentic means for discipleship. Physical presence allows us to interact with one another in ways that the online format does not and cannot. Here are four incentives for going back to church when it is safe to do so.

First, we can physically bond with one another at the church. We can shake hands, give hugs (I’m a huger), and put an arm around someone struggling as a few examples. Gestures that acknowledge someone as a person and connects with their feelings, fears, concerns, and lives in a real tangible way. You can’t get that type of connection in an online only experience.

Second, physical presence at the local church allows us to sympathize and empathize with one another. Have you ever been in a situation where you could literally feel the emotions of another person pouring their heart out to you? Have you ever been in an environment where you could feel the tension? These emotions come when we are in close proximity with one another. These feelings cannot be replicated in an online only format because online is, by all intent and purposes, one way communication. Physical presences allows us to minister the presence of Christ to one another in our times of need.

Third, we can have social interaction during our worship gathering. I love to hear everyone singing. It doesn’t matter if the person behind me is off pitch, on key, or ten decibels too loud. As they are worshiping Jesus, they help me to get my heart and mind right to worship too. I love hearing a hearty “Amen” or watching light bulbs click on when a preacher (typically me) exegetes a biblical text and reveals a truth some have either never thought of before or are hearing for the first time. We were created for community, and the church is designed to worship in person as a family.

Fourth, corporate gatherings produce a sense of order for those in the congregation. Our God is a God of order. Look at creation. Everything functions in an orderly fashion (of course, our sinfulness creates chaos in Gods creation, but Christ is in the process of redeeming that). Worshiping at home can create a disordered environment because our homes are places of relaxation and comfort. I think many of us come to these online worship experiences at home with a different posture than if we were part of an ordered corporate gathering.

Therefore, I know we have to worship during this pandemic differently– for many of us that is online, but since we were created for community, I am longing for the day to worship in person with my brothers and sisters in Christ. My prayer is that after you read this post you will as well. Few things compare to the gathered community each week as we corporately praise Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior like we will for all eternity (Rev 5:11-12). So, when the doors of churches all across this land open again in the near future, I pray you and I will be there anticipating what God is going to do as we gather together as his redeemed bride (Eph 5:25-27).

What are some other incentives that you are looking forward to experiencing when it is safe to do so? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section.

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4 Ways to Share the Gospel During Social Distancing

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18-20

The Great Commission Explained

We need to remember that Jesus gave all his disciples this commission right after he paid the price for our sin, and rose again on the third day–to prove he defeated sin and death on our behalf. In this text, we see him commissioning his disciples and every disciple who puts their faith and trust in him before he ascended back to the right hand of the Father. This truth is why many theologians call this text the Great Commission.

How does the Coronavirus impact the way current disciples carry out the Great Commission? After all, many of us are confined to our homes in order to prevent the spread of the virus and to restrain overloading the health care system. Therefore, I will argue that it doesn’t impact our mission, but does impact our methods.

To begin, we should be comforted to know two truths Jesus tells us in his commission: 1) Jesus has been given all authority in heaven and on earth, and 2) Jesus promises to be with us “always.” As believers, the Coronavirus should not scare us because as the text asserts: 1) Jesus has dominion over this virus, and 2) when we continue to advance the gospel during this global pandemic, we do so knowing he is with us wherever we are and go.

Notice in this text that our gospel witness is sandwiched between Christ’s power and his presence. His power and his presence give each believer confidence to share the gospel with our neighbors, community, and the globe–even in times of a viral crisis.

Carrying out the Great Commission During the Coronavirus

Once we understand that the Great Commission is sandwiched between Christ’s power and presence, we are in a better position to share the gospel during this season of uncertainty. Believer, just because we are in a global pandemic does not mean that our witness must be put on hold nor does it mean that we should not use biblical wisdom in how to go about sharing Christ with others. Our church history helps us to think through both aspects of being a biblically discerning gospel witness.

Our church history reveals that believers still took care of the sick and vulnerable even to the detriment of their own health. However, our history shows us that they didn’t engage in foolish activity to bring about an early death. I think we need to have a balance between both extremes in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic. We can help people in their time of need by dropping things off at their doorsteps, giving them some toilet paper, or mowing their grass. These activities allow us to help the sick and vulnerable while simultaneously practicing social distancing.

While the church can take care of the needs of others in some of the ways listed above, one question we should be asking is “How can we continue to share the gospel with our families, and neighbors in obedience to the Great Commission?” Here are four ways to share the gospel during social distancing to help us think through an answer to that question:

  1. Call them on the phone. This form of communication seems to be nearly archaic in a world of texting, emailing, and Facebook messaging. Nevertheless, a phone call allows you to connect with others on a more personal level. Call people in your neighborhood to check in on them, and ask them how you can pray for them or if you can share a message of hope with them. Then, openly share the good news of Jesus Christ.
  2. Setup an online face-to-face meeting. We live in a technologically advanced society. We have the ability to use platforms like Zoom, Skype, and Google Hangout to connect with people in an online community forum. This allows you some time to see each other and to build relationships without being in close proximity. During this session, make a point to either pray with or share the good news of Jesus Christ with the person on the other end of your computer.
  3. Write and email. Email is another great way to communicate with others quickly and efficiently and still practice social distancing. Write an email to your neighbor, family member, or friend. Tell them about how this social distancing is impacting your life in a positive way. Maybe you can attach a picture of what you and your family have been up to these last few days. At some point in your email, share your testimony or just share the good news outright. Be sure to include at the end of your testimony or gospel presentation a sentence that says something like, “If you would like to know more about how you can put your faith in Jesus Christ, email me back and we can setup a time to talk via phone or on an online face-to-face platform” (see points 1 and 2 above).
  4. Publish a testimonial. The internet is filled with people giving their thoughts and advice about what is taking place in our country during this global pandemic. Why not join the growing online movement by posting a video of your testimony for people to see? The internet has distanced us, but in this season of viral pandemic, pretty much everyone is online. Two great advantages to an online testimonial is that while you are not online your video can still be viewed, and this means, number two, you can reach more people for Christ. Be sure to add something at the end of your testimonial about how you would be willing to talk more about you testimony and what Christ has done for you if they desire or that you can help them find a local church in their area to connect them with if they live far away.

Concluding Thoughts

Just because we have been advised not to leave our homes to help flatten the viral curve, does not mean that we have been advised to stop obeying the Great Commission. In fact, we can still fulfill the mission God has given us by thinking of creative ways to share the gospel where we are and by using the technology God has given to us. In all reality, now is one of the best times to share the gospel because many people are worried and afraid. What better time to share the only hope this world has, God’s one and only Son–Jesus Christ? As Jesus’s words started this blog, I think it only appropriate that his Great Commission should also end it.

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18-20

What are some other creative ways we can share the gospel during this time of social distancing? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section.

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Rethinking Pastoral Ministry in America: How Pastors Should Start Thinking About the Future

Ken Myers, the founder of Mars Hill Audio, once said in his Epiphany Lectures that he does not like to be prophetic. By prophetic, he does not mean that he has been given some special word from God similar to that of the Old Testament prophets. He is not claiming a “Thus says the Lord,” type of truth. Rather, he is arguing that he sees a problem in the area of music, and presents a seemingly unpopular theological view about this topic to his audience. I can relate to Myers’s sentiment about being prophetic, and yet, I seek to be prophetic in this blog post. My article seeks to look at the current trends about the church in America, and propose that pastors need to think about and discuss this topic more deliberately in order to prepare for the future.

Current Decline in Attendance

The church in America is declining. Statistics are indicating–like those at the Pew Research Center–a downward spiral of both professing believers and church attendees. People are less committed to a local church, and those who are committed are attending less and less. The reasons for such a decrease are numerous, and in some ways, unknowable. One factor for the decrease in numbers is due to the increase in people who are identified as “Religious ‘Nones.'” “Religious Nones” are people unaffiliated with any form of religion or religious organization. The rise of this group reveals a telling truth: the impact of the church in our American society is weak at best, and non-existent at worst, therefore, we are not reaching people with the gospel.

If you will permit me, I would like to make a brief observation about what has been called “Cultural Christianity.” Many believers think America used to exist as a Christian culture. I have argued that America has never been truly Christian, but rather existed as a culture that attempted to live out Judeo-Christian values on a societal level. The church used to be the social construction of society, but many people attended church to “save face,” or build on their relational connections. Therefore, many people in these eras seemed to be “Cultural Christians,” Christians out of cultural obligation, instead of actual Christians. When new ideologies started to pop up in culture like the Sexual Revolution, a new way of thinking was introduced and “Cultural Christianity” began to wane because a new way of life was being not only permitted, but also adopted. Today, Cultural Christianity is nearly obsolete, and a new way of life has been adopted by American society so that people can identify as a “Religious None” without fear of societal degradation.

The rise of the “Religious None,” and I don’t mean that to sound negative, indicates that it will take the church longer to reach this group with the gospel. As Mike Breen once said to me in his huddle, “Christians will have to disciple people before reaching them with the gospel.” To put it another way, many Americans do not have a foundation of biblical knowledge in which a witness can draw on in order to point them to Christ. Believers living in a post-Cultural Christianity will have to explain terms, the biblical narrative, and other truths about Christianity in order to point people to Christ as the only means to be forgiven and saved. The consequences of this cultural reality portray that it will take longer to see people come to Christ, and the time needed to reverse the decline will not necessarily be a quick fix.

Current Decline in Finances

Have you ever played the game “Wack-A-Mole?” When you play this game, you hit a mole with a padded hammer and another one or sometimes two moles raise their silly heads to be hammered down quickly by the gamer. This same concept applies to the church. The decline in attendance and the rise of people who are growing away from any form of religion means that the local church will take a financial hit. If it takes longer to reach people with the gospel, it will take longer to disciple people towards biblical giving as well. Plus, many pastors are already experiencing a decline in giving according to this article in the Christian Post. Smaller churches, which make up the majority of my denomination, are also currently burdened by financial crises. In other words, the current financial decline already exists in many local churches.

Many factors seem to be contributing to the financial decline. Of course, attendance is down and this reciprocates into a decline in tithing. People are not giving to charitable organizations including religious entities like in the years past. Some generations who were faithful tithers are beginning to pass away, and the generations replacing them are so steeped in various forms of debt they couldn’t give even if they had a desire towards Christian generosity. While Christians struggle to influence the American culture, the church in America is increasingly struggling to maintain the massive overhead that “Culture Christianity” produced.

A Possible Way Forward

Pastors should be noting these current trends, and possibly rethinking ministry for the future of the church in America. At a minimum, this post should encourage discussion, but also cause us to think of ways to influence an increasingly anti-Christian culture with the gospel in the days to come. I would like to provide you with two possible ways forward:

First, think of ways to reduce the church’s overhead now. Every church is different so this thought will have many implications. Pastors should think about leading their churches towards being debt free in order to reduce the budget overhead and free up money for missional purposes. While finances may be strong, get rid of debt fast. Also, churches that are growing or running out of space should consider only building or renovating in a debt-free mentality. A church may be growing, but one decision or economic disaster could take a church of 200 down to 100 almost instantly. Just because the attendance or tithes decrease does not mean the bank will decrease the loan amount each pay period as an extension of economic grace. In fact, they won’t. Therefore, the loan amount gets spread to less people, and will financially hurt the church and their outreach in the long run. Churches should consider some of the thoughts outlined by Francis Chan in his book, Letters to the Church. Maybe one way to reduce overhead is to get rid of the church buildings all together and look more like the church in the book of Acts–meeting together in homes and reaching people in closer proximity.

Second, and here is me being prophetic, maybe pastors should prepare to become “tent-makers” in the future (cf. Acts 18:3). Tent-makers are pastors who work a full-time job and are either part-time or volunteers at a local church. When I type those sentences it really hurts as a pastor who gave up a stable career and earned two (almost three) theological degrees in order to think about getting out of “full time vocational ministry.” If you are church member, it might bother you to think that your pastor might have to give up full time ministry in order to support his family, the church, and reach more people with the gospel. However, the reality of the declining numbers may demand this possible future for pastoral ministry. Therefore, maybe pastors should start thinking about what type of careers they can work in order to embrace this consistent downward trend and create more time to spend with unbelievers.

Conclusion

One truth we should walk away with is that God is still sovereign. Yes, we may note the trends and think about how these declining numbers may impact the future of the church in America. Pastors, church leaders, and church members should think about and discuss what measures need to be taken in order to sustain a gospel presence in the American culture. However, our planning should never circumvent our need for prayer. May we pray that God would open the pathway to another spiritual awakening in America, and the Holy Spirit will bring people to Christ in droves. May the church be ready to disciple them faithfully according to God’s Word in order to strengthen the church’s resources to reach more people for the glory of God.