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Tim Challies

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Keep On Learning To Dance
October 28, 2016

It’s a metaphor I heard from a friend and one that has stuck with me ever since. It illustrates a common, perhaps even universal, experience within marriage—sexual intimacy is good and wonderful but, maintaining healthy intimacy through all of life’s ups and downs is a life-long challenge. The illustration goes something like this.

You are a young man or woman attending a wedding reception, an old-fashioned dance in a small-town dance hall. The band takes its place on stage and strikes up the music, a simple waltz. You don’t know how to waltz, but you’re eager to learn. You find your partner, a partner who is equally unskilled but equally keen to learn, and together you begin. You learn the positioning for your feet, you take hesitant first steps. For a while you stumble, you trip over each other’s feet, you make silly mistakes. But after a few minutes you realize that you are beginning to get it. A few minutes later and you’re moving, you and your partner gliding around the floor as one. This is fun!

But no sooner do you start to move smoothly than the music fades and stops. There is a moment of silence before the band leader strikes up a new number, this time a polka. “But, wait,” you want to cry, “I’ve just figured out the waltz! It was just beginning to go well!” But the band is already well into their next number. You and your partner turn to one another, shrug and smile, and begin to learn this new dance. You discover the tempo. You learn where and how to position your feet, you learn to move them in unison, and after a while you are once again gliding across the floor. It becomes easy, it becomes smooth and fun. You’re dancing!

And then, wouldn’t you know it, the music changes again and this time the band moves into a foxtrot or swing or something else. “But, but, we had only just…” But it’s too late. The band leader has given the word, the music has switched, the evening has moved on.

And in just that way, sex within marriage is like a dance. It is rhythms and movements of living, habits of communication, patterns of intimacy that you learn and act out together. Over time you grow in unison, you grow in your ability to anticipate your partner, to please and serve one another. There are moments when it just seems to work, where intimacy is smooth and fun and satisfying, where sex fits into life like a hand fits into a glove. It just works and you want it to stay that way forever.

But life is not a static thing. Just like the music changes at a dance, the circumstances change in life. Just like new music requires new steps and movements, these new circumstances require new rhythms, new ways of communicating, new ways of relating. For sex to be successful and mutually satisfying in these changing circumstances, you will need to let go of some of those old patterns and begin some new ones. You may want the old music to come back on, the old circumstances to return. You knew that dance, you knew how to move through life as one. But the past is the past and will never return.

If you are married, you need to learn the dance, the rhythms, patterns, habits, and actions that promote the deepest intimacy, the healthiest sexuality. Expect that you will learn to move to life’s music, to learn its dance. But also be aware that the music has a way of changing at the whim, or perhaps better said, the design of the band leader. And when the music changes, be ready, be willing, be eager to learn the new dance.

Set An Example
October 27, 2016

Art comes in many different forms. Visit a museum or art gallery and you may see sculpture, pottery, calligraphy, and, of course, paintings. Though each of these is beautiful and valuable in its own way, the Bible commends another form of art, one that is more important and more enduring. It is a living art. Francis Schaeffer said, “No work of art is more important than the Christian’s own life, and every Christian is cared upon to be an artist in this sense. … The Christian’s life is to be a thing of truth and also a thing of beauty in the midst of a lost and despairing world.” No work of art is more beautiful, more precious, than a life lived for God in imitation of his Son.

In 1 Timothy 4, Paul writes to Timothy to tell him that he is responsible for making his life just such a work of art. He is to “set an example” before other Christians, and especially the ones in his local church. Though he is still young, he is to have confidence in his ability to live an exemplary life. Over the past few weeks I have been taking a deep dive into this passage, and doing so with younger Christians in mind. Having looked at what it meant for Timothy to set an example in his speech and conduct, we are now ready to consider his love.

Set an Example In Your Love

“Let no one despise you for your youth,” said Paul, “but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love…” We have already seen that speech and conduct refer to the two ways Timothy’s behavior would manifest itself externally—through his words and through his actions. Timothy was to ensure that everything he said and everything he did was worthy of imitation. Paul now begins to challenge Timothy in his inner qualities. Even in the inner man he is to be exemplary, to serve as a model of Christian virtue and maturity.

It is no surprise that love heads up Paul’s list of inner virtues, for love is the chief of all graces. As he says elsewhere, “Now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13). Love is a defining trait for a Christian: “Let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God because God is love” (1 John 4: 7- 8). Love is to mark everything we do: “Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Co 16:14). But what is love? What is the love Timothy was meant to have?

If you have been around churches for any length of time, you have probably encountered the Greek word Paul uses here: agape (a-GOP-ay). You probably also know that Greek has several different words that we translate as “love,” each with its own nuance. Agape is as straightforward as they come. It refers to esteem or affection, regard or concern. Timothy was to search his heart to ensure he was concerned for the people in his church, that he desired what was best for them, that he was eager to equip and protect them, and even that he felt affection for them. His heart was to be warm, not cool. All the while he was to know that what he felt and believed internally would eventually manifest itself externally.

We need to understand that according to the Bible, love is not just a feeling or emotion but something that works itself out in action. Love is not less than what we feel, but it is certainly more. Aren’t you glad that Jesus did not only feel love for you but that he ultimately acted in love for you? His feelings would not have done us much good! The ultimate measure of love is not what you feel for others but what you do for them. Paul’s concern was not just that Timothy feel love for others, but that he act in loving ways.

Why was this something Paul needed to mention specifically? Because people are hard to love! Loving others is the kind of challenge that tests the best of men. It is a challenge because of sin—we are sinful and they are sinful, and there is always trouble when sin meets sin. Yet loving the hard-to-love is how we demonstrate our obedience to God. It is how we demonstrate our conformity to him. It is how we display Christ-like humility. Ultimately, it is how we give evidence of our salvation. The love we extend to others is the very same love God has extended to us through Christ.

Young Timothy was to be an example of Christian love, love he felt internally and love he acted externally. The special setting for his love was his local church, for it was there that he was to set an example before other believers. Timothy’s challenge has become your challenge. You, too, are called to love. You are called to love the people in your local church and to serve as a model of what it means to love them well, to love them creatively, to love them thoroughly, to love them even—especially!—if they are hard to love. They may be hard to love because they are difficult people. They may be hard to love because they are so different from you—older, younger, in a different stage of life, educated a different way, a different ethnicity. They may be hard to love because you are shy and they are bold. But the challenge remains.

Each of us has a comfort zone. Each of us has a group of people who make us comfortable and other groups that make us uncomfortable. Within the church, our love needs to extend beyond any comfort zone. Your love needs to extend beyond your comfort zone. The church is to be a community of people who love one another despite differences, who love one another through differences. It is the place where God showcases what he is doing in this world by calling all kinds of people to himself and binding them together in a spiritual family. Your church needs you to be an example of a Christian marked by love  a Christian who displays inner transformation by outward actions. Your church needs you need to serve Christ by serving his people, the people he bought with his blood.

Here is a challenge: Try to begin a friendship—a real friendship—with someone in your church who is at least 10 years older than you. Try to begin a friendship with someone who is at least 10 years younger than you. Try to begin a friendship with someone who is disabled. You don’t need to do all of this today or this week, but over the coming weeks and months, see if you can form genuine friendships with people who are different from you. You will benefit, they will benefit, and God will receive the glory.

Questions to Consider

  1. Who do you know who sets the believers an example in his or her love? How does that person display love for others?
  2. Consider what A.W. Pink says: “The measure of our love for others can largely be determined by the frequency and earnestness of our prayers for them.” Do you pray for others? How can you pray for them with greater frequency and earnestness?
  3. In what ways do you think you are setting a good example to the people of your church in the way you love others? Pray and thank God for each of them. In what ways do you think you are not setting a good example to the people of your church in the way you love others? Pray and ask God for his grace to change you.

Things Christians Just Do Not Get To Do
October 26, 2016

This one began with a conversation, with a statement within that conversation: “Christians don’t get to hold a grudge!” It’s just not an option, not a vice we can allow ourselves. But it’s not the only thing Christians don’t get to do. There are other kinds of behavior that God rules out, that God describes as being nothing less than sinful rebellion. Sadly, this doesn’t always stop us. Some of these behaviors continue despite God’s insistence that they are unfittinng for his children. Here are a few I’ve encountered lately in life, family, and ministry.

Christians don’t get to hold a grudge. You’ve got two options when a person commits an offense against you: You can overlook it or you can confront it (Proverbs 19:11, Matthew 18:15-17). You either let it go without ever holding it against the other person or you confront it in love and bring it to a healthy resolution. But you can never hold on to it in anger and bitterness. That’s simply not an option for the believer.

Christians don’t get to withhold forgiveness. When a person seeks your forgiveness you are duty bound to forgive him (Luke 17:1-4). Even if that person sins against you repeatedly and seeks forgiveness each time, you are equally duty bound to extend forgiveness. You don’t get to decide that the person needs to suffer for a while first, that the person deserves the silent treatment, or that the person isn’t sufficiently sincere. You need to extend forgiveness as freely and immediately as God has extended forgiveness to you.

Christians don’t get to hoard their wealth. Christians can and should earn money. When given the opportunity, Christians can and should earn more rather than less money—there’s no intrinsic value in poverty and no intrinsic trouble in wealth. But Christians are not to hoard their wealth (Mark 10:23). Rather, Christians are to understand that wealth is a means to God’s ends. This includes provision for self and family and reasonable preparation for the future, but it also includes resourcing God’s mission here and now. God measures wealth not by what is accumulated but by what is put toward his work.

Christians don’t get to complain. Grumbling is a favorite sin to many. Some go so far as to treat it as a kind of virtue—just think of late-night television and the grumbling that goes on there under the banner of comedy. But the Bible reveals grumbling as a problem of the heart and a behavior that is unsuited to the Christian. Rather, we are told to “do all things without grumbling” (Philippians 2:14; see also 1 Peter 4:9, James 4:1-3). Rather than grumble you are to pray and to give thanks to God for his providence, no matter the circumstances.

Christians don’t get to go it alone. There is an independent streak deep within the human heart, a desire to go it alone in life. Yet Christians are commanded to form themselves into churches, into communities of believers who share life together (Hebrews 10:25). Lone Christians are disobedient Christians who refuse to take hold of one of God’s most important means of grace. Living outside a community of Christians is not a legitimate option for the Christian.

Christians don’t get to be a thorn in their pastor’s side. So many churches have that person or those few people who take it upon themselves to keep the pastor honest, to challenge his every move, to refuse to give him the benefit of the doubt. They see devil’s advocacy as their ministry within the church—their ministry of restraint upon the church’s leaders. But the Bible allows no such “ministry.” Rather, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Hebrews 13:17).

Christians don’t get to be unproductive. Laziness and lack of productivity are rarely far from us. It’s hard to be active and easy to be distracted. There’s always a reason to veer away from our responsibilities and toward entertainment. But Christians don’t get to be lazy. They don’t get to be unproductive. Productivity is a word that is maligned and misunderstood, yet when defined correctly it is the heart of the Christian life. To be productive according to the best definition of the term is to bring glory to God by doing good for others (Galatians 6:10, Hebrews 10:24). That’s what you’re here for!

Christians don’t get to have a pet sin. Make no mistake, it is grueling work to put sin to death. It can be difficult and discouraging. It is especially tough work when it comes to putting those pet sins to death, those sins you have grown to love and coddle over a lifetime (Colossians 3:5). But as a Christian you do not get to have a pet sin, a peccadillo, a sin you refuse to confront through the power of the Holy Spirit. Every sin, no matter how small or precious it seems, is to be confronted and destroyed.

Christians don’t get to be anxious. Many Christians think worrying and fretting is something less than a sin. Some would go so far as to think that worry is necessary, as if refusing to worry about life’s cares and sorrows indicates apathy. But actually, a refusal to worry indicates confidence in the will of God. God tells his people not to worry, not to be anxious, but to instead entrust all things to his kind and good providence (Philippians 4:6-7). Anxiety is not a legitimate option for the Christian.

Christians don’t get to speak evil of one another. We know that we can’t go around gossiping about one another, recklessly spreading malicious information or pseudo-facts. But we still find ways of doing it, whether it’s in the guise of a prayer request, a plea for help, or a joke. As a Christian you need to be aware of your tendency to speak evil of others, to misuse your words (James 3:6, 9). And you need to guard yourself against speaking of others in a way you wouldn’t if you were face-to-face. Words are to be used only to build up and never to cut up.

These are all things—just a few of the things—Christians don’t get to do. These are things we don’t get to do because they are associated with godlessness rather than godliness, with sin rather than salvation. In every case God has freed us by his gospel to a new and better way of living—a way of love, forgiveness, generosity, encouragement, community, submission, industry, purity, and freedom. We don’t get to do those things that would only ever harm us and the people around us.

Death to Clickbait
October 24, 2016

I hate clickbait. I absolutely despise it. Clickbait is lazy. It’s manipulative. It’s distracting and disappointing. It’s an abomination. Death to clickbait!

What is clickbait? “Clickbaiting is the intentional act of over-promising or otherwise misrepresenting—in a headline, on social media, in an image, or some combination—what you’re going to find when you read a story on the web.” It uses headlines with provocative adjectives—stunning, amazing, unbelievable, shocking. It promises that it will blow your mind, that you won’t believe what you see, that it will change your life. You know clickbait when you see it. It’s made to be alluring, made to be so compelling that you click before you think.

Clickbait exists because there is so much media vying for our attention today. We are participants in an attention economy in which the easy currency is page views. Everyone wants page views! For companies and their sites, page views are closely tied to advertising and the money it brings. If you want to turn a profit, you’d better generate page views. For individuals and their blogs, page views are closely tied to influence and the opportunities it brings. If you want a book contract or a conference platform, you’d better be able to prove that you’ve got people clicking and reading.

There are easy ways and hard ways to generate page views. The hard way is to create great content—articles that are interesting, unique, compelling, worthwhile. It is no small feat to create content so strong that people will not only read it but also share it. The much easier way to generate page views is to create great headlines—or provocative ones, at least. With a great headline you’ll get the click, you’ll get the page view, and you don’t even need to invest all the time and effort in creating the great content. And this, of course, is where clickbait makes its appearance.

Clickbait goes wrong in at least two ways that ought to be especially convicting to Christian writers.

First, clickbait is a failure to tell the truth because it depends upon misrepresentation. It promises a lot but is almost invariably disappointing. The twelve life-changing productivity tips turn out to be old, weary ones you’ve heard a thousand times before. The mind-blowing new technique is pure gimmickry that wouldn’t work in a million years. The shocking photos are anything but. Clickbait is wax fruit—attractive but empty. It’s white bread—tasty but unsatisfying. It’s the Atlanta Braves—promising but disappointing. Whether it’s a straight-up lie or a mere stretch, clickbait fails the test of truth. Be warned: “Better is a poor person who walks in his integrity than one who is crooked in speech and is a fool” (Proverbs 19:1). And “Bread gained by deceit is sweet to a man, but afterward his mouth will be full of gravel” (Proverbs 20:17).

Second, clickbait is a failure to loveClickbait exists where the writer or publisher is thinking of himself before others. His primary concern is not loving or serving other people by providing helpful, high-quality articles. No, his concern is building his own platform or stuffing his own pockets. This emphasis on money or influence works itself out in ways that frustrate the reader. As Christians we know better than to irritate others to benefit ourselves. Be challenged: “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10) and “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31).

There is nothing wrong and everything right with a great headline. There is nothing right and everything wrong with clickbait. Sometimes the difference between the two is subtle or subjective, but it’s usually found in the content that lies beyond the headline. If the headline is true and realistic, if it accurately describes the content, it may just be a great headline. If it is inaccurate, stretching, gimmicky, it may just be clickbait.

Here are a few encouragements to Christian writers:

  • Work hard to create headlines that are compelling but not gimmicky, that stand out in a crowded space but without resorting to manipulation and cheap tricks. Writing good headlines is a way you serve your readers.
  • Give people what you promised in the headline. Maybe give them more. Never give them less.
  • Keep an eye on your adjectives. If it’s not actually shocking, don’t say that it is. Don’t lead people to believe something is stunning or amazing unless you intend to prove that this is actually the case.
  • Put your readers first by putting content first. Don’t write for money or platform—not as the matter of first importance. Write for the joy of serving others. Before you click “publish” ask whether or how this article and its headline will serve other people. Pray about it.
  • Put the majority of your effort into creating articles that are true, that are deep, that are helpful, that are of the highest standards. Be willing to reject a great headline because it’s not quite true or not backed up by a great article. In fact, always be wary of an article that begins with a headline. It’s more likely that a good headline will follow a good article than vice versa.


October 23, 2016

This was a banner week for letters to the editor and I had a lot of them to read through and select from. In the end, I’ve chosen ones that speak about sleepovers, the ESV, problems with modern worship, and Roman sexual morality. I hope you find them helpful!

Letters on Why My Family Doesn’t Do Sleepovers

Tim: Far more people have read my article on sleepovers than any other article I’ve written. Not surprisingly, then, I receive far more letters to the editor for this one than any other. I’d estimate that about half of those who write agree with the article and the other half do not. Many of the ones who do agree with me explain in the most painful terms why they have made that decision.

I raised my children in the early/mid 90’s. It was the decade of the sleepover. Against my better judgement I let them have sleep over at their friends homes. I wish I hadn’t. My son was exposed to pornography and molested by the other boys. My daughter was exposed to horror films and other things and began cutting herself.
—Tomi B, Missouri City, TX


I know the world is bad and scary too. But, as parents we need to teach our children to trust people, trust humanity. It is not right to teach the kids to always look at everybody with a suspicious eye. Having said that, we also have to teach our kids to be safe, and if they feel unsafe, what is the appropriate thing to do. I beg to disagree that sleepovers are bad. No. It actually is a way of saying to our kids that, “We trust you will take care of ourselves in all situations possible.” Sleepovers are fun for the kids and it is not right to take away that happiness from a kid.
—Anita A, Issaquah,WA


Although I agree with your article, being a mom now myself I know I can’t protect my son if I’m not there. However, I’m a victim of pedophilia. I appreciated so much to get away from my home to sleep without worry of my mom’s boyfriend coming into my room at night. I would spend entire summers away at my friends’ houses. I never had to worry, I didn’t have to sleep with a knife under my bed. I’m forever thankful that my friends parents allowed me to basically live with them through elementary school. Nobody knew. I couldn’t tell anyone, but when I was away, I was free.
—Amber G, Vancouver, BC


Thank you for your insight on ‘sleepovers.’ After a recent discussion with a fellow mom/friend, I too have decided to not allow sleepovers, nor play dates at homes of parents I do not personally know. All children are welcome at our house instead. My friend’s son was invited to a birthday sleepover. It was presumed they were all boys but she later found out that a girl was there because she identified as a boy. These kids are 11 years old. Some parents think that is harmless but I do not. Kids are curious and a lot could happen that ones family does not agree with. In today’s genderless society, sleepovers are a whole new game, one in which I am not willing to participate in.
—Jocelyn L, Bellingham, MA


I agree with the article and have the same rules in my home. My children are allowed to attend the party until it is bed time and then I will come get them. I had a cousin who was molested the whole time she was growing up at her best friend’s house and didn’t say anything about it until she was 18 and had a breakdown. I vowed at that point that my children would never be put in that situation. I allow sleepovers at my home if their friends parents allow, I know myself and wouldn’t allow anything to happen to their children. In fact, boys downstairs girls upstairs if there are other children in my home. I just don’t trust other people with my children enough to take that risk.
—Tanya L, Montpelier, ID


I’m a mother of two now fully grown men. When they were children I too was faced with the question of sleeping over at friends or even relatives. My response was no because like you, even back then, 26 years ago, the reality of the “bad things” that could happen to your child, especially boys, was a frightening thought. The horror stories I were privy to as a teacher made my desire to protect my sons even more fiercely. I therefore never succumbed to the peer pressure and thankfully they’re grown and free. Truthfully, if I had to do it all over again, I would make the same choice.
—Gina, Trinidad

Letters on You, Me, and the ESV

Like you, I appreciate the ESV and I would also agree that Crossway made the right decision to reverse their decision about a permanent text. My concern is with the level of ‘elitism’ that is common among its proponents…exactly like how you described it in the last section of your article.

One cannot argue that a certain level of elitism have popped up among ESV proponents. Just think of the ‘Why we use the ESV’ articles from celebrity reformed pastors. It’s a bit odd and seems unique to the ESV phenomenon. I think it’s unfortunate. Good thing we have guys like D.A. Carson and Douglas Moo to keep things from moving to another KJV-only movement. My hope is built on nothing less than the ESV and Crossway Press!
—Alan D, Halifax, NS

Letters on 3 Awful Features of Roman Sexual Morality

Reading this article, I found myself reflecting on a key difference between the lives of early Christians within a pagan Roman culture and ours within a pagan “post Christian” culture. Our spiritual forebears weren’t trying to change the tide of the culture, rather they were choosing to allow their own lives to be transformed by the Spirit and vigorously inviting others to join in this experience. The culture of their day was dramatically altered as a result.

We today are often more about seeking enforcement of our Christian cultural heritage, hoping to retrench the tectonic changes which have already occurred, than in living out that rich heritage. In fact, statistics tell us that our own behavior (that of American Christians) is more aligned with the current culture than with Christ. Are we unconsciously trying to help ourselves by means of the law? That didn’t work so well for the Israelites; why would we expect different results ourselves?

Instead, we (that is, I) should be loving Jesus and allowing Him to love others through me, following His heart and commands with grateful delight, remaining so excited about what He’s done for me that I just can’t help telling everyone else. Does that mean Christians should withdraw from the political realm as many pagans fervently wish? I don’t think so, but that should neither be our primary focus nor our hope for the future. Trusting in any man who is not The Man, or in mankind, or any political/legal solution to our problems is essentially a form of idolatry.
—John K, Hoschton, GA

Letters on Missing Elements of Modern Worship

Thanks for your article. We follow the regulative principle of worship at our church. Many of our new members joined us simply because they “wanted to feel that they had truly worshiped God.” They left their old churches because they were tired of being entertained. If you readers are interested, there is a great article by Derek Thomas on Ligonier’s site with the Scriptural proof text for how God has laid out how He is to be worshiped.

More to your point; it grieves my heart over how it appears we have replaced what God requires of us in worship, with what man thinks will bring in and help keep those within the church. You made the point of how you walked away from the churches you visited with a sense of what was missing in their worship and like you, I don’t think we can any longer call those gatherings churches under the care of our Lord Jesus Christ. Too much has been replace by a man-centered focus.

Thanks for the article and we’ll continue to pray and ask God to restore to His people what is the height, depth, length, breath of His greatness and glory, so that we once again will have eyes to see anew and follow what God Himself has called us to. I think then our culture will change as common and saving grace covers the land once again.
—Daryl B, Katy, TX


I wanted to weep when I read this piece because it captured all the losses I have observed in he last 20 years as Christian when my pastors gradually prioritized that the Sunday service be seeker-friendly. I struggle with resentment when the mandate to fulfill the Great Commandment and the Great Commission is put forth as the justification for these changes. I am viewed by elders as raising impediments to building the Kingdom of God by asking for corporate prayer, doctrinally rich music and true expositional preaching. God has helped me accept the things I cannot control, but I grieve what we have lost and the fact that newcomers will probably never know what they are missing.
—Louise P, New York, NY


Thanks for that helpful article. The Anglican Book of Common Prayer helps to address most of those issues. There is always a confession, numerous well-thought prayers, normally three Bible readings, and an expositional sermon based on one of the readings. The lectionary needs to be adapted if you want to preach through books of the Bible consecutively, but otherwise the BCP will help address many of these issues.
—Nick J, Drung, Ireland


I have often appreciated your writing, but I took issue with this post.

First, what is the modern mega church service on a Sunday morning? Truthfully, one church looks very different from another, so we’ll have to speak in generalities but there is a valid point of view that says that the mega-church is the true successor to Billy Graham and the Crusade/Revivals of the past. If that is the point of the Sunday service at those churches is a.) gospel preaching b.) vision casting and Bible teaching/discipleship, prayer, etc happens at other points in the week then its no wonder that it’s missing elements that TC thinks they should have.

Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa for example, which has arguably been an epicenter for verse by verse biblical exposition for the past 40 years didn’t teach expositionally on Sunday mornings, rather verse by verse Bible Studies happened on Sunday evenings and at other points of the week. Could the same thing be happening at other mega-churches or perhaps in classes during the service so you attend one service and then go to a class in a way reminiscent of the old Baptist Sunday Schools?

Second, most of what you argue for seems to be a return to the traditions of the past. While not right or wrong, traditions of previous generations aren’t what we should base our liturgy on. Even where I agree with you, for example, wanting to see more prayer in service (my church has active prayer happening during song worship on Sunday mornings), you seem to lament that there isn’t a sort of prayer list: “please be with Mrs. Baker’s hip” etc, which would have all kind of issues in a mega-church setting. What a smaller church looked like in days gone by shouldn’t determine what a church (large or small) looks like today should it?

Third, congregational singing struck me as personal preference. As someone who leads song worship and spends a good deal of time thinking, writing and even speaking about worship leading, the problem of congregational engagement is a problem in churches both small and large, and more often I’ve heard concerns on this subject coming from smaller churches rather than larger ones.

This is a title that will Google search well and it will be well received by people who have a problem with this or that in the mega-church world. But is it really true? and if so, how is this helpful to the conversation? You are a pretty well known guy; and I’m sure that you could have gotten someone who was widely respected from the mega-church world and asked questions. it seems to me that two-way conversations are better.
—Adam D, Napa, CA


I would agree whole-heartedly with the article about what is missing in modern worship. Fortunately, I do not attend such a church—ours is quite traditional, really, centred on bible readings, prayer and a good range of hymns. Sadly the scenario you painted is more likely what you’ll meet in many churches here, too. As to why this is the case, a trend away from the lectionaries and liturgies of the church and a completely misguided attempt to make the church more attractive and acceptable to the youth has only served to dilute modern worship to a formula which provides little or no spiritual sustenance or fulfillment. In my view the church needs rebuilding and restoring to its former glory. I think it needs to take the lectionary seriously again and emphasize Eucharistic liturgies fully. Better to challenge the new Christian with a depth of worship which will sustain him or her for life, maybe even involvement in something extra like altar service, choral singing, campanology or lay-reading. This might stand a chance of attracting people in, but more seriously, prevent the exodus of faithful worshippers to whom the church is no longer the kind of Christian community they joined in the first place.
—Douglas J, Sheffield, UK

3 Kinds of Churches
October 22, 2016

As we prepare to worship God tomorrow, it may do us good to pause for just a few moments to consider the local church. What is the church? Why has God called us into these little communities? Does the local church really matter? It does! The local church is foundational to God’s plan for his people. In their book Church in Hard Places, Mez McConnell and Mike McKinley offer 6 reasons that the local church matters.

The local church is the way God intends to accomplish his mission in the world. “It is primarily though the local church that God wants to make himself known.” Of all the evangelism strategies in the world, of all the ministries in the world, none is more central than the local church. It’s interesting to note that Paul considered his ministry in an area fulfilled not when every person was reached, but when churches had been planted (see Romans 15:19-20). “Paul knew that the churches there were how the gospel would spread into all of the individual neighborhoods. Local churches do local evangelism.” The church is God’s plan, it is God’s mission.

The local church should matter to us because it matters to God. The church is Jesus’ body on earth (see Ephesians 1:22-23) and it is made up of all kinds of people from all walks of life. “Together we represent Christ here on earth through our local body of believers. Therefore, the church is central to the purposes of God and is of benefit to the world around us—even today in our increasingly hostile culture.” The church exists for God’s glory and showcases it in a unique way. “The church is built for Jesus, by Jesus, and on Jesus. It is simply unthinkable then to separate Jesus from the local church. If the gospel is the diamond in the great salvific plan of God, then the church is the clasp that supports it, holds it up, and shows it in its greatest light for the world to see.” If it matters so much to God, it needs to matter to us just as much.

The local church is where the believer grows. It is primarily in the local church that Christians learn doctrine, receive reproof, and train in righteousness (see Ephesians 4:11-13). The local church provides opportunities for growth that are available nowhere else. McConnell says, “In a scheme [a neighborhood] like Niddrie, people need the concerted time and effort that only a local church can provide. Very often people will turn up on our doorstep having heard the gospel through some parachurch ministry. Yet they almost always have large gaps in their biblical knowledge and Christian behavior. Without a local church committed to patiently teaching and training them, these people will flounder indefinitely.” We all need a local church if we are to become like Christ.

The local church is the place where believers must submit themselves to spiritual authority. Many people from many walks of life struggle with issues of authority, though this problem is especially prevalent in the schemes of Scotland. Mez says, “they will not accept criticism or input from anybody they regard as an authority figure.” This attitude needs to be dealt with immediately. God calls Christians to submit to spiritual authority within the local church (see Hebrews 13:17). All believers are called by God to put themselves under the care and oversight of elders. “A culture that despises any kind of authority needs to see healthy models of leadership and submission. And the place for people to see this modeled is in the local church.”

The local church is the best place for spiritual accountability. We have probably all encountered people who believed they were called to ministry or who even carried out some kind of ministry even though their lives were a mess. This happens where people do not have proper spiritual accountability. “All Christians need the spiritual accountability and discipline that being a member of the local church brings. It stops us from drifting. It offers a context for encouragement and rebuke. It provides a community to stir one another on to love and good deeds.”

The local church is the place from which discipline is biblically administered. The task of disciplining disobedient or unruly Christians belongs to the local church. This is a difficult task but one given specifically to the church as a means to show the deepest love and concern for the spiritual care of believers (Matthew 18:15-17). Discipline belongs to the church as one of its important functions.

As you prepare to worship God tomorrow, consider his mercy and his grace in giving us the local church.

Set An Example
October 21, 2016

Today I want to scare you a little. At the very least I want to intimidate you. Actually, I want the Bible to scare and intimidate you, to set a challenge so difficult that you’ll know you can’t possibly meet it on your own. This is a challenge for any Christian, but I’m directing it particularly at younger Christians, at people in their teens or twenties.

I’ve been working on a series of articles that takes a look at some words Paul wrote to Timothy—the older mentor writing a letter to his younger protégé: “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12). We’ve already seen that Paul wants Timothy to make his life a work of art that other people will be able to see and imitate. Even as a young man, Timothy is to be exemplary, to be worthy of imitation. Last week we saw what it means for Timothy to set an example in his speech and today we want to see what it means for him to set an example in his conduct.

Set An Example In Your Conduct

I’m sure you know that as a Christian you are meant to live as an example in the way you behave. Older siblings are warned to be a good example to their younger brothers and sisters. Christian young people are told of the importance of living as Christians before a watching world of unbelievers. When you’re at school and work, when you’re interacting with neighbors and customers, even when you’re at a family reunion, you are to behave in distinctly Christian ways. You won’t do what unbelievers do, you won’t watch what unbelievers watch, you won’t laugh the things unbelievers laugh at. You are to live as salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16), standing out from the world around you. You know that. You’ve been told.

But did you know that you are also to stand as an example of Christian character and maturity before other Christians, even when those Christians are older, wiser, and godlier than you? That is a scary thought, an intimidating challenge. Yet this was exactly Paul’s challenge to Timothy. Timothy was a young man, young enough that older Christians might look down on him, convinced that they couldn’t possibly learn anything from such a young man. And still Paul told him that it was his responsibility to set them an example in his conduct.

“Conduct” is a very general word. It’s a broad word that refers to all of life. In all he does, in all his behavior, Timothy is to set an example. In every realm of life he is to be exemplary. There is no area of life that isn’t covered by “set the believers an example in conduct.” This was true for Timothy and it is true of you. You aren’t exempted from serving as an example of Christian conduct simply because you are young. You are to be an example “at home, at church, at the grocery store, on the freeway, on the playground, at the barber shop” (according to Philip Ryken). Kent Hughes says, “In the day-in, day-out humdrum of existence—at the gas station, in the grocery line, at the soccer game, washing the car—[you] must be an example to all who believe.” All the time, in every way, in all of life, God challenges you to be an example of godliness to other Christians.

Are you that example of godliness? Do other believers look to you as someone who models what it means to conduct yourself as a Christian? I will leave it to you to consider the entirety of your life because I want to focus on just one—the way you behave when you’re with your local church. When you gather with other Christians, do they see you modeling Christian conduct? Do other Christians, and even older Christians, see you as a model of godliness? This is your God-given task!

From the perspective of an older Christian, one who is just weeks away from hitting 40, I can attest that few things are more encouraging to me than being around young people who exemplify Christian character. I love to be challenged by seeing young people lead godly lives. So I want to challenge you to make a point of setting the believers an example in your conduct right there in your church family. Here are a few ways young Christians can do this:

  • Be there. Attend every service. Make church attendance a high priority that will only be interrupted in the most unusual circumstances. If a sport is going to keep you from church week after week, you need to think long and hard about whether that’s a fair trade. Don’t let every cough and sniffle keep you home on a Sunday morning. Get your homework done by Saturday so you can commit Sunday to the Lord. You can only be an example to other people if you are around other people!
  • Be all-in. Once you get to church, be all-in. One of the best ways to do this is to be friendly, to meet people and engage them in conversation. Your temptation will be to gravitate to people who are very similar to you. So challenge yourself to meet people who are different from you—much older or younger, a different ethnicity, people with disabilities. Look for people who are otherwise overlooked and get to know them.
  • Be a servant. Look for ways to serve in the church, and especially in those ministries that are low-visibility. Lots of people feel specially called and equipped to sing or play an instrument at the front of the room, but most of us are far better equipped to take out the trash or set up the chairs. Volunteer for the lowest jobs, the ones no one else wants to do. And then do those jobs with joy and without demanding gratitude.
  • Be visible. As you worship, set the believers an example in your joyful singing. As you listen to sermons, set the believers an example in your attentive listening. As you put what you’ve learned into practice, set the believers an example in your humility and diligence. As you fellowship, set the believers an example in your willingness to go outside your comfort zone.

This is only a start, just a few suggestions. In these ways and many more you can set an example to the believers in your conduct. This is God’s high and holy calling for you, the young Christian. Will you heed that call?

Questions to Consider

  1. Does it intimidate you to know that you’re called by God to serve as an example in your conduct, even (and especially!) before other Christians?
  2. In what ways do you think you are serving as a good example in your conduct. Pray and thank God for them. In what ways do you think you are setting a poor example in your conduct? Pray and ask God to forgive you and to give you the grace to change.
  3. What are some of the ways you serve in your local church? What are some of the ways you think you ought to serve in your local church?
  4. Do you find it difficult or unnatural to fellowship with people who are different from you? What will you do about it?

Gospel Weariness
October 20, 2016

Gospel weariness. It’s a little phrase I picked up from a friend when he preached at our church not too long ago. His text was James 1, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds…” As he began to preach he told of some of the difficulties his church had encountered in recent days. Most recently and most painfully, dear friends who had only one opportunity to have a child had experienced stillbirth at eight and a half months, just two weeks from delivery. What tragedy. What sorrow.

He and his friends are Christians so they know that suffering is not empty, it is not purposeless, it is not meaningless. But that doesn’t make it any less painful.

Why? Why do we experience such suffering? Why does God allow it? Just from these early verses in James we see something unexpected—trials do us good. Trials do us good by developing spiritual maturity, by developing the most precious character traits. “Trials don’t come about because of what you’ve done but because of who God wants you to be.” Trials generate humility, leveling the field as small and great alike experience pain, miscarriage, death. Trials develop compassion and dependence, teaching us to sympathize with others and be dependent upon God. Trials give us courage in forcing us to handle what we were sure we could never deal with. The couple that lost their child displayed all of this when they said, “We have nowhere to go. All we have is God and his character to lean on.” At the funeral they declared, “Though the fog will not lift and the pain will not go, we hold on.” That’s faith.

Trials do us good in at least one more way: Trials develop a gospel weariness, a weariness with this world. Reflecting on all he had seen and experienced my friend said, “I hate this world right now. All it has done is break my heart.” It had broken his heart and the hearts of the people he loves. “None of us want to stay here. We want to rise in the resurrection and be done with the pain. All this world does is fool you and fail you. It over-promises and under-delivers.”

All of this pain, all of this suffering, all of these trials had made him, had made them, weary. They were tired of suffering, tired of groaning under the weight of this world. “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed…” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9). Rising up within them was an increased desire for a time, for a place, when all trials will be over.

This is a gospel weariness, a weariness I’ve heard described by others, a weariness I’ve begun to feel within. Gospel weariness elevates our perspective from our feet to the horizon, from the trials of this world to the hope of the world to come. It stirs within us a holy longing to be done with this life and to enter into the life to come. It fixates on God’s promises, promises of deliverance, of restitution, of eternal peace. It is a weariness that rests on the promises of the gospel, that finds its hope in the God of the gospel. It does not wallow in despair but gazes with confidence to the future. It is a weariness that cries with the saints of all the ages, “Come, Lord Jesus!”