Last year I posted a series of interviews under the banner of Meet the Ministries. It was a means of introducing you to some of the great ministries that serve the church today. You got to meet Grace to You, Desiring God, Acts 29, Peacemaker Ministries, CCEF and Truth for Life. I am continuing that series this fall with another set of interviews. It began with Eternal Perspective Ministries and now turns to Ligonier Ministries. I interviewed Chris Larson who serves as Ligonier’s Executive Vice President.
How and when did Ligonier Ministries begin?
To answer these two questions well requires a little history. Ligonier Ministries began in the fall of 1971 (so in 2011 we turn 40). Dr. Sproul was approached by a group of Christians in the Pittsburgh area about starting a study center for Christian learning and discipleship in the hills of western PA. He consulted with Francis Schaeffer at the time about L’Abri, and Dr. Schaeffer encouraged RC to do it and believed it would be helpful for the church. This new outreach appealed to RC for a number of reasons, but largely because of his interest in communicating theology in practical terms to the layperson. After stints teaching in colleges and seminaries, he found the most joy in seeing the average churchgoer come alive when they grasped the things of God. Remember that the zeitgeist of the 1960s had introduced rampant relativism, in effect accelerating the secularization of culture and liberalism in the church. Thus, Ligonier Valley Study Center was born as a place to equip Christians to be articulate and effective in their defense of classical Christianity. And hundreds of students came to live and learn among the Sprouls and other teachers. It was there that the first talks on The Holiness of God were delivered.
I would call that Ligonier 1.0, because it quickly became apparent that the Lord had more in mind for the teaching fellowship of R.C. Sproul. As he taught, new forms of media and communication were rapidly developing. While the ministry’s use of radio was still a few years away, the rise of “radical” new technologies such as audio cassettes and Beta/VHS presented the ministry with a whole new audience beyond the confines of the study center.
Students studied resources delivered by the mail, and the growth was explosive. Adding to the growing national following was the birth of Tabletalk magazine in 1977. The distance learning aspect of Ligonier quickly eclipsed the regional campus, so in the early ‘80s, Ligonier relocated to Orlando to accommodate the growth. We did this all while Dr. Sproul continued to pour his academic life into students through service at the seminary level. In 1985, The Holiness of God was published, followed by Chosen By God in 1986. Nineteen eighty-eight saw our first national Reformed theology conference. And the pace of growth kept going throughout the ‘90s into the present. In 1994, we began our international radio broadcast, Renewing Your Mind. In 1995, The Reformation Study Bible was first published, originally as the New Geneva Study Bible. Reformation Trust Publishing began in 2006 to maintain our focus to serve learners with trustworthy Christian books from contemporary authors. Much of our activity today focuses on strengthening the outreach of our core teaching ministries and harnessing new communication technology, while at the same time returning to our study-center roots with the new Ligonier Academy campus.
Why does Ligonier exist? What are its chief goals and key emphases?
We exist to proclaim, teach, and defend the holiness of God to as many people as possible. God’s holiness is essential to understanding His character. When we rightly know the character of our Creator, we know who we are as creatures. Our vision is to propagate biblical Christianity throughout the world and see it flourish in the church. We believe that the best and most biblical expression of Christianity is found in the emphases coming out of the Protestant Reformation. The world-shaping impact of Reformed theology includes a desire for revival, but goes far beyond it. We want to see hearts and wills conquered so that Christians are equipped to effect change in every sphere in which God places them — in the church, in their homes, and in culture.
How can Ligonier serve the readers of this web site?
Look at Isaiah 6. The Lord reveals Himself to Isaiah and, for the first time in his life, Isaiah knows who Isaiah is. To what end? So that Isaiah would then proclaim the great and awesome name of God Most High to his generation. We are not redeemed so that we hoard the truth and bury our treasure. Rather, we are saved to spend — to spend our lives for the sake of God and His purposes in this world. Once we bow the knee to the Lord Jesus Christ, repent, and flee to Him as our only righteousness, we are propelled back into the world, back to proclaim His holiness to as many people as possible. Our greatest encouragement is when we meet people who our Lord has reached with His truth and hear how it is being put into practice in their lives.
- Our daily broadcast Renewing Your Mind is a great way to listen as Dr. Sproul guides us through a wide scope of historic Christian truth. You can find a station here, listen online, or through our podcast. Through this daily broadcast, we also let people know about a daily resource we’ll send them for a donation of any amount.
- Tabletalk magazine is the only periodical of its kind. Each month features a specific topic and has contributions from some of the most gifted and most seasoned Reformed evangelicals serving the church today. There is also a short daily Bible study for every day of the week, helping students grow deeper in their faith. Numbers don’t tell the whole story, but it’s remarkable to note that more than 200,000 readers turn to these pages every issue. Enjoy a free subscription for three months here.
- Attend a conference. We have several upcoming conferences including our national conference in March here in Orlando. There is a winter conference at Ligonier Academy in January as well as an annual conference for pastors and church leaders. We also offer unique study opportunities such as our Cradle of Christianity Study Cruise next September.
- Pick up a copy of The Reformation Study Bible. It’s available in NKJV or ESV. We’re very thankful to have this Reformed contribution to the realm of Bible study. This project was guided by Dr. Sproul with a team of 50+ contributors. It speaks with one voice and represents the best of the historically Reformed tradition.
- Enjoy more than 5,000 learning resources available on hundreds of topics at Ligonier.org. Many of them are freely accessible with no registration or purchase. The best place to start would be our Learn section.
- Take a look at Ligonier Academy of Biblical and Theological Studies and see if there is a learning program that would suit your interests. We offer a Doctor of Ministry program for pastors, a certificate program for laypeople, and, beginning in Fall 2011, a new undergraduate degree program for college students. There’s a lot happening here and Ligonier Academy represents an opportunity for us to return to our study center roots and provide critical face-to-face learning so essential for knowledge transfer and character formation.
Who are the key leaders within the ministry?
With so much going on at Ligonier, it’s essential to have a trustworthy and gifted team to whom much can be delegated. As you might expect, Dr. Sproul is very involved. His gifts extend not merely to theology but to economics and management theory as well. There are several people in the office who assist him including his wife of 50 years, Vesta, and his long-time assistant Mrs. Maureen Buchman. I think they are the most productive individuals I have ever met. Most Mondays I have lunch with R.C. to discuss the operations and outreach aspects of the ministry in my capacity as executive vice president and COO. Our CFO, Dr. Todd Jackson joins us on occasion.
Additionally, the senior management team meets twice a month and includes John Cobb (Dir. of Ministry Outreach), John Duncan (Executive Producer/VP Media Services), Todd Jackson (CFO), John Petersen (Dir. of Development), Lillian Rozzi (VP of Administration), Randi Walter (Dir. Of Stewardship), and Fowler White (Ligonier Academy VP of Academic Affairs). We also rely daily on the leadership provided by Rev. Burk Parsons (Editor of Tabletalk magazine) and Geoff Stevens (Creative Director).
An important part of setting the stage for the future was announced earlier in 2010. The Teaching Fellows of Ligonier Ministries are Drs. Sinclair Ferguson, Robert Godfrey, Steven Lawson, and R.C. Sproul Jr. These men will help to provide long-term theological continuity and serve as advisors of the board at Ligonier. I’ve written more about them here.
How many employees does Ligonier have?
We are just under 100 with a little seasonality. That would include 58 full-time and 40 part-time team members who work in our inbound/outbound call center.
What is Ligonier’s annual budget? How is the ministry financed and how do you ensure financial integrity?
Our 2011 budget is $16.5 million. The largest source of annual support are our faithful donors — especially our Ministry Partners who give monthly. There are other ancillary revenues associated with product resource sales, Tabletalk subscriptions, and event tuition, but those are substantially less than donations. The lion’s share of our outreach expenditures goes to fund the radio broadcast of Renewing Your Mind.
Financial integrity is extremely important to us because it is extremely important to God. As a charter member of the ECFA, we adhere to their principles for conduct, as well as our own internally developed standards when it comes to fundraising and ministry operations. Furthermore, each year an independent accounting firm audits our financial statements and we post those for transparency on our website.
How do you expect Ligonier will be different in ten years? Twenty years?
From one perspective, we hope we will not change at all. Our goal is to stay in the steady stream of the historic Christian faith, calling as many people as possible to return to the ancient paths that lead to life and rest (Jer. 6:16). Where we know we’ll be different is in our effectiveness as we seek to use all of God’s gifts with greater reach around the world. Ministry channels change while the message remains constant. We hope Dr. Sproul is with us for many more years, but what he has done in the past 5 years to establish a stable succession plan will, by God’s grace, benefit the ministry and the global church for years to come.
How does Ligonier work with other Christian ministries?
We work with many different ministries, missionaries, and churches and are always looking for more partners. For example, we’ve begun working more closely with Desiring God’s “Theological Famine Relief” project by sending them surplus Tabletalk magazines and overruns of Reformation Trust titles. We are also working on translations of our thousands of articles and books with Gospel Translations and others. Additionally, we work with military chaplains to provide free books and teaching series as they provide spiritual leadership to military personnel.
What are some of the ways Ligonier Ministries has seen evidence of God’s hand of blessing?
For a ministry that turns 40 next September, the instances are almost too numerous to mention. Yet, the psalmist makes it clear we are to remember God’s mercies often (Ps. 136). The Lord has given Dr. Sproul continued passion and vision for ministry. The Lord has brought us gifted and godly individuals who have served the ministry faithfully in the past and present with energy and creativity. The Lord has delivered us and redirected us when we’ve made wrong choices. The Lord has brought us through seasons of plenty and seasons of lack. He also has seen fit to bless our ministry outreach in notable ways in recent years — this year alone inquiries to the ministry from our radio broadcast, subscriptions, and website have doubled. All praise goes to God alone for every bit of Ligonier’s enduring fruit (1 Cor. 3:5-9).
How can the readers of this website serve Ligonier Ministries?
- Pray for us. If Ligonier is not faithful with handling the Word of God, we should not exist. May we always articulate with boldness the gospel of grace alone, by faith alone, through Christ alone, for God’s glory alone.
- Tell a friend, pastor, missionary, or family member about Ligonier’s unique outreach so that we can help them grow.
- Consider becoming a Ministry Partner or subscribing to Tabletalk.