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Many aspiring politicians hope to become president of the United States one day. But the vast majority of them, despite countless county fair hot dogs, late nights, and fundraising emails, will never sit in the Oval Office. Their desires and dreams are based on subjective possibilities beyond their control.
Across the pond, William, son of England’s Prince Charles, hopes to become king of the United Kingdom one day. As the grandson of the queen, the son of the heir apparent, and second in line to the monarchy, he is counting on over a thousand years of law and tradition to guarantee his eventual accession to the throne. It’s safe to say he confidently expects to be king one day.
Whose hope, the politician’s or the prince’s, more closely resembles yours? Like our political candidates, we often use hope to express a desire or wish for a possible outcome. Hope can seem vague and subjective, difficult to pinpoint. It can be a feeling, an impression, a wish—often felt with deep fervency. I really hope my team wins tonight. I sure hope Mom cooks my favorite meal.
Feelings of hope brighten our countenances. But in the end, we’re still waiting for something we can’t guarantee will happen. William’s hope, however, is a confident expectation that his head will one day wear the crown. The law and his family tree are a sure foundation for his hope.
When the writers of Scripture speak of hope in God, they use words of waiting, confidence, and trust. When God is the object of our hope, we wait in confident expectation. Why?
God has proven his reliability, trustworthiness, and power; therefore, our hope in him is well-deserved and sure.
God’s provision and redemptive acts are fulfilled in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The power of biblical hope lies in its object—God’s faithful character and matchless power—rather than the fervency of our feelings.
Jeremiah, praying to God, “Hope of Israel, its Savior in times of distress” (Jeremiah 14:8) and “LORD, the hope of Israel” (17:13).
Paul names Jesus: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope . . .” (1 Timothy 1:1).
Jesus’s victorious return: “. . . while we wait for the blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).
The church is sometimes called “the hope of the world,” but any hope that we offer to the world comes from our savior. Jesus is the hope of the world, and he calls us to share his message of love, grace, and salvation. Because he is all-powerful and ever-faithful, we can look to the future not with dread but with joyful anticipation. We can endure disasters and conflicts and every disappointment with a sense of purpose.
God’s word is true, and his gospel offers hope for each of us individually, for the church as a body, and for the world which hasn’t yet recognized its savior.
“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).
“For this reason we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe” (1 Timothy 4:10).
“But thanks be to God, who always leads us in Christ’s triumphal procession and through us spreads the aroma of the knowledge of him in every place. For to God we are the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing” (2 Corinthians 2:14–15).
As the body of Christ set apart to bear his name, the church reflects the glorious likeness of our savior. He calls us to shine like stars in the world, proclaiming him in word and deed. The risen Jesus is our hope both now and eternally.
More than even the law and a thousand years of tradition, more than aimless waiting or wishful thinking, we have reason to hope.
Sure, we know we’re supposed to grow as Christians and help others do the same, but spiritual growth often feels nebulous. And as church leaders, we often feel like we’ve tried every plan, Bible study, and small group to help people grow, and we wonder if anyone is actually changing.
Discipleship might not be as step-by-step as an instruction manual or as simple as directions on a map. But we do know what a disciple looks like, how disciples act and think, and what disciples create because we know Jesus. He’s our example who clarifies discipleship for us, and as his followers we seek to grow to be more like him.
On November 1–3, pastors and church leaders will gather in Dallas, TX to explore what it means to grow in Christ. As we hear from speakers like David Platt, Jennie Allen, Eric Mason, and more, we'll focus our gaze on Jesus who shows us how to be his disciples.
The gospel is clear: we were once far from God but now we belong to him. And he’s with us always through the Spirit, teaching us to be more like Jesus. As his disciples, we cling to Jesus and his gospel, trusting the Spirit to help us grow (John 13:35; Acts 1:8).
Jesus saves us into a family—the church. We grow the most when we are with other Christians. We teach each other, worship God together, and encourage each other to keep going. As Jesus’s disciples, we help each other grow (1 Cor 12:12–13; Heb 10:24–25).
Jesus commanded his followers to make disciples, and his command applies to us. Making disciples involves sharing the gospel, living in community with other Christians, and pointing others to Jesus. As Jesus’s disciples, we help other people grow (Matt 28:19–20).
As church leaders, we seek to cultivate a church that helps people become more like Jesus, encourages the community to embody his love, and launches believers to share the gospel in word and deed. Our goal is what Paul declared in Colossians 1:28 (NIV): “He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.”
He does. What we view on our screens directly affects how we think, feel, and behave. And God has opinions about the character of his people.
Parents know technology’s power intuitively, as we raise children in a digital age dominated by screens. The truth of Romans 12:2 applies to our online life too:
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
How can parents help children see the role of technology in their pursuit of God’s will?
We must remember that digital content providers generally don’t care about our spiritual formation. They just want our undivided attention. Video games fix our concentration through built-in rewards that keep us coming back. Social media algorithms train us to seek likes and follows. Streaming platforms produce volumes of content aimed at enticing repeat viewers. Adults and children alike can be wooed into mindless—and countless—hours online.
Kids do not bear full blame for screen overuse—we parents are often tempted to choose computer games or movies to occupy our kids so that we can accomplish our own tasks. Laundry and meal prep loom daily. Perhaps we homeschool older children or work from home. Screens offer an easy distraction for kids that allow us to accomplish a little more than we otherwise could.
The over-use of screens expanded exponentially in 2020 as parents struggled to manage lockdowns and quarantines during the Covid-19 pandemic. Many schools turned to online learning, forcing students to stare at screens for hours on end. Working parents fared similarly, with many transitioning from office to home via laptops, Zoom, and constant digital access to work.
“There are rooms full of men and women with PhDs in addictive computing, and they have a plan for your life—for you to look at that golden rectangle all day long,” warned Dr. John Dyer, a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, at a panel on social media.
“So if you don’t have a plan, you are not going to win. If you don’t think through how you are going to use it, then you’re going to fail.”
So let’s start planning.
Screens can be amazing, powerful tools for education, social connection, spiritual growth, and creativity. But children and teens have one plan for their devices: to play on them as much as possible. We parents must guard our kids’ minds while also training them how to do so for themselves.
Balance your child’s online time with reading, physical activity, chores, and play time. Make technology merely one aspect of life rather than the dominant pastime. Turn devices off at family time and bedtime and be prepared to remove them completely if your kids’ behavior warrants it.
The internet is an open door that allows anyone to enter your home. Filters, blockers, and monitoring software remain effective tools that help parents prevent children from finding inappropriate material. Teach your kids what to do when they accidentally access inappropriate content. Help them remember 2 Corinthians 10:5, “We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
As kids transition from TV to tablets, laptops to smart phones, let’s invite them to use their devices to bless others. What games are our kids playing? How are our teens engaging in social media? And do they consider how they reflect God’s character in their online lives?
When used wisely, technology is a gift that blesses our society. In Redeem the Screen, Kyle Idleman discusses how our screens can work to conform us to our culture. But God wants us to conform to his image. What could it be like to leverage our screens for God’s glory?
We must teach our children that people matter most. With this perspective, our kids will develop the ability to own their technology instead of it owning them. Their social media feeds will trend positive rather than negative, building others up instead of tearing them down. As you peek into their online habits, you’ll find practices to encourage and some to correct, always using Scripture as your guide.
And as we parents model admirable online habits, we can cultivate a godly perspective on why and how to use screens. If we allow our smartphones to dominate our lives, so will our kids. If we choose uplifting content to watch, speak life on our social media platforms, and practice healthy habits with our screens, they will have no excuse.
Screens can rule us if we let them. But tools are meant to be mastered for our benefit, not become our masters to our detriment. Through wisdom and discipline, parents can help kids purpose their online presence and use for their good and for the gospel.
Since Jesus left the disciples, we have carried the gospel across the globe. But, when we think of how to connect with unchurched people in our community, we can be left scratching our heads.
Was it always this hard? Do we need to make our churches more relevant, more trendy, more comfortable? We feel like we’re doing all the right things but we aren’t seeing results—what are we missing?
It can be disheartening to go through seasons where we aren’t seeing people come to Christ. We can feel stuck or behind. It can be tempting to think that we have to try something drastic to introduce more people to Jesus. But when we think about reaching the unchurched—people who have no experience with or interest in either the church or Christ—we don’t need to reinvent the wheel. We simply need to do what Christians have always done with a strategy that best fits our context.
In Bible study, we all know context is king. If you don’t know the context of a passage, you will probably miss the point. The same holds true for your church. God has placed you (a unique pastor) in your church (a unique people) in a unique place. Your position is purposeful and should define everything from the sermons you preach to the sort of programs your church offers.
To connect with the unchurched, start by thinking through your unique context—the things that make your mission field and position unique. These questions can get you started:
No matter how you answer these questions, starting with God’s unique design for your church will give you an idea of his direction for your church. For example, if non-Christians in your community are unlikely to go to church on Sunday, think about how you can empower your people to befriend their neighbors or to make your small groups open to visitors. Or, if your church is downtown but speaks the language of the suburbs, consider how you might adapt to relate to the people next door.
As you figure out your context, your creativity will spark. You will think of new events, sermon series, or ministries that could help you connect with the unchurched. But, as our culture changes, our posture also needs to adjust. For decades, the church has operated on a “come and see” model. People were willing to go to church or check out weekly ministries because the church was broadly seen as trustworthy and needed. Today, that is not always the case.
Unlike in year’s past, people today are more likely to think organized religion isn’t important. According to a 2019 Gallup study, only 36% of Americans have a high level of confidence in the church or organized religion, an all-time low. At the same time, 29% of Americans have little or no confidence in the church, an all-time high. In other words, we should assume that the people around us are skeptical of the church, even if they claim Christ.
So what do we do? A Sunday service may attract a handful of curious unchurched people. But a mobilized congregation of purposeful, Christlike friends can reach dozens of neighborhoods, workplaces, coffee shops, and grocery stores every day. Our congregations can reach more unchurched people in a day than we could with dozens of well-crafted sermons.
The attractional model has passed its prime. It is useful in some areas, but less so every year. To connect with the unchurched, our model for ministry needs to turn outward, shifting from a “come and see” to a “go and tell” mentality. For some of us, we may just need a change in our language, speaking to the specific concerns and questions of our culture. For others, we may need to fundamentally alter the way we do ministry.
There are many reasons why the unchurched may not be attracted to a church service or event, but there is nothing stopping us from going to them. Everywhere you go, someone needs Jesus: your neighbors, coworkers, bank tellers, and mail carriers. God has placed you in their path; trust him and what he can do in their lives.
Connecting with the unchurched is not about marketing strategies, trendier social media accounts, or more relevant sermon illustrations. None of those things redeem sinners. Only God can change a person’s heart. Our responsibility is to faithfully make disciples wherever and whenever God gives us the chance.
To summarize the Great Commission: go, baptize, teach.
In the early days, it can be thrilling to plant a church. There is so much potential, so much hope. We want to do everything we can to make our churches succeed. However, we often equate growth with success, and while we know that God is the one who builds the church, we may still feel an urgent need to manufacture momentum.
We want our churches to “get big” as quickly as possible, and for good reasons. Size creates financial stability, multiplies our impact, and lets pastors delegate responsibilities to gifted leaders. So why wouldn’t we want rapid growth and good momentum? Momentum creates excitement. Momentum turns congregations into movements. Momentum is what turns small house church planters into recognizable pastors with influence and acclaim.
But momentum can also be a poisoned chalice.
While we rush to brainstorm growth strategies, we don’t often stop to consider the costs or pitfalls of growth. Church planting is demanding work, and we can assume that once we hit one hundred, five hundred, or a thousand members then things will calm down. Only too late do we realize that the work never slows down without us intentionally hitting the brakes.
We don’t have to look far to find friends or famous pastors who have burnt out and are no longer in ministry. We can all name fellow leaders who became enamored with church size or rooted their identity in their sermon views. Those stories don’t end well.
There are good and righteous reasons for a church to grow, but when growth is our goal, God can cease to be our aim. Is growth worth the potential cost? Would you drink that cup even if it sapped the vibrancy out of your relationship with God, your family, or your church community?
For many of us, the answer would be “no.” But how can we avoid the allure and dangers of momentum?
In Hebrews 11:32–38, we find an odd pairing of saints. The first group “conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the raging of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, gained strength in weakness, became mighty in battle, and put foreign armies to flight” (CSB). The second group of saints was tortured, destitute, and misunderstood. Which group would you say was successful? According to the author of Hebrews, the answer is both. Saints are not judged by their circumstances or fates, but by their faithfulness.
Your value as a church planter is not found in your church’s size, but in being loved by God.
Your identity is not found in being a best-selling author, popular podcaster, or leadership guru, but in who God says you are. Your purpose is not to build God’s church, but to faithfully make disciples.
When faithfulness is our goal, the pressures of rapid growth look like nothing more than glittering distractions. Sermons are an opportunity to faithfully proclaim Jesus, not a platform for our personality. Leadership becomes an opportunity to serve rather than to domineer and lord over our staff and volunteers. The people in our church become our focus rather than the empty seats.
Your church’s size plays no role in your ability to be faithful.
Therefore, your church size cannot be an indicator of your success. If God does not judge your church by its appearance, why would we?
Being obedient to God will lead each of us to different outcomes. Some churches may launch with hundreds of people, while others never grow beyond a small group meeting in a living room. Both can be faithful, successful churches. God is the one who changes hearts and saves lives. He builds his church. We are servants in his house—there is no reason for us to manufacture what only he can do.
A holiday brimming with delicious food, time with family and friends, and lots of football, Thanksgiving is also a day to remember what we’re thankful for. For Christians, Thanksgiving presents an opportunity to reflect on all God has done and is doing and thank him.
Gratitude should mark the people of God, but we can be tempted to reserve it for a holiday or mealtime prayers. Paul exhorts us in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 to “give thanks in everything; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” His command feels extreme—does he really want us to give thanks in everything? If so, what does gratitude even look like? How can we start building a habit of thanksgiving?
The good news is we can become grateful people by the power of the Spirit, and we can begin growing in gratefulness with one simple step: noticing what God is doing in our lives.
Paul mentions fourteen times in his letters that he thanks God for the people he’s writing to. Have you ever stopped to consider why he mentioned his gratefulness for his fellow Christians? Whether he is about to write words of rebuke or correction or encouragement, he still thanks God for the church—for people. He notices them. More importantly, he notices that God has orchestrated his relationship with them, that God put them in his life for a reason, and that God works in and through them.
Just as God brings people into our lives, he also places us in our neighborhoods, jobs, and churches. When he created the world, he put humans in it to live, grow, and take care of creation. Taking time to notice the world God put you in—your workplace, your home, your car, your church, your neighborhood park—can help cultivate gratitude in your heart. Yes, difficult places exist. Brokenness riddles our world. But God’s goodness, faithfulness, and kindness always shine forth through the brokenness for us to witness and thank him for.
Have you ever paused to notice a moment? Maybe the giggles of a playing toddler, the taste of a home-cooked meal, or the words of a hymn in Sunday worship. Or maybe you look back on past moments, spending time to reminisce with old college friends or to remember a loved one who’s passed away.
Past or present, moments encapsulate beauty. Slowing down to notice important or even seemingly insignificant moments can make us more grateful.
Taking notice of your people and your world—and seeing all of it as God-given, as proof of his love and grace—is the first step toward gratitude. When we know what to notice, we can move from simply observing our lives to giving thanks to God. Thanksgiving can look different for all of us, but there are a few practical ways we can weave it into our lives.
Keeping a gratitude journal is trendy for a reason. When we put pen to paper and list what we’re grateful for, we acknowledge what God has given us in a physical way. Regularly slowing down to thank God helps solidify gratitude in our hearts and builds our thankfulness muscle. Journals can also help us remember what God has done for us when we’re facing impossible, difficult situations. In many ways, it is an act of worship to write down what we are grateful for. Grab a journal or a pad of paper and try writing down three things you’re thankful for every day, then turn your list into a prayer of praise.
Gratitude is contagious. When we tell others what we’re thanking God for, we point them to gratefulness. Take a walk with a friend or call a family member and weave gratitude into your conversation organically. Notice how speaking with thankfulness about your life affects others. Or tell a significant person in your life that you are thankful for him or her and why, just as Paul did for the churches he wrote to.
Hardship often makes gratitude feel as impossible as asking the rain to stop pouring. When we face difficulty, the habits we’ve formed in calmer times come in handy. They give us the words to say when we have none to offer. Find verses on gratitude and memorize them (consider Psalm 100; Philippians 4:6–7; or 1 Thessalonians 5:18). Make a playlist of songs that express thanksgiving to God and return to it often. Or find a written prayer that thanks God that you can pray when words don’t come easily.
Gratitude transforms us. When we give thanks, we acknowledge God and his work in the world. We lift our eyes from looking at ourselves to see the spiritual reality of our lives.
God is at work. He always has been and always will be.
As you enter the holiday season, look for ways to build a lifestyle of gratitude. Invite your friends and family to join you and see how God grows joy, love, and hope in you as you thank him.
It’s a trite but true saying, one we would follow closely with God’s warning in Genesis 2:18, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” As church leaders, we know all about the need for Christian community. We preach it, write about it, can cite all the verses imploring and commanding Christians to engage in it . . . but few of us can escape the magnetic pull of isolation. No one is an island, but the calling to ministry often seems like a call to living alone.
Even when surrounded by staff, volunteers, and faithful church members, leaders can feel isolated. Our people don’t understand the weight of spiritual leadership. Our work is often minimized to “just getting coffee with people all day.” In addition, we have unique internal struggles that we don’t know how to deal with. We encourage people through their doubts, but don’t know where to turn with our own. We prepare sermons or lessons on confession and repentance while fearing that if we practiced what we preach, we would lose our jobs. And so, we hide, couch the truth behind Christian platitudes, and pretend to have it all together when the seams of our lives are tearing.
For a church leader, isolation can feel like the only way to make it when simply trying to stay afloat has led us to feel misunderstood, unappreciated, and unable to be ourselves. It may not be good, but it seems easier to be alone.
Let me tell you something you already know: the reason you are remaining in isolation—no matter your circumstance—is a demonic lie. Isolation will encourage your secret sins to grow, fertilize the roots of your pride, and hasten inevitable emotional and/or physical burnout. It may feel safe, but isolation will destroy you and your ministry.
Yes, you are in a unique position both professionally and spiritually, but the normal rules of Christian life apply to you in the exact same ways that they do to the people in the pews. More than that, God’s grace and love are equally available to you as they are to the greatest sinner in your Sunday service.
1. You need confession and repentance. Read James 5:13–16. What fears or concerns do you have with confessing and repenting of your sin within your church? What could you gain from turning away from your hidden sin?
3. You need friends both in and outside of your church. Read Hebrews 3:12–13. In what ways does isolation encourage your sin? Who in and outside of your church could you meet with for regular encouragement and accountability?
You do not have to lead alone. There are countless opportunities for you to connect with other church leaders just like you.
1. Join thousands of pastors, church staff, and group leaders for RightNow Conference.
2. Connect with other pastors who use RightNow Media through the Church Leaders Facebook group. Discover weekly bonus content, best practices, and conversations with others in ministry.
3. Explore the Pastors library—it has great content for pastors and church leaders. Go through a study with other leaders or your staff to grow in Christ together.
The barriers keeping you from being fully known may feel insurmountable, but God is calling you into something far greater than your isolation could ever offer. Ministry can be a burden, but it is never meant to be carried alone. In Christ, you can look at your community and echo the words of David in Psalm 133:1, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!”
The following is an excerpt from www.Exponential.org, originally written by Dave Ferguson on January 8, 2023. For more wisdom from Dave, check out Lost Cause, a five-session RightNow Media video series on evangelism.
We need to create and use language that reinforces our values. We must be intentional about creating and consistently using vocabulary that mobilizes Christians to reach lost people. The clarity, consistency, and intentionality of our narratives, language, behaviors, and practices are an overflow of the clarity and conviction of our values.
Consistency is one of the keys to effective storytelling. We need to use the same language, in the same ways, over a long period of time.
One of the things we learn as church leaders over time is that just when we get sick and tired of repeating phrases is when the congregation is just beginning to get it. We like to be onto the next new terminology, and often it works against us.
To create narratives that make it clear evangelism is important to us, we need to be willing to embrace repetition.
The reason we need to pay so much attention to our language is that we are responsible for telling the most important story in human history: the gospel. This is the story of a redeeming God who came to live among us in the human form of Jesus before dying for our sins, coming back from the dead, and leaving his Holy Spirit with us to empower us to share this story widely and well. We are all responsible for telling this story in a way that makes clear the fact that all human stories lead back to Jesus’ story.
We are all lost and in need of our risen savior.
We see Jesus articulate this in one simple statement in Luke 19:10: “For the son of man came to seek and save the lost.” That was Jesus’ mission. And that should be our mission, too. And, therefore it certainly should be the mission of his church. If that was his mission, we should ask ourselves: how did Jesus live out his mission in the story of his life?
From the beginning, Jesus’ story expands beyond the religious institutions of his day. These spaces were often closed to outsiders and the lost, but through his actions and words, he expressed his values (and that of his father) to welcome people into a new story.
When you follow Jesus’ example and intentionally connect with people far from God you’ll begin to get questions about why you believe stories from the Bible, and about how your life story has changed as a result of your relationship with Jesus. Be prepared for these moments because they offer golden opportunities to open doors. They allow you to build bridges between the stories that others tell you and the story of Jesus.
We also see from Jesus’ examples that we have an easier time sharing our stories with people during meaningful moments that don’t necessarily take place in our church buildings. For many of us, this will require a shift in our ecclesiology, the way we come together and experience church. If you have a mindset that evangelism happens only in a building once a week (the common model for most of our Western cultures) you’ll miss opportunities to build relationships that create space for storytelling and story-sharing. It’s hard to build relationships while sitting in the pews listening to sermons, attending Sunday school, or taking communion.
As we seek opportunities to tell our stories, it can be helpful to use a simple storytelling framework that helps us connect to others around us. I use a simple three-part format to share my story and it’s been so effective I wrote about it in my book BLESS: 5 Everyday Ways to Love Your Neighbor and Change the World. You wouldn’t believe how many stories have come out of this method.
What was your life like before you met Jesus? Or if you grew up in the church knowing all about Jesus, what was your life like before you got serious about following him? Your story begins with who you were.
How did you become a Christ-follower? Did you go through a particularly tough time in your life that led you back to God? Did a friend invite you to a church service? Did a family member introduce you to Jesus? Did a life experience inspire you to get serious about following Jesus?
What difference has following Jesus made in your life? How has knowing him impacted both the good and hard times? Yes, when telling your story, include both the good and the hard. People will be more impacted when you’re honest about the challenges you continue to face even when you’re following Jesus. And don’t give the Sunday school answer. Talk about how your life is different and how God is growing you in certain areas, but make sure you’re sincere about how it’s a process and how often you still make mistakes.
To learn more about developing narratives of evangelism in your church or community, watch Lost Cause, a RightNow Media original series made in partnership with Dave Ferguson and Exponential.
It feels like church is changing. Well, that isn’t completely the case. Worship styles, Christian culture, and the popular forms of preaching change with every generation. That is as inevitable as the sun setting this evening. But the cultural ground under our feet has shifted.
As pastors, we can often despair over our congregation’s lack of passion. To combat their malaise, we dream up campaigns to build excitement, events to attract people distant from the gospel, or emulate popular teachers to add an extra spark to the pulpit. We run ourselves ragged trying to dispel apathy. But what happens when flashy strategies and catchy anecdotes don’t energize our people; when there are no new volunteers and Back Row Bob still sleeps through your sermons?
When our strategies fail, we often feel like failures. Shame, despair, doubt, and self-criticism come knocking on our office doors to remind us of our flaws and shortcomings. If we aren’t careful, we will end up like Elijah, abandoning our calling in frustration, grief, and despair (1 Kings 19:1–10).
Our culture is changing. In many ways, the Christian culture of the last thirty years is disappearing as the West evolves into a post-Christian world. The strategies of yesterday aren’t working today like they used to and won’t work in tomorrow’s world. But we don’t need a new strategy. The solution to apathy and the church’s woes is not a better worship set, a more responsible youth pastor, or better elders. Gospel-oriented passion is a God-given gift.
When we ask God to cure our apathy, we are asking for nothing less than revival—a reorientation of people to God by the power of the Holy Spirit. That’s a tall order, far too much for any one of us. But, to our relief, the enlivening of God’s people and reawakening of the spiritually drowsy is not our responsibility. It is not in our skillset. Any and every pastor-led “revival” will end as soon as that pastor’s humanity is revealed—either through exposure of sin, exhaustion, or weakness.
You are imperfect, but God has called you to lead his people, flawed as you may be. Your call is to be faithful. What you need, what your people need, and what the world needs is for the Spirit to move in our midst.
The first step in combating apathy is to drop to our knees in humble prayer, admitting our limitations, our fears, our frustrations, and hopes. Praise God for what he has done in your church (how often we forget!) and what he is preparing to do. Practice what you preach. Confess your sins. Thank God for his goodness. Weep and rejoice for your flock. Boldly ask that God would awaken you and your people and be glorified in your congregation.
An expert band, thousands of dollars in lights, and beautiful staging, are nice for Sunday worship. But true worship is neither confined nor defined by staging. True worship is defined by spirit and truth and can happen in every moment of our lives. The profound beauty of worship is not found in your band’s version of “Oceans” or in your expert teaching. The glory of worship is in its object—God himself. Worship is an opportunity for you and your people to wholly turn to God in praise and awe.
The second way to combat apathy is to point your people to God—the one who is, was, and ever will be. The Alpha and Omega; beginning and end. The most passionate church in the world is the church who is wholly focused on God. And, again, true worship is a gift from God. The Spirit leads us in truth, prays for us when we do not have the words, and glorifies the Father and Son as he indwells us.
Once again, you are dependent on God to enliven your worship. So keep praying.
It can be easy for lay people to assume that pastors and church staff are the only people with a calling on their life. We know that isn’t true, that every person is called to lay their lives down at the foot of the cross.
We are busy. But our schedules don’t change God’s calling. Often, we try to make church amenable to people’s schedules. To a point, that is totally understandable. But decades of seeker-sensitive models have taught Christians the church is a low-commitment event. It is what we do on Sundays—well, the Sundays we feel like going. Is it really that surprising Christians who see church as an optional program aren’t excited to sacrifice their time, energy, and resources for it?
When we minimize commitment to the Body of Christ, we send the message that the church’s need is not so great—that sacrifice is for church staff, volunteering is a hassle, and the mission of God is a side plot to our lives.
Do not minimize involvement in the church. Don’t soften the commands of Scripture. When someone shows up to volunteer, don’t give them a minimum requirement—tell them what you need and ask for a commitment. Invest in them.
Apathy has always been a problem for God’s people. We aren’t experiencing anything new, even as our culture slides into a post-Christian perspective. But when the world ignores the church, our hope doesn’t change.
Pastors are like the prophets of old, surrounded by idols and syncretism. Like the prophets, we call people back to God’s Word, to radical repentance, worship, and service.
Our world doesn’t need a better event; they need Jesus. Turn to him. Point your people to him. Call them to his standard.
Pastor, he is with you.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 1 in 5 adults are currently experiencing a mental illness—complicated issues involving mental, physical, chemical, emotional, and spiritual components. It’s safe to assume there are people in your family, at your workplace, and in your church who are currently struggling with mental health. Unfortunately, many stigmas exist around mental health in the church and in the world.
But here’s the good news: God cares about your mental health. In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, we’re going to break down misconceptions about mental illness and highlight the freedom that comes through knowing Jesus.
Not everyone has a diagnosed mental illness, but everyone has mental health they need to protect. While about 20% of adults experience life with diagnosed mental illnesses, everyone goes through situations and setbacks that influence their mental wellbeing. A stressful work environment, the death of a loved one, a change in your relationships, or a traumatic experience are just a few examples of common mental health triggers.
Even if you’re in the 80% of people living without a diagnosed mental illness, you can still be part of the conversation. While not everyone talks about it, mental health is a relevant issue for all people.
Because of the recent increase in mass media conversations about mental health, it may seem like mental illness is a new issue. But the modern conversation is only catching up to what’s always been true: mental illness is a real struggle for many people.
Take King David, for example—most of his psalms are emotional cries to God in deep pain or true joy. If you’ve ever felt depressed, you’re not alone. Listen to what David writes in Psalm 6:
“I am weary from my groaning;
with my tears I dampen my bed
and drench my couch every night.
My eyes are swollen from grief;
they grow old because of all my enemies.”
In addition to David, Elijah and Job also faced mental health struggles. Elijah’s mental health suffered during his conflict with Jezebel to the point of Elijah wanting to die (1 Kings 19:3–4). Job felt depressed and fearful in response to his pain and loss (Job 3:24–26). If you’ve ever been emotional because of a broken relationship or situation in your life, you’re in good company. The Bible is a story of imperfect, mentally unhealthy people pursuing a perfect God who can restore hope in even the darkest moments.
The Bible explains Jesus as being without sin, but not without temptation, trials, or emotions. Jesus was fully God and fully human. He can relate to you.
Hebrews 4:15–16 puts it this way:
"For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin. Therefore, let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need.”
The Bible shares countless stories of Jesus experiencing a vast spectrum of emotions. In his time on earth, Jesus was “tempted in every way as we are” so that he would be able to “sympathize with our weaknesses.” There is no feeling, situation, or mental illness that disqualifies you from Jesus’s understanding presence.
If you are currently struggling with mental illness, you are not alone. You are loved, seen, and cared for by God. Please reach out to a trusted doctor or spiritual leader for insight and advice. There is hope and healing for you.
If you are not struggling with mental illness, there’s probably someone in your life who is. Your kindness and compassion toward those who are struggling helps more than you realize. Your grace and empathy could be the answer to someone else’s prayer.
Wherever you’re at on your mental health journey, God is right there beside you. The fight for mental health is difficult, but you are never fighting alone.