Connection vs. Carnality – In Student Ministry

It would be prudent, to begin with, this statement of belief: I believe in solid connection with students while being connected to each student in a unique and individually specific way. I believe and am an advocate for personal, one on one connection. Yet, I think we (student pastors, youth pastors, youth workers) are in danger of blurring the lines of connection and crossing into carnality. Let’s talk about it.

The Field and the Pressure

If we look at student ministry, we will find one of the most significant evangelism fields in the world. In the United States alone, there are 74 million people under the age of 18, which accounts for nearly 25% of the population. It’s not a stretch to say students make up a substantial part and are the driving force of our culture. As adults, we look to teenagers to see what is new, trendy, or popular. While pre-teens look to the 15 to 18-year-old group to see what aspirations they should be entertaining. This reality places a powerful burden of influence in the hands of teenagers.

I have no problem with the fact teenagers can help define and shape culture. In fact, as youth pastors, we should capitalize on this fact and use it to our advantage. If we gather teens and connect with them, if we can help them connect with a spiritual walk with God, then we will, in turn, affect both younger and older generations. However, there is a disturbing trend of blurred lines on how to connect with the current generation. In prayer recently, the Lord put this thought in my mind: “The danger of student ministry is justifying carnality and calling it connection.”

If we gather teens and connect with them, if we can help them connect with a spiritual walk with God, then we will, in turn, affect both younger and older generations.

The danger of student ministry is justifying carnality and calling it connection.

The Danger of Social Media Mirroring

One of the dangers of blurring the line between connection and carnality is social media mirroring. Allow me to explain. I served as an assistant and full-time youth pastor for eight years. During this incredible season of life, my wife, Jessica, and I were privileged to be youth pastor to some of the most amazing students. As we transitioned to Youth Pastor, we felt excitement but also horror in our position. We were committed to reaching our students but also totally “out of touch” with our role as their youth pastor. Our predecessor, Rev. Chadwick Craft, was a phenomenal leader and spiritual guide. We knew we couldn’t fill his shoes, nor were we supposed to fill them. We would need to walk “OUR” path with our giftings and abilities. So, despite Paul warning us about comparison (2 Corinthians 10:1-11), I looked at other student ministry social media accounts and felt instantly demoralized.

I discovered incredible graphics, mind-blowing stage designs, relevant lesson plans, and youth pastors who looked incredibly; yes, I’m old enough to use the word “cool”. My goal was to immediately mirror these ministries by being in schools at lunchtime and being at their events and recitals. I wanted to post pictures of myself with students to prove my connection, my impact on their lives. It was a rush to mirror the “social media success” stories posted daily.

Obviously, there is nothing wrong with wanting connection, but here is where the danger came into play. In the rush to mirror student ministry, we became very uncomfortable with the “connection” moments we were seeing and felt pressured to perform. Lunch was a great time to connect with new students, so this continued for us. However, other events began to weigh heavily on us spiritually. As pressure to post and “connect” increased, we joined in, trying to conform to other groups’ pressure, even though they were in other cities with different church cultures. In doing so, we realized our purpose, worship, and witness would quickly become compromised and carnal if we followed these trends.

The Crossroads of Connection and Carnality

The purpose of spending time with a student to witness was quickly becoming time spent at school functions with no spiritual depth. Connection meant being pressured to attend ballgames, chaperone dances, and have student movie nights in place of youth services. The pressure was unreal. I was told, “This is how you do student ministry,” “This is the way to connect with students,” “Meet them where they are… be in the environment they are in, encourage them in the endeavors of school athletics and programs.” “Dress casual.” “Don’t yell so much” (this was in reference to preaching). That pressure to be like other student pastors left me feeling drained spiritually. It felt wrong. It felt carnal.

Daily I was doing my best to have the right haircut, to wear trendy clothes, listen to the right music, and play the right games on my phone. Yet what was happening was wholesale accepting a culture of carnality. My pressured changes were disingenuous and created a false narrative of who I was and what an apostolic youth group should become. It was time to take a step back and review where we were as a group, where we were spiritually, and where God wanted us to go. We began to search diligently for authentic connection, and in doing so, realized several truths:

  • Students do not care about trendy clothes, as long as someone cares about them.
  • Students do not care if I play the games they play, as long as I spend time with them.
  • Students didn’t care if I was at a sporting event if we were there to weep with them while in an altar.
  • The only person who cared if I was “cool” was other youth workers.
  • Carnal connection was not what God intended; Spiritual connection is what was going to be the difference-maker in their lives.

Students do not care about trendy clothes, as long as someone cares about them.

Students do not care if you play the games they play, as long as you spend time with them.

Students don’t care if you are at a sporting event if you are there to weep with them in an altar.

Genuine connection comes from sitting down and connecting over shared interests. If the interest is carnal, then the connection by proxy will also be carnal. How, then, could real connection happen in carnal environments?

The Case for Genuinly Apostolic Connection

Please receive this in the spirit in which it’s written. We need apostolic student pastors to be apostolic. The wholesale acceptance of involvement in sports, proms, accepting worldly artists who are suddenly “Christian” is not only dangerous but flies in the face of the Scriptures command: Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you (2 Corinthians 6:17).

Do you see the danger? It starts so simply, “I am trying to connect with them. I am trying to connect them to Jesus. If I host a movie night, we have common ground. If we listen to traditionally ungodly artists who suddenly find salvation, we show them how to accept new converts. We must dress casually so they will be comfortable. We must like their posts, so they know we approve.”

While all of these arguments seem valid, each of them draws a very fine line between connection and simply being carnal. We should connect with students. We should lead them to Jesus. We should teach them to accept new converts. But, to do these things without maintaining a clear apostolic voice is simply justifying carnal behavior under the guise of connection. 

It is time. We must shift our focus and become more focused on SPIRITUAL connection, not carnal connection. Should we be present when we can? Should we have P7 clubs and CMI chapters? Should we visit students at school during lunches or breaks? Absolutely, YES! Should we be at their ballgames, dances, and carnal events? Decidedly, the answer would be no. Because in doing so, we are giving permission for their involvement in these carnal events. Our presence equals permission in the minds of teens.

We must shift our focus and become more focused on SPIRITUAL connection, not carnal connection.

Student ministers are pressured on so many fronts: Host movie nights, institute casual approaches to dress codes in service, accept secular artists’ new Christian albums, like posts on Facebook of students going to prom while dressed ungodly and involved in unacceptable activities. Liking carnal posts (pics of ungodly dress or worldly music in an IG story) is like giving a high five to a drowning person. It says I see you drowning, but I don’t love you enough to make you uncomfortable by pulling you out.

Liking carnal posts (pics of ungodly dress or worldly music in an IG story) is like giving a high five to a drowning person. It says I see you drowning, but I don’t love you enough to make you uncomfortable by pulling you out.

Youth group movie night should never happen in an apostolic youth group. It is shocking to see movie nights’ acceptance as not just a fringe idea but being accepted and lauded by many student pastors. In an effort to connect with students by watching movies, we are teaching them to look towards the world for their spiritual lessons and morality. This thinking is a significant error because the Bible is the only guidebook we should use to find our moral compass.

Connecting with students by watching movies, teaches them to look towards the world for their spiritual lessons and morality. This is a significant error because the Bible is the only guidebook we should use to find our moral compass.

Snoop and Kanye suddenly becoming “Christian” does not mean we should immediately play their music in youth service. I’m thankful they are moving in the right direction; their private lives reflect their true nature. Smoking weed, calling themselves yeezus, and the other filthy and frankly barbaric lifestyles they entertain should be reason enough to keep them blacklisted from Apostolic environments.

Apostolic Precedence Over Pressure

Paul connected not by taking new converts to the coliseum or the Olympic games, but by prayer, fasting, and house to house studying the Word of God together. He got them involved in the field! As student pastors, we only get 45-50 hours of connection with them each year in youth service. If you are lucky and have a small group on Sundays, then maybe another 45-50 hours. Above all else, our connections must be viewed as the single most important hour of their lives. That connection must be apostolic.

Paul connected not by taking new converts to the coliseum or the Olympic games, but by prayer, fasting, and house to house studying the Word of God together.

So, what does true apostolic connection look like? It starts with daily prayer and study personally. Daily prayer and Bible study sets the mind and spirit on a path of biblical connection personally and focuses your vision through a spiritual lens. As a gentle reminder, you get what you preach, but who you are is what you produce. This personal devotion aligns you with God as you move through the day. Once you have prayed through, next, you must be honest. Honest with yourself. Is there anything slipping in which promotes carnality and not Christ? If so, be honest with yourself… and change it.

Daily prayer and Bible study sets the mind and spirit on a path of biblical connection personally and focuses your vision through a spiritual lens.

As a gentle reminder, you get what you preach, but who you are is what you produce.

Our Experience and Positive Change

We cut out all of the fluff. We stopped trying to be the “textbook” student pastor. Instead, we began to focus on prayer. Our group was running 79 students when we decided to do an event we called The Hunger Event. It was a simple call to fasting and prayer. We would fast together as a group from Friday at 7 am until Saturday at 7 am. We would meet at the church and pray from 7 pm until 7 am and break our fast together.

We announced this: If you want to play basketball, that will happen next week. If you want to play video games, please don’t be offended, but we won’t be playing games. If you aren’t serious about growth, no worries, we love you… but this event isn’t for you.

The night of the event, we had a sign-in sheet. Ninety-three students signed in by 7 pm. (remember, we were averaging 79 in service). I cannot adequately describe the move of God we experienced. From this meeting, we began a very intentional plan to connect. We promoted prayer as the premier event on our calendar. It was our way of common connection. We preached about prayer. We preached about being apostolic. We promoted prayer and apostolic lifestyle as we would a giveaway. It became the fundamental pressure applied by our team.

We would meet one on one with students and be honest with them about music, lifestyle changes needed but also the importance of being a disciple. We didn’t run an errand alone. If we had to go out of our way to pick up a student to pick up dry cleaning, we did. We became rabid in our connection. We were staying in their texts, calling them, showing up at school or work. Always, every meeting was an encouragement for them to stay connected to God and us.  

It was during this season we began to tell them how God wanted to use them. We shifted all connection, all narrative, to being a worshipper and a witness. Every action had to fit those criteria in some way. It was tough. It was different. But in eight months, we grew from 79 in youth service to 135. We taught a dozen bible studies a month because our connection was based on their spiritual growth. True connection focuses on their spiritual growth and accepting the responsibility to be the Apostolic Voice in their lives.

True student ministry connection focuses on their spiritual growth and accepting the responsibility to be the Apostolic Voice in their lives.

Final Word and Witness

Titus 1:16 is, frankly, very heavy. But it’s a Scripture that stands out. It defines or should define our interactions and connection. It warns about blurring the line between carnality and connection. Paul says (and I’m paraphrasing), they say its connection in relationship, but actually what they are doing is in opposition to His nature; it is unthinkable and unlawful. It makes their work worthless.

They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate.

Titus 1:16

It is in us to fall into the trap of carnal connections. It is an easy snare to fall into, yet it is my desire for someone to read this and realize our connection to students can be deeper and more impactful. I beg you, evaluate how you connect. Filter it through the fact; you have a biblical mandate to be unapologetically apostolic. If you connect them to the Spirit first, God will honor this and bring multiplication to the ministry you serve.

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Darrell Bates is married to his incredible and sweet wife, Jessica. They have been married twelve years. Currently, they serve as Youth President of the UPCI Mississippi District and evangelize full-time. They served in Youth Ministry for nearly fifteen years at First Pentecostal Church in Jackson, MS, and eight years in the MS District Youth department. They both love coffee, reading, and being with students. You can connect with them on Facebook here.

COVID Carnality (The Cause & Cure)

Pastors are doing their best to navigate the confusing and challenging impacts of COVID in the way they best see fit for their entire congregation’s needs. They are looking at the needs and concerns of the whole flock. Yet, pastors are (as always) scrutinized and judged from the comfortable armchairs of sideliners who do not bear the same burdens of responsibility. Furthermore, trying to balance a local flock’s physical and spiritual needs is tricky, to say the least. Universally speaking, most churches have faced unprecedented physical sickness, psychological trauma, and spiritual fallout over the past year. There isn’t a perfect solution to each of these problems. Anyone who says differently is either lying or very foolish. Aside from the actual dangers of COVID (we can argue later about the real depth of the physical risks), a spiritual danger is lurking that I call “COVID-Carnality.”

COVID-Carnality: Cause & Effect

For some, COVID revealed hidden pockets of pre-COVID spiritual sicknesses. For others, the tragic spiritual side-effects of COVID weakened them spiritually (or worse), and they are struggling with sinful symptoms and conditions they would not have encountered otherwise. Joblessness, fear, uncertainty, lack of vibrant community, limited fellowship opportunities, stifled church gatherings, inhibited worship, canceled conferences and meetings, impersonal online worship, and adjusted service schedules continue to take a spiritual toll on us all.

For some, COVID revealed hidden pockets of pre-COVID spiritual sicknesses. For others, the tragic spiritual side-effects of COVID weakened them spiritually (or worse).

I certainly hoped writing about COVID in this new year would be unnecessary. We all prayed fervently that we would not be dealing with yet another wave of COVID. Like you, I’m tired of hearing about COVID, talking about COVID, and thinking about COVID. As someone who has walked personally with many individuals through COVID, I’ve learned that almost nothing about the virus makes sense. I’ve known of perfectly healthy people dying and tremendously unhealthy people surviving the virus. COVID is a death sentence for some people, and for others, it’s little more than the seasonal flu. I don’t say this to stoke fear but instead, as a reminder that circumstances force spiritual leaders on the ground to make big picture decisions armed with more information than Monday morning quarterbacks.

In Defense of Pastors

With that in mind, I sense a renewed need to lift pastors’ hands and support them in their decisions. Many pastors have made decisions that differed from what I considered best for my local church. However, I firmly believe they are striving diligently to do what is right in their local context. Even in rare situations where pastors made decisions that, in hindsight, turned out to be imperfect, I give them grace for all kinds of reasons. One, often the “facts” they had were convoluted at best. Two, grace is a vital part of the Christian faith (Ephesians 4:29). Three, their motives were pure. Four, we need unity more than ever before. And five, circumstances change so quickly that yesterday’s right decision becomes tomorrow’s wrong decision.

Saints who abandon or attack their pastor from within during this season are a disgrace to the Kingdom of God. Truth preaching pastors who verbally attack other truth preaching pastors COVID-related leadership during this season are foolish, unwise, and ungodly. Those statements might sound harsh, but the truth always sounds offensive to ears suffering from COVID-Carnality. I realize carnality is not a new problem. However, covert and overt carnality has exponentially increased over the past year.

Saints who abandon or attack their pastor from within during this season are a disgrace to the Kingdom of God.

Truth preaching pastors who verbally attack other truth preaching pastors COVID-related leadership during this season are foolish, unwise, and ungodly.

Carnality is not a new problem. However, covert and overt carnality has exponentially increased over the past year.

COVID-Carnality: Spiritual Symptoms

Studies show that addictions (of all kinds), pornography, rated M Netflix viewing, domestic disturbances, child abuse, molestations, harmful self-medicating, and more are at all-time highs. My anecdotal experiences reveal that unusual levels of carnality are running rampant even within apostolic churches. People who are usually wise are making foolish decisions. Strange sins of perversion are on the rise. Out-of-character attitude issues are being manifested outwardly in the lives of saints. It’s often difficult to tell if these problems are just being exacerbated by COVID or as a direct result of COVID-induced carnality. In other words, is COVID the cause or the revealer? Likely, we’ll never really know for sure. However, I believe it’s a blend of both, depending on the situation.

Studies show that addictions (of all kinds), pornography, rated M Netflix viewing, domestic disturbances, child abuse, molestations, harmful self-medicating, and more are at all-time highs.

Unusual levels of carnality are running rampant within apostolic churches. Wise people are making foolish decisions. Strange sins of perversion are on the rise. Out-of-character attitude issues are being manifested in the lives of saints.

Private Prayerlessness Diagnosed

Just recognizing COVID-Carnality is hardly helpful. However, the sickness must be diagnosed before the cure can be prescribed. Now that we’ve identified the spiritual virus, we can talk about solutions. For example, while prayer gatherings are essential, COVID is revealing the private prayerlessness of saints. Anemic personal prayer lives left the door wide open for COVID-Carnality. Far too many saints were utterly dependent on corporate prayer gatherings. They barely made it from prayer meeting to prayer meeting, and they had no real prayer times between corporate gatherings. Even worse, while in those church prayer meetings, they were mooching off the anointing of a handful of godly prayer warriors in their midst. Meaning, they didn’t know how to touch God for themselves, so they needed others to usher in the anointing on their behalf.

Prayer gatherings are essential, COVID is revealing the private prayerlessness of saints. Anemic personal prayer lives left the door wide open for COVID-Carnality.

The solution is simple yet profound at the same time; our churches need a revival of private prayer closets. I fervently believe in the gathering together of the Church for prayer, worship, and the Word. But the assembling of saints is not a substitute for personal spiritual disciplines. In Matthew 6:5-13, Jesus teaches about prayer during His famed sermon on the mount. He instructs us not to imitate the hypocrites’ prayer lives: …when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. (Matthew 6:5). Jesus wasn’t telling us that we should never pray together or in public, but He was stressing the importance of private prayer that isn’t contrived. The hypocritical Pharisees loved public prayer but shunned private prayer. Their reward wasn’t the blessings of God but the accolades of men.

Our churches need a revival of private prayer closets. I fervently believe in the gathering together of the Church for prayer, worship, and the Word. But the assembling of saints is not a substitute for personal spiritual disciplines.

Spiritual Vaccination

Jesus continued saying: …when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly (Matthew 6:6). Private prayer has public results. Again, we have tons of Bible mandating corporate prayer, but Jesus carefully taught us that corporate prayer must be an extension of our secret prayer lives. While giving us an example of how to pray, Jesus said: And lead (bring) us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen (Matthew 6:13, Amplified Bible). Do you see it? Our private prayers should invite God to deliver us and guide us away from temptation. Consistent personal prayer is a vital component in the vaccine against COVID-carnality.

Private prayer has public results (Matthew 6:6). We have tons of Bible mandating corporate prayer, but Jesus carefully taught us that corporate prayer must be an extension of our secret prayer lives.

Our private prayers should invite God to deliver us and guide us away from temptation. Consistent personal prayer is a vital component in the vaccine against COVID-carnality.

Adding Diligence to Divine Promises

“May grace (God’s favor) and peace (which is perfect well-being, all necessary good, all spiritual prosperity, and freedom from fears and agitating passions and moral conflicts) be multiplied to you in [the full, personal, precise, and correct] knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. For His divine power has bestowed upon us all things that [are requisite and suited] to life and godliness, through the [full, personal] knowledge of Him Who called us by and to His own glory and excellence (virtue). By means of these He has bestowed on us His precious and exceedingly great promises, so that through them you may escape [by flight] from the moral decay (rottenness and corruption) that is in the world because of covetousness (lust and greed), and become sharers (partakers) of the divine nature. For this very reason, adding your diligence [to the divine promises], employ every effort in exercising your faith to develop virtue (excellence, resolution, Christian energy), and in [exercising] virtue [develop] knowledge (intelligence), And in [exercising] knowledge [develop] self-control, and in [exercising] self-control [develop] steadfastness (patience, endurance), and in [exercising] steadfastness [develop] godliness (piety), And in [exercising] godliness [develop] brotherly affection, and in [exercising] brotherly affection [develop] Christian love. For as these qualities are yours and increasingly abound in you, they will keep [you] from being idle or unfruitful unto the [full personal] knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One). For whoever lacks these qualities is blind, [spiritually] shortsighted, seeing only what is near to him, and has become oblivious [to the fact] that he was cleansed from his old sins”.

2 Peter 1:2-9, Amplified Bible

I hope you read that entire passage because it gives the final additives to spiritual vaccination against COVID-Carnality. First, the apostle Peter defines godly peace as the absence of moral conflicts. Perfect peace comes from God as a result of godliness. The Divine power of God comes through the correct knowledge of Jesus. Understanding who God is and knowing Him invites His favor and power into our lives. We can’t know God without faith. We know God through faith, and He gives us all the things needed to serve Him properly. Remembering the promises of God is crucial to maintaining faith, which is the opposite of carnality. The ultimate promise of God is that we will be with the Lord in Heaven for eternity. When we sincerely long for that promise, it takes our affections off the things of this world. The knowledge of God and His promises are achieved through prayer, Bible study, and spiritual discipline. Remembering the promises of God helps us escape the moral decay of this world.

The ultimate promise of God is that we will be with the Lord in Heaven for eternity. When we sincerely long for that promise, it takes our affections off the things of this world.

The knowledge of God and His promises are achieved through prayer, Bible study, and spiritual discipline. Remembering the promises of God helps us escape the moral decay of this world.

The apostle Peter implores us to diligently remember the promises of God, which increases our faith. Then Peter goes on to list the final additives to the ingredients of spiritual vaccination from carnality. Add to your faith virtue (moral excellence). Add to virtue knowledge (of good and evil). Add to knowledge temperance (self-control). Add to temperance patience (steadfastness, endurance). Add to patience godliness. Add to godliness brotherly affection. Add to brotherly affection charity (love). As we add these things into our lives, our faith becomes effective and productive. Those who fail to add these things to God’s promises diligently are shortsighted and forgetful of their old sins. They are highly susceptible to COVID-Carnality and in great danger of falling away from God.

“So, dear brothers and sisters, work hard to prove that you really are among those God has called and chosen. Do these things, and you will never fall away. Then God will give you a grand entrance into the eternal Kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ”.

2 Peter 1:10-11, New Living Translation

Continued COVID-Carnality Vaccination

The vaccination against carnality is a constant process. But it’s not something your pastor or anyone else can do for you. To be sure, God designed the Church to help us and strengthen us in this process. But having church is no substitute for prayer and diligent faith. Whether or not COVID caused or effected current carnality matters little in the grand scheme of things. What matters now is that we vaccinate ourselves from carnality moving forward. God can turn this into good and usher in great revival if we learn how to serve Him in this season. Perhaps God is preparing the Church for victory by sifting the carnal out from among us much as He did for Gideon at the spring of Herod (Judges 7:1-8). At that spring, God dwindled Gideon’s army down to 300 men by separating the fearful and less watchful from the rest. I pray God doesn’t have to sift us down that drastically. Either way, let’s commit ourselves to fearless faith and a careful posture so we can be a part of the astonishing things God is about to accomplish.

Perhaps God is preparing the Church for victory by sifting the carnal out from among us much as He did for Gideon at the spring of Herod (Judges 7:1-8).

God dwindled Gideon’s army down to 300 men by separating the fearful and less watchful from the rest. Let’s commit ourselves to fearless faith and a careful posture so we can be a part of the astonishing things God is about to accomplish.

The Top 10 Articles of 2020

I’d like to offer my warm thanks for your continued readership and support of the Apostolic Voice blog. And, for those that also listen to the new Apostolic Voice podcast, I’d like to thank you as well. It’s become a tradition at the beginning of each new year to post the top ten articles that trended in the previous year. Last year a few sleeper articles made a surge, and several staple pieces held steady in the rankings. Surprisingly, 2020 was, statistically speaking, our most dynamic year yet. Although, that probably shouldn’t have been a surprise considering all the quarantine time we all endured. I remain humbled that you would read and share my sincere rantings, beliefs, opinions, and insights.

The red marks every area of the globe Apostolic Voice reached in 2020.

For those who have been reading from the beginning, you’ve noticed I’ve made an effort to update and refresh the site. Hopefully, it is more user-friendly and easier to search for past articles. Initially, I intended to write predominantly about current events (and in the beginning, I did), but time has led me to write mostly about timeless truths. I pray you are blessed in this new year.

Takeaways from Church Planting (A Walk of Faith) – Podcast Episode 7

Recently, I recorded an interview with Pastor Shannon Thornhill, a church planter in Hernando, MS (www.desotolifeupc.org), for the Apostolic Voice podcast. We had a great conversation spanning all kinds of topics: The importance of Divine calling, how to stay encouraged in discouraging times, evangelism, outreach, ethics, the importance of starting new churches in unchurched cities, and how to bless a church planter. It’s worth your time to listen to the entire episode. Here I’ve listed several meaningful takeaways from our conversation. At the bottom of this article, you’ll find links to listen to our whole exchange.

Note: These are my thoughts after reflecting on our conversation. They are not direct quotes.

TAKEAWAY: Don’t Look Down on New Churches

New churches often operate underneath the stigma of their smallness. Sometimes this smallness is misperceived as insignificance. But new churches are the backbone of revival and church growth. Pastors and members of established larger churches might be tempted to look down their nose at newer churches. Not only is this attitude foolish, but it undermines and discourages the work of the Lord. The biblical admonishment to avoid despising small beginnings (Zechariah 4:10) applies in this situation. God rejoices to see the work begin (Zechariah 4:10), and we should rejoice too.

TAKEAWAY: Unchurched People Want to Be Loved More Than Anything Else

Love is free to share, and unchurched people care more about being seen and loved than big buildings and programs. As a church grows, it becomes more challenging to connect with guests in meaningful ways. Guests can easily feel unseen or overlooked in larger church settings. Of course, loving churches work hard to overcome this dilemma, but new churches have a built-in advantage in this area. Growing new churches serve as a beautiful reminder to older churches that loving people doesn’t require big budgets or trendy programs. If we want to win people, we must love them.

Love is free to share, and unchurched people care more about being seen and loved than big buildings and programs.

Growing new churches serve as a beautiful reminder to older churches that loving people doesn’t require big budgets or trendy programs. If we want to win people, we must love them.

TAKEAWAY: When God Wills It, There’s a Way

Perhaps the most challenging thing in life is finding the will of God. But even more daunting is accomplishing the will of God. When a person fully embraces God’s plan for their lives, the plan is bold, terrifying, and beautiful. Like David facing Goliath or Noah facing an empty field where an ark needs to be, we don’t have the necessary tools to accomplish the mission (at least it sure feels that way). But if we’re in God’s will, He will make a way. God might use ravens with food, a fish full of money, or drop manna from heaven with His own hands. Regardless, if we’re going where God wants us to go, the seas will part.

TAKEAWAY: The Best Blessings Aren’t Financial

I asked Shannon: What’s the most encouraging thing anyone has ever done for you as a church planter. I expected the answer to involve a financial miracle of some kind. It didn’t. Church planters need prayer and encouragement more than anything else. Knowing people are emotionally and spiritually invested in the success of their church means more than financial investment.

Church planters need prayer and encouragement more than anything else.

TAKEAWAY: Get the Kids Involved

Parents are often afraid to make sacrifices for the Lord because of their children. It feels scary involving our children in the sacrifices the call of God requires. Shannon dismantled this fear describing the love and joy his children have for ministry and church planting. It seems counterintuitive, but our children will find tremendous joy, blessing, and fulfillment, joining us in our walk of faith. They, in turn, learn how to walk by faith by watching us.

Our children will find tremendous joy, blessing, and fulfillment, joining us in our walk of faith. They, in turn, learn how to walk by faith by watching us.

TAKEAWAY: Working for God Is Worth the Sacrifice

Make no mistake; whatever God calls you to do will require sacrifice. With church planting, this is especially true. There will be challenges, discouraging seasons, and lots of blind faith required. But if you can push through those seasons of drought into the blessing, you will find a satisfaction that only obedience to God can bring.

TAKEAWAY: If God Isn’t Supplying, You Aren’t Complying

Shannon shared a powerful nugget of truth a wise pastor gave to him years ago. I’m paraphrasing it, but essentially, he said if God calls you to do something hard, He will provide what is needed. On the flip side of that coin, if God does not supply, you probably aren’t complying with His plan. This truism fits nicely into a lengthier look at understanding the will of God in the article: How to Seek God’s Will (For Any Situation).

If God calls you to do something hard, He will provide what is needed. On the flip side of that coin, if God does not supply, you probably aren’t complying with His plan.

TAKEAWAY: Let Your Past and Future Encourage Your Present

I asked Shannon the question every God-follower asks at some point: How can we stay encouraged in the tough moments. Shannon had lots of tremendous things to say (you should listen to them all), but one thing really stood out to me. He said, and again I’m paraphrasing, let God’s past blessings encourage you and trust that God has future blessings in store. This is easier said than done. His advice reminds me of the Israelites facing challenges after God parted the Red Sea. They had doubts and fears when faced with new obstacles. Even after seeing the Promised Land with their own eyes, they struggled to trust God with their future. God put those real-life stories in the Bible as a reminder that we should avoid the pitfalls of forgetting past miracles and shunning God’s future blessings.

Let the past blessings of God encourage you and trust that God has future blessings in store.

Ep. 16 | Talking with Mom (Rebecca French) About Pain, Sickness, Parenting, Faith, Ministry, Pastor's Wives, and People with Special Needs Apostolic Voice with Ryan French

Ryan talks to his mother (Rebecca French) about parenting children with major health issues, keeping the faith through the fire, parenting tips for raising godly kids, ministry, what saints need to know about their pastor's wife, and growing up with a disabled brother. Be sure to check out Rebecca French's article at http://www.ryanafrench.com called Praising the Lord in All Things.  — This episode is sponsored by · Anchor: The easiest way to make a podcast. https://anchor.fm/app — Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/apostolicvoice/message Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/apostolicvoice/support
  1. Ep. 16 | Talking with Mom (Rebecca French) About Pain, Sickness, Parenting, Faith, Ministry, Pastor's Wives, and People with Special Needs
  2. Ep. 15 | 9 Things to Remember When You're Hurting & Ryan's Top 10 All-Time-Favorite Carman Songs
  3. Ep. 14 | Ministering to Vets, Overcoming Tempers & Practical Apostolic Principles for Success with Special Guest Josh Michael
  4. Ep. 13 | Let's Be Honest with Guest Jeremy Gove
  5. Ep. 12 | 10 Symptoms of Insecure Leadership and Helpful Prescriptions

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Unmasked (Cogent COVID Thoughts)

COVID has revealed tons of things, both good and bad, that need to be considered as we move into the future. The following cogent COVID thoughts have been swirling around in my brain for several months. I’m making a conscious effort to only mention things that will be relevant even after the virus itself is gone.

Unmasked: Our Religious Freedoms Are in Jeopardy

2019 seems like the distant past, but somehow, I can vaguely recall certain things that happened way back in the good old pre-COVID days. A particular memory keeps pushing its way to the forefront of my brain; it’s a conversation I overheard between two friends. Friend number one commented about the world’s increasing hostility towards the Church and his concerns about maintaining our freedoms. Friend number two considered this to be the silliest viewpoint a modern Christian could hold. He accused friend number one of nursing a persecution complex. I agreed with friend number one. There was an awkward silence and we all just agreed to disagree.

Today we have churches fighting their state government and the United States government for the right to simply have church. Startling numbers of churches are permanently closing their doors. And, pastors have been fined, harassed, and incarcerated for failing to comply with shutdown mandates. We are seeing the single greatest onslaught against religious freedoms in the history of the United States. COVID unmasked the animosity towards Christianity walking the halls of power at the state and federal levels. The waters are being tested and a stronger wave of discriminatory action towards Christianity is just around the corner.

This unmasking is probably for the best. Maybe it will shake some of us out of our naiveite and call us back to effectual fervent prayer (James 5:16). But one thing is for sure, antichrist spirits are only one pandemic away from stripping us of our freedoms. And for the non-religious folks out there, my freedom to worship won’t be the only freedom taken. They’ll come for something you care about eventually. If you dance with the devil long enough you will get burned.

“…antichrist spirits are only one pandemic away from stripping us of our freedoms.”

I’m not trying to stoke fears or be negative. I believe this is a great opportunity for the Church to reach the world with the Gospel. Jesus said, “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid (Matthew 5:14)”. We usually think of this as a challenge to let our light shine as bright as possible, and that’s fine. We say things like don’t hide your light. However, Jesus compared the Church to a city set on a hill that “cannot” be hidden. That word “cannot” is translated into English from two Greek words, ou and dynatai, which means …does not have the ability. We could accurately translate that verse to say, “You are the light of the world. A city placed by God on a hill that does not have the ability to be hidden”. The Church is purposefully designed and carefully crafted by God to be set apart (that’s what holiness means) and brightly shining into the darkness. The true Church can’t hide, blend in, be comfortable in, or conform itself to, the world. So, as the world gets scarier the light of the Church will draw hungry hearts to itself as never before.

The true Church can’t hide, blend in, be comfortable in, or conform itself to, the world.

Unmasked: Christian Hypocrisies

My dad (Dr. Talmadge French) made a comment last night during midweek Bible study that is startlingly true: Many people are more influenced by their TV than by their pastor. Taking that thought even further, I’ve noticed throughout this pandemic how quickly we all allowed government officials to have absolute authority over us. Officials told us to wear masks and we all went out and bought masks. They told us to close businesses and stay home and we did. They told us to stay away from people and we did. They told us not to touch people and we did what they told us to do. They told our kids to stay home from school and learn online and they did (my kids still do). They told sports to shut down and they did. It drastically impacted our dress codes, our vacations, our social lives, our finances, and our education.

Many people are more influenced by their TV than by their pastor.” -Dr. Talmadge French

Why did we fall in line so quickly? We fell in line (almost universally with a few exceptions) even when the “experts” disagreed. We fell in line even though the facts were (and are) difficult to decipher. We made great personal sacrifices. For some people, it will take them years to recover and some will never fully recover. I believe we did it because we perceived those sacrifices as being a greater good than the pain. We sensed the urgency and we pulled together. Perhaps some operated from raw fear, but even that fear wasn’t pure selfishness, it was born out of concern for others as well.

I’ve watched people faithfully wear masks and stay indoors for months who have never allowed their pastor to have any real influence in their lives. COVID unmasked a barren wasteland of hypocrisy in many professing Christians. They make all types of excuses for why they won’t listen to their pastor: He’s too intrusive, too cautious, too demanding, too blah blah blah. The reality is they are more than willing to comply when they think the stakes are high. They just don’t think biblical issues are that important. They don’t really consider sin as important or judgment as immanent. Furthermore, they do believe in authority they just don’t want godly authority.

Unmasked: A Realistic Path to a One-World Government

Prophecy pundits typically point to nuclear warfare or some type of World War III scenario as the catalyst which will bring the world under one global government (Revelation 13:1-18, Revelation 17:13, Daniel 2:44, Daniel 7:24, 1 Thessalonians 2:1-17). While possible, there wouldn’t be much left to govern after massive nuclear strikes around the world. However, this pandemic unmasked how easy it would be for a full-blown epidemic to usher in a one-world government. I can envision several epidemic scenarios where the people of the world would willingly give up their freedoms without a shot being fired or a bomb being dropped.

I can envision several epidemic scenarios where the people of the world would willingly give up their freedoms without a shot being fired or a bomb being dropped.

Think of the panic if people were dropping dead in the streets of an unknown and incurable virally transmitted disease. What if one government magically had the cure and would only give it to people who surrendered unconditionally to their authority? This virus could be manmade or not, it doesn’t matter because the opportunity for dominance could be leveraged either way. Even now it isn’t hard to imagine a world where individuals would not be allowed to buy or sell without having some kind of chip or government-issued ID proving they are virus-free (Revelation 13:17). COVID revealed a realistic path to the End Times that doesn’t sound like nonsensical conspiracy theories.

It isn’t hard to imagine a world where individuals would not be allowed to buy or sell without having some kind of chip or government-issued ID proving they are virus-free (Revelation 13:17).

COVID revealed a realistic path to the End Times that doesn’t sound like nonsensical conspiracy theories.

Unmasked: Disregard for Localized Pastoral Leadership

In many ways, the foundations of biblical Church government and the United States government are similar. And, that isn’t by accident, the founders modeled the Bible in numerous ways when crafting the Constitution. For example, individual states were originally intended to be autonomous yet governed and united by the Constitution. The federal government was limited and designed to have minimal interference in the affairs of local governments. Similarly, the Early Church was designed to be locally governed by pastors who were united by adherence to the Holy Word of God. Christ remained the head of the Church while bishops only intervened in local church matters when the Word was being disregarded. Biblically sound apostolic organizations follow this paradigm. Pastors are given leeway to govern their local flock as long as they remain doctrinally sound and morally pure. Most decisions are best made by local leadership because they are connected to the specific personalized needs of their congregations.  

So, COVID hit and local pastors were forced to make tough calls without any precedence to lean on. They were deluged with lots of convoluted “facts” being thrown at them from every direction. Some pastors closed down their gatherings and some remain closed. Some waited a little longer than others to close in-person gatherings. A very small number of pastors never closed at all. Some are fighting to reopen. Some did outdoor services, and zoom, and Facebook meetings, and anything else they could do to keep a sense of connectedness. In other words, local pastors did the best they could do for their flocks. They prayed, agonized, sought wise counsel, researched, and listened to the needs of the saints. The average pastor is working harder this year than in most previous years of ministry. They’ve diligently strived to do the right thing for their local assemblies and to please God.

The average pastor is working harder this year than in most previous years of ministry. They’ve diligently strived to do the right thing for their local assemblies and to please God.

Yet, regardless of what decisions local pastors made they were met with unrelenting condemnation at every turn. Facebook “pastors” went completely nuts commenting and criticizing from the comfort of their sideline seats. Pastors clashed with pastors over “right” pandemic protocols. Saints defended their pastor’s decisions by attacking other pastors’ decisions. Or worse, some saints threw their pastor under the bus and sided with a pastor who doesn’t even know their name. I expected worldly cultural commentators to aim their blistering attacks on church leaders, but I admit the infighting took me off guard.

The lack of civility, respect, charity, grace, and dignity in these public disagreements is deeply disturbing. But setting that aside, the complete disregard and disrespect towards localized church government was the real shocker unmasked by COVID. Doesn’t it make sense that local pastors would take different approaches based on the needs and facts on the ground in their community? Wouldn’t we expect different churches to adopt various approaches based on their surroundings? Why would our way be the only way? Looking back, I think every honest pastor wishes they had done at least one thing differently. Zero people had all the right answers in 2020.

It would be helpful moving forward to reestablish the authority of local church leadership in a global, information-saturated world. Anyone with the slightest understanding of ministry understands real-world decisions are complex and vary from place to place. Rarely do cookie-cutter policies work properly in every church. Regardless, lets at least try to recognize in extremely difficult times that no one wants what is best for a local church more than its local pastor. Let’s give them some grace and trust they are seeking God for the flock He entrusted to them.

No one wants what is best for a local church more than its local pastor.

Ep. 16 | Talking with Mom (Rebecca French) About Pain, Sickness, Parenting, Faith, Ministry, Pastor's Wives, and People with Special Needs Apostolic Voice with Ryan French

Ryan talks to his mother (Rebecca French) about parenting children with major health issues, keeping the faith through the fire, parenting tips for raising godly kids, ministry, what saints need to know about their pastor's wife, and growing up with a disabled brother. Be sure to check out Rebecca French's article at http://www.ryanafrench.com called Praising the Lord in All Things.  — This episode is sponsored by · Anchor: The easiest way to make a podcast. https://anchor.fm/app — Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/apostolicvoice/message Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/apostolicvoice/support
  1. Ep. 16 | Talking with Mom (Rebecca French) About Pain, Sickness, Parenting, Faith, Ministry, Pastor's Wives, and People with Special Needs
  2. Ep. 15 | 9 Things to Remember When You're Hurting & Ryan's Top 10 All-Time-Favorite Carman Songs
  3. Ep. 14 | Ministering to Vets, Overcoming Tempers & Practical Apostolic Principles for Success with Special Guest Josh Michael
  4. Ep. 13 | Let's Be Honest with Guest Jeremy Gove
  5. Ep. 12 | 10 Symptoms of Insecure Leadership and Helpful Prescriptions

Christianity Isn’t Dying (Dead Churches Are Dying)

Secularists and others who wrinkle their noses at Christianity enjoy pointing to the apparent decline of Christian faith in America. They look longingly at Europe’s seemingly thorough secularization and wistfully prophecy that America is finally following suit. Of course, many iconoclasts realize Christianity’s death is being exaggerated, but they continue the facade to belittle believers. By marginalizing Christianity, they hope to intimidate Christians into silence on cultural issues of importance.

Many iconoclasts realize Christianity’s death is being exaggerated, but they continue the facade to belittle believers. By marginalizing Christianity, they hope to intimidate Christians into silence on cultural issues of importance.

This is a potent bullying tactic. Many Christians feel as if their belief system is in a hopeless state of decline. Ostracism from mainstream society leaves many Christians either wanting to withdraw entirely from the culture wars or compromise completely. Others feel adversarial and defensive all the time. Generally, Christians (especially young Christians) are intentionally manipulated into feeling as if they are silly and insignificant. Ironically, agnostics are extremely evangelistic in their attempts to proselytize Christians into their cult of faithful faithlessness.

Christians are intentionally manipulated into feeling as if they are silly and insignificant. Ironically, agnostics are extremely evangelistic in their attempts to proselytize Christians into their cult of faithful faithlessness.

It’s worth noting that Christianity was birthed from a marginalized minority Jewish culture and established in relative obscurity. Genuine practicing Christians are no strangers to persecution, whether overt or thinly veiled. To be separated from the world in inward and outward attributes is a defining characteristic of the Church. Jesus warned us this would be so on many occasions. However, American Christians have enjoyed unprecedented freedom and respect. As our country declines into deeper and deeper polarizations, many Christians are left shaken by perceived unpopularity. But millions of practicing Christians in other parts of the world have never served God without literally placing their lives and livelihoods in jeopardy. Perhaps American Christians are on the brink of learning what it means to be genuinely unashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Sheer numbers are not an indication of what position, philosophy, worldview, or religious theology (or lack thereof) is correct. Packed stadiums, swelling bank accounts, and massive followings aren’t accurate gauges of rightness. History is littered with atrocities committed by majorities that considered themselves virtuous in their evil.

Christianity was birthed from a marginalized minority Jewish culture and established in relative obscurity. Genuine practicing Christians are no strangers to persecution, whether overt or thinly veiled.

To be separated from the world in inward and outward attributes is a defining characteristic of the Church.

Packed stadiums, swelling bank accounts, and massive followings aren’t accurate gauges of rightness. History is littered with atrocities committed by majorities that considered themselves virtuous in their evil.

But the dirty little secret is that Christianity isn’t dying; dead churches are dying. Studies are finding that old “mainline” denominations are in sharp decline, while fundamental evangelical churches are holding steady and, in some cases, growing exponentially. Pentecostals (like myself) are particularly interesting in their outlier status of continued growth. Catholics, Methodists, Episcopalians, and vast swaths of highly ceremonial denominations are losing members at a breathtaking pace. Statistics also show that churches are mostly losing nominal members. Meaning, members who never really had a strong connection to their faith in the first place aren’t maintaining membership in churches they grew up attending irregularly. People are no longer willing to remain connected to dead churches that don’t officiate real, life-changing relationships with God. Christians-in-name-only are finally dropping a meaningless title and substituting it with the religion of secularism. The Easter only crowd is ditching Easter, and why wouldn’t they abandon a weak, powerless imitation of genuine Spirit-filled faith?

Christianity isn’t dying; dead churches are dying. Studies are finding that old “mainline” denominations are in sharp decline, while fundamental evangelical churches are holding steady and, in some cases, growing exponentially.

The steady advancement of secularism is separating the genuine from the fake. Squishy middle-ground Christianity is being revealed for the whitewashed tomb it has always been. So-called mainline denominations have long derided fundamentalists, but the Christ of Christianity demands a radical, transformative, countercultural, multicultural, unashamed, uncompromising Church. And that Church is alive and well.

The steady advancement of secularism is separating the genuine from the fake. Squishy middle-ground Christianity is being revealed for the whitewashed tomb it has always been.

The Christ of Christianity demands a radical, transformative, countercultural, multicultural, unashamed, uncompromising Church. And that Church is alive and well.

The Church should prepare for the coming wave of emotionally and spiritually broken refugees. Many are already reeling from the gross hopelessness that secularism produces. It’s not coincidental that spiked suicide rates correspond statistically with increased levels of atheism and agnosticism. As moral relativism’s logical progression smashes against walls of reality, countless lives are being catapulted into turmoil. Moral relativism and logical incongruities are portrayed as a panacea; however, they are only a temporary placebo. As the placebo effect wears off, the Church must be ready to administer genuine biblical solutions. Suppose the Church capitulates to the pressure to move away from biblical absolutes under the guise of maintaining momentum or moderation. In that case, it will cease to be the Church and meet the same fate as the “mainline” majorities of the past.

David, don’t worry about who is bigger or stronger; just make sure you’re representing the one true God fearlessly.

The Church should prepare for the coming wave of emotionally and spiritually broken refugees. Many are already reeling from the gross hopelessness that secularism produces.

Spiked suicide rates correspond statistically with increased levels of atheism and agnosticism. As moral relativism’s logical progression smashes against walls of reality, countless lives are being catapulted into turmoil.

If the Church capitulates to pressure to move away from biblical absolutes under the guise of maintaining momentum or moderation. In that case, it will cease to be the Church and meet the same fate as the “mainline” majorities of the past.


The New York Times, The Overstated Collapse of American Christianity by Ross Douthat

Pew Research Center, Pentecostals and Pentecostalism

Christianity Today, Why Do These Pentecostals Keep Growing? by Ed Stetzer

COVID-19 (A Christian Manual for Navigating Uncertain Times)

An unseen microscopic viral enemy is bringing the world economy to its knees and taking lives. Whether you believe the worldwide response has been warranted or irresponsible the impact of COVID-19 is tangible and far reaching. Secular and religious organizations alike have been forced to make difficult choices in these uncertain times. Churches are closing their doors to corporate worship and frantically ramping up live stream capabilities. Even now, we just aren’t sure how long this threat will last.

Because this is all so unprecedented and strange (for modern times) there’s not many resources teaching us how to think or react to the events unfolding around us. Godly saints are especially vulnerable during this time of disconnection between one another and pastoral leadership. Opinions abound, but wisdom and common sense are precious, hard to find commodities. Consider this a starter manual for spiritually navigating these uncertain times. This beginner manual will certainly need to be updated and revised over time, and applied to new and changing situations. However, it’s at least a start as we all prayerfully wait on the Lord.

Gathering Still Matters!

While nobly attempting to remain boldly optimistic, many leaders and saints have overblown the impact of having virtual church. This sends mixed messages to people about the continued need for the Church to gather together for corporate worship on a regular basis. Just because we temporarily can’t have church, doesn’t mean we aren’t desperately in need of having church.

To clarify, I’m all for live streaming and getting the Gospel out with every high-tech or low-tech tool available. However, nothing can, should, or will replace the necessity of the assembling of the Church. Beyond that, live streaming isn’t some sparkling new thing that just materialized because of the Corona pandemic. It’s been around for a long time and it can be a great blessing in certain situations. But, it simply cannot compare to what happens when God’s people get together and unify in faith, fellowship, worship, praise, prayer, preaching, and power.

Yes. The Church is not a building. Yes. The Church should be the Church outside of the building. But everyone stuck at home, watching live streaming in their pajamas while eating Lucky Charms, isn’t exactly an epic unleashing of the Church. It’s great to be positive, but let’s not be silly and trivial about the importance of corporate worship.

Trust Your Pastor In Times of Crisis

I’ll echo what many wise folks have already voiced: Your pastor has never pastored in a pandemic before, and he wants what’s best for the church more than anyone else. Pastors are doing their absolute level best to love, protect, and care for their flocks during this crazy and confusing time. They have to answer to God for the decisions they make during this season. They don’t need Monday morning quarter backs criticizing their every decision.

It’s important to note that God may direct one pastor differently than another pastor. Every church has a different dynamic. If you’ve ever trusted your pastor, trust him during this time. If you’ve ever supported your pastor, support him during this time. Your support means more to him than you can imagine. Either you believe your pastor is a God-called under-shepherd over your life or you don’t. Times of crisis reveal the heart; take inventory of your heart in times of crisis.

Speaking of the Heart

If mass social distancing and quarantines have taught me anything, it’s that we have taken too many luxuries for granted. Other nations struggle with hunger, but we feel majorly distressed if we can’t find our favorite brand of coffee creamer. We are, without a doubt, a spoiled people. We are totally unfamiliar with genuine sacrifice or deprivation.

We take our freedoms for granted, including our religious liberties, because we have been too busy and distracted with luxuries. As a nation, we have trended towards less and less church gatherings, and many Christians casually skip church for silly non-essential reasons.

We Americans make plenty of time for the internet, social media, Netflix, and sports; yet we struggle to find time for prayer and spiritual gatherings. This reveals an American heart problem. We are busy doing everything, except for the things that matter the most. Suddenly, when church buildings are temporarily closed our deep need for spiritual connectedness becomes crystal clear.

Many Christians are learning for the first time that sports are little more than a frivolous distraction from reality. We can and should spend more time with our families. Careers aren’t everything and economies and markets are fickle friends that will betray us without warning. Governments can’t save us or even really protect us from every threat. In other words, uncertain times clarify the things that truly matter in our lives. It gives us perspective. And, hopefully a fresh wellspring of gratitude for God and family is bursting into our national consciousness.

The things we care about most are far more fragile than we realize when the busyness of life jerks us from activity to activity. Maybe, just maybe, God is trying to slow us down long enough to remember to keep the main things the main thing. No. I don’t mean that God sent a COVID-19 plague upon the world. However, I do believe God would have us learn lessons in our crisis moments.

Speaking of Crisis Moments

Many people’s finances are being adversely impacted by the quarantines. Jobs are disappearing at staggering rates. Others are enduring layoffs and having their hours slashed. Businesses and small business owners are going under while others are hanging by a thread. If you aren’t being financially effected, you probably know many people who are being effected right now.

With that said, churches still need supported so they can survive this crisis too. If you still have income (be grateful) and be sure to get your tithes to the storehouse of God. Don’t take a vacation from giving God what is already His. That’s a sure way to lose His blessings over your life.

I’ve heard many reports of churches that are unable to pay their regular bills. Newer churches, and smaller to midsize churches in large numbers are facing financial collapse if things don’t change soon. There’s no government bailout for churches. And the church shouldn’t need a government bailout anyway. Let’s just keep being the Church like they were in the book of Acts. If the Early Church could find a way to faithfully give (without the internet) in the middle of literal physical persecution, we can too.

We Always Do Better Under Pressure

God’s true Church has always thrived under pressure. In fact, we seem to spiritually flourish in tough times and become spiritually anemic in times of ease. That was certainly true of the original book of Acts Church, and we see that same phenomenon in the great revivals and spiritual awakenings throughout history. Tremendous apostolic outpourings of the Holy Ghost were poured out during the Great Depression. Those revivals continued to spread even during the first and second World Wars. History is replete with examples of powerful revivals in crisis seasons and spiritual decline in seasons of prosperity. Just look at the reports from economically depressed, and physically oppressed countries outside of the United States. They have constant miracles, church growth, signs, wonders, and spiritual hunger in those regions. Why? Because the Church thrives under pressure and persecution.

But why does the Church thrive under pressure? And, why does the Church seem to struggle with prosperity? I could get very preachy and talk about how the love of money is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10), but it’s deeper than just loving money and stuff too much. That’s just part of the overall problem. I think (and I’m preaching to myself), in times of ease we lean to our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5-6) rather than leaning on the Lord. We rely on ourselves more and rely on God less. Essentially, we take God for granted without even meaning to do so. But times of crisis push us back into the arms of Christ. Pressure keeps us razor sharp and keenly focused on God. When we run out of options and resources, we come sheepishly back to our Creator for rescue. And, He rescues us because He loves us with a deep love.

This Will Pass

We’ll move from this valley to a mountaintop, and dip back into another valley. There’s a time and a season for everything under the sun (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8). Perhaps God will teach some of us how to cry out to Him in our distress and face our fears and faithlessness (Mark 4:37-41). Maybe God will show some of us that we can walk on water and overcome the impossible if we keep our eyes fixed on Him (Matthew 14:22-33). How wonderful would it be if the Church rediscovered the power and importance of prayer meetings like the book of Acts Church (Acts 2:1-2, Acts 4:23-24, Acts 12:5-12, Acts 16:25)? The Church can and will continue to turn the world upside down (Acts 17:6) in the midst of pressure. However, when the pressure passes, let’s keep the lessons and priorities we have learned close to heart.

What Churches Can Learn From Chik-fil-a

Full disclosure, I’m not a Popeyes hater. And, at the risk of being burned as a heretic, I don’t think Chik-fil-a has the worlds best tasting chicken sandwich. I did the Popeyes verses Chik-fil-a sandwich challenge, and Popeyes tasted better by a wide margin. I’m probably risking my life making this admission because I pastor in the treasured heartland of Chic-fil-a headquarters. I live a stones throw away from the first CFA; right in the epicenter of the eat-more-chiken world headquarters. CFA is revered around here to say the least.

That said, I still choose to eat at CFA nine times out of ten. So, even though I typically prefer the food at Popeyes, I almost always go to CFA instead. I think the reason for that oddity contains a lesson that every church should notice. Don’t worry, I’m not going to give a cheesy lesson about God’s chicken or something like that. The reason I go to CFA over and over again is simple; the service and the experience.

Recently, I enjoyed a delicious meal at Popeyes. I mean, the food was really really good. But, I stood in line for twenty minutes to order. A very unpleasant cashier took my order without uttering one friendly word. After ordering, I waited another twenty minutes for the food. In the meantime, the restroom was so disgusting it made my eyes water. I had to clean my own table before eating. And, the greatest tragedy of all; the soda machine wasn’t working. A little detail I discovered after paying for a large beverage. My food was still delicious, but the service and the experience was terrible.

I wish that was an anomaly at Popeyes, but it’s not. While that was more extreme than usual, there’s almost always some variation of that scenario when I “attend” a Popeyes. Otherwise, I’d probably “attend” Popeyes over CFA nine times out of ten. In contrast, I can’t remember ever waiting for more than a few minutes for my food at CFA (even when the line was wrapped around the building). My family and I are always greeted with a smile and genuine friendliness. If they make a mistake (which is very rare), they go overboard to correct it. The dining areas and restrooms are always neat and clean. Without fail, a nice CFA person will stroll by and offer to get refills or extra condiments for the table. I’ve been to high-end fine dining establishments where their service didn’t rise to CFA’s level of customer kindness and consideration.

The lesson every church can learn from CFA is so simplistic it almost escapes us. The human experience is more important than flavor. Let me put it this way, fancy buildings and programs are great, but not if we forget how to treat people with common kindness and courtesy. It’s not enough for churches to offer lots of options and bold flavors if they can’t connect with people on the most basic human levels.

Your church doesn’t have to be the best at everything to make people want to come back over and over again. In fact, some churches get so caught up trying to be awesome at everything they wind up doing everything pretty poorly. At the heart of CFA’s success is their simplicity. They do four things really really well. One, they serve a small menu but it’s always fresh, consistent in quality, and in stock. Two, they are extremely friendly and welcoming in a sincere and honest way. Three, if they make a mistake they own it and fix it. Four, they are fast and organized so they can take care of you in a timely manner.

If every church borrowed this model they would see immediate growth results and visitor retention rates. Your church doesn’t have to offer a giant “menu” of programs. Find a streamlined “menu” that fits the needs of your community. Make sure your church menu is sustainable and always fresh and good quality. I didn’t say it had to be the best in the world, but it does need to be consistent and fresh (in the sense that it maintains enthusiasm, and doesn’t become stale, boring, or mediocre). It’s better for a church to do fewer things really well than to do tons of things poorly.

I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to simply smile and speak to people when they walk in the doors of your church. It’s not enough for the pastor alone to be friendly. The entire culture of the church must be intentionally and genuinely friendly. Many churches think they’re friendly when in reality they are mildly nice at best. Every single church could learn a lesson from the culture of kindness that CFA carefully cultivated and maintains. Many churches pray for revival, but kill every chance for growth with their inward cliquish behavior.

Every church makes mistakes, drops the ball, misses the mark, and gets the “order” wrong in some way or another. Churches are full of humans and humans make mistakes. When that happens (and it will), accept it and go the extra mile to make it right. Most people will forgive mistakes if they are acknowledged and corrected.

In a church setting we aren’t taking orders and trying to get people in and out in twenty minutes or less. However, we will repel visitors if we are disorganized and disrespectful of their time. When services start late or run over for no good reason we reek of disorganization. When people don’t know where to go or what to do next we make visitors incredibly uncomfortable. Of course, we never want to hinder the Spirit or prioritize organization over the flow of the Spirit. However, I believe that when churches are properly organized it creates an environment where the Spirit is not quenched by incompetence.

Over the years I’ve helped many churches that stood for truth and fervently preached sound doctrine, yet they could not keep guests coming back. It wasn’t because their doctrine was heretical, or their location, or an insufficient building. Rather, they struggled with some combination of all the areas mentioned above. As they addressed these issues intentionally they began to grow organically.

Nutshell: Streamline (do less things with excellence rather than many things with mediocrity), smile (be genuinely welcoming), admit mistakes (go overboard to make them right), and organize.

The apostolic Gospel works, but sometimes our Popeyes mentality sends people across town to a different location. I think we owe it to a lost world to run our churches with even more excellence than a fast food chain.

“Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might (Ecclesiastes 9:10)…”

Top 10 Articles of 2019

At the end of every year, I enjoy reviewing the most read posts of the past twelve months. I’ve included links to all ten of them below. Just click the pictures and it’ll take you to the articles. Interestingly, the top three haven’t changed in several years. I haven’t written much new content in 2019 (I plan to change that in 2020). Oddly, this has still been an exciting year for Apostolic Voice; we leaped over the million click mark, gained a tremendous number of new readers, and made progress on relaunching the podcast. I deeply appreciate your confidence and support. Thank you for allowing my writings into your life. God bless you all, and may 2020 be your best year yet. If you’re new to the Apostolic Voice family, welcome and I hope you find something helpful, inspiring, or at least mildly interesting.

The Idolatry of the ‘Perfect’ Past

Some of you may be tiring of my incessant Screwtape inspired ramblings, and you are forgiven for those feelings. But allow this one last dalliance through The Screwtape Letters and the creative genius of C.S. Lewis. I’m pulling my thoughts from letter seventeen where the sly demon Screwtape describes an elderly woman who is manipulated by a demon named Glubose. Screwtape mischievously writes:

“The woman is in what may be called the ‘All-I-Want’ state of mind. All she wants is a cup of tea properly made, or an egg properly boiled, or a slice of bread properly toasted. But she never finds any servants or any friend who can do these things ‘properly’—because her ‘properly’ conceals an insatiable demand for the exact, and almost impossible, palatable pleasures which she imagines she remembers from the past; a past described by her as ‘the days when you could get good servants’ but known only to us as the days when her senses were more easily pleased and she had pleasures of other kinds which made her less dependent on those of the table. Meanwhile, the daily disappointment produces daily ill temper: cooks give notice and friendships are cooled.”

Lewis imaginatively strikes upon the demonic tactic of encouraging humans to idolize the past and trivialize the present, which jeopardizes the future. I call it the idolatry of the perfect past. This can be actualized in dozens of little ways. For some, it is manifested as a longing for a better time that actually never existed. We, humans, have a tendency to remember things through the fuzzy lens of what we wish they had been. This often obscures the painful realities of the distant past and ignores the fact that we too have changed. If you don’t believe me, imagine living without heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer.

Undoubtedly, some things were better in the past, but they certainly were not perfect. Furthermore, different doesn’t always equal bad in the same way that new doesn’t always equal better. In essence, what we call perfection is usually a preference or a philosophical proposition. And there’s nothing wrong with having preferences unless our preferences become an idol.

Lewis speaks of an elderly woman who can’t enjoy food or fellowship because she perceives that nothing is prepared as perfectly as it was in the ‘good old days’. This may or may not have been the case. But her sin had nothing to do with her preferences, she had a right to those opinions up to a point. Rather, her sin was realized in the resulting mistreatment of the people around her due to her displeasure with the present. In other words, her idol made her ‘ill-tempered’. Beyond that, idolatry had blocked her vision so effectively she was incapable of recognizing the good or even—dare I say—the better things of the present.

Nasty temperament is the primary way you can tell that a preference has become an idol. Let’s take this discussion to church for just a moment: If you can’t worship in a service because your favorite song from yesteryear wasn’t featured you’ve probably turned the past into an idol. And, if it makes you mad and ill-tempered check your spiritual temperature because you have a fever. And, if you just threw your computer across the room its time to pray through. Now, having said that, you might be right! The new song you don’t like might not be as good as the old song you do like. We all have preferences, partialities aren’t the problem. However, if we can’t enjoy the good things or —dare I say—the less good things of the present because of the past we are in serious trouble.

I feel compelled to pause and state clearly that I love many things from my past. I even love things that predate my lifespan by hundreds of years. For those of you who might be wondering, I am not a hymn hater. In fact, I’m an old soul. I’m hopelessly old-fashioned. I have all kinds of preferences that go unmet on a regular basis, in and out of church settings. Let’s be honest, my preferences are better than your preferences. I’m just kidding. The point being, I’ve learned not to elevate my preferences above unity and personal relationships. The only exception to this rule is when my preferences are properly aligned with God’s Word and someone else’s preferences violate Scripture.

Let’s stir the pot and complicate the conversation for a moment: there are other similar types of idolatry that are equally dangerous. Brad Titus capably identifies one as The Idolatry of the Future. In this variation, peace can never be found in the present because something better is always in the future.

There is yet another variant, I call it the ‘idolatry of the present’. This mindset idolizes the new, the current, the ‘latest thing’ above all else. It marginalizes the past and robs the future of the depth and richness that can only be found in a healthy reverence for the good things of the past.

Young people who carry this idol exacerbate ‘the idolatry of the past’ within the hearts of elders. Their derision for the ‘old fashioned’ inflames reactionary passions. Meanwhile, those suffering under the miserable weight of ‘future idolatry’ sit around and long for better days that always seem just out of reach.

As you can see, disunity and strife are the real demonic agendas behind these three particular brands of idolatry. When saints elevate petty preferences above maintaining right relationships with people; churches become war zones rather than houses of worship. And, when people idolize what lies ahead nothing of value is accomplished in the present.

We smash these idols by honoring the past, celebrating the present, and embracing the future. This can be done. It must be done for the sake of unity and revival. Thriving churches honor the past without living there, celebrate new things that are good, and intentionally prepare for the future. 

“But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes. And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient. In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will (2 Timothy 2:23-26).”

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