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.

Apostolic Voice Podcast | Listen Now

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.

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.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christ… | Podcast Edition

From the original blog article, It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christ… this episode examines what genuine repentance looks like from a Christmas perspective. Topics covered: Holiness, repentance, baptism in Jesus’ name, and the Holy Ghost’s infilling. Ryan looks at the winter’s perceptual dichotomy in the natural, repentance in the spiritual, and the cross of Christ. Christmas readings included: If Jesus Came to Your House and The Christmas Guest, two classics that are sure to warm your heart. So, from my family to yours… Merry Christmas!

Ep. 15 | 9 Things to Remember When You're Hurting & Ryan's Top 10 All-Time-Favorite Carman Songs Apostolic Voice with Ryan French

Carman, a Christian music legend, is dead. Ryan lists his Top 10 All-Time-Favorite Carman songs. In this episode, from the http://www.ryanafrench.com article, Ryan gives nine vitally important things for people to remember when they are hurting. Today's topic will absolutely help you if you're hurting, and it will help you help someone who is hurting.  — 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. 15 | 9 Things to Remember When You're Hurting & Ryan's Top 10 All-Time-Favorite Carman Songs
  2. Ep. 14 | Ministering to Vets, Overcoming Tempers & Practical Apostolic Principles for Success with Special Guest Josh Michael
  3. Ep. 13 | Let's Be Honest with Guest Jeremy Gove
  4. Ep. 12 | 10 Symptoms of Insecure Leadership and Helpful Prescriptions
  5. Ep. 11 | Surviving Your Way Into Revival, Won't Let Me Go – New Song Release with Special Guest Nathan French (Nathan + Rachel)

Never miss an episode. Subscribe wherever you enjoy podcasts:

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christ…

I love the Christmas season, and I love Christmas music too. I’m one of those annoying people who starts listening to Christmas music way too early. One of my favorite slightly frivolous Christmas ditty’s is It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas. Penned in 1951 by Meredith Wilson, it’s been a holiday staple since its first iconic release. You’ve most likely heard it played many times. Admittedly, at first glance, at least, it isn’t the most Christ-centered Christmas tune. But its catchy melody is fun and family-friendly.

I recently heard It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas, and it lodged in my brain and would not let go. We had a few snow dribbles that same day so that imagery combined with the song created a memorable Christmassy scene, which is a rarity in Atlanta. The song paints vivid word pictures of how stores, streets, hotels, landscapes, and people begin to show the not-so-subtle signs of transforming in preparation and anticipation of Christmas. Stores glisten, and streets glow, and kids hope. People’s visages visibly change, and winter snow dominates the scenery. The atmosphere described is beautiful, happy, transcendent, expectant, and surrounded by death.

It’s A Wonderful Death

Epiphany blindsided me on that wintery day as It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas jangled around in my brain. While we’re beginning to look a lot like Christ, we are inevitably surrounded by the transformative beauty of death. Winter is the season of the completion of death. Throughout the fall season, leaves struggle to stay alive, and vegetation does its best to hold on, but winter finally wins, and old things pass away in preparation for new life. Philosophically, there’s a strange perceptual dichotomy at play in wintertime.

On the one hand, we can view winter as stark, harsh, and bleak. But, on the other hand, glowing lanes, candy canes, church bells, and carolers out in the snow can change our wintery perspective. All the joy mingled with the austerity of winter might seem enigmatic. However, it isn’t because we know the cold will give way to warmth, and new life will bloom in springtime. The inevitability of death precedes the miracle of life in the natural order of the universe.

The Visible Image of the Invisible Maker

The universe’s ability to produce new life from death isn’t by accident. The Maker of the universe designed it that way (Psalm 104:19), and He mirrored that same spiritual law in the lives of human beings. The invisible Maker visibly manifested Himself in the form of man and became the ultimate sacrifice for our sins (Colossians 1:15-23). Because our sins deserved physical and spiritual death, He willingly died in our place (Romans 6:21-23).

The invisible Maker visibly manifested Himself in the form of man and became the ultimate sacrifice for our sins (Colossians 1:15-23).

The cross displays a more remarkable perceptual dichotomy than anything else imaginable. Calvary was a gruesome, bloody, agonizing, humiliating scene ending in the unjust execution of a guiltless man. Yet, it was the most beautiful sight the world has ever seen because it symbolizes God’s profound personal love for us (Romans 5:8). In return, all Jesus requires of us is our death, burial, and resurrection (Philippians 3:10, Romans 6:3-8, Acts 3:19). Thankfully, we don’t have to die or be resurrected from a grave physically. Our death, burial, and resurrection are spiritual events made possible by the work of Jesus on our behalf (Acts 2:38).

Calvary was a gruesome, bloody, agonizing, humiliating scene ending in the unjust execution of a guiltless man. Yet, it was the most beautiful sight the world has ever seen because it symbolizes God’s profound personal love for us.

The Very Beginning of Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christ

The Bible repeatedly teaches us that before we can have new life in Christ, we must die. Old things – ways, habits, lifestyles, mindsets, ideas – need to pass away (2 Corinthians 5:17). Those old things don’t die naturally, so we crucify them with repentance (Romans 6:6). We brutally nail our sinfully embedded affections and lusts to a cross and allow them to perish (Galatians 5:24). God doesn’t force us to do this either. Furthermore, our carnal flesh hates the idea of dying to self.

Before we can have new life in Christ, we must die. Old things – ways, habits, lifestyles, mindsets, ideas – need to pass away (2 Corinthians 5:17). Those old things don’t die naturally, so we crucify them with repentance (Romans 6:6).

Repentance is the only part of salvation that we must do completely alone. At baptism, someone else baptizes us in the saving name of Jesus (Acts 4:12). We consent to be baptized, and we participate in baptism, but we don’t perform it. Dead people don’t bury themselves because they are dead. Likewise, when we are filled with the Holy Ghost, which is our spiritual resurrection, we can’t fill ourselves (Acts 11:15). God pours out His Spirit on us and dwells within us (Acts 2:1-4, Ezekiel 36:27). Once again, we are merely participating and consenting to a Divine process. Repentance is the gateway that leads to baptism and the infilling of the Holy Spirit. Without repentance, a person just gets wet at baptism, and without repentance, God will not give us His Spirit.

Repentance is the gateway that leads to baptism and the infilling of the Holy Spirit. Without repentance, a person just gets wet at baptism, and without repentance, God will not give us His Spirit.

Hidden with Christ (From Life to Death to Life)

When we repent of our sins, we are willingly offering our bodies as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1). And that isn’t a one-time thing. Authentic repentance is a commitment to pick up our cross and regularly die to sin (Luke 9:23, Romans 6:1-23, Matthew 10:28, Colossians 2:20). When Jesus commanded us to carry our cross daily (Matthew 16:24-26), it was a reminder to take the burden of repentance with us at all times. Why? Because continual death to sin releases joy, abundant life, power, self-control, and authority in Christ (John 10:10, 2 Timothy 1:7, Acts 1:8, John 14:12). Consider what Paul said to the church in Colossae:

“For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.

Colossians 3:3

Just as Christ became literally dead in the tomb, so we, by virtue of our connection with Christ, have become dead to sin, to worldly influences, pleasures, and ambition. Or, in other words, we are to be to them as if we were dead, and they had no more influence over us than the things of earth had over Him in the grave.[i]

But what does it mean to be “hidden” with Christ in God? Certainly, Paul was alluding to the idea of secrecy and safety in God. Our life and salvation are secure in God when we are dead to sin. But we are not literally hidden from the view of the world. No. The meaning here goes deeper than merely being out of sight. The term hidden (kekruptai) can also mean “concealed.” The implication here is that our life is unknown or not understood by the watching world. But these unseen realities will be revealed to the world by God in due time (1 John 3:1-2).[ii] The spiritual death of a sinner produces a saint that is continuously misunderstood by sinners.

When we repent, we are willingly offering our bodies as living sacrifices (Rom 12:1). That isn’t a one-time thing. Authentic repentance is a commitment to pick up our cross and regularly die to sin (Lk 9:23, Rom 6:1-23, Mat 10:28, Col 2:20).

When Jesus commanded us to carry our cross daily, it was a reminder to take the burden of repentance with us at all times. Because continual death to sin releases joy, abundant life, power, self-control, and authority in Christ.

Just as Christ became literally dead in the tomb, so we, by virtue of our connection with Christ, have become dead to sin, to worldly influences, pleasures, and ambition.

The spiritual death of a sinner produces a saint that is continuously misunderstood by sinners.

The Prettiest Sight to See

Therefore, as we begin to look a lot like Christ, which is what we are called to do (1 John 2:6, Galatians 3:27, Philippians 2:5), the dead weights of sin begin to fall off the branches of our lives (Hebrews 12:1, John 15:5, Romans 13:12, Ephesians 4:22-25). When the leaves of sin are falling one by one, we know that a joyous death is about to take place, and winter is coming. Old habits take their last gulps of air, fear and condemnation lie on their death beds, carnal thinking is being transformed, sinful dysfunctional relationships are severing, as the joy of salvation and holiness begin to take root amidst the chill. The death is harsh, tear-soaked, unrelenting, yet it’s one of the prettiest sights to see because Christ’s image is being made manifest in human life.


[i] Albert Barnes, Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament, Accordance electronic ed. (Altamonte Springs: OakTree Software, 2006), paragraph 24986.

[ii] Max Anders, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians & Colossians, ed. Max Anders, vol. 8 of Holman New Testament Commentary. Accordance electronic ed. (Nashville: B & H Publishing Group, 1999), 327.

What About Hell? – Everything You Need to Know

Satan’s Hellish Scheme

If I were Satan and wanted to influence people to be less concerned about their eternal soul, I would stir up lots of confusion about Hell. And, that is what he’s done. Hell was a relatively non-controversial doctrine for centuries. It’s one of only a handful of universally agreed-upon doctrines in history. Of course, post-modernism is defined by disagreement and predisposed to disregard Truth. So, it shouldn’t surprise us that Hell became a hotly contested, controversial theology. However, Satan’s misinformation campaign is silently creeping its way into apostolic thinking like a spider stalking prey. This confusion about Hell is deeply concerning, and it’s time to shed some light on Satan’s hellish scheme.

Why Are People Confused About Hell?

Before we dive into specific false doctrines, we need to understand why we’re having this problem in the first place. Somehow, preaching about Hell became taboo. I believe this happened and is happening for several reasons: 1) Preachers are unprepared to defend the paradox of God’s love and judgment. 2) Preachers are afraid modern hearers can’t handle the truth about Hell. 3) Some preachers haven’t “settled” a theology about Hell in their hearts. 4) Preachers are afraid of being labeled wild-eyed lunatics. 5) Many ministers don’t believe in “scaring” people into Heaven. 6) They sense that Hell is a taboo subject and simply give in to peer pressure. 7) Some preachers wanted to distance themselves from genuinely distasteful, hellfire preachers. 8) Preachers are being influenced by mainstream misinformation about Hell that isn’t rooted in solid biblical exegesis. When preachers are silent, saints become vulnerable to every wind of false doctrine.

Sadly, saints ingest lots of false doctrine via “Christian” television, radio, social media, and literature. They read, see, and hear misinformation all the time. Christians who are not comfortable seeking out their own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12) are highly susceptible to believing misinformation about Hell (or anything else for that matter). It’s easy to blame preachers; however, saints are responsible for growing in God’s Word themselves without being spoon-fed every vital thing from a minister. Listen to the frustration in the Apostle Paul’s writings as he reprimands saints in the following passage for their lack of biblical knowledge and understanding:

” …you have become dull in your [spiritual] hearing and sluggish [even slothful in achieving spiritual insight]. For even though by this time you ought to be teaching others, you actually need someone to teach you over again the very first principles of God’s Word. You have come to need milk, not solid food. For everyone who continues to feed on milk is obviously inexperienced and unskilled in the doctrine of righteousness (of conformity to the divine will in purpose, thought, and action), for he is a mere infant [not able to talk yet]! But solid food is for full-grown men, for those whose senses and mental faculties are trained by practice to discriminate and distinguish between what is morally good and noble and what is evil and contrary either to divine or human law (Hebrews 5:11-14, Amplified Bible).”

Finally, the Devil knows his time is limited. He’s intensifying and strategically honing his attacks. Although Revelation 12:12 is speaking of a future event prophetically, it gives insight into how the Devil operates: …rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the Devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time (Revelation 12:12). When Satan is running out of time, he hits harder. Time itself is wrapping up, and even if the Church isn’t fully aware of it, the Devil is.

Why Does It Matter What People Believe Concerning Hell?

Technically, it might be possible to have an incorrect understanding of Hell and be saved, but false doctrine damages other essential areas of our walk with God. For example, if Hell isn’t a real, painful, never-ending place, why in the world would we need to evangelize? Without a correct belief in the horrors of Hell, we are unlikely to carry a real burden for the lost or take the Great Commission seriously (Matthew 28:18-20). After all, what do people need to be saved from in the first place?

It is correct that people are not likely to be terrified into a good relationship with God. However, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7, Proverbs 9:10). That word fear is best-translated reverence. Which means awe mingled with healthy fear. I respectfully submit that our culture (religious and non-religious) has lost its sense of reverence for God. Wisdom begins with fear, which leads to a proper understanding of God (Proverbs 1:7, Proverbs 9:10). We can’t know God without reverence (fear mingled with awe). An improper view of Hell results in a wrong knowledge of God. All false doctrines have ever-expanding unintended consequences. So, while it might be correct that people will not serve God long-term out of fear because ultimately, we must fall in love with the Lord, the beginning of our relationship with God must include some healthy fear. If we bypass reverence on the way to love, our walk with God will be off-balance.

If we bypass reverence on the way to love, our walk with God will be off-balance.

The Terror of the Lord!

Consider this passage of Scripture where the Apostle Paul speaks briefly of death: …to be absent from the body, … [is] to be present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8). He continues by saying that we labor to be present with the Lord in death (2 Corinthians 5:9). Then Paul pens these politically incorrect words:

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God… (2 Corinthians 5:10-11).”

Paul is carefully emphasizing that we will all stand before the Lord in judgment for the things we have done in this life. And, because we have this holy fear of God, we are motivated to reach people with the Gospel so they can stand before the Lord blamelessly. Genuine Christians are highly determined to reach lost people because they understand the fearsome judgment of God. If God’s adjudication is not dreadful, there is little reason to feel an urgency about evangelism. Indeed, it makes sense Satan would create an aura of confusion around the subjects of God’s wrath and Hell.

We All Need A Healthy Fear of Hell

Look at this often-overlooked passage where Jesus startles His audience:

Dear friends, don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot do any more to you after that. But I’ll tell you whom to fear. Fear God, who has the power to kill you and then throw you into Hell. Yes, he’s the one to fear (Luke 12:4-5, New Living Translation).”

I love how Jesus started gently and then… Wham! He pounced like an old-time preacher (actually the old-timers were preaching like Jesus), telling them to fear God and shun Hell. The word throw could also be translated hurl, which gives a little more gravitas to the message: …Fear God, who has the power to kill you and then hurl you in Hell…. Yeah! That’s pretty terrifying. But Jesus didn’t end the sermon with fire and brimstone. He gave us a beautiful example to follow in our preaching and teaching. Watch how Jesus brought that gut-wrenching thought back around to the overwhelming love of God:

What is the price of five sparrows—two copper coins? Yet God does not forget a single one of them. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So, don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows (Luke 12:6-7, New Living Translation).”

This snippet of Jesus’ preaching shows us precisely how to strike a balance between fearing and loving God. Indeed, as we realize just how majestically awesome God is, we grow to love Him more. But if one views God as the great-big-cuddly-teddy-bear in the sky, one is more likely to disrespect and disobey God. It can’t be helped; we keep circling back around to Proverbs: …the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7, Proverbs 9:10). We all need to begin and end with a healthy dose of fear. We just can’t be saved if we don’t fear God and Hell.

Common False Doctrines About Hell: Metaphorical View

The metaphorical view of Hell is growing in popularity despite its lack of biblical support. In the metaphorical doctrine, the unsaved will spend eternity in Hell. But the extreme pain and environmental conditions described in the Bible are not interpreted literally. The biblical descriptions of fire, heat, bondage, darkness, thirst, worms, pain, flogging, fire, etc. are considered symbolic. Proponents of this doctrine believe separation from God to be the ultimate pain of eternity. To them, the only agony endured in Hell will be the agony of complete Divine divorce. As Billy Graham once stated: I have often wondered if Hell is a terrible burning within our hearts for God, to fellowship with God, a fire that we can never quench. Billy Graham leaned towards the metaphorical view of Hell.

Common False Doctrines About Hell: Purgatorial View

The Roman Catholic Church is unique its purgatorial view of Hell. According to this doctrine, everyone is judged by God immediately after death. Only a small minority of saints will go directly into Heaven. God will send most people to purgatory, a place of punishment (basically a temporary Hell). Most Catholics believe that people are released by God from purgatory into Heaven after a certain length of time. Purgatory is like a cosmic prison sentence ending with a ticket into paradise. There is not one iota of Scripture supporting this false view of Hell.

Common False Doctrines About Hell: There Is No Hell

A small minority of Christians claim there is no Hell at all. In their doctrine, unsaved people cease to exist at death. They incorrectly cite Romans 6:23: For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord. They interpret this Scripture to mean that death is the ultimate and final wage of sin. They are fond of saying death always means literal death in the Bible, and therefore Hell as a place should never be taken literally.

However, they overlook Luke 15:24: For this son of mine was dead and is alive again (New International Version). They ignore the symbolic use of life and death repeatedly used in Romans 7. Also, they fail to contend with Scriptures like Genesis 2:17: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. In this passage, God was speaking directly to Adam and Eve. We know Adam and Eve eventually did the exact thing God told them not to do, but they didn’t instantly fall over dead. Did God lie to them? Of course not, they died spiritually on that fateful day, and literal death entered into the world as an inescapable reality.

All this and more affirms safely interpreting Romans 6:23 to mean the wages of sin is spiritual death and eventual literal physical death. However, even if you are uncomfortable with this interpretation of Romans 6:23, it does nothing to prove Hell is not a real place. Literal death is an attached consequence to original sin from Genesis 2 and on. We know from a vast array of other Scriptures that death is the precursor to judgment, and judgment is the precursor to Heaven or Hell. This doctrine misinterprets one Scripture, and blatantly ignores obvious passages describing Hell’s realities and eternal damnation.

Common False Doctrines About Hell: Hell Isn’t That Bad

In his classic book The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis envisions Hell as a dreary, bothersome, almost pleasant place, whose inmates can take a day trip to the outskirts of Heaven. This biblically illiterate view of Hell seems to be pop culture’s favorite. Pop music often refers to Hell as a kind of eternal party for the naughty. Nearly everyone casually and exhaustively uses Hell as a curse word. Television and movies like to portray Hell as an obnoxious, almost silly place of torment-ish. For many, Hell might even be considered preferable to Heaven.

Common False Doctrines About Hell: Hell Is Only Temporary

This false doctrine is the evangelical version of purgatory. The lost are sentenced to Hell for a particular length of time, depending on their sinfulness while on earth. When the sentence has ended, the sinner experiences a second death, and their soul is extinguished by God forever. Adherents to this doctrine abandon belief in the immortal soul, and they are forced to become extremely creative with several passages of Scripture. A spin-off of this doctrine believes (much like Catholics) that after a severe sentence is completed, the fire purified soul will be admitted by God into Heaven. I concur with this comment by Stanley Horton: It is hard to see why the Cross would be necessary if the lake of fire could provide another means of salvation.[i]

Is Hell A Divine Overreaction to Sin?

“In no way does man reveal his littleness more effectively than when he exhibits surprise over the fact that there are realities in the universe which he cannot understand. The permission of sin in the universe by a sovereign, holy God who hates sin to an infinite degree, the damage it does to uncounted multitudes of beings—angels and men—whom He loves with a Creator’s love, and the fact that sin must demand of God the greatest sacrifice He could make, all this only tends to enlarge the mystery involved.”[ii]

In no way does man reveal his littleness more effectively than when he exhibits surprise over the fact that there are realities in the universe which he cannot understand.” -Lewis Sperry Chafer

Wrestling with the profound weight of Divine retribution upon sinful humanity is troubling. It requires a great deal of humility to accept our inability to understand how evil sin is and how it conflicts with God’s absolute holiness. We know because Scripture revealed it, that God’s holy answer to unrepentant sin is perdition and retribution. Serving the Lord with real honesty requires growing comfortable with the mysteries of God. Human arrogance assumes that it can always find the answer or solve the puzzle. However, in God’s economy, we aren’t guaranteed every answer to every question, at least not in this life. Deuteronomy 29:29 applies nicely: The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.

It requires a great deal of humility to accept our inability to understand how evil sin is and how it conflicts with God’s absolute holiness.

Trying to understand why God will punish sin with eternal suffering isn’t wrong. Job indeed sought understanding in his torment, but he did so without sinning or charging God foolishly (Job 1:22). Consider this: “Sins may be committed by unbelievers or believers, both of whom are injured by it and require grace. Sins may be committed against God, others, self, or some combination. Ultimately, however, all sin is against God (Psalm 51:4, Luke 15:18, Luke 15:21).”[iii] God alone reserves the right to avenge sin (Psalm 94:1, Romans 12:19). But we can take comfort knowing that He takes no pleasure in punishing sinners (Ezekiel 18:23, Ezekiel 33:11, 1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9). The reality of Hell, combined with the revelation of God’s overwhelming love, should elucidate just how grave sin is. It’s not merely that God refuses to be compatible with sin. Instead, God’s unchanging nature makes it impossible for Him to coexist with evil (Malachi 3:6, James 1:17, Hebrews 13:8). Humanity is grossly underreacting to sin; God’s response to sin has been consistent since the beginning of time.

The reality of Hell, combined with the revelation of God’s overwhelming love, should elucidate just how grave sin is.

It’s not merely that God refuses to be compatible with sin. Instead, God’s unchanging nature makes it impossible for Him to coexist with evil

Humanity is grossly underreacting to sin; God’s response to sin has been consistent since the beginning of time.

Will There Be Different Levels of Punishment in Hell?

I believe the Bible affirms there will be varying degrees of punishment in Hell (Matthew 10:15. Matthew 11:22, Matthew 12:36-37, Luke 12:47-48, Romans 2:5, Hebrews 10:26-31). All the lost will suffer for their sin; for some, that suffering will be worse than for others. Hebrews 10:26-31 is one of many compelling passages indicating various degrees of judgment:

“…if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (English Standard Version).

People who do not believe in various punishment levels for individuals in Hell reduce the throne of judgment into a sham where God pretends to be fair. The Bible is clear that God will be so entirely just in His decisions that not one person will claim unfair treatment (1 Peter 1:17, Romans 2:11, Colossians 3:25, Romans 3:19, Revelation 19:1-2). God will judge in absolute righteousness (Acts 17:31). His decisions will not be limited to who goes to Heaven and who goes to Hell. God will also assign punishments in perfect fairness. Every lost soul will receive a personalized sentence directly from their Creator.

What Criteria Will God Use to Determine Levels of Punishment?  

The Gospel Coalition lists three biblically sound considerations: 1) The extent to which a person has abandoned himself to sin (Matthew 5:21, Romans 2:5, Revelation 18:6-7). 2) The extent to which a person by example and influence led others to sin (Matthew 18:5-7, Mark 9:38-47, Matthew 23:13). 3) The extent to which a person abused their exposure to revelation and opportunity (Luke 12:47-48, Romans 2:12, Matthew 10:15, Matthew 11:22-24).[iv] I believe that age and mental capacity will also be taken into consideration by God (Genesis 18:25). Furthermore, God will evaluate things we have never contemplated in this world (Psalm 19:7-14).

There is No Hope in Hell!

There is no biblical basis for holding onto any hope that grace will extend past this life into eternity. As Chafer eloquently points out:

“Such a case should not be considered as being without precedent. Uncounted legions of angels have sinned, and for them, there is not the slightest intimation to be found in the Bible, which extends to them a ray of hope. By Divine decree, these angels are already consigned to the lake of fire, not under a possible proviso that this doom will be averted if, in the meantime, they repent; but they are arbitrarily, unrevokably consigned to retribution and that without remedy. Since God has said, without condition, that the fallen angels will be cast into the lake of fire, He would be found untrue should the destiny of the fallen angels be otherwise.” [v]

Chafer continues by pointing out the utter lostness of the Gentiles from Adam to Moses. Their pagan plight is chronicled in Romans 1:18-32, as those who willfully rejected God. Three times in one context, Scripture declares that God abandoned them to their sinful ways. Ephesians 2:12 shows just how emphatically God discarded the Gentiles before the New Covenant: …at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world. No more decisive terms could be used than men being without Christ, without promise, without God, and without hope.Furthermore, God destroyed the entire earth with water, and at least two cities with fire because of humanity’s iniquity; all this judgment came before God gave mankind a Bible or a Messiah.[vi] Chafer concludes with a mind-altering thought: The result of any unprejudiced investigation into God’s revealed truth respecting fallen angels and God-rejecting Gentiles of past ages will be a conviction that the marvel of it all is not that sinners are lost, but that they are ever saved.[vii]

“…the marvel of it all is not that sinners are lost, but that they are ever saved.” -Lewis Sperry Chafer

Does Hell Just Mean the Grave?

It’s essential to address one final objection often raised against Hell being a place of eternal torment. There’s a convoluted idea floating around, which asserts that the Hebrew word Sheol (the KJV sometimes translated Sheol as Hell, sometimes as the grave, and sometimes as the pit) always means the grave and does not refer to the afterlife at all. Others erroneously contend that Sheol always refers to Hell (if you’ve Googled articles about Hell, you’ve likely read an article fervidly arguing this fallacy). One is used to undermine biblical teachings regarding Hell, and the other is an overzealous attempt to uphold orthodox teachings about the afterlife. Horton handily dismantles the myth that Sheol only means the grave:

“Actually, Sheol is often described as a depth that contrasts with the height of Heaven (Job 11:8, Psalm 139, Amos 9:2). Often, the context refers to God’s anger or wrath (Job 14:13, Psalm 6:1-5, Psalm 88:3-7, Psalm 89:46-48), and sometimes to both wrath and fire (Deuteronomy 32:22). In some cases, the references are brief, and it seems it is treated simply as the place or the state of the dead. In it, the dead are called rephaim, what we might call “ghosts” (Isaiah 14:9, Isaiah 26:14). Other passages refer to some of the dead as elohim, in the sense of “powerful spirit beings” (1 Samuel 28:13). But very often, it is clear that Sheol is the place for the wicked and “all the nations that forget God” (Psalm 9:17, Psalm 39:12–13, Psalm 55:15, Psalm 88:11–12, Proverbs 7:27, Proverbs 9:18, Isaiah 38:18). Where the New Testament quotes Old Testament passages referring to Sheol, it translates the word by Hades, which it sees, not as the vague place pagan Greeks talked about, but as a place of punishment.”[viii]

Interestingly, in Acts 2:27, Peter quotes Psalm 16:10, clearly understanding Sheol as Hades. It’s perfectly proper to link the Old Testament (Sheol) and New Testament (Hades) verbiage together with the word Hell. Also, it’s incorrect to assume ancients did not believe in the afterlife. Enoch and Elijah did not taste death because the Lord took them directly to Heaven (Genesis 5:24, 2 Kings 2:11). David believed he would “dwell in the house of the Lord forever (Psalm 23:6, Psalm 16:11, Psalm 17:15).” David speaks of being redeemed from Sheol’s power (Psalm 49:15), indicating his desire to be with God rather than in Sheol in death. The psalmists Asaph spoke of being received into “glory” at death (Psalm 73:24). Another phrase seems to indicate Old Testament saints expected an afterlife. God told Moses that after he went up the mountain and looked across to the Promised Land: You too will be gathered to your people, as your brother Aaron was (Numbers 27:13). But Aaron was buried at Mount Hor, and no one knows where God buried Moses (Deuteronomy 34:5–6). Therefore, being “gathered to one’s people” does not refer to the grave.[ix]

How Does the Bible Describe Hell?

Jesus intimated that Hell was initially designed for Satan and other fallen angels (Matthew 25:41). Revelation 20:14 reveals that Hell will contain a horrific lake of fire. After the Final Judgment of God (Revelation 20:11-15), the lost will experience continual and unimaginable suffering and torment. In contrast to Heaven, where there will be no more tears (Revelation 21:4), there will be dreadful weeping and gnashing (or grinding) of teeth in Hell (Matthew 8:12). This gnashing suggests, among other things, the pain will perpetually cause people to grind their teeth in agony (Matthew 8:12, Matthew 22:13, Matthew 24:51, Matthew 25:30). Numerous times Jesus mentioned hellfire or the fires of Hell (Matthew 5:22, Matthew 29:30, Matthew 18:19, Mark 9:43-47). Jesus called the fire everlasting, leaving no doubt that Hell’s torments are eternal (Matthew 25:41). Jesus underscored the seriousness of Hell, saying it would be better to cut off your hand or foot or pluck out your eye, rather than use any of those things sinfully and be cast into Hell (Mark 9:43-47).

Some find it troubling that Jesus mentions outer darkness in the context of Hell (Matthew 22:13). 2 Peter 2:4 references chains of darkness, and some also find that hard to reconcile with the fiery images of Hell the Bible typically evokes. But this is hardly proof of biblical errancies, the afterlife will defy our sense of logic, and it isn’t beyond the realm of possibility that God created dark hellfire. Beyond that, we know that Hell will be large and is ever-expanding (Isaiah 51:4). Scripture doesn’t specify that every square inch of Hell will be fiery or that every square inch will be dark. Hell may have significantly different regions throughout its length and breadth. We probably know less about Hell than we know.

In Mark 9, Jesus abruptly ends His ominous comments about Hell by mentioning worms that never die and fire that never goes out (Mark 9:48). The word translated Hell in Mark 9:43 is the Greek word Gehenna, which comes from the Hebrew name for a place called the Valley of Hinnom.[x] Jesus used this place to paint a vivid mental picture of Hell. Gehenna was Jerusalem’s giant garbage dump located on the southern outskirts of town. In the past, children were sacrificed to idols by pagan parents in Gehenna (2 Kings 23:10); in Jesus’ day, it was a place burning with constant fires to devour the city’s trash. The things burned there included everything from household trash to animal carcasses to convicted criminals (Jeremiah 7:31–33). Jesus was quoting from Isaiah 66:24, and the worm mentioned in connection with dead bodies means grub or maggot. Maggots bring the awful imagery Jesus intended to conjure sharply into focus.

The Bible gives us enough information about Hell to know; avoiding it should be life’s paramount priority. Nothing is more crucial than diligently ensuring we enter Heaven and escape the anguishes of Hell. Jesus lovingly and compellingly asked His disciples: What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul? (Matthew 16:26). Then Jesus asked another rhetorical question: Is anything worth more than your soul? (Matthew 16:26). Satan challenged God on this very subject while seeking to destroy the righteousness of Job. Satan argued that a man would give everything he has for his life (Job 2:4). He was wrong about Job, but countless others have traded their righteousness for temporary things. Again, Jesus cautioned us to prioritize heavenly things above earthly things encouraging us to store up treasures in Heaven, not on the earth (Matthew 6:19-21). All of creation and God’s Word compel us to live with eternity at the forefront of our minds.

The Bible gives us enough information about Hell to know; avoiding it should be life’s paramount priority. Nothing is more crucial than diligently ensuring we enter Heaven and escape the anguishes of Hell.

All of creation and God’s Word compel us to live with eternity at the forefront of our minds.

How Can I Escape the Torment of Hell?

The ultimate question is, how can a person be guaranteed to avoid Hell in the afterlife? This, of all questions, should be searched after with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). Yet, many people think very little about the salvation of their souls. Tragically, one of Satan’s magnificently malicious victories is convincing generations of people that salvation is easy, cheap, and convenient. The average person spends more time searching for temporal pleasures than searching for redemption. Yet, salvation is not found with casual commitment or through convenient conversion. The Bible says that even righteous people barely escape Hell; think of the awful fate awaiting those who have not obeyed the Gospel (1 Peter 4:17-18)? That alone should remove any casual or careless approaches towards the discussion of salvation. Especially knowing it is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:31). The God who created the universe and Heaven and Hell is the only One able to tell us how to be saved. And, He chose to reveal the answer to us through the Bible (His Holy Word).

Tragically, one of Satan’s magnificently malicious victories is convincing generations of people that salvation is easy, cheap, and convenient.

The average person spends more time searching for temporal pleasures than searching for redemption. Yet, salvation is not found with casual commitment or through convenient conversion.

The God who created the universe and Heaven and Hell is the only One able to tell us how to be saved. And, He chose to reveal the answer to us through the Bible (His Holy Word).

There is only one place in all Scripture where people specifically ask: What must we do to be saved (Acts 2:37)? The Apostle Peter gives the most transparent, concise response possible in the following verse: …Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost (Acts 2:38). That precise formula is the only way to be birthed (John 3:3, 1 Peter 1:23) into the Kingdom of God. At the heart of the Gospel is the teaching that we must undergo our own spiritual death, burial, and resurrection just as Jesus did physically (Romans 6:3-8, Galatians 2:20, Colossians 2:12-13).

Essentially, repentance is our spiritual death (Galatians 5:24, Romans 6:11, Galatians 2:20, 1 Peter 2:24, Romans 6:6), baptism in Jesus’ name is our spiritual burial (Romans 6:3-4, Colossians 2:12-13), and the infilling of the Holy Ghost is our spiritual resurrection (Romans 6:5, Colossians 3:1, Romans 8:8-14). Furthermore, the infilling of the Holy Ghost is first evidenced by supernaturally speaking in unknown (previously unlearned) tongues (languages) just as they did in the book of Acts (Mark 16:17, Acts 2:4, Acts 10:46, Acts 19:6) and every time from then on. And, baptism is only salvific when done in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:12, Colossians 3:17, Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16, Galatians 3:27, Acts 10:48, Romans 6:3).

Baptism is only salvific when done in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:12, Colossians 3:17, Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16, Galatians 3:27, Acts 10:48, Romans 6:3).

After we are obedient to the fullness of the Gospel, all the old sinful things pass away, and we become a new creation in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17). We walk in agreement with the Spirit (Galatians 5:16). Meaning, God not only saves us from our past sin, but He also empowers us with His own Spirit to live righteously (2 Peter 1:3-4). The extra good news of the Gospel is that God doesn’t just save us and leave us the same: He saves us, changes us, dwells within us, and continues to strengthen us daily. Now that’s excellent news, and we’ve only scratched the surface of what it means to be transformed by the power of God.

The extra good news of the Gospel is that God doesn’t just save us and leave us the same: He saves us, changes us, dwells within us, and continues to strengthen us daily.

Hell Motivates Christians Morally

Grudem lists four ways the doctrine of Hell influences our lives morally: 1) It satisfies our inward sense of a need for justice in the world. 2) It enables us to forgive others freely. 3) It provides a motive for righteous living. 4) It gives an excellent motive for evangelism.[xi] Engrained in the complexity of human nature is the desire to see justice served. The doctrine of Hell assures us God is in control and that justice will be done in the end. Because that is true, we can forgive without worrying about final judgments. We must love God to serve Him truly, but there are seasons where the fear of Hell keeps us on a righteous path. Finally, the doctrine of Hell should compel us to go into all the world, preaching the Gospel out of concern for the lost (Matthew 28:16-20).

The doctrine of Hell should compel us to go into all the world, preaching the Gospel out of concern for the lost (Matthew 28:16-20).

I sincerely hope this article has been helpful, informative, and compelling to you. If so, please consider sharing this article with a friend. If you are uncomfortable sharing it publicly on social media, consider printing it out and giving it to a friend or loved one. I realize Hell and the afterlife is an uncomfortable topic for many people to discuss openly. Maybe this article can be a good starting point to open up a dialogue between you and people you know and love. If you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact me, and I will respond accordingly. As always, thank you for reading and may God bless you.


[i] Stanley M. Horton, Systematic Theology, Revised; Accordance electronic ed. (Springfield: Gospel Publishing House, 2007), 654.

https://accordance.bible/link/read/Horton-Theology#4606

[ii] Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology Kregel/Accordance electronic ed. 8 vols.; Dallas: Dallas Theological Seminary, 1976), 4:427.

https://accordance.bible/link/read/Chafer-Theology#5341

[iii] Stanley M. Horton, Systematic Theology, Revised; Accordance electronic ed. (Springfield: Gospel Publishing House, 2007), 280.

https://accordance.bible/link/read/Horton-Theology#1295

[iv] Degrees of Punishment in Hell | The Gospel Coalition

[v] Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology Kregel/Accordance electronic ed. 8 vols.; Dallas: Dallas Theological Seminary, 1976), 4:429-430.

https://accordance.bible/link/read/Chafer-Theology#5342

[vi] I highly recommend Sodom Had No Bible, Leonard Ravenhill.

[vii] Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology Kregel/Accordance electronic ed. 8 vols.; Dallas: Dallas Theological Seminary, 1976), 4:430.

https://accordance.bible/link/read/Chafer-Theology#5343

[viii] Stanley M. Horton, Systematic Theology, Revised; Accordance electronic ed. (Springfield: Gospel Publishing House, 2007), 608.

https://accordance.bible/link/read/Horton-Theology#2785

[ix] Stanley M. Horton, Systematic Theology, Revised; Accordance electronic ed. (Springfield: Gospel Publishing House, 2007), 609.

https://accordance.bible/link/read/Horton-Theology#2789

[x] David G. Shackelford and E. Ray Clendenen, Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, s.v. “HELL,” paragraph 7790.

https://accordance.bible/link/read/Holman_Dictionary#7790

[xi] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, Bits & Bytes/Accordance electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 1148.

https://accordance.bible/link/read/Grudem-Theology#12731

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.

Kanye West Might Be Sincere (But Sincerity Alone Is Not Salvation)

If you’re a social media user it might feel like a non-stop Kanye West extravaganza has taken over your feed lately. The frenzy from all directions has been palpable. Many people in my inner circle didn’t even know who Kanye was until a few weeks ago. For me, his name was associated with lyrics and artists that I purposely avoided because of the vulgarity, sexuality, violence, and substance abuse they promoted.

This article is late in the making. Frankly, I just didn’t care about the Kanye kerfuffle until the noise escalated into a fever pitch. Beyond that, lots of people have already been contributing wise words to the ongoing (seemingly neverending) conversation. One of my favorite Apostolic bloggers, Search of Kings has a must-read article about the “Kanye Conversion”. Others have convincingly commented that Kanye’s sincerity might be less suspicious if he would remove all his old music from circulation. I’ve noticed several people expressing frustration at the Apostolic hype over Kanye’s new album Jesus Is King, by pointing out the lackluster support Apostolic artists typically receive. We Apostolics do tend to demean our own and glamorize (perhaps even idolize) artists who are distinctly non-apostolic.

Speaking of idols, the flip side of the coin is the ardent, almost breathless support many Christians have afforded Kanye’s new album. It reeks of an adolescent desire to finally be accepted by the “cool” kids. The internet is littered with comparisons of Kanye’s conversion to Saul’s transformation into Paul. Others dream of stadiums packed with people who would never listen to “Jesus” music being deeply impacted by Kanye’s newfound faith. Many elders felt this way about Elvis Presley in past decades. I still frequently hear people mention how sincere Elvis was about his Christian (perhaps even Apostolic) faith.

So, the speculation about Kanye’s sincerity has become a lightning rod of controversy. For what it’s worth, I think Kanye might be sincere. Admittedly, I don’t really know if he’s sincere or not. I struggle to know if people around me are sincere sometimes. I’ve never met Kanye and I doubt anyone reading this has either. Sincerity is a hard thing to judge in a short period of time. It’s even harder to judge from a distance. Even Paul had to undergo many years of scrutiny and training before he was fully accepted as a new creature in Christ Jesus. That’s one of the reasons Paul wrote to Timothy and said, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15)”. Regardless, Kanye’s sincerity or lack thereof is a moot point. Why? Because sincerity is not salvation.

Yes, sincerity is a good thing. I like sincere people. Most of us are drawn instinctively to sincerity. In fact, sincerity is so compelling we often trust sincere people even when they are completely wrong. Sincerely incorrect people can unintentionally do great damage to their circle of influence in countless ways both big and small. For example, it took thousands of years for doctors to finally realize that bloodletting was actually more likely to kill than to cure patients (read this disturbing article, 7 Unusual Ancient Medical Technique). Last year statistics shockingly revealed that over 800,000 people died because of medical devices prescribed to them by very good and sincere doctors (read that article HERE). Lets not even start thinking about how many sincere judges and juries have sentenced innocent people to prison or death (How Many Innocent People Are Sentenced to Death? and A Leading Cause for Wrongful Convictions: Experts Overstating Forensic Results). Clearly, in certain situations, sincerity without correct information is extremely dangerous.

We easily understand that principle when it comes to the physical, but we’re a little fuzzy when it comes to spiritual things. We don’t just want doctors to be sincere, we want them to be sincere and correct at the same time. Frankly, the latter is far more important than the former. But when it comes to spiritual leaders and influencers we’re a little less cautious. Maybe its time to consider that we Christians are overly concerned with sincerity? Perhaps we’ve elevated sincerity above biblical sanctification? Is it possible many Apostolics, either consciously or subconsciously, equate sincerity with salvation? Do we believe that sincerity without biblical salvation can save us? If so, we are doomed to become just another variation of the Catholic church. The Catholic church now officially teaches that Muslims, Jews, and really any sincere person can be saved without converting to even the mushy Catholic perversion of the Gospel (Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 1260).

If the prescription for sin is the blood of Jesus it can only be accessed via the Gospel of Jesus Christ (John 14:6, 1 Timothy 2:5, Acts 4:12). At the heart of the Gospel is the teaching that we must undergo our own spiritual death, burial, and resurrection just as Jesus did physically (Romans 6:3-8Galatians 2:20Colossians 2:12-13). There is one recorded instance in the Bible where bystanders clearly asked a question about salvation (Acts 2:37). Peter gives the most concise biblical answer in the following verse and everyone in the early Church followed that apostolic foundation for salvation. The apostle Peter preached: “…repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost (Acts 2:38).” That precise formula is the only way to be birthed (John 3:31 Peter 1:23) into the Kingdom of God.

Essentially, repentance is our spiritual death (Galatians 5:24Romans 6:11Galatians 2:201 Peter 2:24Romans 6:6)baptism in Jesus’ name is our spiritual burial (Romans 6:3-4Colossians 2:12-13), and the infilling of the Holy Ghost is our spiritual resurrection (Romans 6:5Colossians 3:1Romans 8:8-14). Furthermore, the infilling of the Holy Ghost is first evidenced by supernaturally speaking in unknown (previously unlearned) tongues (languages) just as they did in the book of Acts (Mark 16:17Acts 2:4Acts 10:46Acts 19:6) and every time from then on. And, baptism is only salvific when done in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:12Colossians 3:17Acts 2:38Acts 22:16Galatians 3:27Acts 10:48Romans 6:3).

After we are obedient to the fullness of the Gospel all the old sinful things pass away and we become a new creation in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17). We walk in agreement with the Spirit (Galatians 5:16). Meaning, God not only saves us from our past sin, but He also empowers us with His own Spirit to live righteously (2 Peter 1:3-4). The extra good news of the Gospel is that God doesn’t just save us and leave us the same: He saves us, changes us, dwells within us, and continues to strengthen us daily.

Having said all of that, I am far more concerned with Kanye’s salvation than I am his sincerity. I hope he’s sincere and that his sincerity leads him to salvation. Otherwise, his sincere religious error will probably do far more damage than good. Furthermore, any sincere, yet theologically incorrect preacher is more dangerous than any charlatan could ever hope to be. Charlatans are eventually exposed, but sincerely wrong people fight with misled convictions that are deeply influential to others.

Let me leave you with a passage of Scripture to ponder where Paul addresses the issue of zealousness for God without a proper understanding of God’s word. This passionate sincerity without knowledge will cause them to be lost unless they learn to walk obediently to God’s plan.

Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God (Romans 10:1-13).

Hey, if you’re looking for awesome Apostolic music check out Nathan + Rachel. You’re welcome!

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Don’t Settle for an iTunes Version of the Gospel

My kids inherited their daddy’s deep love for music. Unfortunately, they’re also picky and opinionated about the music we listen to on a regular basis (also something they inherited from me). My iron-fisted reign over the music played in the car is being overthrown a little more each day. Complicating things even further, my kids aren’t in total unity about which songs are “super great”. So, when they both really like a particular singer a little shred of heavenly peace fills our daily commutes.

Recently, we accidentally discovered Matthew West, a Christian solo artist. His lyrics are godly and the kids are wild about it. Julia loves Becoming Me and Talmadge thinks Amen is the anthem of the ages. After about a week straight of playing the “Anthem of the Ages” and the “Sweetest Song Ever Penned” I simply couldn’t take it anymore. It turns out, you can have too much of a good thing. So today, I gathered the kiddos around my outdated iPhone, fired up the iTunes store and started sifting through all the Matthew West songs available. Fifteen dollars bought us all a little much-needed peace and sanity.

For those that don’t know, when you’re searching for music on the iTunes store it allows you to listen to short clips of the songs before making a purchase. This had my kids up in arms. They reasoned that people can’t possibly decide if they like a song in just a few seconds. Which is kinda true. Their recommendation was to just buy every song, but Matthew West has a big musical portfolio and that was out of the question. So, we settled for doing our best to sort out which songs we truly enjoyed with limited information.

This whole process conjured up all kinds of happy memories from my childhood. Memories I happily shared with my kids. They were shocked to hear that in the good old days you couldn’t buy one song at a time and store them on your phone. They gasped at the concept of having to buy an entire CD and needed a detailed explanation of the word cassette tape. My eyes probably shined with joy telling stories of running into the Family Christian Store to buy the newest Steven Curtis Chapman album and listening to the entire thing from beginning to end. Not only would I listen to every word of every song, I’d open that slipcover and read all the lyrics, credits, and thank you’s too. Yep. Those are some of my favorite childhood memories.

Those days are long gone. The only album I’ve purchased in full in the last several years is this one – and you should too. In fact, people typically buy one song per album. Usually, it’s a song they heard on the radio and anyone with any musical taste knows the radio hit is rarely the best song on the album (told you I was musically opinionated). We miss so much great music in the age of iTunes, Spotify, Pandora, and whatever the other newfangled digital platform is ascending nowadays. We bypass wonderful songs because the little five-second clip doesn’t do it justice. We totally ignore songs because they’re not on the local Christian radio charts. Charts that increasingly seem to only have about five songs in rotation.

I may be pining for the old days now but in reality, I love the convenience of not carrying 300 CD’s around in my car. Also, it’s nice having all my music available at the touch of a button. Music is much cheaper when you aren’t forced to buy the entire album. In other words, there’s no going back now. And musically speaking, maybe that’s fine.

Every cultural revolution and technological advancement has unintended (or at least corresponding) sociological consequences. For example, many people approach the Bible like an iTunes playlist. They get little biblical snippets here and there, mostly from easily accessible digital sources. They’re familiar with the top ten Bible verses, but rarely know the context or framework of their favorite scriptures. Their theology and resulting understanding of the Gospel is based on sound clips and abbreviated versions that sound great but lack depth and richness. This is evidenced by nationwide lagging attendance during midweek Bible study services. And further demonstrated by Christians who lack transformation and basic biblical knowledge. For unbelievers, they see and hear the lack of mainstream Christianity’s depth and want nothing to do with that slick, naive, cheap, polished brand of empty believe-ism.

It’s not possible to pick and choose the “highlights” or the “best of” moments of the Bible and leave the rest out. Jesus put it this way: “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word the proceeds out of the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4).” Many churches are filled with sincere unsaved people who have not truly obeyed God’s Word because they unwittingly settled for an iTunes version of the Gospel. And the world is full of people who have rejected the iTunes version of the Gospel because they easily recognized it as inconsistent, indefensible, and unsatisfying. You see, cheapening the Gospel doesn’t make it more palatable, it actually renders it worthless to the world. A little fly in the perfume gives the whole bottle a bad smell (Ecclesiastes 10:1).

The saving power of the Gospel is more than mental assent, a moment of sincere belief, or an ecstatic emotional experience. Simply stated, the Gospel is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Before you can even enter into the plan of salvation you must believe that God exists and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him (Hebrews 11:6). Many people believe in the idea of God but reject Jesus. But to embrace the Gospel we first must believe that Jesus Christ is both Lord and Savior (Acts 16:31, John 3:18, John 4:42).

At the heart of the Gospel is the teaching that we must undergo our own spiritual death, burial, and resurrection just as Jesus did physically (Romans 6:3-8, Galatians 2:20, Colossians 2:12-13). There is one recorded instance in the Bible where bystanders clearly asked a question about salvation (Acts 2:37). Peter gives the most concise biblical answer in the following verse and everyone in the early Church followed that apostolic foundation for salvation. The apostle Peter preached: “…repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost (Acts 2:38).” That precise formula is the only way to be birthed (John 3:3, 1 Peter 1:23) into the Kingdom of God.

Essentially, repentance is our spiritual death (Galatians 5:24, Romans 6:11, Galatians 2:20, 1 Peter 2:24, Romans 6:6), baptism in Jesus’ name is our spiritual burial (Romans 6:3-4, Colossians 2:12-13), and the infilling of the Holy Ghost is our spiritual resurrection (Romans 6:5, Colossians 3:1, Romans 8:8-14). Furthermore, the infilling of the Holy Ghost is first evidenced by supernaturally speaking in unknown (previously unlearned) tongues (languages) just as they did in the book of Acts (Mark 16:17, Acts 2:4, Acts 10:46, Acts 19:6) and every time from then on. And, baptism is only salvific when done in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:12, Colossians 3:17, Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16, Galatians 3:27, Acts 10:48, Romans 6:3).

After we are obedient to the fullness of the Gospel all the old sinful things pass away and we become a new creation in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17). We walk in agreement with the Spirit (Galatians 5:16). Meaning, God not only saves us from our past sin, He empowers us with His own Spirit to live righteously (2 Peter 1:3-4). The extra good news of the Gospel is that God doesn’t just save us and leave us the same: He saves us, changes us, dwells within us, and continues to strengthen us daily. Now that’s really good news, and we’ve only scratched the surface of what it means to be transformed by the power of God.

I know that isn’t the slick version of the Gospel many people have seen on TV or heard on the radio. It doesn’t fit nicely on a bumper sticker. God didn’t design the Gospel to blend in with our overly commercialized culture. No. The Gospel is timeless, changeless, and sacred. Please don’t settle for an iTunes version of the Gospel that doesn’t save or satisfy.

8 Preacher Traps – That Can Develop Over Time

Preachers need our prayers and support more than ever before. I’m a fierce advocate of preachers and preaching. I’ve written in defense of preachers on numerous occasions here, here, and here. That doesn’t mean I view preachers as superhuman or little deities; however, God ordained the foolishness of preaching as the mechanism for reaching the world with the Gospel (1 Corinthians 1:18-21, Acts 17:18, Mark 16:15). Preaching is Divinely designed to preserve, encourage, strengthen, equip, and correct the Church (1 Corinthians 15:2, 1 Peter 1:25, 1 Timothy 4:13, 2 Timothy 3:16). Bottom line, preaching is really, really, really vital for the overall health of the Church and the advancement of the Gospel. It only makes sense that Satan would set traps for preachers faster than a poacher on a wildlife preservation.

Preaching is Divinely designed to preserve, encourage, strengthen, equip, and correct the Church (1 Corinthians 15:2, 1 Peter 1:25, 1 Timothy 4:13, 2 Timothy 3:16).

Without descending into a pit of needless negativity, I can safely assume everyone reading this post has witnessed at least one sincere preacher turn, shall we say… less than sincere. With very few exceptions, preachers do not begin ministering with nefarious intentions. For the most part, preachers make tremendous sacrifices to enter the ministry. Preacher problems develop over time as they fall into traps either because of carelessness or unresolved character flaws the enemy cleverly exploits.

Preacher problems develop over time as they fall into traps either because of carelessness or unresolved character flaws the enemy cleverly exploits.

My motivation for writing isn’t to criticize the fallen; there’s plenty of preacher bashing going on without me jumping unceremoniously into the ring. Instead, I’m writing with the earnest hearted preacher in mind. Additionally, I’m writing for those who may have stepped a toe across a line yet still have the capacity to feel a surge of conscience. One thing is for sure if you labor in ministry long enough, you will be forced to navigate around or fight your way out of a preacher trap. I’ve identified eight common traps in the hopes of building awareness, fortifications, and wisdom.

One thing is for sure if you labor in ministry long enough, you will be forced to navigate around or fight your way out of a preacher trap.

1. Success & Popularity

Most preachers have tons of incredibly humbling moments in their early days of ministry. My brother has a “blackmail tape” containing one of the first sermons I ever preached to this day. I sounded like a scared parrot that only knew four words. After those four words, everything else was just squawking, and weird chirping sounds. It was horrible. God bless that precious congregation and Pastor James Fielder for loving me enough to be encouraging despite that pathetic, although sincere attempt to preach.

Yep. Early days of ministry are filled with epic fails, empty blusters, false starts, zealous stumbles, learning curves, knowledge gaps, unrestrained enthusiasm, and embarrassing awkwardness. Some endure that maturation process longer than others, but over time the resilient step into a season of ministerial success. Now, measuring ministerial success can be tricky because it really has nothing to do with money, fame, large congregations, or popularity. God defines success differently than most people define success, but that’s another post for another day. Regardless, even achieving a godly standard of success can suck the humility right out of a sincere heart. Once that humility is gone, all kinds of nasty things compete to fill the void.

Measuring ministerial success can be tricky because it really has nothing to do with money, fame, large congregations, or popularity. God defines success differently than most people define success.

Success is not the problem. Success is a good thing. Responding correctly to success is the key. Most people spend a lot of time figuring out how to deal with failure but very little time preparing their hearts to handle success and popularity.

Most people spend a lot of time figuring out how to deal with failure but very little time preparing their hearts to handle success and popularity.

2. Talent

When a preacher realizes he is talented enough to move a crowd without relying on the anointing, his foot is poised above a preacher killing landmine. Lawyers, politicians, comedians, actors, false prophets, and motivational speakers move crowds emotionally every day without the anointing’s help. Having talent is great, terrific even, but it is the anointing that breaks the yoke (Isaiah 10:27).

When a preacher realizes he is talented enough to move a crowd without relying on the anointing, his foot is poised above a preacher killing landmine.

Lawyers, politicians, comedians, actors, false prophets, and motivational speakers move crowds emotionally every day without the anointing’s help. Having talent is great, but it is the anointing that breaks the yoke (Isaiah 10:27).

I firmly believe that preachers should work to develop strong communication skills. I think preachers should work as hard as possible to communicate biblical truths effectively and with as much excellence as possible. This is partially what the Apostle Paul was alluding to when he admonished Timothy, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).” But all the talent, work, study, and charisma in the world is no substitute for prayer, fasting, and humble reliance upon the Lord.

All the talent, work, study, and charisma in the world is no substitute for prayer, fasting, and humble reliance upon the Lord.

Every talented preacher should remember the warning of the ever-somber prophet Jeremiah: Cursed is that man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength (Jeremiah 17:5-9). Learning how to move a crowd emotionally is a cheap substitute for the genuine power and demonstration of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:4-5).

Learning how to move a crowd emotionally is a cheap substitute for the genuine power and demonstration of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:4-5).

3. Loving Preaching More Than People

This is one of the most common traps to ensnare preachers. It shames me to admit that I’ve had to fight my way out of this trap a time or two. This one takes a lot of self-introspection to detect.

Upon reflection, I’ve pinpointed a few things about my preaching while wriggling out of that devious little trap. One, I preached way longer than needed to communicate what God laid on my heart. Two, I chased many rabbit trails that interested me but were of little help or value to the hearers. Three, I resisted the Spirit when it prompted me to deviate from my prepared notes. Four, I rebuked out of personal anger rather than real righteous indignation. Five, I spent less time weeping over the lost and broken than concocting just the right wording for each sermon point. Six, in the preparation process, I resisted the Spirit’s directing, opting instead to build my favorite soapbox or pursue topics that were intellectually stimulating to me personally. Seven, I was more passionate about winning arguments than winning hearts. Eight, I preached condescendingly, smugly, and arrogantly.

Preaching cannot and should not be solely directed towards the “felt” needs of a congregation. Neither should preaching be spineless, compromising, or afraid of necessary confrontation. Nothing mentioned here should leave the impression that preachers should be push-overs, milquetoasts, or overly obsessive about offending the hearers. But the fact remains a preacher’s motives matter. Preachers should always stand behind the sacred desk driven by love for God, God’s Word, God’s Church, and lost people.

Preaching cannot and should not be solely directed towards the “felt” needs of a congregation. Neither should preaching be spineless, compromising, or afraid of necessary confrontation.

A preacher’s motives matter. Preachers should always stand behind the sacred desk driven by love for God, God’s Word, God’s Church, and lost people.

4. Forgetting the Main Mission

As I mentioned earlier, preaching has many noble purposes, but none more vital than the propagation of the Gospel (Matthew 28:19-20, 2 Timothy 4:17, 2 Corinthians 10:14, Acts 8:12-17). Preaching can quickly devolve into mere motivational jargon if it isn’t Christocentric. During the endless quest to remain relevant, creative, engaging, inspiring, and fresh, some preachers lose sight of the Great Commission and ultimately fail their mission.

Preaching can devolve into mere motivational jargon if it isn’t Christocentric. During the endless quest to remain relevant, creative, engaging, inspiring, and fresh, some preachers lose sight of the Great Commission and fail their mission.

5. Valuing Crowd Size Above the Spiritual Growth of the Congregation

I’ve written a fair bit on church growth here, here, and here. No preacher in their right mind wants seats to be empty while the Word is being preached. Every empty seat represents a soul that needs God. Regardless, God never called preachers to build large congregations. Instead, we are called to plant the seed; God alone gives the Harvest (Matthew 9:38). Every preacher reading this knows that is the case, but it doesn’t stop us from feeling like failures when church attendance dips or doesn’t grow at the pace we had envisioned. All of that is normal and acceptable to a certain degree, yet very dangerous if we begin to value large crowds above the people’s actual spiritual health.

Just gathering large groups of people together every Sunday isn’t the ultimate spiritual objective. Otherwise, the NFL would be one of the most spiritual organizations in America. When preachers become inordinately focused on crowd size instead of spiritual maturation, they will suffer depression, discouragement, insecurity, jealousy, and struggle with the temptation to become people pleasers rather than God pleasers, which leads nicely to the next trap.

Just gathering large groups of people together every Sunday isn’t the ultimate spiritual objective. Otherwise, the NFL would be one of the most spiritual organizations in America.

When preachers become inordinately focused on crowd size instead of spiritual maturation, they suffer depression, discouragement, insecurity, jealousy, and struggle with the temptation to become people pleasers rather than God pleasers.

6. Willingness to Sacrifice Scriptural Integrity

There are many reasons a preacher might be tempted to compromise biblical truths. Some compromise due to the illusion of assured numerical growth, desired popularity, personal carnality, outside pressure, peer pressure, spiritual battle fatigue, greed, or any number of other factors. Regardless, failing to preach the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth is a gross betrayal of God’s calling and the trust placed in us by others.

Failing to preach the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth is a gross betrayal of God’s calling and the trust placed in us by others.

7. Burnout

Unresolved physical, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion can result in burnout, and burnout produces bitterness. For every preacher with a golf course “ministry” reputation, there are ten others burning the candle at both ends. As I’ve written before, the ministry is incredibly demanding. Burnout usually manifests itself as depression or anxiety, or both. The tragedy of the burnout trap is that it takes advantage of a preacher’s good intentions. We want to be all things, to all people, all the time. It’s just not humanly possible.

Unresolved physical, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion can result in burnout, and burnout produces bitterness.

Burnout usually manifests itself as depression or anxiety. The tragedy of the burnout trap is that it takes advantage of a preacher’s good intentions. We want to be all things, to all people, all the time. It’s just not humanly possible.

8. Ministering to Others While Neglecting Family

I understand that a preacher’s family must be willing to make sacrifices for the sake of ministry. I get that. Been there. Done that. Still doing that. But a preacher’s first ministerial obligation is to his family (Genesis 18:19, 1 Samuel 3:13, 1 Timothy 3:1-12, Titus 1:6). Many dynamic ministries have been rendered powerless because their family fell apart. They were so busy ministering to others; they lost sight of their primary responsibility.