The Vitality of Children’s Ministry Here & Now

     As young adults, it is easy to get aligned with missions of ministries that benefit us in the here and now. Dating ministries, newlyweds, non-profits, etc. However, there is often one major ministry that is overlooked despite the nearness of it to Christ. Children’s ministry is all too frequently overlooked and undervalued. In this, we risk an extreme danger of failing to love these little ones and set an example for them. There is a central truth often overlooked and misapplied, if we are called to love the least of these, “And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” (Matt 25:4, ESV). The least of these include those who are innocent and defenseless. Millennials and Gen Z frequently disvalue the vitality in raising up the next generation.

 

A Change in Viewpoint

  First and foremost it’s important to establish God’s heart for children in His Kingdom. First, there needs to be a humbling heart posture taken to acknowledge how you view the children’s ministry. As with everything, God is more concerned with your heart than how you present yourselves to others. It’s easy to say “care for the kids” and “children’s ministry is so important” all while making jokes about it later, or turning a blind eye to a need for active volunteers in the ministry. Jesus declares that His Kingdom belongs to those with faith like children. In fact, we’re called to look at them to model our faith after.

 

Establishing a Kingdom Mindset

  Now, let’s look at the developmental factors of children’s ministry, and how God’s perfect creation of the human mind is impacted by their atmosphere. By age 3, a child’s mind is almost the size of an adult’s brain[1]. During this time, a child is making vital connections and establishing permanent foundations. Children ages 10 and under have the most neuron plasticity, meaning this is the most impressionable age. When Proverbs says, “Raise a child up in the way they should go and they will not stray from it,” it means what it says. When our kids are surrounded by the Kingdom, their brain is literally shaped to a Kingdom mindset. 2/3 of people claiming to be Christians in the U.S were saved as kids[2]. Meaning when you’re sitting in church, 2/3s of those people would not be there if not for at least one person ministering to them as a child.

There is an emphasis on the word “ministering” to children. To minister is to care and enter in as Christ did. Jesus specifically cared for the children, and we are to do as He did. If His Kingdom, which is where we find our citizenship and therefore what should be familiar to us, belongs to the children, then precious ones should be emphasized in our lives. I once got to listen to a sermon by Jennie Allen, a renowned speaker, where she said, “We are called to live as the end is near, meaning the next generation may very well be the leaders ushering in the next Kingdom.” This reframed how I should approach children’s ministry. What is the next generation going to look like? Who will these leaders be? What happens if we keep turning a blind eye to the vitality of the ministry? Do we only have 1/3 of those leaders?

Unity with the Young

   The idea of Sunday School is almost mocked now. “That’s a Sunday School answer,” “That’s a little to Sunday School for me,” looking through your phone during a time where Children’s Ministry is giving an update in your church, or thinking that volunteering with kids is beneath you, all contribute to a major flaw in the modern-day Church. To build a culture that reflects the Lord’s heart is to care for the least of these and to start a foundation in the Gospel early on. It takes a heart being touched and transformed by the Lord to acknowledge where we are not walking in unity, because ultimately, we are one body. Where one person doesn’t see the beauty and importance of children’s ministry it affects the body as a whole. There’s an amazing resource called It’s Just A Phase So Don’t Miss It by Reggie Joiner and Kristen Ivy that says,

But every week, the way you…

Embrace a Preschooler

Engage an elementary school kid

Affirm a middle schooler

And mobilize a high schooler

Has the potential to radically change their future.

 

Remember Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” In other words “I want you to treat kids like you would treat me. And by the way, just in case you haven’t figured it out by now, I am God. So just make sure you understand when you welcome kids, it’s like you’re welcoming God[3].” To minister to children is to build the Kingdom of God, which we are each called to do in the here & now.

 

[1] Dorn, B. Brain Development in Children: Making the Most of Brain Neuroplasticity. https://www.dornchiropractic.com/fileupload/Brain%20Development%20in%20Children.pdf

[2] Kummer, T. (2020). New Children’s Ministry Statistics (2019) How do kids come to Christ https://ministry-to-children.com/childrens-ministry-statistics/

[3]Joiner, R., & Ivy, K. (2015). It’s just a phase, so don’t miss it (pp. 231,235). Cumming, GA: Orange.

 

Progressive Christianity

So often, we find our peers, our churches, and sometimes even ourselves twisting the holy words of the Bible to fit our wants, needs, and agendas. But the Bible and its teachings were created for a specific time and context, never for us to use for selfish gain or to place our interests above the Lord’s. In this article, we will be delving into what progressive Christianity is and how to distinguish it from truth. Towards the end, I will give some practical tips to avoid falling into the traps of progressive Christianity and explain what I do to check humanity’s hollow words against God’s everlasting Word. 

First, we need to establish what progressive Christianity looks like and address how it shows up in our society. According to Dr. Michael Kruger, a theologian with Reformed Theological Seminary, progressive Christianity “sells itself as a valid option for Christians that on the surface looks a lot like the Christian worldview and may seem in the eyes of many people to be more acceptable, more likable, a really more palatable version of the faith.”

Ultimately, progressive Christianity distorts God’s truth to fit human desires–– something that the Bible was never intended for. God’s Word has been crafted with extreme delicacy and intentionality, but progressive Christianity chooses to ignore the value of the words and instead twists them to fit into today’s world. Instead of being counter culture, progressive Christianity conforms directly to culture to make its members feel “comfortable.” 

Now that we know what progressive Christianity looks like, here are some of the ways it presents itself within the Christian community:

 

1. Preaching that we can somehow become equal to Christ.

Oftentimes, progressive Christianity teaches that we can learn to be “good”, righting our sins through our own actions. But the Gospel states again and again that Jesus is the only good human to ever have walked the earth. If we believe we can become good, we suddenly lose the entire need for the Gospel, and the role of Jesus in our lives becomes diminished.

The reward for humility and fear of the LORD is riches and honor and life. – Proverbs 22:4

This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. – Romans 3:22-26

2. Downplaying the reality of sin.

Similar to the first point, progressive Christianity often ignores talking about sin and instead only highlights the feel-good parts of the Bible; however, when people begin to ignore sin, they also ignore mercy. If you cheapen the price of your sin, you cheapen the glory of His grace. If you turn a blind eye to your fallenness, you are also turning a blind eye to His goodness.

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. – 1 John 1:8-10

3. The belief or practice of manifestation. 

I have seen some churches support the idea of manifestation. Manifestation is the “theory that through regular meditation and positive, constructive thought, you can make your dreams and desires a reality” (from spiritualhowto.com). Meditation and positive thinking seem like they would be constructive to the Christian faith, but manifestation completely takes out the element of God. Instead of praying to God to rely on His strength and His power and His plans, manifestation asserts that we can simply rely on our own strength to make things happen. Once again, this directly opposes the word of the Gospel and undermines the power of our God. 

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. – Proverbs 3:5

4. Altering or twisting the Word to fit popular beliefs or opinions

Progressive Christianity prides itself on being relatable, comfortable, and agreeable. Yet most of the time, the actual Word of God is none of these things. Many times, people who believe in progressive Christianity will only take snippets of verses or take them completely out of context. Sometimes, people will even change the Word itself to make readers more comfortable. This is a MAJOR red flag. One of the most recent examples of this is the new Passion Translation. This translation is advertised to be one for “the new generation” and melds “emotion with life-changing truth” (from thepassiontranslation.com). But the Bible is meant for EVERY generation, and God’s goodness has never been dependent on our emotions. 

Here is an example of just how much The Passion Translation alters the Word of God:

“Our Father dwelling in heavenly realms,

May the glory of Your Name

Be the center of on which our lives turn.

Manifest Your Kingdom-realm,

And cause Your every purpose to be fulfilled on earth,

Just as it is fulfilled in heaven.

We acknowledge You as our Provider

Of all we need each day, 

Forgive us the wrongs we have done as we ourselves release forgiveness to those who have wronged us.

Rescue us every time we face tribulations

And set us free from evil.

For you are the King who rules 

With power and glory forever.”

– Matthew 6:9-14 (TPT)

I don’t know about you, but that certainly isn’t the version of the Lord’s Prayer that I was taught…

The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever. – Isaiah 40:8

5. Teaching that we need to become more worldly.

People who fall into progressive Christianity often emphasize the importance of worldly things–– popularity, wealth, status, etc. A common sign of progressive Christianity within churches is the constant desire to please their audiences. They might do this through huge events where people and not God are the center focus. They might flash their wealth or their status as a sign of their own glory and not God’s. But most dangerously, they often cater their messages to what their audiences want to hear and not the Biblical truth that they need to hear. For example, they might preach only of God’s love and never regard His wrath when the two must go in tandem. Or because they downplay the reality of sin, as we discussed earlier, they might imply that repentance is not an important factor of faith and undermine the covenantal relationship between God and His people.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. – Romans 12:2

After discussing the different ways progressive Christianity may present itself, I hope you can see the dangers of this belief system. One of the reasons it is so dangerous is because it looks so good to our human hearts. Plus, it’s hiding under the name of God which makes us feel secure in thinking it cannot be bad. Yet the Bible is so clear about defining the Gospel and we need to open our eyes and hearts to see its truth and combat the deceptions of our world. Here are a couple of my tips to help combat this rising epidemic of progressive Christianity –– I hope they inspire you to stand up for God’s truth in the midst of falsehood. 

Tip #1: Use the Bible as your source for everything.

As Christians, one of the best things we can do is be rooted within the Word. Let Truth be where your opinions, feelings, and actions stem. When we become well versed in His verses, we can more easily see progressive Christianity and falsehoods. If you’re not sure about something you hear from a peer or friend or church, check it against the Bible. It is crucial to develop Biblical discernment in a world so filled with deceptions to make us stray. And the best way to develop this discernment is by simply starting to read!

He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” – Luke 11:28

Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path. – Psalm 119:105

Tip #2: Be vigilant & diligent in determining who you listen to.

We are constantly being influenced by people whether it’s online, at church, at school, in the grocery store, etc. And we have a choice to follow whoever we find worth listening to. But words can be tricky. They can be deceiving and lead you astray. For example, I was following an account on Instagram that talked about Jesus and I loved it,  but after digging a little deeper into the words I was reading and paying a little more attention to who I was following, I found out I wasn’t following a Christian account at all, it was a platform for Mormons! It’s a little embarrassing for me to admit that, but it serves as a great example to show how crucial it is to pay attention to who you are following.

Are their words and actions Biblically based? Does their life reflect their teachings? Are they seeking God’s glory above all else? 

Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. – Matthew 7:15

Tip #3: Do not be afraid to speak out for the Truth 

Combatting progressive Christianity and the spread of a false gospel narrative requires people to stand firm in God’s Word and not be afraid to speak for His Truth. Jesus left His people the authority to speak out for truth, and we must not forget to put that authority into action. Do not let this world discourage you, for God has equipped you with everything you need to glorify Him. 

Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. – 1 Timothy 6:12

I hope my words and research on this topic were able to give you some clarity or understanding about what progressive Christianity is, how to spot it, and how to combat it. I also hope you understand my words come without judgment, but rather the kind of honesty that precedes genuine love. As a Christian community, we cannot forsake truth for the worldly idea of love. We cannot sugarcoat God’s truth just to make ourselves or our neighbors feel comfortable. So I encourage you all to love people in the most genuine way possible–– by telling them the truth about Jesus Christ. 

Reaching the Unreached

Many members of the Anchored Passion staff are located in the Bible Belt. I can confidently say that there are numerous streets, both near my home in Tennessee and college in Alabama, that have more churches located on them than I can count on one hand, and even on my two hands sometimes. Since we are comfortably nestled in a place where Christianity is the norm, it is sometimes difficult to fully comprehend that there are unreached people groups in the world who have never even heard the name of Jesus before.

The Overwhelming Demand

An unreached people group is a group of people who have never heard of the Gospel before nor have a Bible translated into their language or dialect. According to the Joshua Project, “an unreached or least-reached people is a people group among which there is no indigenous community of believing Christians with adequate numbers and resources to evangelize this people group without outside assistance.”

“This means that these people groups are not merely outside of Christ but also outside the current reach of the Gospel,” The Church at Brook Hills global pastor Chip Bugnar said. “Practically speaking, a person among this people group will likely live and die without ever hearing the Gospel and therefore will perish outside of Christ.”

According to the Joshua Project, out of 17,459 people groups in the world, there are 7,422 unreached people groups, meaning there are 3.23 billion people who have never heard of the Gospel. While some people within these groups may identify as Christians or may have heard the Gospel, there are not enough members within the group or resources to enable a widespread, healthy growth of Christianity.

“Estimates and projections for those that identify as professing Christians are at or below 5% of the population and for those that identify as Evangelical Christians are at or below 2% of the population,” Radical project manager Daniel Weiss said. “So while there might be some Christians and churches within an unreached people group, their numbers are insufficient to allow for widespread Gospel access.”

Bugnar explained that The Church at Brook Hills, along with others, is shifting away from unreached people groups towards least-reached people groups for a qualitative threshold.

“A robust gospel infrastructure, gospel clarity, healthy churches, leadership development pathways and networks, scripture translation, resource translation, theological education, etc., is needed to qualitatively analyze where a people group is on the spectrum from unreached to reached or in our vocabulary: least-reached to reached,” Bugnar said.

It is important for people to not only hear the promise of the Gospel, but to also have resources, knowledge and leadership to promote spiritual growth and community in Christ.

The Great Commission

By Christ, Christians are called to fulfill the Great Commission, sharing the Gospel and making disciples of all nations.

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. – Matthew 28:18-20

I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. – Ephesians 3:7-9

“As Believers in Jesus, God gives us the gift of salvation when we repent from our sins and believe in Him. We should be eager to share our salvation with others, including the unreached, whom have no access to the Gospel,” Pray for the Unreached operations director Conner Womack said. “The Bible also says that every tribe, nation and tongue will be represented around the throne in Heaven. This means that every people group, including those currently unreached, will be in Heaven, meaning Jesus can’t come back until they’re all reached.”

Bugnar expressed that the diversity of heaven’s worship beckons Christians to evangelize the unreached.

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. – Revelation 7:9

Even though the Great Commission is an important and vital call for all Christians, Weiss and Redeemer Community Church missions training coordinator James Minor explained that Christians are also called to remember God’s redemption shown throughout Scripture.

“We see throughout the Bible from Genesis to Revelation that God’s story is about rescuing peoples from all the earth to know and worship Him,” Minor said. “We care because we see the imbalance in our world today and that it is unfair that many of us in the states get to hear the Gospel over and over throughout our lives and never lack resources on the Bible and learning, but so many people around the world don’t get these chances to hear of the only One who can rescue them from the domain of darkness and transfer them to the kingdom of life with God.”

Witnessing God’s redemptive story throughout Scripture should motivate Christians to evangelize others, so they may also be redeemed through Christ.

“While the basis for missions is often reduced to the Great Commission, the entire Bible is full of God’s redemptive plan and purpose,” Weiss said. “We should passionately prioritize discipleship and evangelism to the unreached precisely because in not doing so, God’s plan and purpose for all creation cannot and will not be achieved.”

Christians need to focus not only on reaching people groups that are geographically remote or those that speak an uncommon dialect, but also on reaching the people within their communities who have never heard the Gospel before and never had someone invest in discipling them.

“We should testify about Jesus and share the good news with the ones that haven’t heard it before, even in our colleges or in our workplaces, so they would be able to hear the truth of the Gospel and choose if they want to place their faith in Jesus or not,” Pray for the Unreached outreach coordinator Lakshmi Trejo said.

Reaching the Unreached

“You may be still in college and asking yourself, ‘how can I impact the unreached right now as a college student while in my studies?’ and ‘I can’t go overseas next week’. There are still many ways to help see the unreached come to know Jesus,” Minor said.

The first step Christians can do to reach the unreached is to educate themselves on the demand and the specific people groups who need to hear the Gospel.

“I always find that knowledge and exposure are the most effective ways to overcome barriers of unfamiliarity,” Weiss said. “Familiarity breeds empathy, empathy breeds passion and passion breeds action.”

Radical, a resource ministry in Birmingham, Alabama founded by David Platt, is releasing a platform called Stratus in late April 2021 during Secret Church. Stratus will provide information on both the spiritual and physical needs of unreached people groups, prioritizing work and attention to the areas in most need.

“Our hope is that with access to the information that Stratus presents, the Church will have a tool that implicitly works to begin rectifying the great imbalance and equip people, pastors and churches all over the world to allocate their resources most effectively towards overcoming the barriers that keep people unreached,” Weiss said.

Another step Christians can take to reach the unreached is to devote a part of their prayer time to pray for unreached people groups.

“Pray for all these people that have never heard the good news, pray for their countries, for their hearts that they will be open to hear about Jesus and that they could experience the great love that God has toward the whole humanity,” Trejo said.

Christians can also pray for others to be led to share the Gospel and disciple the unreached along with praying for the missionaries who are already investing in these people.

“We can also ask the Lord to lift up women and men with the desire to go to these nations,” Trejo said. “We can pray for the missionaries that are already in these countries that the Lord may protect them, renew their strength and also pray that the Lord provides everything that they could need physically and spiritually.”

Another step Christians can take to reach the unreached is to become missionaries themselves. Bugnar encourages Christians to look at those who have discipled them as examples and mentors in order to help guide the Christians themselves to become a disciple to others.

“Start a conversation with your elders or pastors about how to be equipped and affirmed to be sent to engage the least-reached,” Bugnar said.

While not every Christian may be called to become a long-term missionary in a foreign country, there are other ways Christians can become disciples by utilizing other resources and spiritual gifts.

“For so many people, there is this conception that the only way to reach the unreached is to leave everything and become a traditional long-term missionary in a village somewhere very far away,” Weiss said. “But there is no wrong way to leverage your life, interests, gifts, finances, skills, passions and assets…the most important thing is to find a way to leverage your life that most uniquely reflects who you are, and the context God has put you in.”

Bugnar and Womack spoke of the importance of giving financially to your local church and other groups that support mission opportunities and church planting.

“Financially supporting missionaries to the unreached places is really important,” Womack said. “One percent of all money going to missions goes to unreached places. Americans spend more money annually on Halloween costumes for their pets than they do on unreached missions.”

Bugnar and Trejo stressed the importance of striving to break the language boundaries prohibiting Christians from sharing the Gospel. Trejo encourages people to consider learning another language. Bugnar encourages people to teach English on online apps, which could be a way to engage with the unengaged. Focusing on languages, Christians can also give to ministries and nonprofits that translate Bibles for these people groups, such as IllumiNations.

“The centrality of God’s purpose to receive worship from all peoples and the incomparable joy of partnering with God in accomplishing His purpose among the unreached should steer the thoughts, decisions and actions of every professing believer,” Weiss said. “There is no greater need and no worthier cause for God’s church.”

The Postmodern Christian

The American society of today is not built for the believer. In fact, the basic tenets of Christianity seem directly at odds with the wave of popular culture. As for popular culture itself, there seems to be a sense of apprehension and disillusionment towards Christianity. However, anyone who has been fairly educated on early United States’ History will know that it was not always like this. The Puritans, who were among the first Colonial settlers, were devoutly religious and formed their society around piety. Suddenly, we are in an era where the Christian is seen as the contrarian. How did we get to this point?

Jesus Christ undoubtedly lived a perfect life; however, the body of Christ does not. Throughout history, where Jesus and His Word stay the same, man’s perception of the Word is subject to change. Knowing this, we must admit there will always be divides, there will always be religious dark ages, and there will always be more great awakenings. The church, due to fallible human leadership, will always be in some sort of flux. One of the most important fluctuations in church history that contributed to this dark age was the combination of church and state. 

The Marriage Between Church and State

For the majority of Christian history, there has been a marriage between the church and state. This marriage is linked to many major travesties throughout history, such as the crusades. Now, when the church is mixed with national business and the nation does something immoral, then the church takes on a part of that blame. This issue is just as apparent when it comes to the European imperialism of the 19th and 20th centuries.

In the early 20th century, the world was woken up by the rise of different conflicts on the European continent. And by the end of the first and second world wars, Europe was left in shambles. Millions of soldiers and civilians had been killed, cities were completely destroyed, and entire political systems had fallen apart. 

If a person’s faith is synonymous with their national identity, then disillusionment towards the state means the same for his/her perception of God. Today, most who are apprehensive about the church are marred by its immoral actions in the past. However, gathering from this sentiment, it is clear that contemporary religious disillusionment, popular as a result of the second world war, is not a response to the horror of God, but rather to the horror of humanity.

Postmodernism, Unraveled

As a reaction to the “immoral church” and horror of the second world war, western culture started to drift towards more secular and postmodern ideals.

Postmodernism is defined as a late 20th-century movement characterized by broad skepticism, subjectivism, relativism, and a suspicion of reason. Postmodernism is mainly centered around issues such as denial of objective morality, complete subscription to the words of scientists, the belief that society is always getting better as history progresses, and that humans can acquire knowledge to construct theories that explain aspects of the natural world. 

This set of philosophical viewpoints have gained a grip on western society and are interwoven in our culture. It seems as if today we are witnessing a great departure from Christian morality in our everyday lives. As believers in the postmodern world, how do we respond to this?

Operating as a Christian in a Secular Culture

“But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” – 1 Peter 3:15-16

1 Peter was written during a time of unrest in the first century church. The Romans were secular pagans who worshipped sex, alcohol, and other forms of debauchery. They harassed, persecuted, and condemned the church for their doctrine going against the current of their popular culture. This is clearly a parallel to the contemporary relationship between the church and the society it inhabits. And what does Peter say to do about this?

He doesn’t say we should condemn the secularists for their unbelief. He doesn’t say we should wage an intellectual war on them. Instead, he says we should be there for them. Even when we are persecuted and harassed, we should act as gatekeepers for Christ and be prepared to give an answer whenever asked about our faith. And, on top of that, we should do it from a place of gentleness and respect. 

If you are lost in your sin, and you see someone condemning others who think differently than them, then that person pushes you further away from the church. That’s one of the reasons we have this problem in the modern age. However, if you see someone with an eternal purpose acting kind and talking about their heavenly inheritance, then you are naturally drawn towards them, and therefore drawn to Christ.

This is what Peter is getting at and this is how the Christian should conduct themselves when facing a secular culture who slanders Christ’s name.

Conclusion

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33

With a church being led by fallible humanity, we will always find trouble in this world. We will always experience rebellion from God, we will always find ourselves in instances of persecution, but we will always take heart. We take heart because we know that we are living for something beyond the chaotic world we inhabit. Where the church and humanity are inconsistent, Christ remains totally consistent. Knowing and embracing this truth, we should remain patient with those who wish to persecute us; for we have overcome the world.

 

What Is The Church?

“The church is a people, not a place.” This has become a prominent catchphrase for many American Christians. It is usually referenced when there is discussion over what church is, and then eventually leads to who the church is. Many argue the church is not the building God’s people gather in, but God’s people. While it is true the church is made up of people, it is also true the church is a gathering somewhere. What many have come to see as opposites are better described as two sides of the same coin.

Biblical Etymology of the Word “Church”

We first see the Hebrew word qahal in Deuteronomy 4:10, which translates to the assembly or gathering as a congregation. Transliterated into the Greek this word is ekklesia. We first see ekklesia in Matthew 16:18, which is translated to church. According to the Bible, the church is a gathering of God’s people.

In Ephesians 5:23, we see the Greek word ekklesias or church is used to refer to the “Bride of Christ.” According to the Bible, the church is God’s people.

These words and their meanings do not contradict each other. If they did, there would be no solid meaning for the church, which could lead to loose and false implications of God’s people and their gathering. Instead, the church is precisely as the Bible explains: both the people of God and their gathering.

The Church: God’s People

Those who confess with their mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in their heart that God raised them from the dead are called Christians (Rom 10:9). In the New Testament, Christians are also commonly referred to as “the church” (Matt 16:18, Acts 20:28, Eph 5:23-25, Col 1:18, 1:24, 1 Tim 3:5).

Paul, speaking to the Ephesian elders, says:

“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” – Acts 20:28

In this verse, God illuminates for us three beautiful truths:

  1. Jesus’ shed blood and resurrection enable sinners dead in their trespasses to be reconciled back to right relationship with God.
  2. God’s mercy in sanctification enables us to daily walk with Jesus.
  3. God’s love is demonstrated to us in that we may be called the church, the bride of Christ.

The Church: The Gathering of God’s People

A common thing to hear among Christians is the reference of a “local body” or “church.” This phraseology is not a made-up concept, but a biblical one. 

An obvious example that the church is a gathering of God’s people is the existence of the epistles. Paul wrote to local bodies of God’s people: churches in Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Colossae, and Thessalonica. These were churches that gathered on the Lord’s day to worship through the preaching of the Bible, communion, and fellowship. Just as churches gather today, so did the early churches.

All throughout the epistles, the church is mentioned as the gathering of God’s people. One specific instance we see of this is in the book of 1 Corinthians.

“What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.” -‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭14:26‬ 

In this verse, God illuminates for us two beautiful truths:

  1. God’s redemption of His people is meant for them to glorify Him by gathering together, so that they may worship Him and seek His holiness. 
  2. The Holy Spirit that dwells in each of God’s people enables them the ability to worship God and build up other saints.

The Responsibility of the Individual Believer as a Member of the Local Church

Since the church is both a gathering and a people, there are a few responsibilities we have as the church both individually and communally.

Proclaim the Gospel

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:19-20

Jesus has given the church a command, known as the Great Commission, to proclaim the gospel to anyone and everyone. If we have truly been saved by God and brought from death to life, we will have a desire to obey Christ, which includes obeying the Great Commission.

Desire to Meet With The Local Church

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” – Hebrews 10:24-25

We were not made to try to know God as isolated beings. God’s people are not only meant but commanded to meet together. The church is not optional for the Christian; it is an expectation. There ought to be a desire for the believer to meet weekly with their local church body to learn more of who God is, praise Him in worship, encourage others, and be equipped to reach unbelievers with the gospel.

Cherish the Church

“Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” – Romans 12:9-13

We have been exhorted to love our brothers and sisters, and seek to edify each other as we worship and glorify God (Rom 12:4-5). As we seek to know God more, we will further desire to not only meet with the local body of believers, but to love both the local and universal church. 

Walk In Accountability

“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” – Galatians 6:2

It would not only be foolish of us but sinful to neglect accountability from brothers and sisters in our church and hurtful to them. We are exhorted and commanded in James 5:16 to confess our sins to one another, and then to pray for each other, knowing that God is faithful and just to forgive us (1 John 1:9). (For a deeper look into accountability, check out a previous article I’ve written over that topic).

A Quick Word On The Church Amid Coronavirus

Although we are the church, we must remember the church is also our physical gathering. I am not saying it is not good to meet online, for how else can we meet in the current dilemma and how good has it been to still hear God’s word preached? But, we ought to remember the beauty and fulfillment of the church when we physically meet with our local body of believers and not neglect meeting together again when we are able to. In the midst of this, I desire so earnestly to gather together again in person with my local church body and truly experience the church as we are meant to gather. For more on how to address the pandemic, check out this article.

Praise God For the Church

All praise be to God for the gift that is the church! God, in His mercy, displays His righteousness by calling those who are saved to be the church, which is the bride of Christ. God, in His mercy, displays His righteousness by enabling His people to gather so as to glorify Him, encourage each other, and be equipped to share the gospel with the world. Let us go out and proclaim the gospel, desiring to meet again with the local church, cherish the church, walk in accountability, and love the world as God has loved us.

Why Do We Sing?

Why do we sing in church? Do we sing because it makes us feel good? Do we sing to put on a performance and showcase how talented of a musician we are? No, we sing to worship the Lord. God didn’t say we have to have the best voice, or that we have to perfectly understand how to harmonize during a worship song, but He did say that we need to lift up our voices to praise Him. We get to make a joyful noise for the Lord, as the Psalmist says:

Oh, come let us sing to the LORD;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
-Psalm 95:1-2

The Potential Pride of Worship

It’s Sunday morning. You are either about to lead the church in worship, or you are about to join the congregation in singing. Now stop. Where is your heart? 

Are you thinking about how your outfit looks and how excited you are that so many people are in the congregation to hear you sing? Are you standing among the congregation thinking judgmentally about the elderly couple in the back who sing “way too loudly?” Or, are you focusing your eyes and your heart on the Lord? Are you praying that the Lord will use the words you sing to hopefully soften the heart of someone to understand the good news of the gospel? Are you thinking about the Scripture you are about to proclaim through song? 

In the book Sing, Keith and Kristyn Getty make the point that congregational singing can be a “radical witness to the world.” Coming together as a body of believers and whole-heartedly praising  God will not only be impactful in our personal relationship with the Lord, but it also enables us to inspire non-believers to meet with our Savior through song. Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians:

Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord.
-Ephesians 5:19

Christian singing should begin with the heart. Next time you are about to sing in church, pause for a moment, and have a heart check. Pray that the Lord will align your heart’s desires with His will during worship. 

Created to Sing

Oftentimes, during worship, we may feel self-conscious. 

Now stop. The Lord created each of us to be able to sing. He didn’t create each of us to be able to become a famous singer, but He did create us to be able to make a joyful noise. So, sing loudly! Be bold as you proclaim the truth of the gospel. It pleases the Lord to hear his children coming together as a body of believers and singing praises to Him. The Lord doesn’t want just the “best” or most confident singers to be heard during worship, He desires to hear each of our individual voices. 

A church that sings is a healthy church. Yes, the worship team should be heard so that the congregation knows which words to sing next and what the melodic line sounds like. The worship team acts as the shepherds and the congregation members are the sheep. However, the sheep should also be heard. It fills the hearts of worship leaders to hear their congregation singing along with them. Each voice coming together to sound as one, unified in the name of Christ, is incredibly beautiful.

The Significance of Worship

It is midway through the worship service, and you feel like you are just going through the motions. You are physically at church and singing the words on the screen, but your mind is in a thousand different places. 

Now stop. Music in the church has had quite the journey. At one point, the Protestant church didn’t allow music because church leaders believed it would distract from the service. Then music became available in the church service again, but only for worship leaders and pastors to take part in. 

Music wasn’t accessible to the members of the congregation. However, Martin Luther did not like that. He wanted everyone to be able to sing in church. He understood that God created us to enjoy beautiful things, and so Luther found it unreasonable that we couldn’t enjoy music in the very place that people were coming to meet with God. He even stated, “If you want to train your children in the faith, give them the songs of the faith.” 

Now, think about what your worship experience would be like without music. Yes, we would still get to hear the sermon and Scripture from the Bible, which are both incredibly important, but there is something missing. The element that music brings in isn’t just an “ice breaker” to half-heartedly take part in at the beginning of the service. It is a way to focus our heart and mind on the Lord as we enter a time of worship. Music is powerful, and it allows you to sing to the Lord what is on your heart, and it is also a way for you to understand the words of Scripture through the line of a melody. Sometimes hearing a certain ringing chord or perfect harmony can create a space for you to come and meet with God. 

Why We Sing

We sing because God created and calls us to do so. Yes, worship should take place in church, but truthfully, our whole lives should be worship. We should wake up each morning with a song of praise on our hearts that we are ready to sing from the rooftops. 

I want to encourage you before the next time you sing from the pews in church, or lead a congregation in worship to think about these things: What are you singing? How does what you are singing point you to Jesus? And then, go sing loudly. It is a gift and a joy to sing to the Lord. It is a gift and a joy to be able to stand alongside your brothers and sisters in Christ and sing to the Lord. Singing worship songs doesn’t mean that you put aside what’s on your heart while you sing. Singing in worship means that you bring what’s on your heart, and as you sing you lay those things down at the feet of our Savior. 

Keep singing, friends. It’s how I feel the most connected to the Lord, and I hope it will help you feel connected to Him too. In the words of Martin Luther, 

Beautiful music is the art of the prophets that can calm the agitations of the soul; it is one of the most magnificent and delightful presents God has given us.

C.S. Lewis, Modernism, and the Great War

The War to End All Wars

The nineteenth century was the age of optimism and change. Inventions such as the telephone, the light bulb, and the automobile were quickly adopted all over the world. As Lewis and Clark set out west, Manifest Destiny, the doctrine of American expansionism, was in full flight. Prized works of literature, such as Moby Dick and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, embodied the Western spirit. Although these examples of change inevitably spurred devastation, the tone of the cheerful nineteenth century greatly contrasted that of the somber twentieth.

The First World War brought an end to the optimism of the nineteenth century. The “Great War” was the disastrous culmination of eighteenth-century tactics—charge and short-range assaults—and nineteenth-century mechanization. Military expositions were often characterized by the use of advanced weaponry, such as machine guns and flamethrowers, and unsophisticated assaults on the enemy. Trench warfare had drastic effects on human health and mind. The muddied conditions of the trenches were often responsible for causing infections and tragic diseases, including mental debilitations. 

The unfortunate irony is this: The same technological advances that propelled the West into a golden age of optimism and progress were transformed into the weapons that shattered the human psyche. 

Modernism: A Reaction to Horror 

Modernism was an artistic, literary, and intellectual movement that sought to make sense of the First World War and other tragic realities. In literature, modernism was tethered to the “Lost Generation” of poets and novelists. They were deemed “lost” due to their propensity to behave apathetically, fixating all desires on the reckless accumulation of wealth. 

One of the most specific attributes of literary modernism was nihilism, the rejection of all religious and moral principles. Novels such as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises are quintessential works of modernism and nihilism, as the main characters throw themselves into a slough of hedonistic parties and pleasures. Rather than promoting personal creativity, modernists believed that traditional morality restricted human emotion. Instead of submitting to the historical understandings of morality and religion that are, assumably, rooted in hypocrisy, humans must trust their own inclinations—inclinations of natural expression and subjective moral standards—if they are truly to be happy. 

Modernism, also, was a radical approach to understanding the corruptibility of Western society—a corruptibility that was tethered to the vitalization of technology and change. As the twentieth century made incredible progress in the areas of science, automation, and mechanization, many sought to adopt philosophies that made sense of contemporary innovation, as well as the horrors of that innovation. Many believed that Christianity was not fit to access contemporary issues, nor could it adapt to the progress of the twentieth century. 

C.S. Lewis: From Nihilism to Joy

It is silly to suggest that Lewis did not succumb to the intellectual tension of his day. The young Lewis had his own encounter with the conflict that facilitated these existential anxieties. In the trenches, the boy from Belfast wrote poetry. Lewis’ wartime poems, Spirits in Bondage, reflect the modernist attitude towards moral authority and his cynical, albeit atheistic, outlook on nature:

I am Nature, the Mighty Mother,
I am the law: ye have none other.
I am the battle’s filth and strain,
I am the widow’s empty pain.
I am the sea to smother your breath,
I am the bomb, the falling death. 

Lewis’ career in wartime poetry would soon come to an end. On the offensive, Lewis witnessed the gruesome death of a fellow sergeant, while also taking shrapnel to his wrist, upper ribs, and left lung. He was deemed critically wounded and sent back to England. 

Lewis’ near-death experience would not make an insincere convert. His journey to faith, like that of St. Augustine, would be a long one. Lewis, the formidable Oxford scholar, was grounded in the atheism of his teenage years and invigorated by his academic stature. Despite his egotism, the “Hound of Heaven,” as Lewis called God, would have His way. Soon, Lewis was the most “dejected and reluctant convert in all of England.” 

The Fight Against Modernism 

Lewis used his remarkable wit and creative talent to fight modernism and the hedonistic tone of the literature of his day. The modernist belief, as we have previously discussed, is that traditional forms of morality restricted emotion, freedom, and the human spirit. Christianity could not keep up with the times, as it was believed to limit natural expression. During his period of atheism, Lewis concluded that imagination and reason were at odds. Imagination was edging him onto belief, while reason suppressed that belief. Lewis reflects upon this tension in his autobiography:

The two hemispheres of my mind were in the sharpest contrast. On the one side a many-islanded sea of poetry and myth; on the other a glib and shallow ‘rationalism.’ Nearly all that I loved I believed to be imaginary; nearly all that I believed to be real I thought grim and meaningless.

One of Lewis’ greatest rejections of modernism, along with the truth that brought him to faith, was that imagination and reason are not mutually exclusive realities—they inform one another. Lewis argues that reason is the vessel of truth and the “imagination is the organ of meaning.” We cannot fully grasp the meaning of a concept until an image is applied to that concept. Lewis affirmed that it is the same with the gospel message, as we see with Christ’s use of parables. The Chronicles of Narnia provide images of Christ’s death and resurrection, via the character of Aslan, to bolster our perception of Christ, while also fighting the ultra-rationalism of the time. The Chronicles, not exclusively, intermix traditional Christianity with creativity and expression—challenging the modernist idea that morality negates expression. 

In combating the nihilistic attitudes of his fellow novelists, Lewis combines hope and truth. Take, for example, the most important scene from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

At that moment they heard from behind them a loud noise—a great cracking, deafening noise as if a giant had broken a giant’s plate. “I—I feel afraid to turn round,” said Susan; “something awful is happening.” The Stone Table was broken into two pieces by a great crack that ran down it from end to end; and there was no Aslan… They looked round. There, shining in the sunrise, larger than they had seen him before, shaking his mane stood Aslan himself.

It is Lewis’s belief that the spiritual lens of a child will reveal truths, in a way, that our aged perspectives cannot. One of his many solutions to the problem of modernistic-nihilism is the appeal to youthful fantasy. We often forget that there is great wonder in appreciating the simplicity of childhood, and Lewis reminds us of this truth better than anyone. His theological fantasies, especially this very scene, appeal to imaginative faculties that our mundane rationalizations fail to excite. By tethering the emotions of the reader to the spirit of his characters, Lewis instills in us the truth that the creative soul and theological orthodoxy do not negate one another. 

Walk as Children 

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus states: 

And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me…”
-Matthew 18:2-5

We are called to be of the spirit of children, says the Lord. We often forget that Christ, being the embodiment of what he says, is the ultimate representation of childlikeness. While fighting the cynicism—cynicism being the opposite of childlikeness—of the twentieth century, Lewis harkens back to the simplicity of the gospel message, and he delivers this message in the form of imaginative, childlike fantasies. 

In the preface to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Lewis says, “But someday you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” The irony is this: No matter how old we grow, we should never outgrow being spiritual children.

Christian Unity Despite Theological Differences

It is crucial for Christians to know that, within the Church, not all Christians are doctrinally unified. Ideally, all Christians would believe the same doctrine and the idea of disagreements would be foreign to the Church. It is God’s will that we reflect the perfect unity of the Father and Son (John 17:11). However, so long as we live in this world which is devastated by sin, there will be errors in our understanding of God and His commands. One day we will have perfect unity in Heaven but we must fight to obey Christ’s command for us to be unified with other believers in the meantime. 

The first step towards obeying this command is being able to recognize our Christian siblings. Below, I will discuss how we can identify our siblings in Christ by our shared faith in the gospel. After that, I will discuss how we can relate to our Christian siblings who share these beliefs but differ on things which are not the gospel.

Although the information below is foundational to the faith, we must be careful not to turn this into a quiz someone must pass before you worship with them. Not knowing all the details of the gospel, or not being able to articulate them well is not an indicator that they are unbelievers. We become Christians long before we become theologians. Remember, it is possible to have our minds filled with true doctrine while we remain as spiritually immature as new converts. Let us pray for grace and wisdom in applying the information below.

The Glorious Gospel: Our Basis for Unity

Christians must affirm the Bible as the word of God. The contents of the 66 canonical books are not the product of lofty human thoughts, nor are they a flawed collection of human attempts to write what God told them. Just as 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,” (see John 10:27, 2 Peter 1:21). The Bible is the only book in which God has chosen to speak clearly to His people. Thus, it is vital for all aspects of the Christian life.

Another essential belief is that the God of the Bible is the only God who exists. He is not one of many gods (Isaiah 44:6). This God, the only one who exists, is triune. This means He is one infinite being shared by three distinct persons, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Each distinct person fully shares the essence of God which means they are each fully God, but they are not separate gods. Christians must agree on who God is so they can unite themselves under His rule and worship Him together (Exodus 20:3-6).

As our next essential, we have the gospel. Monotheism and the inerrancy of the Bible—mentioned above—are necessary for us to believe the gospel which is revealed to us by the one true God of Scripture. The gospel is the means by which people enter in relationship with God (Romans 1:16). A rejection of the gospel which reconciles us to God by faith alone is spiritually fatal. Every detail of the gospel is important (Galatians 1:7-9).

To understand the gospel, we must understand the nature of mankind. From birth, all people are corrupted by sin, and consequently, they walk in disobedience against God. We all intentionally sought what was contrary to the will of our creator, and for that rebellion we incurred the righteous judgment of God. God cannot turn a blind eye to sin because He is righteous, and wickedness cannot go unpunished (Proverbs 17:15, Colossians 3:5-7). 

Fortunately for us, God in His great love and mercy, sent His Son, the second person of the Trinity, to suffer in place of those who would believe. He was born into the world through a virgin, and while He remained fully God, He took on flesh to become fully man. The Son lived a perfect life, perfectly keeping all the holy rules we broke, and He was crushed by the wrath of God which we deserved (1 John 2:2, Ephesians 1:5). By His sacrifice, He paid for all His people’s past, present, and future sins. After His death, He was resurrected on the third day, and He ascended to the Father’s right hand in Heaven to intercede for us (Romans 8:34).

It was God’s eternal plan to save His undeserving people in this way. Because the perfect obedience needed to please God was performed by Jesus Christ, salvation does not involve any of our obedience. It does not include baptism, church attendance, or anything else we do. We simply confess that we have sinned against a holy God and plead His forgiveness. By simple faith, we receive forgiveness. We are renewed in such a way that we want to love and obey God after we put our faith in Him (Romans 3-4, Ezekiel 36:25-27).

If you have not obeyed the Lord’s command to turn from sin and find reconciliation in Jesus Christ, I invite you to do so now. Please flee the wrath to come and put your faith in Christ. He is the only way to God (John 14:6). This gospel is powerful to save evil sinners like you and me. It is the basis for unity for all Christians, but it is also the only path to eternal life with God.

What if We Differ on Non-Essential Doctrines?

Non-essentials are doctrines that do not alter the gospel which unifies all Christians. Examples of these would be how a church’s government should be structured, who should be baptized, and whether we can sing contemporary-style music, or if we should only sing Psalms. It is a mistake to think these doctrines are unimportant because they all affect how we worship God. Some of them, such as beliefs about sacraments and church government structure, will prevent us from worshiping in the same church, but they should never keep us from affectionately loving each other and having fellowship outside the church building. 

When meeting people with different views on non-gospel issues, focus on the fact that you have a common faith. The gospel that has brought you both to God has made you into one spiritual body under the headship of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-26). Acknowledge glorifying God and serving His people as your common mission, and diligently look for ways to commune. If you’re a Presbyterian and you have friends who are Baptists, find ways to have fellowship. You may not attend the same church because of your differing convictions, but you can certainly evangelize together, pray together, or simply enjoy a meal together. There are people with differing theological views on this very website that you visited to read this article. We are united by the gospel, and we have banded together to edify fellow Christians and spread the gospel. The ways in which we can work with people who differ over non-essential doctrines are innumerable. We just have to be willing to look for them.

Our interactions with believers who have different convictions should not be dominated by heated exchanges and controversy. Continuous quarreling rarely, if ever, changes one’s doctrinal views. With that said, I am not discouraging respectful debates. Discussion encourages people to scour the Scriptures and evaluate their beliefs. If we take the Bible seriously, we will want to see eye-to-eye with other believers. Our only option for striving toward the goal of theological unity is to have loving, educated discussion aimed toward building up the Body of Christ (Ephesians 4:29-32). 

The Basis of Our Unity

Remember that we are not ultimately unified on the basis of our shared theological beliefs. The blood of Jesus Christ, applied by the Holy Spirit through the gospel, brings us all to the same God (1 Peter 3:18). With this in mind, pursue your Christian family who is faithful to the same gospel and pray that God will work through you all together. Our basis for unity is much stronger than our non-essential reasons for separation. One day we will not have to struggle with these differences, but until that day we must intentionally seek fellowship with our Christian siblings united under the one gospel.

How Worship Forms the People of God

Every Sunday, millions of people walk into churches across the world to hear a message, sing, and pray. Unfortunately, in the United States, we have created a culture around going to church in order that we might be put into a better mood, feel happier, and “experience” the presence of God in a new way and then post about it on our social media. There is now a surge of phrases emerging in conversations on the sidewalk outside of our churches, phrases like: “I didn’t feel it today,” or “I couldn’t sing that song again, we sang it last week.”

Like many things in our consumer-focused society, we have made worship about us, our preferences, and our feelings. Emily Zell recently wrote that “it becomes problematic when we come to worship for the sake of an emotional high” (emphasis added). If we come to church or set aside quiet time with our chief motivation being to get a “spiritual high,” we are doing a disservice to ourselves. Worship (in this article worship references both corporate worship and how we live our lives) forms the people of God by providing us with a proper theology which in turn reorients our motivations.

Worship and Our Feelings

We have a kind, loving heavenly Father who desires that we know and enjoy him. We have been given the unique opportunity to worship the Father in particular and personal ways. It is important to note that there is a place for our feelings and our emotions in our times of worship. 

For instance, recently we have had several articles come out about the season of Advent. The seasons of the church calendar aim to stir in our hearts different emotions and mental images to push us to see a specific aspect of Christ during that season. In advent, the Scripture plans we read or songs we sing are trying to get us to feel a sense of longing, of desire for Christ to return again. When our singing or reading is accompanied by feelings it is easier for us to continue in doing those disciplines everyday and it helps us to dive deeper into a personal relationship with the Lord. However important our feelings are to God, they are not the purpose of our worship.

The Value of Corporate Worship

A.W. Tozer says, “What we think about when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” We need corporate worship because in the church, we pray, sing songs, and listen to sermons that all build our theology (what we believe about God). Corporate worship gives us accountability with other believers in our community. By consistently attending the same church and placing ourselves under the doctrine of our churches, we are committing to reflect the beliefs of the church and more importantly, the teachings of the Bible. Thankfully, when we stop reflecting those things or when we miss church consistently, we have people who know us and are able to lovingly draw us back to the kindness of the Father. In this way, through good community and sound corporate worship, we are slowly formed to be compassionate, loving believers who walk humbly with one another and with God. 

We Worship with Our Lives

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.
-Romans 12:1

In addition so worship in our church services, we worship the Father with how we, as believers, live our lives. Worship is formative and manifests in a myriad of ways. We worship the Lord in how we do our homework, how we fold our laundry, how we greet people on our college campuses, and even in how we run on the treadmill. Each of these things is worship because each of these things and every small detail of our lives glorifies the Lord in how it represents His character or brings to light our desperate need for a savior, Jesus Christ. 

There will be times when we need to pray or need to read our Bible for the first time in a while but we don’t seem to have a desire to do so. When we submit to what we know about God’s character, and when we pray even a one sentence prayer or simply open our Bible to a chapter we’ve read a dozen times, we are submitting to Him and developing obedience that helps to form us into a better light bearer of Christ’s Word. 

Our Response

In other segments of our “How ____________ forms the people of God” series we have explored the topics of community, liturgy, and prayer. Each of these practices helps form our worship which in turn forms us. Intentional community forms the people of God by providing us with accountability for how we live our lives. With gospel-centered community, we are able to make our day-to-day lives look more like Jesus’ and less like our broken ones. Through liturgy (consistent routines that shape our lives) we create patterns that help us to make time in our busy schedules to dive into the Word of God—even in times where it is hard or perhaps painful. Prayer allows us to enter into the throne room of God and petition Him about every burden, joy, fear, excitement, or trouble with a promise of peace in our souls.

Each of these practices helps form our daily lives, which forms our worship, shaping us as well. Let us now go, keeping in mind the prize set before us, to glorify the Father and one day be made perfect in His presence.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
-Philippians 3:12-14

How Children’s Bibles Form the People of God

We never graduate from the gospel, but I think sometimes we try to do so. We pursue theological knowledge and sift through Scripture that defends our latest point or that speaks to our current life situation. One pastor says, 

If you were in love and could only speak to your loved one in emails, you would never read those emails and say, “Wow. I’m right.” You would read those emails and feel so loved and become more enthralled with your love every time you read them.

Unfortunately, this experience of deep love through Bible reading is not as common of an experience as is should be. It is so easy to start to treat the Bible as a textbook to glean information from or a rule book to tell us what to do, but it is so much more than that. Our hearts need more than random verses and obscure theological distinctions. 

Our Hearts Need the Biblical Narrative 

When Jesus meets Cleopas on the Road to Emmaus, he finds him sad and disappointed. The Savior he thought would set everything right was dead (or so he thought). Haven’t we all felt this at some point? We felt disappointed by God and felt like he didn’t come through for us. Because we all understand what Cleopas has gone through, we need to see how Jesus met him in that situation. Jesus went all the way back to the story of Moses and explained how God always keeps his promises and how He, Jesus, was the fulfillment of all of it. In our times of deep disappointment and confusion, we must do the same. We need to go back to the biblical narrative and remember God’s overwhelming faithfulness and radical love for us, His children. Sally Lloyd-Jones, in the Jesus Storybook Bible, writes, 

The Bible is most of all a Story. It’s an adventure story about a young Hero who comes from a far country to win back his lost treasure…There are lots of stories in the Bible, but all the stories are telling one Big Story. The Story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them. It takes the whole Bible to tell this story. And at the center of the Story, there is a baby. Every story in the Bible whispers his name. He is like the missing piece in a puzzle—the piece that makes all the other pieces fit together and suddenly you can see a beautiful picture. 

We need to be consistently reminded of the big story of the Bible, because it reminds us that God is always working in way more significant ways than it seems. He always has a bigger plan in mind, and it is always for our good. When we zoom out to see this story as a whole, we can trace his hand throughout history. We can’t always trace His hand in our lives, but, as Charles Spurgeon says, “When you cannot trace his hand, you can always trust his heart.” We can know God’s heart when we see how he has been working since day one to bring his people into his family. 

One way to meditate on the biblical narrative as a whole is through children’s bibles. Children’s bibles, in many less words than the Bible itself, take our hands and guide us through the story of the Bible, and in most cases, explicitly show us how “every story whispers his name.” We need to be reminded of this because we need to be reminded of God’s sovereignty over all things. 

Children’s Bibles are for Everyone

It is quite clear how children’s bibles are beneficial for children. They introduce children at a young age to the stories of Scripture. Yet, they are also deeply beneficial for adults. We need to be reminded of the deep and important truths that we try to deem “introductory.” They are useful to adults both new to faith and who have known Christ for years and years. Children’s bibles can be a sweet and wonderful tool to introduce new believers, or people unsure of what the Bible story even is, to the gospel. However, if we believe that we never graduate from the gospel (or from the biblical narrative) then we will believe that we need to go back to basics consistently, no matter our age or spiritual maturity. Therefore, children’s bibles can be beneficial for mature Christians as well.

We Need to Go Back to Basics

We need things spoken to us simply. An English professor of mine said, “Writers like long sentences. Readers like short sentences.” And this is so true. We need someone to explain important truths to us in simple ways. We think we need to like only upper level, difficult biblical truths, and yes, there is a place for that, but there is also a place to go back to a childlike wonder. When Paul distinguishes between Christians who need milk and Christians who need meat, we must remember that we still should eat our meat with a glass of milk near to help us digest it and to remind us that we were once beginners in our understanding too. And that even after all of the meat we could ever eat, we will always need milk as well. We never graduate from our need for the basic truths of the Gospel. As Marty Machowski says in The Gospel Story Bible

You see, the gospel is not something we hear once, believe, and never need to hear again. We need to hear the good news about Jesus over and over. Paul never tired of sharing the gospel and telling people about Jesus and how he died for our sins so that we should be forgiven.

We also should never tire of hearing this beautiful story, and children’s bibles offer that to us. We need to be reminded of our childlike need for God to meet us in our daily lives. We need to be reminded of our need for a rescuer, and that God loves us, as Sally Lloyd-Jones says, with a “Never stopping, never-giving up, unbreaking, always and forever love.”

We need need. The Jesus Storybook Bible displays this beautifully in the story of Naaman, who thought that he did not need cleansing in the Jordan River, even though he had leprosy: “All Naaman needed was nothing. And that was the one thing that Naaman didn’t have.”

We need to be keenly aware of our needs like children are. We must learn again and again how to sit at Jesus’s feet and hear the beautiful story that he has been telling all along. The need to be reminded of the truth of the gospel is never something we can or will outgrow. Reading children’s bibles can be a reminder that we will never grow out of our childlike need for our Father. Jesus says just this to his disciples in the gospel of Matthew:

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
-Matthew 18:1-4

Do we have the humility to become like children and marvel at Jesus and his most beautiful story? It is a humility and wonder to which we are called. It’s a humility that comes from acknowledging our childlike need for Christ. 

We need the biblical narrative. We need the gospel. And we need it told to us plainly and often. Children’s bibles can offer that to us in a unique and precious way. Let us never feel like we have grown too old or too advanced not to marvel at this Big Story, where every individual story whispers the name of Jesus.