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3 Proven Ways to “Grow” Your Youth Ministry

For decades the American church has sold a shallow “growth strategy” revolving around the notion that teenagers and college students need copious amounts of shenanigans to stay in the church and buy into Christianity. Youth Pastors famously emerged as 20-40-year old men spending their work week working on a promo skit to garner a response, and “sermons” that refer to the Bible but don’t teach much. The focus was not on raising future church members, it was on getting kids to show up and think it was “cool.”

If you ever wondered why young people left the church in droves seeking truth? It’s no wonder at all. They were finding plenty of entertainment. But they weren’t finding any real truth.

Where I’m Coming From

As I write this, I don’t sit on a perch of arrogance or high-dollar youth conference expertise. While I’ve overseen the student ministry at two churches as both the “students” pastor and/or the pastor who oversees the youth director, the takeaways in the midst of spiritual and numerical growth is consistently: student ministry is tough. It’s trench work with long seasons of waiting to see if the seeds you planted took root. In many cases, it’s small, unnoticed, unappreciated work.

Still, it doesn’t have to be confusing to come up with a strategy for growth — spiritually, speaking. Pragmatic and “next level” conferences will cost you money, show you things you’ll never have the money to implement, and leave you high on hype but low on fruit.

Ditch the gimmicks. Faithfulness works too. The following numbers only serve as an illustration that silences pragmatists who say, “Bible-teaching is fine but doesn’t work.”

We Grew 396% in Six Months

A recent tweet about our student ministry growth invoked a large number of responses that triggered this article. It’s true. We grew fast and it was fun to watch as more families brought their students to our campus. However, we still have a long way to go with discipleship and raising up leaders who raise up leaders. This has happened on both a smaller and larger scale at both churches I have pastored at. In both contexts, the focus was always God’s word over gimmicks. In both contexts, God sovereignly determined growth. Here’s the tweet:

Many were asking me to flesh out the context of the steps that God used to “grow” our ministry. Of course, we all know that God causes growth and that numbers don’t tell the whole story. But the point of the tweet was to illustrate that young people today are hungry for truth and solid teaching. Furthermore, the most important growth (spiritual) can happen when you use ordinary means, and so can numerical growth (though it’s not guaranteed). 

Contrast that with many student ministry strategies today and youth ministry conference “wisdom” that insist on foolish antics, soundbite messages, “tons of games,” and an X-box station to trigger growth, and you can see the dilemma that so many young leaders are faced with. Pragmatism? Or faithfulness? Manufactured growth? Or God-triggered growth?

What We Focused On

For us, things happened to grow after we shifted gears and did these three things. Still, anyone on our team would tell you that we’d be doing the same things for 2 students or 2000. Additionally, our entire elder team was taking this approach with the entire congregation and other ministries as well. 

Here are the “big three” that we focused on, and how we approach each one.  

1. Major on expository preaching

My friend and fellow pastor, Jon Benzinger, always asks: Are you using the Bible to preach your message, or is the Bible using you to preach its message? 

That question is what every pastor who serves teens to college students must ask. Fortunately, expository preaching helps a great deal. If you’re new to the term, it means that instead of preaching random topics and just loading your message with some quotes from Google, an emotional story for your closing altar call, and a couple of random passages sprinkled in, you unpack a text from Scripture in its proper context and apply it to their lives. This doesn’t mean you can’t preach topics, or that there is no place for other approaches to certain subjects, it just means you’re always preaching what the Bible says, rather than what you think.

For example, if you’re preaching on sexual purity, unpack 1 Corinthians 6:18-20, and give them an actual section of Scripture they will forever understand to the fullest. Preach on separating from the world by digging deep into 1 John 2:15-17. Talk about dating by painting a clear picture of a faithful husband or wife in Ephesians 5:22-35 or from 1 Peter 3:1-7.

The goal of each message is to teach from a text and help your audience understanding the original meaning to the original audience. Throughout that text and as you cross-reference and make points, saturate their hearts with Scripture, explain the context and original audience, ask big questions about what things mean and why God would command such things of His people? Unpack what they were going through, what the passage means, and then apply the passage in ways they can immediately put into practice. This takes work. If you’re the “youth” pastor or preacher, don’t spend half your week working on the skit for your promo video. Focus on your job to proclaim the truth. Delegate the skit to someone else. Study the word, pray for their hearts, work on your homiletics, and don’t be boring! As for illustrations, you can still have a riot with those but keep them linked to the text. For example, one night I was preaching out of James 3 and in my study that week I realized James uses some pretty extreme examples to illustrate the damage done by an untamed tongue. Since I couldn’t light anything on fire in the sanctuary, I cut the pulpit in half with a chainsaw to illustrate what your tongue does when it’s used the wrong way at the wrong time. I had a guy in the church whip up a pulpit (so I didn’t destroy the main one at the church) and hid the chainsaw behind a stage speaker. A bit over the top, probably wouldn’t do it again, but still fun and many students never forgot the lesson from the text (but without the forest fire James references). 

If you think young people can only handle (or will come back for) stories with some shallow platitudes, you’re dead wrong. Trust the Lord, be faithful with His word, and let the Bible do the heavy lifting. Prepare your students for their future as church members by preaching the word. Let it fly! And you can still have some fun.

2. Singing sound doctrine (No Bethel, Jesus, Culture, or Hillsong)

 Music is a huge part of every generation and this generation of teenagers to college students is no different. Unfortunately, some of the most popular music groups today are the most dangerous. We chose, for better or worse, not to cave to the culture and sing Bethel Music (or Jesus Culture, or Hillsong) for several reasons but the main reason was that they and their apostolic leaders teach the prosperity gospel, and/or a heretical version of Jesus that headlines the “New Apostolic Reformation.” You can read more here, and watch it here.

This decision took more work, more research, sacrifice, and some heat, but the Lord honored it. Every week parents and students can count on one thing: we sing music filled with sound doctrine from sources that do not teach heresy. Church money is not purchasing music arrangements and tracks that are directly funding heresy. Students are getting rich theology.

As for methods and nuance there is some flexibility. We have lights (bright and dim), sometimes we’re loud, sometimes we raise our hands, sometimes we pray deep and desperate prayers, and sometimes a band member writes a song and the team tries it out. Furthermore, we don’t take the “six degrees” of separation approach with every song choice or band who played with one band who appeared with Bethel. It’s first degree false teachers we’re steering clear of — for now.

Our bottom line: we are firm in theology, flexible in methodology.

3. Live Q & A Session with anonymous questions using QR Code

We all know the horror stories of young people leaving the church because they couldn’t get a straight answer from the Bible or their pastor. Which is why we opted for an open forum, anonymous Q & A at the end of every message. We schedule at least 2 pastors and 1-2 biblically educated leaders to be on the panel each week. Provide stools, a cold bottle of water, a mic, and let your pastors do what they do best. We use a QR code that is on the screens and posted on our Instagram page. Students simply take a cell phone photo of the QR code, and a form pops up on their smartphone that allows them to ask a question. That question generates on a spreadsheet in Google Drive for our team, and just like that, we have loads of questions either ahead of the time or in real-time. We post the code on the screens before the sermon begins and post it again throughout the night. 

Since I am technically challenged, our brilliant intern (who leaves for the Master’s University this fall) lays out the process here:

Q & A Set-Up: 

1. Build the form: setup your Q&A Survey with Google Forms. It’s free and easy! https://docs.google.com/forms/

  1. Setup the form to email / update with responses
  2. Set the “Select response destination” to “Create a new spreadsheet”

2. Manage responses: Find the spreadsheet with responses in your Google Drive and manage responses live during Q&A or update afterward

  1. Add columns to the spreadsheet for any additional tracking information you want to keep updated.
  2. Using a field such as “Answer Date” to mark the ones you’ve answered. Delete rows for any duplicate or off-topic questions.

3. Share it with students and leaders

  1. From Settings select “Send Form” and shorten the link to copy it and generate a QR Code for the form to share with the attendees. 
  2. Paste the QR image into a presentation, PowerPoint slide, or on social media and instruct attendees to point any smartphone camera app at the code to direct them to the form. They can easily fill it out and submit in a smartphone-friendly view.

When it comes to ministry that targets the next generation of church members, we do well to think of the kind of people we are influencing them to be. Will they get the answers they need to be strong, mature, and faithful to the truth? Or will they be flighty, insecure, and immature? God is the one who causes the growth. He also uses your labor as a means to that end (Colossians 1:28-29).

How to Become a Prayer Warrior?

Have you ever wanted to become a prayer warrior? Do you want to get beyond the basic (not unimportant) mentality that prayer is asking God to “touch everyone, heal everyone, help everyone, and bless everyone?” What if you began to pray about God’s will even more than your will?

Perhaps the next step if for you to take a deep dive into the prayers and desires that heroes in the faith had.

I believe to be effective in our prayer life we must train our perspective on prayer. Prayer is a vital part of our relationship with Christ. Further, we must know how to use this weapon we’ve been given by God — especially when in seasons like the one we’re in.

Though not exhaustive regarding all the prayers in the N.T., this post will train your perspective on what to pray by showing you 41 of Paul’s N.T. prayers (or desires). I’ve taken the list from D.A. Carson’s A Call to Spiritual Reformationand added some commentary in “focus” portion of the graph below. Does God care about “Aunt Sally’s knee surgery?” and “Little Johnny’s ‘sniffles?'” Of course He does. But when prayers for physical ailments dominate our prayer lists and church prayer chains, perhaps it’s worth considering a chart like the one below and asking ourselves, what else can I be praying for? What is God’s will in this situation? What brings Him ultimate glory? Is my will aligned with His? 

Relief, provision, healing, and protection are excellent things to pray for. But, the gospel is why we are here on earth and God’s glory is what we must long for most. Until heaven, let us pray with that perspective!

Here are some ways to use this chart:

  1. Pray one of Paul’s prayers daily, in addition to your normal prayers. Apply his prayers for other believers to the ones in your own life.
  2. Use his prayers a way to invite the conviction of the Holy Spirit into your own prayer life. Are you focusing on mostly physical things? Are your prayers (though this might sting) shallow and earthly? Do you hold the gospel as primary and all else secondary?
  3. Share this list with a small group or Bible study cohort and work through it as a study tool.
  4. Try praying for only gospel-centered things for 3 straight days — multiple times per day.
  5. Try praying prayers that only loaded with thanksgiving to God for 3 straight days — multiple times per day.
  6. Make a list of all the ways that you could be the answer to the prayer you’ve been praying. For example, instead of praying that “someone share the gospel with your family member,” why don’t you share the gospel with your family member (even if it’s the 50th time)?
  7. Start listing out your prayers and keep track of how many revolve around you and your wants. Work to balance spiritual and physical requests.

The list above is only to spark your thoughts. Use this chart however is best for your prayer life training.

Paul’s 41 New Testament Prayers

Scripture Reference Quoted Passage  Prayer Focus
Romans 1:8–10 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world. For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you 10 always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. Thanksgiving, and that Paul would be able to come see them.
Romans 10:1 Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. Salvation for others.
Romans 12:12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Encouragement to pray.
Romans 15:5–6 May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Harmony and unity between believers.
Romans 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. For joy and peace to fill their lives.
Romans 15:30–33 I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company. May the God of peace be with you all. Amen. That Paul’s gospel efforts would succeed.
1 Corinthians 1:4–9 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Thanksgiving, that believers would be strengthened and be found faithful when Christ returns.
1 Corinthians 16:23 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. God’s grace.
2 Corinthians 1:3–7 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort. Praising God for who He is as our comfort and our everlasting hope in hard times.
2 Corinthians 2:14–16 But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? Thanksgiving to God for the victory we have in His Son Jesus Christ.
2 Corinthians 9:12–15 For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift! Thanksgiving to God for provision, generosity, and the grace of God through others.
2 Corinthians 13:7–9 But we pray to God that you may not do wrong—not that we may appear to have met the test, but that you may do what is right, though we may seem to have failed. For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. Your restoration is what we pray for. Asking that God would keep them from sin.
Galatians 6:18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen. God’s grace.
Ephesians 1:3–5 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, Praising God for mercifully saving us as His children and blessing us spiritually through Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 1:15–23  For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers,  that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. Thanksgiving for what God is doing through their faith, that wisdom and knowledge would illuminate them to the hope and inheritance that they have in Christ. Praise and adoration to Jesus for His victory over sin both now and when He returns to reign over all.
Ephesians 3:14–21 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Reverence and adoration to God the Father for who He is, that the saints would be spiritually strengthened, knowing the love of Christ. Glorifying God for His power.
Ephesians 6:19–20 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. That the gospel would be preached boldly.
Philippians 1:3–6 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Thanksgiving for faithful saints who partner to spread the Gospel.
Philippians 1:9–11 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. That love would abound in the believers, that they would live holy lives and be found faithful.
Philippians 4:6–7 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Pray without worry, with total thanksgiving, and receive peace no matter what.
Philippians 4:23 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. God’s grace.
Colossians 1:3–14 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit. And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Thanksgiving for the faith that saints are living with and their whole-hearted example as Christians. For strength, endurance, patience, joy. Praise and adoration to God for His power and victory. Praise to God for His merciful redemption and fogiveness of our sins through Christ.
Colossians 4:2–4 Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. Be faithful and alert in your prayer life, be thankful, pray that the gospel would be spread.
1 Thessalonians 1:2–3 We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. Thanksgiving for what God is doing in the lives of believers.
1 Thessalonians 2:13–16  And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them at last! Thanksgiving for the way believers received the word. Praise for the Word’s work in their lives.
1 Thessalonians 3:9–13 For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God,  as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith? Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. Praise and thanksgiving to God for the joy that comes from seeing believers live out their faith. Requesting that the Lord would grow their love for each other, that they’d be blameless/holy.
1 Thessalonians 5:23–24 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. That God would sanctify(cleanse) the believers and they would be found blamess when Christ returns.
1 Thessalonians 5:28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. God’s grace.
2 Thessalonians 1:3–5 We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring. This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— Thankgiving because the faith in God and love for each other is growing.
2 Thessalonians 1:11–12 To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. That God would grow them in their faith and in good works. That their spiritual fruit would glorify God.
2 Thessalonians 2:16–17 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word. That they would be comforted and strengthened in their walk.
2 Thessalonians 3:1–5 Finally, brethren, pray for us that the word of the Lord will spread rapidly and be glorified, just as it did also with you; and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ. For the Gospel to spread quickly, God to be glorified, deliverance from wicked men who were stifling their efforts, for direction and steadfastness.
2 Thessalonians 3:16 Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all. For peace from God.
1 Timothy 1:12 I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, Thanksgiving to God.
1 Timothy 2:1–3 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, Pray for government and leaders, for saints to live quiet and dignified lives to please God.
2 Timothy 1:3–7 I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. Thanksgiving, thoughtful affection for a brother in the Lord. That they would be reunited to labor for the kingdom together again one day.
2 Timothy 1:16–18 May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains, but when he arrived in Rome he searched for me earnestly and found me— may the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that Day!—and you well know all the service he rendered at Ephesus. Mercy (and approval) for Paul’s friend and supporter when the he stands before the Lord one day because of his faithfulness and loyalty.
2 Timothy 4:22 The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you. God be with you.
Titus 3:15 All who are with me send greetings to you. Greet those who love us in the faith. Grace be with you all. God’s grace.
Philemon 4–7 I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers,  because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you. Thanksgiving for the faith and love they have for Christ and others. That their witness would be effective for Christ.
Philemon 25 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. God’s grace.

Signs of Christian Maturity

Some of the most important questions that arise in a Christian’s mind will (and should) have to do with spiritual maturity.

Am I growing? How am I growing? Is “maturity” evident in my life? Have I been consistently (even if slowly) become more like Jesus?

The Bible repeatedly teaches that Christians are supposed to be maturing in many ways — all of which enable us to bring glory to God and fulfill our purpose on earth (Ephesians 2:8-10). In other words, “cruise control” Christianity is not genuine Christianity. Salvation is not merely eternal life insurance. Salvation is not a get-rich, get-healed, get-famous formula either. Scripture teaches that once we are saved, Christians are to be imitating Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1), loving others like Christ (1 John 4:7), giving themselves up like Christ (Ephesians 5:1-2), keeping the commandments of Christ (John 14:15), growing in holiness like Christ (1 Peter 1:16), and even suffering like Christ (1 Peter 2:21).

The question begs: By the grace of God are you seeing signs of Christian maturity in your life?

Here are four signs that can help you make a prayerful assessment:

1. You see trials as training
This one is not fun. But since when is growth ever painless? In the gym, athletes hire trainers who “make them sore,” push their limits and provide resistance so they grow stronger. So it is in the Christian life when it comes to trials.

A mature Christian has natural feelings just like anyone else, but those feelings follow faith — they don’t lead it.

Do you see trials as cosmic abuse? Do you shake your fist at God; demanding He does what you are commanding? Have you come to rest in His sovereignty even when your life takes an unexpected turn into trial and suffering? Romans 5:3-5 reminds us to “rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

For the Christian, trials equal training.

2. You pray with a wide perspective
Prayer can be a sensitive subject for many Christians because they view it as personal and outside of anyone else’s opinion. It’s my prayer life.
However, we must sober up to the reality that God’s divine opinion matters when it comes to your prayer life. Your prayer life is also a significant indicator of maturity. For example, our physical and emotional needs are incredibly important to God (Matthews 6:25-34; 2 Corinthians 12:7-9; 1 Peter 5:7), but there is so much more to prayer than simply asking God to do everything we want.

I recently completed a study on forty-one prayers or statements of prayer by the apostle Paul in an effort to see the kind of prayer life he fostered. It was eye-opening to see how most of his written prayers were focused on the salvation of souls, freedom from sin, open doors for the gospel, Christ-centered peace, joy in trials, and thanksgiving to God for all that He was doing in the hearts of believers (2 Corinthians 13:7-9; Ephesians 1:15-23, 3:14-21; Colossians 4:2-4; 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3; Philemon 4-7).

Does your prayer life resemble Paul’s? Do you adore God in prayer like David repeatedly extols Him in the Psalms? Are you actively surrendering your will to His as Jesus did on the way to the cross?

Yes, pray for physical and emotional needs. But, seek a wider perspective than your own temporal needs.

3. You respond to rebuke with receptivity
When people play offense, we have a tendency to play defense. It is innate. It can also be a sign of spiritual immaturity.

Maturity is the antidote to the type of pride that always assumes it is right and reacts to being called out on sin. Proverbs offers convicting insight asking, “Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him” (Proverbs 26:12).

Sometimes our immaturity rears its ugly head when we react defensively (and even aggressively) to someone lovingly pointing out our need for repentance.

Do you freely admit that you very likely could be the problem in some scenarios? Are you open to others shining the light of truth on your darkened blind spots? Christian maturity reflects the heart of Psalm 51:17 with the kind of brokenness and contrite response that “the Lord will not despise.”

4. Habitual sins are fading
Nobody is called to perfection, but every Christian is called to progression. The plain truth is, putting off the old self and being renewed by the Holy Spirit is going to transform you (Ephesians 4:22-24). Even if it seems agonizingly slow sometimes.

By the grace of God, certain sins like unbelief, addiction, or hatred may be shattered upon conversion, while the habitual cycle of other sins may fade over time as you saturated your mind with God’s word (Romans 12:2; Colossians 3:16). The Lord may use counseling, accountability, preaching, and prayer as a means of grace by which certain nagging sins get addressed. When it comes to sin and temptation, God always provides a way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13), and a Christian is — without question — implored to work out their salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). All the while, a mature Christian trusts in the power of grace that is greater than all sin, knowing that it is “God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).

Are you confessing sin (1 John 1:9)? Do you see a pattern of holiness growing in your life and the flippant, habitual practice of sin decreasing (1 Peter 1:14-16; 1 John 3:6)?

As you strive by grace to grow in your faith, be encouraged by Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:10:

“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain…”

6 Ways to Stifle Your Small Group

Small groups can be an incredible blessing, but they are not fail-proof. At times, churches “sell” small group involvement as the secret sauce to a thriving spiritual life; overflowing with friendships and community that fills hearts and saves marriages!

Don’t get me wrong. I love small groups. For six years I had the privilege of overseeing the small group ministry in our church and some of the most incredible testimonies came from small group participants. They are an excellent vehicle for discipleship.

Still, even when the bible is present and optimism is high, there are several ways to do the right thing the wrong way. Small groups are no exception.

Here are six ways you (or someone in your group) could be stifling the abundant potential waiting to be unlocked through your small group:

1. Say, “Here is what this passage means to me, what does it mean to you?”
This language stifles because it bypasses the very foundation of healthy small groups. Namely, the faithful interpretation of the bible based on the biblical author’s intent and the context a given passage is set in. Far too often, small group leaders share what a passage means “to them,” then they ask what it means, “to you.” After the circle of participants has fired off with their best take, one might think they were aiming at a moving target.

The truth is, those who do this are likely getting application and interpretation confused. The solution? First ask, “What does this passage mean. To the original audience. In proper context. Period.” Then ask, “How can I apply this to my life as someone living in the 21st century.” Over time, you’ll find personal opinions being outshone by God’s will through His word.

2. Let the single-issue-crusaders and dominant speakers run wild
Single-issue-crusaders are the people who always seem to veer the conversation into the same “pet topic” that they are passionate about. I’ve seen crusaders drive well-meaning small group attendees right out of a group and into a different church because they went unchecked; ruining deep discussions by constantly bringing up politics, personal drama, or spewing unvetted opinions about the same issue over and over. These passionate individuals have value, but they rarely achieve their full potential if allowed to go unchecked.

Dominant speakers can be a leader’s greatest asset. They talk when few are willing, their example encourages others to be open and honest, and they usually offer helpful wisdom. However, when they speak too much, it can stifle the entire group. It may be one of the hardest conversations you have in small group life, but single-issue-crusaders and dominant speakers need loving correction for the health of the whole.

3. Don’t show them how you came to understand a biblical truth
If you want to stifle a small group, keep all your bible study wisdom, interpretation tools, and trusted processes to yourself. That way, your group will depend on you like needy children and develop an attachment to you; requiring that you always be their feeder and leader. This will make you feel very important; fueling your ego as the “anointed source” of wisdom and leadership for the group.

What’s more? It will be a mask for your insecurity, inability to raise up others, and ultimately lead to your demise as a leader. Quite possibly, it could prove you were never a real leader in the first place.

Nobody benefits from this!

Set your group on fire by showing them how you’ve grown, how you’ve studied, and how you’ve learned to apply God’s word and live it out. Ask them questions. Lead them to helpful resources, buy them books, and send them articles. Help them cross reference, root out theological themes in a text, identify key phrases and terms, and apply it all to their own life. They aren’t “yours.” They are God’s. Steward them well and emulate Paul’s instructions to Timothy when he commanded, “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:1-2).

4. Undermine church leadership by teaching contradictory doctrinal views
Small groups can be sweet, but can quickly turn sour when leaders begin using their influence like Absalom did (2 Samuel 13-19). David’s son became infamous for his scandalous attempt to undermine his father’s throne. Under the deceitful veneer of being a good listener and a leader the people could trust, Absalom paid the ultimate price for his sinful pride.

The moral of this story is not that you will be slain if you undermine your church leaders (that’s a ridiculous scare-tactic some false teachers use!).

However, the lessons in the story about unity and integrity can still apply to us today.

As a leader who has been allowed to steward people, be loyal to qualified leaders and be sensitive to how God views discord (Proverbs 6:16:19). Small group leaders should be unified in doctrine and unified in practice with their church leaders; holding to the statement of faith that their church abides by. If you feel tempted to contradict, or you suddenly disagree with the church’s doctrinal convictions, don’t divide or sow discord amongst your small group. Leave humbly. Your reputation will follow you to the next church.

5. Be closed-minded and abrasive towards adding new people to the group
Closing groups or limiting their capacity is advisable in certain scenarios. Homes and locations are not limitless when it comes to space, and everyone can agree that consistency and trust can occur more rapidly if a small group is not a revolving door of flaky participants; jolting the groups dynamic with each sporadic entrance (or exit).

However, the “frozen chosen” mentality is deadly for group health, and more importantly, church health. This mentality sees new people as a threat, and expanding the reach of the group is seen as detrimental to comfort and familiarity. For groups like this, the idea that a new person or couple would disrupt the tight-knit group dynamic takes precedence over the command we have to make disciples (Matthew 28:16-20).

You don’t have to invite the entire neighborhood or make it hard to find seating in your home, but every believer should ask, “How can we give others the kind of community we’re experiencing?”

6. Resist the idea of “commissioning” potential leaders to start new groups
This final item on the list closely parallels #5 but focuses on stifling leadership development. Similar to being unwilling to invest in new people, a leader who refuses to release mature people will stifle group health and missional effectiveness. Some argue that small groups should endlessly divide and conquer; splitting in half at every turn and adding new people into those split groups. Others suggests different methods and argue that dividing groups is nonsensical. Whatever you choose as a method, the mindset must be the same. Commissioning new leaders to “strike out” and start new groups is a healthy way to duplicate and be faithful to the Great Commission.

Small groups don’t exist to merely give people a safe space, baked goods, and bible study. They exist to duplicate! If stewarded effectively, small groups should be reproducing mature, stable, honest, authentic, passionate, servant-leading disciples who in turn begin to lead others where they have been led.

When centered on faithfulness, unity, and the word of God, small groups can be a thriving vehicle for making disciples and deploying a new generation of leaders for the glory of God.

7 Habits of a Fool

Everybody’s played the fool at some point. That means that once in a while, we’re going to say and do things that aren’t very well informed. But that’s supposed to be the exception not the norm right? Unfortunately, human depravity can quickly turn foolish behavior into foolish habits that do a lot of damage.

The Bible has a lot to say on the subject of foolishness. More specifically, the book of Proverbs gives us time-tested truth about what a fool looks and sounds like. We would do well to spend more time learning from Solomon because as the old saying goes, “You must learn from the mistakes of others because you can’t possibly live long enough to make them all yourself.”

Grab your Bible, turn to Proverbs, and let’s look at 7 Habits of a Fool.

  1. A Fool is Arrogantly Unteachable (1:7; 12:1; 12:15; 13:1 26:12; 28:26)

Only a fool thinks he is always right. He constantly considers himself above the wisdom and instruction of others. There’s a hardened pride that takes over a person who refuses to listen to wise counsel, and by this the fool shows that he does not fear the Lord. Whatever you do, don’t be this person, don’t hire this person, don’t marry this person, and don’t do business with this person. Pray for this person.

  1. A Fool Goes Looking for Trouble (1:10-19; All of chapter 7)

My mother used to make me memorize Proverbs 1:10-19 when I would hang out with the wrong people at the wrong time. Times may have changed, but the Proverb still provides wisdom from parents to youngsters. But adults can learn too. All of Proverbs chapter 7 tells an all-too-familiar story about a man looking for adulterous sex (like the kind you find on porn7.xxx), and a woman looking for just such a man. This kind of set up is common on sites like tubev.sex, and they lead to heavy temptation followed by slanderous results. As expected, these two find exactly what they’re looking for and are fraught with consequences. Nonetheless, it is extremely important that we do not suppress our sexual desires because it can make it impossible to relieve stress and anxiety if they are not fulfilled.

  1. A Fool Can’t Control His Mouth (10:14; 10:31-32; 13:3; 18:7-8; 18:13; 26:21; 29:20)

Is there anything more deadly that the human tongue? Nothing sets off a war of words quicker than a person who hurls insults. Verbal abuse, assault, murder, low self esteem, suicide, adultery, and divorce have something in common – vicious words that fatally pierce the heart of another. It may be horrendous language towards Alice Rose with her pussy out live on webcam, which is entirely unwarranted, or awful words towards someone more close and intimate. There might be no more an important lesson to learn than this one. May we all do better at controlling our mouths.

  1. A Fool Can’t Control His Temper (14:17; 19:3-4; 19:19; 21:7;25:28; 29:11)

This could easily go hand in hand with #3 but it still deserves its own rank in the list. Though hardly a theologian, it’s difficult to contend with Robert Frost when he said, “Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or self-confidence.”If education of oneself is some indication of learning to control emotions, this perfectly illustrates the fool’s ignorance and insecurity. When tensions rise and emotions boil over, the fool would do well to heed the advice of Martin Lloyd-Jones’ to preachers when he says, “Nothing is more important than that a man should get to know himself. I include that he should get to know himself physically as well as temperamentally and in other respects.” Slow down, learn what triggers you and why, then get help and educate yourself on how to handle emotions in a way that honors God.

  1. A Fool Refuses to Discipline His Children (13:18; 13:24; 19:18; 23:13-14; 29:15)

Some parents use a “switch” or wooden spoon, others use incentives, still others take away privileges and toys. There is one thing in common with all of these methods and it is that there are serious consequences for disobedient behavior – period. A person who does not have a structure of discipline in place in the home is playing with fire and playing the fool. Not to mention, raising one.

  1. A Fool Blows Paychecks to Party (20:1; 21:17; 23:20-21; 23:30-35; 31:3-5)

We can all relate to this either from personal experience or from someone close to us. A fool doesn’t plan for the future and spends most of his time thinking of instant gratification. How can I feel good now? Proverbs 31:3-5 provides specific instructions to leaders who do not practice some level of sobriety. No wonder employees loathe working for a lush. Hollywood movies may make it look fun and endearing, but the life of the party will drain your paycheck, and lead you to poverty one way or another.

  1. A Fool Never Learns His Lesson (26:7-9; 26:11; 27:22; 29:1)

I’ll let Spurgeon take this one home. He says: “Wisdom is the right use of knowledge. To know is not to be wise. Many men know a great deal, and are all the greater fools for it. There is no fool so great a fool as a knowing fool. But to know how to use knowledge is to have wisdom.” There’s a very specific reason that Proverbs 26:11 compares a fool to a dog returning to it’s own vomit. It’s meant to paint the repulsive picture of our own lives when we do not learn from our mistakes.

Ultimately, even though the Proverbs speaks to many practical issues of life, it is not merely secular, prudential wisdom. Instead, all of wisdom is grounded in one’s relationship with God. Naturally, reverence and relationship are a good place to start.

So ask yourself, how often have you been playing the fool? Are you ready to increase your reverence for God, and be more intentional about cultivating your relationship with God.

There hopefully comes a time in every person’s life when this Proverbial truth hits home. Thankfully, God’s grace is sufficient for your weakness, and you can always draw from the timeless practicality of the Proverbs.

In the next post, we’ll look at 7 Habits of the Wise.

The Holy Spirit: Triumph or Tragedy?

There is a member of the Holy Trinity that is most neglected, misunderstood, and misrepresented, yet, He is an integral and equal part of the Godhead. Many of His works go unnoticed, while many foolish and outlandish practices are credited to Him. The feeble attempts to “reveal” Him by well-meaning believers, or preying “prophets”, do nothing to thwart the powerful truth that He is God – the Holy Spirit.

You must know Him intimately, you must understand Him accurately, and you must have Him assuredly. The world’s response to Him, and how believer’s know and treat Christ and the Father’s equal, can mean triumph or tragedy.

So how do you sift through the YouTube madness, the gold-plated TBN version of the so-called Holy Spirit, and come to truly know Him and His role in your life? Study the Scriptures for yourself and refuse to be spoon-fed by cheap imitation and misinterpretation. God has given you the ability to go to His word concerning everything.

Here’s some biblical starting lines to put you in the race of truth for the Holy Spirit:

1. The Holy Spirit is a Person

He’s not an “it”, a mystical blue mist, a white-sheet covered ghost, or like “the force” from Star Wars. Read John 16:5-15 and circle the masculine pronouns used to describe the Holy Spirit. If you’ve counted 13, you’ve now done your own study on the fact that He is a person!

2. The Holy Spirit Gives Believers the Advantage

unnamedJesus Himself said to His disciples, “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper shall not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you” (John 16:7). That alone should perk your ears up. Isn’t Christ the ultimate? Why would He say there was an advantage to Him leaving His disciples to go back to the Father? Many say this is because we now will have power to do signs, wonders, and live in total victory over our health, finances, and relationships…Really? That’s the best we can do with this verse? Three truths prove the Holy Spirit’s advantages will point us to Christ more than ever, and have nothing to do with exalting ourselves:

a. The Advantage of Regeneration

Regeneration happens when a sinner turns into a saint in the eyes of God! They receive a new nature that begins to take over their life. The desire to sin turns, their heart turns to God, real change occurs and it lasts! (2 Corinthians 5:17). You can fake being saved by saying all the right things, but a truly regenerated person will prove to be truly saved by bearing fruit. When the Holy Spirit hits the lights, you’ll know it because darkness dies, sin begins to decay, and the new you begins to live (Titus 3:5).

b. The Advantage of Sanctification

Sanctification is the transformation process that begins and continues after a person is regenerated (saved). Have you ever heard someone say, “God accepts you just the way you are, but loves you too much to leave you the same?” That just means that a follower of Christ is always growing – even if times are tough (James 1:2). The Holy Spirit causes your moral and spiritual character to do a 180, and your life’s trajectory is a slow, upward growth pattern. This isn’t perfectionism, it’s continual progression. Read 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 and ask yourself, “Have a changed from a care-free habitual sinner, to a saint who cares deeply about dealing with sin?” If you’re answer is yes, you’ve been enjoying the Holy Spirit’s residence in your life.

c. The Advantage of Illumination

Illumination is when the Holy Spirit opens the eyes of the believer to the truth of Scripture. Some falsely assume that this process is like a Holy-Spirit jump drive that He automatically downloaded into your brain because you’re a Christian. No, but He’s right there with you when you put on your Bible work-boots and work diligently to study the Scriptures. Like a loving parent, He rewards His children who exercise discipline in study and keeps the desire for truth burning brightly inside of their hearts. If you’re not experiencing a deep love for the Scriptures, pray a prayer like Paul for the Ephesian church in Ephesians 1:17-18.

3. The Holy Spirit Gives Sinners the Truth

The triumphant and tragic results stemming from the Holy Spirit’s ministry mainly relate to Jesus’ explanation of the primaries concerning the Holy Spirit’s role (of course, not limited to only these things), in John 16:8-11. Christ said, “And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgement” (16:8). We could easily boil this down to three statements that are either accepted or rejected:

a. You’re a Sinner!

“…because they do not believe in Me” – John 16:9

He convicts the world concerning sin because it’s a sin not to believe in Jesus Christ (John 3:18). Unbelief rejected Christ, unbelief crucified Christ, therefore unbelief is sin against Christ. The Holy Spirit convicts sinners of their guilt saying, “You crucified Him!” The realization of our sin leads to triumph through repentance, yet the rejection of the Holy Spirit’s conviction is tragedy for those who refuse to admit their sin. This is the basic foundation of the Gospel. Do you admit your sin accepting “guilty” as the verdict on your life without Christ?

b. Christ is Righteous! 

“…because I go to the Father, and you no longer behold Me” – John 16:10

He convicts the world concerning righteousness saying, “This man you condemned and crucified as a villain will be welcomed to the right hand of the Father!” How can anyone enter the presence of a holy God unless they are perfect and holy? The Holy Spirit’s arrival declares triumphantly that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ because He was, and is, righteous. Tragic for those who refuse to confess sin, and to accept His righteousness by faith (1 John 1:9).

c. Satan is Condemned!

“…because the ruler of this world has been judged” – John 16:11

The Holy Spirit’s arrival confirms that Satan is the one who stands judged and condemned, and He pleads with sinful men declaring, “The accuser of the brethren has been found guilty!” This is triumph for believers who are victorious over death, and tragedy for those who choose the fleeting pleasures and ways of this world (Revelation 12:10; 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12).

4. The Holy Spirit Gives Christ the Glory

Perhaps the most important fact concerning the Holy Spirit is that His primary role is tounnamed (1) glorify Christ. His work points to Christ, His conviction is on behalf of Christ, and He is most evident when believers exalt Christ! Jesus said, “He shall glorify Me…” (John 16:14a). Christ didn’t say He would elevate men, be a slave to the believer’s beckon call, or be an entertaining sensationalist. That which does not glorify Christ is not the work of the Holy Spirit.

It is important to note that even though the gifts of the Holy Spirit are available only to believers, they are bi-products of His primary work of applying the saving work of Christ to our hearts. One would never assess their salvation by whether or not they have a spiritual gift, but rather, whether or not they are regenerate, being sanctified, and illuminated to Scripture. Therefore, gifts need to be held in their proper place of importance as a wonderful outworking of the Holy Spirit in our lives for the common good, and the edification of the body (1 Corinthians 12:7). Christ’s description of the Holy Spirit holds salvation, and His (Christ’s) glory above all else.

Ask yourself these 7 questions and spend some time praying and analyzing your current habits, lifestyle, and core beliefs.

  1. Am I experiencing the biblical advantages that come from being indwell by the Holy Spirit? Am I evidently saved, changing/growing (old sins dying slowly but surely), and does Scripture make more sense the more I read it?
  2. Do I joyfully affirm that I am a sinner, made righteous by Christ, and do I believe the patterns of this world to be fleeting, flawed, and false?
  3. If married, do I and my spouse affirm that there is evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work through improving patterns of love, conflict resolution, fidelity, and mutual submission?
  4. Do I enjoy being held accountable and understand my need to consistently confess sin?
  5. Do I find myself responding to biblical preaching with a hunger for truth like those who responded to Peter’s sermon in Acts 2:37-42 saying, “What must I do?”
  6. Is my view of the Holy Spirit based on teachings that I have never weighed against Scripture?
  7. Am I more interested in the gifts of the Holy Spirit than Christ? Do I have a relationship with God based only on what I can get from Him?

May you experience the great triumph of mourning sin, receiving Christ’s righteousness by faith, and trading satanic sorrow for eternal victory through the power of the Holy Spirit!

Are You Easy Prey for False Teachers?

Modern-day Christian culture is obsessed with experience. The Bible has become a footnote.

Truth, we say, is important, but it must come second to our experience. Modern mystics claim, “We owe the world an encounter!” They’re referring to their ability to help people experience a special anointing of God. One of the newest faith healers on the circuit states, “The cross, to me, isn’t a revelation of my sin, it’s a revelation of my value!” He’d prefer we don’t talk about sin.

God’s Word is being grossly misrepresented and instead of challenging the divorce of truth from experience, the church at large has embraced experience as the preeminent proof of spiritual maturity. He who says, “God told me…”, wins the crowd. Man-centered experience, and man-centered gospels are sweeping across the landscape of evangelicalism. People are loving it and false teachers are too.

It’s an uphill battle, and a marathon fight, but we must never stop contending for the faith by calling today’s world back to the timeless truth of God’s Word.

  • Do you know your Bible?
  • Do you use Scripture accurately and confidently?
  • Do you trust subjective “impressions” over the objective truth of God’s Word?
  • Do you offer sentiments like, “I think” and “I feel” to others or do you point them to God’s truth?
  • Do you find yourself able to discern false teaching because you know the truth of God’s Word?

The way you answer those questions provides you with an accurate gauge of how useful you are in fighting the good fight of faith right now. Simply put, knowing your Bible is one of the highest priorities of the Christian life. How else will you know God’s will for your life? God’s voice isn’t the “whisper” in your head or the wind blowing through your hair – it’s the Bible – and it’s knowledge you need to survive and thrive if you call yourself a Christian.

“To live by impressions is oftentimes to live the life of a fool and even to fall into downright rebellion against the revealed Word of God. Not your impressions, but that which is in this Bible must always guide you. ‘To the Law and to the Testimony.’ If it is not according to this Word, the impression comes not from God — it may proceed from Satan, or from your own distempered brain! Our prayer must be, ‘Order my steps in Your Word.’ Now, that rule of life, the written Word of God, we ought to study and obey.”

– Charles Spurgeon

Some people think that knowing the Bible is about being a super-Christian who can thump everyone over the head with their jaw-dropping knowledge – but that’s just egotism. The Pharisees knew a lot about the Law. A lot of good that did them. Knowing the Bible is about knowing your God and therefore, enabling your life and worship to be rooted in who God is. The what is good to know; the why is equally as important.

In the spirit of knowing why you should take knowing your Bible seriously, here are 3 dangers of not knowing how to use your Bible in these experience-driven times:

  1. You Are Easy Prey for Predators

Have you ever watched one of those animal shows where the hungry lion creeps in the tall grass of the African Savanna while an Impala peacefully grazes? The lion has the perfect strategy in play as it blends into the grass and silently inches closer, and closer. When it seems like the Impala is done for, their head perks up, they somehow hear the lion, and they’re gone before the lion can hit full stride.

What saves the Impala’s life? Those big ears and a lighting quick leap that allows them to cover 30 feet in a single bound! A beautiful design by our Creator to level the playing field a bit – they can hear a pin drop in a hail storm and be from home plate to first base in 3 hops. That gives them a fighting chance against a roaring lion, and that’s the exact picture of what a Christian armed with God’s Word can do. An Impala without big ears is like you without a bible – lion lunch.  15325676887_3e8accd6a4_b

False teachers are banking on biblical illiteracy to exploit you with their greed (2 Peter 2:3), establish abusive power, and do Satan’s bidding. A Christian with a growing knowledge of the Word of God is able to discern when that Word is being twisted. If your mind is rooted in Scripture, it can’t be “tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4:14). This starts with asking the Holy Spirit to illuminate the Bible’s truth to your ignorant eyes, finding trusted Bible resources to learn from, plugging into a trusted church to grow with, and following qualified pastors who take their role seriously (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Hebrews 13:17). Biblical literacy will be a challenge you will come to enjoy, and it will save you from the headache of heretics plundering your wallet.

  1. You Can’t Help Anyone Else

What do you call a person who can’t swim but jumps into a pool to save a drowning friend? Fill in the blank: ______________. I bet your word of choice wasn’t “useful” or “helpful.” So it is with the person who isn’t growing in their use of the Bible but is trying to help everyone with their opinions. If Christians do not continually devote themselves to internalizing the wisdom of God’s Word, what useful insight can they offer? They’re aimlessly dependent on wild stabs at “that one verse I think is in the Bible,” self-help books, and the odd nugget of wisdom that their granddaddy told them.

When answers to life’s toughest questions are needed, only the timeless wisdom of God’s Word will do. Divine wisdom is what people need. Biblically illiterate Christians can only attempt to sell desperately needy individuals their own empty palaver.

This has become increasingly problematic in church leadership as well. In a poor effort to make the gospel relevant, we’ve allowed the “cool factor” of a man to dictate his becoming a hired pastor. Pastors can get hired at a church because of how popular they are for things other than pastoring people. Never mind how faithful they’ve been to the Scriptures or how devoted they are to growing in doctrinal depth. It’s about how many followers they have on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. Pastors can get hired at a church because they wrote some self-help books or look hip. Pastors can get hired at a church without ever knowing that their qualifications are listed in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. If our leadership is biblically illiterate and unqualified, and evangelicalism at large supports that, we shouldn’t be surprised that so many who follow them are biblically illiterate.

The world doesn’t need any more celebrity Christian leaders who slosh around in the mushy-middle of evangelicalism with a pocket-knife in hand. The world needs men and women of God who can take up the sword of the Spirit and wield faithfully for Christ.

  1. You Are Sinking

Christians who don’t know their Bible are on a sinking ship. That is, either their church, their own life, or both, are sinking. You can try pull a “Jonah” and toss things overboard, bail out water one bucket at time, or pray your heart out, but that ship is going down and only all-out devotion to the sufficiency of the Bible can save it. This is not a new problem for the church.

A mega-church was on the cutting edge of Christianity for decades. They were packing out the seats with tens of thousands, drawing people in from all walks of life, and writing best-selling books on church growth and leadership. There was just one glaring problem they didn’t yet realize. When the congregation was surveyed, it turns out the ship had a hole in the hull.

By the time they caught on, it was too late. The congregation was surveyed on their spiritual growth and the results were sobering to say the least. The church was amazing at getting people in the door, but once in the door, they were spiritually inept – that is, they didn’t have deep roots in Christ let alone have a handle on His Word. The sheep are most often the ones who become causalities of spiritual war when a pastor won’t demand that the people devote themselves to the Word of God, and this was no exception.

After some soul-searching, one of the pastors said,

We should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become self-feeders…We should have taught people how to read their Bibles between services, how to do the spiritual practices…What’s happening to these people [is that] the older they get, the more they’re expecting the church to feed them, when, in fact, the more mature a Christian becomes, a Christian should become more of a self-feeder…We’re going to up the level of responsibility we put on the people themselves so that they can grow even if the church doesn’t meet all their needs.

Now that’s more like it.

The Bible speaks to the kind of earthly wisdom that doesn’t produce lasting spiritual fruit.

  • Isaiah said that the Word of our God endures forever (Isiah 40:8).
  • Isaiah also prophesied, “Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes…” (Isaiah 5:21).
  • Jeremiah declared that a man shouldn’t boast in his own wisdom but know God (Jeremiah 9:23-24)
  • Paul called the wisdom of this world “foolishness” (1 Corinthians 3:19).
  • Jesus said those who hear His words and don’t do them are building on sinking sand (Matthew 7:26).

It’s not a bad idea to go with Scripture when it comes to pouring the spiritual foundation of wisdom in your life. In fact, it’s the best idea.

Many Christians are at different places when it comes to Bible knowledge, but every Christian is supposed to be enjoying the same process when it comes to Bible knowledge – progression!

And let’s be honest, nobody gets it right every time. There is no one pastor who has mastered the art of interpretive perfection. Still, every Christian is called to continuous growth in handling God’s Word. There are no good excuses for biblical illiteracy.

The Psalmist declared, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105). You don’t have to live under the cover of darkness. Pick up your Bible and let the light of God’s Word pour in.


Recommended Resources:

Our forthcoming book, Defining Deception, will challenge today’s mystical-miracle movements who hold objective truth as secondary to “experience.” We hope that people will look to the sufficiency of Christ and His Word over the latest false fads. 

Other specific tools from proven Christian leaders are listed below:

How to Study God’s Word – John MacArthur

Searching the Scriptures – Chuck Swindoll

The Origin of the Bible – FF. Bruce, J.I. Packer, Philip Comfort, Carl F.H. Henry

Women of the Word – Jen Wilkin

Marriage Advice from Oxen

One Sunday a teaching-pastor dared to go where few pastors are willing to go. He called marriage, “work”, and had the audacity to compare a delicate bride and handsome groom to two dirty, bulky, yoke-pulling oxen. Of all the nerve!

In a day and age chock-full of Disney romanticism, post-modern liberalism, and LGBTQ fanaticism, he had managed to de-romanticize marriage in all its blissful glory and call it something few are willing to, only to illustrate his point with a picture that couldn’t have been further from Cinderella’s happily-ever-after ending. Every hopeless romantic in the room gasped for air, every lazy lover looked for the nearest exit, and I’m almost certain that some of the young single women fought back the urge to shout, “Heretic!”, for fear of the ushers – we’ve got some burly ones.

But you know what? The pastor was dead on. He couldn’t have been more right and the illustration couldn’t have been more appropriate.

Marriage has always been a challenge and will continue to be in every generation. With so much at stake when it comes to marriage, we need to enter it spiritually prepared. As laughable as a 300lbs hot dog eating contest winner thinking he can be an NFL lineman, is a biological man who thinks that because he is a biological man, he is ready to lead a bride and a home. The divorce rate takes no prisoners, an adulteress lurks at every turn, and a marriage made in heaven can quickly become a living hell when it’s put on cruise control.

When asked about divorce and marriage Matthew records Jesus’ poignant response as he declares, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” (Matthew 19:4-6).

Look at how binary Jesus was when it came to marriage! From gender, to function, to format, God purposed marriage to be a life-long marathon that produces a generation of godly worshippers, sanctifies bride and groom unto holiness, and bears fruit from the work they put in to see it through. All that work means that unity will be essential to production. Not all marriages have a fairy tale ending but it’s not always due to malicious or conniving reasons that this happens. Sometimes people just grow apart and owe it to themselves to let each other go and pursue new relationships in the hopes of finding a new love that will last the test of time. Divorce can, however, throw financial questions up into the air including how Social Security benefits and divorce are related. All the answers to this question and others can be found online if you’re concerned about how your financial future will look in the wake of a divorce.

Many talk a big game when it comes to bible knowledge and marriage, but the real test is not how much you know but what you actually produce. Does your marriage resemble two oxen pulling a yoke in unity? Or do you find that it can be more like two oxen fighting to pull the yoke in their own direction? Whether it’s your first year, or your fiftieth, we can all learn a lot about marriage from those beasts.

Here are three things to consider based on the bold pastor’s illustration:

  1. OXEN MUST BE PROPERLY YOKED TOGETHER

Unity is a requirement for oxen to be productive and marriage is no different. When two oxen are placed under a yoke it’s the farmer who brings them together, the farmer who lines them up, and it’s the oxen who stay in place – submitting to the farmer as he places the yoke upon them. Sounds a lot like the role that God plays in a proper marriage doesn’t it? Ultimately, two oxen won’t need to continually stop and be re-adjusted if they start by lining up straight in the first place. Another important thing to remember: the oxen need to be similar in size and kind or there’s little that can be done to make them productive. A donkey and an Ox aren’t meant to pull together. The Apostle Paul commanded, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?(2 Corinthians 6:14). Always wise practice to go with the God’s word when it comes to life long commitments.

  1. OXEN ARE PURPOSED TO WORK

Farmers don’t yoke their oxen for show and they certainly don’t do it for fun – it’s an important part of their purpose. In short, they were meant for work! In the same way, marriage exists to produce. The “work” of marriage should produce holiness, it should produce godly children, it should produce a dependence on the grace of God, and it should produce a clear (yet still not fully complete) picture of Christ and the church. John Piper famously once write that “God designed marriage not to make you happy but to make you holy.”William Tyndale said, “Marriage was ordained for a remedy and to increase the world and for the man to help the woman and the woman the man, with all love and kindness.”Anyone familiar with Malachi 2:15 understands that God wants godly generations to come out of godly marriages. It’s safe to say that marriage is work and that work is our purpose for being yoked together. Talk about de-romanticizing the Disney version of marriage in a day and age where everything is about being happy and living happily-ever-after. Like it or not, it’s true. But don’t lose heart! Love is still as foundational as ever in marriage because who wants to do all that work with someone they don’t love? And all the hopeless romantics said, “Amen.”

  1. OXEN ARE BETTER TOGETHER

Have you ever seen two oxen plowing together? A quick YouTube search will prove this simple fact to be true: they are better together! One 1500lbs ox can do some damage, but two yoked together are unstoppable. It’s amazing what oxen can do when there’s two – and marriage is no different. God intended for both men and women to accept their roles, follow His design, and stick to His purpose. There’s no success in a lone-ranger marriage. A true Christian marriage is a shared mind, shared body, shared emotions, shared goals, and shared direction. It’s you-win-I-win, you-lose-I-lose. In many cultures the concept of “better together” is so prioritized that as a symbol of unity they chain a young couple together during the wedding and sometimes longer. When Jesus said, “…they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matthew 19:6), He was making the commitment of marriage crystal clear. When a man and woman stand to pledge themselves to one another on the wedding day, they are partaking in a gracious gift God gave humanity, and receiving of His blessings. Consequently, when they break those vows, they are not consciously uncoupling or agreeing to disagree…they are offending God and turning their backs on their vows to Him as the One who declared, “I hate divorce”(Malachi 2:16).

So there you have it. Marriage advice from the most unlikely of places. Thank God for oxen and thank God for grace!