Prepare Your Kids for Church

If you have kids within the 10 to 18 year old range, you may have heard statements like these concerning corporate worship with your local church:

The sermons are too long/boring/confusing.

The pastor isn’t funny/relevant/engaging.

I can’t sit still for that long.

I don’t like the music.

No one my age is there; it’s only old people.

You’ve likely heard statements like these because kids in church make them all the time. You can relax a little bit, it’s not just your kids.

It’s not uncommon for kids to struggle with corporate worship. The reasons for this can vary. Sometimes there is room for the church to improve in how they disciple kids in their gathering. It is easy for pastors or leaders to ignore the fact that kids are present in the worship gathering. It isn’t unusual for kids to go unmentioned, unspoken to, or all-together ignored in the preparation for and practice of the various elements of the church’s worship service.

Most of the time, however, I think the problem lays within this one reality: our kids are immature, untrained, unformed. Our children are, well, children. They need to be taught, trained, and prepared by their parents if they’re going to derive any benefit from corporate worship. Kids need to be discipled by their parents if they’re going to gain anything from the discipleship of their church. It will be difficult for any kid to benefit from their church’s discipling efforts if their parents’ discipling efforts are weak or non-existent.

So, what exactly can parents do to help their child go from enduring church to enjoying and growing from it?

Teach Them About the Church

What we belief about the church will determine how we relate to the church. If the church is a spiritual grocery store, we need only visit her when we are lacking some spiritual commodity and can ignore her completely if we don’t. If the church is simply a place to get spiritually juiced (i.e. inspired) then we need only participate inasmuch as we need a-juicing. If we can get juiced from Christians Podcasts or YouTube they we need not bother with church at all. Our participation with the local church (or lack thereof) is downstream of our beliefs about the local church. If you want to your kids to participate with the church, you must ensure they understand the truth about the church. Your kids won’t value church unless they learn what it is and why its valuable. They won’t learn unless you teach them.

Teach your kids that the church is God’s family that he’s adopted believers into (Galatians 4:4-7). Help them understand that God saves believers into his family (the church; 1 Corinthians 12:12-13) and that he commands them to love his family (the church) like he does through using their gifts to practically help members of the church follow Jesus and grow up in him (1 Corinthians 12:1-11). Explain that God want to bless and grow our faith and love through the church’s ministry of preaching, teaching, ordinances, singing, fellowship, and pastoral care (Colossians 1:24-28; Ephesians 4:11). Make sure your kids understand Jesus’ love for the local church, our responsibility to the local church, and the blessings God gives us in the local church. In great love, God doesn’t want us to live like spiritual orphans, but to join and enjoy his family, the church.

Once your kids begin to understand the nature, necessity, beauty, and value of the local church, it will begin the important work of changing the way they approach worshiping with her on Sundays.

Train Them to Worship With the Church

Just as someone having a good understanding of marriage doesn’t mean they’re personally ready to have a healthy marriage, so having a good theology of church doesn’t mean someone is equipped to have a healthy relationship with the church. Your kids don’t only need to be taught sound doctrine (1 Timothy 6:1-3), but they need to be trained how to live according to sound doctrine (Titus 2:1). After teaching must come training.

The best kind of training is based on this invitation: “Imitate me.” The best way to help your kids make the most of corporate worship is by watching you do it. Try telling your kid, “Hey, I know church can sometimes be hard for you, but I want you to watch and imitate me to learn how to make the most of church on Sundays.” Tell them to watch how you listen to the sermons (leaning forward, undistracted, writing down notes, nodding along), how you sing lustily and contribute your voice along with the rest of the congregation, how you pray, and how you fellowship with other believers. Then, after they watch you, take some time to talk about what you were doing and why.

Some are uncomfortable to tell other believers, even our children, to imitate us, but we shouldn’t. Paul told the Corinthians, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1) and gave the same command to the Thessalonians (2 Thessalonians 3:7-9). The author of Hebrews says that all believers should imitate the faith of their pastors and leaders (Hebrews 13:7). Yes, you’re not perfect, but you are the most influential figure in your child’s life. If your worship on Sunday morning isn’t worthy of imitation, then it’s time to stop fooling around and repent. But if you give yourself fully to your church family on Sunday, then it’s time to loving look at your kid and say, “Follow my lead as I follow Christ.”

To give you some more to practical counsels to consider on how to actively participate with your church, check this very helpful piece out.

Prepare Them for Worship With the Church

Even if your kids have the right knowledge about the church and good training for how to worship with the church, they still need your regular and consistent help to prepare them to make the most out of corporate worship with the church.

Toward that end, here are some practical tips:

Take care of practical needs before service. Sleep, breakfast, and restroom. Your kids aren’t floating souls, but embodied souls. The state of their body will affect the state of their souls. Help them get enough sleep the night before, enjoy a sufficient breakfast to keep their tummies from rumbling, and guide them to the restroom before service begins so as to avoid a mid-service exit.

Supply your kids with helpful materials. Bible and pen at least. Maybe a notebook? The more your kids can use their eyes and hands along with their ear, the more they’ll take in. Also, writing notes inside their Bibles is a great way to help track with the sermon and stick close to the text.

Read the Scripture passage your pastor will be preaching from together. Assuming your church knows what will be preached beforehand, consider reading the passage Saturday night with the family. Ask them what stick out, what’s confusing, what’s interesting, and what they hope to hear. This will help them have things to listen for in the sermon and give them a better familiarity with the text.

Pray as a family before you leave the house for church. Pray that God would draw close to you as you all draw close to him (James 4:8), that he would teach, rebuke, correct, and train your family and your church family through his word (2 Timothy 3:16). Pray that he would make you ready to fulfill the works he has prepared for you at church (Eph. 2:10). Pray for your pastor, the sermon, the overall worship. Pray!

Work hard to make Sunday morning unhurried and peaceful. Rushed, hectic, or harsh mornings will dramatically affect Sunday worship. Wake up early enough to help serve your family prior to church. Ensure that all the morning’s needs are prepared to be fulfilled in an orderly and peaceful fashion so that you can peacefully get to church 15 minutes early rather than chaotically show up 30 minutes late.

Give your kids specific “missions” to accomplish during and after service. If your kids need a bit more guidance, give them little “missions” for different parts of the gathering. Tell them to write down the main message of the sermon in one sentence. Ask them to come up with a question or two about the text/sermon that you could ask the pastor about afterward. Encourage them to introduce themself to one new person during the greeting time. Come up with concrete, specific goals to accomplish so they’re trained to be actively, instead of passively, involved.

Share how God blessed your heart during worship. After worship, share genuine ways God blesssed you. Maybe a certain song, prayer, text, or part of the sermon affected you. Share it with your family. Savor God’s grace in front of them. This often becomes an invitation for them to do likewise in the future.

I am sure there are loads of other ways you could effectively help prepare your family to make the most of corporate worship. Consider leaving some other ideas in the comments. But, the point is clear: there is great wisdom and love in preparing your family to worship God in Christ with the church.

If your kids are struggling to enjoy or benefit from corporate worship on Sunday morning, avoid blame shifting (the pastor is boring, the youth ministry is ineffective, there isn’t the right program, etc.). Instead, ask yourself this question: “What can I do to teach, train, or prepare my kids to make the most out of corporate worship?” Once you get some answers, onward!

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Ways to Actually Love Your Church Family

Sometimes we talk so abstractly about “love” that we fail to practice it well in normal life. At least, I know that is true of me.

So, I thought it’d be edifying for me to knock out a few very concrete and practical ways that I can actually love my church family in real life and not just in the sentimental (but ineffective) part of my brain.

Go to Church 95% of the Time

You don’t avoid being with people you love. If a dad avoids his kids, he has a deficient love. If a woman never wants to be with her husband, she has a deficient love. Lack of presence reveals a lack of love.

On the other hand, intentional presence reveals love (you seek to be with people you want to bless) and provides the basic foundation from which we can obey the “one anothers” that God commands us to do. Good luck trying to serve (Gal. 5:13), forgive (Col. 3:13), be patient with (Eph. 4:2), encourage (1 Thess. 5:11), stir up (Heb. 10:24), care for (1 Cor. 12:25), or sing to one another (Eph. 5:29) without being in the same room.

So, love your church family by showing up. Arrange your life so that you only miss church on the rarest of occasions (3%-5% of the year). Otherwise, you’re not loving them well.

Get to Church 15 Minutes Early (Or At Least on Time)

I understand that getting to church on time can be a challenge, but that doesn’t mean we should be OK with it. We won’t likely show up late to movies, restaurant reservations, ball games, concerts, weddings, or other events we deem important or enjoyable. So, why would we become OK with regularly showing up late to worshiping the One we know to be infinitely more valuable than all those things combined.

Even more, though, I’d suggest you love your church by not just showing up to worship on time, but 15 minutes early so you can be a warm face to greet visitors, make them feel welcome, answer any questions they have, and possibly offer to sit with them. Imagine the love visitors would feel when they walk into church 10 minutes before it starts and they were embraced by believers looking out for them and ready to receive them. Pretty powerful, I’d say.

Worship Leaning Forward, Not Leaning Back

The gathered worship of God’s people is not a spectator sport where you watch the pros in action, but a team sport where you, along with everyone present, actively fix your eyes on Christ, sing your praises, pray your prayers, hear His Word, and magnify His name. So, love your church family by actively participating in every part of service: pray sincerely, listen to Scripture reading & the sermon hungrily, and sing lustily. Nod or say your “Amens” to the prayers or preaching. Tattoo your Bible with notes that you want your future self to read. Sing in a way that puts college football fight songs to shame. When you walk into your place of worship, gear up and get ready for the glorious activity of receiving all God has for you.

Stick Around Church (At Least) 15 Minutes After Service

Now, if going to church is only about what you get out of it, then by all means, book it to your car as fast as you can because there likely isn’t anything prepared for you after the service is done. But, if you’re interested in being used by God to build up your brothers and sisters, engage with non-believers or visitors, and find opportunities to bring the light of Christ to whomever God may have prepared for you, then stick around a solid 15 and keep your eyes and heart open.

Develop Friendships in Your Church

Friendship takes time, energy, & intention. What better people to befriend and cultivate deep friendships than the people in your local church family God has brought you to and with whom you are committed to love? Eat dinner with them. Drink wine and beer and coffee and whatever with them. Play board games, go on picnics, compete in sports with them. Building Christ-like friendships with people in your church will not only bless them and you, but it will build your church by weaving hearts together.

Give Lots of Money to Your Church

It is a father’s duty to provide for his family. It is your duty to, according to your means and cheerfulness, provide for your church family. Give generously and consistently to your church. Money keeps the lights on, the rent paid, the pastors/staff cared for so the church can continue to be cared for, taught, equipped, counseled, and loved by them. Be a cheerful giver to your local church. If you don’t, who will?

Respect, Follow, & Obey Your Pastors (and Other Established Leaders)

Assuming they’re leading you according to God’s Word, trust them, follow them, and support them. Don’t fall into the trap of making your functional pastors be those whose YouTube Channels or Podcasts you listen to, but the actual flesh and blood men God has gifted your church with. Podcast sermons are great. Big fan of having access to faithful preaching, but the men you hear through the Interwebs don’t know you, your family, your life, your strengths, or your sins. They can bless you with truth, but they are entirely unable to shepherd you. But, your local pastors can if you let them. So, in your heart, make sure your Podcast preachers are not your functional pastors, but your actual pastors are. Jesus has given them to you for your joy & growth (Ephesians 4:11). Trust them, obey them, see yourself as especially responsible to listen to them and bring joy to them. Remember, Hebrews 13:17 is still in the Bible. Go with the grain of God’s discipleship design.

Now, brothers and sisters, you’ve likely failed to love your church in one or more or all of these ways. That’s important to recognize so you can repent and get back to following the way of Jesus. But, make sure to see your shortcomings and sins in light of the cross. God has atoned for the sins of your lovelessness through Christ. He paid for even these sins. By all means, see them, repent of them, and bury them in the sea of atoning blood so you can, from there, seek to love your church as Christ loves them in the largest and smallest of ways.

So, fulfill the most basic duties of a family member: be present, be intentional, & love with action instead of sentiment.

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Six Remedies for Unbelief

Have you found your trust in Christ lacking? Have there been times where you have experienced a loss of love, affection, trust, adoration, and devotion to King Jesus? Does your faith sometimes hobble along, barely able to make any progress or effect much good in your life? Is that where you’re at right now?

You may have been, or are now, sick with unbelief.

What is one to do when such seasons come upon them? What’s the solution for this problem? Where is the help for this weakness? What is the medicine for this sickness?

Petrus Van Masticht (Theoretical-Practical Theology: Faith in the Triune God, Volume 2, p. 24-27) offers six remedies for the sickness of unbelief.

“(These are) the remedies of unbelief that must be applied by the spiritual physician and received by the patient. These are namely…”

(1) Recognize Your Sick With Unbelief

You’ll never seek help for problems you don’t believe you have. You’ll never visit the doctor if you’re convinced you’re not sick. “Know the nature of unbelief” and “compare yourself with it.” Figure out what the symptoms look like (e.g. ignorance of, disbelief in, distrust of, disobedience to God’s Word or “giving the better portions of your heart, care, and labors to yourself, the world, or sin”) and take a hard look in the mirror. Diagnosis must always precede prognosis.

(2) Think About the Evils of Your Unbelief

Colds won’t concern us too much, but cancer always will. The more grievous the sickness, the more urgent our response. So, to rightly remedy your unbelief, do work to learn about how deadly and evil it is. Unbelief attacks God’s glory (Rom 4:20), harms the believer by making him unfit for godly works (John 15:4) and unable to please God (Heb. 11:6; Rom. 14:23), gives birth to all other sins and vices (Heb. 3:12) like ignorance (2 Cor. 4:4), false security (Matt. 24:38-39), apostasy (Heb. 3:12), and atheism (Eph. 2:12), and causes bodily (Gen. 3), spiritual (2 Kings 7:2, 20), and eternal death (John 3:18, 36). The more you understand the danger of unbelief, the more you’ll care to find a cure.

(3) Investigate the Cause(s) of Your Unbelief

Whenever you get sick, you’ll often ask, “Where did I get this from?” You should do the same with spiritual sickness of unbelief. Does my unbelief come from ignorance of God’s promises or commands? Foolish living? Love for worldly riches? Fear of worldly loss, threats, or dangers? Neglect of God’s means of grace such as the Scriptures, prayer, fellowship, pastoral care, or obedience to his ways? If you don’t find the cause, you’re liable to stay sick and get sicker.

(4) Wait Upon God to Remove Your Unbelief

When we’re seriously sick we lack the ability to heal ourselves. The same is true with the sickness of unbelief. Ultimately, we lack the knowledge and strength to heal ourselves so we must learn to patiently wait upon the grace of God while we earnestly give ourselves to his proscribed remedies. So, don’t expect you can change your unbelief overnight by sheer willpower or an onslaught of new resolutions, but determine that God alone can heal you and your job is to follow His Word and wait for Him to do His work. Throw yourself earnestly, as if your life depended on it, to hear and read His Word (John 5:25; Ezekiel 37:4), pray for His ears (Ps. 51:10), live among His people (Heb. 10:25). Say out loud, “I can’t help myself, but God will as I diligently upon my mouth to receive His medicines.”

(5) Don’t Fight Against Or Ignore God’s Help for Your Unbelief

Many patients sometimes disagree with their doctors orders and foolishly think they can do better. Sometimes, human doctors can mess things up, but our Heavenly Doctor won’t. Determine in your heart to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). Don’t fight against His Word. Don’t keep yourself from His people or His pastors (Heb. 13:17). Don’t doubt His counsel and don’t listen to other quacks who diagnose different problems or proscribe different remedies. Remember, beloved, we are idiots and our very joy depends on how much we give ourselves to the Good Doctor. Don’t fight Him. Listen to Him and wait for His way to be proved right as you go His way.

(6) Use the Many Medicines God Offers for Your Unbelief

Throw yourself into what He’s prescribed for you. Determine to hydrate yourself in the waters of His Word (Psalm 1:1-3), feast upon His food (Matthew 4:4), stay under the care of His nurses (Hebrews 13:17), take advantage of His ears (Matt. 7:7), fortify your faith by talking with His other patients who’ve enjoyed His care (Heb 3:12-13), study His success cases (Psalm 111:2) sing of His character and works with His people (Psalm 149:1). God has storehouses filled with food for the hungry, water for the thirsty, and medicine for the sick and He commands you to plunder it and take all you can handle until your full. And then, take more when you’re able. The more we receive the riches of His grace through the means He’s given us, the more His generosity, mercy, kindness, and wealth will be known. He is most glorified when we, through our neediness, prove to the world that there is no rich or gracious like our God.

God created and saved you to be healthy, holy, and happy by His grace as you behold His glory. He isn’t out to kill your joy, but kill the things that do. So, whenever you find unbelief gaining ground in your heart, do everything you can in His strength to follow the light of His Word, fix your eyes on His Son, and be daily filled by His Spirit alongside His people to know, taste, and rejoice in His goodness.

Adopt a heart that genuinely prays, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24) and put it to practice. Then, marvel at his faithfulness to heal you.

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Why Christians Worship Jesus

It seems almost everybody like Jesus. He honored in pop culture, revered in every major religion in the world, and honored even among the most irreverent. You’ll be hard pressed to find people who don’t like Jesus or see him positively in some light.

However, Christians go beyond liking, respecting, or honoring him. We worship Him. It’s good to ask, why?

The letter to the Hebrews gives four clear answers that supremely important question, “Why do Christians worship Jesus?”

We Worship Jesus Because He Reveals God.

“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Heb. 1:1-2a).

The God of the Bible is a talker. From Genesis 1 to the very end, God is always speaking to his people. In the Old Testament, God’s normal way of speaking was through his anointed and authorized messengers, the prophets. But, in these last days of God’s saving work, he has spoken perfectly and finally “by his Son.” The prophets of the Old Testament all pointed forward to the one final Prophet who would give us God’s final Word because He is God’s final word. That is, in all the Bible, God says everything he wants to say through the person (who Jesus is) and work (what Jesus did) of His Son.

If you want to know what God is like, what God desires, and what God is doing and will do in the world, then “fix your eyes on Jesus” (Heb. 12:1-2). Jesus is the one-stop-shop of everything God wants you to know about everything.

He has spoken by His Son and nothing and no one outside of Jesus as He’s revealed in the Scriptures is ultimately needed.

We Worship Jesus Because He Is God.

“He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” (Heb. 1:2).

How can we lay such a burden upon a mere man? We couldn’t. No mere man is capable of revealing all that God has to say. In many ways, even the best of men fail to reveal or reflect the character and plan of God. But, Jesus is no mere man. He is the eternal God in human flesh. Everything God is, Jesus is. He is true God of true God. Just like you can’t separate radiant heat from the sun’s fire, you cannot separate Jesus from the nature of God. Just as the mold that presses the same picture on every coin is forms, so Jesus perfectly represents the exact character of God. If you want to know what God is exactly like, look at Jesus because He is exactly God.

We worship Jesus because He is the one true God worthy of our worship. God has not just spoken to us. Nor has God just saved us. But God speaks to us and saves us because He has come to us in Jesus Christ.

We Worship Jesus Because He Reconciles Us to God.

“After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Heb 1:3).

All people know that we’re deeply broken and in need of salvation. Though many are confused about what exactly is broken within us, the Scriptures are clear that, at the heart, all of our greatest maladies have their sole root in sin; our intentional breaking of or weak inability to uphold God’s beautiful Law. We are criminals against the one true God by doing what we should not do or failing to do what we should.

However, though we are unable in our own strength to pay for our crimes or make up for them by perfectly obeying God from this point forward, the good news of the Bible is that God has done for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Jesus has made purification for all our sins by his substitutionary death on the cross. The work we couldn’t even begin to do, Jesus finished at the cross (John 19:28-30). So perfect was his saving work that, after he rose from the dead and ascended to heaven, he “sat down” (Heb. 1:3), showing that his work was complete and there was nothing left for us to do about our sins other than receive his gift of salvation by trusting He buried them and left them buried.

We worship Jesus because He did for us what we cannot do for ourselves. He bridged the infinite chasm that separated us from God and now, in Him, we have access to God and the freedom to approach his throne boldly knowing that we’re accepted by God because “Jesus paid it all” (Hebrews 10:19-25).

We Worship Jesus Because He Rules As God.

“(Jesus) sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.” (Heb. 1:3b-4).

Jesus’ saving work didn’t end there, but now, as the risen Savior, Jesus sits enthroned to rule over us as the eternal God-Man. Everyday, we Christians look to our Enthroned King to provide what we need, to protect us from every danger, and to empower us to live for him until He takes us home or until He brings home to back to us. We don’t worship a dead Savior, but a Savior who lives and rules daily from His peerless throne.

We worship Jesus because He is the King all our hearts yearn for. He is the King mighty enough to vanquish our greatest enemies. He is the King rich enough to supply us our every need. He is the King loving enough to ceaselessly work for our increasing joy. We worship Jesus because He rules as no man ever has or ever can. He alone is the ruler who perfectly uses his power not to crush us, but lift us up.

Everyone like Jesus. Every religion respects him. Almost everybody honors Him in some way. But, one of the ways Christians are weird is that we worship Him because we believe, by the testimony of Scripture, that He is the eternal God whose come to earth to be our perfect revealing Prophet, reconciling Priest, and ruling King forever.

There really ain’t no one like Him, so we think that worship is the only proper response.

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Confusing Roots & Fruits

One of the most deadly mistakes we can make is to confuse the fruit for the root & therefore chase after the good effects of a thing instead of the good thing itself.

In education, this is focusing on our kids good grades instead of growth of mind, character, & skill. (Honestly, your dooming your child to intellectual slavery if all you care about is their grade. It is shameful.)

In the church, this is chasing after nickels & noses (i.e. giving & attendance) rather than evangelism & discipleship unto Christ-likeness.

In worship, this is wanting peace, contentment, joy, & deliverance from judgment rather than knowing Christ & making him known.

When the fruit (result) is focused upon then shortcuts are inevitably taken, the “results” become artificial and, therefore, empty.

Chase the root & trust the fruit will be born naturally from it.

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No, God Didn’t Tell You That

Over my years of teaching high schoolers in both a church & school setting, I am going to say this:

it is destructive to tell new or young believers, “God told me…” if you don’t have verses to point to.

It paints a picture to new/young believers that there is knowledge they need from God outside of the Scriptures & it easily causes anxiety and fear (“what if I miss God’s will for my life?”), creates two-tier Christianity (those who “hear” God’s voice & the carnal noobs that don’t), & implies that the Scriptures are not enough to make us “thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:17).

I recognize there are brothers & sisters in Christ who may differ. My point here is not to give a full-throated defense of my particular theological view, but to recognize out-loud that this language of personalized revelation from God, in my experience twenty-plus years of working with young and new believers, regularly decreases confidence in Scripture’s sufficiency, creates anxiety and fear, and often makes people confuse their feelings/circumstances/desires for the will of God.

It is a theological and practical mess that does real harm.

At very least, if you must, say, “I feel God is leading me…” Even better say, “God said in his Word (quote chapter/verse)…” But, if you don’t have verses, don’t forge God’s signature under your own words.

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A Tale of Two Types of Church Music

I’ve been leading the music ministry of my church for a few years now. Music has never been a primary pursuit of mine, but there was a need our young church plant had for a music leader and I was the only one who knew how to pound out a few chords on the guitar while attempting to carry a tune. So, I volunteered.

It’s been a stretching experience. I’ve grown a bit in skill, been blessed with an extraordinarily committed and gifted team, and learned a good deal from Scripture about what singing in church is and how it should look.

During this time, there are two lessons that have made an impression on me. First, the music from church to church can be very diverse in terms of musical style (coral, folk, gospel, rock, blues, etc.), instrumentation (organ, piano, acoustic guitar, trumpets, violins, etc.), how many vocalists or instrumentalists (anywhere from one to a hundred), or song choices (contemporary songs, ancient hymns, new hymns, etc). I enjoy this diversity and praise God that Christ is praised in so many different ways.

Second, though there is great diversity in how music in practiced in churches, there seems to be two very ideas for what music on Sundays should be accomplishing: to perform for the congregation or to lead the congregation to participate. Whether they’re aware of it or not, each local church seems to have made a decision about which of these aims they pursue. Their decided aim, either to execute a performance or to lead unto participation, more than anything else, determines what their music ministry will become and how they’ll behave.

Performance Vs. Participation

Let’s describe the two aims of performance music and participatory music. A performance music ministry aims to create an experience or cause emotion in their listeners. If people have a noteworthy experience or feel a unique emotion, then the music work is a success. A participatory music ministry seeks to help the congregation sing the truth of God’s Word to God and one another. With this aim, success is seen when the whole congregation sings the truth of God’s Word loudly to one another and ultimately to the Lord.

There are significant & important differences between performance singing & participatory singing (also known as congregational singing). Here are a few.

Performance music is what we enjoy and expect at concerts. Participation music is the specific kind of activity God invites to participate in at church (Colossians 3:16; Ephesians 5:19).

Performance music is very difficult to sing without instruments. Participation music is very easy to sing without instruments. I’ve thought often about this measurement from Jonathan Leeman,

“Here is a general (not absolute) principle: the more a song depends on the musical accompaniment and cannot be sung by a couple of children in the car on the way home, the more performance-oriented and less congregational it probably is.”

Performance music first focuses on the voice(s) on stage. Participation music first focuses on the voices of those in chairs.

Performance music creates a culture where success is measured by how well the band plays. Participation music creates a culture where success is measured by how well the congregation sings. The first seeks to perform. The second seeks to facilitate.

You are (as a member of the congregation) allowed sing with the performance music. You’re expected to sing with the participation music. I often say participation music is like singing “Happy Birthday,” everyone joins in no matter how good or bad your voice is. The point is participating with one another, not performing for one another.

Performance music tends toward individuals fulfilling their preferences. Participation music tends toward the individual joining their community.

There is much more here we could point out, but this gets us a good start to at least have the knowledge to know such different aims exist and be able to identify them.

Why Even Talk About This?

You may ask, if you’ve made it this far, why even talk about this? To avoid unnecessary length, I’ll give one reason: what churches do affects who churches become. Therefore, a church will be deeply affected not only by their preaching, praying, and fellowship each Sunday, but by their singing too. Music forms individual people and churches in significant ways. How we sing is no small matter to be left to preference or taste alone.

How a church sings will have a dramatic effect on that church’s unity, theological knowledge, spiritual health, emotional health, and much more. In an age of extraordinary musical technology, intensely held traditions, & all sorts of pop-Christian music, it’s good for Christians to not just ask, “What have I experienced church music to be?” but “What should church music be?”

I grant, I haven’t said anything about the positive or negative affects of each type of music. Even more, I assume in this piece that participatory music is what the Scriptures call us to. I’ll likely share thoughts on those topics later. For now, I just want to identify the two types of aims that exist in church music ministries today. I will leave to you to think upon which one the Bible seems to be pointing us toward.

For more on congregational singing, check out this free online journal or this book.

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A Forgotten Reason Why Church Hurts

A lot of people get hurt in churches. It shouldn’t, however, if surprise us because of what the church is: a united body made of up very diverse members. Folks in church are truly and spiritually connected with one another. The Apostle Paul this well:

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 1 Corinthians 12:26

As church members, we are genuinely united to other believers like members of a body are united together under the leadership of the head.

An Often Forgotten Reason for Church Hurt

So, why does church hurt? Since we’re spiritually and relationally connected with those in our churches, we’re affected by both their pleasures and pains. The Apostle Paul makes this connection when he says:

If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. 1 Corinthians 12:26

The members of our body are not immune to the hardships or unhealth of other members. And so it is with the church body as well.

Jerry Bridges applies this reality well.

Can you imagine the ear making the following comment to the eye? “Say, did you hear about the serious trouble the foot is having? My, my, isn’t it too bad? That foot surely ought to get his act together.” No, no, our bodies don’t behave that way at all! Instead the entire body cries out, “My foot hurts! I feel awful!”

Why does the whole body hurt when only one part is injured? It is because all the parts of the body make up one indivisible whole. And when one part hurts, no matter what the reason, the restorative powers of the entire body are brought to bear on that hurting member. Rather than attacking that suffering part or ignoring the problem, the rest of the body demonstrates concern for the part that hurts. This is the way the body of Christ should function…

Only as we become acutely aware of the truth that we are in fellowship with every other believer — like it or not — will we seek to work out the implications of that fellowship in loving concern and care for each other.

(Taken from True Community: The Biblical Practice of Koinonia [Kindle Locations 672-673])

Being members of a church offers us both the gift of enjoying one another’s good times and enduring one another’s bad times. Even more, we’re blessed by one another’s virtues and often burdens with one another’s vices. Church life, then, is replete with both joy and sorrow as we walk with one another side by side.

Maybe a word it fitting here. If you’ve found church difficult at times, instead of being disheartened, you may have reason for encouragement: you’re close enough with your church family to be affected by them. As for others, is it possible you find little joy or hardship from your church family not because there isn’t any to be found, but because your not close enough to feel it?

Realizing what the church is will equip us to know how to make sense of our experience and instruct us on how to walk through the more difficult times. Only by realizing we are one through Jesus will we begin to act like as one in Jesus.

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Is Online Church the Same as Normal Church?

Over on Twitter, Jonathan Leeman gives four questions for those who think virtually gathered church is the same as the physically gathered church.

Question from a pastor friend:

“What would you say to someone who says that assembling as a church does not necessitate PHYSICAL proximity because we can assemble on a VIRTUAL platform without bodily being in the same room?”

I’d offer four sets of questions in reply:

1) As a matter of ontology: is a virtual gathering THE EXACT SAME THING as physical gathering? That is, would you say virtual sexual intimacy with your spouse is the exact same thing as physical? Or that virtually visiting Paris is the same as being there? Or that virtually embracing your ailing mother in her hospital bed is the same as physically doing so?

2) As a matter of anthropology: Why did God give us bodies and what significance do they have? Or, as with the gnostics, should we say that we don’t have bodies, or at least that they’re inconsequential?

3) As a matter of biblical obedience: if one will concede that physical and virtual gathering are not the exact same thing, are you prepared to stand before Jesus on the last day and say you fully obeyed his command to gather (Heb. 10:25)?

4) As a pastoral matter: again, if you concede virtual and physical are not the exact same, is virtual not a cheaper substitute? If it is, why are you working so hard to offer Christians and non-Christians the cheaper substitute? Is it conducive to long-term health and witness?

I believe we can apply these same four sets of questions to the more common practice of live-streaming church services.

Worth considering.

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The Main Issue of Abortion (& Some Bad Pro-Choice Arguments)

I never thought I would see it, but Roe has been destroyed and for that I praise God!

This provides a good opportunity to refresh ourselves on what the issue of abortion is really about and answer some poor, but popular, pro-choice arguments.

What Is the Abortion Debate About?

Scott Klusendorf, one of the most articulate proponents of the pro-life position, summarizes it this way:

The abortion debate is about one question: What is the unborn?

Men and women have an equal right to weigh in on that question. Religious and non-religious people do as well. A tolerant society will welcome a free exchange of ideas and judge arguments according to their merits, not the gender or religion of those advancing them.

The pro-life argument can be summed up this way.

Premise #1: It is wrong to intentionally kill innocent human beings.

Premise #2: Abortion intentionally kills innocent human beings.


Conclusion: Abortion is morally wrong.

Pro-life advocates defend their essential argument with science and philosophy. They argue from science that the unborn are distinct, living, and whole human beings. You didn’t come from an embryo; you once were an embryo.

They argue from philosophy that there is no relevant difference between the embryo you once were and the adult you are today that justifies killing you at that earlier stage of development. Differences of size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency are not good reasons for saying you could be killed then but not now.

So, the main issue that decides the morality of abortion is found in answering this one question: What is the unborn? If a non-human, then pro-choice position has a moral case. If the unborn is a human being, then the pro-choice position is nothing more than justifying the killing of an entire sector of humanity.

Answering a Few Popular Pro-Choice Claims

Here are a few responses to some of the most common claims I hear from pro-choice advocates.

Banning Abortions Won’t Reduce Abortions, Just Safe Abortions

First, abortion is never safe for the unborn because it always ends in their death by dismemberment, suction, or poisoning. Second, it ignores the status of the unborn person. If some humans will die attempting to kill other humans, should the state make it safe and legal for them to do so? No, it is wrong to legalize killing in order to make it safer for those participating in it. Third, evidence suggests that banning abortions does indeed reduce them. Fourth, the statistics of women dying from from illegal abortions prior to Roe were admittedly inflated because the majority of them (90%) were done by doctors. Fifth, legal abortions are unsafe.

Human Life Beginning at Conception Is Only a Religious View

Human life beginning at conception is undeniably a Christian belief from Scripture (other religions believe it too), but it believed by secular folks from science. Scott Klusendorf explains:

There’s really no debate right now in the scientific community about when human life begins… The science of embryology says, and you can find this in embryology textbooks worldwide: from the earliest stages of development, you were a distinct, living, and whole human being. By distinct, I mean that you were separate from your mother. You had a separate DNA. You likely had a separate blood type. And at least half the time, you’ve got a separate gender. You’re living, because dead things don’t grow. And you’re a whole human being meaning the kind of thing you are is not in question, even though you have yet to mature.

Pro-Life Folks Want to Control Women’s Bodies

No, Pro-Life advocates want to protect babies’ lives. The baby’s body is not the mother’s body. Randy Alcorn gives four reasons why:

(1) A body part is defined by the common genetic code it shares with the rest of its body; the unborn’s genetic code differs from his mother’s.

(2) The child may die and the mother live, or the mother may die and the child live, proving they are two separate individuals.

(3) The unborn child takes an active role in his own development, controlling the course of the pregnancy and the time of birth.

(4) Being inside something is not the same as being part of something. Human beings should not be discriminated against because of their place of residence.

Or, as Klusendorf points out, “If (the unborn is a part of a woman’s body), that means the pregnant mother has four arms, four eyes, four legs, and other things that make it really interesting.”

If You’re a Man, You Don’t Get to Argue About Abortion

This is a logical fallacy called “The Genetic Fallacy,” which, bases an argument solely on someone’s or something’s history, origin, or source rather than its current meaning or context. In this case, the “Pro-Choice Genetic Fallacy” says that a any pro-life argument coming from a man is to be dismissed, not because of its own logic, truthfulness, or force, but because a man is giving it. The gender of a person has nothing to do with the truthfulness of their argument.

Klusendorf humorously responds this claim: “If no man can speak on abortion, we need to reverse Roe v. Wade because it was decided by nine men. But that aside, arguments don’t have gender. People do. The pro-life arguments that are advanced by men are identical to the pro-life arguments advanced by women. You have to argue your case. You have to refute an argument.”

Christians Aren’t Pro-Life, Only Pro-Birth

Pastor Josh Howerton responds well:

Christians are sometimes accused of being pro-birth more than pro-life. They pretend to be passionate about the lives of the unborn as a political weapon, the argument goes, but they don’t really care about children once they’re born. But the data tells a different story.

In addition to establishing almost every Pregnancy Resource Center you’ve ever seen to care for vulnerable women, as well as countless child-sponsorship programs, the adoption rate among practicing Christians more than doubles that of the average U.S. household. Christian groups have a proven track record of providing safe alternatives to abortion.

Sometimes Abortion Is Needed to Save the Mother’s Life

Live Action helpfully points out, “Abortion is never medically necessary to save a woman’s life. The Dublin Declaration, which has more than one thousand signatures from obstetricians, neonatologists, pediatricians, midwives, and other medical professionals, states the following:

As experienced practitioners and researchers in obstetrics and gynaecology, we affirm that direct abortion – the purposeful destruction of the unborn child – is not medically necessary to save the life of a woman.

We uphold that there is a fundamental difference between abortion, and necessary medical treatments that are carried out to save the life of the mother, even if such treatment results in the loss of life of her unborn child.

We confirm that the prohibition of abortion does not affect, in any way, the availability of optimal care to pregnant women.

This is reinforced by the testimony of former abortionist Dr. Anthony Levatino who describes a typical “life of the mother” case:

I was faculty at the hospital for nine years, and I saw hundreds of cases of really severe pregnancy complications — cancers, heart disease, intractable diabetes out of control, toxemia of pregnancy out of control. And I saved — in those nine years — I saved hundreds of women from life-threatening pregnancies. And I did that by delivering them — by ending their pregnancy by delivery, either induction of labor or caesarean section. Delivering the baby. And I always tell people: in all those years, the number of babies that I had to — that I was obligated to deliberately kill in the process — was zero. None.

Is There Grace for Those Who’ve Aborted?

If you’ve participated in an abortion and you’re reading this, you may ask, “Is there any hope for me?” Yes, beloved, there is an infinite amount of grace ready for you in Jesus.

I love the way Melissa Kruger put it:

Many women who have had abortions and men who have encouraged abortions find it difficult to walk in the freedom Christ has secured. If this is you, then you may hear the father of lies speak words of condemnation, fear, and doubt as fiery arrows to assault your faith. You may feel tempted to self-incarcerate, declaring yourself unworthy of ministry, service, and joy because of a past abortion.

Yet the good news is truly good news. Jesus can bring complete healing to the heart broken by abortion. If you long to walk in newness of life, he invites you, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). By seeking Jesus, the community of the church, and ministry to others, you can come out of the shadows into his marvelous light (1 Pet. 2:9).

Like Jesus said, “He will never cast away those who come to him” (John 6:37). If you come, he only has grace for you.

Helpful Websites

There are a lot more pro-choice claims. If you would like to see them, along with informed and thoughtful responses to them, check the following websites:

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