Children’s Ministry: Get Your Promise!

Friends, I want to make an appeal and I want to do it gospel-style. What does that mean? It means that I want to make a call to action but one that is squarely based  on promises. As I have said, repeatedly, all of God’s commands are a promise in disguise. What I am about to invite you to, namely, the opportunity of investing in our children, is also a promise in disguise. I want to lay out a set of promises that are the foundation for investing in the lives of our children at the Chapel Hill Bible Church.

  1. God will use your time, energy, and talents to make Christ known in the lives of our children, if you will give it. He will! God does not let gospel motivated investment go to waste. We all want to get a return on our investments. Well, this is a for sure. This is a win-win. If you will invest your time, energy, and talents in our children, you will see fruit. God will work. Children will be saved, discipled, and equipped to be disciple-maker kids.
  2. Our church, as a whole, will be blessed if our children’s ministry is highly invested in. Jesus really cared about children. Just look up “Jesus” and “children” in a concordance or Bible program and check it out (Luke 17 for instance). There is something about loving and investing in kids that reflects an overall disposition of obedience and worship toward God. The family unit is also a massive health indicator of the church. When the family is healthy, the church is healthy. So much of what we are about in our children’s ministry is not replacing parents but rather equipping parents, and partnering with them, to disciple their children. So, when we have enough hands on deck to do this well, all of us will flourish.
  3. The future of the church is largely about how we disciple the next generation. I know you’ve heard this before, but this is true. This is a grand promise! Our children’s ministry is not babysitting so parents can focus during our services. It is about teaching the Bible, mentoring, and training in righteousness. It is about enabling kids to prize and savor Christ in all things! If we do this right, then these are the future men and women who will lead, teach, protect, and serve the church. Think about a next generation who know their Bibles, who know that mission is not a choice but a call on all believers, that the church is a sweet organization, that prayer is essential, and that God is infinitely wonderful!
  4. You will grow in your faith, grow in Biblical knowledge, see the heart of Jesus, be more pliable toward the Spirit, and more obsessed with the gospel, if you will give of yourself to disciple our kids. Serious. You know this is true. Enough said.
  5. You will have a lot of fun. The work of God is fun!

Next step? Pray about it. Check what I said against Scripture. Call or email our Children’s Minister, Josh Cooley ( Just talk with him. We need teachers. But, talk with Josh and if teaching is certainly not your thing, there are many other roles.

What is the need? Well, we want to drive this by vision, not necessarily need, but here is the deal: we are staffed at about 60%. That’s not good. We are combining classes left and right, and this is not a good longterm solution, especially if we want excellence. We want to make this great for our church family but we also want to be a church that is attractive and inviting for new families. When we have visitors and they see how understaffed we are, that is not a great first impression. Some will stay because they know we are in process, but others know there are other churches with good teaching, Biblical vision, and a much more staffed children’s ministry.

Friends, let’s do this! Spread the word. We have great leadership in place. Great vision. Biblically driven curriculum. I am inviting you to see Jesus in greater depth. Nothing less. Join our children’s ministry team!


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The New Auditorium Look

Some folks may have walked into our auditorium on Sunday and wondered if they were at the right church. Things looked a bit different. While I have heard only positive feedback, I imagine some folks quietly thought to themselves: Am I comfortable with this? Does this portent a direction and a set of priorities that will compromise our core vision and mission to stay focused on the Gospel? Are we caving to social pressure and trying to be hip and attract as many people as possible? Is this us? I thought it might be helpful to unpack the reasons why the auditorium experienced a bit of an aesthetic overhaul.

First, some history. Chapel Hill Bible Church was planted in 1971 as a group of believers who wanted an evangelical church to bear witness to Jesus in Chapel Hill. It met at Gerard Hall on the campus of UNC Chapel Hill for several years. I wish I could have been a part of those years. From the stories I hear, it warms my heart to think about this church and its life in that period of its history. Many lament those days are over, days of meeting in a rented space, with the bare minimum of devices to set up and plug in to make a simple worship gathering occur. CHBC was a church committed to the essentials, so the thought of putting a lot of time and money in a building and aesthetics and media was just not a priority. In fact, as I have been told by key founders, it was actually a priority to stay away from those things. There was something important about viewing a building or space as just that, a building and space. The church was the family of God, not a building. The NT seemed to represent the church as a Jesus-devoted, ragtag group of people, thrown to the margins, obeying and worshiping and waiting for Jesus. The idea of buildings, branding, professional leadership, media, etc, was not a priority. I admit, it is hard to argue that the NT early church was not a building-less, smart phone-less group of disciples.

However, and this I also get from key early leaders, a response to excess can sometimes lead to an overcorrection that also leads to excess in the opposite direction. So, for many years our church eschewed aesthetics as it pertained to its building and space in favor of a sparse atmosphere. This decision was made in earnest, with good motives, and with pure hearts. I love that emphasis. But, sometimes the baby gets thrown out with the bathwater. While many in the church really loved art and aesthetics, and were/are gifted artisans, and art was occasionally installed in hallways and during functions, the desire was to keep some distinction between art and our worship life, and the art that was accepted was either high or folk art. Most things modern were avoided, due to fears that things might become about appearance, numbers, and compromise. To be sure, many churches were cleverly devising brand image and high tech media in order to attract people, and yet there was little substance once people arrived and got plugged in.

Now, I value the decisions made to stay away from that mindset and ministry strategy. But, I think there is room for balance. In fact, in overreactions one misses out on blessings and opportunities that God has given as a good thing. One of the reasons I think the Lord brought me here is that he designed me with the same core theological and ministry values as CHBC, but I don’t share some of the cultural factors and shapers in my approach to life and ministry. I wonder if part of what I and the leadership team that God has assembled will add to this community is a balance of principle and progress, with both being expression of careful Biblical thought, wisdom, and worship.

With that said, we felt like it was time to add some aesthetic grip to our worship space. Let me reiterate, this was not done: to be hip, to signal that everything is about appearance, that we are becoming seeker driven, to reveal we are caving on core ideals to be like other well branded area churches, to draw us away from our mission. Quite the opposite. We believe adding a bit more aesthetics to our life together will enable the following.

  1. As a church we will experience and reflect God’s creativity. God loves beauty. God creates with beauty. Aesthetics and church life go hand in hand. Beauty should not be an idol, but it should not be rejected either, like any other part of creation. I think our worship services will grow deeper and be more vital for all of us precisely because we are inviting a gift God has given to our assembly space.
  2. We will be able to create an atmosphere that will engage people who are visually stimulated. Many people care about how space is devised. Lack of aesthetics, especially along with signals that aesthetics don’t matter, can repulse people who would ordinarily benefit from a Christ-centered, Word-driven worship service. It can hinder mission to not care about appearance. It can stimulate mission to invest in it, with carefulness and wisdom of course. To illustrate, one could dump food on a plate. It might be really good food, but it is just dumped on the plate without any thought for presentation. It looks unappetizing to most people that way. So, a caring chef not only cooks with great ingredients, and prepares with excellence,  but she plates the food with care, aware that the first bite is taken with the eyes. This is just the way God has created the world, and we want to apply this to our church life, too.  *For those of you who don’t care, well, this is not really for you. And, this is where we want to call you to jump in with us, not because it does much for you, but because it does help many people feel comfortable, stimulated, and ready to hear God’s word. If a bit of visual appeal will get a youth, or collegian, or older adult to focus and praise God with us, sit under careful expository preaching, and then plug into community and mission, then I think we need to do this out of a responsibility to faithful gospel ministry.
  3. We will be able to model what it looks like to be a church striving for balance in the middle of the spectrum of ministry application, rather than far to one side. With balance comes tension, the art of sacrificing for others, committing to things not because they are our preference but because it will help others engage the church, and with balance comes the constant need to reflect Scripturally. But, it is worth it. God will bless this commitment to balance. By the way, the changes that have been made in the last few years all put us about in the middle of the spectrum in terms of how progressive our use of media and technology is. If you do the research, you will find that these changes have been modest, slow, and done with theological carefulness. They may seem big because we inhabited a far edge of the spectrum.

So, if you love what you see, great. If you feel neutral about it, that is fine but try and join us in this holistic mission, and one day the particular stage set up might really impact you. If you feel cautious or even put off, try and evaluate your feelings Biblically and theologically. Are there any inherent wrongs in the general commitment to aesthetics as part of a worship space or to the particular way our leaders have chosen to apply that principle in our worship space? If you think there is, come speak with us. We can walk with you in a healthy and respectful discussion. But, if you don’t think it’s an issue of right or wrong, consider some of the points made above.

One of the things this is boiling down to is that we want to be a church on mission, which informs and calls forth certain decisions, in areas we have freedom to do so, to reach people far from God. This is not a numbers things, this is a loving the lost thing. Certain things will not change. Core things. Our preaching will be expository and deep. We will be God centered. Our mission will be about God’s glory. We will value our community and stress relationships. We will not let things be driven by numbers and fame. We will not compete with other churches. But, in order to help people put down walls in order to experience the power of the Gospel in our church, we need to be open to Biblical progress in setting the table and plating the food with excellence and innovation.


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Thankfulness, Open Hands, For Jesus’s Glory

This past Sunday I made three applications with regard to how Christians can continually grow in their worship of Jesus, rather than their religious devotion to their idols. Someone caught me at the end of the service and asked if I could put that in writing. So, here you go. The following are the three ways I think we can inoculate ourselves from idolatry.

  1. Be thankful. Everything we have is a gift of God. Thankfulness is the disposition of our hearts that affirms this reality. If something is inherently wrong, like a sin, we cannot be thankful for it and it needs to be repented of. But, everything that is part of God’s good creation, our talents, opportunities, health, relationships, time, etc, are good things God gives us. So, simply remain in a state of mindfulness that everything you have is a gift. Be thankful. You cannot worship what you believe is a free gift of grace. You cannot become possessive if you don’t feel like you deserved something. You won’t jealously guard an item that was bestowed in mercy. Your idols are things you are currently putting in the category of: deserved, my right, absolute need, my treasure, entitled to, can’t live without. Get those things out of there! Put them in: undeserved, privilege, grace, reminds me of my absolute need for Jesus, reminds me of my ultimate treasure in Jesus. You can’t worship what you are thankful for.
  2. Hold it with open hands. Along with thankfulness comes a posture of openhandedness. If something is a gift, you don’t get to put a white-knuckle grip on it. It is yours to hold. That is called stewardship. But, it is not yours to hoard and cling to. Hold your brain, body, time, education, relationships, marriage, and even children with an open hand. Hold your ministry with an open hand! Along with this posture, you also need to have a willingness to give it right back to God. God gave it. He can take it away. You need to view all that God gives you with that counter-cultural, counter intuitive perspective. It is okay to be bummed if God calls you to give it up or give it back, but you should not be heart broken, angry, or self pitying. It truly is a freeing experience to hold all of life with an open hand, all the while trusting that God holds you and will never let you go. You cannot worship something you hold with open hands.
  3. For Jesus’s glory. Once something is seen as a gift, and stewarded but not hoarded, one can utilize that thing for Jesus. Our jobs. Our families. Our time. Our gifts. Our hobbies. Our suffering. It is all for Jesus and Jesus is working in them all. So, try and be intentional with everything. Pray that your work today would be used by God for the glory of His Son. Pray that Jesus would get fame in you as a spouse, parent, son, daughter, friend, roommate, student, employee, boss, student, athlete, artist, pastor, even in your sleeping moments. You cannot worship what you believe to be an instrument for Jesus’s glory.

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Pastoral Thoughts on Responding to the Court Ruling on Same Sex Marriage

Many in our church family are wondering what it means to be a Bible believing Christian in relation to the recent Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) decision to legalize same sex marriage across the country. I think God’s timing is perfect and that is reflected in the fact that our summer sermon series is on the Lord’s Prayer. The parts of the prayer we have reflected on in recent Sundays are: the holiness of God’s name, the desire for the kingdom to come, and the desire for God’s will to be done. Those themes, and the prayer as a whole, really connect with how followers of Christ should respond to this court decision and the majority culture that this decision reflects.

Let me say that if you are confused, on the fence, or think the decision was good, we do not want to discredit your personhood. We love you and we want you to remain at the Bible Church and wrestle with us on what it means to be Biblically defined followers of Jesus. The leadership of this church and I affirm the traditional view of gender, sex, and marriage, but we want to dialogue with you, and we want you to know that the centerpiece of our theological and relational mission is Jesus and His gospel, not a certain view of gender, sex, and marriage. We do think this is a big issue with very big implications, but we want to speak with you and we want to hold our view with grace and winsome love. I hope our common desire is to know what God’s will is, known in Scripture, and that we will then submit to that and obey it, regardless of the personal and cultural cost. Would you join us in dialogue and study of the Scripture?

As an aside, I have had people tell me: Jay, you seem so nice and gracious. The Bible Church is so loving and so committed to grace. I can’t believe you hold this view! Now, I guess I am thankful that people see me as nice and that our church is committed to grace. But, I am sad that many self-described Christians don’t see grace and the traditional view of marriage as compatible. In that disassociation are layers and layers of assumptions, experience, and emotion. If you are struggling to see the compatibility of the two realities, please hold on, wrestle with the Biblical text, pray, and seek Scriptural logic. I promise you that grace and the traditional view are not only compatible but essentially tied to one another.

So, let me give you some things to consider as you reflect upon the SCOTUS decision and how it impacts you and Christianity in America. These will hopefully aid you in processing it yourself and also in how you might converse with people about it, Christian and non-Christian alike.

1. What the Bible means by marriage and what the law means by marriage is not the same.
Now that the highest court of the land has defined marriage by the act of legalizing it for any gender configuration, it has become clear that what the law means by marriage and what orthodox Christianity means by marriage is no longer the same. This is actually helpful, I think. This reality gives us the responsibility and the privilege of teaching clear Biblical truth on what marriage actually is, which is something I think the evangelical church has not done well in the last few decades – and one of the reasons we were caught flat footed on this issue. This, in turn, will lead the church to value marriage more, commit to it more, protect it more, and worship through it more. True marriage, the covenant between one man and one woman, will be strengthened in the church of Christ. In other words, I believe the Spirit of God is going to use this season to rebuild our view of marriage. Will we start using a different word for marriage, if the law means something different? I don’t know. Maybe. That won’t help much. Already there are efforts to force religious groups to not only live in this new era but to change our beliefs to agree with it. But, at the very least, we must be clear that what the Bible means by marriage is not the same as what the law, and the majority of Americans, mean by the term. We should make that clear as we talk with people, and that will help people understand why gay couples can get a legal standing which the church can recognize as a legal standing and yet not recognize as a spiritual, theological, and relational standing. We can then explain why our wedding ceremonies exist, and that is for the purpose of extolling the spiritual, theological, and relational realities of marriage.

2. We are being called to live a lot more like New Testament Christians.
Since the founding of this country, the church, and all religious groups, have been blessed by a relatively supportive host culture. I don’t agree that our country was essentially Christian in its core mission, but it is true that a Judeo-Christian worldview was fairly dominant for a long time. The church experienced a lot of protection and freedoms. No one questioned our status as a non-profit institution and certain benefits were given to us because people recognized the church and its clergy as positive influencers for the common good. This is changing. We just shifted gears with the court ruling.
But, if you look at the New Testament, the church was not privileged and protected. It was a small, ragtag, marginalized, often persecuted group of Jesus followers, who clung to the Scriptures, and who knew that following Jesus meant giving up status, power, and sometimes family and physical safety. There was no cake-and-eat-it-too Christianity. Because of that, God’s people experienced the true power of the Holy Spirit in ways I think we have been missing because there was too much human power to trust in for us as an American church. Well, welcome to the days of having those idols ripped from us. Now is the time for us to embrace our marginalized, minority, ridiculed, and maybe even persecuted next chapter. We should embrace this season of harvest, because the vetting, dividing, and clear defining we are seeing as the church will wake us up to the implications of this moment and will make us a much more healthy and Biblical church.
Let me get super specific in terms of the implication. We are going to look a lot dorkier and even poisonous to the world. Friend, that is what it means to follow Christ. I am tearing up as I type this because I know the cost will be high for you, but I also feel so moved at how beautiful and glorious it is to suffer for our sweet Savior, Jesus. He loves us so much. He would never call us to a failed mission. He knows that through suffering with him we will become co-heirs with him of the vast treasure of the universe (go and read Romans 8 right now!).

3. The Bible Church will still continue to keep the main thing the main thing.
You need not worry that this is going to become the pet issue for our church, or evangelicalism. It won’t. I am writing this, and myriad other pieces are floating out there, because this is a current hot issue and this is an important discipleship and teaching moment for the church. But, the dust will settle and we will get used to this as our new normal. Our church is going to preach the Bible each week and celebrate all that God is for us through Jesus. As usual, we will take Biblical texts and unfold them in their context. Our sermons will preach the truths of those passages. Our community will be built around Jesus and his mission. In that sense, not much will change. As part of our overall discipleship, I think one of the lessons learned is that we should make teaching on marriage and sexual purity be an important part of our discipleship ministry and training center, but it won’t overshadow the other important things to be taught.

4. We should pray for continued protections and yet be prepared for loss.
Even though the church is going to grow and become healthier in this season, we should pray and seek ways of protecting some of the legal standing and freedoms we have, so we can continue to direct most of our energy and resources toward gospel mission. For instance, there are already secular voices that are insisting that religious groups who do not affirm the legal and moral validity of same sex marriage should have their non profit standing taken away and thus should be taxed. If that were to occur, churches would pay property tax, would be taxed on our income from giving, giving would no longer be tax deductible, and we would have to pay sales tax on our purchases. Furthermore (and this may occur regardless), our ministry staff would probably lose their clergy housing allowance, which saves thousands a year in taxes, which enables churches to afford a plurality of gifted and focused staff who don’t need to worry about holding another job. Many churches will no longer afford to have property, especially in high rent areas like cities. Many venues will not rent to evangelical churches any longer. Many staff will have to be cut or become part time or be tent makers, unless churches see the need and respond with urgent generosity – and maybe that will be good for people, to see that their giving now must happen in order for churches to be committed to basic gospel mission. Again, this has potential to get the American church back to a healthy square one, but for the time being I hope we can keep these freedoms and benefits, all the while becoming more focused to use them for Jesus’ glory.

5. Continue to love well and be conversant in the Bible.
When the issue comes up among family, friends, at work, over the fence, in your running club, wherever, do your best to express love on your face, in your posture, and in your voice. Don’t let it hit a wall of yes or no questions. Pursue the other person and their story. Why do they believe what they believe? Ask that you begin a conversation and talk about assumptions, history, how you arrived at your conclusions, and, most importantly, that you start with the Bible and work your way backwards from it, and why it is that you have that much confidence in the Bible to define reality. That means you’ve got to study this. The good news is that you will grow closer to the Lord in doing so, and you will learn about a ton of other stuff that is attached to gender, sexuality, and marriage in the process. You will learn about the foundations of life, not least who God is, Father, Son, and Spirit. Now, people may not agree with you but I bet you will plant seeds, win respect, build love into people, and show people what a controversial conversation with someone who feels secure in Christ looks like. Take these opportunities to draw fellow believers back to the Bible as the starting point. And, with non-believers, take this as an opportunity to show them Jesus.
Let’s end there. This is all about Jesus. Getting gender, sex, and marriage right is all about Jesus. This is a topic to be correct on. This is a relationship. This is truth. This is relationship. This is experience. This is reason. This is mission. This is community. This is human flourishing. It’s all of those things. We’ve got to be pressed to the Bible, because this is all about the glory of Jesus and the common good, and the Bible is the only place we where we see what it means to bring glory to Jesus and the recipe for the common good.

For more information, here are some resources for you to work through and consider.

50 Resources on Equipping the Church on Homosexuality and Same-Sex Marriage
What You Should Know about the Supreme Court Ruling on Same-Sex Marriage
Great Videos & Resources to Help Understand
Same-Sex Marriage and the Future
Statement of Position by Leading Evangelical Leaders (including our very own Jay Thomas)


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2 More Solid Responses to Newsweek Article

Here are two more helpful articles by well respected evangelical Bible scholars:

By Darrell Bock of Dallas Seminary

By Ben Witherington of Asbury Seminary

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Response to Newsweeks Cover Story on the Bible

On December 23rd of last year, writer Kurt Eichenwald had an online article go live which became this week’s cover piece for the newly re-published Newsweek  magazine entitled, “The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin.” In it, while trying to be objective, he takes shot after shot at a tradition, or evangelical, understanding of the Bible. And, by traditional and evangelical I am not being overly precise. I mean a basic understanding of Scripture that it is true and authoritative.

There are several good responses now on the web and there are several very helpful books on the topic of why the Bible is a reliable document, historically, theologically, and spiritually, and I will link you to a blog by NT scholar Daniel Wallace where he argues at greater length and with greater precision than me, but let me just outline some of the things to keep in mind if you have read the Newsweek piece or plan on it for the future.

1. The article has several factual flaws, such as how the Bible came to be, dating, the history of Christianity, the basics of Christian belief, etc.

2. The arguments used in the article are not new. They have been widely discussed and have been propagated by liberal theologians for centuries and now are re-articulated by faculty in university religion departments, not least by Dr. Bart Erhman of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. These arguments have been addressed and responded to clearly, rigorously, and with the highest levels of scholarship, by evangelical Biblical scholars and theologians. These evangelical rebuttals cannot make an unbeliever believe. That is the work of the Spirit. But, they show that Christian belief in the Bible is reasonable and comports with evidence.

3. The article dismisses out of hand evangelical presuppositions and convictions that drive our view of the Biblical text – in its creation, its transmission, and its present form – and thus does not view current evangelical responses to his arguments as valid. The author then goes on to assume other biases that are the basis of his arguments without defending those philosophically or in any other way. Orthodox Christians – fundamentalists, evangelicals, and even moderates – are all simply cast aside as ignorant and unable to reasonably hold to our view of the Bible. By the way, he lumps everyone together and does not distinguish how certain traditions and strains of Christianity have significantly different approaches to Scripture. He rightly points out some very dodgy views on the Bible, but assumes all Christians see it that way.

4. The article has a very flat view of the Bible and does not account for how literature, not least ancient literature, works. He sees contradictions, inconsistencies, errors, and the lot, not because they are clearly seen in the text, but because he does not evaluate literary genre, how things are intended to be read in context, the overall story of the Bible, the nuances of authorial perspective, etc. It is actually a far more nuanced view of the Bible that allows for evangelical convictions to thrive.

5. Every argument for a position, whatever it is, is evidence of a personal narrative. That is true for orthodox Christians and why we believe the Bible to be the very voice of God. But, it is also true for Kurt Eichenwald. While I think his piece is just not good, or helpful, or written with journalistic integrity, I imagine the effort he put into it by means of research and thought are driven by a personal story of disappointment with orthodox Christianity and its view of the Bible. Some of the hurt might be pretty justified. Perhaps he, or someone he loves, has been very affected by how some Christians used the Bible to attack, condemn, or emotionally jab. So, just as we must own our biases (and let’s admit that our conviction about the Bible is biased…it’s just that we think our biases are correct) we must acknowledge that articles like this one come out of a personal story and are not just an interesting journalistic contribution to public thought and for the common good. I think that means we should pray for Mr. Eichenwald and not just excoriate him. That is possible, you know. We can both repudiate his article and be compassionate toward him – and yes, toward Bart Ehrman and the many other public voices, and not so pubic voices, of those who struggle with Christianity, the Bible, the gospel, and Jesus himself. As the Lord directs you, would you pray for the salvation of folks like this? You and I were no better off before God saved us, miraculously, through the converting power of the Holy Spirit, giving us faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Here is a helpful post by Dr. Daniel Wallace. Daniel Wallace response

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How Does A Pastor Decide What to Say on Sundays?

Watch Alistair Begg explain the answer.

Preach the Word





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