A longtime staff member of Grace to You once recounted a story from our early days of ministry. That story came up recently, and I think you’ll find it not only interesting but helpful.
In the summer of 1980, the MacArthur family packed our van and drove across the country, visiting many places and meeting and ministering to many people. Besides being a vacation, the time away allowed us to visit other churches to see if the Lord might be calling me to pastor elsewhere.
After serving for more than eleven years at one church, I had begun to ask myself, How long can I continue to teach the same things to the same people? Should I be more creative in my preaching? If I leave, perhaps I could encourage other believers who might benefit more than my current congregation. I left thinking that the Lord might use the trip to open new avenues of ministry. During the trip I actually received an inquiry from a church and, for the first time, found myself not wanting to say no immediately.
Our tape ministry was still young and just starting to get its legs. By then, we had eight hundred different sermon titles on tape and had distributed about two million of them. I had written a few small books. We had been on radio for only two years and were heard on just a handful of stations. While the ministry was growing, it was still small. Yet I had no idea how far reaching it had already become. The trip my family took was about to show me.
Time and again I met people whose lives had been changed by the verse-by-verse teaching of God’s Word they had received through our tapes and radio programs. I encountered people who told me they were sustained in their spiritual walks by our ministry. One family we visited had an entire wall in their home covered with Grace to You tapes. Another family drove from Florida to a conference I was speaking at in New York for one day just so they could meet Patricia and me and tell us how much the ministry meant to them.
One young pastor in his twenties came up to me, his eyes a bit watery, and said, “John, don’t do anything different and don’t let anything change, because so many of us are depending on this kind of teaching.”
The Lord used those encounters, and others like them, to confirm to me that novelty was not my calling. I needed to continue to teach His Word verse-by-verse, and to the same congregation. Why? Because God’s Word is not new, it’s old—yet it’s timeless, dynamic, and fundamental to godly living.
As I pondered what shape my ministry would take when I returned to Grace Church, I found myself drawn to 2 Peter 1, and especially verses 12-13. That’s where the apostle Peter encouraged believers to godly living by reminding them of the truths he had previously taught them. I saw that the ministry of a pastor, at its root, is to establish believers like you in the truths of the gospel and then consistently bring those truths back to the forefront of your mind so you can live them out.
If that understanding of and approach to ministry sounds a bit simple and ordinary, that’s because it is. A dangerous consequence of the spread and influence of megachurches and media ministries is that many Christians now evaluate their churches and ministries based on all the wrong things. They want the extraordinary. They expect non-stop excitement, amazing growth, cutting-edge programs, and novel techniques. Faithful proclamation of Scripture in the pulpit, a godly congregation that faithfully worships together and pursues sanctification under leadership—all that smacks of the ordinary. And ordinary just isn’t enough. Evangelicalism has cultivated an adolescent appetite and expectation for an emotionally fulfilling, ever-expanding, earth-shattering church experience that ordinary just can’t compete with.
Because there’s so much confusion about what God calls a church to do and be—and consequently, many sincere believers are discouraged, disillusioned, and discontent—I delivered a special sermon that makes a case for the ordinary—the ordinary church. I wanted to speak to the fundamental issue of how God measures a church or ministry, and to show that faithfulness to a few simple principles—and not the pursuit of excitement, success, novelty, or numerical growth—is our goal. A readily achievable goal. I call the lesson “The Ordinary Church,” and I encourage you to listen to it here.
Without giving away too much of what you’ll hear in the lesson, I can tell you that the hallmarks of a faithful, ordinary church are supported, honored, and echoed by the ministry Grace to You is having in lives. While we have several thousand hours of audio, and a huge volume of printed materials, reaching people on every continent through a variety of media conduits, we do just one ordinary, essential thing: We teach people what God’s Word means by what it says. We not only deliver biblical truth one verse at a time but also provide a model pastors can follow to stimulate the appetite of their congregations for sound doctrine. In that way, we directly and powerfully fulfill our purpose statement by supporting, not competing with, the local church. We serve an extraordinary God who does the extraordinary through ordinary Christians and their ordinary churches. Those are the believers and congregations to whom we minister.
We don’t do that without the financial backing of God’s people. Know that when you support Grace to You, you help put our resources into the hands of believers who need to be grounded and established in faith, as well as those who need reminders and encouragement for their daily walks.
Thank you for your faithful support of our ministry in your life and in the lives of others, whether you’ve given for thirty-five years, five years, or five months. Your support helps make this ministry possible, and you are a constant reminder that what I teach each Sunday in a pulpit reaches beyond the walls of a church and into homes and lives across the United States and around the world. For that I am eternally grateful. Thank you.
Love in the Truth,