Rich: If you’re an avid fan of Christian Broadcasters, have you ever wondered what these people are really like, how they happen to get into the ministry and some of the interesting highlights of their lives. Would you like to know the man John MacArthur, his family, his conversion, and the growth of his church. If so, may I suggest you pull up a chair and join us for Grace to You. From the Grace Community Church of the Valley in Panorama City, California, our pastor-teacher John MacArthur brings you in-depth studies of the Word of God. If you would like to get information concerning this ministry, just write: Grace to You Box 4818 Panorama City, California, 91412. That address again is: Grace to You Box 4818 Panorama City, California, 91412. John’s studies have been received with such great enthusiasm, and we’ve received so many requests for information about our teacher and the church he serves that in response we are presenting today and tomorrow a personal talk with John MacArthur so that you, the listening audience, can get better acquainted with him. I guess the best way to start, John, is by asking you how old you are?
John: Well you had to ask that, didn’t you, Rich? My little daughter announced to me a week ago that I was 40, and she came popping into the room with her little present for me. So she was right, I’m 40 as of just a few weeks ago.
Rich: Some of the listening audience have asked about your name. some think that maybe you’re related to General MacArthur. Could you tell us a little about who you’re related to and what about the name?
John: Well of course MacArthur is a great Scottish name. we have our own clan and our own clad and all of those things. And a recent visit to Scotland on my part reaffirmed where my roots come from. But my family came originally from Scotland; I’m a fifth-generation preacher. Men in my family go back to missionaries in Scotland and Canada, even in Australia. I am distantly related to General Douglas MacArthur. I understand that I’m a fifth cousin, and so it’s quite a distance but nonetheless we are related.
Rich: And how about of your education? What kind of educational background have you had?
John: Well, I pretty much was raised in the southern California area, and so I attended school here. I spent my time in college, early in my college years, two years at Bob Jones University and then completed my college education at Los Angeles Pacific College. That college has since gone defunct, I hope not due to anything that I did. But that’s where I finished my work. And from there I proceeded to Talbot Theological Seminary and completed my seminary training there.
Rich: How about your personal background, your goals in early life for instance? Have you always wanted to be a preacher?
John: Well because my father was a preacher and a pastor and still is and because my grandfather who was a very wonderful man was also a pastor, I really grew up with a pastor’s heart and a pastor’s mentality. And of course, I saw all of the functioning of my father and my grandfather, and I guess I felt like I understood what it was to be a pastor. And I felt like I knew how to do that because I had learned from my father because he always shared with the family. So it was very natural for me to desire that or to look to that. And from the time I was very small, even five and six years old, my parents have told me that I would stand up in the backyard on a soap box and preach to my sisters or anybody in the neighborhood who would listen. And I guess in a sense I always kind of assumed that that’s what I would be. But as things change you know I came to college days and I became very involved in athletics. And in the times that I was involved in sports I received a tremendous measure of fulfillment and thought for quite a while that I’d like to be a professional athlete. I did have some opportunities to play professionally both in football and baseball. But to the time it came to the crisis point of making a decision, by then I had affirmed in my heart that God wanted me in the ministry, so I chose seminary over an athletic career.
Rich: One would think that with your background you became a Christian at a young age and just kind of floated along in your Christian life, growing steadily. Could you give us an idea of how you came to know Christ?
John: Well of course when I was small, I can’t ever remember a time I didn’t believe, and I never had a time when I ever rebelled. My parents were wonderful Christians and of course they still are and always set a tremendous example for me. They loved the Lord with all their hearts. There was nothing in Christianity that I could see that was objectionable; it was all very affirming and wonderful to me. And so I accepted openly everything about Christ. I remember one incident where I got into a little trouble. I was traveling with my father; he was doing a revival meeting in the Midwest. And a little boy in the neighborhood, we were about seven at the time, had said he had a little plan for us one afternoon. And so while my father was staying in a home in the town and preaching every night, we went down and vandalized the local public school. Overturned some desks and a sandbox and poured out some ink wells and did some bad things. And I used to tell myself it was bad company that influenced me, but now I know it was just plain depravity you know. But anyway, as a result of that, I began to feel very guilty. And a man came to our house wanted to know of course if I had been involved because somebody had seen me in the area. And my father said, “Oh, no.” He said, “Our son would never do a thing like that.” Of course, I sheepishly stood in the background, and later that night at the meeting I went forward and I felt like I had to tell my father and I had to tell the Lord what I had done. And so that incident really crystalized for me a moment of commitment to Christ even though I was very young.
Rich: Did you ever come to a crisis point in your life in your relationship with God?
John: Yes, I think so. I went away to college, and although I was willing in my heart to do what God wanted me to do in a general way, there were some areas of my life which were not really submissive to Christ. And so I chafed a little bit under the direction. Although I was sort of resigned to it, it wasn’t a joyous anticipation for me, and I was somewhat rebellious. And the Lord knew that and He knew there needed to be some further refining. So driving across the United States with five other young people in a car after my freshman year in college, the Lord worked out a very special plan for me. The car got involved in an accident. I was thrown out of the car, slid along the highway over 100 yards, of course wound up with severe burns and friction problems and scars everywhere and wound up in a hospital and then in a bed for nearly three months. And it was at that point in time that I made the total commitment of my life to Christ. I was just 18 years old really at the time, and I said, “Lord, I can see now that my life really is in your hands, and you have absolute control of not only my eternal destiny but my time here in this world.” And he spared me and every other person in the car even though it rolled at 65, 70 miles an hour. And I could see God working, so I committed my life to Christ. I spent those three months drawing close to Him and reading His Word and reaffirming my commitment to do whatever He wanted me to do.
Rich: Did you know at that time that you were headed for the ministry?
John: Well I always thought that, but then after that I changed schools to pursue an athletic career. And in the midst of that athletic career, I reconsidered a childhood dream to be a professional athlete. And I opened myself to that. I was scouted by some professional teams and I talked to them and I went to the Washington Redskins football training camp. And I went through a lot of those kinds of things again, but at that time I really was opened to what God wanted. I considered those things. But when I really knew that God wanted me in the ministry, I was ready. And it all kind of came down to an incident where a girl was shot through the neck by her boyfriend, severed her spinal cord. She was lying in a hospital and I was just finishing my last year of football in college, and someone said, “Would you go and talk to her about Christ?” And I did and I introduced her to Christ and she was wonderfully saved. And to this day of course she is quadriplegic. But at that time, I said to myself, “You know this is what matters. I mean running around with a piece of pig under your arm across a white line you know to the cheers of the crowd is not really what life is all about. Taking Christ to somebody like this is what life is all about.” And so at that point her life intersecting with my life confirmed to me the priority.
Rich: Have you been able to realize those dreams and desires in regard to athletics even within the ministry itself?
John: Well of course in college I was able to realize a lot more than I ever dreamed I would. I had always wanted to participate in sports for the sheer thrill of it. But then I was honored in many ways you know by participating in sports, and all the things I’d ever wanted and even more the Lord was gracious enough to give. And I think God is like that. I really believe that God gives us ability, and then if we are ability to him in the exercise of that ability, there will be a fulfillment in it. And God was so gracious to me and of course opened up opportunity for me to speak and to represent Christ. I can remember going to service clubs when they would select me as player of the week or something, and I’d go in and I’d just tell them about Christ. And I was able to work with athletic teams. To this day, I have Bible studies with the professional teams. I’ve just completed some with the baseball teams in Los Angeles, and of course during the football season I worked with the Los Angeles Rams. So all of that background the Lord has seen fit to use.
Rich: The Lord has used that. Yes, that’s tremendous. Let’s get a little into the church history, the history of Grace Church. When you first came to Grace, how old were you then?
John: Well I’ll back up a little before that, Rich. When I left seminary, I was working with my dad in a church and I was teaching at Los Angeles Baptist College. And I had in my heart the desire to systematically teach the Scripture. But I wanted to preach too, and I knew that I needed experience in preaching if I was gonna be effective. Like anybody’s skill, it needs to be refined. And so before I really got into a church, I wanted to preach, and so I taught in the college on a part-time basis. And I worked on a youth group in my dad’s church and did some other things. But I traveled a lot and I preached at youth conferences and special meetings, and I just preached and preached. And then I went on the staff of Talbot Seminary and I had two-and-a-half wonderful years there preaching all over the country as kind of a sort of a faculty member at large kind of a thing. And I preached an average of 35 to 40 times a month for two-and-a-half years. And I refined I think to some extent, I don’t quite think it’s refined the way it ought to be even now if ever, but I really had an opportunity to work on my preaching ministry. And so I was then at the end of that two-and-a-half years, I was asking God to open a door for me. Now that I had preached, I had a hunger for a flock of people now to use this gift with. And so I just asked God in my own heart to draw me to a situation where I could have that opportunity. At that time, the pastor of Grace Community Church had died of a heart attack, and he was the second one who had died of a heart attack. I think by that time we were saying, “We don’t care if he’s good. Just get him young you know. We don’t want to lose him again.” So I was asked to fill the pulpit for Grace Community Church, and I came and I preached on a Sunday night. A group of men came up to me and said, “Would you be interested in candidating?” Well in a way this was an answer to my prayer, and yet I had never anticipated that here. And so I said, “Well I’ll pray about that.” And as a result of that, I came. At the time, I was 29 years old, and I had been out of seminary by then for about five years, graduating when I was 24. And during those five years, I had taught, I had worked with my dad and done some administration in the church, and then I had preached. And I felt like the Lord had taken those years as a training period to prepare me for coming here.
Rich: What was the size of Grace Church at that time?
John: Well I think we probably had 450 or 500 people even then. You see the church it had two wonderful pastors, and it was strong in terms of personal relationships and love, and it was good leadership here. In addition, there was a wonderful youth program, and there were just kids everywhere. And so that in a way is catalytic. So the church was an exciting, energetic and wonderful church even then, though there were not nearly so many people.
Rich: Could you give us an idea of a typical day? I think a lot of people have an idea that the pastor does thus and such during his week. Could you give us an idea of what you were committed to do and what you ended up doing in those days?
John: Well when I first talked to the elders about coming, I said, “I wanted them to give me at least 30 hours a week to study.”
Rich: 30 hours a week?
John: Yes. And at first they were a little you know concerned; well that seemed like a lot of time. And I’m sure they thought, “He must be a rather slow learner you know.” But I said, “I want that because I believe that if I read Ephesians 4 properly, pastor-teachers are given to the church for the perfecting of the saints.” And the perfecting of the saints comes about, according to Paul’s letter to Timothy, through the Word of God. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God that the man of God may be perfect.” So that the tool is the Word, and I had to spend time in the Word. So I set apart basically 15 hours for each of the two messages that I would give on Sunday. And remember too, I was starting from ground zero in a way. I had to prepare each one, no former pastorates. In fact, that’s still true. I’ve been here ten years and everything I know I’ve told them, so I have to keep coming up with something new every week. But I went on on that basis, and of course feeling in my heart well maybe the other ten or 15 hours would be with some visitation of people in the hospital and so forth and so on. And I was limited to that if I was gonna study that way. Well it was wonderful because the men said we’ll take care of the visitation because James said visitation is “pure religion.” Everybody does that, so we all kind of carried the load together. But as you well know, what you may anticipate and what really happens are two different things. I found myself being called to the hospital and called to homes where there were deaths and counseling people. And I used to set up the tables and the chairs for the women’s meetings, and I used to clean out the bathrooms on Saturdays preparing for Sunday and make sure the windows were clean and were the ushers ready, so many things. And so in those early days, I would still study 30 hours; I never sacrificed that. But the other ten or 15 that I had anticipated turned into another 30, and so it became a lifetime.
Rich: I think people think that things have always been about the same at Grace Church, that you’ve had the dynamic leadership, etcetera, that God has blessed with here. What is your philosophy in building a church? How have you seen it built, and what do you understand God’s Word to say in building a church?
John: Well you know a reporter asked me one time, Rich, he said, “Do you have a great desire to build the church?” And I said, “No.” I have absolutely no desire to build the church; that’s not my job. I said, “Jesus said, ‘I will build my church.’” And I would rather not compete with him you see. So I’ll let him do his job, and his job is to build the church. I simply want to allow him to do that through me in a small way in some one location. So having said that, I see my calling, first of all, is to know God, in my life as a pursuit to know God. I frankly do not study the Bible to get a sermon. If I ever do that, I find myself contriving the Scripture to get my sermon.
Rich: Well how do you approach it then?
John: Well I approach the Scripture this way. I have an insatiable hunger to know what the Bible means. If my father gave me any one thing, among many, it was a sense of integrity about living according to Scripture. If the Bible says it, then that’s the way it is. And so I had to know what the Bible said and what it meant by what it said so that I would know how I could live to glorify God.
Rich: For yourself?
John: For myself. And so to me, the ministry is simply a tremendous gift, which says in effect, “Here, John, take your life. You don’t even have to work at a job. Just spend your whole life finding out what the Bible says.” And all they ask of me is that at the end of the week when I’ve discovered that truths that have been there, I get to share it with them. To me that isn’t work. To me that’s a ministry out of the overflow of the relationship that I have with the Lord that comes from the study of His Word. And as that overflows from my life, it touches the lives of the people in the congregation, and the Word has the impact of affecting them as it affects me. And together we grow, and as we grow together, out of that comes the nurturing of leadership.
Rich: This then is where the leadership comes from, right? From within the church itself.
John: That’s right. Now we have I think somebody told me the other day we have now 30 people on our pastoral staff, 30 people in pastoral ministries apart from you know supporting staff and others. And all of them, with no exception, have come from inside our congregation.
Rich: Could you give us some examples maybe?
John: Well for example, you know I believe first of all that if you can’t develop leadership in a church, you’re probably not doing what you ought to, 'cause that’s what it’s there for, to mature the saints. So the idea of musical churches you know, play the music and everybody keeps moving ‘til they find a church and they stay three years and then find another church, isn’t really the issue. Just trading pastors and leaders around the churches is not the issue. We must grow our own; we must develop our own leaders. So that’s what we’ve endeavored to do here. And for an example, you would be a good example, Rich. You came to us in a time in your life when you were looking for a certain ministry and a certain opportunity, and you became one of us as a layperson really. You were teaching school at the time.
John: And you ministered among us with great blessing from the Lord. And I remember one day going to you and saying, “Rich, I can see in the future you becoming a part of our staff.” And others had said that to you. And little by little as your ministry developed, it wasn’t an issue of hiring you to do a job; it was simply a matter of supporting you in a ministry you already developed in a body. And that’s the way it’s been. I can think of Norman Spear who handles our radio ministry. Norm comes out of a background of business and television and things like that, and he says to me one day, “I want to give some time to the radio.” And I said to him, “Wonderful, see what happens.” And he begins to develop the radio and it grows into a full-time ministry. I think of Dr. Fred BarshaW who was a key man in the L.A. Public School Systems, a man with a doctor’s degree, a man who is a principal of a school in a strategic area of our city. He began a ministry among the families at Grace Church, and pretty soon it was apparent that he couldn’t keep his job and develop his ministry. So we took over his support. And so Acts 6 has been the key to me. It says there that the apostles said, “Look, we know that the widows need care and we know that the folks must be fed, but we will give ourselves to the Word and to prayer. You people choose out people who can handle this.” But what always interested me is that they didn’t have to start a ministry for some people. The ministry began first; then they simply went in to help that ministry function better. So as a person develops a ministry here and as it grows, we move in men and say, “Boy, God’s blessed your ministry. We want you to give your full life to this, so we’ll take over your support.” So we really support people whose ministries have developed.
Rich: So you’re growing leadership instead of programs is what you’re saying?
John: That’s exactly right. In most churches, what happens is a pastor who’s an aggressive thinker and a creative person or his staff think up new programs and then they try to mobilize people and get them into the program.
John: There are several problems with that. One of the problems is you may not be doing what the Holy Spirit wants you to do; the other one is the people may not really be motivated for that. Rather, they may be intimidated into doing it or feel obligation. So we would rather just pray that God will raise up ministries among the people themselves, and he’s done that.
Rich: One time you said, “We are concerned with the depth of our ministry, and God gives the breadth.” God has given a tremendous depth in the ministry at Grace Church. Could you elaborate on that?
John: Here at Grace Church you asked me earlier if I had realized the dreams and desires that I had for the ministry. That doesn’t even begin to touch it; it’s far beyond anything I conceived of. I never ever conceived of anything like this, but as we’ve gone deep and poured the Word of God richly into the lives of people, and I don’t mean just myself but all of the people who minister here, then God has given us this breath.
Rich: Did you ever envision a church of over 7,000 in attendance on Sunday morning?
John: Well of course not. To me, even today I don’t comprehend that. As I said to somebody the other day, I said, “I keep coming here on Sunday to preach and all these people show up, and I frankly don’t know why.” And it is something you can reproduce. You know we have men coming here from churches all over the will every day to study and to learn from us, and I really don’t know what to tell them. And we know basically biblical standards to tell them, but there’s nothing you can say that can guarantee that you can produce this somewhere else; this has something God has chosen to do far beyond me. Ephesians 3:20 used to be somewhat of a mystery, “Now unto him who is able to do exceeding abundantly above all you can ask or think according to the power that works in us.” I used to say, “I believe that, I just don’t understand that.” And now I understand that. I never dreamed or conceived of this. I thought, “Lord, if we could just mature the ones we’ve got,” – when I first came we had about 500 – “maybe everybody could win somebody else and we could maybe have a thousand people here someday.” I never said that to anybody. I don’t even think it was really a prayer; it was just a thought. And here we have what we have today, and it’s just to his praise.
Rich: You know, John, last Sunday’s total attendance morning and evening reached about 10,000, and it wasn’t even Easter or Christmas. With an attendance like this, where do we go from here?
John: Well that’s the question we’ve been asking ourselves for ten years, Rich, as you know, as you’re part of our staff and you pray and struggle with these things along with us. But we don’t know from one day to the next where God’s taking us. Now we plan but it’s kind of like man plans his ways and the Lord directs his steps. You know we lay out our plans, and I’m not sure we always know exactly where we’re going.
Rich: What kinds of things do you see for the future?
John: Well we have some goals. For example, we’ve just gotten on the ground floor of establishing what we call Shepherds College. You know we’ve had such a tremendous demand from pastors; they want to come and learn and they want to see how is it done. And we aren’t a gimmicky ministry; we have biblical integrity I believe. And they believe the Bible and they say, “How do you build a church? How do you let Christ build his church in a biblical way?” So we decided to develop Shepherds College. This is a program where a pastor can come here for a brief stay. He can gain some input, some basic content. Then he can return to his own church and he can study through a guided curriculum the principles and ideals that can bring to bear on his ministry the blessing of God. Now we’ve learned a lot in ten years that we can transfer to these men. They can come and they can select say out of 20 different categories where they might feel weak or need help in their ministry. We’ll give them a guided curriculum to bring them to some real conclusions about how that ministry ought to develop. So Shepherds College is very exciting, and we’ve just begun and there are some men already involved in it. And by the way, if there are any pastors listening or any of you who are listening want to tell their pastor, let them know about Shepherds College. They can write for a brochure and find out how they can enrich their ministry in that very way. Also along that line, next year in 1980 sometime toward the end of the winter or early spring, we’re planning a pastor’s conference here to invite pastors from all over America to come and be with us for part of a week to be exposed to a full Sunday here at Grace and to seminars and fellowship and many other things. I’d add one other thing, Rich. We are developing some community Bible studies. We have in ten years trained a tremendous amount of leaders. We have 100 young men right now in seminary. With all of this manpower, it’s time for us to move into the world. And so we have now taken a computer, divided up our valley where we are with 1.5 million people, and we have developed little units within every single neighborhood where we’re gonna begin evangelistic Bible studies to reach out. And so that’s something that you folks can be praying about that God will bring to pass this community-outreach program where we can take Christ right into the community. We can’t keep piling people into our facilities. We’re already taxed, but we can certainly go out and take Christ right into their communities and use homes as they did in the early church.
Rich: Because of the base that has been set at Grace Church, there are some tremendous demands made on you as an outside speaker. I’m sure people wonder how much time you can devote to the local church when you’re an outside speaker, when you’re involved with Grace to You and all of these other things. Where do you see your priorities?
John: Well when Grace to You began, I said that the only way we could ever do it would be if tapes were used that I had already preached, because there’s no way that I can continue to teach the Word of God, to be the pastor of the flock God has called me to, and also produce a daily radio program and do it with any kind of quality; something would have to go. So that’s what originated the concept of using the tapes from the church, and that’s why I came up with the thought Grace to You, because it really brings Grace Church to the listener, and then it’s kind of a pun in a way because it is God’s grace also. But that was the first thing. Secondly, in terms of outside involvement and outside speaking, I had to set some priorities. Naturally there are needs everywhere, and I guess maybe like I feel like the apostle Paul sometimes. Paul said, “You know in my heart I long to come to you. I wish I could, but sometimes I can’t,” you know. And my heart is like that too. I don’t just see Grace Church; I see the body of Christ around the world, and my heart longs for those places. I have longings even for the regions beyond, and yet I have to struggle on a daily basis in my own heart as I pray to the Lord to give me wisdom as to what to do and what not to do. But I limit it so that it doesn’t impact my ministry here.
Rich: John, I’m afraid we’ve run out of time for today. We want to thank you. And what we’ll do tomorrow is to go into the tape ministry a little bit and Grace to You and see how God is working in this particular ministry.
John: Well thank you, Rich. I think this has been a great opportunity for me to just share some of my own heart with the folks, and we’re grateful to God for what he is doing in our midst. And believe me, we are spectators at best at what God is doing, certainly not the innovators.
Rich: Thank you, John, and thank you for joining us on Grace to You. [End of first half of interview, Music plays] If you’re an avid fan of Christian broadcasters, have you ever wondered what these people were really like, how they happen to get into the ministry and some of the interesting highlights of their lives. Would you like to know the man John MacArthur, his family, his conversion, and the growth of his church. If so, may I suggest you pull up a chair and join us for Grace to You. [Music plays] From the Grace Community Church of the Valley in Panorama City, California, our pastor-teacher John MacArthur brings you in-depth studies of the Word of God. If you would like to get information concerning this ministry, just write: Grace to You Box 4818 Panorama City, California, 91412. That address again is: Grace to You Box 4818 Panorama City, California, 91412. John’s studies have been received with such great enthusiasm, and we’ve received so many requests for information about our teacher and the church that he serves that in response we are presenting today and tomorrow a personal talk with John MacArthur so that you, the listening audience, can get better acquainted with him. Yesterday we took the time to get to know John MacArthur the man, his personal background, his goals and dreams, how he committed his life to Jesus Christ, how he came to Grace Community Church, his philosophy of ministry and how Grace Church has grown in ten years from an attendance of 500 to about 7,000. We never got an opportunity to talk about how the tape ministry began and how eventually Grace to You got started. John, I wonder if today you might refresh the people about the philosophy of ministry here at Grace, and perhaps you could share with them how the church administrator came on staff.
John: Well sharing about how our church administrator came on staff is a tremendous story; it’s really a part about sharing our philosophy. So let me start with that story and then from there expand into the philosophy. Some years back there was a young man in our church by the name of Samuel Erickson. He had gone to the University of Southern California, then on to Harvard Law School, and he was an attorney in a very large firm in Los Angeles. He began to be discipled by a young man in our church. He grew in the Lord and took over some responsibilities in one of our age-graded Sunday-school-type classes. And as he developed, he soon became part of our eldership. From there, he seemed to wanna take on more and more responsibility. And as the ministry grew around him, it became apparent that he was gonna have a hard time being an attorney and getting anything done and carrying on his ministry. So one day I approached Sam and I talked to him about the possibility of him coming on our staff. And at that time, the Lord was opening his heart. And just as God has so wonderfully worked in many, many cases, the Lord had done all the preparation, and by the time we talked, he was ready. And frankly, he said goodbye to a law profession, a lifetime career, all of that past education to enter in the ministry of coordinating all of the burgeoning development of ministry here at Grace Church. And of course, he has been God’s man for the task. His expertise in the legal profession, his wonderful abilities with the gift of administration have put him in good stead in using him in the ministry here, and we cherish him and thank God for him every day. In fact, when he’s away, we find it very difficult to function. I would just say from there, extrapolating to the bigger picture, that is a simple illustration of how everything around here kind of happens. The Word is central, and I teach the Word and you too, Rich, teach the Word and all of our staff does. And as the Word creates an environment, it creates an environment of growth. It’s kind of like a closed environment in a hothouse. The plants are here and the Word saturates them with the right environment, and in that they are nourished and they flourish. And as they begin to develop, we find that as believers grow they begin to overflow. So ministry comes as a natural result of growth. It’s like taking home a little baby and at first the little baby does very little other than lie around, and pretty soon as growth takes place, movement increases. And you watch your little child and first she crawls and then she walks and then she runs and so forth. So we see that happening in the church, as the church grows, the people begin to stir and they begin to move and ministry develops. And as that ministry develops under the feeding and the saturation and the nourishment of systematically teaching the Word of God, the overflow of all of that is highly productive. And as everyone begins to minister, out of the plurality of all of those people maturing and ministering, certain people rise to levels of leadership, which indicate that God has uniquely appointed them to serve the Body of Christ in leadership. And it’s our belief that as we recognize those people and take over their support and free them from having to make tents or something, we give them the ability to maximize their ministry. And so the philosophy then can be boiled down to the simple truth, we teach the Word of God to perfect the saints so they can do the work of the ministry. And once God has anointed them and put his hand on them and their ministry begins to proliferate, we’re willing to support them financially so that they’re free to do that. That’s really been our emphasis. And just to add a footnote to that, Rich. What that means is that my role and your role and the other pastoral staff changes very little. Basically, we are here to give people biblical input. We feed them the Word of God. You know in John 21, Jesus said to Peter, “Feed my sheep. Feed my lambs. Feed my sheep.” He said feed three times, but in the Greek he only used two words. The first time and the last time he used a word boskō, which means simply to feed. The middle time he used poimainō, which means all that’s involved in shepherding. So he alluded to the fact that feeding the sheep involves shepherding on a general basis, you know warning them and caring for them and meeting their needs, but primarily he emphasized the giving of the food, the content. And that’s really where the primary emphasis is with us. And so after ten years, the philosophy of Grace Church, a biblical one I believe, hasn’t changed. We continue to feed the flock of God as we have instructed and they mature and develop their ministries.
Rich: In such a vast ministry as Grace Church, a multimillion-dollar situation here, it takes a lot of money to operate the church. What do you see as the philosophy of raising money at Grace?
JOHN: Well let me say this to begin with, Rich. I never concern myself with that. Since my Father owns a cattle on a thousand hills and he owns everything there is in the universe, if he’s got a project in mind, he can finance it. So I’m never really concerned about that. And I remember one time a salesman who was selling some business equipment or something came to our elders and said, “I want to present this opportunity to all the elders, though I know the pastor has the final say.” And one of the elders said, “Oh, no.” He said, “That’s not right. Our pastor is here to feed us the Word of God; we’ll take care of the business.” And that’s really right, see. I don’t know anything about that. You know I was raised in a pastor’s family, and my dad taught me the Word. I went away to seminary and I learned the Word. I don't know anything about running a business. I don't know anything about a financial organization, and I would rather not get directed into that because of my lack of information, plus it’s an infinitely-greater priority for me to teach the Word of God. So I leave that with other people, but I do believe that there are some biblical standards that need to be applied. And so the people that are in our church ministry who care for the finances are people who are submissive to the Word of God. In fact, I’ve always felt that it’s very interesting that a church of our size still has a treasurer who is a layman who is in responsibility for that area, because it’s a part of the eldership. But having said that, we have endeavored to teach our people that God is able to finance anything he’s in. And so what our task is first of all to know that God is in it, and secondly, to let people know that he’s in it so that they can be a part of it. That’s why there’s kind of an ambivalence. On the one hand, we don’t believe in gimmicks and all kinds of things like that to induce people to give for whatever reasons, but we do believe that we ought to say, “People, do you know what God’s doing and would you like to have a part?” Because I think that’s right. If God is doing something and somebody comes to me and says, “The Lord is doing this, would you like to have a part,” boy I respond. And I have some friends in missionary work and so forth and sometimes they’ll write me and say, “John, the Lord is doing this and we’re seeing wonderful things happen. I wonder if you’d like to have a part.” Boy, I can’t write a check fast enough you know because I wanna know that. But when somebody writes a letter that comes in kind of an appeal fashion with a little bit of a vailed approach and maybe it’s kind of a gimmicky thing, then that doesn’t really reach me, because I just want to know what God’s a part of and I want to be a part of that. So we’ve tried to teach the people that that’s the right perspective to have, find out if God is in it and if God has placed his hand of blessing upon it, and then be encouraged to be a part of it.
Rich: Could you tell us a little about the growth of the tape ministry?
JOHN: Well, Rich, the tape ministry has been a very exciting thing to me. I remember when I was first here and a dear man came to me after my first Sunday and he said, “John, we need to have your messages on tape, and the people need to get them.” And of course, I said, “Well that’s wonderful, why don’t you do that?” You know that’s what I always say that to people who ask me about things, because I don’t have the time you know. And that’s how missionaries grow around here, because people have ideas and I say, “Well go ahead and do that you know.” But anyway, he said, “ALL RIGHT, I will.” So he bought a little recorder and he started making reel-to-reel tapes, and that was what was going on in those days, big reels, seven-inch reels. And then one Sunday a fellow came to me and he said – you know he’s a doctor and he said, “We could do this on cassettes.” And he said, “Let me buy you a little cassette machine,” so we did. And a dear brother named Loomis took the little cassette machine home and all the reel-to-reel machines, and then he bought a little portable machine here and there, and he had his whole house wired with these little machines copying from one tape to the next tape. His dear wife and children must have been driven to distraction with my voice echoing throughout the house all the time, and I’ll eternally be grateful for that dear man. But anyway, as time went on, it became impossible for him to continue to produce tapes one at a time, because the demand grew here in our church. As you teach the Word you know, you find that you hear the message but people didn’t get it all; they want to go over it again and over again. And this is what Isaiah said, “Line upon line and line upon line.” So our people were buying the tapes, and so we decided to upgrade our equipment and the tape ministry began to grow and grow. And then by Word of mouth, it began to grow, and pretty soon people in other states and people in other countries around the world the tapes continued to grow. And from a very, very small beginning in just a brief few years, the tape ministry exploded. Now all the way along the line, the tape ministry had always depended upon the volunteer people who would give their time, and they continue to do that today. So God has blessed this beyond my wildest imaginations. Everywhere I go to every city or town that I may visit and in every country I’ve been in, I have the thrill of meeting people who are part of the family of Grace through the tapes. And so this is something I never conceived of, Rich. I had no concept. We’ve never promoted it. In fact, I think just this year we ran the first ad in a magazine. We put an ad in Moody Monthly for the first time, because someone said, “It’s not right that you don’t let people know that it is at least available.” Up until then it was just Word of mouth. And yet God has continued to multiply that ministry.
Rich: How many tapes do we distribute today as far as you know?
JOHN: The last I heard it’s about 6,500 cassettes per week.
Rich: Per week, boy. And how many people are involved in that ministry?
JOHN: I would say that the volunteers and all the people we have I think four people who do this full time now, but then it’s the volunteers that make it happen you know. I go in there and watch them sticking labels on tape after tape. We don’t have machines for that. But I would think it’s probably 35 or 40 volunteers a week who are committed to this ministry, and they really see it as a ministry.
Rich: Probably most churches and most organizations charge about $3.00 to $5.00 per cassette. What does Grace Church charge?
JOHN: Well we don’t charge anything you know because it’s a ministry. But if people would like to have a part, we tell them that a $1.25 provides.
JOHN: Yes. You know it used to be that the tapes cost I think $2.75. But we decided that we’d lower it, so it went down to $1.75. And then we thought, “Well that’s fine, except we’re making money, because we have all the volunteers doing the work.” And so we decided to lower it to $1.25 and all that did was increase the volume. Somebody told me one time that at that price people are buying the tapes and erasing me and recording their kids, so that may be part of it. But the lowering of the price has made it accessible to anybody. And we always say this too, if you want the tapes and you need the tapes and you can’t pay, that’s okay, that’s our ministry to you. Plus, we have a tape library where you can have a library card and just check out the tapes and send them back. We also have folks who get a tape and copy it and pass it around to others. We’re not interested in the profit; we’re only interested in providing the ministry. And I know for myself, for example today, a young man came here, just graduated from Bible college, and he is going to spend three weeks here at Grace Church to find out about our church, because he wants to go into the pastorate himself. And he said to me today, he said, “I wish I could study the Word of God with you.” And I said, “Well, you can do that by tape.” And he said, “Well, you know it’s difficult for me as a student.” And so I said, “Well let me give you a tape set.” And so I gave him the series on the whole book of Hebrews. And I suppose that kind of thing probably cost $55.00 or $60.00 at $1.25 a tape, but the greatest joy for me is to give those to him. It isn’t something that we’re hesitant to do; at the same time, we can’t expect to burden our people, and so there are people all around the world who receive the tapes who are more than generous. And I’ve found too that when people are blessed, they will return the blessing. You know isn’t in Galatians where the apostle Paul says, “Let the one who is taught share with his teacher in all good things.”
Rich: Galatians 6, mm-hmm.
John: Yeah. And so I have found that not only do they share with me the good things that happen spiritually, but people are blessed by the tapes and variably extend that blessing to their giving.
Rich: One of the outgrowths of the tape ministry has been Grace to You itself. Could you give us a little idea of how Grace to You got started?
John: Well it’s like so many things, somebody came to me one time and said, “We ought to be on the radio. Radio is resurging you know, and radio is the place to be.” And I said, “Well that’s great, why don’t you do that? You know why don’t you pray about that and pursue that ministry if God has brought you to that?” And so we purchased some time on a local radio station here in the San Fernando Valley, basically a country-western news. In fact, they ran the horse races on this station. I think close to when we were on, they were running the horse races. But anyway, we decided to go on there and I think we were on an hour, and they just played a tape; that was all, basically just playing a tape. And so it was just a very, very small beginning, but we played those tapes during a period in the summer when the station, normally a daylight station, was given an extra hour at night because of daylight saving time, so they played the tape. And we got a little feeling for how people would write in and say, “You know this has blessed my heart and so forth.” And then there’s a young man I went to college with by the name of Tom Bisset who was involved in a radio station in Baltimore, Maryland, and he had gotten a hold of a tape series we had done and decided that he would play it every night on his radio station as kind of a featured preaching hour. And so every night for a couple of weeks he played a different tape, and it had a tremendous response. In fact, I think he said that people were calling the station and saying, “You know we’re hurrying home from prayer meeting on Wednesday night to hear the next in the series.” And so he said to us, “You know you really need to be on the radio.” And so we just started to pray about it, and what were we gonna do? Well I couldn’t give time to make radio programs. I spend so long each week studying for the Sunday messages, and I feel so burdened about that, because that’s the basis of everything we do. It’s the basis of our tape ministry and everything else. And now you know we’ve had a lot of the media watching us and the news people watching us and people coming to visit and hear the messages that we give, and so it’s so vital that the quality of the teaching of God’s Word be what it should be. So I couldn’t give myself to a daily program. And we finally decided that maybe we could take the tapes and cut them in half. Since I had already preached about 700 messages, it would give us maybe 1,400 radio programs. And so that’s what we began to do. And we started just in a very small way. In fact, we really started in the Oxnard/Ventura area I think to begin our daily program with Ed Atsinger and Stu Epperson and their very gracious spirits toward us. And God began to bless. And then they challenged us, “Well you ought to try another expansion and another expansion.” And little by little and very cautiously, because we only want to go where the Lord takes us; we don’t want to go where he doesn’t want us to be. And I often think about the Word, “Wait patiently for him.” And you know so many people in radio, television, and other things have way beyond extended themselves, and then they get overextended perhaps even beyond what God had intended for them. And then they come back to the people you know and they almost have to plead with people to send money to support them when really if they’d been patient waiting for the Lord, they would not have been overextended. And that can happen to us too if we’re not careful and sensitive to the Lord. And so we have tried to go patiently as God has opened the doors for us.
Rich: John, I wonder if you’d share with the radio audience our philosophy of appealing for money on the radio?
John: Well, I guess our philosophy for appealing for money on the radio is that we don’t do that.
John: I think I’m a little resistant to that. I see so much of that today, and God’s people are so sensitive and so loving and so responsive and so anxious to fulfill all the good work that the Lord is doing that they tend to respond so wonderfully. And I hesitate to want to take advantage of that. You know even as a pastor at my own church, I just can’t make appeals to people. I try to teach them the Word of God that you must give your life and your life includes your money and systematically day by day week by week as you live, as you purpose in your heart, you labor and store and you give, and from time to time when needs come up and they’re on my heart or the heart of someone else, I encourage people to give. But beyond that, you know we cannot in maintaining real biblical integrity get into a situation where we are appealing to people on bases that are not biblical or where we’re using gimmicks or novelties or those kinds of things that stimulate giving on a rather false pretense. So I’ll tell you just simply to those dear people who listen to our program, we are dependent on them. Now Grace Church is very generous, but as the radio ministry grows, as the ministry extends itself into new areas and new stations, we get new listeners, which means people want more study notes and all of these things. And as it grows, it becomes expensive. But the Lord can take care of that, but I believe God has put us here to share with his people where his need arises. So there’s a kind of ambivalence in an sense because we do not want to appeal to people on a wrong basis; we do not want to use gimmicks, but we do want to let them know where the need is because we want them to be a part of what we believe God is doing. And I really feel that as long as we are teaching His Word, He is in support of the ministry. And as long as we are prayerfully and carefully and watchfully moving into new areas of ministry, God is gonna bless, and he’ll do it through His people. And so we’re very dependent on them and anxious that they have a part. And I think another thing too is that it’s kind of a two-way thing. They know I am here, because they hear me, but I don't know they’re out there. And every letter that I get and there’s not a day that goes by that I’m here at the church that I don’t read letters from radio folks, even if it’s just for a brief few moments. But every time I read a letter, another life is opened up to me. Many of those letters become illustrations that I use in my sermons, not using the names of course. Many times, I use those letters in the little segment in our Sunday morning service called The Living Church to tell the story about how God's working in somebody’s life. So those are the letters that enrich my life, and I guess that’s the give and take. I give the Word of God over the radio, and I really don’t know what’s happening until I get that letter back. And while I’m able to enrich them maybe just a little bit from the teaching, they’re able to enrich me a whole lot from the response.
Rich: I’m sure the listening audience would like to know what the radio costs are for a ministry like this.
John: Well I think we could safely say that our radio costs per week would range anywhere – well per month let’s say. Anywhere from 500 to $2,000.00 a month per station.
Rich: Per station.
John: And we’ve only been on a little over a year, and the Lord has put us on 25 stations. Now we never dreamed we’d get involved in this. We’re not basically a financial organization, see. We don’t have an ad agency and people who think up ways to raise money. When we don’t have any money, we have a prayer meeting. We don’t go to an agency to find out what to do. We just get on our knees and say, “All right, Lord, here’s our situation. How can we reach the resolution to this?” So it is expensive, and every day that passes by we are blessed by what radio does, and so we’re committed to it. And I’m sure there’s not a week that goes by that we don’t receive a letter from another radio station saying to us, “Please come on our station.” And this is a constant thing, and sometimes you know when it’s difficult in an area because the support isn’t there, we kind of feel like maybe we ought to go off a while. And then we get a little a storm of letters saying, “Oh please don’t go off.” So the pull is more stations all the time, and yet it just isn’t always possible because the economics are so great. And we have also found that originally you see we were committed to just the air time costs. Grace Church would pick up production costs, and the folks on the outside just pay for the airing of the program in their community. And we have found, and of course we were somewhat babes in the woods at first, but we found now that the more stations we have the more production costs we have. More tapes have to be produced, and more things have to be mailed and more study notes sent out and all these things. And so there’s an expanding and exploding commitment, but I’ve said this all along, the day the Lord doesn’t want us on the air we’ll be off, and I’ll be just as happy as I was when we were on, because if the Lord wanted us on, let’s be on. If he wanted us off, let’s be off. And I just wanna do his will, but the pull in my heart and what I hear the Lord saying to us is, “Get the word out. The word needs to be there.”
Rich: Where do you see the radio ministry going in the future, John?
John: Well I guess I’m not a prophet or the son of a prophet you know, and I don’t really know where it’s going in God's mind and God's heart. But I know this, that the great desire of my life is to teach the Word of God faithfully, and where God takes that is his business. My little boy said to me the other day – we were riding down the road and I said to him, I said, “Mark,” – he’s 11 – I said, “Mark, I’m glad you’re my son.” And I said, “I want you to know that I love you, and I haven’t seen you in a week.” He’s been up working with my brother-in-law in a Vacation Bible School in the north of California, and I said, “I’m so glad you’re home and we can be together.” And he said, “Dad, and I’m glad that you’re my dad.” He said, “I’m proud of that 'cause you’re a preacher.” And then he said, “Do you think you’ll ever retire, or will you just preach ‘til we go to heaven?” And I said, “Well Mark.” I said, “The way I look at it now, I’m just gonna preach ‘til we go to heaven.” And that’s my commitment to just preach the Word as long as God gives me breath. And if he wants to extend it through the radio, boy, I get excited about that.
Rich: That’s tremendous. Can you recall offhand some of the most-interesting letters you receive from the listening audience?
John: Well, Rich, probably we just have time to maybe answer that question, so let me say thank you for sharing this time with me today. I cherish you as a friend and as a brother in Christ and thank God for your ministry in our midst too. Do I get letters that I can remember? I have so many letters with so many wonderful things that it’s hard to narrow it down. I’ve received letters from people who listen in prison and God has changed their lives. I’ve received letters from whole families that have been saved through listening to the program, and basically we’re not evangelizing, we’re teaching the Word of God. But oh, the power of the Word of God to turn lives around and do its own evangelistic work. I’ve received letters where homes have been knit together. Just this week, a student in seminary listening to a series we did on the family wrote me a letter and said God had given him all new comprehension of his responsibility to his wife and set in order some things in his own life that he thought would make a difference in his ministry in the future. So there are so many things. Students, wives, received letters from pastors that have just warmed my heart. There are so many of them that it’s hard to even narrow them down. Let me just share one and then we’ll be finished. But I received a letter recently from a girl who had put a gun to her head to kill herself when she heard the radio program, set the gun down and received Jesus Christ as her Savior.
Rich: Boy, what an exchange.
John: Yeah. And we just I just say, “Lord, thank you for radio, and thank you for letting us be a little part.” And by the way, thank you, dear folk, for listening today.
Rich: Thank you, John. And thank you for joining us on Grace to You.
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