But You Don't Have To

Pastors — maybe especially church planters — can be masters at pressuring people to get on board and attend events. It’s understandable. We believe that people will benefit by participating fully in the life of the church, and even that the events we’re planning — prayer, fellowship, learning, and so on — can be used by God as means of grace in their lives.

That’s why I was not surprised to hear Ray Ortlund speak of an upcoming event at Immanuel Nashville in one of his recent sermons. The event sounded great: Rosaria Butterfield was coming to speak on Peace in Sexual Identity. Ortlund said, “I hope you’ll come and bring a friend.” What he said next surprised me:

I hope you’ll come and bring a friend.  But you don’t have to. I asked some of our leaders recently, Why do you think God created Immanuel Church? Their answer was, To give religiously wounded people a place to heal. That’s an important part of why we’re here. So if you’ve come to Immanuel wounded and injured and you don’t yet have the energy to contribute in any way, it’s a privilege to have you among us. Just come and heal.  But if you’ve had time to re-oxygenate, then you can serve. Bring a friend to hear Dr. Butterfield. And as you sit here that evening, pray for the person on your right, on your left, in front of you, behind you. You can add power to the entire event by bringing and praying. But you don’t have to.

As Ortlund spoke, I felt a weight of obligation lifted, and I don’t even go to that church! If I lived in Nashville, his words would make it more likely that I would attend, and infinitely more likely that I would attend for the right reasons.

It's no secret that Ortlund teaches about creating a gospel culture, and this statement seems to be an outgrowth of this culture.

"I hope you’ll come…but you don’t have to." The gospel frees us to love and serve our people, even if that means they don't the great events that we have planned.

Let's Talk: The Church and Mental Illness

Tomorrow is Bell Let’s Talk Day in Canada. It’s an annual event designed to increase awareness, reduce stigma and help change behaviors and attitudes about mental health issues. Canadian Olympian Clara Hughes, as well as Mary Walsh, Michael Landsberg and Howie Mandel participate as the public face of the campaign.

It’s an important day for the church as well. Here are five thoughts about mental illness and the church.

1. We often avoid the issue of mental illness. Ed Stetzer is bang on when he writes, "So often in a congregation, we like to pretend this is not a real issue because we have such a difficult time understanding it. We stick our heads in the sand, add the person to the prayer list and continue on ministering to the ‘normal’ people. But it’s real, and it isn’t going away.” As a pastor, I have experienced the temptation to ignore the reality of mental illness, but we can’t afford to do so.

2. Our attitudes toward mental illness are often simplistic. According to Stetzer, nearly half of evangelical, fundamentalist, or born-again Christians believe prayer and Bible study alone can overcome serious mental illness. We sometimes resemble Job’s comforters or those who asked, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents?” in our efforts to explain mental illness (John 9:2).

3. Mental illness is an issue that’s bigger than we think. According to the Canadian Institute of Health Research, 1 in 5 Canadians will experience a form of mental illness at some point in their life. 23% of pastors indicate that they have personally struggled with mental illness of some kind. Heroes of the faith, such as C.H. Spurgeon, struggled with mental illness.

4. We need a robust understanding of mental illness. Out of anyone, Christians should understand the complexity of the human makeup. “We need to recognize that man’s various parts (physical, spiritual, emotional) cannot be compartmentalized but must be considered as one whole person,” writes one pastor. Let’s not ignore the spiritual when it comes to talking about depression and other mental illnesses, but let’s not ignore the physical and emotional either.

5. Churches need to lead the way in welcoming all people into the safety of the gospel. Nancy Guthrie asks a great question: “Is your church a safe place for sad people?” I pray it is. As someone has said, we should aim to not only be the safest church in town, but the safest anything in town. We should welcome the weary and heavy-laden as Jesus does.

I’m grateful for Let’s Talk Day, and I’m hoping churches will also work towards increasing awareness, reducing stigma, and helping to change behaviors and attitudes about mental health issues.


Mental Health Access Pack offer the church a Christian-based resource which presents the facts on key mental health issues, all in one place. It's worth checking out.

I've also appreciated Ed Stetzer's writings on this topic. David Murray also has some helpful blog posts. Here is one example.

Saturday Links

Links for your weekend reading:

Weakness Has Its Benefits

Ben Reynolds, our music leader at Immanuel Nashville, wasn’t there in the early days. But he said to me not long ago, “Ray, my impression of the original core group at Immanuel is that you guys were so wounded and exhausted and hurting that no one in the group even had the emotional energy for selfish agendas.” I said, yes, that was probably true. Then Ben added, “And I think the Lord looked down on that and said, ‘Well, there’s a church I can use.'

Seven Principles of Sabbath Rest

Here are seven principles about Sabbath rest that I am learning. I share them in hopes they might help others fighting the battle of busyness, fatigue, and endurance.

Two Big Reasons Evangelism Isn’t Working

We need to see evangelism as a long-term endeavor. Stop checking the list and defeating others. Be incarnate not excarnate in your evangelism. Slow down and practice listening and love. Most conversions are not the result of a single, point-in-time conversation, but the culmination of a personal process that includes doubt, reflection, gospel witness, love, and the work of the Holy Spirit.

Eight Reasons Why Some Full-time Pastors and Staff Should Go Bivocational

Without a doubt, many churches will always need full-time vocational pastors and church staff. I am not suggesting all of you, even the majority of you, should go bivocational. But I do believe more of you should consider this path. Allow me to offer eight reasons why.

Three Leadership Lessons from Winston Churchill

Here are three leadership principles from Winston Churchill that I draw from Paul Johnson’s biography, each with a corresponding lesson for us in leadership today.

My Saturday Nightmare

Our creativity, charisma, and carefully crafted sentences are pathetic substitutes for truly preaching the very Word of God.

Ammunition for the Fight Against Porn

This is your ammunition — truths accomplished by God, knowledge given you by his grace.

Two Years To No Lies

Two years ago I took a vow never to tell a lie. Here is what happened.

Encouraged but Wanting More

Ministry is a glass half-empty or half-full proposition. There are so many things that can discourage us. Ministry is hard at the best of times, and it often feels like we’re losing, rather than taking, ground. At the local church level, many churches need revitalizing, which is an important work but also a long and sometimes difficult one. Also, planting is hard.

Despite all of this, I’m hugely encouraged. Here’s why.

Gospel — Not only have we seen a rediscovery of the gospel in recent years, but we haven’t moved on. Nor could we. Books like Gospel by Ray Ortlund really encourage me, because they push us to not only consider gospel doctrine, but weave the gospel into the very culture of the church. Having tasted this, even in small measures, it’s impossible to go back.

Resources — Never before have we been so well resourced. There are so many excellent books coming out that it’s impossible to keep up with them. There are so many thoughtful, theologically sound and beneficial blogs that I can’t possibly read them all. My laptop contains the resources of a small seminary library. I can listen to the best sermons preached last Sunday without leaving my home. It’s staggering.

Servants — The days demand servanthood, which is why I keep meeting humble people who are ready to go to tough churches and love them to health. I love meeting seminary students who realize that there are lots of ministry positions, but not a lot of ministry careers, and who still are preparing to serve. I love meeting quality pastors who serve in obscurity and are okay with that. I love the servants who drive across the city every week to help us set up chairs at our humble church plant.

Desperation and Prayer — I’m sensing a growing number of pastors and churches who are praying for each other, and longing for something to happen not just in their church but in their city and beyond.

All of this leaves me encouraged, but hungry for more. Let’s pray that God would bring renewal to our churches and cities, and that we’ll see these brushfires of hope turn into something more.

Jill Briscoe's Laugh

I was asked to give an update on our church planting efforts this past Sunday at the Greater Toronto Spiritual Life Convention, an annual multi-church event. Because of this, I had a front row seat to hear Stuart Briscoe preach. I’ve heard Briscoe preach before, and as usual he did a masterful job. But that isn’t what I’ll remember the most from that evening.

Sitting in the front row, I was one person away from Stuart’s wife Jill as he preached. As Stuart preached, Jill laughed. She laughed a lot, and genuinely. She’s probably heard all of his jokes before, but after 57 years of marriage, she was engaged in what her husband said, and able to laugh at every one of his jokes.

One of my friends was asked recently by a church search committee what a successful ministry would look like if he came to that church. They probably expected him to describe goals about the growth of the church, and the great things that would happen under his ministry. After thinking a minute, he said that he would consider his ministry there a success if his wife still loved him at the end of his tenure, and that he had some true and significant friendships with others. It’s not the usual definition of success, but it’s not a bad one either.

I’ve been around long enough to understand that it’s hard, and that ministry and life can take its toll on one's life and marriage. On Sunday night I saw two things I loved: a man in his eighties who continues to serve faithfully, and his wife who still continues to laugh. 

I appreciate Stuart Briscoe’s preaching, but I may have appreciated his wife’s laugh even more. If I reach my eighties and have remained faithful, and have a wife who still laughs at my jokes, I will count myself a blessed man indeed.