The Sunday Reader

This week's insightful and interesting links.

Screen Shot 2017-12-16 at 11.53.39 AM.png

The Ministry of Spiritual Grandparenting

A good and heartwarming exhortation to be intentional in passing the faith on to the next generation.

What Should We Make of the Massive Repetition of Tabernacle Details in Exodus?

This will help you appreciate what's going on in sections of Scripture that can feel more tedious.

How to Honor Your Parents as a Young Adult

On the opposite end of the age spectrum, this article may prove useful for tweens and teens.

18 Questions about Faith and Mental Illness

While not providing all the answers we want, this article helps expand our thinking about spirituality in a fallen world.




The Sunday Reader

This week's insightful and interesting links.

Screen Shot 2017-12-16 at 11.53.39 AM.png

Pray Shorter Prayers (Article)

Of course we could all pray more frequently, but that doesn't always mean we need to pray longer.

Too Busy to Love My Neighbor (Article)

This article poses some hard questions about the way God prioritizes versus the way we sometimes prioritize our obligations.

Three Images of Unity

A helpful and encouraging article on ways Scripture presents the solidarity of believers. Especially valuable in our highly dense area of the country.



The Sunday Reader

This week's insightful and interesting links.

Screen Shot 2017-12-16 at 11.53.39 AM.png

What's the Deal with Hosea? (Article)

Pastor Spotts addresses the question of why God instructed a prophet to marry prostitute. The answer gets at the heart of the Gospel.

Whole-Church Care of the Elderly & Homebound

An important and insightful reminder of our duty toward these precious members of Christ's flock.

William Carey's Greatest Obstacle

William Carey was a pioneer of the great missionary movement beginning in the late 18th century. This article presents the idea that his greatest obstacle was, ironically, the indolence of the local church.

Galaxies Vol. II (Video)

Astro-photographer Adrien Mauduit traveled to different countries and used some of the latest equipment to capture unbelievable views of various galaxies. The soundtrack makes the sights even more epic.



The Sunday Reader

This week's insightful and interesting links.

Screen Shot 2017-12-16 at 11.53.39 AM.png

Why Our Expectations for Teens in the Church Are Way Too Low (video/article)

Cameron Cole argues that kids should be given meaningful roles for contributing within the Body.

The Canons of Dort (Article)

R. Scott Clark, a URC pastor and professor at WSCAL, gives some background on the history and significance of the Synod of Dort.

The New Normal in Church Security (Article)

Without stating his own view, Tom Rainer describes the lay of the land with respect to how churches have responded to recent violence.

What Is Life (video)

The idea that reality as we know it is a "computer simulation" used to be relegated to science fiction. As this video shows, you can now find physicists, engineers, and other intellectuals placing faith in this far-fetched flight from accountability. After all, even if this is a virtual world (and it isn't) that only pushes back the question, Who created the real world running the simulation? “The fool says in his heart, ‘there is no God.’” Disclaimer: contains a mild expletive.


The Sunday Reader

This week's insightful and interesting links.

Screen Shot 2017-12-16 at 11.53.39 AM.png

When Churches Have Bad Reviews

Rev. Spotts provides counsel for how to evaluate churches online and what to make of bad reviews. 

Bearing the Burdens of the Broken

J. D. Greear challenges assumptions about what it means to bear others' burdens and the extent of our duty. Especially useful to church officers.

Ten Critical Trends for Churches in 2018

Tom Rainer serves up an insightful forecast of the forces shaping American Christianity. 

Prayer for the New Year

Wunder-Blogger Tim Challies provides an excellent prayer to use in your own devotions.

Flocking Patterns (video below)

A neat visual of the way sheep move and why they need good shepherds.



When Churches Have Bad Online Reviews

For many, the first step in deciding where to go on Sunday begins with a "G," and I don't mean "God."

Screen Shot 2018-01-02 at 3.10.37 PM.png

Having the Internet at our fingertips enables people to scrutinize options in a way that was impossible twenty years ago. Whether selecting restaurants, barbers, or bedding, we've become hyper-aware of a vast sea of alternatives from which to choose. Whereas before, you might have pulled over at the nearest sandwich shop and left satisfied, many now feel compelled to search out the best option their city has to offer, every time. Nearly every decision, from the momentous to the mundane, requires us to consult a virtual Delphic oracle.

Enter, online reviews.

Search engines and review aggregates, like Google or Yelp, not only identify options. They cull the experiences and opinions of thousands of people to provide on-the-ground information. Scanning reviews helps us feel confident that we're making the best possible decision. Naturally, that habit extends to which churches people visit. Queuerying “church near me” not only pulls up names and locations, but star-ratings and testimonials.

What I want to ask is, should online reviews apply in the same way to Christian churches as they do to Church's Chicken? For a variety of reasons, I want to suggest online reviews are inadequate indicators of which churches people should visit.

Unknown Character of Reviewers

Relative anonymity might not factor in to decisions about taco joints. When deciding where to worship, though, it is crucial that you know about the person leaving the review. Religious judgments can be highly skewed, both positively and negatively, by the morality and beliefs of the reviewer. And the simple fact is that it may be difficult or impossible to establish such details as:

  • How long have reviewers been Christian? 
  • What sort of Christian?
  • Did they visit only a few times?
  • Were they actively engaged in congregational life?
  • Did they leave to avoid discipline?

Some reviewers may be poor judges of what constitutes a worthwhile church. Others might have an idealistic axe to grind against Christianity itself. In such cases, who is to prevent antagonists from leaving negative reviews on all the churches in a city? How do you know “Sam Gustafson, Age 35” is not an angry teenager whose parents for make him attend youth group? Often, you can't.

Personal Experience

No church is above bad reviews. In fact, not long ago, the church I pastor received this brief gem:

Racist, wealthy, family owned, "christian" business club.

My first instinct was to reach out to the reviewer to address his concerns. Unfortunately, his account had no other activity or contact information. Since I am unaware of any person by his name having attended our fellowship, it would appear he came so briefly that his opinion can hardly be fair, or someone slandered our entire congregation as “racist” from behind a pseudonym. 

Thankfully, the charge is untenable. Pastor Phil and I preach pointedly on how Christian unity transcends differences of race, wealth, gender, and nationality. Our pews are filled with believers from a variety of ethnic backgrounds who esteem one another equally. Just this Sunday, I saw a black first-time visitor warmly greeted, invited to a home meal, and hugged by a white member, all within minutes of arriving. Given that we voted to prepare a brother of black and Mexican descent for pastoral ministry, the overall convictions of our leaders and members are clear.

Of course, I can not promise that no one among us will ever have racist tendencies. Christ calls sinners to be his disciples, and even the Apostles had to address prejudice among early Jewish and Greek Christians. I can tell you, however, unabashed racists will be readily confronted, instructed, and, if necessary, disciplined from our community. People who read Google reviews won't see that, though. With dozens of churches to choose from, why not skip the one accused of racism, right?

Similarly, the reviewer's assertion that we are "family-owned" is nonsense. Our leaders are congregationally elected. Nor do we allow two men from the same family to serve as elders at the same time. Every major decision, including the budget, goes before the entire congregation for approval.

Last, the charge that we are a “wealthy... business club” is laughable. Wealth is not itself sinful, nor are we all well-off! Indeed, for my poorer brothers' and sisters' sake, I might wish it were more true. Our largely working and middle-class congregation nevertheless manages to donate much of their excess to others. About half the budget goes to charity, as our public financials attest.

I suppose worshipers in suits or business-casual clothing could be mistaken as showing off wealth. But this would be an unfair judgment. The preference of some for conservative attire has more to do with an expression of modesty and reverence (and knowing about 30% off coupons at Kohl's) than about signalling status. Yet others worship among us in tee-shirts and sandals and are no less valued. You wouldn't know this by reviews, though.

Reevaluating Online Reviews

When evaluating churches online, the words of 1 Cor 13 still apply: “love hopes all things.” I suggest going to the church's website to read their confessional statement. If it bears a faithful witness, why not grant the benefit of the doubt, buckle up, and see for yourself what they are like? In God's sight, due diligence is not wasted time. 

Remember, it will take more than one service to know if you've found the right church. Those casually racists folks you meet the first week might not be the best representatives of the body! On the other hand, they just might indicate you've found a church where actual sinners are welcomed and challenged to grow.

When Your Church Receives Bad Reviews

Like it or not, for the foreseeable future, Google reviews will continue to be the first stop for many seeking a place to worship next Sunday. For that reason, you should consider how to respond when—not if—your church receives a bad review. 

First, don't attempt any kind of censorship (queue, "Streisand Effect" and accusations of being a cult). This is the world we live in. For better or worse, everyone has an immediate platform to broadcast truth and error.

Instead, I encourage all church members to leave an honest, balanced review of their own church, preferably on both Google and Yelp. As the adage goes, “the solution to pollution is dilution.” If it's just one or two poor reviews in a pile of hundreds of positive ones, that speaks volumes. Meanwhile, truly rotten churches won't be able to hide or ignore numerous bad reviews. 

Thankfully, negative reviews aren't all bad. They present church leaders and congregations with opportunities for honest self-reflection. Is there some truth in what was said about my church? Possibly. In any case, I have a better idea of what to pray for, guard against, and preach on in the future. Clearly, God works in mysterious ways!

The Sunday Reader

This week's insightful and interesting links.

Screen Shot 2017-12-16 at 11.53.39 AM.png

What's the Difference Between a Lament and Complaining? 

Tremper Longman provides a useful and edifying distinction in the Psalms.

Your "Free Time" Isn't Free  

J. I. Packer reflects on Christ's lordship over those non-work hours we often idolize.

Doing Church Away from Church Isn't Church

Eric Davis asks "do we really need to go to a building on a certain day for it to count as doing church? How do we discern what does and does not constitute going to church?"

Falcon 9 Launch  (Video)

In case you missed the spectacle over Phoenix this week, here's a video of SpaceX's satellite launch.

Screen Shot 2017-12-28 at 12.09.47 PM.png