By / May 26

On this episode of the ERLC Podcast, Brent Leatherwood invites you to take our quick podcast survey as we prepare for a new ERLC Podcast. 

Take the survey here

Connect with us on Twitter


  • Racial unity | If we, as Southern Baptists, can be willing to listen and have good conversations about race, we will see fruit that will draw us closer together. That’s why we believe that A Conversation with Pastor Jon Nelson will be a helpful resource for you and your congregation. Watch this NEW video at and listen as Jon candidly shares his thoughts on how we can meaningfully partner together on this work within our churches and communities. Again that link is
  • Email updates | Now that 2023 is fully underway, we want to make sure you are kept up to date about the important work we are doing on behalf of Southern Baptists. Whether it’s our 2023 Public Policy Agenda or another ultrasound machine placement, we want to make sure you know how we are serving our churches and acting as missionaries to the public square. As we move forward in 2023, know that first in our hearts and at the top of our minds are our churches. And we are taking those next steps with a Mark 10:44 mindset: to be a servant of all. The best way to learn more is by joining us at Signing up for email updates allows you to hear directly from us about our work and ways we are serving you on the issues that matter most to Southern Baptists. You’ll learn about our work on your behalf in our nation’s capital, about exciting new partnerships with our state conventions and the ways we are working across the convention with our sister entities. Become an email subscriber at
By / Oct 27

Throughout October and November, SBC state conventions will be gathering for their annual meetings. However, many Southern Baptists might be unfamiliar with their state conventions or only have a limited knowledge of what they do. Seth Brown, the director of convention relations at the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, answer questions below about these entities and shines a light on the value of cooperation throughout the SBC. 

Lindsay Nicolet: What is the role of state conventions within the Southern Baptist Convention? 

Seth Brown: The 41 state and regional conventions across the United States have a primary purpose, and that is to serve local congregations. We connect churches to the relationships, resources, and services they need. A key part of that effort is participation with our national family of churches and entities through our unified giving channel, the Cooperative Program.

LN: How does your state convention specifically carry out its mission? 

SB: N.C. Baptists are a movement of churches on mission together. We are fueled by local churches and focused on local churches. Everything we do is geared toward serving congregations with an emphasis on helping them work together to make disciples of all nations.

We have staff deployed from the mountains to the coast to ensure churches are getting what they need when they need it. Other staff members serve in specialist roles to assist churches when they have specific needs. Our camps and conference centers provide beautiful spaces for rest and renewal. Plus, we have the privilege of training the next generation of faithful pastors, ministers, and missionaries through Fruitland Baptist Bible College.

LN: How can churches best utilize and partner with their state convention? 

SB: We have around 2,800 churches actively engaged with us, but there are many churches that miss out on what their state convention offers. We find that some church leaders are simply not aware of all the resources and services available to them. The best first step for a church to receive more value from their state convention is to ask about all the cooperative ministries they operate and resources they provide. Our N.C. Baptist staff is eager to help churches find what they need to support their local ministries.

In addition, I highly encourage more people to get involved with their state convention. Attend the annual meeting. Sign up for events. Recommend someone or make yourself available to serve on boards and committees. Ask lots of questions.

LN: How do state conventions relate to the national entities (NAMB, IMB, ERLC, seminaries, etc.)?

SB: We consider the national entities of the Southern Baptist Convention to be close partners in ministry. Each of our organizations is self-governing (or autonomous), so we don’t answer to them, and they don’t answer to us. But our relationship is one of support, trust, and a common vision to help churches take the gospel to the nations. 

N.C. Baptists deeply value our SBC partners and pray for those relationships to continue deepening through the years. 

We couldn’t be more proud of the many N.C. Baptist missionaries serving with the International Mission Board. In 2023, we’re launching a new prayer emphasis called “Praying for the Nations” that will highlight missionaries from our state. N.C. Baptists recently launched a groundbreaking church planting partnership with the North American Mission Board called “SendNC.” We are grateful for our six mission-focused and doctrinally faithful seminaries across the nation, including our beloved Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. And, last but not least, we stand for life alongside the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission through a partnership with Psalm 139, an effort that has allowed us to help place ultrasound machines in strategic pregnancy centers.

Our partnerships run deep, and we believe that springs from the spirit of cooperation and unity embraced by our congregations.

LN: What are some particular opportunities and challenges unique to state conventions related to the SBC? 

SB: Baptists at every level are facing opportunities and challenges that represent two sides of the same coin: unity and division. Our society has been marked by polarization and fracturing for some time now. Christians have a plethora of wonderful opportunities to display the kind of gospel unity that transcends social, ethnic, and political boundaries. 

Like all generations, we have the opportunity to speak the gospel anew to a rapidly changing world. I pray that state conventions can do our part to equip and assist Baptists along the way.

LN: How can state conventions be effective in shaping the public square within their region?

SB: As statewide or regional networks of churches, conventions can help bring a great deal of unity around cultural issues and public policy. In addition, they normally have close relationships with local associations as well, so they are well-suited to understand cultural issues from the ground level all the way up to state capitols. Ideally state conventions are able to work alongside both churches and associations to engage the public square with uniquely Christian character and values. 

By / Sep 13

My family lives right next to the elementary school in a middle-class part of Bradenton, Florida, and two of my neighbors are drug dealers. Addiction is not limited by socioeconomic boundaries. The rich tend to hide it better, and the poor tend to be arrested more. But it’s there—in every pocket and corner of our community, especially opioids.

Opioids are consumed in various forms. Synthetic versions, like Fentanyl and Carfentanil, are used to sedate wild elephants and can be found on the streets in Bradenton. Even a small exposure to the skin can kill you. One tiny flake of Carfentanil is lethal and can float through the air. Heroin is popular because it is much cheaper than prescription pills, like oxycodone. One blend of opioids is called “gray death” because it looks like concrete mix. Unfortunately, the entire gamut of opioids is here, and they are all nasty.

A recent headline in our local newspaper describes a bleak reality: “Bradenton is opioid overdose capital of Florida. And still no one knows why.” The words heroin, overdose, and death are often in the headlines and part of daily life in our community. Opioids are so common here that police officers receive training on how to recognize when overdose victims are about to die. Most patrol units carry Narcan kits, which are used to reverse the effects of an overdose. We’ve done Narcan training at our church and have a kit onsite. Those who use it have learned to administer the dose and take a few steps back. The reversal effects are immediate, and overdose victims will either get sick and vomit or get angry and come up swinging.

Ministering in the darkest corners

My church is located right in the heart of Bradenton. We call ourselves “a neighborhood church for the nations.” The call to shepherd a church is a call to shepherd the community. When God led me to West Bradenton, he not only gave me a responsibility for pastoring a church but also a responsibility to serve our community. Churches are not islands in the community, set up to isolate believers from the ails of society. The walls of the church are not protective barriers to community problems. Quite the opposite—the church should be the vehicle by which people are sent into the hardest, darkest parts of the neighborhood. You can’t be salt and light hunkered down in isolation.

For us, that meant tackling something no other church was doing. We already had a dozen or so drug deals a day occurring in our parking lot, so something had to be done. Our student pastor started the movement. He stood in front of our church and made a plea, “I’m sick of people dying. We’re going to do something.” Preaching the funerals is especially hard. I wept after a 4-year-old child asked me why the needles killed his mom. Death is cheap and comes in doses of 0.1 grams; it can be bought for as little as $10 a bag.

When the community started calling us “the heroin church,” we knew we were banging on hell’s gates. We chased the dealers out of our parking lot—literally. Then we started a 5K road race in our neighborhood to raise awareness. The road race brought together several groups who did not know each other. Our church became a gatekeeper for the small, local ministries trying to solve the addition epidemic.

Foster care and homeless ministry

Then a wave hit our congregation. A swell of our families began to foster children. Our county is first in removal rates of children in all of Florida. Of the 500 children removed from their homes last year, over half of them are directly attributed to substance abuse. Most of the children removed are under the age of 5. The foster system is out of beds for children and is in a $3.8 million budget shortfall because of the problem. Our foster son was severely neglected and tested positive for an illicit substance before he came into our home. He was not even 2 years old.

If you want to jump into the thick of evil, then become a foster parent. Whatever issues are producing foster children are often the core of a community’s sins. You are immediately connected to some of the most difficult issues in your community when you take a foster child into your home. In our case, it’s opioid addiction. Our children’s ministry is full of foster kids. Here is what I love about how my church is ministering to these children: The name tags of our foster children don’t have a special label designating them as being fostered. These children are part of our homes, which means they are part of our church family. We’ve opened our doors to the worst problem in our community, and God brought us beautiful children who need to hear good news.

God wanted us to do more, though. He sent us two gritty retired police officers who serve the homeless 365 days a year. They take no breaks, no vacations, no rest. Christine and Ian live for one purpose—feeding the homeless every day in order to share Jesus’ gospel. When you mingle with 200 homeless people a day, it gets a little messy. The vast majority of them are addicts. Our church jumped right into the mix. I even bring my four children with me when I volunteer. You can grow slowly in wisdom and maturity by sitting in pews, but you make leaps when you minister on the streets.

West Bradenton is a neighborhood church for the nations. It is not a fallout shelter from a radioactive world. You can’t be salt and light hunkered down in isolation. We’re not trendy or hip, but we will dig into the best and worst of our community—and we’re proud of our moniker, “the heroin church.” And as a pastor, I’m honored to serve alongside people who get what living out the gospel means.

By / Sep 10

On Thursday, President Biden took the step of expanding the list of workers who would be required to receive a COVID-19 vaccine or submitting to regular testing. His announcement follows the recent decision to mandate that all federal employees receive the vaccine or face possible disciplinary action. These changes reflect a shift from the previous posture of the administration against federal vaccine mandates. While it is possible for individuals in private workplaces to opt out of a vaccine if they are tested regularly, this regulation does reflect a more aggressive posture by the administration to control the surge in cases of the delta variant that is sweeping the country.  

President Biden’s directive comes amid surging cases of the delta variant across the country, as well as new strains of the virus, lambda and mu. The rule will require all employers with more than 100 employees to ensure that their workers are vaccinated or submit to weekly testing. They also must provide paid time off for employees wishing to be vaccinated. The rule comes as many larger private employers are already implementing similar measures including CVS Health, Walmart, and Fox News. The rule faces legal challenges and has already faced opposition from state officials who claim this is an overreach of federal authority. Similarly, the rule will likely face implementation challenges as the vaccine and testing date from each employer will need to be stored and verified by OSHA for enforcement purposes. The penalties for noncompliance have not been released as of the time of publication.  

What does an OSHA temporary emergency standard mean?

The regulation will be drafted and implemented as part of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) of the Department of Labor. Established by President Richard Nixon in 1970, the agency’s mission is “to ensure safe and healthful working conditions for workers by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education, and assistance.” OSHA’s mandate covers most private and public sector employers, making the vaccine mandate announcement one of the most wide-reaching to date. 

The rule, issued as a temporary emergency standard, can be used when OSHA demonstrates that workers face a grave danger and that the rule will address that danger. Further, employers must have a reasonable chance of implementing the rule. These emergency standards would override existing state policies except in those states where there is an OSHA-approved state level agency. For those states, they would have a window of time to adopt a rule that is as effective as the federal standard. 

This is not the first time that OSHA has intervened in the COVID pandemic. In June of this year, they announced a rule requiring healthcare employers to provide protective equipment such as masks and gloves, ensure proper ventilation, and screen patients at risk for COVID. This emergency standard was limited to healthcare employers (because of the group’s high risk factors), though additional optional measures were disseminated for other industries such as manufacturing, retail, and food supply chains. 

How will this affect churches and religious organizations?

With the implementation of this standard, many churches will likely not be affected because they will not meet the requisite number of employees. There is a subset of churches who will meet the threshold and thus could face OSHA violation charges for not complying. Religious organizations such as Christian colleges and seminaries, as well as religious hospitals, will be more likely to be subject to the rule’s standards because of the size of the organization and the kinds of work that their employees perform.

Religious employers are subject to some oversight of OSHA depending on the kind of employment and jobs performed. Where the organization only employs individuals for religious services (a choir director, organist, clergy, etc.), they are not classified as an employer and therefore are not subject to OSHA oversight. However, where a religious employer employs a worker for secular purposes, they are subject to the rules set by OSHA. Examples of the latter would include a private hospital or school operated by a religious organization, administrative staff of the organization, or staff employed for commercial activity such as running a bakery. 

At the time of publication, the regulatory language is unavailable so it is unclear what type of medical or religious exemptions may be granted under this new OSHA standard concerning the COVID-19 vaccine. 

How should Christians think about this? 

While some have argued that widespread vaccine mandates infringe upon one’s religious freedom, Christians should be very judicious when making claims of religious liberty violations. As Jason Thacker recently wrote,

. . . it is important to remember that approaching questions about religious liberty claims is something of deep consequence. We must not allow or give support to mere personal or political preferences masquerading as religious liberty claims. Indeed, doing so is not only morally disingenuous but also can do long-term damage to the credibility of pastors, churches, and Christian institutions in our communities. At the same time, pastors should graciously and patiently consult with those seeking such exemptions or accommodations in order to determine whether the request is predicated on sincere religious grounds.

In a time of intense polarization and a continued public health crisis, we must remember that religious liberty is fundamental to the Christian faith and to American life. It is a right that our government is designed to recognize, respect, and uphold.

The ERLC has emphatically stated since the beginning of this public health challenge that government officials should opt for providing guidance over mandates, while at the same time seeking to uphold the free exercise of religion. Elected officials and local health experts should be actively partnering with pastors and churches to serve local communities as this pandemic rages on. Whether through vaccine drives or combating the widespread misinformation, community partnerships and respecting religious freedom instills more confidence within the faith community about efforts to combat the virus and protect our communities from its devastating effects.

By / Jun 30

Why is belonging to a church such a challenge? As Christians, we need to overcome at least four obstacles to live out the biblical vision of a gospel-centered, Spirit-filled community in the church.

Obstacle One: Sensationalism

Many Christians are stuck on the dramatic. We get excited about huge conferences, someone else’s pastor, or the latest controversy. Thrill-seekers simply don’t find life in a local church stimulating enough to really get involved and stay involved.

Caring for the elderly in a local church? Restoring a wayward member? Helping the single mom? Serving in childcare? These things don’t usually excite sensationalists. But while these acts may not be sensational in many people’s eyes, they would turn the world upside down if we began to live them out. What’s more, the endless search for something bigger, greater, and more extraordinary is in the end exhausting.

We need a renewal of Christians who are wholly committed to living out basic Christianity with their faith family.

Obstacle Two: Mysticism

When it comes to life in the Spirit, many think of mystical, miraculous, or private experiences. This is nothing new: Simeon the Stylite, the first of the “Desert Fathers,” constructed a short pillar in the Syrian desert sometime around AD 423 and lived there for six years out of his desire to live in communion with God.

But is that what it means to be spiritual? Being a desert hermit, away from people and worldly distractions, elevated off the ground? Not everyone can go live in the desert alone, and even if they could, that’s not the picture of discipleship in the context of community that we see in Scripture.

In contrast to the hermit’s approach, consider the opening chapters of the book of Revelation, where we see Jesus giving his evaluation of and instruction to seven churches, or “lampstands,” in modern-day Turkey. Jesus is described as “walk[ing] among the seven lampstands” (Rev. 2:1; see also 1:13).

Think about this: Christ is walking among the church! This is why I want my life intertwined with the church. This is why I refuse to give up on the church. Where is Jesus? He’s among his church. He’s up close and intimate with his church. He’s the Shepherd, the Head, the Vine, the Foundation, and the Husband.

To be best placed to experience Jesus in a deep, fresh, life-changing way, you don’t need a perch in the desert; you need a pew in a church.

Obstacle Three: Idealism

In Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s classic book Life Together, he talks about the problem of having a “wish dream” when it comes to the church. Bonhoeffer explains how idealism is the enemy of true community: “He who loves his dream of community more than the community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial” (p 26).

Wish dreams destroy community. Some have wish dreams related to small group expectations, pastoral expectations, or program expectations. Real life together will involve highs, and it will involve lows; it will involve frustration, disappointment, and struggle. But by grace, we press on together as sinners redeemed by Jesus. This doesn’t mean we don’t work hard to make improvements in every area in the church (we do!). It means we rethink our expectations.

I often chuckle when wish dreamers say, “I wish the church could just get back to the way it was in the first century; those people had it all together.” I want to ask, “Have you read the New Testament? Have you read 1 Corinthians? How about the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5? It’s hard to get much earlier than that!”

Letter after letter in the New Testament addresses problems in the church! The seven letters to the churches in Revelation contain rebukes to five of the seven churches. Pattern our church after the New Testament? Yes. But let’s not pretend that churches in the first century were faultless. Let’s kill this wish dream and be quicker to identify evidences of grace in the church rather than function as a church critic. 

Let’s celebrate when the church has biblical priorities and show grace when our church may not prefer our preferences.

Obstacle Four: Individualism

Many (often without realizing it) live isolated lives, especially in the West, never experiencing the satisfying joy of biblical community. We know so many people, but we go deep with very few (if any).

Technology won’t give us what our hearts long for either. Technology may strengthen relationships, but it can’t replace them. The COVID-19 pandemic taught us all this. After two weeks of video calls, I was sick of digital interaction. I thought about 2 John 12 during this dreadful experience: “Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete” (my emphasis).

John says there are limits to pen and ink (or, for us, the computer/texting/video). Emails, texts, and calls are poor substitutes for embodied relationships. Something is clearly lacking without face-to-face interaction. A lack of real embodied relationships will lead to a loss of joy.

It’s a privilege to be in community with brothers and sisters. This has nothing to do with whether you are outgoing or shy, introverted or extroverted. It’s at the heart of being a Christian.

Bonhoeffer put it like this:

“It is by the grace of God that a congregation is permitted to gather visibly in this world to share God’s Word and sacrament. Not all Christians receive this blessing. The imprisoned, the sick, the scattered lonely, the proclaimers of the gospel in heathen lands stand alone. They know that visible fellowship is a blessing . . . The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer . . . The prisoner, the sick person, the Christian in exile sees in the companionship of a fellow Christian a physical sign of the gracious presence of the triune God . . . It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren” (Life Together, pp. 18–19).

We need each other. This doesn’t mean we need to live together in a Christian commune. It doesn’t mean community is easy, or that it does not sometimes feel hard. It will never be perfect in this world, but it can still be experienced in a way that is wonderful. This doesn’t mean that all of our friends should be Christians (that can’t be the case if we want to be Christ’s witnesses). It simply means that we fix our minds on a vision of the Spirit-filled Christian life that essentially involves being in community, and we must be committed to pursuing that.

This is an extract from Love Your Church by Tony Merida. A free small group kit is available to help small groups read through the book together, discuss it, and apply the principles.

By / May 25

“How many funerals have you officiated?” I asked my dad as I rifled through the “Funerals” folder in his office filing cabinet. He thought for a few seconds, sat back, and sighed, “Over 80.” 

I was preparing to officiate my first.

As I thumbed through the pages, I started to recognize certain names within the stack, and memories of those individuals rushed to mind. 

My dad, now in his 36th year as a pastor, has always pastored elderly congregations. Some of my fondest memories from my childhood are of joining him on pastoral visits to shut-ins or nursing homes. Even today, I can hear Harry tell me the story of meeting his wife at the 1935 Chicago World’s Fair, remember the way it felt to shake Gerry’s four-fingered hand (he lost his pinky in WW2), and name the passage Evelyn would recite to herself if she woke up nervous in the middle of the night (Isaiah 43). 

Youth idolatry 

Youth is powerful in the hands of the Lord and is to be commended (1 Tim. 4:12). Yet, I’m so thankful that I grew up in an elderly church. 

That’s not a common refrain today. Instead, in many churches, there seems to be a fear of “age” — a dread of looking out of step with pop culture. There is a gravitation toward the new, the popular, the young. From the music we sing to the books we read and recommend, it seems that the church is smitten with youth. Many congregants are duped into believing that a vibrant church is synonymous with youthful vigor. 

And this isn’t really a church problem. It’s a culture problem. At one point in Carl Trueman’s book, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, he comments on our age’s “cult of childhood and youth,” saying, “the Western world of today generally credits youth with wisdom and sees old age as corrupt, myopic, or behind the times.”1Trueman, C. (2020). The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution., (Wheaton, IL: Crossway), 127. That sentiment is certainly pervasive, almost subliminally so. 

In my previous role as a college pastor, I had a front row seat to the perspective of youth toward the elderly. In general, the belief was that elderly people — their beliefs and wisdom — are relics of a bygone era. This is a tragic and unbiblical perspective (Prov. 20:29). 

How the elderly cared for me 

That incorrect sentiment is far from what I experienced. I count myself blessed to have grown up in an elderly church, hearing their reflections on life and surrounded by their genuine care, comfort, and encouragement. 

My experience is part of the reason why I decided to write this particular article. Throughout the pandemic, I’ve heard the constant charge that we must care for the elderly. And that’s true, right, and good. But today, I’d like to flip the script and reflect on some ways the elderly community in the church has cared for me. 

  1. They shared their rich wisdom.

It may be true that the elderly Christians in my church growing up didn’t possess a detailed knowledge of pop culture or its trends. But they were skilled in knowing how to please God. That skillful wisdom hadn’t come naturally; it was the product of learned faithfulness and repentance over a prolonged period of time. Nor was their wisdom shallow. These were men and women who knew life and loss, joy and sorrow, sickness and health, wealth and poverty, success and failure. They could speak firsthand of the joys of faithfulness, of the consequences of sin, and of the beauty of restoration. The Lord’s mercy, comfort, and discipline were their friends. 

It was this perspective and experiential knowledge that allowed elderly Christians to speak with stinging clarity into my life. Rather than seeming out of touch with today’s world, they applied their wisdom to my circumstances with precision. More often than not, the wisdom would come in the form of a five-minute conversation at church between Sunday School and the worship service, but that’s all it took for right and wrong to cut through a sea of gray.

  1. They taught me how to pray. 

“Stephen, the older people pray,” is one line my dad repeated while growing up that will stick with me throughout my life. He proved it to me by dragging me along to Wednesday night prayer meetings. 

At that age, it was difficult to keep my eyes closed for the entire hour, but now as a father myself, I understand why my dad brought me along. He did it so that I’d be shaped, not by the moment, but by the pattern of prayer (and to give my mom a break). My enduring memory is that the older people dominated attendance at those prayer meetings. And though I don’t remember the exact words of their prayers, their model of faithfulness was formative. They didn’t pray because they were strong; they prayed because even at their age, they were needy and dependent upon the Lord for provision. 

  1. They never seemed too busy to care for me.   

One of the things I try to guard against in my own pastorate is needlessly adding activities and expectations to church members’ plates. People always seem to be busy, myself included. There’s always somewhere to be and something to do. And unfortunately, in the chaos of it all, it’s easy to forget to take time to care for one another.   

Busyness affects everyone, so the elderly aren’t immune to distraction or looking past people. But, at least in my experience, the elderly Christians seemed to have developed a greater sense of the importance of slowing down. 

In my early teens, I went back to visit “home” and walked through the church my dad previously pastored. While there, I ran into Pastor Roy — a 95-year-old retired minister — in the hallway. Incredibly, he stopped his day, invited me to sit down, and, though he had a hard time hearing, spent the better part of an hour talking to me. He didn’t have to do that, but he did. He showed me that sometimes caring enough to talk to someone for an hour is more important than going to the grocery store. 

What a vibrant church looks like

Due in large part to the wisdom, encouragement, and prayers of elderly saints, I knew better how to please God in middle school, high school, and college. They taught me neediness is a sign of maturity and that dependence upon the Lord for provision never ends. And though I’m not particularly skilled at slowing down and caring for others yet, I’d like to be. Their examples challenge me every day. 

An elderly church may not be what comes to mind for most people when they consider the characteristics of a vibrant church. Maybe it should, though. Our churches — the leadership and congregations — would benefit greatly from their prayers, listening ears, and wisdom. 

  • 1
    Trueman, C. (2020). The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution., (Wheaton, IL: Crossway), 127.
By / May 13

“Virtual Reality and its related technologies are going to change our world. If Christians don’t drive the discussion about how this tech gets used . . . who will?” This is one of the many questions that compelled Darrell Bock and Jonathan Armstrong to co-author their latest book, Virtual Reality Church: (Or How to Think Biblically About Church in Your Pajamas, VR Baptisms, Jesus Avatars, and Whatever Else is Coming Next)

As virtual reality has emerged, coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic and the way it changed the world, almost requiring that we reckon with VR and its family of technologies, these questions have entered the church’s calculus sooner than we may have imagined. So, the authors set out to help the church think biblically about the possibilities and pitfalls of integrating virtual reality and other technologies into the life of the church.

Bock, author of dozens of books, is the executive director of Cultural Engagement at the Hendricks Center, where he hosts the “Table Podcast,” and senior research professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary. 

Armstrong is professor of Bible at Moody Bible Institute, teaching in the areas of New Testament language and literature and church history. Additionally, Armstrong consults with Christian colleges and universities on the intersection of education and technology. 

Together, Bock and Armstrong have produced a resource in Virtual Reality Church that will undoubtedly compel churches and Christians to think critically about virtual reality’s place in Christian churches.

Technology and the church, past, present, and future

Though the book’s title suggests that Bock and Armstrong deal exclusively with virtual reality, a technology they describe that “allows users to be actors in a digitally created world by their motions and manipulations in the real world” (40), they in fact survey and interact with technology a bit more broadly. And they do so in service of the church. In the opening pages of Virtual Reality Church, the authors state that the two “core goals” of the book are: 

(1) to encourage educators and ministers to think about the history of the church’s use of tech and so to be disciplined and flexible in their approach to future use, and (2) to think critically about which processes in education and church life can be improved by increased use of virtual telecommunication and which processes should be kept on campus or conducted in person in the church building (15).

Rather than seeking to win readers with a particular argument or impose their own views, the authors have sought to encourage church men and women to think critically about the history of the church and the future of the church regarding its use of technology.

Though the most cantankerous among us may snub our nose at the growing ubiquity of technology in our sanctuaries, the church has a long history of integrating the up-and-coming technologies that have marked each era of history, from the invention of writing to the printing press to radio and television. Each successive generation of Christians has been in a position to think carefully about its society’s burgeoning technologies and consider if and how to integrate them into the life of the church and the mission of God. Bock and Armstrong argue that the advent of virtual reality is no different.

The questions that Bock and Armstrong pose are not necessarily if virtual reality should be integrated into the life of the church (though that is a valid question), but how and in what environments should ministers and church leaders consider implementing these inevitable technologies. Moreover, the above questions ought not be considered before more foundational questions are asked such as: what is the missional potential of VR and related technologies (53); what might be possible that was not possible before (17); and what do we gain and lose when we apply a new technology or process (17)? These and other questions scattered throughout the book help the reader think honestly about the role that virtual reality and other future technologies may play in the church moving forward.

Two things are certain: the church will not cease to exist, and technology will not cease to advance, and rapidly. The question that this leaves for the church is what use will we make of the advancements of technology for the sake of the advancement of the gospel of Jesus Christ?

Thinking critically about the potential of technology and its pitfalls

Can a church exist in virtual reality? Virtual reality, after all, is not actual reality. This is the question that I skeptically imposed onto Virtual Reality Church before even cracking open the front cover. But that is not a question that the authors are preoccupied with, though they do address it in the book. The driving question, rather, is how an existing church can integrate technology, whether virtual reality or something else, into the life of the church for the sake of its mission. This is a question that churches and Christians in our society should be thinking about. 

While the authors are generally optimistic about the possibilities that come with introducing new technologies like virtual reality into the practice of the church, they also recognize that certain pitfalls loom. “Every new technology brings positive and problematic change for the communities who adopt them” (45), they rightly say. Though technology clearly offers great potential for the spread of the gospel and the building up of the global church, I am not sure we’ve yet thought critically enough about some of its pitfalls.

This does not mean that virtual reality or any other technology, for that matter, should be resolutely shunned and evicted from our church buildings. But it does mean, as this book encourages and models, that church ministers and members alike should be actively engaged in an ongoing conversation about the place of technology in the local church. What is a church? What are its nonnegotiables regarding the weekend gathering, the Lord’s Supper, and baptism, for example (which the authors do address)? Where are technologies like virtual telecommunication and virtual reality welcome and unwelcome in the life of the church and its sacred practices? These are the conversations that Virtual Reality Church have kickstarted for us and that we should take back to our local churches for consideration. 

“Evangelicalism has existed at the crossroads of tradition and innovation from its inception” (55). The church of Jesus Christ has encountered and utilized technological advancements for the entirety of its history. Though today’s technology is new, the questions we must ask have been asked for millennia by our forebears. Like Bock and Armstrong have modeled for us, and others before them, we should continue to ask and answer today’s questions for the sake of the gospel and the building up of the church.

By / Apr 16

In this episode, Josh, Lindsay, and Brent discuss the death of Prince Phillip, Russia, the shooting of Daunte Wright, the court ruling on Down syndome abortion, current FDA recommendations on the J&J vaccine, and the no-hitter thrown by Chicago pitcher. Lindsay gives a rundown of this week’s ERLC content including Chelsea Patterson Sobolik with “Explainer: What you should know about the debate in Congress about the Born-Alive bill,” Andrew Bertodatti and Lamar Hardwick with “How can churches be more inclusive of disabled person?,” and Jill Waggoner with “How learning about trauma changed my life: Learning from The Body Keeps the Score.” Also in this episode, the hosts are joined by Gary Lancaster for his farewell episode. 

ERLC Content


  1. Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, dead at 99
  2. US sanctions Russia over hacks
  3. Russian troops massing on Ukrainian border
  4. Officer who fatally shot Daunte Wright charged
  5. Court ruling on Down syndrome abortion law praised
  6. FDA recommends pausing J&J vaccine after 6 reported cases of blood clots
  7. White House says J&J pause will not have “significant impact” on vaccination plan
  8. Duke University to require vaccinations for fall semester
  9. No-hitter thrown by Chicago pitcher
  10. Turner’s cheesy HR makes LA 1st to 10 wins

 Connect with us on Twitter


  • Every person has dignity and potential. But did you know that nearly 1 in 3 American adults has a criminal record? On Sunday April 11th , we invite you to join Prison Fellowship for a special service focusing on the power of second chances. To learn more and sign up for the virtual Second Chance Sunday service visit
  • Stand for Life: At the ERLC, we stand for life. Our work to save preborn babies and care for the vulnerable is vital to our work. Believing that abortion can end in our lifetime, will you join us as we STAND FOR LIFE?
By / Apr 15

If you were a child of the evangelical 1980s and 90s, you likely saw a VHS tape containing a morality tale. Whether it was McGee and Me, Quiggly’s Village, or a plunger-headed cucumber fighting rumor weeds and fibs from outer space, you were told tales of the dangers of lying, envy, and other numerous sins with the help of cartoons, puppets, and animated vegetables.

I don’t remember all the plot lines of such shows, but I do have vivid memories of great tragedy befalling the protagonists when they committed various vices that spun out of control.

While there’s a place for discussing the merits and drawbacks of such entertainment, the aim of cultivating virtue—and warning against vice—is very appropriate. It smacks of the philosophy of the Proverbs. You might say Proverbs was written, among other things, as a warning to young people against vices. The sage tells the young man to avoid joining gangs for a false sense of belonging. Wisdom creates a hedge for the youth against the deadly allure of illicit sex.

Now this is important. Stories cultivate moral sensibility. In her book On Reading Well, Karen Swallow Prior makes this case deftly: when we read books well, we practice moral judgments and further develop our own moral convictions. Stories reduced to mere morality tales are not good literature, but all narratives when told truthfully will develop our understanding of virtue.

How much more does history, when told truthfully, serve us—and our kids—with the formation of virtue.

History is full of women and men who exhibit virtue. And unlike morality tales, these history-shaping men and women live in a very real world, a world like our own. To quote Voltaire, “History doesn’t repeat itself. Man always does.”1Quoted without source attribution in Barabara Tuchman, A Distant Mirror (New York: Ballantine Books, 1978), xiv. No matter what era we study, we are still gripped by our shared imago Dei. Our humanity connects us with figures across history. Indeed, humanity gives us access to models of virtue, and examples of vice.

For every virtue has at either extreme a vice. If the path of virtue is a road, then on each side is a ditch. Virtue is about staying on the road, and not walking into either ditch. If virtue is about keeping to the center, vice is found in among the cattails.

Arius’ overgrown ambition

History has many figures among the cattails. One of them was a man named Arius, and there are three things you should know about him:

First, he was handsome, gifted, and a golden-tongued teacher. He was an influencer. If Twitter was a thing back in 300 A.D., Arius would have had the blue check.

Second, Arius is an example of the failure of temperance. Arius served under Alexander, the man who held office as the bishop of Alexandria, arguably the most important church office in the ancient world at the time. Arius wanted that office, and his ambitions birthed in him a jealousy that eventually overtook him.

Third, in his jealousy, Arius began making up lies about Alexander. And then things got really out of hand. Consider gathering your kids in the family room, or my favorite—around the campfire—and telling them this tale: 

The young jealous Arius dug up an old heresy, one we now call modalism, and he accused Alexander of denying that God is one in three persons. Alexander tried to reason with Arius. This first charge was an easy charge for Alexander to defend, but Arius’ jealousy carried him to the next phase, and the rumor weeds grew. 

Next, Arius stirred up other bishops and the people. Arius began to explicitly teach that Jesus was not God from eternity. He famously said, “There was a time when the Son was not,” effectively denying Christ’s full deity and saying the Son was a created being. Then, Arius went even further and said that the Spirit was not God.

And as if this wasn’t enough, Arius worked hard to recruit allies to his cause. He used his gifts to gather around himself a group that aligned with Arius’s innovative teaching. To complicate matters, all this took place during the rule of Constantine, the newly converted Christian emperor. Constantine had hoped to use Christianity to reunite the faltering Roman empire. The last thing Constantine wanted was for his Church to split over what he saw as a petty theological issue. 

So what began with Arius’ unbridled ambition and jealousy grew into an enormous political controversy. Constantine called a meeting, inviting 1,800 bishops from across the empire, representatives from the Christian East and West. 

The meeting took place in modern day Iznik, Turkey, a city that was then called Nicaea. Roughly 300 bishops actually came, which is a rather good turnout considering how costly and time consuming such a journey would have been in those days.

The meeting was long. We’re talking March-to-August long. The council determined that Arius had indeed diverged from the Church’s teaching, and they affirmed a statement from which the Nicene Creed we recite today originated. Arius, along with his followers that wouldn’t yield, were banished. 

Now, if only that were the end of the story. The trouble is that the Council was unable to fully uproot Arius and his followers’ vices. The proud man and his adherents regrouped, and many (though not Arius) found ways to wiggle back into church fellowship. They used clever words, avoiding language that was condemned at Nicea, without actually changing their heretical theology.

Athanasius against the jealousy weed

Just five months after the Council of Nicaea, Alexander died, and a young man named Athanasius was elected as his successor. He had served as Alexander’s assistant, and he’d played a critical role at the council. 

Athanasius was a man of virtue. He wasn’t a brash man but was known instead for being gentle and pastoral in his approach. And yet he took the Arian threat seriously. He held tightly to the truth of the Scriptures and the deity of Christ without yielding to the political pressure to merely keep the peace. 

Athanasius’s commitment to truth made him a problem for Arius and his followers. They saw him as an enemy to be thwarted. But because of Athanasius’ virtue, they were hard pressed to find an accusation that would stick. Nevertheless, they tried.

One of the factions of Arius’ followers went so far as to fake a man’s death, hide him in another city, produce a severed hand (probably from a real corpse), and then claim that Athanasius had maimed and killed the man with sorcery. This attempt to remove Athanasius from power only failed when authorities were able to produce the alleged victim and reveal that he was still alive with two hands!

This wasn’t the end of the story. Arius and his tribe were successful in their attempts multiple times. He was forced into exile on five different occasions by four different emperors.

But when we take a close look at how Athanasius withstood these trials, we see the role of virtue in his life. One critical virtue he demonstrated was fortitude. His commitment to truth was resolute. He endured in faith in spite of banishment and fleeing for his life. Despite these continuous trials, he stayed the course, maintaining his conviction in the deity of Christ and his commitment to the true God made flesh. 

There is some scholarly debate, but most likely Athanasius’ magnum opus, On the Incarnation, was written during his first exile. Those who argue against it being written at this time point out that Arius isn’t mentioned in this work. I think it’s more likely Athanasius had his eyes set on a different prize—the purity of the Church. 

Athanasius wanted God’s people to know the beauty and majesty of the God who saw fit to dwell among us. He wanted the world to know that the exalted God who created the universe came to dwell on earth as a human. To paraphrase a lengthier passage from On the Incarnation: Just as the prestige of a city is raised when a great king dwells in it, how much more is the human race, when the God of the universe takes on flesh.2Saint Athanasius, On the Incarnation, translated by John Behr, Popular Patristics Series (New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2011), 69. In his writings, Athanasius was clear, and he shows us where true virtue is found—only when we are rooted in Christ. 

Athanasius wasn’t alone in his biblical convictions about the person of Christ. There were many other leaders and fellow believers who gave him aid and shelter in his exiles, but the well known phrase Athanasius contra mundum, “Athanasius against the world,” is fitting because it captures the gravity of the pressure he faced and the virtue with which he stood.

Meanwhile, Arius—our man caught in the cattails of vice—who enviously desired the throne of Alexandria, found himself at the end of his life upon another more ignoble throne. While Arius’ case was under consideration for his readmittance and welcome into the fellowship of the church, he experienced a pain in his bowels, entered a public latrine, and immediately died upon the toilet. 

When Constantine heard this news, he immediately concluded that Arius was a scheming liar, because—in his view—no man of God would die such an ignoble death.

Arius, in his jealousy, sought fame and influence at the expense of virtue, and it led to his destruction. By contrast, Athanasius, a man of Christ-centered virtue, suffered intrigue and exile but found a prize more valuable than rubies. Nothing could take him away from the pearl of great price he found in Christ. 

Just as Arius serves as a somber warning against the dangers of unchecked vanity, envy, and pride, so also Athanasis serves us and our kids as an example of Christlike humility and a tenacious and humble refusal to compromise on the truth. 

Passing along church history from generation to generation

In Psalm 78, Asaph tells us of the importance of passing down the story of the faith from generation to generation. The psalm focuses on telling children about acts in history “so that our children should set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God (v. 7).” 

Often when we cite this passage, we think about passing down the stories of our faith that we find in the Bible. But it’s also wise to tell our children about the works of God throughout the history of the church, of the men and women who endured many trials with faithfulness and of those who failed by giving into vice.

We need resources to help us do this well. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Christian History Made Easy by Timothy Paul Jones. Covering the span of church history this book has full color pictures and illustrations. It also includes the fun stories and legends that kids love (like the tall tales of “Saint Nick” punching Arius in the nose).
  • Light Keepers is a fantastic series that tells the stories of historical figures through the lens of childhood in a way that captures kids’ imaginations. 
  • Super Heroes Can’t Save You. Todd Miles cleverly breaks down Trinitarian and Christological heresies into gripping stories from history, and clear explanations of doctrine—using superheroes! If you think church history and theology are boring, check out Miles, he’ll change your mind. 

Let’s tell our children stories from our shared Christian history. When we tell them the story of Arius’ jealousy and Athanasius’ fortitude, we aren’t just telling kids morality tales of vice and virtue. We are giving them a framework for how to view the entirety of history through the lens of God’s grace. In the stories of men and women who lived lives of virtue, we’re teaching our kids about how God has shown himself faithful across hundreds of years. When we tell them about the works God has done through men and women with Christian virtue, we are strengthening their hope in the God who gives grace to the humble and fortitude to those who depend on him. 

  • 1
    Quoted without source attribution in Barabara Tuchman, A Distant Mirror (New York: Ballantine Books, 1978), xiv.
  • 2
    Saint Athanasius, On the Incarnation, translated by John Behr, Popular Patristics Series (New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2011), 69.
By / Apr 7

Phillip Bethancourt, now lead pastor of Central in College Station, Texas and former ERLC executive vice president, joins Jeff Pickering, Chelsea Patterson Sobolik, and Travis Wussow to discuss how Christians can engage conversations on COVID vaccine hesitancy. Bethancourt’s church recently served their community as a vaccination site.

Guest Biography

Phillip Bethancourt is lead pastor of Central in College Station, Texas. Before he was called to pastor Central, he served as the Executive Vice President of the ERLC team for seven years. He is a graduate of Texas A&M University, class of 2004, and he then went on to earn an MDiv and PhD in Systematic Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Phillip and his wife, Cami, have been married since 2005, and have four boys. Phillip’s authored books and curriculum include: Exalting Jesus in Genesis, Christ-Centered Parenting: Gospel Conversations on Complex Cultural Issues, and Religious Liberty: How the Gospel Shapes Our First Freedom.

Resources from the Conversation