I grew up in a healthy church.  It wasn’t perfect, but it was life-giving by the power of God.

Lake Avenue Church in Pasadena was Bible-believing and Christ-honoring.  It was gospel-centered long before that was cool.  It was evangelistic without pressuring people.  It was family-friendly without excluding others.  It was theologically responsible without being nerdy and tiresome.  It was cheerful, not tense and explosive, a fun place to go.  It was like growing up in a spiritual neighborhood with lots of aunts and uncles in the Lord who cared about us but didn’t spoil us.  Above all, it was hyper-focused on Jesus with a glad determination that was compelling to me.

At the time, I took it for granted.  I thought all churches were like this.  I hadn’t seen anything else.  Now I know what a rare treasure such a church really is.

Basically, all I want out of life, from here on out, is (1) to walk with the Lord and with Jani lovingly until the end, (2) to enjoy and love my children and grandchildren and help them as much as I can, and (3) to raise up healthy churches for the next generation, so that Lake Avenue Church-type of Christianity goes strongly into the future.  Some churches don’t even have the categories to grasp how wonderful their life together can be.  They might never understand.  What we need is to plant more healthy, non-weird, revival-ready churches, so that the beauty of a biblical church does not die.  The style is changing, but the essence is enduring.  And I confess, with gratitude and wonder, that the Lord is giving us a taste of this beauty at Immanuel Church in Nashville.  I rejoice.

Here in the Bible Belt, there must be an end to the religiously-inflicted pain.  Or at least, the beginning of the end.  A new era of shalom must start somewhere.  The religiously-wounded must have somewhere to go, some place where they will be safe from attack, where they can heal through the gospel and live again.  I grew up in such a church.  I experienced it.  I have a living memory of it.  By God’s grace, there will be more, not less, of such beauty in the future.

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9 thoughts on “All I want”

  1. Will Robinson says:

    Amen, Dr. O! Thank you for being the kind of man who is such an example. In humble, peaceable conduct and in stubborn love for the Lord and His cross.

  2. Gary H. says:

    We need churches like this in the Great White North also. When will the Gospel really take root in the church?

  3. Pingback: All I want
  4. mel says:

    I have come to realize how blessed I am to belong to such a church. There have been times that I haven’t always appreciated it. When the programs are difficult to make work for a single parent. Or when there is a rash of insensitive or spiritually lazy people to deal with. Then I have my typical human reaction to want to cut and run. I have come to realize that my submission to a biblical church is the best way for me to learn submission to God. There is an ebb and flow to it that requires commitment during the tough times just as there is to a family.

  5. Greetings Ray,

    Yes, a healthy Christian community is so important for spiritual formation and growth in Christ. It is so essential.

    You might be interested in my doctoral research on spiritual abuse and recovery. Looking at what causes wounding and distress among Christians in the Body of Christ and comparing that with how to encourage a healthy church are so important.

    My book is entitled: Spiritual Abuse Recovery.

    My website is: http://www.ChurchExiters.com which can be a huge help to those who have been wounded in the church and can get them refocused on reintegrating in a wholesome Christian community.

    All the best,
    Barb Orlowski, D.Min.

  6. John Exum says:

    And that, Pastor Ray, is the kind of church I pray God lets me serve as its pastor one day. What a joy it will be!

  7. Flyaway says:

    I was privileged to grow up in a church similar to yours. The people weren’t perfect but we loved each other. Even after members moved to other states we kept in touch and I had phone calls from voices out of the past when my parents went Home.

  8. susan avrerills says:

    right on sister !!

  9. I praise God for Immanuel Church. It’s one of my life’s greatest and most meaningful joys to serve there. Thank you for your tireless efforts, Ray and Jani! The Lord is using them in more ways than we know!

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Ray Ortlund


Ray Ortlund is senior pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and serves as a Council member with The Gospel Coalition. You can follow him on Twitter.

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