There is a section of California that might surprise you. There are no sunny beaches, no suspension bridges, no silicon businesses, no star-studded Beverly Hills mansions. But central California has more “Starbucks Bibles” than southern and northern California combined.
Here’s what I mean by Starbucks Bibles: walk into most any central California Starbucks and you’re likely to find someone sitting with an open Bible next to his or her Grande Americano. And as you take a seat, it wouldn’t be odd to overhear conversations between male accountability partners, older women mentoring younger women, or church leaders discussing Sunday services. I’ve seen pastors conducting premarital counseling sessions. And then there’s the sermon-prepping pastor sipping his pour over as he pores over a commentary.
Welcome to central California.
California’s Bible Belt
California is not exactly known for being religious. PewResearch.org asks, “How religious is your state?” Alabama sits at the top, New Hampshire at the bottom, and California is 35th. When it comes to central California, however, it’s a different story. While the types of churches here span a broad range of denominations and belief systems, the area is known for its conservative evangelicalism. As a result, there is a distinct religious, cultural, and political climate, especially compared to the rest of the state.
With so many churches saturating the area, one might ask, “Why does central California need a TGC regional chapter?” It’s needed because going to church, championing conservative values, and identifying as evangelical will, without the gospel, damn your soul.
Going to church, championing conservative values, and identifying as an evangelical will, without the gospel, damn your soul.
Over the last several years, central California has been dealing with a serious lack of rain. This drought has posed severe dilemmas for the area dubbed the “food basket of the world.” Chances are that piece of fruit on your counter or the vegetables in your fridge grew in central California.
There is a spiritual drought here as well, with irrigation needed to cultivate the soil of hearts where the Word could be planted. Sadly, such planting has been limited to light sprinkles of moralism and the temporary dew of conservatism.
Sadly, spiritual planting has been limited to light sprinkles of moralism and the temporary dew of conservatism.
For many central Californians, the gospel is limited to a prayer they prayed by their bedside at age 4. For some, the gospel is little more than a tract they hand out from time to time. For others, the gospel is trying to be a good person, going to church, being anti-liberal, or voting for the right candidate.
Central California suffers from a low view of God, a high view of self, and a minimal view of Jesus. Our only hope is found in the sovereign goodness of a great God, the matchless power of his Spirit, the timeless truth of his Scripture, and the life-giving gospel of his crucified Son.
Introducting TGC Central California
When I started putting out feelers for pastors who shared my convictions, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Yet in his kind providence the Lord has brought Presbyterian, non-denominational, Baptist, Evangelical Free, and Bible Church brothers together. Some of our differences are real, and many of them will exist long after we’re gone, but we share a common love for, dependence on, and understanding of the gospel that transcends our differences.
I’ve been blessed to pray with men who are humbled when confronted by the holiness of God. They see the wickedness of their hearts, causing them to cling to the cross more today than yesterday. These brothers fervently preach the gospel to themselves and their congregations continually.
We are excited to launch the newest TGC regional chapter: Central California. Next time you bite into that piece of fruit, steam that veggie, or see someone reading Scripture at Starbucks, think of us, and pray for us. And next time you hear the phrase “Bible Belt” and your mind gravitates toward the southeastern United States, remember central California.
Pray for TGC brothers in our regional chapter to be dauntless in their pulpits, to show kindness in shepherding their sheep, and to be salt and light in their communities.
Pray our congregations will continually learn, love, and live in the light of a robust gospel. And pray for our communities. Ask God to drench our parched land with springs of living water. May he be merciful to save many.
Pray the spiritually blind would see the One who lived the perfect life we couldn’t. Pray the spiritually deaf would hear the news of the One who died in the place of rebels. And pray the spiritually dead would know new life in the One who defeated sin and death through his resurrection.
Note: The next TGC Central California gathering will be Saturday, February 4, 2017. Details forthcoming.