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Tim Challies Christian Blog and Commentary

Meet the Ministries: Grace to You

  • Tim Challies
    Tim Challies, a self-employed web designer, is a pioneer in the Christian blogosphere, having one of the most widely read and recognized Christian blogs anywhere (www.challies.com). He is also editor of Discerning Reader (www.discerningreader.com), a site dedicated to offering thoughtful reviews of books that are of interest to Christians. He is author of The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment, published by Crossway.
  • 2009 Sep 28
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There are a vast number of ministries serving the church today. Though I am familiar with many of them (by name at least) I have often wondered what each of them offer to us, and what we can offer to them. I thought it might be useful to offer a series of interviews with some prominent ministries to ask just this kind of question—who are you?, what do you do?, why do you exist?, and so on. It is useful, I think, even to know the size of the budgets of these organizations and the number of people they employ. You may be surprised at how big (or how small) some of these organizations really are. So over the next few weeks I will be interviewing representatives from many of these ministries. I trust you will find the interviews interesting and hope they will show you how different organizations are seeking to serve the Lord in such different ways.

First up in the series is Grace to You, a ministry that I am sure is familiar to most of us as the teaching ministry of John MacArthur. In this interview Grace to You is represented by Phil Johnson, the original Pyromaniac. Kudos to Phil who (remarkably) typed this whole interview on his iPhone while flying from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Those thumbs must be throbbing.


How and when did GTY begin?
This year marks the ministry's 40th anniversary. We technically started with a handful of volunteers on John MacArthur's first Sunday as pastor of Grace Community Church. There was a man in the church who coordinated the recording of those earliest sermons on reel-to-reel tape. His plan was to make a few copies to send to missionaries. He would make the copies by daisy-chaining tape recorders together in his living room and duplicating tapes in real time. He was doing this on the first Sunday John began pastoring the church, and that first Sunday's sermon is still in the GTY catalog. It's titled "How to Play Church."

Right away, people began to request copies to send to friends and relatives. The guy who was doing the recordings kept having to recruit volunteers to meet the demand for tapes. That was the genesis of Grace to You (known as the Word of Grace Tape ministry in those days).

John's first Sunday at Grace was in February of 1969. By the end of ‘69 the ministry had outgrown that living room and was moved to the church and placed under the oversight of the elders.

Cassette tapes were fairly new and unknown in 1969, but the need for a more efficient way to duplicate and distribute recordings drove the elders to the new technology. The cassette format made it possible for tapes to be duplicated at high speed and distributed by the thousands.

Tapes were cheap: $1 apiece. And within 5 years the ministry was distributing a million tapes a year. (We get that many downloads in a typical month today.)

In 1978, because of the persistence of one volunteer (named Norm Sper), a daily radio broadcast featuring John MacArthur's teaching began airing in three cities (Baltimore, Tampa, and Tulsa). Known as "Grace to You," the program was 30 minutes long, meaning only half a sermon could air each day. Industry experts insisted the format would not work; sermons should be aired on weekends in an hour-long format. Daily programs needed to be live talk or studio-based teaching, they said. Sermons were too impersonal.

John Macarthur himself was skeptical of the format and wasn't particularly enthusiastic about the prospects of radio at first. But Norm and a staff of enthusiastic recruits worked tirelessly to get the broadcast on the air, and it was immediately successful.

I was living in the Tampa Bay area when "Grace to You" debuted in the autumn of ‘78, and I was a devoted listener from day one.

I came to work for the ministry in 1983, and in 1985 we formally merged the Word of Grace tape ministry with "Grace to You" radio. The resulting organization became a standalone, nonprofit parachurch ministry under an independent board, and we soon adopted "Grace to You" as the name of the consolidated ministry.


Why does GTY exist? What are its chief goals and key emphases?
Our purpose statement speaks to that very point:

As believers committed to God and walking in obedience to Him, we affirm the purpose of Grace to You, which is to teach biblical truth with clarity, taking advantage of various means of mass communications to expand the sphere of John MacArthur's teaching ministry.

We use mass communications media to expose John's teaching to as wide an audience as possible "for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:12-13).

One of our principal tasks is to protect believers from being "tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming" (v. 14). We accept the God-given responsibility of "speaking the truth in love" (v. 15) and strive for the growth of the church and glory of the Lord, rather than the praise and honor of men.

Our role is not to supplant the local church's ministry, but to support it by providing additional resources for those hungering for the truth of God's Word. Media ministries can never substitute for involvement in a biblical church, group Bible study, or interaction with a teacher. Yet we sense the need for more in-depth resources, evidenced by the many Christians and Christian leaders worldwide who depend on our ministry to supplement their own study.

Our desire is that God be glorified through Grace to You's resources. The Lord Jesus Christ is the Head of this ministry, and we desire to perform our work as unto Him, to reflect Him to all those we encounter, and to operate not in our own strength but through His power (Philippians 4:13).


How can GTY serve the readers of this web site?
We aim to supplement, not supplant, the ministries of local churches by providing resources for in-depth Bible teaching. Our most important ministries have pastors and church leaders in view. We also have a vital ministry to lay people who (for various reasons) aren't finding adequate spiritual nourishment from the weekly teaching in whatever church they attend.


Who are the key leaders within the ministry?
John MacArthur, of course, and our board of directors. We also have a 6-man management team who oversee our staff on a day-to-day basis, I lead them, and Don Green (managing director) handles most of the hands-on administration. All our staff, starting with the management team, are supremely gifted. The second-newest guy on the management team has been there more than 10 years, so it's a very stable ministry.


How many employees does GTY have?
Around 50 full time plus 175 volunteers who donate time and energy every week.


What is GTY's annual budget? How is the ministry financed and how do you ensure financial integrity?
Our annual budget today is about $17.9 million. GTY is funded about 85 percent by donations from our listeners; 15 percent by sales of materials. We manage costs and expenditures carefully. We have been members of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountavility (ECFA) since it's inception. We follow standard accounting and reporting procedures, and we are audited annually by a large, independent accounting firm.


How do you expect GTY will be different in ten years? Twenty years?
I expect we'll have some younger staff members and lots of new media. But we want to be faithful to our purpose statement, and to our doctrinal position. Both of those have remained unchanged for 40+ years.

J. Vernon McGee's ministry is the model for our future plans. We intend to keep broadcasting John MacArthur's timeless Bible teaching as long as people will listen—hopefully my successors will still be doing that even long after we're all gone.


How does GTY work with other Christian ministries?
We obviously maintain an ongoing, informal partnership with our sister ministries, The Master's College & Seminary and Grace Community Church. That's a fairly close relationship, even though we are not organizationally connected in any way. It's based on common ministry goals and strengthened by the fact that we affirm the same doctrinal statement.

We also enjoy friendly relations with a host of other ministries, such as T4G, ACE, Ligonier, Desiring God, etc. Our involvement with these other ministries ranges from conferences in which we are joint participants to staff relationships in which we often compare notes, share ideas, discuss common goals, and seek solutions to common problems.


Speaking personally, what are some of the things you've learned from John MacArthur while working closely with him in this ministry?
I've learned to appreciate the importance of diligent study, courage in the face of opposition to the truth, and various helps for better discernment. Also, I was pretty much an Arminian until I heard John MacArthur's teaching on Ephesians 1-2, and that series convinced me that God is sovereign in election.


What are some of the ways GTY has seen evidence of God's hand of blessing?
The long-term, steady growth of the ministry has been remarkable. No matter what crisis or financial collapse threatens the national economy, it seems God always supplies our needs. The only significant downturn our ministry has ever experienced was owing to bad decisions involving subtle compromises in our development philosophy. We have seen God supply our needs again and again, in miraculous ways, and as long as we have kept our focus on doing ministry rather than getting diverted by fundraising campaigns, every need we have is always abundantly supplied.


How can the readers of this web site serve and support GTY?
Pray for us, partner with us, and use the resources we provide to help spread God's Word in an increasingly ungodly culture.