On the Mars Hill Meltdown

Mars Hill Church announced on Friday that it will dissolve and the 13 remaining campuses will either become particular churches or close. This is great news because, as the announcement states, ministry will be local–local decisions, local missions.

Where else would ministry take place? Can you worship globally? Well, you can bless someone on the other side of the world through your local worship, but only if that worship actually occurs where you are. Howdy, neighbor. But when the local church is controlled by central headquarters, and that authority is concentrated among three guys, your local impact is hamstrung.

There is nothing wrong with a mega church, but where you have a mega church, you better have mega elders. Paul appointed elders in every church, and he told Titus to do the same (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5). This really ought to be the bottleneck of church growth. It’s not hard to get a lot of people in the building–dude, did you hear the band? But it takes time to develop elders–disciples who make disciples. God can grow men up quickly, but that timetable isn’t attached to the logistics of the next campus.

An elder “watch[es] over your souls, as those who will have to give an account” (Heb. 13:17). He’s not so much a bookkeeper, board-member, or vision-setter, though all those things are good in their place. He’s a shepherd who knows the sheep by name. How do we know this? Because an account will be given, and souls are counted for by ones. When Jesus asks you to tell him about Johnny, you better know who Johnny is.

A friend of mine who understands church leadership met with Driscoll when the church was first blowing up, I think when it was around 800 people. At that time there were three elders. It became apparent that my friend’s idea of what an elder does, and what Driscoll thought one does were worlds apart. He was really encouraged by the growth, whereas he should have been terrified.

There is currently a pig-pile building on top of Driscoll and all sorts of rotten fruit flying his direction. I don’t want any part of that and am grateful for his years of ministry and am disappointed at the loss of such an incredible preacher in Seattle. Anyone who doesn’t feel that loss should revisit Philippians 1:15-18 until they do: “Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.”

It would be a good time for Mark to become presbyterian and submit to godly leaders, but the same call goes out to all Christians. “Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith” (Heb. 13:7). The most important thing about your church isn’t the programs or buildings or whether all your chums are there. The question is do they have qualified leadership, and can I know those leaders in order to imitate their faith and way of life?

Many who had bad experiences in the church struggle to connect again. It’s easy to be critical of the church. It’s easy to replace it with your friends, your small group, your bonfire and busy weekend, with individual daily devotions or whatever thing keeps you on spiritual life-support. But Jesus gave us Word and Sacrament in the local church that gathers on the Lord’s Day to worship Him and serve one another. May every former Mars Hill campus surge with life and the lost sheep of house of the new Israel be found.

Theology-Driven Leadership

“Christian leaders are called to convictional leadership, and that means leadership that is defined by beliefs that are transformed into corporate action. The central role of belief is what must define any truly Christian understanding of leadership. This means that leadership is always a theological enterprise in the sense that that our most important beliefs and convictions are about God. These beliefs determine everything else of importance about us. If our beliefs about God are not true, everything we know and everything we are will be warped and contorted by that false knowledge.”

–Al Mohler, The Conviction to Lead, p133

Thoughts on Family Worship

I get asked regularly about what we do for “family worship.” Among Christians who love the faith and their kids, family worship becomes a topic of interest. My initial response is always ambivalent, encouraged on the one hand that someone wants to have a family culture that includes the Bible and devotion in the home, and slightly concerned because the common issues that plague “family worship” are considerable. For those considering implementing some version of family worship, here are some remarks that I hope are helpful.

1. Family Worship Isn’t Required by the Bible This might seem impious, but it’s really only impietistic. We simply are not required to have a set, formal, liturgical time of worship as families. I’m glad some people do this and benefit from it, and as far as they do, I’m for it, but no one should feel it is something they ought to do. This is not the same thing as saying parents shouldn’t read the Bible, pray and talk about God with their children. Of course they should. And it’s helpful if this is regular, methodical, and often. But some of the healthiest Christian families I know never had “family worship” formally conducted. They would read and discuss the Bible at meal and other times for particular seasons, sing and pray before going to bed etc, but these things were not done primarily in one sitting, not in what we would typically call family worship. I know there are lazy parents, particularly fathers, who don’t make time to regularly read and teach the Bible to their kids, and I know my point here will be used by them to justify and continue their laziness. This is what gracious biblical standards always do, and in response legalists try to curb sin by adding rules. So no excuses for lazy people, and no excuse for pietists combating laziness with legalism. Continue reading

Rescuing Ambition

I’ve been reading and enjoying Dave Harvey’s Rescuing Ambition very much in large part due to the nuanced view of ambition it gives. One entire chapter is titled Ambition’s Contentment, describing the patience and wisdom that go along with godly ambition. Another chapter is dedicated to ambition for the church, and not just the church in general or the heavenly church where no one ever offends you, but the lowly local one where we’re called to belong.

The book is about ambition for everyone, and it really ought to be. Not everyone is called into leadership (or else who would follow?), but everyone is called to pursue excellence in everything. Everyone will have some opportunity for leadership in the informal sense since everyone talks to others, is called to friendship, and has opportunities however small for influence.

Harvey relates one story particularly helpful in a book about ambition. Bill Patton was a pastor involved in leadership training and church planting. When something came up in his family that made it clear he needed to step out of leadership, he actually did so, appointed faithful men to replace him, and get this, “publicly committed himself to be an active and enthusiastic member of the church he’d founded–to support this church through the transition and to serve them long into the future. He also dedicated himself to leading his family with gospel humility” (p. 195). In Bill’s own words:

The gospel answers my questions of identity. It tells me I am Go’s nonobservant, his child, a worshiper, and a functioning member of his church. My identity as a pastor was always a secondarily identity. I have not lost my main identity…. I responded to the call to ministry in order to glory God. Being a pastor was never, rightly, my chief end. I do not presently have opportunity to serve as a pastor, but I do have daily opportunities. to fulfill my main purpose in life. Asking the question, “How do I glorify god now?” wonderfully liberates me.

True ambition isn’t selfish ambition, what Thomas Watson called the mother of all schisms. The local church needs leaders and members who are committed to the mission of the gospel, one that goes beyond personal circumstances and hopes. Such commitments enable the biblical qualifications for leadership to be upheld and relieves the pressure that is felt when “indispensable” men become disqualified, the kind that Charles de Gaulle said fill our graveyards.  True ambition has courage and takes risks, but it is also selfless and humble.

Plank Out, Then Judge

One of the most common and trite quotations of the Bible is “Judge not, lest you be judged” (Matt. 7:1). Even people who can write “damnation” in the dust covering their Bible (HT: LG)  seem to have this verse memorized. It’s employed whenever someone wants to stop someone else from making an ethical judgment, and in doing so they make a judgment–“Don’t do that, I’m telling you it’s wrong.” So it’s contradictory, but still incorrect.

Jesus isn’t teaching us to refrain from ethical judgments. In Matthew 7 he says whatever standard of judgment you use for others, the same will be applied to you (7:2). He forbids hypocrisy. The solution to hypocritical judgment isn’t to remove judgment altogether anymore than the antidote for stealing is to stop convicting thieves. What’s needed is a just police force and unbribeable judges. In the plank-speck analogy, Jesus says to get the plank out your own eye so that you can help get the speck out of your brother’s eye (7:5). Repent yourself, then you will be qualified to help someone else.

We are in dire need of wise and true judgment, which means we are in dire need of repentance. Sound judgment and integrity necessarily follow true repentance. Just a few verses later Jesus talks about identifying (judging) wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matt. 7:15-20). Why do churches tolerate wolves masquerading as sheep? Why is the US Treasury run by someone who won’t pay his own taxes? It’s hard to see with eyes full of wood. But for those with integrity, de-planked and walking in the light, judgment is a must. It must be wise and charitable, governed by the golden rule (7:12), but then players are obvious: “You will know them by their fruits” (7:20).

Apostolic Unrespectability

From Douglas Wilson’s comments on Paul’s warning to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 4:11-14).

Paul is not feeling sorry for himself here. He is pointing out something that should have been glaringly obvious to people who had a moral obligation to have seen it already, and whose inability to see it was a great spiritual danger to them. The apostolic band that Paul was the center of labored under unbelievable opprobrium. Moreover, they were able to do this without their “beloved sons” even noticing it. Paul therefore warns them. Take heed. If you must have great learning, as Paul most certainly did, make sure to carry it in such a way as to make people think you are crazy (Acts 26:24). It is the only safe way.

wolf ready

Paul assures the elders in Ephesus that soon they will have to deal with wolves. “I know that after my departure, fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:29-30). The question was not if, but when. And building a wall around the church would be no help; the trouble would come from among them. Paul pulls no punches, and one can imagine the look on the Ephesians’ faces as he told them about this pending internal conflict, not unlike the reaction the disciples had in the upper room when Jesus said one of them would betray him. Every church needs an immune system for dealing with the sort of people who have a desire to make disciples in their own name, not Jesus’, and are willing to attack the vulnerable in the flock to do it. “Be alert”, Paul says (20:31). But what does this look like? Some leaders anticipate this by cultivating a climate of suspicion. “Which one of you will betray me?” Much preaching today is consistently delivered this way, causing genuine and peaceable Christians to experience undue doubt about their motives and even their salvation. Being alert doesn’t mean being suspicious or thinking evil of another. Any body that would withstanding sickness needs first to be healthy. The best way to spot a counterfeit is to know the genuine article. “And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (20:32). Every church will deal with division, coming from within, at some point, and being alert to this fact, the best preparation is an exuberant love for and knowledge of God and his gracious gospel. This is how you get ready for a wolf fight.

Good Soldiers

You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.  –2 Timothy 2:2

Paul’s version of apostolic succession has little to do with hats and traditions, and lots to do with training faithful men. Faithful is contextually defined by what Paul has been saying to Timothy. Three times in chapter one of 2 Timothy has he mentioned not being ashamed. Because the Father has bestowed his Spirit of power, love, and self-control, free of fear, Timothy is “not to be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord” (vv7-8), and is also to “share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God” (v8). Again, though he suffers, Paul is “not ashamed” because he knows God is guarding him and will vindicate his message. And one more time, Paul’s prays for Onesiphorus who “was not ashamed of my chains, but when he arrived in Rome he searched for me earnestly and found me” (vv16-17).

It is natural to associate suffering with shame and guilt, but Paul reverses this. He boasted in his infirmities and in all the sufferings he endured for the sake of the gospel, and he wanted to call men who would do the same to continue his ministry. Timothy would have to choose men who had such stalwart faith, who could teach others, and who were ready and willing to suffer as good soldiers. Soldiers of the gospel are willing to fight and refuse to be ashamed. These sorts of men are hard to come to come by, but when God has raised them up, they are to be entrusted to teach others and lead the church.

Elder Kids

The apostle Paul’s requirement for elders to have faithful children is routinely set aside in the church by means of fanciful exegesis. The overseer must “manage his household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” (1 Tim. 3:4-5). Submissive how? Sitting in the pew quietly and not getting anyone pregnant is not enough. “If anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to he charge of debauchery or insubordination” (Titus 1:6). Clearly, the submission is to Christ. Continue reading

Sticky Book

From Matt Chandler’s Foreword to Larry Osborne’s recent book Sticky Teams:

I’d been trained for ministry by a group of brilliant, godly men who taught me hermeneutics, Christan history, how to decline and parse Greek words, Hebrew, systematic theology, courses in Pauline literature, the Old Testament prophets, and preaching. I devoured every bit of it and learned quickly that I had a knack for theology and preaching. . . . Continue reading