Dear Pastor-Me…Sincerely, Church Planter-Me

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I have been a church planter for going on 11 months.  That isn’t a lot of experience, especially in light of the 12 years I spent as full-time staff at established churches (6 years as senior pastor).  Nevertheless, I would like to give myself some advice.  That is to say that I want to give my old self advice.  Church Planter Me has a few things to say to Pastor Me.

You don’t have to own it

I am quickly learning that a church will not start or grow based on my ideas.  Instead, I have to constantly watch to see where the Lord is moving.  That is not always in my ideas and my planning.  Sometimes the Lord moves in different ways through other people and I have to be ready to involve myself in what he is doing.

Small groups are the core of our church planting effort.  My plan is to see several small groups form and them come together to launch a church.  I started the first small group in October and ever since I have been carefully planning where new ones can be.  Not a single one of my plans has come about.  In our community there is a neighborhood that is isolated from the rest of the community.  It is gated and it sits in a remote location such that one never happens to just drive to it or even near it unless they intend on going there in the first place.  I knew at once that we needed a small group there.  My plan was to get a family from our sponsoring church to host it.  They live there, it was the perfect plan.  The problem was that they were so busy with things at our sponsoring church that they did not have time to host a small group.  I saw no way that I could launch a group there and began to wonder if it was God’s will that I even think of doing so.

Then a new person in our group came and said “I want to have one of these in my house. What do I do?”  They live there.  They are 4 adults sharing a house (not uncommon here in paradise where housing costs keep skyrocketing).  It was not my plant, but it seems to be the direction that the Lord is moving.

When I was a pastor, I always tried to plan for the next way our church would accomplish its mission.  I was always careful to check my plans with others, but that was it.  I checked.  My plan was either a go or it was tossed out.  What I want to say to my old self is this, “You don’t need to own it.”  It never had to be my plan.  It is God’s plan all the time, and as pastor my job is just shepherding the people according to that plan as it unfolds.  That may even mean going with the plans God lays on their hearts rather than constantly pushing my own.

It is ok to admit your struggles

I am the master of the brave face.  It is important, maybe even crucial to put up a good front when speaking publicly about ministry.  I have always believed that if I am negative, everyone else would be as well.  As a pastor, I always made sure that I celebrated victories, championed ideas, and spoke of things in their ideal states.

As a church planter, I have learned that sometimes there are just not enough things to celebrate.  Do not get me wrong, there is plenty to celebrate but this is hard, hard work.  The spiritual warfare is intense.  The pressures on my family are enormous.  The realities of our progress do not look so good when I compare them to my expectations.  This is hard.

At first, I hid all of that.  I made sure to voice prayer requests, but I knew that things must be positive.  That is how you keep people excited and on board.  That is how you keep partners running along with you.

One day, I changed that.  I typed one little line in my monthly report/blog post that broke my rules about being positive.  I said, “sometimes I am discouraged.”  I thought about taking it out but decided it was one little line; it would go unnoticed.

It was noticed.  It was noticed a lot.  For the next few days, I got tons of calls, emails, and messages about that one little line and I learned something.  If people do not know when you are discouraged, they cannot encourage you.  Those emails, calls, and messages were full of encouragement.  I needed that and by trying to be positive all the time, I was denying myself that bit of grace that my brothers and sisters were ready to give me.

Pastors are pressured to be perfect.  As a pastor I saw every one of my weaknesses as a potential deal breaker for the church.  If they knew I struggled with this or if they knew I had my doubts about that, they might not want to follow me.  In retrospect, by hiding my weaknesses, I most likely hindered the strengths of others.  If I am going to proclaim grace, I better start living in it!

Be a student of culture

In 11 months I have learned one thing:  Hawaii is a foreign land.  Yes, we are the 50th state.  Yes, we have congressmen and senators.  We have interstates.  We use dollars.  All that aside, Hawaii is a foreign land.  How else can you account for our love of Spam?

In order to minister effectively here, I have had to become a careful student of culture.  I watch, I listen, and I try to embrace what I see.  I try new foods, I follow the unwritten rules of the supermarket, and I try to learn pidgin.  I do this so that I can go from being an outsider to being a local; so that I can go from being a stranger to being a friend.  It requires a lot of effort and it never stops.

The things is, this is not the first time I have lived in a foreign land.  I have served churches in Arkansas and in rural Missouri.  Both were very different than where I grew up.  For the most part, I probably surrounded myself with people most like me.  That was not very effective.

Pastor, become a serious student of culture.  Study it, learn it, practice it.  Do not be an outsider, but become a friend to those in your community.

It isn’t “us” and “them”

In ministry it becomes easy to see two kinds of people: church people and non-church people.  The world becomes a group of people who are either us or them.  As a pastor, it always seemed as though the debate was do I lead us to go to them or do I train us to go to them.  It was always us and them.

As a church planter, I have learned that everyone is on a spectrum in their relationship to Christ.  Some are far away.  Some are not so far away.  My goal is to walk with them as they move closer, where ever they may be.  I have found that this completely changes my perspective in a lot of ways.  It removes the annoying similarities that evangelism can have with high pressure sales.  It also removes the division between discipleship and evangelism.

Pastor, you will never find that balance in your work between us and them.  Instead, see each person as one loved by Christ along a path to Him.  Guide them a bit further.

I wish I could go back in time and tell my pastor self these things, but as it is, I’ll just move forward this way and prepare to learn a lot in the process.

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My Farewell to FBC Birch Tree

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Six years does not seem like a long time until you begin to think of all the things that can happen in that time.  I’ve spent some time thinking about that and several things come to mind that make it hard to say good-bye.

I think about my first Sunday here.  Wyatt Layman was just 15 years old.  My first Sunday he hit me up to see if I was going to pay him to mow the parsonage.  Now he sits here, a new husband.  He and Audrey have spent some time teaching our young people and I know they are off to a great start.

There have been several weddings in six years.  One that really stands out was Caleb and Lyndsey.  I had just had surgery and had not done anything until it was time for that wedding.  Still on pain killers and straining my voice, I was determined to preach it.  You see, there were 6 other preachers at that wedding and each one made a point to tell me that if I could not do it, they could.  I figured if there are 7 preachers at a wedding and I’m the one that gets to preach, I better do it!  Weddings like that are fun because we see the beginnings of a new family.  Now we see little Luke, and it is a joy because I know he’ll be raised in a Godly home.

We have also experienced some funerals.  There were a lot of them in six years.  They were each a mix of celebration and sadness.  We celebrated a life; often seeing the funeral as a great testimony to a life lived for Christ.  Still, we mourned over a loss and each one I preached, I watched you and your loved ones in your sadness, and my heart broke for you too.  Each one left and impact.

Still, over these six years, the one that will stand out the most is my dad’s.  I remember one night when I got word at midnight that he had been taken to the hospital.  It was a Saturday night and I had to let Tracy know at midnight that I would not be here on Sunday morning.  A few days later, Caleb had to go to the hospital.  I was in Springfield and couldn’t come back to go with Samantha and Caleb to the ER, so I called James at 3am and he went.  I’ll never forget that the deacons at this church are the kind you can call in the middle of the night.

Then at the funeral, I remember 3 pews full of you, all there to support my family and I.  The day before, I had determined to buy a new suit.  I did not own a good black suit and I decided I needed it for my father’s funeral.  Samantha agreed and we decided that we would buy it and figure out how to move things around later.  At the funeral, Van Kitchens, pulled me aside, explained that he knew that times like that bring about unexpected expenses.  He handed me some money, and wouldn’t you know it was the exact amount of the suit?  I will never forget how God uses the generosity of this church.

In these 6 years, there have been some great times too.  I like to think of all the baptisms in 6 years.  The first to stand out in my mind is that in this time I was able to baptize my own son.  His walk with Christ began here at First Baptist Birch Tree.  Recently I was going through some records and realized that one of my first baptisms here was Cody.  Who knew what God had in store there?

Many other baptisms stand out as well.  Particularly 3 men.  Eddie, Ethan, and David.  Each of those men are so much larger than I am that I had to get some help in the baptistry.  Our churches, communities, and our nation are in desperate need for men to stand for Christ.  It is good to know this is a church moving in the right direction.

In all honesty, when I think over the past 6 years I think about my many mistakes.  If I have ever hurt or neglected you, please understand that I am sorry.  I have often lost sleep going over how I would do things differently if I could and wishing I could go back and do some things again.  Yet, in the end, just like we all do, I have to realize that the cross was enough and I rest in that grace. Of course, it was in those times that I was often greatly encouraged.  Without fail, when I began to get discouraged I would get a phone call from Norma, a card from Willie and Jolie, or a dinner invite from Brian and Marta.

Throughout these 6 years there is one thing I hope to get across.  We tend to turn being a Christian into so many things, but it is not about those things.  It is not about being good.  It is not about setting the country right.  It is about one thing:  That Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose again to give us life.  That’s it.  We follow Jesus.  No more, no less.  No less because anything less than Jesus would not be enough.  No more, because what more could we want or need?  It is about Jesus.  If you have never given your life to Jesus, I hope you will consider to do so today.

And now our paths must separate.  We will certainly meet again someday, but before I go, I have one more thing to say to you as your pastor.

I want you to consider as a church what really gets you going; what gets your blood moving; what gets you excited about this church.  It isn’t necessarily classes, fellowship lunches, or special music, though those things are all good.  Over these past years, what really got you going was missions.

I remember when I first went to El Salvador.  I told you I was going so that the next time, we could go.  Many told me flat out that this church would not do mission trips.  But you did, and it was a joy to watch you go.  Remember how exciting it was.  That’s what I mean when I say it gets your blood moving.

I remember when Kacey signed up.  We didn’t know about that.  We wondered if she knew what she was getting into.  In fact, I had dramamine in my pocket, just in case we needed to knock her out on the plane.  But I will never forget how she stood up in front of those kids and taught.  The next year, I just put her in charge of the children’s ministry.  We had the chance to go to a school, and when we walked in, the kids were so excited because Kacey was there!  Kacey is going to see some amazing things when she follows God in the mission He sets before her.  And so will the rest of you.

Remember when the Texas group came?  You were pumped and excited and it was amazing to see how God moved.  That was a tough week.  There was a lot of hard work, but nobody cared about that.

The reason missions gets you going is because it is God’s heart.  When you set your mind to get involved in what God is doing, things are different.  Things get exciting then.

Matthew 28:18-20 says:  18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.

It says Go.  The apostle Paul compared the Christian walk to running a race.  A race starts with the word “go.”  So, now is the time.  Go.  I’ll see you at the finish line.

 

Faith in the Storm

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One of the scariest movies of all time is Jaws. When making the movie, they did not expect that. Yet, unknown to the filmmakers, they were tapping in to one of our innate fears. The idea of being in a great big ocean with an unknown predator that could attack at any moment played on our very real fear of the unknown. To make matters worse, the filmmakers accidentally emphasized this fear when the mechanical shark failed and they filmed most of the shark attack scenes with no shark. The audience was left with not being able to see what it was it feared the most.

In a crucial scene this fear is discussed. There is a scene where Sheriff Brody, Hooper the oceanographer, and Quint the grizzly old shark hunter are on Quint’s boat. They are drinking and singing and it is funny, then Quint tells a scary story from his past. He says that he was on the U.S.S. Indianapolis, a real-life ship that was sunk in World War II and saw many of its sailors eaten alive by sharks. In the movie, Quint talks about that fear as they floated in the water, not knowing who would be next. He ends the dialogue by saying that he will never again wear a life jacket. In other words, he would rather die than to face that unknown fear ever again.

Thankfully, we don’t deal with shark attacks. But we do all face circumstances that are beyond our control. They threaten everything we hold dear: our life, our jobs, our health, our loved ones; they cause a lot of fear in our lives.

Now it happened, on a certain day, that He got into a boat with His disciples. And He said to them, “Let us cross over to the other side of the lake.” And they launched out. 23 But as they sailed He fell asleep. And a windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water, and were in jeopardy. And they came to Him and awoke Him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing! (Luke 8:22-24a NKJV)

Jesus and His disciples are going to cross the sea of Galilee in a small boat. This is not generally the plan in Galilee. Boats are great for going out and fishing, but you want to stay close enough to the shore to get out quickly. The sea of Galilee is about 600 feet below sea level and around are hills and mountains. In the hills and mountains, cool dry air begins coming down. On the sea, warm, moist air rises up, creating the chance for some very sudden severe storms. For this reason, a fisherman would keep his boat close enough to be able to get to shore in time should a storm arise.

However, Jesus says to go across, so they do. The fisherman in the group had to be wondering if this is such a good idea. These boats were not large, and crossing could become dangerous in a storm.

As it turns out, that is exactly what happened. They get out in the middle and suddenly they are facing a storm. The waves are getting big, the wind makes it impossible to control the ship, and they are filling with water fast. All while Jesus sleeps, so they wake him up and point out the obvious: We are all going to die!

Then He arose and rebuked the wind and the raging of the water. And they ceased, and there was a calm. 25 But He said to them, “Where is your faith?” (Luke 8:24b-25a NKJV)

Now something completely unexpected happens. Jesus gets up, tells the storm to stop, and it stops! Then He simply asks, “where is your faith.” A simple question with some profound implications. (We’ll get back to that)

And they were afraid, and marveled, saying to one another, “Who can this be? For He commands even the winds and water, and they obey Him!” (Luke 8:25b NKJV)

Now they are afraid again; not because they were scolded, but because Jesus can apparently control the wind and the water.

Twice in this short passage, the disciples were afraid. Once they were afraid because they thought they would die in the storm. Then they were afraid because Jesus could make the storm go away. Put yourself in their shoes. It would be easy to be afraid.

There you are, taking a trip that you know is not safe. That’s enough to make you a little nervous. Now, a storm comes up, and everything you know says that you are going to die. You would be afraid. That is perfectly normal. In fact, that fear reaction is what preserves your life by keeping from from these kind of situations.

Yet, when it is all said and done, Jesus asks “where is your faith” as though if you had faith you wouldn’t have jumped to this conclusions. That strikes us as little harsh; a little unfair. That is because we misunderstand what faith is. We hear “faith” and think believe enough. We think what we’re supposed to do use our imaginations, shut out reality and just say “good will happen” and then we won’t be afraid. And we try that all the time, and it never works!

That is not faith.

Contrasted with the disciples being in jeopardy is the fact that Jesus is sleeping through this. When I read that, at first I remember Jonah who also slept in a storm, but there is a big difference. The difference is that Jonah had decided it was better to die than to obey and was more than ready to die for running away. Jesus is not sleeping because He doesn’t care if they live for die. Jesus is sleeping because He knows He won’t die.

Perhaps if the disciples had the same faith, they would not have been afraid either. Be careful here. There is a temptation to think we just need to believe that we will prevail. That storm can’t get me. That is foolish because that is placing faith in ourselves. I want to assure you, if you are in a storm at sea in a small boat, death is a very real possibility. The disciples were not in control of the sea and no amount of thinking they were could make it so.

Real faith is knowing Jesus. What the disciples did not realize is that sitting in that boat was the creator of that very wind and water. He had authority over that storm. Faith is not believing the storm can’t get you. Faith is believing that the storm can’t get Jesus! But that is also scary, because it means we will be face to face with the One who is over everything. What might He expect? What might He require? What might He see in me? This is no faith for cowards.

You may not be facing a storm in a small boat (though, that just might depend on whom you fish with), but it is certain that you will face a storm in life. If you are not now, you will. You will face situations that are completely out of your control that threaten everything important to you. Fear, worry, stress, anger. These things are natural when you face something out of control. You will be tempted to try to pacify these problems with a false hope in yourself. You will tell yourself all day long that nothing bad can happen, but it just might, and you will be left with Jesus saying “where is your faith?”

That’s the question: Where is your faith? This is not scolding you for not believing. This is a reminder that your faith is misplaced. Where is your faith?

Jesus is the only one who is in control. We are not. He is. He can handle all the storms in your life. Put your faith in Him.

That is not easy. The storms are scary enough, but the idea that I am not in control? That is terrifying. And the idea that I must turn to the One being in the universe that is in control of everything? I can hardly imagine what that will really mean to me.

Yet, once you stop putting your faith in circumstance you can’t control, and in yourself who can’t control circumstance, and put it in Christ who controls everything; then there is nothing to fear.

Our Big Announcement

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God often calls us where we least expect to go. To be sure, I never expected to say what I am about to say. Two years ago, Samantha and I begin to sense that God was calling us to the field of church planting; beginning new churches. We prayed about it and sought out some advice from various folks. At the time, the doors just didn’t open and we knew it was best to simply wait. We continued in our ministry in Birch Tree until very recently when we begin to hear that call once again. This time as we began to seek advice, various doors began to open in this direction. It became apparent that God was indeed calling us to church planting and that it was time to move in that direction.

At that, we begin to pray and ask God where He was calling us to plant. The answer came to Samantha and I independently. It was not what we expected. Granted, it was a place that God had placed on our hearts years ago, but the idea was just too far, too “out there,” too crazy. So we shared this idea with a few people, waiting for someone to say, “that’s just nuts!” Instead, one person after another confirmed it. There was one week where I prayed daily, “God if this is really your will, show me something today that confirms it.” And He did.

We did our research. This place is truly a frontier mission field. It is one of the most international locations in our country. It is truly a global mission field in one small part of the U.S. It is also one of the least evangelized. Evangelical churches reach approximately 3% of this growing metro area. The idea is exciting, if not completely overwhelming at the same time.

So, after much prayer, we have decided to plant a church in Hawaii. (I told you it sounded crazy!)

I know that leaves people with a lot of questions. There are a lot of things unknown right now as we are nailing down all the specifics and remaining flexible to do as the Lord commands. We are currently discussing the possibility of partnering with Second Baptist Church in Springfield, MO. Second Baptist is on the forefront of missions and we are really excited to work with them.

As for First Baptist Birch Tree, I will continue to pastor this church until the time comes to relocate (most likely next summer). We love the people of Birch Tree and First Baptist. We hope to take this journey together with First Baptist being one of our partners.

We pray this for you as well. We need people to partner with us in many ways. We will need people to provide financial support and we will have plenty of opportunities for people to come for short-term mission trips on Oahu. In the meantime, what we need most of all is prayer. If you would be willing to pray for us during this time, please contact us and let us know.

Health Update

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Facebook and twitter are great, but news is only conveyed in bits and pieces. Over the past few weeks, people have noticed a few of my posts mentioning things like “ER,” “Stress Test,” “Hospital,” etc and have wondered what in the world is going on. So here’s the run down:

For the past three weeks, I have been having chest pains almost daily. I tried to ignore them (you aren’t supposed to do that), but after three days of chest pains, I decided to see the doctor. I called for an appointment but was told the ER is the place to be. At the ER, they confirmed that I was not having a heart attack and told me to make an appointment with my doctor. My doctor scheduled a stress test and told me to take it easy and take some aspirin everyday. That was a week or so ago.

On Thursday, I went to the Elephant Room conference. I enjoyed it, but really didn’t feel well. I attributed that to the fact that I had to get up at 4am and drive three hours to get there. However, on Friday, I wasn’t feeling much better. I was tired and I felt like I was breathing with a ton of bricks on my chest. I opted to work at home, finishing some sermon writing. Unfortunately, that didn’t get any better. I was breathing shallow and feeling dizzy. In the afternoon, a family needed some financial assistance and I agreed to meet them at the church. As I returned from that meeting, I was completely out of breath. After walking the steps to my house, I was on the verge of passing out. I fell on the couch and told my wife “I just need to rest.” My wife knows that I am the most stubborn person when it comes to getting medical help for myself. She told me I had two choices: doctor or ER. Then, she called the doctor. They agreed to see me right away and we headed there.

The doctor examined me for about an hour. My EKG, blood pressure, etc. were all good, but I kept feeling pressure on my chest. It took a lot of effort to breath. He admitted me to the hospital for observation.

I spent Friday night in the hospital, being poked and prodded. Basically, they were making sure that I was not on the verge of anything life threatening. All the tests came out fine, and the rest seemed to do some good. On Saturday, I was released with orders to rest for a few days; including taking Sunday off.

Today, I had a nuclear stress test. I was able to complete the test without any problem, though it didn’t exactly feel good to get my heart rate and blood pressure up so high. I’m now waiting to hear from the doctor. So far, every test has come back good, so all signs point to this being a reaction to stress and acid reflux. If that’s the end result, I’ve got a challenge ahead of me of learning to relax and handle the everyday stress of pastoral ministry.

So now I am quite thankful. I am thankful that I was not experiencing a life threatening illness. I’m thankful for some friends from church who brought me pajamas at the hospital. They knew that nobody likes hospital gowns. What they didn’t know is that I am most comfortable in a nice pair of pajamas. Their gift was more blessing than they know. I’m thankful for two great pastor friends of mine. One of whom came and visited with me in the hospital and another who sat with me this morning before my stress test. I’m thankful for my friends from all over that read this on facebook and offered their prayers. I’m thankful for all the concerned calls my wife and I have received. I’m thankful for two good friends who visited me in the hospital and later had my wife and I over for dinner. They offered fellowship, free medical advice, and prayer, and I am very grateful. I’m thankful for family who have been concerned and helpful. I’m thankful for my wife who pushes me into the right decisions when I’m less than willing. I’m thankful for Christ, who still seems to have some use for me.

So, most likely the road ahead is going to be learning to do things a little differently. It is amazing what stress can do. I’ve got some things to learn.

A Day in the Elephant Room

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It might seem like a strange idea. Gather seven influential pastors in one room and set up debates so they can slug out their differences. People will pay to see it. In fact, they will pay to watch it on a simulcast. They will even drive in the wee hours of the morning to get to the simulcast. Well, at least I did.

The Elephant Room consisted of James MacDonald, Greg Laurie, Mark Driscoll, Matt Chandler, David Platt, Perry Noble, and Steven Furtick. Conversations were arranged that would include two of them and a moderator (MacDonald or Driscoll), with the other four voicing their opinions with thumbs up/down lights and just plain interjecting. The conversations were light sometimes, but very heated at others. There was plenty of jesting, but some very hard words between these pastors as well. All in all, it was a great look at some difficult subject with an eye toward understanding. Here’s a review:

Conversation #1: The Weekend Service: evangelism vs sanctification. Steven Furtick and Matt Chandler.

Furtick began by stating that Jesus’ mission was to seek and save the lost; that the physician comes for the sick and not the healthy. Chandler replied that an infant breastfeeding is cute. A 19 year old breastfeeding is disturbing. He pointed out that the Ephesian church grew big but Paul instructed Timothy to guard doctrine.

Both agreed that the caricature of the debate is “You don’t care about Content/You puff people up with knowledge”

Chandler took issue with Furtick rebuking his congregation for wanting to grow deeper when their were lost people to reach. Furtick explained that by “deeper” he meant people coming to fulfill a selfish desire to know more or be more spiritual. Driscoll interjected that Furtick’s church is very young and is still “All wedding and no funerals.” Naturally, everyone agreed that evangelism is important. “If a church will not evangelize, it will fossilize” was Greg Laurie’s comment. Furtick and Noble (both known for pastoring more seeker-oriented churches) both argued that evangelism is not contrary to preaching the word. Platt offered some great wisdom when he said that it is much more effective to send Christians out than to expect to draw thousands of unbelievers to hear him preach.

In the end, both “sides” realized that they were caricaturizing the other and offered the better definition of “preaching to Christians with a mind to the lost” (Chandler) vs preaching the word in order to win the lost.

Conversation #2: Culture in the church vs Church in the culture. Perry Noble and Mark Driscoll.

This conversation was not initially very polarizing, as both pastors are known for embracing culture beyond what a normal church might. Noble argued, “the church is answering questions that nobody is asking.” He pointed to scriptural examples of Paul using the idol of the unknown god and God using astrology to speak to the wise men as examples of using culture to speak truth.

Driscoll said that the question of culture in the church comes down to where do you contextualize and where do you contend? He said that culture fits into three categories: what should be rejected, what should be received, and what should be redeemed.

However, the conversation did get a bit heated when it was mentioned that Noble’s church played the AC/DC song, “Highway to Hell” as an opening to their Easter service. MacDonald pulled no punches in giving his opinion that it was way over the line and said that Noble had sinned in doing so. MacDonald said he had no question as to Noble’s Godly motives, but that the action was wrong. All but Furtick said that they would not have made that choice (with Platt saying “absolutely not”). Dricoll, however made one point in defense of Noble:

“We hammer guys who go too far. Why not hammer the guys who don’t go far enough? John Coward would never have “highway to hell” played in his church, but he’s got a highway to hell in his church.”

Noble continued to defend the service by stating that it works. “Were those salvations real? If you get to heaven, I guess you can ask them.” Chandler replied, “I know someone who came to Christ when his mother was run over by a car, but I don’t want to start that ministry.”

Though this conversation will most likely be remembered for “Highway to Hell” the real gold was Driscoll explaining how to properly evaluate culture. The categories of reject, receive, and redeem provide much room for though, beyond the normal response of “the lowest IQ on the internet simply saying, “it’s worldly!”

Conversation #3: Do Compassion Ministries help or hinder the Gospel? David Platt and Greg Laurie

There was not a lot of disagreement in this conversation. All agreed that compassion ministries are important and all agreed that churches must be careful that they never hinder telling the Gospel. Laurie warned of churches calling compassion ministries “evangelism” when they never share the Gospel. Noble mentioned that compassion ministries often turn in to social justice ministries “which save people from hell on earth but damns them to hell for eternity.”

The most controversial statement was MacDonald who said that compassion ministries were for the body of Christ and evangelism was for those outside the body of Christ. This statement did not get near enough attention. One of the irritating things about the day was that MacDonald could make statements like this and not get a lot of heat for them. His house, his rules. He was also good at misrepresenting some of the others’ ideas for the sake of argument, but I’ll address that in a later conversation.

Platt said it best when he said that he does compassion ministries globally “simply because of the overflow of Christ in us.”

Conversation #4: Can’t we all just get along vs My way or the highway. Steven Furtick and James MacDonald.

“You listen to Joel Olsteen and John Piper? That’s like saying ‘I’m a meat-eating vegetarian!’” (Driscoll)

Furtick recently posted a blog in which he named off the preachers he enjoyed listening to. Some were those common to people in the Elephant Room and others (such as T.D. Jakes, Joyce Meyers, and Joel Olsteen) were of questionable doctrine. Furtick defended himself by stating that he was a “big boy” and could eat the fish and leave the bones. MacDonald’s frank reply was “I wish you would grow up.” The problem for most seem to be that Furtick may be able to discern, but his followers may not. This lead to quite a discussion regarding how pastors should handle false doctrines and teachers of false doctrines that seem to be so popular today.

Furtick emphatically called for pastors to be known for what they are for rather than what they are against. Driscoll warned that both wolves and shepherds love sheep. “It’s a shepherd’s job to shoot the wolf for the love of the sheep.”

“Everyone claps at ‘shoot the wolf’ until someone says you’re a wolf “ (Furtick)

Perry Noble offered the most practical advice when he said that calling a wolf should be done by the elders of the church and based on doctrine.

How do they all distinguish the wolves? The metaphor was brought up that some issues are national borders while others are state borders. They were all in agreement: Inerrancy of scripture, Christ is the only way of salvation, man is sinful, and more are national borders while speaking in tongues, modes of church leadership, etc are state borders. What about hell (with someone saying “love wins)? All agreed, that topic is a national border.

Conversation #5: Multi-Site: Personality Cult or God’s Greater Glory? Matt Chandler and Perry Noble.

This conversation was a bit one sided. 6 of the 7 pastors have mult-site churches. (Multi-site churches are churches that have several locations but still have one primary teaching pastor). I appreciated hearing Matt Chandlers reservations and ultimately his reasons for going to the mult-site format, and I gained some new insight as to why this might be a good idea. Driscoll mentioned that satellite locations are more successful than church plants. Furtick mentioned that satellite locations tend to teach the congregation be less consumerist.

Still, what came across the most was ego. It just seemed to me that many of these pastors think they are irreplaceable. MacDonald even said, “why do I need to give the most fruitful years of my ministry for someone else?” As a pastor of a small church (the average church in America, by the way) I could only think that some of these guys are out of touch with how most churches function. Of course, what do I know about a mega-church? All in all, it was interesting to hear their thought processes.

Conversation #6: Prosperity Gospel or Poverty Gospel? James MacDonald and David Platt.

If people are not remembering the Elephant Room for “Highway to Hell” then they are talking about goldfish crackers: the subject of a heated debate in conversation number six.

David Platt began by giving many of the arguments of his best-selling book, Radical. “Any approach to money must be a look at the world through the lens of the word.” “Money is not inherently evil but it is very dangerous in the hands of sinful man”

MacDonald was very aggressive from the outset, but he was arguing against the idea that poverty is inherently spiritual; a stance David Platt was not taking. This misrepresentation or misunderstanding of Platt framed the entire argument. Platt even said:

“I don’t tell my people not to make money. I tell them to make a lot of money. Use your God-given gifts, but your standard of living doesn’t have to increase. Your standard of giving does.”

MacDonald continued to argue against the idea that poverty is spiritual. He claimed that people are jumping on a poverty bandwagon, and that pulpit committees are using Radical to beat down pastors and force them into poverty. (I pastor in one of the most impoverished counties in the country. I have encouraged my congregation to read Radical. I have not been beaten down about it.)

The conversation hit its lowest point when MacDonald mentioned that he heard that the kids at Platt’s church were not allowed to have Cheez-its so that more money could go toward missions. Platt said that was “close” and began to explain how every department in the church had given certain things up in order to advance the Gospel overseas. The pre-school kids chose to forgo their Goldfish Crackers. I say began to explain because at that point, Driscoll and MacDonald would hardly let Platt speak. I respect all three pastors, but I have to admit, Platt’s humility was the example to follow.

Conversation #7: Love the Gospel vs Share the Gospel. Mark Driscoll and Greg Laurie.

The final conversation centered on the competing priorities of evangelism and doctrine. There was essentially no disagreement here. Everyone agreed that doctrine is important as is reaching the lost. Laurie challenged pastors to be personally involved in evangelism. Driscoll compared those who focus too much on doctrine this way:

We’re gun collectors not soldiers. We have this nice, beautiful antique gun collection that we’re proud of. We spend lots of time and effort keeping it clean and showing it off. Shoot something!

Conclusion

The Elephant Room ended with a quick Q and A that basically answered questions pertaining to famous pastors (eg. How do you deal with celebrity?)

All in all, it was a great event. I really enjoyed hearing theses pastors discuss so many different issues in an atmosphere that allowed for their genuine personalities. In most of the conversations, I had my mind made up going in and probably did not change it, yet I left with more understanding and a few challenges. If anyone were listening to me (they are not) I would suggest the following for the future:

*Widen the scope and include some more differences in the selection of pastors. I’m not saying bring in the wolves, but it would be interesting to hear a wider range of opinions.

*Widen the scope of topics. If its supposed to be a debate, don’t include topics where everyone will agree.

*Have a neutral moderator. There were times for moderation and MacDonald wasn’t the man for the job (nor was Driscoll good at moderating MacDonald).

*Include some unknowns. Fight the celebrity pastor culture by bringing in some unknown, “smaller” pastors. Surely in that vast array of church planting networks and campus pastors, there are some guys with a lot to offer.

In the meantime, pastors, don’t just watch other pastors debate in a healthy manner. Surround yourself with other pastors and let iron sharpen iron.

When we don’t feel like worship

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This week, I’m studying Nehemiah 12 in preparing my Sunday sermon. It will be a follow up to last week’s and the subject will be worship. In Nehemiah 12, the dedication of the wall was such that everyone could hear the joy in Jerusalem. The obvious problem to address is that this really doesn’t describe the worship at my church. I’ll go out on a limb and say it doesn’t describe the worship in most churches. It seems that worship is either a drudgery; a spiritual chore that must be suffered or a fake, manic performance that exists only in the confines of the service.

The problem goes deeper than that. Lately, I’m not sure my joy can be heard. I just don’t always feel like worship. Maybe its a cold winter. Maybe its the day to day frustrations of pastoral ministry. Maybe its that God has been allowing my “personal space” to be invaded more and more. I’m not sure what it is, but I don’t really feel that joyful this week.

As I was struggling with the idea of worshiping joyfully even when I don’t feel like worship, I came across this great blog post from Dr. Russell Moore. Of particular interest to me was this statement:

By not speaking, where the Bible speaks, to the full range of human emotion—including loneliness, guilt, desolation, anger, fear, desperation—we only leave our people there, wondering why they just can’t be “Christian” enough to smile through it all.

This is exactly right. I’ve been preaching through Psalms on Sunday evening, and have been struck many times by the fact that many of those worship hymns were often voiced from times of fear and despair. However, in most of our churches, our worship hymns are all positive proclamations, and more and more, they are positive proclamations about how we feel, even though they many not be accurate.

Naturally, if our worship amounts to a dishonest claim of feeling joyful and happy; being the victor of all of life’s battles then we will feel a tension between what is and what ought to be. The Gospel addresses this tension, but since we leave out statements of confession, sorrow, mourning, doubt, etc, we are far from looking for this answer. Instead, we address the tension by recreating worship to meet our emotional needs. We want our favorite songs to make us feel good. We want uplifting messages, and we want attention. We assume that all of this will make us feel the way our songs have told us we ought to feel.

Thus, there is no worship at all. Well, that is not exactly true. There is plenty of self-worship, but that would be the exact opposite of what we are called to as Christians.

Most of the time, when we don’t feel like worship, we feel like we have to fake it. In doing so, we fake it more than we know. Instead, we must be honest in our worship. Not a self-pity type of honesty, but an honesty that finds its answers in the cross. When we confess our doubts and our failures and we surrender our hurts and sorrows, we find grace. At that moment, we can worship in true joy, as opposed to pretend happiness.

So you don’t feel like worship? Go to the cross. I think you will find your heart more joyful than ever when you get there.

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