Viral Churches: Chapter 4

This is an ongoing review of Stetzer’s and Bird’s Viral Churches.

There is not much new in chapter four: “New Players.” The pep talk continues that churches need to plant churches. The chapter spends a little time talking about the westward expansion in the early part of this country and how it led to a great church planting explosion. But the what was that the authors seem to long for is certainly in a much different context than todays United States.

And again, I can’t help but wonder about the gap in the pep talk about what the training looks like. They tout the vast number of lay folks who helped spread the movement. That is good, but I wonder how much the lack of training in the westward expansion led to the theologically shallow 2nd Great Awakening.

I greatly appreciate their desire to see people recognize that salvation does not mean sitting, but responding to the call of God on their lives for service: “Today’s attitude of church membership and mission is vastly different. A return to the salvation = call = obedience equation of the Christian life will have a dramatic impact on your church’s chances of seeing a multiplying movement occur.”

They end the chapter with a short profile of Dave Browning and Christ the King Church in the NW and Dave’s success in planting multiple churches through small group ministry. But again, in the rapid expansion of small groups to churches, how does one preserve theological continuity and purity of the faith?

Dangerous Calling: Chapter 2

This is an ongoing review of Paul David Tripp’s Dangerous Calling.

Chapter two picks up where chapter one left off in Tripp’s care for the pastor and Tripp’s desire that the pastor view things from a relationship with Christ. The problem this chapter deals with is how pastor’s get to the point where things fall completely apart.

Like most sin, it is not a sudden occurrence. Tripp lays out ten signs that a pastor is losing or has lost his way—the way of depending upon the grace of God.

First, the pastor has ignored the evidence that things aren’t right. We are all “very skilled self-swindlers.” The antidote is a daily admittance of the need for transforming grace. Instead pastors often seek to defend themselves, which leads to the second point: the pastor was blind to the issues in his heart. We believe that we know ourselves best.

The third sign is that ministry lacks devotion. I’m not sure why this is not first, but in my mind and experience, it is the crux of the issue. Tripp writes, “There is no set of exegetical, homilietical, or leadership skills that can compensate for the absence of this in the life of a pastor.” The solution: daily admission of need, daily meditation on grace, and daily feeding on the word. Closely related is number four: the pastor is not preaching the gospel to himself. That daily admission, confession, and feeding is not just for others, it is for us as pastors. Do we believe the grace we preach is true and necessary for us?

Fifth, the pastor does not listen to those closest to him. People do ask and people to comment. Are we listening and heeding or are we assuming they are wrong?

The sixth one is also closely related to the third: Ministry becomes burdensome. But if we are getting our identity from ministry instead of from God, then it will become a burden to big to carry because we are incapable of pulling it off.

All of this gives way to the seventh sign of living in silence. “When people are your substitute messiah…it’s hard to be honest with them about your sins, weaknesses, and failures.” The second aspect of this is fear. I don’t want to be known because I’ve built up a wall that I dare not let anyone see over.

Finally the last two come into play. The pastor begins to question his calling, and then he gives way to fantasies of another life. When discouragement sets in, we have one of two options: I was either not called or I am doing the wrong things in my ministry. Since we are often blind to our own sin, the first predominates. This leads us to begin to imagine life in another setting: ministry or otherwise.

What a list to think and pray through.

Viral Churches: Chapter 3

This is an ongoing review of Stetzer’s and Bird’s Viral Churches.

Early in chapter three, we read this: “[congregations] whose leadership spent the most time recruiting and training other leaders were the healthiest.” Chapter three then goes on to talk about multiplication through church planting, not just through disciplemaking. Much of the chapter is taken up by weaving through the conversation the story of Ralph Moore, a pastor who plants churches, which plant churches—lots of churches. And he does so through training leaders and then releasing those leaders to lead. I am assuming that in later chapters, the authors will talk more specifically about that training. But for now, they wanted to emphasize that leaders must be willing to let others lead and not fear that they aren’t 100% ready. The process is summed up well in this quote:

“With ‘disciples multiplying church,’ you are inviting the unknown. It is the place where the person in the pew, chair, or theater seat is given permission—or, better stated, given marching orders—to go and change the world by starting a new church.”

They then briefly talk about why churches don’t multiply and gave three reasons. 1) They haven’t thought about it. 2) They don’t know how. 3) They think it is too difficult. I wish he would have spent some more time here, but I realize that is not the subject of the book. Despite the humorous quote early on that, “Church planting is for wimps. Reform an established church,” that is not what this book is about.

They end the chapter talking about four things to pray for: 1) Bigger Faith. 2) Greater Focus on Jesus. 3) Fresh Boldness in Sharing God’s Word. 4) Overflowing and Expanding Love.

Finally the topic of kinds of churches came up and the need for multi-cultural churches which are able to meet the needs of a wide range of people. Yet they were quick to say that they are happy with niche church plants as well. This still troubles me as it paints an incomplete picture of the gospel.

Associations

Rebekah wanted Jacob to head to her brother’s land mainly to save his life. But her excuse (and ironically, a correct one) was that the women of the land would corrupt her son. We see this played out in Judges. The people of Israel intermarried with the people of the land and “they served their gods.” Some people use that idea today to speak ill of intermarriage between races, but that was not the issue at all. The issue was character. The cross of Christ and its effects in creating one new redeemed man should put the thoughts of race being a dividing line out of our head. The issue of intermarriage is not race. The issue is a relationship with God. We are called to not be unequally bound together with others because of sin’s power to influence and pull down.

A Mind Set on God

Jesus, the night he was betrayed, went off to pray. He encouraged his followers to do the same. They slept and eventually succumbed to temptation and fled when the mob arrived. Jesus remained faithful.

Isaiah reminds us of this truth. He says, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you because he trusts in you.” When our focus is on God, when we’ve wrestled with our thoughts and moved them to the father, we can find peace in the midst of storms (or mobs).

The nation of Israel did not do that. We read in the beginning of Judges that “there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord.” And the story of the judges is one sad episode after another of people unable to find peace in any form.

We can chose today to think about all kinds of things. But will we chose to set our minds on God, seeking his peace and his strength for the tasks ahead.

 

Dangerous Calling: Chapter 1

In the opening chapter Tripp lays out his own personal transformation from an angry, self-righteous pastor to one who seeks to rely upon God’s grace in his daily life. He begins by laying out three diagnostic symptoms for pastors to evaluate their own lives and ministry to see if they are spiritually blind.

First, pastors can allow their ministry to define their identity. The temptation exists to define ourselves as “pastor.” Our faith can become a professional calling instead of a relationship with God. This tends to lead to inserting oneself into a different category than others in our life and not understanding other’s situations. Pastors then can foster unrealistic expectations of others.

Second, pastors can allow their intellectual knowledge to define what spiritual maturity looks like. But maturity is how we live our lives, not what we can do with our intellect. However, sin is not first and foremost an intellectual problem. Tripp says sin is about breaking a relationship with God, which in turn leads to breaking rules. But “intellectual maturity” cannot solve a sin problem that is rooted in the heart—a heart which ignores God’s kingdom for trying to build one’s own kingdom.

Finally, pastors can easily confuse ministry success for an endorsement by God of our lifestyle. Yet God acts because of his zeal for his people. Success in ministry is always more about who God is than what we’ve done.

It is clear from the get go that Tripp is interested in our relationship with God. In various ways, he implies that everything else in our ministry will stem from this relationship.

Disease vs. Sin

Cardinal Wilfred Napier has made a rather interesting—though certainly not uncommon—claim. He says that paedophilia (in certain circumstances) is not a crime, but a disease that needs to be treated. Here is the full quote:

“Now don’t tell me that those people are criminally responsible like somebody who chooses to do something like that. I don’t think you can really take the position and say that person deserves to be punished. He was himself damaged.”

He is referring to people who were abused themselves as children. But a huge problem appears in his last sentence. Which human being is not damaged? We all are damaged, not only by our past, but even more so by our sin nature. We are corrupt at our core, and if “damage” frees us from criminal responsibility, then where do we stop?

Diseases and sin are not mutually exclusive. Whatever the reason, violating God’s will is a sin. Sin deserves to be punished. What role the government plays in that is an important issue, but when it comes to God, he does punish sin. Thankfully, all sin has been punished in the person of Jesus Christ. For those who believe that he died for our sins and rose again, turning to him as the only hope for cleansing, God exchanges our sins for his righteousness. This is good news, much better news than trying to figure out who has been damaged enough by their past to be free from criminal responsibility.