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?

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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.

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.

Viral Churches: Chapter 2

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

First, I mainly agree with the idea that planting churches—which in turn desire to plant churches—is biblical, effective, and necessary. I also agree that multiplication, not addition, is the answer to changing the communities, regions, and the world in which we live. Finally, I agree that new churches are more effective than existing churches in evangelism. However, there are some things that trouble me about this chapter.

First, I would like to have the idea of planting “among ethnic groups” fleshed out. Surely the idea is not to have only homogenous churches? I know they are easier to get going, but they are not a picture to the culture of what God can and wants to do—reconcile all people not only to himself, but to one another.

Second, there is a palpable tension as I read that this is a personality-driven movement. I am hoping to be dissuaded that this is true.

Third, they claim that Paul’s strategy was “to plant new churches that in turn planted new churches.” But surely that is implied from the NT, not spelled out. Again, I am in agreement that this is a proper way to think about the DNA that a church plant should be instilled with, but is that more methodological than explicitly biblical?

Fourth, I would love to read or hear stories of how existing churches retooled. From reading this first real chapter, one almost gets the impression that older churches should close up shop and allow the newer churches to take over. This is not stated, but one could certainly draw that conclusion. But surely churches have “restarted” or woken up to the reality of what they need to be, changed course, and engaged their community. How does that happen? What energy and teaching needs to be put in place to avoid mission drift? And how can a church change its DNA to be a multiplication church? I realize that this is not what the book is about, but maybe a footnote to direct someone toward someone who has written on that subject. 

Finally, their use of the word apostle to describe a church planter irks me. I know this is not uncommon language in church planting circles, but in my own, limited experience, it mostly seems to mean maverick. If an apostle is simply the “role of initiator who plants churches that in turn plant more churches” then that’s fine, but pick a different word than one that Scripture relegates for certain people, who are not simply church planters. Someone who leaves a church to plant another church, despite much counsel against and then plays the God card to justify his actions (This is an apostolic endeavor, God sent me), is not an apostle.

Despite those negatives, I am looking forward to the rest of this book a great deal, getting down to the nitty gritty of making the theoretical a reality.

Viral Churches: Intro

2015 is upon us. I will start the year (a little early actually) by blogging through two books simultaneously: Ed Stetzer’s and Warren Bird’s Viral Churches, and Paul David Tripp’s Dangerous Calling. I have chosen to read these two books together as a sort of balance to what I am assuming I will hear. I admit I come into the books with some prejudicial thoughts about both.

I assume Viral Churches will deal with church planting and it will be very outward focused. In terms of a church planter (pastor who plants churches?), the focus, I assume will be on reaching the community, evangelism, and training future leaders who will also plant churches. I assume Dangerous Calling will deal with shepherding a flock and will be inward focused in two areas: the pastor’s own life and relationship with God and the pastor’s relationship with the flock God has entrusted to his care.

I don’t see these two roles of pastor as mutually exclusive, but I am assuming the two books will look at one side versus the other. So I want to read them both at the same time for the sake of balance. I may find out that I am completely wrong, but just in case…

Henry V…Love and Neglect

“Take up the English short, and let them know
Of what a monarchy you are the head.
Self-love, my liege, is not so vile a sin
As self-neglecting.”

Henry V II.iv.72–75

Whenever I hear the phrase, my liege, I can’t help but think of Wormtongue from The Two Towers. But that’s another subject.In at least one way, I’m not sure the Dolphin is much different—hoping to turn the king to the Dolphin’s way of doing things.

But his words here are worth pondering. What is the difference between thinking highly of oneself versus thinking soberly of one’s limitations? The king of France is right to ponder the past as he thinks about the future and what war with England would mean. But the prince is not interested in thinking. He knows what Henry is like—at least he thinks he does—and he wants the king to act like a king, stand up to this worthless English monarch and fight.

The real danger in the Dolphin’s words are that his idea of self-neglecting and the king’s actual mood are two different things. The Dolphin sees nothing to worry about; he can’t imagine anything going wrong. The king is weighing the severity of the situation. In this case, the greater sin, indeed, is “self-love” for it fails to consider what could be lost. It fails to consider the men who will die in such a war. The Dolphin is heedless of these things. He is only interested in exalting self. In fact, in failing to consider others and the situation, he has already exalted self. And pride is the greatest sin, the first sin.

The Dolphin is the serpent to France’s Adam.

Henry V and Miracles vs. Means

“…for miracles are ceased;
And therefore we must needs admit the means
How things are perfected.”

Henry V I.ii.67–69

If miracles have indeed ceased, then our means matter. If miracles are ceased, then discovering the means of success and the means to society’s moral standards must occupy our thoughts and time, for we must reproduce them (or force them)—if miracles have ceased.

For if miracles have ceased, can our goal still be heaven? If miracles have ceased and if we still long for a better place, we must admit two courses: 1) Either we deny our depravity is beyond cure and seek the means to improve the inner and outer man to attain to our understanding of heaven’s rules, and thus to heaven, or 2) we deny heaven is attainable at all and seek to improve what is plain before us to build heaven here on earth for ourselves or those that will follow. That is, we are tasked with ushering in the kingdom of God (or culture’s perfect man) on this earth only.

If miracles have ceased.

And they have for all practical purposes. Society does not believe in intervention beyond our technology and science and liberated thought. So technology and science and liberated thought need to save the day. They are the means. But what are the ends to which they lead?