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.

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.

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.

John Piper’s Bloodlines: Chapter 5

In chapter five, Piper lays out nine issues that are at the root of racial strife, and then makes the claim that the gospel is the only thing that will deal completely with these hinderances to racial reconciliation and harmony. The nine are 1) Satan, 2) guilt, 3) pride, 4) hopelessness, 5) feelings of inferiority and self-doubt, 6) greed, 7) hate, 8) fear, and 9) apathy. Personally, I think three and five are the same thing: just two sides of the same coin so to speak, but regardless, Piper is correct in that the only thing that will speak to the root of each of these problems and offer a solution is the gospel of Christ.

Where this chapter falls a little short is on specifics and fleshing out completely what it looks like, particularly in the section on guilt. For me, the two that jump off the page—maybe because I sense their realities in current situations—are hopelessness and apathy. It is true that “Hopelessness destroys moral conviction by making it look ludicrous. And therefore it destroys almost everything that is beautiful and precious.” And while Piper was just giving a summary of how the gospel deals with these situations—and I am sure that Piper is aware of the hard work necessary in getting the gospel into hopeless situations—I wish he would have spoken more clearly about practicalities. And maybe that is coming in a later chapter. Or maybe that is so distinctive to a particular culture that to speak to it would be just another “Look what worked here; it’s bound to work where you are too!” My gut is the second is true.

Which means we as the church must do the hard work of thinking and praying and being active in our communities and allowing these truths to enter in to our unique situations, but never forgetting these nine issues that we are dealing with, however they happen to manifest themselves in our place and time.

John Piper’s Bloodlines: Chapters 3 and 4

While Piper includes chapter 3 in part 1, it could just as easily fit into part 2. He outlines the shifting demographics of both the church and the world. This change necessarily means the church must get the issue of race firmly settled on the cross of Christ.

In chapter 4, Piper gives three reasons, and then expounds on those reasons, why he focuses on black-white issues when there are so many other racial tensions in the world. One, it’s his story. Two, the uniqueness of slavery in the U.S. makes black-white issues more profound (though, if we take this reason alone, he would be amiss to neglect the Indian issue on similar grounds, though certainly different). Three, the post-civil-rights era has made so few improvements and, in fact, appears to be digressing in race relations and opportunities afforded to blacks, especially black males.

He then spends the the majority of the rest of the chapter dealing with how blacks, particularly prominent blacks, have looked at the issue. He quotes, at length, Bill Cosby, Juan Williams, and Michael Dyson.

In the middle of this overview, he also talks about white guilt and how whites continue to hold blacks in slavery through the entertainment industry—though, I’m not sure that is the best analogy he—or Juan Williams—could use here. In talking about this issue of white sin versus black sin, Piper says, “Since majority people don’t think of themselves in terms of race, none of our dysfunctions is viewed as a racial dysfunction. When you are the majority ethnicity, nothing you do is ethnic. It’s just the way it’s done. When you are a minority, everything you do has color.” An interesting take on the stereotypical way we view the sins of others.

John Piper’s Bloodlines Part I

I had started John Piper’s Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian several months back but got derailed with other things. I am starting over and writing about it as I go.

Piper begins his book by defining some terms, which has to be done in today’s pluralistic, relativistic society. He would prefer to avoid the term race and spends an entire appendix on why it is a term that does not hold clear meaning. I would encourage anyone who starts this book to read this appendix first and not just the “A Note to the Reader on Race and Racism” section at the beginning. That was a little confusing to me without the larger context of the appendix, for Piper seemed to contradict himself—though, when I read the appendix, his meaning became clear—as he was distinguishing between race and ethnicity. The confusing line was “…ethnicity with a physical component and race with a cultural component.” Piper means with as alongside of, not with as containing.

Nevertheless, he continues to use race and racism in the book because “…they are too embedded in our language and in the thousands of books and articles and sermons and lectures and conversations that make up the world we must relate to.”

Finally, Piper’s definition of racism is taken from the PCA’s 2004 definition: “Racism is an explicit or implicit belief or practice that qualitatively distinguishes or values one race over other races.”

With that, I will go forward and continue reading and writing about Piper’s views on how we treat and should treat one another in this world.