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.

Why #2?

I actually turned around and came back for this picture:







I suppose there are two reasons for the #2: Someone got mad at the some bodies at #1 or the some bodies at #1 wanted to expand their reach. Either way, the sign struck me as oddly humorous.

Andy Stanley and What Has NOT Been Talked About

Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary recently wrote an article on his blog about megachurches. In the article, he referenced an April 15 sermon (click on message 5: When Gracie Met Truthy) by Andy Stanley of North Point Community Church in Atlanta where Stanley seems to normalize homosexual behavior. After reading the article and listening to the sermon and then reading several other articles, what amazes me is what people weren’t upset about. Of course, many in the evangelical world would be upset about his apparent normalization and acceptance of homosexual behavior, but no one seemed to notice three bigger, underlying issues.

First, Stanley says that Jesus’ love was messy, inconsistent, unfair, and confusing. Granted, he sort of implied that these were from our perspective—but not really. Because he went on to say that when our love seems messy, inconsistent, unfair, and confusing, we must be doing it right. I would disagree. First, while things may have appeared messy, inconsistent, unfair, and confusing from the disciples’ or our point of view, they certainly were not from Jesus’ point of view. And we need to keep that in mind. Stanley says that when we try to figure it out, we are in danger of losing something. Again, I would disagree. We need to understand why Jesus was not inconsistent or unfair (from our point of view) so that we can accurately display God’s love as well. To imply that Jesus was inconsistent and unfair shows a lack of understanding about Jesus’ deity. He was not just a man who changed the rules. Certainly he related to different people in different ways, but he was perfectly consistent in his love, grace, truth, justice, and holiness.

Second, Stanley redefined two key theological terms: grace and truth. In giving a long list of things that grace means, he said, “Grace says, ‘You’re fine.'” But Grace does not say, “You’re fine.” In fact, grace is the loud and clear declaration that we are not fine. Grace is getting something we don’t deserve. If we are fine, we don’t need grace, and therefore, we don’t need God. This is a horrible representation of what grace is. He also said, in a long string of what truth means, that truth says, “You’ve got to work it out.” Truth does not say that in the Bible. Truth says, “You can’t work it out, but God can.” Stanley even pitted grace and truth against each other like two parents raising a child. While he didn’t use this analogy, I came across with the perception of good cop/bad cop sort of deal. But again, this is not correct. God is both grace and truth. They do not battle each other, and certainly grace is not untruth, as Stanley implied. Granted, Stanley did say, on more than one occasion, that Jesus was complete grace and complete truth, and he even had a nice visual to demonstrate this. But the previous long explanation about the differences between the two stayed in my mind as well, and they were what actually stuck with me more than the visual.

Finally, the issue of shepherd and sheep comes into play in the sermon. In the long story he told as his final illustration of the importance of grace and truth, a man and his male partner were allowed to be involved in some ministry team even though one of the men was still married. It took a conversation with the ex-wife of the other man with Andy Stanley and then a phone call to the satellite church for the men to be removed from the ministry team because of the adultery of the married man. How is it that two unmarried people, engaging in extra-marital sex, with both men committing adultery—one on his former wife, the other on his current wife—are allowed to be actively involved in ministry? Was there no one to ask questions? Had the church gotten so big, and desperate, for volunteers that any warm body could sign up to serve?

It appears that North Point is in danger in at least three ways. First, they have diminished the character of the Lord Jesus Christ. Second, they are teaching a false idea of two key theological terms: grace and truth. Third, they have lost control of the ability to monitor the spiritual fitness of  those who desire to serve in ministry. And if these issues aren’t dealt with, it will matter little what North Point’s view of homosexuality is.

Can you see?

At the end of To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout has fallen asleep while Atticus is reading to her. While he is taking her to bed, she is recounting to him in broken sentences what has happened in the story to “prove” to him that she “heard every word.” The name of the book was The Gray Ghost. In the story people are after this boy because they think he’s messing with their clubhouse, but they couldn’t catch him because no one knew what he looked like.

Scout finished her drowsy rendition with these words, “…when they finally saw him, why he hadn’t done any of those things…Atticus, he was real nice…”

Atticus replied, “Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them.”

Now, one might cry foul, having Atticus read a story that paralleled the kids’ experience with Boo Radley just so Atticus could make a point. (Of course, I’m not convinced that Scout isn’t mixing her stories here.) The point had to be made, though. The whole book is about perceptions: the kids’ of Boo, the town folks’ of Tom, the Ewell’s of Atticus, …

With the exception of Boo, everyone else could be seen clearly enough, I suppose, or could they? You see Boo is an anomaly. He wasn’t seen, but we see folks every day, and because we can see flesh, we think we know people. Atticus wasn’t talking about that at all. He was talking about standing in their shoes. That is why he could let Mr. Ewell spit in his face and wipe it off and go about his business. That is why he could defend Tom in the face of so much opposition. That is why he made Jem read to Mrs. DuBose. Atticus had the ability, no, the desire to stand in others’ shoes so that he could find the niceness in them. So he could love them. 

The church is shamed by people like Atticus. We can’t afford not to walk in people’s shoes. For if we don’t we can’t love them, and we are called to love people. Scout had a special privilege to overcome her misconceptions about Boo, and she took advantage of it. How often do we take advantage of the opportunities that we have to walk in someone else’s shoes? When was the last time you took that opportunity? What difference did it make?

Blog etiquette

I have been reading Losing My Religion for about a week now. I had made a comment on this post (read part I of the post here.) to offer another thought on the issue. I did so without bothering to read too deeply into Jeff’s blog. Had I done so, I could have crafted my words better to make sure he and those reading his blog knew I was not referring to him in regards to heretical content but was making a point that the specific language in his post has been used by others who have wandered away from orthodoxy.

All that to say: Jeff responded to my comments with a post that made his position clear and at the same time was polite and in no way demeaning to me. I greatly appreciate not only the grace he showed to me after my less than careful response, but also the way he relates to others on his blog. I have read far too many blogs where the first hurt feeling turns into name calling, bullying, and general dishonoring of the Savior. So thank you, Jeff, for caring about people as you seek to follow Christ.