Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Welcome to the Real World! (A Review of Driscoll's "Confessions...")

Reading most narrative resources on church planting is very much like trying to leave reality and live in a dream world. The inspiring but atypical stories found in books by Rick Warren, Bill Hybels and Andy Stanley have the capacity to make a church planter dream big, but they can also lead him to fall hard! Yet Mark Driscoll's latest work introduces aspiring apostolic leaders to the hard realities of church planting, as well as the glorious finish line that can await all faithful servants of Jesus.

In 2001 when my family and I began planting a church, I read all the resources that were at the time considered "required reading." I still remember reading about the Real Estate broker who found Rick Warren a rent-free home for a month and simultaneously joined his church. I remember rejoicing as I read about the rapid growth of Willow Creek, and dreaming big while reading Stanley's success story known as Northpointe Church. Six months later, with no building, no money, and struggling to gather a core group, I felt very much like the special needs student who had accidentally signed up for the AP calculus course. I honestly wondered what I was doing wrong, not thinking about the possibility that Rick, Andy and Bill might be telling stories of extraordinary moves of God . . . .the exception rather than the rule.

Five years later, that church which began as a vision from God came togetherwith an older, established congregation, and by His grace continues to worship on Parkins Mill Road in Greenville South Carolina. It has helped to birth two other congregations in the Greenville area as well, but not without almost killing me first! My experiences there taught me that while it is OK to dream big, reading stories about airplanes full of people coming to Jesus can sometimes produce unrealistic expectations.

Now I have the privilege of overseeing the work of church planting in one of the most affluent areas in the country, and God is allowing me to share my limited experience with the guys who are now doing the work. While I want them to dream big, and expect God to do big things, I don't want them to think that growth comes without blood, sweat, tears, demonic oppression, temptation, fatigue, and a host of other impediments. Now that Driscoll's book Confessions is finally in print, I have a resource that will help them see this.

In the book, Mark Driscoll chronicles the birth and growth of Seattle's Mars Hill Church. Each of the seven chapters details a segment of growth within the church, which began in Driscoll's living room in 1996 with 12 people, and has since blossomed into a congregation of over 4,000. Throughout the book, there is a healthy balance of inspirational accounts of conversion and discipleship with brutal honesty concerning the sacrifice neccesary to bring about such spiritual development. Not content to allow you to see only the present worship center after a Sunday morning, Driscoll takes you into his living room where 12 people gathered initially, into the upstairs youth room of a fundamentalist church with 70s shag carpet where the church met for a period of time, into his bedroom at 3 AM for a rather blunt and personal "counseling" phone call with a porn-addict, and even into his own mind as he recounts his personal experiences with sexual temptation, spiritual warfare, sleeplessness, marital discord, frustration, anger and fatigue.

The stories come to life in a way only Driscoll can communicate, and each of his personal experiences leaves the reader with valuable lessons that will prove useful during the church planting experience. As I was reading, I found myself consistently asking "where was this book five years ago?" After reading this work, I have come to the conclusion that either Mark and I are both insane, and the only two people who have experienced such things, or his experiences represent the "norm" of church planting with much more accuracy. While I admit that my sanity is a point of debate among some friends of mine, I will opt for the second possibility.

There are a number of reasons this book should be on every church planter's shelf. First of all, there is a very helpful introduction in which Driscoll asks ten very probing questions that will help pastors and church planters alike shape the vision of their church in a way that will glorify God. Affectionately entitled "Chapter Zero," this section deals with the balance between "Gospel," "Culture," and "Church," and seeks to pull the reader from thinking of church planting solely in terms of "attraction," to thinking missionally so that their church will permeate its community with Gospel presence.

Second, Driscoll is an unabashed theological conservative, and helps today's church planters not lose sight of the fact that our programming, strategies, theological understanding, and ecclesiological foundations must be taken solely from the text of Scripture. One exerpt serves as an example:

At the time, it was becoming increasingly popular for young pastors to have churches that were not called "churches," but rather silly things like "new monastic communities," and leaders that were not called "pastor," but rather silly things like "abbess," or "spiritual director." As our mission began to develop, the New Testament teaching on church leadership and church discipline seemed increasingly wise and urgent to implement, before we ended up like the church at Corinth, divided and off mission because of folly and sin. Over the years, I have become increasingly troubled by the frequency with which young pastors simply dismiss the New Testament teaching on church leadership and discipline, so that if four guys are drinking beer in a pub, they can call it a church." (p.47)

Driscoll also takes the opportunity at one point in the book to distance himself from much of the aberrant theology coming out of Emergent. Recounting his experiences with Brian McLaren, Driscoll says "though I sincerely love Brian and appreciate the kindness he has shown to me, I generally disagree with many of his theological conclusions . . . .His pacifism seems to underlie many of our theological disagreements since he has a hard time accepting such things as the violence of penal substitutionary atonement, parts of the Old Testament where God killed people, and the concept of conscious eternal torment in hell . . . .I find it curious that, from my perspective, he is using his power as a writer and speaker to do violence to Scripture in the name of pacifism." (p.99)

Third, as I mentioned before, Driscoll's story is a "real world" story, that will likely be much more reflective of the average church planter's experiences. Angry core group members walking out, theological heresy causing the resignation of staff, and immature Christians seeking to lead before they are ready are but a few of the experiences Driscoll shares that I suspect will cause almost everyone who has planted a church to say "I remember that!"

Fourth, interspersed between these brutally true experiences are stories of grace. Driscoll is careful to note that even in the middle of the toughest times, God was working to save people at Mars Hill, and the stories are moving to say the least. Each chapter is prefaced with a one-sentence testimony that reminds the reader of the work of God, even in the midst of apparent chaos. These testimonies reveal such things as:

-God saved me while I was living with my lesbian mom and my dad was in prison for murder. I am a founding pastor.

-I was a pothead until I got saved and now I am the president of the chamber of commerce and the executive pastor.

-I was not a Christian when I came to the church. Today, I am a pastor.

Finally, Driscoll is abundantly clear throughout that the success of Mars Hill is owed to God alone. While no one who has planted a church would deny such a statement, many books on the subject seem to leave the reader with the impression that "our church grew because we . . . .[fill in the blank]." To be sure, Driscoll relates the lessons he has learned the hard way in the hopes that others will choose a less rocky path. But in the end, Mars Hill is shown to be totally the work of God. Driscoll admits from the very first sentence when he says, "I have made so many mistakes as a pastor that I should be pumping gas for a living instead of preaching the Gospel." And of the end result of his labors he states, "basically, we are a kite in God's hurricane, which is an absolute joke for reasons that will become apparent as you read through the book." (p.9)

Two cautions are in order. First, his comparisons of congregational ecclesiology with Senior Pastor and Elder ecclesiology is an exercise in oversimplification, and assumes these leadership models to be mutually exclusive. His rationale against "majority vote" decision-making in the church is worthy of a strong hearing, but in the end, he throws the baby out with the bathwater by seeing "congregationalism" as synonymous with "democracy." I agree with Driscoll that the latter has been syncretized into the local church in America, but the former has Biblical merit, and should be given more careful consideration.

Another caution is that some will find the way Driscoll sometimes expresses himself to be offensive. Many reviews have already been written that chide Driscoll heavily for what is perceived to be "coarse and offensive" language that occassionally appears in the book. But in the end, I would encourage the reader to resist straining at this gnat so that you can be blessed by hearing the heart of this pastor-missionary.

Mark Driscoll is a God-send to the emerging church. His newest book is Biblically sound, brutally honest, and cross-centered. This will be required reading for any of our new church planters. I am confident that the book will encourage them to equip themselves for the task ahead.

Driscoll, Mark. 2006. Confessions of a Reformission Rev. Hard Lessons from an Emerging Missional Church. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

On Cash and Cooperation

Since the nomination of Arkansas pastor Ronnie Floyd for President of the Southern Baptist Convention two weeks ago, much noise has been made of the percentage his FBC Springdale gives to the Cooperative Program. Many of those calling for closer scrutiny of Dr. Floyd's financial commitments to the Southern Baptist machine are dear friends of mine, and people with whom I largely agree regarding recent events that have taken place in Southern Baptist life. Admittedly, $32,000 in total CP giving seems a paltry sum on the surface, when compared with a total church budget of nearly $12 million.

Still, before casting stones at Ronnie Floyd, a closer examination must be given to the overall commitment Springdale First possesses to missions. And one other observation is also in order: namely, the reality of "postdenominationalism" and its practical outworking, even in more established congregations like Floyd's.

Maybe in order to see the entire issue more clearly, both sides of this discussion need to tone it down a bit. For instance, one side needs to recognize the difference between tough, up front questions and character assassination. Marty Duren links to an excellent example of this confusion as one blogger writes "One thing that has troubled me lately is the amount of slanderous chatter going on via the blogosphere. I cannot understand how someone can call themselves a Christian and then go out and attempt to demolish the character of a fellow laborer of Christ. Someone please explain that! I can tell all the naysayers this: Ronnie Floyd is a man of God who is, in my mind, unmatched in his committment to preaching the word of God for what it is without apology."

Perhaps there are some postings in cyberspace which are more jaded than they should be, but I know of no serious thinker in SBC life, including many "younger leaders" who would disagree with the above statement. I too admire Dr. Floyd for his service to FBC Springdale, and for the impact that he has no doubt had on our culture through his broadcast ministry. The question at hand has nothing to do with Ronnie Floyd as a person, or Ronnie Floyd as a man of God. The question at hand is one of comparing recent SBC lamentings about the pathetic giving records of many of her elected leaders with the giving record at FBC Springdale.

Southern Baptists have a right to know why a candidate for the SBC presidency gives a sum to the Cooperative Program comparatvely as small as a fundamentalist's Sunday afternoon tip at Dennys. That said, I personally don't feel this issue is enough to warrant looking toward another candidate, and over all, I think Ronnie Floyd would do a superb job as the next SBC President. Still, to accuse those asking tough and neccesary questions of character assassination is to skirt the real issue, to say the least.

On the other side of this conversation are those who simply want to know the reasons behind a .27 percent CP giving record. While this is a fair question, consideration must also be given to the overall missions and outreach emphasis that is taking place in Springdale Arkansas. In addition to the $189,000 given in total to Southern Baptist causes (1.6% according to Florida Baptist Witness contributor Michael Petty), Floyd's church has partnered to plant many churches both in the US and abroad. And FBC Springdale is but one example of a host of churches doing this very same thing. Richard Cimino and Don Lattin predicted eight years ago that even theologically conservative denominations will face both downsizing and de-centralizing in years to come.

Driven by the Biblical conviction that the local church decides its own destiny and mission under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, churches will begin alligning themselves with multiple entities of like affinity that they perceive will help them to accomplish their vision. This is a trend that actually began more than a decade ago, with organizations like the Willow Creek Association. Today, other networks like Acts 29 are enlisting partners from a variety of denominational backgrounds. Each of those churches remains affiliated with its denomination on doctrinal matters, but alligns itself with other networks that will more effectively help it to reach its goals.

That said, I'm grateful for the guys out there asking the tough questions about Ronnie Floyd. But although we all have a right to know, we also need to consider the possibility that maybe, by contributing to many different streams of missions, Ronnie Floyd embodies the kind of multiple-allignment predicted by guys like Camino and Lattin, and rightly celebrated by guys like Steve McCoy.

The real crime here is that there appears to be somewhat of a double-standard on this issue. For example, when we enlist and fund guys to plant churches, we require them to give a certain percentage of their undesignated funds to the Cooperative Program (and its a lot more than .27 percent!) Had one of my church planters given a percentage close to that of FBC Springdale, I would have pastors asking me to defund his ministry. Yet it is possible that the SBC President elected this year could be pastor of a church that gives less than one half of one percent to the Cooperative Program. The bottom line is that we have no consensus on what it really means to support Southern Baptist missions.

Maybe it is at this juncture that we can learn from the emerging networks. Some, such as Willow Creek Association, have set dues depending ont he size of one's church. Others, like the Acts 29 network, require a certain percentage of a church's budget for that church to remain affiliated. Although I am not in favor of requiring "tithing" to the CP by SBC churches, I think a baseline requirement for CP giving in order for a church to remain SBC is not out of order. Personally, I would reccomend at least 2% of a church's budget given to the Cooperative Program and Association combined in order to identify as a Southern Baptist Church. I anticipate that there will be cries about "congregational autonomy," if and when such measures are suggested. But how would baseline giving criteria threaten the autonomy of the local church? If the church doesn't want to give, they are in a sense already declaring that they don't value being a part of the SBC, but they haven't lost their right to decide their own direction under the Lordship of Jesus.

My guess is that all the noise about Ronnie Floyd is due to the fact that we have no idea what it means to be a "committed Southern Baptist." We need a serious discussion about what this does mean. We need to come to consensus on what is and is not an appropriate level of Cooperative Program support. And when this is done, let's be consistent with how we apply our conclusions. The standard applied to Ronnie Floyd ought to be the same standard applied to an unknown church planter in suburban Baltimore. What's good for the goose . . .

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Spiritual Authority and the "Memphis Declaration."

This week in Memphis Tennessee, Calvinists sat down to eat with Arminians. Premillenialists spent time in prayer with Amillennialists. Cessationists teamed up with Continuationists. All Southern Baptists, this diverse group, made up of roughly thirty pastors and laity, came together in a time of prayer and repentance, and left Memphis with a unified statement calling for cooperation under the Lordship of Jesus Christ to advance His Gospel in the world. In doing this, they not only provided Southern Baptists with a glimpse of the kind of unity that should permeate our denominational culture, but they also exemplified the epitome of Southern Baptist's deepest and most pressing need: Spiritual authority.

I admit at the outset that when I first heard of the meeting that would take place in Memphis, I was concerned. I know personally many of the men who participated. I share their strong conviction that narrowing the parameters of cooperation in our Convention will be detrimental to the advance of the Gospel, and deadly to our continued participation in extending the reign of Jesus Christ in the world. I'm also convinced that while a course-correction away from such a tendency comes primarily from planting and growing healthy churches, systemic change cannot take place apart from addressing the system as it exists. Yet while working in Chicago this week, I prayed often for my brothers, that their meeting would not be perceived as an attempt to grab power and control. After seeing the results of their time together, my concerns are not only alleviated, but I have a fresh hope for where Southern Baptists can go from here.

Presently, the Southern Baptist Convention is in danger of falling prey to theological and ecclesiological myopia. The recent policy and guideline moves at the International Mission Board, while the most visible examples of this danger, are merely symptoms of a greater problem. When you are the largest Protestant denomination in America, it is easy to think that your size indicates your superiority and significance. Those meeting in Memphis understood that there is a fine line between standing resolutely on your own convictions, and aggressively, or even passively, degrading the convictions of others. Within, our arguments have been over whether God's election is conditional or unconditional, whether the milennium is literal or figurative, whether the "sign gifts" ceased with the closing of the canon, or have continued to the present day. Since 1845, such arguments have not only remained "in house," but also "off" the mission field. Our brothers and sisters who met in Memphis want to keep it that way.

Still, it is possible for one to be right in the wrong way, and the wrong approach to addressing these volatile issues could have easily caused a schism within our ranks. Given the strong convictions that exist regarding these issues within the Convention, the Memphis Declaration could have resulted in the taking of "sides," and forwarding another theological battle similar to the inerrancy debates which took place two decades ago. But those writing the declaration chose not to take sides. To be sure, they stated their convictions with clarity, but not in a polarizing way.

Instead, in the tradition of Ezra, this group of faithful Southern Baptists wrote a public statement of repentance. Realizing that the Gospel is the great unifier, this group wrote a declaration that resists looking at all the current issues as a division between "heroes and enemies" and instead forwards a statement that emphasizes the sin in all of us that causes ungodly conflict, and the grace of God that empowers us to unity in spite of our differences.

This is refreshing for several reasons. For one, the Southern Baptist Convention for the past two decades has been led primarily by "positional" authority. Yet all this time, I have been convinced that "spiritual" authority has been thriving beneath the surface, empowering the SBC to continue its Great Commission task. Spiritual authority, as Gary Mayes describes it, is "quality found in leaders who speak with an authority beyond themselves." Examples of such authority are seen in the Apostles (Acts 4:13), and Jesus Himself (Matthew 7:28-29). Mayes goes on to state that to possess spiritual authority, one must surrendered to God, alligned with His will, broken before His presence, and vulnerable to the point that His spirit can work through us with complete freedom. As I read this document, these are the characteristics that I strongly sense. I know a few of the folks who were in Memphis. Though I love them, and though they are good men, I can assure you that such a humble statement did not come from them alone (and had I been there, they would have said the same thing about me). It is obvious to me that these men and women literally spent two days with Jesus.

The Memphis group has stood only on Scripture, only against darkness, and is seeking to stand with as many Southern Baptists as will agree to join them in repentance. And this is one Southern Baptist who will. Shortly after the public release of this document, I was contacted and asked to sign it. I declined at first, not because of any objection I have to its contents, but in order to do some introspection. After taking the time to do this, I am willing to own my part of the sin in our denomination. In the past, I have been guilty of marginalizing people without personally meeting them. I have spoken before having all the facts. I have used the label "liberal" because it was easier than getting to know someone who differed with me theologically. I have allowed "guilt by association" to deter me from developing genuine friendships with people who have turned out to be godly and righteous. I admit to my own contribution to the problems present in the SBC. As a result, my signature will soon be affixed to the document.

Spiritual Authority is what turned the disciples into commandos. It is what permeated the hearts of the martyrs. It has been at the heart of all the great revivals the world has known for the last 2000 years. And spiritual authority can empower the SBC to be a leader among other evangelicals to transform the world for the sake of the Gospel. But if we want to be first, we have to be last! This is, I believe, at the heart of the "Memphis Declaration." I join my brothers and sisters in endorsing its content, and invite my readership to do the same. To add your name, send your request to Mary Duren at, with your name, church membership, and city. The Declaration is pasted below for your review.

There are lots of folks expecting a fight in Greensboro. Pray instead for spiritual authority that will take our theological, methodological and missiological diversity, and create a unity that glorifies God.



We, as men and women who share a heritage of Southern Baptist identity, declare that we stand together and confess Jesus Christ as the one Lord to whom we must reckon an account for our words and motivations in this gathering.

We further acknowledge that the Word of God is the sole basis of our confession and cooperation, and we are confident that God has sufficiently revealed in it all that is needed to direct Southern Baptists in fruitful cooperation toward Kingdom ends that bring glory to Jesus Christ, who is himself the focus of divine revelation.

We publicly declare before all Southern Baptists that we believe the unity, mission, and witness of our denomination is seriously threatened by the introduction of the narrowing of cooperation through exclusionary theological and political agendas that corrupt the healthy and mutual fellowship we enjoy as Kingdom servants. We believe that the parameters of Baptist cooperation in missions and evangelism must be consistent with our rich theological heritage, and that all attempts to impose excessively restrictive criteria on participation in Southern Baptist missionary work are counterproductive to the advance of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Because we desire to be and to remain faithful to our confession of Jesus Christ and his Word, we do not keep silent, nor shall we, since we believe that we have a common message to speak in this time of great need for unity and Kingdom focus in our convention. In view of this shared conviction, we declare the following:

1. We publicly repent of triumphalism about Southern Baptist causes and narcissism about Southern Baptist ministries which have corrupted our integrity in assessing our denomination bureaucracy, our churches, and our personal witness in light of the sobering exhortations of Scripture.
Therefore, we commit ourselves to a renewed pledge to integrity demonstrated by accountability in our denomination, both before God and each other, lest in preaching the meekness of our Lord to others we ourselves will be found guilty of wicked, sinful pride.

2. We publicly repent of an arrogant spirit that has infected our partnership with fellow Christians in the advance of the gospel of Jesus Christ, without the hearing of which men are incapable of conversion.
Therefore, we commit ourselves to a renewed pledge to partner with Great Commission Christians for the glory of Jesus Christ, who is proclaimed with power when his disciples are at peace with one another.

3. We publicly repent of having condemned those without Christ before we have loved them, and that we have acted as judge of those for whom Christ died by failing to live with a redemptive spirit toward them.
Therefore, we commit ourselves to engage culture actively at every level by living redemptively as the Body of Christ in the world.

4. We publicly repent of having forsaken opportunities to reason together with those who share our commitment to gospel proclamation yet differ with us on articles of the faith that are not essential to Christian orthodoxy.
Therefore, we commit ourselves to building bridges where there have been none, in listening more and talking less, and in extending the hand of fellowship to all who share our confession of Christ and our commitment to extend His Kingdom.

5. We publicly repent of having turned a blind eye to wickedness in our convention, especially when that evil has taken the form of slanderous, unsubstantiated accusations and malicious character assassination against our Christian brothers.
Therefore, we commit ourselves to confront lovingly any person in our denomination, regardless of the office or title that person holds, who disparages the name of our Lord by appropriating venomous epithets against our brothers and sisters in Christ, and thus divides our fellowship by careless and unchaste speech.

6. We publicly repent of having misplaced our priorities on the building and sustaining of institutions of secondary and far inferior importance than the local church.
Therefore, we renew our pledge to the local church as the primary focus of our ministry and service to advance the Kingdom of God and bring glory to his Son.

7. We publicly repent of having disrespected the sovereign grace of our Lord Jesus Christ by falsely presuming that our strength as a people of God is found in uniformity rather than unity within the parameters of Scriptural authority.
Therefore, we commit ourselves to honor our identity as people of one Lord, one faith, and one baptism, whose affirmation of biblical authority does not necessitate absolute uniformity on all matters of doctrine or practice.

8. We publicly repent of our inattentiveness to convention governance by not seeking to hold trustees accountable to the body which elects them to preserve our sacred trust and direct our entities with the guidance, counsel, and correction necessary to maintain the integrity of those entities.
Therefore, we covenant with one another to assist in the preservation of our convention's sacred trust and fulfill our biblical responsibility to hold those trustees elected to serve our entities accountable, and to pray for them as they seek to fulfill their fiduciary responsibilities.

Finally, we believe the conversations that have begun in these days express our desire to preserve the Southern Baptist Convention should God, in his providence, so choose to sustain our witness and strengthen our commitment to these ends. We pledge, therefore, to one another that we will continue this dialogue by inviting others in our respective spheres of influence to participate with us by seeking to renew our commitment to denominational accountability, institutional openness, moral and ethical integrity, and properly prioritized Kingdom efforts.