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‘Church Revitalization’ Category

  1. Multi-Site Cults of Personality (and Zombie Video)

    September 11, 2014 by Jeff Wright


    This is a post I’ve been wanting to write for sometime since my buddy Chase described the video below to me.  Good thing I started my prep work early because now you can’t access the video on its original home!


    You see, the video is an interaction between disgraced [link contains graphic quotes] pastor Mark Driscoll of Seattle’s  Mars Hill Church (a man whose ministry I have benefited from), James Macdonald (Founding and Senior Pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel) and Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church of Washington, DC (who I, admittedly, think highly of) created and provided by The Gospel Coalition, one of many organizations with recent cause to distance themselves from all things Driscoll.

    In it Driscoll and Macdonald are pitted against Dever on the subject of ecclesiology, specifically the mult-site model versus a single campus approach.  At 4:22 in the video, which I happened to download before it was wiped from The Gospel Coalition website and Vimeo, Dever asks a pointed question to Driscoll:

    Are you concerned that [Mars Hills' multi-site strategy] builds people into you particularly?

    The question, if I may be so bold as to offer an exposition, raises the question of whether or not the multi-site model of multiple campuses sharing one broadcast feed of Driscoll’s preaching carries the consequence of creating a dependence on Driscoll that isn’t healthy, in effect producing a cult of personality spread across multiple campuses.

    Driscoll’s response is… well… I’ll let you be the judge 1.   Here is the transcript:

    No, actually, it does the opposite.  I mean, they [the congregants of the church] are more addicted to you.  They have to come talk to you, shake your hand, be in the same room with you, get around the Shekhinah glory…” [while Macdonald laughs uproariously].

    Momentarily, Macdonald chimes in with his own exposition of Driscoll:

    That’s a pretty huge point.  He’s saying its less about him in a church where all he is is the 75% preacher [thankfully Macdonald is there to explain this to Dever, lest Dr. Dever be unable to pick up on such a subtle point].

    Later (6:13), Dever asks, “Seriously, what happens when you die?

    Driscoll’s response: “Oh, yeah, it’s going to be far easier than it is for you ‘cuz you’re a pastor-centered model or a mission-centered model…

    You can see the whole thing here:

    So, from the perspective of today, how strongly does Driscoll’s (and by extension Macdonald’s) argument stand against Dever’s?

    Just to recap, Dever is worried that the multi-site model locates too much focus on the charismatic personality being beamed out to every satellite church, illustrated by the potential danger of a vacuum created by the death of the central charismatic personality.

    Driscoll’s counter is that the multi-site model protects against that sort of cult-of-personality danger Dever raises and claims that, in fact, Dever’s traditional model creates the potential for a personality cult to a much greater degree.

    At this point in history it is clear that Driscoll’s practice kills his own ability to advocate for the multi-site model against the charge that it is too centered on one individual.  He, the fella arguing that Dever’s model is much more dependent on one man, is the guy reportedly telling his inner circle things like:

    You think you’re the Resurgence. But, you’re not the brand. I’m the brand!

    In explaining the “brand” of Mars Hill, “said that the brand of Mars Hill is a man standing in the pulpit with a large heavy bible in his hand. He also said that many things will change at Mars Hill, but one thing will never change: ‘it’s me in the pulpit holding a bible.‘”

    Another quote: “All of this [potential changes in the future of Driscoll and Mars Hill's Resurgence organization] is fine, but I need to be driving this thing. I can’t have anyone else driving this thing or else it will go sideways.

    Perhaps the most bizarre, and blatantly contradictory to his position in the video above, comment was said to an elder who asked “whether Mark has considered sharing the pulpit more, and Mark’s response likened sharing the pulpit to sharing his wife (‘no one else sleeps with Grace‘).”

    Driscoll, then, clearly failed to practice what he preached advocated for in the video above.  He also, at the time of this video, communicated in a mocking tone (to the guffawing of his co-hort)  the absurdity of the idea that exactly what ended up happening in Driscoll’s church was potentially present in Driscoll’s mult-site model.

    Without reducing all who practice multi-site models to Driscoll and also avoiding an ad-hominem attack to the question of the health of the multi-site model don’t we have here, in this video combined with the recent fall out with Driscoll, the clearest example of the real-world likelihood that Dever’s concerns are legitimate, if not likely?

    It seems that the fall from Olympus experienced by Driscoll gives us a real impetus to examine the consequences of the mult-site model afresh and, in my opinion, give greater credence to the concerns expressed by Mark Dever.

    I also have to wonder why the Gospel Coalition pulled all links to this video down.  In the screen shot below, taken last night, the first five links are all dead as far as seeing the video, despite the video having been hosted on the Gospel Coalition site since 2010.  I know it is fashionable to distance oneself from Driscoll but surely integrity would dictate leaving content up which you have provided for four years even if you added a disclaimer to the pages themselves.


    I find that removal of this video by The Gospel Coalition, an organization I value, highly suspect at best.  Again, it could be an example of the rush to separate from Driscoll but a more cynical mind may be tempted to think that, in light of the fall of Driscoll and the fresh energy it brings to questions about the model of church he was such a champion for, the Gospel Coalition may not want to risk alienating their constituency, many of whom will continue making use of multi-site methodology.

    Anyway, is it too much to hope that in whatever realm high profile pastors commune that Dr. Dever heard something like, “I’m sorry, you were totally right?”

    *Update 9/15/14* Noah Braymen posted a link to this video on Facebook via Ben Wright that dates to 3 years ago and is associated with The Gospel Coalition’s Vimeo account.  It is still unclear why the older link (which was more commonly available, per the Google results I referenced above) has been taken down and why the pages internal to The Gospel Coalition pages which used the video haven’t been updated – at least at the time of this writing.


    1. Pay attention to the tone of each individual as they particpate in the conversation.  It seems to me one party is clearly more respectful while the other two are much more condescending.  Or, you can read Justin Taylor‘s encouragement on his own bizarrely, considering he blogs for The Gospel Coalition, dead post about this video.

  2. How Low Elevation Church Has Stooped

    February 20, 2014 by Jeff Wright


    Yesterday’s craziness surrounding the coloring sheet from Steven Furtick’s Elevation Church  shouldn’t over shadow the other news connected with Elevation – namely how they manipulate people into “spontaneous” baptisms.

    This second controversy is, in my opinion, far more dangerous.  I’ll quote from the article by WCNC Charlotte because they state well the problems with Elevation’s Spontaneous Baptism Resource Kit.

    The guide instructs, “Fifteen people will sit in the worship experience and be the first ones to move when Pastor gives the call. Move intentionally through the highest visibility areas and the longest walk.” 
    “They had people in the crowd stand up who never intended to be baptized,” said James Duncan, a communications professor at Anderson University and critic of Furtick. “They were shilling for Steven and the intent was these shills stand up and everybody else follows.”

    Stuart Watson, the author of the article, continues:

    More stage instructions tell volunteers to go to staging rooms outfitted with towels, pre-printed t-shirts, sports bras, boxers, makeup remover, hair-dryers and flip-flops. Volunteers are instructed to “pick young energetic people” to go on stage first to be baptized and “not necessarily those who are there first.” 

    “Think of the room in terms of a NASCAR pit stop,” the guide reads. “Quick in and quick out.” 
    It takes “30 to 45 seconds” to baptize each person as church photographers snap photos. 
    More volunteers are told, “You are looking for one or two great stories in your group. When you ID those individuals, place a ‘black wrist band’ on them so that the video crew can interview them….”
    The guide then tells the “media team” to be “mining great stories and pushing them up to the video crew.” 

    An additional disturbing detail comes at the end of the article:

    Elevation Pastor Steven Furtick asked me for a face-to-face, off-the-record meeting with me to ask me not to run this report. I spent an hour on the telephone and two more hours in person discussing my reporting, his church and his concerns. 

    Pastor Steven said I have been unfair and this report in particular would hurt Elevation Church members. 

    Does Furtick think that he is free from the consequences of his and his church’s scandalous behavior?  What right does he have to attempt to shift blame onto the news agency for reporting what his own church has freely and publicly published?

    Let’s be clear – Furtick, along with any one else involved in created and pushing forward these events, hurt the members of Elevation church.

    The repercussions of this kind of manipulative, pre-packaged faux-Christianity are clear.  In no certain order:

    • The central rite of Christianity, baptism, is undermined entirely.  Historically, no outward event is of more significance to the Christian faith.  Here Elevation and its leaders have reduced it to a canned production, not substantially different from a flash-mob dance performance.
    • The credibility of the Christian faith and the idea of conversion becomes more laughable and seemingly hollow to a world already plenty skeptical about such things.
    • Other ministries, more legitimate in their efforts to faithfully discharge the gospel call, are cast in a shadow by these big-budget, high-production hucksters while precious resources that could be legitimately used to help people are sucked into the black hole of manipulative pseudo-ministries like the ones taking place at Elevation.


    I am confident that a good and sovereign God will have, from the perspective of eternity, called men and women to a saving faith in Himself at these Elevation engineered events.

    Make no mistake, that will only come to pass because His overwhelmingly powerful grace will do good to lost men and women even in the midst of the worst conditions.

    This reality – that people are likely actually converted – in no way overshadows that in the highest degree of likelihood the majority of those involved as “converts” will have been deceived and thus, humanly speaking, hardened to the gospel.

    Furthermore, any legitimate conversions arising from these highly engineered productions does not mean that the productions are justified.  This is a stain on the public reputation of the church and, through it, Christ.

    May God grant Steven Furtick and the people at Elevation responsible for this abusive behavior repentance.  May He also grant that those who have been manipulated to see through the facade of Elevation’s misconduct to the beauty of Christ in the authentic gospel.

    Even so, come Lord Jesus.

    Further Reading
    Pajama Pages (Linked to Above): How Steven Furtick engineered a spontaneous miracle

    Patheos: Steven Futick and the ‘Disneyfication’ of Baptism

    Zwinglius Redivivus – Elevation ‘Church’ – Just Another Cult and Furtick is Just Another False Teacher

    Truth Matters Blog: Mass Baptisms, Invitations, and Southern Baptists

  3. Covert Works Righteousness

    February 13, 2014 by Jeff Wright


    Works righteousness is the default setting of the human heart when it comes to religion.  Considering what Paul says in Galatians 2:16 we must beware of the danger of falling into the false religion pursuing our hearts and which, if we embrace it, will leave us condemned.

    One particularly dangerous form of works righteousness (otherwise known as legalism, self-justification, and works of the law) is the version that has attached itself to the familiar terms of Christianity.  This version camouflages itself within the vocabulary of the church, gaining entrance through subtlety rather than the rejection it would meet if it presented itself clearly.

    To help us identify these hidden pits of works righteousness I’ve collected some phrases that are presented as expressions of Christian truth but which are in fact the old, cold, condemning non-gospel of works righteousness: 1

    • Faithfulness finds favor.” (Contrast that with 2 Timothy 2:11-13)
    • Don’t expect a full-time God when you are a part time Christian.” (Contrast that with Romans 7:14-25)
    •  “Your humility determines God’s ability.” (Contrast that with Exodus 33:19 / Romans 9:15, Acts 17:24-25, and Psalm 115:3)
    •  “The faithfulness of God’s Word depends on our faithfulness to God’s Word.” (Contrast this with Isaiah 46:8–11 and 55:10-11)


    Remember friend, we do not live in a day when we can simply expect every building with the name church on it or every person holding a Bible while they talk to hold and proclaim the gospel.  We have to be constantly aware of those non-gospels that cloak themselves and lay in wait hoping for an opportunity to lead us away from the saving message of the finished work of Christ applied to us by grace through faith.


    1. Know others?  Let me know in the comments!

  4. Youth Groups and Family-Centric Discipleship

    July 9, 2013 by Jeff Wright

    As a pastor of a church looking to be more intentional about incorporating families as families into the life of the church I found this video from CanonWired interesting, specifically as it pertains to how a youth ministry functions in conjunction with a father’s responsibility to disciple his children.  I’d love to hear your thoughts as well.

  5. We Have Made the Church Into Something Which It Is Not

    April 22, 2013 by Jeff Wright

    It is because we ourselves have made the church, and keep making it, into something which it is not. It is because we talk too much about false, trivial human things and ideas in the church and too little about God. It is because we make the church into a playground for all sorts of feelings of ours, instead of a place where God’s word is obediently received and believed. – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Sermon: Ambassadors for Christ, 10/22/1933

  6. Luther on Downplaying Doctrine

    March 20, 2012 by Jeff Wright

    I came across the following in class today while reading The Bondage of the Will with our eighth graders.  It struck me as remarkably timeless – or at least timely for our own day despite being written nearly 500 years ago.

    If you aren’t familiar with the work let me set the scene: Luther is responding to Desiderius Erasmus’[1] On Free Will in which Erasmus had criticized Luther.[2]  In his work Erasmus had written the following (on which Luther latches with his typical tenacity):

    “I find so little satisfaction in assertions that I would readily take up the skeptics’ position wherever the inviolable authority of Holy Scripture and the Church’s decisions permit…I gladly submit to these authorities in all they lay down whether I follow it or not.”

    It will aid understanding if we define assertions (as Luther himself did at length in his book).  The quickest summary I can offer of what is meant here by assertion is this: “Positive statements of religious doctrine.”  Assertions are statements like “Jesus is Lord” or “There is one God who exists in three persons.”  Erasmus wants to avoid those whenever possible.  Luther, obviously, doesn’t think that is a good idea:

    In a word, what you say comes to this: that you do not think it matters a scrap what anyone believes anywhere, so long as the world is at peace; you would be happy for anyone whose life, reputation, welfare or influence was at stake to emulate him who said ‘if they affirm, I affirm; if they deny, so do I’ & you would encourage him to treat Christian doctrines as no better than the views of human philosophers — about which, of course it is stupid to wrangle & fight & assert, since nothing results but bad feeling & breaches of outward peace. ‘What is above us does not concern us’ — that is your motto. So you intervene to stop our battles; you call a halt to both sides, and urge us not to fight any more over issues that are so stupid and sterile.

    By so doing  you merely let us see that in your heart you cherish a Lucian[3], or some other hog of Epicurus’ heard, who, because he is an atheist himself, finds in all who believe in God and confess Him a subject for secret amusement.  Leave us free to make assertions and to find in assertions our satisfaction and delight; and you may applaud your Sceptics[4] and Academics – till Christ calls you too!  The Holy Spirit is no Sceptic, and the things He has written in our hearts are not doubts or opinions, but assertions – surer and more certain than sense and life itself.

    How relevant is that to a day where so many wear as a badge of pride their refusal to acknowledge doctrinal distinctives in their practice of the Christian faith (as if that can even be done)?  Erasmus sounds like he could be speaking as a representative of a myriad of groups whose only confessed doctrine is the avoidance of doctrinal confessions.  Even more he completely turns the whole process of being discerning about Christian truth over to his chosen religious authority – much the same way that people sit comfortably under unbiblical preaching every Sunday from a person they have deep affection for because trusting the person is easier than the hard work of comparing what is said to Scripture.

    Rather than avoiding “assertions” Luther argues we should love truth.

    The Christian would rather say this: ‘So little do I like skeptical principles, that, so far as the weakness of my flesh permits, not merely shall I make it my invariable rule steadfastly to adhere to the sacred text in all that it teaches, and to assert that teaching, but I also want to be as positive as I can about those non-essentials which scripture does not determine; For uncertainty is the most miserable thing in the world.

    Amen Martin.

    [1][1] AKA Erasmus of Rotterdam

    [2] Despite the two earlier sharing similar concerns regarding the Roman Catholic church; Erasmus eventually concludes that Luther is too radical and a break with Rome would be too drastic.

    [3] Lucian of Samosata, a second century satirist who made sport of Christians – most notably in his work titled Passing of Peregrinus.

    [4] I’m quoting from the translation of The Bondage of the Will created by J.I. Packer and O.R. Johnston and thus retain their spelling.  Skeptics for Luther represent those who never actually get around to saying anything because they are so busy asking questions – a reality that reveals the pointlessness of their system.  For more information click here.

  7. Wisdom for Pastor Search Committees

    January 6, 2011 by Jeff Wright

    For some time now I had been kicking around the idea of writing something to help guide pastor search committees because, at least in my Southern Baptist circles, there seems to be a dearth of resources that present Biblically guided wisdom on how to go about the process.  However, before I was able to write something up along came the January/February 2011 9 Marks E-Journal with a section on search committees written by Dr. Dever that covers almost everything I would want to say with greater eloquence than I could muster.  Nonetheless, I have a few thoughts to add (mostly in terms of emphasis) that will follow Dr. Dever’s material.

    – – – – – –

    What’s Wrong With Search Committees? Part 1 of 2 on Finding a Pastor
    By Mark Dever

    Some very godly folks serve today in such committees around the country, and even around the world, giving freely of their time to help their congregation find a new pastor. The decision is a momentous one for the sake of their church, and therefore those on the committee give their time prayerfully and with a sense of a being given a sacred privilege. Thank you to those who have approached this task lovingly and dutifully!

    But here’s the problem: if churches were healthier, we’d never need to call together such a committee. The last guy would have helped the elders to make sure that this was taken care of before he left. Indeed, the last guy would have realized that one of the most important parts of his ministry in a church is ushering in his replacement! Failing that, the elders of a church still should still have taken the lead in ushering the church toward choosing a man who meets the biblical requirements and deftly handles the Word.

    Sadly, too many pastors and elders have failed to discharge this crucial responsibility, and so congregations have been left with no choice but to create a committee. But this is like making the teenage son and daughter parent their younger siblings because mom and dad are absent. The teenagers can get the job done, and how grateful we are for them. But they inevitably do the work with a limp because they lack the natural resources and advantages of the parents.

    Let’s consider some dangers and pitfalls that may await the average search committee. Then in the next article we’ll consider why the church’s elders, including the outgoing pastor, are best suited to leading the search for a pastor’s replacement.


    1) The basic problem. The basic problem with search committees is that they are typically built to do the wrong thing. They’re built—again, typically, not always—to represent different portions of the congregation in the process of finding a pastor. So you get some women on the committee to represent the women’s perspective, men to represent the men, young and old to represent different ages, the businessman, the deacon, the musicians, and so forth. In other words, search committees are built to put the principle of representation to work. And it makes sense that corporate-minded, democratic Westerners would think this way, doesn’t it!

    There’s nothing wrong with incorporating the interests of different kinds of people, but let’s not put the cart before the horse. The most important criteria which the people responsible for nominating the next pastor should meet is an ability to represent not the interests of different kinds of people but the ?interests of the Bible, if I can put it like that. This group needs to understand the Scripture well—how to ?rightly handle the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15)—so that they will prioritize what Scripture prioritizes in looking for a pastor. Yes, these individuals should be interested in finding someone who knows how to love and serve men and women, young and old, and every other group in the church, just as Paul instructs Timothy about how to love different kinds of people in the pastorals. But this group must approach their job asking first what Scripture says. And then they should have the pastoral wisdom and experience necessary for differentiating between those candidates who meet the biblical criteria in a two-dimensional or three-dimensional fashion.
    Since the committee’s search engine uses the wrong principles, it’s more likely to hobble along, stuck with the following problems that produce a limp:

    2) Undue influence from outside denominational leaders. If your church belongs to a denomination where the authority of Scripture is under attack, consider very carefully the interests that denominational leaders have in making sure you get a pastor who’s acceptable to them. They may have unsavory theological or political reasons to want to install certain people in your congregation, and they can exercise undue influence on committee lay people who humbly want to defer to ?the professionals.?

    Will the influence of denominational leaders always be bad? Certainly not! But as a congregationalist I believe that those men who have been given a specific biblical charge to lead a congregation—the elders—are at least less likely (and maybe I’m being idealistic!) to be susceptible to unsavory outside influence.

    3) Wrongly-guided members of the committee. Sometimes members of the search committee are the biggest hindrance. This is more likely to occur when the committee is not chosen fundamentally to represent the Bible’s ?interests. Sometimes a church will have a businessman who wields great influence in the church. More than once I’ve heard of such men who basically set out to ?hire a preacher for their church. Such people view the church as their own private property. Too often committees can be dominated by such folks, rather than being led by the elders (Heb. 13:7, 17).

    4) A suspicion of pastors. Some of you may feel uneasy about pastors leading in finding good successors because it could seem like giving the current pastor too much influence. Maybe you view the interim time between pastorates as time for a congregation to catch its breath, or be rejuvenated, or recover, or whatever may be the need after the last pastorate.

    But what if the pastorate has gone well? Is it proud of the elders (along with the senior pastor) to try to serve the congregation in one of the most monumental decisions it will ever make? I’d say just the opposite. I’d say it’s part of their very job as elders! And keep in mind 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13!

    Finally, it’s the present leaders who will be in a good position to harvest and apply lessons learned during previous pastorates.

    5) A beauty pageant mentality. Too often search committees will look at a number of different candidates, rank them, and conduct a kind of pastoral skills tournament, all while sincerely wanting the best for their church. But does our church really need to have a good pastor who is better than other good pastors? Wouldn’t we really be better off simply looking one brother at a time for someone who could serve us well? We don’t want to turn our search process into a kind of pastoral beauty pageant.

    Consider how a man looks for a wife. He doesn’t line them up, glance over their resumes, and then compare them to one another. Through natural relationship networks, he gets to know them one at a time. He takes time to know a woman’s character. Why should finding a shepherd to lead and feed God’s people be treated with care?

    Admittedly, elders can approach a pastoral search as if it were a beauty pageant too. But hopefully, as elders, they will know better!

    6) Risk aversion, which prioritizes experience over character and giftedness. Search committees tend to be too risk-averse. Again, the very nature of the committee is to represent the congregation, which means they’re designed to look for a candidate that pleases the congregation. And the only way to satisfy everyone—often—is to find the middle-of-the-read, milquetoast candidate.

    Most commonly, committees prefer experience over character and giftedness. It’s true that young men tend to have great acuity, but poor depth perception. They see truth sharply (and often accurately) but don’t have experience in knowing how to implement things well. But that’s not true of all of them. And a humble character which seeks wisdom from older, godly men is a sign of a good leader.

    God raises up young men who watch their life and doctrine closely and are gifted to teach his Word publicly. Hire them when they’re a cub. Let them chew things up around the house for a while, and you’ll have a lion that loves you for life! Young pastors make mistakes. But young pastors—if they’re called and equipped by God—can stay for a long time, and have deeply fruitful ministries for decades. Committees, frankly, just don’t have this long-term perspective.

    7) An inordinate hunger for résumés. Search committees also tend to have an inordinate hunger for résumés! They’ll take hundreds! But wouldn’t it be easier and more immediately productive to get a single reference from a trusted pastor? If there is no one in your congregation suited to be a regular teacher of God’s Word in every-Sunday preaching, then find a church you like, with a pastoral ministry you like, and approach that pastor for a suggestion. Pursue that person until you are certain he would not be good. You’ll save yourself a lot of time and energy.

    Now, elders looking for a pastor can be resume-happy, too. But again, the elders—as men chosen to lead a church because they can ably teach the Word—should know better. On the other hand, the very business-like premise of a search committee veers them toward vetting résumés.

    8 ) Patterns of secrecy. Often search committees travel with some secrecy to other churches, hoping to observe a pastor in his natural habitat (his current church) in order to see how he operates, all unbeknownst to his present congregation with whom they are worshipping.

    One of my favorite memories is, one Sunday morning in the service, asking a visiting pulpit search committee to stand so that we could pray for them. Don’t worry; I had told them I would do this, though they didn’t believe me!
    I also remember talking to one search committee about various folks they were considering—each of whom were flourishing in their current churches—and asking them to consider carefully why they would ask them to leave such flourishing ministries.

    Such committees should understand that this kind of ladder-climbing really tempts some men in ministry. But why do we think God loves our congregation more than the one whose pastor we would take? Why would we be so secretive? Does this suggest that something may be amiss? Do you know where your pastor was preaching last weekend? What does this suggest about how this potential pastor might treat your congregation one day?

    9) A fixation on credentials. Search committees also tend to require credentials. And this makes sense: They don’t know the person and want some validation of their abilities. Degrees provide a commonly accepted currency of pastoral proficiency.

    But again, what may commonly be the case isn’t always the case. Such artificial criteria for sorting through the volume of résumés can hide choice servants of God. While I generally encourage young men to train at a seminary, some of the best pastors I know don’t have MDiv’s.

    Mark Dever is the senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, where he arrived as a young cub and chewed things up for a while.

    – – – – –

    As quickly as possible, a few points of emphasis related to what Dr. Dever said based on my observation and experience with the search committee process.

    1. Be Careful What you Look For – Dr. Dever noted that we tend to have a fascination with credentials and recommendations from prominent leaders outside the church.  This looks like finding someone with a certain percentage of church growth in their most recent church, someone serving on the staff of First Baptist Big Shot under insert-name-of-prominent-pastor, or someone with this or that specific degree and this number of years experience in ministry.

    If you have experience with pastor search committees you know how common those types of criteria are amongst those looking to fill a pulpit.  Common though they may be they should be properly identified as the fruit of a bad assumption, namely that the church is supposed to generate criteria by which to evaluate a candidate for ministry.  The reason that is a bad assumption is that God has already directed His people in this matter.  God’s requirements for Pastors are (summarized):

    – Strong character
    – Loyal to his wife and family
    – Wise, self-controlled, hospitable, and able to teach
    – Not subject to vice or desirous of conflict
    – Free from the love of money
    – In control of his household
    – A mature believer
    – Of reasonably good reputation amongst non-believers
    – Committed to expounding the full counsel of God’s Word

    You can see God’s criteria most clearly in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9.  What God has said represents the sum total of what qualifies a man for ministry in the church.  God doesn’t need our innovations or additions (had an M.Div been a proper requirement for the office God would have mentioned it).  To go beyond what God has required is as dangerous as (and closely related to) acting as if He had never said anything at all.  This leads me to my next point of emphasis.

    2. Be Careful Where you Look – if one takes seriously the first point – that God has given us all the criteria we can operate from when looking for a pastor – then you realize very quickly that God’s criteria demand a familiarity with the person’s life.

    This familiarity with the candidate’s life is precisely the thing that a resume cannot communicate.  Yes, resumes contain references that can be contacted in order to ask about the issues of the candidates’ life.  However, references are hand-selected by the candidate and thus are not a good source of objective data about the information God has indicated is of utmost importance.  As a result the resume system should be largely abandoned, at least for those who are so removed from the church’s local community that evaluating the resume in light of the candidate’s conformity to God’s criteria cannot be evaluated reasonably well.  This will take us to my final point.

    3. Be Careful Who you Look At – So if resumes from far off aren’t a legitimate means of finding viable pastoral candidates what is?  Dr. Dever recommends contacting one trusted pastor and starting there, dealing with one candidate at a time.  While that is certainly a more reasonable method than the resume system I think his other suggestion – to look within the congregation – is the most helpful (and the one most consistent with the Biblical data and practice of the early church).  I believe candidates from within the congregation are perhaps the most consistently overlooked pool of potential candidates in the current Southern Baptist climate and yet I am confident that it is this group that should be the first consideration when looking to fill a local congregation’s pulpit.  There are a number of reasons for this:

    – The church is hoping for a super-pastor or, at least, the next super-pastor.  There is all kinds of wrong thinking here.  One, it assumes that a prominent pastor is what God has prescribed for that church.  Two, (and this is more dangerous) it assumes that there is something to the person (or personality) of the pastor that drives ministry success.  Three, it assumes that the next prominent pastor is outside the congregation.
    – The church looks too critically at candidates within their congregation.  There are flaws that are evident within young men in the congregation.  However, there are also flaws – flaws the congregation cannot see – in the men sending their resumes in from hundreds of miles away. The more dangerous is the latter in that the church won’t be able to evaluate those flaws until after the pastor is hired.  Dever’s advice to let a young minister to make mistakes is the healthier route to pursue when it comes to dealing with flaws in the candidate.

    What should be done if, after diligent search is made, a legitimate candidate cannot be discerned within the congregation?  Find candidates from existing connections in the church and/or churches of like faith in the immediate area.  Ask the congregation for recommendations of people they know personally.  Contact healthy local churches in the nearby area and ask about potential candidates within their congregation.  Better to take an outsider from 20 miles away (that can be more easily evaluated in light of God’s criteria) than one from 250 miles away.

    Bear in mind too (as additional incentive) that a pastor from within the church, within the same area, or with existing ties to the congregation will be much more likely to stay for a long tenure than a candidate who comes in from outside; those who move in are more likely to move out.

    Reading the entirety of the 9 Marks eJournal would be helpful to any search committee.

  8. Thoughts on the GCR Final Report

    May 4, 2010 by Jeff Wright

    Here we are. Southern Baptists have been on a very long trip from last year’s annual meeting to May 3rd, 2010 – the date of publication for the final report of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force. As a Convention we find ourselves a little over a month and 1/2 from our next annual meeting at which we will act as a body on this very report.

    What the GCR task force has produced comes to us in a fairly timely fashion, giving us more than 40 days to chew on, discuss, and debate the document that so many are hoping will reorient and revitalize our convention around the gospel and our responsibility to make disciples of all nations.

    Here’s my .02 contribution to the conversation (and I’m sure the actual value is far less than that sum).

    1. I was glad to read the GCR report’s explicit statement about the central importance of the Cooperative Program in fulfilling the Great Commission: “The greatest stewardship of Great Commission investment and deployment is giving through the Cooperative Program.”


    My church is small, out of the way, uninfluential, and far from wealthy. Left to our own devices we’d barely be able to contribute to the work of a single missionary, let along broadly participate in world-wide mission work. Yet through the Cooperative Program we are connected with a global missionary endeavor that multiplies our contribution exceedingly. I’m thankful for the Cooperative Program and remain convinced that it is far and away the best system for participating in missions, regardless of the size of the church involved.

    2. One of my concerns about how the SBC allocates funds going in to the Louisville was the relationship between the NAMB and the IMB regarding spheres of responsibility. I was primarily concerned with overlap; it appeared to my Southern Baptist eyes that in the domestic U.S. a great number of people were employed between the two entities working overlapping jobs. It is encouraging to see the GCR put in print what common sense should have dictated all along – namely that the IMB would partner or cooperate with the NAMB in reaching unreached people groups within the boarders of the United States. Having read the final GCR report I see that there is language speaking to ways in which the NAMB and IMB should be directed but I’m concerned that the language remains vague to the point that I don’t see anything practical that will remove the overlap between the two agencies (and the resulting inefficient use of funds). To my eyes the GCR focuses primarily on the NAMB, less so the IMB. I’m quite fine with that if the proposed system is the best way to utilize Cooperative Fund money. What I’m not clear on is who does what and why. For instance, if the NAMB is going to be the agency charged to “implement a missional strategy for planting churches in North America with a priority to reach metropolitan areas and underserved people groups” what do we then anticipate when we read later that “[The IMB] has the charge to develop strategies for reaching these unreached and undeserved people groups around the world” which is followed by “We need to allow the IMB to utilize those skills and that knowledge within North America as well.” Even more confusing, the very next sentence declares that it “makes no sense to duplicate this effort and work with an artificial separation of mission.”

    How can we charge two entities to reach underserved people (the same terminology use for both the NAMB and IMB) and no create overlap and duplicate effort? Since I don’t imagine the NAMB will just close down because the IMB is freely operating in the U.S. and I assume that, continuing in operation, the NAMB will also continue to participate in missions in North America – you know, reaching unreached/underserved people in the U.S. – I can see no reason that inefficient overlap (and even competition) won’t continue.

    Yes, I realize that the GCR report says “[The NAMB] retains the leadership mission of reaching North American with the gospel” but what does this really mean, practically speaking? The ideology of the GCR on the NAMB and IMB relationship is fine but in the absence of specific parameters for this relationship I don’t anticipate much change taking place.

    3. The GCR reproduces our current myopic emphasis on planting new congregations as the solution to any and all problems. Let me say up front that I’m in favor of planting new congregations… where they are needed. I am adamantly opposed to planting new churches in areas well saturated by established churches that aren’t being utilized to their fullest potential. Until language is in place encouraging the implementation and revitalization of established churches in a given area as a priority equal to or – *gasp* – even greater than planting a new congregation we’re going to be unnecessarily locked into a one-size fits all approach that isn’t wise or efficient. Revitalizing existing churches will require dollars, just like planting new ones. As long as a financial commitment to implementing reinvigorated established churches is missing from the GCR (and by extension the SBC) we aren’t going to have a resurgence of the great commission.

    4. The GCR began as a grass-roots groundswell to see a greater investment of Cooperative Program resources invested in spreading the gospel worldwide. The perception is that the SBC is more bloated bureaucracy than missions agency, a situation that led many to question whether or not the SBC was more of an aid or hindrance to the Great Commission. In response the best and brightest amongst us were appointed to a year-long task force that would address and trim the fat from the SBC so that our denomination would be refined into a lean, mean, gospel-sending machine. And what now do we see as the product of our efforts at missional reformation? If followed the GCR taskforce will lead the SBC to increase Cooperative Program to the International Mission Board (and, implicitly, foreign missions)…

    1 percent more than current levels.

    The sound effect in cartoons when something disappointing happens sounds something like Wahmp-Whamp-Whamp-Waaaaaah. It is hard not to hear that sound effect in your mind when reading the final recommendation. Someone said this works out to an increase of $3 Million dollars which sounds much better than 1 percent but I have strong concerns about whether or not this is enough.

    One, the question about whether or not the 1 percent increase is enough rises from the need. You can read the GCR report for yourself for an accounting of all the unreached people groups with no exposure to the gospel or the scores living in our own borders who have never heard the gospel. The need is great. I’m not sure that a 1% increase – even if it represents $3,000,000 extra dollars going to the field – is enough to meet the need.

    Two, I don’t know if 1 percent is enough to satiate the court of public appeals. The GCR is supposed to be a REVOLUTION, man. It was going to trim out all the excess – kill the bureaucracy and oust the bureaucrats.

    But on paper we get 1%.

    Look, I’m a realist. I know that a ship as large as the SBC takes a loooooong time to turn. I realize that some of our members, particularly those who have been in SBC life for many years, need and deserve a bit of time to adjust. I can see that the GCR is a necessary first step, an articulation of ideology that will guide further action. I also realize that even small budget percentages in an organization as large as the SBC amounts to drastic real-world differences.

    However, I’m also realistic about my generation. I know the ones most loudly talking (and Tweeting and blogging) about being missional are the ones hardest to satisfy. Frankly speaking we’re arrogant, self-confident beyond reason, and iconoclastic to the core. 1% won’t satisfy the thirst of those who think they know a better way to support missions. I’m afraid that a significant percentage of them will head off in any number of directions not realizing that separate we can’t accomplish even a portion of what we could together. As individuals my generation thinks we are the next Luther, Calvin, Wilberforce or Spurgeon. Well, if not that then at least the next Driscoll. We never realize that we’re much more likely to be unknown than well known. I’m afraid this inappropriate self confidence will cause us to break apart the greatest system of supporting mission work that has been produced in the name of new ventures that won’t touch the significance of what we sacrificed to attempt them.

    I hope I’m wrong.

    In Louisville I voted for the GCR taskforce and I’m glad I did. While I have concerns about the impact of the final report I stand behind what the GCR report represents. I only hope we have enough time to work out the bugs in the process before we kill the golden goose.

  9. Church Revitalization: Responding to Greear 5

    September 2, 2009 by Jeff Wright

    This is the final post in response to J.D. Greear’s series on Church Revitalization at The Resurgence Blog. You can my first post here, my second here, the third here, and the fourth here.

    Working to revitalize existing churches around the Gospel is pure Kingdom work. God’s affections are set upon His people in His Son and the one who works for the benefit of the church labors at a task close to the heart of God. Because the work is so important an so closely related to God’s priorities I would suggest we should attempt church revitalization if:

    I. God really is Sovereign

    Much has been said about finding strategic locations and people who will follow leadership. However, if God really is Sovereign, anywhere can be strategic. Jerusalem was in the backwaters of the Roman Empire and yet the church in that city managed to send the Gospel to the ends of the world.

    II. The Word really does produce faith.

    I find it personally disheartening when I hear or read about the need to find a location where the people in the church are ready for change and willing to follow the leader. No doubt this is a wonderful situation to minister in. On the other hand, do the obstinate not need a Pastor and a Preacher? Isn’t the Word full of examples of men who have been called – and exhausted their lives – working with flint-faced people? Also, if the preaching of the Word is really God’s instrument of producing faith then can’t we expect revival to break out in even the rockiest soil?

    One other thought: could it be possible that what is interpreted by the minister as a refusal to follow his leadership could in reality be a case of a congregation is exercising wisdom or discretion that the minister doesn’t appreciate? Is the pastor the only one who can discern the appropriate course for the church? The Baptist in me has a hard time believing that every time you hear about a church unwilling to get on board with God that the problem lies in the congregation.

    III. The Great Commission is really about making disciples rather than just converts.

    Statistics, measurables, strategic planning and evaluation: these are the tools of ministry that I see lauded in many books about the church and ministry. The problem is how one measures discipleship. We know what a disciple is but how to you chart that in a bar graph? What if success in ministry is largely un-measurable? Do we have categories for that though any longer?

    IV. The church really is designed to demonstrate God’s glory.

    This is the ultimate kicker for me. God is glorified in saving men from all tribes and tongues solely on the basis of His mercy and power. The collection of the redeemed doesn’t bring glory to Him because they are so impressive but because His love for them is. Angels, demons, believers, and even the lost see the church as curiously amazing in its collection of disparate people brought together under the love of God. What greater motivation do we have for working toward revitalization? God is glorified in our efforts even if we don’t register numerical increase or find personal fulfillment in the response of those we work with. While it is possible that working to revitalize a church isn’t the Lord’s will I would argue that those cases are vastly smaller in number than the ones in which revitalization absolutely is the Lord’s will.

  10. Church Revitalization: Responding to Greear 4

    July 30, 2009 by Jeff Wright

    This is the fourth in a series of posts in response to J.D. Greear’s series on Church Revitalization at The Resurgence Blog. You can my first post here, my second here, and the third here.

    I initially had a spot of difficulty in understanding how Greear’s fourth post @ the Resurgence blog on the subject of church revitalization actually related to the topic at hand. I have since concluded that Greear is giving guidelines to leaders attempting revitalization about how to deal with the conflict that arises from making changes in an established church which are necessary to reorient the congregation toward fulfilling the Great Commission.

    Sadly, I know of no one who has been involved with congregational life for any significant amount of time that hasn’t seen conflict arise in connection with a Pastor. The reasons for this conflict are almost as numerous as the occurrences: spiritual immaturity in the pastor or congregation, failure to communicate clearly, poor (or lack of) policy, spiritual attack, poor decisions, poor pacing for change, etc etc ad nauseam. I was listening to The God Whisperers and heard a new one: church member Joe works all day every day of the week as Employee 462 installing blue bolt 16 on widget B; he’s anonymous, marginalized, and powerless for most of his waking life. However, in the church, he has the power to bring everything in the church to a screeching halt simply by speaking in a certain way in church business meetings or hallways. The root of this example holds true for clergy as well: pastors often decide since they are The Man of God in the church that their perspective, preferences, and opinions are ordained from on high and begin to exercise a kind of totalitarianism rather than the servant leadership modeled by Christ.

    I (and you) could provide countless hours of analysis and examples of this very problem. To get back on track let me quote Greear’s recommendation on how to evaluate problems that arise which involve the pastor:

    …we [Elders] should never fight to protect our reputation, but we should be willing to fight to protect the body. It may superficially appear “humble” and “Christ-like” to obsequiously walk away and surrender when you are being attacked, but you may be doing the church a great disservice in doing so. You may be turning your flock over to wolves. No shepherd worthy of Jesus’ name should ever do that. You need to say “only over my dead body.” The church is Jesus’ most expensive investment. She is worth fighting, even dying, to protect.

    Taking his cues from Paul’s life, Greear says by implication that when defending oneself doesn’t benefit the local church don’t do it (Phil 1:13) but when protecting the body entails defending oneself (2 Corinthians) then it is incumbent upon the pastor to roll up his sleeves.

    That is a much more healthy paradigm for evaluating conflicts in the body than our most prevalent model: fight or flight.

    You know this model well. Something comes up, generally not anything as important as doctrinal error or unconfessed sin, two parties (at least) form, and the fight is on! Those who don’t join one of the groups quickly flee for another congregation. Pastors, deacons, and laity are all equally prone to this behavior; dig in your heels and load your guns or update the ol’ resume/start church shopping.

    None of that – as I’m sure you know – looks anything like how God intends conflicts in the body to be resolved (Matthew 18). Our fight or flight tendencies dishonor the head of the Body. It is more reasonable when these conflicts arise for the two parties to have an honest discussion with one another about their differences and then, if no resolution is found, involve successively more Godly people’s council until a solution is found.

    I would encourage anyone reading this to make use of Greear’s paradigm but modify it in such a way that – regardless of your conclusion about whether to defend yourself or not – your first step will be to conversate with the other party/parties.

    I’m convinced that being consistent with the Matthew 18 process as the every-time go to strategy for resolving conflict would take us farther in restoring the health of our churches than anything not connected with doctrine and preaching. Churches growing in health are churches that are being revitalized, thus the need for Biblical conflict resolution couldn’t be greater.

    Next Post: Church Revitalization: Responding to Greear 5