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‘9 Marks of a Healthy Church’ Category

  1. 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.

    THE DANGERS AND PITFALLS OF SEARCH COMMITTEES

    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.


  2. Book Review: What is the Gospel? by Greg Gilbert

    May 6, 2010 by Jeff Wright

    [Note: if you found this post wanting to know what the Christian gospel is please click here. If you are interested in the book review continue reading.]

    According to Amazon.com Greg Gilbert’s What Is the Gospel? measures a diminutive 7.1×5.1×0.6” and weighs in a 7.2 ounces.

    I’m not a fan of little books.

    I don’t pretend that my disdain for little books is anything reasonable. As a matter of fact I think this is probably an unhealthy reaction to the dinky little super-Christian books that started popping up when I was younger. You probably know them yourself: The Prayer of Jabez, Secret of the Vine, or something of the like. As a result I came to equate small books, particularly those accompanied by a great deal of hype, with all that is wrong in contemporary Evangelicalism.

    Now, as a rule I devour any publication by the 9 Marks organization so when I first saw online that this particular book was being released I rushed to add it to my Wish List. I’m a Christian and thus a big fan of the Gospel; any book dedicated to examining this subject is going to grab my interest. My interest went a bit further also as a few years back I had conducted a blog project (gone now) on the very subject “What is the Gospel?” I had participated in one too many online “debates” (read: throw-downs) that assumed we all meant the same thing when using the term “gospel” which I was convinced is anything but accurate. At the time I often thought to myself how much I wished someone in Reformed circles would release a contemporary work on the gospel so that, even if not definitively defining the gospel, we’d at least have some common ground to work from. As a result I saw Gilbert’s book as a title that couldn’t get published fast enough. We needed this kind of book. So yes, I was excited.

    Remember that I said I added it to my Wish List as soon as I heard that it was coming out? Thing is, I didn’t check the dims. Thus it was with a paradoxical combination of glee and disgust that I found Gilbert’s book amongst the first pile given away at Together for the Gospel 2010. It’s always exciting when you get a Wish List book for free (or greatly reduced cost) but there was this measly little tome lying atop a stack of what was quite obviously (by their size, natch) more significant writings. Mentally I shuffled What is the Gospel? to the back of my mental To Read list.

    Thankfully I ended up reading this book more quickly than I anticipated.

    What is the Gospel? made its way with me to work one Monday and I vowed to read at least one chapter a day. I figured at that pace I’d knock it out quickly (remember: little book, itty bitty pages) and could move on to bigger and better – weightier – volumes.

    I was gratefully surprised to find that Gilbert’s book has a significance that far exceeds its physical dimensions. I don’t say that because Gilbert covers any radically new ground. As a matter of fact one of the strongest aspects of the book is that the author stays so tightly focused on a Biblically-established course. In remarkably concise fashion Gilbert moves from categories familiar to most Christians: What Does the Bible Say to God the Creator to Fall of Man to Jesus the Savior to The Appropriate Response (you can see the Creation > Fall > Redemption categories clearly here, a fact Gilbert acknowledges).

    What I find remarkable is that Gilbert can cover fairly well-worn grown in a way that doesn’t seem derivative or copy-cat yet still communicate grand truths in a very conversational way. (As I have always admired Mark Dever’s ability to do this very thing I was not surprised to read at the end of the book that Gilbert considers Dever his mentor. I’m more than a little jealous, by the way.) I would be very comfortable putting this book in the hand of unbelievers, young Christians, and mature believers – as a matter of fact I plan to do that very thing. Again, the text is very accessible and direct yet covers all the ground that I would hope would be contained in a book bearing the title What is the Gospel?

    After walking us through the categories mentioned above Gilbert takes a minute to touch on what it means to live as a Christian (the Kingdom), why it is important to say Cross-centered in our thinking and speaking about the Gospel, and finally a closing word about the power of the Gospel. These elements too are not novel but do present some of the fundamental implications of the gospel in a fresh way.

    So who do I recommend this book to? Honestly, anyone who speaks English. I read an unfavorable review on Amazon (note: the only one) that accused Gilbert of taking too long to get to the gospel and assuming a church context that is not readily understandable. I wonder if this reviewer read the same book I did. From beginning to end there is rich, gospel-centered truth that is as accessible (actually, more so) than the local newspaper. Yes, there is a discussion of the church (what do you expect from a 9 Marks book, particularly one about the Gospel) but nothing that is foreign or strange to a reader even remotely familiar with Western culture.

    For the Pastor please take a minute to read this. It will remind and confirm and refresh you in the truths of the Gospel, a renewal we all need. Then, pastor, go buy a bunch to give out to your church. The Bible clearly indicates that the gospel isn’t the introductory course in discipleship, one to be learned then set aside to go to deeper topics. We need to hear the gospel regularly and repeatedly. We need to think about the gospel and its implications. We need to talk about the gospel with believer and unbeliever alike. This book will contribute to all those things. Furthermore, putting it in the hands of your congregation will not only encourage thought and conversation on the gospel but I dare say that if your membership roll isn’t as regenerate as it should be you will see fruit in conversion as well. What I just wrote is entirely applicable to the lay Christian as well. As for me I find myself sometimes the object of curiosity when someone, whether family or new acquaintance, asks about my job as a minister. From now on when someone asks me what it is that I believe as a minister guess which book I’ll put in their hands first?

    So now all that remains for me is to figure out the best way to get a bulk discount on these. Surely that won’t be too hard; there can’t be much production cost in a piddling little book like this…


  3. Reflections on SBC 2009

    June 29, 2009 by Jeff Wright

    The 2009 Southern Baptist Convention was the most edifying denominational convention I have ever attended. I came away more encouraged and optimistic about not only the SBC but the state of the local churches tied to the SBC than I have in either of my previous conventions. With that in mind here are my thoughts on what took place in Louisville .

    I. The Great Commission Resurgence

    If you haven’t read the GCR document please take a moment to do so. In all honesty I initially paid little attention to the GCR buzz, thinking that it was likely the most recent example of denominational falderal that generates much noise but little impact. Thankfully I was wrong. Again, read the document. What is there in the GCR with which to disagree (assuming you aren’t a denominational cog working a redundant job that might get axed)? If the local churches of the SBC and the national Convention itself follow this paradigm we are looking at a future of greater emphasis on spreading the Gospel, greater cooperation between churches/pastors/generations, and greater health across the board. No, that future is by no means guaranteed. In fact, it is still very much up in the air (because of the if qualifier two sentences prior). Still, the Convention is now aimed in the right direction. Could you really say that leaving San Antonio/Greensboro/Indianapolis?

    The GCR managed to not only provide a healthy way forward for cooperating Southern Baptists but also revealed the unity that already existed in the convention but went unseen. Years of disagreements between Calvinists/Non Calvinists and Old Guard/New Leaders gave the impression that our convention was divided theologically and generationally. That impression was wonderfully swept away when the yellow ballot covers were raised to ratify Dr. Mohler’s motion. An estimated 95% of messengers – including those from different generations, theological positions, and cultural backgrounds – jointly expressed their commitment to a more efficient vehicle for fulfilling the Great Commission. At this year’s Pastor’s Conference Ed Stetzer spoke of the great need for Southern Baptists to practically express here on earth the unity that we already have in Christ. While the vote on Dr. Mohler’s motion hasn’t brought Stetzer’s call to completion it was an appetizing taste of what he had in mind.

    My church still receives most of their denominational news from me. Because of my ignorance of the GCR’s significance our members were unexposed to the GCR document as well as what it represented for our denomination. Imagine my joy as Sunday night (when our messengers traditionally report to the congregation) our church members expressed excitement over the ten articles of the GCR. Even more, a discussion about how our church can be more active and efficient in our missions giving spontaneously developed. Talk about a happy pastor. If something like what happened at Welchland Sunday night takes place in other churches around our Convention I have no problem saying our best days are yet ahead of us as Southern Baptists.

    II. Leadership

    This year’s Convention also benefited from the leadership of fresh voices from within the Southern Baptist Convention.

    Dr. Al Mohler is, of course, the head of a vitally important SBC entity. The value of his leadership within the SBC and Evangelicalism cannot be over estimated nor is it particularly new. However, it was his action as a messenger from his local church that brought to life the most significant change I have witnessed at a national Convention. Furthermore, his participation in the Baptist21 panel discussion was both gracious and prophetic (more on that to come). Dr. Mohler’s explicit instruction to those in favor of the GCR before the vote and his Twitter comments following the discussion of the motion (in which some Calvinist-straw men were stuffed and flogged) engendered a peaceful yet direct approach to steering the SBC in a more healthy direction. My hope is that Dr. Mohler’s influence only grows in the SBC; I can’t imagine a man more qualified for the task.

    One anecdote about Dr. Mohler: at the Baptist21 panel, facing a group who could be described as “young leaders” (young, anyway) Dr. Mohler spoke gently yet prophetically. Dr. Mohler reminded those assembled that if you want an opportunity to lead you then need to put yourself in the environments where opportunities to lead present themselves. A simple statement perhaps but needful for the audience. Dr. Mohler didn’t show up one day at Southern and become President. Rather he labored there for years, even in obscure positions (I think he said he spent a year as an R.A. doing nothing but filling out forms), before eventually earning his opportunity to lead. Mohler told us that no one likes meetings but you have to go to them in order to be available when opportunities to serve present themselves. I found it a very helpful check to a prevalent attitude that doesn’t understand that leadership is first and foremost earned.

    Dr. Danny Aiken’s contribution to what took place at the 2009 SBC cannot be overstated. If you follow the timeline you will see that it was Dr. Aiken that gave voice and direction to the grassroots movement calling for reform in the SBC. His labors in crafting and promoting the GCR funneled the energy of all those dissatisfied by the lack of efficiency within SBC agencies a healthy expression. Furthermore, he conducted himself as a true statesman in dealing with the accusation and innuendo raised during discussion of Dr. Mohler’s motion rather than lowering himself to the level of his opponents. Dr. Akin also found time to participate in the Founders Ministries’ Breakfast, the Baptist21 Panel, and the second 9 Marks @ 9 session. I personally appreciate Dr. Aiken’s work to reconcile the Calvinist and Non-Calvinist camps within the convention. Blessed are the peacemakers and Danny Aiken is a peacemaker. South Eastern Seminary is in good hands.

    Dr. Mark Dever is obviously a man with influence that goes beyond the Southern Baptist Convention. This is seen not only in his work with 9 Marks but particularly in Together for the Gospel. I appreciate very much that Dr. Dever took the time to make the trip to Louisville as well as invest the time there with events as rich as 9 Marks @ 9. The discussion sessions and following Q&A times were as interesting and edifying as anything else that took place in Louisville. And the books…oh, the books! You really couldn’t get in the vicinity of a 9 Marks guy without having a book stuck in your hand. This strategy, generous to a fault, spreads the influence of 9 Marks far and abroad. Kudos to Dr. Dever for his involvement with SBC 2009.

    Two anecdotes about Dr. Dever: (1) During the first 9 Marks @ 9 session Dr. Dever opened with a call to those in attendance to decide if they would remain faithful to a Biblical ministry of instruction which relied on the text or capitulate to “the spirit of the age” that called for visual learning. Considering that the pastors gathered for the session are facing just such a pressure to leave Word-based ministry I appreciated Dr. Dever drawing attention to the issue. (2) At the Baptist21 panel discussion the subject of theological/cultural blind spots (example: Jonathan Edwards, a great man of God, owned slaves) came up, particularly how to avoid them. One of the things that Dr. Dever mentioned was the need to be “suspicious” of creativity. His point was that for many of the young pastors, ministers, and laity gathered at Baptist21’s discussion “creativity” as a category is not often examined critically. We tend to think of creativity as sanctified entirely when, as Dr. Dever pointed out, the fact that fallen people are the ones doing the creating means we must be discerning about creativity. Considering how fascinated my generation is with creativity – not to mention the church in which the discussion was being held when Dever made his comment – this was a prophetic check.

    Dr. Johnny Hunt performed wonderfully not only at the annual meeting but through his entire first term as President. When I first heard that Dr. Hunt was elected I confess I was troubled, suspicious that his election was evidence that the good-ol-boy network of Southern mega church pastors was being continued. I also expected Dr. Hunt’s presidency would serve to deepen the divide between Calvinists and Non-Calvinists in the SBC. I am so very thankful that I was wrong. Dr. Hunt worked hard – and succeeded I think – at bringing together the various divisions in the SBC. His partnership with Dr. Aiken in promoting the GCR brought about momentous change toward the good. His reaching out to Dr. Akin and Tom Ascol helped bridge the divide between Calvinist and Non-Calvinist and Dr. Hunt was even so kind as to buy lunch for the young SBCers at the Baptist21 panel. Dr. Hunt wisely worked in specific and practical ways to bring relational healing to the SBC. God has been glorified and served in Dr. Hunt’s work. May his second term be as productive as his first.

    III. Personal Conversations

    This last heading has little to do, really, with the formal Convention but rather took place around it. Still, it was one of the richest aspects of my time in Louisville. I was able at various times to connect with family (Chase and Cheryl Vaughn), old friends (Matt and Julie Sliger, Steve and Gretta Weaver, Tim Ellsworth, Scott Lamb), and new friends (Brad Vincent). I also was able to meet and/or shake the hands of some of my heroes – Dr. Dever, Dr. Akin, Tom Ascol, and Dr. Haykin – which is always thrilling for me. I’m not far from carrying an autograph book really.

    IV. Special Activities

    I would like to say thank you to:

    1. Founders Ministries (particularly Tom Ascol) – I hope that you were able this year to enjoy the fruits of your patient work within the SBC. I know that not everyone associated with your group has conducted themselves in a peaceful manner and you have been hit with guilt by association. I know too that you have represented the best of the historic Reformed tradition within Baptist life and history. Again, I hope you enjoyed this year’s convention.

    2. Baptist21 – Thank you. Thank you for the forum, thank you for the pre-convention promotion of important issues, and yes – thank you for the books. That was a great panel and I hope the men you chose to set on it (well, except for that guy who pastors Sojourn) continue to gain a broader and broader hearing.

    3. 9 Marks – Thanks to you as well for much the same reason as Baptist21. Thanks for being at the SBC, thanks for getting your materials into so many hands, and thanks for providing not only discussions and Q&A sessions but also for giving access to the men who were involved in the 9 Marks & 9 sessions.

    V. Going Forward

    Some bullet points I think are worth discussing as Southern Baptists go forward from their most recent national Convention:

    * All of the good associated with the GCR won’t mean anything if the vision it presents doesn’t settle in to the local churches of the SBC.
    * Much was made in recent days about how little of what is dropped in the offering plate actually makes it to the International Mission Board. True, refining the National Convention will do much to rectify this problem. We need to also remember that our State Conventions represent an equally great drain on Cooperative Program giving. The work of reform must be done in our state conventions as well – not to do away with them (at least in my opinion) but to work for similar efficiency in the state institutions/agencies as well. If you are serious about getting money to the mission field you will be active in your state convention, bottom line.
    * I don’t know if the pandering to “young leaders” is all that healthy. I heard or read much pleading for young pastors not to leave and great expressions of thankfulness that so many of the younger generation turned out. Being 27 I still fit somewhere in the “young” demographic of the SBC and I know that my generation tends to be self-important and more than a little arrogant in regards to our ability to do ministry. While I agree that the SBC doesn’t need to loose this age group I am suspicious that hearing how important we are might actually make us think we are important.
    * I think that on the whole our Convention understands the importance of planting churches, based on the amount to talk and publication church planting generates as well as the amount of money being spent in this area. I think that perhaps it is time to begin talking about the importance of revitalizing established churches as equally important to the kingdom. I also think it is high time that NAMB starts putting money into this endeavor (perhaps starting with churches having less than 100 members).

    VI. Books

    I thought some of my fellow bibliophiles might be interested in seeing what books I accumulated at the SBC (with no cost to myself I might add). Those I have to thank for the book are bracketed.

    Baptist21 – What does it mean to be Baptist in the 21st Century? [Baptist21]
    Danny Aiken – Five Who Changed the World [Baptist 21]
    Hayken, Duke, Fuller – Soldiers of Christ [Founders Ministries]
    Mark Dever – What Is a Healthy Church? [9 Marks]
    Mark Dever – 9 Marks of a Healthy Church [9 Marks]
    Mark Dever – The Deliberate Church [9 Marks]
    Mark Dever – Twelve Challenges Churches Face [9 Marks]
    Mark Dever – By Whose Authority? Elders in Baptist Life [9 Marks]
    Mark Dever – The Gospel & Personal Evangelism [9 Marks]
    Ed Stetzer – Comeback Churches [Baptist 21]
    Johnny Hunt – Building Your Leadership Resume [Baptist21]
    Christopher Bass – That You May Know: Commentary on 1 John (NAC) [Founders Ministries]
    Al Mohler – The Disappearance of God [The Legacy Center]
    Al Mohler – Atheism Remix [The Legacy Center]
    Al Mohler – He Is Not Silent [Baptist21]

    I also landed the latest issues of the Founders’ Journal and Table Talk Magazine (courtesy of Founders Ministries).

    Now quit acting like you don’t have any good reasons to come to the Southern Baptist Convention. If for no other reason come for your library.

    VII. Other SBC 2009 Reflections

    Denny Burke
    Tom Ascol
    Alan Cross
    Timmy Brister
    iMonk
    Greg Gilbert
    Alvin Reid
    Shawn Bergen
    Danny Akin


  4. Ed Stetzer Interviews Mark Dever

    June 13, 2009 by Jeff Wright

    Ah yes. A thoughtful modern-day Reformed Baptist converses with a thoughtful Missional proponent. It is immensely edifying just to listen to their two perspectives interact. Hopefully the third part will be up soon.

    Part 1

    Part 2


  5. 2009 SBC – 9 Marks @ 9

    May 23, 2009 by Jeff Wright

    baptist21.com has posted some appetite-whetting info on the 9 Marks @ 9 event being held at the 2009 Southern Baptist Convention in Louisville.

    As a general rule I attend both the state and national conventions strictly to conduct business. This year may be the exception. This year’s Pastor’s Conference features an intriguing lineup; intriguing enough to lead me to plan on breaking my 3 year hiatus from said SBC Pastor’s Conference. There is also this 9 Marks event which could possibly be the most exciting Convention-related event of any year I have attended.

    From baptist21:

    What is it: It is 2 nights of discussion about the SBC.

    Night one (June 22nd) will feature Mark Dever speaking on “Why the Nine Marks are Central to the Future of the SBC,” with a panel discussion to follow with Mark Dever, David Platt, and Greg Gilbert.

    Night two (June 23rd) will feature Danny Akin speaking on “The SBC: Where We are and Where We’re Going,” with a panel discussion to follow with Mark Dever, Michael McKinley, and Josh Smith.

    When is it: Monday June 22nd and Tuesday June 23rd at 9pm

    Where is it: This Year’s Southern Baptist Convention in Louisville, South B101-102

    Who is it: Mark Dever, Danny Akin, David Platt, Greg Gilbert, Michael McKinley, Josh Smith, and IX Marks Ministries.

    Why does b21 think you should be there: The content will no doubt be great and presented by excellent communicators. In addition, it should be a time to meet some guys that are striving to serve our Lord in ministry. Nevertheless, more than that, if a Great Commission Resurgence is really to take off in the SBC it will really encompass two things. These two things are Healthy Churches reproducing through Church planting and Healthy Christians reproducing through discipleship. This means that the health of our churches and members is of utmost importance to the GCR. IX marks Ministries is dedicated to this end, so we think you will want to hear what they have to say.

    Make sure you get up early for the Founder’s Ministries’ Breakfast (which will require a ticket purchase) then set up late with 9 Marks…all for the health of the Convention and the local churches it is comprised of. Seriously: hope to see you there.


  6. Nine Marks of a Healthy Church:Biblical Leadership, cont.

    October 12, 2006 by Jeff Wright

    Nine Marks of a Healthy Church
    Mark 9: Biblical Leadership

    The Division of Leadership

  7. All leadership originates with Christ, through His Word.
  8. Therefore we are not at liberty to change the structures He has placed in His church.
  9. 2 Offices

    1. Elders/Overseers/Pastors
    This is the office described in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9
    We know that the three terms refer to the same office because of passages like 1 Peter 5:1-3 . This office is a position of service primarily. However, it does involved leadership – instruction, decision making, direction pointing, etc. We see this in passages like 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 and Hebrews 13:7 . Therefore we can understand that this is the office God has set aside for leading, primarily through instruction in the Word but also sometimes through direction.

    2. Deacons
    This is the office described in 1 Timothy 3:8-13. We see it’s creation in Acts 6:1-5.
    This is office, while similar in qualification to the office of elder, is strictly a position of service – working to meet the physical and temporal needs of the church body. In fact, the Greek word from which we get the term deacon actually means “to serve.”

    Let’s walk through Acts 6:1-5 and hit some highlights:
    1. The Problem: There was potential for ethnic favoritism in the distribution of food to widows.
    2. Apostolic Reluctance: Notice what the Apostles say” “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables…we will devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word.” Here we get a glimpse of what the Apostles understood “ministry” to be – it was the teaching of the Word, empowered by prayer.
    3. The Solution: “Pick out from among [the congregation] seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.” We see here that the deaconate was created as an agency by which the physical, temporal needs of the members of the body would be met.

    Baptists have a horrible track record of messing this up. Generally, because the deacons are called from within the congregation, they tend to remain with the church long term, a term when that same church might be served by several different pastors. Thus, the stability of the deacon rosters leads the church to look to the deacons for leadership, particularly when there is a long period without a pastor. This is understandable. However, our ability to understand what creates this situation does not justify it. God has not chosen to place deacons in leadership and thus we sin when we elevate them to a position within the church which God never grants.

    This should remind us of the need to develop a well discipled congregation which can function in the absence of an overseer if that situation ever arises. Furthermore, we should expect our deacons to reject outright anything which places them in a position of leadership, considering that anyone who is “full of the Spirit and wisdom” will want to honor the Lord’s own structuring of His church.

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  • Nine Marks of a Healthy Church:Biblical Leadership

    October 4, 2006 by Jeff Wright

    Nine Marks of a Healthy Church
    Mark 9: Biblical Leadership

    “Leader.” What does the word bring to your mind? Do you picture General Patton, commanding his troops with gruff precision? Do you picture Winston Churchill – a statesman who holds his country together in the midst of war through sheer intelligence and charisma? Maybe you think of Richard Nixon staring in to a camera saying the words “I am not a crook.” Perhaps you think of your boss – where I work we refer to our bosses not as “boss” but as our “leader.” As Mark Dever points out in his book, “leader” is not always a term we think of with a positive connotation. While we desire leaders we can look up to and trust we’ve come to see gross incompetence or immorality in our leaders as possible, perhaps even probable. On the other hand, the Bible defines leadership as service, obedience to God & His Word, and integrity – the absence of which disqualifies someone from leadership. So who are leaders in the Biblical sense and what are they supposed to do? Some of the answers might surprise you.

    I. The Final Authority
    Jesus Christ is the final authority for the church. His will is expressed through the Word of God and if the Bible doesn’t speak to the issue then the most reasonable course of action which conforms to Biblical principles should be followed. This may sound like a truth so obvious that it doesn’t need to be said. It would be hard to imagine a legitimate church which disagrees with those statements. However, it is amazing how poorly churches live out the reality they affirm in word. Here are some questions to ask when the church is deciding how to act:
    1) Does the Word of God speak directly and clearly to this issue? (Example: Homosexuality)
    2) Does the Word of God speak to this issue but require some serious study to arrive at a conclusion? (Example: Church Polity)
    3) If the Word of God doesn’t speak directly to this issue then what Biblical principles can be applied? (Example: Churches borrowing money)
    4) If this is primarily a conflict between individuals or groups of individuals, which of the two has the best Biblical case for their position?
    5) If this is primarily a conflict between individuals or groups of individuals, which of the two has conducted themselves most consistently with the Word of God?

    II. The Ultimate Level of Leadership
    When people think of leaders in the church they most often think of the Pastor and/or staff. Secondary to that the general church member will then think of the Deacons. Pastors and church staff are indeed leaders in that they are involved in decision making processes but we would be in disagreement with the Bible if we saw Deacons the same way. We will discuss that issue later but for now let me direct us to a sphere of leadership (and thus accountability) that is often overlooked when church leadership is considered. First, 2 texts to examine:

    Matthew 18:15-17 – Which “court” does Jesus says has the ultimate temporal authority over the situation in this passage?
    Galatians 1:6-9 – Who does Paul rebuke for the false teaching infecting the church at Galatia?

    The answer in both questions is the congregation, the body of believers, the local church! Have you thought about that before? You, as a member of the local church, have been given authority by the Lord to disciple those around you in a congregational context. Furthermore, you will be held accountable for what you allow to go on in the name of Christ in the church of which you are a member. Let that sink in. You, as a leader in this congregation, may be held accountable by and to God for what you allow me to teach here. We usually think of the Pastor being the leader and having responsibility for the congregation (which is true). However, we also need to remember that each and everyone of us is a leader in our church in that we are responsible before our Lord for discipline our fellow members, guarding the unity of the church, and protecting the purity our church’s doctrine.


  • Nine Marks of a Healthy Church:Concern for Discipleship

    September 27, 2006 by Jeff Wright

    Nine Marks of a Healthy Church
    Mark 8: Concern for Discipleship

    The American Church is obsessed with growth. Notable Christian authors and perceived leaders like Rick Warren and Bill Hybels initially rose to prominence because of their writings on church growth. Furthermore, credibility is often established on the grounds of how big one’s church or ministry is – “Joel Osteen, pastor of Lakewood Church, America’s Largest Congregation” is a frequent introduction used for Osteen. This doesn’t even take into account the cottage industry within Christian publishing devoted to publishing works on how to get a church to grow numerically. The Bible also is concerned with growth – passages like Ephesians 4:15-16, Colossians 2:19, 2 Thessalonians 1:3, and others include commands, instructions on how, or prayers for believers to grow. However, the growth the Bible seeks is usually not the numerical growth we’ve become obsessed with but rather growth of a believer in Christ – the Bible is interested in Christians “grow[ing] in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

    This concern should be a primary interest both to Christians and Churches exactly because the Bible takes the issue so seriously. In fact, this hunger to grown in Christ is a defining mark of true believers, healthy churches, and is one of the primary ways in which God glorifies Himself. In considering the whole of scriptural revelation we can say that Christian Growth:

    * Is a work of God’s grace (1 Corinthians 3:6)
    * Begins with a growing knowledge of God’s Word (Hebrews 5:12-13, 1 Peter 2:2)
    * Seeks how to apply that knowledge in all areas of life (Colossian 1:10)
    * Endeavors to live out the truth of God’s Word in whatever way we find it applies (2 John 1:6, Ephesians 2:10)
    * Seeks to do all to the glory of God (Matthew 5:16, 2 Peter 2:12

    How can churches be intentional about doing all they can to see that their people grow? Mark Dever lists 8 ways:
    1. Expositional Preaching – learning all of the Word, not just the parts we like
    2. Biblical Theology – how do I understand the Word from a broad perspective?
    3. Understanding the Gospel – diligent study of what the Bible says indicates as most important to believers and the church
    4. Understanding true Conversion – what happens when God brings sinful men to Himself?
    5. Understanding Biblical Evangelism – how is it that God brings sinful men to Himself?
    6. Understanding Biblical Church Membership – what is God doing with me and us as a body?
    7. Understanding Biblical Discipline – how is it that we help one another to grow in Christ?
    8. Biblical Leadership – God gives us leaders and opportunities to serve. How do we glorify Him in this & use it to grow?

    Do any of these look familiar? I’m sure they do, if you’ve been reading the book. These are all Marks of a Healthy Church as well as being ways in which we grow as believers.

    It should be noted that Christians are not unconcerned with numerical growth. All healthy, living things grow and reproduce their kind. So Christians are concerned with numerical growth as a matter of health, just not overly concerned therewith. By that I mean we aren’t stressed about producing ever larger numbers – we rely on the one who promised to build His church to do so and focus on being obedient to what He commanded.

    In the final estimation we must conclude, based on what the Bible teaches that if we aren’t coming to better know the Word of God through diligent study, living more in conformity with the commands of the Bible, and sharing our faith regularly with those around us then we are not growing as Christians. Any other criteria for calculating growth serve more as pleasant delusions than markers of spiritual progress.

    In his Treatise Concerning Religious Affections , Jonathan Edwards suggested that true growth in Christian discipleship is not finally mere excitement, increasing use of religious language, or a growing knowledge of Scripture. It is not even an evident increase in joy or in love or concern for the church. Even increases in zeal and praise to God and confidence of one’s own faith are not infallible evidences of true Christian growth. What, then, is evidence of true Christian growth? According to Edwards, while all these things may be evidences of true Christian growth, the only certain observable sign of such growth is a life of increasing holiness, rooted in Christian self-denial.

    – Mark Dever, 9 Marks of a Healthy Church

    This isn’t legalistic self-validating pseudo-Christianity. One can live morally and not know the God of the Bible. However, the observation from Edwards serves to remind us that you must see all the marks of growth, working with one another, to legitimately grow. We can’t pick one favorite – study, morality, love – and trumpet it as a mark of growth. We must seek to be more like Christ in all areas.


  • Nine Marks of a Healthy Church: Church Discipline, cont.

    September 21, 2006 by Jeff Wright

    Nine Marks of a Healthy Church
    Church Discipline

    Foundational Passage: 1 Corinthians 5

    We must practice church discipline because…

    1. It is shameful for a Christian to live in sin (vs. 1-2)
    Admittedly, this is a particularly scandalous sin – Paul says that it is “a kind [of sin] that is not tolerated even among pagans.” We can learn at least 2 things here: (1) the church is expected to live at a moral standard higher than the culture around them and (2) also that sin within the body should produce a mournful attitude.

    There is a great deal of emphasis today on being “transparent” and “honest” about our own struggles with sin. That is indeed necessary – we as Christians should have a clear perspective about our own sin – however, we must not allow ourselves to become comfortable with sin.

    2. The practice flows from the Lordship of Christ & Apostolic Mandate (vs. 3-4)
    Stated another way, doing church discipline is the kind of thing Christ and His apostles would be having churches do if they were on the earth at this moment. You can almost hear the fire in Paul’s voice as he calls on this church to have “him who has done this…removed from among you.” Paul took the issue of sin within the body of Christ as a serious matter, serious enough that he would invoke the name of Christ, implying that Christ’s authority compelled them to act immediately.

    3. Discipline is ultimately beneficial to the one being disciplined (vs. 5)
    Listen to what Paul says will happen to the one being disciplined: he will be delivered “to Satan for the destruction of the flesh.” Doesn’t sound very pleasant does it? However, look at the result Paul anticipates for the one disciplined: “his spirit [will] be saved in the day of the Lord.” The harsh medicine produces a healthy result.

    4. Sin is an infectious agent (vs. 6-8)
    Allowing sin to remain in the body leads to more in the body in sin. Paul specifically compares sin to yeast which, when added to a recipe, works itself through the entire batch. We can’t leave one member of the church in sin, if for no other reason that it will cause others to fall as well.

    5. Discipline was created for believers (vs. 9-13)
    Paul expects lost people to be immoral, greedy, swindlers, etc. They’re lost – that’s what we anticipate from them. However, discipline helps to remove these things from believers – things that are shameful for someone born again to practice.


  • Nine Marks of a Healthy Church: Church Discipline

    September 13, 2006 by Jeff Wright

    Nine Marks of a Healthy Church
    Church Discipline

    Foundational Passage: Matthew 18

    1. A Kingdom Context
    This chapter is housed in the midst of Jesus’ instructions regarding the Kingdom. This, as surprising as it may seem to some, is a perfectly reasonable frame from which to understand church discipline. This chapter discusses the Kingdom of God, or, to put it another way, this is King Jesus describing how His Kingdom operates.

    We see first Christ’s program for advancement, His warnings regarding the seriousness of sin, His concern for straying believers, the way in which straying believers are brought back, and the spirit of forgiveness that is to pervade His people. All of these are crucial Kingdom elements.

    This is important to note because these are instructions issued from the King – we can no more disregard Christ’s instructions regarding discipline than we can His instruction regarding Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, or any other element of His Kingdom.

    2. A Kind-Hearted Shepherd
    Notice that the verses immediately preceding these are an illustration of how Christ, as a loving shepherd, goes to find even one who strays. Have you ever thought that the verses we are considering are a description of how He goes about retrieving the one who strays and, also, informs us about how we are to pursue those who sin?

    The church is the body of Christ on earth. This reality, of course, means many things. One of those is that the people of earth cannot physically go to Christ’s body – He no longer dwells here in His bodily form. However, we serve the function of being where people go to find Christ – we are His physical presence on Earth. Therefore we pursue those who stray in the way He describes because we act on His behalf.

    3. A Christian Attitude toward Repentance
    It is hard not to view Peter’s question as his seeking a way to find out just how far Jesus wanted to take this “forgive your brother” business. He might have thought he was being “spiritual” by asking if he should be as gracious as to forgive 7 times. However, Christ blows his petty standard out of the water. We shouldn’t see “70 times 70” as a mandate to only forgive 490 times. It seems that Christ is emphasizing not so much a number as much as a long-suffering attitude. The parable of the forgiven slave which follows serves to remind us that we, as the forgiven, have every reason and indeed a mandate to be forgiving once the brother who sins against us repents.


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