After a meeting date was set, ML sent this email to BF, however this meeting never transpired.
Date: Fri, Jul 10, 2009
Thanks for the invitation. If you and the staff think it would be beneficial, then I would love to come in and interact over what was in the April email as well as answer any questions they might have for me regarding the various ins-and-outs of my journey over the last several months.
I can get together pretty much anytime Monday through Thursday of next week. However, if those days really don’t work well for everyone, I would be more-than-willing to drive back down any time I can in July-August to get together. I’ll leave it to you and the staff to decide who you think should or should not be at the meeting – if you think it would be good for someone else to be there even though they don’t technically fall in the “staff” category, it’s alright with me if you invite them and forward them the appropriate emails (BC comes to mind). But if it only ends up being those who initially got that last email, or a portion of those people, then that’s fine too.
I know that the issues in my April email were quite brief, so I’ve appended an expanded version to the bottom of this email that further explains some of my thinking on these things, with the hopes that it might answer a few more questions people might have and make our time together even more profitable.I have also included a portion of the email I sent you a while back about a Sunday message as I think it does a good job of explaining a lot of what I mean in my point about the teaching. I’ll leave it to you to forward them on to the rest of the staff and anyone else you decide to invite to the meeting.
Thank you for your willingness to grow with me through all this. I appreciate it.
P.S. It looks like your “signature” at the bottom of your emails has the wrong Sunday service time attached to them. You should be able to change it in your “Settings” right within your Grace Church Gmail panel.
Portion of email sent to BF on March 20th, 2009
I’ve been meaning to get back to you ever since you left that message on my phone a few Sundays ago on your way back from out of town, asking what I thought of the service. I would have responded sooner, but I wasn’t quite sure what I would say. But your message last Sunday helped to clarify some things for me so I thought maybe now would be a good time for me to respond to last Sunday’s service as well as some of the ones that came before it in broader strokes.
I want to start by again thanking you for last Sunday’s message. It was easily the single most encouraging message that I’ve heard in months. I greatly appreciated, and was significantly ministered to by the God-focused, grace-centered, gospel-driven content. I know that it’s easy to think of messages like that as being primarily geared toward non-believers, but I personally found it to be very edifying as well. I think there are several reasons for that which also (in broad strokes) explain what I’ve thought about previous services/messages by way of comparison, so here they are…
- It was more focused on the person and work of Christ than on biblical principles or isolated truth statements, and whatever principle/truth statements were made seemed to be clearly connected to the foundation of the person and work of Christ.
- Jesus got center-stage in last Sunday’s message whereas lately it has felt to me like he has been more of an implied guest, or someone slipped in briefly at the end. The more we talk directly about Jesus and constantly and explicitly tie everything we say back to who he is and what he’s done, the more I can’t help but smile.
- Last Sunday we not only talked about Jesus in general but we talked about Jesus and the cross, and why he died on that cross, and what the implications of that death and subsequent resurrection have upon us today. I felt like the issue of “sin” was dealt with more accurately and helpfully than is has been in recent messages.
- God was exalted as holy and merciful. That was one of my favorite parts… “the wind blows where it pleases”. “You can’t control God. You can’t tell God what to do.” My role in this universe was put in proper perspective as God was placed on center stage as the beginning, middle, and end of everything. Sure, that doesn’t leave me with three clear, measurable things I can do between now and next Sunday to grow in my walk with God, but the very proclamation of that truth, applied to my heart by the Holy Spirit, GROWS ME, right then and there as I behold the glory of God in the face of Christ. It puts the greatness of God on display, and through the work of the Spirit, causes me, forces me, compels me to trust and love and adore him more than I ever have up until that very moment. It makes suggestions for application within the message almost unnecessary as it applies itself and influences me a thousand times throughout the week in every interaction and every instance where God is leading me to do his will and I trust him that much more because of the way the Spirit has increased my capacity to do so through the life-giving power of the gospel.
- It removes so much fear and pressure as it puts my focus on Christ and what he has done instead of me and what I need to do. The very preaching of the gospel of grace is an act of grace that testifies to the reality of that grace. It’s the living God at work in our midst, drawing the attention to himself and creating faith in our hearts as the excellent object of our faith is lifted up.
- I realize that this is all much easier to recognize and describe after the fact than it is to do in practice. How many messages have I given where I would not have scored very high in some of the areas I mentioned above. Yet it seems to me that somehow we must figure out how to preach the gospel of God, centered in the person of Christ and saturated by his past, present, and future work on our behalf, from every passage of scripture. How do we help our people understand that the gospel that saved them is the same gospel that continues saving them, and will finally save them to the uttermost at the return of Christ? How do we preach in such a way as to proclaim its foundational priority and ever present relevancy for every moment of every day of our lives instead of confining it (the gospel) to a simple phrase or two that encapsulates the essential truth-elements necessary for a business-like transaction that is then mainly set aside to collect dust except when we pull it out to relive old memories instead of living its vital and present realities.
EXPANDED THOUGHTS ON ISSUES IN APRIL EMAIL
Seriousness of The Issues
Because I don’t believe that any of these things are being done with a willfully malicious or unbiblical intent, I don’t view these things as black-and-white sin issues but as unhealthy areas in need of adjustment and attention. That’s not to say there may not have been specific situations where individuals acted along these lines and personally sinned against God or others, however that can only be determined by the individuals involved, as the Lord reveals it, on a case-by-case basis. I realize that there may be differing perspectives on the validity or seriousness of these issues depending on one’s position, experience, and level of Biblical/theological conviction concerning them. Yet a consistent lack of progress could lead people to limit their involvement or eventually leave. Personally, these issues created enough of a tension within me to lead me to step out of my staff and leadership positions in an attempt to better understand them and work through them while preventing myself from negatively affecting others through their influence on my own life and leadership.
I elaborated on this some in a previous email to BF. Some Scriptures that have influenced my thinking on this are…
- And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:1-5)
- O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? (Galatians 3:1-3)
- But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9)
- But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. (2 Peter 3:18)
- But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, (Ephesians 4:20-21)
- And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 1:30-31)
- To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. (Colossians 1:27-29)
If you were to take all the weekend messages we’ve given since Warriner and add up the amount of time that was spent in direct reference to the person and work of Christ (centered around his life, death, resurrection, and return) on our behalf (both past, present, and future) and compared that to the amount of time we spent talking about biblical principles, isolated truth statements, trying to understand ourselves both psychologically and emotionally, telling stories, quoting extra biblical sources, or expounding upon verses that tell people what they should do and how they should act as a Christian (in isolation from the greater Christo-centric context), you would have a huge discrepancy.
It seems as though perhaps we are bored with the radical simplicity of the gospel, that we’re uncomfortable trusting it to produce God-honoring results (maybe we’ve misunderstood what those are) in people’s lives and therefore the gospel is only assumed and implied in much of our teaching instead of being the direct, clear, and obvious center of it.
Lack of Theological Training for Leaders
Over three or four years ago ML, PC, and BK began meeting with SK to work through a makeshift ordination course that would result in individual position papers and potential ordination ceremony. After a handful of meetings this was discontinued. Since then, to the best of my knowledge, there has been no consistent effort to provide any systematic training in the areas of theology, church history, hermeneutics, etc.. I believe this has helped to foster an overly pragmatic ministry culture, as well as an insecure, biblically confused, and theologically shallow leadership with an unnecessarily limited perspective concerning the why’s and how’s of ministry. There seems to be such an emphasis on the practical “work” of the ministry that there seems to be little perceived need or time for this sort of intellectual discipline. I believe this stems from and leads to a misunderstanding of the God-given priorities of the church and her ministers. It also contributes to an erratic and sometimes arbitrary decision-making process within the leadership of the church.
Over-extension of Staff and Its Impact
The lack of theological training easily leads to a lack of clarity regarding the God-given roles and responsibilities of a minister of the gospel, how those responsibilities are to be carried out and evaluated, as well as the genuine biblical needs of a congregation. In our context I think this has resulted in creating ministers of the ministry instead of ministers of the Word and grace of God. Instead of placing the priority on loving and shepherding people in personal and direct ways, we have justified spending most of our working hours managing, organizing, and administrating people and programs because we believe we are creating an infrastructure that will ultimately bless a larger number of people. All too often we neglect the real needs of real people right in front of us in order to do things we think are for the good of the greater whole. So the staff puts in way too many hours, spends far too little time with their families, leads too many ministries, and is responsible for knowing way too much about too many people. In conjunction with all this the staff is certainly expected to love, lead, and feed all these people. But when the rubber meets the road there’s rarely enough time and emotional energy to do it well, if at all, and so the people get juggled and the more measurable responsibilities get pushed to the front. Until there is a significant shift in the understanding of what really “NEEDS” to be accomplished in the church, and therefore what staff really NEED to be doing each day, and the support and training they NEED to do it well, the changes will typically be superficial and temporary. Merging ministry teams and shuffling responsibilities while lowering the overall expectations may seem more efficient, but it’s not addressing the real issues. What would happen if you limited the staff to 40-45 hours a week, took away their cell phones, email, and computers, and told them to minister to people within that framework? How might things be inherently different?
Clear Leadership Structure, Support and Accountability
This all goes back to the overarching church governance issue that, to the best of my knowledge, has not been finalized. I think there are many important issues at stake here that will play a large part in determining the organizational health of our church body in the years to come. This issue is closely related to the teaching, training, and staff issues already mentioned. It seems to me that the current leadership dynamic has resulted in an unhealthy concentration of pressure and power in the single person of the senior pastor – BF, with little support and clear accountability to go along with it. I think this is a long term recipe for disaster for BF, the church, or both. I don’t think this is intentional, but making healthy adjustments will have to be. Hard decisions must be made to spread the burden of decision-making responsibility and create a more open, inclusive atmosphere for feedback and healthy debate at both the congregational and leadership level. I think this is something that BF has desired and sought, but that is inherently thwarted by the dynamics of the current system.
Right now you have a staff and volunteer leaders that have no formal theological training, most have little to no significant experience with any church besides our own, and they report to the senior pastor who is typically almost 20 years older than everyone else, who is the only one with formal theological training, who planted the church at great personal sacrifice, who has a very strong personality, who is the main party involved in hiring and setting the pay for the staff and who makes the final call on most all other significant financial and ministry decisions. In addition to this his assistant shares many of the same characteristics except for the strong personality. Many of these staff have worked at this church for so long and invested so much of their lives and finances into it that it can be difficult to separate its success from their own identity and sense of self-worth. Combine these things with a feedback and accountability mechanism that primarily consists of isolated emails and you have a situation where all natural factors would lead an individual with significant disagreements to dutifully bury them in prayer instead of voicing them and standing by them even when the pastor disagrees. And even then, if the pastor disagrees with you, you really have no clear, peaceful, and accepted avenue to pursue your convictions and therefore run the risk of being viewed as someone who is divisive or doesn’t trust the leadership. The difficulty only enlarges when there are few staff who share your concerns or are willing to voice them.
I believe our church should implement a congregational form of church government that would elect an elder-board that would bear primary responsibility for leading and feeding the congregation in accordance with the qualifications for elders given in scripture. I think this board should consist of the senior pastor, as well as a balanced number of matur(ing) non-paid “members”, volunteers, and paid staff that reflects a healthy diversity of ages and perspectives. I believe that with congregational input and approval when appropriate, this board should bear the primary responsibility for facilitating the hiring and firing of church employees, managing the financial affairs of the church, setting the overall leadership and direction of the church, maintaining purity of doctrine, implementing church discipline, and providing both support and accountability to paid and unpaid staff/leaders as well as the senior pastor. Some of these responsibilities may also be carried out with the assistance of clearly elected deacons as well.
In this scenario the senior pastor would share the decision-making responsibilities with the rest of the elder-board and would practice mutual accountability with them. It would take a deliberate Christ-like relinquishing of power/control to make this work. It can not be faked.
Individual Responsibility & Authority
This is an important issue that deals directly with the nature of the biblically mandated responsibilities of a minister of the gospel/pastor/staff member and the responsibilities of an individual Christian toward that biblical authority. If the reformation teaching of sola scriptura as the final authority regarding an individual’s faith and practice is true, and Martin Luther’s statement at the Diet of Worms is still applicable, then a protestant pastor/elder/bishop’s authority is derived from a succession of apostolic teaching (not office) as contained within the Scriptures.
“Unless I am convinced by the testimonies of the Holy Scriptures or evident reason (for I believe neither in the Pope nor councils alone, since it has been established that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures adduced by me, and my conscience has been taken captive by the Word of God, and I am neither able nor willing to recant, since it is neither safe nor right to act against conscience. God help me. Amen” (E. G. Schwiebert, Luther and His Times, 504f.).
This means that a protestant pastor speaks authoritatively in-as-much-as the Scriptures provide the basis and support for his claim. His responsibility then is to faithfully expound the teaching of the Scriptures, and pray that the Holy Spirit will convict his hearer accordingly. In situations regarding a clear teaching of scripture (ex. adultery) as opposed to an inferred teaching of scripture (ex. smoking), a pastor would be within his biblical mandate to exercise church discipline according the Matthew 18 if it seemed that an individual was in clear violation of that biblical teaching. In that instance, the ultimate decision in the matter would not be left up to the individual but to the church. However the pastor/leader’s authority does not extend to the other issues not specifically or clearly addressed in scripture and though he may communicate his disagreement or concern as a brother in Christ, as a matter of ministerial practice he should clearly defer final judgment on the issue to the individual making the decision.
A failure to do so does violence to the dignity of the individual as created in God’s image, it places a stumbling block in the way of his conscience as he seeks to be faithful to do the will of God as best as he can understand it, and it tends to use the approval of others to produce a desired behavior. On issues not clearly addressed in Scripture a pastor/leader has no right to speak “authoritatively” but only “sympathetically”, recognizing and admitting his own frailty in discerning such matters, and should exercise the utmost care to communicate the non-binding nature of his own opinions and deep respect for the tremendous responsibility an individual bears before his Maker in such situations.