Monthly Archives: April 2008





Jared C. Wilson|2:18 pm CT

Big Church/Small Church Perspective

Here’s some things I believe:

a) Big churches are cool.
b) Small churches are cool.
c) One is not cooler than the other.

But I do think our perspective is all out of whack.
I also think we get the impression that there are more big churches than there really are because it is the big churches that get the press coverage and the big church guys who get the conference speaking gigs, book deals, magazine article features, blog praise and criticism, etc.
This is also what feeds the insecurity and competition and ambition of the small church guys who feel unsuccessful or unfulfilled.

Matt Chandler hit this head on at the last Resurgence conference when he told the thousands of eager beavers in attendance that most of them will never have a church that is much bigger than the one they already had. That is something conference cowboys rarely ever say. I mean, I don’t attend a lot of conferences, but I’d never heard it said, and my cynical hunch is that most of these guys don’t say things like that because most of these conferences are predicated upon the idea that by coming, listening, buying in, and applying at your own church, You Too Can Have A Church Like Mine!

It’s a warped perspective. Not every church can be huge, and in fact most churches are not. I’ll even go out on a limb and say most healthy churches are not huge. But of course it depends on how you define health (or success).

Spin alters our understanding too.

Andy Stanley recently confirmed at the Exponential Conference that North Point was helped by his father Charles Stanley’s church (FBC Atlanta) to the tune of 1500 people on their first Sunday.

How many small church pastorpreneurs trying to “replicate the systems” of North Point and engineer their own version of its success know this information? Most of these pastors won’t have churches that get anywhere near 1500, the amount North Point started with right out of the box.

The legendary start of Rob Bell’s Mars Hill Bible Church is nothing short of remarkable, what with his apparent eschewing of advertising. Bell reportedly says that he and “several others” founded the church and that on their first Sunday they had over 1,000 people in attendance in worship. The result is to think that 1,000 people just sort of came out of the woodwork, somehow responding to word of mouth. The truth is that the “several others” Bell and friends started the church with numbered about 1,000, all who came with him from Mars Hill’s sponsoring congregation, Calvary Church in Grand Rapids. (Bell was a teaching pastor there under pastor Ed Dobson.)

I don’t mention either of these examples to speak negatively of either Stanley or Bell, but merely to demonstrate that stories tend to take on a life of their own, to remind myself and to remind you that many times our ambitions and definitions of success are based on faulty premises, and therefore that many times our frustrations and disillusionment are unwarranted.

Be content. With a lot or a little. Learn contentment. Preach Jesus in word and deed, love others, glorify God, be faithful in things big and small, and He will take care of whether your efforts are best made manifest as mega or mini.






Jared C. Wilson|2:02 pm CT

Color Me Excited

We’ve got one week left in (re)build, our Habakkuk series, and then next Sunday we start an 8-week series called Coffee Shop Theology that is similar to the “Ask Anything” series Mars Hill Seattle did this year. (Gonna cover stuff like predestination and free will, demons, how to love “unlovable” people, the rapture, etc.)
But what I’m really excited about and already preparing for is the series after that. It’s called The Supremacy of Christ: The Gospel According to Paul. We’re all pumped about that one already, and it won’t start at least until mid July.

What in the future life of your ministry are you excited about right now?






Jared C. Wilson|1:59 pm CT

Ministry to Youth

From Abraham Piper’s 22 Words blog:

Understanding teenage rebellion only as sex, drugs, and rock’n'roll implies that the goal is celibacy, sobriety, and employment. It’s not.

It’s Jesus.






Jared C. Wilson|3:08 pm CT


For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.
– Habakkuk 2:14

When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.
– 1 Corinthians 15:28

All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him.
– Psalm 22:27

Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
– 1 Corinthians 13:12

The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.
– Revelation 21:23






Jared C. Wilson|2:13 pm CT

Undercover in an Unholy Mess

A Rolling Stone reporter went undercover at a retreat held by John Hagee’s Cornerstone Church and is surprised by things that don’t surprise me at all.

Check out Matt Taibbi’s “Jesus Made Me Puke”.

Some quotes, some thoughts . . .

One of the implicit promises of the church is that following its program will restore to you your vigor, confidence and assertiveness, effecting, among other things, a marked and obvious physical transformation from crippled lost soul to hearty vessel of God. That’s one of the reasons that it’s so important for the pastors to look healthy, lusty and lustrous — they’re appearing as the “after” photo in the ongoing advertisement for the church wellness cure.

I found that observation really interesting, and generally true. Taibbi spends some time on the import of the macho, coulda-beena-contenda military/sportsman leaders, and it’s an interesting perspective. As a guy who grew up in a youth ministry culture that propped up all manner of Christian ex-athletes, I always wondered if our youth ministers even cared that they were implicitly favoring jock culture with these endorsements, that many (most?) kids don’t care that Jesus helped third string quaterback Brock Throwmeister get over losing that big game that one time.

My other thought is this: How stupid is it that this retreat features the promise and value of physical health and luster all under the sponsorship of a church led by the fattest preacher on television?

The program revolved around a theory that Fortenberry quickly introduced us to called “the wound.” The wound theory was a piece of schlock biblical Freudianism in which everyone had one traumatic event from their childhood that had left a wound. The wound necessarily had been inflicted by another person, and bitterness toward that person had corrupted our spirits and alienated us from God.

Sounds like warmed over “Wild at Heart.”
There is obviously vital truth connected to this stuff, but I wonder if it will cause any pause among peddlers of The Wound approach that even an unbeliever recognizes it is dressed up psycho-therapy. When it gets abused is when, as I have heard from those under the leadership of zealous “Wild at Heart” devotees, it is insisted that everyone has a childhood wound and if you can’t/don’t think of one, you’re in denial.

After each of these grueling exercises we would have lengthy, fifteen-to-twenty-minute sessions singing unbearably atonal Christian hymns. Then we would have teaching/Bible-study sessions led by Fortenberry on the theme of the moment (e.g., “Admit the Truth About Our Wounds”) that lasted an hour or so. Then, after Fortenberry would waste at least half the session giving us the Marlboro Man highlights of his professional résumé (“I was the manager of the second-largest ranch in America, 825,000 acres. . . .”) and bragging about his physical prowess (“If someone was to slug me, I could whip just about anyone here”), we would go back to the group session and confess some more. Then we would sing some more, receive more of Fortenberry’s hairy lessons, and then the cycle would start all over again. There were almost no breaks or interruptions; it was a physically exhausting schedule of confession, catharsis, bad music and relentless, muscular instruction. The Saturday program began at 7:45 a.m. and did not end until ten at night; we went around the confess-sing-learn cycle five full times in one day.

So it’s youth camp for grown-ups. :-)

[A]s far as I could see, in the early going, most of what we were doing was simple pop-psych self-examination using New Age-y diagnostic tools of the Deepak Chopra school: Identify your problems, face your oppressors, visualize your obstacles. Be your dream job. With a little rhetorical tweaking and much better food, this could easily have been Tony Robbins instructing a bunch of Upper East Side housewives to “find your wounds” (“My husband hid my Saks card!”) at a chic resort in Miami Beach or the Hamptons.

At this point I wondered if this guy had watched even five minutes of Joel Osteen. Or stopped into any random evangelical megachurch. You don’t have to go undercover to discover that churches are into self-helpy pop psychology these days.

Fortenberry told a story about a nephew of his who called him up one night. “Both of his kids had fallen on the ground in respiratory distress, half-conscious, writhing around, gasping for air,” Fortenberry said. “And I said to my nephew, I said, ‘It isn’t something they’ve done. It’s something you’ve done.’ “

The crowd murmured in assent.

I haven’t even gotten to the chaotic tongues-and-vomiting deliverance session, but this is the part that offended me the most. This rank despicable hurtful ridiculous lie from the pit of hell: you hurt or your loved ones hurt because of your sin. I hate it with a passion.
I want to smack purveyors of this false gospel upside the head with John 9:1-3.

Throughout the whole weekend, Fortenberry had been setting himself up as an athletic conqueror of demons. Now, on the final morning, he looked like a quarterback about to take the field before a big game. The life coaches assembled around the edges of the chapel, carrying anointing oil and bundles of small paper bags.

Fortenberry began to issue instructions. He told us that under no circumstances should we pray during the Deliverance.

“When the word of God is in your mouth,” he said, “the demons can’t come out of your body. You have to keep a path clear for the demon to come up through your throat. So under no circumstances pray to God. You can’t have God in your mouth. You can cough, you might even want to vomit, but don’t pray.”

It just gets worse from there.

I wish Taibbi had picked a more “normal” congregation to go undercover in, but an experience in your average non-charismatic megachurch probably would not make for as good a story. The problem with this stuff is twofold: a) it makes us all look like idiots, and b) it will not do to pretend this isn’t widespread.

At the same time, there is a fine line to be run by these sorts of exposes. I feel sort of the same way I do about the recent book Unchristian — it is helpful to know, and better, to understand the culture’s perception of Christians and the Church, but we err when we make our response about marketing. We do not exist to please an unbelieving world. We exist to please God. The confusion, disgust, ridicule, or animosity of those who do not have ears to hear or eyes to see should not be our deepest concerns. Scripture promises we will be despised and ridiculed; it promises that the cross will be an offense. Our chief end is not to be well regarded among all men. It would be nice, sure. But there’s a fine line between cultivating a reputation for peace and love and pandering for the approval of those who are uncomfortable with our being “weird.”







Jared C. Wilson|3:36 pm CT

Bored with Good Preaching

Paul Martin asks Are you bored with good preaching?

A family came to GFC a few months ago and could not stop talking about how glad they were to “hear the Word again.” I warned them, as I warn others in their situation, that they must guard their hearts from an over-zealous enthusiasm. Although it is great that they are being fed, even bland food feels like a feast to a malnutritioned man. What will they do when they have regained spiritual sustenance and find that the preaching is Biblical, yet quite average? If they train their senses to feel something is “good” only when they receive some kind of spiritual high, they could very well end up running from place to place looking for that high, not the Word.

There are still others that are so used to being well fed that when summer comes, or relatives visit or some other fancy strikes, they feel quite free to skip church to play.

He then quotes some great verse from John Newton.

I have a confession to make:
Although I am committed to proclaiming the gospel of Jesus every week — in essence, playing the same song every Sunday — every single week I am tempted by the devil to do something else so that people won’t be bored with it. “It’s going to sound the same as last week,” he says to me, and he is so convincing and so logical that I have to constantly renew my commitment to my calling lest I give in to the temptation to keep people entertained or interested in something other than the “same old” Jesus.

Blogging has been light this week, btw, because I have family in town.






Jared C. Wilson|1:37 pm CT

Agents of the New Creation

I went with some friends last night to hear N.T. Wright lecture on the message of his latest book, Surprised by Hope. Homeboy was amazing.

Last night’s message was proof you don’t have to be a rah-rah sis-boom-bah gesticulator with a bazillion illustrations to preach a compelling message. You just have to have something extraordinary to say and you just have to say it in a compelling way. Of course, a British accent doesn’t hurt.

The thrust of the book and of the lecture last night was a resurrection-shaped Christianity. On the theological side, Wright corrected the dearly held cultural Christian belief in the afterlife as “going to heaven when you die,” emphasizing that whatever the disembodied existence in paradise after death is, it is only a way station on the way to the real destination — glorified bodied existence in the new heavens and new earth. This is, as Wright called it last night and as he calls it in several books, life after life after death.

He also put another nail in the coffin of premillennialist rapturism.
He emphasized again that he does affirm the future second coming of Jesus.
He reiterated briefly the historic/logical reasons for belief in the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
He was just all around awesome.

It was only near the end that he began to passionately expound on the “What now?” of the message. Wright mentioned that as he was finishing the first draft of Surprised by Hope, he realized he really wasn’t done, that he needed to go on to say what this recovery of biblical cosmology and eschatology meant for the mission of the Church, for evangelism.
If the resurrection is not merely about “going to heaven when you die,” but is actually about God’s new creation finally breaking into the world of space and matter, what are the implications for us now? We are clearly not “passing through.” It calls for a radical rethink of “this world is not my home” and being, as Paul says, “citizens of heaven.”

And this is where the bones get muscles. We are his workmanship, created for good works in Christ Jesus, that God created for us beforehand, that we might walk in them. Wright casts that using the Greek behind it — we are his poema, his artwork, his “poem.”
And then of course this means what many of us have been saying for quite some time: the radical implications of the gospel are that we are set free to be the tangible presence of Christ in a world caught up in the brokenness of the fall. It is our duty and should be our delight, as ambassadors of heaven and agents of the new creation, to bring glory to the God who is setting the world to rights by healing the sick, feeding the hungry, bringing freedom to the captives, comforting the distressed, forgiving debts, grieving with those who mourn, etc etc.

The motivation and power for this ecclesiological movement of new creationism is, of course, the amazing gospel of Jesus Christ’s atoning death and resurrection.

I got to meet one of my favorite bloggers last night. Trevin Wax and I have corresponded via email before, but we finally met face to face and got to chat a bit. Trevin (fresh off interviewing Bishop Wright yesterday afternoon) remarked on how many young people were in attendance, college students and young professionals, all gathering to hear a sixty-something bald-headed Anglican bishop in a clerical collar and a big golden cross dangling from around his neck.

This is why this message resonates:
The younger generation is sick of the show, tired of the self-oriented cultural Christianity of their parents and their parents’ churches, and eager for the gospel of the kingdom that makes the crooked ways of the world straight. N.T. Wright is one of the few guys competently and compellingly proclaiming such a gospel (and offering it as the ramifications of right doctrine, not optional to it or in place of it).

Others blogging on last night’s talk:
Phil Wilson
Pete Wilson
Gavin Richardson (who has audio of the talk available)
Thomas McKenzie
Cameron Conant (who highlights one of the best of Wright’s lines: “You are but a shadow of your future self.”)

If you were there and posted on the experience, let me know and I’ll give you a link.






Jared C. Wilson|2:36 pm CT

Worship as Turning to God’s Agenda

We are two messages into a series on Habakkuk at Element right now, and while we are focusing on four connected requirements it gives us for living the Christian life — brokenness, repentance, worship, and faith — the prevailing theme of the short three chapters of the book is the sovereignty of God. Habakkuk’s conversation with God says one thing most clearly: “God is in charge.”
Or, as in Habakkuk 2:20, “But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.”

There are obvious shades of “Who are you, o man, to say to God . . .?” and not so subtle shades of “Keep your fool mouth shut,” but as it comes at the end of stanzas pronouncing woes on all the ways the Chaldeans (and everybody else) pursue their own glory, I think what it really means is, “God is the one who is in charge; better get with the program.”

God has an agenda and it is not only not ours, it frequently and constantly interferes with and opposes ours. We are used to thinking in terms of God helping us in our life, that our life is “our story” and we invite God to participate in it, and that is so bass ackwards. It is God’s story, God’s world, God’s life, and we get to participate in it.
This is never more vivid in Habakkuk than in the way God answers Habakkuk’s complaints. He does so completely outside of Habakkuk’s assumptions and preferences and expectations. In a nutshell, the conversation kinda goes like this:

Habakkuk: God, there is so much sin and injustice in Israel, why aren’t you doing something about it? Where are you and why aren’t you listening to me?

God: I’m here. I’m about to do something awesome about it.

Habakkuk: Sweet!

God: I’m raising up idolaters to come destroy you.

Habakkuk: Um . . .

God: Seriously.

Habakkuk: But why would you use wicked people to judge good people?

(Jared’s Note of Irony: Notice that Habakkuk takes this tack right after saying Israel was wicked and God should do something about it.)

God: Oh, I’m going to destroy them too.

I’m trying to be humorous with that nutshell summation, and Habakkuk’s faith is actually remarkable in that he continues to faithfully acknowledge God’s goodness and holiness and righteousness even in the expectation of pain and suffering, but that is really the gist. God has an agenda, and it is not ours.

Last week we focused on Habakkuk 2, and I colored the point of the woes over man seeking worldly pleasures and satisfactions as a call to repent of our glory and turn toward God’s. That is what repentance really is; it’s not going from being a bad person to being a “good person,” because being a good person is impossible and doesn’t work. Repentance, rather, is trusting God and submitting to God’s agenda for His own glory, even when it means hardship and suffering and self-denial.

This is why corporate worship tainted with how good, faithful, strong, whatever we are is a dangerous, dangerous path. We should not gather to sing even for one second our own praises.

The worship God is seeking relies completely on His initiative, knowing that the only true expression of worship is through the abandonment of all our agendas for His, as we trust in His sovereign power and unlimited grace. It is from this heart posture that true liturgy flows, that music and arts find their highest calling and that the light of a worshipping community shines as a beacon of hope to a suffering and searching world.
– David Ruis

(HT for the quote: Joe Byler)






Jared C. Wilson|2:17 pm CT

Is the Second Coming a Pauline Innovation?

I finished N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope yesterday. As are all his books, it is excellent.
I’m really excited, also, because some of the Element peeps and I are attending this event tonight.

Wright’s writing is always enlightening and provocative, but the most interesting thing I encountered in Surprised by Hope is his contention that Jesus never taught his second coming. Wright reads the Olivet Discourse, for instance, as referring to Christ’s coming in glory and judgment in the resurrection, and a bit to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
Now, this perspective is not new to me. It is a sort of preterism I am familiar with and find valid, despite disagreeing with it. The interesting part here is that Wright does not deny the future second coming of Jesus; he just says Jesus himself doesn’t refer to it, that he was concerned with other things.

This view, as far as I can tell, makes Paul the “inventor” of the second coming. Now, I don’t have a problem per se with doctrines originating with Paul, as I believe his canonical epistles are the revelation of God, inspired by God from beginning to end. So even if we encounter a New Testament viewpoint for the first time in Paul, it doesn’t mean it came wholly from Paul’s imagination. But my understanding is typically guided by the notion that Paul expands/extrapolates/applies the teaching and work of Jesus. Jesus provided the sheet music for a beautiful symphony, and Paul is concerned with teaching the Church how to play it.
That is an illustration I got straight from Wright, actually, in the first book of his I ever read, The Challenge of Jesus.

I guess I just see glaring parallel ideas between the Olivet Discourse and Paul’s eschatology in 1 and 2 Thessalonians. He even appeals to “the Lord’s own word” in 1 Thessalonians 4:15 and uses the “thief in the night” metaphor from the Discourse in 1 Thessalonians 5:2. And the stuff in 2 Thessalonians 2 seems to draw from stuff in the Discourse.

Anybody got any thoughts on this? Did Paul innovate the second coming and just happened to use the same language Jesus used to refer to something else?






Jared C. Wilson|2:36 pm CT

Hold Steady

I have found as a teacher that clinging to a passion for the message, a burden to share the gospel, and a joy to proclaim Christ is an amazing antidote to the temptation to make feelings contingent upon the quality of the music, the smoothness of the transitions, the size of the crowd, the whatever. When I draw my excitement from Scripture and ground my motivation in an unbearable need to talk about the gospel, I cut off the emotional roller coaster of all the other who/what/when/where.

You can reach burnout rather quickly when ministry fulfillment for you is found in anything other than faithfulness to God’s calling.

There are highs and lows to ministry and preaching and leading a worship service, but consciously placing myself in the contours of Scripture does wonders for my ability to be content (and excited) no matter what.