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9Marks Explained : A Letter From Mark Dever

Implementing Change

7 Reasons Not to Go to T4G Break-Out Sessions

Early bird registration for T4G ends in one month.  Prices go up after 10/31/09, so you should go register now.  You know you're going to wind up going, the only question is if your delay is going to put $50 of your hard-earned money in Matt Schmucker's wallet.   One thing that's new this year at T4G (besides Thabiti's new Yosemite Sam tattoo) is the addition of break-out sessions on Wednesday afternoon.  They've invited seven accomplished young pastors to do one hour talks on the topic of their choice.  They've also invited me.So here's the thing: attendees can only choose one breakout session.  And if you look at the list of speakers, I'm clearly the not the brightest bulb in the marquee.  So I'm pretty confident that my breakout session will end up with me giving my talk to three guys from Idaho who thought they were attending David Platt's session but were too polite to get up and leave once they realized their mistake.Clearly, drastic measures are in order.  I could try to extol the virtues of my breakout session.  I could promise to reform my ways and assure you that my session will be pastorally wise, carefully thought-out and well reasoned.  But if you're reading this blog, chances are that you already know better.And so in the tradition of all that is truly great about Reformed blogs, I'm going negative.  I'm going to slander the other guys.  So, here we go.  Here are the reasons you should NOT attend the other seven breakout sessions:Greg Gilbert -- Wow... because opportunities to hear Greg's thoughts on the gospel are... so... very... rare.Eric Bancroft -- Before becoming a better pastor than me, he was only an adjunct professor at The Master's College.  Is that the really the best you can do?Kevin DeYoung -- He's like a smarter, funnier version of me.  Boring!  Plus, in the immortal words of actor Michael Caine: There's only two things I hate in this world. People who are intolerant of other people's cultures... and the Dutch. Tony Carter -- Wisdom, intelligence, and pastoral sensitivity are WAY over-rated.  Plus... I've never met him, so how great can he be?  Brian Habig -- I don't know Brian at all, so I feel a little bad about this... but, he's a PCA guy.  So you can be sure that he's going to wear a tie and reference Calvin's theology of the sacraments at least once.  Is that how you want to spend your precious conference time?Joshua Harris -- Yeah, because if you don't go to his breakout session, you'll only have 6,745 other opportunities to hear him speak at a conference this year.  And I think he's only got 18 books being published in 2010.  This guy is under-exposed!David Platt -- Let's see... lead pastor of a big church, taught at a seminary, brought down the house at the SBC Pastor's Conference, Th.M and Ph.D... but he's already 30!  Look, between me and you,  I've met David. This guy is a crazy over-achiever.  He's just going to make you feel really bad about your life.  Don't do that to yourself.Well, hopefully that was enough to convince you not to attend any of the other seven sessions.  If not, don't worry... my back-up plan is to lock Josh Harris in a hotel lobby maintenance closet and take his meeting room.  See you in Louisville!

5 Reasons Why Our Church Loves Praise Factory

Following up on Deepak's post about Praise Factory, I wanted to put in a plug for it.  Our church uses it, and it is excellent.  If your church is cranking out thousands of dollars for moralistic felt-board garbage, you should make the switch.  If you're starting a church, you want to use Praise Factory.
Five reasons our church uses it: 

  1. Rock-solid, doctrinally sound, God-exalting, gospel-centered theology.  As a pastor, this is my #1 concern.
  2. Really fun.  For my kids, this is their #1 concern.
  3. It's great for church plants and small churches.  You can have a "real" children's ministry curriculum that gives parents and visitors confidence, even if you don't have a ton of time, money, and people to throw at it.
  4. Flexibility... there is a ton of good material in the Praise Factory curriculum that can be tailored to your church's size and needs.
  5. The price.  Holy cow, people, it's free!  As in "Free-Ninety-Free"!  Not only is that really helpful for churches on a limited budget, but it also tells you that the people behind the curriculum are generous and kingdom-minded (though I think I read something about a voluntary donation to 9Marks). 

On Moving Towards Elders

Thabiti,Great job responding to the brother asking questions about moving to elders.  Really wise counsel.When I began work at our church, there were only a couple of people and the leadership was non-existent. Over the course of the first year or two we moved to elders.  Reflecting on that time, a couple of thoughts:

  1. If you are interviewing for a pastoral position, be up front about your intention to move the congregation to having elders.  That way, when you begin to actually do it, it won't be a surprise.  Or, if the congregation tells you up front that they don't want elders, you know that as well.
  2. If you are planting a church, get your polity and governing documents in place at the beginning. You won't find it easier to gain consensus once 100 people have started coming along. 
  3. Go slowly.  Put your primary emphasis on getting godly, Biblically qualified leadership in place even if they aren't called "elders" right away (though I think it's important for a number of reasons to have elders who are called "elders... it's just not the most important thing).  It will help your cause if people perceive that you are more interested in the health of the church than in simply getting your way. 
  4. In terms of teaching, I would take a season and put this issue front and center in church life.  Find out if people's objections are emotional, traditional, or exegetical.  Gently get people to interact with what the Bible says and ask them to explain why they oppose elders.  If your church trusts the way that you handle the Word and they are committed to obeying the Word, most of the people will come around with you.  If they don't trust you or aren't committed to obeying the Word, you've got bigger problems than whether or not you have elders.  

On Politics and the Church


I was a bit disappointed that my write-in campaign for blog king didn't make the CNN ticker. I thought for sure the Grand Cayman endorsement would lead to a ground swell.

I love "A Faith Worth Sharing". Do you want to know the truth? I cried at the end. I want to go out the way that he did, evangelizing the nurses with my dying breaths. I wish I had had a chance to know him, but I am very influenced by his writings and his legacy.

But you have baited me on to politics. I am always a little amazed at how the hopes of many Christians rise and fall with presidential politics. At our church's prayer meeting last night, you would have thought that all was lost and the end was nigh (and these are well taught people, obviously!). Did the book of Revelation suddenly drop out of the back of my Bible? Will King Jesus not reign forever with the people his Father has given him? Does the Lord no longer establish the king and hold his heart in his hand? If so, what's with national Jeremiad week?

First of all, it's not at all clear to me that the new president won't be an excellent president (though I could not vote for him because of the abortion issue). Second of all, I think in light of the Christian Coalition years, we've all learned to pay lip service to the idea that Jesus isn't a Republican. But hardly anyone actually believes that or acts like it when a Democrat wins.

I went to DC years ago to study economics and politics. My goal was to become a US Senator. What I learned in a few short years at college is that God's plan for the universe runs through the church, not the Capitol building. For me, that's why I became a pastor (though I am deeply grateful to God for believers who are called to careers in politics). I am convinced that what happened last Sunday morning at your church and mine is actually more important than what happened on Tuesday. I can understand why it doesn't seem like that to the world, but I wonder why more Christians don't act like it's true.

Catching Up

It's been a while since I posted. I've moved to Atlanta to begin pastoring a church. I'm very thankful to be here. Anyway, here is one thought that seems to relate to a thread I see below.

I'm noting a hunger for community among the members and attenders of the church I pastor. It is not a particularly large Southern Baptist congregation (especially by Atlanta standards) but it is large enough that someone can come Sunday morning (the only service on Sunday) and easily not see another member. For the summer we took our weekly meeting (usually divided among topical studies) and combined it into one class. All ages are together. Seniors are sitting with youth for a Bible study. Several people are commenting to me how much they love getting to know Christians of different ages, hearing them talk about Scripture, having their lives overlap. There is something to be said about our congregational lives overlapping enough for us to know one another. Some members seem genuinely perplexed about how to encourage and experience community.

I still remember my first experience of church community. It came in September of 1994 when Helen and Hardin Young, now deceased but longtime members of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, invited me to their home for lunch after church. It wasn't just me, they invited a several people of all ages. Sitting in that living room and being a part of their lives changed my life. After that one lunch, the Youngs felt like my grandparents. Every Sunday I would see them and other seniors at church and feel like I was a part of a family.

Thinking back to Mark's post below, I know that I joined Capitol Hill for the teaching and the community. Writing about it now, it seems a little corny--I've learned more about the church in the past few years. I understand that some churches grow so large that they have to make decisions about what to do (multiple services, multiple sites). The church I pastor isn't at that point and may never be at that point. Nonetheless, I want to be a part of a church whose members see one another, whose lives overlap. Part of my reasoning is biblical. So Jesus says that they'll know who his disciples are by the love they have for one another. An implication of this is that the lives of the members of a church overlap enough for this love to be evident to others. Admittedly, part of my reasoning is pragmatic. I was so affected by that community life that, as a pastor, I want to do anything and everything I can to encourage it for others. For now, I'm trying to encourage the lives of church members to overlap. I'm trying to do what every pastor is trying to do: to encourage a community that is both inviting (and perhaps perplexing) to the non-Christian and edifying to the Christian.

Can't A Brutha Get a Vacation?

Since Jonathan emailed me directly demanding that I respond to the questions he posted, I thought I'd interrupt my vacation in the "barbecue capitol of the world" (Lexington, NC--which, by the way Greg, is where you vacation when you live on a tropical island) and chime in.

First off, thanks brothers for engaging these ideas.  For me, there's something about "iron sharpening iron" in the comments and questions.  I appreciate all of you for the thoughtful encouragements and questions and suggestions.

Second, the questions....  Jonathan first, since his were so important to interrupt my time with my lovely wife and adorable children... who are with their husband and daddy on their first vacation since entering the pastorate full time. :-)

1.  The differences in skin color are biological or genetic.  But "race" is a much bigger idea/social theory than skin color.  When most people see a person of a differing skin color, they think "race" not just skin color.  By thinking "race," they are calling on a whole bunch of assumptions and ideas that make up the notion "race."  That is not biological but social and cultural.  It's linked to skin color in most people's thinking, but it's not caused by biology in any way.   We need to break apart "race as biology" from cultural and social assumptions/ideas in order to be free from the imprisonment that "race" is.  Here's how I tried to put it in the talk:The emphasis in the OT and NT wherever the Bible speaks of creation of humankind is mankind’s common biological descent from Adam.  Our common ancestry is underscored.  The most fundamental recognition is not our difference labeled as “race” but our oneness, not our discontinuity but continuity.To put it another way—This obvious truth that all men are descended from Adam and Eve through the line of Noah… demands complete abandonment of “race as biological distinctiveness.”  “Race” in the way we commonly use the term, as a proxy for explaining phenotypical differences—differences in appearances, does not exist in truth. I want to be clear.  I am not saying the differences in skin color, hair texture, etc. does not exist.  I am saying that the theory we use to explain those differences is completely false, non-existent.2.  I'd ditto Greg's comments re: the necessity to think about, evaluate, appreciate, and use the best (that is, most godly) aspects of ethnicity.  If we're to recognize or appreciate skin color, then it should be done in the way we recognize and appreciate the diversity of cloud configurations, differing colors and smells of roses, the brilliant array of colors in a stunning sunset or sunrise.  In other words, God purposes to be glorified in the fact that He has made all men in His own image from one parentage and yet made them incredibly diverse. We need to stand in awe of that... not try to look into the secret things of God that belong to Him alone. 

Greg, by God's grace,it's not a hopeless dream to see people from varying ethnicities worshipping joyfully together in the same local church.  By God's grace, I think there are an increasing number of such churches.  We should pray and work for more.  To do otherwise would be to settle for dividing Christ's body in a way that He never does.

One final and very important question that needs to be answered:

WHEREAS he has compelling knowledge of Public Enemy and hip hop,

WHEREAS he demonstrates a remarkable ability to roll with da bruthas,

WHEREAS he is no less cool than C.J. Mahaney,

WHEREAS grace and empathy fill his heart, showing itself in mercy and love for all,

WHEREAS God has granted him the privilege of serving a multi-ethnic church, which he does with joy,

Be it henceforth and forever RESOLVED, that Mike McKinley is a true brutha, down with the cause, and granted a lifetime, irrevocable ghetto card.  He can roll with me anywhere, any time.

re: people who will come

Matt,  before we move past your post, I wanted to make sure I noted how thankful I am that you stayed.  I'm one of those people who came, and it changed my life.  Though I had Christian friends prior to my experience at Capitol Hill, I didn't really understand what it meant to commit to a church.  When I was in college, my college pastor approached me about joining the church.  I said to him, "Why should I? I'm only going to be here four years!"  I had no sense of my need for the church and the church's need for people to commit to her.  All that to say, I learned so much about following Christ during those years in DC.  All that to say, thanks for staying!

"Joe's" Dilemma...My Dilemma!

The definition of dilemma is:  a situation requiring a choice between equally undesirable alternatives.

"Joe's" situation, by definition is a dilemma.  On the one hand to leave is to leave people (sheep) he loves seemingly unprotected, without the right preaching of the Word.  To stay is effectively to place yourself in the middle of a spiritual fight -- inside the church -- when the fight is to be on the outside. 

There's no right answer.  (I hate when I get that answer!)  Here's what I did with my dilemma.

In January of 1993 I found myself at Capitol Hill Baptist Church having just received the resignation of the pastor (his sin disqualified him from continuing on in the pulpit).  This was the fifth failed pastorate in a row dating back to the 1970's.  To use an O.T. term:  our church was a "byword" in the neighborhood.  Right after the scandal that called for the pastor's resignation I was following two men from our neighborhood on my way to the local market.  They didn't know I was near enough to hear.  They were mocking my church.  It was well deserved.  The odd thing was that the two men were gay and lived together across the street from the church.

Our congregation was demoralized.  My young family and I were left standing with a majority of senior citizens who had toughed it out over many decades of decline.  The few young people who were present prior to the fall exited quickly.  What should I do?  I was 30 years old with a wife and two little kids.  There was NOTHING attractive about Capitol Hill Baptist -- tough neighborhood (in those days), tough place to grow a church (according to the so-called specialists) and a very tough reputation to overcome.  We lived in church-owned housing on the same block as the church.  The nearness of my dilemma was constant.  I had to decide.  Stay?  Go?

Within a few weeks of the pastor's departure our house was broken into and ransacked.  My wife and kids spent the night out of the city until I could get the doors secured again.  The first night back, laying in our bed with the lights out my wife asked the million dollar question, "Why are we here?"  I was quiet and then gave my answer knowing that her response would determine whether we stay or go. 

I said, "We're here for the people who will come." 

Nothing inspiring, yes?  It was simply a conviction I had believing that Satan had overplayed his hand.  I don't want to blame Satan for all our sin, but it seemed as though the pressure on this little church was great.  Five failed pastorates!  Then my house gets ransacked!  It seemed to me that Satan had his thumb on our church and we needed to peel it off with God's help. 

So we committed to stay until we found the next pastor.  It was a very difficult 18+ months until the young and energetic newly minted PhD named Dever showed up. 

What conclusions can you draw from this story?

  1. God knows and loves his sheep and wants to provide for them (read John 10)
  2. As under-shepherds we must protect the sheep and not act like the "hired hand" and depart at the first sign of trouble.
  3. Expect trouble.
  4. Know that you are almost certainly fighting for ones you have yet to meet..."We're here for the people who will come."

So, "Joe," work hard for the sheep.  Warn them.  Call them out using God's word.  If in the end you conclude you are in a place where the people reject God by rejecting his word and his ways, then depart in peace and start again. 

If you go, go lovingly, charitably and with the promise that you will pray for them.         

Joe Versus the Emerging Volcano


Several of us recently received an email from a dear brother and former CHBC intern—I'll call him Joe—asking for advice. I asked him if I could generalize his request and get your thoughts. As briefly as I can:

  • The senior pastor of his church resigned a little while ago.
  • All but one of the remaining elders have successfully pushed forward (the decision is made) a program to be adopted by another church as a "restart." This restart includes receiving a new senior pastor and staff from the church which is adopting them. It also involves the current elders and members resigning, so that everyone begins afresh in a new membership process.
  • The one other remaining elder is planting a new church because of a drastically different philosophy of ministry than what is occuring with the restart. Joe will be joining this elder as a leader in the plant.

The plant hasn't occurred yet, and everybody presently remains in the one church; but here's what concerns Joe, even though he and others will be leaving.

  • The adopting church is technically conservative, but of an emerging variety.
  • The adopting church doesn't believe that in this "new" culture that preaching works, so they don't preach.
  • The adopting church believes you need to "belong" in order to "believe" (faith comes from belonging according to their view rather than from by hearing the Word of God).
  • When representatives of the adopting church do speak, the gospel is very unclear. When Scripture is quoted, it's typically out of context.
  • Many of the members of the congregation being adopted are very excited about this move.

Here are Joe's words:  "My heart has been burdened for the sheep that are being led astray. This situation is different than if people just went to another church that preaches the gospel, because the gospel will not be preached at the new church. How do I interact with the new church? Many people I thought were solid and committed to the Bible are choosing to go in this direction. It seems that what is at stake is not a secondary issue, but the gospel itself, which reminds me of Paul in Galatians 1. And there are seemingly genuine Christians involved who are my friends. It hurts emotionally, but my concern for a clear gospel witness from Christians seems to be a bigger burden. I don't want my emotions to drive what I do, so if you have time, counsel would be greatly appreciated. HELP!"

I'm sure you'd all want to ask questions before answering. But maybe treat this like a case study and simply assume Joe is giving us all the relevant details. What counsel would you give? 

two more cents on strategery

I don't think Matt is suggesting that this is the only criteria one should heed in choosing a location. Presumably, there are other, sometimes competing criteria. These might include calling, giftings, heart passions, providential arrangements (open and closed doors), counsel from friends and mentors and wives, and so forth. In that sense, I would think the location question bears some analogies to the vocation question, as all of these criteria will feed into our choice of vocation or ministry. All Matt is saying, I think, is "Add to your list of criteria "what's strategic.'" This has been a thought provoking conversation for me due to both blog posts and comments. Thank you!

Speaking of, Matt, your pictures made me feel called to the beach.