Friday, April 27, 2007

Off-guard in Orlando

Brian and I attended the National New Church Conference in Orlando, Florida this week, and it was an amazing time. It was the largest gathering of church planters ever with around 1,700 church planters in attendance. It's truly amazing how church planting has developed. When we started 2 1/2 years ago, there were only a fraction of the resources available that there are today.

We attended some great sessions, and we were humbled and challenged by what God spoke to us while we were away. It was a very timely conference for us.

On to the off-guard... They had two pastors present via video. It wasn't live video, it was a video presentation of some of their thoughts and opinions about church planting. There were multiple videos of Tim Keller from Redeemer Church in New York and one of Mark Driscoll from Mars Hill Church in Seattle. Driscoll's video was about calling out the men and equipping the men. It was somewhat abrasive, but right on. Those familiar with Driscoll know how he feels about men being men and how important it is for church planters to be real men - love their families, live lives of integrity, be good fathers and husbands, be strong, etc. However, he does not say all these things at the expense of women. He is a complimentarian who belives that women can fill every role in the church except Pastor/Elder. He didn't say that women can't serve. He didn't say women weren't gifted to minister. He didn't say anything to demean women, he was just talking to the men.

Bill Hybels was the speaker that followed Driscoll's video. The first thing he did after everyone finished giving him a standing ovation was to say this, "Well, after that 8-minute video, I'd like to set the record straight." So, right off the bat, he was obviously annoyed at the length and content of the video. He went on to say something to the effect of women being a valuable part of church planting, women have gifts to offer, etc. This caught me off-guard for a couple of reasons. It wasn't Hybel's place to complain about the length or the content of the video. To me, it was disrespectful to the hosts of the conference and to Mark Driscoll. It's fine if he disagrees, but his response was uncalled for. He assumed that he knew Driscoll's position, and his comments were in response to a position that Driscoll doesn't even stand for. It was hugely disappointing and awkward. Hybels hadn't even been there for any other parts of the conference - so he had no idea what the heart of the teachings had been. He went on to talk about whatever he wanted and not what the theme of the conference was. Don't get me wrong, I have a ton of respect for him, and I was even convicted by the things that he shared. I just was caught off-guard by his attitude and words right off the bat. We had been learning about not demeaning people who think differently than us. We had been learning about spending quality time with the Lord in order to be able to build into people and the church, and the first few minutes of Hybel's talk was contradictory to the very heart of what we've been learning.

So, I'll also confess that I'm a big Driscoll fan. I'll also confess that I think he occasionally may fall of the razor's edge of tact. I'm really not taking a side because I can understand why someone who thinks differently would have a differing opinion, but I think I expect more from someone of Hybel's stature. Actually, I'm sure I do. It would be different if Driscoll said these things at Willow Creek - at Bill's church where he's the Daddy Elder, but this was in a neutral site - not his place.

So, I hope that what we learn from this is that it's ok to disagree with each other, but we should disagree in a spirit of grace and love. We should disagree face to face and not criticize someone who's not even there. We should still act like we love and respect those we might even consider our enemies. I'm grateful for a friend of mine who disagreed with me last week. He called, took me to lunch, and told me that he disagreed. We talked, we discussed, we're still friends. I think we still don't totally agree, but that's secondary.

I hope that when I have opportunities to disagree that I will have the courage to disagree like a Godly man, in a way that builds the Kingdom, in a way that stands on unity and not division, in a way that would cause others to stumble.

Anyway, there I was off-guard in Orlando.

PS - this video is now available to be seen online @

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Diversity & Cascarones

One of the things we've preached the entire tenure of River Stone is the importance of diversity. They say that Sunday mornings are the most segregated time of the week. In church planting classes, they teach you to target a specific demographic, and they call it the homogeneous theory. It's easier to go after one type of person. The fastest growing churches in America are evidence of this - people of largely the same race, socio-economic status, and lifestyle. While it's hard to be critical of anyone reaching a specific group of people with the Good News of Jesus, it seems that this is not necessarily the way Jesus built his Church. Phrases like "every tribe and tongue"and "neither Greek nor Jew" stick out to me. I remember Jesus talking to the Samaritan woman at the well - a race detested by the Jews. I remember the story of the Good Samaritan - one that is all to real in our day and time. We have a tendency to stick with our own and to hang out with people who are like us and validate our particular style of life. Churches sometimes remedy the homogeneous theory by reaching out to different neighborhoods and starting mission churches to reach those different from them. Again, it's hard to be critical, but is that really what heaven's going to look like? Though every tribe and tongue will be represented, will we have different sections for every race? Will we look down our noses at the people who are different than us? Will we take credit for ministering to those less fortunate even though we paid somebody else to do the work or we spent a week in a particular place? Or, follow me here, should every church have all types of people every week?

We are not a big church, and if you evaluate us strictly on a numerical scale, we're not that successful of a church, but I love this place. I love our church because of Cascarones. We had a wonderful Easter Celebration this year, and it was a wonderful time of celebrating babies, families, life, and most importantly the Risen Savior, Jesus. We had a packed house, and the Spirit was so wonderful among our people, and then it happened. A Cascarones fight broke out. Cascarones are dyed eggs that have been gutted and replaced with confetti. They are a Mexican Easter tradition, and kids from our church assaulted each other and us with their confetti eggs. We were planning a traditional Easter Egg Hunt after church, but the super cold weather interrupted those plans. So, our spontaneous celebration with Cascarones replaced it, and it made me appreciate the diversity in our church. As I've walked down the sidewalk in front of the facility where our church meets, and I still see the confetti spread all over it, I'm thankful that I even know what Cascarones are. Last year, I had no idea. I'm thankful that our church is not made up of people like me. We are people of different tribes, different tongues, different status, different places in our faith, we're just different, and that's what I love about us.

So, our church would probably be bigger if it was homogeneous, but if I have a choice, I'll continue to choose smaller and more diverse. May God continue to bring us people not like us. To Him be the glory in every tribe and tongue.