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An Ecclesiological Thought on Mars Hill’s Dissolving

Mars Hill LogoMany things have been changing in Seattle over the past several months with the challenges presented to Mars Hill Church. With the resignation of Pastor Mark Driscoll, it has been an important time to pay attention to what is going on ecclesiologically with their church. Since Mars Hill was such a significant model for many churches inside and outside the Acts 29 network, particularly with details about eldership and polity, any shift in this mega-ministry will have reverberations throughout evangelicalism.

Today, the leadership board of Mars Hill made the decision to dissolve the church and allow the various multi-sites to create either regional units or autonomous local congregations. You can read about this decision over at the ChristianPost.com site.

This decision is significant and historic. Having just completed my dissertation on the role of local church autonomy in the first two centuries, seeing this kind of shift, as sudden as it has happened, is poignant. As the leadership board of Mars Hill Church has made this move to dissolution and approved a plan to create autonomous churches, they are opting to reinforce a more mindful New Testament model of church that values the nature of the church in the first century. It is an important and helpful moment.

Mars Hill has been a major influencer, on the level of Saddleback, Willow Creek, Northpoint, and some others, on the contemporary ecclesial environment of evangelicalism. It can be said the Pastor Mark Driscoll has been as much an ecclesiological influence as other aspects of his theological ministry. With Mars Hill deciding to dissolve corporately and allow the remaining campuses to take on their own, independent identities, this marks one answer to a lingering question about the multi-site model in contemporary evangelicalism.

Mars Hill’s situation was unique; it was a church with 15 campuses across 5 states. It existed as an autonomous (or free) church ecclesiologically but did not accord that same autonomy to its multi-sites in these ranging locations. One question that seemed to always exist for Mars Hill, and that exists for other multi-site churches, is: what happens with the leader, or major figure, leaves the church? Mars Hill has provided a poignant answer.

For those who fall into a free church, or independent, model of NT ecclesiology, each local church is networksunderstood as an independent congregation that is to be free from external pressure and influence in all matters of governance, finances, and even theological decisions. While associations and networks are free to disfellowship local churches who fall out of accord with them, they are not permitted to have authority in that local congregation. Instead, the members of that local congregation are the ultimate decision makers for all these matters related to their, and only their, local church. (My particular concern is not to address all multi-site churches, indeed many are well within the NT model, but instead to point out that when a local church creates campuses outside of a natural region (where they could easily assemble as one body) they step into a dangerous area ecclesiologically.)

Many multi-site churches, specifically those with campuses outside of their local region, tread a fine line of violating local church autonomy for their extended campuses when they deny these aspects of local governance. These churches end up resembling more of an episcopal parish system than a congregational ecclesiology.

Of course it is also notable that many multi-site churches are personality driven and assemble many followers and members based on the senior pastor who is the primary communicator. Mars Hill was one of these kinds of churches. Their decision is, as a result, notable.

I am thankful that Mars Hill has made the theologically, and ecclesiologically, bold step of releasing their campuses to go off on their own. May we remember to pray for this larger corporate body of Mars Hill and then also for the, now, independent congregations that used to be part of this church. May we also continue to pray for the restoration of Pastor Mark Driscoll to ministry, surely he deserves this and we are better for it. This is a significant move that will, prayerfully, have an impact on how local congregations throughout Christianity better understand and apply the NT model of congregational (or free) church polity. We are stronger as we accurately reflect a proper NT model.

 

31
Oct 2014
POSTED BY Garet
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Uncategorized

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Fish for Groups

IMG_0004This past Sunday, we held a meeting of the Young Adults Leadership teams that are part of the ministry at Sugar Creek Baptist Church. This is an annual pre-fall meeting where we discuss what’s been going on in our ministry area, what is coming, and then take some time to refine some aspect of our overall groups processes. We are incredibly blessed with strong lay leaders at Sugar Creek and, even with a few leaders missing, still have 52 in attendance for our luncheon.
One of the key parts of any healthy and growing ministry is the continued investment in leadership development through times of intentional training and a willingness to talk through basic ministry structures. As I’ve learned (often the hard way) those in ministry must remember two key principles:

1. We can never tell our people how much we love them.

2. We can never show our people how much they mean to us.

At Sugar Creek, we’ve found that many of our best leadership development times come on Sundays, often during or directly following our regular programming. So, this past Sunday, we held a lunch, catered by a wonderful vendor, that allowed our leadership to enjoy a great meal and then participate in some leadership discussions.

To facilitate the second part of this day, we used the powerful training resource called Fish! Philosophy and applied it to our groups ministry. I discovered the Fish! Philosophy while serving at a previous ministry venue and have seen the impact the four key principles can have in creating discussions to aid ministry development. The Fish! Philosophy uses a well produced video to discuss four principles that make any experience wonderful:Front Slide

1. Play

2. Make their Day

3. Be There

4. Choose Your Attitude

After showing the video, we had our groups, sitting together as a leadership team, to talk about how they could apply each in their groups. Perhaps most significant in any training time, especially with Millennials, is being sure to allow for mutual collaboration through conversation with their peers. To often we end up talking at people and not with them and this defeats the purpose of leadership training.

For any groups ministry, a consistent pattern of leadership development enables trust and provides a platform for continued health in these groups. If you are looking to start new groups, you can often find your leaders from times like these.

How we foster a culture of continued ministry leadership development is key to seeing health raised up in our churches and growth, not necessarily numerical, occur among our people. This is one example of how leadership development works well in an established church culture.

03
Sep 2014
POSTED BY Garet
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Leadership

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Arius was a Mega-Church Pastor

Obviously this is a fun way of framing a historical discussion. However, in the times when Arius lived, it probably isn’t too far off from reality. Obviously not all mega-church pastors are heretics, but Arius was both a mega-church pastor and a heretic.

AriusArius (CE 260-336) was a significant figure in the Trinitarian disputes surrounding the First Council of Nicaea in 325. He suppressed the divinity of Christ in relation to that of the Father, as well as Jesus’ uncreated, pre-existence. Yet, he had a significant following even as a parish priest in Alexandria.

In the period when Arius was working and deploying his heretical theology, the Church, or churches, were undergoing increasing consolidation of institutional functions and formally identifying the historic doctrines that had lead the Church through the previous several generations. Because of teachers like Arius, the Church began to see the need to formally set the doctrinal boundaries and clarify for all believers what is and is not acceptable theology.

As Epiphanius of Salamis describes him, Arius was a skilled orator who, being tall and athletic, had crowds fawning over him. He possessed a superb intellect, sharp wit, and had an aesthetic lifestyle that made him appealing to many of his day. (Against the Arian Nuts, 49.1-3) Ephiphanus also comments that Arius had taken a large number of individuals from the Church at Alexandria to form his own following (Heresies 69.3.) It is suggested that it might well have been several thousand followers which, given the times, is a substantial following.

Arius might well have been considered a mega-church pastor. But he was also a heretic. 

The lesson here isn’t that all mega-church pastors are heretics, clearly they are not all heretics. Frankly, of the four mega-churches where I’ve been able to serve on a staff role, all the pastors have been thoroughly orthodox and wonderfully evangelical. (Evangelicalism not being a megachurchcondition of orthodoxy.)

It should be mindful for us, though, that just because someone has a large following, or has been able to secure a massive facility to house their annual gatherings of their followers, this does not justify their theology nor their heresy.

Recently, several times recently, some significant leaders is certain wings of American Protestantism have put out Tweets that are laden with heretical theology. In response to criticisms, their various followers will often justify their leaders’ tweets by pointing to their numbers and “success” in ministry. It is not, however, actually a reasonable way to proceed.

Just because someone is able to amass significant followers does not inherently mean they are justified in whatever they say. It is a crude veneration to think this is the case.

Instead, their statements are to be tested along with the rest of us. Now, I’m not suggesting every pastor needs a PhD or even an MDiv to be considered legitimate to accomplish ministry. Though these degrees don’t hurt our ability to pastor, being able to articulate and affirm the core theological doctrines of Christianity have always been the first test of worthiness for a pastorate. We must recognize that in the qualifications for leaders lists which are provided in the New Testament, the test of orthodoxy is still at the top of these lists. If a leader fails to meet this orthodoxy, no matter how much they “mean well” or “are successful” they have failed to meet a primary qualification for being an under-shephered of Jesus Christ.

Arius was a mega-church pastor, but he was rightfully rebuked and banished by the first ecumenical council because of his failure to articulate the proper theology that honors Christ.

May we remember his example and do the same.

11
Jun 2014
POSTED BY Garet
POSTED IN

Apologetics

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Free Wedding Weekends

About a year and a half ago I was sitting in a counseling session with a wonderful young couple who wanted to come get some deeper insights about their relationship as they were navigating their relational channels towards marriage. One of their pressing concerns was that a wedding was simply too expensive to pull together.

Right now, in Fort Bend County couples will spend between$26,003 and $43,339 on average for their wedding. However, most couples spend less than $10,000. You can find out how much a wedding in your locale cost over at costofwedding.com.

For this couple, $1,000 was too much to spend but they desired to get married with some kind of meaningful ceremony. So as we began to through some options, I realized that their home church (where we were sitting) had all the facilities and resources to provide them their wedding…for no cost.

In working through this idea, and realizing that one of the top reasons for continued cohabitation in many other couples is the high costs associated with marriage, we came up with the idea of a Free Wedding Weekend. This would be a no-cost wedding ceremony for an individual couple who might otherwise not be able to afford one.

This is a no-cost weekend where the church provides:

  • Venue
  • Officiate
  • Music
  • Flowers
  • Basic Photography
  • Day of Coordinator
  • A set of photographs following the ceremony

Since I enjoy naming programs what they are, we just called it “Free Wedding Weekend.” As we began publicizing the event we place key ads in local magazines and in our own congregational publications. We had no idea what the responses would look like. For our first three we filled up the spots quickly and had wonderful responses. Each couple has to fill out a form to help in identifying couples with true financial needs. This is a ministry event that we hope would be meaningful and for connecting with couples desiring to be married but have limited means to do so.

From a ministry level planning stage, the costs were minimized because we asked several key lay people to help out while also agreeing to cover their costs. We have an amazing florist who is a member and she provides the platform flowers, in plain colors, and individualized bouquets for the brides. Photography (the really hard part of the day) is split between to two wonderful professional wedding photographers who also provide the editing and printing of photos. Our ministry staff facilitated the rest of the day.

Our chapel on campus is free for ministry use and properly air-conditioned, or heated, as needed for the day. We do require two things from the couples:

1. That they fill out an application for our weekend. In the application they agree to follow our directions about schedule, ceremony style, and a few other details.

2. They attend our all day preparing for marriage workshop, or a similar program, prior to the Free Wedding Weekend.

 

As a result we are able to offer a Free Wedding Weekend twice a year for couples who need assistance of this kind for a minimal amount of budgetary allocations.

In developing the day we also realized we needed to put up some controls to best serve our church family, ministry staff, and make each session meaningful for couples. Here are a couple part of the actual schedule for the day:

  • Each couple has a 90 minute time block with the ceremony beginning 30 minutes into the time block. Brides are asked to arrive nearly ready to go and they have access to our bridal suite.
  • The ceremonies all have the same format and though we would love to accommodate requests for added parts, we cannot accommodate these requests. Each ceremony is meaningful and unique to the couples as much as possible. The ceremony lasts about 20 minutes.
  • Basic photography is provided for each couple and their wedding party. All couples receive the same shots, same number of photos, and all photos are given to them, in an open format, on a CD after the ceremony.
  • We also provide 5 photo prints of varying sizes for each couple.
  • Even though our church has a sizable facility, because of limits on our weekend activities we do not accommodate receptions afterwards.

 

All in all the ceremonies keep moving and the weekend is over before you know it. Having wonderful support staff is vital to making sure everything runs on time. Our principal goal in all of this though is uniting loving couples in marriage. We believe marriage is a unique covenant between a man and woman created by God as the first institution for this world to make this world better and that marriage is an example of the future union of Christ and the Church. Our goal is to be active agents of grace in bringing couples together.

So, that’s pretty much what our Free Wedding Weekend looks like and how we’ve been able to do some good Kingdom work through the program. Having a supportive church leadership is ultimately the key. Our next Free Wedding Weekend is the first weekend of June, so let us know if we can help out.

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Millennials and Marriage

Part of the growing conversation in so many churches concerns the rising generation of Millennials and how to effectively minister to them. As both a Millennial and a member of several staffs of established churches, there are some unique challenges in this conversation. Perhaps the most pressing is the change of perspective that has occurred between ministry models in just two generations. This change in perspective has been pushed by the changing demographics of the Millennial generation around marriage and having children.

One of the leading questions that I often begin with in these conversations is simple: What is, in a quick guess, the average ages for first time marriage among Millennial men and women?

By surveying answers we often quickly get a snapshot of how close we are attached to the reality of social change that is going on in our society. Because things have changed, things have massively changed.

The average first time marriage for Millennials is, as of the 2010 Census, 28.1 for men and 25.9 for women. At this point, in early 2014, I would project that it is 29 for men and 26 for women (often depending on two factors: education and location of urban/suburban/rural.) See this chart:

First Time Marriage

For Millennials there are a host of reasons that marriage is increasingly delayed, not the least of which is growing acceptance of cohabitation, but also continuing education, less access to jobs, increased debt burdens, among other factors. The more educated a Millennial is, the longer they, generally, put off marriage.

Of course, the skyrocketing rate of cohabitation also plays into this trend. In my experience among higher educated, suburban Millennials about 66%, or 2/3rds of these Millennials, are going to cohabitate before marriage. This trend is being reflected in the number of couples cohabitating before marriage. Even though I think this number is soft (I think it is much higher) we see that as of 2012, there are 8.5 million couples cohabitating prior to marriage. This delays marriage by at least 18 to 24 months, and, even in secular eyes is a growing reason couples simply never get married:

Cohabitation

Alongside this trend of increasingly delayed marriage is the trend of delaying first time child-births in women. Earlier today I read a terrific post by Ashley McGuire at the Family Studies Blog that discussed issues around child-births and women between 20 and 40. One of the graphics that was supplied in the post showed trends of age and education for first time child-births:

average first birth

Another reality behind these numbers concerns how 55% of child-births to mothers between the ages of 20-29 are to single moms. So, we can see that many Millennial families, even in their first time marriage, begin with a blended family situation of one or more children, likely, from another relationship.

So, in seeing this trend of increasingly delayed marriage among Millennials coupled with delayed child-bearing means that most Millennials are not settling into their “family life” (or a “nested life stage”) until their mid-30s. Whereas, 25 years ago, you could plan and program for a young adult ministry that reached married couples with children in their mid-20s, this is simply no longer the case. With the effects of delayed marriage and child-births impacting Millennials, we are seeing couples in their early 40s with children heading to kindergarten.

If your current ministry uses a life stage segmented approach to ministry, these statistics and realities should begin shaping how you approach breaking out those issues. Another challenge in multi-generational churches is that, in light of these realities, older generations will not have the same life experiences so many of the younger generations sitting next them are having.

All of this breaks to beginning a different conversation about how we, as churches, are going to approach ministry and marriage related issues with Millennials. For churches with older leadership teams, those above 55, the distance sociologically and culturally from the 20somethings in our pews and chairs is increasing. As a result we need to spend focused, strategic moments planning how to reach and minister rather different life stage segments.

Millennials are approaching life differently. How we begin with grace and extend mercy has as much an impact as the truthfulness of the Gospel we proclaim. 

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Leading from the Bench

One of the best awards the NBA gives out every year is the “Sixth Man of the Year” award. The purpose of the award is to recognize an outstanding contributor who isn’t a regular starter in the front five of an NBA team. Last year, JR Smith won for his contributions with the New York Knickerbockers. The year before, James Harden (and his beard) won for Oklahoma City. For any player to win the award they are seen as a substitute player who can come into a game and both maintain the level of excellence the starters have been displaying and, even, raise the level of performance on the floor.

sixthmanFor a league where egos and dynamic talents often are the lead story on Sportscenter, the Sixth Man of the Year is someone who, though they could likely start for any team in the NBA, allows themselves to be that “next guy up” and begins the game on the bench. These individuals have the talent to lead, but do so in a different, but just as meaningful way. In any basketball how a coach substitutes players is almost as important as the plays the team runs. Since no one player can play all the minutes of a game, the bench is an important part of a winning team.

In ministry, just like in other organizations, there are often leaders who are starters and those behind them who might be likened to bench players. A lot of times for those on the bench there is an inexorable tension between wanting to be a starter and recognize one’s role on the team.

Now, starters get their positions for a lot of reasons. On sports teams it may well be that a starter is there because of their past performance and current contract. You can’t have a $10 million dollar a year center on the bench if he can play well enough to contribute. Another reason is because some of the starters are legitimately good enough to have that position.

basketball bench

Perhaps the hardest time for any team (sports, ministry, business, etc) is when a starter has stopped producing and is no longer effective and someone on the bench at their position consistently contributes at a high level whenever called on.

Most of the time replacing a starter is a hard task. It takes time and, if a coach or leader lacks the skill set or honesty to talk with them, the transition can be difficult. Established starters are the hardest to replace, even when their performance and production has fallen off a cliff, often because of loyalty and past victories.

For the bench players, this time between being an effective substitute and being a starter is the hardest. So, how do we handle it?

1. Show up early and leave late – Nothing impresses your leaders’ leader(s) like seeing a bench player who is there when people arrive and stays after they leave to make things better. It might be the most difficult thing to do, but being called on often comes up after consistent contributions when people are in need.

2. Continue to contribute at a high level when called on – One of the temptations is to start mailing in your efforts, or sulking on the bench. Too often bench players stay bench players because they don’t project the competency to lead or have questions about their character.

3. Contribute in ways that make the starter at your position look good – Having the opportunity to build confidence into yourself and the starter above you will always help you. When others see that our “position” (read department, area, team, etc) is being handled well it will be spoken of well.

4. When it is time seek out other opportunities – Leaving one team for another is always hard and shouldn’t be taken lightly. However, sometimes the coach is so dedicated to the starter that even a future Hall of Famer won’t get the opportunity. When it comes time to leave make sure you’ve given it time and you aren’t leaving with spite. Other opportunities will arise, but make sure your next step is for a team that is a good fit for your skills.

5. Above all, stay motivated and stay focused – Your job on the bench is to contribute in a way that continues to put up points, run the plays, and perform in a way that it is like the starters haven’t left the floor. If you do this others will notice and your opportunities to contribute will abound.

6. One more, seek out a confidant or wise mentor – Know this, you are not alone. Though the bench is often overlooked, there are others on the bench with you. Your struggle might be their struggle. Find someone who is trustworthy and you can confide in so that you can blow off some steam and manage your struggle. Handling this tension alone and in private can be self-destructive.

Being part of any team is a struggle that is going to have its challenges and rewards. For Millennials, it is easy for us to get discouraged and defeated. Part of this is because so many of us have grown up in an entitlement age that we are “owed” certain roles. The truth of the matter is that we aren’t owed anything, but we can earn a whole lot.

Leading from the bench, whether in business or ministry, means we are ready, willing, and able to put forward an outstanding effort because we are called to greatness and know that it will, in the end, lead to something more meaningful.

As you look to lead from the bench in your life, I pray you find your meaning, look for learning moments, develop a steadfast character, and pursue excellence in all things.

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