Some evangelicals are up in arms (what else is new?) about the new Noah movie with Russell Crowe and the Nephilim rock people because (surprise surprise) it’s not accurate to the biblical text. So, some are calling for a boycott (again, what else is new?). Shhh… don’t tell them that Jesus didn’t invent the chair like Jim Caviziel’s portrayal in “The Passion of the Christ.”
Yet, what I find more problematic than Hollywood taking artistic liberties with the account of Noah is that the church often gets its message flat out wrong. From our sermons and our Sunday School lessons you might think that Noah’s Ark was a story about family values and how Noah “got his family in the ark,” or a story about how we should be sweet to our pets. Neither of these is the point of the text; yet, they are taught in conservative churches that trumpet the inerrancy and sufficiency of the Bible.
No, Noah’s ark is not a sweet kid’s tale about cuddly animals, nor is it a manual on how to be a better dad. Noah’s ark is a horror story where God drowns humanity and the animal kingdom in the flood of his wrath against human sin. What we miss with the cute Fisher Price toys and the veggie tale-ish VBS lessons is that there were dead bodies floating in the water and the air was filled with the stench of rotting flesh.
God had created the world good, but human rebellion became so unbridled that God poured out His judgment in a global flood. But, not only does this story show the wrath of God, it also shows his rescuing mercy. Through the judgment of the flood, God saves one man – not because he is sinless (this is clear by the end of his life in Gen 9) – because of his faith (Heb 11:7). This is the story of a loving God who makes all things new out of judgment. The Noah story is the story of the world in miniature.
In the account of Noah’s ark, God judges the wicked world with water. Water is often the sign of God’s judgment of human sin. From the flood, to the destruction of Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea, to the storm and the fish that swallowed the runaway prophet, to Jesus’ statement that his cross is a baptism (Mk 10:38), water is pictured as judgment throughout the Bible. 1 Peter 3 tells the church that Baptism is the anti-type of the flood. It pictures the fact that in Christ we have been drowned in the wrath of God at Golgotha and raised to walk in newness of life. That is the message of Noah’s ark. Judgment will come, but there is a true and better “Ark” that will drown under the wrath of God outside the gates of Jerusalem gasping hour after hour after hour for one last breath. And three days later the Ark of our Salvation will stand up and walk out of the grave, conquering death because the message of Noah holds true that “God is not willing that any should perish” (2 Pet. 3).
This is the story of a God who judges and saves. That’s why Noah was also a preacher (2 Pet. 2:5). There was a global judgment coming, and he was the only one with the message of salvation, so he had to share it. We are given the same task. Jesus tells us that the final judgment will be just like the days of Noah. People will be just living life. They will be seemingly normal people – and many of them seemingly “good” people – who are eating, drinking, marrying, climbing corporate ladders, starting families, and then when they least expect it – BAM! – global judgment will wipe away every man, woman, and child on the face of the planet who is outside of Christ – the ark of our salvation!
Since we know that is coming, it is our task to lovingly warn the world through the gospel. Let’s not see this Noah movie as an opportunity to gripe, criticize, or complain. Let’s see it as an opportunity to engage. Let’s engage our neighbors who see the movie. Let’s engage our children as they play with the Fisher Price Noah who looks like Santa Claus. With tears in our eyes over the coming judgment and joy in our hearts over salvation in Christ, let’s tell them what the story is really about, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved!” Perhaps they might just seek rescue in the Ark that has already drowned in God’s wrath and come out safely on the other side.
The Major League Baseball season is upon us and playing First Base for the Texas Rangers this year is a man by the name of Prince Fielder. Fielder stands at 5’11’’ and weighs 275 pounds. That is a bit on the heavy side of most Major League baseball players and it is for that reason that Fielder plays First Base.
Imagine if Prince Fielder approached his manager before a game one day and asked him to play Shortstop. Fielder certainly was gifted with the ability to field ground balls and even throw them accurately across a field since all First Baseman have to be able to do such things to play everyday. So, in one sense, Fielder’s request is perfectly legitimate…yet, anyone that knows baseball would know that he would be resoundingly rejected. Why? Because his particular skill set is best suited for First Base, not Shortstop.
Now, should we conclude that Prince Fielder is somehow less important than the Shortstop? Of course not, a baseball team needs all types of gifted players to play their position in order to win the game. This is one of the unique aspects of baseball. You could have one of the best players in the league on your team but still have a losing record (See the 2013 Los Angeles Angels and Mike Trout).
In baseball, each position is needed and each position has different abilities. If you attempt to negate those positions or forget about the abilities needed to play those positions you will quickly find yourself among the leagues worse teams.
The same is true in church planting.
Evangelical leaders have rightly been calling men to go to the urban settings of North America in order to plant churches among those cities that are evidently under served. There have been innumerable amounts of good things that have come from this call, but it is good for us to consider that there have also been a great deal of bad things that have come as well.
Urban settings, particularly those outside the south, have, in recent history, been graveyards for potential church plants. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been poured into places like Boston, New York, and Los Angeles with very few sustainable churches in their wake. It wasn’t because the people leading those works were necessarily unfaithful or because they didn’t read the latest church-planting book.
Very possibly the reason why many of those works did not produce sustainable witnesses was because there were too many First Baseman looking to play Shortstop. That is, we often do not understand that just because a brother is qualified and willing does not mean that he should go to an urban environment.
Urban contexts have unique demands on ministers of the Gospel, though they do not demand a different Gospel.
The temptation in hearing this is to believe that the man who does go and thrive inside an urban environment is somehow better than the one that stays in a suburban context. This could not be any further from the truth.
If that is true that means that the people in New York City are better than the people in Lawrenceville, Ga…. an indisputable Biblical lie! I realize that many of us have internal value systems that rank an urban pastor over and above a rural, however this demands our repentance, not our regard.
Lets be more careful with our money and the lives of our brothers by loving them enough to assess not only their abilities, but their positions. Lets value every context because we value every person, not just the ones in the important cities. We need all people playing all of their appropriate positions in order to win the game…and win the game we will…it is promised!
Every so often I have a conversation with a dude that is considering church planting. And most of the conversations I have with guys considering or pursuing church planting include questions about what practical essentials a church planter should have. Over the past several years, through tons of conversations with church planters, people who train church planters, and my experience as a church planter, I have found that when these 9 essentials are present in the life of a church planter, the church planter is effective. The first four essentials were posted in Part 1. Here are the rest.
5. Growing in Self-Awareness – Assessments are important. But often their importance is misunderstood. Assessments aren’t important because they are some kind of test you pass or diploma you earn so you can go on and do what you want. Instead, they are a means by which you grow in your self-awareness. Self-awareness is the ability to discern your strengths and weaknesses, the way you handle situations and people, the way you handle those things under pressure, the way you respond to a crisis, and more. Self-awareness is a journey, not a destination. The greater self-awareness you have, the greater ability you will have to keep bombs from blowing up in your blind spots.
6. Growing in Idolatry-Awareness – Everyone is tempted to sin but everyone isn’t tempted to sin in the same ways. If you don’t know your idolatrous tendencies then you won’t know how to battle them and ask others help you battle them. If you don’t know how to do that, you’re going to ruin yourself, your family, and maybe everything else on the altar to that idol that is really in control. Your idol is what’s most important to you. And what’s most important to you defines your identity. And when your identity misplaced, bad things happen—really bad. Idolatry awareness is one level deeper than self-awareness. It isn’t afraid to ask questions like: If you were going to do this for the wrong reasons, what would those be? It finds out the reasons you’re so anxious, anger, and depressed. Growing in your idolatry awareness will help you battle every challenge that is making its way to your front door a few months in to your church plant. Rejecting your idols and finding your identity in Christ will enable you to live in peace, even when “failure” is staring you in the face.
7. Develop a Team With Complimentary Strengths – Once you have self-awareness and idol-awareness, you can better build out your team, whether these are paid or unpaid team members. Because you are aware of your idols and secure with your identity in Christ, you can freely face up to your weaknesses and shortcomings. You don’t have to hide or lie about them. Instead, you have the courage to identify weaknesses and shortcomings. Because you are self-aware, you know how to compensate for your weaknesses by building a team made up of people who have strengths where you don’t. Don’t hire someone with your strengths and wonder why things didn’t change. Become aware of your idols, strengths, and weaknesses, so you can put together a great team.
8. Lock Arms With Other Church Planters – Even though you may have a great team in place, it will be difficult for anyone on your team to know what your role is like. That’s why church planters are greatly helped by other church planters. You need brothers. You need camaraderie. You need to be able to hear church planters struggles and successes and be heard by them. You will see yourself in them and they in you. You will find encouragement even in struggle. You will find soberness even in success. Fellow church planters will have a perspective from which to encourage and challenge you in a way that no one else will. Don’t plant alone, lock arms with other church planters.
9. Identify an Experienced Church Planting Coach – Fellow church planters are important, but you also need father church planters. That is, you need a father in the faith that has church planting experience. You need someone who has actually done what you’re doing. And you want someone that has gone through all of the mess and difficulties of church planting life that you are facing without becoming bitter, resentful, and critical. You want someone who has walked through the fire of church planting and has come out refined, not hardened. Their perspective will give you the wisdom, confidence, encouragement, and inspiration you need to start and continue this new work.
The way these 9 essentials play out in the church planter’s life is messy. It’s always messy. And, of course, there’s more to church planting than these few things. But I haven’t come across an effective church planter that didn’t at least have these 9 essentials present in their life to one degree or another.
Every so often I have a conversation with a dude that is considering church planting. And most of the conversations I have with guys considering or pursuing church planting include questions about what practical essentials a church planter should have. Over the past several years, through tons of conversations with church planters, people who train church planters, and my experience as a church planter, I have found that when these 9 essentials are present in the life of a church planter, the church planter is effective.
1. Strong Sense of God’s Leading – Planting church can’t be about your daddy, proving that you’re “somebody,” or anything like this. This isn’t some high school clothing fad that you need to be a part of so you know you’re cool. The reason you’re starting this new church has to include you sensing God leading you to take these next steps—in a life of limited steps—for the advancement of his kingdom. When you get this undeniable sense of his leading on your heart, you have something you’ll need throughout your church planting experience—the ability to follow God’s leading into the unknown. Sensing God’s leading isn’t just about an initial call, although it includes that. It’s about being a man of faith who is able to take courageous steps into the unknown of the mission of God for the glory of God. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to continue this pattern throughout your ministry.
2. Have a Committed Family – When you have a strong sense of God’s leading to church planting, you also need a family that is committed. Although the call begins personally, it has to include a committed family. Any new job opportunity impacts a family, regardless of the profession. But there are hardly any opportunities that will impact your family more than church planting. Your family will become a strategic target for the Enemy. The enemy will pay special attention to you and your family. And so will the folks in your church, regardless of your context. Because of this, your family will experience unique challenges. They aren’t called to be your staff, although they’ll probably help like it a time or two (or ten!). Church planting is messy, which is why you really need a committed family to be an effective church planter.
3. Be Local Church Proven – Local churches plant churches by sending qualified men out to start new endeavors. By qualified men, I mean a lot of things. Primarily, I mean that you should have a track record of being a faithful, effective, and catalytic leader within the local church. If you haven’t started a growing small group, you probably shouldn’t try to start a church. If you haven’t been the kind of church member needed to grow a church, you probably shouldn’t try to start a church. You may not be a part of a local church that has the vision to plant churches, but people that are considering investing in you should be able to easily track down a proven local church track record. If they can’t, push church planting into the future and invest in a local church for a while.
4. Have a Compelling Plan – There are a lot of gifted guys and gals talking about vision, mission, strategy, and all the rest these days. Of course, they disagree with one another on the nuanced definitions of each of those things. It can be a bit overwhelming. However you slice it, they are saying the same thing: you need a compelling plan. A compelling plan is clear about what you want to see happen, how you hope to see it happen in your particular context, and why it needs to happen in your particular context. A compelling plan is unshakably aligned with the Great Commission. This isn’t a plug-and-play plan that you heard at the last conference you went too. It is something that you have wrestled (and are wrestling with) with personally for a specific context for a specific time. Although this plan isn’t perfect, it has to be compelling enough to move people—some people—to join and fund this new work.
(Note: Before we released this article we sent it to Elevation church with the hope of opening dialogue about these concerns and learning from Elevation church and Pastor Furtick more about the things of which we were concerned. It has now been nearly a week and we have not heard back from them.)
The evangelical world is buzzing with concerns about the practices of Elevation Church and Pastor Steven Furtick (Click here for one article). Let us begin by saying that we are grateful for every good thing that God has done through Pastor Furtick and Elevation Church. Their zeal to see lost people saved is truly wonderful. And, we want to say with the Apostle Paul that we rejoice anytime the gospel is preached (Phil 1:15-18). Having said that, we do want to raise questions about whether or not the reported practices of Elevation Church are inconsistent with the gospel. We have hesitated to write about another pastor or church for many reasons, and we know that in doing so we open ourselves up for critique. Even so, we felt it necessary to raise these concerns for several reasons: first, we are concerned for our brother Pastor Furtick, and for his church. Second, we have members in our churches who are interacting with this story on social media, and we have a responsibility to address these issues as their shepherds. Third, since Elevation has sought to distribute their guide to spontaneous baptisms to other local churches (Click here), this is a public issue that affects more than one local church. We see some deep theological problems in these reported practices, so we want to raise some questions in hopes of helping our churches wrestle with what our practices communicate:
1) Do our practices reveal a lack of confidence in the power of the gospel?
If a church follows these spontaneous baptism practices (click here for the How-To Guide), then it might reveal a lack of confidence in God’s Spirit and the gospel. At Pentecost, Peter didn’t plant people in the crowd to respond to the sermon. He didn’t assign people to “smile and clap,” create a “HUGE and over the top celebration,” or “pick young energetic people” to go first in order for God to perform a miracle (all direct quotes from the guide). Instead, he simply stood in the power of the Spirit, proclaimed the simple gospel of Christ crucified and risen, and a miracle happened. These types of practices sound very similar to what Paul references in 2 Corinthians 4:2 when he says, “But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.” Paul didn’t manipulate miracles. He trusted in the power of God to open blind eyes through the message about Jesus (2 Cor 4:1-6). (Note: It is also concerning that no where in the “How-To” document do they instruct potential churches who they are encouraging to follow their pattern to interview candidates about the gospel or give their testimony. In fact, the words “gospel” and “testimony” are not found in this document. This is no minor oversight because it could imply that regeneration is not necessary for baptism.
2) Do we pull the verses out of context for our own purposes?
There seems in integral places to be misuse and poor interpretation of the Bible. One simple example is the coloring sheet (see the coloring sheet here) that uses Romans 13:1 to teach the kids at Elevation to submit to “the visionary,” Furtick. Romans 13 talks about the government not the pastors of the church. Certainly there are verses that talk about following pastoral leadership, but Romans 13 isn’t one of them. In addition, check out this blog (read blog here) about Furtick’s troubling use of “I Am” to also refer to human beings not just Yahweh. This is potentially dangerous teaching that sounds close to prosperity theology.
3) Do we believe in the priesthood of the believers?
Repeated statements about the authority of pastor Furtick’s vision from God seems to communicate a pope-like role for the pastor (contra 1 Peter 5). The Elevation Code seems to have no place for the Priesthood of the Believers; instead, the priesthood seems to lie with the Visionary alone. Elevation Code 4 states, “We are united under one vision: Elevation is built on the vision God gave Pastor Steven. We will aggressively defend our unity and that vision.” This is quite problematic for two reasons among others: 1) The Scriptures indicate that all Christians can hear from God and know his plans for the church as outlined in the Bible. 2) We don’t need a priest to mediate these things to us because there is One Mediator (1 Tim 2:5).
Yes, the pastors are called to lead the church in accomplishing God’s mission (Heb 13; 1 Pet 5; etc.), but God in his goodness has also given a voice in decision-making to the congregation (cf. Acts 6; 13; 1 Cor 5; 2 Cor 2; Gal 1). Church leaders and the congregation hold one another accountable and serve on mission together.
4) Do we believe that a pastor should shepherd his people?
There seems to be a wrong understanding of the role of the pastor in regard to the church at Elevation. In the Elevation Code (read the code here) it states, “We need your seat: We will not cater to personal preference in our mission to reach this city. We are more concerned with the people we are trying to reach than the people we are trying to keep.” And in another clip on YouTube (Watch clip here), Furtick says “if you know Jesus, I am sorry to break it to you, this church is not for you.” On the surface, both of these statements seem right. Our mission – like our Savior’s – is to seek out and see the lost saved. However, these statements fly in the face of the Biblical witness. Paul told the Ephesian elders otherwise, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). This doesn’t mean catering to personal preferences; it means that you have a weighty and high calling to protect, exhort, rebuke, encourage, pray for, and equip your sheep because you will give an account for them (Hebrews 13:17).
Yes, the church should be focused outward, but at the same time the pastor and the church should be focused inward to care for members (i.e. obey the one another commands). To say that we must choose one or the other is a false dichotomy not presented in the Bible. The early church’s love for one another was part of their corporate witness that led to people being added to their number daily (Acts 2:42-47).
5) Where are the Bereans?
Finally, where have all the Bereans gone (Acts 17:11)? Why don’t more church people question what their pastor says to see if it squares with the Bible? Why does the coloring page not shock more parents? Why are more people not asking, “Does planting people in the crowd not violate 2 Corinthians 4?” Church members need to search the Scriptures to see if, as this graphic (View graphic here) indicates, what the Lead Pastor hears from God truly comes from God and is in line with the Scriptures.
These are important theological questions for all of us to ask ourselves. Do our practices reveal any of these theological concerns? It may not be our spontaneous baptism plan that lacks confidence in the gospel, just our lack of passion to share it. It may not be a coloring sheet with the pastor on it that shows a misuse of the scriptures, but we all have agendas that we will be tempted to paste a verse over. Out of concern for the witness of Christ’s church in the world, the clarity of the gospel and our own local churches, we need to answer these questions to the benefit of our own churches and ministry.
Nate and Jon Akin
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