Saturday Links

The Real Iniquity of the Church Growth Movement

The real iniquity of the church growth movement wasn’t the methodology, but the growth idolatry that tended to develop in the leader’s heart. I define growth idolatry as the unspoken necessity for the numerical growth in a leader’s primary venue in order for them to feel good about life.

"Success" is a Hollow Goal

If your hope is set on anything other than Jesus, how do you survive when it goes bad? How do you remain passionate and vibrant when no one comes or the baptismal waters are still for long stretches? How do you maintain doctrinal integrity or teach hard things if he isn't the treasure? How do you worship when your wife gets sick or your son goes for a ride in an ambulance?

Spirit-Led, Not Model-Driven

Even if you learn from another model, make it your own. Adapt it for your community. Improve on it. Tweak it. Take it up two notches.

Don’t copy models as much as you follow what God leads you to do.

How Would Your Day Change if You Were a Missionary?

As Christians we often need a reorientation in our thinking back to our basic identity and calling. “What if you were a missionary…” is not a hypothetical question. We are missionaries sent by a missionary God. This reality must give shape to our thinking, planning and action.

Who a Disciple Is

A disciple of Jesus is someone who learns the gospel, relates in the gospel, and communicates the gospel. This definition of disciple shows us that the gospel both makes and matures disciples.

How To Be a Great Leader (in under 300 words)

Want to lead others? Well, much has been said and written about what makes a great leader, so here are the crib notes.

How to Attend a Conference as Yourself

A conference is just a bunch of human beings bumping into other human beings. Most of whom feel awkward about it. Most of whom, more than anything, would love to be seen for who they are, not just the roles they represent. We can give that to each other.

Just a Plodder

William Carey is called the "father of modern missions." Despite only an elementary school education, he could read the Bible in six languages by the time he was a teen. He became Professor of Oriental Languages at Fort William College in Calcutta, and his press provided Scriptures in over 40 languages and dialects for over 300 million people.

Carey once explained how he got so much done to his nephew:

Eustace, if after my removal any one should think it worth his while to write my Life, I will give you a criterion by which you may judge of its correctness. If he give me credit for being a plodder he will describe me justly. Anything beyond this will be too much. I can plod. I can persevere in any definite pursuit. To this I owe everything.

All Hands on Deck for Church Planting

My latest column at Christian Week:

120329When Terry Cuthbert decided to step down as President of the Fellowship Baptists in Canada —- after serving what he calls "12 years of an 8-year term" -- he wasn't sure what was next. After prayer and coaching, he settled on church planting as the best fit. For the past seven years, he's focused on enabling church planting, primarily in Montreal, and coaching church planters.

Cuthbert is passionate about the need for church planting. In Montreal, he says, only 0.3 per cent of the population attends an evangelical church, and the percentage is even lower among the Francophone community on the island.

"How many of you have relatives in Montreal?" Cuthbert recently asked a group in Gaspé Bay. Almost everyone raised a hand. He then asked, "Who is reaching them with the gospel?" Churches are needed, particularly in urban centers across the country.

Cuthbert likes the definition of church planting given by J.D. Payne, Professor of Church Planting at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary: "Evangelism that results in a new congregation." It is part of our obedience to the mandate given to us by Jesus. Disciples reproduce disciples; small groups reproduce small groups; leaders reproduce leaders; and churches reproduce churches. "The task," Cuthbert says, "is to get established churches to reproduce churches."

From the beginning, those new churches must have multiplication as part of their DNA. He asks his planters, "Where is your multiplier?" The focus on multiplication has to be everywhere. While some church planters remain as pastors, a church planter by definition is normally an itinerant, moving from place to place while continually starting new churches. That planter begins with an exit strategy from the start.

The obstacles are overwhelming. There is no way to plant, he says, without sacrifice. It takes "equal sacrifice from multiple sources beginning at the centre of the plant," beginning with the planter and launch team to those who support the plant. Finding property is also an issue, especially in urban contexts. "In every situation it takes a miracle," he says. But he has seen many miracles take place.

Cuthbert focuses on beginning well. The more you do up front, he says, the better chance you have for a launch. He tells his planters to "put your project in pixels" and write it down. You may have to modify the plan, he says, but it's important to think through what has to happen. "It's all about a healthy birth weight," he says. A plant must begin with a critical mass and key systems in place.

Forget trying to balance an inward and an outward focus. "Our natural tendency is to turn inward." The only way to maintain balance is to put a disproportionate emphasis on evangelism, he says.

I asked Cuthbert what he would say to churches that haven't considered church planting. "Repent," he said. "In a lot of our programmatic churches, there is a lot of time, talent, and treasure sitting in the pews immobilized. We need to equip and mobilize them. The task needs all hands on deck."

Cuthbert says that his involvement in church planting has been both scary and exciting. He's looking forward to seeing more churches planted in Montreal, and in key centers throughout Quebec and Canada.

The Last Enemy: An Interview with Mike Wittmer

I have a deep appreciation for theologians who know how to write with clarity and depth. Mike Wittmer, Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, is one of those theologians. His latest book, The Last Enemy: Preparing to Win the Fight of Your Life, tackles an important but ignored topic. I'm glad that Dr. Wittmer was willing to answer a few of my questions.

120328Death isn't the most popular topic. Why did you decide to write about it?

I was watching the Tom Brokaw television special, Boomers, and I noticed that this large group of aging Americans was desperately trying to stay young forever. I felt sorry for them, and then I realized that I was probably in denial about death too. When I looked around for help, I noticed that most books and essays on death are over their heads in denial. They repeatedly say that death is natural or at least not our end, for we will continue to live on in the memories of those who loved us. These platitudes simply aren’t true.

It's easier than ever to avoid the topic of death. What do we lose when we do so?

We lose the reason to be a Christian. Every religion attempts to solve some problem: Buddhism focuses on suffering, Islam on pride, and Hinduism on bad karma. The problem that Christianity solves is sin and death. If we aren’t terrified of death, we’ll see little reason to become a Christian. What Jesus did is no big deal if death is not so bad. Paul declares that death is “the last enemy” (1 Cor. 15:26), and it really is. Death is literally the last thing thrown into the lake of fire, four verses after Satan is banished there (Rev. 20:10-15). In sum, if we minimize death, we also minimize the victory of Christ’s resurrection. If your opponent is not intimidating, then you don’t get much credit when you beat him.

The gospel provides the answer to sin and death, yet we tend to avoid talking about death even in our churches. Why is this?

I suspect it’s because it’s just too painful. Death is the ultimate downer. I was speaking with a friend yesterday who was excited to be dating a young man who might soon ask her to marry him. When the topic of my book came up, I laughed and said that I hope she gets married and has a happy life, but ultimately it won’t matter, because we’re all going to die.

It’s funny, but there is truth in it. We know that death is the great leveler that steamrolls everything in its path, and that one day it will come for us. So even in church we try to spritz it up by saying death really isn’t that bad, that it’s our graduation to glory or our ticket to heaven. I think we mean well, but the better we make death the less we esteem Jesus’ triumph over the grave.

How is the biblical vision of the New Earth better than what most people think of when they think of heaven?

The needle is beginning to move, but most Christians still seem to think that when they die they will live forever as angels in heaven. This is why I devote a couple of chapters in The Last Enemy to describe our biblical hope in the new creation. Scripture clearly teaches that our loved ones who died in Christ are not gone for good, but they are on the first leg of a journey that is round trip. When Jesus returns he will bring their souls with him, resurrect their bodies and put them back together, and they will live forever with Jesus and us on this new earth.

I think this biblical hope is far more exhilarating than an ethereal, overly spiritual vision of the end. Last fall I was teaching an urban class of pastors and some of them objected to returning to the new earth. They said that so many in their community have such an awful existence that it truly is a celebration to send them off to a place where they will never suffer again. I understood where they were coming from, but rather than say “your life on earth was horrible but thank God you can close the book on that chapter and move on,” wouldn’t it be much better to teach, “You will return to the scene of your bitterness and humiliation, but this time to reign with Christ. You will not live forever with the burden of what happened the first time around, but you will return in triumph. The very place of your suffering will be the realm of your success.”

Luther said, "We should familiarize ourselves with death during our lifetime, inviting death into our presence when it is still at a distance and not on the move." How can we do this?

It’s as simple as pondering our inevitable end. Ecclesiastes 7:2 says it just right: “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart.”

We must regularly remind ourselves of the truth that, unless Jesus returns, we are going to die. When we rise we should tell ourselves, “I could die today.” If we keep this thought in the front of our minds, we will take an extra moment to kiss our spouse, look our friend in the eye, and play games with our children. If we practice this now, long before death is in range, we will find that we invest many more days than we waste. When we die we’ll not only have fewer regrets, but we’ll have daily practice in rolling them over onto the shoulders of our Lord. And there is no better preparation for death.

Thanks, Mike.

Find out more about The Last Enemy at

Book Review: The Last Enemy

I can't imagine writing a book proposal for a book on death. Intended audience? Everyone. Marketing plan? That's the hard part. How do you market a book on death? It's a topic that most of us would rather avoid, and many of us do until it's too late.

But that's exactly why we need a book on death. Particularly, it's why we need a book like The Last Enemy: Preparing to Win the Fight of Your Life by Mike Wittmer. Wittmer faces this challenging subject with a keen mind, a quick wit, and penetrating insight.

The layout of the book is simple. The first half of the book examines death, our last enemy. Wittmer describes death's causes, consequences, and the psychological warfare it inflicts upon every member of the human race. The second half of the book explores Jesus' victory over death. Specifically, it explores how Jesus overcame death in his cross and resurrection, and how this secures heaven and the New Earth -- much better than the disembodied heaven that most seem to imagine. A final few chapters conclude the book with practical advice for those nearing the end of life.

There are a few reasons I love this book.

First, Wittmer has a gift for clearly communicating theology. And from what I hear in funeral homes and even at funerals, we need it. I think I've heard more bad theology preached at funerals than I have almost anywhere else. Not only is this bad, it's also profoundly unhelpful. Wittmer does a good job of explaining what the Bible says, and he does so in a way that is clear and helpful.

Second, Wittmer writes well. Really well. If you can write a book on death and make it funny and interesting, then you are a good writer indeed. He kept my interest, made me laugh, and moved my emotions. How can you not like paragraphs like this one?

Life is too short to read bland books or watch movie sequels. There isn't enough time for gossip, grudges, or plotting revenge. You don't have years to waste on what someone else things you should be or do. When you take death to heart, you'll tuck your children in every night, make some meals from scratch to share with friends, and go barefoot every chance you can. You'll take hungry bites from the peach of life, and when the juice runs down your chin and all the way to your elbows, you'll wipe it with your shirt.

Finally, I love this book because what Wittmer writes has the power to change our lives. Why wait until it's too late to begin applying death's lessons to our life now? If we miss out on death's lessons, and if we live life without the hope of Jesus' victory and the coming New Earth, we miss out on some important lessons we need in order to live well. Wittmer helps us learn these lessons now when they can make a difference in how we live.

You may never have thought, "I need to read a book on death," but that shouldn't stop you. Read The Last Enemy. It's a subject none of us can avoid, and the lessons contained in this book can make a huge difference in your life - and in your death.


Stay tuned for an interview with Mike Wittmer tomorrow.