The Shepherds’ Conference: On Creativity

For the final seminar of the 2007 Shepherds’ Conference I attended Dan Dumas’ lecture entitled “Creativity With Out Compromise: How to be Innovative Without Being Seeker Sensitive.” I really enjoyed it and found it to be extremely practical below are my notes from that seminar.

First, We Must Understand that Our Natural Tendency is to Drift Toward One of Two Extremes:

  1. Extreme Creativity Devoid of Content
  2. Excellent Content Devoid of Creativity

Second, Submissive Creativity Always Places the Priority on Scripture

Third, Intentional Creativity is Necessary to Build a Church

Fourth, Your Motivation (To Be Creative) Should be Practical Obedience to the Command to “Love the Lord your God . . . and Love Your Neighbor as Your Self”

Fifth, Your Philosophy of Ministry Determines Creativity

  1. A High View of God
  2. A High View of the Scriptures
  3. A High View of the Church
  4. A High View of Strong Spiritual Leadership
  5. A High View of Worship”

Five things that Kill Creativity:

  1. The Comfortable Status Quo Places a Death Grip on Ingeneuity
  2. We Forget the Nature of God; He is the Creator
  3. We Cling to Tradition Over Revelation
  4. We are Lazy and Undisciplined in our Ministry (Because Creativity is Hard)
  5. We Have a Fear of Man, Namely our Congregations that Hate Change

“Be Creative or Shrivel up and Die” Ten Steps that Foster Creativity

1. Pray and Search the Scriptures Like Crazy: If we are going to be creative then it must be Biblical

2. Place High Expectations on People to Pursue Excellence: Learn to sweat the small stuff. Do not lower the bar. Every aspect of your ministry matters, nothing is insignificant.

3. Clarify that Ministry in the Flesh is Neither Expedient nor Profitable: Creativity must not be a means of artificially inflating ministry.

4. Create an Enjoyable Culture of Change (Constant Scrutiny is the Mark of Creative People)

5. Reject Mediocrity as an Acceptable Way of Ministry (At the Same Time Do Not Become a Sinful Perfectionist): This pairs well with point two above.

6. Refuse to Be Creative in a Vaccume: Churches everywhere may be facing your same situation learn from and with them.

7. Steps to Becoming Creative

a. Intentionally Go Away Alone

–Think Deliberately: Intentionally think creatively.

–Think Distance: Plan for the future. If your ministry is going to change are you prepared to see it through?

–Think Solitude: You need to be undistracted and focus, so unplug and disconnect.

–Think Service: Creativity is not for the sake of novelty it is aimed at better serving others.

–Think Outside the Box

–Think Big

–Think Critical

–Think Ahead

–Think Details: The minutiae matters.

–Think Journaling: Don’t just think write and rewrite and rethink.

–Think Communication: How, when, where, and to whom will you share this.

–Think Patience: Change often takes time you must prepare for this.

b. Intentionally Go Away Together to be Creative

–Be Honest: Be frank, stop beating around the bush and accomplish something.

–Be Smart

–Be Open: Welcome criticism of your ministry from other ministers.

–Be Strategic (SWOT=Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats)

–Be Humble: Do not become defensive when criticized

–Be Effective: Go away as a group and intentionally address change, do not waste your pastoral retreat on stupid stuff

8. Do Not Confuse Stewardship With Cheapness

9. Do Not Take the Easy Way Out

10. Instruct, Model, Overcommunicate: Let others know what will be changed. Be a model for change. Overcommunicate change, individuals quickly form opinions and twist your words do not give them this opportunity.

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The Shepherds’ Conference 2007

Sadly, John Piper was unable to come to this years Shepherds’ Conference, due to the death of his father. I would encourage you all to read his journal entry on this event. Hello, My Father Just Died

The conference has been great so far. Steve Lawson’s sermon on Apostolic preaching was phenomenal, I love his passionate exposition of God’s Word, he is one of my favorite expositors and his sermon issued a much needed exhortation and call for passionate preaching in a time when exposition is often associated with boring unaffected preaching. Ligon Duncan continues to amaze me with his profound understanding of the Old Testament, his sermon at Together for the Gospel on the preaching from the Old Testament issued a huge challenge for me, and it was encouraging to hear him preach from the Old Testament in a way that brings the truth to life for believers today. Al Mohler, as always, brought it and his exposition of I Corinthians 2:1-5 was fantastic, I highly recommend reading his introduction to anyone who will be reading Corinthians soon as it does a wonderful job of setting the cultural context in which that church existed. Mark Dever’s message was one that all American Evangelical’s need to hear. He soberly warned the pastors that they need to prepare for the coming persecution and that they need to prepare their churches for the coming persecution lest they all fall away. I especially enjoyed his exhortation that pastors should prepare their wives to be pastor’s widows. I was incredibly thankful that he called the men to cease their reliance on Evangelical political activism to protect them from persecution and to begin relying on the Sovereign hand of God to uphold them during the persecution that is sure to come. Below are links to Tim Challies blog entries on the main sessions at the conference, if you have time please read them all. I will also be posting my notes from Dan Dumas’ lecture “Creativity Without Compromise: How to be Innovative Without Being Seeker Sensitive” and I hope you will read them and be as encouraged as I was.

Session I: John MacArthur “Why Every Self-Respecting Calvinist is a Pre-Millennialist”
Session II: Steve Lawson “The Passion and the Power of Apostolic Preaching” Acts 2:14-21
Session III: C. J. Mahaney Isaiah 66:1-2
Session IV: Ligon Duncan Numbers 5:11-31 (I Corinthians 10:1-13)
Q&A Session
Session V: Al Mohler I Corinthians 2:1-5
Session VI: Mark Dever The Book of Daniel
Keynote Panel
Session VII: John MacArthur Luke 18

For the Gospel

For those of you who received my e-mail I appreciate you taking the time to come and read my thoughts. For those of you who did not receive my e-mail I would greatly appreciate and you would greatly benefit from listening to Ed Stetzer’s message Toward a Missional Convention. This was delivered at the Baptist Identity II Conference for those of you listening to the other messages. If you want to know more about Ed Stetzer I would recommend going to his blog (click here). Above all listen to Ed Stetzer’s message and I have listed suggestions of similar messages at the end of this post.

If you want to know my thoughts here, they are. While taking church history over the past two semesters and talking to others one of the things that has really stood out. Has been how the church has, during different periods in time, banded together to stand for Truth and combat error. The most obvious is when the Reformers, who disagreed on numerous aspects of theology, banded together to combat the works-based message of the Catholic Church. Even before that, the Nicene Creed and many other creeds served to affirm truth and refute error. In recent times, one can look to the 1978 Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, where numerous Protestants across a wide range of denominations gathered to defend the validity of Scripture itself. While we may look to these as triumphs in church history I have began to see them as our most visible failures. The Reformation fell short of a true reform due to the Reformers inability to come to a consensus on various issues, and they inevitably committed some of the same atrocities that the Catholic Church committed, they just did so with a more Biblical Soteriology. While they gained an initial triumph, they were unable to bring about complete reform. In early Puritan America, religious freedom quickly became a freedom to practice Puritanism; however, thanks to Baptist ministers such as Roger Williams and John Clarke, who was arrested and whipped for preaching in a home, this is not still the case.

Do not miss understand me I am not one to shy away from controversy, just look at my previous posts or ask for my honest opinion on something, but I think over the past year I have grown frustrated with the lack of progress I see coming out of controversy (Ironically that statement may be controversial.). If you wanted me to, I could list off every “theological heritage” which I feel apart and if you want to challenge the Biblical validity of any of my views, I would quickly respond. However, I think I have grown to the point now where I realize that that is not the point. Perpetual theological debate is not the aim of theology, the glory of God is, and I do not think we glorify God when we ignore God’s commands to engage the culture so that we can retreat from culture and fight amongst ourselves. There are aspects of theology that we must contend for, others that we can agree to disagree on, and there are culturally contrived convictions that we must completely rid ourselves of. But are we willing to do that for the Gospel?

For more sermons addressing this topic, I would recommend:
The Supremacy of Christ and the Church in a Postmodern World by Mark Driscoll
The Supremacy of Christ and the Gospel in a Postmodern World by Tim Keller

A Biblical Understanding of Church/State Relations

There are three possible approaches to this subject from an understanding of the nature of the church, from an understanding of the nature of the kingdom of God, and from an understanding of the nature of the Gospel. There are numerous perspectives concerning the nature of the church and the nature of the kingdom of God; however, I think most reasonably minded individuals can come to a consensus on the nature of the Gospel. Because of this, I will approach the subject from an understanding of the nature of the Gospel. Ultimately, all theology comes down to one thing, the Gospel. Central to ones understanding of the church is the Gospel. Central to ones understanding of the kingdom is the Gospel. The Gospel is the wellspring of all Truth and so it is fitting that we both begin and remain there.

First, the very nature of the Gospel is that it makes society pluralistic; this is what it means for the gospel to be exclusive (Matthew 10:34-37). Wherever the Gospel goes pluralism, if not already present, is introduced. The Gospel is an exclusive message; this means that there are those who are included and those who are excluded. This is also the nature of the church and the nature of the kingdom of God, there are those who are included, and those excluded. This means there will always be at least two groups and that is plural. If society was monocultural, then we would all be damned. Pluralism is part of the good news of the Gospel; that God has chosen and redeemed individuals within a unanimously rebellious world; thereby making the world pluralistic. This relates to politics because Evangelical political activism seeks to singularize society (an Evangelical monoculture) while the Gospel makes society pluralistic.

Second, the very nature of the Gospel is missiological. What do I mean by that? At the heart of missions, or being missional, is contextualization, of both the message and the messenger (I Corinthians 9:22-23). If you disagree with that last statement, go look at your Bible. If your Bible is in a language other than Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic then you are a product of contextualization. Men and women have died, been burned at the stake, drowned, disemboweled, and undergone the most unimaginable torture so that the Gospel can be contextualized. This relates to politics because Evangelical political activism seeks to conform the culture to the Gospel, while missional contextualization seeks to contextualize the Gospel within a pagan culture. The two stand in direct opposition.

Third, the very nature of the Gospel is inferiority, namely that the Gospel is a foolish message proclaimed to foolish people (Matthew 9:11-13, I Corinthians 1:18). Contrary to what many self-righteous “Christians” believe the Gospel is stupid, it is idiotic, the Greek word for “foolishness” in I Corinthians 1:18 is the word from which we get moron, it is that dumb. Furthermore, in verses 26, and following, Paul reminds Christians that they are morons too! The simple fact is that you cannot embrace the Gospel if you feel morally or intellectually superior to the surrounding world; you can only embrace the Gospel if you are morally inferior. This relates to politics because Evangelical political activism seeks to create a morally superior culture while Gospel seeks out those who are morally inferior.

Fourth, the very nature of the Gospel is liberalism (Galatians 5:13). God liberally lavishes His grace upon us. God call us to proclaim the Gospel liberally. This may seem like a stretch but liberalism is the exact opposite of legalism, and God opposes legalism. Was it not the legalism of the Pharisees that kept them from loving liberally? Was it not the legalism of the Pharisees that kept them from proclaiming Truth liberally? Was it not the legalism of the Pharisees that kept them from living liberally? Paul’s statement in I Corinthians 9:22-23 is a declaration that Paul was culturally liberal. This relates to politics because Evangelical political activism seeks to enforce state-sanctioned legalism while the Gospel compels us to live liberally.

Fifth, the very nature of the Gospel is voluntarism, as opposed to coercion (Luke 10:16). The Gospel is a message to be proclaimed which subsequently means that it can be accepted or rejected. The Gospel is not a message to be enforced. In fact, the Gospel cannot be enforced and when ignorant individuals seek to have it enforced, it is no longer the Gospel.

This is where the apparent contradiction comes in. Because while the nature of the Gospel demands the strictest of separations between it and the state Scripture, however, is replete with commands ordering followers of Christ to submit themselves to the governing authorities (Matthew 22:21; Romans 13:1-11; Titus 3:1). Paul even appeals to his Roman citizenship when arrested (Acts 22:25) and even to Caesar (Acts 25:11). Most profound of all is that Paul wrote his exhortation to the church in Rome around A.D. 56 two years into the persecution by Nero (A.D. 54-68). A persecution in which “Some Christians were arrested, confessed their faith, and were ‘convicted not so much,’ says Tacitus, ‘of the crime of incendiarism as of hating the human race (Does that sound familiar?) [1].’” Schaff continues, “A ‘vast multitude’ of Christians was put to death in the most shocking manner. Some were crucified, probably in mockery of the punishment of Christ, some sewed up in the skins of wild beasts and exposed to the voracity of mad dogs in the arena. The satanic tragedy reached its climax at night in the imperial . . . . Christian men and women, covered with pitch or oil or resin, and nailed to posts of pine, were lighted and burned as torches for the amusement of the mob [2].” It is clear that followers of Christ must submit themselves to the governing authorities, even if that means dying in the arena!

Before concluding it is important that we take note of the uniqueness of the American situation. The American situation is unique not only in our current global context but also in the context of history. America is unique in the freedoms and rights that it has bestowed upon its citizens and it is unique in its Democraticness, not that there are not other democratic nations but American Democracy is unique.

All of this has led me to several conclusions. First, the nature of the Gospel is unequivocally clear that it cannot be promoted by political means nor can it be enforced by a political power; furthermore, “Christian moral norms,” if there is such a thing, cannot be forced upon a culture nor can they be enforced within a culture where they are already present. Second, the “right to vote” is not a right; it is a unique privilege that has been granted to Americans. Since it is not a right it can, and I would argue will, be taken away.

Ultimately, our problem is this: we are more concerned with being American than we are with being followers of Christ. That is why the mission field is largely vacant; because as Americans we feel this is our home, when as followers of Christ we are sojourners and foreigners in every land. By mission field I am not speaking of foreign missions but all missionary activity; no concept of “home missions” can exist within a worldview where you are always a foreigner. Even here in comfortable America, the mission field is largely vacant of individuals who cease to be antagonistic towards American culture and contextualize the Gospel into it. There are plenty of people conforming the Gospel to American culture, thus loosing the Gospel. There are also plenty of people seeking to conform American culture to the Gospel, thus loosing the Gospel in legalism. There are also those who are honestly trying to share the Gospel and yet there efforts are largely misunderstood because they do so in ignorance of the culture. What we need are followers of Christ who will plant indigenous church planting churches by contextualizing the Gospel into the cultures, which they desire to reach.

I hope that all of you will respond in charity, as I am sure most will disagree and honestly, if I had read this a year ago I would have disagreed as well. If you disagree with my post and would like me to reply to your comment please state your argument or question concisely and I will reply in a like fashion.

[1] Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume 1
[2] Ibid.

Newsweek “On Faith”

For those of you who have not heard I highly recommend heading over to the conversation at Newsweek entitled “On Faith: A Conversation on Religion with John Meacham and Sally Quinn.” From Jon Meacham:

From the nature of evil to religious reformation, from the morality of fetal stem-cell research to the history of scripture, from how to raise kids in multi-faith households to the place of gays in traditional churches — of the asking of questions, to paraphrase Ecclesiastes, there shall be no end. We think that the online world, with its limitless space, offers us a unique opportunity to carry on a fruitful, intriguing, and above all constructive conversation about the things that matter most.

The names and biographical information of the nearly seventy panelists can be found here among which is one of Evangelicism’s wisest leaders, Albert Mohler. I am quite pleased that there will be nearly seventy panelists involved in this conversation; as Evangelicals, we would do well to read them all, in hopes of better understanding the culture in which we must contextualize the Gospel message. Among the seventy panelists, I would recommend reading the posts by three particular individuals, in addition to Dr. Mohler of course. First, emergent church leader Brian McLaren, McLaren is known for writing the book A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I Am a Missional, Evangelical, Post/Protestant, Liberal/Conservative, Mystical/Poetic, Biblical, Charismatic/Contemplative, Fundamentalist/Calvinist, Anabaptist/Anglican, Methodist, Catholic, Green, Incarnational, Depressed-yet-Hopeful, Emergent, Unfinished CHRISTIAN. By “generous orthodoxy” McLaren means no orthodoxy, he is up to his ears in ecumenism. Second, seeker sensitive church leader Rick Warren, Warren is known for writing the doctrinally ambiguous yet insanely popular books The Purpose Driven Life and The Purpose Driven Church. Third, leading philosopher and evolutionist Daniel Dennett, Dennett claims Darwinism as the “universal acid” that “eats through just about every traditional concept and leaves in its wake a revolutionized world-view.” He also asserts that natural selection accounts for and explains everything from microbiology to the formation of the family and societies.

Rick Warren and Brian McLaren are both members of movements that compromise the Biblical Gospel. All who love the Gospel would do well to understand where they have compromised the Gospel because their error is propagated globally through their writing and sermons. Daniel Dennett is representative of the culture at large, especially academia. However, my main recommendation would be to read the unompromising Biblical insight of Albert Mohler; especially the responses to his posts.