Transition – Time for Pondering Anew

Any time the Lord gifts me with the privilege of attending a pastor’s conference, especially the Desiring God one in Minneapolis each February, I always pray the same thing. Lord, speak. Let me hear your voice. Show me what you require.

Once again He has not failed me as I reach the end of day two of this particular event entitled, Brothers, We Are Still Not Professionals.

This morning Pastor John Piper introduced his replacement at Bethlehem Baptist Church, Pastor Jason Meyer. Ever since I heard about this young man having to step into such humongous ministerial shoes I have asked myself, who in the world would want to follow John Piper? I learned this morning as no surprise at all that this man has felt much the same thing. In fact, when first queried about the possibility of taking over Bethlehem’s reins by Piper himself, Meyer responded quite vulnerably, “Nothing scares me more than that.” To which the retiring mentor replied, “Well, that’s not a no.” The rest, as they say, is history.

In his talk entitled Pastoral Transition After a 32-Year Ministry: Strategy and the Supernatural, Meyer went on to do two things. He told the story of how the whole surprising and, in some ways, unlikely appointment to such an imposing post came about. And then he offered four lessons from the process for our edification. You can listen to the entire message here. Consider it a worthy use of your valuable time. You won’t be disappointed.

Bethlehem’s “Joshua” transitioning into her treasured “Moses” role as shepherd of this congregation, fashioned his talk around phrases from two great hymns of the faith – Praise to the Lord the Almighty and To God Be  the Glory. The phrase from the first was this: Ponder anew what the Almighty can do. There is where the Lord spoke to me in the way the man linked that timeless exhortation of the hymn writer to the challenge of change in any ministry. Transitions are not to be feared; they are opportunities  from God to ponder anew what He can do.

Truth be told I can get scared when I think of losing Greg & Christina this summer to his church planting apprenticeship. How will our rich music ministry continue? Where will help for pastoral demands come from? Who will take care of the seemingly endless number of administrative details Greg handles in a given week? These questions and more can keep any pastor awake at night.

God knows. I say it again. God knows.

So ponder anew with  me what the Almighty will do as we wait on Him for His provision. Pray with me and the elders that we will plan and execute a God-centered strategy that profits Orlando Grace nearly as much as the one these dear folks in Minnesota employed to arrive at a replacement for someone of Piper’s stature.

Let us not fear transitions, but God who unfailingly leads His people through one change after another.

Then we will sing once again, “To God be the glory, great things He has done.”

The Powerful Life of the Praying Pastor

Greetings from the Desiring God 2011 conference for pastors. This year, thanks to a most generous OGC benefactor, I traveled with a friend, Jack Jenkins, pastor of Faith Baptist, Orlando. Thank God for a peer to compare notes on such a strategic theme as prayer in the life of God’s man.

God as done so much already. Consider this sample of quotes:

We’re a room full of ordinary jars of clay. Sam Storms

One of the ways we will be most relevant to the world is by not being like it. Mark Dever

If some sermons had the small pox, the text would never catch it. Mark Dever (Think about it.)

All the things we care about the most are impossible. John Piper (Ain’t that the truth?)

Whenever you lack the impulse to pray, then pray. Joel Beeke (keynote)

American culture is the hardest in the history of humanity for praying. Paul Miller

Helplessness is one of the biggest secrets to prayer. You can’t live life on your own. Paul Miller

You can be so focused on the work of God that you neglect the person of God. Francis Chan

Prayer differentiates us from the rest of the world. Our God listens to us. Francis Chan

Do people see you as someone who just can’t get enough of God? Francis Chan

My peoples’ greatest need is my personal holiness. Robert Murray M’cheyne (biography by John Piper)

Tomorrow we hear from Jerry Rankin on prayer and missions (buckle your seat belt) and then the panel Q&A. The Lord and weather permitting we fly out of MSP at 3 PM, local time.

What a rich privilege to attend yet another DG conference on this the 25th anniversary of the publishing of John Piper’s seminal work, Desiring God, the book that put me on the road toward a God-entranced vision of all things (if you haven’t read it, what are you waiting for?). I got so excited at one point this afternoon I shouted Hallelujah in the session – from what I could tell the only one out of 1700 hundred  in attendance. Not sure why no one else was similarly moved, but no matter. When I get back home, ask me about it. I’ll be glad to tell you what moved me so.

Oh to experience an abiding with God that amounts to a walk in love that leaves the stamp of God on the work of God through a man of God.

Strange Bedfellows: Piper & Warren at the DG National Conference

I suppose it won’t take long before someone asks me what I think about John Piper inviting Rick Warren to speak at this fall’s Desiring God national conference.

Honestly I could hardly believe my eyes and the brows above them raised to just about the Minneapolis Convention Center ceiling last February at the DG pastor’s conference when I saw the screen slide indicating that Pastor Warren of Saddleback Church and the best selling Purpose Driven Life fame would share the dais along with the likes of Mohler, Sproul (via video), Anyabwile, Chan, and Piper himself.

Dr. Piper recently sought to defend his actions in one of his Ask Pastor John sessions. You can view the video here.

I’ve watched that, as well as the other video where Piper talks about why he invited all the speakers. You can view that here. That he would call Rick Warren “rock solid” surprised me, I must admit. I’m not an expert in all things Rick Warren, to be sure, but I have read Purpose Driven Life and agree with Tim Challies that Pastor Warren takes excessive liberties with his treatment of the Scriptures as a teacher of the same. He is not one I would hold up as a prime example of 2 Tim. 2:15.

In one way I could care less about Warren’s politics and international connections (read the blogosphere banter and you will quickly see what I mean). All I need to know is how does the man handle the sacred writ. Everything from politics to partnerships in a person’s life goes uphill or downhill from there.

So bottom line? I must confess that the choice does trouble me. There is so much I respect and treasure about John Piper’s influence on my life as a pastor. Few theologians, save Dr. David Wells, who wrote five books like No Place for Truth to counter Warrenesque-like thinking, has done more to aid the ongoing reformation of my own more man-centered approach to ministry, to what I trust continues to become a more God-centered one, than John Piper has. And it is for that very reason that I wonder about the wisdom behind such a decision. Why invite so admittedly, to use Piper’s own words, a pragmatist and purveyor of the modern evangelical malaise (my words) to arguably one of the finest annual banqueting tables of God-centered, modern-reformation-committed, truth-saturated, events available today? Strange bedfellows indeed.

I deliberately waited to post my comments on this controversy lest my words reflect more folly than understanding in the debate (see Prov. 18:2). God help us who post prematurely. Anyone who frequents DG events knows of Pastor John’s penchant for pushing the envelope by inviting controversial figures. Do the names Mark Driscoll and Doug Wilson ring any bells? I do not believe Piper possesses a codependent bone in his body. Fear of man does not seem to be one of his issues, unlike this preacher. And I wholeheartedly agree with his appeals for caution in issues related to secondary separation and the need for love to abound in the way we engage one another in our disputes. By the way, I’ve read enough of the blog comments both on the DG site and elsewhere to confirm that we Reformed types still need massive doses of help in toning down our rhetoric and lacing even our most passionate protests with the greatest of these (1 Cor. 13:13). See Justin Taylor for a helpful analysis of the blogosphere free-for-all here. But does the opportunity this DG choice affords us to practice these virtues justify inviting Warren when so many other values related to modern reformation seem jeopardized as a result? I fear not.

Apart from Tim Challies’ perceptive comments referenced above, I found conspicuous by their absence any of the “heavy hitters” (Challies does not count himself among them, but his blog is esteemed by many in our tradition, including me) weighing in on the controversy. Granted, my search was not as thorough as it could have been, but in the time I invested I couldn’t find anything by the folks I would hope would address this (I’ll bet you can guess who they are). Curious. Can anyone help me with links to these “fathers” and their thoughts on this?

Here is my hope. Those folks are talking to John Piper. They’re picking up the phone or flying to Minneapolis, taking the man to lunch and asking something like, “Can you help me understand why you made this choice?” and “May I share with you why I fear it lacks wisdom?” and “What may I do to help you with dealing with the repercussions and fallout?” They’re exercising patience and discretion and due diligence and biblical peacemaking before spouting off on the web.

I might be wrong, but I do not agree with the calls to rescind the invitation to Rick Warren (Psalm 15:4b). I trust Pastor John will do the interview with Warren as promised. My hope is, at some point, my dear brother and mentor from afar might humbly admit that he erred in judgment on this one thing and has learned from it. Lord knows I’ve done my share of that and more in my journey as a pastor-teacher. This whole deal makes me want to exercise even greater care in my decision making as a leader of God’s people, even though the size of my portion of responsibility in the evangelical vineyard pales in comparison to the likes of men like him. Still, I/we shall all give an account no matter what God has entrusted to each of us (Heb. 13:17).

Will I go to this year’s national conference? Probably not. Not because I don’t want to, but because I’ve used up my conference budget on the pastor’s conference, T4G next week (I’m hoping for some redemptive interaction about the Piper/Warren controversy in Louisville), and Ligonier in June . So many conferences, so little time, and only so much money. But I will watch the streaming video if I have time or the recorded video for sure after the fact.

I do not intend at this point to sever fellowship with DG and John Piper. That seems reactionary and extreme a response to me. I still plan to attend the pastor’s conference in February of 2011, Lord willing.

Pastor John may be rightly faulted for imprudence on this issue, but it doesn’t nullify the passion, precision, and integrity with which he breaks the word of life, sermon in and sermon out, conference after conference. Until he shows me something different than his impeccable example of all things 2 Tim. 2:15, I’m in his corner, whether I agree with him or not on his choice to invite Rick Warren to speak this October in Minneapolis.

I would hope he would do the same for me and believe he would.