We are going to begin an extended series throughout the summer on practical ways to be more effective and helpful for visitors. Before digging into the ideas and examples, this series needs some context. (Note: This is Brad Hertzog writing) My work has provided a unique opportunity. Multiple times, I’ve spent a couple of months in a city, knowing I wasn’t staying there long term and couldn’t settle in to a particular church. I’ve also had projects where I needed to explore and understand the church culture of a city. So, I’ve had opportunity and made an intentional effort to visit a lot of churches that are in the “missional” classification. These churches vary in the level of their commitments to Reformed or Calvinistic theology. Some dabble. Some have a major commitment, to the level that would surprise OPC folks. It has been an interesting and stimulating opportunity. I think it’s been a unique opportunity in the OPC because, for most, a visit to this kind of church comes when on vacation, and it’s a fairly reluctant time wishing you would be back home at your church. This tends to lead to a visit that never gets passed, “I didn’t like the music…it was too loud or too ______ . And I missed my pastor’s preaching or missed “our” worship.”
For me, sure I’ve also visited the kind of places that make me understand that reaction. But because of where I’ve been able to go, who I’ve been able to hear preach, and that I’ve had the time to stay around for a while, I’ve been able to get beyond the surface impression. It’s far more prevalent that I encounter stimulating, profitable things in the midst of a different culture. I’ve spent anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of months at these places and I’m able to revisit a year or two later. I’ve settled in and looked past obvious things that wouldn’t be my preference or even my conviction and talked to pastors and sat in Sunday Schools and had conversations with people. Always asking myself two questions: What do they do well? and What can we learn from them?
I was recently with a small group of OPC pastors and elders talking about these things and I was asked what I have learned from these opportunities. A couple of things stand out:
1) Many of these churches are genuinely reaching people with the gospel and seeing the lost converted. They aren’t pulling punches on the reality of sin and the power of the gospel, and they are seeing people changed by the communication of that gospel. Isn’t that what the Bible teaches us to expect? (e.g. 1 Cor 1:18-31, Matt 9:35-38)
2) They genuinely know how to welcome outsiders into their world and help them get accustomed and be a part of this new world. They aren’t without their blind spots and shortcomings–-we all have them-–but they avoid some unnecessary barriers between the church and those they are trying to reach. And they take proactive and effective steps to make connections with outsiders. There is a lot for us to learn from these partners in the gospel. (We will dig into specific examples in a forthcoming series called, “10 Things I’ve Seen”).
3) Many have really good preaching—great communicators who aren’t soft peddling gospel truth yet know how to speak to a variety of people, from solid Reformed believers to broadly evangelical to the unchurched and so-far uninitiated. They call sin, sin and they point people to the only answer, Jesus Christ. And they use language that everyone can understand. They preach with clarity and with conviction. Again, we can learn from these brothers.
This wasn’t true in every church; some were miserable. But many regularly have sermons that are from very good to exceptional and I’m VERY picky. I have genuinely found great spiritual profit in many of these places—to the point that I look forward to the next visit.
There are a number of areas I believe they could profit from time with us—our ecclesiology and our sense of liturgy and worship would be at the top of the list. But they are working out their own understanding of things and we are working out ours. If I could do one thing in this life right now, it would be to bring the strengths of the two together. I’m not sure that’s realistic, so I’m just going to go ahead and work it out on a small scale here and some other venues and let you work through it with me.
Hopefully, this intro gives you a sense of where I’m coming from as you hear more specifics and we discuss what we can learn from those who are reaching people better than us.
You may be wondering what types of churches and preachers I’m talking about, so let me give you a quick overview of some of the “teams and tribes”—this is a broad sweep:
Acts29: An affiliation, not a denomination. Way back it was started by Mark Driscoll. With his difficulties in Seattle, Acts 29 leadership basically removed him from affiliation. Acts 29’s response and clear handling of the situation are commendable, and Driscoll has been gone for several years. Now, two main leaders are Matt Chandler from the Village Church in Dallas and Eric Mason from Epiphany Fellowship in Philly. These two can flat out preach, by the way. And they both lead churches that are reaching people for Christ and his gospel. Not all Acts 29 churches are like these two, but many are in the family and many have varying levels of Reformed leanings or almost full Reformed commitments. Some struggle and don’t have any reformed leanings and don’t have quality preaching. Acts 29 isn’t without its troubles (beyond Driscoll) and the reasons for that are for another time. They range from ecclesiology to personality to theology.
Missional PCA types: Probably best thought of coming out of the Tim Keller mode and even from Tim Keller and Redeemer’s style explicitly. There’s more continuity in this group than Acts 29 and usually more uniform Reformed commitments. They are more focused on reaching people with Jesus and the gospel than putting their Reformed commitments up front. As one PCA pastor I know who I would put in this camp puts it: We’re like Ross (the Dept/Fashion store) for Reformed Churches: We give you the dress for less! That’s Ross’s tag line and what he means is you get the Reformed stuff, but it doesn’t have the fanfare and up front cost that you would find in some Reformed tribes.
Baptist/Sovereign Grace types: This is a broad classification and has different tribes within it. One group probably originates out of the John Piper style and feel. This is formerly Josh Harris (of I Kissed Dating Goodbye), Dave Harvey and some others. But it’s would also include Alistair Begg, as an example closest to our world. Also, 9 Marks and Mark Dever would be their own group inside this broad tribe. And you could put Sam Storms in here too. This broad group as a whole is Baptist in theology and (often) more contemporary in worship. Some are not cessationist in theology (some apostolic gifts continue today), known for blending Wayne Grudem and John Owen in Systematic Theology. More of a mixed bag in preaching with some being really good or great. Good insights in reaching people and bringing people into a Reformed world. Again, they aren’t without their (sometimes major) problems, but problems in a certain area don’t preclude us from learning from what they do well.
Those are the main groups in broad stroke—just a thumbnail for now. There are others that are simply independent and put their own thing together, but for our purposes here and especially early on in our discussion, these 3 get us a quick look at the types of churches I’m talking about or referencing.
This introduction will serve as background for an upcoming extended series on Outward OPC called, “10 Things I Have Seen” where we explore some concrete examples of things we can learn from these partners in the gospel.