Deep Church - Review

Deep Church is written by Jim Belcher, pastor at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach California. In the attempt to understand the differences between the "Emerging Church" and the "Traditional Church," Belcher has written a book to try to explain each while proposing a "third way."

In many ways, this is a very helpful book. Belcher's research on the Emerging Church and Traditional Church is obvious. Much of his research includes interviews with leaders in both the Emerging and Traditional Churches.

When it comes to the Emerging Church, Belcher quotes Ed Stetzer in laying out three broad categories: relevants, reconstructionists, and revisionists. He describes the relevants as theological conservatives who are mainly concerned with the forms of music and teaching; not their content. Reconstructionists are generally attempting to rethink the entire form of what "church" should mean - trying to make the church look as much like the church in Acts as possible. Revisionists take their rethinking to the point that they are rethinking key evangelical doctrines altogether.

The above distinctions are really helpful, though for the rest of Belcher's book he doesn't always do a great job of specifying which of the three camps he is referring to when he talks about the "emerging church."

Belcher proposes a "third way" that seeks to ask similar questions to what the revisionist and reconstructionists are asking, but through the theological grid of the evangelical church through the ages. He argues that we need to become churches of "deep Truth," "deep evangelism," "deep Gospel," "deep worship," "deep preaching," "deep ecclesiology," and "deep culture."

I'm not uncomfortable at all with where Belcher ends up in most areas. The church must find a way to consistently hold passionate external focus and deep theology at the same time. But, I am not sure I love Belcher's concept of a "third way." Churches and Church Traditions exist on a spectrum, not in bins. You are not either "emerging" or "traditional" in the senses Belcher uses those terms. That's what makes the conversation so hard.

This was an interesting book. If you are deeply interested in the discussion about where the church is going in America, it is a good primer on the discussion if just a bit over-simplified.

Trust and Clarity

Our elders met last night and had a great conversation about expectations and trust.

When it comes to organizations, a lack of trust is almost always an indicator of unclear expectations.

Boards don't hire untrustworthy pastors or CEOs. If they do, they fire them immediately.

Pastors and CEOs don't go to work for untrustworthy boards. If they do, it's temporary until they can find another job.

When the problem is not character, it is almost always communication. The board is unclear about what it expects the pastor to do, so they don't trust him. Because the pastor does not have clear expectations of the board's response or expectations of him, he won't trust the board.

Expectations assume accountability and accountability breeds trust. Clarify expectations, and trust problems go away.

I'm thankful to work for a board who is serious about clarifying expectations. We're a work in progress, but they're committed to progressing in the right direction.

Remembering without Bitterness

Last week I was reading the story of Joseph in my One-Year-Bible and saw something I hadn't noticed before.

In Genesis 45, Joseph's brothers have come to Egypt to find food. These are the same brothers who threw him in a pit intending to kill him. They decided instead to make some money off Joseph and sold him as a slave, telling their dad that a wild beast had eaten him.

You know the story: Following that day, Joseph's life was a real-life illustration of Murphy's law, until finally he ends up the Prime Minister of Egypt with control over the food supply. Joseph could have had his revenge over his brothers, but chooses not to. It's a great story.

But here's the verse I found fascinating this weekend: Genesis 45:16 says "The news soon reached Pharaoh's palace: "Joseph's brothers have arrived!" Pharaoh and his officials were all delighted to hear this."

Delighted? Seriously?

Don't you figure Joseph has told Pharaoh and his officials the story? How could he have not?

If I had been Joseph, people would have heard my rags-to-riches story a billion times, and those twisted brothers would have been painted in the cruelest light possible. My tell-all autobiography as Prime Minister would have made sure everyone saw those twerps as the villains they were.

People sure wouldn't have been "delighted" to see them after I got done telling the story.

When (if) Joseph re-told his story, he had done it without a hint of bitterness towards his brothers. Joseph didn't have to be the hero of his life story, and as a result, God got to be.

Are there people in your story you tend to vilify? Parts of your story you can't tell without bitterness?

When you practice telling your story as if God were in control, you prepare yourself to act the right way when God closes the loop.

Role of Preacher

Quick blog this morning, with a quick question.

Do you feel as though the primary role of the preacher is to inform or persuade?

Don't cop out on me and say "both." Which one is more important?

Bible Literacy and the Tyranny of the Urgent

One of the things that keeps me up at night is the shockingly low biblical literacy of most Americans - even people who grew up in church. Why is it that the majority of us own more than one Bible, have access to the Bible on video, DVD, iPhone, computer, and Kindle, and say we believe the Bible is God's Word, but couldn't tell you if Moses came before Abraham or if Hezekiah is a real book in the Bible?

I think there are a lot of reasons - maybe I'll blog about them someday. But Phillips Brooks (19th century pastor) had an answer that rings true a hundred years later: they tyranny of the urgent.

"Even the man who knows that the Bible is the best of books will read the new treatise on religion instead of the Bible, because he knows the Bible belongs to all ages, and can never pass out of date, while with this "latest publication" it is today or never."

To put it another way, we spend a lot of our time reading the newest, hottest book about the Bible, but skip the Bible because we know the Bible will always be there. The newest, hottest book about the Bible will only be hot for another year or so.

Completely illogical, obviously; and yet I'm guilty as charged.


Several years ago I took a preaching class at Dallas Seminary with a guy who had grown up under the teaching ministry of John MacArthur Jr. This guy admired Dr. MacArthur so much that he had studied virtually every dimension of MacArthur's style. He moved his arms like MacArthur, inflected his voice like MacArthur, and intentionally tried to capture MacArthur's distinct preaching style and rhythm.

I don't think Dr. MacArthur would have been at all flattered. In fact, I think he would have been deeply offended by this kind of imitation because it implied that the power of Dr. MacArthur's preaching was in his mannerisms.

It's tempting for young Christians to find a person they admire spiritually to imitate. And certainly, there's a biblical example of that (1 Corinthians 4:16). But we have to be sure we're imitating the right thing.

When I first started growing as a Christian, my hero got up at 4:30am to study his Bible. So I started setting my alarm early, as if the key to spiritual growth was tied to the hour I woke up.

Rather than imitating MacArthur's gestures and inflections, my friend should have imitated his love for preaching the Scriptures. Instead of trying to shop at the same stores, watch the same shows, and follow the same schedule as other Christians we admire, we should follow how they follow Christ.

Otherwise, our imitation is not the sincerest form of flattery at all. Instead, it's an insult to the person we admire.

Different Gods?

For the past couple of weekends, I got to preach over what is probably my favorite topic to teach: The Bible...

The whole thing.

Two weeks ago I preached on the Story of the Old Testament, and this past week I talked about the Story of the New Testament. I had a blast (If you're interested in the sermons, you can check them out online).

One of the things I got to say this week in the first service but didn't mention in the second service was about something a lot of people struggle with: the misconception that the God of the Old Testament is different from the God of the New Testament.

Have you ever wondered about that?

At first glance, the God of the Old Testament seems to be a God of anger, punishment, and judgment while the God of the New Testament seems to be a God of grace, love, and mercy. What gives?

Christ gives.

In the Old Testament, God was speaking most often to a group of stiff-necked people who continually rejected His provision. They were prodigal people who thumbed their nose at God every chance they got. As a perfect God, God must always judge sin. Sin is serious business.

The good news of the New Testament is that God sent His Son to take the judgment we prodigal people deserved. At the cross, He took the judgment of God on sin upon Himself.

Most of the New Testament is written to the Church - people who have trusted Christ as their satisfactory payment before God. For those who have trusted Christ, we don't have to live in anticipation of God's judgment; Christ took it on the cross.

When you get to Revelation, God begins dealing with those who have rejected Him again, and begins dealing with them in the same way He dealt with people in the Old Testament: treating sin with the seriousness it deserves.

The God of the New Testament is the same as the God of the Old Testament. The difference is where we stand in relationship to the cross.

Whistling Boats

I just finished a book by a 19th Century preacher named Phillips Brooks called "The Joy of Preaching." The book has some great insight, but it was a slog to get through most of it.

One particular passage caught my attention though - especially as it relates to much of the blogosphere. Brooks was writing to caution preachers about sitting in judgement on other preachers - either for their zeal or a perceived weakened hold on truth, and says:

"We are like steamers lying in the fog and whistling, that we may not run into others nor they into us. It is safe, but commerce makes no great progress thereby, and it shows no great skill in navigation."

It seems like much of the Christian blog world exists to lob potshots back and forth at other Christians. Certainly there is a time and place to decry heresy. There is also a time and place to debate minutiae. But a lot of what I read on the blogosphere and hear in a lot of Christian circles gives life to Brooks' analogy of two ships.

It's easy to blow our horn at people we don't agree with. It's easy to make sure we don't bump into them, and they don't bump into us. But if our only goal is horn-blowing, we might as well stay home. That kind of activity makes zero progress and takes zero skill.

Great navigational skill is required to make progress in foggy areas. Timeless words.

How can I pray for you?

Looking for an easy way to begin a profound conversation with someone far from God? Ask them how you can pray for them.

I've done this at a restaurant with waiters from time to time. "Hey, we're getting ready to pray for our meal in a few minutes and we're really thankful for you helping us out. When we pray, how can we pray for you?"

Virtually nobody will be offended by the question, and most of the time they will invite you in for a sneak peak at what God is doing in their life.

It works with neighbors, coworkers, friends, kids, and spouses. Our senior pastor's daughter calls him almost every morning on the way to work to ask how she can pray for him, because his wife modeled that when the kids were young.

If you want to knock someones socks off and see what God is up to, it's pretty easy: ask them how you can pray for them.

Door Opener?

Throughout my life God has placed several people who were door-openers - people who believed in me, or believed better for me, and opened doors to new opportunities. They didn't have to spend a lot of time with me, or go out of their way for me. They were simply present at moments in my life when I needed someone to help me break through.

Sometimes I had my hands full; sometimes I couldn't find the door. Sometimes I didn't even realize there was something else beyond where I was. But they opened the door for me.

Of course, everyone hasn't been so generous. I've experienced my fair share of bouncers: the people who say "no" before the know the question; the people who seem bent on making everything more difficult; the people who never see your potential, never see any maturity, always look for ways they can instruct you but never the ways they can empower you.

I don't know about you, but I hope I'm always the kind of person who opens doors for others.

Hard Stuff

This past weekend, our staff and non-staff church leaders went on a retreat together. One of my heroes, the pastor of Fellowship Bible Church Dallas led our time by talking about "Improving Your Influence Quotient" and did a really great job.

One of the things Gary talked about was the fact that the higher you go, the harder leadership gets. High-level leadership almost always deals in shades of gray, because the black and white problems were solved on the way up the ladder.

High-level leaders have to have great instincts, great character, and great moral clarity, because every single decision will be a test.

That's good stuff to remember, whether you're a high-level leader in a church, a business, or a family. The direction has to be set ahead of time, and the moral/directional compasses have to be checked on every decision. Otherwise, your decisions can easily and inadvertently veer off course.

Clear Minded Praying

Something jumped out at me this weekend as I was reading through 1 Peter. In 1 Peter 4:7, Peter writes "Be clear minded and self controlled so you can pray."

Anyone else find that their approach to prayer is generally the opposite?

When my mind is not clear, I pray for wisdom. When I'm out of control or needing self-control, I pray. When I feel clear-minded or self-controlled, I generally skip prayer. I believe the lie that says if I have mental clarity and control of myself, I don't need God's help.

We should pray when we need wisdom or self-control. But according to Peter's instructions, those prayers should be the exceptions in our prayer lives not the rule.

New Year, New Look

If you normally read my blog in an RSS reader, you should click through today.

My Canadian friend Drew sent me an email several months ago telling me that my blog design was embarrassing him. So, I told him to do better.

He did.

He's still working out some kinks, but I think you'll agree that he did a pretty fantastic job.

I'm going to have to start writing better to live up to the blog design.

Goal #2 - Process

So, what does it look like to pour your life into someone else?

Actually, you're going to be disappointed with my answer: intentionality, relationship, and time.

There isn't a specific "10-steps to pouring" plan. There isn't a silver bullet set of books or resources that guarantee success when it comes to this kind of thing. Just do something.

In the past, I've benefited from regular appointments with men where I was able to ask them any question I wanted. I've benefited from going through one-on-one discipleship material. I've benefited from reading a book with another person and discussing its content and how it applies to my life. I've benefited from going through a one-year-Bible with another person, and meeting weekly to discuss what we're learning.

When it comes down to it, it really doesn't matter what you do as long as an intentional relationship exists over time.

Pouring your life into someone is different from just "doing lunch," because it's intentional; there's a purpose. It's different from just a business meeting or completing a checklist together; we grow in relationship, not by checking boxes. And, there is no quick method to pouring your life into another person; it takes time.

Goal #2 - Identification

I got an email last week asking for clarification about one of my New Year Resolutions. It brings up something I've been wanting to blog about, so here you go.

The two questions were with regard to goal #2 - to pour my life into 10 reproducers this year. He asked: "So how do you plan to go about identifying the 10? What does "pour my life into" look like practically?" I'll deal with the first question today, and the second question tomorrow.

When I was in college, a couple of guys took me under their wing and helped me develop as a follower of Christ. They weren't necessarily smarter than me, superior to me, or more successful than me. Neither of us was confused about that. They were just guys who were a little further down the road in the journey of following Christ, and offered to help me navigate the path. God used their investment to completely change the course of my life, and I'm committed to maximizing their investment by passing it along to others in a similar way.

Here are the things I look for as I try to identify someone to invest in:

1. Chemistry - I look for guys that I genuinely like. That sounds shallow but the relationship is the primary conduit for the process. If the relationship is difficult, everything else will be as well.

2. Trajectory - I look for a guy who is headed in the right direction. I'm not into chasing guys, babysitting Christians, or begging people to grow; that's why God created mommies and daddies.

3. Teachability - There are some guys who I like who are headed in a right direction, but who have everything figured out. They're the smartest guy in the room. Actually, I lied. I usually don't like those guys at all. Investing in them is like dumping change into a wishing well: you're wasting your cash and probably aren't going to get what you hoped for. I look for people who are eager to learn.

4. Faithfulness - Lots of people are great starters; few people are good finishers. If I'm going to maximize my investment, I need people who are going to keep carrying the torch after the new wears off. Part of the process is continuing the investment. If a guy won't do that, I'm pouring my life into a stagnant pool.

5. Availability - Some people are in a season of life where they just don't have the margin for an intentional process of spiritual growth. I look for people who have (or are willing to find) the margin to get together on a regular basis.


The human condition is constantly looking for an easier way to do everything. All of us, as a general rule, look for the path of least resistance and take it every chance we get. It's why only 12 percent of the people who make resolutions actually keep them. It's why there really is an app for everything. We buy technology to simplify our lives and then buy technology to simplify our technology. We want to get rich quick, and then get richer quicker.

That's the way it works. The more we try to make life easier, the more complex it gets.

But when it comes to doing great things, there is no easier way. There is no Panacea.

If something is easy, everyone will do it and it will cease to be great.

You don't have to be lazy to be average; you simply have to take the easy road every time it is available.

It takes hard work to be exceptional. It takes diligence to be great. If you really want to do something great, you have to be willing to do what others weren't willing to do.