What do you believe is the ultimate purpose of the church?
The biblical marks of the church universally and its expressions locally are many (for example, the Word, sacraments, discipline, discipleship, mission/evangelism, love), but their overarching purpose is to reflect, or mirror, the glory of God to the cultures of the earth. Or, to put it another way, the purpose of the church is to serve as an outpost of Jesus’ kingdom that makes the invisible kingdom visible by the grace of God and power of the Holy Spirit. The Church belongs to God as his self-chosen means by which to serve and save the world through the gospel message to the glory of God.
What do you think is one of the biggest idols in the church today?
Religious idolatry uses God for health, wealth, success, and the like. In this grotesque inversion of the gospel, God is used for our glory, as if not only are we supposed to worship ourselves, but God is also to be a worshiper of us. This kind of false gospel preaching is evident whenever Jesus is presented as the means by which an idolater can obtain his idol. Examples include Jesus being presented as the one who promises to make you rich, happy, healed, joyfully married, and parentally successful.
What do you think will be the greatest crisis that will face the next generation of Christians?
The trouble always begins with the erosion of confidence in the inerrancy, authority, sufficiency, and cross-cultural timelessness of Scripture. Once that dam is breached, there is no way to determine where the ensuing flood of error will surge. Still, for many younger people who comprise the next generation of Christianity, the early indicators are that we will see an ongoing increase of support for sex outside of marriage in all forms (gay, straight, and bisexual) as an acceptable Christian practice, with the endorsement of pastors who put cool before Christ. In the name of “love” and “community,” there is a trend away from preaching and practicing personal repentance of one’s own sin while only addressing institutional sin of others. This is what happens when we think too little of Scripture and too much of our own reason, which Martin Luther rightly called the Devil’s whore.
What do you think is one of the greatest sins of many pastors today?
Sexual sin is epidemic. I recently turned forty, and when I was growing up, the Internet was not yet in existence. Today, the number one consumers of online pornography are boys ages twelve to seventeen. Young men enter into ministry with pasts that are filled with perversion. Many do not put that sin to death but continue in secret, shameful sin as pastors.
What encourages you most about what you see in many pastors today?
I work largely with younger pastors and am encouraged by four things:
1. There is a resurgence of interest in biblically saturated, Christ-exalting, gospel-centered, big-God theology.
2. There is a commitment to moving into major urban cities that have been without a strong gospel presence for generations in order to begin to work upstream where culture is created with the mindset of a missionary.
3. There is an explosion of interest in church planting.
4. There is a clumping of pastors from different denominations into networks for the sake of accomplishing more fruitful ministry together that also helps to lessen unnecessary criticizing and unholy competition among churches.
Who are some of the people you have learned from the most in your ministry?
I really enjoy biography. I find that dead mentors are often the best mentors because we see their entire lives and the implications in total. In particular, I have been greatly blessed by reading everything I can find on Charles Haddon Spurgeon, especially the multi-volume autobiography his wife finished after his death. I also have learned a lot from the lives of Augustine, Athanasius, Calvin (after whom I named my middle son), and Luther, who makes a lot of sense to me as a former Catholic altar boy. I also appreciate Francis Schaeffer, Billy Graham, John Stott, J. I. Packer, and Martyn Lloyd-Jones because of their contributions to evangelicalism. Personally, theologians like Don Carson, professors like Gerry Breshears, and pastors like C. J. Mahaney, James MacDonald, and John Piper have also spoken wisdom into my life in strategic seasons, for which I am deeply thankful. I also learn a ton from the hundreds of church planters in our Acts 29 Network and the elders of Mars Hill Church. They are innovative and pioneering leaders who keep my thinking fresh and vision big. And The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul was an early favorite as a new Christian.
What have you learned from those who have criticized your ministry and has your life or ministry changed in any way as a result?
Rick Warren once told me that, for the first time in the world’s history, criticism is instant, constant, global, and permanent. His profound observation has helped me to accept the fact that enduring critics is now, more than ever, part of the pastoral role. I have found there are actually six kinds of critics and ways to respond:
1. Theological – I simply have to accept the conflict if we have differing beliefs about an essential issue.
2. Jealous of Success – I need to lovingly serve them in humility.
3. Misinformed – I need to try and inform them of the truth.
4. Personal Dislike (e.g., tone, humor, style) – I need to consider their criticism, seek godly counsel, and either change or ignore them.
5. Legitimate (e.g., sin) – I need to repent publicly and thank God for using my critics to sanctify me.
6. Take Up Offense for Another Person – I need to rebuke them for meddling.
What sermon series are you preaching right now and how do you believe God is using these sermons among the people at Mars Hill?
Currently, I am one year into a two-and-a-half-year series preaching verse by verse through the entire book of Luke, with sermons that last over an hour each. By God’s grace, in the past year we saw the church grow by about fifteen hundred people and crest at thirteen thousand on Easter Sunday. We baptized nearly nine hundred people in what used to be one of the nation’s least churched cities by reaching mainly twenty-something singles, especially men, who are statistically the least likely to attend church. We are seeing significant conversion and life change. I feel like a kite in the hurricane of God’s grace.
What do you most cherish about your wife as it relates to your ministry?
Grace and I met at the age of seventeen before I was a Christian. She was a pastor’s daughter and my first Christian friend. I got saved reading the nice leather-bound Bible she gave me. Over twenty-two years later, I find myself more intrigued by, in love with, and satisfied by her than ever. Grace helps me, but she does not enable me. In recent years she has made taking care of her husband and five children her ministry priority, and that has been a priceless blessing.
If you were to die tomorrow, what do you hope people will most remember you for?
My biblical priorities since my conversion have been: 1) Christian, 2) husband, 3) father, and 4) pastor. That order is very important. So I hope people would remember me as someone who loved Jesus and grew to be more like him by ongoing repentance and grace, adored and enjoyed his wife well, cultivated his children while enjoying them deeply, and served the cause of the gospel wholeheartedly. I really enjoy being a pastor, but it’s not the source of my identity or righteousness. Most of all, I enjoy Jesus and my wife, and being “Poppa Daddy” to our five children.