Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Acts29 Reflections

As I am writing this, it has been a week since Charity and I attended Ambition. (This post is being published two weeks after attending.) Though we did not get to stay for the entire Boot Camp (Weezie got bit by the flu bug.), the experience had a high impact and has been running around in my mind sense.

Some of my reflections from the Boot Camp:

--We heard four plenary sessions, and they were outstanding. The messages were as high a caliber as any other conference/event I have attended. I am repeatedly checking the Act29 site to see if the audio will be posted on line, not just to hear the messages I missed, but to review the messages I heard.

--The workshop I attended (Pastor as Resident Theologian) was guided by Ray Ortlund and Joe Thorn. Most people at the Boot Camp are considering planting a church, whereas I was attending as an "established church" pastor. Therefore, most of the workshops were aimed at church planters (or worship pastors and executive pastors). I asked a man who helps coordinate the Boot Camps and he suggested I attend this workshop. In a way, I did not want to attend this workshop because it was the one that caught my eye first. However, I know my flesh (which is the source of the problem, certainly the problem is not theology itself) is drawn to simply study facts that can be kept from engaging my life. However, neither of these men guided the discussion in a way that would allow for this. They guided us through heart-felt discussions that were not disengaged from the sanctification of the pastor. It was worship to sit and listen...just what theological discussion should be.

--The diversity highlights the unity. To be honest, I was a bit concerned that Acts29 may not allow the diversity I need. Many of the men are around my age and share the same ministry/life experiences. Could such a network provide any diversity? Yet, as we're there, I realize there is actually quite a lot we do not have in comment. Yeah, some of it's cliche but you can see right away that I'm not quite a standard fit. My wife hates facial hair, so I'll never sport a gotee. I'm overweight, so no clothing looks cool on me. I have about as much creativity as a slice of bread. However, these differences simply amplify those issues of commonality. Here's a great example: The music at the conference was really good. The lyrics were outstanding (nearly entirely Isaac Watts hymns). Charity and I commented that we could sit and listen to the music for hours. However, we both (even Charity, an accomplished musician) found it difficult to sing along. Yet, I look around the room and see many of the people were engaged. But watch these videos and you will see that their philosophy of music is the same as Grace: the glorification of Jesus Christ from the Word. These videos just increased my appreciation for the gift we have in Jason.

--The mutual love. Acts29 exists to promote church planting. The boot camp is filled with former church planters, current church planters, men who have given their lives to equipping church planters and pastors of churches that desire to plant. While church planting is a mutual goal, it is not the greatest love. Yeah, I heard a lot about church planting, but I heard a lot more about Jesus and His gospel. I remember attending one meeting about church planting (not A29) where I was rebuked for wanting to center the discussion on Christ and His gospel. I do not doubt those men know and love the gospel, but they did not understand my heart in making it the focus. As opposed to the A29 boot camp where each speaker (I heard) centered his message on the gospel. In fact, in Joe Thorn's workshop I asked a question about application. It was a joy to hear a few men engage my question by urging me to preach Christ from all of Scripture. One guy even exclaimed, "If you preach Christ, from a historical-redemptive perspective, it can even make Leviticus interesting!" At first, I had a great impulse to make sure everyone knew I have preached Leviticus from such a perspective and that my question was misunderstood...but the Spirit quickly convicted me that such a defense would simply be for the purpose of my own reputation and encouraged me with the fact that I should just be glad to be in a room with men who would make such a challenge!

--Shepherding Shepherds. Before we left for home, we got to hear Scott Thomas share his heart about assessments and working with church planters. Only about 53% of applicants are approved, yet 95% of those approved see viable churches planted. Yet, as he kept sharing it was very obvious that they are far more interested in shepherding people than preserving their statistics. In fact, I believe I picked up that they realize the two are related. The life, home and walk of the church planter is not a sacrifice they are willing to make to see another church established. As Scott shared, you could hear a genuine pastoral heart, understanding that even if a person is turned down for planting, they see that as a shepherding activity. The compassion was very visible and gospel-centered. It was also displayed in the "wives tract" they offered, encouraging and edifying women who were present.

--More than the Big Three--While sitting at a table with Dustin Neeley, he made a comment directly relating to something I wondered. Without me prompting or prying, Neeley shared something to the effect, "Yeah, you've got Chandler, Patrick and Driscoll who everyone goes ga-ga about and knows Acts29 for. But the network is much bigger than that. The cool thing here is that every pastor and planter is respected, regardless of church size." My wife teases me that I have a "man-crush" on Chandler ("Who doesn't?" another boot camp participant quipped.), but it was very relieving to see no signs of hero worship or Christian celebrity taking place. Sure these men are respected, but it is for how they present the Word of God, not because there is some cult following.

--Some familiarity. I knew that John Piper and CJ Mahaney have been willing to lock arms with Acts29 before. I even recently saw RC Sproul doing some things with people in their network. But I still wondered about some other respected leaders I know...do they know something I don't? Then I see that Russell Moore and Dan Dumas were serving at the boot camp. Darrin Patrick spoke favorably of Mark Dever, though he acknowledged Dever tucks his shirts in. Then I heard Chandler was speaking at SBTS. Then Mohler printed this encouraging article. (Scott Thomas provided his perspective on the same meeting. Many men I highly respect also seem to be showing respect to Acts29!

So we hoped in the car at 11:30PM Tuesday night to get back to our sick baby boy who seemed to be getting worse. It was late, we were tired, and we felt terrible for not being there for him all day while he was struggling (we also felt guilty that the family that was helping us by watching our kids had to absorb a much greater load than we anticipated). However, we were encouraged and hopeful. Our drive home seemed to go quickly as we talked about recent developments and the hope it gives us for future things.

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