October 24, 2020

A “Radical” Example

By Chaplain Mike

At his blog, and also at Resurgence, Justin Buzzard posted the following, called, “The Top 10 Reasons Why People Should Not Join Our Church Plant.” This was a talk he gave at an informational meeting for a new church he is starting in San Jose, California.

I think it is a good example of evangelicals who are taking the “radical” approach of challenging church members that we have been discussing in recent days.

I’ll let you read through his Top Ten list, and then I will give nine reasons why I disagree with this approach and think it fails in almost every respect to represent a Biblical, Jesus-shaped approach to life in the community of faith.

Top Ten Reasons Not to Join a Church Plant

1. If you’re looking for the next cool thing in town (We want to grow by conversion growth, not church-goer transfer growth).

2. If you’re a Christian and you don’t like your current church (You will find reasons to not like this church).

3. If you have a bad track record at churches of being unteachable and causing problems (You won’t change here, you’ll repeat the pattern).

4. If you’re a consumer wanting to “go to church” 1x a week for a nice show (We are not a Sunday show, we are a community of disciples on a mission).

5. If you want religion (This church will be built on the radical gospel of grace).

6. If you have an agenda (We have our vision, our mission, and our values–your private agenda does not supercede them).

7. If you’re a wolf (We will sniff you out).

8. If you think this will be a nice little church that stays the same size, where everybody knows your name and you have my cell number on speed dial and we have a picnic lunch together every week (By God’s grace, we want to grow).

9. If you think this will be easy and smooth (This will be hard and difficult; this will be a fight, a battle, and a challenging mission).

10. If you want to hold onto your comfortable life (You must lose your life).

In the post, he also shared a quote from Ernest Shackleton, from the advertisement he used when recruiting men for his expedition to Antarctica in 1914: “Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful, honor and recognition in case of success.”

After the break, my nine reasons why I have problems with the message this approach communicates.

ONE: This approach is guilty of over-correcting in response to a genuine problem of “consumer” Christianity and “church-hopping.” It is a legitimate goal to want to grow mainly by conversion growth and not by transfer growth. But there are Christians who leave churches for legitimate reasons, or who have been broken by the church, or whose gifts or situations in life may be leading them to join a new church plant. You might just be the one who can welcome them and give them grace. Rather than make a blanket statement to discourage Christians from other churches from participating, why not take a more balanced, pastoral approach? Yes, encourage people to stay at their current congregations and learn to work through whatever issues they might have there. Suggest that they should think and pray carefully before changing churches. Advise them that our new church plant will build relationships with the other congregations and pastors in the area, that we will be in communication about the movements of members between churches, and that we will remain committed to keeping the whole Church in the region healthy and unified for the sake of Christ and the Gospel.

TWO: This approach is designed to “screen out” sinners so that the church will only be composed of “serious disciples.” It’s almost funny to me—when I originally read this my first thought was, “This guy is trying to keep sinners out of the church!” As if that were possible! Oh, maybe Mr. Buzzard is not excluding all sinners, just those that are barriers to his agenda. Apparently no difficult people need apply. No selfish folks. No immature believers who might be considered “consumers.” No one who might have strong opinions and has trouble keeping them to himself. No one who is weak, hurting, or unable to contribute. No one who is lazy or unwilling to sacrifice. No one who is running away from past problems. No one who might have emotional difficulties and demand more than his share of attention. He just eliminated almost every church person I’ve ever known, including myself! He doesn’t want a church, which by definition is a community of sinners trusting in Christ alone, stumbling along together by God’s grace on their way to the new creation. He wants a mission team of winners who have it together, not a community of marginal people who require time and attention.

THREE: This approach reduces the complex NT vision of the church to a single part of its life—mission (“we are a community of disciples on a mission” is not an adequate definition of a church). I’ve made the point in other posts that many of these Christian endeavors that call themselves “churches” are engaged in false advertising. They are missions. They have a narrow focus. They are about reaching people and “growing the church.” They are enterprises that exist to capture ever increasing market share. Worship? Spiritual formation? Pastoral care? The church as a flock of sheep that needs tending, feeding, protecting? The church as a family that needs nurturing and personal attention? The church as a hospital for sinners broken by their own failures and by the crushing load of living in a fallen world? The church as a temple where we contemplate the glory of God and learn to pray? The church as an oasis of rest and refreshment in a dry and barren world? The poverty of the ecclesiological and pastoral vision of many in today’s church is simply stunning.

FOUR: This approach says the church will be built on the “radical gospel of grace” but every point the list communicates is condemning and not redemptive. It is not contrary to grace to lovingly warn people on occasion. But this entire “screening” message, this laying down of “ground rules” in these ten points reminds me of the Pharisaical practice of “fencing the Torah.” Buzzard’s Top Ten list communicates, “Our first priority is to protect the church plant, so in order to do that, if you’re a sinner of a certain kind and you come to our church, you are out of luck. Because if we have to waste our time dealing with you, then the mission will suffer, and that we won’t tolerate.” They say they’re all about “radical grace,” but they can’t be bothered trying to help certain people. Their “gospel” doesn’t extend to consumers, troublemakers, unteachable folks, religionists, people who have strong opinions, or people who prefer comfort. News break—that is not grace! Grace welcomes sinners, all kinds of sinners, and provides a redemptive community through which Christ can minister to them. Grace does not put a bouncer at the door to admit only those who qualify, who won’t tramp dirt on the carpet.

FIVE: This approach exalts strength and despises weakness. A song came to my mind and made me chuckle when I read this list. It was the old song, “Stout Hearted Men”—

You who have dreams, if you act they will come true.
To turn your dreams to a fact, it’s up to you.
If you have the soul and the spirit,
Never fear it, you’ll see it through,
Hearts can inspire other hearts with their fire,
For the strong obey when a strong man shows them the way.

Give me some men who are stout-hearted men,
Who will fight, for the right they adore,
Start me with ten who are stout-hearted men,
And I’ll soon give you ten thousand more.
Shoulder to shoulder and bolder and bolder,
They grow as they go to the fore.
Then there’s nothing in the world can halt or mar a plan,
When stout-hearted men can stick together man to man.

• Sigmund Romberg, Frank Mandel, Laurence Schwab, Oscar Hammerstein II

“For the strong obey when a strong man shows them the way.” That’s what this ten-point list is communicating. Strong calling the strong to obey. The weak need not apply. If you are not up to the challenge, stay home. Never mind that Jesus came to bring his blessings to the poor in spirit, the meek, and the mournful. Never mind that he called the weary and overburdened to a place of rest and promised them a yoke that is easy and light. Never mind Paul’s poignant words about his devotion to the way of the cross and his ministry in “weakness, fear, and much trembling.” Never mind that you never hear this manly, clarion call to “adventure” in the New Testament. It’s pure Americanism, straight out of Teddy Roosevelt. It’s motivation-speak, pep rally hype to muster the troops and get them fired up with the adrenalin rush of competition and battle. It’s a theology of glory, not the cross. It’s triumphalism, not discipleship. Jesus called people to die and find their lives in him. He didn’t call them to “take the hill” for God.

SIX: This approach does not encourage the priesthood of all believers and invite participation in life of the church other than to submit to an “agenda” that is already established. I understand that it is wise business strategy to have a clear plan, to work the plan, and to stick to the plan. Bosses are responsible for the implementation of the plan. Underlings are responsible to fit into a role and carry out the plan. Wages are paid accordingly. Is this really how we think the church should work? Of course, leaders are called upon to lead, but that does not mean “my way or the highway.” Yet that is what Buzzard’s list communicates to me. We have the plan. You fit in and follow. Or find another church. If you have any agenda of your own, check it at the door. You can contribute as a cog in our machine. We’ll pull all the switches.

SEVEN: This approach suggests that church is about growth, and that other legitimate aspects of church life may well be sacrificed in order to achieve growth. Through this preemptive strike, Mr. Buzzard is laying the groundwork for handling complaints about the lack of pastoral care that will inevitably become common because leaders are so involved in the mission that they don’t have time to visit people in the hospital. He is preparing people for the day when congregation members can no longer talk to him personally. One day they will have to go through layers of administrative bureaucracy and probably still won’t be able to get an appointment because he won’t be the one who deals with the hoi polloi any longer. He’s innoculating them with a view to the day they will be stricken with longing for when they felt like a church family, when they knew the others around them, when they didn’t feel like someone who bought a ticket for a show in the city auditorium. He’s preparing them with the first of many pronouncements that complaints won’t be tolerated about the direction of the church and the decisions of her leaders, because, after all, we have a mission, we are dedicated to that mission, God is blessing that mission by causing us to grow, and therefore we all need to just put our big pants on and get with the program.

EIGHT: This approach is all about mission and methods and says nothing about the church’s message. The folks planting this church, in my opinion, are giving people the wrong idea of what they should be offended about. They are giving them every reason to be offended about how the church will operate, and no reason for being offended about what the church stands for—the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If Mr. Buzzard really wants to give people good reason to avoid this church plant, it should be because they are going to preach Jesus, Jesus, and nothing but Jesus. They are not going to focus on “practical” ideas for life or “relevant” topics that people might be interested in. They are going to pursue theological depth with respect for historical Christian traditions and teachings. It might even get boring for the kids (and adults) once in awhile. Oh my. This church is going to offend human pride by telling people there is nothing anyone can do to earn God’s forgiveness or be counted part of his family—that’s what they should be saying. They should be up front about their plan to welcome people into the community who are sinners, with all kinds of problems, who will be difficult to get along with and hard to love. If you join this church, Buzzard should tell people, you should expect to get your feelings hurt on occasion because we are all selfish and we are going to fail you. We will have to live by forgiveness or we won’t make it. A person might feel uncomfortable in this congregation because we are going to allow folks to express doubts. We are going to make room for lament and accept people who are angry with God. He should say, “We are going to be real here—we are going to deal with real life, a real God, and a real message of Good News for sinners, and some of you may not be able to take that.”

NINE: This approach stands in complete contrast to Jesus’ gracious invitation:

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” (Matt. 11:28-20, NLT)


  1. Internet Monk Reader says

    Touché Chaplain M! Great points you raise.

    This church sounds spiritually perfectionistic. Not my cup of tea for sure.

  2. Seeing the forest through the trees. Great post Chaplain Mike.

  3. “2. If you’re a Christian and you don’t like your current church (You will find reasons to not like this church).”

    “TWO: This approach is designed to “screen out” sinners so that the church will only be composed of “serious disciples.”

    That’s the complete opposite of the reaction I had when I read it; I was delighted at that point!

    Because my first impression was “If you’re looking for The Perfect Church, this won’t be it. As none of the other churches/denominations you tried was The Perfect Church, neither will we be, because we’re going to do things you dislike and be full of the kind of people you think should be kicked out.”

    I suppose because my vision of that type of person is the More Catholic Than The Pope type who is never satisifed and wouldn’t be even if transported back to any period within the last twenty centuries because their particular doctrinal hobbyhorses are not being petted and groomed.

    I don’t know whether to be edified or sympathetic that your experience has been the opposite; wretched sinners seeking grace, like the woman who anointed the feet of Jesus.

    Okay, if that’s so, then I should be edified.


    • Richard Hershberger says

      I think that your reading is what the writer was aiming for, but he missed. He was aiming for an ironically self-aware list of reasons to join, but ended up with the message as Pastor Mike reads it. He also comes across, to me at least, as insufferable.

      • Point No. 5 definitely hit me; how much of my church-going is indeed because I want religion? An awful lot, I suspect; probably, if I’m honest, the majority. Transformation and grace? Scary stuff.

        Now, granted, I can’t make head nor tail of No. 7 – a wolf? And No. 8 is definitely ungracious – oh, so you’re going to be too good for home and hospital visitation down the line, huh? Who do you think you’re going to be – the Pope?

        But there are some genuine good points here. Rather too much attitude, granted. But I just thought it was curious how Chaplain Mike and I got diametrically opposite interpretations of what he meant by No. 2


        • Martha, it’s not so much that I disagree with every point–and the point you mention is a good example. Some of these warnings are necessary and I don’t quibble with them as such. It’s the entire presentation and the church model behind it and the faux-manly call to Shackleton-type sacrifice that drives me crazy.

          I mean, come on, this “radical” church plant comes complete with an eight-page full color glossy “prospectus” that is handed out to investors and partners, the church is being planted in a city where the median income is $103,500 for a family of four, and the church planters are asking external givers to fork over $150,000 per year for the next couple of years for the church to get on its feet. Sounds like a harrowing Antarctic expedition, don’t you think?

          I thought “radical” meant getting back to the “roots” of a movement. Does this sound like Jesus and Paul to you?

          • Wow. Point made.

          • Exactly. I posted below about our manly, mission-minded pastor who wanted to exemplify a radical life of following Jesus and quit after five “harrowing” years of leading us.

            What an exciting adventure for him. Once we got ahold of the books, we realized that he had successfully extracted over $500,000.00 in five years from the congregation. We have no idea how many hundreds of thousands of dollars were handed to him for planting. Not to mention the people he convinced to “support” him when he left the last place.

            At one point, he had accumulated over $800,000.00 in real estate. For himself. Of course he lost it all when the economy went down the tubes. Not only was he not accountable to anyone, he really wasn’t very good with money.

            Church planted can be a $$$$$ good time.

          • Church planting can be a $$$$$ good time.

          • Okay, that’s a horse of a different colour. When it comes to glossy brochures and ‘invest this much up front’, then that sounds less like a church and more like a time-share.

    • Taken separately, each point makes a good point. Read together, it’s as Richard says: insufferable.

      When I read this list yesterday, I thought: So … you want no one to join your church (especially if they’re already Christian, it seems).

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      So this writer needs a crash course in “How to Write Clearly”?

  4. So why all the Shackleton pictures? Metaphor of a man on a failed mission or a “no man left behind” perseverance that reinforce the Stouthearted Men message?

  5. I liked the Shackleton pictures, because the most extraordinary thing about that whole extraordinary expedition was that Shackleton brought everyone home with him. He didn’t succeed in his “mission,” but he cared for his sheep. His faithful leadership stands in sharp contrast to the Darwinian Church of the Strong described above.

    • “Darwinian Church of the Strong” — thanks, Damaris, for a perfect phrase.

    • And a member of those Antartic expeditions was Tom Crean from County Kerry:


      “Mary and Eileen live in nearby Tralee, side by side in houses called Terra Nova and Discovery, after the ships their father sailed in. They say their father never told them his stories. “He put his medals and his sword away in a box on the wardrobe and that was that. He was a very humble man,” Eileen said.”

  6. Point taken. I know what Buzzard is afraid of–I was at seminary in Grand Rapids, MI in the early 90s and Bill Hybels had the denominational Permission Givers in thrall. A new church plant was announced w/ great fanfare in the heart of the SE side where numerous other denominational churches were already extant. This was going to be a high profile showcase. Volunteers from the seminary students were recruited to help; many stepped forward, especially those who wanted to shed the perceived traditionalism (and get field education credit, natch) they felt was excess carry on baggage. Launch happened on time and was a huge hit. Boffo box office.

    I graduated a year later and headed out of Jerusalem into the uttermost parts of the Earth and noted via the usual internal news networks a couple of years later the church closed. I met the pastor previously and knew him on a limited basis so I inquired when I saw the news. He told me the church was all transfer growth as all the disaffected people from the numerous surrounding churches came to the new church and completely upset the apple cart. By the time the leadership got their arms around the problem and tried to get re-oriented, enough transfers got their dander up and a huge war happened. Since it was a plant, a sponsoring church ultimately pulled the plug. Start to finish in less than 3 years. To paraphrase Steve Taylor, “I Blew Up The Church Real Good”

    I’m an Anglican now and the problem exists in this culture as much as I’ve seen in my previous evangelical days. My province is 1928 BCP only (no Missal) and how does one plant an outreach oriented parish w/out attracting disaffected mainline Episcopalians or other traditional Anglicans? The tradition is attractive to a certain demographic (and I fit it) but taking the Anglican tradition to the streets knowing that the BCP is mandatory, to me, is a strategic issue worth some exploration in new church development.

    • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says

      At the recent Anglican1000 Church Planting Summit, Bp. Ray Sutton gave a workshop on how church planting and traditional Anglicanism. He talked about some those “strategic issues.” I have the ppt. he used in the workshop, but they unfortunately did not record the talk.

    • I don’t get it. If you don’t use the BCP, how are you even Anglican anymore? I don’t understand how getting rid of the BCP helps the mission. It seems that would do more to open the door to accommodating pragmatism. Surely we can’t expect newcomers to understand everything that happens the first time the visit. If they don’t learn something new, what are we offering them that they don’t have?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      A new church plant was announced w/ great fanfare in the heart of the SE side where numerous other denominational churches were already extant.

      This is something I’ve never understood, except in the imagery of Protestantism’s Theoretical Ultimate End State. And I’ve seen it in the rural area where my writing partner pastors a country church. You’re never out of sight of at least one church steeple — the rural version of “a church on every street corner” — and yet they keep having Church Planters coming out and starting new ones. (A lot of city Christians suddenly feel “led” to plant a rural church when they are coincidentally tired of city life or have growing kids.) Keep planting churches and you’ll end up exhausting the local population carrying capacity, even in the zero-sum game of sheep-rustling.

  7. Funny stuff with the layout of the site right now? I see this top left:
    “Secondary Sidebar Widget Area

    This is the Secondary Sidebar Widget Area. You can add content to this area by visiting your Widgets Panel and adding new widgets to this area.”

  8. Loving this series on being radical. This is definitely indicative of a sort of perfectionism in evangelicalism that I’ve encountered. We are constantly straining and gritting out teeth to try and be the “first church”. The only problem is that the first church wasn’t perfect at all.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      What you call “first church” sounds like what used to be called “New Testament Church” (going back to NT times, somehow bypassing all the mess found in the RL Corinthian & Galatian NTCs). The Wahabi & Salafi movements inside Islam are similar, trying to return to a Pure Islam “As it was in the days of the Prophet,” with similar clashes where this way-back-when mythic perfection rubs against the outside world.

  9. Another, more sinister side to church planting pastors not wanting people from other churches is that they bring with them concepts of financial and decision accountability. By personality, a church planter wants to make the decisions himself and not be accountable. In general, the same personality that starts a church often has a very difficult time being accountable to others.

    • sarahmorgan says

      Heaven forbid that those ‘people from other churches’ were actually active and productive ministry leaders and participants in their previous churches, and are new in the church-plant town because of a job move or other involuntary transfer….unless they demonstrate complete and unconditional affirmation and agreement to the church planter (and asking any questions automatically disqualifies them), they will always be regarded as a liability (or even an enemy) instead of an asset to the church plant. In my experience, and the depressing list above confirms it, church planters want all ‘new converts’ because they’re easier to control and exercise power over, and the new converts won’t argue with them when they’re off the rails.

    • Allen, I think your last sentence is especially insightful and worthy of discussion. We recently had a church plant ask to use our facilities occasionally, so I reviewed their constitution and creed. We approved the request, for they were doctrinally sound; the only red flag was that their constitution stipulated that the Pastor also serve as chairman of the board. Hmmm….

  10. One more Mike says

    At least they’re up front about their intentions, rather than pulling you in, making you comfortable and then letting you know the real deal. You know before walking in that you’re in the presence of a cult of super-christians, and the “weakly commited” need not apply. Thanks for the warning, and good luck with all that.

  11. The “honor and recognition in case of success” part of the quote is telling.

    • That struck me too, Sean.

      • I third that. I see that a lot in many new churches, pastors wanting to make a name for themselves. It is all about who they know, or who endorsed their book. Since when did Jesus not receive ALL honor, recognition, and glory for building His church.

        As a side note, I can’t find anywhere in scripture where we are commanded to plant churches. Jesus is the one who builds His church. We are commanded to make disciples. Jesus builds the church as those disciples come together to associate and encourage each other.

        • Thank you, Mark. I agree. I am not a scholar by any means, but I question why we even do “church” like we do. After reading the red letters of Jesus multiple times last year, I can’t understand that “church” as we do it has much to do at all with what He leads us to…loving God and loving neighbors…feeding the poor, visiting the criminal in prison, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless. After spending some time helping a friend get signed up at the food pantry (also a homeless shelter) last year, I was sickened in “church” by a message about service that was heavily inward (serve in the nursery so parents can come to the service). I looked around and wondered if Jesus would be there in the stained glass building or around the corner with the hungry and forgotten. Someone told me He’d be in both places. Yes, I get that. But it’s hard to imagine my Lord choosing an entertaining service that may or may not point hearts to Him over loving and caring for the destitute and forgotten. Just thoughts.

          • Very well stated.

            I agree, He would be in both places. However, I think His response would be different in both places.

            When Jesus went to the temple (the religious establishment of His day), more often than not he was rebuking the religious leaders for adding stuff to God’s message. I also seem to remember a scenario where he was overturning tables, because they had turned worshiping God into a profit opportunity……Hmmmmm….thought provoking! That certainly couldn’t have application to us today. (wink, wink)

            On the contrary, to those who knew their need and their desperation, He offered grace upon grace, and invited them into a relationship with the God of the universe.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            After spending some time helping a friend get signed up at the food pantry (also a homeless shelter) last year, I was sickened in “church” by a message about service that was heavily inward (serve in the nursery so parents can come to the service).

            I’d chalk the latter up to Focusing On The Family (TM).

      • Me too.

  12. Perhaps you could reach out to Justin and ask him to respond to your critiques and then you could post those here on this blog. Might make for some helpful interaction for both of you. I know Justin and I think you might be over interpreting some things which is obviously possible since he only has one sentence statements. Maybe ask questions before jumping to conclusions? I don’t know. I would personally love to see him interact with your critique. Perhaps many of them are valid but can’t know for sure without him responding. Just a thought…


  13. Martin Romero says

    Why is it that all the reasons are presented from a negative perspective? Maybe I am being unfair, but in parts it sounds to me as a bit manipulative, as trying to steer people towards feeling guilty and joining the church plant effort. I guess that if you’re not coming it’s because you don’t like challenge and disappointment, you’re too lazy and comfortable with your life as it is, you’re disgruntled with church life, a wolf in disguise and unteachable.

    Aren’t there more helpful ways of dealing with this? Why couldn’t they present some “good reasons” not to join the church plant?

    I’m sure you can do all this in a much more positive way. Deciding to go on a church plant is not easy for many because there are many life situations as persons are in the congregations. While some might recognise a strong and clear calling, it is very possible that it might not be right for all to go… Could it be that, for many, the best would be to keep on serving in the congregation they belong to and not move?

    Presenting good, sound advice which relates with the different situations might make life a lot easier to many who are struggling trying to decide what to do, people who honestly want to serve God and their neighbours in response to the gospel of Grace. And, please, try to avoid using statements which cover everyone under the same blanket and somewhat paint those who don’t go in a negative light, even if you aren’t doing it on purpose.

    I know this is hard because I recently spent quite a time deciding if I should go to a church plant or not. It was only after I talked with some people from my congregation who I trust that I decided that I should stay where I am, with the realisation that going does not require more trusting in God than staying. Whether I move or stay, it doesn’t make a difference. I utterly depend on His grace for everything.

    • I think your comment is sane and insightful, Martin. Part of the “radical” ethic is that folks have this idea that Jesus went around all the time saying “hard things” to folks to get their attention and challenge them to get out of their comfort zones. Yes, he said hard things. Yes, he sometimes confronted people. Yes, he sometimes warned people about the cost of following him. But I too find parts of this list to be of a different spirit.

  14. I’ll try to make this short…..

    Decades of no church attendance. Tried a church plant early last year. At the time they had been meeeting for 1 year. I felt compelled to help in the office (still unsure what for). Since I have the history I do, the staff, pastor and I felt I would be best suited to make the calls to those who had attended maybe once or twice, but didn’t become “regulars”. They call people like us “the unchurched” these days. There we were sitting in the church office and church attendance became the topic of conversation, obviously. I was thinking I was going to be starting conversations with other prodigals and listening to their experiences. But what the pastor wanted was for me to be the saleslady trying to lure them back in.

    I’m of the opinion that you not ask anyone to do something you yourself wouldn’t do. I tried to express my feelings on the matter, of which most people do not understand so I don’t know why I bother, and he wanted to give me Scripture and verse on why I was to attend church, small groups and love people. It was, for this prodigal decades out of the church, a validating experience. I have not been back.

    I prefer to be about the person and/or the people than getting butts in the chairs every week. And I won’t sacrifice what I believe in because a “radical”, “relevant”, “on-fire”, “young” preacher man says so.

    Thank you for respecting my story.

  15. Chaplain Mike,

    Good post, and I think many of your points are very helpful.

    I wonder, however, if you’re keeping in mind that the list wasn’t regarding reasons not to join a church. My impression is that it spoke specifically to reasons not to join a Church PLANT.

    In my (admittedly limited) experience in being a part of a church-planting team 18 years ago, it served the participants and the mission to identify Christians who were healthy (but not perfect) disciples who could weather the many challenges of moving to a new city to start a new Church.

    Do you think that there is wisdom and grace in that distinction?


  16. What does he think is going to happen to these people once they are converted? Are they going to turn into instant super-Christians? Nope. They are going to turn into people who have agendas, who have their unteachable moments, who complain, who make life messy. They are going to be the same people he said weren’t welcome…they are going to be baby Christians who need to see examples of other Christians working through differences, mucking through the hard stuff and sometimes agreeing to disagree, they are going to need people to disciple them.

    However, I am going to assign positive intent that perhaps what come out isn’t really a full and adequate expression of his heart. I have a feeling if my pastor were to write a list it might come out fairly similar to this, but in practice our church plant looks much different and I know that the core desire of his heart is simply to show Christ and Christ alone.

  17. I don’t know this blogger but I wonder if what you interpret is the same as what he means by what he says. I would say that it sounds as though most of his points are directed to those who are already churched believers. If so, many of the people who come will be people that are already disillusioned with the current church in some way which disqualifies on several points. Perhaps, it would also target the post evangelical wilderess wanderers who are no longer attached to a community.

    Bonhoeffer’s words are worth remembering on whatever side of the fence we may fall: “The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God Himself accordingly. He stands adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of brethren. He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds men together”.

    I know I have been guilty of this, however good my intentions may or may not have been.

  18. Your sentences here capture the icky ugly thought process behind this church planter’s list: “It’s motivation-speak, pep rally hype to muster the troops and get them fired up with the adrenalin rush of competition and battle. It’s a theology of glory, not the cross. It’s triumphalism, not discipleship. Jesus called people to die and find their lives in him. He didn’t call them to ‘take the hill’ for God.”

    Well said.

    I’ve been a part of this rah-rah scene – and when I look back, I realize my over-arching emotion is the feeling that I served someone else’s ego. I thought I was serving God at the time, but a lot of it was serving the ‘take the hill’ ambitions of a man (or group of men, and a few women).

    • I’ve been a part of this rah-rah scene – and when I look back, I realize my over-arching emotion is the feeling that I served someone else’s ego

      The last time I attended church was for my 24 year old daughter’s baptism earlier this year. I was so grateful that though I did all that I did wrong…..God prevailed in His astounding mercy and grace on her life. Anyway…..that days’ sermon was on “church”, oh goody! The pastor talked a lot about church growth, the new church plants that were going to be coming off of his church, and all the “experts” that were going to be coming in the following months to show them how to “get it done”.

      I was sick. Could have walked out. Where did Jesus fit into all this sermon talk? And it was a communion Sunday! Really? Yeah, let’s just throw that in at the end……But let’s “rah-rah” the church plant/growth agenda.

  19. *Sigh* there are mini-Mark Driscolls everywhere.

  20. Richard McNeeley says

    Justin Buzzard states that he wants to grow by conversion and then goes on to say what kind of christians need not apply. I am guessing he would take christians that fit into his mold. What happened to all are welcome?

  21. Funny story about “church plants”: I actually attended church services on Palm Sunday this year to oversee some narration my wife and I had prerecorded to accompany the choir’s music. When I got back to my truck after the service, there were two advertising flyers stuck in the window for a “new dynamic church” that was starting up. Either these people have a ton of gall, or they had been mystically led to the vehicle of an un-churched heathen. I vote for the former and not the latter.

    • Wow

    • I just can’t muster any sympathy for people who follow those ads.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      When I got back to my truck after the service, there were two advertising flyers stuck in the window for a “new dynamic church” that was starting up.

      1) Sheep Rustling underway…

      2) “New Dynamic Church” — We’ve got one locally. Sometime last year, Anaheim Baptist changed its name to “Portico” and replaced the name signs on its Sixties-vintage church building with “PORTICO” banners. Also got maroon-and-grey “Portico” flyers and business cards stuck under and on my front door; none of them even mention that “PORTICO” is a church. Still scratching my head over that one.

    • I suppose they know that people parked outside or near to a church for Palm Sunday are the type who would be interested in going to church, so that’s the type to target.


      Does sound like sheep-rustling, though. Unless they really do think that Church Wherever that you were at is a dead, materially-bound, ritualistic going-through-the-motions denominational relic and not DYNAMIC! SPIRIT-LED! and BACK TO THE GOSPEL! like they are.

      Which is cheeky in its own way, as well.

  22. br. thomas says

    Mike, first I want to thank you for using a gift that God has given you for being able to see clearly and then being able to write as clearly about what you see – that is a gift and a great encouragement for many of us.

    To add to point six: there seems to be on the part of that church’s leadership an undercurrent of arrogance about being so certain that they have God’s vision & mission figured out. Really? Are they that certain? I find that many leaders in the evangelical church-growth movement share a similar certainty (and arrogance) about knowing the mind and heart of the living God. As you pointed out with your insightful commentary, they seem to be wrong about quite a bit.

  23. Becky Grace. I agree with you 100%. We are to go out to witness with our lives and voices. The church is the growing place. God added to the church. It is not our worry.

  24. “Radical Christianity” seems to be the new catch phrase for the post-postmodern church….see David Platt’s latest book…a pastor who laments having the comfortable position of leading a mega-church, while still continuing to pastor a mega-church. There’s a cry in Christian culture that “You’ve been fed milk with the seeker-friendly movements, now it’s time for you to have meat!”

    Unfortunately, what Buzzard is promoting doesn’t sound like anything new…”If you think this will be a nice little church that stays the same size, where everybody knows your name and you have my cell number on speed dial and we have a picnic lunch together every week (By God’s grace, we want to grow).”…Sounds like a typical, CEO model of “doing church” to me.

    What’s wrong with a small community? My guess is that Justin Buzzard would look at Jesus’ little band of ragamuffins as not meeting his qualifications for being a part of his church plant…a political zealot (Simon), a hothead (Peter), a doubter (Thomas), two brothers who squabbled over power (James and John), a guy who bounced from church to church , always telling others what to do (Paul); and the group as a whole being dissatisfied with their previous religious affiliation! Plus the fact that they seemed to be stuck at 12 members for at least three years, before experiencing any “real” growth…what a bunch of losers!

    Listen, I’ve left behind a career before for the sake of being “radical” as a pastor. I’ve actually returned to my career, for the sake of putting food on the table for my wife and little girl. That doesn’t mean I’m not passionate for the Lord. I admire Shackleton’s principles a great deal, but we’re not all called to carry our crosses over Antarctica to prove our faith! I also admire our saints, martyrs and Church fathers, who were called to give even more than I probably ever will…but there’s also a quietly radical faction of Christianity that does “small” things with great love. God sees this, and delights in it. Never minimize yourself as a believer because there aren’t bullets flying past you as you preach, or you’re not living in a cave, dedicating your life to prayer. God measures the heart.

    • Strong.

    • I’ll add…I’m not a Platt basher, and actually enjoyed parts of the book. I probably would have enjoyed it more fifteen years ago. It’s on the money for some folks, depending on where you are in your spiritual journey.

    • David Cornwell says

      “What’s wrong with a small community?”

      When a church is beyond the 500 to 700 area it might be too big. Community is dissipated. Identity is lost. The idea of being a real pastor goes down the drain. (all my personal opinions)

      • I’ve been part of a 5,000 member church that had 10x the community and pastoral attention of any small part I’ve ever been to. People there knew, loved, cared for, and shepherded each other. It’s not about size, it’s about the priorities of the leadership. The problem with big churches is not that they’re big, but that the priorities have been drastically altered in order to get it there.

        • David Cornwell says

          That’s good. I’m glad you found that kind of church. Maybe it’s just me because I’d be totally lost and I’d be afraid that others were totally lost in the crowd.

          • It seems like you can slip in and out unnoticed simply due to the size of the crowds, but big churches that do foster community (uncommon as they are) just take time to get into. Typically if you join the membership and begin serving in ministry, within a year you can develop some pretty significant friendships. Within 5 years you know half the people there, and that’s a lot. There has to be an intentional plan to integrate “lost” people into the life of the church, and it probably needs to include membership and service. Those two things are among the better effects of “organized religion.”

    • “but we’re not all called to carry our crosses over Antarctica to prove our faith!”

      Lee, coming from family that put being in ministry on a pedestal, I say that carrying our cross over the boundary of our dinner tables or kids rooms or across the street to the unbelieving neighbor with no “agenda” to convert but only to love……is a cross worth carrying!

      I am in a situation where I’m in one place spiritually and my husband is in an altogether different place. He does not share my passion for Godly things. I struggle. I pray. I desire. But at the end of the day, his relationship with Jesus is not my cross to carry. Being the wife the Lord has called me to be in these days is my cross. And for this very passionate woman, keeping my mouth shut and leaving the nagging for someone else……can be quite the cross to bear *laugh*

      I’ve never felt I needed to “prove my faith” in any other place than my very own living room, in front of my family, who has seen me run through the gammant of a plethora of sins. And I do it quietly. Which goes against my nature. If you knew me…..you’d know *laugh*

    • “…we’re not all called to carry our crosses over Antarctica to prove our faith!”

      I’m sorry. That’s just not good enough for Mark Driscoll, You’ll have to try harder.

  25. Lee, your third paragraph hits the nail on the head.

  26. I read the list and thought first: These are good points! Church plants need to not be choked to death with the local religious politics being transfered right into them. That would pretty much defeat the point of planting a new church. And to a certain extend, if a pastor does not protect the sheep from wolves, he is not a pastor. I don’t think the guy is trying to keep out sinners so much as he is trying to keep out unrepentant sinners. There is a marked difference, and to gloss it over as if they’re the same thing is a huge theological error imo.

    Then I read the Chap’s responses and thought, hey, these are good points too. A church needs to be a safe place for hurting and needy people. But I don’t think those are who the list is designed to “fence out” primarily. I understand the cell phone thing. Some people go to small churches because they want it to stay small. They love the political game. Justin is right to be up front with them and say that he is not catering to that niche.

    However, I think the main problem is with the mission. It seems almost as if he has the mission wrong! The mission is NOT making new converts and burning out all the old ones in an effort to do so as quickly as possible. The mission is to make disciples! Proclaim the law and gospel, let the holy spirit do his job, and then “teach them to obey everything he has commanded.”

    From the list it looks as if Justin thinks the church is a conversion strategy depot. Members are a means to an end: more members. This lends itself strongly to the soteriological utilitarianism of more wesleyan leaders like Perry Noble. Strange to hear coming from the Driscoll camp. But the guys is still clearly a disciple of Driscoll.

    • Aha. This whole thing smelled of Driscoll’s brawney man spirituality. More theology of glory.

    • Miguel, your comment is very perceptive. Many of the “top ten reasons” are not bad, taken in isolation. But together they seem to reveal an unbalanced perspective of the purpose of the church.

      I would not, however, equate “making disciples” with the mission of the church. That is certainly one of the tasks of believers. The corporate church, however, seems to me to have three callings: to God (pleasing Him by offering right worship, obedience and prayer) to each other (speaking and serving to build each other up into Christlikeness) and to the world (helping its members to show mercy and witness).

      If anyone is interested, here is a more detailed desciption of the purpose of the church: http://www.fccplace.com/th-purpose-of-the-church/

      • Worship, discipleship, and evangelism. A simple summary that can help with focus, but I really feel like worship and evangelism fall under discipleship. People have to be taught to witness to Christ and worship him. Granted we can do them with absolutely no training, and then you get Highway to Hell in church on Easter. Worship and witness are areas in which we can grow and new believers need to be discipled in them. And of course, being the music guy, I always like to remind that missions exist because worship does not.

    • Kenny Johnson says

      I had a similar response. A friend of mine originally shared this, so I read it outside of the context of Chaplain’s Mike critique first. I belong to a church plant (now about 8 years old) that actively plants new churches (we’ve planted 2 domestic churches with a 3rd being planted before summer and two international churches). My immediate reaction to the list was, “Hey, good advice.” But after reading Mike’s response, I think all of Mike’s criticisms are equally valid.

      I wonder if part of it is simply the intended tone you read the list with? I read it initially it as practical advice and not necessarily as a “we don’t want troublemakers” list.

      • I think that goes with one of Chaplain Mike’s key points regarding radical Christianity. I don’t think anyone would argue with radical Christianity’s denunciation of worldliness and consumer-centric religion; but beyond stating the obvious about the problem, radical Christianity does not present a viable solution, and its cure may be worse than the ill. As someone once said, every lie begins with a grain of truth.

        • WenatcheeTheHatchet says

          One of the great problems in communicating anything is the matter of tone. I know a guy who has tried to communicate things in writing because it gives him time to collect his thoughts so he doesn’t get emotionally overboard but this process has made him come off as condescending and arrogant to a roommate of his who prefers to talk about things in person. I had to run some interference with these two guys to mention that there’s a big gap between what you think your tone is and how someone else reads it. We are often beset by the temptation to assume that if someone doesn’t “get” us then it’s their fault for not getting our heart, not our fault for writing things poorly. How do we know we’ve managed to fail the test of communicating? Well, in part it’s because our tone gets misunderstood and tone has a lot to do with the problem of the list. There are numerous ways to have conveyed the same concepts without oozing a sense of smugness and superiority. Even when writing to the worst churches Paul always found ways to include himself with them in the experience and knowledge of Christ so that his harshest words as an apostle were still framed in a love for that local church.

  27. Okay…here are my thoughts. Great post Chaplin Mike…

    1. Numbers game!!! Its about conversions and numbers!! It’s a practice I’d expect to see more in the corporate world of GM, Toyota, American Honda, Pfizer Pharmeucitical, Boeing, Mayflower, Bank of America, etc.. (you get my drift…) It’s all about numbers. “Success” for a Christian is measured by how many people attend, how many Bible studies exist, how many people go on missions, etc.. Geez..I thought it would be opposite. Finding an environment were grace is alive, that the boyfriend/girl friend who got pregnant and had an abortion can find love and support and heal. I thought its a place were a person diagnosed with leukemia can find a warm caring environment that can help with meals, maybe show up help clean their residence etc.. And that gay male with HIV..how about a place where he can be loved, supported and can have a community to lean upon? Can that be found in Christianity today? Chances are..not likely. Too messy…people don’t want to hear about stuff like that.
    2. Screen out sinners eh? So…I can’t be open about my doubt, I’ll check in the problem of why an omniscient God allows evil at the door at the door. I’ll guess I’ll just pretend to not have any problems. You won’t hear talk about my battles with lust. I guess…maybe as an agnostic I’m not welcome after all. This will be like many other churches. Hell if it’s hard to find love and community in some of the “seeker sensitive” churches I was invovled in…then I definately know that I do not belong here.
    3. Love Chaplin Mike’s description 🙂
    4. So grace doesn’t exist. What else is new. This is just going to be a continuation of many other chruches were grace is a myth? We’ll at least they’ll be honest about being Pharises. Again…I’d avoid this type of chruch like I’d avoid cancer.
    5. Social Darwinism…survivial of the fittest!!! How appropriate…I hope the least of these will avoid this culture.
    6. Buinsess model!! Let’s worship the Amercian Fortune 500 Church…I mean company.. 😉
    7. Perfect people allowed? Okay…I’ll know to stay away as I’m not good enough. I mean hey as an agnostic I know I’m screwed up, but again I guess that means I’m not good enough to darken the doors. I’ll stay away…

    Don’t mind me…just the random musing of a burned out Fundgelical Christian who happens to be agnostic!! 🙂

    • “So grace doesn’t exist. What else is new.”

      It’s all about revision and redefinition. Legalism is repackaged as “radical grace”. It’s like eating from the fast food restaurant’s “healthy” menu. The result is cynicism. In the immortal words of Pilate, “What is truth?”. Radical Christianity denounces consumerism while stooping to its same sleazy marketing tricks.

    • Yo, Eagle.

  28. Proverbs 18:17 “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.”

    this post has taught me how easily we can be emotionally duped by strong phrases. i have been extremely critical of our culture of slogans and uncritical hype. we are overwhelmed with mindless catch phrases. yet, here i was reading this guys list going, “ya, that’s right” when i don’t even think like that.
    Buzzard might not even think that way himself, but the underlying current of our Christian culture is exposed in the content of what he has written, revealing a more deeper cultural entrenchment within this person, effecting his ministry and possible even his very nature as a person. my thinking, “ya that’s right” reveals it in myself, and it scared me.

  29. “…if we have to waste our time dealing with you, then the mission will suffer, and that we won’t tolerate.”

    Sounds like a church plant in Sparta. The elderly, infirmed, and weak will be shuttled to the outskirts of town to be devoured by jackels.

  30. I’m reminded of missionaries who love on the starving children in Cairo or Calcutta, and then come back to america and spew contempt on everyone. makes me wonder how people achieve such a duality in their thinking.

  31. David Cornwell says

    “9. If you think this will be easy and smooth (This will be hard and difficult; this will be a fight, a battle, and a challenging mission).”

    This leaves me out. I’m too old to fight (I might try if I’m attacked). I’d prefer something along the easier route now. This doesn’t mean I’m lazy, just that I have to set a pace that is good for me, not the church. I like smooth seats also. Old butts get tired.

  32. My first impressions after a quick read…

    – Sounds too corporate

    – I was exhausted after i read it. If I have a demanding job and a family that has more than one kid it sounds as though the Church will be competing for my time (is this a evangelical version of Catholic Guilt?). Did you know that Alice Cooper was the son of a preacher? Point being that if I m all for the church with no time to be the person to lead my children then I have failed in my vocation.

    – Sounds also like these best-of-the-best will be floating about six inches higher off the ground than the average christian.

    – Wil there be any ime for spiritual growth or will everyone be too exhausted doing missions work and trying to meet growth goals?

    I admit I only did a light first pass…

    The new church down the street boasts that they are a gym church – workout for the soul. They even have a cafe service. Secular marketing at its best.

    • I agree with you about it being too corpoate. It’s too much like a business model…however many parts of evangelicalism have bought into that aspect. BTW hope you were not angered by yesterday’s commnets. I was not trying to stir the pot, instead just tell you how I feel.

      BTW..My Mom is doing great! Her pancreatic cancer was caught in the early stages (doctor’s hunch…) and becuase of that she has been cancer free for 4 years. Everyone in my family is grateful. 🙂

      • Actually Eagle I understand where you are coming from most of the time…

        I am a Catholic but study a number of christian theologies (hobby maybe?). I have struggled for years though with the non-denom/fundementalist church, both when I was an agnostic through today. I have great conversation with those who are mainline, and also the Orthodox (not an apoligetic mind you – just curious), but my expereinces with fundementalism mostly leaves me frustrated. So although I have not experienced the system from the inside, I certainly have gotten large doses from the outside.

        I hope one day you may wander back, and if you do make a long arc away from the non-denom path.

        Glad to hear about your mother. Pancreatic cancer can often times have such an ominous outlook.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      The new church down the street boasts that they are a gym church – workout for the soul. They even have a cafe service. Secular marketing at its best.

      The local megachurch sheep-rustling my writing partner’s congregation even has an on-campus amusement park and pony rides for the kids to attract The Families. And I’ve heard of at least one “Steel Cage Smackdown” church in the Seattle area whose “services” are basically MMA Smackdowns with an Altar Call afterwards…

  33. “If you’re looking for the next cool thing in town (We want to grow by conversion growth, not church-goer transfer growth).”

    Does this mean they are going after the Catholic population (those heathens) and current Evangeelicals need not apply?

    “If you have a bad track record at churches of being unteachable and causing problems (You won’t change here, you’ll repeat the pattern).”
    “If you have an agenda (We have our vision, our mission, and our values–your private agenda does not supercede them).”

    It makes it harder to become one of the borg…

    “If you want religion (This church will be built on the radical gospel of grace).”

    Translation – we want new converts who will work with all the fire of someone who experiences something new so we can meet our growth goals – but don’t worry – we won’t provide those things to help you grow deeper in your faith – you’ll be too busy anyway…

  34. Jeffrey Slavich says

    I really don’t see what the fuss is with this list.

    Let’s keep in perspective that this list was formed to help set the tone for the new church.
    Looking at it that way, I see no major issues.

    Here’s my point-by-point perspective (I’ll abbreviate each point):

    1. The next cool thing: It appears that he was trying to cull out some of the people who habitually church-hop. That seems to be a very good thing. Wouldn’t most of us like to see such people grow deeper roots?
    2. Don’t like your current church. Very similar to point one. Some people are fault-finders. Who wants to feed into that? Church fellowship helps the hurting, but inviting a pre-existing root of bitterness is not a good strategy.
    3. Unteachable. See points one and two.
    4. Consumer mentality. A church that is set on the firm foundation of the gospel rather than pleasing men appears to follow the instruction set forth in Ephesian 6:6.
    5. Religion: man reaching out to God. Grace: God reaching out to man. Enough said?
    6. Agenda. Revealing Christ is the agenda of the church. (Matthew 6:16-18) Any other underlying agenda does not belong in a church.
    7. Wolf. Act 20:29 warns that they are out there.
    8. Growth. 1 Cor 3:6-7 addresses the fact that the Lord will bring the increase. Does this church planter sound ambitious? Yes. But I see no fault with his goals if they are to reach the area for Christ.
    9. Smooth sailing not expected. Jesus’ himself said that following Him has a cost . Matthew 5:11, John 16:33
    10. Lose your life. Matthew 10:39 and 16:25 cover this quite nicely.

    The Shackleton quote seems quite apt in any Christ-centered endeavor.

    • Jeffrey, thanks for your perspective. I think your comment would be more persuasive, however, if you had interacted with Mike’s critique. I agree that each point taken in isolation is not entirely bad. Mike’s point, however, is that together they present an unbalanced and un-gracefilled Christian life.

      And can I ask why you choose Matthew 6:16-18 (individual fasting) as the text for the Church’s agenda?

    • In regards to the wolves…do you think the reformed evangelical thinking is creating the wolves? Reason why I say this is because when I was a fundgelical I began to notice that people were being dishonest to fit into the system. My accountability partner for 8 years was dishonest, I actually had pastors who had no problem prying into my own personal life in the name of “accountability” who excused themself from similar scrutiny. I began hearing stories of people who gave testimonies of “look what God has done…” who only played along to tell people what they were expected to say, not what they could be honest about.

      Before becoming agnostic, I was in some pretty fundegelcial circles. But I would suggest to you that some of the wolves are being created by a church culture demanding people to be perfect. The bar is too high and people are being forced to lie so they can fit it. Meanwhile people who confess their sins are hounded and leave. They go to other churches, mainline Protestantism, or they are like me, meaning they give the middle finger to the religious establishment as they trash their Christian material becuase they are burned out. Just a thought…

      • Jeffrey Slavich says


        Since my definition of a wolf is not one who is simply a hypocrite (rather, it is somebody with a subversive agenda) I don’t see the church creating that kind of thing.

        BUT…As far as hypocrisy goes, I think that “churchianty” can at least fan the flame of such phoney-baloney folks as they try to “fit in” with the other phonies.

        On the other hand, my experience is that the “real” folks are exactly that…”real.”
        Though honesty coupled with true (mutual) accountability is rare, it does exist.

        It is unfortunate that your experience is not unique.
        A pastor such as you describe (who is not open to personal scrutiny) is no true leader.

        As far as the bar being set too high, there is a difference between a “goal” bar and an “achievement” bar.
        The goal should always be high, but the difference between the actual jump and the bar itself is the realm of humility, repentance and grace.

        Your extended middle finger is probably (and at least somewhat rightfully) pointed toward the fake people you have encountered. Little wonder. There are plenty of them.
        If you let the failed pretenders form your view of Christ, you will be disappointed every time.

        However, Jesus is not a fake and He is the center of true faith.
        Keep after Him and maybe you’ll find a place where you can join Him in fellowship.

        • Jeffrey,

          I think you might be missing Eagle’s point. The “phoneys” as you call them have no choice but to pretend if they want to be part of the church. It’s the system that encourages them to become false, and the system doesn’t really care if they’re false, as long as they give the right answer and look the part. You put too much blame on the hypocrites.

          • Thanks Joe…you hit the nail on the head!!!

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            “Swear alliegance to the flag,
            Whatever flag they offer;
            — Mike and the Mechanics, “Silent Running”, 1976

            (The song is in the form of imperative commands to someone whose country has just lost a war and is under enemy occupation; puzzling how nobody’s done a YouTube music video of it using footage from “Red Dawn”.)

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        In regards to the wolves…do you think the reformed evangelical thinking is creating the wolves? Reason why I say this is because when I was a fundgelical I began to notice that people were being dishonest to fit into the system.

        I’m sure it’s a factor. Because “reformed evangelical thinking” mutates into “Christ as Party Line, Comrades!” And it’s either doubleplusduckspeak doubleplusgoodthink or Room 101, and every Brother/Sister in Christ could be a Thought Police informant.

      • Church create wolves. Churches also create phonies. Sometimes churches create sheep. I quit playing the game a long time ago, and began earnestly educating myself as to what and why I believe what I do (or should or shouldn’t). This has led to nothing but problems with many of the people who’d consider themselves sheep but really aren’t, because sheep traditionally means there is some growth as opposed to the bad kind of “bah bah” sheep who just repeat and act clean.

        I agree with Headless Unicorn Guy as well.

  35. Maybe it’s just the kind of day I’m having, but I call “BS” on their Top Ten.

  36. What this list says to me (in order and somewhat tongue in cheek).

    1) We do not want people who have been influenced by another church. We only want people we can mold in our own image.
    2) We do not want people who may have been hurt by a church.
    3) We’re don’t really want people who have strong opinions that may be different from our own.
    4) If you have limited time, we’re probably not for you. We are probably too serious for you anyway.
    5) As you can see from this list, we’re not really sure how to define grace.
    6) We don’t mean to be rude, but its a church plant vision.
    7) We are on the lookout for the evildoer. (Really, was #7 necessary?)
    8) We want to be Mars Hill Seattle.
    9) /10) We got this from the church plant handbook.

    Seriously, I can see the need for people who are mostly on the same page who are doing a church plant in a less than organic situation, but the list makes it appear as though the writer is recruiting for soldiers in an armed conflict. It certainly would not be for me.


    • Good posting. Mark Driscoll is attracting his groupies just like John Piper. Is that a case of those “devoid of grace” leading the blind?

      • Yes. Those who have never experienced grace are being sold a bill of goods under the guise of “radical grace”. Millstone, anyone?

      • Strangely, I kind of like Mark Driscoll even though I find his many of his statements about women abhorrent.

        • WenatcheeTheHatchet says

          Driscoll fanboys would be less profoundly annoying to me if they were able to emulate his strengths (struggling with figuring out what texts mean and aspiring to a sweeping historical and textual survey of Christian thought) rather than his weaknesses (i.e. glib lists and cultural and ecclesiological rants on the one hand, and baptising his own likes and dislikes as “biblical” on the other). Any guy in his twenties or thirties can start throwing around the word “dude” and make lists of reasons to not be at his or her church plant.

          Let them spend at least one hour preaching on the value of christus exemplar instead of talking about how “everything” hinges on penal substitutionary atonement. Let them spend time talking about the necessity of understanding sanctification in terms of both the imputed and imparted righteousness of Christ. Let them get into the practical reasons why there are dangers in the application of both premillenial and postmillenial eschatological grids as motives for engaging in social or political action.
          Let them re-preach an entire book of the Bible after admitting to botching the exegesis and trying to do better the second time through. Let them admit publicly that certain biblical texts are just really, really hard if not impossible to interpret and apply instead of just skipping them.

          Driscoll’s done all that stuff. This doesn’t keep me from believing sincerely that a great deal of what he has to say about gender roles (men as well as women) is often legalistic bunk. But I would say that Driscoll has always been more complex than either his fans or critics want him to be. I’ve been beating that drum for a few years now here.

          I agree with those who point out that while any one point in the top 10 taken on its own seems fine there’s a problem with the gestalt.

          • I coudn’t agree more. Interestingly, he’s the ONLY preacher I’ve heard take an extremely strong (and loud) position personally and biblically with appropriate exegesis on abuse of women.

    • Nadine I like how your poiont #8 authomatically makes gives Ray-Bans to Mars Hill Seattle.

    • +1, especially to #5

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says


  37. Here’s my take:

    First, I’ll say that some of the pseudo-macho stuff could be softened a bit. But …

    This is for a church PLANT. A new expression in perhaps an area where the whole gospel isn’t preached. Anyone jumping on board will be expected to be not just a member, but a leader of sorts. It seems that much of the list – even taken as a whole – is there to protect both the members of the plant AND those who will be visiting them once it gets running. For as much as I read on here about folks being hurt by the church, one would think that setting high standards for those who will bear the burdens of leading and ministering to them would be a good thing.

  38. Reminds me of another radical expression of grace, Jack Hyles’ manual for Sunday school teachers:
    (1.) Every worker in our Sunday school must be a converted, born-again person.
    (2.) Every person who teaches in our Sunday school must be an active member of the First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana.
    (3.) We require faithfulness on the part of all of our Sunday school teachers and workers. By this we mean: faithfulness to the Sunday school hour, faithfulness to the morning preaching service on the Lord’s Day, faithfulness to the Sunday evening service, faithfulness to the Wednesday evening service, as well as faithful attendance to the Sunday school teachers’ and officers’ meeting preceding the regular midweek service on Wednesday evening.
    (4.) We expect loyalty from our Sunday school workers. certainly no Sunday school, or any other organization for that matter, can be built successfully without loyal workers, loyal teachers and a loyal staff of helpers. The Sunday school teacher should be loyal to the church program, loyal to the ministry of the pastor, loyal to the Gospel and to the Word of God.
    (5.) Every Sunday school worker is required to be doctrinally sound. by this we mean they should adhere to the doctrines of the church. They should certainly believe the Articles of Faith adopted by the church and be loyal to the teachings and doctrines of the Word of God.
    (6.) We require that each of our Sunday school teachers and officers live a separated life. No one should open the Word of God to teach it to boys or girls or men or women in the Sunday school unless he is separate from the world. no teacher should participate in such questionable amusements as drinking any kind of alcoholic beverages, dancing, gambling, or other habits that would be detrimental to the testimony of Jesus Christ and the work of building a great Sunday school.
    (7.) Last, but not least, is the important qualification of having a love for souls of men. Every Sunday school teacher should be burdened for souls and should be actively participating in reaching people for Jesus Christ.

    • It’s amazing how every time the “Word of God” was mentioned, it was AFTER our church’s this or program that.

      • Just seemed to me more like a strategic withdrawal tp create a contamination-free zone from “the world”, akin to fundamentalism in the 1930’s. And in the quest for a pure church, just as prone to morph into legalism.

        • Stuart, I liked that you posted this. The more things change…

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            “Oh, the more it changes
            The more it stays the same;
            And the Hand just rearranges
            The players in the Game…”
            — Al Stewart, “Nostradamus”, circa 1974

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Just seemed to me more like a strategic withdrawal to create a contamination-free zone from “the world”, akin to fundamentalism in the 1930′s.

          And we all know how that ended up.

  39. A couple of decades ago, I bought an old farmhouse in a rural area outside a large city. In the last decade, a suburban wave of affluent gated communities has rolled over the area. Plentiful church plants have arrived in the wake of this suburban wave.

    When I see a new church ad stuck at the exit ramps of the new freeway, I look up the website out of interest in what flavor of church is now arriving in town (since you can’t tell by the church name any more.)

    Over the last several years, each and every new church plant web site has given off the vibe of the list cited in this essay.

    I’m old enough to have seen several church buzz-word fads wax and wane. “Spiritual gifts,” then “purpose-driven,” then “community,” now “radical.” I’m sure there are more I’ve forgotten or was too young to pick up on. There was “peace with justice” way back in my memory, but I’m not sure if that was of the same genre … or if it was pretty much the same as a certain flavor of “radical,” and we’ve come full circle.

    Anyway, in my particular area, all the church plants in the last several years have come in with this vibe of no-need-to-apply if you aren’t committed, intense, “radical.” All the websites are also very clear that the founding pastor had a clear, specific call from God to this specific area. (God sure is calling a lot of these basically indistinguishable young, aggressive, “radical” church planters to found “radical” churches in this growing, affluent suburban area.)

    “Radical?” Really? Seems to me like the vibe mirrors exactly the vibe of the energetic, results-focused professionals who are drawn to and can afford to move to the new, affluent, gated communities that popped up like mushrooms in this area. Gated communities. Gated churches. Is that “radical?”

    I am beginning to conclude that the buzz-words that appeal to a particular generation of churches pinpoint pretty precisely not their strengths, but their weaknesses and blind spots.

    I’ve already watched the “no longer wanted” sign be shown to my parents by the “purpose-driven” generation of churches once my father started showing signs of possible Alzheimers. If this “radical” wave of church plants is any indication, should I have any hope that I’ll even make much into middle-age (nevermind “old and frail”) before that same “no longer wanted” sign is shown to me by institutional Christianity?

    • Becky, thanks for sharing your experience. You are a good writer. Your last paragraph saddened me, though.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        I’ve already watched the “no longer wanted” sign be shown to my parents by the “purpose-driven” generation of churches once my father started showing signs of possible Alzheimers.

        i.e. “You have Outlived Your Usefulness to The Cause.”

        If this “radical” wave of church plants is any indication, should I have any hope that I’ll even make much into middle-age (nevermind “old and frail”) before that same “no longer wanted” sign is shown to me by institutional Christianity?

        …and so will you.

    • One more Mike says

      The worst thing you can do “to” the purpose driven generation of churches (great characterization) is get old, sick or financially unable to support all the paid staff it takes to drive all that purpose. I guess Buzzard left out “No old, sick or poor people need show up.”

      • When Michael Spencer died, his friend Josh Strodtbeck wrote an article that I’ve been mulling ever since. The whole article is much better than any excerpt I can post, so I recommend making the effort to read the whole thing. Since we aren’t allowed to post links, google “metalutheran” and “Some thoughts on the passing of Michael Spencer.” But, here is an excerpt that seems relevant to this whole discussion:

        “Yet, if Christ is not raised, death wins. Without the resurrection of Jesus, death is a gaping maw of inky blackness that will devour and destroy anything and everything that exists. It’s a relentless attacker that always finds its mark, never rests, never grows weary, and never slows down. If Jesus has not been raised, then it doesn’t matter what you think about anything else; death wins. …

        “The easiest way to kill the Gospel in your church is to drive thoughts of death out of our minds. Hurry the old and the frail out the doors of your church, so the youthful and exuberant don’t have to see them. Distract people with self-help lessons and inspirational stories. Wrap people up in the institution, in the programs, and the politics of your version of the faith. Just don’t let them think about death. Don’t let them see the dying. Be sure to do this, and regardless of how “orthodox” your church is on paper, the Gospel will be the only thing that dies in your church. Only face to face with the ugly visage of death do we learn who Jesus is.”

  40. 3. If you have a bad track record at churches of being unteachable and causing problems (You won’t change here, you’ll repeat the pattern).

    Naturally churches don’t want people like this in their church. Which church is obliged to welcome problem people? Every church but his? No church?

  41. When our little church had to finally close it’s doors, we signed on to a church plant with a similar feel. They certainly said that they were a community of disciples on a mission.

    Five years into it, the pastor quit. Either the people who showed up weren’t radical enough for him, or radical disciples don’t quite know how to support the pastor and his family well enough (in finances as well as relationships). At any rate, we just didn’t make the cut. Probably on both counts.

    He’s off planting elsewhere and we’re still going. Our new pastor is much more supportive and less demanding, and we seem to be coming along nicely. It’s a little disorienting to switch to being a church that tries to take care of it’s ministries, leaders and people, but we’re all adjusting.

  42. After reading the top ten list again, I realize it is mis-named. A more accurate title would be, “we don’t want you if…”

  43. I don’t believe any of the original disciples would have made this guy’s cut…

  44. Good post. It makes me miss a church I went to for several years that had the slogan, “come as you are.”

    For god so loved the world, period, no conditions. It always worries me when someone starts spouting prerequisites for participation in the community of faith, particularly ones that define who is in and who is out, who is desirable and who is not.

    If the transforming power of Jesus Christ is real, let it do its work on whosoever may come. Just sayin…

  45. AFter reading the Top Ten and all these posts, it’s no wonder the church (local and spiritual) is in the shape it’s in! We continue to miss grace and the N.T. churches’ examples. We, Christians, are a hurtin’ bunch and no one wants to admit it…how sad. We of all people should be extending the grace that we, so generously have received.
    Thanks for exposing this ‘radical’ Christianity strain that has cropped up and seems to be so insidious.
    Keep up the good work, Imonk(s)!

  46. What I see is grace to those that aren’t Christian. But, the moment you are regenerate it is MARCHING ORDERS BABY!!! Maybe he should listen to Dr. Rosenbladt’s The Gospel for those Broken by the Church.

  47. There once was a strong, authoritarian church leader who called his flock to radical commitment and an austere, sacrificial life of community and service. His name was Jim Jones. Over thirty years later, folks are still serving up the same koolaid…and people are more than happy to drink it.

  48. Coming in a little late to the discussion, but I feel like Chaplain Mike’s point #7 is where my own church is (or is about to go through). For the first few years I was at our church, the emphasis was on “community”, but we sucked at evangelism. Transition several years into the future: we are doing much better at evangelism, but I worry that our sense of community is being lost. Everything over the last three years or so seems to be oriented in the direction of “mission”, of “this is our time make an impact.” I have no quarrel with wanting to affect the city in a positive direction, but there is a sense of needing to feed the machine by constantly growing, and some significant aspects of church life are in danger of being lost in the shuffle.

  49. Chaplain Mike,

    I know Justin, he’s a good man, and has that golden aura around him, like Major Kilgore in Apocalypse Now. I agree 100% with your critique. #8 bothers me the most because it tells members and seekers they should not expect a a family feeling at church and they mustn’t asume the pastor will be there for them. It also makes me think big churches are small churches gone bad rather than small churches are big churches gone bad.

  50. Hi Chaplain Mike,

    I appreciated your counters to this Top Ten. For the most part, I think you brought a needed correction to the list. At minimum the points probably should have been fleshed out a little more than put into an hor d’ourves style list.

    Here’s my question: What do we do? It seems that right now the American church is very good at violent pendulum swings + picking bits of the NT we want to use as our “mission”