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February 10, 2010

Last spring I received an email from a reader of this site who asked if I would be able to send an inscribed copy of The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment to a young man who was just graduating high school. This would serve as a small graduation gift. I was glad to do so and sent the book to Silas Thompson. You may know that name now as Silas is currently in a Haitian prison, arrested and charged with child abduction and criminal association. He is there with his father Paul and eight other Americans. You have undoubtedly heard of the story through the media.

February 02, 2010

Over the past few months I’ve been running a series of interviews called “Meet the Ministries.” The purpose of this series is to learn about some of the more prominent or more interesting ministries seeking to serve the church today and to learn how we can serve them and how they may be able to serve us. In the past this series has stopped at Grace to You, Desiring God, Acts 29 and Peacemaker Ministries. Today the series turns to CCEF, a ministry I assume most of us are at least somewhat familiar with. The interview was conducted with Tim Lane.

How and when did the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation (CCEF) begin?
CCEF is a Christian counseling and educational ministry located in suburban Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. CCEF was founded to call the church back to the primacy of Scripture as the basis for thoughtful and effective pastoral care and counseling.

With the advent of modern secular psychologies at the beginning of the 20th century, many seminaries no longer made the Scriptures primary in their pastoral care and counseling curriculums. This vacuum was filled by a host of alternatives that tended to minimize, change or overshadow the redemptive message of the Scriptures. In response to this trend, a “biblical counseling” movement emerged in the late 1960’s with CCEF, founded in 1968, playing a leading role. For the past four decades, we have continued in that role by growing and contributing to the development of biblical counseling.

Why does CCEF exist? What are its chief goals and key emphases?
At CCEF, we teach people how to explore the wisdom and depth of the Bible and apply its grace-centered message to the problems of daily living. Simply put our mission is to: Restore Christ to Counseling and Counseling to the Church.

Restore Christ to Counseling. We have a passion for personal change that is centered in the person of Christ. This passion is our heritage and heartbeat, and it leads us to constantly revisit the question, “How do the riches of the Gospel impact my life and my efforts to help others?”

Restore Counseling to the Church. We believe that the body of Christ is God’s primary context for change, the community God uses to transform his people. CCEF’s mission is to equip the church to be this kind of transforming community. We see ourselves as an extension of the local church, and we want to serve and promote its ministry.

We accomplish our mission through a unique synergy of counseling, training, publications, and conferences.

Counseling: We have a robust counseling ministry in our home office where we counsel individuals, couples and families on a wide variety of personal, marriage and family issues.

Training: We train future leaders, pastors, counselors and people with a heart for discipleship through a certificate program through both on-site and distance education classes. We teach several accredited counseling programs in conjunction with Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia and are affiliated with Redeemer Seminary in Dallas, Biblical Seminary in Hatfield, PA, and SEMBEQ Seminary in Montreal, Canada.

Publications: To further equip pastors and counselors, our faculty has published numerous books, booklets, articles, study guides, and curriculum series. Many of these are available from New Growth Press.

Conferences and Speaking: We host a National Conference every fall at which we offer extensive instruction on a selected topic, and our faculty also speaks and teaches at a variety of conferences, seminars and church-based events throughout the year.

How does CCEF differ from secular counseling ministries? How does CCEF differ from other Christian counseling ministries?
CCEF differs from secular counseling practices in a foundational way. Secular psychology removes the personal God of scripture from its counseling model and therefore views people and their problems through a purely human-centered lens. At CCEF, there is always a concern to define what can legitimately be learned from modern psychology, but believes that Scripture provides the orienting “generalizations”: a God-centered view of people, problems and solutions.

How do we differ from other Christian counseling ministries? That is a harder question to answer. Some ministries are staffed by Christians, but they are still essentially using a secular model of counseling. Others represent an integrationist model, meaning they intentionally work to integrate psychology with Christianity. Our model is built on the primacy of Scripture, more specifically on the person and ministry of Jesus Christ. We think there are helpful things to learn from anyone who counsels and writes about counseling but we remain steadfast in the way we allow the Scriptures to provide the primary orienting perspective for our work. For a fuller statement of what this looks like, visit our website.

How can CCEF serve the readers of this website?
CCEF can serve your readers immediately through our,

Website Resources: Through our website (www.ccef.org) we offer many free counseling resources including podcasts, blogs, videos and feature articles. We also offer audio downloads of our National conference lectures for a modest fee.

Publications: Our faculty has published many books and booklets available through New Growth Press at www.newgrowthpress.com

National Conference: This year’s conference is November 11-14, 2010 and the subject matter will be marriage. Our conferences are helpful for people personally as well as professionally.

On-site and Distance Education: We offer over a dozen courses that are especially designed to help people in the Christian life as well as their ministry whether it is informal or more formal. Both professionals and non-professionals can benefit from our courses.

In what circumstances might they want to get in touch with CCEF?
You may want to get in touch with us if you are interested in:

Counselor Training: We offer training in biblical counseling with both on-site and distance education classes. Our on-site program includes accredited degrees through Westminster Seminary and our distance education program is beginning to offer classes for credit through Biblical Seminary in Hatfield, Pennsylvania.

Counseling Services: We offer counseling services at our main campus in suburban Philadelphia.

Registering for our National Conference: For 2010 our conference is on marriage and is titled: ONE—For Better And Worse. This is the best way to see our entire organization at work. For many of our attendees it is a weekend well spent…considered both content-rich and spiritually refreshing.

Who are the key leaders within the ministry?
Our ministry is comprised of about 30 full time and part time staff. The most obvious leaders in our ministry are our faculty who teach, write and speak around the country. They are:

Michael R. Emlet, M.Div., M.D.
Monica Kim. M.A.R.
Timothy S. Lane, M.Div., D. Min.
Julie Lowe, M.A.
David Powlison, M.Div., Ph.D.
Aaron Sironi, M.S.
Winston T. Smith, M.Div.
Edward T. Welch, M.Div., Ph.D.

To learn more about our faculty, go to our website by clicking here.

What is CCEF’s annual budget? How is the ministry financed and how do you ensure financial integrity?
CCEF’s annual budget is approximately $2.5 million. 60% of our income is generated through revenue we produce through the services we provide. 40% is dependent upon individuals and churches who support the work of CCEF. Our goal is to raise $1 million dollars a year in donations. Because we attempt to keep our fees as reasonable as possible and because the cost of education is extremely high, we rely upon the generosity of others who want to see the ministry of CCEF thrive. In case you are wondering, we have made it very safe and easy for folks to give online at our website!!

We work hard to follow generally accepted accounting practices and communicate our financial system to our donors. We have an audit of our financial records performed every year by an outside firm and annually survey our employees concerning conflicts of interest and fraud, providing confidential means of reporting any problems.

How do you expect CCEF will be different in ten years? Twenty years?
As a ministry, we want to continue to grow in humility! That can’t be stated enough. In a broader way, as CCEF enters the 21st century, it continues its commitment to work out the implications of biblical counseling in three primary areas:

1. Counseling Theory or Model: what is a robust, biblical, Christ-centered approach to people and their problems; both sin and suffering? We have made significant strides here, but there is always more to be done.

2. Counseling Methodology: what does it look like to actually counsel people face to face, meeting after meeting? We have made progress here as well, but there is still much room for growth, particularly as we seek to transfer what counseling looks like at a practical level to those called to this Kingdom work.

3. Counseling Context: how do we capture the attention of lead pastors, staff and every person in the local church to see that “counseling” is a very broad term that ranges from very informal interactions to more formal one-on-one counseling? How do we help people see that “counseling” is not a modern invention but has its roots in Creation where there is a need for God to speak in order for us to make sense out of life? And how do we create places for uniquely gifted formal counselors to use their gifts in serving and training the body of Christ?

As we look out 10-20 years, we hope to see CCEF using technology and new delivery systems in such a way that winsome biblical counseling is the norm in the local church and the broader Christian community. When CCEF started in the 1960’s, the task before us seemed insurmountable. Now, 40 years later, we are watching an explosion of biblical counseling in churches, denominations and large movements. The challenge is to clearly articulate, define and train people with the distinctives that we at CCEF think are essential if biblical counseling is going to be established as the primary way people think about their lives and the change process. We are engaged in the significant task of persuasion. That calls for clarity, humility, an ability to listen to your critics, and zeal to keep moving the ball down the field one play at a time. It does feel like we may have crossed the 50 yard line and are moving more pointedly towards the goal line but much more hard work is left to be done.

How does CCEF work with other ministries?
We have teaching relationships with several seminaries where our faculty either teaches or the seminary’s resident faculty uses our curriculum in their counseling program. We are also connected to various national and international church planting movements. In addition, we are always attempting to engage in meaningful dialogue with those who may differ with us. We want to engage the conversation, have influence, learn ourselves and simply remain open to change.

What are some of the ways CCEF has seen evidence of God’s hand of blessing?
The fact that we are still standing in the midst of a tragic economy is one sign! God has sustained us through hard financial times but there is more than that. He has provided us with excellent faculty, a staff of Godly counselors, committed support staff and a team spirit that money can’t buy. Only the Spirit can produce those kinds of things. We are also witnessing a younger generation of qualified counselors and thinkers that will sustain the ministry of CCEF in the future. Even beyond that, we are beginning to see a ground swell of interest in biblical counseling across ministries, seminaries and local churches. You would have never seen this even 20 years ago. And it is happening amongst younger and older audiences across denominational lines. We simply look at the growing number of people taking our Distance Education classes and to the requests from significant leaders in the evangelical world asking for guidance as they implement biblical counseling ministries in their churches and communities.

How can readers of this website serve and support CCEF?

  • We always covet the prayers of God’s people. Pray that we would be true to our mission of restoring Christ to counseling and counseling to the church.
  • Become a monthly donor. We depend on donations to fund 40% of our ministry.
  • Encourage your church to develop a relationship with CCEF by becoming a Supporting Church
  • Direct churches to our website for counseling needs and discipling curriculum.
  • Create a CCEF link from your church or blog page.
  • Become a fan Facebook, follow us on Twitter, subscribe to our channels in YouTube and iTunes or simply pass on helpful resources from our website www.ccef.org

January 20, 2010

Last year I began a series of interviews called “Meet the Ministries.” This purpose of this series is to learn about some of the more prominent or more interesting ministries seeking to serve the church today. In the past this series has stopped at Grace to You and Desiring God and Acts 29. Today the series resumes with an interview with Fred Barthel, Director of Communications at Peacemaker Ministries.

How and when did Peacemaker Ministries begin?
Conflict is an issue in all our lives and churches—there’s no escaping it, even for Christians. (As it’s sometimes cheekily noted, “Wherever two or three are gathered, there will be conflict.”)

The same was true back in 1982, when Ken Sande was faced with a choice: enter a law firm as an associate attorney or create a local venue for providing biblically-based mediation and arbitration services. Thankfully, Ken chose the latter. He began helping Christians and their church leaders learn how to follow 1 Corinthians 6:1-8—resolving disputes within the local church rather than bringing lawsuits against one another.

Eventually, the small ministry expanded as more and more Christians learned how to resolve conflicts with goals of justice, personal reconciliation, and glorifying God. In a process from 1987 to 1993, Ken’s own organization merged with several other conciliation organizations and became what is now Peacemaker Ministries.

Why does Peacemaker Ministries exist? What are its chief goals and key emphases?
As Francis Schaeffer noted in The Mark of the Christian:

Jesus says, “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another.” In the midst of the world, in the midst of our present dying culture, Jesus is giving a right to the world. Upon his authority he gives the world the right to judge whether you and I are born-again Christians on the basis of our observable love toward all Christians.

Isn’t this an amazing thought—that God has essentially given the world the right to judge whether the gospel is true based on how Christians get along with each other? Along these lines, it is our goal to help the bride of Christ become more lovely and beautiful in her unity so that a watching world will readily see that the gospel really is true.

Yes, we know we are a parachurch ministry. That means that our role is squarely one of a bridesmaid supporting and directing attention to the bride rather than being in competition with her. We want people to look at the church and say, “Wow! Look how they persevere with one another. Look how they love each other. How is that possible? I want to learn more … “

For this to happen, Christians must learn to be peacemakers. And so as a ministry, we desire to help create churches that are marked by peace and unity, even in the midst of real-life relational struggles.

More formally, our mission is to “equip and assist Christians and their churches to respond to conflict biblically”:

Equip - We don’t want to be viewed merely as “firefighters”—i.e., in case of conflict, break glass and call the “professional peacemakers.” We’d much prefer for all Christians to be equipped to respond well to conflict themselves (and to the extent possible, to stay out of destructive conflict in the first place).

Assist - Sometimes, though, we do play the “firefighter” role when a conflict is so serious or involves so many people that a family, business, or ministry requires outside help to resolve it. One of our divisions, the Institute for Christian Conciliation, offers a network of trained professionals to provide direct assistance to individuals and organizations through its conciliation services. After nearly thirty years helping Christians in conflict, we have experience assisting in almost every situation you can imagine: from family fights to congregational conflicts to multi-million dollar contract disputes (and everything in between).

Christians and their churches - Again, our passion for peacemaking goes beyond the individual Christian—we firmly believe that the church is God’s “Plan A” for building the Kingdom (and frankly, there is no plan B). We believe that peacemaking is an essential ministry of the local church, not a task reserved for professional mediators or lawyers. Therefore, we encourage Christians to take unresolved conflicts to their church families, which are called by God to restore peace by promoting biblical justice and reconciliation.

Respond to conflict biblically - As a ministry we want to be faithful to Scripture in all that we do and all that we encourage others to do. We believe that the Bible contains all of the promises and principles needed for true peacemaking. That means that God’s Word is totally authoritative and completely sufficient for all aspects of life, and his peacemaking commands and promises apply to every conflict a Christian can encounter.

How is Peacemaker Ministries a distinctly Christian ministry? How would it differ from a similar secular organization?
First of all, Christ is central to all that we do as a ministry. We believe that genuine peace between people cannot be found through a process or a set of skills; it can be found only through Jesus Christ. Therefore, we encourage people in conflict to believe the gospel, trust in Christ, and faithfully rely on his promises.

There’s a direct connection between the gospel and peacemaking—peacemaking is one clear snapshot of what the gospel looks like in all our lives. The greatest conflict in history—the one between God and man—was reconciled on the cross, and as a result there is hope for reconciliation in any other conflict. Even when we were still his enemies, God made peace with us through the death and resurrection of his Son.

If we truly believe this (and we do!), then it must make a difference in our relationships and how we deal with conflict. Since we have been reconciled with God, we can be reconciled with one another. Because God has forgiven us in Christ, we can forgive others. And because God has forgiven us in Christ, we can freely confess where we have sinned against others. This is a radically different way for Christians to relate to each other, and we at Peacemaker Ministries exist to help the church live this out.

Another key distinctive is one that I have already discussed, but it’s so important I’ll mention it again: we are devoted to the bride of Christ—the Church.

The final distinctive is that, unlike secular mediation-arbitration services, we not only address the substantive issues in a conflict, we also encourage people to deal with conflict at the heart level. James 4:1-3 teaches us that that destructive conflict comes from desires that battle within our hearts. For that reason, we don’t merely try to resolve surface issues. Yes, we can help with that contractual dispute. But we also strive to help Christians in conflict to find their fulfillment in Christ, renounce sinful desires and actions that have contributed to conflict, and seek genuine reconciliation with God and others.

How can Peacemaker serve the readers of this web site? In what circumstances might they want to get in touch with Peacemaker?
By all means, if you are facing a conflict and need some help that isn’t available locally, please contact our conciliation division. Or if you are interested in deepening your own peacemaking skills, then consider our training opportunities or come to our annual Peacemaker Conference (this fall it’s in Washington DC on the theme of forgiveness).

But probably what would serve most of you the best are our resources. If you’ve never read the The Peacemaker (by Ken Sande) before, I’d highly encourage you to do it. My wife often says that outside the Bible, it’s the one book that every Christian should read, and I agree. We also have several related books and small group studies that apply biblical peacemaking principles to pastors, women, children, missionary teams and more.

Our newest resource is one that we are particularly excited about—a DVD-based group study for church leaders called The Leadership Opportunity. Church leaders, just by virtue of their position, sit in the middle of conflict—whether in those times when tension surfaces in a leaders’ meeting, when managing a difficult change, or when an angry couple is sitting in their office. We’ve pulled together a practical resource to equip leaders in these difficult situations, encouraging leaders to truly live out the gospel in the many places where conflict and leadership intersect.

Who are the key leaders within the ministry?
Ken Sande is the founder and president, and he is surrounded by several experienced vice-presidents (Gary Friesen, Chip Zimmer, Tim Pollard, and David Schlachter).

How many employees does Peacemaker have?
Around 30 full/part time employees.

What is Peacemaker’s annual budget? How is the ministry financed and how do you ensure financial integrity?
Our 2009 budget was about $2.9 million. About 50-60% of our revenue comes from the generous donations of our supporters, while the remaining income comes from our resources, training, and conciliation services. We are a member of the ECFA (Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability) which carries with it all kinds of requirements to make sure we are above-board on everything financial (including an annual audit). With ECFA’s help, our donors can be certain that we are good stewards of the resources entrusted to us.

How do you expect Peacemaker will be different in ten years? Twenty years?
Lord willing, we will have closed our doors because churches will be doing such a good job themselves of dealing with conflicts that we won’t be needed anymore!

But if the Lord chooses not to do this, we want to continue transferring the ministry of peacemaking to the church. We would love to see thousands of churches establish dedicated peacemaking teams and develop a “culture of peace.” Such a culture is where members resolve most conflicts personally and privately, and releasing pastors from the “complaint loop.” It’s where marriages, friendships, and other relationships are strengthened and preserved, resulting in fewer divorces and a lower turnover of members, staff, and volunteers. Ministries and missions are more united and fruitful. And the gospel is lived out in relationships so that a church experiences the true blessings of peace and reconciliation. That’s our main goal in the coming years.

We are also excited to see is what the Lord will do overseas. God is already raising up people and organizations with a passion for reconciliation in key areas of South America, Africa, Australia, and Asia. We are partnering with the organization Overseas Council to bring biblical peacemaking into some of the most influential evangelical seminaries around the world—helping the next generation of leaders in the global church be prepared for conflict.

Christians overseas tend to have a big vision for what peacemaking can do beyond their personal lives and church families. They see the biblical principles directly applying to the political and cultural conflicts they face, and have great hope that the power of the gospel can transform entire communities and countries. We are grateful for the many ministry opportunities opening up around the globe, and we look forward to seeing what God does in the future.

How does Peacemaker work with other Christian ministries?
Our work doesn’t necessitate a great deal of collaboration, but we have close ties to a few ministries, including: the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation (CCEF), Christian Legal Society, and as I mentioned above, Overseas Council. In addition, many other ministries and organizations have made use of our training, consulting, or conciliation services.

But, of course, our major partnership is with churches, and our primary desire is to work alongside denominations and churches for the benefit of the bride of Christ and the glory of God.

What are some of the ways Peacemaker Ministries has seen evidence of God’s hand of blessing?
God has given us a sacrificially dedicated staff and a committed and enthusiastic constituency, all with a passion for peacemaking.

We are also blessed by the enduring quality of Ken Sande’s book, The Peacemaker. It is a particular joy to us to see The Peacemaker translated into many languages to help our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world learn better how to live in unity with one another.

In addition ,we are consistently humbled to witness God’s work in the lives of those who are stuck in conflict. In situation after situation—often where there seems like no hope for reconciliation—we’ve seen God move people to humble themselves, confess, and forgive one another. It is such an honor to see the power of the gospel tangibly displayed in the restoration of broken relationships.

But the biggest blessing? That’s the one found in Matthew 5:9, where Jesus teaches that we get to be called sons of God when we are peacemakers. What a wonderful identity to have!

How can the readers of this web site serve and support Peacemaker Ministries?
Please pray for us and the work God has called us to do. Pray for encouragement, for it can be very wearying to deal with the ugly effects of Christians in conflict. Pray also for wisdom as we consider what God would have us accomplish this year with limited resources (like most churches and ministries, finances are tight in this tough economy).
Also, feel free to poke around our website (www.Peacemaker.net) and take a look at the resources, training, and services we provide.

But most importantly, if there’s just one thing you could do, we’d love for you to introduce these concepts to your own church and church leaders. In our desire to serve churches, we still need humble advocates for peacemaking within congregations. If that’s you, then we want to partner with you and see how the Lord might bless the peacemakers in your midst.

I really do appreciate this opportunity, and I thank you for taking the time to read this. And also, thanks to you, Tim, for all you do for the Kingdom through the written word. May God richly bless you all.

January 19, 2010

This morning I posted a review of Josh Harris’ new book Dug Down Deep. This afternoon I’ve got this brief interview with Josh in which we discuss the book.

Who is the audience for Dug Down Deep and why would you like them to read it?

I had a couple different groups of people in mind as I wrote the book. First, I wrote it for people like me who have grown up in church and immersed in Christian religion but who, as I did, lack a solid rooting in Biblical truth. Usually such people are indifferent toward or even turned off by doctrine. My goal was to show them how essential theology is to truly knowing God. I wanted to keep it simple and accessible.

I also wrote with the hope that Christians would give the book to unbelieving friends to introduce them to basic Christian belief. A big part of the reason I wrote the book is so that I could share give it to people I meet as a way to share the gospel. You can’t really do that with a book called “Sex is Not the Problem (Lust is).”

Why did you choose to write about theology from a personal perspective, through the lens of your own spiritual growth and development?
I wanted the book to be as engaging as possible for people who aren’t used to studying biblical doctrine. And I wanted to show that theology is for living. It’s for real people and real life. Hopefully my story will show that doctrine isn’t just for scholars and academics—it’s for twenty-somethings who want a deeper relationship with God; it’s for young moms who feel overwhelmed by diapers and laundry—it’s for everyone.

To be honest, I had to fight the urge to write to impress fellow pastors. Sharing from my own journey as a young adult helped me keep writing to people who are new to theological terms and concepts. I remember being at that place. It’s not always enjoyable to have someone tell you all the things you should know—it can be helpful to have someone come alongside you and share what they’ve learned and why it has made a difference in the living of their life. I hope Dug Down Deep does that. 

What is a chapter you would like to have included but that had to be left out, for one reason or another?

The first draft of the book’s outline was much longer than the final eleven-chapters I wound up with. But many of those were getting into secondary issues (how Christians relate to politics and engage with culture for example.) Those are important, but I decided that I wanted to stay focused on gospel-essential doctrines—God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, the atonement. I stuck to the basics.

But then after Mark Dever read the book he said “Why didn’t you include a chapter on eschatology?” I think that probably would have been a good idea. But I feel good about how the book turned out. I wasn’t trying to be comprehensive. It’s not a systematic theology. I’ve referred to the book as a mix tape of specific doctrines that have transformed my life.

What was the greatest challenge in writing this book and what proved to be the greatest blessing to your own soul?
This is the first book I’ve written since I began serving as the senior pastor of Covenant Life. Fitting writing into my responsibilities at church was a challenge. My fellow-pastors really carried a lot during that time and I’m indebted to them for their support. I don’t have the same capacity as some of these guys who pump out books and preach three times a week. I felt very weak and inadequate and overwhelmed many times along the way. Holding the book now, I remember moments of literally being on my face feeling hopeless and crying out to God for help. But he met me over and over. And those private moments of seeing him provide are very meaningful to me.

It has been five years between your last book, Stop Dating the Church, and this new one. When should we next expect to see your name on a book?
I really don’t know. There are no plans right now. And I only write if my fellow elders and my wife all tell me they have faith for me to tackle a new project. So it will probably be awhile. My kids want me to write a children’s book. I think that would be fun. I’d love to write and illustrate a book for kids. But right now I’m just enjoying that “done writing” feeling a little longer.

November 23, 2009

Last week I wrote a review of the excellent new book Who Made God? by Edgar Andrews. This book is an intelligent, insightful response to many of the claims of today’s new atheists. I recently had the opportunity to interview Mr. Andrews and wanted to share that interview with you today.

What do all of those letters after your name actually stand for?
The first three (BSc, PhD and DSc) are earned academic qualifications while the remainder (FInstP, FIMMM, CEng and CPhys) are professional qualifications. My Bachelor’s degree was in theoretical physics; the ‘doctor of philosophy’ degree was awarded for research, and the ‘doctor of science’ degree is a higher doctorate awarded for eminence in a given field, as judged by the quality of peer-reviewed publications.

October 19, 2009

A few weeks ago I began a series called “Meet the Ministries.” This purpose of this series is to learn about some of the more prominent or more interesting ministries seeking to serve the church today. In the past this series has stopped at Grace to You and Desiring God. Today it continues to Acts 29 where Scott Thomas, Acts 29’s Chairman and Director, was kind enough to answer a few questions.

How and when did Acts 29 begin?
Acts 29 was founded in 2000 with Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle when it was about 200 in attendance and David Nicholas, a Presbyterian pastor of a large church in Boca Raton, Florida. They formed the network to plant qualified, entrepreneurial men who held to a reformed soteriology and were willing to engage an urban city with the gospel.

Why does Acts 29 exist? What are its chief goals and key emphases?
Acts 29 exists to make disciples by planting church planting churches.

Gospel Message: The major emphasis of Acts 29 is the gospel. The gospel is the power of God for salvation and sadly many churches are ashamed of proclaiming it (Rom. 1:16). As a result we may not be experiencing the fruit of transformation in our churches that is normally associated with the gospel (Col. 1:4-6; 2 Peter 1:3-9). Gospel transformation cannot take place outside of gospel proclamation.

The gospel can be (cautiously) summarized in the following manner: Jesus Christ, God’s promised rescuer and ruler lived our life, died our death and rose again in triumphant evidence as the first-fruits of the new creation to bring forgiven sinners together by the Holy Spirit to live under his gracious reign as His Kingdom people.

Gospel Men: Our church planters are assessed on the basis of their qualification as elders, according to Scripture and their character as examined in an extensive review of their life and doctrine (1 Tim. 4:16). This includes a thorough examination of a man’s leadership in his home. A man’s family is his first congregation and his wife and children are his first disciples. We are looking for men who have been transformed by the gospel and are captured by the grace of Jesus and are following His mission to make disciples.

Gospel Mission: We believe church planting is the best way to take the gospel to the community it desires to serve. We believe new churches are the best means for Spirit-led followers of Jesus to make disciples of all people groups (Matthew 28:19-20). We believe church planting is the central process of evangelism in the Book of Acts, but also that doing so can spread the Gospel to every people or group, large or small, in every corner of the world. Throughout, the Book of Acts we read narratives of the Gospel being planted in city after city. The book ends abruptly in Acts 28. Our mission with Acts 29 therefore is to carry on the discipleship making, church planting in the culture where God has sovereignly placed us (Acts 17:26-27).

Acts 29 distinguishes itself as a network and not a denomination. What is the difference, what does that look like, and why do you take that approach?
In some ways networks strive to have all of the good aspects of a denomination and limit the negative aspects (there might be a couple negatives, maybe). We align under a common doctrine and a common name but Acts 29 exercises no authority in our member churches and we require no funds directed to the organization.

Additionally, we have no central controlling office. We currently have 11 regional networks that cooperate together for the advancement of the gospel. The central office has a serving, resourcing and unifying aim. We exist to serve the 11 networks to assist their effective regional church planting. We have an IRS required board for our 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. The board serves the regions like elders serve a church: shepherding, encouraging, resourcing, teaching, coaching, training and equipping as well as legal covering.

Our motto is “Churches Planting Churches.” It is not “Networks (or denominations) Planting Churches.” Every local church’s eldership assumes responsibility for their multiplying of men and churches. They direct funds to whomever they determine best expresses this advancement of the gospel in their context. Some Acts 29 churches direct their funds through their denominational affiliation and others choose their funding independently. We support whatever method they choose as long as they are multiplying churches.

How does Acts 29 serve the Global Church?
Nearly everything we do serves the global church. We make all of our teaching about church planting available for free on our website that gets close to 1 million unique visits a year. Our churches take this contagiously generous spirit into the communities they serve. They have free regional training events, make their resources available freely and counsel, coach and consult with individual church planters regularly.

We have an International branch of our network that seeks to identify indigenous pastors around the world who can be catalytic church planting leaders. We resource these men and work with them to teach, train and equip other pastors. We are not recruiting them to be Acts 29. We are exposing them to an understanding of a gospel-centered life, disciple making and ministry. We have a man who works full-time in this endeavor and a team of volunteer planters in the US who oversee this mission.

Many church planters or church planting organizations can fall into a trap of getting caught up in methods, tactics, bottom lines, or programs. How does Acts 29 avoid that?
We are united in the gospel and not in methods. It is a central core value. Our mission is to make disciples of all nations (people groups). We see church planting as an effective means to making disciples. But we can’t dictate how a church planter does that in his unique context and with his unique skills and gifts. Our program, tactic, bottom line and method is the gospel.

How can Acts 29 serve the readers of this web site?
Acts 29 is nothing special but our Savior is. If our message and emphases points people to Jesus as they revel in His grace, love and mercy, we have served the readers well. We pray that we are exalting Jesus as authentic worshippers as well as incarnating Jesus by finding our identity in Him and that we will repent of our idols and experience the fruits of our repentance in our obedient walk with our King Jesus. All of our articles, blogs and media on the Acts 29 website seek to express this aim and help the readers to image the gospel in their lives.

Who are the key leaders within the ministry?
Mark Driscoll, President and Founder; Scott Thomas, Chairman and Director; Darrin Patrick, First Vice President; Jeff Vanderstelt, Second Vice President; Board members: Matt Chandler, Chan Kilgore, Eric Mason and church planting strategist, Tyler Powell. Other regional leaders are Brian Howard, David Fairchild, Russ McKendry, Daniel Montgomery, Tyler Jones and Ed Marcelle.

How many employees does Acts 29 have?
Acts 29 Network does not have any employees. Every person that commits time and energy to Acts 29 is a volunteer. Key leaders are pastors or support staff employed in various churches and they dedicate a portion of their time toward serving the network.

What is Acts 29’s annual budget? How is the ministry financed and how do you ensure financial integrity?
Acts 29 Network has a budget of about $250,000, fifty percent of which goes toward the International mission projects. The balance goes toward an annual retreat, emergency relief for planters, boot camps (conferences) and minor corporation expenses.

The funding comes from voluntary gifts from the member churches and a minimal amount from individuals.

Mars Hill Church provides the financial oversight of the account and ascribes strictly to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). Additionally, the Board of Directors of Acts 29 Network approves the expenditures of this fund.

How do you expect Acts 29 will be different in ten years? Twenty years?
As DA Carson once said, “I’m not a prophet or the son of a prophet, although I work for a non-profit organization,” so I am not sure I can accurately answer that question. However, I am assured that we are still called to make disciples until Jesus comes. I am assured that church planting is not a fad, although the methods are changing in how we multiply churches. I can envision a network of networks totaling 500,000 people in the next ten years. Currently we have 11 geographic networks that align under Acts 29. That number will expand rapidly. Any organization that tries to maintain what they have will become an institution and an institution soon becomes a museum where they talk about the good old days. A museum quickly becomes a crypt for the once living.

A movement is of God. We cannot control a movement anymore than we can control the wind. But we can fly our kites higher in the wind. We will continue to release more line into the wind through influence and we will subsequently have less control of the outcomes. But that’s where faith and mission collide and we are willing to take that risk for the glory of God and the expansion of His Kingdom.

How does Acts 29 work with other Christian ministries?
We regard many ministries as dear friends of ours. As a multidenominational network, we continue to work with many different groups, denominations, networks and churches. In my most recent trip, I preached, consulted or trained people affiliated with independent Baptists, a large Bible Church training center, Assembly of God, ARC, Sovereign Grace, British house church movement, Presbyterian Church of Ireland, Free Church of Scotland and one group that I am not sure whom they are affiliated even after I asked.

Our focus is on church planting, however and we do not want to get involved in a multitude of ministries that draw us away from that mission. So we do what we can, but our primary focus is on ministries that pertain to church planting and the training of pastors as they seek to multiply their churches.

What are some of the ways Acts 29 has seen evidence of God’s hand of blessing?
God has chosen to bless us in spite of ourselves. We have unmerited influence all across the world. It is very humbling. Opportunities are granted to us because people are watching what is happening through the great group of pastors and churches affiliated with Acts 29. We have almost 500 men in the application phase currently who want to align with us. Our only subject is Jesus, our only mode is the gospel and our only focus is the mission of Jesus to make disciples. The fact that we have almost 300 strong, dominant, take charge pastors who work together as Acts 29 is a testament to the gospel’s power to unite together for the glory of God. That’s grace at work!

Speaking personally, how has working closely with Mark Driscoll impacted you as a person?
I just told Mark today in an email that I loved working with him and he expressed that he loved working with me too. I know it sounds too emo for Acts 29, but we have mutual respect. He is my pastor and I am honored to serve alongside him. I serve with him on the executive leadership team—five elders who oversee the mission and vision of Mars Hill Church. As a team, we wrestle with big problems and big ideas and we have varied opinions, but we work in harmony with each other by deferring to the person who is most experienced or skilled in a certain situation to lead toward the best solution or strategy. I have never experienced a harsh word with Mark and we work well together acknowledging that neither of us deserve the blessings we are experiencing through Mars Hill Church and Acts 29.

Additionally, I have been blessed by Mark’s passion for the unchurched. I thought I had great passion for the lost. But Mark thinks about the unsaved person constantly and how best to communicate and preach Jesus particularly to the dechurched young male who has no interest in Christianity.

Finally, I am blessed most of all by Mark’s commitment to his family. It is obvious from being in his home that he loves his five children devotedly and he loves his wife sacrificially. I listen to Mark, not because he is a great preacher, but because he is a great Dad and husband.

How can the readers of this web site serve and support Acts 29?
Pray for us. Pray that our leaders can structure our growing organization to serve the regional networks by equipping, resourcing and strategizing the expansion of the gospel through church plant multiplication. Pray secondly that our churches can provide financial assistance to our planters that are suffering due to the economy. We are establishing an emergency relief fund to help these young churches to survive some economic downturn in their individual churches.

October 07, 2009

Last week I began an interview series I am calling “Meet the Ministries.” This is an opportunity for us to meet some of the Christian ministries available to serve us. The first interview featured Grace to You. This week I’m glad to share an interview with Matt Perman, Director of Strategy for Desiring God.

How and when did Desiring God begin?
Desiring God as an organization began in 1994. An elderly couple had been in charge of the weekly sermon tape ministry since John Piper began preaching in 1980. But in 1994, they suddenly decided to retire. So John Piper went to his ministry assistant at the time, Jon Bloom, and said “I’d like you to take over the tape ministry.”

As Jon Bloom gave this some thought, it stood out to him that more and more people were contacting the church requesting John Piper’s books, sermon tapes, articles, and other resources. These requests were all being handled by different staff members.

So after a few days of praying and pondering these things, he went to John Piper and suggested that they create a coordinated, proactive strategy for using resources to spread the vision of God that so many of us have come to love through John’s preaching and writing.

John Piper said, “That’s a great idea! We could call it Desiring God Ministries.” The name of the ministry comes from John’s foundational 1986 book Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, which basically articulates the core concepts that we are about.

Jon Bloom became the first person on staff and things continued to develop from there. Jon remains the executive director today. He is the best at telling this story, and was recently interviewed by Tim Smith of Mars Hill church in Seattle on how DG started.

Why does DG exist? What are its chief goals and key emphases?
Desiring God exists to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ. That’s our mission and reason for being.

We believe that God is supreme in everything. Further, his supremacy is most clearly seen not simply when we know truth about him, but when we also delight in Him. The things of God are very great; but this greatness is not reflected if we remain neutral about God or carry on as if nothing is different.

For example, if I bring my wife flowers on our anniversary and say “no big deal, Heidi, it’s my duty,” she is not honored. But she is honored if I say to her, “I love being married and I’m so glad it’s our anniversary.”

Likewise, when we rejoice in and treasure God - rather than remain neutral or devoid of any emotional response - He is honored. He is shown to be great (which is the purpose of life, by the way) and worthy of praise.

Here’s how we put it: God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.

It follows from this that joy is not simply icing on the cake. Rather, we ought to seek joy. We ought to seek joy. This is what the Scriptures command (Psalm 37:4; Matthew 6:21; Philippians 4:4; Psalm 97:12) and model (Philippians 3:8; Psalm 43:4; Hebrews 12:2). Yet so often the idea has crept into the church that somehow it is bad to want to be happy. That desiring to be happy is sinful.

But the problem with the human race is not that we want to be happy. The problem is that we seek happiness in the wrong things-in things outside of God (see, for example, Jeremiah 2:13). And the great irony here is that this results in less satisfaction.

It results in less satisfaction because those things ultimately cannot satisfy. The idea is often out there that the most exciting life and the greatest happiness comes from following the values of the world—either for outright sin or domesticated comfort—and that if you become a Christian you must give up the desire to be happy and perhaps even settle for a boring life.

But this is exactly backwards. The greatest satisfaction is in God, not outside of God. When we aim for the joy that the world offers, we are settling for less, not more. C.S. Lewis put it this way: “The problem is not that our desires are too strong , but too weak.” Then he continues: “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in the sand because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.”

So Desiring God is here to say: The desire to be happy is good, not sinful. That is not your problem. But stop seeking your satisfaction in temporary, fleeting pleasures that have no value. Seek real and ultimate satisfaction. Pursue your joy in God, who is supreme in all things and the only lasting source of joy.

One last thing here: This message is not contrary to the also very biblical emphasis that a life of radical service for God and others often involves suffering, and that “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Instead, this truth is precisely what enables us to bear up under suffering.

We are able to endure suffering and in fact “rejoice in our suffering” (Romans 5:3) because our joy and hope are in God, not the world. So even when everything goes wrong, we can be like the saints in Hebrews who joyfully endured their trials because they knew that they “had a better possession and an abiding one” (Hebrews 10:34) or like Moses who “considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward” (Hebrews 11:26).

The message of Christian hedonism is not a chipper happiness, but a deep-seated joy in God that therefore enables us to engage in radical deeds of love and to truly grieve over the brokenness in the world. We are “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10).

How can DG serve the readers of this web site?
I love this question because it gets at a few more of our dominant emphases as a ministry.

We have made all 29 years of John Piper’s sermons, conference messages, articles, and even books (except when a publisher wouldn’t let us) available on our website for free and without registration.

We did this because it is one of the most effective ways that we know how to fulfill our mission to spread a passion for the supremacy of God by helping people fan the flame of their joy in God.

So I would say to your readers: Our website is at your service. Everything is there and everything is free because our aim is not to make money, but to help you find your joy in God.

So read, listen, and watch the resources whenever, wherever, and however you want to help fuel your joy in God. If you are interested in some specific ones that you might want to start with, here are a few that I would recommend:

You may also be interested in subscribing to our blog. And if there is a product that you want to buy but which you don’t have the funds for, please make use of our whatever-you-can-afford policy.

Why do you post everything online for free?
When you asked about how Desiring God could serve the readers of this site, I pointed to our website. So it makes sense for me to talk a little bit more about why we post everything for free and how this relates to our view of serving.

The call to be God-centered entails a call to serve others before yourself. The two greatest commandments are to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:34-40). Jesus said that he came “not to be served, but to serve” (Matthew 20:28). And Paul said “let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 4:4) and pointed to Jesus as an example (4:5ff).

It can be easy to think that this applies only to us as individuals—that individuals should put others first, but organizations are different. They should focus on survival.

But that’s not how we think. We want to follow the example of Christ organizationally as well as individually. We want the grace and mercy of Christ to be reflected as fully as possibly in what we say and in what we do.

So Desiring God is here first of all to serve. Survival is not our first priority. We do not exist to exist. We exist to be of use to others in the building up of their faith. And so we will do this even at cost to ourselves.

This is why one of our core principles that we don’t want money to be a hindrance to people. To help keep money from being an obstacle, we’ve had a “whatever-you-can-afford” policy from the start, and that’s why when we got to the point where we were able to post all of John Piper’s sermon audio online, we posted it all for free.

We don’t believe that this is the only way to do things. But for us, this is the best way that we know how to demonstrate the gospel in what we do, in addition to what we say.

A corollary of these things is that we aim to reduce all obstacles—that is, all friction—to spreading, not just the monetary ones. By doing this, more people can access the resources and spread them more effectively.

Consequently, our vision when it comes to the internet is that we post everything online, for free, without requiring registration, in a maximally usable interface.

Each of these four things goes to the issue of removing all possible friction that might slow down or hinder the process of spreading. If you don’t put everything online, but only some things, there are helpful resources that people won’t be able to access at all. If you make people have to pay to access material online, you introduce friction into the process and slow down spreading.

And if you wall up your content behind a registration gate, you similarly introduce friction into the process and many people will just move on to something else rather than deal with the hassle of registration.

Another source of friction that is not as obvious, however, is a hard-to-use website. If a website is hard to use, people will have a much more difficult time finding the resources that will be most useful to them. They will waste time and energy trying to figure out how to use the site rather than being able to focus completely on the content itself.

So when we undertook our major website redesign a few years ago, we made usability the core, governing philosophy of the redesign. We re-architected the site from the ground up on the basis of principles of usability so that the site would hopefully be as easy to use as possible and, consequently, introduce as little friction as possible into the process of accessing resources.

Our aim behind all of these things is to remove all friction to accessing our content because we believe that is the right thing to do, we believe it best reflects the gospel for us, and we believe it best serves people.

Who are the key leaders within the ministry?
Other than John Piper and the board of directors that oversees the ministry, some of the key leaders in the ministry are: Jon Bloom, executive director; John Knight, director of development; Terry Kurschner , director of finance; Matt Perman, director of strategy; Scott Anderson, director for networks & partnerships; Lukas Naugle, director of resource productions; and Eric Johnson, director of marketing and internet.

How many employees does DG have?
We have 38 employees plus about 50 regular volunteers.

What is DG’s annual budget? How is the ministry financed and how do you ensure financial integrity?
Our annual budget is currently $5.5 million. About half of our budget is financed through donations. The rest of our budget is financed through resource sales, conferences, and the bookstore that we run at conferences and at the church. Also, John Piper donates all of his book royalties to the ministry and takes no salary from Desiring God.

In regard to the donation side of things: Our donations largely come from what we call “an army of small donors” rather than a few large donors.

Some of these donors have chosen to be a part of what we call the “Philippian Fellowship.” Basically, this is a group of about 2,100 friends of the ministry who have committed to faithful pray and/or give financially to the ministry. Members of the Philippian Fellowship receive weekly prayer requests and other information as well.

The ministry of Desiring God would not be possible without our donors. When I say that our aim is to serve, not be served, I don’t mean that we have the misguided notion that we can do this by ourselves. I mean that we are not in this for what we can get out of it. And that our desire in all that we do is to see people benefit, not increase donations. But we do need donations in order to continue. Those who share the vision of what we do are critical partners in the ministry. And I think that one of the things that they value about Desiring God is that we are not about money.

We ensure financial integrity through several means. The independent consulting audit firm, Larson Allen, currently advises us on internal controls and conducts our annual audit. We are members of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. And our director of finance, Terry Kurschner, is a man of incredible integrity and detail whom we are blessed to have over our finances.

How do you expect DG will be different in ten years? Twenty years?
It is really hard to say on this, because we couldn’t have even seen where we would be today back ten years prior. And the pace of change in the external environment has only increased. So we have a few principles that guide us in the way we go about discovering the future which I will share.

First, our mission and values govern everything that we do. Along with our affirmation of faith, they constitute our “core.” The core provides the constant that you need to successfully navigate change and to develop in a way that is effective and remains in alignment with your DNA.

Having a core is critical to remaining adaptable and flexible. In fact, as Jim Collins has argued, the fundamental dynamic of any organization that is effective over time is the concept of preserve the core and stimulate progress—and to create mechanisms that weave this dynamic into the fabric of the organization.

This principle doesn’t tell us how things will change, but gives us something more important: an understanding of how to move forward into a future that is radically changing for all types of organizations. Critical to DG in all stages will always be our mission to spread.

Second, DG develops more like a story than a blueprint. We didn’t know or plan—indeed, couldn’t have known or planned—what things would be like today when we started 15 years ago. So our approach is not to blueprint out a future that we cannot control anyway. The result would be a lot of frustration, dead ends, and wasted time.

Instead, one of the key ways to progress in the midst of ambiguity is through incremental progress. That is, through a few tangible mechanisms that drive progress while acknowledging that we are very limited in what we can know about the needs and context of the future environment.

One of those mechanisms—which arose naturally at DG from the very start—is the principle of “try a lot of stuff and keep what works.” You don’t know what will always be best in advance, so you try a lot of things. The things that work, you keep and build on. And by that means, the organization develops and advances incrementally according to what it is good at and what is needed.

This is one of the fundamental ways to “build on strengths,” which Peter Drucker rightly said all organizations must do. And it allows you to adapt intelligently to the future, without having to think you can predict it.

Third, and closely related to this, are the talents and strengths of our people. We believe that people are most effective for an organization when you put them in positions where they can play to their strengths.

Your strengths are what you are good at, what you love doing, and which align with the goals of the organization. As people focus on their strengths, new capabilities and initiatives develop, and these are the lines along which Desiring God has largely grown over the last 15 years.

Fourth, the concept of evolutionary progress, like a story, is best complemented by a twin principle of discontinuous and intentional progress. A good example here is that of setting a big, clear, compelling, and even audaciously large goal that focus the organization on accomplishing a certain major task over the long-term. Jim Collins calls these “BHAGs” in his very helpful book Built to Last.

Having a big goal like this aligns the organization and creates unity and collaboration, and a sense of excitement. It also gives concrete intentionality to the future of the organization.

At the same time, like the concept of evolutionary progress, BHAGs reflect the fact the future cannot be largely known or controlled by us. A BHAG does not attempt to script out or blueprint your future in detail.

Rather, a BHAG defines the broad strokes, and evolutionary progress fills in the rest of the details. In this way, you combine intentionality with flexibility, charting a course without defining everything in advance, and thus remaining adaptable to an uncertain future environment.

I think that this also best reflects the fact that God is sovereign over the future, not us, while also upholding the fact that we are indeed to be intentional and make plans (Proverbs 16:9).

I don’t want to belabor this point, but Collins has a great statement in Built to Last on how Jack Welch utilized this combination of intentionality with organic growth at GE:

Instead of directing a business according to a detailed … strategic plan, Welch believed in setting only a few clear, overarching goals. Then, on an ad hoc basis, his people were free to seize any opportunities they saw to further those goals. This crystallized in his mind after reading Johannes von Moltke, a nineteenth century Prussian general influenced by the renowned military theorist Karl von Clausewitz, who argued that detailed plans usually fail, because circumstances inevitably change.

I think that is very helpful, and biblical.

We came to an understanding of our 5- to 10- year BHAG a few years ago, which we’ve expressed in a one-page document that we call our “vision statement.” Here’s our current BHAG:

We want to see millions of people around the world more accurately understand the Bible and increase in their love for Jesus Christ by reading, listening to, and watching our resources at the times and locations that are most helpful to them, and eagerly sharing these resources with others.

In pursuit of this vision we will, joyfully and by God’s grace, develop an integrated global distribution network that makes our resources accessible at any time, at the lowest strategic cost, in the most effective formats, to the most effective spreaders.

We can do better at communicating this constantly among the staff here, and I’m working at mechanisms for doing that right now as we speak.

But wherever we end up in ten or twenty years, it will likely be somewhere along the lines of the aim we have expressed in this BHAG, plus whatever comes about as a result of the evolutionary progression of the Desiring God story and allowing our staff to work within their strengths.

And all of the progress, growth, and development that happens will be in alignment with, not contrary to, our core. We will preserve the core and stimulate progress.

How does DG work with other Christian ministries?
We want to see every sound ministry be as effective as possible. We see ourselves as one small piece of a much larger picture of what God is doing. And we want to see the entirety of God’s kingdom flourish and advance. So we are eager to do whatever we can to serve the wider picture of God’s work in the world.

To get to specifics here, there are a few things. First, it really stands out to me that there is at present a truly remarkable spirit of camaraderie among gospel-centered ministries. Part of this is reflected in the extent to which we are all able to learn from one another and mutually encourage one another. This is largely informal, but it is very significant and, I think, very beneficial.

Second, one of the most significant ways in which we work with other Christian ministries comes through John Piper’s speaking. He invites other pastors, theologians, and ministry leaders to speak at our conferences, and he is often invited to speak at theirs. We have especially significant interaction with the T4G and Gospel Coalition affiliated ministries.

Third, we seek to partner strategically with churches. Our regional conferences, which we hold in various parts of the country once or twice a year, are an example of this. They provide an opportunity to partner with a church or network of churches to carry out the conference and equip people in the church and wider area with resources.

We also partner with churches for large-scale give-aways. Every year, for example, we do a case lot special in which we make a certain book available for about a dollar per book. Churches can purchase these books in case quantities at that rate for the purpose of distributing large numbers of books.

Fourth, we partner with churches and ministries as the opportunity arises for collaborative projects that are strategic for the mission and promoting resources. This is sort of a new area that is developing.

Fifth, our growing international outreach division is entirely based upon the premise of partnerships. Our international outreach director, Bill Walsh, looked at the task of helping equip pastors and leaders in the developing world with much-needed resources, and said “if we take a top-down, centralized approach to this task, we will be able to do almost nothing.”

A centralized approach where we, for example, set up offices in different countries and seek to distribute resources would never scale. So the approach we are taking to international outreach is to identify partnerships globally of ministries and churches and individuals that we can equip to do the work of spreading internationally. This is a core philosophy of our international approach.

The last point to make here is that partnerships with other ministries and churches is more and more becoming a major priority for us. It is something that we are pursuing with increasing intentionality and which we see developing in an even more significant way over the next few months and years.

What are some of the ways DG has seen evidence of God’s hand of blessing?
Now this is a tough question, Tim, because the last thing that I want to do is say “hey everyone, look at how God is using us!” We realize that we are quite small, that the office supply budget of a company like Apple is probably larger than our entire annual budget, and that we are imperfect and flawed. But, I see your point and will try to say a few things.

First off, we are grateful for anything and everything that the Lord is doing through our very imperfect efforts. Any good that does come through the ministry of Desiring God is simply grace.

Second, we are amazed at the remarkable people that God has brought on staff at Desiring God. This is a very substantial blessing that may not be the first thing that comes to mind when someone asks how God has blessed the work of the ministry, but it is absolutely critical. We do not take for granted that without the quality and spirituality of the people that we have, we could not do what we do.

Third, he has blessed us with an incredible team of supporters-people who hold the rope for us in prayer or financial giving or both. People are praying for us. And our financial support has been better than expected through these challenging economic times.

Fourth, we see evidence of God’s blessing in the resource spreading that has been happening. The growth over the last four years or so has been especially surprising. At present on our website, we receive about 1 million visits per month and 3 million page views per month. There are about 18 million audio and video streams and downloads per year and 225,000 online product orders per year. There are about 23,000 subscribers on the blog.

Off-line, John Piper has authored more than 40 books, with over 6 million books sold in the United States. There are 226 translated books into 26 languages other than English.

We know that numbers do not automatically equate with the blessing of God, and that numbers are not the most important component of God’s blessing. But that does give a picture of the spreading that God has brought about so far, and for which we are very grateful.

Last of all, and most significant, are the testimonies that people send us. That’s how we really know if we are having an impact. We are blessed and amazed at the stories that come our way from people each day.

Speaking personally, how has working closely with John Piper impacted you as a person?
In more ways than I can count. First of all, John Piper has taught me more about God than anyone else. He has profoundly affected my worldview, which in turn affects everything else.

Second, I learned from John Piper that we should “expect great things from God; attempt great things for God” (William Carey). His emphasis that risk is right and that we should dream dreams for the kingdom rather than coast through life is a constant spur to action for me.

Third, I spoke earlier about how one of the convictions we have is that we are here first to serve, not be served. And that this has ramifications in all sorts of ways and had an impact even on the way we thought about the website when it came time to do the major redesign. This mindset is one of the biggest things I’ve learned from John Piper, and I don’t even think he knows that he models this.

Over the years, often in casual conversation, I started noticing a recurring emphasis. When we’d talk about the website, for example, he would talk about making it easy to use for people - long before I had done any research or reading on the subject, or even knew that there was a body of literature on that (and I don’t think he knew that at the time, either). He would talk about how the importance of anticipating people’s needs and being generally thoughtful. How we shouldn’t wait for there to be a problem to see what we should address; we should think ahead about what people will need and make it right to begin with.

As I mentioned, I don’t think he was trying to teach anything in these comments; he was just describing the way he thought about things. But it would come up in a noticeably frequent way when we would talk about things like the website and such.

I kind of “caught” from this the general principle that trying to anticipate people’s needs and be thoughtful about them is an implication of Christian service and love. If we love God and therefore love others, we will seek to do good for them and serve them - and we will seek to be proactive in doing so.

This has influenced the way I thought about everything—the website (make it usable), our resources (make them free), management (think of serving your employees and the world first, not surviving), the Christian life in general (we are to be consistently and remarkably doing proactive works of good for others and the world), and more.

Everything boils down to: Christians are here to do good for others, to the glory of God. We aren’t here to build up our own comforts, but to expend ourselves in radical deeds of love. This is because God is good, God seeks our welfare, and God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him - and therefore we can risk and let go of comforts here because God is our satisfaction and strength, not the things of this world.

John Piper teaches this explicitly and there are some incredible sermons on these things, but it is the impact of working with John personally that most forcefully and significantly taught me this mindset and gave me this desire. I certainly have a long way to go, but this is how I think and what I aspire to be as much as God will enable.

How can the readers of this web site serve and support DG?
Thanks for asking, Tim. While the most important thing to us is simply that people come to see God for who he is, we absolutely need and cherish the involvement of everyone that feels called to be a part of what we are doing.

There are three main things the readers of this site can do to serve and support DG: Pray, pass the word, and give. In that order.

So if you can only do one thing, pray. If you can do two things, also pass the word. If you can do three things, consider giving and maybe becoming a part of our Philippian Fellowship.

Here’s how you can pray: Pray for John Piper’s speaking and writing; pray for the website and that God would use it to build up his people in joy and faith; pray for wisdom and effectiveness for our growing international outreach department; pray for our staff; pray that we would be faithful to God’s word; pray for our continued efforts in spreading that as many as possible would see the truth that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.

If you want to spread the word, here are some resources that you might be most interested in pointing people to:

September 30, 2009

Last week I reviewed Bill Farley’s new book Gospel-Powered Parenting. I recommended it highly, saying it had “just the right combination of affirmation (your struggles are universal struggles, your joys are universal joys) and exhortation to both encourage and challenge me in all the right ways.” After I reviewed it, I found there were a few things I wanted to ask the author. I went ahead and asked if he would be willing to do a brief interview about the book and he was kind enough to do so. I trust you’ll enjoy his answers as I did.

1. Why the gospel? Why is the gospel the key to empowering parenting? What is the connection between the words “gospel” and “powered?”
Paul tells us that “the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16). We hear this verse and think the pulpit or witnessing, but parents should hear this and think family devotions. Parents convinced that God’s power is latent in the gospel center their families around the gospel. They are convinced that it provokes new birth, that it will knit their children’s hearts to God, and motivate godly behavior. Our children receive the “imperishable seed” of new birth through the message of the gospel (1 Pet. 1:23). Often parents don’t center their parenting in the gospel because either they don’t really understand the gospel, or they don’t believe that God’s power is latent in the gospel.

The gospel also protects parents from “moralism,” the idea that well-behaved children are the main thing. New Birth is the main thing. The morality of Christ imputed to your children is the main thing. It is not what our children do for Christ but what Christ has done for our children that is the main thing. Ironically, without aiming at it, gospel centered parents get godly behavior from their children.

In addition, the fear of God is the key to attracting God’s favor upon our parenting. Many think that the fear of God is an Old Testament concept. But the main place we get the fear of God is at the cross of Christ—the heart of the gospel.

2. Today we are hearing the word “gospel” everywhere (at least, those of us within a certain subset of the Christian world). Do you think there’s a danger that it could become cliche? Could gospel begin to lose its meaning when it’s applied to everything?
When the gospel becomes “cliché” Christianity has become irrelevant. The center has been displaced. That is because the gospel is the main thing. It is the center of the Bible. The Old Testament predicts it. The gospels recount it, and the epistles look back to explain and apply it. I think the recent surge of Gospel-centeredness is really just a resurgence of biblical Christianity.

This may sound strange to many Christians. To many the gospel is “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” But the gospel is deep. It is a well with no bottom. The more we understand it the less apt we are to stray from it. It starts by assuming the bad news. We are in trouble. Our default condition is Hell. God owes us nothing but justice. We are all running pell mell toward damnation. We cannot solve this problem by being good. We are in profound trouble.

The gospel is the “good news” that solves this problem. It reconciles enemies—God and man—and makes them friends. It opens the gate of Heaven to all who believe. It infuses Christians with an indomitable hope. It motivates love, grace, and forgiveness.

In my view, this new Gospel-centeredness is a profound deepening of the faith. It is what really matters. I believe there will be tremendous long-term fruit from the recovery of this emphasis.

Those who understand the gospel never get tired of hearing it. I watched my son preach on penal substitution last Sunday, and even though I covered the same ground ten weeks ago, the congregation was transfixed. Despite the fact that this message is the ABC of the gospel, my congregation would listen to it every week and keep coming back for more. What I am trying to say is that the gospel is not something we start with so that we can pass on to the deeper truths. It is the deeper truth.

The thesis of my previous book, Outrageous Mercy, is that the gospel teaches us everything we need to know about God, man, eternity, Hell, Heaven, how to get into Heaven, what God loves, and what he hates. In addition, it teaches us everything we need to know about how to live. If all of this is true, it must also teach us about parenting. The point of Gospel Powered Parenting is that it does.

3. We want to affirm, of course, that it is well within the rights of any Christian parents to homeschool their children. We want to affirm that this is often a wise decision for parents. Yet in Gospel-Powered Parenting you explicitly mention that your five children, all of whom are believers, went to public schools and state colleges. You emphasize the importance of an offensive mind-set. Do you find that, at least for some Christian parents, homeschooling is really just one aspect of a larger defensive mind-set?
Many things motivate home-schooling—a desire for a better education, the longing to mingle the gospel with academic subjects, the desire to cast our children in a biblical mold, and a longing to protect them from evil influence. What I am saying is that if protection is the main thing, or the only thing, we might be in trouble.

Let me be clear. I am all for home-schooling and/or private Christian education. Although my children all graduated from public High School, my two oldest daughters went to a private Christian school for several years, and we home-schooled my youngest during his Junior High years. None of my fourteen grandchildren are in public education today. My oldest daughter taught in a classical Christian school for twelve years. I am not against home-schooling: I am against a fear-oriented, defensive mindset. Home schooling does not necessarily presume this mentality.

4. What are the potential dangers in this?
The potential dangers are primarily reactionary. You could take this idea to an extreme and fail to protect children when you should. That would not be helpful. I am not saying that you shouldn’t protect your children from some influences. I am just saying that “protection” should never be our primary strategy. Isolating them from worldly influence by itself is seldom productive.

5. What does an offensive mind-set look like in parenting?
An offensive mindset targets the child’s heart not the child’s external environment (friends, music, school, etc.). In order to reach their child’s heart effective parents focus on their relationship with the child. Rather than fearing the world’s negative influence, they focus on the gospel’s power to influence their child. This parent worries more about their example to their child rather than the world’s example. This parent waits patiently for New Birth rather than assuming it because a child was baptized, or made a confession of faith at a summer camp.

6. Why is it such a temptation to try to control, or over-control, our children’s’ environment? Why do parents need to guard against this?
I think it is a temptation because our default condition is independence from God. We think our influence is the deciding factor in our child’s character development. It isn’t. Ultimately, the influence of God trumps all of our efforts. God gives New Birth. We can’t give it to our children. Our children can’t take it. It is God’s gracious gift (Mt 13:11, Mt 16:17, Luke 19:42; 24:16, 24:31, 24:45; Jn 1:12,13; Jn 5:21; Jn 9:39; Jn 6:39, Rm 9:10-24; Eph 1:1-6; 1Pe 2:9). Therefore, and this is crucial, pleasing God is the most important thing a parent can do to move God to regenerate their child. This means that effective parents are God-centered not child-centered. Their focus is always on God, not their children. Fearing God is one crucial way that parents can please God. We learn this fear at the cross. That is why I call it gospel powered parenting.

7. Do you feel that some Christian parents allow fear to be a motivating factor in the education of their children?
Yes, this is sometimes true. I am a pastor. I have watched parents try to protect their children into God’s kingdom. Fear of worldly influence is often their motive. Sometimes they are home-schooling families, but not always. When a parent thinks “protecting” their child from the outside world is the main thing, they are saying something. They are saying that Christianity equals “moralism,” (pleasing God through outward behavior), that obedient children are the main thing, that the child’s problem is “out there” rather than within his own fallen nature. Sometimes they assume that their child is basically good. Negative influence will corrupt that goodness. Therefore, protecting their child will enable that goodness to flourish. This mentality also assumes that New Birth has little power to equip a child to conquer temptation.

8. How can a parent guard against moralism? Isn’t there huge temptation, perhaps especially when we are within view of other Christians, to judge parenting by the outward shows of immediate obedience and other potentially-moralistic standards?
Moralism is the assumption that we make ourselves acceptable to God with good behavior. It is the deadly enemy of Christianity. It is the one thing that all non-Christian religions share in common, and the rejection of moralism is one crucial doctrine that sets Christianity apart. The Bible says God accepts us because we believe, not because we perform.

Moral behavior is important, however it is not the ultimate goal of parenting. New Birth is the final goal. Morality matters because it glorifies God. Our children will never be moral in a pleasing way to God until their hearts are changed through the miracle of New Birth, and even then, their morality will never makes them ultimately acceptable to God.

So, to answer you question, the only way to guard against moralism is to understand the nature of New Birth, to understand justification by faith alone, and to aim all of your parenting efforts at these targets. Parents that center their families around the gospel tend to get these results.

9. Why did you and your wife make decisions about educating your children?
Our children were in public schools during the years 1980 to 2000. We put them in public school because of the convictions mentioned above. There was a Christian sub-culture at their High School. They made their friends there. Generally, they prospered spiritually.

However, I must make some caveats. First, public education has degenerated since our kids were in school. We might do differently today. Second, we made some mistakes. We were not flexible enough. Some of our children easily withstood peer pressure. Others struggled. Looking back, we probably should have put the children that struggled in private school or home-schooled them. In short, I am not making any rules about where your children should be educated. The Bible takes a different tack. It stresses the role of the father, the importance of parental example, and the fear of God taught by the gospel.

10. How will you know if this book has been a success? What do you hope for it?
I will not know if this book has been successful until I am with God in eternity. I will feel successful if I meet saints who came to New Birth because their parents read this book and changed their approach to parenting.