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.