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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.

January 07, 2009
On Our Watch
Ray Ortlund has six valuable suggestions on how to combat the shocking biblical illiteracy that exists in the church today.
God’s Problem
This is a thoroughly enjoyable review of Bart Ehrman’s book God’s Problem written by William Willimon.
Updates @ DR
Yesterday we added quite a few new reviews to Discerning Reader (as we do most Tuesdays). Why not check in to see if there is something there that interests you?
Atheists Play Their Hand: Probability
Dr. Mohler covers the bizarre and completely non-threatening advertising campaign by British atheists—placing billboards on buses saying “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” Mohler: “I must admit that I find the British campaign nearly humorous. In any event, it is certainly not threatening to the Christian message. No one is really likely to be converted to atheism by seeing a sign on a bus — and almost certainly not by a sign that declared that “there’s probably no God.” Probably?”
The Best of Boundless Webzine
Boundless gives a roundup of their most popular articles in 2008. There are some good ones there if you care to take the time to look through them.
Deal of the Day: Sponsor a Child, Get a Gift Certificate
I almost feel bad linking to this as the deal somehow just seems wrong. But here it is. “If you sponsor a child online today and make your first month’s payment by credit or debit card, you’ll receive a $25 gift card for Christianbook.com.” So if you’ve been considering sponsoring a child through Compassion, this is as good a time as any to begin!
January 06, 2009
Why Are there Never Enough Parking Spaces at the Prostate Clinic?
Carl Trueman offers more than a great (and original) title in this article about the Christian obsession with culture. “Plenty of talk about Christian approaches to art, music, literature, sex, even international politics. All very interesting subjects, I’m sure, and the topics of many a chardonnay-fuelled discussion after a hearty dinner party. But what about subjects that aren’t quite so interesting? Take street sweepers, for example; or hotel lavatory attendants; or workers on an umbrella manufacturing line. Why no conference on the Christian philosophy underlying these vital callings and trades?”
Mohler on Carson
Some valuable advice from Dr. Mohler: “Here is a simple rule to keep in mind: When D. A. Carson writes a book, buy it.”
Calvin on Knowing the Truth
Kevin Boling’s “Knowing the Truth” radio program will be featuring many Calvin experts in the coming days. Check the site for a schedule.
Calvin Audio Links
Martin Downes is collecting calvin-related audio links for those interested in hearing instead of reading about him.
Blake Hicks
Blake Hicks has an album (available on Noisetrade) called Songs of a Pious Heart. It is a tribute to Augustine’s confessions. You can read a review of it here.
February 20, 2008

How do you solve a problem like Mark Driscoll? Is he a darling, a demon, a lamb? He’d out pester any pest; drive a hornet from it’s nest. He could throw a whirling dervish out of whirl. He is gentle; he is wild. He’s a riddle; he’s a child. He’s a headache. He’s an angel. He’s a…

Never mind. Forgive me for the introduction. Just a couple of days ago my mother-in-law and I were discussing The Sound of Music and somehow this came to mind. I post it with apologies to Maria Julie Andrews. May she sing forever.

Yesterday I posted a review of Mark Driscoll’s new book, Vintage Jesus. Were I to summarize the review I’d say that I was “hesitantly positive” towards it. I liked 99.9% of it but was troubled by a couple of mis-steps that I judged to be quite serious. These involved Driscoll’s use of phrases that I’d consider inappropriate. If you’d like to know more, you can read the review.

The review generated quite a reaction. The post quickly generated almost 70 comments before I realized the discussion was really not progressing and I opted to close it down. I was not surprised at the reaction. Love him or hate him, everyone has an opinion about Mark Driscoll. As has been proven when I’ve written about his other books, writing reviews is a lose-lose proposition. Some will react with anger that I even saw fit to mention the phrases that troubled me while others will react with disgust that, despite those things, I did not condemn the book and its author. Of course there were many who appreciated and I received some kind emails from people, many of whom known and love Driscoll, thanking me for taking a balanced approach. I hope the review communicated both my respect for him and this book and my hesitance based on his occasional use of rough language.

So how are we to think about Mark Driscoll? I’ve had to work through this in my mind and I thought I’d share just a few of the things that have rattled around my brain in the past years, weeks, months, days. I do this not to convince you but rather to explain why I could dislike certain references within Driscoll’s work, and yet not allow that to form the basis of a blanket condemnation of the book, the man, and his ministry. Maybe (and hopefully) this will explain to you why I reviewed the book as I did.

He’s a Real Guy

Not too long after I started blogging, I wrote a review that, in retrospect, may have been too harsh and perhaps even unfair (you may know of the author but have probably not read the book). As I read through that review today, I sometimes feel a twinge of conscience. Other times I feel that it was a legitimate criticism. In either case, several months after writing the review I had the opportunity to meet the author and was rather surprised to see that he was a real man. He wasn’t some cleverly programmed computer who just happened to write a book, but a real guy with a wife and kids and friends and family. Somehow that hadn’t occurred to me. It came as a shock and I believe it changed the way I review books and the way I address other people on this site.

Mark Driscoll may have a larger-than-life personality, but he is still a real guy who not only offends others but is no doubt offended by them. I’m sure his bravado on the stage is matched by times of sober reflection in private. We need to be certain that in our critiques we do not say things that we’d never say to him face-to-face and that we do not treat him as a guy that, since he is so remote from us, is somehow less human than we are. It’s an obvious point, I know, but in this depersonalized online world it’s worth reminding ourselves of it quite often.

This should go without saying, but I think it is sometimes easy to forget that people with big personalities are still people. Driscoll is a guy who, at the end of the day, goes home to a family not too different than yours or mine. He has children who love and and a wife, who, if she’s anything like mine, probably takes criticism of him harder than he does. He’s a real guy. Maybe he even cries at the end of chick flicks. Probably not. But he’s still a real guy.

Major on the Majors

Last weekend I had the privilege of spending a fair bit of time with D.A. Carson and he said something about Driscoll that I found interesting and meaningful. Because he has said this to others, I don’t think I’m violating any kind of trust in mentioning it. There is no doubt that people have had difficulty knowing what to do with Driscoll and knowing how to think about him. But Carson said he finds it helpful to look not just at where Driscoll is, but at the trajectory he is on. I took that to mean that if we look at where he has come from and then plot a course by where he is now, we’ll see that he is growing and maturing as a Christian and that he is continually emphasizing better and more biblical theology. We are all works in progress. This is not to say that we should hope that Mark Driscoll grows up to become John MacArthur or R.C. Sproul. Rather, it simply means that it is sometimes wise to look at the wider picture.

When we look to that wider picture we see that Driscoll clearly believes in and teaches the gospel. He has proven that he has a very good grasp on Christian doctrine and that he is no theological light-weight. He has proven that he’s unashamed to preach the gospel in contexts adamantly opposed to it. Thus any of our criticisms of him are dealing with, at best, secondary matters. This is an important matter of perspective.

By Their Fruit…

Matthew 7:16 is a well-known passage and one that is important to this kind of discussion. In a passage dealing with false prophets (a title many are willing to assign to Driscoll) Jesus says, “You will recognize them by their fruits.” And when we look at Driscoll’s ministry, there is no doubt that it is bearing fruit. While I have not traveled to Mars Hill and have not spent a lot of time in Acts 29 churches, I’ve spoken to many people who have. And it seems beyond dispute that the church and the movement are seeing a huge number of genuine, gospel conversions. These are not people who are coming forward at a crusade and later returning home and wondering just what they’ve done, but people who are seeing their hearts and their lives transformed by the gospel. There are multitudes being saved among the most difficult-to-reach demographic in the most difficult cultural settings in America. They are not being saved to a gospel of easy-believism or self-esteem, but to the true gospel built upon true, biblical theology.

If we are to judge Mark Driscoll, his church and its church planting movement by its fruits, we will have to conclude that God is choosing to bless them and to bless them in abundance. Like it or not (and for some reason I think too many “discerning” people don’t like it and refuse to admit it!), God is using this guy for His glory.

Because of…or Despite?

This may be a seemingly-silly distinction, but it is one that I’ve found helpful. It is true of any Christian that there are times God uses us because of who He has made us to be. He has given us all certain talents and gifts and He often uses us because of these things. God blessed Charles Spurgeon with a towering intellect, an incredible memory, and an amazing ability to communicate and through these God-given means He used Spurgeon. Yet it is equally true that God uses people despite certain aspects of their lives of personalities. All of us are blinded to certain sins and failings and all of us continue to provoke God on a daily basis. But God uses us despite these things.

When it comes to Mark Driscoll, some Christians would say that God uses him despite his use of sometimes-vulgar language while others would say that God uses him because of such cultural relevance. Of course there are others, some of whom seem to fancy themselves the church’s conscience, who would say that Driscoll is not and will not be used by God because of these things, but I’d suggest they are simply ignoring clear evidence to the contrary. The basis for this “because of / despite” distinction will come down to a Christian’s understanding of certain biblical exhortations about language and to a person’s biblically-informed conscience. In either case, we need to acknowledge that Christians differ on certain issues and what is vulgar to one person may not be to another. We need to allow room for conscience to speak where biblically-submitted Christians differ. So you will need to respect my hesitance when it comes to phrases I understand to be vulgar while I’ll have to tolerate your freedom to disagree. This is true tolerance—a respect on the basis of differences.


I have never met Mark Driscoll. I don’t think he and I have ever exchanged emails or text messages or instant messages or anything else (or not that I remember, anyways). So I have no personal connection to him. But I love the guy as a brother in Christ. Whatever you feel about Mark Driscoll, you’ll need to agree that God is using him in an unusually powerful way. You’ll need to affirm that he is a brother. This is a reason for rejoicing, and I do rejoice. I pray for Mark Driscoll, that God would continue to bless his ministry and continue to do amazing things through him. I do not agree with some of the ways he chooses to communicate, but neither do I need to. He is doing the Lord’s work in a tough place. And I love him in Christ and support him in that work.

May 15, 2007

I don’t often post small news items except in A La Carte, but this one seems especially significant. Jerry Falwell died today shortly after being found unconscious in his office at Liberty University. He was 73. It would take some time (and greater expertise than I can offer) to analyze Falwell’s legacy, though surely we will hear a lot about it in the coming days. I trust (and hope) others will do this work of analysis and will do it fairly.

Falwell was was often the target of the wrath of the media and of those who despise Christianity. It is unfortunate that he is not better known for contributions he made such as founding the Elam Home for alcohol and drug dependent men, and the Liberty Godparent Home. You can read a short biography at Wikipedia or at his site (assume that one is favorably biased and the other unfavorably) and you can read articles about this death in all the major news outlets. As we might expect, Dr. Mohler has written a good article which you can read here.

My sincere condolences go out to Falwell’s family and to the Liberty University family which must be reeling from this unexpected news.

November 03, 2006

Friday November 3, 2006

Conference: Information for the 2007 Children Desiring God conference has been released. Speakers include Piper, Grudem and Mahaney. (HT: JT).

Liveblogging: There will be liveblogging at this weekend’s Alpha & Omega National Conference which will include a debate between James White and John Shelby Spong. You can keep up with the conference here.

Audio: Paul has posted links to “Haykin’s History of the Whole Church,” a series of lectures delivered by Dr. Michael Haykin. “We crammed well over 100 folks into our gym and for one Saturday climbed aboard a luxury airliner with Dr. Haykin at the helm, guiding us over 2004 years of Christ’s work in preparing His bride. It was glorious!”

Interview: Here is the transcript of Dr. Mohler’s interview with Andrew Sullivan.

November 02, 2006

Thursday November 2, 2006

Children: Amy points out a phenomenon my wife and I also noticed: “Whoever invented Daylight Saving Time did not have a baby in the house.”

Health: Jollyblogger points to a strange and interesting story about “Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert - how he lost his voice and got it back.”

Audio: Earlier this week John MacArthur was guest on Al Mohler’s radio program. You can hear the discussion here.

Church: Thabiti Anyabwile shares pictures from a baptism service he conducted for his new church on Grand Cayman.

Politics: An article by SunMedia shows how many immigrants find ways of bringing parents and siblings into Canada - quite simply, they marry them!

September 26, 2006

Tuesday September 26, 2006

Courses: Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary is offering several courses free online. There are a couple by David Wells that are sure to be especially good.

People: Phil Johnson has begun a new series on TeamPyro and begins with an interesting “word of personal testimony” that describes how he was saved.

Music: I am a few days behind the times here (how am I supposed to know Bob has posted on his site when his RSS feed has stopped working!) but Bob Kauflin has posted some information about the upcoming Christmas album from Sovereign Grace Ministries, including the lyrics to a new song by Mark Altrogge.

Debate: Audio of the “debate” on Calvinism between Al Mohler and Paige Patterson has been posted online.