I rarely talk about politics, denominational or otherwise, but I find it odd that the week I spent my first extended period of time observing firsthand the Acts 29 Network in action is the same week The Baptist Press continues an onslaught of criticism of Acts 29 President Mark Driscoll, LifeWay Research President Ed Stetzer (who is a founding Acts 29 adviser and continuing contributor to the Network's efforts), and the Network's interest in relationship with the Southern Baptist Convention.
My basic appraisal of this criticism can be summed up this way:
a) The SBC is fading and will continue to fade more quickly especially if they keep stiff-arming the young men the Acts 29 Network appeals to, who are passionate about the gospel and about planting evangelistic churches.
b) What I continue to see is Acts 29 demonstrating love and affection, and a desire to cooperate, to a denomination that continues to cast aspersions in the other direction. The way things are going, the SBC could seriously use the injection of youth, mission, and passion for doctrine over pragmatism of the Acts 29 Network, and the Acts 29 Network has virtually nothing to gain by hitching to a fading denomination that snubs its nose at them. Yet they still want to find ways to work together. If you're measuring by Jesus' prayer for love and unity in the church, who wins that one, do you think?
In any event, here are some of my thoughts from the time I spent with some of the Acts 29 crew at their Quarterly Regional event in St. Louis this week.
Keep in mind that while I have many connections to the Acts 29 folks, I am not an Acts 29 planter or pastor myself. I would generally place myself in their tribe, but I owe no official allegiance to the Network.
1. I spent time with A LOT of Acts 29 church planters, as well as with Acts 29's VP and Pastor of the Journey Church in St. Louis, Darrin Patrick, as well as with a few coaches and trainers in the network, including administrative support staff. What I was struck with was, across the board, all the conversations about Jesus and the gospel. Clearly these guys eat, sleep, drink, and breathe the gospel. They talk about it a lot. In casual conversations.
2. Connected to that, these guys were constantly talking about reaching the lost and planting churches in depressed, urban areas. They are not only "on mission" in their ministries, they are on mission in their conversations. There was plenty of talk to be had on sports and families and what-not, but talk of ministry and mission overwhelmed.
3. Because of those two observations, I can surmise that these are young men who are MEN. And men of God, at that. If you're wondering where the mature, godly, evangelistic young men are in the Church, they are hanging out with Acts 29.
4. The Network treats people extremely well. All people. The regional event is free and open to the public. Men, women, pastors, laypeople, Acts 29 and not. If you could sign up by the deadline, you could come. And they feed you for free too.
5. The Network treats its pastors extremely well. They take care of them, counsel them, "wine and dine" them while they're there, which if you're a church planter or know anything about church planting, you know can be a huge encouragement and blessing. These are not megachurch leadership guru guys who are used to being catered to. These are "oxen," toiling in hard mission fields, working for little pay to disciple relatively small cores and reach the lost and minister to the poor in their areas. Taking them aside for a couple of days once or twice a year to treat them like kings is, as far as I can see, one of the best ways the Network ministers to its planters.
6. I also was able to witness the planter coaching that took place "after hours" of the quarterly event itself. Deep stuff. Personal stuff. Iron sharpening iron stuff. I saw my host Jon McIntosh pastor other pastors well, and then I saw these guys break up into their smaller groups and gospel each other. It was beautiful. From top to bottom, the whole organization takes seriously 1 Timothy 4:16's admonition to "watch your life and doctrine closely." You know if a guy is an Acts 29 church planter, that he has been rigorously assessed, affectionately counseled and mentored, and diligently coached and encouraged.
7. I met a bunch of guys who were honest about their mistakes and screw-ups. Older guys who were ready to pass their pastorates on to younger guys they believed were better. Younger guys of "hip" churches asking for counseling from guys of not-so-hip churches. For all the brashness Acts 29 guys can be accused of, the ones I saw were characterized by humility and by their "outdoing one another showing honor." It looked like Romans 12:10.
All in all, I was deeply impressed and greatly blessed by my time with the Acts 29 folks, from the assistant who helped with my booking to the host family I stayed with, from the techies in the sound booth to my fellow speaker, from the "riff-raff" to the "guests of honor, and from the young wannabes soaking in the free wisdom to the Vice President of the Network.
I wouldn't be surprised if, as many are saying, Acts 29 is the future of church planting for gospel transformation in North America and beyond.