By Apprising Ministries special correspondent Erin Benziger of Do Not Be Surprised…

A few days ago, I asked the question, What does the Acts 29 Network have to do with Harvest Bible Chapel? While some speculative answers exist, it seems we may have to wait a bit longer before that moment when we can say, “Aha. Now it all makes sense.” Until that time comes, however, it would behoove us to continue to question the alignment of Harvest Bible Chapel and James MacDonald with the Acts 29 Network and Mark Driscoll.The alliance began a couple of years ago, when MacDonald and Driscoll teamed up for Churches Helping Churches, outwardly a fairly noble cause. Concerns grew, however, when they co-hosted the Elephant Room Conference, and when MacDonald invited Driscoll to hold a marriage seminar at Harvest, based upon Driscoll’s smutty (in this writer’s opinion) Song of Solomon sermon series. Over time, this friendship has blossomed, with MacDonald teaching at an Acts 29 event in recent months. To my knowledge, Mark Driscoll has not yet been invited into MacDonald’s pulpit, but the invitation to Steven Furtick seems to have filled Harvest’s ‘questionable guest preacher’ quota for the year. (UPDATE: Following the initial publication of this post, commenters have confirmed that Mark Driscoll did indeed preach at Harvest Bible Chapel. See below for the comments.)

The binding ties are growing stronger, however, as this past weekend Harvest Bible Chapel (HBC) was host to the latest Acts 29 Boot Camp event. On September 15-17, aspiring church planters gathered at Harvest to learn and be immersed in the Acts 29 methods of church planting. Walking into the lobby of HBC this past Thursday was like walking into any Mars Hill Church campus. The lobby was filled with up-and-coming Young, Restless and Reformed preachers, and no one would have mistaken this event for one put on by the Baptists! I should know, I was there.
Day 1 of this “Boot Camp” was open to anyone who was interested in church planting or in learning more about Acts 29. Since I most certainly fall into the latter category, I traipsed over to HBC on Thursday morning anxious to see and hear what would be taught. I won’t outline every minute or even every session of the day. I simply want to touch on a few highlights. Let me begin by saying that there was no blatant heresy spouted (I didn’t expect there to be) and that the people working the event were as nice as could be. To be sure, I stuck out quite a bit (I still haven’t nailed down my own personal YRR style) but the friendliness of those working the event must be commended.Now, why did I attend this event? Because I wanted an answer – or at least the beginnings of an answer – to Thursday morning’s post. What does Acts 29 have to do with Harvest Bible Chapel? Similarly – why should we be concerned about the apparent alignment of HBC with a group like Acts 29? The answer to the second question lies in articles like this one and others, wherein it is documented that contemplative spirituality is promoted within Acts 29 circles. This was clearly illustrated in the article PastorMark.tv: A One-Stop Driscoll Shop, as one can easily find articles among the Acts 29-related website The Resurgence which recommend and promote quasi-contemplative (at best) authors and books. The mere fact that Mark Driscoll, “founder and lead visionary” (their words, not mine) of the Acts 29 Network, has claimed to hear directly from God, receiving “visions” from Him of other’s secret sins, should cause concern over the growth and permeation of Acts 29. It doesn’t take an advanced degree to deduce that whatever is at the top of the leadership chain will eventually trickle downward.

As for the first question, well, the answer is becoming more clear, but has yet to be answered in full. The first speaker of the day was James MacDonald. After being introduced as a “good friend of Acts 29,” MacDonald took the stage and declared something akin to the following: “Pastor Mark [Driscoll] and I and others are talking behind the scenes about how we can do more together than what we can do seperately. How can we be more for the Lord together than what we can be separately?” The thought seems innocuous, even sensible, at first glance. Yet, knowing the potential dangers that lie within the Acts 29 Network, should Harvest Bible Fellowship (the church planting arm of HBC) seek to merge with it? Something to think about indeed.

On to a brief review of some of the sessions: MacDonald preached a message that he said he wished someone had shared with him before he entered the ministry. Using Acts 13 and 14, he taught on the visible pattern that he had found in ministry. If you don’t get this pattern down, he said, then your ministry will not be fruitful. The pattern was as follows (and I’ll forgo offering personal commentary):

  • Communication (the message of the Gospel is preached)
  • Opposition (Gospel work is not easy)
  • Perseverance (Most do not persevere through the opposition, most quit)
  • Fruit (the real fruit comes from climbing over the opposition, “knocking it over, standing on it and saying ‘I beat you.'”)
  • Glory (never let yourself doubt that God wants to bear much fruit through you).

To illustrate this message, MacDonald used personal examples of opposition that he allegedly has faced through the years, the first arriving, he says, about 18 months after the church began. He indicated that every 3 or 4 years, a group of people decide they want to leave the church, and in fact they are at one of those points right now. Hm…judging by the reaction to some of the posts on this site about Harvest and its recent decisions, might those people be just a tiny bit justified in considering leaving a church that has brought questionable teachers before its people?

Moving on…Other speakers of the day included Kevin Cawley of Redeemer Fellowship in Kansas City. Cawley (eventually) spoke on Psalm 62. Though not the crux of his message, I thought it interesting that, when he arrived at verse 5, which reads, “For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him,” Cawley stated, “I don’t know what kind of silence” David was talking about. “I don’t know,” said Cawley, “if it’s contemplative or” if David was just at a point where he had no more words. “I don’t know about the nature of the silence.” Well, I can partially solve this mystery for you, Kevin, by assuring you that David was not referring to the mystical, contemplative “silence” which seeks to open oneself up to “hear from God” through contemplative prayer and meditation. When David commands his soul to “wait in silence” for God, we can safely assume, based upon the context of the entire Psalm, that he is exhorting himself to wait patiently and to trust in the Lord for refuge and salvation. Thankfully Cawley did return to this point.

The afternoon began with a session by Bryan Loritts of Fellowship Memphis Church, speaking on marriage and the church planter. Loritts was followed by Scott Thomas, the president and director of the Acts 29 Network and the Global Church Pastor at Mars Hill Church in Seattle. Thomas spoke on Gospel-centered Leadership. Using surveys, statistics, and a well-worn story of 9/11 victim Welles Crowther, Thomas taught that leaders: lead after being strengthened by grace, lead by entrusting others, and lead by suffering. Honing in on this last point, Thomas said that the pastor/church planter will lead by suffering as a soldier, guarding the Gospel; as an athlete, through discipline; and as a farmer, working hard and with patience. Acts 29 is calling its church planters, just as Paul called Timothy, to share in the suffering together for God’s glory.

Closing the day was the expert of church planting, Darrin Patrick, of The Journey church in St. Louis. Patrick spoke on the topic of “Community on Mission.” After his introduction, Patrick profiled 6 types of churches in existence today in America. My comments on Patrick’s profiles can be found in red.

  • The Teaching Church – this church is more like a seminary than a church. It attracts people who are well-read and love Scripture. These people want to defend the faith, but these churches “tend to produce Pharisees who are better with books than people.” These types of churches, said Patrick, “produce a lot of bloggers.” Ouch. Thanks for insulting not just my desire to attend a church which actually teaches the Word of God, but also for insulting my desire to, as God commands, “contend for the faith delivered once for all to the saints.”
  • The Devotion Church – this church has a focus on prayer and worship. People seek experience instead of seeking God. They also tend to seek prophetic words from people, not from Scripture. Kudos for pointing out the danger here.
  • The Formal Church – focused on sacraments and liturgy, members of this church love reverent, orderly worship. They are not into fads, but their weakness is that they are anti-emotional and are comprised of “mostly white people.” Patrick referred to these people as “God’s frozen chosen.” Seems to me the racial comment was unnecessary here. Now, I’m not a big fan of strict liturgy myself (just personal preference), but is there anything wrong with desiring reverent, orderly worship? After all, our God is not a God of chaos and is deserving of far more reverence than is often demonstrated in the typical church today.
  • The Community Church – has a relationship focus. Everyone knows about everyone else’s needs and they seek to meet them. When describing this church, Patrick quoted Bill Hybels’ definition of community to the effect of “to know and be known, to love and be loved, to serve and be served.” I was unable to capture the exact quote, but you get the gist. I did think that Bill Hybels was an odd choice to quote in such a supposedly “Reformed” group.
  • The Seeker Church – has an evangelism focus. According to Patrick, these churches, though “a mile wide an inch deep” still are good at presenting the Gospel in an innovative way. They excel at presenting the basic tenets of the Christian faith, he says, and have many converts but not a lot of disciples. I don’t know what seeker-driven churches Patrick is speaking of, but I’ve found it difficult to locate one that presents “the basic tenets of the Christian faith” well. The seeker churches most reliably water-down the true Gospel, turning it into a one-time aisle walk or sinner’s prayer. I would argue that they produce many false converts.
  • The Social Justice Church – seeks to reconcile around a common mission. They tend to redefine the Gospel to social justice, focusing on corporate aspects of sin rather than personal sin. Again, kudos for emphasizing the errors of this type of church.

The trick for the Acts 29 church planter, according to Darrin Patrick, is to create a church that encompasses all 6 of these types. Ultimately, taught Patrick, the “core group” of people starting the church need to decide up front that they will be a “community on a mission” (presumably a mission to share the Gospel) instead of “on a mission for community.” An appropriate distinction to make, I suppose, remembering that “community” and “mission” can both be deemed buzz words that we would do well to attune our ears to hear and to question when context demands. And, in the end, it seems to me that if we focus on true Gospel proclamation, which will result in true converts and true disciples (which are one and the same), then the whole “community” and “mission” thing takes care of itself.

Before the final session, there was a brief advertisement for next year’s upcoming Elephant Room Conference. James MacDonald indicated that the participants had not yet been finalized, however Mark Dever’s name was mentioned. 


The day ended with a Q&A session. I remained for only about 30 minutes of this and of course, the questions were all related to the struggles faced by the young church planter. One of the first questions was along the lines of “what are some of the most common temptations faced by the church planter, how do you face them and fight against them? Most of the answers centered around the difficulty of balancing church and family responsibilities. When James MacDonald was asked to answer this question, he responded by saying that the biggest temptation was to quit, or give up, as he had preached on earlier. The second biggest temptation, he said, was the “temptation to be [angry] all the time.” Interestingly, MacDonald did not use the word “angry.” What I heard used (and I wish I’d had my recorder with me to validate it) was a fouler word that I will not type, even with using asterisks to “bleep” it out. This shocked me. Then I remembered where I was sitting. Acts 29. A crowd of mostly young, 20-something, aspiring church planters who earlier in the day had laughed at a joke about a pastor (not one of the pastors who spoke) who proudly declared that after he got saved it “took him longer” to cuss than it had before. Was MacDonald trying to fit in? Perhaps. But as one of the oldest leaders in the room, he should have sought to set an example – a Godly example – for these young men. While MacDonald’s choice of words was not quite the same as the language used by Rob Bell at his speaking engagement earlier this year (which I documented by video here), this brief slip of the tongue was still, in this writer’s opinion, a most grievous slip indeed.

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. (Colossians 3:1-8)

The remaining questions that I heard centered around the single church planter (apparently the guy needs to find a wife, or else how does he expect to find an entire church full of people?), elder boards, and the like.

As I stated at the outset, there was nothing earth-shatteringly dangerous or heretical spoken at this Acts 29 Boot Camp, yet it left me uneasy. Multiple mentions of “casting vision” and talk by Darrin Patrick of a layperson hearing the “vision” be cast and saying to himself “I’ll die for that. How can I be a part of that?” were disconcerting. The motto for Acts 29 is that they want to “plant churches that plant churches.” Funny, but shouldn’t we aspire to first plant churches that preach the Gospel unashamedly and without reservation? Perhaps they assume that to be implied. Yet, in a group that is defined by it’s attraction to a younger generation and its assimilation with the world as opposed to its separation from the world, it seems that the Gospel focus ought to be more central, even in their motto.

It is, perhaps, this assimilation with the world, along with the propensity to endorse contemplative spirituality, that causes the most concern over Harvest Bible Chapel’s alignment with the Acts 29 Network. Why are these decisions being made? What does Harvest Bible Chapel, and consequently, James MacDonald, expect to gain from such an association, if anything? I think it’s safe to assume that these questions and many others will be answered sooner rather than later. But for now we’ll just have to wait and see.

The original appears complete with a comments section right here.


Is Harvest Bible Chapel Being Fed to the Wolves?

The Elephant Room Returns