“Dear Mark”, you’ve probably read these two words too many times. The blogosphere can be an awful place- judgements can be made quickly, assumptions are made regularly, and the attacks hurt, especially if the writers are anonymous. I was quoted on Patheos and had almost 2,000 people read something I wrote, assuming that what the writer said about me was true. It wasn’t.
I don’t know if the rumors are true and you are considering a return to ministry. Are you? Of course, we both know you’ve been in ministry since you left Mars Hill: you’ve been ministering to your family. Returning to your old vocation isn’t an easy choice to make.
I don’t fully understand where you’re coming from: I haven’t Pastored a church, I’m not married, don’t have kids, and I haven’t finished my degree yet. I co-lead a youth ministry, and have been involved with teaching jr. and sr. High students only a few years. Your degree in communications inspired me to pursue one as well. I don’t have all of your life experiences. I’m only 22, but please don’t hold my age against me. God chose David when he was twelve to be the King, Jesus preached to the Jerusalem leaders at 12, Jeremiah was chosen as a young man (possibly teenager) to be a prophet. Age isn’t always a factor when it comes to discernment and calling, and I am called by the Lord to be a Christian. As a Christian, I feel a burden for you and your family. Here are a few things I want to encourage you with. 1 Timothy 5:1 commands someone my age to not rebuke, but encourage you. Here, are a few encouragements:
1) Lead your family with clarity.
Look at Scripture as a Christian, father, and husband. Not as a book writer, pastor, theologian, or with a homiletic intent.
Get a vision for your family that is bigger and more obedient than the vision you had at Mars Hill.
Ministry is filled with lots of pain, tears, even betrayals, but the Lord is not a man (Numbers 23, Psalm 52), He won’t sin against you. He will (and has) put loving Christians, a community of men and women who love you, around you. Whether you believe your resignation was out of pressure or mainly motivated by safety for your family, recognize God’s sovereign hand was in all of it and still is there (Romans 8:28ff).
Don’t say, “I know,” to this. Believe it deep down.
There are layers and years of experiences and thoughts you need to sift through. I can imagine you wake up in the morning feeling without specific, circumstantial direction. People will come at you left and right offering you positions in ministry. Turn them down, at least for now, and lead your family with spiritual sobriety. Give it more time than you think you need to give it. Your family will support you in a return to ministry, but you’re the one who leads them. There are blind spots. Strip away all the outside attention and pay attention to them and Jesus.
2) Do not retreat inside and try to figure out the big picture of why everything has happened.
Look outside yourself, to creation and to other Christians. Enjoy fellowship as fellowship, not as an organized event or a time where you go through the motions such as seeing a movie. There is beauty, truth, and further insights in God’s word waiting for you. (Psalm 19).
3) Ask your most well-respected “critics” what they think.
John MacArthur doesn’t have a shot gun waiting for you. Neither does Phil Johnson, or Paul Tripp, or Matt Chandler. Don’t hold their conservatism against them. These men preach the truth and love the truth. Swallow the hard facts from them. Ask yourself where they are coming from.
Who cares if some of them are cessationists. They don’t believe you’ve ceased to be a Christian, and they will love you if you visit them and pray with them. God will be glorified mightily. I pray that these meetings won’t be publicized. Don’t quarrel with them, but lift up holy hands and pray (1 Tim. 2:1-4).
In an abundance of counselors there is victory (Proverbs 18), and two are better than one (Ecclesiastes 4).
4) Please. I beg you, do not serve in ministry at a church just yet, or with Gateway Church. They may provide opportunity, but don’t take it.
It took me over a year after moving from Texas back to California before I became involved with a ministry again. The Lord had closed some doors, but I knew he was calling me to stay with the local church body I am with right now. When I first moved here, I hopped out of bed with lots of extra energy. I wanted to get back in the game and serve and get back to my old routine, because I already “knew” the ropes. Instead, he was calling me to do the things I felt least compelled to do. To hang around my family even when our conversations weren’t very stimulating. To clean around the house. To go to school. To work hard in the areas of my life that weren’t in a church setting.
I had to read the Bible for the good of my own soul. To do my good works in secret. To love God without anyone else knowing about it. (Matt. 6). I had to learn to enjoy God again. Ministry etched in me the truth that loving God was the outlet to loving other people, but now all that was left was me and God. And it scared me. It made me realize I didn’t know everything as well as I thought I did. That I wasn’t as gifted as I had believed myself to be. That I wasn’t as strong as people thought.
But, when you are weak, then you are strong (2 Cor. 12:9-10). You are free to be weak. Let God restore you slowly.
I attended Gateway for two years. Robert Morris may preach the word at times, but not all of it comes out clearly. I believe he is a Christian but my family did not do well as members of his church. His teaching on tithing is unbiblical (claims a curse will come on your family if you don’t tithe, based on a misguided reading of Malachi 3). He associates with T.D. Jakes, Creflo Dollar, Reinhard Bonkey, and other prosperity teachers (all but Bonkey have taught at the Gateway “First” Conference). His sermon on tithing, “Breaking the Spirit of Mammon” will make that clear, as well as his “Blessed Life” series. This is not me nit picking at all. Watch out for the fruit.
A man is known by the company he keeps, as 1 Corinthians says, “Bad company corrupts good morals.” I don’t know how safe or healthy an environment that would be for you and your family, especially this quickly.
All in all, I’m praying for you Mark.
May God bless you and keep you