18 September 2011

A Day with Acts 29 at Harvest Bible Chapel

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.

Is Harvest Bible Chapel Being Fed to the Wolves?
The Elephant Room Returns


  1. I am a member of Harvest Bible Chapel. Mark Driscoll did indeed preach there the same weekend he did the marriage conference. Not much depth to his preaching but my kids thought he was funny.

  2. Thanks for your research on this event. I too am concerned with the direction that Harvest Bible Chapel is taking, but the issues are difficult to describe in a short blog comment. My feeling is that Harvest has forsaken its down-to-earth, bible-centered approach that first attracted me in 2004.
    In the last couple of years I've observed serious efforts to be upscale and hip, and I detect an attitude of grandiosity rather than humility. These are critical words I'm writing, but I just have a sad feeling about all the efforts to promote and control such a huge organization. That's what seems to be the focus now.
    I suppose that this could be the unavoidable consequence of growing into a mega-church that has numerous subsidiaries such as multiple campuses, a TV studio and now a downtown Cathedral. I'm very sorry to see it happen where there are many sincere and dedicated believers.
    BTW, I can confirm that Mark Driscoll was in fact in James MacDonald's pulpit this year. I was at the Saturday night service he spoke at live. I can't give you the exact date, but it was in the spring, probably the same weekend he gave the marriage seminar. Enjoy your blog, keep up the good work.

  3. Thank you both for your comments and for confirming that Driscoll did indeed preach in MacDonald's pulpit. I updated the post accordingly.

    Anonymous #2: While I'm sure it offers little comfort, you are not the only one who is feeling this way about the direction Harvest has taken. It has become an organization with, as you say, multiple campuses, the TV studio, and the latest addition of the Cathedral. Not to mention the additional ministries of Walk in the Word and Harvest Bible Fellowship. What an example of the dangers of popularity and pride.

  4. "The Teaching Church" tends to be the only true church out there, yet people attack them as Pharisees, and I notice he also attacks discerning bloggers. The guy seems to have a problem with churches that do their jobs!

  5. Well, of course, Glenn! After all, those mean old bloggers are putting a damper on their "mission!"

  6. After searching through some old Harvest Bible Chapel bulletins, I just wanted to let you know that Mark Driscoll 'preached' at Rolling Meadows on April 2nd and 3rd 2011. Much more could be said, but I will keep my comments to myself and continue to pray for Pastor James and all concerned.

    EBenz, thank you again for all the time you spend looking into what's happening and updating us on what we need to know.

    God bless you.

    Let's all keep praying and not give up hope.

  7. "I will keep my comments to myself and continue to pray..."

    This is not directed at the person who said this; it's merely used because it is a prevailing view.

    I'm praying that people look at that sentiment in light of the text of the Bible.

    If they do, I think they'll realize that it's in conflict with it. For example, Jude 3.

    May God send us some people who have prayed for the strength not to keep their thoughts to themselves.

  8. "Mark Driscoll did indeed preach there the same weekend he did the marriage conference. Not much depth to his preaching but my kids thought he was funny."

    Telling comment. A sermon on marriage - the temporal God-created covenant that displays the relationship between Christ and His church - and Mark was shallow and funny. Not fit to stand in front of a local body of Christ.

  9. @Ken Silva Although I know what you said was not directed at me, I just wanted to let you know I do not intend to remain silent for much longer. I plan on talking to one of the elders in the near future, and if anyone is interested in coming with me, please contact EBenz. I think it would make a powerful statement if many of us came forward together to express our concerns.

    I attended another church in the past where unbiblical things began to happen... After praying and gathering audio information from other concerned pastors, I met with the assistant pastor to express my concerns and also gave him and the pastor an audio tape as well as a letter I had written that expressed my reasons for saying this so-called 'move of God' was unbiblical. I also shared a lot of Scriptures in the letter, trusting they would see the unbiblical nature of the things they were attempting to 'bring into the church.' However, I was told that if I did not agree with the direction that the church was going in, then I could leave. So I left, and came to Harvest.

    After attending Harvest for 14 years now, I may be told to leave again, but that's the price we sometimes have to pay when we choose to 'earnestly contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.'

    By the way, Ken, I really appreciate your website ministry, and want to thank you VERY much for all the information you bring us warning us about 'Contemplative Prayer,' the 'Emergent Church,' and so much more.

    I also want to thank you for expressing your concerns to Pastor James about his involvement with Steven Furtick...I saw your 'tweet' to him.

    Would you consider offering your services to be a part of the next 'conversation' in the 'Elephant Room?' I would LOVE to hear THAT conversation!

    God bless you and your ministry : )

  10. Dear No Longer Alone,

    God be praised, I thank you for the kind words in the Lord. :)

    You may rest assured, I was most certainly not directing any comment toward you.

    In my past I've had to confrint elders in local churches myself. I know well how hard that is!

    Let me offer this, if I can be of help, please feel free to email me at: apprisingministries@gmail.com

    Whatever Erin might think of me, I consider Erin a friend and appreciate the work done at this blog.

    As far as,"Would you consider offering your services to be a part of the next 'conversation' in the 'Elephant Room?' I would LOVE to hear THAT conversation!"

    Certainly, I would; that said, I wouldn't hold my breath they'll let me into their apparent bromance.

  11. Ken,
    I share the sentiments of your first comment - far too many people have opted to stay silent because it would "be uncomfortable" for them to confront the leadership at Harvest. If Harvest is your church home, then you have a duty and a right to express those concerns, bearing in mind that you will likely be told that it is no longer "the church for you."

    No Longer Alone,
    You are a great exception to that, of course, and we will be praying for you as you approach the elders with your concerns. And take Ken up on his offer to help. I of course consider him a friend as well and, like many, have benefitted greatly from his dedication to his ministry! If not for Ken's work, I likely would not be doing what I do! (Of course, I'm sure there are many who would prefer that neither of us be doing what we do!)

    I'd also love to see you join in the Elephant Room, but won't be reserving my seat anytime soon. It's obviously a closed conversation and somehow I just don't think you'd be welcome. :)

  12. Thank you, Ken, for your kind offer to help, and your comforting words. Sorry to hear you had to deal with confronting elders with some things you were concerned about as well, but I know God used it to make you stand stronger for Biblical truth, and caused you to love His Word even more, which were the results of what God did in my life because of all I went through.

    Thank you for your email address. I seem to be having some issues with my computer, so I will contact you after I deal with the problems.

    Thank you also, EBenz, for your prayers and support. And again I thank you for all the well researched information you share with us, as well as the praise songs and Biblical teachings you share with us.

    God bless you both, as well as your ministries : )

  13. As I have followed your post ever since Steven Furtick was invited to speak at Harvest Bible Chapel, I have been discouraged about the decisions that our teaching pastor has made for the past few months in regards to who he invites to teach the church. But as I made aware of these things, I can’t help but think of

    Romans 16:17
    I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been thought: avoid them.

    My family and I are so thankful for HBC. We have been deeply involved in countless ministries at very personal level. At one point one of our family members was employed at HBC.

    My heart has grown heavy and hard though. In recent months, we have recently distanced ourselves because of not only the guest speakers that come to HBC, but the compromise of the four pillars which HBC has set up for the foundation for the church. We see this compromise behind the scenes as our family in various ministries we serve.

    Right now, I just fall short of following in the heels of “No Longer alone”. I attended the Chi-Town ShinDig, an event for the entire Jr. High and High School students at the cathedral recently. Pastor James gave a biblical strong message for the kids (was grateful for that) but was disappointed that no one prayed before or after worship, before or after the message, or even as a whole group during the entire evening. As I listen to this current message series be taught at the church, the messages I find are still strongly rooted in God’s Word, so I am STILL HESITANT to bring my concerns and take action as “No Longer alone” has/will done/do. At this point, I do not want to cause division in our church which will not produce biblical fruit for the whole church body.

    As for now, I am waiting to hear what our teaching pastor will say for our Vision meeting (that’s when Pastor James will share his vision for each specific campus) which may or may not push me to address my concerns with my campus pastor and the elders.

    Our family continues to pray for the leaders of HBC to feed the sheep in a way which would only glorify God and no one else.

    Still Hesitant.

  14. Hi Still Hesitant : )

    I hope EBenz doesn't mind, but I'd like to share my thoughts with you to try and encourage you...

    First I want to say that my heart goes out to you, because it must be even harder for you (than it is for me) to see what has been happening recently at Harvest, since your whole family is, and has been, so deeply involved with all the ministries at Harvest. I am sure you and your entire family have made many friends there, and you all must feel very connected to Harvest, which would make it very difficult for all of you to make a decision to leave...if it comes to that. However, if you share your concerns with an elder, that would not be "causing division." If you choose to tell everyone you associate with about your concerns, that would then probably be considered "causing division." (Although I think we have a responsibility to share with others the dangers of the teachings of those who have been invited to preach in our pulpit, so they are made aware of them, and come to realize the importance of "examining the Scriptures daily to see if what is being said (by those who claim to speak for God) is true." (Acts 17:11) But if you choose to come forward to first express "how thankful you are for Harvest," and anything else God puts on your heart... the many wonderful Biblical messages Pastor James has preached in the past, etc....and then to share your concerns, would be what God would want you (and all of us who have been grieved over what is happening lately) to do.

    Pastor James will stand and answer to God one day for how he has led all of us, and he really needs to be aware of how his choices are affecting all of 'his sheep.'

    Think of your children...I know you must love them deeply...pray and ask God if this is where He would like you to keep your children in light of the many things God is bringing to your attention. Pray with your spouse about that, and I will also be praying for God to give you clear direction on what he would have you both do.

    Thinking of my children was the deciding factor that made me leave the last church I attended. I knew I needed to protect them from the unbiblical things that were starting to come in, and I needed to set a good example to show them we must stand for Biblical truth even if it means we have to leave our friends and get out of our comfort zone. I know what is happening at Harvest pales in comparison to what happened at the last church I attended, but how bad are we willing to allow it to get at Harvest before we say or do something?

    I know how you feel though...I 'hesitate' to do something, as well, hoping things will get better, and Pastor James will hear God's Spirit lovingly, but firmly speaking to him, warning him and opening his eyes to the dangers of associating with Mark Driscoll and Steven Furtick, (etc.) and that he will realize the dangerous path he has chosen to walk down, leading us all with him...but I have been sitting for the last 2 years feeling this way. I have been praying and hoping, but I really think the elders need to be made aware of our concerns and "hold Pastor James accountable" as EBenz said in one of her comments.

    I hope I somehow helped you. I will be praying for your family, and for you and your spouse, that God will give you His wisdom to go about this in His time and in His way, filling your heart with peace, that it is what He would have you to do.

    "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind." (James 1:5,6)

    "But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere." (James 3:17)

    God bless you, 'Still Hesitant.'

  15. No Longer Alone,

    Of course I never mind you sharing your thoughts! And I would echo many of them.

    Let me just offer a word to those who are afraid that raising their concerns may be viewed as "being divisive." Those who are standing for Truth, those who are speaking out against the compromise of God's Word, are NOT the ones who are being divisive. It is those who are propagating error and false teaching, those who are deceiving the sheep. These are the ones who are causing division with their lies.


  16. I think it all started way back when...

    As to the reason behind these new collaborations:
    The more people you agree with and are tolerant of, the greater you open up your market...


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