Confessions of a Pastor Who Used to Be More Reformed Than Jesus

I've commented before that some charismatics and some Calvinists seem to have adopted the belief that strategy and planning can be bad things. I think this is an overreaction to some of the excesses of the Church Growth Movement. And, now, many are saying, "I just want to be faithful, preach the word, and focus on the marks of the church, and not worry about growth." (That's the Calvinist version.) The charismatic version is more often about, "I just want to be faithful, preach the word, and follow the spirit, and not worry about growth."

The result is, in my view, a lot of great churches not reaching the people they should and generally looking down on those who do strategic planning and outreach.

That is a shame. You can do practical planning and not be driven by pragmatism. Yet, lots of charismatics and a growing number of young reformed pastors are missing this. (And, some confessional Lutherans, liturgical Anglicans, fundamentalist Baptists, and many others who think that being strategic and practical is precluded by their theology.)

So, last year, I made a deal with one of those young reformed pastors. Yes, this friend invited me to use his family condo in Florida and made me promise to coach him. (I will let him tell the story, but I am a sucker for getting my family on vacation and love encouraging pastors.)

So, here is his story.

He's still uber-Reformed, but now he has a growing church after being stuck for a while... and I am pretty excited about it. They've grown, they've reached the unchurched, they've had baptisms, and they still believe in 1, 2, and 3rd John (that is John Calvin, John Piper, and John MacArthur). He is just now preaching those beliefs to new and more believers because HE. DID. STRATEGIC. OUTREACH.

I thought I'd share it with you and, I hope, push some of my charismatic and Calvinist friends, who often hate it when I mention them in the same sentence, to push forward with some strategic outreach as they continue to live and minister within their convictions.

Danny Slavich wrote up this guest post and he will be around the blog Friday and Saturday if you want to rebuke him for compromising the gospel (or, perhaps ask his advice).

Up to you...

Here is Danny's post (and he chose the title):

I'm writing this post because Ed Stetzer didn't hold up his end of a deal. In December 2011 he was looking for a place to stay in South Florida for his family vacation. I offered my parents' vacant condo, telling Ed he had to give me two hours of coaching so I could pick his brain. We shook digital hands via email, but I didn't get two hours of coaching. Instead, because Ed's a generous guy, he gave me a lot more time and direction than I had expected or requested.

In our first session, Ed said, "Instead of talking about our feelings, why don't I coach you through some practical outreach principles and a strategic outreach plan for your church." Knowing that I am theologically Reformed/Calvinistic, he warned me the process would stretch me. Praise God, it did.

Seeing an Exalted God

Early in college, I saw that Scripture clearly exalts God's sovereignty in all things, even and especially in human decision-making regarding salvation. Ephesians 1:11 is true. God works all things according to the counsel of his will. I dove into this truth. I soaked in it. I still do. I went to Southern Seminary, because the only thing that can explain a guy from California moving to Kentucky is a fully sovereign God. I learned a ton at Southern, and I am profoundly grateful for my education.

Green as a fresh Christmas tree, I came to pastor Pembroke Road Baptist Church in early 2009. I was three months out of seminary and fully committed to biblically faithful ecclesiology, expository preaching, and extolling a sovereign God and a glorious Gospel. These commitments haven't changed. But as ready as I was to teach theology, I was a lot less prepared to reach people practically. This, by God's grace, has changed.

On Being More Reformed than Jesus

I often joke with guys about being "more Reformed than Jesus." By this, I mean that they are so enthralled with Calvinistic theology, that they neglect the commands to love other Christians and reach people with the Gospel. They love their theology, but they've missed the heart of their God. They're all head with little heart for reaching people suffering, dying, and lost in sin.

But there are others in the Reformed/Calvinistic camp who want to see their churches grow. They're preaching the Gospel every Sunday in half-empty auditoriums built in cities where people need to hear the truth of Jesus. They're afraid to violate their theology, so they don't formulate a strategy to get the Gospel out to people who need to hear it. They don't mobilize their people for mission. Their belt is missing some key tools, like mine was.

Strong Theology and Practical Methodology are Friends

Thankfully, I've learned you can use practical methodology without violating strong theology. I've learned that practical tools and theological rigor aren't enemies. Very specifically, here's what I've learned: leverage seasons when people are more likely to gather with the church and hear the Gospel. Ed explained that every Fall and Spring, his church does a special outreach series. They push toward a "big day" and grow from a harvest in the following weeks.

We tried it.

We had a "big day" on September 23, 2012. On that day we started a four-week series about how God's love changes our lives. It wasn't a flowery series. It was straight Gospel truth and theology applied practically. We did mailers, door hangers, invite cards, signs in the front of our campus (we're on a major road).

It worked.

In 2011, from the Sunday after Labor Day through the Sunday before Christmas we had an average attendance of 128. In the same period last fall (2012), because of our outreach initiative, we averaged 148.

We did it again for Easter. We did a big mailer, and handed out almost 5,000 invite cards. We begged God to do something amazing. We started a new, four-week series on Easter Sunday about how the truth of Easter can change your life. On Easter Sunday, we had 281, which is a 20% larger gathering than the largest attendance we've had since I began four years ago (220 for Easter 2012). But, even more exciting, we had 228 people return this past Sunday the week after Easter.

Our goal isn't just to get a lot of people coming to church. Our goal is the formation of fully faithful followers of Jesus. I'm still going to preach expositionally 80% of the time. I'm still committed to biblical ecclesiology. I still believe that God is sovereign. And, thankfully, now I realize that a lot of outreach strategies I might have waved off flippantly can actually be tools in God's hands to mobilize his people on his mission. I've found that practical tools and theological rigor are compatible.

God has thousands of people in our cities that he has set aside for himself. He's calling us to go and find them. Let's stop arguing and get to work.

Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., is President of LifeWay Research and LifeWay's Missiologist in Residence. Adapted from Ed Stetzer's weblog at