I am happy I can help bring so much joy into Pastor Driscoll’s life.
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
James 1:2–4, ESV
I have spent quite a bit of time pondering the words of Jesus’ brother James in recent weeks. He says that in the midst of trials we are given an opportunity to have joy if we trust that God is using our circumstances to make us increasingly mature. To be honest, there are days when I wish there was a route to maturity other than trials. Nonetheless, James seems to be teaching that when trials do come, we must receive them as gifts of God for His glory and our joy if we hope to benefit from them. The past few weeks have provided an opportunity for me to learn this truth, though I confess I have not mastered it.
A few weeks back, in the wake of the Ted Haggard fall, I posted a blog that I hoped would help young pastors to diminish some of their vulnerability to disqualifying sin. At first, I had joy because many pastors notified me of how helpful they found my comments. But my joy soon faded; one of the quotes in particular that was intended as a general principle was applied specifically to Mrs. Haggard, which I did not intend to have happen in any way.
Around this time an online group also arose, combing through seemingly anything and everything that I have ever written or said, seeking statements to fan a fire of protest against me and the church that I pastor. As is often the case, the blogosphere erupted. Eventually some of the mainstream media also started calling me, hoping to find a story. So, I posted a clarifying blog. Things escalated and a protest, primarily against me, was scheduled for December 3rd at our church.
Considerable time was then spent with our church staff determining how to make sure that both our people and our protestors could be kept safe and cared for on December 3rd, which meant increased security and police presence. We spent time issuing a statement instructing our people to be kind and not say or do anything that could be deemed as unloving to even our most vocal critics. Additionally, families, including my own, began discussing if they wanted to avoid church altogether on the 3rd because the thought of taking one’s children through a group of protestors was uncomfortable. In addition, as much as we could tell from the online discussions, many who were leading the protest claimed to be Christians, and some even Christian pastors. Joining in the fray seemed to be an eclectic mix of non-Christians and anti-Christians who supported nearly every form of alternative lifestyle.
At this point I was having a hard time finding the joy that James speaks of. Sleep was hard to come by; I continually thought about how to communicate (to one of America’s least churched cities) the loving unity and new life that Jesus gives, while Christians were joining with non-Christians and anti-Christians to picket other Christians.
But then three things happened that God used to bring me a great deal of joy.
First, I began reading a lot of biographies, hoping to learn from proven mentors. I learned about how Billy Graham grew in his wisdom in dealing with Christians from so many divergent tribes. I was most encouraged to see that he turned his most vocal critics into coaches; he sought to learn what God had to speak to him through them. I also learned about my hero Charles Haddon Spurgeon and how he was often criticized, misquoted, and opposed, and, as a result, suffered ongoing bouts with severe depression and physical ailment. While I would in no way say that I am even worthy of shining the boots of Graham or Spurgeon, I did find their transitions from young brash preacher to mature Christian leader very helpful.
Second, I was contacted by Carolyn Haggard, the neice of Ted Haggard. She said that she had been tracking some of the furor in bloggerdom. She wanted to let me know that her family was praying for me, they appreciated the first blog that caused some people to be upset, and they did not interpret it as personally directed at anyone. At the church Ted Haggard pastored, Carolyn oversees, of all things, media relations. As we have exchanged some emails, God used her as both an encouragement and an instructor. She handles all of the media requests at the church, deals with various protestors, and helps to love the critics of the church. She seems like a wonderful woman whom I look forward to meeting. Through her, God convicted me that I need to hire someone to do what she does. Most helpful would be someone who could keep up with the blogging and media worlds and let me know what is going on so that my critics can be my coaches and help me do a better job of serving Jesus and people. One of the problems in the age of the internet is that I find myself simply unable to keep up and still have time to be a husband, father, and pastor. But if someone is not paying attention to the effects of what I am saying then I can quickly get isolated, which is not good.
Third, I was also contacted by some local pastors and Christian leaders, including the man leading the protest, to sit down and discuss their frustrations with me. The tone of the invitation letter was very kind and so I accepted their offer to sit down together as a small group on the evening of Thursday, November 30th. We met in someone’s home and in the room were a variety of ages, theological backgrounds, and church traditions. We had mainline and independent churches, megachurches and house churches, male pastors and female pastors, Reformed and Emergent all represented by someone in the room. Our few hours together were honest, respectful, and helpful.
I came to the meeting expecting God would speak to me through fellow Christians and had much joy because He did. I learned that my theological convictions, even the most controversial ones, are as unwavering as ever. But I also learned that as my platform has grown, so has my responsibility to speak about my convictions in a way that invites other people to experience charity from me, which means inflammatory language and such need to be scaled back. I was also sad and sorry to hear that various things I have said over the years have been received very personally by some people who felt personally attacked. A female pastor had a very good insight: as my platform has grown, so has my audience, and that in some sense I need to consider myself the pastor of two churches. In Mars Hill where I labor as a pastor who deeply loves his people, they are gracious with my faults and flaws because they know me and they know of my love for them. But outside of Mars Hill, for those who do not know me or my pastoral affection for people, the perception of me can be very different. Therefore, I need to learn how to function most effectively in a new role as someone given a broader voice to speak for Jesus. There is much to learn. To be honest, this is all new to me and comes quicker than I would have hoped for; I wish I was at this place in my fifties or sixties, following a longer period of maturing. However, Jesus obviously has something different planned for me.
Whether or not a protest against me occurs on Sunday I am unsure. But I am sure that by God’s grace the words of James are true. Through the various experiences and people God has kindly brought into my life in recent weeks, I have been made aware of where God is inviting me to work with Him for maturity. In that, I am finding a new kind of joy that oddly enough is due in part to my critics, for whom I am grateful.
You’re welcome, asshole.
…Hey Slog readers! You may also enjoy this post.