Dear Pastor Mark --
I know you don't read any of the little blogs, or people who are trying to make their own tribe, but others do, and I think it's worth writing a brief open letter to you this week based on your epic video from this weekend:
I think it's fantastic that you can walk away from the Gospel Coalition, and hand over the reigns to Acts29, and with no muss and no fuss start your own tribe. It's proof that you have something which most of us don't have. I'm sure there's a Greek word for it, but unfortunately I don't speak Greek.
Someone with more time on their hands might want to go through this 21-minute monologue and find all the ingrown hairs and blemishes, but sadly: I'm on a tight schedule this week. I'm writing today about the funniest parts of this video. In your attempts here to get tribes to talk to each other, you have somehow done two things so well that they deserve a mention.
The first is this: you are fantastic at making much of yourself. You are the master of the humblebrag now that the meme is dead and the ship has sailed. Like a self-aware version of Ari Gold from Entourage, you drop all the names you know to demonstrate your position -- but dutifully, you're not like any of them. T.D. Jakes didn't hardly even know you when he met you, for pete's sake. And thankfully: you're nothing like the homeschooled fundies who can't make a tribe for themselves, who act drunk even though they would never touch the stuff. You're a tribal leader.
If anyone knows how to salvage his own reputation from the doctrinal and moral pratfalls and frankly-insulting egoisms for which you are actually well-known, it's you -- and it's funny to watch you do it as you get older and your audience stays the same age.
The other funny thing you do so well is, if I can be so bold, the fifth attribute of a tribal leader: you're the world-champion enumerator of enemies. You brandish the keen condescending tongue of someone high-school famous who knows that his popularity is only durable as long as he can demonstrate there are others who are uncool, infamous, unacceptable and undefended. Rarely has this been more evident than in this 21 minutes of video. You elevate yourself by making anyone who is like you were 10 or 15 years ago into a completely-unacceptable hayseed.
The truly-spectacular part, though, is how you wrap both of these objectives into one key omission in the schedule for this conference: in an allegedly-open discussion between tribes, you have simply overlooked asking anyone who would actually challenge you, anyone who disagrees with you in a substantive way.
Now, I get it: a fundie homeschooler presbyterian who is cessationist and dogmatically concerned about the fundamental truths of the faith -- so much so that they draw necessary conclusions about those items which cause them to rule out some tribes as unacceptable or actually unChristian -- is not a successful, fruitful tribal leader in your view of it. They are no Billy Graham or Francis Shaeffer.
Now: so what? So what if you're a Punch-like parody of a pastor? Can we all just get the joke and move on to the next big thing?
In my view of it, explaining the joke ruins it, so my apologies for that. Sorry to spoil it for you. But here's the thing: I can't just list my grievance and walk away. To be a helpful critic, I need also to offer you a remedy or a better example. That's what the popular kids say, anyway, so here's my thought about what you could do about it.
1. You could start talking to people who have pointed out your mistakes -- rather than talking about them.
Now, I realize that there are some people who are actually not worth talking to: people who have unreasonable ways of talking about you; people who have unreasonable expectations about how to resolve the problems (you know: turn yourself in to the police for your crimes against humanity); people who, frankly, don't understand what they are talking about; etc.
You don't have to talk to those people. You could talk to a Carl Trueman, or a Phil Johnson, or any number of Acts29 guys who are regretful that you really aren't who they thought you were. Jonathan Merritt seems to get you in a pretty succinct way - you could try him. You know: in the same way you brought tribes together in this event last weekend. Publicly, and as if you respected them.
That requires actual humility and actual repentance and actual wisdom, so decide for yourself if that's something you want to engage in. Ask yourself, "will that be good for me?"
2. You could reconsider your utterly-superficial notion of being a pastor
Let's face it: this one may get categorized by you as "unreasonable expectations" because in your eyes, you were audibly called by God to be mightily used. Who is anyone to accuse the Lord's anointed, after all? But: the crazy thing in the New Testament (the part where Acts 29 would be if it were a real chapter in the book) is the categorical absence of offices like the one you hold. The guys to whom the Lord actually did audibly speak all wind up travelling the world -- in chains, to their death. The others wind up staying in local churches -- and a lot of them wind up dying for the faith. Timothy, for example, who you might say was prophesied over as having the gift of an evangelist, was stoned to death in Ephesus.
You might consider yourself a "Bishop," I guess, but as it turns out in history (the part where the actual evidence is, not the part where you imagine the evidence is for receiving the gift of Spiritual Skinemax) the guys who were like the kind of Bishop you are were the guys fellows like Francis of Assisi were very worried about -- because those fellows were more concerned about influence and power than they were about Christ and his Church. They only associated with the rich and famous, and they didn't like it when anyone else pointed that out.
What you could do is take all your tweets about how much you "love your job" and rather than think a book or a conference is what saves marriages and souls, go back to the Bible and remember: what kind of man does it takes to shepherd a local church? What kind of life it is to lead a local church? You could turn back to that. Live that life, and the rest, I think, would take care of itself. Ask yourself, "will that be good for the people God has given to me?"
3. You could actually repent of your obsession with being famous and influential.
That's a fairly loaded suggestion from a fellow like me who, let's face it, is a blogger with any kind of an audience -- and that audience due entirely to the men who have allowed me to be their friends. But here's what I think: if you took 2 years off from the circuit and the book-writing and spent it instead on unpacking your own need for speed at the expense of other people, I'll bet when you returned to the big stage 24 months and one day later you'd have something very interesting to say to the rest of us.
Something along the lines of, "I have learned how to abound, and how to be abased." Something most people could relate to in the normal Christian life -- in every culture, not just affluent Washington and Chicago. You could ask yourself, "Am I concerned about the normal Christian life of real people?" And with that question answered, do that -- rather than trying to do what Oprah and Rob Bell have done and are doing to the Christian faith.
Those things said, if this note reaches you, thanks for the laughs. I hope this finds you in good humor, good spirits, good health, and good conscience. As a fellow father and husband, I wish the best to your family, the blessings of God upon them, and the wisdom and humility of Jesus to you as their shepherd and provider.
And what I really wish, with all sincerity and all real good will, is that you will repent for the sake of your own soul, and the sake of those who follow you.