Jonathan Bowers: All right, so we are going to begin with our panel discussion and before jumping into some of the questions, I just want to introduce those that are joining us for this panel. We have Miguel Nuñez, Francis Chan, John Piper, Sam Storms, and Pastor Jason Meyer. My name is Jonathan Bowers and I’ll be moderating the panel. So let’s hop right in.
With the focus of this conference on the Holy Spirit, some have submitted questions asking for some practical guidance, particularly with respect to specific gifts of the Spirit. These are things like what does it mean to speak in tongues or what would the gift of miracles look like or what is prophecy. So could you comment on what those gifts of the spirit are? That’s you, Sam.
John Piper: Why are you looking at me?
Francis Chan: That’s you, Sam.
Sam Storms: Really all three of those you just want in like 30 seconds? All right. Yeah. Well I think prophecy is speaking in merely human words something that the Spirit has spontaneously brought to mind. In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul says if you’re sitting in a meeting, a corporate gathering, and somebody is speaking and God reveals something to a person. So prophecy is based on a revelation different from teaching, which is based on a text. So I think there’s a spontaneity to it. God discloses something to an individual and then he gives instructions on how the first person is to be silent and the second person is to speak that. Prophecy, according to 1 Corinthians 14:3, serves to edify, to encourage, to console. So those are its primary purposes. Later in 1 Corinthians 14 he talks about it disclosing the hearts and the sins of those who are unbelievers, who wander into your meeting, they fall in their face and declare that God is among you. I don’t believe that prophecy is synonymous with preaching. I think prophecy can be intermingled with preaching, but I think prophecy functions in a different way. Because I think, as I said, it’s based on the spontaneity of a revelation. Always to be judged, always to be weighed, examined, and assessed.
Regarding tongues, obviously there is a lot of dispute about that. I think the tongues of Acts 2 were genuine human languages previously unlearned by those who spoke them. I don’t believe that’s the case with tongues in 1 Corinthians 14. I have 10 arguments in my book as to why I think the tongues in 1 Corinthians 12–14 is a language imparted and crafted by the Spirit, unique to each individual that enables you to transcend the limitations on your own vocabulary and your own thoughts and desires and pray directly to the Spirit. And I do not believe that the gift of tongues is for everybody, I don’t think any particular gift is intended by God for every single individual. I don’t think tongues is the mark or the sign of anything any more than teaching is the mark or sign of anything or helping is the marker sign of anything. What was the other one? Miracles?
Yeah, the plural of dunamis (miracles), every time it appears . . . Well, I want to shut up. I don’t want to talk too much. I think there’s a huge mistake that people make. I hear people pushing back and they say, “Well, I believe that God can do miracles today, I just don’t believe there are miracle workers.” I don’t know that you can find in Scripture any miracle, other than the ones that God directly performed like raising Jesus from the dead, that weren’t performed through a human being, usually in response to prayer and crying out to God. So I don’t think the gift of miracles is something you carry in your back pocket. I don’t think because you might have been used by God to perform a miracle in one case that you can do it at will, at your discretion, at any time. I think miracles, very much like prophecy, are what I call an occasional or circumstantial gift. Depending upon the time and the need of the moment, God can impart it to any individual and that doesn’t mean you’ll ever be able to perform another miracle for the rest of your life. It’s not at your discretion and will, it is at God’s sovereign discretion and will for the particular occasion in which he finds a need that needs to be met.
John Piper: Guys, for clarification, just take the gift of healings in. Would you encourage people to pray that they become gifted at healing or that in a given moment they ask for the gift of healing for that minute of healing and then whether God wants to ever do it again is up to him? Should a person pray to become a healer to say, “That’s my gift”?
Sam Storms: Well, I don’t necessarily think it’s an either/or, but I would affirm more of the latter. I think it’s interesting, and even the ESV gets it wrong when it says “gifts of healing”. No, they’re both plural. It’s gifts of healings. I don’t know why they don’t translate the plural as a plural. I have to talk to our friend Wayne about that because it’s wrong. I think gifts of healings are individual empowerments for a particular healing for a particular affliction at a particular time.
Now I’ve only had that happen to me maybe a half dozen times in 44 years of ministry so I don’t call myself a healer. But I pray, “Lord, would you do that more consistently in me. Prepare my heart. Make me open, hungry, and sensitive to your Spirit, so that I would be more consistent in the experience of that gift.” But I think it is utterly and absolutely subject to the sovereignty of God and his purpose for whatever person that you’re praying for. So yes, I pray for more. For example, I think James 5 is referring to praying in faith and a gift for that particular healing is granted, but it doesn’t mean that, again, you could pray for somebody and see a powerful miracle of healing happen and turn to the next person in line who has the same affliction and guarantee they are healed as well.
Why? Because God’s sovereign purpose for one isn’t, at that particular moment, his sovereign purpose for the other. So I would say both are good. Mostly I’m praying, every time I pray for the sick, “Lord, grant me a profound supernatural surge of confidence that you’re able to do this and you’re a compassionate God who loves doing good things for your children, and grant me a gift, a charisma for this particular healing at this particular time.” But then I will also pray later, “Lord, make that happen more often. Make it more consistent.”
Francis Chan: Can I interrupt right now? Just based upon what your message was, Jason, and how you spoke about promptings to pray. That was you. I want to pray for you, Miguel, your back. I just think what if right now God just heals Miguel through our prayer? That’s a way to close a conference like this, just in faith if we could lay hands on Miguel and pray for a healing of his back. He was telling me about his pain yesterday and I started praying for him. He told me, “Man, it’s better. I got to sleep last night.” And I’m like, man, I want to pray till this thing is done. I want to pray for a complete healing. And I just feel prompted and I don’t want to quench the Spirit. So I’m interrupting.
John Piper: Put in 10 seconds to explain what’s going on with his back.
Miguel Nuñez: Well, I was just sharing with Francis last night that over the last several months I’ve been suffering from a lot of back pain and muscle spasm. And finally we decided to do an MRI of the cervical thoracic lumbar spine. And besides having osteoarthritis, there was a disc found at every level and that was the cause of the pain and it was occasionally producing some difficult breathing at times. That’s what I was sharing with Francis. And I was excusing myself that I was not at his session in part because I woke up with a lot of pain yesterday morning.
Francis Chan: I knew he was in a lot of pain to skip my session. But here’s what I’d like. I would love to just pray with absolute faith and just say, “God, take away any doubt, any of that unbelief in me.” And would you guys join me in this belief that God is in this room right now. He’s right here. He hears everything, and he can do anything. I mean this is real now. It’s real power and real love. Some of us have had that pain where you just can’t even breathe. And now out of love for Miguel and out of a desire to see the glory of God and a true belief that this could happen, would you join me? Would you have your minds literally at that throne realizing who we’re talking to right now and how simple it is for the one who can do abundantly more than all that we ask or could even imagine.
Miguel Nuñez: Amen. Thank you. Thank you brother. Let me just share something that happened at our church just a week ago. And there is someone else here from our church that is very close to this person, and he could testify to this. But it’s a young person in our church. He’s about 22, and he came to me as a physician. Some of you know that I’m a physician and I still see some cases. So he came with a lesion in the mouth that looked very infected, but beyond that, just the appearance of it looked malignant. So I called the dentist who was working on him and I said, “This is clearly infected, but this is not just an infection. This is clearly something else and I just don’t like the appearance of it. So would you biopsy him and do it several times so we make sure that we get a diagnosis?”
Two days later, he was diagnosed with one of the worst lymphomas you can think of. It was T-cell lymphoma. And this I know from firsthand. So the church was praying for him and there were a lot of people. It was very sad. He’s a very young godly man who everyone loves. And so the biopsy was sent here to the US for confirmation and that’s when the lymphoma was confirmed as T-cell lymphoma. And then over the next two or three weeks, the lesion disappeared and there were a couple of lymph nodes involved. We sent him to Miami for a PET scan, which is a scan that just scans through the entire body looking for cancer cells. The PET scan came back completely negative. There were a couple of lymph nodes that were slightly warm on the PET scan, but very nonspecific. So we decided to biopsy those. They were also negative. The bone marrow was biopsied, and that was negative. He went through a bone scan, CT scan, chest scan, abdomen scan, pelvic scan, and there was not one trace of cancer anywhere.
So there is one that just happened through the prayers of the church. There was not any one particular healer, but the church was praying and we saw it. And that’s only a week ago. And there’s one from my church here, one of our deacons. So he could testify to this.
Jason Meyer: And these things aren’t robotic or mechanical. So on the one hand, we might have an experience of somebody coming to the elders because they’re sick and I don’t even know what’s going to happen. They just come in and I think, “Oh, this is on the agenda. I wasn’t aware of it.” And we all pray together and sometimes the person is healed and sometimes they’re not. But other times, there’s a few times I’ve had the clearest, most powerful prompts of the Spirit happen in relation to praying for healing. There was one young lady who I was a professor to, and she came to me one day in my office and just was talking about her child and just weeping because her child had all of these holes basically in his liver and was going for surgery and that they weren’t sure about it. And I just felt the prompt to pray.
And I tried to ignore it the first time. And it felt like, “No, pray.” So I said, “I’m feeling led to pray right now. Can I pray?” We prayed for healing and the next day she called me back because she was going to the doctor that day for the X-rays and everything pre-surgery. And so she called me the next day and said that the doctor had no category for what just happened. It was like a new liver. It was like there were no spots, no holes. It was like brand new. So sometimes the Spirit prompts you to pray. Don’t quench the Spirit. Obey that impulse to pray for healing. Other times you might not feel anything heading into it at all and yet God chooses to heal in the appointed regularity of obeying commands of Scripture, like, if anybody is sick come to the elders (James 5:14–16), and you see the Lord work there too.
Francis Chan: Don’t feel pressure. No, seriously, I think this is important to say. I don’t want you to feel like, “Oh man, I’m going to disappoint everyone if I’m not healed,” as though we were doing something. It’s the sovereign will of God. Having made that caveat, how do you feel right now?
Miguel Nuñez: I came in better today, so I wasn’t really feeling pain when I came in. But that could happen intermittently. So I will need to get back to you to see what the Lord has done.
Francis Chan: I might’ve done it yesterday by myself without these guys . . . you know I’m joking about that, but okay. All right. I was just curious. All right.
Miguel Nuñez: I was just going to say, in terms of praying for the gift, the way I see it is that I ask the Lord to give me the gift that he thinks I would need for whatever purpose he has for me in my life, my calling. So I’m not given to pray for a particular gift. He knows better than me what I’m supposed to do and the purposes for which you call me. So whatever that is, whatever I need, I pray that he would just equip me with it and then help me use it for his glory.
Jonathan Bowers: Maybe to jump off of what just happened and give us a chance to reflect on the practice of praying for healing. How do you shepherd somebody that you’re praying for to feel hope and ambition in asking God for great things without being presumptuous? So if you’re praying for somebody, maybe reminding them God doesn’t always heal, how do you do that in a way that doesn’t dampen the spirit of expectancy in this person?
Miguel Nuñez: Well, nine months ago we had the opposite experience. We had another young person, a deacon in the church. He was 40 years old with pancreatic cancer, a carcinoma of the pancreas. He came to the elders, just like James says, and asked for us to pray for him, which we did. And we even anointed him with oil and nothing happened, and he died six months later. As we prayed for him, we kept reminding him that we were doing two things. One, we were confessing to the Lord that we believed that he had the power to do it, to do the healing and anything else beyond that event. But at the same time we were submitting to his will, and we were referring to Jesus’s prayer at Gethsemane. We said, “This is what I would like to happen, but not my will but yours. So Lord, this is the same way we are praying. This is what we would like to happen, not our will but yours.”
And we reminded him that our faith was not so much in the healing per se, but rather in the sovereignty and the benevolence of God and the mercy of God to work in whichever direction the will of God would work. But we did say we do have the confidence that he could heal this person and that we would love to see it. We would love to see God glorifying himself in this healing. But also said we would pray that he would glorify himself in him, through the same grace, if he decided to do something differently, so that this man may be able to testify about him through this illness, which he was able to do. So that has been a way that we’ve done it.
John Piper: Here are two things. I think that a pastor should devote himself in his preaching and teaching to create an understanding of suffering that everybody in the church knows. We all believe here God can heal and that he doesn’t always heal. We all believe that. Therefore, when you get together, you don’t need to inform God that we know he doesn’t heal sometimes because it’s always prefacing your prayer with “Now we understand, we’re all Calvinists here, and we believe in the sovereignty of God.” You just don’t need to do that because the church is well taught. You just start asking God to do it.
And the second thing I would say after saying you do not have to say out loud “You may not heal here” is let’s all prepare ourselves to fail here in our faith because we know theologically that we might. If you’re taught well, make that a theme of your preaching. The second thing is you can always pray for a sick person with confidence, first, that their faith would be made strong. I always start when I’m praying for somebody, “God, make their faith strong. Make their faith strong.” Because if they’re going to die in six months, I want them to really die well. I want to glorify Jesus in dying well. That’s as big a deal as glorifying Jesus in being healed.
And then the second one is to heal them. I pray, “Heal them.” Do unto others as you would have them do unto you (Matthew 7:12). I would like to get well so I want you to get well. So always pray for those two things: make their faith strong and now heal them. And if the church is well taught, you can just relax in that moment, hand them over to Jesus, look to a great thing to be done, and a great thing will be done. He doesn’t treat his children badly.
Jason Meyer: I think that’s true, but there are times right when that person that you’re trying to pray for just feels complete anxiety. They’re there and they’re wondering, they feel in the dark. I don’t think it’s wrong in that moment to prepare them and say, “Remember the lie of Satan, that your Father’s heart is limited and narrow and is withholding. But let’s remember we’re praying to our Father here who loves to give good gifts to his children. His character is on display. His heart is not limited toward you in any way. And we’re praying for healing here. We know we’re praying according to the knowledge that this will be healed. We know that. That this is going to be healed by death for sure. And that will be incredible. That will be an expression of our Father’s heart for you. And we’re just praying that he would be pleased to bring some of that grace and gift into today. Suddenly, that’s not put in terms of, “Oh, I’m on the edge of my seat. I don’t know. Do I have enough faith?”
It’s just grounding that in our Father’s character and heart, and I’ve found that helps people sometimes. It’s not that you need to teach them that every time, but just be sensitive to the person in front of you and what they might need. They might be well taught, but maybe they’re forgetting.
Sam Storms: I run home to Romans 8:28 when it seems as if you’ve covered all your bases. James 5:16 says, “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you might be healed.” When maybe the issue is not a lack of faith. You’ve dealt with perhaps a demonic cause of the affliction. You seem to have covered all the bases and you don’t have any explanation for why a person isn’t healed. And I just simply say, “Look, do you believe that God causes all things to work together for your good? You who have been called according to his purpose, you who love God.” And they say, “Yeah.” And I can say, “Well, given that reality, perhaps then the reason you’re not healed is because in God’s infinite wisdom and love for you, there’s something he wants to accomplish in your life and bringing you into conformity to Christ that he knows can only be done in spite of your physical affliction and maybe even precisely by means of it.”
So I hate to say it’s a fallback text, but it’s the foundational underlying reality. We pray, we press in, we persevere in prayer for healing, but if it doesn’t happen, does that disprove Romans 8:28? No. That’s the truth that we hold onto. Somehow in the midst of my affliction and my weakness, God is causing it to work out for my good. In the context of Romans eight, he’s talking about suffering. God causes all things, primarily the suffering he’s just talked about and what he’ll talk about in the last few verses of the chapter, to make me more like Jesus. Now, that doesn’t mean you should stop praying for healing, but if it doesn’t come, you say, “God, thank you. You’re so wise. You love me so much that there’s something that is infinitely more important to you in my life than me getting well physically. And you’re accomplishing that precisely by means of cultivating deeper faith, deeper trust in your goodness, knowing your sovereign purposes for me.”
Francis Chan: No, this is good. I think we can all just go, “Yeah, amen.” But I just want to challenge something. Because this is new to me and I’m not 100 percent sure of this. I just have to tell you what happened, okay? This last weekend, like I shared, I was praying, and you know what? Let me take some time to confess too. I lied yesterday in my message. And even when I said it, I was like, that’s not totally true. I was talking about the prayer time and I was talking about what an amazing weekend it was. And I said, “I don’t have time to tell you all the things.” That’s not true. I had time and I hesitated saying some of those things because I was fearful of how it might be received. I just have to confess. That’s the only thing I can think of where it was just a lie.
I thought about it afterwards and I thought, “No, it’s not true.” I just didn’t want to say it at the moment because I was scared it may offend some people or it could be wrong. But here’s what really happened. I was with a group of people who had a different view of healing than some of what we’re saying here. They are brothers and sisters in Christ. I love them, and I love their love for Jesus. Their theology is just a little different from mine. And there is a lot more claiming, where they just say they believe that they can heal any time and that we don’t have the faith and there’s not the persistence. And I’m uneasy with that. And they challenged me and said, “Look at the book of Acts. How many times was it really a prayer or was there just an assurance?” That can go with what Sam is saying, that those gifts of healings at that moment and those prayers of faith at that moment, they just knew.
I can’t sort it all out. This is coming from a guy who in 30 years of ministry, I don’t think I’ve ever really healed anyone, okay? And even at this last time, it was the night before someone called for the elders to heal. One of our pastors called for the elders. And we went over and I thought, “Man, here is a group of men of faith. I love my elders. These are the godliest men I know. I trust them.” So we went over like a gang, thinking, “We’re going to do this thing.” There was a trust and there was a faith. We’re going through Sam’s book on spiritual gifts. So we got this. And we were praying with this confidence and he wasn’t healed. And I thought, “Man, there I go again. Lord, I never get to see it.”
Well, on Saturday after the all night prayer, which was 13 or 14 hours of prayer the day before, and last weekend, all sorts of people got healed in our church. This is new to me. This is new. I can think of maybe two or three people in my lifetime that were healed. So I would get probably about 10 at least that I know of in one weekend. And they were praying for one of our pastor’s wives, Karima, because she had a broken toe. You know how it feels when you have a broken toe and you can’t even put your shoe on. We were actually praying for her husband who didn’t get healed. That was the pastor. And then as we were praying for him again the next day she said, “You know what? Can you pray for my toe also? I know it’s a small thing, but I broke it. We just had a baby . . . and I could barely put my shoe on this morning.”
So that group prayed in faith and they would ask her — and this is new to me — “What’s the pain level? You don’t have to be nice, just say it.” She said, “It’s a little better. If it was a 10, maybe it’s an eight.” They said, “Let’s pray again.” I thought, “Again? That’s pretty good. Let’s just say that’s enough.” They said, “No, let’s go again.” She said, “There’s nothing, well, maybe a seven. Oh, it feels better now, it’s just a little bit.” And they would say, “Hey, don’t be nice. Just be honest. We’re not doing the healing, God is.” And it got all the way down to where she said, “You know what? It’s just this little sharp pain now. This is crazy. It’s just this little sharp pain. I would say it went from a 10 to a two.” And they were like, “Let’s keep praying. Keep praying, keep praying.”
And honestly, I wasn’t praying because I was at the point where I thought, “Maybe I mess things up.” Seriously. This is what I was thinking. I thought, “I wonder if it’s my lack of faith. I don’t want to assume. Maybe I don’t see it because whenever I’m in the room it just won’t happen.” And then I just thought that was a lie from the enemy. That is so unbiblical. That doesn’t make any sense biblically. That’s my flesh and Satan, and I just was prompted to be the one, after they prayed for a while, to get on my knees at her feet and hold her toe and pray. And in my mind I was just saying, “Lord, I don’t want her leaving here going, ‘Yeah, it feels better.’ God, make her scream. Make her just to where she can’t contain the fact that you moved. Let it not be emotion, but the power of the Holy Spirit.” And she just started going, “No, no, look at this! Look at this!” And she was just praising God and tears were coming down her face. And then two of the guys said, “We had talked before you got on your face and we both heard from the Lord that the last two degrees of pain are going to come from Francis, to get that faith in him.”
This is all new to me. I’m not making any statements of theologically I’ve been off or this or that, I’m just saying what happened. And then for others in our church, it was not just strangers, it wasn’t an act. These are people I know that aren’t fakers. These are our people in our church. We didn’t even believe in a lot of these gifts. And I thank you, Sam, for your book because in your writings, your teachings, through the mind I was changed, not through experience. What I’m talking about now, I’m starting to question some of my theology based upon this experience. I may be off on some things. But the other stuff I felt like I was off theologically. Basically, I read his book and it changed the way I thought about things. Okay, I’m trying to sound smart.
I’ll just be quiet. That’s just what’s been happening. And for the first weekend, I feel like people in the church were feeling that Acts 2 sense of awe, like, “What just happened? We’re not like this.” And these people came from a group that I have slandered in the past, taken a sledgehammer to, who dearly loved Jesus. And I thank God for them imparting maybe just something new, a new persistence in my prayer that we know is biblical. And I never applied it to the gift of healing. So there’s my confession. There’s my testimony.
Miguel Nuñez: I have a word of caution for those of us who are in the global south. We see all kinds of craziness all the time. The first time that I moved to Santa Domingo, I went to the funeral home to visit a mom who had lost her son. And about 10 minutes later a lady came in and the first thing that came out of the mom was, “Liar, liar, liar. You told me that my son was healed. There he is dead. Now what do you have to say?” So there are all kinds of people declaring people healed who have never been healed. And I’m just restating what Pastor Piper and Jason said earlier together. Certainly God doesn’t need to be reminded, as Pastor Piper said, that healing doesn’t happen all the time, but believers do need some reminders because of these situations that take place all the time.
I don’t know how many of you know the book by Philip Yancey from the late eighties, Disappointment with God. The whole book begins with a false healing. He’s telling the story of a seminary student who really wanted to see, in his own words, “real faith”. So he finally heard about this healer that was in town and he was invited to go and see him. So they brought in a doctor with lung cancer and they brought him in on a bed, basically on a stretcher. And then he prayed for him and declared him healed and then asked him to walk and he did walk. So he was so excited and he went home. He said, “Finally, I saw something real tonight and that’s what I always wanted to see.” But he was still uncomfortable.
Several months later he finally was able to contact the home of the patient and he asked for Dr. so-and-so and he told how there was a silence on the other side. And then a woman spoke and said, “Dr. so-and-so was my husband and he passed away.” Then he said, “Now the silence was on this side and I didn’t know what to say.” So he became very disappointed with God. And then I think he even walked away from the faith. I’m not sure where he is now. So that’s a book that’s out there by Philip Yancey. And because of that, that’s why I think believers need to be reminded all the time. Our God glorifies himself in healing and in illness and suffering as Pastor Piper has so well taught so many times. And one thing doesn’t mean less grace than the other, or less blessing. God is good every time he works and every time he works, he’s giving us a blessing whichever way he moves. So I just wanted to comment on that.
Sam Storms: I always caution people, avoid declarative statements unless you have explicit biblical warrant for doing so. I’ve been praying for the sick really since I came to believe in the gifts of Spirit since 1988. I’ve prayed for thousands of people. Twice among those thousands, I’ve made a declarative statement. And I think I had grounds because I believe God granted me the gift of faith. And oftentimes the gift of faith combines with a gift for healing. And the gift of faith isn’t what all of you all are experiencing right now or what John was talking about when he talked about that middle T of trust.
Regarding the gift of faith, I love Don Carson’s explanation. He says it’s that supernatural surge of confidence that enables you to believe something for which you don’t have explicit biblical warrant. I don’t have an explicit biblical warrant to declare to somebody they’re going to be healed unless God just supernaturally and sovereignly grants me the inability to doubt. And it’s happened twice in my life — so I mean very, very, very, very, very rarely. Unfortunately, there are some in ministry, and out of good intentions — obviously they feel like if they don’t, they’re somehow letting God down — who make these declarative statements and these promises lead to the kind of disillusionment and crushing of people’s confidence in God’s goodness that Miguel just described. So be wary of making declarative statements unless you have explicit biblical warrant for doing so. Now, like I said, there are exceptions when the gift of faith combines with a gift for healing.
Jason Meyer: I love what Lloyd Jones says about the gift of faith. He said something similar, that it’s that supernatural surge of confidence where you say, “This is going to happen. I don’t know how I know, but it’s coming in like a flood that this is going to happen.” And then he said, one aspect of the glory of Christ is that he always had that. What a wonder to realize that in that moment, that sense of faith was something that Jesus always had.
Jonathan Bowers: I’m going to shift topics somewhat. We had someone ask a question about the recent “Me Too” campaign and the “Church Too” hashtag on Twitter. With these stories that are coming out, especially in light of public figures, whose deeds have been exposed with regard to sexual abuse, how do we make our churches a place where, particularly, women who have been victimized by sexual abuse feel safe, feel cared for, feel protected, and feel heard?
Sam Storms: Let’s give a quick word of testimony about that. When this thing broke initially with Harvey Weinstein and then it just spread everywhere, I called a meeting of all our female staff members and got them away from the guys and we sat in a room together. I did this also with our children’s coordinators who oversee our children’s ministry. I had a private meeting with them. And I said, “I just want all of you to know that if there is ever anything that is ever said to you, whether in jest or anything that is done, any kind of physical contact that makes you feel in any way vulnerable or violated, you come to me and you tell me. And I want you to know you will not be putting your job or your employment in jeopardy for doing that.” And I saw the looks on their faces when they heard that, in both cases.
Now does that guarantee that something bad won’t happen? No, but they need to hear from us as pastors that I’m going to lay down my life to provide a safe environment for you. And if anybody at any level, whether it’s a lay person, a pastor, or an elder, ever says something that makes you feel really uncomfortable that you think has crossed a boundary, you come tell me and I’ll address it. That’s the one thing that I did.
Jason Meyer: And I think we need, from the pulpit, teaching on what abuse is in all of its various forms, whether it’s sexual abuse, or spiritual abuse, or physical abuse, or emotional abuse. And again, the power of the Spirit can be at work even in those moments that you’re teaching. We had one person at our church that had been through a really horrible relationship, a dating relationship, and had experienced some physical abuse and emotional abuse. And in the sermon that I preached on domestic abuse, her testimony was, “I felt something in that moment. I’d always thought, ‘I know this is wrong, I know this is wrong,’ but that victim thing came up in the preaching of the sermon. I felt God’s strong hand put parts of me back together again and feel healing from it.” So it’s not simply in the closed door meetings, but believing that God can heal that too and speak into it and that the rest of the church can hear it and be chastened as well and have things click in their minds.
Miguel Nuñez: Let me add something else on top of what already has been said. I think godly character on the part of the shepherds and the closeness to the sheep are requirements so that they could feel safe in coming and talking and sharing. As a physician and then as a pastor, I have heard all kinds of stories from A to Z, but what I have found most helpful is that people feel safe in telling you for two reasons. Number one, that you would understand them, that you would pray for them, and sometimes you would even cry with them of how much empathy there is. And two, that you would not tell anyone. But that has to be cultivated among the leadership of the entire church because there are some people that are not as close to me as they are to other leaders. So I don’t think the church today puts enough emphasis on godly character.
And then secondly, shepherds should smell like sheep. We need to walk close to them so that they would know that we can be trusted. And I think the lack of trust is the main reason why people — wives, children, etc. — don’t get close to whoever, whether the husband or the parents or the pastor. They think, “I don’t trust you.” And we communicate that sometimes from the pulpit, sometimes because we’re not godly in our walk, and sometimes because other people have come to you and you have not been sensitive, empathetic, and then they go out and they tell others. So that’s the climate. The church needs to be a place where people could say, “This is the safest place that I could find in my community where I could go. If I cannot tell it here, there’s no other place that I could go to.” So I think that would help with older sins as well — homosexuality, drinking, pornography, and on and on and on it goes.
Francis Chan: This goes with that though, and I think you would agree with this, but I’m not supposed to say it. Being close to the sheep is important, but with the women, I really keep my distance. There was sin in my life, I mean there’s still sin in my life, but it was so strong in my teen years and even when I first entered into ministry, my early twenties, that I just had to set up serious boundaries with women to where I eventually just said I can’t even counsel.
So with that, when I travel and I’m spending the night somewhere, I’m bringing someone with me. I won’t even be in a car, even a two minute ride, with another woman alone. I’ll say, “Sorry, you’re going to have to Uber. I’ll meet you there where there’s a group of people.” I mean it seems silly, but there’s such parameters to the point where my own staff, the women in the staff for years, everyone at some point had a complaint like, “Francis doesn’t like me, Francis doesn’t like me.” I said, “No, it’s not that. I just have some real boundaries.” So I am assuming you’re saying yes, get close enough to smell them. But I’d rather say, I don’t even want that. I don’t want to smell you. I’ll have my wife smell you. There’s other people that will get that close in light of all of it.
Miguel Nuñez: Yeah, well said. But a couple of things. In our church, every ministry there is a couple on top of that ministry. So that leader is always married for that one reason. And number two, in our offices, all the walls and doors are glass. So you are constantly under observation precisely as to observe those parameters that you were saying. But I didn’t mean physically to smell you closely.
Francis Chan: I know.
Miguel Nuñez: But I mean a level of closeness with the sheep. But that includes your wives, obviously. It includes wives of the leadership in the church.
Jonathan Bowers: And on that topic, someone else asked a question, I think in light of when it came out that Mike Pence had shared that he doesn’t have dinner with a woman that’s not his wife. There was a fresh wave of discussion about what’s been called the “Billy Graham Rule”, in which Billy Graham had the principle that he wouldn’t have dinner with a woman that was not his wife. And I think there’s been some dialogue about how, especially for men that are leading in the church, what does wisdom look like in being guarded in our relationships with women that are not our wives, but acting in a way that doesn’t make them feel like a threat?
Jason Meyer: I think they can sense immediately whether you perceive them as a threat or whether there’s a warmth and a welcoming, and an excitement to talk to them and pray with them, as long as it’s always kept clear what the relationship is. So there are parameters that can be natural, safe boundaries, but within that there can be warmth so that they don’t feel like, “I’m an inconvenience or a distraction or a threat, or you’re just not very comfortable with me.” There’s a way to not be like this, but still to be like this.
Jonathan Bowers: So what does that look like? How do you communicate warmth to sisters in Christ? Because I think among many women there’s a sense of when they hear something like what Francis was sharing, it can in some ways be stifling or feel oppressive to feel like they’re the ones that are the problem and you are trying to keep them away. So how do you encourage that sort of relational warmth, still having proper boundaries in place?
Jason Meyer: Paul says to Timothy, “Regard younger women as sisters” (1 Timothy 5:2). So what’s my relationship like with my earthly sister? I love talking to her. There’s an eagerness and a warmth of “I’m really happy to see you”. That gets communicated in all kinds of nonverbal ways and it can be explicit, but everybody knows something of the difference when it becomes sexualized or centralized or whatever. There’s ways to talk to somebody that says “I’m really glad to see you” without making them feel uncomfortable.
Francis Chan: Yeah. And make sure you guys understand, I’ve probably gone overboard in my weakness and I also feel like I’ve had an improper view of some of this, of the strength I can have in the Spirit to see these women as sisters. And a lot of this was when I read John Piper’s article about what you would write to a would-be adulterer and the grace of God over your life and just the way that he’s allowed you to view women. It really freed a lot of us on our staff. We thought, “Maybe I’ve just believed the lie that I couldn’t get to that point to see them as sisters.” And I think I bought into that as well. So I’m growing in this. I do think I’m warmer. I’m just trying to figure out where that line is.
Sam Storms: I’m curious, we’ve all been pastors at some time or another. Have any of you ever been invited out to lunch, breakfast, or dinner by a woman? I never have. So why would I ever do that? I’ve invited someone and said, “Anne and I would love to get together with you over breakfast, or over lunch.” It’s always Anne and I, but I haven’t been invited by a woman.
Francis Chan: I have. But look at me. No, I’m kidding. It’s been rare because people know my stance. But sometimes you’re going into a place and sometimes I even go to a conference and my assistant checks and they are going to have a woman drive me somewhere, or they’ll say, “She’ll take you.” I say, “Whoa,” and it puts the kibosh on that. But there are times where they just say, “Hey, can we meet for breakfast? Can we meet for lunch?” It has happened. I think it’s more like it’s so normal in certain circles and it’s not like they are pursuing me in any way. It’s just that they’re used to it in their circles, and they think it’s fine. And so it wasn’t any advance in any type of way. It was just more like, “Hey, can we meet here?” And I just say, “No, I don’t do that.”
Sam Storms: Francis, you’re a first for a lot of things. By the way, let me just say this. If some of you think, “You know, this guy sounds really legalistic; I mean come on, lighten up,” let me tell you, all it takes is one false slanderous comment about you and your ministry can be destroyed. It can be utterly unjustified, warrantless, false, and tragically, it’s so unjust, but one time and it can destroy your reputation and you’ll never get it back.
Francis Chan: Amen.
Jonathan Bowers: Maybe to conclude our time, I’d love to hear from you all about one last thing. I think a lot of times in conferences like these brothers and sisters that are here can see prominent speakers and rejoice in successes in their ministry and then feel a sense of “I don’t measure up to that kind of a standard.” They think, “I’m not as enthusiastic,” or, “I don’t have as many people going to my church,” or, “I’m not as gifted rhetorically.” What would be your encouragement to brothers and sisters that might come away from a conference like this feeling a sense of discouragement?
Jason Meyer: Well, we’re usually not very good at being able to judge ministry effectiveness and the ministry effectiveness perhaps that you think you see can be deceptive. And so one of the things I feared with speaking on Lloyd Jones and how night-and-day different he’s trying to make preaching in the Spirit and preaching in the flesh is that of course there are degrees. Sometimes you’re going to be preaching and you feel like certainly that did nothing. He felt that too. And then would find out years later, “Whoa, that happened? I had no idea.” John Flavel, preaching as a Puritan, preached a sermon when Luke Short was an 18 year old and subsequently then Luke Short and his family moved to America.
When Luke Short, 82 years later, was celebrating his 100th birthday, he was reflecting back on his life and time in England and he remembered, “Oh, there was that church and that guy that was telling people we were under the wrath of God, and some stupid stuff.” And then suddenly it hit him, “Oh my, I’m under the wrath of God.” And he remembered enough about the sermon that the Spirit brought to mind about Christ becoming a curse so that we could be received. And 82 years after that sermon, he became a believer. So take the long view. The word doesn’t return empty. We might have no idea what the Lord’s doing, but he’s working.
Miguel Nuñez: I’ve done several different things to be able to deal with that. Number one, to realize that whatever God gives to me or to Pastor John, those are the blessings that he purpose for us according to the calling that he has given to each one of us. Number two, if God gave Pastor John a passion for God and the way that comes through his preaching, I should celebrate that because God gave it to him, even if I don’t have it, rather than becoming envious. Number three — which I did today as I listened to him — I ask God to give me some of that because that would enrich my ministry. So rather than being envious or jealous about something that God has given to him, I should celebrate it. And then I could say, “Lord, you know what? I would like some of that passion as well.” And then just rest peacefully that God may do that or may not.
But I think we need to learn to celebrate God’s gift to other people, preachers to whatever degree and whatever else that may be. It could be leadership. Not everyone is gifted as a leader the same way. And even in the Bible, people get one talent, two talents, three talents. I think in our society we want everyone to be exactly the same and have the same level of intelligence and an equal opportunity for everything, but God hasn’t done it that way. Sovereignly, he has chosen one over another, sovereignly, he has gifted one more than another, sovereignly he has made some people more intelligent than others, and we should be able to celebrate that and accept that.
I have a triangle that I use quite frequently in counseling, but I use it from my own life. There’s expectations here, where are they? And then there is acceptance. I need to accept whatever God has given to me as good and valid. And then there is gratitude. So if I could get that triangle in balance all the time, I would feel significantly better. I’m not expecting to be the best preacher, the best doctor, the best of anything. I accept what I have and what I don’t have and I’m grateful for what I have because, by the grace of God, I am who I am, and by the grace of God, I’m not who I was or maybe who I’m not right now.
So I think we need a lot of that to gather, to be able to say, “Lord, I’m celebrating your gift over Pastor Piper or Jason Meyer or Sam Storms.” I asked the Lord to give me the ability to pray as long as Francis was telling us he was praying recently. So I’m celebrating that. Whether I agree or disagree in certain areas of theology with him, I could still appreciate certain things that God wants me to do, like praying fervently. So that’s the way I’ve done it. And when I have felt any degree of jealousy or envy, which I think all of us probably have felt at some point in our lives, I confess it, I repent, and say, “Lord, I don’t want to go that way anymore.”
Francis Chan: Amen. In light of what you were sharing earlier about specific promises for that moment or that issue, I think of Ephesians 2:10, which says, “For we are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” I think about the promise to Jeremiah that before I even formed in your mother’s womb, I knew you and I already determined that you were going to be a prophet to the nations (Jeremiah 1:5). We should believe these promises at those times and to encourage people, “Look, we’re about something that was chosen before the foundation of the world.” I mean some of us — and I learned this about myself this last year — are good at taking his commands seriously and sometimes not so good at taking his promises seriously and trembling at his promises and going, “God Almighty said he knew me before he even formed me in his mother’s womb and he had these works for me to do. And he said there were these things that he determined beforehand that I should walk in them.”
And then you see in First Corinthians that in every part of the body you can’t say, “I don’t need you.” These are promises. There are certain things he made me to do that you won’t be able to do and to believe that about myself as well as to celebrate, saying, “Oh man, I am glad that God has given you this gift. I’m glad you can correct the ESV. I’m grateful for that.” But at the same time, we should claim the promise for ourselves so say, “You know what? I am so glad that he knew me before he even made me, and he made me specifically for a task that he determined beforehand.” And we should remind every one of those biblical promises.
Miguel Nuñez: I know we’re running late, but just one minute. I want to say something else about acceptance because I think that’s where a lot of people are struggling. I’m getting older, and obviously I tend to think more about dying and I want to die well, as Pastor Piper said. And I was wondering what would happen if I’m in bed for the next three, four, or five years or right before I die? Would I be less effective? We talked about some of that last night. And the Lord clearly showed me, and that was so good to me because I felt that the pressure was lifted from me. It’s like he almost communicated this to my mind: “Son, if you are in bed when you’re dying for three years or five, your job or responsibility or task hasn’t changed versus being in the pulpit. At the pulpit you glorify me, in bed you glorify me. What changed was the shape of the pulpit. You preach from the pulpit now that has this shape, and you will preach from that other pulpit that is going to be a bed. Die the same way that you’re preaching and living today, for my glory.”
And that just lifted the whole burden. Because now I feel that even to the last minute, I will have the same purpose I have today, to glorify my God, the one who created me and gave me life and everything else that I have today.
Jonathan Bowers: Amen. Brothers, thank you so much for the time that you’ve invested in us these past few days. Would you join me in thanking them for their labors? I’ll invite our speakers to be dismissed. And then Pastor John, you’ve got a message for some of those involved in the conference.
John Piper: Yeah, you’re going to clap one more time if your heart shall lead you after I give a list of 10 things that I’m thankful for. And you probably want to clap for each one, but just wait, if you’re willing. Let me just say some out loud thank yous and we’ll be done. The guys are gone, but I’m thankful for them. Thank you to the spanish translators, Renee Gonzalez and Juan Benet. It’s beautiful the labors that they’ve put out. Thank you, David Clifford, who oversees this whole event with his assistant, Amy. Thank you to Jonathan Bowers sitting on my left here doing the host work. Thank you to all the sponsors, Crossway, the premier sponsor, and the exhibitors and publishers. Thank you to Chuck Steddom and Matthew Westerholm with your home and the worship teams always bless socks off of me. Thank you to the events staff and coordinators, 100 volunteers. Lifeway Bookstore team to put it all together. It takes a lot of people to put something like this together and it’s always refreshing to me to be here. And I know you appreciate the behind the scenes efforts as well. So if you do, say thank you to those folks.