That confidence in the Bible, where did that come from?
I know of nowhere to point but the Lord. I had an insatiable thirst for the Scriptures the second I got saved. It goes back to my personality. I want to know how it works, so I had an insatiable thirst for the Scriptures. I just read it and read it and read it and read it and read it and read it. It wasn’t until somebody handed me a Max Lucado book that I read anything but it.
So it wasn’t that you moved into someone who said, “This Book is inerrant and you can count on it.” The conversion happened and this was where the Christ who saved you was, and your confidence in it grew as you knew it? Would that be right?
Well, I think the confidence for me was right in front of me when I was preaching it and there was weeping and there was repentance. I didn’t even know the arguments, to be honest with you, at that point. I was so uneducated as to what else was going on. So at this point, I wasn’t even looking at my professors going, “Oh, they don’t believe the inerrancy of the Scriptures.” I was just going, “Something’s wrong.”
You said, in this room down here, yesterday or the day before, that one of the things a young pastor must decide — and you said very, very, very early or very, very, very strongly — is where he stands on the Scriptures. Otherwise, what? You’re just going to buy into something else?
Yeah. Well, I think there are pressures of Western evangelicalism to be successful, to grow the thing big. Gosh, it’s contextualization taken to a sinful level. It’s the thought, “If you’re going to get people then you have to soft pedal this, you have to guard that, and you have to watch this.” And I think as soon as you embrace that, it’s a trajectory that’s off. So it’s only a matter of time before it’s some major point of doctrine that matters.
Okay, maybe we’ll come back to that. Close that parenthesis. You were 20 years old, a sophomore in college, and you were speaking to 2,000 people, getting in trouble in class. Pick it up there.
Sure. I was having a hard time at church. I had a passion to see lost people saved, and I found the church to be problematic. I shared some of that in my talk. I could share dozens and dozens of stories where I was going, this is a Christ-less expounding on nothingness. This is a 32-minute talk about me listening to secular music and ending up on meth, which isn’t true. I know a lot of good people who listen to secular music and never touch meth. And by the way, the church was so far behind at the time. They were saying, “Don’t listen to Journey.” My friends were saying, “Who’s Journey? Who are you talking about?” So there was a lack of relevance and there was a lack of gospel. There just was.
So all the ministry that I was doing outside of a Sunday school class, teaching a little bit here, was external to the church. And then I was saying, “Come to Grace on Thursday nights.” That’s what I was doing until what happened next. I didn’t get to share this before. I met pastor David McQueen at Beltway Park Baptist Church in Abilene, Texas. He was a weird cat in the educated Church of Christ. He worked at a Charismatic church and then came to a Baptist church. So I was like, “Who’s next, Episcopalians? Where are you headed next?” But he sat me down when he came to town and he said, “I want you on my staff. I can pay you next to nothing. But here’s what I’ll let you do. I’ll let you sit at the table. You can come to every elders’ meeting. You can speak into any part of who we are and what we do. You can question any part of what we do, where we go, when we differ on some theology.”
He believed — I would disagree to this day — that diversity in doctrine showed unity in Christ. I always thought that was going to end up bad for him and maybe it still will. But he loved me and he loved lost people and he wanted to preach the gospel. And he gave me a seat at the table. So I could go, “Okay, well I have a question. How does this work? How does that work?” And that began to restore some things. That’s when I said I began to be convicted about my ecclesiology and started to grow in my understanding of ecclesiology. It was David McQueen and the elders at Beltway who saw me banged up, probably saw a trajectory, probably heard a bitterness in my tone, and started the healing process for me.
How long were you there?
Two and a half years.
Were you done with college at the end of that time?
Yes, I was married and done with college. Shane Bernard is a dear friend of mine, and he has been for a long time. We go way back and back to when we’re asking God to save our fathers.
So you and he linked up to do something?
Yeah, we met at a youth camp where I was teaching and he was leading. He’s one of those guys that I think everybody finds in ministry where you just come across a brother and you just go say, “Okay.: And he was one of those for me at that season. Now my life’s very different from his now, and it’s really hard to maintain those relationships. But he said, “Hey, let’s start a nonprofit together. We’re always at these different events. Let’s just fire up a nonprofit and go.” So I said, sure.
What was it called?
Waiting Room Ministries.
Yeah, 100 percent. Less than a year I was with the Waiting Room Ministries before the call happened, before I began to dream about planting a church, and before the call from Highland Village came.
So now we’re at 2001?
When the interview process began it was 2002.
The way you described it the other day was that there was a growing sense of something. There was a lot of hostility toward the church. Then what happened?
I think that my animosity had turned from just the church in general, because David McQueen and those guys started saying, “Church can be done differently.” That’s what they were walking me through. So my disdain in that time turned from a kind of ambiguous church to really, I don’t know what we want to call them, evangelicals, hyper fundamentalists, morality police. I just grew so frustrated with, “Don’t have sex and don’t drink beer,” to every 20 year old on the planet.
And I’m not an advocate of really either one of those things. But I was just saying, “How did our message get boiled down to that to this generation?” And then sometimes it got even sillier than that, saying, “Don’t listen to this kind of music, etc.” And I understand in regards to sanctification having some of those conversations, but don’t preach it as justification. Don’t preach it as justification. And that’s what I felt was happening, so I wanted to rebel against it. I wanted to cuss and drink beer and love Jesus, but it was anger. And so that’s when really I think I had just growing disdain against anything that was pretending to be the gospel and it wasn’t. And if I was honest, I’d have to say, even at the time I didn’t even fully understand the gospel. But I knew what it wasn’t. I knew, “It’s not that, it’s not that, it’s not that.”
Along this pilgrimage, you said the other day that you began to dream of planting a church in a nice pagan place, but God somehow didn’t let that happen. So how did Highland Village happen? The short version.
The short version is that Elaine Coddle, who’s on my board of directors, asked me to turn in a resume.
What was the nature of the church at that moment?
Highland Village First Baptist Church was running about 100 people, almost all over 50. I would say they were theologically confused, and seeker sensitive. If you walked in there the Bible was on the screen. You didn’t have to carry your Bible. It was very light. I had been there twice. My sister had landed there. She married my college roommate. They landed there. They lived right in the area. I went on an Easter Sunday morning to listen to my sister sing the special and had my wife squeezing my leg the entire time I was there just like, “Don’t do it. Don’t do it.”
I haven’t gotten that for a long time.
So she’s kind of squeezing my leg, patting me, telling me it’s going to be okay. And I walked out incensed. My sister and I had a talk at lunch and I said, “What are you doing here? This guy doesn’t even believe what he’s saying.” Anyway, that had been my experience with Highland Village First Baptist Church. And I wasn’t interested. But like I said in my talk, I wanted to honor Elaine for how good she had been to us. And I think there was probably part of me going, “Okay, let’s see what I can learn about this process.” And my wife and I giggle to this day. There was no way we were getting that job. I was honest. We did not say, “Let’s pray about this. Let’s go.” I said, “Here’s the resume. Here’s my answer to your three questions. When are we meeting?”
So you put out all of your controversial pieces. Name those — the things that you thought would undo you there. And then I want to talk about what those mean and how you got there.
There were three things that I thought would kill it, and I didn’t think elder church government would kill it because they were headed that way. I thought about these three things. First, I’m a Calvinist. That’s going to be problematic. Second, I’m a complementarian. I could see by the draft of their latest constitution, which was only three paragraphs, they were headed in a direction that the women’s role was going to be an issue. And then third was the philosophy of ministry. How I saw ministry functioning and how they saw ministry functioning were night and day. It was very showy. In fact, I was going to say this in my talk but I didn’t have time to. A guy who is on our staff now, when I got there, brought in a new worship team, and got rid of that old worship team. It was very showy, very Las Vegas-y. That’s probably going to offend some of them still to this day, but it was. And I wanted to worship. So I brought in Michael Bleecker, who has a beautiful mind, beautiful spirit, and is a phenomenal musician. It’s great when all of those come together.
And I had a guy take me out to dinner the second week — Michael was there — and tell me, “Worship is the enemy of evangelism.” So now I’m in that talk. That’s kind of their mindset, that’s what I mean by a philosophical shift. That they had been sold the bill of goods, “Don’t love Jesus too much because it weirds everybody out and then they won’t love him,” which I keep pointing back to and thinking, that’s silly, right? It’s a very silly idea. It doesn’t work anywhere else and in any other relationship that way, as if you try to not like someone so much because then it will cause others not to. So that’s what I thought would kill me, but it didn’t. It didn’t.