Q&A with Piper, Mason, Driscoll, Greear, and Stetzer

Advance Conference | Raleigh, North Carolina

Tyler Jones: The first question is to Pastor John and Pastor Mark. It’s a very perceptive question. The questioner says, “Piper says to get rid of my TV, and Driscoll says to buy extra DVRs. How do you reconcile this difference?”

John Piper: Get your sources right. I never said that in my life. Well, there’s probably something else. Go ahead. Say something significant, Mark.

Mark Driscoll: Well, I think it’s that you don’t have a TV, correct?

John Piper: That’s correct.

Mark Driscoll: Okay. I think that’s probably where they got it. But you wouldn’t say that they shouldn’t have a TV. You just choose not to have one.

John Piper: Right. I’m just an addict and I know my limits.

Tyler Jones: Great. There’s three sections this afternoon. There’s the advance the church section, there’s a repentance section — which had a great response — and then finally, there were a lot of questions that implied need for prayer, so we thought we’d close with prayer this afternoon. So, we’ll start with advance the church. The first question to any of the panelists is, “How do we who do not agree on everything come together for the progress of the gospel despite our theological differences?”

Ed Stetzer: I think one of the things that I’m both passionate about and cautious about is because missions in general has historically been the pathway for theological compromise. I know that sounds strange, but in 1910, the Christians of the world, what we’d call evangelicals today, gathered together and said the evangelization of the world should happen in this generation. And they assumed what they could, that everyone believed the same thing. They thought, “We’re all in this together. We just love Jesus. Let’s reach the world for him.”

But they failed to put down some markers about what they believed that could define where they would go in the future. And so, by the time they got to 1928 they had a subsequent meeting and were questioning the Scriptures and the purpose of evangelism. By the time they got to later on, they walked away from the proclamation of the gospel, and really the teaching of the cross, that Jesus died on the cross for our sin, in our place. So, I think cooperation is both dangerous but incredibly important.

And so, I think a couple things are required. One is a sense that there need to be theological boundaries around cooperation, depending upon the kind of cooperation. For planting churches together, that requires a higher level of theological agreement than if we’re praying together. It requires a much higher level of theological agreement than if we’re working against social ills together. And so, I think there are levels of cooperation that are both possible and really permissible, and encouraged based upon what you’re cooperating around. Sometimes, we’re just co-belligerent with people. We’re not allies with them. But I think at the same time, it requires a sense of what I call candid cooperation.

I can work together with Pentecostals and Presbyterians, even though I differ with Pentecostals and Presbyterians, as long as I’m not asked to compromise what I believe the Bible teaches about the perseverance of the saints or what I believe the Bible teaches about a believer’s baptism. And so, it’s being able to say that we can work together, we can pray together, and we can even train together, but there are some things we can’t do together, not because we’re being divisive, but because we’ve come to firmly held theological beliefs on some issues that do end up putting us perhaps in some different directions.

So I think it’s incredibly important to find ways to do that, but not to do so naively because the end result is, well, if baptism doesn’t matter, what doesn’t matter next? Does the authority of Scripture not matter? Does the Imago Dei and gender not matter? Soon nothing matters, and that cooperation becomes the doorway to compromise. Having markers and candid cooperation I think is the key.

Tyler Jones: You used the word markers twice, and most of the examples you used were theologically based. Are those the only markers, or should there be common goals and objectives as markers as well?

Ed Stetzer: Well, yeah. I think the question is, what are we endeavoring to do together? If we’re endeavoring to end poverty together, the markers are not as precise. If we’re endeavoring to plant a congregation, I can plant a congregation up until the point when the first baptism is, and then we don’t know if we need to get a cup or a tub. At some point, you have to make some decisions along the way and know that ahead of time. So yeah, the markers are going to be determined by the level and the intent of the cooperation. And church planting and theological education are sometimes the most specific levels that require a very high level of theological commonality.

Tyler Jones: There’s been a lot of talk about the demise of the church, the decline of the church, and this question stems from that. When, if ever, is the demise of a local church a good thing or necessary, or when do you let a dying church die?

Mark Driscoll: As you read Revelation, Jesus is talking about literally turning the lights off in certain churches. Some would say, “Oh, churches are dying. That’s terrible.” Well, it depends on which church it was. There are some that he says are synagogues of Satan, and if they run their expiration date, that’s positive. I’ll give you an example. In my city, I went into a church that had completely declined, and was basically almost dead. A handful of older people were looking at giving the building away, and on the wall there was a photo that had been taken a number of years earlier. And at that time, in front of the church, there were literally a few hundred small children that comprised the congregation, and they should have still been alive and they should have still been in the church.

So I asked the handful of godly older women who remained and were sort of caretaking after this building, “What happened to all those kids?” And she pointed to one man in the photo and she said, “That was the pastor.” She pointed to the other man and said, “And that was his brother who molested those children. And now they don’t go here, and the church is dead.” That’s good, because if a pedophile is hurting children and the church is the cover, then God should shut that church down.

If the pastor’s disqualified and they won’t get rid of him because he’s become the idol or the highest authority above Jesus, then it’s good if that church shuts down. If that church is preaching a false gospel and leading people astray, then it’s good if that church shuts down. So, I don’t view all of the statistics of dead and declining churches as necessarily bad things. I want to see those resources used for kingdom purposes, but sometimes, to fight the closing of a church is to fight the will of God.

JD Greear: I’m going to come at it from a different angle. Our church right now is in the midst of just asking some questions about the kinds of things we’ll build, the kinds of property that we’ll have. And by no means do I think that it’s wrong to own property. We do and we want to do that. But I think there is a question of how we really think of trying to establish a church that will proceed forever.

I think that there are times that God raises up a congregation for a particular time, and the idealist in me wants to say that it can just change with every generation. But I think there’s a natural movement, and I know I may be taking this slightly out of context, but consider the whole idea that new wine is in new wineskins. There are times when there just need to be new churches that are planted, and it would be helpful if we hadn’t poured all of our money to build a bunch of buildings for a God who says he does not dwell in temples made with hands anyway. The church was seen more as a body. It wasn’t just tied to property.

Tyler Jones: The next question is continuing in the advance the church category, and it says, “Are we on the brink of a revival in the American church today? Why or why not?”

JD Greear: That’s a John Piper question.

John Piper: I have no idea. God is totally free and totally sovereign. I would like to think so. I pray for it. I get up and look out my study window at home in the city of downtown Minneapolis, and I think of the tens of thousands of people in those buildings. And I think what could be more glorious than if Jesus became the issue in this city to such an extent that sin was felt to be sin, and the dishonoring of the Lord was recognized, and tens of thousands of people repented and went to church, and everything changed. That would be glorious.

But I’m just not into predictions. And if I saw outcroppings of blessing all over, which I do, that would, to me, signify no sure future because I want to believe that in the absolutely worst of all times it could come in a moment because he’s God. He can raise the dead. So, I think the most practical way to address that question would not to be to predict with success whether it is, but rather to pray like crazy that the Lord would sweep through churches and lands and cities in ways we never dreamed he could.

Tyler Jones: Prayer is definitely the starting point. Are there other things that we can do as pastors and leaders in the church to help a revival? Or is this not something that we can force and push God into?

Mark Driscoll: Well, I think you can set the sail. You can’t make the wind blow. But through repentance, humility, sound doctrine, qualified church leadership, and setting forth holiness by exercising church discipline and instruction and correction, you can do some things to get the sail up. Now, it doesn’t mean the wind will blow, but if the sails are not up and the wind blows, I’m not sure it’s going to be that effective anyways. I mean, there are a lot of churches right now that even if tens of thousands of people got saved and walked into those churches, they wouldn’t have godly leaders, they wouldn’t be getting a lot of sound doctrine, and it wouldn’t be the best follow up in effectiveness for those new Christians.

JD Greear: Tyler, I myself have been very encouraged with this conference at the common theme that has run through. Almost every talk is a call for repentance. And from my limited knowledge of church history, I know that when God has moved, it hasn’t been because somebody came online with a new program. It hasn’t been because there’s been a new Christian rockstar that swept the country. Most things just flash. But it’s been that there’s a deep-seated call for repentance, and I have, myself, been moved in some of the talks to just repent of my own idolatry. And you wonder if that is not the beginnings or the knockings of God’s Spirit trying to begin something, at least in us. It would certainly not be out of character for how God has moved in the past.

John Piper: Can I say one more thing? We can preach Christ. Preaching Christ is as important as praying because what the Holy Spirit is sent to do is to glorify Jesus. Scripture says, “I will send the Comforter, and when he comes, he will glorify me” (John 16:14). Well, if Christ is not known, the Holy Spirit doesn’t make up for that. He’s not a preacher. The Holy Spirit doesn’t speak like that. He opens eyes to see what we preach. And so, if we’re not preaching the truth, he’ll keep his mouth shut. He won’t exercise his sovereign work in the absence of Jesus being preached. He’s not at work in unreached peoples right now to save sinners. He goes where the gospel goes. They’re like tandem jets just flying together. And if the jet carrying the gospel goes off like this, the Holy Spirit’s going to land. He’s not going to move. So, preach Christ. Get the truth right. He is the Spirit of truth.

Tyler Jones: So that we don’t miss the depth of what we’ve just said: pray, repent, and proclaim Jesus. I mean, I think in every revival that I’ve studied those have been the three main tenants. I think that’s amazing. Here is the last question in this section. What is the best way for a new church plant to incorporate a passion for missions from the very beginning of that church?

Eric Mason: I think allocating resources sacrificially from the beginning, a set amount, and publicly letting the congregation know that’s happening. One of the things we see is that about 10 to 20 college students probably a year go on short-term missions trips, and out of that, some are wanting to go toward foreign missions for good and go to pioneering areas. One guy wants to go to southern France, 100 miles off the coast of Algeria. He’s really passionate about that. Another person wants to go to another part of France. Another group wants to go to India, a husband and wife.

So I think the biggest thing is not thinking that you’re going to get to a point where you actually allocate funds, but that you look in the beginning as a part of your budget plan and your church planting packet, or if it’s a revitalization packet, and you allocate funds as a line item that’s known to everybody that you’re giving the missions. And as it gets done, don’t let it just be a line item, but actually let people know that it’s being allocated to that, whether it’s through video or having them come up and do testimonies.

Tyler Jones: Before we move on, it’s easy to look at some of these men who have very large churches and say, “Well, you have an established budget.” But Eric, you’ve planted a church recently, and I think you said today the average income was $15,000 to $22,000 in the community?

Eric Mason: Yeah.

Tyler Jones: So you’re not pulling in tons of money as a church. What does that mean for you practically if you say it’s a line item in your budget?

Eric Mason: I think one of the things that God has blessed us to be is not just a community church, but a regional church and to do some things globally. So I think for us, before we even launched, even when we were doing our launch team development, a part of our vision casting for the ministry was letting people know our local, national, and international strategic vision for how we were going to proclaim the gospel in specific ways, especially through indigenous leadership development and church planting. So I think we should lace it into the DNA of the people so it doesn’t come out of nowhere, but we continue to announce it in every phase of the church plant.

Ed Stetzer: I’m passionate about this, having planted churches that were involved in global mission. Much of the missional conversation, if we define it kind of as most do, is to join God on his mission. If we do not see that as a global mission with a nation’s focus, a peoples focus, we’ve really not read the Scriptures well. And I think it’s odd. Stephen Neil once said, “When everything is mission, nothing is mission.” I think a lot of people are talking about being on mission and being missional, but I think you have to have a burning heart for God’s work among the nations, among the peoples, among men and women from every tongue, tribe, and nation. As I mentioned earlier, I just returned from bringing church planners and innovative church leaders to Italy and France. We’re doing this again this fall in Taiwan and back to London and Paris next spring, through The Upstream Collective. It’s in order to help churches that are church plants and non-traditional churches to engage in God’s global mission.

There’s no reason that we can’t. Now, we probably can’t do it alone. Every church can’t do it alone. That’s why we cooperate together, that’s why there are missions agencies and denominations and mission boards. I worked for one, the International Mission Board, part of my time. So I think finding those means to cooperate is important, because we can do more together than we can do apart. It enables every church to say that they’re a part of it.

Let me give one quick thing then I’ll be quiet. I was in Mississippi once, speaking at a church of my denomination, but I drove by this Pentecostal church. It was a little church that sat 20 people in the pews. It was a little brick building with two little white columns, but they had this huge 10-foot lit sign with big bold letters, and it said, “Pentecostal World Outreach Center.” And I just loved that. If I had a camera, I would’ve taken a picture, because they’re right. The church is given the Great Commission. Every church needs to be a world outreach center. And I encouraged earlier that missional churches should be involved in serving their communities, planting nationally, and engaging unreached people groups globally. That’s joining God in his global mission.

Tyler Jones: That’s great. We’re going to move on to the repentance area. Almost every speaker here has spoken about repentance, but there’s no prompting from the conference for you to do that. And so, I think it’s the Lord moving. The first question comes from a pastor or leader in the church. He says, “Should I repent to my congregation for an idolatry that has negatively impacted them as I now see it’s hindering our ministry?”

Mark Driscoll: I think your repentance has to begin with you in Christ. It has to include your wife and your children, and then you go to your elders and you submit to the spiritual authority that God has placed over you. And the Bible says that certain sins rise to the level of a removal, and a man is disqualified. Others rise to the level of a rebuke. The thing that often happens is that pastors don’t have pastors. So, not knowing what the situation is, I would say talk to Jesus, your wife, your family, your elders, and then see what recommendation they give for whatever the issue might be. Anybody else?

Tyler Jones: Anybody else? Here’s a similar question. What ways do you counsel a young pastor to overcome their fear of man?

John Piper: Grow like crazy in your fear of God. Be terrified about God and his disapproval, or to put it positively, fall in love with the supremacy of God and the sovereignty of God. If God is for us, who can be against us? So, just live the answer. Get to know God. If he is for you and he’s infinite, it doesn’t really matter who else is against you. That really is the key. Get the cross right, that your righteousness doesn’t hang on their approval, it hangs on Christ’s righteousness. And once you’re set with Christ, that by his imputed righteousness your sins are covered and God is for you, nobody can successfully be against you, even if you’re being killed all day long, which is what Romans 8 says happens to those against whom nobody can be.

As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us (Romans 8:36–37).

Memorize Romans 8, especially Romans 8:26–39. Really, if you just memorize Romans 8:28–37 and make it part of your own fabric, I think God will lift you above the fear of man.

Tyler Jones: A conference like this is a bit strange because some of these folks listen to you all and they’ve learned a tremendous amount from you, and then they’re here with you. And so, this question stems from that. They ask, “How do we learn from the godly men who go before us without making those men idols?”

John Piper: Well, goodness gracious, wake up to how unbelievably sinful I am or Mark is, if I’m in that group. Talk to my wife. Just call up the staff. Your bubble will be popped in a hurry. I mean, I’ve already put my foot in my mouth enough here in order to make me lose sleep tonight. So, people are only impressive from a distance. Okay? Up close, they’re really quite cantankerous and short-tempered and impatient and crabby and lustful and selfish . . .

Tyler Jones: No more, no more. Enough.

John Piper: That’s one thing. And then, just realize, what do you have that you did not receive? And so if anybody helps you — and we do want to be helpful, conferences like this aren’t for nothing God did that. Just be really radically God-centered.

Mark Driscoll: I would say one thing that is helpful too is to read biographies. Sometimes people who have served God significantly become like superheroes. And then, you read their biographies and you realize Spurgeon struggled mightily with depression, and you realize that Luther occasionally said some things that maybe he shouldn’t have. And you realize that John Calvin had somebody murdered. And you start doing your homework and you’re like, “Well, they were sinners saved by grace and kept by grace.”

I think biographies are good, especially autobiographies, because sometimes even biographies can be written by fans who are trying to create superheroes. Spurgeon’s four volume autobiography finished by his wife is just super insightful. But to me, the biographies help to put people in context. And then, that even allows you to relate to leaders in our present day, assuming that when the biography or the autobiography is written, it’ll read similarly.

Tyler Jones: Many of these questions in the repentance category are fantastic. And so, we’re going to post these on advance the church notes. We want to progress to our last section, so I would challenge you to go there and download these. A lot of the questions that came in today, over 100, dealt with the need for prayer, really. There was an underlying movement of repentance and conviction. And so, I just wanted to finish this time with you men praying for the folks here in this conference. Repentance has hit hard. Idolatry is, I think, coming to light. And so, I’ll finish this in just a few moments, but if we could spend the next five minutes or so praying, let’s do that. If you’ll bow with us.

Ed Stetzer: Father, we come before you, not based on our own merit, but because of the gracious work of Christ on the cross. And we are struck with the deep need that we have, not just for salvation, but for the strength, for living, for sanctification, for transformation, for strength to lead, for our own lives to be more reflective of the gospel, and for our own lives to be models that others might reflect the gospel more fully. Father, change us. A recurring theme has been repentance. Lord, change us. If we are haughty, break us. If we hold up men as heroes and idols, convict us. If we have unrepentant sin, prompt us and draw us to holiness.

But Father, I pray that you would begin a movement, and we talked about it here, a great movement of God. And in some small way, Lord, not because we gathered together, not because we conjured it up because of our singing or our preaching or our good words to one another, but because of your gracious goodness, would you allow us to humble ourselves before you, and then pour out your Spirit afresh and anew on our lives, our families, and our churches, so that you might receive the glory, so that because we are so changed, we might go to the nations, that we might go to our neighbors? And in the process, that your name and your fame might be more widely known?

Burden us with a heart for the nations, but cause that burden to come because we have a heart for you. As we understand you more deeply, we want to join you in your mission. Lord, help us not to simply go our own way, thinking we have the best things we need to have to make you happy, but instead, help us to join you on your mission so that we might say, as Isaiah did, “Here I am, Lord, send me on mission. Send me on mission. Send me for your glory, your honor, and your sake.”

JD Greear: Father, it is your goodness that leads us to repentance. And Father, we pray that the eyes of our hearts would be enlightened by the Holy Spirit, that we might know the breadth and the depth of your love for us; that we might see our sin, Lord, in light of the way that it has tarnished your character, the way it has diminished your glory, sullied your glory, and see as how it has damaged us. Father, we pray that we might be able to see the magnificence of your love, your righteousness, your holiness, and your glory that was displayed in the cross; that we might have a renewed confidence in your steadfast love that never changes, a new confidence in the declaration that you have made over us, that we are your beloved sons and daughters, and in us, because we are in Christ, you are well pleased. And Father, give a renewed sense, a new understanding, Lord, of how sinful sin actually was, of the great sinfulness of sin, and that we might live as those who mourn yet are comforted by the gospel.

John Piper: Father, I confess how many times I have wimped out when it comes to the fear of man. Usually, it’s one-on-one, not in front of a big group. It’s easy to sound bold in front of a big group. But on the street, on the airplane, and in the neighborhood, how many times has the desire not to be thought weird or part of that right wing Republican group kept me quiet? So, even though I answered the question on the fear of man, just telling the truth here, that’s a battle.

We confess it and long to be made more consistently bold at individual levels as well as corporate levels, church levels. And Lord, with regard to that first question that I probably blew off too fast, how vulnerable I feel to being judgmental about entertainment and what choices people make differently from mine. And so, I want to be really careful, just publicly vulnerable here, that there’s as much danger in not having a TV as having one. Whatever way we choose, the idols are different.

And so, God, protect us. Forgive me from the times when that act of discipline has become a ground for boasting, a ground for judgment. Oh, Lord God, penetrate through our hearts to just divide good and evil, right and wrong, true and false, beautiful and ugly, in ways that we didn’t even know were in our hearts. Go deep with us, Lord. Don’t leave us to ourselves. We don’t know ourselves. Who can know his faults? We cry out, “Cleanse thou me of hidden faults. Keep me back from presumptuous sins.”

Eric Mason: God, as you call us to repentance, we pray that it wouldn’t be counterfeit. Help us not to merely fear the consequences of sin. Because if we only, Lord, fear the consequences, when the consequence is gone, we’ve only played do-si-do with sin, and gone from one sin to another, fooling ourselves into a repentance that we really don’t have because we’ve changed sins. So, God, I pray that you would give us authentic, comprehensive brokenness of core, root issues that barricade our ability to repent. We know that repentance is a supernatural work. We can’t just, by our own power, decide we’re going to come out of sin. We need you to throw us some rope, God, and give us the want for you again, a desire for you again, Lord God, that we may turn. Change our minds about the raggedyness and trifling of ourselves and our sin, that we would turn to Jesus once again. Help it to be a comprehensive word.

Tyler Jones: God, you say in your word that the prayers of righteous men are powerful and effective. So I pray that you would cover these people, all of us here, with our prayers, the prayers of righteous men, and that they would move in our lives, that you would respond, that you would hear them, and then you would do the work that only you can do, God. Let us go and be men and women of repentance, returning to Jesus and finding out our true love in him, rejecting all idols in our lives. And then God, would you give us a sense of urgency and boldness to go and proclaim Jesus to the ends of the earth? We love you, and it’s in your Son’s name now we ask these things. Amen.