James MacDonald and I in Blog Conversation, sort of…

kinnon —  June 14, 2011 — 35 Comments

James MacDonald responded in the comment section to the 2nd of my two posts on his hyperbolic Congregational Government is from Satan post. I trust he won't mind me copying it here and responding to it below:

You seem like a pretty funny guy and I like that. You also seem pretty comfortable with overstatement etc. to make your points, I like that too. Yes I can be bombastic at times, does that make me the kettle or the pot? 🙂 My son pointed out your blog to me, Apparently he left a comment and has been following you with appreciation for some time – blog and twitter.

My post had nothing to do with WBC and we surely do trust the Lord in the outcome. There was much division in the church but hardly a word against Harvest's willingness to help when invited. Though we have six campuses only one is a former church that joined with us. We frequently have churches coming to us in their struggle to survive, direct them elsewhere and move on. We have never approached one ourselves, ever. 5000+ churches in North America close every year. I was in a meeting last week with a number of pastors in Chicago trying to discern how best to deal with this crisis in our own city. How do you believe this best handled?

I grew up in a congregational church in London Ontario and my first two churches were congregational. My convictions against that model are not new or recently inflamed. We are working with another church right now on the same issue and learning how best to serve their need while allowing them freedom under whatever system of government they use to determine their own future.

I appreciate celebrity bloggers, I realize you did not gain your level of influence without a lot of hard work and that your passion was probably content related with the greater influence you have coming as an unintended byproduct. I hope you steward your influence well and use it always for the benefit of Christ's great kingdom. Please pray the same for me,

James MacDonald

PS feel free to email me if you want to talk more – maybe God in His sovereignty wants me to have an Arminian friend


Thank you for taking the time to respond here in the midst of what, I'm sure, is an always busy schedule. I've followed your blog for a number of years, cheered with you when you successfully battled cancer, enjoyed a number of your posts – and had my blood pressure raised by others. No doubt as fellow Canadians, our sense of humour (note the correct spelling, eh!) is similar. I'd be the kettle to your pot.

I take you at your word that your post had nothing to do with WBC. Note that I have struck through that text on the previous post and added a link to this one.

Oddly enough, as the former elder of a once thriving / church-planting Baptist church that sits 60 feet from my loft – where now less than four dozen folk attend on an average weekend – I don't disagree with your opinion regarding the congregational model of church governance. But I do believe, in both our cases, it is opinion based on our experiences – rather than a church polity designed by the Enemy or with no support in the Scriptures. (Note that I affirm episcopal governance with the caveat that real discipleship is taking place in that church environment.)

I also stand behind what I said at the end of the first post,

In my never humble opinion, the bottom line problem with the church in the West is not church governance. As I have pontificated here ad nauseum, the problem is discipleship and the lack thereof in the church.

The Great Commission is to “go and make disciples.” It isn’t to build big churches or large platforms for big egos. Nor is it to command and control the congregation for the “sake of the church.” Disciples are made in direct personal relationship with the discipler. If the church was creating actual disciples I wonder whether we would need to worry about church governance.

To answer your question about 5,000 churches closing, I'd point you at my post, More Disciples, Fewer Leaders, Please, where I quote your fellow Chicago import, Scot McKnight. McKnight is responding to a question about what leadership books he'd recommend. He says this,

…I want to put my idea on the line and see where it leads us. We have one leader, and his name is Jesus. I want to bang this home with a quotation from Jesus from Matthew 23, where he seems to be staring at the glow of leadership in the eyes of his disciples, and he does nothing short of deconstructing the glow:

But you are not to be called “Rabbi,” for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth “father,” for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

Instead of seeing myself as a leader, I see myself as a follower. Instead of plotting how to lead, I plot how to follow Jesus with others. Instead of seeing myself at the helm of some boat—and mine is small compared to many others—I see myself in the boat, with Jesus at the helm.

Again, in my never humble opinion, the crisis in the church is not leadership; it's discipleship and that is the reason those churches are closing. Watch this video from Chris Wright who says it far better than I ever will – he's being interviewed by my wife and business partner, Imbi Medri:

Later in the More Disciples post, I quote Scot again,

…leadership too often places the pastor or some person in the front and having others be guided (and following) that person, and that, I dare say, distorts the entire gospel. Jesus was willing to say that his followers didn’t have a rabbi of their own, didn’t have a human father in a position of ultimate authority, and they didn’t have an instructor who was their teacher. They had one rabbi and one instructor, and his name was Jesus, and he was Messiah. They had one father, and he was Creator of all. They were to see themselves as brothers, not leaders. That’s straight from the lips of Jesus. [Emphasis Added]

The Celebrity-Driven Church may build big buildings filled with smiling people but as Willow's Reveal study showed, it appears not to build disciples. I'll unpack this more in my upcoming series on the C-DC. My words from the quoted post on disciple making,

How did Jesus make disciples – he lived with them for three years, through thick and thin, through their thick headedness and their moments of great clarity, through their closeness and their rejection of him. He didn't set up a training school for leaders, or preach from an elevated pulpit or bring in Roman business and political leaders to advise his disciples how to lead.

Jesus lived in the midst of his disciples and the impact of that still resonates. Globally.

In closing, a couple of my Calvinist buddies (and I have many who put up with me) thought your "celebrity blogger" line was rather amusing. I confess that it reminded me of Brian McLaren when he called me a "Master Blogger" in response to my critique of his New Kind of Christianity. His was a little more double entendre than yours.

But trust me, as my 20 year old daughter, Kaili said to her mother when she read your comment, "Dad's not a celebrity? He has fewer than 700 500 followers on Twitter." We will all be hearing more about and from that girl. Assuming I don't ground her forever for her impertinence. 🙂 (And I do have under 700, Kai!)



A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

35 responses to James MacDonald and I in Blog Conversation, sort of…

  1. Dear Bill:
    Thanks for the response.
    I agree 100% about the discipleship priority and the WAY over emphasis on leadership. I agree that church growth methodology and all that is awful. Down with marketing, and programmed suburbia church and all the rest. If you read my blog you know how I feel about all that.

    Congregationalism is unbiblical in my opinion and unhelpful in my experience. I stand by my statement that the enemy inserted it somewhere and now revels in peoples expectation scheduled carnality. Of course their are exceptions . . . strong pastors manage it well, but that doesn’t justify the model.

    I can’t speak for all mega-church pastors, but I can tell you we have never had a numerical goal ever. We post signs all over the building that say, ‘not a quantity of disciples but a quality of discipleship.’ I still disciple a group of young men personally. I deeply resent at times the size of my church and the way it hems me in, traps me, forces me to do things i was not trained for or called to, but isn’t that serving too? We should all be cautious in condemning motives of people we do not know.

    I also think you must know that you cannot build a modern ecclesiology from the ministry of Christ that existed before the establishment of the church. To say we shouldn’t have buildings because Jesus didn’t is . . . you know all this.

    Yes to the principles of Jesus method in making disciples, yes to the example of Jesus in how to treat people etc. But no to the part of Jesus economy that was unique to his three year ministry. No to Jesus approach to organization . . . again just three years. I would do alot of things differently if I could pay my taxes by sending someone out to fish . . . get it? And no to refusing buildings just because Jesus, in a pretty temperate climate on a three year stint didn’t need one. What was unique about his ministry and what is replicable? I don’t see Jesus insisting that nothing can exist that he did not establish, do you? Really? What about the apostles or the epistles? What about the early church?

    If your gonna take aim at Mega Churches and their pastors, talk to some personally and keep in mind some of us are trying to – plant churches, make disciples – manage all that has come crashing down on us because of a trend in our society. Some of us repudiate the idolatry of the leadership culture and feel the same dissonance you feel with the servanthood of Christ. If I lived in the 1940’s I would have a church of maybe a few hundred, maybe, and alot of times I wish I did. But God has me here and I am trying to be fruitful and make disciples and send out leaders to do the same . . . autonomous churches, supported by us to get started and then 100% handed off. The idea that I am excited, ohhhh so excited for people to see me on a screen . . . yeah, just exploding my insatiable ego needs. Really?

    Maybe this week I should just tell 13000 people who are fed spiritually and whom we are seeking to disciple from the word of God every week, most of whom were saved and baptized in our church, planted 23 years ago now, to just take a walk. I mean I at least then you won’t think I am in it for the wrong reasons from 500 miles away, even though we have never met. I realize this is all my problem and not yours, but maybe you can tell me how to fix it.


  2. Bill, I appreciate you as a celebrity blogger as well.

  3. …and this from the one who showed me how to blog. 🙂

  4. Actually, James, I do think you should tell those 13,000 people who come to your building on Sundays to take a walk. Because, despite your thoughts to contrary, it is highly unlikely that they are being spiritually fed. I know that you would very much like to think they are and I have absolutely no doubt that your sermons and your programs are immaculately designed to do that. But really … those people need to take a walk … around their own neighborhoods. They need to get to know their own neighbors and learn to love those people. The ones who live right there next to them. Maybe … just maybe … those 13,000 people need to be cut loose from your umbilical cord and told to go out do for themselves. Make their own little communities … start, what … 6,000 little community churches of 500 people each and that would solve your Chicago church crisis very handily, don’t you think? Perhaps you are part of the problem you have been wringing your hands over for so long.

    But what do I know? I’m not a pastor. I don’t have any formal training. And, heck … I’m not even a celebrity blogger. I’m just a homeschool mom who’s learned how to think outside the box every once in a while …

  5. I long for the type of brother/sister fellowship Bill describes. Of those more spiritually mature (does not mean they have a title or pulpit), disciple new believers and rejoice when they grow past them.

    What confuses me is how this fellowship of brothers and sisters voluntarily learning from the more spiritually mature, while developing their own spiritual gifts to edify the body is not a form of congregatinalism…with Christ as the leader.

    What I think pastors like James need to understand is that their title or even seminary makes them more “anointed” than others. A true “elder” is one who is more spiritually mature. That person would always direct you to Christ instead of wanting leadership over you. They would be the first one to say, “It is Jesus not me”

    I must decrease, HEmust increase. I think more people are figuring this out and some leaders do not like equality in the Body.

    BTW: I thought the “celebrity” crack was facitious and unnecessary. but I am coming to expect it from “celebrity” pastors who really do not like thefact that “priests” in the Holy Priesthood can blog.

  6. “hat I think pastors like James need to understand is that their title or even seminary makes them more “anointed” than others.”

    Oops. Meant to say…”does NOT make them more anointed”.

  7. Kinnon points out some valid concerns, as per usual…and MacDonald gave a reasonable response, IMO.

    I had formulated some opinions in the absence of MacDonald providing a different context to the issues raised by Kinnon.

    Actually refreshing to hear (read) a “discussion”…with a Mega-Church guy actually “stooping” to the blog-level to dialogue with us common-folk.

    Don’t get a big head Kinnon, you ain’t no celebrity 🙂 …and, as soon as you become one, you won’t be worth reading any longer! 🙂

  8. Not sure why I put my email where the name goes (in the previous post), though it was pre-coffee this a.m. 🙂

  9. James MacDonald said:

    “Congregationalism is unbiblical in my opinion and unhelpful in my experience. I stand by my statement that the enemy inserted it somewhere and now revels in peoples expectation scheduled carnality. Of course their are exceptions . . . strong pastors manage it well, but that doesn’t justify the model.”

    You clearly state that congregationalism is unbiblical and then go on to say that the enemy “inserted it somewhere.” I understand that as your position. You go on to acknowledge exceptions where “strong pastors manage it well …” In the void of an elder led context, you indicated that strong leaders manage [a congregational] structure well. Do you believe that if eldership led is absent, then strong pastor led is to be preferred over congregationalism? You did not say that directly. I don’t mean to put words in your mouth, but I’d like clarity as to whether that is what you are implying. Or would you say that a “strong pastor” can be a “solo elder” in a church? Or are you saying something else? Thanks for your time.

  10. I follow you on Twitter, Bill. Now stop your whinging.

  11. Except in a ‘mission’ work where no plurality of qualified eldership is available, there should be multiple leaders. In our church planting, we provided Elders from other churches to lead with the plant pastor, until members are chosen to fill out the board and the church can become autonomous.


  12. “Some of us repudiate the idolatry of the leadership culture and feel the same dissonance you feel with the servanthood of Christ.”

    I am confused how someone can project themselves on a giant screen to be viewed in several locations every week and say the above. Is there no one else qualified in each location to preach?

    Bill, For a celebrity blogger, you sure do not write many posts!

  13. Lydia,
    When it comes to being a celebrity blogger, I’m an abject failure. 🙂

  14. If congregationalism were from Satan then Paul, John, et al, would have written every single Epistle to the church leaders and not to the entire church. They would have told the leaders to deal with the problems. But that is not how they dealt with it.

    I would also ask why the names of the elders and pastor were not mentioned in every single letter since they are so important to the governance of the church. Or why Paul allowed the Ephesian church to go so long without elders.

    Here is something from Frank Viola to read and consider. As always, be a Berean and don’t just trust humans to teach you:

    link to ptmin.org

  15. If you did ask them to take a walk, would it be a “Walk in the Word” through their neighbourhoods? Following Jesus, who, as Eugene Peterson translated the John 1 passage says Jesus “took on flesh and blood, and moved into the neighbourhood.” A Missio Dei, missional, mission-shaped thing, as it were.

    Sorry I can’t respond with more right now – I have two documentaries on inner-city Toronto missions to get finished. And a project for a high-tech company to get started. (No rest for the wicked, apparently.)

  16. I think I understand your position. A “solo pastor” is a “solo elder,” which is not ideal, but not influenced by the enemy as is congregational governement. Do I read you correctly? I don’t want to put words in your mouth.

    As a disclaimer to let you know where I’m coming from (so that I don’t appear to be creating a hole for you to step into) I’ve been a member of solo pastor/solo elder churches with fake elder boards (“yes”-to-the-Sr. Pastor-men) that have very much felt like the enemy has gotten a foothold. I think the issue has less to do with church goverment (as has been stated by others) and more to do with the posture (hubmle or otherwise) of all members of a congregation (pastor(s) and elder(s) included).

  17. … should have said “humble or otherwise” … and “thanks for the reply.”

  18. The student has surpassed the master… or something like that .

  19. This conversation is reminiscent of the discussions regarding Viola’s Pagan Christianity. Very little of what we do today under the label of church is “biblical.” That does not necessarily mean it is un-biblical, but extra-biblical. The question then becomes whether extra-biblical practices are harmful or beneficial to relationships with God and one another.

    It is a favorite tactic to take our least favored practices, such as congregational meetings, and label them unbiblical, while at the same time supporting our favored practices, such as “God-given authority structure” with the label biblical. However, pulling on that thread will quickly unravel the problem practices and then your cherished traditions, leaving little to support today’s structures of relating to one another as the body of Christ.

    Does that mean that everything should be thrown out and the only “right” way to meet is simple, organic, yada, yada, yada? No, but it does mean learning to differentiate between organizational structures and requirements and the actual church that gathers in your organization.

    Church governance itself is an organizational necessity outside of the church relationships of brothers and sisters functioning together in one-anothering relationships, including relational eldership and discipleship. The organization likely needs governance, but with governance comes politics, power, and the evils that McDonald is ranting about.

  20. And this would be why I miss you blogging on a regular basis.

  21. +1

  22. Yeah, as many have pointed out in this conversation all systems can be occasions for the enemy when we allow them to be but that is NOT the point I am making. I am saying that the congregational form with motions and voting and Robert’s rules of order is Satanic in it’s origin. Not the people in that system, not even the ones who seek to force it on the scriptures as though it emerged from biblical reflection. Yes to congregational involvement in the life and leadership of a church, no to the congregation as the final decision maker. PERIOD. That elders can make mistakes, or be evil even, that authority in the biblical model is abused, all of those points are irrefutable but beside the simple point I was trying to make.


    • “Yes to congregational involvement in the life and leadership of a church, no to the congregation as the final decision maker. PERIOD. That elders can make mistakes, or be evil even, that authority in the biblical model is abused, all of those points are irrefutable but beside the simple point I was trying to make.”

      Evil abusive elders are beside the point when speaking of church governance models? There is no official church governance model in the NT. That is the whole point. Again, we see that most Epistles were written to th entire church. Elders were not told or singled out to handle the problems or make the final decisions. Where is that communicated except for the horribly translated and proof texted Hebrews 13:17?

      Look at all the problems in the Corinthian church. Yet, the letter was addressed to the entire church to deal with them. All we know about the church governance is that “Chloe had people”.

      In fact, Acts 20 warns us about “wolves” who are elders.

      The only thing you are promoting is the typical hierarchical structure where people follow men instead of Christ. The result is that we don’t need the Holy Spirit since we have humans making the final decisions.

      Elders are the spiritually mature. They would point to Christ. Not seeking final decision authority. I am not seeking after agreement but truth.

  23. Okay, I think I understand your position then. Without sifting through your response for what I do and don’t agree with, I’ll end this portion of our conversation by stating something I think we can both agree with in full:

    Jesus Christ will build his church.

  24. +2 ;^)

  25. +2

  26. ” Yes to congregational involvement in the life and leadership of a church, no to the congregation as the final decision maker. PERIOD. ”


  27. wait … Ty … are you voting?

  28. If we’re voting, then I vote “Linda”. She can be my American Church Idol any day…;o)

    Just a few observations;

    I’ve been a member of/raised in elder led churches (CofC-Stone/Campbell RM and one “indi” church) and I had a short stint in a S. Baptist Pastor/CEO led with a board of elder “gophers”. Been to several “business meetings” in my CofC days, so I’ve done my time in Purgatory. Both of these models come up lacking.

    IMO, if a congregation isn’t able to conduct “business” in the time between the Lord’s Supper and lunch, then that congregation is too large and people need to come to a concensus that some “taking a hike” is called for and necessary.


  29. This is an interesting issue to me because, presumably, there are not too many, if any, Catholics or Orthodox Christians involved in this present discussion.

    Now, if you’re going to argue that the congregation does not have the primary authority, then you’re pushing for a strict hierarchy. One which absolutely has a lot going for it because of the importance of good discipline, order, and the importance of elders and leaders of the church.

    The problem is that unless you’re Catholic or Orthodox, you have absolutely no basis for taking on that sort of hierarchical leadership. You are participating in movements which decided to vote against the established hierarchy and go your own way.

    Those who support rigid hierarchy, and are against congregational involvement, aren’t really for actual, historic hierarchy. They’re only for the sorts of hierarchy that allows them to be the decision makers. They will warn you not to dispute the elders, but they’ll fight for the history of the Protestant church, which arose out of disputing with the established, historically linked, elders of the church.

    They have a problem with elders. Just not their own.

    The only way to be consistently against congregational involvement is to be a Catholic or Orthodox, for only these two churches have historic links with the earliest churches. If you’re not connected with these, then your assumption of some Biblical mandate of authority is just that. It’s an assumption. You reject the elders, but want to be an elder. Why should I or anyone else respect that?

    Why do you take on the mantle of being the final decision maker when you reject those who have been given the mantle of authority, passed down from the line of St. Peter?

    You make a choice to reject authority and order in the Church, but want everyone in your smaller church to respect your authority and order. I don’t get it.

    But, ultimately, I think it doesn’t matter.

    Because the congregation is always the final decision maker.

    Unless you have the power to compel people to a specific church you have no power over them except that which they give you. And a lot of people choose to leave, choose not to listen, choose to go somewhere else. They vote with their feet and they vote with their passive involvement in a congregation.

    Lacking actual power, church leaders try to use guilt, or ALL CAPS, or some other attempt to persuade that these particular pastors are the true Biblical leaders and congregations need to follow. It’s all bluster and it’s all, ultimately, hypocritical. Join the Roman Church, and I might take your arguments for a strict hierarchy more seriously.

    Don’t split off from the bishops, then tell me that you’re a new bishop to which I must follow.

    That’s absurd, but that’s precisely what’s being argued.

    The Spirit gives gifts to the whole congregation, giving each a voice (that’s Pentecost!). We’re not a big mouth and many little ears. We’re a body, and the Body votes as one, led by the Head, who is Christ. Now, if someone is calling that evil, then that’s pretty close to calling the work of the Spirit the work of Satan, which is a particularly dangerous sort of mistake to make.

    The Spirit gives sight to the blind and the Spirit gives a voice to the mute. That’s the side I want to be on, even if people in authority deride me or dismiss me or try to exert whatever little rhetoric power they have over me.

  30. Heh. I have to snort any time I hear yet another lament at the state of “leadership,” and calls for more or better leaders, with training conferences accompanying. In a generation, leadership buzzwords and hype will be gone, and Jesus will still be saying to his disciples “FOLLOW me.”

  31. “Maybe this week I should just tell 13000 people who are fed spiritually and whom we are seeking to disciple from the word of God every week, most of whom were saved and baptized in our church, planted 23 years ago now, to just take a walk. I mean I at least then you won’t think I am in it for the wrong reasons from 500 miles away, even though we have never met.”

    James, you had me up until this point. The rest of your comment seems like “hey I’m struggling with all this, it’s tough” but then this just comes across as a very passive-aggressive sort of boast. Don’t know if you meant it that way, but it may beg some reflection on your part.

  32. I and my wife just finished reading the Frank Viola sermon/lecture that Lydia posted. What a wonderful historical summary of the early church functioning. Both my wife and I are graduates of conservative Christian colleges and both graduated from Seminary (although not in a formal ministry program). Viola blends the exegesis and historical context very, very well, something the Elder Rule camp doesn’t seem to thoroughly provide. Thank you Lydia for posting the link.

  33. “I can tell you we have never had a numerical goal ever.” Dr. MacDonald, maybe you should think a little harder. I believe you have made some pretty specific goals in the past for starting a certain number of church plants.

  34. Pastor James – I used to be one of your 13K until I tried to talk to you after service. Security guards came in front of the stage you retreated onto and only the “chosen” were allowed through. Maybe spending more time outside of your $1.9 million house with the common people in your flock would help. I don’t care where the money came from, but when a pastor lives well above the means of his congregation, he is out of touch. This reminds me of the “celebrity pastors” of the large churches in the movies “The Second Chance” and “Saving God One Soul at a Time”.


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