Mark Dever, 9Marks, and other pastors using language to control and coerce members to not engage in outside activities without church endorsement
Mark Dever’s parachurch organization, 9Marks, is advertising a new book written by Mark Dever and Jamie Dunlop. The book entitled, The Compelling Community: Where God’s Power Makes a Church Attractive (9Marks), is due to be released this month and 9Marks is using their Facebook page to bring attention to it.
Kathi recently posted about it on the SSB Facebook page (and I noticed a new Facebook advertisement from 9Marks yesterday):
Kathi included her comments:
I’m confused. Does 9Marks think it’s okay for Christians to unite and create community around something that doesn’t focus on the gospel?
What if I started a knitting group and the knitters happen to be all Christian. What if we don’t talk about the gospel once – at all – during our knitting time. But, we sit, knit, drink wine and enjoy each other’s company. Is that bad? (I think I may know the answer already. -KB)
Kathi raises a good point. What about other gatherings? Do you see the subtle unspoken rule in this phrase?
When Christians unite around something other than the gospel, they create community that would likely exist even if God didn’t.
Before I go any further, let’s take a look at the book’s summary from Amazon:
What does a community look like that testifies to God’s power?
God’s people are called to a togetherness and commitment that transcends all natural boundaries—whether ethnic, generational, or economic. But such community can only be enjoyed when it relies on the power of God in the gospel.
In The Compelling Community, pastors Mark Dever and Jamie Dunlop cast a captivating vision for authentic fellowship in the local church that goes beyond small groups. Full of biblical principles and practical advice, this book will help pastors lead their congregations toward the kind of community that glorifies God, edifies his people, and attracts the lost. (Source: Amazon)
Ok, Kathi brought up a knitting group and coincidentally I was in a knitting group while attending my former church which I believe runs like a cult, Beaverton Grace Bible Church. This knitting group consisted of some friends from a former church and also other knitting friends, some were Believers, some not. I was never told not to go to the knitting group by my pastor, but I felt guilty each time I went. I felt I was betraying someone, but who? Yes, I thought I was betraying my pastor and his “mission.”
Whenever I played the piano for the local high school choir and the concert coincided with Wednesday evening services, I felt guilty that I wasn’t spiritual enough, that I was letting my church family down. These guilty feelings really weighed on me. Why couldn’t I spend time with great friends and knit, even if the conversation didn’t always revolve around the gospel? Why couldn’t I share my love of music with high school students who were part of my community? We were building relationships and I was getting to know people in my community. Where was this division coming from?
My gut proved me right. I later got word from my friend who was a staff employee that my pastor, Chuck O’Neal, did NOT like me meeting with other ladies to knit. He controlled the influence over the ladies in his church. This was a church that would allow baby showers and bridal showers, but there were no ladies Bible studies. At our ladies retreat, aside from a few sessions with ladies from our church leading devotional type discussions, our primary teaching came from Chuck O’Neal via videotape. The second year I went to the ladies retreat was a mix up of the ladies speaking, but again, we took the same videotape and hit play and Chuck O’Neal spoke to us again (the content on the video is worthy of a separate blog post). I guess he didn’t have time to give us new information to learn.
The underlying message I got from the nonverbal communication was this:
- you can do things together as a group as long as they are church-approved, meaning Chuck O’Neal approved
- you don’t get to have any teachings unless I (pastor) am teaching them or I give special permission for one of the elders to preach (rarely)
- if you do anything that doesn’t include the church community or is not church-approved, the activity is suspect
9Marks and Mark Dever are known for their strict church membership policies. I’m sure this goes along with their thoughts on keeping a pure community without outside influence. In this short video clip, we hear about the importance of committed church members and the church community. We also see a strong belief in a hierarchical structure of pastors and their belief that church membership is crucial to be an effective church and community
I think we can get to the heart of the message when Jamie Donlop shares at the 1:34 mark. He’s talking about the church community within the physical building, not about the Christian community at large.
Ok, here is where JA rants.
Based on what I know about 9Marks, I am concerned about the underlying message of this forthcoming book. I am also concerned that this book will get in the hands of abusive leadership – leaders who know how to use words in a way that make congregants feel guilty for participating in a bowling league, a community choir, a nonprofit group, etc. You will see that these leaders won’t come out and tell you to not participate in outside activities – that’s too cult-like. But they will speak in language with an underlying tone that if you do, you are showing your lack of commitment to their church community. You may even hear that they are concerned about your soul. They want all of the church members (and you’ve got to be a member) to behave like they do – – 110% committed to the church at any and all times unless there is a justifiable excuse (illness, business trip, vacation).
Folks, these leaders are responding in fear. When one is living in fear, there is the need to be in control. They are afraid of losing you (your tithes may be part of this fear, but not always) and so they use gospelese lingo and hand-selected Bible verses to keep you where they want you. If you don’t do something that is church-sanctioned, if you are missing church for other activities, they interpret it as your lack of commitment to their church community. In other words, they fear they are losing their grip on you.
Here’s the deal. This is more about church leaders owning their congregants and ruling over them rather than trusting congregants to use their own discernment and make their own decisions about what activities in which to participate.
Chuck O’Neal had no clue that as we were knitting, we were inviting other ladies into our group. One lady came for months and was led to Christ. The love of Christ had shown through the ladies at that knitting group and it drew her to Christ. This group of Christians from different churches, all with a heart for Jesus, met this precious woman where she was and loved on her. Christ’s love was speaking through His church Body at large, through the Believers in this knitting group, not through a pastor-approved group.
The reality that these controlling authority figures forget to realize is that there is real church happening outside their church, too. But because they aren’t apart of it and it hasn’t gone through their gospel purity test, they cannot approve/endorse it. To that I say, oh well – they need to get over it.
We do not need the approval of our pastors to share our gifts outside of the church, to have relationships outside of the church, to participate in activities outside of the church. We are to be a light in the darkness, not holed up and tethered to our church building and its church-approved activities. I do not see so much of this emphasis in Scripture. I, do, however, see Jesus out among the sick, the poor, the oppressed and other Believers. He was out in the community.
At your church, are you feeling guilty for doing “non-approved” outside activities? If you feel like you need your church’s permission to do outside activities, you might want to dig a little deeper and ask what other aspects of your life they are controlling. Is this a safe place for you spiritually? Are you encouraged to use your gifts? Are they encouraging you to hear from God or are they telling you what God says as if they are mediator?
I am very concerned that pastors who have a need to be in control will use this book, written by a well-known celebrity pastor and endorsed by the respected 9Marks group, to further justify pulling in the reins on their congregation. When you have a leader who decides how you get to use your time outside of church, making decisions for your outside activities, you are heading into cult-type behavior. Watch out!