The Arrogance of Youth and the Subtle Danger of Experience

For most of the last week, a number of folks have been chiming on John MacArthur’s critique of Darrin Patrick’s book, Church Planter: The Man, the Message, the Mission. If you’ve been following it at all, MacArthur says that he was shocked by the following passage:

The man who is experiencing head confirmation [of his calling to pastoral ministry] is thoughtful about his own philosophy of ministry, his own ministry style, his own theological beliefs, his own unique gifts, abilities and desire. In short, there is uniqueness to the way he wants to do ministry. Unlike many young men who know much about what they are against and little about what they are for, the man who is experiencing head confirmation thinks through very carefully and deliberately, What am I for with my life and ministry? What are my specific burdens for the church? How can I best serve the church in these areas? (Church Planter, page 37, emphasis in original)

MacArthur’s take on this section is that Patrick is suggesting that “everything about one’s ministry (Patrick expressly includes “his own theological beliefs“) needs to be self-styled and individualistic” (source). What he suggests is that what this paragraph (and indeed the whole book) is calling for is a radical individualism.

Having read both the book and MacArthur’s concerns, I believe that his take is uncharitable at best, but I can understand how one could make this conclusion. However, my point is not to defend the book, nor is it to criticize John MacArthur, who is a godly man and a great Bible teacher.

What concerns me is something that caught my attention in the follow-up post on the Grace to You blog.

After rightly calling out those who have been (perhaps) overzealous in their responses to MacArthur’s critique as needing to be a little more thick-skinned and to remember that Scripture is our authority, the author writes the following:

John has more than fifty years of preaching faithfully, more than forty years in the same pulpit—don’t you think you ought to listen? Don’t despise the older generation; don’t dismiss their wisdom; don’t ignore their criticisms of you. Proverbs is full of wisdom like that: “The ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise. Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence” (Prov. 15:31-32; cf. 10:17;12:1; 13:18; 15:5).

Now here’s where I agree entirely. John MacArthur has been in ministry for a long time. He has a great deal of wisdom to offer, much of which is well worth heeding. Older men who have been in ministry can an invaluable resource to younger men and we would be foolish not to give them our ear.

That said, one’s experience does not make a man infallible. We are all subject to error and we must be careful to recognize this, especially when we comment on what we perceive to be the errors of others lest we fall into pride.

This is why the Apostle Peter in addressing both older pastors and younger men:

Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you… (1 Peter 5-6)

Pride is an equal opportunity sin. It doesn’t discriminate against youth or experience. Any of us, whether because of the arrogance of youth or through the subtle danger of experience, can easily be ensnared by our pride if we’re not watchful. And the result is we look and act like this:

I don’t want my contemporaries to fall into that trap. I don’t want it for myself. And I don’t want it for those who are ahead of us in the race. God, help us, please.

(Video HT: Z)

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  • Michael Krahn

    Uncharitable is right! I thought the “50 years” comment was, well, just more arrogant than I can express. JMac has been preaching his version of the truth for 50 years and castigating everyone who deviates from it by 1 degree or less.

    Here is a man who is so convinced of his complete rightness about everything that he will put down anyone, anytime… and he’s mentored a whole army of others like him. Team Pyro, Frank Turk, et al. (described by a friend of mine as “Jerks for Jesus”)

    The 50 years thing applies to his flock, not to the entire earth, or universe.

  • Amber

    Love that video. I’m going to steal it for my current blog post.

    By the way, you do a good job responding graciously, not accusatorily, with truth to these issues.

  • Keystone

    When we were kids, we used to take an old mayonnaise jar and lid, to capture as many bumble bees as we could in the jar. The first several were easy. You open the lid, place the jar under a pollinating bumble bee, and slam the lid. Your left hand holding the jar began to vibrate.

    After a dozen or so huge bees were trapped, the vibration became enormous, even fearsome, for when you went to add one more, several mean bees were waiting to get out, when you opened the lid to add one more. The jar buzzed, and inevitably, one of us got stung bad.
    But it was not a sole sting that was fearsome; it was the massive vibration from so many angry bees trapped within.

    So too the MacArthur/Patrick saga underway now. Lotsa buzz; lotsa vibration. Someone is gonna get stung. Sadly Aaron, I feel your take is straddling the horse both ways, for an easy ride.
    It reminds me of Challies asking for questions and getting 170 comments last I looked. He opens the floor to questions for MacArthur in an upcoming interview. But he restricts the focus to John, his book, his ministry, and asks avoidance of theological conundrums you face, and the like. Why bother asking for any input if you have determined that despite all the buzz going on, you will ignore the jar full of bees and talk about mayonnaise. There will be a lukewarm interview at best.

    As temperature on debate rose, MacArthur wrote this:
    “Indeed, the entire book treats church planting as an entrepreneurial business, with almost no word of caution against the many dangers of bringing an entrepreneur’s mindset into ministry. Scripture, by contrast, consistently uses pastoral language rather than terms borrowed from financial enterprise. Church leaders are to be shepherds, not tycoons. Our people are sheep, not consumers.

    On the surface, it may sound noble to hold to a unique theology that has been independently forged, but such thinking (too common among today’s young-and-restless reformers) is dangerous to the health of the church. Allow me to publicly state that if this is not what Darrin Patrick meant to communicate, I would certainly love to embrace any clarification.”
    —Grace To You 1/21/2011

    The first paragraph is spot on. I get so weary of the days of Perry Noble and sidekick, Tony Morgan, setting up “campuses” all over South Carolina, and was relieved when they finally split as a team. Morgan is a salesman, a marketer…a far cry from theologian. Noble is the poster child for what MacArthur is warning us to avoid. “It’s all about me”.

    I got the same feeling from Seth Godin in his book “All Marketers Are Liars”. Gee, didn’t the Baptist market repentance and Christ market salvation in their words and deeds?
    There is a lot of balderdash out there.

    MacArthur’s final sentence above is unfortunate. It is akin to Godin saying “All Marketers Are Liars”. He will agree with Patrick, provided Patrick takes MacArthur’s stance. This does not sound like wisdom and discernment from a practiced pastor to me at all.

    The model is always Jesus Christ, not other pastors you admire. Even Billy Graham got it wrong when he began a coziness to Presidents, and a historical endorsement of Nixon, not once, but twice. Get out of politics Billy and stay in the domain of preaching. There is far more power in the theological domain than politics anyway. Length of service determines far less, than folks give credit.

    An adherance to Christ and HIS principles is the deal.

    What then shall we say about newbies in the field?
    How many run around and preach as Christ, and tell their audience:
    “verily, verily, I say unto you..”
    That would lead to a quick disconnect, eh?

    The original Church Planters faced a dilemma. They knew Christ PERSONALLY, as a human. What is such a young church planter to do? (I hate that term; we win hearts one at a time).

    None of the apostles walked on water (albeit Peter gave it a shot), but I mean post Resurrection
    pastoral activity.

    They performed as Christ saying “Silver and gold I have none; but what I do have, I give to you in the name of Jesus Christ. Arise and walk”

    See any of that lately??

    Church planting at its best is outlined in 2 Corinthians 5:16-20 (emphasis v20):
    “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view.
    Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.
    Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.

    20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”

    There is your pattern newbies!
    You are ambassadors for Christ….not some older pastor, or young guy moving along fast either.
    Let God make HIS appeal through you as ambassador.
    Ambassadors carry the message from the chief executive; they do not make policy.

    Rugged individualism is not required for the job.
    Rather, carry the message as an ambassador, and follow the pattern of Christ.
    Follow no one else.

    • Aaron Armstrong

      Hey Keystone, thanks for the feedback. My point is not to “straddle the horse both ways for an easy ride,” as you put it. Many others (including Patrick himself) have responded directly to MacArthur’s feedback and I’ve been trying to make a conscious choice not to engage in what could be taken as blasting someone online if I can at all help it.

      Having said that, as I mentioned above, MacArthur’s assessment of the book is bizarre to me, having given it a thorough and careful read. You have to read a lot into the book to get radical individualism out of it.

      Now, as far as pastor-as-entrepreneur, I’m right there with you. An entrepreneurial spirit is not bad in and of itself (indeed, it can lead to fruitful ministry), but it must be guided by Scripture, rather than a pragmatic, “if it puts butts in seats” style of thinking.

      For what it’s worth, I know a number of church planters whose sole desire is to only see more people come to know Christ. My hope is that that would be the desire of all.

      • Keystone

        Hello Aaron,

        I know that my responses can be rambunctious, and you know my comments are based on what I read only, not the video, due to deafness….so I may have missed a bit.

        But I get most upset with the continued lack of Unity in the church.
        With 3,000 denominations following Christ, growing to 5,000 within less than 5 years (Barna), I just do not understand the lack of cooperation among believers.

        Christ told us when he left that “greater things would occur when he is gone, than occurred while he walked Earth”. I have not seen that in the last 2,000 years and I believe the lack of Unity is the key frustration grieving the Holy Spirit, from fulfilling the Words of Christ.

        So when I see this kind of activity, it is like a fingernail running down a chalkboard grating my skin. In Florida, I witnessed personally so much false preaching and outright distortion of Scripture, I had to tell one congregant who made the mistake of asking me on my first visit , what did I think of their pastor?
        In reply. “he has no clue what he is saying and leads people from Christ with every word. [He claimed salvation was by jumping across a military sword he laid down, calling it the Sword of the Spirit, from Ephesians 6:10-20]
        His entire congregation walked up and jumped that piece of metal, screaming joy that they were now saved. I was the only one in my seat. Imagine THAT!

        I have Catholic friends insisting they are the One, True, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, arguing over Eucharist as genuine, while cookies and crackers don’t count for communion. Followers of Christ are CHRISTians. If you want to call yourself Catholic, Calvinist, Presbyterian, whatever….start with Christian and use the denomination as a backup. It confuses the world of nonbelievers, skeptics, atheists, and more, to see believers doing infighting in any way.

        And the money business in mega churches I saw personally as a staff of 50 drew a $1.1 million dollar salary. Do we need a Pastor of Sports??? Give the floor sweeper $8 an hour instead of $7.
        Add New Media and Worship gizmos, and latte in the lobby, and the ideas of Christ get stretched thin. Churches honoring Christ will alter their schedules in two Sundays and work around the SuperBowl. Remember to keep the Sabbath Holy? What happened there?

        All of these issues were coming together under this post and I believe a day of recogning is upon us soon for this behavior, so at odds with what scripture and Christ explicitly told us. I do not mean to offend you, but this read came after perhaps 8 posts before it, that are alarmed at Roe vs Wade, Obama, and off the wall everything. Sometimes, I am glad I can no longer hear with all the white noise going on.

        A priest wrote this to me today:
        “We Roman Catholics do not worship images; we adore and worship God, especially in the Blessed Sacrament.

        That thing you probably refer to as a ‘cookie, or cracker’.

        The birth of Christ does nothing. His resurrection does nothing.

        His death upon the cross does it all.

        Without the crucifix, there is no salvation. ”
        I was raised in the Catholic church with 13 siblings, and this when the Mass was Latin, and I said it as an altar boy 7 days a week. In Jerusalem last year, atop the highest hotel under the stars, with Gethsemane in view, my siblings had communion, with a chalice I purchased in Cana, and wine/bread on the table, accompanied by Bible readings appropriate. It was a Thursday night; our Last Supper.
        How do I explain that to a priest?

        There was a time when churches scalped each others attenders.
        Soon, it was not necessary to do that as folks “church shop” as if Christ is NOT the same yesterday, today, and forever…and a better Christ is at that other church.
        This upcoming generation is most difficult to reach, and focus has to return, not divisiveness.

        So, it is NOT you, but me,….. getting worked up at what I see as a growing trend at false Christianity. To have dignified pastors whacking away at words of another just adds a match to a can of gasoline. Sorry, but I am as upset at the end of the day as the beginning, when i read all this, and note the trend to money as god by the church.

        I listened to Joel Osteen in Tampa and I was shocked that the words “Jesus + Christ” have difficulty coming out of his mouth at some point in the two hours. But the money flowed as I have never seen before.

        I went to Jim Cymbala’s in Brooklyn and the worship was powerful.
        Say, you want a signed book by Jim? Disconnect anew.

        Perhaps I am alone, or wrong, but judgment fears are setting in, unless we change pronto.

        And NOW, back to our calmer comments. Thank you. Spread the word—-UNITY.
        One Jesus Christ; One Church; Christian followers.
        Thank you Aaron.

  • Momo

    I am not really used to those two guys , but this is an issue that we see everywhere, the Old thinking that they have been there , and know everything, hence cannot be taught anything from an youth.

    on the other hand, the young Pastors and leaders, who came trough the youth system of the church or other Christian formation, think or say they have new callings, that goes against what the Elders says, most of the reasons put forward is that there is a new generation and things need to be done .
    I think like you Aaron, at a point we need to analyze and understand what is good or bad. If we keep ourselves connected to GOD, we have the scriptures and our prayer life for that, the Holy Spirit will reveal us the right way.

    I do not quite like those who have no opinions hiding behind the “you should not judge” verse. We are told to use the scriptures to analyze,confront and decide..

    I will have some more McArthur and Patrick reading to do…

  • Aaron Armstrong

    Thanks for the feedback, all. Incidentally, Darrin Patrick took some time to respond very thoughtfully to Dr. MacArthur’s critique here:

    Well worth taking some time to read.

  • Nino

    I have read most of Church planter and can see how MacArthur can critique Darren on church planting being like a business but you never hear anyone critiquing Calvin for setting up the Church like a government. The reality is so much of any church is represented by the leadership and mainly the preaching pastor. What I mean is the preaching pastor is the example for the church on what a godly life is to look like and that is why a book like this is so individualistic. I could not imagine John Piper not preaching Christian hedonism, or Francis Chan not trying to teach his people to have a radical devotion to God, or Mark Drisocll trying to teach his church to be the city of God in the city of man. Each of these men has a theological focus that shapes there theology and preaching. They love Jesus and would preach the same text differently based on who they are where there church is at and where they believe God wants it to go. Church planting is about the vision God gives to a man for a people and a place no two churches are the same.
    Nino Olson

  • Nino

    love the video!

  • Aaron Armstrong

    Great feedback, Nino!

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  • David

    Beware of false teachers who come disguised as harmless sheep, but are wolves and will tear you apart. You can detect them by the way they act, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit. You need never confuse grapevines with thorn bushes or figs with thistles – Matthew 7:15,16. There are many false teachers in the seminaries and pulpits of the world.