Spring and preparing for the harvest.

I love this time of year. This past winter has been cool and wet enough that it was hard to get enthused about riding my bike enough to stay in shape. Winter is a time of tarped boats and occasional rides. When I lived in Alaska it was a time to ski and ice climb. This part of North Carolina is too cold for summer sports and too warm for winter sports. So, winter is a time to rest a bit and recharge. Then comes spring. When I commercial fished in Alaska spring was filled with cleaning and rigging the boat, checking and tying new gear, and counting down the days until the king salmon showed up in numbers. Spring was a time of anticipation, and preparation.

We need times of refreshing. Ecclesiastes 3 declares there is a season for everything. There are times for sabbaticals, but a never ending sabbatical is called laziness. I have found it hard to shift from resting  to activity. After sitting in neutral it is just hard for me to shift back into high gear. You may have the same problem. If so, then perhaps, the following motivational tools I use could benefit you.

Set a goal with a “price”. During the winter I ride a couple of times a week if the weather is good. It is hard to shift into a daily ride mode,  which I desperately need to shed my winter weight gain. In January I register (and pay) to participate in a major ride. Usually I ride a century (100 miles in one day) at the end of April. This year I am riding a 75 mile ride from Emerald Isle to Harker’s Island and back. These rides are fun, but require preparation. I know it will be agony to ride the mileage if I have not prepared, and I won’t back out because I paid to enter. I have a ten week training program which adds mileage each week. At the end of February my lazy side does not want to go for a ride, but I know the “price” of not going. I have a goal with a timeline that will not change. On May 5 I will either enjoy a great ride with a friend, or I will suffer for five hours, or forfeit the fee.

Find a partner. Last spring my middle son committed to riding a century with me the end of April. He was living in Macon so we could not train together, but we would often compare training rides using a smartphone app. This year a former colleague, John, approached me about “Ride the Bank.” John and I were professors together a few years ago. At that time neither of us rode. Since then John began doing triathlons and I started riding centuries. John wanted to try his hand at longer rides (he is used to 18-20 milers), and had heard I was riding. So John and I meet two or three times a week to train together. We have busy schedules so we can’t ride everyday at the same time. We are riding on our own, but the common training sessions help us stay accountable. For a couple of old guys we are doing pretty good.

Related to both of the above is the motivation of making it public. Before my first long ride I made sure my family knew, so I could not back out. (It was nice to hear the grand-kids express their pride when I completed it.) Recently, I used this tool in my small group. For several years I have done little scripture memorization work. In the past I memorized Colossians and Titus, but then stopped. I took a sabbatical from memorizing new material. It was comfortable just repeating those books on a regular basis. Some days I would not quote any scriptures. Last month, two of our small group members talked about the book of James. Their comments were not about memorization, just about how James blessed them. I was convicted that I could have memorized the book if I had not taken a “sabbatical” from memorization. Actually, sabbatical is just a term to make me feel better. I had become lazy in regards to committing God’s word to memory. I was satisfied with maintaining the status quo. That night I made a public commitment to memorize James. Now, I am making a commitment to  not stop with James. The days I start to skip my memory work I think of my small group members and my commitment to them.

I enjoy cycling. There is a sense of accomplishment when I finish a hard ride. I started riding as a means of exercising. I cannot stand working out in a gym or running. Riding a bike is like being a kid again. I determined that I want to be active when I am in my eighties. I also realized for that to happen, I could not wait until I am eighty to begin exercising. I am investing now for a goal years away. In the same fashion, I want to be a godly man who knows God’s word. I have always admired those elderly saints that exude God’s love and have His word hidden in their hearts. That will not take place unless I prepare now.

God rested on the seventh day to demonstrate our need for rest. God did not create everything in one day, though He could have, and then take six days of rest. We will have times that we need to take a break, but then we need to return to work. Jesus looked upon the multitude and encouraged his disciples to pray to the Lord of the Harvest to send forth laborers into the harvest. (Matt 9:37-38)  Winter is over. Spring is here. Summer is coming, and then the harvest. Will we be ready? Set the goal. Pay a price. Make it public. Find that yoke fellow who will challenge you and hold you accountable. Everything we invest now will come back as a blessing when we stand before the Lord of the Harvest. The fields are white unto harvest.


Speaking Schedule – Spring 2015

January 22– Burlington, NC    First Wesleyan   Game dinner

February 7– North Augusta, SC   Sweetwater Baptist Church,  God’s Great Outdoors, Training conference for equipping churches for outdoor ministry.  8 a.m.- 4 p.m.

Javalina with bow, South Texas, 2007

Javalina with bow, South Texas, 2007

February 26– Florence, SC    Ebenezer Baptist Church   Game dinner   6 p.m.

February 28– Wilson, NC   New Hope Baptist Church   Game dinner  6 p.m.

April 10– Welcome, NC     Center United Methodist Church      Game dinner   6 p.m.

April 18–Talbott, TN       Magna View Baptist Church   Wild game festival 12-8 p.m.


Target and Canada, What church planters can learn.

I ran across this article about Target’s closing its stores in Canada. Target had expanded into Canada just a year or so ago. They quickly failed. As I read this article it reminded me of some of the challenges of ministry in Alaska. On too many occasions, I had new arrivals from Outside (what Alaskans call everything else) tell me that they were disappointed they could not find a church “like back home” or “like Georgia” or wherever they use to live. After hearing that several times I tried to be nice, but finally succumbed to the Dark Side. From that time on I would usually say, “Then go back home.” When people would say, “Why don’t we do it like down south (again, meaning the Lower 48)?” My answer, “We are an Alaskan church. We don’t live down south.

You might find this article enlightening. Here is the address:



It is Bigger Than Mark Driscoll

This week I have had several students ask for my opinion on the circumstances surrounding Mark Driscoll and the dissolution of Mars Hill. The issues involved go beyond the obvious ones presented in the most news articles. Not wanting to give a partial or disjointed answer I did not give an immediate response. May I now present the following for consideration?

First of all, I am saddened. I spent twenty years in Alaska and have a heart for the Pacific Northwest. Two of my sons are pastors in the region. Seattle is a beautiful city with a unique culture. Washington state ranks as one of the most unchurched states in the nation with 25% of its people having “no religion”.[1] By the time you add in people who are unchurched or attending religious bodies not teaching biblical truth the vast majority of the people of the Puget Sound need Christ. I do not agree with some of Mark Driscoll’s methodologies and theology. I love the book of Colossians. I hold to Paul’s words in Colossians 3:8, “But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth.” (NKJV) Like many of the emergent persuasion Driscoll’s view of social freedoms differ from mine. However, I have heard Driscoll state he regretted being known for his cursing. Perhaps, in time, we might move closer together. (Time does have a way of mellowing angry young men.) That being said, Mars Hill had a ministry reaching the area with the gospel. I have respect for anyone who is able to contextualize the gospel to a culture as challenging as Seattle’s. There is no joy in seeing Mars Hill disband.

I wish to address the issues of ecclesiology involved but first must say I disagree with the report from the Mars Hill leadership when they state:

We concluded that Pastor Mark has, at times, been guilty of arrogance, responding to conflict with a quick temper and harsh speech, and leading the staff and elders in a domineering manner. While we believe Mark needs to continue to address these areas in his life, we do not believe him to be disqualified from pastoral ministry [2]

No pastor is perfect. We are all fallen creatures saved by grace; but a pattern of the above behavior is not acceptable for ministry. Paul states:

7 For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, 8 but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled, Titus 1:7-8 (NKJV)

When the report summarizes the behavior as rooted in arrogance there should be cause for concern and censor.

The larger question I have concerning the Mars Hill is the model of the multi-campus, satellite, video feed church. I believe Mars Hill consisted of thirteen campuses in five different states. Mark Driscoll would preach from the central campus and the various congregations would receive the video sermon. This model is used by a number of American churches. The common thread of these churches is the dynamic, gifted pulpiteer. Mark Driscoll was Mars Hill to many of the people who attended the church. The disbanding of the campuses is probably the most logical course of action unless the church was able to find another strong personality with the drawing power of Driscoll. That is highly unlikely.

Mars Hill raises the question: What is the role of the pastor? In the multi-site model the pastor is the face of the “franchise”. He is the gifted public speaker who draws the audience. He casts the vision and serves as the CEO of the organization and, in the mother church; he functions as the senior pastor. The usual model has “campus pastors” assigned at each satellite location. They are responsible for leading the ministry for their campus and maintaining the corporate agenda while hosting the service when the video feed is off.

This model is a refinement of the televangelist strategy of the 1970s-80s. Now people can listen to a talented speaker on a large screen and also enjoy the corporate worship and a sense of participation in their campus church. Too many, it is the best of both worlds.

Can “campus pastors” fulfill the biblical responsibilities of shepherd without being the regular Bible teacher/preacher? I think not. A pastor’s effectiveness depends upon his relationship with his congregation. It is a relationship built on love. Thom Rainer affirms, “[Effective pastors] communicate love, sincere love. . . . Their members know that their pastors love them. And that love is contagious.”[3] The relationship between the pastor and his congregation forms the basis of his evangelistic ministry to the community. Multi-site supporters will say the campus pastor does have that relational role. However, I agree with John A. Broadus. Broadus was the first professor of Greek and preaching at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. In his homiletics text, which was used by almost all Protestant seminaries for over half a century, Broadus recognized the power of preaching combined with pastoral ministry. He believed that the relationships that develop between a minister and his community gave power to his sermons. Visitation of the unconverted and sick, catechism of young believers, and counseling of troubled individuals builds a receptivity within the congregation and community. When the pastor who has spoken for God from the pulpit visits “[the visit has] a meaning and a power of which otherwise it must be destitute.”[4] The campus pastor is not seen as the teacher/preacher, and the video preacher is not seen active in pastoral ministry. The powerful combination of proclamation and incarnation is divorced.

In the case of Mark Driscoll, most of the Mars Hill congregants never had the opportunity to see Mark interact with his family, church leadership, people in need, or in the community. He was just the face on the screen; the author of the books, and the public personality which attracted them to the ministry.

I know there are a number of gifted pulpiteers in the video campus movement, as there were in the TV churches. But, I must confess I have never seen the attraction of listening to someone over a video link. I will also admit that I have been a member of some churches where the preaching was not stellar. I could have stayed home and tuned in one of the TV churches. However, I believe there is a blessing being involved in a local church family and knowing the man behind the sermon. The biblical requirements/descriptions of the pastor make sense when the job entails living among the flock. All the church planting gurus affirm the importance of contextualization of the gospel. Ministers must be able to exegete their community. When you have multiple campuses in different towns, and even states, as does Mars Hill, the challenges of contextualization multiply. When I was serving as interim pastor in Ketchikan, Alaska, we had a guest speaker from Texas. He made a comment about “two ticks on a dog.” My congregation began looking at each other and mouthing, “What did he just say?” He finally realized he had lost the congregation and stopped speaking at which time I explained they did not know the expression because there are no ticks in Alaska.

I suspect the popularity of multi-site campuses reveals a weakness in American Christianity. Our brothers and sisters in third world countries walk miles to worship in churches without padded pews, air conditioning, professional level music, and all the other trappings expected, and sometimes demanded, by American church goers. Growth requires struggle. Most pastors do not present an entertaining, scholarly, transformational sermon each week. (Some weeks I struggle to even have a respectable message.) We have good weeks and bad weeks. Pastors are required to faithfully present God’s word. We should strive to present sound doctrine in as compelling manner as possible. We should never cease striving to improve, but the congregation should realize the benefits of working through a Bible presentation instead of having it handed to them on a homiletical “platter”.

That said, it seems church attenders want the pastor to do all the studying, meditating, and applying a scripture passage. Too many Christians want to walk in, sit down, enjoy the show, receive a prepackaged Bible message, and then go home. My dad had stomach cancer. After his surgery he could not handle solid food. Until his death he lived on a diet of Ensure. An Ensure diet does not require cooking, chewing, doing dishes, etc. It is convenient. It seems congregations migrate from church to church depending upon who is offering the best “package” and the greatest convenience. The multi-site church model is strong on convenience. You don’t even have to drive across town to participate.

The Free Church tradition came out of the Anabaptist of the Radical Reformation. The two foundational characteristics of the tradition are baptism and the disciplined church. The Lord’s Supper required both to be in place. Key to church discipline is a membership bonded together by covenant. The ability to maintain discipline declines when the local church becomes a multi-campus body. We usually think of church discipline as involving members. However, the Bible also presents the criteria for a church dealing with an erring pastor. I do not know Mars Hill’s position on church discipline, but the satellite campuses would not be aware of the on-going problems with Mark Driscoll because he was just the face on the screen. Such is the short-coming of the technologically dependent multi-site model.

The issue of multiple campuses and video links developed while I was a resident faculty member teaching church planting. I developed my position from a safe distance. For the last six years I have been pastoring a young church and living in the “shadow” of a multi-site church. My church is also near a seminary. I have watched new seminarians arrive, church shop, and settle into the area churches. A large number of them end up attending one of the campuses of the area mega-church. It is an appealing place to go. The pastor is a gifted communicator, solid theologian, and great guy. It is also an easy place to go on Sunday (or Saturday night), have a great experience, and have any level of commitment you desire. It is convenient. It is safe. My church cannot “compete”. All we can offer is basic ministries, hard work, and a supportive church family. I do not see any evidence of the problems experienced by Mars Hill, but I have the same reservations. I also wonder how long the multiple campuses would last without the present pastor.

My hope for American Christianity is not in the ministry model currently in vogue. Models will change. My hope is in a Sovereign God sending His revival. When the Body of Christ is revived, we will have Christians who will not be drawn to the best attraction or most comfortable place to “worship”. We will see the Body of Christ seeking the tough places, the lost people groups, the greatest needs. The power of God will be evident in the churches when people are not drawn by great public speaking, but by our marvelous Christ.

[1] http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/life/2002/2002-03-07-no-religion.htm

[2] https://marshill.com/2014/10/15/pastor-mark-driscolls-resignation

[3] Thom Rainer, Effective Evangelistic Churches (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 1996), 195.

[4] John A. Broadus, A Treatise on the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons (New York: A. C. Armstrong and Son, 1905), 2-3.

Daniel 1:1-8 “Counter-culture Faith”

1 Samuel 28 The Truth about Spirits

Simple Discipleship: A Resource for the Church

For over a decade I have been teaching evangelism and church planting courses, and for the last eighteen months a discipleship class for Liberty Seminary.  There are numerous discipleship materials available, but few walk a pastor through the implementation of a comprehensive strategy. Another major deficiency common in the genre is the lack of assessment strategies. We want to make disciples, but never have a means to evaluate if we are truly accomplishing the task. As a result, little changes. Tom Cocklereece’s Simple Discipleship satisfies these concerns. The following will give you an overview of the text.  This would be a great addition to your ministry library.   Remember, the Great Commission is all about making disciples, which encompasses evangelism, missions, and results in church planting.  -Bill

Simple Discipleship: A Comprehensive Disciple-Making Plan

Many people think that Simple Discipleship (SD) is merely a collection of Bible studies designed to enhance the spiritual growth of individuals, but that does not describe SD. Simple Discipleship grew out of my reading of Simple Church by Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger in which they challenged pastors to become designers of disciple-making ministries. Happily, many pastors have accepted the challenge, but organizational development is not a strong point for many church leaders. I was immediately attracted to the challenge. I observed that while Simple Church listed four characteristics of disciple-making churches (clarity, measurement, alignment, focus), the authors did not provide sufficient detail as to how church leaders might develop a ministry that was in fact a simple church. In short, to develop and write Simple Discipleship I took their work to a new level. Perhaps a look at disciple-making methods would be useful, as there are six disciple-making methods used in varying degrees by church leaders:

  1. Platform Discipleship- Virtually all churches use platform discipleship as the pastors preach and teach during the worship and Bible study time each week using sermons, sermon series, testimonies, drama, and other worship arts. In Simple Discipleship it applies to the Worship dimension in which people Connect with Jesus Christ.
  2. Program Discipleship- Many churches employ programs that use curricula that is developed by their denomination or other organization outside the immediate church. Think of programs as already prepared spiritual meals for various aged groups and provided to help people spiritually grow. Many churches administer all of their primary ministries using a program approach. Large churches use this method as it is an easy delivery system for large groups of people. However, the effectiveness is difficult to measure and the programs can become self perpetuating silo-style ministries that may or may not be effective.
  3. Peer-group Discipleship- When people join a small group Bible study, they become part of a partnership with everyone in the cluster. We might call this koinonia or fellowship disciple-making. The strength of this method is that it provides collaboration and cooperation in an accountability format that is caring for all involved.
  4. Personal Discipleship- One-on-one discipleship may be the least used by churches even though Jesus Christ used it with great effectiveness. It requires commitment and the development of discipleship coaches and leaders who are proficient in developing other people as they grow spiritually.
  5. Proficiency Discipleship- One may think of the three years the apostles spent with Jesus as he helped guide them to become the leaders of the church after his ascension. It may include aspects of each of the other methods listed above.
  6. Process Discipleship- This is the preferred method, as it not only incorporates all of the other five methods, but it also does so with an intentional desire to move people from where they are presently to the next level of spiritual growth. Additionally, process discipleship recognizes the need for spiritual balance as growing disciples must be actively involved in worship, Bible study, ministry in the church, and sharing Christ outside the church.

In short, Simple Discipleship is a ubiquitous disciple-making strategy using platform, program, peer-group, personal, and proficiency discipleship delivered in a process manner. Use of the material presented in the book Simple Discipleship will provide church leaders with a new comprehensive disciple-making plan that will grow people and grow their churches.

Find out more and order the book from http://www.simplediscipleship.com

Dr. Tom Cocklereece