In the Danish summer of 2006 my family and I travelled to Denmark for a four week holiday in anticipation of our upcoming transplantation from Australia. After years of groping around in the theological dark I was now starting to get a decent grip on the fundamentals of the Christian faith that I had only previously known in a superficial way.
Reading the Bible had set off the alarm bells that something was wrong in my local church context. Hearing Ray Comfort's sermon Hell's Best Kept Secret had helped me to join the dots on the large chunks of missing information in the "gospel preaching" I had been hearing. Paris Reidhead's old sermon Ten Shekels And A Shirt literally revolutionized my understanding and practice of mission and evangelism. Paul Washer's teaching on The Meaning of The Cross had finally helped me to grasp the essential doctrine of Penal Substitutionary Atonement. I was finally learning how to find the best waterholes and drink deeply in those places.
Armed with this new knowledge and zeal I placed great importance on interviewing (interrogating) potential pastors from local churches in the area we were going to live. I was about to find out that zeal and knowledge were great, but I hadn't considered the wisdom needed to deal with CEO style church leaders where pragmatism is their modus operandi. I asked great doctrinal questions about his view of the Gospel, the authority of Scripture, being seeker sensitive, evangelism, and biblical preaching. Unfortunately I framed all my questions in a way that required a yes or no answer. How do pragmatists with a decent smartitude deal with these situations? That's right - the pastor I interviewed was a lousy preacher who happened to be expert in the art of discerning the answers I wanted to hear. And the way I framed my questions only made his task easier.
If there is a major lesson I learned out of all this it is this - ask prospective church leaders open ended questions. Ask them to explain the Gospel to you as if you were a lost sinner. Ask them for the major reason that someone should become a Christian. Ask them about how they prepare sermons, practice church discipline, and select elders (if at all). Many of us find ourselves between a rock and a hard place when trying to locate a healthy local church. Something that I found very helpful (and a frightening reality check) was Todd Friel's document How To Find A Good Church. I heartily recommend that you print that document and use it to save you a lot of time and heartache in your search for a local church. 9 Marks and The Masters Seminary also have useful church directories.
I left my interview/interrrogation with a false sense of security. As we will learn in my next posts, when I returned to Denmark permanently (six months later) I would learn my lesson and the harsh reality of living in an apostate land. Save yourself the pain of this by learning from my experience. And if you can watch this without crying - you can also learn from the "snow job" Rick Warren (who is the Yoda of pragmatism) did on John Piper:
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For the Pastor Knee-Deep in Immorality
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