Having just received a copy of David Platt’s Radical: Taking Back Your Faith From the American Dream, I am already anticipating that it will make my top-10 books of 2012. Here, are the opening few pages for your consideration. If they capture your imagination, be sure to purchase the book. It only gets better.
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“The youngest megachurch pastor in history.”
While I would dispute that claim, it was nonetheless the label given to me when I went to pastor a large, thriving church in the Deep South — the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama. From the first day I was immersed in strategies for making the church bigger and better. Authors I respect greatly would make statements such as “Decide how big you want your church to be and go for it, whether that’s five, ten, or twenty thousand members.” Soon my name was near the top of the list of pastors of the fastest-growing U.S. churches. There I was … living out the American church dream.
But I found myself becoming uneasy. For one thing, my model in ministry is a guy who spent the majority of his ministry time with twelve men. A guy who, when he left this earth, had only about 120 people who were actually sticking around and doing what he told them to do. More like a minichurch, really. Jesus Christ – the youngest minichurch pastor in history.
So how was I to reconcile the fact that I was now pastoring thousands of people with the fact that my greatest example in ministry was known for turning away thousands of people? Whenever the crowd got big, he’d say something such as “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” Not exactly the sharpest church-growth tactic. I can almost picture the looks on the disciples’ faces. “No, not the drink-my-blood speech! We’ll never get on the list of the fastest growing movements if you keep asking them to eat you.”
By the end of that speech, all the crowds had left, and only twelve men remained. Jesus apparently wasn’t interested in marketing himself to the masses. His invitations to potential followers were clearly more costly than the crowds were ready to accept and he seemed to be okay with that. He focused instead on the few who believed him when he said radical things. And through their radical obedience to him, he turned the course of history in a new direction.
Soon I realized I was on a collision course with an American church culture where success is defined by bigger crowds, bigger budgets, and bigger buildings. I was now confronted with a startling reality: Jesus actually spurned the things that my church culture said were the most important. So what was I to do? I found myself faced with two big questions.
The first was simple. Was I going to believe Jesus? Was I going to embrace Jesus even though he said radical things that drove the crowds away?
The second question was more challenging. Was I going to obey Jesus? My biggest fear, even now, is that I will hear Jesus’ words and walk away, content to settle for less than radical obedience to him. In other words, my biggest fear is that I will do exactly what most people did when they encountered Jesus in the first century.
That’s why I’ve written this book. I am on a journey. But I am convinced it is not just a journey for pastors. I am convinced these questions are critical for the larger community of faith in our country today. I am convinced that we as Christ followers in American churches have embraced values and ideas that are not only unbiblical, but that actually contradict the gospel we claim to believe. And I am convinced we have a choice.
You and I can choose to continue with business as usual in the Christian life and in the church as a whole, enjoying success based on the standards defined by the culture around us. Or we can take an honest look at the Jesus of the Bible and dare to ask what the consequences might be if we really believed him and really obeyed him.
I invite you to join the journey with me. I do not claim to have all the answers. If anything, I have more questions than answers. But if Jesus is who he said he is, and if his promises are as rewarding as the Bible claims they are, then we may discover that satisfaction in our lives and success in the church are not found in what our culture deems most important but in radical abandonment to Jesus.