Doug Ponder an Acts 29 pastor from Remnant Church in Richmond, Virginia wrote a troubling article about church planting for The Gospel Coalition in December of 2018. The article has concerns in light of the issues this blog has written about at Remnant Church. What Doug is espousing reminds me more of how cancer spreads and amounts to empire building in the end.
“Corruption is a cancer: a cancer that eats away at a citizen’s faith in democracy, diminishes the instinct for innovation and creativity; already-tight national budgets, crowding out important national investments. It wastes the talent of entire generations. It scares away investments and jobs.”
“I pictured myself as a virus or a cancer cell and tried to sense what it would be like.”
30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’[a] 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] There is no commandment greater than these.”
Mark 12:30-31 NIV
Doug Ponder on the left at Remnant Church at Richmond, Virginia.
Recently at The Gospel Coalition Doug Ponder wrote an article about church planting that captured the attention of this blog. The Wondering Eagle has been working with many former members from Remnant Church over the past year. This is a church that is hemorrhaging issues and problems. Many of those concerns are not reflected in Doug Ponder’s article. So before we get into a summary of what Doug wrote let’s do a brief overview of Remnant.
Brief Overview of Remnant Church in Richmond, Virginia and Doug Ponder
Remnant Church is an Acts 29 and Southern Baptist Church in the Shockoe Bottom neighborhood of Richmond. Bryan Laughlin is the pastor who founded this church. Other key players include Josh Soto and Doug Ponder. The way this church grew is by planting churches or ministries and then de-activating them and rolling them back up into the mothership. Mathew’s Table is an example of that, in that people would get involved and then Bryan Laughlin would shut down Matthew’s Table and roll people into Remnant. In writing about Acts 29 and other churches in the United States I was contacted by a number of people. This church has a reputation for being cult-like. People are burned out and fried and show up at other churches in the area. Other pastors in Richmond consider Remnant to be cult-like or a cult. The issues former members dealt with are as follows. Allegedly interfering in people’s ability to accept solid paying jobs. Discouraging one person from becoming a military chaplain at the time for theological reasons. Other issues included a harsh membership covenant and college students allegedly being forced to give when they are struggling to pay their bills. A biography of Doug Ponder is in the original article that this blog put together. To read more you can do so in the following write-ups:
- “The Disturbing and Cult-Like Behavior of Acts 29 Remnant Church in Richmond, Virginia is Adversely Affecting Lives.”
- “Remnant Church in Richmond, Virginia’s Membership Covenant and Packet.”
- “An Open Letter to Don Coleman (Lead Pastor of East End Fellowship in Richmond on Giving People a Refuge Who are Allegedly Abused by Remnant)”
- “From Remnant Church in Richmond to Fellowship Memphis in Tennessee, Does Acts 29 Exploit African-Americans in the Name of Racial Reconciliation?”
- “Doug Ponder Preaches on Fones, Feeds and Flashing Lights: A Sermon Coming from Inside the Bubble. This is a Review of this Expository Message from an Outsider.”
- “Does the Acts 29 Network Attract People from the US Military? Looking at this Question Through the Lens of Two Acts 29 Churches: Jordan Kauflin’s Redeemer Arlington in the D.C. Area and Bryan Laughlin’s Remnant in Richmond.”
- “Considering Some of the Issues at Remnant: From Idolatry of Celebrity Pastors to Warped Views on Membership Some Thoughts to Contemplate.”
Summary of the Article that Doug Ponder Wrote
Doug Ponder’s article published at The Gospel Coalition on December 18, 2018. The article is called, “Church Planting Is Not Just About Evangelism.” Doug starts out by defining what church planting is. After all some people have connotations and stereo types when it comes to church planting. In the article the Remnant pastor says the world still needs to hear about Jesus and that church planting is the most effective way to reach people. But evangelism is not about church planting, in the end discipleship is just as important. Discipleship is about church planting according to Doug. Using the Great Commission Doug explains that you can’t separate the two. In the article he claims that Paul believed discipleship as an essential part of church planting efforts. He preached to the unbelievers, discipled the recently converted and from those maturing appointed elders. The church is where people grow and become mature in Christ. Discipleship needs to take place before, during and after the church plant process.
Heart issues must be examined, hidden sins and issues need to be addressed. Addressing prejudices requires leaving the comfort of your neighborhood. Discipleship during the church planting process occurred when they were setting up and tearing down on Sundays. Other opportunities for discipleship included child care service, project volunteers or small group leaders. Discipleship happens in all those constructs. Church planting made them strong faithful servants and leaders. Discipleship happens after the church planting process as well. In Remnant’s case they joined Acts 29 so that they could be a pipeline and not a “cul de sac” when it comes to Christianity. This way their end process can be the start of another church’s beginnings.
Doug’s Theology Lacks Love and Ownership of Mistakes. Does Doug Know What Christianity is About?
Doug talks a good game but his article is riddled with problems. Doug only mentioned love once in his article. It is in the second paragraph in the run on sentence. Doug refers to the “literal love of God.” Outside that mention love is not used in any other context. Acts 29 as a movement is not really known for their love. Actually many Acts 29 churches are known for their bullying. I think that is the legacy of Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill. Driscoll was a bully, punk and thug and he built that into the DNA of the network. Its why I have a number of former Acts 29 members email me some of what happened. In the case of Doug there was no mention of love in the discipleship process. Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love the Lord God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. Then you love your neighbor as yourself. Remnant has made the Great Commission much more important than the Greatest Commandant. Doug’s theology excludes love as its not a part of his church process. Why couldn’t Doug write or share about how important love is? Why couldn’t Doug talk about how to follow Jesus meant loving your neighbors? When I read this article I walked away from it with the following question in my mind. Does Doug Ponder know what Christianity is about?
There is another troubling aspect to this article that needs to be raised. Doug speaks about church planting but again Doug goes against Jesus teaching again. Jesus says that he wants people to stop worshipping him if they have a conflict with a brother. Well I can think of a group of people formerly from Remnant who have conflict and issues who are fried and burned out. Some of them have shown up at East End Fellowship. Others have shown up at other places. Some are just tired and done. What business does a church like Remnant have when it comes to church planting if they have unresolved conflict? Again does Bryan Laughlin or Doug Ponder understand what the Christian faith is? Why haven’t they owned their mistakes? Or when Mark Driscoll talked about a “pussified nation” was Mark Driscoll referring to Doug Ponder, Bryan Laughlin and others who won’t own their mistakes.? In other words they don’t know what it means to be a man. Earlier in 2018 I attended Bill Riedel’s Redemption Hill in Washington, D.C. to listen to Josh Soto preach and discussed with him what I am hearing about Remnant. That I respect as at least Josh was willing to discuss the issues at hand in person.
Doug Ignores the Issues of Discipleship at Remnant Being Cult Like
Doug also does not discuss how the discipleship process at Remnant is hurting people. Remnant discipleship is very cult like. There is too much control, and its far too personal. The church leadership will pry into people’s lives while not being transparent in the process. If this church wants to become transparent a major step forward is for all pastors at this church to make their salary information available and open. While they may object you have college students from Virginia Commonwealth University trapped in membership covenants giving money to Remnant when they are financially struggling to get by. In this writers opinion its awful that you have college students allegedly giving money to a church when they are struggling and then contacting their own parents asking for more money. Has Remnant put people in such a situation? That is the question that needs to be asked. But the discipleship programs at Remnant are too controlling. This blog has even heard this from others in ministry in Richmond, Virginia. They are concerned about Remnant being too controlling.
Doug’s View of Theology Reminds Me More of How Cancer Spreads
Doug’s view of church planting actually reminds me of something very different. Doug Ponder’s view of planting churches reminds me of how cancer can spread in the human body. Sadly you know how someone can be diagnosed with lung cancer and then in time it can spread to the liver, lymph nodes or the brain. Its a sad reflection of disease and how it spreads. Doug’s view of church planting is reminiscent of cancer growth. The obsession with growth while many issues remain at Remnant means that the problems are going to multiply. Why? Because in church planting and growth they are going to duplicate. Mark my words, when Remnant does another church plant then those issues are going to occur there. Its the process of toxic culture growing. That is why I use the analogy of cancer when it comes to Acts 29 and church planting.
In closing my recommendation to Remnant is for them to face their issues and deal with them. Met with other pastors and process their feedback. Reach out to people who have been hurt and humble yourself on your knees as you ask for forgiveness. Church planting as viewed by Doug Ponder is nothing more than empire building. What Doug is espousing is no different than what the French or British once did in Africa. Or its no different than what the Chinese are doing today. Stop building empires and start to show love. Conquer through love and not church plants. That is what needs to take place.