Bill Riedel of Acts 29 Redemption Hill in Washington, D.C. wrote a post about pastors and their changing seasons. The post at The Gospel Coalition had some issues and this blog would like to point them out. While this post sounds good on paper, the reality is that in life what is written about here is not practiced by Acts 29 which is known for their control and spiritual abuse.
“Empathy is a tool for building people into groups, for allowing us to function as more than self-obsessed individuals.”
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die;
John 11:25 NIV
Redemption Hill sign
This blog has regularly written about Bill Riedel’s Redemption Hill Church. Redemption Hill is an Acts 29 and Evangelical Free church on Capitol Hill of Washington, D.C. This church has aligned itself closely with Jordan Kauflin and Eric Simmons Redeemer Arlington which figures in my spiritual abuse story. In addition problems over hard core complementarianism are spilling out into Google reviews. You can read both stories in, “A Female Encounters Fundamentalism at Bill Riedel’s Redemption Hill in Washington, D.C., and an Acts 29 Church Goes into Damage Control” and “Looking at the Relationship Between Bill Riedel’s Redemption Hill and Jordan Kauflin’s Redeemer Arlington.” Recently at The Gospel Coalition Bill Riedel wrote a post about what it means to be a pastor in changing seasons. You can see that post in, “Pastor, Embrace the Changing Seasons of Ministry.” When I read the article this blog put it aside to write about. I am going to respond to what Bill Riedel said below and will do so in red.
If you’re a pastor, I don’t have to tell you that ministry is demanding. There’s sermon prep, counseling, managing staff, elders’ meetings, overseeing the budget, visiting the sick, and more. It can feel overwhelming. And the pressure is only intensified in church planting.
But an essential component to all healthy pastoral ministry is the simple—yet weighty—charge Paul gives to the Ephesian elders: “Pay careful attention to yourselves and all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28).
How can church planters heed Paul’s words, especially when there’s so much else to do?
Part of the concerns I have with this post is that first I am not into reformed theology. And second reading this post especially in light of Acts 29’s problems is almost laughable. When I read what Bill Riedel says about what the role of a pastor is I find it amusing because the cold, hard reality is that many churches – Acts 29 included – don’t take the action he proclaims. They don’t visit their members in the hospital. Counseling can be an evangelical substitute for pornography in that you get your fix by listening to other people’s lives in private. Most of all what Acts 209 pastors like Bill Riedel will notice is when people are not there. Churches like Redemption Hill which can be cult-like closely monitor giving and if they notice that you have stopped giving or its gone down they will pay you a visit.
First, we’d do well to notice how the church is described in Acts 20:28: “the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” The church itself is a beautiful portrait that manifests the gospel. We’re hopeless on our own, but God intervened. Christ’s blood purchased a people, rescuing them from slavery to sin and uniting them together as a family.
The church is a beautiful portrait that manifests the gospel.
One important implication, therefore, is that we pastors care for God’s church. It belongs to him, not us. He obtained it, and thus he ensures its ultimate good. The Holy Spirit does appoint overseers to shepherd God’s flock, but we would do well to embrace our role as those under the authority of the Chief Shepherd.
Here is a question to ask Bill Riedel. If people were so precious to God in Acts 29 then why would your church’s problems spill out onto Google reviews and social media? If the church belongs to God then why not speak out on some of the issues that this blog raises? Why not raise the issue of spiritual abuse issues from D.A. Carson, Mark Driscoll or Matt Chandler? If the people are God’s flock why doesn’t Acts 29 act like that? If you really were the Lord’s shepherd then wouldn’t your love and actions be different? Would you be so militant on social media and aggressive? All of this is a series of honest questions.
As we labor to care for the sheep, there’s much we can learn from actual shepherding work as a model for pastoral ministry. I’ve learned a lot from James Rebanks’s book, The Shepherd’s Life. Ministry seasons can mirror seasons of the year, not necessarily in the actual calendar, but in the overall rhythms of a church’s life.
For example, springtime is when “lambing” occurs, with lots of new life and heavy demands. It’s when shepherds work hard to ensure the lambs get off to a good start. Similarly, the early days of planting a church can be as exhilarating as they are hectic and tiring. But it’s only a season. If we perpetually live and work in ministry at the pace of the early days of planting, we will wear out the flock and destroy ourselves.
In Acts 29 church planting is never just a season. When church planting is your idol then that is what you worship. As such, Redemption Hill actually engages in the sin of idoltery with constant church planting. This may sound harsh but let me explain myself. Church planting is about growth and getting more people involved who can tithe, give money, or buy your church’s material. In the end what we are talking about is not God but the creation and growth of a business model with the express desire of bringing in more money.
For shepherds, summer is a season of rest and preparation, in which hay is made for the coming year. In the same way, it’s important to cultivate seasons of intentional rest for churches, purposefully slowing things down. We’ve adopted a rhythm we call “Family Sundays”—we give our ministry teams a break, all children join us throughout the service, and we have a shorter sermon from one of the elders. Not only does it help our church to rest, but it’s also countercultural in the constant hustle of our city.
Autumn is when shepherds bring their sheep to competitions and auctions, and what they’ve worked hard for shows its value. I’m not suggesting there’s an exact parallel to ministry here, but there are seasons in a church’s life when long-planned strategies and hopes come to fruition. Celebration is an important discipline in caring well for the flock. The church-planting pastor should shepherd the church to give thanks to God, the Giver of every good and perfect gift (James 1:17).
Pastors have a responsibility to care for the flock, especially when it’s costly.
So in the fall that is the season when the sheep are brought out to competitions and auctions. There is another suggestion I would like to make which would go along well with the Acts 29 culture. The fall is also the season in which the sheep are taken to the slaughter house to be killed. Acts 29 is an abusive network of churches. There is a strategic reason why this blog is working long term to drive a wedge between Acts 29 and the EFCA. The stories of abuse that are coming out of Acts 29 are disturbing. Its a network that can literally slaughter people’s faith and beliefs.
Winter is a brutal time of suffering and hardship for shepherds. They suffer alongside the sheep, at times wondering whether they’ll make it through. Pastors have a responsibility to care for the flock, especially when it’s costly. This has been the hardest lesson for me to learn in planting a church. Most of the stories we hear are more triumphalist, which seem to leave little room for thinking about real suffering. The dark winter nights, whether in the church or in my own soul, are often the most difficult times to keep shepherding. But nothing builds greater trust in a church than a well-navigated “winter” as shepherds care for the sheep, enduring suffering with them while pointing to Jesus.
This segment also has its problems as well. Pastors don’t suffer alongside the sheep. In the Acts 29 model the sheep are to bow down and prostrate themselves before their pastor. I am amazed by the stories that I hear about how a family is in a crisis, someone is ill, etc… and the pastor just is absent. They are not there for the dark winter nights. And what is the motivation for those who do “care?” Is it to actually come along side someone in pain or hurting? Are you doing it knowing that you are trying to grow a business and that it will help you get return on your capital. Yes, that’s what a hug in a hospital can be like for an Acts 29 pastor.
Respond to Needs
As the old saying goes, if your only tool is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail. Often, the zeal of church planters doesn’t reflect a full pastoral toolkit for meeting the needs of God’s people. At times, especially early on, the weighty responsibility to care for people can lead to “hovering over” them, trying to micromanage their holiness and pursuit of Christ.
But we must remember that it’s the Holy Spirit’s job to change hearts, convict people of sin, and breathe life into weary souls. There will be times when a pastor’s care for people calls for confrontation of sin in order to protect the unity and purity of the flock, and when wolves need to be fought off. Those fights are always costly.
Here is a question that needs to be asked. And I say this as an outsider to the Acts 29 movement. Bill writes about the need to confront sin. In the case of an Acts 29 pastor like Bill Riedel who confronts his sin? Or is he above the system and while he enforces it in reality he is exempt. And how are wolves defined? Is a wolf someone who left the congregation? Is a wolf someone who lives in the Washington, D.C. area who happens to blog about your church?
There are also times when an angry sheep has an unseen wound that must be treated and cared for—when lethargy isn’t laziness but an indicator of a deeper melancholy that needs an encouraging word to lift a downcast spirit. Pastors should also remember that not all opposition is personal; some is rooted in fears that can be addressed and cared for with a gentle word to take courage. As a shepherd has to know his sheep, so a pastor needs to know his people.
Boy this is telling. The pastor has to realize that some sheep have an unseen wound that must be treated and cared for? Is that why you are working closely with Redeemer Arlington? Is my unseen wound – that of learning why rape and sexual assault is a problem in the military from a care group leader Jordan Kauflin discipled – is ignored. When my Mom was dying her last words to one member of my family were to be more sensitive. Bill should head that account as well.
The admonition to ‘pay careful attention to all the flock’ is the essence of pastoral ministry, and therefore church planting.
Paul’s call to the Thessalonians is helpful here: “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all” (1 Thess. 5:14).
Church-planting pastors must always remember that they are undershepherds of the Lord Jesus Christ. The admonition to “pay careful attention to all the flock” is the essence of pastoral ministry, and therefore church planting. It’s not an extraneous demand on top of the already full to-do list.
Even in the pressure-packed work of planting a church, remain focused on this high calling. Humbly press on and the Chief Shepherd himself will carry you through to an unfading reward.
If You Are Going to Care For People Then Act Like It
This entire post is good public relations for Acts 29 but when the rubber meets the road this post has some serious problems. Redemption Hill has had problems that have been spilling out into social media. This blog is going to address that next. Its the second time it has happened. If you are going to care for someone do so for the right reason. There are many people who have been screwed up from religion when they are manipulated by an Acts 29 church when they are hurting, vulnerable and more. This blog would put forward that many Acts 29 pastors like the patience and will to work with people and get to know them. That is because the church is operating like a business. This blog will be writing more about Redemption Hill and has a lot more to say in the course of time.