If you missed the Woodstock music festival in 1969, you had to wait a full year for the movie; but just weeks after James MacDonald convened the Elephant Room one day seminar which was simulcast to two dozen cities, the DVD is already available for purchase, so we decided to jump in and bought one for ourselves and a couple of extras.
The phrase, “the elephant in the room” is used to denote the thing that is hovering over a discussion, but is never mentioned. The idea here is that pastors have things they wrestle with that are discussed backstage when they meet up at major events, but are never shared with a larger audience. The goal was to bring those subjects into open discussion.
The seven pastors were MacDonald, Mark Driscoll, Greg Laurie, Perry Noble, David Platt, Mark Chandler and Steven Furtick who was cast as a bit of a newcomer to this “big league” group. Actually, Furtick came across very well, presenting some very timely insights into the subjects, and the very nature of the debates themselves. Topics included:
- Building numerically versus building depth
- Responding to culture
- Compassion and social justice
- Unity and discernment
- The multi-site church trend
- Money issues
- Loving the doctrine of the gospel but not sharing the gospel
An eighth session dealt with questions that had been texted in during the conference and was actually the most interesting in many ways.
Over the past few years we’ve seen a growing interest in ecclesiology — the study of what constitutes ‘church’ — among what would have been traditionally called “the laity.” Books that would have formerly been written for the exclusive reading of pastors and church staff are now being purchased and discussed by the widest range of Evangelicals, many of whom are forging ahead with startups of home churches or alternative churches. In a sense, the things the pastors discuss quietly backstage at conferences are being discussed in church lobbies, living rooms and over kitchen tables back home. This DVD set, and the topics it discusses are thereby of interest to everyone.
But it’s not the major takeaway from watching the seminar.
What is most striking is the camaraderie that exists between the pastors themselves. While they do disagree on some minor points, there is a genuine agreement on the things that matter; what Driscoll well-defines as the difference between national borders (which wars are fought over) and state borders (for which wars are not fought.)
There were some highlights and lowlights in the video. One highlight was the overall production quality. Another was the way they kept the discussion moving, with a moderator and two rotating key opponents followed by a more open forum that allowed the other four pastors to contribute. Another highlight was seeing that with issues such as multi-site — so much on the minds of people as changes take place quickly — the pastors themselves do not undertake moves lightly, but truly agonize over the ramifications of growth. A lowlight — and it really has to be said — is the way James MacDonald dominates every discussion, rolling over everyone else like a freight train at times. I guess it was his party, so he got to call the tune.
I do love the concept, however. This was a great series of conversations and I would hope that either MacDonald’s crew, or somebody else, would put something like this together this time next year, perhaps with a different mix of pastors and church leaders. Rather than attempting to describe it further, you can watch a few sample clips here and here.
What we call church really matters, and you don’t have to be among the ‘professional’ clergy to care.