UPDATE: What I Actually Meant

So, two days ago I wrote a short blog post that ended up getting linked to, tweeted, and passed along – bringing about 40x the normal amount of readers to my blog. The post struck a nerve, it seems. But it was misunderstood by many, and because of that I need to clarify a few things. (And let me be clear, the misunderstanding is not the fault of the reader, but 100% mine – I did not choose my words carefully or wisely, and as a result was unclear).

The main reason I’m writing this is because of caused pain and frustration to some of my brothers in Acts 29. Gentlemen, I am deeply sorry. Let me try to explain…

I wrote this post as a young Acts 29 church planter. Five and a half years ago, we planted Kaleo in the heart of the fourth largest city of our country – Houston, TX. Acts 29 has been my lifeline during the difficult times – the brotherhood, coaching, and friendships that I’ve gained there have supported our church through the good times and the bad. I think Acts 29 is being used by God in a unique, once-in-a generation way to spread the Gospel through the planting of new churches.

I write all that to say this – I believe strongly in planting churches in major cities (after all, that’s who I am) and I love and respect Acts 29 in a way that words can’t describe. In an attempt to ask some difficult questions of myself and the tribe I run in, I wrote something that was interpreted by many as divisive and derogatory. What in my head sounded like questions that are important to think through for all young church planters came across cynical and jaded. For that I am sorry.

In writing on Wednesday, I took a general thought that was floating in my head and posted it – and it was full of inaccuracy and broad generalizations As was pointed out in the comments, Acts 29 is becoming more and more diverse all the time – with great churches being planted by faithful men in all kinds of settings: cities, college towns, rural communities, smaller cities.

I’m afraid some also read in what I wrote an incorrect version of the A29 assessment process – that we are looking for only “cool guys” and that your hipster level is one of the assement categories. Nothing could be further from the truth. Acts 29 has one of the best assessment process out there, examining as Scott Thomas pointed out: 1) Personal walk with God, 2) Theological Clarity, 3) Strong Marriage and Family, 4) Leading a life as a missionary, 5) Emotional Maturity, 6) Disciple-Making skills, 7) Leadership, 8) Calling and 9) Relational Health. Our great assessment process is what has allowed us to see the highest viability rate of churches planted in any current church planting network that I know of.

In addition, in my writing I unintentionally called into question the calling of guys focused on reaching the young culture-makers in a city. I implied that it’s likely that they are only doing this because they want to reach people like them. I judged motive, and that is absolutely unacceptable. Every single planter I know personally, including all of my Acts 29 brothers, are planting in their context because they have discerned a calling from God to reach that particular area. If you fall into that category: I was wrong. I am sorry, and I ask for your forgiveness.

My last paragraph was the most unwisely worded of all. It is what got picked up and quoted by a number of people linking to the article, essentially saying something like, “Aha! See! Even someone on the inside admits it. Movements led by Keller and Driscoll are just the next version of seeker-sensitive, church growth pragmatism.” Let me be clear: this is absolutely not what I intended to communicate, and it is simply not true.

When writing, I thought of Hybels and Warren as two guys who both have seen very visible success and who started church planting movements 20 years ago. Both said clearly: “Don’t copy us. Learn what you can, but don’t try to photocopy what we’re doing.” But that’s exactly what church planters did in the 90s – there were scores of guys planting churches in the suburbs donning khaki pants, deck shoes, and Hawaiian shirts. Many copied vision and purpose statements, programming ideas, and ministry strategies wholesale, trying to duplicate South Barrington or Orange County in environments that were completely different.

In writing my last paragraph, I was trying to communicate my concern that many of us young pastors who scoffed at what happened in the 90s (as many of us served on staff at these kinds of churches) are in danger of doing the same – trying to replicate the unique ministries of Mars Hill and Redeemer. From dressing like Driscoll to trying to preach like Keller to adopting their visions, programs, etc. That was the comparison I was trying to make – not at all intending to say that Mark Driscoll or Tim Keller were establishing themselves or being established by their networks as Church Growth Movement 3.0

I meant no disrespect. Mark Driscoll is the reason I am a church planter – it was in a Youth Specialties seminar in 1999 that Mark was teaching that God dropped a passion for church planting in my heart. He has led Acts 29 with grace and strength and has served as an encourager and example to so many. The same is true for Tim Keller. What God has done in NYC is nothing short of miraculous, and far from trying to be cool or trendy he has modeled faithful, confessional ministry that is true to his context. Combined, these two men have done more for church planting than anyone else in our country, and have accomplished more for the expansion of the Gospel in the last year than I will likely accomplish in my lifetime.

Mark and Tim, I am deeply sorry that my words were taken as disrespectful towards you. I love both of you as brothers and have nothing but the utmost honor for you as godly men, pastors, and movement leaders.

I’ve decided (after a lot of feedback) to leave the original post up to give context to the discussion.


  1. Bill, there is a lot of truth in your first post.

    You may have needed to clarify a few of the details…but the heart of it was not incorrect, IMO.

    No ministry is above critique. I believe the words you shared in your first post were from the Holy Spirit…the spirit and essence of that message.

    Fear God, not men.

  2. Bill, blessings to you for seeking to do the right thing…but please don’t let this be the end of the discussion I believe you were trying to raise: who is reaching out to the ordinary people in this world?

    I am fortunate to be in an Acts29 church that seeks to reach out to ordinary, hurting people in the urban area it ministers to, and seeks to reach out to the entire city I was born and raised in.

    I hope, and expect, that as we reach out to all of our city we’ll embrace the working class folks who love college basketball and football, and NASCAR, and drink Budweiser and Miller, who work at Wal-Mart, or the gas station or supermarket, or the truck plant, or make little money in their 9-to-5 office job.

    I would hope that, as this conversation shuts down, that Acts29 picks it back up and holds it in a way that will provide real answers to these questions, and in a way that everyone in the network will listen, and will be helpful, not contentious, to everyone who is involved and who listens in on the conversation.

  3. i am proud that you are our pastor. thank you for your original post– i knew where your heart was and what it was trying to say when you wrote it. i agree with you. uncool people _do_ need Jesus, too. it is something that is on my heart constantly and, even i, forget sometimes.

    thank you for the second post. it was humbling and the pride that i already had for you grew as i read a beautifully written post apologizing to those you may have offended and further explaining what you were originally trying to say.

  4. I’ll cage match both Weaver and Vanhorn! You guys are bigger than me though…will have to use meanness and savvy…and maybe call in a few fellas from Jersey :-) Appreciate you guys – praying for you. Bill, read your tweet about being sick – hope you feel better brother.

    Grace and Peace

  5. Damn.

    Kind of wish I would’ve gotten the jump on this post earlier.

    To the folks who support Bill’s quest to check oneself, to those who applaud his humility and to those that offer encouragement – thank you. It’s this kind of graceful brotherhood that we need and is in some ways the closest we can get to the eternal brotherhood we will have in heaven.

    To the folks who take Bill’s words any other way – shame on you. This was not “debate” or “discussion”. This was painful, discouraging and chastising. And to boot some of your comments were virtually anonymous. As we used to say in the school yard “Say that to my face!”. Cartoon avatars and no website?! – Lame guys. Cowardly and lame. If there is anything here that breeds divisiveness, it’s comments like that.

    Here’s the heart of Jesus for you – Bill speaks freely and openly. He’s kept this blog in some way shape or form for years now. His readership – small. Readers that comment – even smaller. But Bill persists. He publishes for the good of people in his shoes. He publishes so that his heart can remain in check. He could have deleted his first post, posted a contraction or even deleted the negative comments oh I don’t know… 91 comments ago?!… but he didn’t. He waited and humbly clarified for your benefit, the honor of the A29 network and the Glory of God.

    Have you ever met the guy? If you spend just a few minutes with him you will know this: He loves Jesus. He loves his wife and his daughter and his unborn son. He loves his church. He cares deeply for the lost regardless of cool quotient, twitter followers or hipster-ness. Kaleo is a picture of that. To think that folks wouldn’t give him the benefit of the doubt is saddening to say the least.

    I beg of you before you hit the comment button – pray for Bill and ask God to reveal to you what Bill is asking God to reveal to him. To think that Bill writes to appease the mother organization is crap.

    Thanks for reading.

  6. Wow – talk about a tempest in a teapot :) – there is no dishonor in asking reflective and diagnostic questions. As brothers-in-arms we should be able to stare tuff questions in the face and answer with Christ honoring strength and honesty.

    Truth is, there will always be some that will be drawn to the superficial success and stereotypical comfort offered by a large movement – see the Bible for proof. The charge to the leadership is to insure the path has moments of course correction and reflections without destroying the spirit of the good work – or the spirit of the questioners.

    2 good posts – some not-so-great comments – some good and gracious ones, too.

    Remember to whose glory each post should aspire.


  7. I agree with everything Mark said and I find most of the divisive comments just laughable; obviously none of these people have met Bill.

    We love you Bill and hope you get well soon.

  8. “My last paragraph was the most unwisely worded of all. It is what got picked up and quoted by a number of people linking to the article, essentially saying something like, ‘Aha! See! Even someone on the inside admits it. Movements led by Keller and Driscoll are just the next version of seeker-sensitive, church growth pragmatism.’ Let me be clear: this is absolutely not what I intended to communicate, and it is simply not true.”

    That’s the way I read it, so be encouraged. Communication is a sticky beast, isn’t it??

    By the way, sometimes “uncool” people want to be like “hipsters,” and so reaching culture-setting 20-somethings may be considered a strategic move anyway, as it may reach a wider audience than first appears. But point taken, there are other people in the world who need to be reached.

  9. Hi Bill,
    I read your original post and thought you made a great point that needed to be said. I didn’t have time to read all the comments, but they were obviously so antagonistic so that you had to write that long apology, back-peddling at high speed. What that tells me–as a member of the older generation–is that the younger people aren’t any more open to correction or criticism than my generation was. That’s too bad. Humility is so easy to talk about, but . . .

  10. Thanks for your honesty and transparency, Bill. We must be willing to consider everything we do in light of the Gospel of Grace as you did in the original post. I am so glad to see Christ’s love pour forth in this post.

    Danny Wahlquist

  11. Wow, obviously someone got their undies in a bunch. I didn’t think your original blog was out of line at all. In fact, I thought it was quite timely and appropriate. I think you hit the nail on the head.
    It says something to me when folks “protest too much”….you must have hit a nerve or held up the mirror a little more than was appreciated.
    Thank you for your astute oberservations and for your gracious response to whatever happened behind the scenes.

  12. Love you, brother. Loved the post too, both of them. Been falling behind on my RSS lately, but after Jake’s comment on Sunday I’ve been praying for you and wanting to read these posts.

    The very fact that you can write here and sharply implicate yourself (and the rest of us Kaleoans) boldly and with conviction is great. Doing so will always make you a lightening rod for criticism. When we were attending Mars Hill we grew accustomed to this, constantly dealing with the enemy twisting our pastor’s words in people’s minds.

    Please keep writing introspectively and critically of yourself, our church, the network and the catholic Church. Your words are wise and refreshing.

    My only criticism is that you shut down the comments on that post. There was some pretty good conversation going on in there, but therein lies the benefit of owning the blog, you say stop and it stops.

    Feel better soon, strep/tonsillitis is a scary combination which I don’t envy.

  13. Bill,
    Are you planning on being bold enough to tell the church planters crossing your threshold face-to-face that there are ignored church segments, those “uncool” people? Or are you hoping they’ll read this article?

  14. Hi Bill and A29 brothers-

    I appreciate your humble heart for Jesus and for his people Bill. I am a pastor currently involved in student/family discipleship in smalltown Iowa and I have greatly benefited from the resources of many names you mentioned. My wife and I have recently sensed that God may be calling us to church planting and the two possible locations that God may be calling us are smaller rural Iowa towns. The one thing I’ve told my lead pastor about my encounters with the A29 planters is “they’re all young white guys pissed off at the church.” I love you Acts29, I love you planters but can we all admit (I’m a young white guy who is often pissed off at the church) that Bill has some necessary and biblically-based critiques? We should not, however, begrudge these young pastors that God is using to proclaim his gospel to the U.S. demographic that is (reportedly) the least evangelized (18-35 y/o). But I have noticed that there is an image associated with A29 and other young church planters that is not gospel-centered. It is about being cool and not Jesus. Bill, you’ve got some great insights. Thank you. A29 keep up the work God has commissioned you to do. Hear Bill’s words summarized, “love Jesus more than his workers, love Jesus more than his work, love Jesus more than your uniqueness, love Jesus more than your self-expression, love Jesus so much that everyone you encounter is unworthy of him but needs to know him.” Thanks again Bill.

  15. Part of a ministers job is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. I’m not sure why you’re apologizing. Sounds like they needed to have their egos tweaked. It was a great post!

  16. Why are u apologizing?? My namesake above…hit it right on the nail. I will just say that the prosperity gospel has infiltrated our future leaders. Its all about money now.

  17. Having lived thru the Jesus movement of the 70’s, the Church Growth Movement 80’s, the Seeker 90’s, the Emergent 00’s, I’m pretty sure there’s a new thing coming just around the corner… during which time someone’s gonna look at what’s happening now and suggest it’s flawed. Might that have started?? It’s pretty clear that the anti-Hybels comment-ers on the first post have never heard him in person. He sugar coats nothing. (Don’t know about the other guy.) I suspect this is why it takes a ton of humility for Christ to identify with his bride, and why we ought to be a little bit more grateful for grace. And… never stop asking questions.

  18. I am speaking totally as an outsider; as someone who doesn’t know you Bill or any of the people named in your article. I read the apology before I read the original article. However, when I read the original I could not understand the need for the apology.

    I can see how a person who understands the call of God and who understands that the call comes with a specific assignment/purpose (in order to fulfill the great commission) could become flustered…flustered when they recongnize that it seems that churches are being planted without ginuine God given purpose for a specific people and locations.

    Maybe, some individuals are afraid to really hear from God for direction. Maybe, they are afraid he might send them to unconfortable areas and people they are not accustom to dealing with. Maybe, individuals don’t trust the holy spirit enough to rely on its leadership and trust God enough to believe he will supply every need; that if he gives vision he will also give provision.

    I thought your comments spoke to the truth. Some were convicted by it, but rather than being quick to repent they strong-armed you into taking your words back. Please don’t develop they habit of taking back God inspired words of truth. Remember Jesus also spoke words that were very unpopular and exposed the religious leaders of his day. As the church, if we find ourselve out of order lets be quick to repent and get back in order.

    I am sure the comments that weighed the most on your decision to post an apology were not posted on the blog. Be encouraged…

    Bill, I’m praying for you and the entire A29 organization. God bless!!

  19. Thank you Bill for being a model of humble refinement.

    I too have deeply wrestled with this issue of coolness, like you–not in terms of bashing those who are gifted at reaching the cool but in terms of seeing the absence of pursuit of the non uber cool and in terms of seeing churches built around cool, which ultimately is often a form of idoltatry, pursuing the kingdom of self while thinking we are pursuing the kingdom of God. There is needed humility of judgment and needed tension in all of this, but it does seem like the tension to the uncool has largely been lost.

    I likewise revel in and see myself as a part of the Acts 29, Keller imitators, and the whole of the Gospel-centered missional church planting movement going on today. Interestingly many of our heroes are definitely not the uber cool, including Piper and Packer, just to mention a couple.

  20. Bill,

    Your updated post and apology show your pastor’s heart and your humility.

    I was convicted by the original post – as an A29 church planter it’s easy to forget who God has called you to be while trying to replicate your models.

    I have been involved in church planting since the late 90’s…mostly with Calvary Chapel. I’m now planting with A29 in Fort Collins…a semi-urban/suburban college city (I guess I fit the mold). Although I was previously in a very blue collar rural town in Central Oregon for the last 8 years.

    I saw the same proclivity you speak of in CC (much worse actually). You gave us a good reminder. Be who God has called you to be, plant the church God has called you to plant, reach the people God has called you to reach.

    Here is a church planting truth – “your not a real church until you have a few weirdos.” Don’t despise the uncool wierdos – every real church has them and they will help everyone to grow.

  21. Good grief! I am baffled by the mea culpa.

    In your original post you specifically said you were “thinking out loud.”

    In that context I thought it was completely appropriate and right on target.

    Keep it up.

  22. Bill,

    I read of these posts on another site that linked to them. I found the first not at all that poorly written, but your great effort at clarification is commendable. I remember working with you a few years ago to help your church save money on a chair purchase, and I remember well your heart for your city.

  23. I’ve followed this thread and comments with interest. I’m not a church planter nor am I a “hipster” but I care deeply about the church wherever it is and love reading about and praying about it in its many manifestations. I have not read the manifestos of new young church planters (though I read Confessions of a Reformission Rev and the chapter titles using numbers of church members is certainly trite old church planting 101 type data) but the great cities of our land and our world desperately need the life of Jesus Christ and they have been neglected. And young adults out of college have been neglected. Years ago when I was a young single working in Seattle it was hard to find Christian fellowship and teaching that made me feel welcome and gave me a place to fit in. If churches are able to do that now bravo!

    By the way I believe religious professionals have a vast misunderstanding of rural people and farmers. I married a farmer and moved to a remote farm and found that the majority of people in farming within the last 30 or more years are well educated and informed. Most have college degrees or at least have attended college. In “Dakota, A Spiritual Geography” by Kathleen Norris she mentioned that 98% of the people in her very rural area of North Dakota attended college.

    Rural people and blue collar people are not stupid. They are not like the people in the “Roseanne” tv show. Sermons do not have to be dumbed down for them.

    Mark Driscoll himself uses his “blue collar” background as a way to seem authoritative and tell his people to “man up” and his followers apparently love that no matter if they are city cool or whatever.

    Here is a link to Scum of the Earth church in Denver. Definitely not meeting the needs of the cool or the suburban or the rural but evangelizing and discipling another segment of society. Thought some of you might enjoy it.

  24. I think the problem of cookie-cutter church-planters may be less spiritual than you think: most people are just not that creative.

    It’s easier to copy than to think new ideas. And it’s natural to want to copy what’s already proven successful somewhere else.

    I’m a church planter and struggle with that every day. The challenge for me is to find what truly fits my context rather than cut-and-paste.

    Lord Jesus, help me incarnate.

  25. I actually agree with the original post that caused so much controversy. Many people these days seem to be called to plant churches in trendy places for trendy people. Trendy people need the Lord, too, of course. But I love the guys who are called to the unpopular and unglamorous and non-statistically significant places. They are preaching the gospel in places where they can’t even get a decent espresso, and where the people they are reaching may never be able to pay them a full salary. Now that is gospel sacrifice. Thanks for sharing and for making us think. No harm in that.

  26. I knew that research said that 97 % of weblogreaders just read and only 3 % responds, but it is good to see the reasons why those who don’t do this! Thanks and keep up the good work!

  27. Wow, Bill! What you wrote in your original blog was truly “spot on”, though the clarification of the final paragraph may have been slightly warranted. Over our years of ministry, we have gleaned much from those more visible, “influential” ministries.

    My husband and I finished our training at a well-respected seminary in the late 70’s and have ministered through 30 years, yet the issue is still pretty much the same… Most of the “cool” people who are called into ministry seem to gravitate to positions of “influence”. Not many are wiling to go to the unseen, humanly unappreciated positions… Where the opportunities of developing a comfortable, “influential”, mega church ministry will be MOST unlikely!

    We have an enemy who, when he can’t get us completely diverted out of the ministry and into the world, will use our human desires for recognition and self-gratification to infiltrate and diffuse our true calling (following in Jesus’ humble steps of reaching the unlovely, one person at a time!). We do need to look in the mirror DAILY and, as James tells us, and allow the Holy Spirit to make course corrections as He leads us into the difficult places of the call of God on our lives.

    Thank God that He has called us each to a different path and I pray that the upcoming generation will listen to the still, small voice of God and follow His path for them. That they will check their motives and then proceed with full confidence that WHATEVER ministry He calls them to, He will supply ALL their needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.

    My disclaimer: We believed God called us to a more isolated ministry. Unfortunately, though we tried to develop it, we lacked a good support network… Whatever the ministry God calls you to, be certain not to “go it alone”! Make sure you have good, like-minded, compassionate and wise “accountability partners”. You will need them – no matter WHERE you minister.

    Thank you for posting your insightful and convicting blogs! They are much needed.

    A member of the truly “older” generation!

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