I like to preach. No, I really like to preach. So I preach pretty much wherever.
I’ve preached in a college bar during happy hour, at the Crystal Cathedral, at Saddleback Church, multiple Desiring God events, an African casino, in a park, at Gospel Coalition events, rock concerts, a college dorm, multiple churches, hotels and conference centers, various college campuses—including one of America’s most liberal schools where hacky sack and pot-growing seem to be popular majors, a few stadiums, and I’ve co-hosted Loveline with Dr. Drew. At various Christian events I have spoken with and for people from the whole spectrum of Christian conviction.
Admittedly, this can be confusing. But there are four reasons why I tend to accept certain speaking invitations. Each can be summarized with a question, and I list them here in no particular order.
Can I learn something by going that I cannot learn elsewhere?
When we started Mars Hill Church, I had never been a pastor in a church or formal member of a church. At the time I also had not been to Bible college or seminary. Furthermore, the church was fully independent, with no denominational connections or traditional heritage. I had a lot to learn. As we’ve grown, the list of what I have to learn keeps changing and growing.
So I sometimes accept speaking opportunities to get out of our church and go see and learn from other people. My hope is to remain teachable and always be growing as a leader, by God’s grace. Too many leaders turn their tribe into their prison. They only read books and get ideas from people who already agree with them on everything. This is a guaranteed way to hit your ceiling prematurely as a leader. I love our church, and I want to learn anything I can to better serve the people Jesus brings to us.
Is there an opportunity for me to influence Christian leaders?
If I’m invited to speak at an event where some Christian leaders with whom I disagree on some issues will be speaking, I often like to go because I will have an opportunity to meet them personally and perhaps even to begin building a friendship that can continue after the event. In this way I get to speak to people privately rather than speaking about people publicly. As I’ve done this, I’ve seen most people respond very positively. Some have become genuine friends and, on such things as theological issues, they tend to call or email to run stuff by me privately, which is a great honor. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me, but if there’s a way to help serve key Christian leaders as a friend, that is a great joy.
Is there an opportunity for lost people to meet Jesus?
I don’t believe evangelism is my strongest spiritual gift, but it is somewhere in the mix. I have never gotten over God saving me at the age of 19. I want to be used by God to introduce as many people as possible to Jesus. So, as I am able, I tend to speak at evangelistic events, and God has been gracious every time to compel people to make a profession of faith. This sometimes means I speak in places I normally wouldn’t, but it’s for an evangelistic reason. As a general rule, I never accept an honorarium for such events; I simply want to serve lost people by preaching Jesus as a gift and not receiving anything in return.
Can I build bridges between Christian tribes?
I like to venture outside of my tribe. I like to meet leaders from other Christian tribes. I like to see what things we may have in common and possible ways I could help network tribes to be speaking to one another rather than always shooting at one another.
Some tribes are “kingly,” which means they are great on systems, fundraising, and doing things big and well. Other tribes are “priestly,” meaning they are strong at loving people, building community, and caring for the outcast. And still other tribes are “prophetic,” meaning they are skilled at theology, precise Bible interpretation, and doctrinal defending.
Most tribes also have a weakness or two. So the kings are often soft theologically, the prophets are often soft relationally, and the priests struggle to maximize their care and multiply their leadership. Sometimes the conflict between two tribes is really one criticizing the other for not being strong where their tribe is.
As I am able, if I can learn from and connect with tribal leaders, I like to attempt to introduce them to one another. In this way, my hope is that various tribes can learn from one another and be biblically rooted (prophetic), relationally loving (priestly), and organizationally effective (kingly). If so, then we’d see the most people helped in the most biblical way with the most love.
In conclusion, simply because I am speaking with or for a person or group does not automatically indicate my endorsement of them. As an obvious example, when I debated Deepak Chopra on Nightline, it was not because I agree with him on perhaps anything.
Furthermore, I am never muzzled. I speak freely and without restraint. One of my conditions for coming to speak is that I have no conditions on what I say. As a result, I often don’t get invited back. But it’s fun while it lasts.