Today if you visit an Acts 29 church, you can’t be sure what you will experience. You might experience the promotion of trans ideology, a woman preaching in the pulpit during worship services, the teaching of critical race theory…that America was founded on lies and racism which has set up a system of white dominance. Or, you may experience a faithful pastor trying to do the best he can with little support or oversight from his primary church affiliation.
For this is what it means to be a king: to be the first in every desperate attack, and last in every desperate retreat, and when there is hunger in the land (as must be now and then in bad years) to wear finer clothes and laugh louder over a scantier meal than any man in your land.
“The Horse and His Boy,” C. S. Lewis, 240.
Leading a Christian organization for the past few years has been difficult. The church is in desperate need of courageous men to lead in such times of tribulation. Sadly, this has not been the posture of many evangelical leaders.
The American evangelical landscape has lately experienced the pains of the Big Sort. Christians are self-sorting according to various religious and political convictions that reflect broader national trends. Regardless of the reasons for such a sorting, whether it be the idolization of politics as some might claim, or simply the natural result of broader cultural trends, the evangelical Big Sort is in full swing.
An example of these trends is the Acts 29 Network, a network of approximately 700 churches, which projects a niche expertise in church planting. Founded in 1999 by David Nichols, of Spanish River (Presbyterian) Church alongside Mark Driscoll, who eventually became the primary leader, Acts 29 discovered its market position in the midst of the nascent and now fractured Young, Restless, and Reformed (YRR) movement.
Acts 29 was always committed to gospel-centered ministry, complementarian theology, missional innovation, Spirit-led pneumatology, and Calvinist soteriology. However, the scandal-plagued organization has failed to meet the needs of the hour with grace and truth. Churning through leaders and tolerating trans ideology in pulpits, this once strong church network has outkicked its coverage, losing the moral clarity our times of disorder and particular depravity demand and the courageous conviction it once possessed. Constant board turnover, network realignment, and bloated bureaucracy speak to an organization building the plane as it flies rather than instilling confidence and stability in its member churches.
Our church joined Acts 29 in 2011. At the time we were already on the ground in Boulder holding worship services for our church plant.
For young church planters, joining Acts 29 was attractive because of the access to influential voices within the YRR movement such as Darrin Patrick, Mark Driscoll, Matt Chandler, Sam Storms, Steve Timmis, and Ray Ortlund. The benefit of joining Acts 29 wasn’t monetary as they did not give money to church planters at the time. The benefit was found in the trusted relationships based on theological alignment and the credibility the brand provided. It was like joining a trade organization or guild so that you could put the logo of the network alongside your brand ensuring credibility and gain access to people and conferences which could help you plant a church. Not to mention, the network was the “it girl” of church planting. Mark Driscoll was being discussed in the New York Times, Darrin Patrick was going on Fox and Friends. These guys seemed to have two things that don’t normally go together, a commitment to biblical fidelity and an attractiveness to a wide audience. What church planter wouldn’t want to join their network?
Over time the focus of the network shifted. Rather than lauding the glorification of God in all things through a rich commitment to the historic Christian faith and church planting, Acts 29 began to talk less about theological convictions and more about cultural diversity. As busy church planters, much of this didn’t catch our eye. We were glad to be part of the club and assumed the best of the talented leaders directing the network.
That changed in 2020. There were four events which led to a slow erosion of trust.
First, the sudden firing of Steve Timmis under the claim of “abusive leadership” based on a hit piece from Christianity Today seemed suspect. Whether there were biblically justifiable reasons to dismiss Timmis is unknown, since to this day, the network has not shared any investigation which would justify arriving at such a conclusion. When one network leader was asked what abusive leadership is, his reply was simply “Anytime a leader misuses power.”
Second, COVID created a confusing and at times contentious environment amongst churches in the network. Some stayed closed and others stayed open. Acts 29 provided pragmatic opinions on the best practices for churches but offered little theological instruction surrounding the importance of churches remaining open.
Third, our friend Darrin Patrick took his own life. Darrin was a recent friend to our church and a former board member of Acts 29. His own life unraveled as he had a moral failing and falling out at his own church plant. Darrin’s experience was emblematic of broader problems in evangelicalism in dealing with once-famous pastors who were voted off the island.
Fourth and most significantly, with the death of George Floyd, churches in the network became deeply divided and did not receive clear leadership from Acts 29 central staff and regional directors regarding biblically sound approaches to this matter. Acts 29 executive chairman, and former president, Matt Chandler, blamed the church for making BLM necessary. Vice president of church planting, Tyler Jones, proclaimed that those who have been silent regarding racism are walking in unrepentant sin. Acts 29 itself parroted worldly talking points about systemic racism. On a network call for pastors, the Director of Pastoral Care stated that “America has designed a system where white folk always win…This system sprung up from the church…My prayer is that God would use our generation of pastors…to dismantle it with the gospel truth.” One former board member, and current Acts 29 pastor, Leonce Crump, referred to the revolutionary war as an insurrection. He went on to say, “God is always standing on the side of the disenfranchised, marginalized and the oppressed” all while claiming to be neither left nor right. Furthermore, claiming that if we don’t participate in BLM, we will dishonor the heart of God and that we must be anti-racist. In an interview with Acts 29 pastor Guy Mason, pastor Crump said “Blood, violence, and hypocrisy are the soul of this nation.”
All of this led us to begin asking earnest questions to restore trust and build unity within the network and our own church. We have had over a dozen phone calls over the last three years with vice presidents, former board members, and other leaders in the network to seek clarity on doctrinal and financial matters. As part of their membership in the network, churches agree to give 2% of their annual budget to the network to further their mission of planting churches (think of them as member dues). If our church was going to support church planting in this way, we wanted to ensure that the churches that were being planted were not worldly.