Why I think Adnan Syed is Innocent and Why it Matters

In 2014 Sarah Koenig had a break out podcast called Serial. In it she told the story of a young man who was convicted of murdering his girlfriend. As the story went on the listener discovered that there were serious questions about the conviction. Particular things didn’t line up or make sense. 

Today the Maryland Court of Special Appeals turned away Adnan in favor of the State’s arguments and reinstated his conviction. Mind you, Adnan had won favorable rulings at two lowers courts before today.

Since listening to Serial I’ve continued to follow the case through the Undisclosed Podcast and the Truth and Justice podcast.  I’ve linked to them below.

There are some very compelling facts that have lead me to doubt the guilty conviction of Adnan Syed and there are some troubling procedural issues related to the justice system in this case. 

The Undisclosed Podcast does an excellent job of detailing the legal issues and the justice system process. While they dive into the facts of the case on a regular basis, they are primarily focused on problems with how justice was carried out. 

You should judge for yourself. I’ve provided links to these three podcasts below.

Podcast Links:

Link to Serial: Season One 

Undisclosed: Adnan Syed vs. State of MD

Truth and Justice Episodes about Adnan Syed

Why do I think he is innocent?

First of all, I think that the strongest pieces of evidence used at trial by the State to prove his guilt have been debunked. Those strong pieces of evidence were the testimony of Jay Wilds and the cell phone pings.

Regarding Jay Wilds… His testimony was always inconsistent. And it now appears that he was coached by detectives to give the testimony that he gave. You can listen to this evidence in the Undisclosed podcast. There is also a strong possibility that Jay had the incentive to lie to detectives and implicate Adnan. He had his own criminal record hanging over his head and pending convictions disappeared after he testified.

Regarding the cell phone tower evidence… The cell phone tower expert that the state originally used at trial has signed an affidavit and testified that he would not have give his testimony had he been shown the full document from AT&T. We now know that the data provided by the cell phone company was not reliable for location in the way that it was used in the trial.

Second, since Serial aired, an alibi witness has come forward to provide clear evidence that Adnan was not out killing Hae when the state claimed that he was. It was only because of a failure by Adnan’s attorney at the time that this alibi witness was not called at trial.

So why does this matter?

Justice matters! Society only works when we have an equitable justice system. And as a Christian, I fundamentally believe we are wired by God for justice. So when the justice system fails it effects our humanity and God’s design.

If you become convinced of Adnan’s innocence, as I have, you are left with the reality that the true killer of Hae Lea is still on the loose. And of course another man, Adnan, is loosing the prime of his life on the miscarriage of justice.

This story has significantly altered my view of law enforcement and the justice system. It has induced a healthy sense of skepticism and realism. I no longer trust the system. I’m grateful for the sacrifice that individuals make in both professions, but I operate from a position of distrust rather than trust.

As I work with my kids, I am compelled to teach them this distrust. We honor authorities, but we do not believe they have our best interest in mind by default.

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Fyre Festival Netflix Review

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This past weekend Netflix released a documentary about the Fyre Festival that went up in smoke. (see what I did there) I remember when it was trending on Twitter back in 2017. It was fascinating to watch the backstory and all the fallout.

It really caused me to reflect on my own endeavor to start a Bible College in Kauai. There are a number of parallel that I could draw between both projects. But the primary distinction was the integrity of my team vs the fraud of Billy McFarland.

Here’s a picture of the accommodations that the Fyre Festival advertised.

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Here’s the Luxury Safari Tents that we had in Kauai.

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Infiltrating Your Neighborhood - Part 4

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In this episode we talk about being a bit more strategic in your communication strategy. This idea was best framed up by Gary Veynerchuck in his book Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook. In essence we want to be giving more than we are asking. To often Christians are asking for participation but they aren’t contributing and establishing credibility leading up to those asks.

Infiltrating Your Neighborhood - Part 3

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Too many Christians are emphasizing the differences between themselves and non-believers. Another name for that is "self-righteousness”. Obviously, we believe that a change happens when a person becomes a follower of Jesus. But emphasizing these differences does very little for kingdom fruit.

But if you start to look at life through the lens of mission and shared values you will find it easy to develop missional friendships.

That is the idea I explain in this episode.

Infiltrating Your Neighborhood - Part 2

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In this episode we continue to look at “presence” in our neighborhood.

Every city and neighborhood in the world has built in social ills: poor, widows, orphans, handicapped and sick (including mental illness). These social ills serve as an invitation for Christians to care. Think about Jesus ministry and the demonstration of God’s power. Jesus was healing the sick and caring for those in need. The work of Jesus amongst the vulnerable made the preaching about the Kingdom powerful.

The Bible says that the life of a religious person has an eye of compassion towards these vulnerable people. And the people rescued by Jesus are well equipped to be a part of their care. A christian has a well founded reason for caring for the vulnerable in their area. It just makes sense that a people who have been forgiven and pitted by God would show pity to others. 

Some Thoughts on Church Planting Networks and Cash

Last night there was a scramble for church plant funding after Ed Stetzer retweeted a tweet by Pastor Shane Farmer. Here is the original tweet. 

I immediately responded with an introductory email and got a personalized email back from Pastor Shane this morning. His email explained the new church planting initiative that his church is starting and the parameters for receiving funding. 

This type of investment by a single church is inspiring. No doubt this program will lead to many future churches. 

Unfortunately, it does not benefit a church plant like Haven City Church because we are already locked into a program that requires training. The program that Pastor Shane is starting will benefit guys who are not already committed to a network with outside requirements. 

My exchange with Pastor Shane clarified some concerns that have been growing as I've watched guys affiliate with Church Planting networks for the sake of funding. After briefly stating that we wold not be able to precede I expressed some further thoughts in a reply email here: 

Most church planting assessments identify growth areas and then emphasize these areas in training rather then a comprehensive training that covers every aspect of planting. If I could change the SBC Multiply training it would be in this area. 
You may consider some form of “testing out” of some of your training and then partnering with planters on their growth areas. The coaching in growth areas seems to be the most valuable training I’m getting and that is what I’m hearing from the other planters around me in the city. 
Also, if your program is exclusive (the training requirement typically makes it exclusive) you will need to make sure that the finances you are offering + their fundraising requirement is enough for the planter to be fully funded in their context. The average church planting budget for year one is $125k. They city plants can run closer to $160K+. Unfortunately planting organizations are setting a dollar amount they will contribute on an annual basis, making their program exclusive or prohibitive to working with other groups and it doesn’t get the planter to a fully funded position. 
You may want to consider the ability for a planter to be given credit for previous or current training offered elsewhere. I come out of a higher education leadership background and we call the transferability of education credits an “articulation agreement”. It would be cool if there were articulation agreements between planting networks. Redundancy of training is counterproductive to the goal of planting, but a lot of guys are doing it just to get the funding. Now networks are cracking down on guys that are working with multiple networks because they see the planters doing 20-30 hours of homework each week. But that again restricts the finances available to the planter.

There are a number of Church Planting Networks that give significant funding to planters. ARC, Orchard Group, Stadia, Sent and NAMB are a few. There are always hoops that have to be jumped through to get the funding. As I highlighted in my email to Shane, there are guys who are joining multiple networks to get the funding but are handicapped by the amount of hoop-jumping they are doing. Imagine doing two rigorous trainings simultaneously, two sets of mentors meetings on a monthly basis, two sets of orientation retreats. The planter ends up spending all their time on this stuff and they are squeezed to actually do the church plant itself. 

This is why the current SBC planting strategy is my favorite. NAMB is designating official funding for the planter, but is also encouraging the network of SBC churches to support the planters directly. The chance of being fully funded through the SBC is significantly higher then in some of the other networks. 

Sales and Beauty of Humanity

There is a gravitational pull in sales to dehumanize people. From my first cold call I encountered this problem.

As some of you know, I've been working as an insurance broker since late February. This isn't necessarily the job I wanted, but it is what I could do while I look for something better. It has been an amazing learning experience... probably because it is so difficult. 

One of the cherished lessons I've learned since taking this role has been the value of people. It is incredibly easy to dehumanize people as I'm making cold calls or canvasing businesses. The temptation is to esteem people based on their response to my sales pitch or esteem them based on the leads they provide me. But that is so wrong. 

The problem starts with the gatekeeper. That person fills a role of impeding you from getting to the person you need to talk to. They are sniffing out the sales people and conveniently dumping them into voicemail. This can be incredibly frustrating. But that person is still an amazing human being.

If you do get through to a decision maker, most the time they will tell you they are not interested in what you are selling. Those are just the numbers. But did the value of that human being change once they gave me their "no"? 

People are amazing. And as a Christian I believe they are created by God in His image. That doesn't just apply to the ones who give me business. It is the case with every person we work with.

The more I've embraced this idea -- that people reflect God's nature -- the more I've enjoyed the sales process. Doing 200 cold calls means I get the opportunity to interact with 200 people that God made. That is an amazing privilege.

Providing Some Context

If you are not a Calvary Chapel leader this blog post is not for you. I have written an article specifically for you here.

Ministry can be very lonely. If most pastors were honest with themselves loneliness is one of the reasons why they participate in denominations or networks. Relationships… Camaraderie… Calvary Chapel is no different. We’ve got some pastors leading fellowships far far from home. And they are just as hungry as the next guy for communication from their “team”. When I was starting a Bible College in Hawaii I remember being isolated, far far away from Costa Mesa and the movement. I would scour the internet for any kind of news I could find about Calvary Chapel. And that experience was one of the primary factors that made me passionate for CalvaryChapel.com. 

For way too long Calvary Chapel did very little communicating. There was the annual pastors conference and maybe a local pastors gathering. But there was very little information about the state of the movement, missionary endeavors, church planting and leadership developments. When I was asked to participate in the redesign of CalvaryChapel.com in 2011 and again in 2014 I had this concern at the forefront of my mind. 

And it is in that vein that I’ve begun to share more of the inside details from my ministry experience at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa. When Dave Rolph shared an insiders perspective back in December it was helpful. This article is no different. I am hoping to provide a bit more context and backstory to what has transpired over the past six months. There is a great deal of information that is private and confidential. The only thing I feel comfortable sharing is my first hand account and the conversations I participated in with Calvary Chapel Association. 

Let’s start here...

There has been a lot of public back and forth regarding Calvary Chapel Association and Calvary Global Network since October 31st, 2016. It was on that day that CCA sent out their first letter to Calvary Chapel pastors regarding their national conference and “clarifications” regarding web sites. Since then Brian Brodersen along with six other CCA leaders resigned from the council. (Bob Caldwell also dropped off the list, but that was because of moral failure.) A new network has emerged and most pastors have decided if they want their name removed from the CGN database. This has been a painful season for isolated pastors and missionaries. It has also caused a great deal of confusion for non-leaders… normal people attending a Calvary Chapel.

Up until December, 2016 I was working at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa leading the communications department in conjunction with Kellen Criswell. It was our responsibility to facilitate the communication that took place between 1700+ Calvary Chapels around the world and communication for the local church in Costa Mesa. Our team managed calvarychapel.com  and all of its various embassies on social media, iOS Apps and the email newsletters. The church invested a significant amount of money in staffing our department and making sure we had the resources to cary out the mission. We prayed weekly for Calvary Chapel pastors and their churches. 

One of the more boring administrative responsibilities that we inherited was the management of the Calvary Chapel church database. This was a cloud based system listing the private contact information  for all affiliated Calvary Chapels. That database was rebuilt by our team in 2014 based on an older database that was becoming obsolete. These databases had served as the source for the public info found on the calvarychapel.com church finder. Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa had maintained this list for decades. For a season the database was managed by Calvary Chapel Outreach Fellowship. When CCOF was replaced by Calvary Chapel Association the database in its current form was duplicated and handed over to CCA. Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa had a database and CCA had a database. 

In early 2015 we knew that Calvary Chapel Association was using the old database. We knew that it was outdated and hosted on an illegal server. We were aware of this because programers employed by CCCM had been the ones to build it a decade earlier. We had been using the same technology until we rebuilt ours in 2014. We knew that CCA needed a new solution. Also, we were aware of the fact that the church updates we were making were not necessarily being replicated on the CCA database. It was confusing people that there were two different church databases. 

So in early 2015 my predecessor spearheaded an agreement with Don McClure proposing that CCA use our database for 12 months. We outlined a contract and charged CCA $12,000 for use of our technology. That money covered their requests for customization and ongoing maintenance. From May, 2015 until October, 2016 I was responsible for managing the relationship with Calvary Chapel Association and their use of that database. I was the one that Don McClure called when he was concerned about anything related to that database. In the Spring of 2016 my team reevaluate the arrangement and decided to continue letting CCA use our database without charge. There had been a number of conflicts that Mr. McClure and I had hashed out and for the sake of peace I figured we could continue cooperating without charging CCA more money.  

Then in September, 2016 I received a one sentence email from Don McClure requesting a complete export of the data found in the database. This had been an option included in our original contract. It stated: "In the event that CalvaryChapelAssociation.com no longer wants to use the church management system, a database export of the information will occur and the data given to Calvary Chapel Association.” 

At the time it was difficult to discern if Mr. McClure was exercising that option or if they just wanted to have a backup copy of the data in case of an issue. We responded immediately and inquired about the status of our cooperation.  I believe we sent multiple emails over a month and a half checking on the CCA team to see if they were still using the database. 

Then on October 31st CCA sent out an email stating "We also need to clear up any confusion regarding calvarychapelassociation.com and calvarychapel.com. These are completely different websites and are on different servers. Any matters that relate to Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa should be referred to calvarychapel.com.  Any matters having to do with the movement as a whole, or church information changes and affiliation matters need to contact The Calvary Chapel Association…”

Our team was wounded by this communication and we were concerned about the inevitable confusion that it would cause. This letter insinuated that CalvaryChapel.com is a puppet site for Brian Brodersen and Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, but Calvary Chapel Association’s web site is an unbiased representation of the movement. I had been privy to private communication from CCA communicating this fact more explicitly. I was disappointed that this would be suggested publicly. 

The fact that Calvary Chapel Philadelphia was partially underwriting the operations of CCA was incidentally left out. To give the impression that CCA is functioning autonomously without the help of a single church is a misrepresentation of the facts.  

I found it absurd to read a sentence suggesting CalvaryChapel.com only reflects Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa’s values or agenda. It would be more accurate to accuse CalvaryChapel.com of accommodating — across political lines — views that some CCA council members feel uncomfortable with. Maybe we have given voice to Calvary Chapel guys that are not appreciated by particular CCA council members. But the fact that those guys are affiliated (and sometimes on the council) is not our fault. The Calvary Chapel movement is a big tent that some wish were smaller.

It has been our objective to create a web site that serves the Calvary Chapel movement globally. As a part of our role we have bent over backwards to make the site reflect the movement and not just a single church (Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa).

We invited every CCA council member to write and contribute content. We have sent out over a dozen emails inviting council members to contribute. We have also spoken over the phone or face to face with every CCA council member about contributing content. We have even invited a handful of churches to take the site over for a week including Calvary Boise, Calvary Fellowship, Calvary Chapel Ensenada, and Calvary Chapel Philadelphia.

We have promoted conferences, relief efforts and missions trips from across the movement. We have published articles from a variety of views; even allowing opposing views.

Under our leadership CalvaryChapel.com has expanded beyond the web site. We are now live-streaming 5 major ministry conferences on an annual basis. We have launched four new podcasts with more in the works. In late 2015 we launched a Spanish version of the site. We have created a version 1.0 of an Apple TV app and recently released the 2.0 version. We have received almost 900 church plant requests through the site. The online newsletter list has exploded with daily subscribers. As the reach of CalvaryChapel.com expands it gives our writers and speakers a broader audience to communicate vision, values, opportunities and exhortations.

So needless to say, we did not appreciate what Calvary Chapel Association communicated at the end of October. 

My next move was to work with the team on writing a basic letter explaining to Calvary Chapel pastors how they could update their info in our database moving forward. As we thought through this letter and it’s ramifications we realized that we would probably become the recipients of new church affiliation info… making us a quasi Calvary Chapel affiliating entity. That was supposed to be CCA’s role. But when they split the database effort and stopped communicating with our team we were put in that difficult position. 

So before I sent out the letter I called Don McClure and tried to explain these different elements. I told him I wanted to touch base with him before we send out the letter. His words to me were “I don’t care what you send out. You send out your letter and then I’ll just send out a letter.” I circled back around and explained to him that we were trying to avoid being the affiliation office for Calvary Chapel, but without more clarification we would become just that. At that point he said he couldn’t trust me and that I was threatening him. I again tried reasoning with him but he told me he didn’t take threats well and hug up on me. I’m still not sure where the threat was in the conversation or why he didn’t want to problem solve the issue but once he hung up I felt like I had at least made an attempt to reason with him. 

Our email went out that day. 

On the next day I started getting text messages from Calvary Chapel guys in Florida where Don McClure was speaking. Evidently Mr. McClure had complained about Brian Brodersen and my team’s work with the database. These reports continued to come in over the next couple of months as Mr. McClure traveled around the US speaking at Calvary Chapel gatherings. 

In December I got another report from a pastor who attended a gathering where Don McClure brought my name up and suggested that we had done something wrong with the web site or database. And again my phone was flooded with text messages. 

It was at this point that I decided to send an email to the CCA council asking for their intervention. My email was addressed to: Don McClure, Joe Focht, Sandy Adams, Mike McIntosh, Lloyd Pulley, David Guzik, Wayne Taylor, Malcom Wild, Bill Stonebraker, Skip Heitzig, Ricky Ryan, David Rosales, Raul Reis, and Jack Hibbs. 

My email outlind much of the history listed above. I expressed my concerns with how Mr. McClure was publically representing our past dealings, and I request that the CCA hold Mr. McClure accountable for his misrepresentation of the facts.

In response to this email I received a phone call from a CCA council member and an email reply from Don McClure. In summary, Mr. McClure's email started with a denial that he had ever used my name in a public setting, but he went on to apologize if he had. The remainder of the email was a mix between explaining why he believed the database belonged to CCA and past issues he had with Brian Brodersen. He strongly believed that CalvaryChapel.com was using a church database that exclusively belonged to CCA. 

No other CCA board member responded and from what I’ve been told it was not discussed during the CCA meeting this past January. 

I sent a reply email a week later. The redacted version of my email can be found here. 

My hope was that this issue would be dealt with privately. After waiting four months with little course correction from CCA I decided the broader Calvary Chapel family deserved to have more context. Even if you have pulled your name off of the CGN list and are happily in fellowship with CCA you should have expectations that your leadership is leading well and accurately communicating how we got where we are at. I believe I was given a role and a view into some significant events. Calvary Chapel pastors deserve to know more of the machinations that took place behind the scenes. 

There are a lot of people who have taken shots at Brian Brodersen since he resigned from CCA. But with everything I described above he had very little involvement. He didn't know I was planning on sending either email to CCA. He was loosely aware of the fact that we shared the database with CCA. He was not privy to all my conversations with Don McClure. To frame the last six months of Calvary Chapel’s history as a Brian Brodersen vs. CCA is faulty. If CCA was unified in their opposition to Brian's positions, six council members would not have resigned in four months. Whether CCA addresses it publicly or not, it isn't a good sign when a large chunk or your members resign. 

Personally, I wish every CCA council member had the missionary zeal that Brian has. I wish all of the past and present CCA council members had the boldness to start their own network and make an aggressive push into missions and church planting. If you are a real leader, you lead. You don't just put your name on a web site and abrogate your leadership to a single individual. Besids Brian we have seen this bold leadership exemplified through Greg Laurie and to a lesser degree Wayne Taylor. Sandy Adams deserves credit for writing on CalvaryChapel.com and putting his thoughts out in public. David Guzik is like a machine traveling the globe encouraging missionaries and faithfully preaching the Word in Santa Barbara. 

Needless to say I'm not impressed by a council that is silent throughout most of the year and has allowed Mr. McClure to spearhead an agenda that seeds division across the globe. Our missionaries deserve better leadership. Our Bible College students deserve better leadership. Our church planters deserve better leadership.

As I mentioned above, 900 people around the world have requested Calvary Chapel church plants in their home towns. When I look at that number and then hear that Mr. McClure is traveling around the US meeting with pastors to sway their opinion against Brian Brodersen... how petty and shameful. 

There are great guys on the CCA council. I want them to succeed in ministry and leadership. I think I can empathize with their desire for brand purity... Or an emphasis on stay-the-course... In  my opinion stay-the-course is a failing effort because the course is somewhat difficult to peg down as I've written about here. But the attempt is a valid gathering point for those who share that passion. 

And when it comes to Mr. McClure I wish him nothing but the best. I find it ironic that his past work with starting the Bible Colleg in Twin Peaks and later pioneering internships at his church are two of my passions. I have told him on multiple occasions that he has my respect for these two efforts. From what I have witnessed he has not served the CCA council well. His leadership gifts would be better utilized elsewhere. But that is a desicion CCA will have to wrestle with. 

I've written enough in this article. I hope that my first-hand account is helpful. And I pray that 2017 is an incredibly fruitful year in your ministry. 

To the Average Parishioner (non-leader) in Calvary Chapel

You may have recently seen some back and forth online about Calvary Chapel’s leadership conflict. And you may have noticed that two different groups were expressing opinions regarding the future of Calvary Chapel. And this may have been confusing or upsetting. To see leaders disagree and communicate their disagreements publicly can cause a person to become disillusioned. Unfortunately, it is a part of living in the digital age where information is widely available. 

You may have felt the pressure to pick a side or dig deeper into this situation. That is how we are wired in a democratic society with access to the internet. We often feel like we deserve to know all the facts and come to our own conclusions. 

But I don’t think that is the best decision. 

Rather than trying to make heads or tails out of this conflict I would strongly encourage you to trust the pastor in the church you are participating in. If he faithfully teaches you God’s Word and is a servant leader then you are safe to trust his decision in all of this. Pray for him. Ask him your questions and trust his leadership in the matter. 

This conflict is incidental and unimportant compared to your spiritual growth and calling. You have unsaved coworkers, family and neighbors who need to know Jesus. Getting to the bottom of this conflict will not lead to their salvation. Hopefully you are committed to a local church and you are serving with your gifts. 

Remember what Hebrews 13:17 says "Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you."

My Review of S-Town (Spoiler Alert)

It was one of the dumbest podcasts I've listened to...

Sorry, but the glory of Serial Season One did not cary over to this project. I was a big fan of the work Sarah Koenig did on Serial and had high hopes for this project, but it falls flat on its face. The production quality is good, but I don't have much else positive to say.

  • There is no plot line.
  • It is an excursion into moral debauchery the further you go.
  • It reminds me of a slow - very slow - moving train wreck

Other then the last ten minutes of chapter two there is very little surprise, intrigue or twist. You'll be disappointed if you are holding out for one. 

If you are board enough to listen to the seven hours of this audio experience you would be better served listening to an average person's story on the street. 

You can find the S-Town podcast here 

The Cherry Blossom's of Washington D. C.

This past Saturday we decided to check out the Cherry Blossoms in Washington D. C. If you have not had this experience it is definitely something that should go on your bucket list. Here is a short history on the Washington D. C. Cherry Blossoms.  

It is tough to walk more then 10 feet without wanting to take another set of pictures. There is a new perspective every few feet. Here are a few of pictures that I captured. 

Can Calvary Chapel's Tradition Be Defined

I have an exercise for you...

But first, let me give a little background. In 1998 A man named James Sullivan wrote a book called Baptist Polity: As I See It. This book was to the Southern Baptist what Calvary Distinctives is for the Calvary Chapel pastor. It summarizes the history and traditions of the Southern Baptist. Or in Mr. Sullivan's words; "The book shows how the denomination functions and why." It is full of opinions and thus the subtitle "As I See It."

The copy on my shelf is well worn. I've underlined and starred paragraphs on most pages. Why? Because the Southern Baptist wrestled with their own organizational structure a century before Calvary Chapel did their own wrestling. Many of the internal battles Calvary Chapel is facing were already fought and won for the Southern Baptist.

If you are not familiar with the Southern Baptist you might be surprised by the numerous points of similarity between them and us. In fact the Southern Baptist have ripped off many of Calvary Chapel's hallmark attributes and made them their own. But I digress...

I want to draw your attention to one specific quote from chapter four:

“There are three basic elements in the development of polity for a secular organization, but there are four when polity is being determined for a religious body. The three elements that go into the building of polity in a secular organization are tradition, law, and sound organizational principles. All have been proven valid and necessary. The additional element that goes into the development of polity for a religious body is theology”

Tradition, law, organization and theology.

He defines tradition thus: "We do certain things in certain ways because our forefathers did them that way. We seldom pause to ask why."

When he refers to law he is talking about the laws of the land which govern the organization. In the US this would include laws dictating non-profit organizations, employment law, building and fire codes. These laws play a subtle role in defining polity.

The word organization refers to the practical organization of church life: who is responsible for what, schedules, procedures for new volunteers, the dissemination of information. This is another distinct aspect of church polity.

And finally, theology. Theology is the shared belief of the church about God, the Bible, people, creation and eternity. The theology of a church isn't just the primary doctrines that must be believed for salvation. It also includes secondary issues such as eschatological timelines, and the literal or figurative days of creation.

These four arenas - tradition, law, organization, and theology - are what make a church unique.

For Calvary Chapel the first one, tradition, is the x factor. What are our determined traditions? Now there are some bozos who have made tradition and theology synonymous but I'm not here to rescue them from their stupidity. Of course tradition should be rooted in a biblical framework, but to elevate tradition to the level of inerrant scripture would be much to Roman Catholic for me.

So here is the exercise.

Write out three lists. On the first list write out what you understand to be the defined traditions of Calvary Chapel. This is a list of what you believe to be Calvary Chapel's dogmatic traditions... they are unalterable.

On the second list write out what you understand to be the traditions with limited options. In other words, what has been defined as a tradition with multiple options. One of my items on this list was the church facility. Calvary Chapels typically have a gathering space for corporate worship but there is a huge variety in the types of buildings used for worship.

On the third list write out other church aspects of ecclesiology that Calvary Chapel has not defined. For example on my list was leadership transitions. There is no set tradition on how Calvary Chapel's make leadership changes. We do it, but don't have a tradition.

Once this is done, do the same exercise for theology. Three lists with the first being dogmatic theological points of Calvary Chapel, the second is theological points with options and a third list is undefined theological points.

Remember the value of the exercise hinges on you writing down what you perceive to be Calvary Chapel's teaching and not your own personal opinion. It is as if you are writing your own "Calvary Chapel: As I See It."

Here is a google doc templates of what you might start with.

I found this exercise very insightful and I came away with a few observations.

First, the number of clearly defined traditions -- traditions that are believed and practiced by 100% of Calvary Chapels -- is pretty small. And it is very possible that my list is different from yours, which would make both of our lists smaller...  

Second, the things I've written down in my first list (Defined Traditions) are not exclusive to Calvary Chapel. There are thousands of churches that have identical sets of traditions. It is my opinion that Calvary Chapel has set a good example in a number of these areas and others have followed suit.

But sometimes Calvary Chapel acts as an exclusive organization that cannot fellowship with other groups. The underlying premise behind that snobbery is that Calvary Chapel does church right... unlike everyone else.  

Third, my longest list was the third one: undefined traditions. On that list I have things like the church's relationship with culture, the role of small groups in the life of the church, church discipline, discipleship and so on. If there are so many aspect of our ecclesiology undefined by tradition what does that mean for education and replication in the future?

Fourth, how are we going to handle the second list of items: traditions with options? What happens when a senior leader in Calvary Chapel tries to move an item off of that list and onto the first list; stating that there really are no options but one?

When leaders talk about "stay the course", "core values" "roots" "foundation" or "DNA" one has to wonder if their list is like yours. An actual definition of these things has been conspicuously absent. It is conveniently assumed that Calvary Chapel's defined traditions are numerous and defined. Neither are the case.

Oh, but you say "We have Calvary Distinctives." Sure, but does that book define our tradition. If it does, why is there an outcry for defining our tradition better and identifying our core values. The dirty little secret is that half of Calvary Chapel pastor's do not feel like the book defines boundaries where they wish there were boundaries. The other half of Calvary Chapel pastors wish it said less.

My challenge to the leaders who are championing a stay-the-course theme is this: write out clearly what you mean. Those definitions should not be an evolution of Calvary Chapel's historic practices and they must accurately represent a majority view. There is a difference between the decisions you make for your own church and the definition you want to give to a couple thousand churches.

That is not an easy task and it probably doesn't produce the desired result of exclusivity and eclesialogical uniqueness that the stay-the-course crowd so desperately wishes were true. 

The Dumbest Thing I Ever Said... Publicly

Below is a video clip of my most embarrassing public speaking moment… ever. I loath what these three minutes portray. Actually, I have only watched it a couple of times because of how much pain it causes me to sit through it.

So why would I post it here? 

There are some important points that need to be made that are actually more important than the punches I will take for making these awful statements more visible. 

I have recently become aware of the fact that this video clip was being referenced and shared privately among people who were critical of Brian Brodersen and the Calvary Global Network. It was being used as a tool to slander Brian and prop up a false narrative about Brian having a secret agenda. I have not talked to Brian about it. I don't even know if he is aware of these comments. And my addressing it publicly was solely my decision.

For a little context… This was a message I gave at Calvary Chapel Bible College in Murrieta, California in the Fall of 2014. The rest of the message can be viewed here. As soon as I stepped off the stage I knew I had screwed up. I asked the Bible College to edit those comments out of the video before it was published online. And they did. But someone found the original archive and started sharing it around the internet. As Jesus so wisely said "there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, nor hidden that will not be known.” 

I was wrong...

First off let me apologize to everyone who watched this video and felt offended. You were right to feel offended. My words were tremendously disrespectful to the spiritual foundation that Chuck Smith laid in your life. I was not honoring the spiritual legacy that you (and I) are so appreciative of. I am truly embarrassed that I was this sloppy in communicating my sentiment about Chuck Smith and the last decade of his life. 

This is a perfect example of what Damian Kyle calls thoughtless unkindness. It was thoughtless unkindness towards the audience I was addressing. I should not have said what I said publicly because it was tremendously disrespectful. It also was a poor articulation of what I really meant.

To say that I spent 14 years waiting for a CCCM leadership change would be accurate and honest. Shortly after I started Bible College and a year before I came on staff at CCBC Pastor Chuck brought Brain Brodersen back from England to start a two year leadership transition. This was an exciting possibility. It was a transition that Chuck seemed excited about. This imminent transition gave birth to anticipation of what would change.

That describes the state of mind I had while working at CCBC from 2002 - 2007 and my early time working at CCCM from 2011- 2013. I had many conversation with coworkers about the future. Most of the conversations would go along the lines of “Wouldn’t it be great if we could do ‘X’? Well maybe we can once Pastor Chuck has retired or has passed.” We were not plotting to derail Calvary Chapel from its heritage. No, we were talking about making web sites better and updating the furniture. 

I’m not sure how many of you participated in the Simple Minded Preacher web site, but those online conversations paralleled many of the conversation that I had with fellows employees of CCCM. Someone might say that those conversations were sinful and disrespectful towards Pastor Chuck and they might be right. But I do think there is a sinless way to talk about life after a person retires or passes away. And I don’t think it is sinful to be excited about those changes.

So when I said in 2014 “I spent 14 years waiting for a man to die.” What I meant was “Looking back on all those years of anticipation, hoping and envisioning what would change, it ended up being 14 years of waiting for a man to die.” It still is a disrespectful and unhelpful thing to verbalize because the audience did not share my experience and could not empathize with that “insider” perspective. I was casting a stone of stumbling in front of them. But it was an accurate retrospective comment on how I felt.

Don't read between the lines

Second, in this video I appear to be boasting about working with Brian and helping behind the scenes.  And unfortunately it is easy to write a narrative between my lines that suggests Brian was plotting tohijack Calvary Chapel. Again, I was inarticulate and arrogant. But to attach some sinister motives to Brian Brodersen based off my comments is flat out wrong. If you were immature enough to use this video in that way shame on you. 

If Brian had a plan or agenda for after Pastor Chuck died he didn’t share it with me. There was no plan or agenda that I knew of. In fact I distinctly remember how impressed I was by Pastor Brian’s respect for Pastor Chuck while he was alive and after his death. Even though the leadership transition took place 12 years after the originally agreed upon time frame, Pastor Brian appeared patient and content during the time I worked with him. 

I am very sorry that my bad example has contributed to the idea that I might be the product of Brian’s private conversations rather then my own pure carnality. Pastor Brian is a man of integrity and respect behind closed doors as much as he is in public.

Be an adult and make a phone call...

Third, there is a cancer in Calvary Chapel leadership called slander. One of the shocking things that I have observed over the past few years in Calvary Chapel is how freely Senior Pastors will talk smack behind the backs of other pastors but never pick up the phone or meet face to face.

For example there is a contingent of pastors who don’t like Brian Brodersen, but having been one of Brian’s assistants I know how few of them called to get a first hand account of what he really thought. For some reason these leaders thought it was spiritually acceptable to slander another pastor without directly talking to the man. 

One of my pastor friends who grew up on the streets and was a part of the gang culture explained this dynamic to me. He told me how cowardly it would be considered if one gang member bad mouthed a peer to his homies but didn’t directly confront the peer. He said this was one of the fastest ways to lose the respect of your homies. In my friends words “you go deal with it.” And my question is this: If gang thugs get this why can’t we?  

Having pastors secretly share this video is just another example of the cancer. Trying to use this video to prop up a false narrative is shameful. I take full ownership of the stupidity of my statements in 2014. But if you took this video and shared it with others rather then talking to me directly shame on you. You are behaving no better than gossipy grannies on Facebook. 

I was only able to get access to this video through a level headed CC Pastor who was mature enough to challenge me on its contents and share his concerns. I am grateful for his candidness and mercy towards me. 

The Calvary Chapel family of churches is working through some difficult issues. The last thing that is needed is slander and gossip. I know that it can be frustrating to be in the dark over leadership decisions. You may find yourself tempted to read Christian gossip web sites (also known as Online Discernment Ministries), but at the end of the day we are Christians first. Our character matters. And slander is sin. When I said those things in 2014 I sinned. Why uncover my nakedness to your peers rather then rebuke me to my face?

 

Setting Up Life in Baltimore

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We got into Baltimore on November 27th at 1:50 Pm. I can remember the exact time because we were supposed to me the crew unloading the truck at 2 Pm. It felt good to get into the city a few minutes early. My greatest fear about our move was double parking on the street. I couldn't remember how wide our street was and I didn't know how Baltimore peeps would respond to a big moving truck hogging up the road. Well my anxiety was unfounded. Once I was double parked there was plenty of room for people to drive around the truck.

Five men showed up to help us unload. Two of the five men were chiropractors. One of them brought a chiropractic table with them for post moving adjustments. These guys worked so hard to get the truck unloaded including gently removing my front door so that the couch could make it inside. We were done at 3:00 PM. The catholic church across the street started ringing to mark the time and I felt like it was in celebration of completing one of the biggest things I dreaded.

We spent the next ten days unpacking and setting up the house. Between my wife and I we made at least five trips to the Baltimore IKEA. Melinda was at Target almost everyday. Bit by bit our house started to come together. Some of our early observations of living in a row house were:

  • When the kids are on the third floor and we are on the first floor there is almost a complete separation of sound.
  • Stairs are something that we would have to adjust to.
  • Sliding in your socks on an old wood floor can result in splinters.
  • The kitchen is freezing because it doesn't have any heating vents in it.

I was pleasantly surprised to find an old desk in the far corner of the basement. This was something I had hoped for but had not verbalized. I was envisioning a small dungeon like office and with enough creativity I was able to create such a workspace. There was an old rusty faucet hanging over the back of the desk and a small half wind looking out to the street. During the day I can see the tops of dogs bodies and the bottom half of people walking by the window.

Basement Office
Basement Office

Once we were settled we started to explore the surrounding streets. The temperatures are cold so people are moving with purpose up or down the street. A couple blocks away there is a quaint kosher cafe called Van Gough Cafe. Mindy is the owner and her daughter helps her at the counter. Their bagels are amazing.

Van Gough Cafe
Van Gough Cafe

To our east by a couple of blocks is Patterson Park. This park has historical significance from the Civil War. It was the location of a hospital and camp for the North. Today it has a playground, lake, Ice Staking Rink, Sports fields and paths. The locals have given it mixed reviews. It is a good location for walking your dog or getting some exercise. But it has some legendary stories of crime and villains. I guess you have to pick which theme you want to dwell on as you venture across it.

South of us by a few blocks is the Patapsco River and surrounding harbor. Southwest takes you into Fells Point with its cobblestone streets and endless assortment of bars. And to the Southeast you get into Canton. This is where the local grocery stores and Target are.

We have spent a good deal of time setting the kids up for school. They are going to be homeschooled for the remainder of the year. This means that we have to find activities and classes for them to participate in. Hudson decided to take Karate. Hanalei is enrolled in Gymnastics. And Hayden is a homebody who is content to play Legos and read at home.

In my next post I'll try and give a summary of some of our early church planting plans. We are excited about the next couple of months and look forward to sharing those things with you.

Driving from Santa Ana, CA to Baltimore, MD

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So here is our itinerary for driving cross-country: Day 1

  • Santa Ana, CA —> Flagstaff, AZ
  • 6h, 53m

Day 2

  • Flagstaff, AZ —> Amarillo, TX
  • 8h, 32m

Day 3

  • Amarillo, TX —> Little Rock, AR
  • 8h, 28m

Day 4

  • Little Rock, AR —> Knoxville, TN
  • 7h, 43m

Day 5

  • Knoxville, TN —> Harrisonburg, VA
  • 5h, 9m

Day 6

  • Harrisonburg, VA —> Baltimore, MD
  • 3h, 3m

Church Planting in Baltimore

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We have some big news! This Fall we will be moving to Baltimore, Maryland with the goal of planting a church. This is something that God put in our hearts a few years ago as we considered church planting. It has been a growing desire for Melinda and I. While we are tremendously grateful for the opportunities that Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa has given us, we can’t shake the desire to get out on the front lines of ministry to start a new work.

Earlier this year our family spent some time in Baltimore scouting it out. We stayed in the downtown harbor area and drove through a few of the neighborhoods. It was a beautiful time to see the city. We came away from this time with a clear vision for ministry in the city.

Our plan is to move to the city in late November or early December. I will be looking for work in the city and we will begin to connect with people who are interested in the new church. Our kids will go back to being homeschooled for the remainder of the school year.

If you would like to receive updates you can sign up at www.baltimorechurchplant.com. These updates won’t just be about our family, we will also share information about the city, our church planting process, and other random info. It should be fun.

Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa and Pastor Brian have been tremendously supportive of this vision. And the church will be sending us out. It is impossible to be around Pastor Brian and not catch a bug for church planting and missions. (See the video below.)

We have been very blessed by our home church. It has been six years since we returned to Orange County after three and half years of ministry in Kauai. It has been a great season of ministry under Pastor Brian Brodersen. He supported the redevelopment of Calvary Chapel Univeristy and allowed that school to be incubated within Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa for a year and a half. He entrusted me with the development of CalvaryChapel.com in 2012 and again with the team in 2014. He allowed me to preach on Saturday nights. He invited me to become the regular host on the radio program Pastor's Perspective. And more recently we launched the Things that Matters program. I am grateful for our season here at Costa Mesa, and appreciative of their support as we leave to plant this church.

Thanks for praying for our family and again, check out www.baltimorechurchplant.com to start receiving regular updates.

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