Ever since my 20s, I’ve been a voracious reader of Christian books. The problem I faced, however, is that the authors of those books were either dead or they were completely inaccessible.
There was no way to contact them with a question or a comment. Sure, I could write the publisher, but good luck with that.
So taking my cue from our Lord’s words, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” we’ve created this page.
Before you read this page . . .
If your question is about Pagan Christianity or Reimagining Church, check this page first as I’ve answered scores of questions on those titles already.
If your question is about From Eternity to Here, check here first. And be sure to click the link at the bottom of that page also.
What follows are the most frequently asked questions to date along with my answers.
To search for a specific question, click CTRL-F and type in the keyword that relates to your question. (E.g., money, organic church, slander, the poor, suffering, etc.)
If you have a question that isn’t addressed on this page, send an email to PTMIN@aol.com with your question.
April 1, 2014: I live in [city, state, country], where can I find an organic church?
Answered in my post, Stop Looking for an Organic Church!
March 5, 2014: What is your opinion on cussing?
Answered in my post, The Swearing Christian: My 13 Cents
March 3, 2014: Frank, I just ordered your library of books. They all interest me so I don’t know where to begin. What order should I read the books in?
You can read the back covers for each volume to get an idea of what each is about. Then start with the volume that appeals to you the most right now. Then go on to the second one that appeals to you the most at that time. If they all appeal to you equally, here’s the order I’d suggest:
1. God’s Favorite Place on Earth
2. From Eternity to Here
3. Jesus Now
4. Jesus Manifesto
5. Jesus: A Theography
6. Revise Us Again
7. The Untold Story of the New Testament Church
8. Pagan Christianity
9. Reimagining Church
10. Finding Organic Church
March 1, 2014: Since the organic expression of church that you’ve written about in your earlier books is biblical, why don’t we see organic churches everywhere? Why are the real ones so rare today?
I addressed this in the second section of From Eternity to Here. But the church that’s according to God’s heart has always been a rare thing on this earth. Remember, only 2% of God’s people went back to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple when the doors finally opened after 70 years of captivity. Most preferred to stay in the strange land and worship God in the synagogues that they had built. (Since they couldn’t worship in God’s ordained mode of worship — the Temple — they built synagogues for worship. The synagogue was a human-made idea.)
The point there is that God’s highest and best was just too costly for them.
As I’ve pointed out before, organic church life simply doesn’t work without this element. And most Christians today are interested in what’s popular, what’s convenient, and what’s easy when it comes to community. Life together without a clergy is one of the most difficult things on the planet, and for it to flourish, it requires help from those who have experience (all the early churches received help from extra-local people with experience). Receiving help requires humility.
On the other hand, “house churches” are quite common. But few last long. And a “house church” isn’t the same as an organic expression of the church. See House Church vs. Organic Church.
February 2, 2014: I’ve been reading your blog for years and you’ve inspired me to start a blog. I have a knack for writing and my dream is to become a professional blogger like you are. Can you give me any tips on how to start out?
Absolutely. Move heaven and earth to attend the upcoming Buzz Seminar. This event was created for people like yourself. It’s an investment that, if it were around when I first started blogging and writing books, I’d give my teeth to attend. Click here for details and registration.
November 18, 2013: Frank, what is your view on homosexuality? Is it a sin, is it normal, and how should the Church respond to it?
I address this question in the 85th episode of my podcast. I also answer many other controversial questions in that episode. Click here for a link to the episode and some supplemental links concerning your very question.
June 10, 2013: I’ve received so much from your ministry these past two years from your podcasts, your blog, and your books. I know you don’t profit from your ministry and I really respect that, but the Bible says to bless those who have blessed us and I feel led to donate to your ministry for the blessings you’ve given me. I’ve searched your blog and can’t find anywhere where you’ve asked for a donation or tell people how they can give, so how can I make a donation?
This is very kind of you. We’ve gotten this question from time to time because I’ve never asked for a donation. Any gifts sent to us are used in my ministry of helping the poor and other ministry expenses (for instance, the blog and the podcast have regular maintenance costs). So such gifts are deeply appreciated. You can send a check or money order to:
Present Testimony Ministry
P.O. Box 140370
Gainesville, FL 32614
May 10, 2013: I just read your new book “God’s Favorite Place on Earth” and it blessed me so much. I read it twice. I can read books like this one on the Bible all day. Do you plan to write any others in the same style and approach?
Thank you. I’m really honored by your comment. Yes, that’s the plan, God willing.
April 29, 2013: What Bible translation do you recommend? And how about a study Bible?
For accuracy, I use the NASB. For clarity, I like the NLT and sometimes the NIV. For eloquence and beauty, the NKJV beat them all.
For a study Bible, keep in mind that you’re getting the specific commentator’s slant on things. Take a look at my review on various Bible’s in the “Reviews” section of the Archives page. I also review chronological Bibles in that section.
April 27, 2013: I love the cover of your book, “God’s Favorite Place on Earth.” Is it a picture of Bethany, the town?
Thanks and yes. It’s an image of what first-century Bethany looked like. Glad you like it. I’ve only heard a few people remark about the cover, so I had wondered if people didn’t like it.
April 26, 2013: I’m a seminary student and I’m in awe of the depth of your work. So much of what you’ve spoken and written has helped me tremendously but I’ve not heard any of my pastors or professors share them. What are your theological credentials? Have you ever been to seminary and do you have any theological degrees?
You’re very kind. When I was 17 years old, I knew that God called me to His work. I considered going to Bible school and then seminary, but the Lord directed me to attend a secular university and get my degree in non-religious studies. (I went to the University of South Florida and majored in social science education, taking psychology, history, sociology, and political science courses.)
So I intentionally chose not to receive any academic theological training. Instead, I deliberately opted to become an autodidact in the line of A.W. Tozer, Charles Spurgeon, G. Campbell Morgan, Watchman Nee, and countless other servants of God.
That said, my work has been endorsed by many scholars and seminary-trained pastors and I’ve debated with some of the most prestigious scholars in the world. I’ve also authored two books with eminent seminary professor Leonard Sweet.
A seminary degree doesn’t equate spiritual stature, a personal knowledge of Jesus Christ, or the Scriptures. Similar to your kind remark, many of the people who have attended the conferences wherein I’ve spoken have been seminary trained ministers who admitted their lack of spiritual life and depth. George Barna and I dedicated an entire chapter in our book on the limitations of a seminary education. While I have no problem with those who choose to go into seminary (despite its limitations), it wasn’t the path that God led me into.
April 25, 2013: Hey Frank. I just want to let you know that I really appreciate you defending Rick Warren over the last few weeks. What some Christians are doing to him and spreading about him is just evil. I don’t know Rick and I don’t agree with him on everything but he’s a brother and no one deserves to be treated like that. I’ve also noticed that you never defend yourself against criticism and I’ve never seen you attack a person who said bad things about you. This has been an example to me because I’m quick to get defensive if someone misunderstands me, even. So thank you for setting a “high road” example for my wife and I. Can you give me your thoughts on this and how you came to this place in your life?
First, thanks for the wonderful encouragement. It means a lot. Second, I’m impressed that you noticed. As I said in my post, An Audience of One, we don’t follow the Lord’s more difficult teachings so that others will notice and applaud. We do it unto Him. But when someone does notice, it’s always an encouragement because you’re aware that you’re setting an example for other Christians.
I cut my teeth on being mentored by Watchman Nee and T. Austin-Sparks via their writings. These two men were major assets to the kingdom of God, and for that reason, the kingdom of darkness did their best to destroy their ministries and reputations.
I remember when reading Against the Tide (Nee’s biography), I literally wept at what he went through. The lies, the attacks, the slander, the ill-treatment, the betrayal by fellow believers. Nee sacrificed his life for God’s people, laying his life down for the saints again and again and again. And in the end, those who conjured up vicious and scurrilous rumors about him managed to convince some of the gullible people whom Nee loved and served.
The same thing happened with T. Austin-Sparks. I’ve talked to some of his friends (before they passed) and they told me that Sparks was “the most hated Christian” in England during the time in which he lived. Both Nee and Sparks set an example for me as a young man never to defend myself when under personal attack.
Here’s my standard: Answer those who come to you in good faith and think the best of you, but never defend or counter-attack. (Scripture is clear that if we have an issue with a brother or sister, we are to go to them directly. Those who don’t do this typically have an evil agenda operating behind the shadows. Often, it’s rooted in jealousy.)
As I read the stories of Nee and Sparks in my 20s, I instinctively knew what was in store for me if I said “yes” to the unique calling that God had placed on my life. Everyone who is making a dent in the kingdom of darkness is going to draw fire from that realm. And it typically comes in the form of slander and false accusations. (The devil means “slanderer” and he is called “the accuser of the brethren.”)
Like many of my friends who are turning the sod on some important matters in the Christian faith, I’ve got rumors on me that make The Walking Dead seem real!
(I’ve been confused with people with the same name, and yes, I also eat babies for breakfast and am a closet serial killer . . . but don’t tell anyone.)
All of this is par for the course. In answer to your question, I’ve built certain things into my life and walk with Jesus over the years. One is to repent when I do something wrong immediately and apologize to those who are directly affected. I keep very short accounts for this reason. The second is to never defend myself under false attack. Instead, I’m to be silent just as my Lord was when He was falsely accused. (Take a look at some of the outrageous things that both He and Paul were accused of during their lifetime. It strains the bounds of credulity until they break.)
Parsing madness is a fool’s errand. I refuse to get into the pit and touch tar babies. Rolling around with mud-slingers then trying to wipe off the mud only gets it into your clothes. If you leave it alone, the Lord has a way of drying it up until it falls off of you. Jesus and Paul taught us this well. Even Peter exhorts us to walk in the same path saying,
To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps . . . when they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.
The Lord knows how to defend His servants and deal with those who have given themselves over to the profound wickedness of lying about His servants.
As for Rick Warren, I love him. There’s no question that God’s favor is on the man’s life. If anyone doubts that, they aren’t in touch with their spiritual instincts. That doesn’t mean I agree with everything he has written. I don’t know any two well-known Christians who agree on everything. Shoot, I don’t agree with some of what I myself believed years ago!
But Rick is my brother and I will go to bat for any brother or sister in Christ who is being unjustly attacked like Rick has been recently.
The governing question in all of these things is very simple, and Jesus said it over and over again as being the greatest of all the commandments. Even fulfilling the Law and the Prophets.
Treat others the same way you want to be treated if you were in their shoes.
So when I see Rick being the subject of mud-slinging and stone-throwing, especially at the time of his greatest pain (losing a son), I go to bat for him. Why? Because I’d want the same treatment if it were me.
Martin Luther King Jr. once wisely said, “In the end, it’s not the words of your enemies that we remember, but the silence of our friends.”
I don’t want to be guilty of being a “silent friend.” I’ve heard so much slander against people I know and respect in ministry that I’ve lost count. The sad thing is, that slander has come at the hands of fellow “Christians.”
In prophecy, Jesus said, “I was wounded in the house of My friends” . . . and “Whatever happened to me will happen to you too.” Paul’s fiercest enemies were professing “Christians” who were driven by envy. Just read 2 Corinthians, Galatians, and Acts 13 to the end.
So whenever I hear something negative about another person, my default setting is “OFF” . . . meaning, I don’t buy one word of it. Why? Because I want to treat that person being attacked just like I would want to be treated if it were me being attacked (Matthew 7:12). If I have a concern, I follow what Jesus taught us to do: Go to them directly and privately and inquire with an open mind.
All human beings, whether Christian or non-Christian, would want the same treatment. If every person who names the name of Christ would treat others the same way they would want to be treated in the same circumstances, “the world would know” that Jesus of Nazareth is Lord and the Father sent Him. The reason why the world watches and laughs at believers today, not wanting anything to do with Jesus, is because this rarely happens.
So that’s my 13 cents on the matter. Thanks for asking.
April 12, 2013: I know you’ve not been involved in organic church for a few years now to focus on the poor and write about Jesus studies (see, I pay attention to your blog). But can you share a little about what you do in helping the poor? I’m super interested in this.
Sure. There are four layers to it:
1) There are three adults who I help on a regular basis with financial support, emotional support, and spiritual support. They are all poor and unable to work for various reasons.
2) I volunteer at a nearby ministry regularly that has a soup kitchen, a thrift store, and a food pantry. They also help people apply for jobs and give guidance on how the homeless can find housing. Many of the people who work at this ministry are poor themselves and I’m developing relationships with them.
3) I carry with me an envelope that has money, a short note about Jesus and the gospel, and the phone numbers of two organizations that help the poor and the homeless locally. Whenever I come in contact with people who need help (often in parking lots, etc., asking for money), I give them one of the envelopes. Brennan Manning inspired this idea years ago, but I’ve upgraded it a bit. In line with that, I sometimes will buy a person a meal when they ask me for money on the street.
4) I support two global organizations that I like a lot: Bread for the World and Heifer International. You can look them up online. That’s a quick sketch. See also Blessed Are the Undesirable and Following Your Spiritual Instincts Regarding the Poor.
April 10, 2013: Frank, one of the things I appreciate about you the most is that you don’t make any pretense that you’re better or greater or more spiritual than anyone else and you give all glory to God. It’s refreshing to see authors in the Christian world admit they’ve made mistakes and they are still learning. Your message on Remembering Peter really set me free in this area. How often are you putting up new podcast episodes and what are the ways that I can download them?
Thanks for the kind words and for noticing. Psalm 115:1 is my life’s verse. We are nothing, Christ is Everything. If someone pretends that they are perfect, they’re bluffing. Self-righteousness is one of the things that makes the Lord quite upset. Jesus was the only Person in the universe who has the right to be self-righteous, and He isn’t.
You can get the podcast on iTunes, RSS feed, or from Podbean. Click here for each. Right now we are uploading one or two episodes a month. We are also in the process of putting together a table for all the podcast archives, which will enable people to see all the episodes on a single page.
April 2, 2013: When will you list the 25 free gifts that people will get if they buy your new book between May 1st and May 7th?
I will list them on this blog on May 1st. If you sign up to our Book Update list, you’ll get a special email reminder of the offer so you’re sure not to miss it.
April 2, 2013: Have you written on the subject of church membership, particularly the institutional church practice versus the way the early church did it?
Barna and I haven’t traced the origin of modern church memberships. Mainly because congregations do it differently, so the practice would be extremely difficult to trace. But I do treat the issue of being “membered” to the ekklesia in Reimagining Church. It’s in the first part of the book.
April 1, 2013: I just found your blog and subscribed to it. How long will it take for me to get your free revised ebook, Rethinking the Will of God and the Next Reformation seminar?
It typically takes two to three weeks after subscribing. And they will come via Email. That window gives readers time to explore the blog and get the flavor of it.
March 2, 2013: A reader of your blog told me that you are now carrying DeVern Fromke’s books. Is this true? If so where can I find them?
Yes. Click here to find DeVern’s books. I recommend them all.
February 20, 2013: I’m doing a study on tithing in the New Testament. I was told that you wrote something about this. Where can I find it?
In our book Pagan Christianity, George Barna and I dedicate an entire chapter on the subject from the Old Testament, New Testament, and church history.
December 2, 2012: Where can I find your books in other languages (other than English)?
Click this link and you will be taken to our translations page. The page is being updated constantly as other titles are being translated each year.
November 14, 2012: Do you believe the spirit and soul of a person are different or the same?
I answer this in the third audio that’s linked in my free eBook Discipleship in Crisis. Click here to get the eBook.
November 13, 2012: Do you have a statement of faith?
My statement of faith is found in the Nicene Creed and the Apostles Creed. I explain my thoughts on the “essential doctrines” of the Christian faith in this post on the creeds. I also share my views on the Bible in this post.
November 1, 2012: How does church discipline work in the organic church?
Your question assumes something that’s not true. It assumes that “organic church” is a monolith. But as I’ve argued on this blog many times, there’s no such thing as an “organic church” that everyone agrees on nor is there an “organic church movement.” “Organic churches” vary about as much as plants do. The term has also been hijacked to represent groups that I would never call “organic” in any sense. That said, the better question is, “What does the New Testament have to say about correction, excommunication, and discipline?”
October 5, 2012: Do you have any discounts for people who want to buy any of your books in bulk?
Yes, click this link for bulk discounts.
August 2, 2012: I’ve been reading your blog for a year now and I’m really inspired by it. I’d like to begin writing. What tips can you give me about blogging and about writing and publishing books?
Over the years, I’ve created several blog posts answering these questions as they are quite common. Here’s where I’d start.
July 30, 2012: Frank, I’ve been a subscriber of your blog since January and I’ve also read your last four books: Jesus Manifesto, Revise Us Again, Epic Jesus and Beyond Evangelical. It seems to me that your ministry has changed somewhat from your earlier books (I’m thinking Pagan Christianity, Reimagining Church, and Finding Organic Church). Do you still agree with those books?
Yes, absolutely. Your observation is correct in that the focus of my ministry has moved from organic missional church to the deeper Christian life and Jesus studies. I wrote about this shift here in some detail. Please read it.
Interestingly, N.T. Wright was asked this same question in a recent interview. And here was his response:
“Everything that I’ve said before I still want to endorse, but I now see certain themes more clearly — they stand out perhaps more sharply . . .”
I would say with Wright that I still endorse all that I’ve written about organic missional church in the past. In fact, as I said in a recent interview with George Barna, I am more convinced today about the things I’ve written in Pagan Christianity, Reimagining Church, and Finding Organic Church than when I originally wrote them.
However, since those books are readily available, there’s no reason to rehash the subjects again and again. I’ve moved on to exploring other areas that are on my heart and which “stand out more sharply.”
Epic Jesus summarizes everything I’ve ever written or spoken, tying it all together in one cohesive story.
June 27, 2012: I read your books Pagan Christianity and Reimagining Church. These books gave me words to describe how I’ve felt for a long time and they answered many questions I’ve had. I’ve been looking for an organic church but I cannot find any like what you describe in your books anywhere near me. When I bring the subject up to some of my friends, they have no idea what I’m talking about. I was able to find a few house churches in the area but they aren’t anything like what you talk about. They’re a lot like the weekly cell groups from one of the churches I used to attend. They’re just bible studies really. Where can I find an organic church?
Your question is extremely common. “Where do I find this?”
In the past, I used to refer people to the churches I’ve planted or am in a working relationship with. But I stopped doing that (except on rare occasions) because people had to relocate to be part of them (something I generally discourage).
Sometimes people would be so overwhelmed by the glory they found in these churches that they would quit their jobs and moved without first finding work in the city where the church was located. This brought a great strain on their families as well as the church. In most cases of that sort, those same people ended up moving back to where their parents lived (to receive financial help).
In other cases, the churches were receiving so many visitors that they became overwhelmed and couldn’t move forward. Sometimes people moved to be in the church who shouldn’t have. It clearly wasn’t the Lord’s will and the church suffered as a result. So I stopped referring people to such churches except on rare occasions when the Lord clearly showed me that it was His desire for someone to visit and/or relocate to a particular fellowship. I don’t encourage people to relocate to be part of a church except in extremely rare situations and they feel that God is leading them that way already.
The fact is, authentic organic expressions of the church do exist (I know about a dozen of them — Christ-centered, experiencing community, and reaching out to the world around them — having worked with some of them firsthand). But they are rare in my experience and observation. The same can be said about any kind of church — institutional, denominational, etc. Excellent churches are a rare find in our day, period.
There are thousands of “house churches.” But that which I speak about in my books is something that is costly to birth, survive and thrive. So for those living in the West at least, it’s neither popular nor common. This has always been the case when it comes to authentic Christ-centered communities. History bears this out.
That said, I encourage people to begin the process of gathering under Christ where they live instead of trying to find a group to attach themselves to. The great need today is for more expressions of the body of Christ living in Christian community under the headship of Jesus. It is for this very reason that I wrote Finding Organic Church. In Part 3 of that book, I give step-by-step instructions on how to plant the seed for an organic expression of the church to take root right where you live.
Many churches have been spawned by the book. I’ve not planted most of them and have no relationship with them at all, they just carried out the principles in the book.
All of the suggestions in the book have come out of my experience of over 20 years of gathering with, planting, working with, and observing organic expressions of the church, including mistakes and successful discoveries from the journey. So the content isn’t theoretical; it was hammered out on the anvil of real life. I trust you will find it of help.
In the meantime, ask God to bring you into a relationship with people who love Jesus where you live. If you can find some, you’ve found a precious thing, regardless of the form it may take or the kind of church to which they might belong. Don’t make the mistake of getting hung up on insisting on finding the perfect organic church before you decline fellowship with other Christians. It may take years for the kind of church experience you’re seeking to come into existence, and God may want you to first develop friendships with the believers in your area, even though they may be in structures that are not according to your ideal.
June 12, 2012: My wife and I are planning on leaving our church. Do you have any suggestions on how best to do it?
I’ve received this question often over the years. So much so that I wrote an entire post answering it. You can find my 13 cents at How (Not) to Leave a Church.
June 11, 2012: Is Frank related to the baseball player, is he married to a wife, is he a father, does he have any pets, and what are his hobbies?
There’s no relationship to the baseball player except for distant roots in Italy. The rest is answered in the About page.
June 10, 2012: What are some of the ways that organic churches perform marriages (weddings) and funerals?
I’m glad you used the term “organic churches” because organic church isn’t a monolith. In fact, as I’ve argued many times, the term means nothing now because so many people use it to describe VERY different expressions of church. But churches non-traditional churches have weddings in all sorts of different ways. Some create their own weddings and the marriage license is signed before or later by a judge or sometimes an ex-pastor in the group who still has an unexpired clergy license.
In some states, any person who is regarded to be “clergy” can sign the certificate, so in many organic churches, everyone is viewed as the clergy, so anyone can sign the marriage certificate legally. Again, it depends on the state. Some couples like traditional weddings, so they go with that. Some get really creative, and with the help of the church, put on weddings that include dramas, plays, and have people in the church involved. A couple’s or group’s creativity is the limit. The same with funerals. Each family member (and church) does it the way they want. Again, organic church isn’t a monolith so each group does these things differently. There’s no one way of doing it and no “right” answer to the question.
June 4, 2012: I’ve read your books Reimagining Church and Finding Organic Church and it’s obvious to me that you have a lot of experience in organic church. You even mention that you were a non leader in an organic church before you started to plant organic churches. Can you briefly share a little about your experience?”
Sure. I’ve spoken about it in other places, but in brief, my first experience of organic church life was when I was in college. I was part of an informal community of believers who had a vibrant shared life in Christ. We had no “leaders” and didn’t call ourselves a church. But we touched the experience of body life and there was a lot of ministry (including the casting out of demons). I didn’t know it at the time of course, for I had no language or understanding for it. But it was a real, powerful, and healthy expression of organic church life. And it wrecked me for life.
Following that experience, I was part of a spontaneous burst of body life for 8 long years. The experience was so intense that we crammed 16 years into 8 in that church. That experience was the initial basis of my books and ministry to organic churches. It served as a seedbed of many experiences and lessons from which to draw — many from mistakes, failed experiments, and wonderful discoveries by God’s grace.
It was a healthy expression, glorious at times, but also filled with bouts of gore and crisis as is the case with all authentic organic churches (the NT is the summary witness of this, once you get past the honeymoon period). We had no pastor and no religious building, only Christ, and we survived for many years.
That 8-year experience of authentic Christian community is where I learned many of the lessons I’ve since written about, all born from real life experience. An oft-quoted statement of mine, “organic church life is a wedding of glory and gore” isn’t a bloodless platitude; it’s been my experience and observation for many years. In November of 1995, that church laid hands on me and sent me out to the work of church planting. I spoke about many of the lessons I learned during that experience of body life in the 2005 Portland Conference.
Following that experience, I was part of another expression where I was again a non-leader, but a brother among other brothers and sisters. It was an “Antioch” of sorts for me; someone else had planted the church. I would travel and report back to the fellowship upon my return. The years in that fellowship were intense, and the group was pretty strong on the Christian community side while I was there (before I relocated to another city).
Since then, I’ve been part of several organic churches in the capacity of a brother as well as someone who laid the foundation with other coworking. Several years ago I was part of a church after the “Jerusalem” model where I and other coworkers lived among the saints while laying the foundation to a beautiful expression of the ekklesia.
Today, I’m in a new season where I’m not focused on organic church at all, but am building relationships with non-Christians and the poor. (See my post Blessed Are the Undesirable.) I am also traveling a lot and developing relationships with Christians and leaders who are part of institutional churches. But as you rightly pointed out, my books aren’t a study in arm-chair philosophy, but represent over 20 years of on-the-ground experience in authentic organic expressions of the church. I’ve never returned to the institutional church since I left 24 years ago (to date).
And as I’ve repeated elsewhere, much of what I’ve learned about the church comes from the body of Christ in the trenches. I consider myself to be an observing botanist, watching the life of the ekklesia in different forms and cultures and the various seasons through which she passes. I’ve often said that there are no experts in the business of the ekklesia, but experience is an invaluable teacher. And sometimes a painful one. Nonetheless, I’m still in school, and as my Twitter profile puts it: I’m “always learning, never arriving.”
October 6, 2011: I’ve been talking to a friend and want your feedback on something. My friend has never read any of your books, but he’s heard about Pagan Christianity and says that there is no difference between a pastor receiving a salary for his ministry and an author who receives money for books, a music artist who receives money for a CD, and a film producer who receives money for a film. I can think of a few differences between these and a pastor who gets paid to give sermons, but what is your response to this? Can you also talk about your own practice when it comes to book sales and receiving honorariums when you speak?
Great questions. I’ve already addressed this a few years ago elsewhere, but I’ll address it again here.
You are right. There are major differences. So the comparison is not valid. It’s like comparing bananas with lemons. Let me explain.
An author who writes a printed book – whether a Christian or not – is creating a tangible product that costs money to produce. The same with a music artist who puts out a CD or a film producer who creates a film or DVD. These are tangible products that cost money to produce. They don’t appear out of thin air.
I don’t personally know anyone who has a problem with a person – even a pastor – who produces a book and allows a publisher to charge for it. Or a person – even a pastor – who produces a music CD and recoups the cost by selling it. The same with a film-maker. It would be different if these items cost nothing to produce. But they cost a lot of money, actually.
As to your other question, over 97% of my material is free of charge (over 800 Blog posts, over 101 Podcast episodes, 2 of my eBooks (Rethinking the Will of God & Discipleship in Crisis) and my audio seminar, The Next Reformation, are all free.
Plus, I don’t demand an honorarium when I speak and when I plant or work with a church, I don’t charge a penny.
(Oh, and it’s silly to compare a book that costs money to publish or a CD that cost money to produce to “Paul’s letters which were free.” My letters are free also. But the last time I checked, most quality Bibles cost money. So the comparison is ludicrous.)
While I have no problem with a pastor (or any other author or artist) who profits personally from their book sales, music sales, or film sales, I have chosen not to.
In addition, I don’t profit personally from my published book sales. That money is designated to help the poor and to pay for ministry expenses.
A clergy salary is a totally different animal from producing a tangible product like a printed book, CD, or DVD. Those like John Howard Yoder, Watchman Nee, Roland Allen, Jon Zens, and many others who have objected to clergy salaries on the basis of the New Testament and church history point out that salaried pastors are being paid to be a “professional religious specialist” and to regularly preach sermons to a congregation.
They are being paid to be “the minister” for a group of God’s people, when in fact the New Testament calls every believer to be a minister, a priest, and a functioning part of the body of Christ. In a church that’s operating according to New Testament principles, every member functions, ministers, serves, shares, contributes, etc.
(To such churches, paying a “minister” would be unthinkable. They would respond by saying, “Excuse me, but we are all carrying a piece of the ark. We all function, we all take care of the church, we all minister, we all serve, etc. Does that mean we all should get paid?”).
More and more scholars today are pointing out that the modern institutional church has separated God’s people into clergy and laity (a separation that both Karl Barth and James D.G. Dunn decried as being heretical).
And there is no biblical basis for this separation. Yet it is the major justification for modern clergy salaries. The clergy are the producers of spiritual commodities; the laity are the consumers. The clergy are the entertainers; the laity are the spectators.
Many of the 1,800+ pastors who leave the clergy system in the USA per month have left because they’ve come to the conviction that the pastorate in its modern form is unbiblical and their conscience doesn’t square with playing the role of a professional minister.
Be sure to read the first testimonial.
I happen to agree. And for that reason (here’s the answer to your last question), I’ve never charged for my ministry of shepherding God’s people, instructing them, encouraging them, taking care of them, and navigating them through problems.
Nor do I charge an honorarium when I speak in a church or at a conference. If people wish to give a gift out of love or appreciation, that’s fine and perfectly scriptural (Galatians 6:6). But I don’t require or ask for it.
While I have no problem with authors who charge honorariums, I’ve chosen not to require this when I’m invited to speak somewhere. (This has raised a few eye-brows from conference hosts. They are not accustomed to it. Especially when some authors I know charge $10,000 a day for one talk.)
In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul tells us that apostolic workers (who are itinerant and not local like elders/overseers are) have a spiritual right to receive financial support. This wasn’t a set salary (as Watchman Nee points out in his book, The Normal Christian Life. But it referred to financial gifts. Apostolic workers lived by faith then and they should do so today.)
However, Paul chose not to exercise this right, so as not to be a burden on God’s people. He also instructed the local elders to follow his example and not take from God’s people, but rather to give to them (Acts 20).
While I have no problem with genuine apostolic workers receiving financial support today (just as Peter did, for example), I’ve chosen to raise the same standard that Paul did. And I’d personally like to see more servants of the Lord do the same.
Yet Peter’s receiving financial support from God’s people is very different from a set clergy salary. (Watchman Nee’s argument differentiating the two in his book, The Normal Christian Church Life, is brilliant.)
I deal with the historical data for when the Christian clergy emerged and started to receive a salary in Pagan Christianity And in Reimagining Church, I address the biblical data regarding ministry support in the New Testament, including the oft-quoted passage in 1 Timothy 5 that deals with granting “double-honor” to some of the elders.
Note that I have good friends who are salaried pastors and this issue doesn’t hinder our fellowship. As Christians, we can agree to disagree on various points of Scripture and still stand together with respect to the Lordship of Jesus. It’s not an issue.
Here are three other places where I’ve discussed this question. So you may want to check them out as well:
Frankly Speaking: “I Don’t Like Christians” & Why Christianity is a Joke to Many (This is addresses those demanding a “hand-out” from hard-working artists.)
Questions and Answers from the Blog Survey
What is your view of the rapture and second coming of Christ?
In your opinion, what is the most important thing for churches that are strong in community and for Christian workers to know?
Answered here The Message Most Needed, But the One Few Want to Hear
Can you give another example of Christianeze from what you wrote in Revise Us Again?
And there’s also Answers to Hot-Boiling Questions
There were so many other questions from the survey that I had to break my response into 5 parts. Here is part 1.
What do you think God’s role is in the mega disasters we are seeing around us and tragedies like school shootings of innocents?
Those questions are above my pay-grade. So the short answer is, I don’t know.
However, I believe that God weeps with those who weep. And He isn’t the author of these horrific tragedies. How that exactly comports with an all-powerful, all-knowing God, here are some thoughts I have about that. In God’s Favorite Place on Earth, I address imponderables like the ones you mention saying,
If I can use an illustration, we mortals are living on pages 300 to 400 of a 2,000-page book. Only God can see the whole book—the entire story. And He has given us the ability to see only pages 300 to 400.
We have no capacity to understand what’s on pages 1 to 299 or pages 401 to 2,000. We can only speculate and assume what’s in them. Hence we create all sorts of intricate theological systems to explain mysteries we don’t understand.
The Lord doesn’t show us all His plot twists. So life comes down to trusting in the Lord rather than trying to figure out His ways through our finite, limited understanding. Yet with one another, we can better discover and understand what’s in pages 300 to 400 and thereby learn to live more effectively within them.
Mary of Bethany didn’t understand why Jesus didn’t come to heal Lazarus. But she trusted Him nonetheless. Let us learn how to trust a God we don’t fully understand.
The big point there is that God is infinite and we mortals are not. This was understood pretty well in the world until the mid 18th century, when God’s existence was rendered impossible because of the existence of evil (the earthquake in Lisbon in 1755 is usually the point of reference for historians for this new kind of thinking).
Secularism developed around that time and humans exalted themselves as having both the wisdom and answers to solve all of their problems. The Enlightenment rendered God to be a myth that reflected primitive thinking.
But if God is beyond our comprehension, as my 2,000 page book analogy illustrates, then tragedy, evil, and suffering are inexplicable to us, but not to God.
We are like pawns who are able to move by ourselves, but the chessboard is so big we can’t even see the edges.
So we have a choice to either trust in His wisdom or trust in our limited, pathetic understanding. Christians have contended from the beginning that human reason is limited (see 1 Cor. 1-2), and I certainly believe it is.
How do you explain the needless suffering, pain, and death in the world and can you give me any good books on the subject?
I can’t. But I’ll present a few ideas that are built on my answer above.
That said, I believe the cross of Jesus Christ gives us a peek into how God looks at human suffering. When Jesus died, everyone who followed Him — along with His enemies — regarded it as a defeat. But in the ineffable counsels of the Godhead, it was a victory. If God can turn great good out of the slaying and suffering of the innocent Son of God, then He can do the same in our suffering.
Sometimes we come to understand the “great good” in this life. Other times it is hidden from us.
As for books on the topic, here are the ones I recommend.
The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis – this does a good job with the free-will defense of evil. Though that defense is limited.
A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis – more unsettling and written out of personal experience, but helpful.
Walking with God through Pain and Suffering by Tim Keller – a contemporary look at the subject that’s well crafted and carefully thought out.
On Losing a Loved One an interview with Ben Witherington – deals with the pain of losing a family member or close friend and Ben’s book on the subject.
Again, I deal with it also in God’s Favorite Place on Earth.
Do you mentor younger guys who want to learn from your experience?
I have before and I’m considering doing a mentoring stint in the future that’s completely focused on productivity and creativity. It will delve deep into my creative process and my productivity “hacks,” including my process of writing 16 books, over 700 blog posts, and releasing 90 podcast episodes. If you are interested in this, email PTMIN@aol.com and include your age, where you live, and your Facebook url.
I know that several years ago you paused your ministry of planting organic churches to focus on helping the poor and give attention on your more general ministry of the deeper Christian life. Are you still in that season or have you resumed your work with organic church?
For those who are new to the blog, two years ago I announced that my ministry was shifting focus. I’ve not been involved in “organic church” since that time. That includes planting new churches, encouraging and equipping existing ones, and writing books on the subject.
In fact, I’ve not written a book on ecclesiology since 2009. And the last church I planted was in 2010, four years ago.
Instead, my writing focus has been on “The Deeper Journey.”
Much of my time “on the ground” is spent helping the poor and developing relationships with non-Christians, which takes a lot of time.
So Frank Viola shouldn’t be considered “the organic church” guy. Most of my books aren’t on that topic, and the same is true for my podcast episodes and blog posts. In fact, I’ve only written 3 books on that topic!
Jesus Manifesto really sumps up the heart of my ministry and my contribution to this generation.
My burden is for evangelical Christians to learn the deeper things of Christ — moving beyond the shallows of the faith — and to treat one another the same way they want to be treated in all situations (Matt. 7:12). That’s why this blog is called “Beyond Evangelical.” My book by the same name goes into detail on this topic.
Someday I will return to planting organic expressions of the church and working with Christian communities, but I’m not sure when that will be. It could be 5 to 10 years from now.
What is your view of universalism?
If by “universalism” you mean that God will save everyone in the end, without repentance and faith in Christ, then I disavow it. I hold to the orthodox creeds of the Christian faith.
What would your advice be to someone who left the organized church but for certain reasons has been called back to it for a season? Looking for some perspective. Trying to be obedient and love the people, but finding it easier said than done in a setting I find difficult to handle.
I’ve never encouraged a person to leave the institutional church nor have I ever encouraged someone to leave a non-institutional church. I’ve always maintained that leaving or becoming part of a local assembly — regardless of the type — is a decision that you (and your spouse, if you’re married) should make before the Lord.
I add more to this question in my post How (Not) to Leave a Church.
I’ve always been impressed with your ministry since I found out that you don’t profit personally from your books and don’t require an honorarium when you speak. This is pretty much unheard of today. What do you do for your personal income then?
I’ve done different things over the years from construction work, teaching high school, to writing software for a mortgage company, to real estate investing. At the moment, my part of the family income today comes from advertisers and affiliates on my blog, something that any blogger – no matter what their faith persuasion is – can do if they have enough readers. (I only allow advertisements on the blog for products and services that I believe are valuable to others or that I use myself.)
I also do seminars to help bloggers and writers (of any type or faith genre) to earn income from their writing passion. While I don’t profit personally from my own book sales, I have no problem with the Stephen Kings, Anne Lamotts, Max Lucados, etc. who do. I’m also involved in an electronics business with a friend. It helps people save money by buying quality (reliable and enduring) electronics at a discounted price.
As a Christian businessman, I’ve grown weary of Christians who have a distorted idea of money, marketing, and selling. Have you ever written on this topic?
Yes, and the problem is pervasive. See this links that go into the subject.
If anyone goes over the above links with an open mind and heart, it will do a lot toward solving the problem that you speak about.
What do you say about the current trend to return to “Hebrew roots?”
If by “Hebrew roots” you mean the trend for Gentile Christians to begin observing Jewish customs and rituals, then I have two points to make.
1. Learning the story from Abraham to Jesus . . . and learning Second Temple Judaism . . . helps us to understand the Jesus Story. I’ve argued for and even demonstrated this in Jesus: A Theography and The Untold Story of the New Testament Church.
2. But when it comes to making the observation of Jewish customs obligatory based on a notion of “Hebrew roots,” I believe this is misguided. As I explained in From Eternity to Here, the Christian’s roots precede Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They go back to eternity past where we were chosen in Christ “before the foundation of the world.” We are part of a new creation, which is neither Jew nor Gentile.
Jesus of Nazareth, our founder and head, was Jewish in His physical body. But His roots are eternal. He is the head of the new creation, which is neither Jew nor Gentile.
So for the Christian, our roots aren’t Hebrew. They are part of something that extends far before. “Before Abraham was, I Am,” Jesus said. Those are the true roots of the Christian. The book of Hebrews addresses this as well. Our high priest is after the order of Melchizedek, not Aaron.
Anyone who is into “Hebrew roots” needs to get immersed in the letters of Ephesians and Colossians. See also A letter that dropped out of heaven.
Have you written on how to conduct a new gathering or even how to start one?
Yes, in Finding Organic Church. That’s one of my 3 books on body life.
I’m confused about elders, pastors, shepherds, and overseers. Have you written about this?
Yes, extensively in Reimagining Church. They are all the same person, but each title describes a different aspect of that person’s function. The New Testament makes this quite plain. Elders are overseers and shepherds (pastors).
What’s your view of water baptism?
Have you done any work in apologetics, defending the gospel?
Yes, see Missional Living.
Tell me about the Anabaptists.
Answered in The Anabaptists and The Reformers and Their Stepchildren by Leonard Verduin (book).
How do I overcome hurts from God’s people as well as frustration, fear, discouragement, lethargy, and rejection?
I wrote a book that addresses and treats all of these problems. It’s called God’s Favorite Place on Earth.
When are you coming to South Africa? When you are you coming to England? When you are coming to Miami? When are you coming to New Zealand?
When I’m invited by a church or a conference in those cities, I’ll prayerfully consider a visit.
See my events page on how to book for me for an event.
I’ve written about this previously, but I’m in a season right now where I’m not visiting small churches. I only travel 6 times a year right now, so I’m choosing the larger venues at this time. The truth is, I can reach far more people through my podcast messages and online courses than I can at live events without the cost of traveling, staying in a hotel, meals, etc.
So I’m very selective on what invitations I accept.
I know you teach on how to live by the indwelling life, but is it possible to really teach on how to live by a life not their own?
Of course. If not, I wouldn’t be preaching and teaching on it for years.
Can you put all of the songs you wrote in one place?
It’s already been done. At least some of them that I wrote. See 7 New Songs.
What was Paul’s thorn in the flesh?
Answered in Rethinking Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh
Spiritual deserts/dark nights/”apparent desertion by God “- how to survive during those times?
I address this subject in a full chapter in Revise Us Again.
How did the early church meet?
Very broad question. I delve into it in Reimagining Church. It’s a presentation of the how the first-century church compares and contrasts with most churches today.
How do I reach the unsaved in my family?
See my post on the unsaved loved ones in the Archives.
What is your view of the gifts of the Spirit and the baptism of the Spirit?
I did a lengthy series on these two topics on the blog. See the Archives.
Tell us about tithing.
I wrote an entire chapter on it in Pagan Christianity with George Barna. Go there to read my thoughts. They are way too detailed for this post. The chapter includes full documentation.
How is it exactly that we are to “take up our cross,” what does it mean?
I just blogged about this. See my “The Message Most Needed” post in the Archives.
Being Spiritual: What does it really mean?
According to the New Testament, it means walking in the Spirit and not the flesh or the natural life. So it’s a walk in love, treating others the way you want to be treated in every situation which includes self-denial.
How do I find an organic church?
I’ve answered this on my FAQ page. See the June 27, 2012 question and answer.
Pray without ceasing. What does this practically look like in a Christians life nowadays?
I believe it refers to turning to the Lord throughout your waking hours. I cover this in detail (and very practically) in Living by the Indwelling Life of Christ.
Any chance of a “Pagan Christianity II”?
Nope. I’ve moved on from writing on ecclesiological issues in 2009. Since then, I’ve been writing on God’s eternal purpose, Jesus studies, and the deeper Christian life. I plan to write on those three themes over the next five years as there’s a great deal more to explore. I’ve said all I want to say about radical church reform in my ReChurch series and the Pagan Christianity Q and A page.
Can you discuss ways that Christians can be more Christlike? Too many times Christians are so unkind and mean-spirited that it turns people away. Your thoughts?
I’ve covered this topic extensively on this blog as it’s part of my contribution to the Body of Christ. Here are some examples:
What is the Gospel?
What is your view on women in ministry?
Answered in Rethinking Women in Ministry.
One of my friends said you were part of the emerging/emergent church movement. I told him that he was misinformed, but I wanted to get it straight from the horse’s mouth.
Interestingly, my fiercest critics come from liberal Christian quarters who take issue with my belief that the Bible is fully reliable, authoritative, and inspired, my teaching that Jesus is fully Divine and fully human and the only way to salvation, and my adherence to the Christian Creeds.
I’ve expounded on the above themes in the past in these posts:
In the past, I’ve spoken at a few emerging church conferences with N.T. Wright and Shane Claiborne. But like Wright (and I presume Claiborne), I’m not part of the Emerging church even though I have friends who are part of it. We agree to disagree on a number of viewpoints.
How is Christ more than just Jesus the man now?
What is your view on Christian mysticism?
Answered in On Mysticism.
How do we apply NT church principles to today’s situation?
What happened to Jesus between the cross and the resurrection?
Len Sweet and I answer this question in detail on this in Jesus: A Theography. Too much to cover here.
Frank has referenced his work with the homeless some. However, I would like to hear more about this ministry.
Any thoughts on how to better share the gospel?
Answered in Rethinking How We Present the Gospel.
What is your view on homosexuality?
Answered in Answers to Hot-Boiling Questions
Frank, what’s happening with the most powerful Gospel presentations that have been sent to you?
I’m still sifting through them. They are videos so it takes a long time. Other projects beckon.
When will Frank stop being so ecumenical?
You have to be new to my ministry to ask such a question.
If by “ecumenical” you mean why do I fellowship with other Christians with whom I differ on peripheral doctrines and practices, then the answer is: When Jesus Christ returns, I’ll consider stopping.
Jesus and the apostles were quite clear: It’s carnal to be sectarian and sinful to be exclusive when it comes to those who have trusted in Christ.
Please read Getting Rid of a Sectarian Spirit Once and For All and Rethinking Christian Unity. And remember these words of Jesus from Mark 9:
“Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.” “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.
I’ve written extensively on the principle of cooperation without compromise. For example, I can cooperate with a Catholic or an Anglican or someone from the Eastern Orthodox Church in the kingdom work of helping the poor, and not compromise my distinct beliefs about the ekklesia of God.
What are your thoughts on Christian Unity?
Answered in Rethinking Christian Unity
The Trinity – how it relates to our relationship with God and people.
I’ve explained this extensively in From Eternity to Here, Reimagining Church, andFinding Organic Church. Though I prefer to use the term triune God. There’s also a post on it in the Archives.
What are your thoughts on grace vs. law?
Answered in these two posts:
Have you addressed equipping Church Planters anywhere?
Yes, in Finding Organic Church.
What do you think about the third wave movement?
Broad question. Some things I like about it, others I don’t. I talk about both inReimagining Church, last chapter.
Were we sanctified, being sanctified, or will be sanctified?
The New Testament teaches all three. It does with the same with the word “salvation.”
What Bible tools do you recommend?
See these two lists:
The Christian response to Mental Illness?
Answered in 3 Christian Responses to Mental Illness
What are your thoughts on going to heaven?
The Bible teaches that heavenly places will descend on the earth (see Rev. 21-22). And the ultimate end of salvation is not going to heaven, but the bodily resurrection. I recommend N.T. Wright’s book, Surprised by Hope for details. I also treat it in From Eternity to Here.
The relationship of Israel and the Church; the place of Israel in end time prophecy; is replacement theology (or extension theology)?
I address this in Jesus: A Theography. I don’t believe in “replacement theology.” I would call the biblical view “fulfillment theology,” yet God may have something in store for national Israel according to Romans 9-11.
Can you comment on Acts 2:46, the temple vs. the house to house?
This is one of the most misunderstood and misused texts in the New Testament. I address the subject in detail in Reimagining Church.
What does New Testament “leadership” look like?
See The Myth of Christian Leadership and Reimagining Church. The second half of that book is all about leadership according to the New Testament.
Can you tell me about Jesus being a rabbi?
Answered in Jesus: A Theography. There’s much more to the subject than meets the eye.
What is the apostolic ministry today and how do we recognize it?
I’ve written an entire book answering this question. A very big subject. It’s calledFinding Organic Church.
What is your view on discipleship and how we do it today?
Large topic. I’ve covered this extensively in my new eBook DISCIPLESHIP IN CRISIS. Click here to get a free copy.
What is your opinion of original sin?
Both Scripture and experience testify that we humans are born sinners. Our very nature is selfish, which is the opposite of love. For more, see The Normal Christian Church Life by Watchman Nee.
In Pagan Christianity, Frank does a wonderful job at separating the biblical from the extra-biblical church traditions, and pointing out that many of our current church practices and traditions came from pagan roots. What does Frank think about the efforts of many American Christians to fight to keep “Christ” in Christmas, and to protect the religious aspect of Easter holidays? It is my understanding that these “Christian” holidays started as pagan celebrations that were co-opted by the Church for Christian purposes. As such, should Christians really be overly concerned about the secularization of these holidays?
This is a subject that doesn’t interest me at all. I gave my thoughts on it years ago here.