I spent this week listening to five messages from James MacDonald. James and I are very different. He is a megachurch pastor; I am not. He is not emerging; I appreciate parts of the emerging church conversation. He has an entourage; I do not. Mostly, we differ a lot on style and personality, which really isn’t that important.
Here’s what I learned from him this week, and why I appreciated him:
1. We are not unique – James loves to confront the church on where it has accommodated culture. He did a great talk on how we are not unique and we need to stop our self-absortion and quest for self-fulfilment. He made some good points here. No matter how much we critique our therapeutic culture, we still carry some of that into our faith. This was a good reminder that it really isn’t about us.
2. Don’t soften the hard edges – Sometimes you get the sense that we try to soften the hard edges of the Bible. James refuses to do this. I think (and I could be wrong) that some of us have become comfortable challenging churches with hard truths, but we’re not as comfortable stating hard truths to the culture at large. We need to be able to do both. I learned and saw this in James’ life. He doesn’t soften the message for anybody.
3. Don’t complicate simple issues – James can be faulted, I think, for sometimes oversimplifying complex issues. I could be faulted, I think, for overcomplicating simple issues. I think I can learn from him.
4. Live what you say – James was talking about personal integrity and holiness. He said that he has filters on his computer and his home TV has a code that only his wife knows. It was nice to see someone talk about this and to admit that he’s put stuff in his own life to prevent him from doing things he preaches against.
5. Don’t confuse style and substance – James is conservative in doctrine but quite flexible in style. It was good for him to demonstrate that we shouldn’t confuse issues of style and substance. The two don’t go together.
6. Appreciate those who are wired differently – Despite James teaching that we are not all unique, it’s quite clear that James could be nobody else but James. One of the best moments of self-awareness came when he outlined three styles of teaching, and acknowledged that any one style (including his – prophetic and confrontational) needs the others. I was glad to see James realize that he needed others with different styles. This is a good insight for all of us.
7. Communication styles are changing – I don’t know what this means, but James is the more old-style tell-it-like-it-is preacher, and isn’t primarily conversational. He seems to have a strong following among younger generations. Maybe there is a shift away from conversational speaking styles back to proclamational. This might be a trend worth watching.
8. Love your wife – James gave the best message I’ve ever heard to men on marriage. It would be hard to walk away and not be challenged in a positive way.
9. Make room for men in the church – James doesn’t seem to lack testosterone. He might go the other way, but he made some good points about churches being more feminine than masculine (flowers, sappy songs). Worth thinking about.
I think we can learn from those who are different from us. These are some of the ways I benefited from someone this week who is very different than I am.