National Pastors Convention 2: Tony Campolo says “Risk More!”

I've heard Tony Campolo speak enough to know you're in trouble when he takes off his glasses and squints his eyes so tight they disappear into his skull. At that moment his brain is loading a spiritual bombshell into his mouth and preparing it for delivery. Campolo's bombs found their target on Wednesday night at the National Pastors Convention is San Diego.

He formed his talk around a sociological study (Campolo is a sociologist by training) conducted with people over the age of 95. The survey asked them, if you could do life over again what would you do differently? Most responses fell into three categories:

1. Reflect more

2. Risk more

3. Do more that will live on after I'm gone

While each of his points were powerful, I was especially impacted by Campolo's exhortation that church leaders take up their prophetical calling to be the opinion shapers of the culture - a calling that always involves risk.

Campolo spoke about the Old Testament roles of priest and prophet. The priests cared for the people, comforted them, and blessed them. The prophets, on the other hand, lived in the hills, came down to make everyone angry, and then went back to the hills. They were the troublemakers.

But we pastors have a problem. We are called to be both priests and prophets. That means, says Campolo, that we are called to "comfort the troubled, and trouble the comfortable." Although this appears to be a contradiction, Campolo was insistent that we can and must do both. He says "it's the work of the pastor that legitimates the work of the prophet." By caring and loving our people we win the right to speak the hard truth into their lives.

What is the hard truth we need to be prophetically declaring? Campolo (glasses removed and squinted eyes buried in his skull) rebuked evangelical church leaders for being silent on issues like poverty, education, war, government sponsored torture, and economic injustice.

Referring to John 6 where Jesus alienated thousands of his followers through his challenging teaching, Campolo called us to "risk more;" to not be afraid of alienating people by declaring unpopular truth; to be like Christ who only had twelve followers remain (and that was only because they had no where else to go).

For some time I've been wondering why there are so few prophetic voices in our churches. We have many prophets in evangelical America, many willing to say difficult things into a comfortable culture. But most of these voices are not pastors. We seem to push the prophets out of our pulpits and into academia, the conference circuit, or publishing. Where are the "in the pulpit" pastors who are confronting and shaping the church with their prophetic imaginations?

February 23, 2006

Displaying 1–10 of 24 comments

Mike Clawson

March 03, 2006  5:05pm

Tony's preaching can only give you a guilt trip if you have something to feel guilty about. Are you and your church already out there serving the poor and fighting injustice? Then you should have no reason to feel guilty when Tony reminds us of our responsibilities to the poor and the oppressed. Sometimes guilt is a healthy warning sign that something is wrong.

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March 03, 2006  4:13pm

Richard, If you "suspected" that people would misunderstand your post, why didn't you clarify it to begin with?

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John Webb

March 02, 2006  4:32pm

This post should not be taken as an attack on anyone here. If it seems a tad impassioned, that's because it is a topic I care deeply about. But, there is no offense intended against anyone. I have been on both sides of this argument in my day and I seek only to impart my 2 cents worth of hindsight for all to ponder. Right or wrong, it represents the conclusions I have come to thus far in my service to the Lord and his people. Initiating ministries that feed and educate the poor as Campolo does is hardly guilt manipulation. What is he supposed to do–sit in his Christian-made rocking chair and discuss the aspects of salvation the rest of his days like most everyone else while 64,000 people a day starve to death? The knowledge of the Kingdom to which God has imparted to Dr. Campolo is knowledge that God says he will be held accountable for. His commitment to the faith leaves him with little choice but to put that knowledge to action. If the church as a whole spent as much energy on eradicating poverty, injustice and oppression as it does building its towers of Babel and demonizing each other, we would largely fix what's wrong with the world. And the witness of such charity and compassion would draw more people to Christianity than every other gimmick and church growth agenda combined. Jesus broke the cycle of evil by loving even his enemies. Evil is empowered by retaliation and is disarmed by compassion. There is no greater risk than to love. It killed Jesus and it continues to kill those who are committed to following in his footsteps. But in the end, it is ironically the only way that will lead to life. We spend far too much time making enemies in the name of Jesus than we do loving them in His name. Tony is compelled to believe that it is time to say no to status quo preaching. He is convinced that certain elements of our faith have hi-jacked the true message of Jesus and have replaced Jesus himself with a conservative Republican warrior god who goes by the same name. He is calling pastors to take a bold, prophetic stand against the yeast of the Pharisees. I am decidedly more right-leaning than Tony, but I am with him on this one. Western theology has gotten WAY out of balance. Look, the problems we are facing in church leadership are no one's fault per se. We're all together in this struggle to maintain a relevant, yet Christ-centered witness in these confusing times. But, I simply believe that we must be willing to admit that there is a problem; admit that we have drifted from our commission, and that we have, perhaps unconsciously, clung to the traditions of the elders while failing to apply the teaching of Jesus in ways that actively confront the challenges of the new millenium. Adding the latter to our preaching and mission is what gives it the prophetic balance which Tony speaks of. I pray that we would all be humble and bold enough to lead God's people out of the quagmire of materialism and narcissism to which we have been sinking. I pray that God will rise up the prophets among us.

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Merlyn Klaus

March 01, 2006  9:54am

So Richard Miller, following your logic I must now assume that most of the people Peter, Paul, James, John etc. wrote to in their epistles were lost. Also, while it's true the Holy Spirit brings about change, does He not use powerful and challenging messages to accomplish that ? Did the messages of Amos, Micah, and Malachi have elements of guilt manipulation? And I'm really trying to figure out how in the world Tony Campolo ends up being placed in a special category of sinners.

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Mike Clawson

February 28, 2006  5:38pm

So what makes Barna or you the judge of who is saved and who is not? As far as I know that knowledge was not entrusted to me or any other human being. Only God knows, and it's not my business to find out. My only concern is to love God, love others and make disciples. And as for guilt, funny how evangelicals will out of one side of their mouth complain that people don't talk about sin and guilt enough anymore in our society; and yet when someone like Campolo brings up sins that they themselves are guilty of (like greed, materialism, and a lack of compassion for the poor) all of a sudden they accuse him of focusing too much on guilt. It seems like we're only interested in talking about guilt when it's someone else's sins we're pointing out (e.g. those homosexuals, those pro-choicers, those "liberals").

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Vernon Burrow

February 28, 2006  4:57pm

It's hard to preach all the gospel without being labeled as a "Right Rebublication" or a "Liberal Democrat". That's the risk we have to take. But always we must speak from the heart of the shepherd and that the people know you love them and are deeply concerned about the hurts and joys that are ever before them in the days of their lives.

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Richard Miller

February 28, 2006  11:53am

To those who missed my point as I suspected you would: You're putting the cart before the horse. People do not change from the outside-in. If you see "the church" or a particular person who claims Christ ignoring their responsibility to "give to the least of these," how can you possibly assume that that person is really saved? And if you browbeat anyone into changing their behavior, regardless of what the external issue is, and that person has not come to saving faith, what have you accomplished? The Holy Spirit alone will change people and lead them to acts of charity, etc. But first must come individual repentance. It is human nature to wishfully think that a person who is known for philanthropy is a Christian. But do I really need to remind you that our good works are evidence of salvation and not the thing that saves us? Read Barna's statistics. The American Church is crawling with people who are self-deceived into thinking that they are saved. That's not my opinion. That's straight out of Barna's surveys. If you are in the pulpit and frustrated because you see little in terms of action from the congregation, you had better get back to the straight Gospel because you are preaching to the lost. Just be thankful that God has given you that opportunity. One other thing that I hope this blog will explore fully is that Campolo's message smacks of guilt manipulation. To focus on helping the poor is one thing but to do so by seeking to create a resentment of "the rich" (whoever THEY are) is a violation of the tenth commandment. "Thou shalt not covet your neighbor's..." To lead others into a sin in order to accomplish some social purpose is a special kind of sin in itself.

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Dave Vander Laan

February 28, 2006  10:24am

If nothing else, at least Tony Campolo is consistent. I would dare say that one of the first things any of us heard Tony preach was his 'It's Friday But Sunday's Coming' sermon. Who could ever believe something like Easter would occur following a day like Good Friday? But isn't that exactly the role of a prophet - bringing to our hearing 'hard things' that are so outrageous they could only possibly come from an extravagantly loving God who refuses to give up on us?

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Merlyn Klaus

February 28, 2006  9:33am

Richard Miller ..You said that preachers should stick to the Word and that you look for those who preach the Bible one line at a time. With your apparent respect for the Word and commitment to thoroughness, one would think that at some time in your study you would have come across the same issues Tony Campolo raises. One would have to be very selective not to.

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February 27, 2006  1:00am

I think this is a great dialogue–all of it. I hope those connected with Churchs will point Youth and Young Adults to this blog. Better to be reading this than doing some of the other things we do on computers...

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