I am a youth pastor, and Voddie Bauchaum is my friend. Those two facts may seem contradictory, but I assure you that they are not. And when I describe myself as a youth pastor, I’m talking about a Wednesday night youth-grouping, beach-day footballing, summer-camp preaching, small-group promoting, lock-in hosting, real live youth pastor. For me “chubby bunny” isn’t just a lifestyle, it’s a mandate.
And yet Voddie and I are friends. We talk on the phone. Our families have mingled. We have eaten Mexican food together. I’ve been to his church and he’s been to mine. We’ve talked about football and fundamentalism.
Our uncommon bond has a unique origin. I first met Voddie at the 2011 Shepherds’ conference under rather uncomfortable circumstances. I was presenting a seminar session on The Family Integrated Church, a movement that rejects age-segregated ministry in the church. I had been asked about the FIC movement for several years and had decided to present a longer consideration and critique of both Voddie’s book Family Driven Faith, and the wider movement that he helped found. I wanted my critique to be fair and gracious and helpful for both youth pastors and pastors in Family-Integrated-type churches.
I had no idea that Voddie would be attending the conference, and you can only imagine how surprised I was when he showed up to my seminar (which was titled “Family Matters: Does the Bible Demand Family Integrated Ministry?”) If you’ve ever met Voddie or seen him preach, you have probably made note of at least one of his attributes; the man is huge. Battleship huge. Let’s just say I noticed him when I walked in the room.
But what struck me about Voddie is that after critiquing his movement for over an hour, this descendant of Anak approached me and was… complimentary. He was gracious, and we immediately made plans to have dinner together. At dinner, he kindly received my criticism of the movement in which he is a founder and a reformer. He found much of my critique of the movement to be on point, and there was plenty that we were able to disagree over. A few weeks later, he and the elders of his church (Grace Family Baptist), invited me to come deliver the same critique at a weekend conference they were hosting. His church was as humble and gracious as he was, and we have been friends ever since.
Why do I relate all this? Because Voddie has been invited to be a keynote speaker at this year’s Shepherds’ Conference, and ever since that invitation was made public, I have received numerous emails and phone calls from pastors asking why Voddie was invited. Responses ranged from flabbergasted to frustrated. Some pastors had contended with divisive people who were critical of their work with youth and used Voddie’s book as their rationale for being divisive in their church regarding youth ministry.
And honestly, this response caught me off guard. Shepherds’ Conference has often had those outside of the Grace Community Church box come and speak. We have had continuationists, and Presbyterians both come (by the way, I also love Ligon Duncan…we are probably related), and I find it hard to believe that a philosophy of youth ministry is a bigger deal than the nature of the kingdom or the use of the spiritual gifts.
But some pastors apparently feel like having Voddie speak at Shepherds’ Conference is tantamount to John MacArthur siding with those who want to fire youth pastors. To those pastors, let me just point out that three-fourths of Grace Church’s campus is devoted to some sort of youth ministry, I have been the youth pastor here, and inviting Voddie is not John’s subtle way of saying “we’ve been doing it wrong.” And frankly, if a pastor is unable to give a coherent explanation for why he believes in youth ministry, then he has bigger problems than who is in the speaking line up.
So allow me to explain why you should be excited to hear Voddie speak at this year’s Shepherds’ Conference.
1. Voddie believes the Bible is his authority. I have a hard time thinking of something that matters more than this. He backs up his beliefs with integrity and a refusal to compromise the truth, even at his own personal expense. He understands that the Trinity is more important than how you do Sunday School.
2. Voddie has a robust ecclesiology. One of my greatest critiques of the FIC movement is its misplaced authority. But this is simply not true at Voddie’s church. At GFBC, the 1689 London Baptist Confession is studied and adhered to, and the Scripture receives the priority. This is not an ecclesiological free-for-all built around the whims of every father in the congregation. These precious people love the church and understand that their dad is not their pastor. This passion for the church permeates his preaching.
3. Voddie thinks pastors and fathers should be spiritual leaders in their homes. Strangely enough, he generates controversy for precisely this point (you would think the only ones against this would be old Rev. Eli of Shiloh and his lecherous sons). Voddie sees this as complementary to his love for the church. He teaches that fathers are not their family’s pastors, but that they are the spiritual head of their household, and it is the church’s job to train the men how to lead—which is preceisly what he will be preaching on next month.
4. Voddie is a theological genius. Having a conversation with him reminds me of much I have to learn. He freely (and accurately) quotes from church history. He has command of theology, politics, culture, and history. He is certainly one of the most astute and insightful people I have ever met, and he uses his knowledge for the glory of God. Consider his recent explanation of why James MacDonald sent him home from the Harvest men’s conference. Voddie channeled his inner Athanasius and his inner Thomas Sowell to make a point that is both evidence of his theological conviction and a demonstration of his towering intellect.
Voddie and I may disagree on how to implement our philosophy of ministry (especially as it pertains to reaching and training the youth in the church). But Voddie and I agree on much; we agree that youth ministry done without ecclesiastical conviction has disastrous results. We agree that a youth pastor assuming (or belittling) the parental role is folly. We agree that parents should be the primary spiritual influence in the Christian home. And we agree that the church is the one institution that God promised to build and bless.
So to my Mountain Dew chuggin youth ministry compatriots: come to Shepherds’ Conference. I will be sitting in the front row smiling ear to ear, excited to hear my friend preach the Word, because I know he’s a man who lives his convictions, loves his family, believes the Bible, and will be a profound encouragement to the shepherds of God’s people.
Voddie has handled this ER2 debacle with tremendous wisdom, grace and doctrinal clarity. His example should be sufficient to demonstrate that MacArthur’s invitation to him as evidence of wisdom being vindicated. I’ve worked for John for 8 years now, and it just keeps happening; he will make a call that is outside of the box, and people will say, “What’s up with MacArthur?” And then a few months later, we all say, “Oh…wow, that was a really good call.” A year ago we obviously had no idea that Voddie would have the opportunity to stand for biblical conviction in a way that many prominent evangelical leaders have been apparently unwilling to demonstrate. So, I am impressed by John’s desire to have Voddie, and am excited to see him come.