Our Identity in Christ

One of the primary emphases of my teaching ministry as a pastor has stemmed from my own personal need and study to learn about my identity in Christ, and of God’s love for me personally. It’s been quite a journey, indeed.

Last year  I had the blessed privilege of sharing this message with the saints at Calvary Monterey. For those of you who don’t know me, Calvary Monterey (aka Calvary Chapel Monterey Bay) was the church I started in 1979 and pastored for 27 years. That Wednesday was my first time back in that pulpit since I stepped out of that role in February of 2006. My son Nate, now the senior pastor, invited me to come and deliver this message.

It was an emotional night for me, but a great one. Victorious in every respect. So I hope you not only enjoy this message, but also that you become greatly strengthened by it.

Here’s the video of that night: http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/9600373.

And here’s the audio only format: http://www.billholdridge.com/Ephesians/Our Identity in Christ.mp3.

And here’s the file that includes our faith confessions re: our identity in Christ. Click here to download: http://www.billholdridge.com/Ephesians/Who I Am In Christ.pdf

God bless you! Feedback is always welcomed and appreciated.

In Christ,


Senior Boomers, Meet the Millennials

For many years I’ve been a student of culture. I blame Jeff Jackson. As a 15 year-old I found myself a pupil in a missions class he taught for Calvary Escondido; I’d like to think I’ve never been the same since. Full disclosure (or confession), I remember very little from the class (extend some grace, it’s been 16 years). But one thing I’ve never lost, remains as profound to me now as it did then; “You don’t recognize your own culture until it’s been stepped on by another culture.” Many times in the years that have followed I have found myself consciously aware of my cultural toes being stepped on and have become far more cognizant of the culture in which I live.

There has been quite a bit written recently about the cultural shift taking place in our nation as Baby Boomers head into retirement (or so they thought) and their Millennial children step into adulthood. I, as an interested observer of culture, am fascinated by this shift and am very much intrigued its implications for our nation, and especially the church.

I was born November 28, 1979, at the very beginning of this “Millennial” generation. Nearly 4 years ago, the church I grew up in experienced a leadership transition from a Boomer, Pat kenney, to a Millennial… me. Such transitions (not only within churches) are going to become commonplace over the next several years. Officially 2011 is the first year the “silver tsunami” has come ashore, as boomers are now reaching the magic retirement age of 65. But the economic downturn has brought a major wrinkle.

In June of this year National Journal published an article by Ron Brownstein entitled “Upside Down: Why millennials can’t start their careers and baby boomers can’t end theirs.” Brownstein highlighted this new strain within our society…

It’s hard to say this spring whether it’s more difficult for the class of 2011 to enter the labor force or for the class of 1967 to leave it.

Students now finishing their schooling—the class of 2011—are confronting a youth unemployment rate above 17 percent. The problem is compounding itself as those collecting high school or college degrees jostle for jobs with recent graduates still lacking steady work. “The biggest problem they face is, they are still competing with the class of 2010, 2009, and 2008,” says Matthew Segal, cofounder of Our Time, an advocacy group for young people.

At the other end, millions of graying baby boomers—the class of 1967—are working longer than they intended because the financial meltdown vaporized the value of their homes and 401(k) plans. For every member of the millennial generation frustrated that she can’t start a career, there may be a baby boomer frustrated that he can’t end one.

This cultural tremor is interesting. The governments of the world are doing everything within their power to jumpstart economies, tackle unemployment and reinvigorate industry. The markets yo-yo through peaks and valleys that make even the most ardent adrenaline junkies beg for a reprieve. All these things were bouncing around in my head a couple of months ago as my wife and I took a short vacation in Santa Barbara.

While wandering around State St. one evening we stepped into a touristy T-shirt shop. The shopkeeper’s radio was tuned to some AM talk show, on which a caller was recounting her story. Her family was struggling to make ends meet; work had slowed for her husband, which caused her to consider going back to work. Her Boomer parents were experiencing similar difficulties as they had lost their home and much of their savings. The answer was clear, “Mom and dad will move in with us, help take care of our kids, I’ll go back to work and we’ll pool our resources to take care of one another.” The talk-show host chimed in, “You know, that’s really what America was like 60-80 years ago.”

When you consider the history of man it’s very easy to see that man is oriented toward community; God created us that way. But for a number of years our modern American culture has opted for a rogue individualism. As a result we are constantly trying to “create a sense of community” because there is a recognition that something has been missing. I believe that we have been experiencing an abnormality, and thankfully mutated anomalies don’t survive. All of a sudden we are being forced to live in community. Although this feels uncomfortable (as abnormal has become normal), it’s a good thing.

As we move forward I think it is important that those who have influence (i.e. pastors) need to help people see that this new reality is a good thing. We need to encourage people to live in community this way. At the moment it is counterculture. We’ve been bred to see such community as an anti-American socialism or a failure of our success, but our culture has lied to us.

For the last month and a half I’ve been teaching through the book of Jeremiah at a local bible college. As Judah faced the Babylonian captivity the prophet Jeremiah called to the people to submit to the Babylonian rule. If Judah would surrender, they’d survive. If they would resist, they’d die. Essentially, whoever would lose his life would save it, and he that would seek to save his life would lose it. We’re living under a similar situation. Business as usual is untenable. It’s time for a change… and yes, we can. 😉

Lessons from Pastoring Two Churches

As many of you may already know, I have recently begun transitioning myself out of the two churches that I pastor. God has called us to take a step of faith and head up to Southern Washington for our next assignment. But I wanted to take some time and reflect on my experience of pastoring two churches. Experience is an awesome teacher.

To set the stage, (Calvary North Bay was planted in 2007 with one other family. CNB resides in Mill Valley, California which is one of the least churched (statistically) and most affluent communities in one of the most least churched and affluent counties in the country (Marin County). Marin County rests between San Francisco and the Napa Valley. Very quickly after we started the fellowship, we had people coming to the church from San Francisco. It was a short drive over the bridge to Mill Valley. They would often bring their friends for a visit. It was an almost universal, “We love this church. Too bad it isn’t in the city.” That began our process that culminated with the launching of Calvary San Francisco in July of 2010. We did a 9 am service in Mill Valley and then an 11:15 am service in the Marina district of San Francisco. Each church was it’s own corporation, with its own staff, resources and accounting. We did this primarily because we knew that, at some point, each church would need its own pastor.

So let’s get to the lessons. But before I do, I should say up front that in hindsight, the hand of God was all over this. I do not have a single regret about it. The Lord’s plan was to put new churches in both Mill Valley and San Francisco. I rejoice in that. But I learned a lot on the way.

1. Pastoring two churches is ecclesiastical polygamy

Very quickly into my time pastoring the two churches did I realize that it was like being married to two wives. Polygamy has a certain impact on a husband. It has other impact on the wives. For the husband, his attention and affection is divided. It is hard to try and navigate the needs of two different congregations. But for the wives it is the reality that you never have your husband for your own. There is always a ‘sharing’ involved. For the church in Mill Valley, they had been used to having me all to themselves so splitting me was a change for them. For the church in the city, they were never used to me alone, only to having me shared. They were used to the divided attention. From both angles, it was not something that was healthy long term.

2. Pastoring two churches should be seen as a sprint portion of a marathon of ministry

The apostle Paul spoke often of our Christian lives as a race. We need to run that race to win the prize. In that way, we are all marathon runners for the glory of God. In stepping out to plant the church in San Francisco, I realized very quickly that I was entering a ‘sprint’ portion of my race. Sprints are necessary parts of running any race. But in reality, you can only sprint for so long. If you watch short term sprint racers, you see that they are going very fast and at the end of the race, they are winded. You can sprint for a short time only. Too many ministers (including me) fail to realize that ministry is a marathon. There will be seasons of sprinting. But it can only be a season.

3. Multi-siting is more strategic than pastoring two distinct churches

I know that there is a lot of hub-bub about multi-siting churches, with both strong advocates and detractors. Rather than weigh in on that fracas, I did learn that it is way more strategic to multi-site than to pastor two churches. If you multi-site, there is one cohesive vision, staff, direction and congregation (although meeting in multiple places). The pastor can do one midweek service rather than two. The pastor has only one set of volunteers and staff to pour into. You can do more things together. Plus there is one church identity with a multi-site church as opposed to two identities. When we did things together as churches, there was always a negotiation of where to hold something. So, in my mind, the unity of one church in multiple locations (an oxymoron, I know) is more strategic then two churches in two locations.

4. We need to continue to raise up pastors and leaders

Finally, I had a strong reinforcement of the need to continue to raise up pastors, leaders and church planters. There are such needs for rigorously biblical, Spirit filled, saint loving pastors all over the world. We have always said that we would love to see ten new churches in Marin and thirty new churches in San Francisco. That’s forty pastors needed (and just in about a 20 mile radius)! We need to continue to pour into the next generation and sent these folks out into God’s harvest field. The field is ripe for harvest and still the laborers are few!

How to Wake the Dead

“…You shall be Witnesses to Me…”[1] – Jesus  

“If you are a Calvary Chapel pastor or in teaching leadership, chances are you are concerned about the death of biblical truth in our culture and within our churches…As a pastor or teacher, you have the privilege of expositing and expounding God’s truth to your community.”[2]Chuck Smith

Speaking of the biblical gospel in a letter written to a group of believers living in Rome during the first century, the Apostle Paul said it is, “The power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…”[3]  That is a brilliant statement of truth!  The word gospel literally means good news.  The message of the biblical gospel is that even though human beings are spiritual criminals who are evil from the core of their being, God still loves them.  It tells us that though all humans have broken God’s law and heart at the level of behavior, desire, and imagination, God has chosen to freely provide a way for us to be totally forgiven for our crimes.  He has made a way for us to know and enjoy Him forever in personal relationship.  We have a way to be viewed by God as perfect and righteous even though we know deep down we could never be those things practically speaking, from the inside out.


The Rescue Mission of Rescue Missions

How in the world could these things be possible?  Only through the life, death, and resurrection Jesus Christ accomplished on our behalf some 2,000 years ago.  The core of the good news of the gospel is that the infinite, totally adequate, self-sufficient, self-existent Holy God of the universe came to earth to reach out to humanity when we had no way of reaching up to Him in an effective way.  This was the greatest rescue mission the world has ever seen, or will ever see. He came and was born to a young virgin girl named Mary becoming not only God, but also 100% human.  He proceeded to live a life of perfect obedience to the law of God in behavior, desire, and imagination on behalf of every sinful human being.  He died the death that every person who has ever lived deserves to die on a roman cross as a substitute for all people.  There He took the full force of the wrath of God that we deserve to experience as spiritual criminals.  He rose from the dead conquering the power of Satan, sin, demons, and death on behalf of all.  He now offers us forgiveness for our sins and restoration to relationship with Him if we will simply believe in this great message of His love.  This God, who came from heaven to earth to do for us all that we could never do for ourselves, is the God-man, Jesus Christ!  This is His gospel.

The Fundamental Goal of Church Planting

The basic tenets of that message inherently carry the power of God to bring the person who accepts them from spiritual death to an experience of spiritual life if they are embraced with the heart.  It is that message that Jesus has commanded His people to proclaim boldly and without shame or fear in all the earth.  The fundamental goal of planting local churches is to establish strategic centers for the preaching, spreading, and advancement of the gospel in the world for the glory of the gracious Christ.  A church should not be planted but with the goal of functioning as an effective tool for spreading the message of Jesus in the world.  If a gathering, organization, or any so-called Christian entity exists without the express purpose of spreading the powerful gospel, it is not a church.  It is not representative of the church.


We need churches like the first century church in Thessalonica.  Paul commended that local church as being a community of believers who were on fire for spreading the gospel they had received.

“And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe.  For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place.  Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything.  For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.”[4]


The community of believers at Thessalonica didn’t simply receive the gospel, get saved, and sit around playing church and enjoying their relationship with Jesus as they watched the rest of the world go to hell.  On the contrary, they became a center for missional gospel proclamation.  The gospel was sounding forth from the mouths of people who had their hearts changed by it’s power.  The joy over their salvation implanted into their hearts by the Holy Spirit who now indwelled them caused an overflow of gospel preaching and gospel living that brought many more people into the kingdom.


Every church planter’s goal should be that God would establish a church through him that is like the church in Thessalonica.  Their dream should be that of a group of people being saved by Jesus through gospel preaching who become so passionate about the gospel of the God who saved them that they spread it everywhere they can.  This is the New Testament picture of a mature and gospel-planted church.  This is the kind of church I pray for, and work toward by God’s grace.


The Command

Planting churches through gospel preaching is not merely one permissible option for church planting strategies among many.   It is church planting as God has commanded it to be done.


I know by experience that there is intense pressure from within and from without for church planters to get clever with their preaching.  You see some guys who have flashy churches, major resources, tons of money, and yet the weakest sermons in regard to biblical content.  After a while you might start to wonder if just teaching the Bible simply isn’t enough.  So you start softening a truth here, glossing over a doctrine there, and all in the name of reaching people.


Over against this kind of thinking is the teaching of the Holy Spirit in the Bible:

“And I, brethren, when I came to you did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God.  For U determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.  I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling.  And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”[5]


Now when it comes to preaching there are generally two extremes that should be avoided at all costs.  Some think that using technology, media, props, and even illustrations to effectively communicate the gospel is carnal and unfaithful.  These people confuse flexibility in methods with compromising the integrity of the message.  Jesus Himself was a master illustrator who used the familiar pictures and experiences in the environment and technology around Him to communicate God’s timeless truths in timely ways to His hearers.


Still others are so focused on methods and strategic communication that they sometimes fail to actually present the simple content of the gospel faithfully.  The pure message of the Bible gets twisted or lost in all the wrappings.  These people seem to forget that while good missionaries are culturally sensitive and utilize practical tools and technology to communicate the gospel, the methods and techniques are not what God has promised to bless with His power.  The simple gospel message is what God blesses with the accompanying power of the Holy Spirit to bring people from spiritual death to life.  I once heard Francis Chan ask a group of Bible teachers, “Do you want to be a good communicator, or a powerful communicator?”  We would do well to ask ourselves that question.


The Choice is Ours

So, every church planter has to decide where he will fit.  Will you focus on methods to the exclusion of the message like many seeker sensitive and liberal churches do today?  Will you be a fundamentalist and preach the Bible but ignore the cultural communication stumbling blocks that get in the way of the people who hear you receiving the gospel?  Or will you be in the missional middle and preach the simple gospel faithfully while being sensitive to the cultural hang-ups of the ears who hear you?

If you are all method in your ministry I would challenge you to get back to the real source of power which is the simple gospel.  You can have nothing but the power of the Holy Spirit and the pure message of the gospel in your heart, and you will have all you need to plant a church.  That is all that the first church planters had and they did well to say the least.  I would encourage you to read Acts two and pray over the topics we’ve covered so far in this post right now asking God to show you if and where your heart is out of step with His on the gospel.


How to Reach Young People

Something that always concerns church planters is how they are going to reach young people for Jesus.  Many leaders are convinced that kids need to be entertained and have all sorts of extra wrappings encapsulating the gospel and the teaching of the Word for them to plug into churches.  I believe this is a lie from hell intended to get Bible teachers side-tracked.


I was as liberal and post-modern as they come when it came to my view of truth before Jesus saved me.  I can vividly remember personally saying many of the things that pastors often quote in their sermons as depicting the epitome of the post-modern mindset.  I would give people the, “what’s true for you is true for you, and what’s true for me is true for me,” line all the time.  And I believed that with all my heart.


But one life-changing day the Holy Spirit shot the truth of God into my mind like a bullet.  I couldn’t defend myself against it.  I couldn’t force it out.  He convicted me of my sin and drew me to seek God.  I found myself reading the Bible at home strangely desiring to figure out it’s teachings, something I had never desired to do before.  I remember that as I read I realized that what this book said was true of my heart was undeniable based on my human experience.  I knew it was right when it told me I couldn’t help wanting and doing things that I knew deep down were things I shouldn’t do or want to do.  I knew it was right when it told me I couldn’t make myself do or want to do things that I knew deep down I should want to do and practice.  I knew my heart was captive with the chains of sin it described.  This was my journey to becoming born again through reading the written Word.


After I got saved I developed an appetite for the Word like newborn babies desire milk.  I could understand the Bible where I hadn’t been able to before, and I wanted to learn God’s Word.  I found a Bible teaching church and began to soak up what I was hearing.  And the funny thing looking back is that the church I attended was about the least cool place I’d ever been from my previous cultural perspective.  The “new music” we sang were worship choruses from the 1970’s, the décor of the church looked like it was supplied by my grandmother, the pastor preached in a full suit, and the only visual images in the service were these poorly done and horridly distracting landscape scenes that would appear at random behind the lyrics on the projection screen.  You know what kept an artsy former metal and punk rock musician/social activist coming to such a lame place?  I knew I was getting stronger in the spirit through the unadulterated preaching of God’s Word!


Many of my friends have been saved from similar backgrounds to mine and have the same kind of stories to tell.  And as I meet lots of young people who come to the church I pastor and hear them talk about why they are with us, it isn’t the cool lighting, awesome band, or the fact that I listen to the music they do that keeps them coming; it’s the often blunt, sometimes offensive, always present preaching of gospel of Jesus Christ and the Word of God!


If you’re an older church planter or pastor trying to reach a younger generation, my encouragement to you would be to stick with the thing that God has chosen to bless with His power, and preach the gospel!  Teach the Bible!  Sure, you can draw a crowd with all sorts of things.  But the only thing that will change people, the only thing that will grip them at the core of their very being, is God’s Word.



The preaching of the gospel is what Jesus has chosen to build His church.  Preaching the simple gospel isn’t merely an optional way to do the work of church planting, but the only way.  Utilizing different methods to communicate the gospel is fine and can even be good missionary strategy, but methods must never get in the way of communicating the simple gospel message in the power of the Holy Spirit. If we want to wake the dead gospel proclamation is a non-negotiable.


Note- The above is an excerpt taken from “The Spirit-led Mission” by Kellen Criswell

[1] Acts 1:8b NKJV

[2] Smith, Chuck. Line Upon Line. Page 12.

[3] Romans 1:16 NKJV

[4] 1 Thessalonians 1:10 NKJV

[5] 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 NKJV

“Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner?”

“…as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples.”
Matthew 9:10
A couple weeks ago I had wanted to sit down and just read through the Gospel according to Matthew in one or two sittings…fat chance. I am in chapter 9 this morning. But there is a reason why.
I have always seen the practical aspects of the life and teaching of Christ in the Gospels, but not like I am seeing it now. I have been literally overwhelmed at the profound practical application of the teachings and examples of Jesus in his instruction to His disciples, in word and in deed.
Matthew’s account of Jesus calling him to follow Him has been standing out to me the last couple of days. Jesus calls Matthew to follow Him, and where does Jesus go? To Matthew’s house. And what does Jesus do? He eats dinner there with all of His disciples and with Matthew. And what is the result of Jesus and His disciples having dinner with Matthew in his home? A bunch of other tax collectors and “sinners” end up coming over to hang out with Matthew…but this wasn’t new…it was Jesus and the disciples of Jesus that they wanted to see. This was new.
And it bothered the religious establishment. The question came, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
One of the thoughts I have been having is, “Do I do this?” or am I just inviting those to my house who can repay me by doing the same?
“When you give a dinner or a supper, do not ask your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor rich neighbors, lest they also invite you back, and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” Luke 14:12-14
Jesus then tells the parable about the Great Supper. The religious make excuses as to why they cannot attend and the result is that they are left outside. Another thing we see is that there is plenty of room at the King’s Table. “Do I believe this?” Is my life showing that I know there to be more than enough room for others to find their seat at the Master’s table? “Am I doing this?” if I believe it, my actions (my life) prove it. Not my sermons or my expositions or philosophies or my ideologies or my vision or my exhortations…but my very actions will show if I know His word to be true.
And following Jesus to “sup” with “sinners” will lead to an opportunity to be real, approachable, available and then afford us a believable and tangible platform to share the truth that God desires to fellowship with them and also the open invitation to find the seat that has been prepared for them at the King’s table.
“But go and learn what this means: “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

John Calvin On Pastors

These are some of John Calvin’s comments from 1 Timothy 5:13: “And besides they learn [to be] idle, wandering about from house to house, and not only idle but also gossips and busybodies, saying things which they ought not.”

“For none are more exposed to slanders and insults than godly teachers. This comes not only from the difficulty of their duties, which are so great that sometimes they sink under them, or stagger or halt or take a false step, so that wicked men find many occasions of finding fault with them; but added to that, even when they do all their duties correctly and commit not even the smallest error, they never avoid a thousand criticisms. It is indeed a trick of Satan to estrange men from their ministers so as gradually to bring their teaching into contempt. In this way not only is wrong done to innocent people whose reputation is undeservedly injured, but the authority of God’s holy teaching is diminished.”

“The more sincerely any pastor strives to further Christ’s kingdom, the more he is loaded with spite, the more fierce do the attacks upon him become. And not only so, but as soon as any charge is made against ministers of the Word, it is believed as surely and firmly as if it had been already proved. This happens not only because a higher standard of integrity is required from them, but because Satan makes most people, in fact nearly everyone, over credulous so that without investigation, they eagerly condemn their pastors whose good name they ought to be defending.”

A Sunday Video Archive – A Radical New Reality