Perspective on the Phoenix Preacher
So it ends.
After several years, pastor Michael Newnham has decided to close down his Phoenix Preacher site for good.
He has done so once before, but this time there seems to be a permanence to it all.
Phoenix Preacher began as Michael’s own church blog, and soon was where he posted his observations on his less-than-positive experiences in one of the many Calvary Chapel affiliated churches. Michael discovered he wasn’t alone, as others with similar experiences discovered his blog, and began sharing their own unique, sometimes harrowing, heart-breaking stories.
Over the years, Michael sought to shift the blog’s focus to ministering to those in the church who were abused and hurt, as well as to share some of the good things that were happening throughout the church at large. In the blog’s later years, Michael tried to choose and pick his battles against abuse in the church while exposing his readers to Bible studies, the historic creeds of the church, and great figures from the church such as his beloved John Calvin and James I. Packer.
And through it all, there was the best, and perhaps only, example of online community I have ever observed or experienced. Pastors and laypeople interacted regularly; people discussed issues, often robustly and sometimes heatedly; people also laughed and fellowshipped the best one can do online; and people prayed, regularly, for one another.
Recent events, and God’s leading, have led Michael to shut down Phoenix Preacher for good. Though I hope that this turns out to be a temporary pause, I expect that it is more permanent, and for the best.
Phoenix Preacher means a lot of things to a lot of people, good, not-so-good, and in between.
My memories, and my experiences, are largely positive. I owe PP, and Michael, a great debt for their influence on my life.
Over four years ago, I was in a Calvary Chapel, struggling with life, trying to make sense of things – including how different the church was from the first time I was a part.
I went online to see if my experience was unique, or if others might have gone through similar experiences. What I discovered was a listing on an old internet bulletin board site for Phoenix Preacher.
I checked it out, right when the Joe Sabolick controversy heated up. Though my CC pastor was and is a good, solid man of God, I saw a few things regarding the people and their culture that jibed with what I saw locally, and I knew that I didn’t fit into that church. So I left…and for a few years was completely without a church.
However…after seeing the interaction between posters…and getting the courage to post myself…I became part of the community. And, for a time, PP became my church.
I found ways, online and behind the scenes, to contribute to Michael’s blog ministry, and eventually became a moderator. I got to experience first-hand a taste of the criticism Michael had to deal with on a daily basis, and got to experience some blessings from the meager articles and linkathons I posted over the years.
I was exposed to pastors and teachers, like Eugene Peterson and J.I. Packer, I might otherwise never would have given a thought to.
I was reminded of a compassionate Calvinism, as expressed in Michael’s ministry and that of one of his heroes, Steve Brown, that helped me more fully embrace Reformed theology.
Most of all, I was exposed to an incredible community of people, none of whom I have ever met in person, but who are as real as any person I see in the flesh every day.
I have made friendships and acquaintances I hope extend far beyond the expiration date of the PP blog. I’ve met people who emailed and chatted with me and supported me when I needed the encouragement. The mere give-and-take of daily interaction here helped me grow in some significant ways.
And Michael was the first pastor to really pastor me, to be the feet, hands and voice of Jesus without making me feel like I was on the clock and cutting into his valuable schedule.
I have a church now, and some semblance of community, though other circumstances in my life continue to prevent me from fully committing to community as my church would want me to.
That last part will be the most frustrating thing about the end of PP…so at least for a time I will probably try to follow the remnants of the community wherever they wind up.
Because what I will take away from my time at Phoenix Preacher is the importance of community.
Man was not meant to live alone, and though God said that in reference to Adam and Eve, I think it also applies somewhat to community.
Being a lone ranger for as long as I was nearly killed me. PP was like a breath of fresh air; in fact, by understanding its benefits and limitations, I understood that I needed to be in a good, Christ-centered, Bible-teaching church where I could become part of a local community.
PP would not have lasted as long as it had if it was only 40 angry ranters who didn’t give a lick about anyone else.
Community was a vital part of PP…and it is a vital part of any healthy church.
I’ve learned that community, even as flawed as it often can be, is vital to a Christian.
Because of the online community at PP, I am a part of my church and still clinging to the cross, not wallowing in bitterness…or perhaps, dead.
I appreciate that Michael was respectful enough of the community to allow it to develop, and grow as it did.
I also appreciate Michael’s heart for hurting, lost people who were beaten down by the church and fell through the cracks, and his example in standing for those values even when the only ones who seemed to get it were his supporters.
It is unfortunate that things went as sideways as they did in the past week.
It is sad that misunderstandings may have developed that won’t be resolved until we all walk through the pearly gates, in the presence of Jesus.
You have your own story, your own perspective on Michael and Phoenix Preacher that is just as valid as mine is.
But…if you get that Michael Newnham loved Jesus, and cared about His people, and especially for the wounded sheep hurt by friendly fire from the church and by hostile fire from the world and from the devil…
If you follow Jesus yourself, and care for His people, and help care especially for those wounded by life and their own flesh and by the enemy and by others in the church…you’ll understand the most important things about Michael Newnham and his ministry.
It would be great for Michael to go another 20 years online. The things I just mentioned are things you and I can do that don’t require Michael’s presence, nor a blog to encourage us on.
Following Jesus, and loving others – especially the wounded and hurting – are worthy ways to follow in Michael’s footsteps, online and offline.