The Elephant in the Room

So… you’ve heard about the Elephant Room, right?  Last year, James MacDonald gathered a group of his friends together to talk about the big issues facing the church.  Topics included dicey things like cultural engagement; the landmines of compassion ministry; and what was in Perry Noble’s head when his church worship team started a service with the song “Highway to Hell”.

The idea was to get some top leaders together in one room and have conversations about what the scriptures actually teach.  In fact, the purpose statement of The Elephant Room says that “to advance Christ’s call to unity we must do what men have always done, we must push and prod and challenge and sharpen each other’s beliefs and methods.”

So, the elephant room was born.

And the people complained.  How could this person AND that person share the same stage?  Why would these two people be having these discussions in the first place?  And if there was no declared ‘winner’ in a discussion or argument about ministry matters, then truth is somehow compromised.

The rumblings were at first subdued, and primarily came from those from the more conservative theological bent.

But the real controversy came with the announcement of the speakers for this year’s Elephant Room.  When T. D. Jakes was announced as one of the speakers, some people went ballistic.  One other speaker who was invited and had accepted the invitation, decided not to support the event after all because he didn’t want to share the stage with someone as different as Jakes.

To be honest, the criticism of James MacDonald and The Elephant room has been the most brutal from the more conservative folk.  Brutal AND personal.

Let me go on record as saying… I just don’t get it.

First of all, the Elephant Room is not a pulpit.  No one is speaking in somebody else’s church… in front of someone else’s congregation.  There are no endorsements, no kissy-kissy ‘I’m ok, you’re ok’ talk.  In fact, the event is exactly the opposite.  Each person involved, whether it’s James MacDonald, Steven Furtick, T. D. Jakes, Mark Driscoll or any of the other speakers, has signed on to make this a lively, spirited discussion on the implementation of ministry ideas.  No wavering.  No sidestepping.  No excuses.

You’re not going to see Steven Furtick and Mark Driscoll agree on a lot of things.

T. D. Jakes and James MacDonald will disagree pretty strongly at times.

And that drives some people absolutely crazy.

Not me.

Events like this sharpen me.  They give me greater perspective.  And they allow me to search scripture to see areas that I may need to take a second look.

That scares some people.
Why would I want to listen to someone who doesn’t agree with me?

Seriously?  I actually WANT to listen to people who don’t agree with me.  It allows me to sharpen my own beliefs and thought processes.

But it’s much easier for many, rather than joining in and giving a fair shake with those they disagree with, to tear them down before they even have a chance to speak.

But some people say T. D. Jakes is a modalist.  Mark Driscoll has a potty mouth.  And don’t even get them started on Steven Furtick’s hair.

The premise of the Elephant Room is that there is a lot we can learn from the conversation.  But the truth is… some people aren’t interested in having the conversation.  It makes them too uncomfortable.

In my work with Leadership Network, we’ve also faced criticism for some of the speakers we’ve chosen for events. We warn people at the beginning of each online event that we do that they will hear a lot of great speakers, and agree with a lot of things said.  They’ll also hear from some folks that they won’t care for, or will actually disagree with.  That’s fine.  Learn what you can.  Take away what will benefit you in your ministry. Simply disregard the rest.

I grew up in a very conservative church.  And we would have nothing to do with anything like the Elephant Room.  In fact, we wouldn’t have anything to do with most people.  So, believe me when I say that I understand the whole ‘separation’ issue.  But what it did to many around me was make for a group of very distrusting, angry, confrontive people that eventually shut out everyone that wasn’t just like them.  What a shame.

This paragraph of The Elephant Room purpose statement really resonated with me.  I absolutely agree with it:

What if we created a new ‘tribe?’ A tribe based on being humble enough to listen and reconsider what the Scriptures actually say. A tribe that holds the essential tenets of the faith with a ferocious intensity and is open handed with everything else. Maybe, together, we can create a new center?  A place where we are for everything the bible demands and demand nothing that scriptures are silent about.  Look for guests from all places and belief systems.  Don’t be surprised if you hear a conversation with someone that offends you or denies the faith as you see it.  Don’t be shocked if you hear conversations with world religion leaders, or criminals or sinners of every variety, “such were some of us.”  If the conversation can be helpful, clarifying, insistent or illuminating, or if we hope it will be . . . you will find it in the Elephant Room.

Wouldn’t that be great?

I hope you’ll join me for the Elephant Room… it all happens again next Wednesday, January 25 in about 65 locations across the country.  During this week, I’ll be sharing some of the highlights from last year’s event.  I think it’s something that you would really enjoy attending… and there’s bound to be one reasonably close to where you’re at right now!

In fact… check out a little more to see if this gets your interest:

QUESTION:  Do YOU think the concept of the Elephant Room is controversial at all?  If so… why?  Are you planning on attending?  Which location?


  • sam January 16, 2012 Reply

    Just another endorsement for an event that you make money on. You have sold out any discernment that you may have had for the almighty dollar. You cant be objective on matters like this because of your blatant conflict of interest in your employ of the Leadership Network.

    You need only to read the thoughtful analysis by many men..some of whom are members of the Gospel grasp why TD Jakes speaking is a problem at a conference that once billed itself as “hearing from other Christian Voices”. You will notice how James McDonald backed of his stance and had to rewrite the objectives of the conference.

    And it should concern one more and raise more flags as to who is not going to be at the Elephant Room. Why did Mark Dever withdraw from the conference? Why arent the more conservative pastors from Round 1 not attending Round 2? Where are Platt & Chandler?

    And you are VERY wrong about Driscoll and Furtick not agreeing on many things. They both have Charismatic leanings. They both claim direct revelation from God. They both are very narcissistic. The list goes on and on. The only difference between the two when it comes down to it is that Driscoll is reformed.

    Todd, stop being a shill and promoter of the harmful Celebrity Pastor Conference circuit with is making idols out of these men. This is hurting the church.

    I hope you enjoy spending your weekly 30 pieces of silver you receive for this…

    • Todd Rhoades January 16, 2012 Reply

      Good morning Sam.

      Thanks for bringing a little sunshine to my day.

      I’m looking so forward to spending all the money I’ll be making on the Elephant Room. In fact, I’d love to split the check 50/50 with you when it arrives.

      Enjoy your 15 pieces of silver.


    • Casey Sabella January 16, 2012 Reply

      Oy Veh

    • Robbie January 16, 2012 Reply

      Sam–agree wholeheartedly! And to think of the thousands of sheep who follow these shepherds is unbelievable.

    • Bubbabean January 16, 2012 Reply

      Oh no!! Charismatics!! God forbid people believe they can talk and hear from God today!

    • Nate January 16, 2012 Reply

      Sam, Seriously?! Stop throwing stones at people you don’t know. I personally know Todd and his family as I have worked with his kids as their youth pastor. Not only is he a man that honors God with his whole life he also lives humbly and generously. He is a man with four awesome kids and a wife that all serve faithfully in the church. He defends the hurting and stands up for justice even when the path of righteousness is difficult. I am affected deeply by his ministry in our church and on the internet. I want you to know that it makes me sick to see the church cast stones like this… Think before you declare your ignorance and slam people with your post!

      • Alan January 16, 2012 Reply

        Thanks Nate. Sam’s statements are totally uncalled for!

    • Jim January 17, 2012 Reply

      Thanks bro… it only took one comment to perfectly illustrate the need for Todd to write this.

  • Peter January 16, 2012 Reply

    I totally loved the videos I saw from last year’s event. It didn’t make me more “moderate”, although it might have strengthened some of my own convictions and made me think twice about others.

    And, for the record, I would be totally unoffended, Todd, if in the future you removed or edited Sam’s comments. Really, it wouldn’t bother me at all.

    • Todd Rhoades January 16, 2012 Reply

      Thanks, Peter.

      I haven’t deleted a comment off of here in months. I have pretty thick skin.

      I do, occasionally when someone gets nasty with someone else… but usually try to side on the ‘free forum’ side.

      In fact, people like Sam, when they speak out of ignorance (like when he said I was making money off the conference) kind of make me grin.


      • Alan January 16, 2012 Reply

        good stuff Todd

  • Justin January 16, 2012 Reply

    One objection… “But some people say T. D. Jakes is a modalist. Mark Driscoll has a potty mouth. And don’t even get them started on Steven Furtick’s hair.” I recognize that the paragraph was written with tongue firmly planted in cheek. Nevertheless, you give the impression that you don’t think modalism is a big deal. It’s heresy, it’s been treated by the church as heresy for at least 1700 years (longer if you read some of the pre-Nicene Fathers), and it leads to distortion of the gospel. So while many conservatives weren’t happy with the mix of people earlier, the inclusion of a modalist is what caused the real uproar from folks who had previously been silent.

    For anyone who is interested, please read Thabiti Anyabwile’s blog posts on this topic to see his concerns.

    • Todd Rhoades January 16, 2012 Reply

      Nope… never said that, Justin.

      All I’m saying is that talking about modalism is not a sin.

      And looking a modalist (if, in fact Bishop Jakes is one) in the eye and asking him about it is a good thing; not a thing to get your tighty whities in a wad about.

      That’s all.

      No one ever said they agreed with everyone on stuff… if they did; there would be no Elephant Room. Wouldn’t be a need.


      • Justin January 16, 2012 Reply

        I appreciate your response, Todd, and I’m glad to read that you don’t dismiss modalism as trivial. And I agree with you that we need to get such things out in the open, to ask questions and hear one another’s answers.

        But looking at your initial post, coupled with your response to me, I think you said more in your original post than you might have intended to say. To reference the classical trivium, it isn’t your “grammar” or your “logic” so much as your “rhetoric” — the way you said what you said. It’s pretty plainly there: You put Furtick’s hair and Jakes’ (alleged) modalism in parallel to each other.

        You (and other readers) might think I’m overreading things. Perhaps you’re right. But how you say something is as important and communicates as much as what you actually say.

        • Todd Rhoades January 16, 2012 Reply

          Yeah… as the person who wrote it, I think you’re over-reading… trying to find something that simply wasn’t there.

          The point I was (trying) to make, is that ANY difference and ANY discussion make some people nervous.

          And that’s fine. Don’t watch or attend the Elephant Room. It’s not for you.

          But don’t diss anyone and everyone who will find some value in it.

          The ‘sound doctrine’ people are so worried that a discenting opinion is going to sway minds’. Who knows… maybe it will. But I would hope that pastors would approach this as adults and as sincere students of the Word.

          If so… then really… what do we have to worry about?


  • Matt Steen January 16, 2012 Reply

    I think you have convinced me to go…

    • Todd Rhoades January 16, 2012 Reply

      YES! And the money keeps rolling in, Sam!

      Not. In case you didnt’ pick up on my sarcasm there…



      • Matt Steen January 16, 2012 Reply

        Glad to help with the kid’s college fund, Todd.

        I am really tired of people throwing stones at events that feature people with different opinions rather than teaching their congregations how to critically think through what constitutes orthodoxy and what doesn’t.

        We have not been given a spirit of fear, yet we are so fearful that one man’s false doctrine will kill the church in this nation forever.

  • BryonM January 16, 2012 Reply

    Great post, Todd. We’re looking forward to the next installment of Elephant Room ourselves (forgive the plug):

  • Casey Sabella January 16, 2012 Reply

    Thinking Christians. Whodathunkit?

  • Mark Triplett January 16, 2012 Reply

    I’m not a pastor, nor do I play one on television, but in the past year or so I’ve been challenged by one of my friends to be able to explain the “why” of what I believe. Not just on the Bible but in everything. Can I defend my beliefs and most importantly, can I defend my faith to another who believes differently? I think listening to opposing points on occasion does help to strengthen, in our minds, of what and how we believe.

  • danny Egipciaco January 16, 2012 Reply

    Great post! Some of us have become a little too stuffy. What are we gonna do in heaven? I think it’s a great concept and we MUST learn how to accept each other.

  • Deanna Ogle January 16, 2012 Reply

    I absolutely love this idea. I don’t know why there aren’t more of these. Yes, it’s sticky. Yes, it has the potential to get heated. But you finally get to hear someone close to your side talking with someone from another side you don’t usually like, and you get a chance to hear FROM THE HORSE’S MOUTH about their views and perspectives.

    I wish I could go… There’s a location near me but do to my work schedule I won’t be able to go. It’s a shame they aren’t streaming it because I would absolutely pay to have it running on my computer to listen in.

  • Deanna Ogle January 16, 2012 Reply

    To me, this is exactly what “learning from each other” means. But my brain is naturally wired to try to understand, so hearing other people’s perspective is exactly up my alley.

  • Tom Fillinger January 16, 2012 Reply

    First, I ABSOLUTELY despise the slurs, name calling and outright abuse. I wrote a paper titled Speaking Truth in Love to address this reprehensible and seemingly growing phenomena. Glad to send a copy to anyone who makes that request –

    Having said that . . .

    The issue is not whether “some people say” that T. D. Jakes is a Modalist. He either is or he is not and that is a VERY IMPORTANT ISSUE/QUESTION that needs to be answered definitively.

    We desperately need to exercise theological precision. We do not need to brutalize others created in the Image of God.

  • MJTeston January 16, 2012 Reply

    Trusting IN Jesus. Done that for a long long time. Like living and trusting my Bride for almost 35 years now. Nothing said that enters my ears, no conceptual formulation by anyone, no doc-tri-nal worldview uttered by those who offer a different angle on life and and understanding of the God & Father of our Lord Jesus Christ will ever change that. I don’t wake up in the morning worried about hearing someone utter something blasphemous that will wreck havoc on that primary relationship, that to me is a living faith in a living person whom I interact with daily without much concern about “systematics.” And the threat of “modalism?” come on! But Todd you did open a big old can of insecurities up didn’t you? LOL

  • PastoRick January 16, 2012 Reply

    Pastor. Conservative. Experienced enough to know that what one person says another person believes is rarely accurate and never complete. This conference sounds like it might indeed by a valuable event for the Church at large, a chance to live out the Scriptures: “1 Cor 14:29 Let the prophets speak, two or three, and let the others discern.”

  • LT January 16, 2012 Reply

    The concept of the Elephant Room is good. The problems are (1) it extends Christian recognition to at least one man who is not a Christian (if historic Christian doctrine actually means anything) (2) it doesn’t take seriously the meaning of the biblical qualifications for pastor/elder in it’s participants, (3) it doesn’t take seriously the meaning and method of culture, (4) it has no alternative viewpoints outside the very narrow spectrum of the contemporary Christianity (i.e., it has no one who makes any sort of argument for why culture matters) so it doesn’t really any disagreement in philosophy and worldview, (5) it has no interaction on what worldliness is.

    I listened to and enjoyed some of the interaction at the last one, and I will listen again to some of it.

    But it is very limited in its scope, and therefore it’s benefit is very limited.

  • Andy Titus January 16, 2012 Reply


    I’m a reader, but usually don’t post on stuff. This one I have to post on! I like the idea of the Elephant Room and I think I’ve found a way to make Sam happy too. Take your 30 pieces of Silver but don’t keep them. Instead use them to start a scholarship fund to send people to this event. I’ll even “fall on the sword” and be your first scholarship winner.

    See, now everyone is happy. Well except the folks who want to quarrel about how Judas died.

    Keep up the good work Todd!

    • Wil January 16, 2012 Reply

      Can we please leave Sam alone. His comments were acidic for sure, but we shouldn’t mock him either.

  • pete January 16, 2012 Reply

    I have been most upset over the tongue-lashing that McDonald got over this from his “brothers” His church, especially the youth program, was quickly attacked on-line. All undeserved I feel.

    However, I hope (and understand) that brothers have tried to come along side, like John Piper, to lovingly correct both McDonald and Jakes to no avail. We all need to be subject to each others’ LOVING correction !!

  • Leonard January 16, 2012 Reply

    I loved the last one, felt like the answers and challenges were pretty authentic. Hope it stays that way.

  • Pat Pope January 16, 2012 Reply

    Are women included in this event?

    • missional girl January 16, 2012 Reply

      Shhhh. Of course, not! They don’t have a room so big as to deal with THAT elephant.

      I basically like the idea of allowing leaders to state clearly where they stand on theological matters. This format is much better than reading a news article where someone takes a quote out of context.

  • David January 16, 2012 Reply

    Todd? You just don’t get it? There are many issues. “Theologians” like TD Jakes has looked at issues like the deity of Christ….a doctrine & theology that martyrs have been tortured and burned at the stake for… and cast it aside. They’ve said, “eh, we believe differently and we place no value on the hundreds of the Church’s forefathers. Read more about Christian history…please. Kudos to those who are rejecting invitations to be part of a forum that includes who previously were called heretics. Is TD Jakes a theologean….or merely a charismatic preacher/teacher? Judging by his name-it-&-claim-it & word-faith interpretation of the scriptures, he’s in the business to teach/preach what he knows will be marketable….NOT to defend the faith & save lost souls.

  • David January 16, 2012 Reply

    The Elephant Room proves that denominations are a good thing. Denominations are not what are evil…. DENOMINATIONALISM is the evil.

  • Jim Reich January 16, 2012 Reply

    I love the idea of the Elephant Room! I wish I could attend!

    BTW – we started our services this past weekend with “I Want It All” by (gasp!) QUEEN! If & when I get it all or even some of it, i don’t think I’ll be sending any to Sam as I’m sure he’d consider it “tainted” anyway.

  • Hal Mayer January 16, 2012 Reply

    I love the Elephant Room format. Thank you for promoting it! It was one of the most refreshing conferences I watched last year. I was glad for the humility of the speakers. I really think people need to take themselves less seriously and God more seriously. And just in case- Rock and Roll- now everyone is offended. 😉

  • Pete Wilson January 16, 2012 Reply

    Great post Todd. I couldn’t agree with you more. I love seeing guys from different backgrounds and styles coming together to address their issues face to face.

    We all have so much to learn from each other.

  • Gordon January 16, 2012 Reply

    WOW! I can hardly believe some of the comments I’m reading here. Is this the church Jesus died for speaking here? This is sad and surely must sadden the heart of Christ. Hard to believe.

    Thanks Todd for helping us to see what is going on in the church world. Is it any wonder so many people run from the church and Christians.

    As Pete just said, we have so much to learn from each other!

  • Carole Turner January 16, 2012 Reply

    Its not a place where Christians come to disagree, it’s a place where male Christians come to disagree. And most of the criticism has not come from conservative corners, the TD Jake’s controversy is not near as concerning as the lack of women at this gathering.

    I blogged about it for Burnside Writers because they really are avoiding that huge Elephant in the room-women church leaders.

    • Joel Zehring January 17, 2012 Reply

      I don’t think they’re avoiding the issue of women in leadership… From what I’ve heard and read, it seems to me that they’ve relegated women to leaders of homes, children, and other women.

      Thankfully we have an open internet where we can hear other voices besides the rank-and-file rockstars of Pop Christianity.

      Felicity Dale, for example:

      And Jennifer Taylor:

  • Steve Long January 17, 2012 Reply

    The elephant has always been in the room. Throughout most of history one group mainly had the elephant gun. Now every one has one. The mission seems pretty simple though…Go into all the world and preach the good news, baptizing people in Jesus name and continuing to mature them in how God thinks about things. The method is equally simple: Love. We love everyone with the same urgency that our creator does. I don’t have to ‘make’ others see things my way. I just do the introductions. I plant or I water. God always does the heavy lifting. Eventually, given time God works the details out with each of us if we seek, knock and ask. If we do not seek, knock or ask there is another way: we can fight…but then isn’t that what the other team is all about.

    • Dennis January 23, 2012 Reply

      Thank you Steve.

  • Pastor_Shane January 17, 2012 Reply

    Todd, thank you for your hard work, time and faithfulness to this ministry. You would think that after all these years, Christians would know how to treat each other with love. It seemed to be an important topic for our Lord. Like you, I went to a highly conservative Bible College. And I land in exactly the same place you do on this topic. Keep up the good work.

  • Phil DiLernia January 17, 2012 Reply

    Sounds like an interesting event that I’ll do my best to attend. I do want to make an observation, however, based on what I’ve read here: it seems that the treatment of those who would refuse to attend is more harsh than those who refuse to participate due to their one beliefs. Shouldn’t the exact opposite have been expected? It’s a shame when more liberal thinkers shut down conversation through name calling, teasing, sarcasm, and other such words.

    Let’s respect those that do not feel the freedom to participate. Romans 14 tells us to never use our freedoms in such a way that would others to sin. Treat our brothers and sisters with respect.

    • Todd Rhoades January 17, 2012 Reply


      Not a problem. But just look at the very first comment. I think you maybe missed how it started. It’s not the more liberal (and, btw, I HATE that word… I’m not liberal) amongst us that have been causing the stir across the interwebs on this one.

      Evidently the elephant meat has been sacrificed to idols.

      Paul said it is quite yummy… but if people don’t want to eat it, you’ll have no quarrel from me.


      • Phil DiLernia January 17, 2012 Reply

        Yeah I read it. I’m still learning myself not to give any credibility by responding “too much” (lol) to those that make rash judgments against me that no only aren’t true but are diametrically opposed to who I really am.

        But I’m struggling to learn about the “pearls and pigs” and the dusting off of my cloak … lol

        My liberal comment wasn’t directed at you … sorry. It was meant to address those that feel free to try new things and dialog about new things that sometimes are so mean spirited to those that are restricted from those same freedoms. No “liberal” offense meant … sorry!

        You probably don’t remember but I wrote a few articles for your about leadership when I first accepted the position of pastor (from business world) and we have transitioned – 180 degrees – a 118 year old church into a dynamic living breathing organic disciple making missional organization! (How’s that for run on adjectives!) God still does miracles and we are proof of that!

        God’s peace Todd!

  • John January 18, 2012 Reply

    I live for the day that men and women of faith, who love Jesus, will quit tearing each other apart in public forums. Contrary to what seems to be popular belief by some followers of Christ, criticism is not a spiritual gift.

    Perhaps believers should read Acts 5:38-39 and let God deal with His called leaders who step out of bounds. To take on that role, is to fight agains Him, as per scripture!! I heard a great pastor say one time to a group of about 125 pastors from all over our city, “why is God blessing all these different churches who do worship completely different, and more importantly who disagree on many scriptural matters, maybe its because none of us have it completely right, because every one of us brings our own sin to our translation of a perfect sinless document!”

    I couldn’t be any different than Bishop Jakes, yet I respect him immensely even if we were to disagree on a few things. Oh yea by the way, Bishop Jakes wrote and amazing letter telling the world he is in no way a modelist, never was, never will be, but up to that point didn’t see any reason to address his critics. Check your facts critics, you’re listening to what people say about him not what he says?

  • Jeff January 23, 2012 Reply


    Yeah! What he said! I think you are just a big, fat, juicy bully trying to get all of us pastors fighting with each other and putting on a big show! I think even the name of this event, “the elephant room” is very offensive to elephants!! Tusk Tusk!

    Actually Bro, you and I could be twins. We both came from fightin’ fundy backgrounds, are in ministry, and have four kids. I think yours are just a bit younger than mine. I LOVE TO INTERACT WITH PEOPLE WHO ARE DIFFERENT AND THINK DIFFERENTLY THAN ME. Like you, we were not allowed to talk with others who were just plain “wrong” on doctrine and ministry practice. And now, it is so refreshing to be gracious with everyone, learn from everyone, take the meat and leave the bones, and not have to be right all the time!

    Thanks for what you do. Keep up the good work, elephant man!


  • Graham Vermooten January 24, 2012 Reply

    As a Christian leader who has traveled the world extensively for the past 20 years, speaking in many churches and my ministry Media Village has produced documentaries of Gods moving around the globe. I support what you are trying to do totally, if the different camps do not talk to each other they will all continually believe that they have all truth.

  • Neil January 24, 2012 Reply

    “QUESTION: Do YOU think the concept of the Elephant Room is controversial at all? If so… why?”

    For one, I do believe the ER is controversial because it has caused controversy within this blog. The following are my questions to anyone who believes it is not controversial. Is the body to believe that these men are the representatives and spokespersons of Christ? Two, are the topics and responses to these topics going to create unity or cause more controversy? Has last year’s ER caused controversy? Has the line up for this year’s ER caused controversy? Is the sole purpose of the ER to generate controversy or provide unity?
    This is what I truly believe. The Elephant Room IS the problem. The reason the ER is the problem is that you have men who are in unbiblical roles trying to solve problems that their unbiblical roles have created. ER pastors, please shed the “Senior Pastor” title, end the “clergy” lording over the “laity”, and let the Holy Spirit guide the lives of regenerated and spiritually gifted believers who all different, but equal parts of the body of Christ.

    For His glory!


  • Ekim Skaew January 26, 2012 Reply

    Sounds like Elephant Room 2 is a love fest so far. Very Ecumenical. Is pastor Platt there this year?


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