Picking on pastors

The last few months have not been kind to a few megachurch pastors. This entry is written with great hesitance and, I hope, genuine humility. I’ve mulled over its tone and force for a couple of weeks now. You see, I am a pastor. I’m not in a megachurch; however, both pastors referenced in this entry did not begin with a megachurch.

Both have been castigated recently by news of questionable practices and decisions that they’ve made.

So let’s begin by naming names: Mark Driscoll and Stephen Furtick.

Mark is pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle and also the primary initiator behind the Acts 29 network of churches. Stephen is the pastor of Elevation Church in Charlotte.

If you’re not familiar with the negative press they’ve received, let me boil it down for you:

Driscoll-FurtickDriscoll:

  • Accused of plagiarism in books he’s written, uncited sources (source)
  • Accused of manipulating sales of his books in collaboration with his publisher by buying his way onto bestseller lists (source)

Furtick:

  • Accused of planting people in massive baptism services to lead the way when an invitation is made for people to come forward and be baptized (by Charlotte NBC affiliate)
  • Built a 16,000 sq foot home valued at $1.6 million (source)

You know things are heating up when a website devoted to exposing you launches called driscollcontroversy.com and when a local NBC affiliate produces an expose on your church’s practices.

Celebrity pastors

Back in 2012, Skye Jethani wrote an excellent article sounding the alarm about the market-driven creation of The Evangelical Industrial Complex & the Rise of Celebrity Pastors.

Every generation has had a handful of well known pastors, but why are there now so many? What explains the creation of an entire celebrity-class within the evangelical world? ..what is new is the number of celebrity pastors and the speed with which they are being created/coronated.

Jethani says that it’s not Christians who are creating celebrity pastors but the market. I disagree. The market is made up of Christians, you see, and we are like our Corinthian faith ancestors, clamoring for a leader to worship that is more like us. They too were lining up to popularize and claim a particular leader as their faith superstar:

“…each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas…” (1 Corinthians 1:12-13 ESV)

Some of the super spiritual Corinthians trumped the rest by claiming “I follow Christ.”

Jethani says that it’s “our human proclivity for leader-worship” that is setting these leaders up for surreal success. Historically, Christians have never handled power and success well. We should not be surprised when ordinary men who love God may get caught up in crazy growth environments and begin believing some of their own press and the adulation of those around them.

The sad thing is that their success inevitably dictates what the rest of Christendom is exposed to, for it’s their books that get published and their voices we hear from stages at conferences.

This market-driven cycle of megachurches, conferences, and publishers results in an echo chamber where the same voices, espousing the same values, create an atmosphere where ministry success becomes equated with audience aggregation.

I love Jethani’s point about how our hero worship leads us to overlook faithfulness in small places:

And there’s a reason a brilliant, godly, wise, 50-year-old pastor with a gift for communicating, carrying a timely message, and leading a church of 200 in Montana is highly unlikely to get a publishing contract. And even if he does, good luck getting the stage at a conference or any marketing energy from the publisher; their efforts will be poured into the handful of megachurch pastors in their lineup whose book sales pay their salaries. It is exceedingly difficult to break into the club without a large customer base (a.k.a. a megachurch).

Lovers of celebrity avoid biblical community.

That’s a big statement, but I think it rings true. I don’t know that Furtick or Driscoll actually pursue celebrity or if it’s thrust upon them. Some may see celebrity as a path for strategic Christian influence, and I get that. However, celebrity is a dangerous status.

Pastor Tony Parker sounds off about it and our responsibility to it:

We can do ourselves a big help if we could give less attention to the celebrity and more attention to community; less attention to the opinions of superstar artists and mega-conference pastors and more attention to work of the ministry through the elders and deacons, pastors and teachers in our local church. Besides, if we are rightly thinking, we are all unworthy servants (Lk. 17:10). In my estimation, unworthy servants make poor billboard icons.

Offer prayer instead of criticism.

A healthy path for us all when our celebrity pastors stumble is to pray rather than prey. The old adage is still powerfully present in Christian subculture: “The Christian army is the only one that shoots its wounded.” There are way too many people who are quick to judge, prepared to pounce, eager to critize and itching to tweet (would that be twitching?).

Since Jesus commands us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, should we treat Christian leaders more harshly? Even if they make poor decisions or pursue an unwise course of action, let’s offer grace. Ken Sande calls it making a charitable judgement:

“Making a charitable judgment means that out of love for God, you strive to believe the best about others until you have facts to prove otherwise. In other words, if you can reasonably interpret facts in two possible ways, God calls you to embrace the positive interpretation over the negative, or at least to postpone making any judgment at all until you can acquire conclusive facts.”

What if there is something wrong with your celebrity pastor?

Praying is all well and good, some may say, but what if something needs to be done? What if worse comes to worse, and it begins to look unhealthy for the church, both local and global?

Still, I would cite Sande:

“Jesus is not forbidding critical thinking in the positive sense, which means to evaluate others’ words and actions carefully so we can discriminate between truth and error, right and wrong (see Matt. 7:15-16). What he is warning us about is our inclination to make critical judgments in the negative sense, which involves looking for others’ faults and, without valid and sufficient reason, forming unfavorable opinions of their qualities, words, actions, or motives. In simple terms, it means looking for the worst in others.”

You can’t help but notice the hundreds of web articles that result if you type in either pastor’s name mentioned above. You can see where others have “called out” Christian leaders for deeper issues. Recently, Rick Henderson took Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer to task as one such example. Todd Pruitt over at Reformation21 offers some concerns about how we should the view pastorate but also directly questions Furtick and Elevation Church’s wisdom in the “Cult of the Visioneer.”

Are these direct criticisms helpful? I don’t think so. It puts churches and pastors in defensive mode. Furtick responded last week that it was a “witch hunt.” That’s not helpful either. You see how the conversation produces heat instead of light?

Why prayer works

I’m not saying we should suspend discernment. I’m saying we should pray for it among the members of the churches that may have celebrity-status pastors. Many of these leaders are amazing servants of the Lord, and their temptations are great due to the influence they wield. If you’re not a member of a church in which one of these leaders is being criticized, be wary of going public unless their teaching begins to directly contradict the clear teachings of scripture. If it’s just bad judgement calls or questionable practices, bite your tongue and make a charitable judgement. Embrace grace.

When we pray for these leaders and their churches, we should pray that God is honored and Christ is glorified. When we center on His fame instead of ours, He responds and moves in amazing ways.

“Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” (Romans 14:13, 19)

How have you responded? How do you think the conversation should be shaped?

Nuff said: Majestic Hotel, smartphones and sleep, church signs, church history, imperialist Christian missionaries

The Majestic Hotel burned

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Picture from Fox 16 in Little Rock story.

Over the weekend, the renowned Majestic Hotel in Hot Springs, Arkansas burned. It had been closed, shuttered up, since 2006, in desperate need of renovation and repairs. No one stepped up to do so, and in a tragedy of landmark significance, the resulting fire will dramatically alter historic downtown Hot Springs. The fire was significant to me since I went to college at nearby Arkadelphia, and Hot Springs was a popular destination for entertainment and dining.

Here are some great links detailing the hotel’s history and abandonment. If you’ve got a few minutes, it’s worth reviewing the past of this establishment which drew Chicago gangsters such as Al Capone regularly.

Your smartphone is robbing your sleep

Do you lie in bed doing work before sleeping.. on your smartphone? Research in this article says that using your smartphone late to respond to texts, emails and try to get a jump on the next day can inhibit your overall productivity and impact the quality of your sleep.

“..work-related smartphone use in the evening was associated with fewer hours of sleep… put down the phone and enjoy the evening.”

The article encouraged me again to implement a smartphone fast for a time. I called it my Digital Lifestyle Adjustment Experiment (DLAE) last year. Read about the experiment here.

Church Signs

HT: Jon Acuff (For you digital bloggie newbs, “HT” means “hat tip” and is a way to say “I first saw this at ___. Thanks.”) Jon said:

“A brilliant guy named Dustin Ah Kuoi created this. The thing I loved about it was that it parodied church signs perfectly. It was like a parody inside of a parody wrapped inside an enigma. Like Newman.”

Reasons you should know church history

I think I first heard the term chronological snobbery from Pastor John Piper. It’s a very real mindset which presumes that current thought and culture is the premier epicenter of human logic and existence. The idea that people before us were smarter or more moral is banished from our worldview. It’s an unquestioned embrace of supposed human mental and spiritual evolution.

However, we should look back often so that we can be humbled, encouraged and reminded that others have tread this path before us and offer invaluable instruction for our profit and peace. Many of those who have gone before us would make today’s intellectual giants look more like dwarves.

This article lists 10 reasons we should know church history. Here are a few that grabbed me and made me nod.

Church history comforts believers in their struggles. Jonathan Edwards was fired from a job. Martin Luther was plagued by fear. Elisabeth Elliot endured the death of two husbands—one at the hands of violent natives on the mission field. Yet none of their lives were ruined by these hardships. They all went on to fruitfulness. Knowing this encourages perseverance amid our own afflictions.

“Church history broadens our choice of devotional literature.” A hearty amen here. I get so weary of contemporary Christians devouring only modern Christian material and regaling over every new book released by a popular preacher. It’s desperately important to dine on the classics and the pilgrims of our faith. (By the way, due to age, many of them are now free. Search the web for pdfs.)

Here are some places to begin:

“Church history helps believers interpret the Bible.”

“Church history frees us from the illusion that modern, secular psychology is the only solution for emotional and behavioral problems.”

One more…

“Church history contains cautionary tales to remind us that Christians can dishonor their Lord. The crusades, the Salem Witch Trials, the Inquisition, and the Reformers’ squelching of religious freedom all engender humility and caution for believers. Zeal is not enough to justify our words or deeds. We must take care that actions we label “Christian” truly reflect Jesus.”

Were Christian missionaries imperialist society-ruiners?

Ever heard that line of thought? The rationale goes something like this – The worst thing that ever happened to many third world countries and aboriginal societies was the introduction of Christianity by western missionaries. It’s a popular assertion among intelligentsia and on college campuses in anthropology courses.

However, it’s distinctly and patently wrong.

Now there’s empirical research to not just discount the claim but reverse it. Democracy wouldn’t exist without the foundation of Christianity claims this ten-year study that many scholars are now confessing carries a lot of weight.

No rules…

400000000000000189595_s4In much the same way that I read Matt Chandler’s book Explicit Gospel (see post here), I invite you to read with me Chip Ingram’s True Spirituality (previously published and titled Living on the Edge). I’m reading it in advance of using it as a resource for our small groups at church this fall.

God’s solution for spiritual transformation is not rules… God’s solution is not trying hard to be more moral or to keep one’s nose clean through self-effort. In fact, God’s solution is not primarily about religious activities or programs… church attendance and church programs programs are unable in and of themselves to produce lasting life change.

Exactly. #dontgobe

Review: Explicit Gospel

9781433530036

I experienced sadness while reading this book.

When I completed it, I distinctly remember shaking my head, thinking how I wish I’d had this resource in hand when I began serving in ministry as a 19 year-old. Chandler’s message is one for the American church that has allowed growth, family life centers, good works and morality to displace the message of Jesus Christ Himself. From someone who’s been in ministry as a vocation for over 27 years (wow!), I can assure you that this book penetrates.

I began the year reading it, and I posted my reflections along the way in this post (which I encourage you to read; I posted more in-depth reflections in the comments section of it as well). Matt Chandler is pastor of The Village Church in Texas, and he pulls no punches as he seeks to KO gospel-less churches and ministries.

The “Christian” life he derides throughout the book is not really Christian. It’s similar to the righteous indignation that the apostle Paul expressed to the Galatians – a religious group of people, to be sure, but a people who had left the essential message of the gospel. When you depart from the message, you cannot live accordingly.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ…  For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. (Galatians 1:6-7, 11-12 ESV)

What the Galatians were doing is the same as what Chandler describes in Explicit Gospel. They had turned from the wonder of the gospel to the work of morality.

Most evangelical Christians believe Christians are in a bargaining position [with God].. We come to [Him] and say, ‘I’ll do this, and you’ll do that. And if I do this for you, then you’ll do that for me.’ .. We want to live as though the Christian life is a 50/50 project we undertake with God, like faith is some kind of cosmic vending machine. And we’re reinforced in this idolatry by bad preachers, by ministers with no respect for the Scriptures, by talking heads who teach out of emotion instead of texts, who tickle ears with no evident fear of the God who curses bringers of alternative gospels. [See Galatians 1.8-9]

I personally enjoy Chandler’s sense of humor. Others may find him a bit too biting or sarcastic. However, don’t let that put you off. He is charitable throughout in his passion to portray the beauty of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He is not trying to write it anew; rather, he is reminding anew. He wants Christians to remember and cherish the deep, wonderful, joyful, liberating good news that Jesus Christ embodies and brought to humanity.

Without a clear commitment to the proclamation of a clear gospel, the path to heaven is obscured while the path to Hell is cleared. Chandler says there is only one obstacle in any person’s path to Hell. It’s Jesus Himself.

Jesus lays His body across the path; there is no ignoring Him. If it’s headlong into Hell we want to go, we have to step over Jesus to get there. (italics mine)

Get the book. Read it. Share it with friends. And then live as if your life depended on the gospel being explicit. Because it does.