Christian Complacency Thrives in Multiple Locations

Shockingly, Mark Driscoll is back on the evangelical news radar. While this is no surprise to anyone, it is getting tiresome. Evangelicals devote far too much time to “All Things Mark Driscoll”.

In fact, I’m thinking of buying that as a domain name right now, so that I can sell it later as a retirement investment.

The latest comes in an article from Matthew Paul Turner concerning Driscoll’s covert activity on message boards some years ago. Let me warn you: The language and the descriptions in Driscoll’s posts are not for the faint of hear or the easily offended.

Let me also point out that this was 14 years ago, when Driscoll was an up-and-coming pastor without formal training. As I’ve argued, there are dangers in skipping the preparation to be a pastor. I certainly didn’t learn everything in seminary, but I learned enough to recognize unethical, deceptive and narcissistic behavior. Thus ends the digression…

Following Turner’s work, Rachel Held Evans jumped into the fray on the subject, followed by a challenging article from Jonathan Merritt  and a thought provoking Twitter back-and-forth on the subject of forgiveness. Round and round we go.

It all finally came to a head this week, with Acts 29 Ministries removing Driscoll and his church, Mars Hill, from their organization.

Much of the discussion around Driscoll centers on his immaturity, misogyny, homophobia and “bullying”. I completely disagree with much of Pastor Driscoll’s approach to ministry, as well as the reasoning and theology behind it. But questions about his attitude and theology are the wrong questions.

Instead, we need to be asking:  What enables a person like Mark Driscoll, or any other pastor, to color outside the lines of Christian ethics?

The deeper problem behind Mark Driscoll is not his attitude towards women, “Biblical” manhood, homosexuality or Christian theology. The deeper problem is a lack of accountability. Driscoll can say and do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, and he really doesn’t have to answer to anyone–even the members of his church.

And that’s scary.

All the hand-wringing over Driscoll’s misogyny/homophobia/bullying often misses the deeper issue at work here. It is the attitude of complacency that allows him to have the kind of power that he does.

As long as a ministry is large, popular, and numerically successful, people are willing to be a part of it. Believers are choosing a path of complacency, where they don’t have to deal with the dirty work that sometimes is the reality of church. They choose to speak only to vehemently defend the church against anyone who brings a criticism, no matter how valid that criticism might be. As long as everything looks good and gets lots of attention (even negative attention), then it must be “God’s church” and we simply need to go along with it.

It’s much the same attitude and approach championed by fans of the televangelists in the 80s, until they had no choice but to wake up and see the monsters that a lack of accountability can create.

And that’s even scarier.

Perhaps Driscoll and other mega-church pastors push the lines of ethics, but the Christian members are enabling them to do it. The defense of Look how many people they have or look how much good they do will falter unless the membership decides to acknowledge the full scope of the reality of these ministries.

No one is saying that mega-churches and mega-pastors don’t do Godly work. But the end does not justify the means. And it doesn’t alleviate the membership from asking questions or knowing the truth behind what is happening in their church.

No one within these churches seems willing to ask why a church requires a “gag order” for staff members that leave.

Or why pastors ask for more offerings while purchasing a 16,000 square foot home.

Or why a board of non-church members set the salaries without the church’s knowledge.

Or why those offerings are used to buy the pastor’s way onto the New York Times Best-seller list (and that has happened in multiple locations).

Before I begin getting comments and private messages about how much good mega-churches do, or how judgmental I am, or how I just don’t understand large churches, let me offer another perspective.

Pastors and members of smaller churches (and that includes me) may be tempted to point self-righteously at these ministries and say, “I told you so!” But that attitude is disingenuous, because the same attitude of complacency and just “going along” exists in the small church just as it does in the mega-church.

The two sides might look very different, but they’re both on the same coin. One side may prefer easy listening to the rock concert atmosphere of the mega-church, but it still entices them to choose a Christianity of convenience.

Comfort and complacency may cause people to join a church where they can enjoy the show without having to ask any questions. Many people in smaller churches shun the show in favor of the status quo. It prevents them from making changes or moving forward beyond their traditions.

And our churches are dying because of it.

The members have decided that they are more interested in preserving what they have than they are in actually taking a chance to live for Christ. We have selected a Christianity on life support, because we don’t want to make anyone mad and we don’t want to hurt feelings. And we certainly don’t want Mr. or Mrs. So-and-So to get so mad that they stop giving their money.

I will be the first to admit that I can’t stand it when people are mad at me. However, I am painfully aware that we are living in an age when making people happy or playing on their emotions/desires is not going to cut it.

We cannot survive on entertaining music and attention-getting sermon titles. Nor can we live in the ease of our comfortable, little church family that makes us feel “at home”.  Usually when I feel at home, I want to put my feet up and crash in front of the television…and that’s a far cry from the discipleship to which Jesus calls us.

At some point, we have to dig for a Christian faith beyond the inch-deep version that is making us far too comfortable where we are. We cannot be satisfied with entertainment. We cannot be content with the status quo.

Jesus is calling us to a discipleship that is heart-piercing and accountable to Him, as well as the believers around us. If we don’t answer that call and find the will to ask the hard questions (of our leaders and ourselves), we will continue to watch our churches dwindle and die. And we’ll continue to see “pastors” such as Mark Driscoll run roughshod over the Body of Christ.

And neither will take us one step closer to the Kingdom of God, or the Christian maturity that is so desperately needed in our postmodern world.

How Can God NOT Be Disappointed in Me?

I read an outstanding and thought-provoking article by Jonathan Merritt about whether or not God is disappointed in us. It caught my attention because Merritt argues that God is never disappointed in us–and that can’t possibly be true.

Can it?

While Merritt’s argument contains great hope, promise, and solid theological arguments (even if you happen to disagree). But there is a part of me that is skeptical, that is having a hard time buying into this hopeful perspective. If I constantly disappoint myself and the people around me, then how can I not disappoint God?

Merritt’s initial premise is based on his conception of the word “disappoint” in our language. He argues that God would have to be surprised by us if he was truly disappointed in us. If we believe in an all-knowing God, then it is impossible to surprise God.

But what about God’s frustration with us and our lack of obedience, found throughout scripture? Merritt addresses this with an apt comparison:

“God is never disappointed with us. But I think God may often get disappointed for us.”

I would add something to this. God is surely disappointed for us, but God is also not disappointed IN us. For that to happen, He would have to put His faith in us, and that’s not how it works. We put our faith in Him, because we recognize–as God does–that we can’t do it all ourselves.

Okay, that sounds good and all. But there is still a part of me that hangs on to the guilt, and the unfortunate impossibility that I have to do enough to be worthy of God.

Perhaps I heard too many youth rally sermons that told me how the Russians were going to launch their warheads at us unless we all repented, or that Satan worshippers were going to drag me off and give me up as a live sacrifice to the devil if I listened to rock music. ESPECIALLY if I went to one of those demonic concerts, where all the Satan worshippers hang out.

I don’t know what it is, but I just cannot let go of the idea that God is disappointed on every level–in me, with me, and for me. And that’s unfortunate, because it creates another source of guilt:  My lack of faith in God’s grace.

I think that it’s a good thing, on some level, to recognize that our sins cause pain. We need to recognize and deal with our sinfulness, but not because God is constantly disappointed in us or angry with us or is dangling us out there as bait so that He has an excuse to start the War of Armageddon.

We need to recognize the hurt that our sin causes so that we can change, and so that we can let God heal us and help us and offer grace to us. God is most disappointed for us when we continue to live in guilt and fear instead of just trusting that He knows a lot more about what He’s doing than we do. 

As a PK (Preacher’s Kid), I did not grow up with a father who spewed flames and deadly proclamations from the pulpit every Sunday. But I heard enough of this from other places to have trouble letting go of the belief that I am the Sinner in the Hands of an Angry God.

While I don’t heap this kind of guilt on others in my own preaching, sometimes I am still haunted by it myself. Whether or not I–or we–deserve to feel that way is not the issue. God doesn’t want us to feel that way, in spite of the fact that He may indeed have every reason to.

Perhaps one day I’ll come to fully accept that, even when I do not fully understand. Perhaps I’ll give up those old ideas to realize that GRACE is an incredible gift that goes so far beyond our human ideas of sin, guilt, and punishment that we just can’t quite get it.

As I strive to find that, to fully take to heart what I preach, I will be even more careful about how I share the message of Jesus Christ. I will be cautious about how I approach issues of sin and guilt and conviction and condemnation. Because I would hate to give anyone listening to my sermons that God is constantly looking for reasons to be disappointed with or in any of us.

Instead, He’s looking to love and heal and forgive. He continues to offer His grace, even when we don’t quite get it or hang on to the guilt long after Christ has said, “You can let go now”.

The good knows is that grace doesn’t depend on us understanding it. Grace just is, no matter how much we struggle with our unworthiness.

And for that–Thanks be to God!

Baptists, Boy Scouts, and Blogging

Several weeks ago, the Boy Scouts of America changed the language of their membership standards to allow gay members into scouting.

Last week, the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution condemning the decision by Boy Scouts of America to allow gay members into the organization. This lit up the blogosphere among all types of Christians, from the most moderate to the most conservative, about whether or not this was an appropriate response by the SBC.

I wasn’t sure that it was even necessary for me to weigh in on this, considering the number of more popular bloggers that have already done so. But in light of other events this week,  it just seems to fit.

Let me state this for any of the four people who actually read my blog:  I am a pastor. I serve a church that remains connected to the Southern Baptist Convention and still donates to that organization. However, I’m more like a 3rd cousin, by marriage, 4 times removed. We don’t give much money to the Convention, and we also affiliate with the more moderate Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

Believe me when I tell you that I’m not on Al Mohler’s Christmas card list. My only personal connection to the SBC is through the church. But I grew up as the son of a Southern Baptist pastor. I have been a part of it to one degree or another since I first breathed air at a hospital in Lumberton, NC.

I say that to let you know that I am writing as one who has plenty of criticism of the SBC, but I haven’t completely left. I also haven’t abandoned the traditional church or given up on it or gotten so frustrated that I just decided to write blogs and get on the lecture circuit as a disenfranchised Christian. Many who are writing on this issue have done that, and I completely understand why they did so.

But I chose to stay. I still feel this irresistible compulsion to be in the church, to preach, to care for the people of the church and to battle for the faithful who remain in the traditional church, even when they disagree with its direction. Plus, I’m probably not good enough or nice enough to make a living any other way, outside the good graces of the people of Augusta Heights Baptist.

I consider myself fortunate to have found a church–in Greenville, SC of all places–where I can say what I’m about to say with limited fear of repercussion or outrage.

This SBC resolution on Boy Scouts points out the reason that I find it more and more difficult to maintain a personal connection to the SBC. This action also give a snapshot of why the SBC–and perhaps denominations in general–continue to move towards irrelevance in the 21st century.

First off, let’s be clear that a “resolution” has no binding power on Southern Baptist churches, and the convention surprisingly acknowledged that. While condemning the actions of the Scouts, they did not mandate that autonomous SBC churches sever their ties to the organization.

Still, the fact that they felt the need to comment at all carries more than enough weight. Already, churches are beginning to follow through on the tenor of the resolution. That may actually be in the best interest of Scout groups, if churches really feel that one decision outweighs all the good that Boy Scouts do. But it’s bad for Southern Baptists.

Please keep in mind that my comments are written in consideration of the Southern Baptist position on homosexuality. While not every church or Baptist agrees, the SBC is consistent in its belief that homosexuality is a sin.

In a ridiculous effort to maintain some image of “theological purity” and in their continual insistence on making homosexuality THE sin and THE issue that overwhelms all others, Southern Baptists once again look judgmental, naive and borderline foolish.

Keep in mind that the Boy Scouts have not yet admitted gay leaders, just members.

Let’s say that there are homosexuals in a Scout troop. How does it help for a church to say, “We are kicking out your group because of YOU”? I seriously doubt that these boys will suddenly fall to their knees and change their “sinful” ways. Does a young man’s sexuality mean that he doesn’t need the education, training and environment that Scouts provide?

As a friend of mine tweeted to me:  shouldn’t their main focus be on reaching ppl for Christ and not condemning a fine organization? Scouts provide male role models that kids need esp, if one is absent in the home, why the SBC doesn’t see that is beyond me…

Once again, the SBC has made this THE sin, THE defining issue for all affiliations/memberships/partnerships. It has become the unforgivable sin in conservative Christian circles. This ignores the fact that there are most likely gay people in every church, including the youth group. But since we don’t know it, we just ignore it. It always makes us feel better to point out the “sins” of others, because it keeps us from taking care of our own house.

Believe me, I have been shocked over the years to find out “after the fact” how many gay members have sat in pews of churches where I worked, and how many students to whom I ministered that later came out. It’s not a huge number, but I’m betting it’s more than most Southern Baptists would want to think.

If we can’t work at all with people who disagree with us, then Southern Baptists (or any other church who follows a similar path) will find that their sphere of influence is shrinking. They will discover that they haven’t merely set themselves apart, but alienated themselves from the world. And in so doing, we will continue to lose opportunities to love and minister to all people, as the Gospel commands us to do.

I’m afraid this resolution is a new low for the SBC. The more the denomination tries to prop up this fraud of “theological purity” that no one can maintain, the more irrelevant they become. Oh, SBC leaders will beat their chests and congratulate themselves on not giving into the world.

But in their attempt to set themselves apart, they’ve accomplished little more than taking away yet one more opportunity to minister. That’s a sad state of affairs, and it’s one more reason why I probably won’t attend many SBC “family reunions” anymore. I’m afraid that I find myself identifying more and more with those outside bloggers and critics than with the convention itself.

For more blogs on this issue, here are a few you might want to check out:

Jonathan Merritt – an excellent piece on the SBC as a whole

Rachel Held Evans – extremely well-stated position on the issue of Gay Scouts

Sojourner’s

Al Mohler

Christians and Homeschooling: A Response to Jonathan Merritt

Yesterday, I read with interest an article by Jonathan Merritt concerning the Christian/Religious response to the Homeschool trend. Merritt does an excellent job of pointing out some positives and negatives of the issue, while ultimately stating his support of the rights of homeschool parents.

While I’m not sure that this is an issue that justifies the granting of political asylum to someone, I certainly agree with the right of parents to homeschool their children. I also believe that many children are quite often getting an effective education through homeschool.

The nature of homeschooling has changed dramatically in recent years.There are more resources for teaching, cohorts for socialization/interaction, and collective or co-op setups to share teaching duties. Interest has expanded beyond Christian circles, although Christian families still make up the most significant element of the homeschool crowd.

There is strong evidence that more and more homeschool students do just fine in many areas of education and society. Aside from Merritt’s graph (which is a bit skewed in its presentation), the evidence seems clear that homeschooling has evolved and advanced over the years.

Homeschooling is a definitively Christian enterprise, in spite of increased participation from other religions or non-religious people. In the previous link, 95% of homeschool families come from Christian denominations. With that in mind, Merritt may be asking the wrong question.

The better question might be:  What are Christians going to do to support public schools?

In the last 50 years, we have witnessed a dramatic drop in the status of public education. Respect for teachers is at an all-time low (feel free to Google this, you may be surprised at some results). Public schools are vilified in some Christian circles as bastions of evil and secularism. We see news stories about teacher strikes in Chicago, and label all educators as greedy, money-grubbers who just want summer breaks and big paychecks.

Like it or not, some Christians are very opposed to public school and have essentially given up hope for public education.

Homeschool is one response to this. But what about all those students who don’t have anyone to educate them at home? Is it a Christian position to just say, “Tough crap, survival of the fittest” and leave those students behind?

Is it right for us to continue griping about the cost of education when teachers go five years without a pay raise, while still having to pay out of pocket for their copy paper and copies?

Is it right for us to ignore the students who don’t have a place to wash their clothes or anyone at home who can help them to do math?

The reality is that many Christians already support homeschool, or at least the rights of parents to choose that option. I would challenge Christians to also find ways to support public schools as well.

Christians are sometimes guilty of letting our “buttons” get pushed a little too easy, and public education is one of those buttons. Just think for a minute:  What if churches began to support their local public schools the way that some support homeschooling?

Schools need people to go in just to give a teacher a minute to go to the bathroom! They need copy paper. They need pencils and pens. They need “Study Buddies” and classroom help and tutors. It seems that perhaps we need to invest less in our own buildings and more in our school buildings. And it will be a lot more productive than chastising public education from the pulpit or the Bible study group.

In other words, stop complaining and invest yourself in making the situation better!

No, you can’t go into a public school with a Bible or preach sermons or hand out salvation tracts. But your purpose should not be to win converts, but help students learn. You might be surprised at how effective you can be at witnessing by leaving the agenda at the door and simply focusing on the needs of students and educators.

You might also be surprised at the impact you can have in Jesus Christ without ever quoting a verse or directly saying His name. Your prayers, even silent ones, before/during/after your visit to the school building is just as effective as any that are said out loud, if not more so (Matthew 6:5-6).

I don’t disagree with anything that Jonathan Merritt says in his article. I just think we need to change the focus of the question. Homeschool is here to stay, and it’s going to be supported by a lot of Christians. We need to start asking ourselves how Jesus wants us to support ALL students, including the public school students.

How we react to the needs of public school students and educators may say a lot more about who we are called to be as followers of Christ. Are we willing to put aside exclusive self-interest and individual agendas in order to help others? Homeschool is fine, but it should never come at the expense of education for all students. A less educated society is a loss for everyone.