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.

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Whereas Christians Need to Stop Watching the Oscars

Yes, yes, we have just finished up a “wonderful” season as we begin the spring.

We call it Oscar Season.

People glued themselves to the television to fawn over a group of talented, yet completely self-absorbed, people during their night of self-congratulatory splendor. Then, more people spent the following week either loving or criticizing what these people (particularly the ladies) wore to this party.

Some people take it as a temporary distraction from reality—after all, isn’t that kind of what a movie is supposed to be? But it also points out the absurd obsession that we have with celebrity in this country.

We are enamored with fame and celebrity culture. For some reason, we’ve even decided that it’s a good idea to hear what these people have to say about political issues, environmental science, education or child vaccinations. Do you think it’s any accident that Clint Eastwood and Scarlett Johansson actual spoke at the political conventions in 2012? At least Eastwood has held a political office, albeit a small one.

For some reason, we think that being famous gives you more clout on topics about which a person may have zero wisdom, knowledge, training or experience. So we turn on our televisions to watch each of the 17 self-congratulatory events that these entertainers throw for themselves each calendar year. It wouldn’t be such a big deal, except that we actually listen and care way too much what these people have to say.

Especially if they have something to say about God. Enter Matthew McConaughey.

In his acceptance speech, he made a number of references, giving God credit for his success and showing appreciation for his personal relationship with the Almighty. Christians went nuts over his speech and then went on the offensive against Hollywood for not clapping loud enough about his comments.

Never mind that McConaughey earned this honor making a movie that was filled with sex, including homosexuality. Never mind that many viewed the film as a social commentary encouraging people to change their views regarding AIDS and homosexuality. Never mind that other criticize the film for its lack of morality regarding the lifestyles of the characters involved.

The minute the McConaughey mentioned God, all bets were off and all was forgiven, at least for him and the message of his film. Media outlets jumped to his defense at the perceived–or perhaps real–lukewarm reaction that his Oscar speech received.

And Twitter blew up with Christian outrage at this disrespect leveled towards faith in God. Apparently, mentioning God in your speech is more important than the actual content of the work, and all stars should have capitulated to that.

The point is not to bad-mouth McConaughey or his fans. It is simply to point out how we swoon the minute that God and/or Christian faith get a little star power. At that point, content and character take a back seat–as in, a third row back seat–to the potential to align one’s faith with a star.

As much as we criticize the cultural shifts towards secularization and an increasingly non-Christian culture, the hard truth that we do not want to face is that we’ve bought into it lock, stock and barrel. Star power is much more celebrated than substance. Rather than turning to the faith that we see every day, we have inebriated ourselves with the faith of people that we have not even met, much less know.

This may be why some pastors justify the use of tithes and offerings of people to get on the best-seller list. Fame and notoriety are apparently worth the cost to the church so that they can say their pastor is a best-selling author.

I’m sorry, but I assume that people give their tithes and offerings because they expect that gift to go towards missions and ministry. Unfortunately, in the Culture of Celebrity that we have created for Christianity, this has become THE way that we do missions and ministry.

So what is the real problem here?

Fact is, most of us didn’t come to faith because an Oscar winner talked about God, or a pastor got his name into the newspaper. (I’m guessing that more than one person left the faith because the pastor got their name in the paper). We came to faith in Jesus Christ because someone looked us in the eye and we saw the face of Christ in them.

Yes, celebrity ministers have accomplished some great things through the centuries. My aunt came to Christ through watching Jim Bakker on the PTL Club, and none of the scandals around him can change that. But that is the exception, not the rule. And it’s a pretty sure bet that the discipleship that hopefully follows salvation is a much more intimate, personal issue.

Most of us know Christ because Mrs. Sarah Ballard had perfect attendance in Sunday School for 20 years, and was there to teach the children every week (no matter how poorly we behaved). Mrs. Turner raised us up from the Cradle Roll. Mrs. Wilma taught us back in the 80s, and is now teaching our children, even at 87 years young.

Or beyond that, we developed a relationship with someone who demonstrates Christ in their daily actions or attitudes. Or someone invited us to a church where we felt welcomed and accepted. Or a friend just decided to share a personal testimony that resonated with us. Or perhaps someone was praying for us when we didn’t even realize.

Then again, some of us just did it the old-fashioned way:  Our mom and dad were great examples of what it means to follow Jesus, and we finally got it after a few years and some hard knocks.

These are the real Christian role models, those that we know and encounter face-to-face, rather than hearing snippets and sound bytes of their faith.

I really don’t have any issue with the Oscars, but I do have an issue with followers of Christ getting so enthralled with things that really do not add the greatest meaning to our lives. It’s fine to like an actor and even cheer his/her acceptance speech. But when our obsession with fame becomes more important than the people that really brought us to faith in Christ, and when it causes us to spend hard-earned gifts of God’s people to create that fame, then we have a problem.

If we can’t honestly keep ourselves from our celebrity obsession, then maybe we need to stop watching celebrities. Matthew McConaughey might be a fine person, a good actor, and a solid Christian. But I don’t know him, and I never will. And I don’t know any pastors who are “best-selling” authors either.

When it comes to faith in Jesus Christ, I will take Mrs. Sarah or Mrs. Turner or Mrs. Wilma or Mom & Dad or my Christian friends any day of the week.

And twice on Sundays.

Leading and Following: Getting Attention Is NOT Leadership!

So much for writing a blog on leadership every day. No matter…we’ll just start here.

My wife taught middle school when I began as pastor of our first church. Around 2000, she assigned her students to write a paper on the person that they most admired. One of her students, who happened to be a girl in our youth group at church, wrote about Britney Spears.

Needless to say, my wife was a little disappointed with the choice. This girl had great parents, a great family, and great teachers/friends/coaches around her. Yet, she chose the most popular, cutsie, sexually exploited 18 year old on the planet. No matter how many good people surrounded her, she chose the person who was best at simply getting everyone’s attention.

We have far too many Britney Spears in Christian leadership these days. And too many people who are willing to fall for it.

I read a lot of blogs about Christian leadership. Most of them are 50 miles wide and less than knee-deep. It’s the same basic stuff that I’ve been reading since Rick Warren wrote The Purpose-Driven Church. Five purposes…10 things to improve your spiritual life…four ways to make staff meetings better…etc. (One example:  harvestministryteams.com).

It’s not that these suggestions are bad; in fact, I read some of these articles and follow some of the writers on twitter. But it’s nothing unique or original, and these should be prompts to a deeper study of leadership. Yet people just continue to consume the same regurgitated information because it’s easy and it’s popular.

Then we have the likes of Mark Driscoll. He is an conservative, Reformed Calvinist pastor at a megachurch in Seattle. He’s known as “the cussing pastor” because he loves to toss four-letter words and tell dirty jokes from the pulpit (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/11/magazine/11punk-t.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0). This supposedly makes Driscoll and his church “relevant”.

Other pastors in Mark Driscoll’s “camp” have followed suit, telling people “you suck” or “your stupid,” and dismissing criticism with videos that say “Haters gonna hate.” (Really, we’re going ICE-T on this?).

Then there is the other theological extreme in the Emergent or Progressive Christian movements. While these so-called movements claim to be grassroots, they have a few primary voices. And those voices are not afraid to use bad language (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/tonyjones/2013/02/04/should-we-trust-ray-lewiss-conversion/) or make somewhat outlandish statements (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/tonyjones/2013/01/24/7998/).

This is the Middle School Mentality that seems to overwhelm Christian leadership. One side tends to be the “cool kids” who say and do whatever they can to be popular.

Then we have the “too cool for school” kids, and a number of these are pastors. They’re cool because they have faux-hawks and holes in their jeans and videos on YouTube. And they cuss and tell dirty jokes in their sermons, so they must be awesome.

They even have an entire “cult” devoted to pointing out their faults (http://fbcjaxwatchdog.blogspot.com/ and www.apprisingministries.org) that they are more than happy to unapologetically berate and dismiss as “haters”.

http://http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NCW9-MglCsw

On the other side, we have the kids who decide to dress in black and all get together to show how “different” they really are. Some have abandoned the church in search of true faith (whatever that is). They spend their time at conferences and gatherings and blogging all the time. (Okay, unlike SOME of us, they churn them out every day…but they have all day to blog!)

And they pride themselves on being cutting edge, criticizing the “cool kids”, and making outlandish predictions about the death of that kind of Christianity.

Funny…they seem so different, and yet they practice the exact same kind of leadership. They say whatever they can to get as much publicity and attention as possible.  And just like middle school, those of us in between are lobbying to choose between one or the other.

Let me suggest that we need to change the way that we lead, and the way that we follow.

These guys and girls (only included on the Emergent/Progressive side) may truly believe everything they say, but they put a lot of energy into finding outlandish ways to say it. We need to remember that the ability to get attention does NOT make someone a good leader! 

Just because someone has a big congregation or a lot of followers on twitter does not make them a good leader. Even a dedicated group of followers does not necessarily define someone as a good leader, and we need to stop defining ourselves as leaders based on the amount of love that we get. We need to strive to say things that are worth saying rather than just wrapping meaningless words in a good package.

Some of the best leaders say the least and often go unnoticed. The best leaders promote the greater good rather than promoting themselves. The best leaders may have a limited sphere of influence, but they have a maximum impact on that sphere. If you want to be a solid leader, seek substance instead of headlines.

Work less on your style , and more on your substance. And look for leaders who do the same thing. Otherwise, you might find yourself following the Christian version of Britney Spears.

Find Something Better to Do: The Ongoing Christian (Over)Reaction to Politics

How foolish I was to think things might calm down after the election. I forgot that we still had the inauguration of Barack Obama.

First off, several friends posted on Facebook concerning a prayer by Merlie Evers, who used the Pledge of Allegiance in her prayer but left out the phrase “Under God”.

Thus began the weeping and gnashing and bashing. Several friends posted about how horrible this was, how the country was going down the drain because we fail to acknowledge God. Let’s deal with that in short order.

First off, Mrs. Evers was using the pledge in a prayer that she offered to God and closed it by offering the prayer in Jesus’ name. But I guess that’s not sufficient, especially when you just get the YouTube version and fail to hear/read the entire thing. Second, it could be that she used those words and maybe assumed that we would be smart enough to see that Under God was clear enough, since she was praying to God and offering that prayer in Jesus’ name.

Finally, it takes a lot of brass to call out Myrlie Evers for not being “Godly” enough or being party to the decline of the nation. I would say that she and her family have sacrificed a great deal more for freedom and justice than most of us could imagine. http://mshistorynow.mdah.state.ms.us/articles/53/medgar-evers-and-the-origin-of-the-civil-rights-movement-in-mississippi

Then came another chapter in the “Don’t hit send” legacy. I saw a tweet from Seattle pastor Mark Driscoll, who leads a popular megachurch and has been “crowned” as a King in American Evangelicalism:

Mark-Driscoll-Obama-Inauguration

Our Youth Minister, Josh, had the AUDACITY to re-post this, along with some criticism of Pastor Mark. He was then ripped on Facebook for doing so, for daring to call into question the authority of an elder of the church! Without going too deep into it, let me just say that Josh was absolutely right, and has every reason to call out Driscoll, because Driscoll publicly called out someone that he does not know and offered a judgment that he probably does not have any direct basis to offer.

And Mark Driscoll is no Elder in my church.

So, after thinking we might be at the tail end of the vitriol, it cranks up again with the inauguration. Where does that leave us as followers of Christ? How do we respond in a Christ-centered way when we disagree on political issues or have a problem with our elected officials? Staying silent is not always an option, but we seem to stick our foot right in it when we don’t have the facts or choose to hit “send” without thinking.

Then I saw a re-post from an old college friend, Ruthie Bagnall, that actually restored my faith in the Christian ability to speak on public issues. It also offered some solid guidance on a BETTER way to approach our politics as it meshes with Christian faith. This is from Matt Carter, a friend of Ruthie’s that I do not know and have never met:

“If I had a guess, if Cindy and I were to go out to dinner with Barack and Michelle Obama it would be an amazing evening. I bet the conversation would be extraordinary. I bet we’d laugh and enjoy each others’ company. If I had a guess, (and truly no human being can look into the heart of another and know their motives) I’d be willing to believe that Mr. Obama loves America, has a vision for our nation, and wants what’s best for it.

I strongly disagree with many things that Mr. Obama stands for and has done. That said, as a Christian I have two callings. The first is this, that I will honor and respect his office meaning that I will hold my tongue and not gossip or slander the man, and I will think the best of him to the best of my ability. The second is this, that I will pray for him, for his family, and for our nation. I believe I remained true to that commitment throughout his first term, and I intend to do that again.

Brothers and sisters, if our Christianity looks no better than America’s favorite pastime of hanging around the water cooler bashing those in authority then those who would malign our faith are well-justified in their criticism. Romans 13:1-2 says this: Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves…. God is either sovereign or he isn’t. You can’t have is both ways. Ultimately, we serve a King and a kingdom that far surpasses anything the United States will ever achieve. If you’re worried about present circumstances you’re focused on the wrong kingdom! Look up, and Rock your day people!”

Matt Carter may not have Mark Driscoll’s popularity. But I wish he was. I’d much rather hear what he has to say, and the rest of us need to hear it as well. And it’s something a lot better to do than just bashing other believers that you don’t happen to like.

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

For those of you that have not noticed, I have a pretty bad cynical/skeptical streak.  The hair on my neck stands up when “Everybody’s doing it” or “It’s the newest thing.” 

 

This streak probably explains my hesitation about “King-makers” and “Queen-makers,” particularly in the blogosphere.  Here’s how it works:  If you get mentioned in a positive way by certain bloggers, your work suddenly becomes the hottest item on the web. 

 

Or, if you get mentioned in a negative way, you find yourself at the center of a comment/blog/twitter war.  For an example of this, check out the work of Rachel Held Evans in relation to Mark Driscoll:  http://rachelheldevans.com/mark-driscoll-real-marriage.  If you want to see all the gory details, just Google Rachel Held Evans Mark Driscoll.

 

There are pages upon pages of material and commentary.

 

I agree with many of Rachel’s blogs and comments.  But she is one of the king/queen-makers.  If you get into her good graces, you are elevated to star status in the blogosphere.

 

In spite of my skepticism, I read with great interest her blog on 15 reasons why she left the church:  http://rachelheldevans.com/15-reasons-i-left-church.  She asks two questions at the end of the blog and leaves them open for comment.

 

Why did you leave the church?  Or why did you stay?  The second question is the one that I want to address.  It probably won’t get me “crowned” by Rachel Held Evans, but hopefully it will mean something to you.

 

10 Reasons Why I Stayed:

 

-I believe that there are many open-minded Christians who stay silent because they fear being “shouted down” by more vocal believers.

 

-I believe that there are congregations who value mercy over judgment.

 

-I believe there is still more good than bad in most churches.

 

-I never expected the church to be perfect in the first place (human beings have a bad habit of messing up that expectation).

 

-I believe that many believers in the Body of Christ are striving to be better.

 

-As tempting as it is, we usually make a mistake when we abandon something because we disagree with people.

 

-I believe in the power of Christ to change things (and people) for the better.

 

-I have found a church that values loving relationships above all else; and I believe that all churches can develop a similar ethic.

 

-I do not believe that all churches are the same.

 

-I believe that I have been called to continue striving to help the Body of Christ get better.

 

Why did YOU choose to stay? 

 

Or would you be willing to come back?