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.

Advertisements

Whereas an Educated Pastor Is not a “Dangerous” Thing

It has become the new fad in various Christian circles to declare that seminary/divinity school is a waste of time. I even follow a guy on Twitter who runs a podcast and blog called Seminary Dropout (@beardonbike). It’s definitively not an anti-seminary website, but it’s also no accident that it’s a catchy title and hash tag in this era of Christianity.

Then there are articles like this one, that tell us it’s “dangerous” to require a pastor to have a seminary education (or experience, or a certain marital status).

Let us leave the last two alone for now, and focus a little on the first requirement.

Why is it suddenly a bad thing to expect someone to be educated to do their job?

Okay, I confess: I WENT TO SEMINARY! And I confess again:  I LOVED it, thought it was great, and had a terrific experience. I still talk to friends from my class and professors from good old Pittsburgh Theological.

(Before anyone else can say it: Yes, it’s a Presbyterian (USA) seminary, and some would call it liberal and I really don’t care what you think. They gave me a full ride).

The growing anti-seminary, anti-education trend in Christian circles is an extremely troubling one. Perhaps it is my own sense of bias, or a great desire to justify three years of my life that I cannot get back. Or, perhaps I think that there is nothing wrong with a pastor/minister preparing for his/her vocation.

By the same token, perhaps others feel the need to justify their choice NOT to attend seminary; or perhaps they want people to be drawn to their particular brand of Christian higher education.

Whatever the logic of either side of the argument, there is no need to insult anyone for their position on this issue.

I certainly would not say that it’s “dangerous” for a church, that knows their circumstances and environment, to establish requirements for being pastor. Shouldn’t this decision be left to individual congregations? Doesn’t the church and/or its advisors understand their reasoning better than someone reading the classifieds?

No, seminary is not required for someone to do ministry (I have several friends in ministry that never attended). But there is certainly nothing empirically “dangerous” about a church asking their pastor to be well-educated.

The problem begins with a fundamental misunderstanding of what seminary is supposed to do. People seem to think that ministers should come out of seminary knowing how to be a pastor. In fact, some pastors come out of seminary thinking that they know how to be a pastor! What they need to think is, “Hey, now I’m ready to learn how to be a pastor!”

When people discover this little caveat, they sometimes take it to the next…um…”logical” step. The argument often goes something like this: “You can’t learn to be a pastor by going to school, so seminary is useless!”

And that is 100% legitimate. Education, for the most part, isn’t intended to make you good at something the minute you graduate. It is intended to prepare you to begin a journey of getting good at something.

I don’t think that going to medical school makes you a brain surgeon, but I’m not going to let someone cut open my skull unless they have a medical degree. You don’t need a degree to work in auto repair. But before I put my money down for you to work on my car, I want some assurance that you have some kind of training in your craft.

You absolutely cannot learn to be a minister in school, but you can learn a lot that will help you to become a better minister. The knowledge base, discipline, and relationships that you amass in seminary are certainly not bad things and can prove to be valuable tools.

Jesus DID spend 30 years of life preparing for a 3-year, whirlwind ministry, and He spent much of those three years teaching and training 12 guys to take the ball and run with it after His departure.

There is no doubt that seminary–like the church–needs a massive overhaul, and some of that is already happening. Even traditional seminaries and divinity schools are looking for creative ways to “fast-track” individuals who are called to ministry. I am all in favor of anything that reduces the amount of student loan debt for people in this country, particularly for pastors.

Changing the system does not mean eliminating it altogether, and it certainly doesn’t mean insulting those who choose to value the discipline. Christian higher education certainly needs to modernize, adapt, and lower the cost of the process; but they need to do so without devaluing the process.

Seminary trains you to be a minister much in the same way church trains you to be a Christian. It provides you the teaching, tools, knowledge and support to do what you need to do; but, the only way to ultimately learn is to go out and put it into practice.

But, in doing so, I hope that I don’t demand that my impression of the requirements for ministry are the only requirements that matter. There are plenty of opportunities to serve without a divinity degree, and that service is equally valuable to the Kingdom of God.

At the same time, I fear that we are coming to a place where we belittle those who want to further their education as well as those who expect their minister to do so. And we have no right to do either.

While it is essential to recognize that all are called, in various ways, to serve the Lord, criticism of a church for having certain expectations borders on being divisive and judgmental. Perhaps those who do not value seminary education can trust that God may still work through churches that do, and vice versa.

While I certainly fall on the “pro-seminary” side of this, I hope that I do not diminish those who feel the opposite way.

Expectations for ministers may vary from church to church, or ministry to ministry. Calling out others because their expectations are different is much more dangerous than the expectations themselves.

 

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.