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.

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.

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.

Where Was Jesus on August 1?

Blogs take on a variety of roles in our information age. Some are rants, some are jokes, some are for fun or entertainment, and some are even informative. I THINK the idea is that they provide an outlet for the blogger to write freely and express himself or herself.

I don’t think that they are supposed to be hard work, at least not for a “ham and egger” like me. But I’ve worked harder and fretted more over this particular edition than any other blog.

More than a week has passed since Cluck Fest 2012 (aka the Chick-Fil-A Day) on Wednesday, August 1. I’m hoping to offer some perspective on that event that is somewhat removed from the frenzy that surrounded it. To make sure you get plenty of it, check some of the links to other articles and blogs on the topic.

Last week, I became a fan of the Facebook photo that shows Samuel L. Jackson pointing his weapon and threatening, “Say ChickFilA again!” (Expletives deleted to protect the innocent).

Waffle-Fry-Palooza is over; and what have we learned, kids?

Not much.

I didn’t learn anything from this until I spent more than a week pondering a question that a friend asked me on Wednesday, August 1:

In your opinion, would Jesus eat at Chic-fil-A today? Does He stand with the restaurant and its supporters, or with those planning to protest?

That question has perplexed me and I’m weary of trying to answer it. So here goes my best guess:

I think Jesus would have been sitting on a picnic table outside a Chick-fil-A drive thru, watching all this. I think He would put His head in His hands and say, “Oh unbelieving generation, how long must I put up with you?”

And just as in Mark 9:19, He would have been directing his comments at the religious.

Christians love to jump on the bandwagon and cheer for themselves when they do it. I’ve never seen people come so close to breaking their arms patting themselves on the back for buying a chicken sandwich.

I have yet to read one story about a hungry person being fed outside of a Chick-fil-A on August 1. I cannot find any stories about Christians taking #1 Combos to homeless shelters or collecting bags of canned goods while they drove to line up. No school children learned to read or got school supplies. No prisoners were visited and received a message of grace and love.

I hope they did, but I can’t find a single story that says any of these things happened while Christians were waiting in line for their extra polynesian sauce. Honestly, can you imagine if all that money spent on food for ourselves went to something worth doing?

I haven’t read one story about a person coming to know Jesus Christ because of this. In fact, I’ve heard of a number of people who have turned further away from Christ because of it (http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/08/02/a-gay-chick-fil-a-employee-speaks-out.html).

That brings to mind another scripture: Jesus wept.

Let’s not overlook the fact that plenty of gay marriage supporters are equally guilty. For all their talk of humanity and equality and decency for all, they aren’t falling over themselves to get to the soup kitchen, either. This includes the many Christians who oppose Chick-Fil-A’s moral position on gay marriage.

So then, where was Jesus in all of this?

Noticeably absent.

I have to believe that He would have taken time to point out some things to the picket groups and the customers. He would remind us that no one lines up so work the food pantry or the soup kitchen.

No one is willing to wait to get answers from God when we ask for something. We aren’t even willing to wait one minute extra when we are supposed to be worshiping God, because the Methodists might beat us to the buffet. (Or, in my case, because kickoff is coming).

I think Jesus would then be noticeably absent from the proceedings, because He would be busy doing the work that He called us to do.

I don’t say any of this in judgment of what Christians could have done on August 1 instead of going to Chick-Fil-A. I didn’t go to Chick-fil-A, but I didn’t feed any the hungry or hold the hands of an AIDS patient that day, either. I do painfully little to serve, at least compared to what I’ve been given by God.

But like all Christians, I know that I should. And I can’t take any pride in the fact that we did little but put more millions into the pocket of a millionaire last week. I don’t think Jesus takes any comfort in that, either.

Perhaps the next time such a choice comes up—which is a long way off, I hope–we’ll decide to “go and do likewise” rather than congratulate ourselves for waiting in line for extra waffle fries.

I bet we’d be shocked at the results if we’d follow Jesus instead of jumping on bandwagons.

For Further Reading:
http://www.perrynoble. com/2012/08/01 /ben-jerrys-chic-fil-a-political-correctness/

http://articles.philly.com/2012-08-04/news/33020769_1_social-media-traditional-marriage-first-amendment

Problems at Penn State Start with a Picture

Unless you have spent the last two weeks in a cave, under a rock, or on a deserted island, you have heard about the scandal involving Jerry Sandusky. In fact, you probably know about this unless you’ve spent the last YEAR doing an imitation of Tom Hanks in Castaway.

But last week is when things really fell apart for Penn State.  University trustees commissioned former FBI chief and judge Louis Freeh to investigate the Sandusky issue.  He issued a scathing report last week about the scandal that allowed a former football coach to regularly molest young boys on the Penn State campus for at least 12 years.  http://thefreehreportonpsu.com/; http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2012/writers/michael_mccann/07/12/freeh-report-penn-state-reaction/index.html

And the late, legendary coach, Joe Paterno, was heavily implicated for allowing Sandusky’s crimes to continue beyond 2001. Paterno didn’t do anything…and that’s the problem. His inaction was, at worst, criminal. At best, it was immoral, unethical, and completely selfish and insensitive.

In the midst of all this, ESPN and other news outlets have made quite a big deal out of a very small act by an artist. This man had painted a mural of Paterno some years ago, and added a halo to it after Paterno’s death in January.

On Saturday, artist Michael Pilato removed a halo he had added to Paterno’s image on a large mural in State College after the coach died in January. He said he usually puts a halo over one of his subjects when they die, but felt after the release of the report it should be removed in Paterno’s case.

http://espn.go.com/college-football/story/_/id/8166042/report-joe-paterno-had-negotiated-exit-package

The problem is that the halo should never have been there in the first place. That picture with the halo points out a huge problem that we have.  We worship human beings above the God who is revealed to us in the human being of Jesus Christ. He was the only human being worthy of that status.

The Penn State/Sandusky scandal is a picture-perfect case study of what happens when we put HUMAN BEINGS on a pedestal. It may be nice up there, but the fall from it is hard and painful.

And inevitable.

Paterno had become a godlike figure in college football, and certainly in State College, PA.  He was the biggest sheriff in town, and he made a terrible choice to cover the scandal rather than end it.  And if he had decided to end it, he could have.

The Athletic Director, School President, Campus Security, and the trustees were all at fault. But Paterno held all the power, and he chose to exercise that in the wrong way.  When people assign that kind of status to other people, it almost always ends in terrible disappointment of some kind.

The problem is that this type of idol-worship is not limited to Penn State, or even sports. This happens with movie stars, teen/child stars, politicians, philanthropists, businessmen, etc. And yes, it happens with pastors and churches.

We are in a somewhat dangerous time when Christian ministers, speakers, writers, etc. can generate followers and revenue at alarming rates. It’s not that all, or even most, ministers are sinister people.

But when human beings start following a person who is called to preach about Christ rather than Christ alone, there is a problem. All that hero-worship is bound to go to the head of even the most humble preacher.

As we watch the events unfold around Penn State, we need to remember that we don’t have the right to give out “halos” to anyone. That’s a right that belongs to God alone.

At their best, human beings—pastors and ministers included—are flawed, fallible, and unworthy to bear a halo of any kind until God says otherwise. They would be wise to turn it down even if it is offered, mainly because that is the example set by Christ.

I don’t care how many books, speaking engagements, church members, or satellite campuses a minister has. The likes of Tony Jones, Billy Graham, Rachel Held Evans, Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen, Perry Noble, Beth Moore and Brian McLaren are no more deserving of that halo than anyone else.

They are all very good ministers. But they are people, and we are not called to worship human beings.

We would also be wise not to let our admiration for someone grow into something that is going to contribute to a dramatic fall. If ministers are doing what they are called to do, then they are pointing you towards Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ alone.

Don’t let the mirage of a halo on someone’s head ever pull your eyes away from that. If you don’t put one on someone’s head in the first place, then it will never have to be removed.