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

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.