Category Archives: ministry

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To the Manufacturers of Mark Driscoll


A friend posted this Monday article from The Daily Beast on my Facebook page. It begins:

“Just when controversial pastor Mark Driscoll was hoping to make a new start, former members of his old stomping grounds at Seattle’s Mars Hill Church have filed a lawsuit alleging Driscoll and his chief elder ran the now-shuttered megachurch like an organized crime syndicate, in which church members became unwitting participants.

“The lawsuit was filed on Monday in the Western District of Washington U.S. District Court in Seattle under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, a law originally created for prosecution of Mafia figures.

“Former members have been threatening to file such a lawsuit for months to find out just where the members’ tithes—some $30 million yearly, according to church reports—actually went.”

I don’t know whether the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act really applies in this case, and I have no idea if pursuing that particular approach is a good idea — although of course someone needs to answer for the $30 million annually and any misappropriation of funds.

My reaction to the article, posted on Facebook, was aimed at those who helped Driscoll become a celebrity and a monster:

“He said Reformed things with boldness and strong emotions. That was enough to hide a multitude of sins. And while his influence and income increased, we were told that the mainline churches were dead, but it was purer, holier Driscoll who was dead inside. Sure, people don’t want to go to those old churches with their old facades and old ways, but the rotten wood was found inside new buildings in Seattle.”

 

NewSpring Church Pastor Shows No Common Sense, Never Mind ‘Discernment,’ With Driscoll Invite


Discernment would be really underemployed at NewSpring Church in Anderson, S.C., if it had chosen to work there.

In evangelical-speak, “discernment” is like well-worn knowledge with the spin of spiritual insight, like smarts with divine english of the billiards sort.

And common sense is only that human, worldly, fallible type of knowledge, a lowly type of discernment, if discernment at all. Common sense is mere chump change for the churchy crowd. At least it’s supposed to be.

The senior pastor at NewSpring, Perry Noble, should have enough common sense to know that Mark Driscoll destroyed lives, churches, and ministries not so long ago, in a place not so far away.

But the pastor demonstrated neither discernment nor common sense when he scheduled Driscoll to speak at a conference on — wait for it — leadership!

(“How did I know Trump would win South Carolina? Well, there was this little-noticed news item back in November 2015….”)

Driscoll’s website says, “This event is uniquely designed for leaders who want their teams and their organizations to succeed beyond their expectations.”

Driscoll’s churches fell apart after (very reasonable and accurate) plagiarism allegations led to additional allegations of misbehavior and cruelty.

One can only hope Driscoll’s conference topic is “What Not To Do Unless You’re a Shark Using Jesus For Fame And Profit.” Oh now I’ve given him a reason to cry a little at this conference — people are just so mean on blogs, nearly as mean as a former Seattle senior pastor who repeatedly degraded his own staff. And who would that former senior pastor be?

But since he left Mars Hill Church, Driscoll has been acting as if nothing happened.

You have got to question the judgment of anyone who invites Driscoll to make balloon animals at a birthday party, never mind to instruct any fellow human on leadership.

Warren Throckmorton gives the details on Driscoll’s speaking gig:

You can’t make this stuff up.

Next year Mark Driscoll will speak at a one day you-can’t-live-without-it leadership conference for Perry Noble. Check out the conference description.

And it’s only $79. What an affordable way to support the ministers who know how to get people to support ministers.

Throckmorton also links to blogger Wenatchee The Hatchet, who has the context:

The ministries Driscoll founded or co-founded at this point either don’t really exist in any functional sense as ministries that interact with the public or exist but have either no use for Driscoll himself or have publicly distanced themselves from any connection to him.

It might be a little too soon to feature Driscoll, even in 2016, as someone who can speak at a conference that has the goal of helping leaders who want their teams and their organizations to succeed beyond their expectations.  By his own account he’s the unemployed guy this year.

“It might be a little too soon,” indeed.

But NewSpring Church and its senior pastor, Perry Noble, have enough influence to overcome such basic human concerns as decency, trustworthiness, and so on.

NewSpring Church claims it “averages more than 30,000 people during weekend services at multiple campuses across the state.” Local campuses take “teaching via … video live-stream” from the Anderson, S.C., service. But the leadership conference will be held in Anderson, and apparently will not be broadcasted.

With influence like that, who needs truth or accuracy?

Leadership Success For All The Wrong Reasons

The truth is, Mark Driscoll is the ideal person to teach leadership, just for all the wrong reasons.

Seriously, I’m a little jealous of Driscoll.

He pioneered infotainment for the evangelicals and made money doing it. I want to make money. I’m a former journalist turned university lecturer with a wife and three daughters, so I’m always broke.

Driscoll also led the way with hip marketing for The Gospel Coalition’s ideology. He screamed about morality, claimed he was all about Jesus, and rose to heights of income, influence, and power nearly unprecedented for a humble minister of the Word.

By the way, there’s a U2 song about our mega-pastor, mega-church moment:

Jesus never let me down
You know Jesus used to show me the score.
Then they put Jesus in show business
Now it’s hard to get in the door.

“They put Jesus in show business.” Nailed it. They just dragged Jesus into their dog-and-pony show, then passed the offering plate.

It’s all about Jesus, Driscoll would say publicly, while behind closed doors, he was all about the Mars Hill Church brand. The brand, ladies and germs.

He also paid a firm to boost his book onto the New York Times Bestseller List.

Driscoll reeks of the info-entrepreneur in the Internet age. He is now an online-only minister. Who needs a church to be successful? Who wants all those overhead expenses? And all those annoying staffers?

All ya gotta do is write punchy copy, post it, offer some freebies, and hook ’em into the next conference or book purchase.

You can do all of that successfully — without even being a decent human being.

This Is What Has Become of Discernment

When Driscoll spoke at the Gateway Conference last year, soon after his departure from Mars Hill Church, I thought it was surely an aberration, just an oversight, and I explained why I thought the preacher who invited Driscoll, Robert Morris, was not thinking straight.

But it turns out Morris wasn’t going to be the last to hope Driscoll’s name would brighten up the conference marquee.

Do people have enough common sense to see the problems with having Driscoll at a conference while smoke is still rising from the remains of his previous ministry?

I hope so, because evangelical leaders seem to have more marketing strategy than discernment.

Or even common sense.

You should be able to tell the difference between wanting to punish someone and wanting to protect people from a man who has proven to be an untrustworthy bully.

You should know why, as a matter of principle, people who commit crimes have to wait a while before society fully trusts them again. You should understand the analogy here.

And you should be able to tell when your senior pastor has no common sense.

Is “forgiveness” an excuse for unleashing a wolf among the sheep?

Plumbers are smarter than I am, and so are pastors


Plumbers make more money than university lecturers. So do pastors.

Americans have some tendencies to equate income with intelligence.

There are outliers who make money by going for the sensational and the glandular, like Miley Cyrus.

As a university lecturer, I might as well have the belief system of a pastor.

Worthwhile knowledge, its retention, and its real-world impacts are nebulous things, terribly hard to quantify. Outcomes are easily attributable to other factors.

Which is why people don’t ultimately accept “knowledge is power,” and why they remain skeptical of the value of education. The monkey with the shiniest toys didn’t necessarily excel in school, and that common observation places a little wrinkle somewhere in the brain.

In the U.S., the annual mean wage paid to clergy is $47,730.

At large churches, however, where they have “executive” positions, which help establish egos and golf club memberships, compensation is at least $110,000.

At other churches, senior pastors (first among equals, some being more equal than others) earn between $265,000 and $1.1 million.

The average U.S. income for individuals is $40,563, and the average family income is $82,843.

The annual mean wage for plumbers is $53,240.

As a university lecturer, I often deal with material similar to what plumbers have to deal with: clogs, stagnation, rust, and excrement.

Only the material I’m exposed to is metaphorically clogged up, stagnated, rusted, or just plain shit.

One thing is for certain. Pastors have a unique position. If your job involves prodding and provoking vulnerable hearts, your income has a shot at being slightly above average.

Move hearts and you’ll change wallets, whether you’re Miley Cyrus or an Executive Pastor.

By the way, everyone should be disgusted by the title Executive Pastor, except no one is, because churches are marketed and operated precisely like organizations designed to make money: corporations.

Some ancient fool said you cannot serve both God and money. Good thing we have plenty of Executive Pastors to straighten Him out.

The Pastor and Priest Fallacy; or, Why Ministries Must Earn Credibility and Trust


I like this guy’s doctrinal beliefs; therefore, he is trustworthy.

Imagine all American Christians understanding why that is a silly way of thinking.

Christian Publishing would collapse, and some ministers would have to do real work for the first time in their lives.

It’s like there’s an assumption running through some preachers’ ministries: “I believe the Bible, and the Bible affirms what I say, so get involved in my ministries, be accountable to my ministries, and give my money to my ministries.”

Because: Jesus.

It’s the magic word that gives narcissists and sociopaths instant power over vulnerable spiritual seekers.

Always, always wait until a supposed leader has earned trust and respect. He must earn it. She must earn it. Do not give any credibility or authority to a person until you’ve seen that person deserve it.

You will lose absolutely nothing by waiting to make a decision to commit yourself to a ministry. God’s got all the time there ever will be.

And He can make more.

I’m not asking for impossible tests for pastors, priests, or other ministers. Clergy can be observably human and humble. They can avoid controlling behaviors and controlling rhetoric. Just be aware. Keep your eyes and ears open. Commit yourself incrementally.

Most importantly, don’t believe a ministry’s hype. Pay attention to its substance — or, more likely, it’s lack of substance.

The story of America is a story of religious entrepreneurship. While I radically support religious liberty and freedom of speech, I know religious entrepreneurship has institutionalized as many dangerous ideas as nonsensical ideas or good ideas.

Read Under The Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer. It’s well-worth your time, and you’ll discover some similarities and parallels between some of the Latter Day Saints described in the book and many of America’s unaffiliated, entrepreneurial Protestants.

Look, the megachurches could last well into the future, or they could fizzle, but either way, I don’t need yet another preacher yapping at me from a spectacular stage, especially when I can suffer through the same guy’s sermon on YouTube.

The megachurch sales-and-marketing approach is completely obvious these days. I was in the same relatively small room with the senior pastor of a large church when he said he’s good at convincing people to come to church but not good at maintaining those relationships once they’re coming to church.

It really struck me as a bait-and-switch. You seem like a nice guy! I’ll try out your church! Then, later, I can never seem to have a conversation with that nice guy. Maybe I’ll find a smaller church or just watch Chuck Todd each Sunday morning. 

How bait-and-switch evangelism is a spiritual or even a human way to be, I have no idea.

But it’s also typical. I would generalize that mode like this:

Build the organization. Individuals are simply pawns in building my organization. People are second. I’ll say God is first — my God being my organization. I’ll say I serve the people by building my organization.

With any luck, in time, I’ll build the organization so big, I won’t have to spend any time with any real people. I’ll have secretaries and schedules and an office buried so deep inside an office suite, the mongrel hordes will never find me — and then I’ll escape to my home in a gated community.

You, entrepreneurial preacher, are probably a fraud. You’ll preach about the Holy Spirit without evidence of a single Fruit of the Spirit. You know, those Fruits of the Spirit, the alleged outcome of your alleged faith.

This isn’t important to you, because you’ll push the right emotional buttons next Sunday and keep the climb to fame and fortune alive.

You spiritual and moral fraud.

I wish there was some way other than just academic degrees and resumés and well-marketed books to affirm a person’s reliability and character. Pastor Mark Driscoll is just one example of a widespread problem.

(Driscoll, by the way, once boasted that he could walk from his office to the stage without having to see anyone—an explicit, specific example similar to my above generalized example).

Driscoll is not the only one.

Genuinely. Seriously.

If I really thought the Driscoll-Mars Hill Church disaster was an aberration, I would not have written so many blog posts about it.

I wanted people to learn a methodology from that situation, a way of seeing.

I wanted people to learn a kind of awareness.

I have no real platform to make that happen. I just wanted it to happen, wanted it badly to happen.

I want people to gain a healthy distrust. Don’t trust me, either. Be skeptical. Research and reasoning can prove me a prophet or a clown or something else. This is about you.

Let’s say I’m proven a clown. Throw a party about it. Take a few hours to tell Colin jokes.

Then, afterward, ask yourself how you are going to avoid being used.

Ask yourself how you are going to avoid being used by someone who is demanding your attention, your submission, your time, and your money because he talks about Jesus and your kids like the youth group. This is just a blog post. You can close it at any time. The social, emotional, and spiritual aspects of churches are a bit more tricky. Do you have the confidence and willpower to walk away from your church membership at any time? You need to develop that.

Jesus won’t magically develop it for you.

You’re too weak to navigate unaffiliated, entrepreneurial religion in America.

Most humans are, which is why the predators grow fat.

You don’t necessarily need to burn personal bridges, but you need to have a strong enough sense of who you are and what is right to walk away from a nonsense organization — or an unhealthy organization.

I’m not only focusing on professional clergy. The reality is the Pastor and Priest Fallacy can analyze any politician or community leader. I may really like what someone else says, but that doesn’t mean that person is trustworthy or credible.

People need to learn this, need to “get” it.

Astonishingly ignorant and manipulative people are running American Christianity and American politics.

Sunday morning sermon prep


Sermon prep for the congregation:

Pastor Matt Chandler demonstrates healthy leadership and genuine wisdom


Pastor Matt Chandler has done evangelical and Reformed leaders a huge service, if they’ll pay attention to what he recently said.

In a recent sermon, Chandler admitted that church discipline had not been handled properly, and he asked forgiveness. As you read the list of things for which he asked forgiveness, consider the implications of each one:

  • Will you forgive us where our counsel turned into control?
  • Will you forgive us where we failed to recognize the limits and scope of our authority?
  • Will you forgive us where we allowed our policies and process to blind us to your pain, confusion and fears?
  • Will you forgive us where we acted transactionally rather than tenderly?
  • Will you forgive us where we failed to recognize you as the victim and didn’t empathize with your situation?

I haven’t been this encouraged by the words of evangelical and/or Reformed teachers in a long, long time.

Chandler gets it. Even if he and his elders really messed up, Chandler is admitting it, apparently making it right, and showing the way forward.

That is leadership.

I’m sure some people could accuse me of consistently negative comments about Christian leaders.

But I don’t want people to pay for their sins. I want people to make real changes that will prevent many bad situations from happening.

I want good leaders instead of bad leaders. I want humane leaders instead of ideological leaders.

I want leaders who know how to leave bad ideas, policies, and practices behind.

If leaders are too frozen in their dogmatic perspectives or too in love with their reputations to remain humble and open to concerns and warnings, then the second best thing I can do is point out their contradictions, failings, and secrecy in hopes of keeping others away from their ministries.

All humans have failings, and all wolves have fangs.

Sure, I’m just a tiny bit of plankton in the Internet Ocean, but I have to yell when I see people being misled and manipulated.

Matt Chandler’s recent sermon encourages me. He shows us all that he’s willing to place his flock above his ego.

Isn’t that Christ-like? To lay down oneself for others?

Matt Chandler also startles me into realizing that real leadership and insight still exist in some evangelical/Reformed churches.