In his 1981 book Improving Your Serve: The Art of Unselfish Living, revered evangelical minister and author Charles R. Swindoll identified the human psychological problems that — decades later — would allow Pastor Mark Driscoll‘s abusive leadership.
But if you’re not informed about the Driscoll situation and the disaster he left at Mars Hill Church, please read about them so the below Swindoll quotation can make sense in this context.
In Improving Your Serve — which incidentally is not entitled Abusing Your Serve — Swindoll writes:
“No, blind loyalty is not servanthood. Believe me, not only am I strongly opposed to the ‘mind bending’ employed by cultic leaders, I see dangers in other ministries that take unfair advantage of people — ministries we’d certainly not think of as cults. Any ministry that requires blind loyalty and unquestioning obedience is suspect. Not all gurus are in the eastern religions, you know. Some discipleship ministries, quite frankly, come dangerously near this point. I am not discrediting all discipleship programs! To do so would be unfair. As a matter of fact, I personally benefited from an outstanding ministry many years ago. Furthermore, I have always encouraged discipleship programs in churches where I have pastored or schools where I have taught over the years.
“My main concern is the abuse of power, overemphasis of loyalty to a human leader, an intense and unhealthy accountability that uses intimidation, fear, and guilt to promote authoritarianism. Weak and meek people can become the prey of such paranoid, self-appointed messiahs, resulting not in spiritual growth, but in exploitation and the loss of human dignity….
“People in the pew and pastors alike need to beware of ‘bionic’ leaders with an abundance of charisma. We need to watch out for the highly gifted, capable, winsome, and popular superstars who focus attention on themselves or their organization.”
I still feel relief when I read or hear someone with evangelical credentials make clear statements against spiritual abuse.
Deluded, delusional, or devious?
I’m guessing — just speculating — that Robert Morris, other Gateway Conference leaders, Bayside Church ministers, and Thrive 2015 Leadership Conference organizers haven’t read Improving Your Serve.
Or, maybe they’re genuinely ignorant of the wake of Driscoll’s disastrous ministry.
Or, maybe they’re completely duped by Driscoll — and hope to turn his influence into high attendance numbers for their conferences.
We all know God cannot succeed without big conferences because God needs big-time help from Gateway, Bayside, Thrive, and Driscoll.
Omnipotence ain’t what it used to be.
And, if you’ll forgive this well-worn commonplace, the inmates are running the prison.
Sarcasm aside, the quick, blind rehabilitation of Driscoll’s ministry is short-sighted and irresponsible.
Hats off to Chuck Swindoll for his prescient critique of American ministries. Even when I’m more skeptical than faithful, I appreciate anyone who really understands abuse of power in the ministry.