Friday, March 4, 2016

Cult of Personality: A Lesson For The Modern Church From Band Kids

After 8 years of phenomenal success, incredible growth, astonishing achievement and wonderful memories, Seneca High School got a new Band Director my Senior year. Our brilliant, talented, and charismatic leader had moved on and we experienced one of the most epic train wrecks of all time. It is an all too common tale. An amazing program is built around the personality and influence of one person and when that person leaves, it all falls apart in ruins. The church world recently experienced this when the Mars Hill network of churches was dissolved after the resignation of its larger than life founder and lead pastor, Mark Driscoll. NewSpring Church with 30,000 members spread out over 17 campuses had to fire their founding Senior Pastor Perry Noble in the summer of 2016. As James 3:2 says "we all stumble in many things." The Lead Pastor of The Village Church, Matt Chandler has gone counter-cultural, exhibiting incredible wisdom, selflessness and kingdom-mindedness by announcing a plan for all of their campuses to become fully autonomous. It has been said that people are master craftsmen of idols and we certainly have a tendency to idolize anyone, from our favorite sports heroes, to famous actors, to popular Christian singers, to celebrity preachers... Centering a church around the teaching or personality of any one person is unwise and inherently dangerous….Unless that one person is Jesus Christ. Following is a list of 4 suggestions that I would encourage churches to consider, which can help to safeguard and protect them from such trainwrecks. When a ministry is built around one person, that makes that individual an easy target. If Satan can take a ministry down by simply taking out one person, then we're in trouble. But if a ministry is built entirely around Jesus and His Body, the Church, He has already defeated the enemy and cannot be shaken. The following suggestions are intended to protect both Shepherds and their Flocks: 

1. Develop An Atmosphere of Inquiry
It is important that church authorities create an atmosphere where it is safe to ask theological questions, discuss differing opinions and inquire about the business of the church.  Questioning authority is not the same as defying authority. Accountability protects the church from false teachers. The Thessalonians dismissed the teaching of Paul and Silas. Contrastingly, the Bereans listened to what they had to say with open hearts, but then checked it against God’s word in Scripture. They held a high view of God’s Word and gave it more weight than the word of any man. Even within the church, any word given is supposed to be judged so that no one ever leaves having been taught incorrectly. Biblical submission is not blind submission.  It is willing cooperation with leadership that in no way discounts the priesthood of every believer.

Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. Acts 17:11

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. -1 Peter 2:9

2. Teach People to Feed Themselves
Teach people to think and study for themselves. Christian Teachers must respect the priesthood of each individual believer and work to help people to become competent in that regard. As a music teacher, my goal is to help my students progress to the point that they no longer rely on me, but are able to learn by themselves when I am not around. Great Bible teachers help people to develop good Bible study habits and the ability to communicate with God for themselves and to share their faith with others. While it is certainly appropriate to gather to listen to great Bible teaching, we shouldn't neglect the need for each believer to be a competent teacher. Every Jewish male who reached age 13 and was Bar-Mitvah'd had the fundamental right to speak and teach in the synagogue and spent considerable time preparing to exercise the privilege of aliyah, the right to ascend to the platform, read from the Torah and bless the people. 1 Corinthians 14 shows how this right to teach has now been given to all followers of Christ. It is important to be intentional about providing opportunities for Christ-followers to share with others in the church. 

When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up...For you can all prophesy one by one so that all may learn and all may be exhorted. -1 Corinthians 14:26, 31

The anointing you received from Him remains in you, and you don't need anyone to teach you. Instead, His anointing teaches you about all things and is true and is not a lie; just as He has taught you, remain in Him.  1 John 2:27

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. -2 Timothy 3:16-17

3. Develop Teachers and Use Them
Forming a church around the teachings of one person is perilous, unless that one person is Jesus Christ. For example, John Wesley and John Calvin are two of the most influential men in church history. Each has his merits, but the teachings of both men also contain certain doctrinal errors that have caused major divisions in the church. We can respect and honor the contribution of individuals, without subscribing to everything they teach. Even in a small church with one main preacher, sharing the pulpit is a good idea. Developing a rotation of speakers to share part of the teaching responsibilities could prevent the church from becoming overly dependent on one charismatic personality. Other steps, such as establishing a special service on a Sunday night where multiple persons are given the opportunity to share, or an open-mic night like at a coffee house for testimonies and teaching, or a well organized evening of ministry where people share art, music and teaching from the word could help to provide opportunities for public teaching and to lessen the burden placed on just one teacher. Paul dealt with the issue of people identifying (idolizing) with a particular teacher, instead of identifying with Christ.

“Some of you are saying, "I am a follower of Paul." Others are saying, "I follow Apollos," or "I follow Peter," or "I follow Christ." Has Christ been divided?.....” For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” Are you not fleshly/unspiritual? What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe--as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither he who plants, nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field. His building” (1 Corinthians 1:12, 3:4-8)

Paul and Apollos are co-laborers who work for Christ. Just as we are all co-laborers with our pastors. Christ is the one we all follow.

4. Develop Pastors and Send Them Out
Paul planted young pastors and let them grow. This brings us to a sensitive issue. There is no doubt that planting satellite campuses, and even video campuses, has been very effective in bringing people to Jesus and growing new churches and even rescuing some struggling churches from closing their doors. Incredible teams of great people are doing phenomenal work for the kingdom of God in these situations. I am, however, concerned about the long term ramifications for the global church. Are churches looking to develop great teachers and pastors to send out to preach live? Is centering the church around the teaching of just one preacher healthy? Certainly, we need great Bible teachers who reach many people and we should cooperate with such leadership. But it genuinely disturbs me to think that we live in a day and age where a church can have over a hundred affiliates all watching the same preacher on video. The availability of technology does not automatically give merit to an idea. In other words, just because we can, doesn't mean we should. I have serious concerns about the “Walmartization” of the American church. Small, foundering churches in trouble are contacting large "successful" churches for help. Perhaps, instead of using a strategy straight from corporate America and taking them over, turning them into a video campus or affiliate church, would it not be better to send them a well- equipped preacher/teacher? Or better yet, an entire team that includes a live preacher? If every small, struggling church gets absorbed by the larger churches and begins showing video messages, will there be anywhere left for young pastors to develop? Could we be only one generation away from not having any preachers left? I do not wish to see evangelism hindered in any way, but I do wish to see approaches that take the long-term health and strength of the church into account. Maybe the video sermon will work as a short term, stop-gap solution to keep the doors open in certain situations and it has certainly been an effective means of getting a church plant started. I know there are places where few preachers want to go and there are churches that cannot find a pastor, or need help. In these situations, using a video sermon could serve in some ways like the Old West "circuit" preacher, making sure the word gets to where it is needed. But I believe that a healthy long-term plan needs to include the restoration or implementation of live preaching into every service in every congregation. Such a plan should foster well-mentored, connected, supported, yet autonomous local congregations with their own pastor/teachers. Is it not a noble idea to strive to be known as a church that sends out wonderful preachers, teachers and worship leaders?

CODA (Concluding Thoughts)
I came to Texas from a church with multiple campuses and I am currently serving in 2 wonderful churches that have satellite campuses showing sermons on video. I have seen God work in incredible ways through these great churches and the campuses they have started and have been thrilled to watch the revitalization of struggling churches and the successful planting of congregations in areas where they are badly needed. Please do not feel that I am questioning anyone's motives, or implying that they have done anything wrong. I LOVE my churches and pastors and the work they are doing for the kingdom of God. I will, however, share that when I have brought up important theological issues, I have personally experienced the responses of individuals with an unhealthy devotion to certain individual teachers and their churches brand name that superceded their devotion to the faithful and accurate teaching of God's word. What I am saying is that all congregations should look to the future and begin to make plans to secure the long term health of the church across the globe. 

The methods I have suggested are not new. They're Biblical and they work. John Wesley trained and sent out many preachers with whom he corresponded and mentored. In the 1750's, one of the first great church planting, church growth pastors in America, Shubal Stearnes, was very successful in planting a network of churches with their own pastors and allowing everyone to teach. I believe that these four strategies will set the church on the path to good health in this area:

1. Develop an atmosphere of inquiry 
2. Teach people to feed themselves 
3. Develop teachers and use them 
4. Develop pastors and send them out 

The level of organization, planning and wisdom being employed by the satellite campus planting churches is absolutely phenomenal and allows the church to reach many people for Jesus. I know that God has worked through them and blessed many people because of their faithful service which is to be highly commended. I hope that, as a global church community, we will become equally diligent about training and sending out live, in-house preachers as part of this effort. In my opinion, this is a crucial element, the missing piece of the puzzle that will allow this effort to be sustained long-term. Obviously, in order for this to work, people must be willing to go where they are needed and mentors must be willing to send them out. The church needs pastors who take as much joy in raising up great teachers as they do in delivering their own sermons and the church needs young pastors to stand up and say “Here I am, Send me.” And then it needs to send us. 

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying: Who should I send? Who will go for Us? I said: Here I am. Send me. (Isaiah 6:8

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