A few days ago I read an article by Ed Stetzer over at Christianity Today Online. When I read this some of the content of Stetzer’s article, "Can Mega Be MIssional?" came to mind. Ed admittedly cringed when writing the following but he wrote it nonetheless,
… but like it or not, the obvious desire to "celebritize" the Gospel presentation is everywhere – sports, music, even Hollywood. It seems that every celebrity who becomes a Christian is soon giving testimonies across America (can anyone say "Kirk Cameron"?). For better or for worse, people do listen to celebrities. Perhaps it’s a Christian practice because it’s a cultural reality (and yes, like very cultural practice it needs to be examined in the light of Scripture, but that is another article).
It’s not an accident that every megachurch on the Top 100 list in this issue is known locally, regionally or nationally for charismatic leadership, gifted communication and almost always, a well-known leader. Most megachurch leaders possess the abilities to inspire those around them to achieve great thigns and seem to have an innate talent to speak in a way that reaches through the chaos in people’s lives. As a church grows to mega status, these leaders also gain a platform of notoriety, becoming "celebrities" – and possibly widening the window for more people to hear the Gospel.
Now many have picked up on some of the obvious implication of the pastor in the Palm Beach Post. The need for better means of restoration when a pastor falls prey to his own decision making. Help for explosive growth so one may find a mentor to navigate potentially dangerous waters. Fincancial management skills. Integrity in resume’ preparation. Understanding the difference between accredited and non-accredited. Discerning the value of hard earned educational achievement above the microwaved variety.
I am struck by the systemic issues that helped create the problem. No, we should not completely absolve the pastor for his history of various indiscresions – be they financial or educational. But, when we measure success as we do invariably it will come home to roost. Every article I read pointed up the numerical success as the pastor moved from place to place. However, it is the getting from one place to another with the habit of indiscresion that gets overlooked. How is it a major player in the current SBC political machine offers a video endorsement not know about his "protege’"? Forgive me a moment of cynicism, although most reading here expect it from time to time.
What will come of the "big gun" who gave the ringing endorsement? When a "celebrity" endorses the next "celebrity" does it not fall to the kingmaker to take some of the brunt of the fall? Especially when the habit has been chronicled historically.
Before anyone suggests this to be another way to snipe at the "mega" pastors of our denomination, understand for nearly 20 years I have witnessed this on much smaller levels. Fellow pastors have relayed horror stories of the consequences of "ringing endorsements" from those in "lofty places." We are too afraid to tell someone, "No, I cannot recommend you." How uncharitable would that look? Forget the church about to recieve your blessed recommendation and the potential risk.
What’s more systemic about the problem may lie deeper than the lack of endorsement integrity. When a person is helped to the big table a real sense of obligation keeps the endorsee beholden to the endorser. Politics lie behind many of these moves. Getting the next "big gun" to the larger churches ensures a certain hegemony.
And, while typing this post, my brother Paul told me about this over at Art Rogers’ site. You see here why it is important to have people in place who you know will support you unequivocally. When the very question many of us have asked regarding the sufficiency of Scripture in the face of hegemonic protectionism becomes the presupposition of a chapel sermon and you have not vetted the speaker properly, the consequences may be explosive.
Losing the grip on power leads us to prop up those with whom we may knowingly have question but the stakes of losing one’s position outweigh the civilian casualties in our churches.