Thursday, September 22, 2016

Considering Erick Erickson's Reconsideration

AUTHOR'S NOTE: After having published this article, a friend was observant enough to draw my attention to a few issues. I have edited these changes in, but for the sake of being able to see how it may have read prior to those changes; and thus why said changes absolutely had to be made; they will be made in this type. Thanks again to all who have read and responded, and by all means, keep it coming!

Recently a good friend shared an article via social media written by one Erick Erickson. It is a good article, and it is worthwhile reading as I agreed with many of the points and issues he brings up. However, I also found it necessary to take issue with some of what he said.

Below are those which I take issue with and my reasons as for why. I have also included a few of the points I agree with for the sake of balance.

"I believe the founders of this country recognized individual liberty as negative liberty." ~ Erick Erickson

Individual liberty IS what the Constitution has laid out; it is NOT what has been lately defined. Individual liberty is the individual being free (reasonably) free of government restriction, invasion and micro-rule. I interject "reasonably" because there is a need for law- Just not on the level that we see today. There is a need for enough stricture to convict criminals and safeguard life and liberty; what we have now is too much stricture, meant to protect wealthy and elite criminals and rob the average citizen of precisely what law is meant to protect.

Mr. Erickson goes on to clarify what he means by this statement, writing the following:

"It was not what individuals could do if government helped them that made this country great. Rather, it was what individuals could do if government left them alone."

It is strange to me that in an article which begins by examining compromise, the author seems to compromise on the language and tone of the article. Just my personal take on how this section's communication was constructed; you get it free of charge.

What I believe Mr. Erickson may have originally been going for is that the founders of this country recognized government mandated liberty as negative liberty; that is certainly what was going on in the British Empire under King George, and precisely what said king was attempting to accomplish within the American Colonies. I firmly believe in clear communication, but I also believe in factual communication. Even when factual communication requires more writing, it is far better to be accurate than to propagate a false dichotomy, pretense or idea.

"I am under no delusions. With Clinton as President, the church in this country will be in for a difficult time, besieged from the outside. The forces of Mordor will be fully on the march." ~Erick Erickson

First, let me just award 100 points to Mr. Erickson for the Lord of the Rings reference. Well done sir, and a terrific analogy. I do not disagree with this statement, but I do believe that it does not go far enough. The problem with this statement is that Mr. Erickson seems to believe that the church would only be besieged from without, yet due to Ms. Clinton's self-affiliation with the Methodist Church, there is grave danger of Christianity being besieged from within.

On August 8, 2016, Snopes published a fact checking article debunking a rumor that Ms. Clinton stated Christians must deny their faith in a speech to the Women in the World Summit in New York City. Yet, though Snopes was correct in debunking this as a direct quote, the fact remains that Hillary Clinton did in fact suggest that traditional Christian values, morals and ethical codes of conduct must be changed to fit the world today. The pertinent quote is below, and I have taken pains not to emphasize or leave out any aspect of this statement:

"Yes, we've nearly closed the global gender gap in primary school, but secondary school remains out of reach for so many girls around the world. Yes, we've increased the number of countries prohibiting domestic violence, but still more than half the nations in the world have no such laws on the books, and an estimated one in three women still experience violence. Yes, we've cut the mortality rate in half, but far too many women are still denied critical access to reproductive health care and safe childbirth.
"All the laws we've passed don't count for much if they're not enforced. Rights have to exist in practice, not just on paper. Laws have to be backed up with resources and political will. And deep seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed.
"As I have said, and as I believe, the advancement of the full participation of women and girls in every aspect of their societies is the great unfinished business of the twenty-first century, and not just for women but for everyone — and not just in far away countries but right here in the United States." ~Hillary Clinton 

Please note that though the forum of this speech implied global context, she finishes this quote by saying "and not just in far away countries but right here in the United States." Note also what she believes must be done to ensure the closure of gender gaps, the end of domestic violence, mortality rates and proper reproductive health care: "Rights have to exist in practice, not just on paper. Laws have to be backed up with resources and political will. And deep seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed."

Snopes and other political fact checking sites can dismiss this as not being a direct attack on Christianity because from an outside viewpoint, it is not such an attack. From an outsider's vantage point, this is an observation on the state of women's rights and what must be done to achieve equality. Furthermore, liberals of all stripes can argue that this is not an attack because their worldview would have them believe that Jesus Himself would be at the forefront of this movement; indeed, I have heard liberal Christians make this very argument.

However, conservative Christians view this as an attack because of the very sections of the quote I point out: The call for cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases to change "not just in far away countries but... in the United States." Liberals and fact checking sites do not understand how and why this constitutes an attack, but those of us who recognize that the Scripture does not change to fit societal demands also recognize this as a call to delegitimize the Bible itself. This, readers, is the very definition of an attack on genuine Christianity.

Now why would I bring up the Methodist Church as being something of note when examining Ms. Clinton's impact upon Christianity?

During her time as First Lady, Ms. Clinton attended Foundry United Methodist Church, a body which in their own words rejects aspects of the United Methodist Church's Book of Discipline: Specifically when it comes to views on homosexuality. The Methodist Church she is currently listed as being a congregant with is also reported as being "liberal, forward-moving and freethinking." I will add a caveat here: As that church's website is nothing more than a blank page as of this writing, I cannot verify the statement- Take with a grain of salt.

The church in which she spent much of her adult life in Arkansas would also be described as liberal; for example, it supports interfaith meetings claiming "we are more alike than different." Finally, the church in which she spent much of her earlier life also embraces homosexuality in opposition to the UMC's Book of Discipline.

Finally, in an address to the United Methodist Women's Assembly in Louisville, Kentucky, Ms. Clinton stated that her love of the UMC is due in part to its promotion of "social gospel." So what is this "social gospel?" Social gospel in a traditional sense was a movement to awaken the Church to the plight of the destitute, the widows and orphans and others to whom the Lord Jesus showed deference and kindness. Today, the original meaning of the phrase has been co-opted to include gay rights, reproductive rights, and other such things that the Bible specifically speaks to as sin, iniquity and abomination. It is this form of social gospel that Ms. Clinton supports, evidenced by her own actions, deeds and stated agenda. (You can read more about social gospel here.)

This is why I believe that Mr. Erickson is remiss in his assessment of Ms. Clinton's total impact upon the Christian Church within the United States.

"...I see the election of Hillary Clinton as the antithesis of all my values and ideas on what fosters sound civil society in this country. Further, she should be in jail." ~Erick Erickson

I heartily agree with this statement, and would reference anyone who wishes to argue the point to simply look at every documented instance of her lies, misrepresentations, and outright attempts at deception. They are many, they are evident, and they are very much accessible to anyone with the ability to access Google.

I urge everyone to keep this one, vital fact in mind regardless of their faith: Ms. Clinton is a pathological liar, and voting for her is very much an ethical crime for all but the most ethically and morally corrupt.

"A Clinton Administration may see the church besieged from the outside, but a Trump Administration will see the church poisoned from within. ...I do recall God choosing Abraham, Samson, and David and all of them repenting of their sins. That repentance stands in studied contrast to Donald Trump who has three times said he never had to ask for forgiveness and only recently said his advance of the church, if he is elected, might be the only thing that gets him into Heaven." ~Erick Erickson (emphasis E.E.)

I understand where Mr. Erickson is coming from on this point. It is a terrible choice being offered those who do not feel that a third party candidate has any chance to attain the White House. In fact, those who do vote third party are likely to do so in full knowledge that if either of the two major candidates succeed, they will be blamed by family and friends. This is not an enviable position for any of us to be in, nor is it one that any of us would willing choose if we felt that we did indeed have a choice.

With this being said, it is a flawed example that is being used here in my estimation; both for and against. While Mr. Erickson does an excellent job of showing why such arguments for Mr. Trump are flawed, he fails to see why his argument using the same examples is equally invalid.

Mr. Erickson seems to forget that while these men did indeed seek forgiveness and repent, they continued sinning. While I am not suggesting that he intended to suggest that the examples were perfect upon seeking forgiveness, I find it frustrating that so many, not just Mr. Erickson, turn to such biblical examples as to why or why we should not support a specific candidate.

Abraham was the father of a nation, and yet his sins continued until the day he died. Sampson was a judge of Israel, yet his sins not only caused his downfall but also brought on his death; the consequences of his sin were felt even as the pillars toppled, in spite of his repentance. David was a king of Israel, and yet his sins so stained his entire life that God refused to allow him to build the temple.

I would remind Mr. Erickson, and all who would utilize such examples, that we do not live in a Theocracy, as did Israel during the time of the Judges. We do not live in a Monarchy, as Israel was during David. We live in a nation originally conceived as a Democratic Republic; a nation wherein the popular vote elected officials, while the Constitution ruled the land.
It is not in error that Mr. Erickson later states:

"And, in truth, I... have concluded we are already past the point of redemption... The seriousness and virtue of the voter is in the grave already and my Christian brethren for Trump yearn for an idolized past that never existed in a future that is not theirs, but God’s, to shape." ~Erick Erickson

I have stated this many times, and I will continue to make this statement: This nation only came into existence through the concerted efforts of Christians, Deists, and Atheists who worked in unison to birth a nation wherein freedoms unseen in much of the world existed without the government's approval. Today, we live in a nation wherein the government is slowly removing those freedoms; so it was in the early 1800's, when the Danbury Baptist Association wrote to the newly elected Thomas Jefferson, a Deist, of their concerns regarding religious freedom and the agendas of those within the government he now led.
Jefferson, a man who denied the deity of Christ; the possibility of divine power on display through the Holy Spirit; and stated that he viewed much of the Bible as little more than folklore; also reassured the DBA and history shows that he worked to ensure religious freedom in his presidency. Indeed, it was during his tenure that many Supreme Court decisions were made which are still referenced today. Many of the protections that local churches enjoy today are the direct result of Jefferson and his peers; yet he was a man of sin, of vile wickedness, and of questionable moral and ethical character.

In short, I do not agree that Mr. Trump is poisoning the Church from within based upon the examples given by Mr. Erickson, though his observations do serve as a warning to all Christians to keep their eyes upon the Lord. These same arguments were made for and against President Obama; for and against Bill Clinton; for and against George W. Bush; and on back. They are arguments that are old, tired and worn out, simply given new life for yet another election cycle. I am not suggesting apathy, by any means; rather I am simply pointing out fact. To reiterate, I believe that the points which Mr. Erickson brings up are worthy warnings to the Church.

So, my question then is why people believe that the whole of the choice becomes this: Do we vote for a candidate that will uphold the law of the land and seek to rein back the federal government's encroachment? Or do we vote for a candidate that will expand the government's reach, strengthen its grip, and further reduce the sum total of freedoms?

I agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Erickson when he writes:

"Christians looking for a strong man to protect the church instead of the strongest man who conquered death is a terrible thing to see. ...They seemingly argue that if the nation falls, the church falls and for the church to rise the country must rise. But Christ has already risen so the true church is in no danger of falling." ~Erick Erickson

With that agreement being voiced, I wish to point out to him and all who agree with him: If this statement is true, neither candidate poses a threat to the Church. If you, dear reader, hold this statement to be true, then you have no reason to fear either candidate. I personally hold this statement to be true and thus fear no candidate; instead, all I attempt to do in my writing is to shine a light on the practical effects of each candidate's agenda.

"Scripture tells me (and you) that believers should have nothing to do with any person who holds himself out as a Christian and is unrepentant." ~Erick Erickson

It Scripture does tell us that we are to shun an unrepentant believer (2 Thessalonians 3:6) and 1 Corinthians 5:11-13 tells us to avoid the company of one named a brother. This last passage also tells us that we are not to operate the same way with those outside of the Church, because God judges them Himself. So if Scripture tells us this, as Mr. Erickson correctly states, then how are some people still supporting Mr. Trump while also claiming Christianity?

They do so in much the same way that others claiming to be Christian support Ms. Clinton: They find loopholes. In the case of Ms. Clinton, I can find no justifiable loophole. In the case of Mr. Trump, I can find only one justifiable; and even that is a stretch. Yet this loophole is one which I have heard referenced time and again. (Allow me to reiterate for clarity: I do not support the idea of loopholes. This is an argument which I have heard many times before, and in which I find an understandable plausibility for Christians who support Mr. Trump. However, I do not subscribe to the notion.)

The basic premise of the "Trump Loophole" is that the context of this passage from 1 Corinthians is for those who have been upstanding members of the Body of Christ who have fallen into unrepentant iniquity. If Mr. Trump had been such a person, then Mr. Erickson would have a valid point; yet if the "Trump Loophole" is accurate, then Mr. Erickson has invalidated his own argument by previously suggesting that Mr. Trump has never been such a person.

One might ask at this point if I am arguing for or against Mr. Trump; I am doing neither, as I do not believe him to be any better or worse for this country and the Church than his opponent. Their impact upon both would simply take different forms.

"All Christendom should be ashamed we are putting our needs in this temporary place ahead of saving a soul bound for eternity." ~Erick Erickson

This is perhaps the most accurate statement ever made for this election cycle, and yet it is applied in the strangest manner: It is directed as supporters of but one candidate, when supporters of both are as worthy of this criticism.

"God did not tell the Jews to throw open the gates of Jerusalemn (sic) for Nebuchadnezzar. God did that himself." ~Erick Erickson

Yes he did, Mr. Erickson. It's found in Jeremiah 38:17, and before anyone says that God did not specifically state that Jerusalem should open its gates, first one must know what surrender at that time entailed. A rather brief time of research will reveal that in order to surrender, King Zedekiah would first need to send a messenger, then open the gates of the city, receive the Babylonian envoy, and hand over his crown before the people. So yes, God did in fact tell them to open the gates to Nebuchadnezzar.

I am not saying this to pick at the man, but as Mr. Erickson has stated, "This is the inerrant word of God..." If one makes a statement based upon the Word of God, then it must be accurate. (Some have suggested that this is nothing more than a distraction and a low-blow; comments from two different sources. I do not believe it is. I believe that an article calling out misrepresentation of Christianity and the Word of God should in no way misrepresent the Bible itself- That is why I correct the Jerusalem argument. If I were simply being petty I would have gleefully pointed out another mistake; which I did not do then, and will not do now.)

The final word I have on this matter is well said by Mr. Erickson, and I believe it is a fitting end to this article. Bearing in mind that I believe all Christians must do as the Holy Spirit leads:

"If God wants Trump in the White House, he does not need my vote or a violation of my conscience to get Trump there."

As always, I welcome your thoughts, comments and questions. Feel free to share this across social media also. God bless!

Some have requested that I distill my opinion for easier consumption. They pointed out that when they initially read this, they were coming off of a double shift and coming out of a three day bout with insomnia, respectively. So for the sake of tired minds and bodies everywhere, it all seems to boil down to this for me personally.

Mr.Trump is not a Christian, no more than is President Obama. Thus, in my view he cannot be held to the same standards. With that being said, everything said in Mr. Erickson's article for why Mr. Trump should not be supported actually applies more aptly to Ms. Clinton; I am not saying that because I dislike her, but because she is a professing Christian; has attended a local body of believers her entire life; and supports these individual churches financially. She should not be supported for the reasons in this article; Mr. Trump should not be supported for the simple fact that he is a textbook functional sociopath. 

For me personally, it truly is a moral and ethical issue; it seems that my reasons and logic are simply different from those of others. Hillary Clinton is a "No Vote" because of every reason in Mr. Erickson's article. Mr. Trump is a "No Vote" because he embodies everything the Lord hates. Trampling the poor and the widow, despising the orphan- Just a few examples of this. 

So what is the choice? Many states allow a write-in, and I personally may utilize that option for my preferred candidate. Others have third-party candidates on ballot; perhaps I will place a vote for one of these. Regardless of what I personally will do, I urge all who read this to vote- Simply do so in such a way that does not violate conscience or the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Contrast Within Pastoral Leadership Part 2

In continuing with the contrast of pastoral leadership, allow me to quickly recap the inspiration for these posts and the first three points I looked at in part one of this series. If you would like to read the first part, you can do so here.

I recently received a list of seven points explaining why the Christian Church does not need a senior pastor. While I agree with each point, I also saw a need to point out why they do not apply across the board. Painting with a broad brush is useful when seeking to point out a problem, but having done this many times I understand also that doing so can cause unintended repercussions. Knowing the author of this list would certainly not intend to cause division within a local body headed by a genuine servant-leader under the direction of the Lord, I am in this series seeking to list each point, give examples, and show exceptions to what are fast becoming generally true observations within the Western Church.

The points already mentioned are as follows:

1. Power Tends to Corrupt.

2. The senior CEO Pastor role just propagates the outdated power of the denomination / institution.

3. Holy Spirit instruction and direction trumps ALL other forms of authority.

Now continuing from the list...

4. Horizontal fellowship trumps butts in the pews and facing forward to our “King” Pastor.

The struggle for spiritual relevance and significance is usually not a people problem but a system problem. The answers aren't always going to be found in and from existing human leadership – but those who actually can hear the whispers of the Holy Spirit. Even the smallest child who can speak – [and] has the potential of speaking the words of the Holy Spirit. If only the 'leaders' are speaking during the fellowship time – it is guaranteed that MOST of what the Holy Spirit was saying during that time is missed. The answer is to create a space of fellowship for the Holy Spirit to speak through whatever means He sees fit!
I have been present in local bodies wherein a child spoke words of great encouragement and also of great conviction. The idea of a child speaking may seem foreign to some, but I harken back to the words of the Apostle Paul when writing to Timothy: "Let no one look down on you because of your age." There should certainly be something in place to a child from running wild through service, but much of that discipline ought to be instilled at home through the attention of loving and godly parents.
I personally see nothing wrong in requiring a child to speak first to their parent(s) before being allowed to speak so that the adult in authority over them may discern the accuracy of what the child believes to be from the Lord. However, we should not be so demanding as to reprimand a child for speaking in the moment if that word is indeed prompted by the Holy Spirit. A reprimand is in order if their speech is not in line with the Word of God, but in this way they are being taught in the assembly what the voice of the Lord sounds like, as opposed to their own minds creating something they believe to be profound.

In much the same way, any adult ought to be able to speak up when the Holy Spirit prompts such speech. No pastor is ever justified in shushing an adult if the word they give is backed by Scripture and prompted by the Holy Spirit. However, a good pastor will also take time after the service to take aside an adult who was in error and reprimand them privately, in humility and love. Anything else is a violation of the pastoral role, unless the word spoken was so grave in its error that correction must be given immediately.
An example of this last statement: There was a time when a woman in my church spoke up, stating matter-of-factly that the End Times, the final Antichrist, and the tribulation, could all be staved off or avoided entirely if the Body of Christ joined in prayer against it. Due to the gravity of the statement, correction was needed immediately; yet even in correcting the error of what had been spoken, those who held the woman accountable did so with love and humility. In this instance, it was clear that they did not wish to embarrass or shame her, but rather show why the statement was in error. This is immediate correction of a false statement done right.

So how can one know if one's church is quenching the Holy Spirit, and thus dead in many respects?

If one's church would be disrupted by a single "amen" during the preaching of the word, it may be dead.

If one's leadership refuses to acknowledge and pray for a need if it disrupts the order of service, one's church may be dead.

If one can set one's watch by where one is in service, one's church may be dead.

The pattern herein should be clear at this time.

5. We need humble spiritual leaders/elders, not power hungry rulers/CEO Senior Pastors.

Do I think the role of pastor is not needed? No. I think it is a gift to the Body – but it is not a dictatorial/authoritative model role –but one as a fellow sheep who always points you to the true Shepherd/Jesus, and always is looking out for your best interests and looks to give His love to you on every occasion. Think of it as not a 'leadership' role but as a personal assistant who is there to make sure you have everything you need. That perspective is HIGHLY different that how it is currently viewed and used. Think Jesus washing his disciple's feet. Actually Paul lists 4/5 gifting roles in the Body that are there TO SERVE, not to rule. The actual scriptural role of a 'pastor'/shepherd is greatly different than what we see in the American Church currently. ...Leadership by example will always be healthier than leading by authoritarian rule. The former allows for the blossoming of the human spirit under freedom. The latter blocks the flourishing of the human spirit under rule of tyranny. Real leaders don’t need followers. They don’t even need power. They lead by prestigious example and slip out of the strangleholds of power like a snake shedding its skin.

Humility is the callsign of a genuine leader of any sort, but is especially important for those within the pastoral office. As is mentioned in the above quote, Christ modeled this in stark contrast to the stereotypical pastor of today by washing the feet of His disciples.

There are genuine servant-leaders out there. They often go unseen because it is not the limelight they seek, but rather the Light of the World shining into whatever life they are able to impact. I am blessed to say that I have personally known a few of these men and women, and they are truly led by the Holy Spirit. (To those who were just now horrified that I would include women as I am speaking about pastoral leadership: That is another topic for another day.)

The fact of the matter is that leading from the "authoritarian role" as stated above is generally a poor model to pattern pastoral leadership after; not only because Christ did not do so, but also because we can see the ill effects of this kind of leadership all around us. Corporations fail, federal governments grow corrupt, and organizations of all kinds implode due to placing a great deal of the steering power (authority) in a single individual. "A true leader is one who leads by example," is a quote that most have heard at least once in their lives, and it is based upon Scripture. So if that sort of leadership is based upon Scripture, then what sort of defense can pastors that lead by intimidation, fear, or authority offer?

If one's church demands absolute  and blind adherence to those in authority, it may be unbiblical.

If one's pastors demand the flock take their word in place of God's Word, it is unbiblical.

If one's church leadership is appointed by popularity and not by qualification, it may be unbiblical.

6. Bestowing the role of a Senior CEO Pastor leads to apathetic pew sitters and goats.

“The disappearance of a sense of responsibility is the most far-reaching consequence of submission to authority.”
~Stanley Milgram 
A community leading itself tends to be a proactive community. A community commanded by a leader atop a hierarchy tends to be an apathetic, politically and spiritually myopic, and civically inert / salt-lost-its-usefulness community. So it goes with the “Senior CEO Pastor” tossing dictates down an ill-conceived chain of command. We have an entire American Church playing the victim, caught-up in a viciously codependent chain of obedience.

 Contrary to popular opinion, the opposite of love is not hate, but rather apathy. Hate most often comes from love, whether genuine or twisted, and is directed at whatever is perceived as harmful to the object of that love. This is why God hates sin; why the Psalmist as able to say that he "hates with a holy hatred"; and why we can honestly say that there are things we hate. If one is allergic to gluten, for instance, it may not be uncommon to hear one give voice to their hatred of it; it is to be expected, as gluten for that person causes harm.

Apathy, in contrast, is bred through accepted, learned or forced codependence upon an individual or group of individuals. The example often used in political circles is the current condition of the United States, wherein a large percentage of people are entirely apathetic in the face of the coming election; they have grown so due to their codependence upon the federal government, and so long as it continues to give them what they believe they need, nothing really matters. The politicians meanwhile are dependent upon the citizens for their position and income, and thus the chain of  apathetic codependence is forged.
It is much the same in a poorly operating church: The people grow dependent upon their leader for spiritual guidance and direction, while the leadership are dependent upon the people for their continued authority, and in many cases, their income. None of those within the flock are interested in stepping forward as a leader, or as a servant; and the leadership have no interest in being a follower or of losing their (oftentimes) laborless income.

The image used for this section is exceptionally appropriate, as the quote on the left comes from a meme created using the transcript of a large and well-known church; led by a larger-than-life and well-known pastor; who misquoted Joel 2:25. Those within the flock seemingly accepted it as Gospel, and no one in the entire auditorium (at least, no one caught on camera) were looking at their Bibles: They were too busy looking at the celebrity pastor. Someone from that service created a meme from it, they were so moved; and yet, their apathy is on display for all their posterity. For as long as the recordings of this sermon exist, this terrible misquote will continue to lead astray those looking to this specific man for guidance. On the right is the actual text of Joel 2:25, and the egregious error of the pastor in question can be seen in full detail; yet so too can the pitiful and genuinely frightening apathy of his flock.

If no one in one's church opens a Bible at any time during service, one's church may be apathetic.

If the pastor does not quote Scripture accurately, or paraphrase properly, one's church may be apathetic.

If one simply doesn't care, just as no other member of one's church cares, one's church is apathetic.

7. A Senior CEO American Pastor role just isn't scriptural in NT theology.

Paul sets up an elder requirements for Timothy and Titus to follow, not a top-down Pastoral executive structure for the setting up of 'churches' or fellowships. The fellowships were community based and meeting from house-to-house. Sure there were evangelists, prophets, and apostles that would come through the towns and cities and speak/teach and fellowship with the groups. And as we read Paul's epistles and John's and Peter's we can get an idea of the style of each of them. They were all different – as we all are. But those apostles and other gifts to the Body came through to serve and equip NOT to be served.

Herein is the crux of the matter, though it may at first be a bit confusing.

A properly running church has a top-down structure only when one lays it out on paper. This is, in some ways, the result of the servant-leadership of the church operating as they should; but also because human nature requires an authority structure of some kind, even if it is solely for the purpose of rebellion. Thus, in a properly functioning church wherein the servant-leaders are regularly seen meeting the needs of the church body, they would be considered the highest point of that church on paper.
In actual practice, however, it looks much different. The pastor as a servant-leader does not guide by authority but rather by example. The elders, deacons, and any assistant pastors do the same in such a church, while the rest of the body benefits from their ministry. In turn, the individual members of the body are instructed, encouraged and strengthened to take on servant-leadership positions of their own; and in this way, the church grows.

In my own church, it is not uncommon for our pastoral leadership to tap a member of the congregation to give a message; share a devotion; help to lead worship; or a dozen other things usually expected to be done by the leadership of the church. A foreign concept in the eyes of many mega-churches today, yet very biblical and sound. By doing this, the pastors are fostering, encouraging and challenging the congregation to grow and move into the calling that God has placed upon their individual lives.

In truth, all other forms of leadership in a church are very much new age in their approach; while I understand the need for structure and leadership, this fact remains incontrovertible. Another term for this sort of structure is Nicolaitan, and in Revelation 2:6 and 15 Jesus Christ tells the churches of Ephesus and Smyrna that this is something He hates. The Body of Christ is not intended to be housed in a single building to which believers drive an hour to attend service; it is meant to be a living organism that spreads across the globe.

If one must get approval from one's pastor before opening a Bible study in one's home, one's church may be Nicolaitan.

If one must get approval from one's leadership to attend service at another church, one's church is Nicolaitan.

If one must get permission to speak the Gospel outside the four walls, one's church is Nicolaitan, and to reiterate, hated by God.

This concludes this series. As always, please feel free to share across social media, and comment below. May God bless you abundantly as you seek to do His will and continue in obedience to His Word.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Contrast Within Pastoral Leadership Part 1

Recently I was sent a list of seven points explaining why the Christian Church does not need a senior pastor. As I read, I found myself in an unusual position: One in which I agreed wholeheartedly with each point and argument made, but was also able to see why they could not be applied across the board.

As amazing or fantastical as it may sound, there actually are pastors out there that have never taken a cent from the church they lead; who have never used their "power" for the purposes of manipulation; and who genuinely perform their roles as an honest-to-God servant-leader. I know this because I have been under the leadership of at least two of these pastors, and my life is so much the better for it. As a direct result of these people, I am able to say that I know what true leadership within the Body of Christ is, because I was able to see it exemplified.

However, the points are still very much accurate for the vast majority of hyper-publicized churches around the world. This is a sad statement to make, yet it is unfortunately a true statement also. The facts, figures, eyewitness accounts, and very public self-destruction of such churches all support this statement also.

Because of this sad truth, I would like to present to you the seven points I received, and contrast these with genuine servant-leaders that I have known. It is my hope that by seeing the examples and the exceptions, you might come to recognize what sort of leader your local body sits under.

1. Power Tends to Corrupt

From the list:
“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”   
- Lord Acton

This is the biggest reason why we do not need a Senior CEO Pastor. The
average human simply cannot handle power. As Abraham Lincoln observed, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Authentic power empowers others. Honest power has no need to cling to power, it releases it instead. It
spreads it out. It expiates it. It empowers others. Besides there truly is only ONE shepherd and His name is Jesus, all the rest of us are His sheep. God's Kingdom is upside down in comparison to the world's institutional model dealing with leadership. Soooo... top down authority models within the Church only create more problems.

Now, there are definitely churches that have this problem. I don't think any of us would have too hard a time of naming off some of the most visible examples, as they are in the news regularly.

However, it should be noted that there are senior pastors out there that do not utilize power with corrupted motives. I will certainly acknowledge that most of those senior pastors who have enjoyed the limelight are often there for a reason, and that not all of those reasons are noteworthy for their Christ-like qualities. With this said, it is often the pastors of small churches, with an outward focus for the community and an inward focus of service, that use the power their office has entrusted to them with humility.

So how can one tell if the pastor of one's church is utilizing power in a corrupt manner?

Well, if that pastor calls names from the pulpit, they may be power corrupt. (There is rarely a proper time for this to happen, and I personally have seen it only once in twenty years.)

If that pastor demands that people refer to them by their office at all times, in and out of church, and will publicly shame those who don't, they may be power corrupt. (It is one thing to teach about respect for a position; it is entirely different to be consumed by it to the point of hurting those that office is meant to protect.)

These are just two signs, but I believe you can see the pattern.

2. The senior CEO Pastor role just propagates the outdated power of the denomination / institution.

If anyone has ever visited an institutional or denominational church, then chances are they are very much aware of what they were visiting. However, those who attend such churches regularly, and perhaps were a part of it prior to it fitting in this category, may not realize this to be true. Thus, allow me to share from the list once again:

The Institutional / Denominational Church has followed the same structure and power hungry struggle as the 'State' (Government). The Church has become exactly like the State. The state: billions of people elbowing each other through the codependent wretchedness of hierarchical violence. The state: a propped up entity of ominous design, placating its citizens with freedom like a carrot dangling on a stick. ...Alas, the accumulation of the state has led to the erosion of individual freedom, and the Church institution / denomination has taken away the individual's freedom to be led by the Holy Spirit. A bottom-up approach toward reclaiming individual power, and thus individual freedom, should come first. But that doesn’t mean we should turn a blind eye to what must come second (if there is to be anything left to be free in at all) –a systematic collapse from the top-down. Maybe that's why there are SO many different denominations – people want to be 'free' and thus just started another.

Once more, I can understand and appreciate where the writer is coming from. More and more, I see the writing on the wall for the Western Church, specifically those with an institutional, denominational or combination approach. Allow me to be clear: I have been to institutionalized churches that have run well; that have allowed the Holy Spirit freedom to move; and that have been full of genuinely caring people seeking the will of the Lord. Unfortunately, these have been few. I have also been to denominational churches wherein the denomination's name on the sign simply informed others of what they actually believed; and within the walls of these churches I found some of the most godly, Christ-like people I've ever come across. Again, these have been few in number.

So how can one tell if one's church has reached this point of religious depravity?

If one's church has a "if you're not for us, you're against us" attitude, it may be depraved.

If one's church leadership (that is, everyone in leadership, not just the senior pastor) lords their authority over the "peons," it may be depraved.

Again, I believe you can see the pattern.

3. Holy Spirit instruction and direction trumps ALL other forms of authority.

The problem with the institutional denominational senior CEO pastoral model is that it propagates blind obedience to --- human control, rather than individual Holy Spirit control. Is there a greater chance of mistakes being made with no 'head' senior pastor's 3 step weekly sermon to follow and just relying on the Holy Spirit? Absolutely yes. But I'd rather have more mistakes with more freedom, than less mistakes because of less freedom. ...Spiritual covering comes from God – not a human leader. Real accountability comes from very close intimate friendships, which our culture, Church, and society admittedly has lost.
Once again, this list is dead on point, and the writer touches on one of my personal hot button issues: Accountability.

In a properly operating church, the pastor is accountable to the flock, just as the flock is accountable to the leadership, and all are accountable to one another. In a poorly operating church, the pastor is above (or beyond) accountability of any kind, yet holds the flock accountable for the smallest infractions. I have been in churches wherein the pastor was carrying on two different affairs with women in the church, and everyone knew about it! Yet, that same pastor had the nerve to hold everyone else accountable for their various addictions- Sexual and otherwise. Because of his brutish approach to his position, everyone within the church had become terrified of confronting an obvious issue.

In the church I attend now, our pastors hold themselves accountable to not only their flock, but also the authority which they have voluntarily placed themselves under: Specifically, our bishop. No, this is not a bishop such as those within the Catholic church have; instead, it is based very much upon the model laid out in Acts and other Pauline letters. Yes, there is a proper method of approaching a pastor on a perceived issue; but there is also a proper method for holding anyone within the church accountable, regardless of their title or position.

As pertains to freedom, a properly operating church allows the Holy Spirit to rule the service. God is a God of order, and thus we may expect a certain order of service. However, when the Lord draws someone to the church for the purpose of ministry to their specific need, the pastor must not quench the Spirit by rigidly adhering to five hymns, four hers and an hour long sermon with four collections. Instead, the pastor ought to allow the Holy Spirit to change the flow of service according to His will, not to the comfort of the pastoral staff.

So how can one tell if one's church is stuck in its ways and refusing to allow the freedom of the Holy Spirit?

If one's service can be expected from Sunday to Sunday regardless of who walks through the doors, one's church may be stuck.

If one sets aside a certain amount of money with a specific bill or check for each collection, one's church may be stuck.

If one finds oneself excited because the annual "Holy Spirit Sunday" is coming ever closer, one's church may be stuck.

Again, the pattern here should be clear for most readers.

This has been the first three of a two part series taken from these seven points. I will post again soon, but until then, I value your feedback. Feel free to share on social media, and pose comments or questions below. I will strive to respond in a timely manner.