Our obsession with “winning”

Decades ago I remember a column or opinion piece written about our obsessions and warped values. At the time it was referring to the way we lift up people who work hard, work long hours, and don’t have time to “take it easy.” The prime example for that article was Dick Cheney (long before he was VP). Cheney had some heart issues (well… that’s just a sentence to get teed up, isn’t it?) and he was praised at the time for going into the doctor to get a stent or two in the morning then getting back to work that afternoon.

No one paused to say, “The man is a workaholic and that’s dangerous.” (Except for the author of the column or opinion piece.)

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We have to hold powerful people accountable

The series “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill” is a devastating podcast series. It is a hard look into Mark Driscoll and the poisonous culture of Mars Hill Church in Seattle. But it needs to be told. And it needs to be heard.

In my own group, the ACNA, more news comes out about the mishandling of sexual abuse in one of our dioceses.

Why do I keep sharing all this? Sarah Bessey summed it up at the end of Episode 5 in the CT Podcast series: We have to keep the powerful accountable.

One of the old arguments whenever a larger church was criticized was, “But… look at their fruit!”

Maybe the point needs to be: Wait… look at the damage.

We are in trouble. We don’t just need policy changes. We need our hearts broken and set on repentance. It’s time to turn around.

The break up of Mars Hill

In just two weeks, Mars Hill went from a huge celebrity pastor and the model for multisite churches to… this.

I am not writing this to gloat. I am writing this to ask us, as American Christians, to do something extraordinary… think. 

We’re not good at it.

The huge “crisis” of my young ministry was the cultish following people gave to Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker. I loved Swaggart. I dreamed of big crusades in my own ministry.

They fell… and hard. It was a time when it wasn’t only them but several “big names” in my own life who I actually knew and they fell morally as well.

At the time there was the talk of getting away from “celebrity” worship.

And along came Benny Hinn.

And TBN stayed at it.

And on and on.

We didn’t learn. We still had our “favorites.” Just like Americans blaming Congress, but still electing their Congressman to return to Washington, we felt the same way.

“It’s all those other personalities out there. MY guy/gal is GODLY!”

We then cycled through the “seeker sensitive” model of church as we chased the slavish desire for “numbers.” While we haven’t seen any huge “moral” failures, we have seen some of these huge churches re-think their model… and shrink. 

Well, we don’t want to shrink do we? So off we go… chasing some other model…

And multisite has now come into vogue. Mark Driscoll was huge. And not the only one.

I am always a “both/and” kind of guy, which is more than I can say for some people still stuck on numbers. I will always keep that line from a conference a few years back (hosted by my very own denomination) where the speaker declared, “Churches under 200 won’t exist in ten years.”

Yeah… I’m not letting that statement go away.

I don’t begrudge growth. I’m just always wanting to ask dumb things like what kind of growth are we getting?

It would be an opportune time to actually think through some of the obstacles of a multisite format. And the biggest one is still the thing we refuse to deal with in our culture: It’s personality driven. It is the idea that no other person can communicate with the same skill, passions, etc., as this guy/gal. 

And I know this week there were be hundreds of staff meetings evaluating Mars Hill and those multisite churches will all reach the same conclusion: That’s them. Not us. 

And just as we passed through the era of citywide crusades, and the era of seeker sensitive churches, we will now see the passing through of multisite models. It’s not yet… but I’m going to bet this model passes away before we lose all those churches who have 200 or less.

I am not going to blame all church leaders. We’re just chasing numbers and it gets in our vision… and we go crazy. We like formulas.

But part of the blame is our cultural Christianity. We allow these things because, as believers, we want these things.

It is still astounding to me to hear people talk about the longing for relationship they don’t see in “church” as they drive off to a multisite service!

When American Christians will quit being consumer-driven culture followers, we just may find the CHURCH.

And for this, it IS a both/and problem. It IS leadership… and it IS the believer sitting in the dark theater looking at the screen of the preacher who is NOT there…

For leadership… we have GOT to quit chasing numbers and “efficiency.” We need to PASTOR people again. And when we reach our limit of those we can pastor, train others to pastor so THEY can lead and take another group and pastor them. We need to let go.

As leaders we need to insist on discipleship instead of just decision. There are simply people who, when faced with the cost of following Christ, will not follow. It will break your heart. And it should. But we can’t build on numbers alone. We have to build on disciples.

As American Christians, we have to jettison our cultish love of personality. We need relationship. Deep, hard hitting relationship. People who will get into our ugly lives and still love us and we really we don’t need to hide anymore.

We follow huge churches and personalities because it allows us to hide. 

Quit hiding.

We can still have big churches. Lots of them.

And “small” churches. Lots of them.

And if in each one people find the reality of following Christ and not a feeling, a worship band, and preacher personality… we will find the Kingdom.

But if we don’t, in about five years we’re going to see the “next hot thing” in ministry come down the road and in ten years… something else…

And, I’m just spitballing here, I’m guessing there still might be a few churches “under 200.”

Dear friends, we can do better.

Let us insist on it.