It was fascinating to watch Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) struggle last night during his acceptance speech at the Grammy’s. He was visibly uncomfortable receiving the award for Best New Artist, wanting to show proper gratitude but at the same time distance himself from the event, presumably, out of fear of being swallowed up by the pop culture machine. Vernon said that when he started writing music he did it not for awards or accolades but for the inherent reward of making songs. Vernon was uncomfortable because he knew that there is a big difference between being a ‘musician’ and a ‘celebrity’ - and the two do not always fit well together.
There has been much written recently about the phenomenon of the ‘celebrity pastor’ - think Rob Bell, Mark Driscoll, Steven Furtick, etc. In many ways this is nothing new. Even in the early church Christians were aligning themselves with famous apostles like Paul, Apollos and Cephas (1 Corinthians 3:21). We all have a natural tendency to make our leaders into idols - and leaders have a natural tendency to turn their “platform” or their personal “brand” into an idol as well.
Bob Hyatt wrote this morning about his own struggle with the pursuit of pastoral fame. “I’ve come to the conclusion that there is a danger to my soul in pursuing more exposure, more name recognition, more money to be made from thinking, writing, and speaking about ministry issues.”
Hyatt argues that we must separate celebrity from pastoral work. “Local church ministry should not be a stepping stone to anything, least of all to fame and fortune. It should not be easier for CNN to get in touch with a pastor than for someone in his own congregation.”
Skye Jethani helps to break down this phenomenon even further. He argues that there is more than a spiritual or psychological reason behind the rise of today’s pastoral pantheon. There is a systemic economic force at work as well. Evangelicalism is a very large business. Some estimate the total evangelical market to be over $7 billion a year. A market, just like any other, that must be sustained. Jethani points out that “This market-driven cycle of megachurches, conferences, and publishers results in an echo chamber where the same voices, espousing the same values, create an atmosphere where ministry success becomes equated with audience aggregation.” Sounds a lot like pop-music to me.
In Matthew 4 we’re told that Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to to be tempted by the devil. The tempter came to him three times with three different temptations. “If you are the Son of God... tell these stones to become bread... throw yourself off the temple and have the angels rescue you... worship me and I will give you all the kingdoms and the splendor of this world.” Henri Nouwen points out that these were essentially the temptation to become relevant, to do something spectacular, and to become popular and powerful. These are the same temptations we all face in Christian leadership. Why are these temptations so potent? Because each one offers an easy substitute from the hard task of love.
Christian leadership is about love. It is not about fulfilling our need to be relevant to a market audience, it is about about giving and receiving the life-giving love of our Creator. It is not about becoming popular, it is about being rooted in a community where you can know and be known. It is not about power and control, it is displaying the same kind of mercy, humility and service Jesus showed to the world.
May we minister not for the awards or the accolades, but for the inherent rewards of serving Christ and his Church.
In Rework, Jason Fried writes that what makes a great museum is not just what is on the walls; it is what is not on the walls. What someone said no to. This is the role of a curator.
The curator makes conscious decisions regarding what to collect, research and display and what not to. If you take all of the possible art in the world and put it into a room it’s not a museum, it’s a warehouse. It is the curator’s job to take an entire universe of options and decide whether or not something makes it into a museum.
I think one of the primary roles of a pastor is that of a curator. To identify spiritual gifts, talents and abilities lying dormant in the pews and bring them to life. To inspire artists and writers and entrepreneurs to contribute their gifts not just for a profit, and not just to make a point during the sermon, but for the common good of the community.
Just this week at Gateway I’ve come across an improv actor, a drummer, a videographer and an insurance agent all willing to contribute their expertise to building the kingdom.
Trinity Grace Church in New York City recently did a series ‘Calling All Artists’ within their community to submit their craft. I am not sure if what follows is anything they had in mind, but it absolutely blew me away.
There is so much potential sitting within our congregations to communicate God’s truth, grace and love. It is the pastor’s job to find it.
This weekend we discussed the “Political Elephant” in the church (you can download or listen to the podcast HERE). Needless to say, religion and politics are dangerous topics. They ruin polite conversation.
Many young Christians I talk to suggest that maybe we shouldn’t talk about or get involved in politics at all. It is just too divisive.
While this is certainly tempting, when you study the Gospels themselves - and the political and socioeconomic backgrounds behind them - you begin to realize why Jesus was feared by all of the major political parties. Jesus’ message was incredibly political. His teaching and parables on law, taxation, party attitudes, the judicial process and foreigners challenged all of the political leaders of his day.
Jesus was a revolutionary. He came announcing the kingdom of God. This was not just a spiritual, inner peace. The Bible tells us that the kingdom of God was going to deal with real poverty, real injustice, real suffering and real hunger.
But Jesus was unlike any revolutionary that had come before. He was not just going to be a better king, but an entirely new kind of king, bringing an entirely new kind of kingdom.
Every revolution inside the kingdom of this world is not really changing anything fundamental; it just changes the players around. Every other revolt is about taking power from those who have it and giving it to those who do not. But Jesus’ revolution was about giving power away and changing the world that way. The climax of his revolution was not when he got elected, it was when he was executed.
Tom Skinner, an African American minister from inner-city New York, spoke about this radically new kind of revolution in his famous sermon at the Urbana Missionary Conference in 1970 (it is an incredible talk and I would encourage you to read or listen to it in its entirety).
To an audience of over 12,000 mostly white college students and campus ministers, Skinner fearlessly exposed the racism within "Bible-believing, fundamental, orthodox, conservative, evangelical Christianity” and called for a revolution. A Jesus kind of revolution.
He concluded by comparing Jesus to Barrabas. Barabbas was also a revolutionary. He said "The Roman system stinks, it's militaristic, it's oppressive." And Jesus would have agreed. The difference between Jesus and Barabbas was in their solution. Barabbas wanted change within the system. Jesus wanted to change the system entirely.
So why release Barrabas instead of Jesus?
“Very simple: if you let Barabbas go, you can always stop him. The most Barabbas will do is go out, round up another bunch of guerrillas and start another riot. And you will always stop him by rolling your tanks into his neighborhood, bringing out the National Guard and putting his riot down. Find out where he is keeping his ammunition. Raid his apartment without a search warrant and shoot him while he is still asleep. You can stop Barabbas.
But how do you stop Jesus? They took and nailed him to a cross. But they did not realize that, in nailing Jesus to the cross, they were putting up on that cross the sinful nature of all humanity. As Christ was nailed to the cross, it was more than just a political radical dying; he was God's answer to the human dilemma. On that cross Christ was bearing in his own body my sin, and he was proclaiming my liberation on that cross. And on that cross he shed his blood to cleanse me of all my sin, to set me free. They took and buried him, rolled a stone over his grave, wiped their hands and said, "That is one radical who will never disturb us again. We have gotten rid of him. We will never hear any more of his words of revolution."
Three days later Jesus Christ pulled off one of the greatest political coups of all time: he got up out of the grave. When he arose from the dead, the Bible now calls him the second man, the new man, the leader of a new creation. A Christ who has come to overthrow the existing order and to establish a new order that is not built on man.
Keep in mind, my friend, with all your militancy and radicalism, that all the systems of men are doomed to destruction. All the systems of men will crumble and, finally, only God's kingdom and his righteousness will prevail. You will never be radical until you become part of that new order and then go into a world that's enslaved, a world that's filled with hunger and poverty and racism and all those things of the work of the devil.
Proclaim liberation to the captives, preach sight to the blind, set at liberty them that are bruised, go into the world and tell men who are bound mentally, spiritually and physically, "The liberator has come!"
"Why do they always teach us that it's easy and evil to do what we want and that we need discipline to restrain ourselves? It's the hardest thing in the world - to do what we want. And it takes the greatest kind of courage. I mean, what we really want. As I wanted to marry you. Not as I wanted to sleep with some worman or get drunk or get my name in the papers. Those things - they're not even desires - they're things people do to escape from desires - because it's such a big responsibility, really to want something"
Excellent article over at Out of Ur this morning on three types of pastoral leadership.
Eugene Peterson claims that there are two common types of unhealthy pastors. The first is the messiah. Messiahs seek out wounded, broken people, to make them healthy again. It is a noble task, except for its motivation: messiahs need to feel needed.
Then there are managers, who seek not the unhealthy but the healthy: talented, faithful, and prepared people. Managers plug them in, finding the right places for them to serve in an ever-expanding congregational machine. The bigger the church gets, the better managers feel effective and useful. People become numbers.
In the article, Magrey deVaga argues that instead the pastor should focus on becoming a docent - a tour guide in a museum or art gallery.
Clergy showcase to the world the architecture and artistry of the Christian faith. We are tour guides, leading people from one gallery to another, shifting their attention from one work of God to the next. At times, we offer language to describe the unutterable: magnificence, awe, anguish. We are wordsmiths for life’s most muted moments.
deVega admints that this metaphor is not perfect - people are drawn to churches that are committed movements, not to monuments - but I love his point that good tour guides never steal the attention from the artist. Pastors should not focus on their own celebrity. They merely point to the Artist, rather than trying to become the art itself.
You can read the full article HERE.
I received this email from a pastor-friend yesterday and thought I’d share an edited version of his question and my response with all of you.
I was curious as you plant The Gateway Church if you think the future of most successful growing churches will be established or planted churches? There seems to be pro's and con's to both sides. I guess I am asking you as a fellow young minister do you think that planting or revitalization is easier to pull off? Looking ahead for us we are wondering if planting would be a good option, going on staff would be best or to stay here and continue to build off the last 3 years. Obviously we want to be led by God, but just wondering what you kind of thought on this topic?
Overall I think the Kingdom needs both new churches and revitalized churches, but the truth is neither is doing that great of a job reaching lost people. Over the last decade thousands of churches have been "revitalized" and become “megachurches.” Over that same time period thousands of new churches have been planted. And yet, overall the number of Christ-followers in our country has declined. Bottom line: we're good at transferring Christians, we're just not very good at reaching the lost.
On a personal level, I think it comes down to how God has wired you. I think there are basically three types of pastors:
My advice, find out how God has wired you and fulfill God's Kingdom mission in that role to the best of your ability. Whatever you do, don't try to be someone you are not.
I had an incredible time at Catalyst last week. God really used this time to do some really deep stuff in my heart. He challenged me on so many different levels. Here are a few highlights:
I only have a few more classes to go on my Master’s degree, which makes me very happy. This week I started a seminar called Theological Integration. The class is being taught by David Clark who wrote one of my favorite books on theological method, To Know and Love God.
The following is how he introduced the course on the syllabus:
Nothing’s more practical for a Christian minister than good theology. But I’m talking about more than just applying abstract theory to practical contemporary issues. Transformational leaders “think theologically,” that is, they reflect critically and act intentionally from within the teachings of theology and the experience of life with God. They interpret and explain leadership situations and transforming experiences with God by understanding them in terms of—in the categories of—the reality and revelation of God. Then they act out of that understanding.
I totally agree! The church doesn't just need more theologians, the church needs more pastors and leaders who are good theologians. Really looking forward to this course.
I had a great leadership lesson over coffee with my dad this morning. We were discussing organizational ineffectiveness and he referenced The Peter Principle. I wasn’t familiar with this phrase so I asked him what it was.
The Peter Principle was originally formulated by Dr. Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull in their 1968 book called The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong. The principle states that in a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his or her level of incompetence.
It holds that in most organizations employees are promoted as long as they work competently. But sooner or later they are promoted to a position at which they are no longer competent (their "level of incompetence"), and there they remain.
In time, every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent to carry out his/her duties and so most of the work is accomplished by those employees who have not yet reached their level of incompetence.
The employee's incompetence is not necessarily a result of the higher-ranking position being more difficult. Rather, the new job requires different work skills, which the employee usually does not possess. For example, sales people may be very valuable for their skills, but poor managers. Michael from The Office is a perfect example of this: great salesman, terrible manager.
The authors suggest that organizations should avoid promoting a worker until he or she shows the skills and work habits needed to succeed in the next higher job – an employee shouldn’t be promoted to managing others if he or she does not already display management abilities. Competent employees, such as technicians, who are dedicated to their current jobs should not automatically be promoted, but might, instead, receive a pay or status increase.