Sunday, July 10, 2016

on the temptations of megachurch pastors not being quite like the ones you or I face, the temptations of common folk won't be just like those of people who call themselves "prophets", "priests" or "kings"

With Perry Noble's removal from pastoral office at Newspring over alcohol abuse reported this morning ...

and a clarifying printed statement ...

it seems inevitable that there will be those in the Christian blogosphere who will say that the temptations faced by a Perry Noble aren't so different from the ones you or I face on a daily basis. 

Well, sure, if each and every one of us presides as the key public figure who works as a motivational speaker within the context of a religious 501(c)3 that can handle millions of dollars of assets, yeah. 

This is not to diminish whatever struggles Noble may face in dealing with alcohol abuse, this is to point out that the very nature of Noble's day job is so atypical that we should remind ourselves that there's a difference between what a pastor in your local neighborhood does year in and year out and what Noble did.

Regular readers will likely already know what themes we've been considering here this year, namely that in light of Jacques Ellul's writings about propaganda and propagandists that megachurch pastors may generally be regarded as propagandists, people who are adept in the deployment of integrated/combined mass and social media with carefully delineated branding to get a single message out that can organize the life of a large social unit. 

So the distinction between a "normal" church and a megachurch can be described in terms of the pastor of a "normal" church doing things that would historically be explicable for the history of those in vocational ministry--not just sermon preparation but visiting the sick, pastoral visits and so forth on the one hand; on the other hand the activity of a megachurch pastor can entail the use of video or radio preaching or teaching that may or may not be integrated with the writing and promotion of books and, in the last thirty years, can also include what has come to be known as a multi-site model of organizational life--the megachurch or gigachurch can consist of a series of satellite campuses in which the central figure is still regarded as the "pastor".  In the case of the late Mars Hill Church, Mark Driscoll would preach a sermon that was filmed and the redistributed within the technological networking apparatus of Mars Hill so that people at the rest of the church would hear the sermon one week later. 

To try to put this in sacramental terms, if the pastor is mediated by a screen rather than preaching in front of the congregation then we're "probably" as often as not looking at the megachurch pastor who would fit into what Ellul called propaganda as a methodology and ethos.  In a strange ironic juxtaposition, when people argued with Mark Dever about a video-mediated sermon reaching people there was an argument that someone like a J. Vernon McGee had good sermons but sermons that may no longer be "used" to reach people.  But if a contemporary megachurch pastor preaches a sermon and it's rebroadcast a week later via DVD to a satellite campus is that "living"?

And that such questions could even be "theological" beyond merely being "logistical" should tell us that none of this is operating at a level where it would correspond to what "you" or "I" may deal with on a day to day basis as a possible avenue for temptation.

Yes, the potential to abuse alcohol or cigarettes is something any of us could struggle with but even among church-going Christians how likely are we to hear a pastor preach a sermon in which he or she discusses the risks of potential, say, caffeine addiction?  There may be some sermons that go down better in the listening experience with a little help from morning coffee, perhaps, but it's a relatively rare sermon in America that focuses on caffeine as something that can be addictive.  There was, actually, a youth pastor I remember from twenty years ago, telling a group of youth that he felt convicted by the Lord to scale back his caffeine intake because he was concerned about what looked to be withdrawal symptoms but that's one case out of a lifetime of churchgoing. 

Certainly we can pray that Noble gets effective treatment and is able to drink more responsibly or set the bottle aside.  It's also possible to mention the obvious, that the men who end up being pastors in megachurch contexts are not really dealing with day to day temptations of the same kind the rest of us nameless sorts who aren't public figures or celebrities may contend with. 

Whoever you are, you and I are most likely sorts where what we say and do does not "matter" in terms of shaping a society.  Now it's possible to have some local short-term influence but that's not the kind of "influence" Americans who see fit to opine on the value of influence often seem fit to dignify as truly being influential.  Mark Driscoll used to say in sermons about how it was important for people to go "upstream" and "influence culture". Most of us will not publish books and even if we do publish books most of us will not get an offer to use Result Source to secure a best-seller position for a title we have our names attached to.  There are temptations within the realm of megachurch pastor or celebrity Christian authors that are completely uncharacteristic of "normal" Christian life. 

Now none of us faces a temptation that someone else hasn't faced before, to be sure, but to borrow the idiom of "triperspectivalism", those who self-identify as pastors who are "prophets", "priests" or "kings" do not face temptations of quite the same kind we do. 

Even if we grant for the sake of a discussion that megachurch pastors who are "kings" or "prophets" do have the same kinds of temptations we have the sum of Christian testimony in the scriptures and from historical consideration would "seem" to suggest that important criteria about psychological susceptibility to temptation or impulse control needs to be observably worked out before someone is considered fit for ministry.  Obviously in view of history too many have been greenlit for ministries they were not necessarily cut out for. And different eras and regions have different ideas of what besetting vices are considered bad enough to preclude fitness for formal ministry.  Americans would, for a variety of reasons, consider a pastor who has a problem with alcohol abuse less fit for ministry than a pastor who could be shown to be a caffeine junkie by dint of prodigious coffee consumption.
So, yes, we can say pastors "may" be subject to the same kinds of temptations we are amongst the laity but that would not preclude a discussion of how fitness ministry "should" (based on scriptural instructions) be assessed on the basis of a pastoral candidate's history of being able to keep impulses in check.

... and yet ... as we saw here in the Puget Sound region, in order to be tempted to use Result Source you have to know what it is, what it is for, and what the incentive or disincentive to use it is.  To borrow the nomenclature from two paragraphs ago, there are still temptations that are most likely to come up for those who call themselves prophets, priests or kings. 


Noble has a small connection to Mars Hill history that may be a topic for consideration a little bit later but in order to write about a book blurb it's helpful to have the book at hand and not in a box.

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