From time to time I will have the people I’m discipling write out their own pastoral obituary. I ask them to write out how our enemy would take them out, rendering them unable to serve their family and communities. As you can imagine, the answers vary, but it always serves as a really helpful exercise as they are forced to confront issues of character, etc.
Taking the same exercise I’ve used with pastors, for the past year I’ve been thinking about how the enemy would/might be trying to take down the American church. Now what I’ve noticed is that the original temptations Jesus faced (which can best be boiled down to Appetite, Affirmation and Ambition) are somehow warped and insinuated into the culture. As each culture is distinct and different, a smart enemy would come at each culture in subtle ways, tempting them in ways they don’t see or expect, and with things that would look different from culture to culture.
For instance, the issues the European church deals with are actually quite different than the ones the American church is dealing with — even though, often times, they are put under the same broad umbrella of “Western Church.” Sure, there are some similarities, but the attack is different. More nuanced.
But those original temptations of Appetite, Affirmation and Ambition are slowly insinuating themselves into everything we call CHURCH. We just often don’t recognize it or see it.
And so, this is how, if our enemy gets his way, the American church could be taken out:
- A culture of CELEBRITY (affirmation)
- A culture of CONSUMERISM (appetite)
- A culture of COMPETITION (ambition)
A Church of Celebrity
The idea of celebrity is deeply woven into American culture and values. All you have to do is look at the ridiculous nature of reality TV and you see how Americans are constantly craving celebrity (either to be a celebrity or to find the next celebrity and stalk their every move). Now there is nothing dark or sinister about “celebrity” in and of itself. You can’t find an argument that says Jesus wasn’t a huge celebrity in his day. However, there is a difference between being famous and being significant.
If Jesus was famous, it’s because he was doing something significant. The problem with many pastors is they make decisions, develop personas, and define success from the lens of what will make them a celebrity/famous (even if they don’t know it or see that they are doing this). So, in American church culture, it’s pretty easy to become a celebrity: Grow a HUGE church.
Now all in all, it’s not terribly difficult to grow to be a giant church if you have the right tools at your disposal, but that doesn’t mean the ends justify the means of getting there. For instance, though Jesus was a celebrity in his day, he was willing to say things that ran people off in droves. In fact, the book of Mark chronicles the way (from about the mid-point of the book on) that people left Jesus to the point where, at the end, virtually no one was left. NO ONE wants to be associated with him for fear of the consequences. That’s a Charlie Sheen-esque flameout (obviously without the character issues!).
That’s not something you see too often in American churches. I suspect it’s because, riven deeply into the American psyche, is the desire to be a celebrity. And American pastors are very susceptible to this. Many subtle things happen in people who desire this kind of celebrity status: They can disengage community and isolate themselves, setting themselves up for moral failure. They can make decisions that are numbers driven and not always Kingdom driven. They can skew to a shallow understanding of the Gospel as opposed to a holistic one that leads people to discipleship. They can put the good of their church (their personal Kingdom) over the good of God’s Kingdom.
Question: In what ways are your decisions made by a subtle undercurrent of ambition and a hope for celebrity?