I recently was impressed with 2 Corinthians 5:12 in the New Living Translation,
“Are we commending ourselves to you again? No, we are giving you a reason to be proud of us, so you can answer those who brag about having a spectacular ministry rather than having a sincere heart.” (Emphasis mine)
“…having a spectacular ministry rather than having a sincere heart.” This phrase really caught my attention. This past week I had lunch with a savvy Christian leader who mentioned that there seems to be a proliferation of well-known Christian leaders around the country with spectacular ministries but also with a seeming absence of sincerity, lack of character and some very public and sinful attitudes and behaviors. I am beginning to see the same thing. It is an emerging pattern that people are noticing.
It seems to me that we are engulfed in an evangelical culture of worship and the inordinate fawning over popular and successful Christian leaders. This is especially dangerous when some of these leaders have questionable character which has become publically evident.
Here, with a very insightful treatment of the problem, is Jerry Wragg, pastor of Grace Immanuel Church in Juniper, Florida. By sharing this, I am not endorsing anything Jerry might have said elsewhere, but simply allowing his voice and concerns on this specific issue to speak to those who frequent “Leadership From the Heart.”
I understand that Jerry Wragg has been closely associated with pastor John MacArthur. I have differences of opinion with McArthur and don’t agree with some of his theological persuasions; but feel, nonetheless, that what follows here is worth reading and paying close attention to. I am not one to throw the baby out with the bathwater (so to speak) and don’t feel that I should not share truth as I see it just because I don’t agree with other things the person might have said or written.
Posted by pastor Jerry Wragg on June 30, 2014
Perhaps evangelicalism would not suffer so many celebrity-leaders with weak character and shallow theology if it was humble enough to admit that it could’ve prevented the problem early on by simply heeding the warnings of more discerning Christians bold enough to expose unbiblical ministry and character! But where big numbers and broad public favor are concerned, red flag-raisers are almost universally scoffed at. Hordes of bedazzled leaders and sheep are quick to dismiss the smallest whiff of criticism, chiming in chorus: ”Leave that popular leader alone. He just has some rough edges. Look at the impact he’s having.” Like it or not, this is nothing less than the worst form of pragmatism—the kind evangelicals love to claim they’d never fall into.
But what truly astounds me is how quickly some celebrity’s adoring fan base goes mute once their guru’s weaknesses reach a particular level of public embarrassment. The typical progression today goes something like this: Christians hear of a teacher or leader’s ministry and growing popularity. Everyone begins indiscriminately gulping at his fountain without first researching more closely his theological and pastoral training, skill in handling Scripture, or evidence of personal holiness and biblical discernment.
Once intoxicated, the cautions and criticisms of others are scorned and targeted as “out of touch,” “harsh,” and “unlovingly narrow.” But as soon as that leader’s weaknesses spin out of control and into the evangelical headlines, his former followers pretend they were never followers at all. A deafening silence replaces their former shouts of praise. Then after some weeks, former supporters begin offering their own strong criticisms, snuggling up to the bevy of uncompromising believers who, from day one, always voiced serious concerns. Not so fast, you who say, “Who, Me?” If you were one of those well-meaning evangelicals who simply didn’t do your biblical homework when an evangelical star began rising, and you advanced his influence while ignoring the red flags, then at the very least you could help future generations by embracing your misstep as publicly as you once carelessly endorsed a bad influence.
I truly marvel at the slick way evangelicals deny any previous affinity for reckless leaders/authors they were fawning over just months earlier. It’s a Christian sleight-of-hand technique that lets us ride the wave of what’s trending while preserving our reputation in the event a fashionable leader becomes an embarrassment. It’s a cunning dance—a sly two-step that prevents having to take public responsibility for widely promoting and defending questionable leaders.
It’s pleading ignorance in order to mask negligence. In today’s celebrity-homage ministry culture, very few are willing to admit ignoring or excusing early warnings and glaring signs of weakness. And even fewer highly respected leaders are willing to make restitution for having endangered other sheep who blindly followed what they enthusiastically sponsored. Instead, we’ve become quite comfortable just silently distancing ourselves from spiraling icons. Where we once blogged, tweeted, and indiscriminately heralded our favorite trail-blazer’s every word, we suddenly emerge from months of curious silence and smoothly announce that “we’ve had concerns all along.” Like reporters who resist printing a retraction, many evangelicals loathe ever having to publically retract their hasty fan-boy enthusiasm for the latest fad.
This is not the way to strengthen and edify the body of Christ. Lack of biblical discernment is a serious weakness and is never excused in Scripture (1 Corinthians 3:1-3; Hebrews 5:11-14). For children to grow from their mistakes, a wise parent helps them learn to humbly admit imprudence and naiveté. In our home, our kids learned from their mishaps, not by pretending they didn’t occur, but by thoroughly examining their pathology. We helped them identify sinful motives and ungodly thoughts, and taught them to confess and forsake weakness, renewing their hearts and minds by faith in God’s word. It should be no different with the family of God. Honest confession of our pride, stubbornness, and lack of biblical vigilance is the first step toward greater spiritual discernment. When we’ve slipped into pragmatism, carelessly advancing a popular but questionable leader, we need to openly admit it…
For the continuation of this article, go to Jerry Wragg