Last week David and I did something we rarely do – we went into a bookstore marketing to Christians. Caroline was at a backyard Bible club with a cousin and we had a (rare) few free hours. I wanted to see if they had anything I could use this fall in our homeschooling so we went in.
David was telling me last night that one of the books he picked up touted that the author was the pastor of the fifth largest church in America. His reply was, “So what?” I explained to him that publishing is now driven almost exclusively by what you can bring to the table as an author. Book publishers no longer see marketing your book as their job. It is your job. And unless you can bring a following of thousands and thousands to the table, your book will rarely be published by a major publisher.
(Obviously details such as being the pastor of the fifth largest church in America don’t matter diddly squat to us because I can’t even tell you the name of the book or the pastor.)
The Evangelical Industrial Complex and Pastor, Inc.
It was interesting to read Jim Fletcher’s article Pastor, Inc. takes over the American church this morning in light of that conversation. Fletcher basically says the same thing as he describes the Evangelical Industrial Complex. Evangelicalism in America is driven by marketing and big name pastors. You can have your pastor flashed on a screen at some satellite campus or (if you are really blessed!) you can have a holographic image of him walking around on your stage.
Fletcher writes (bold mine):
What we have now in Christian publishing (as Carl Trueman so eloquently put it) is an Evangelical Industrial Complex, of which the general public knows very little. The leaders perpetuate their own marketing machines and control the message.
That’s why you will see the Evangelical community in America continue to drift in a leftward direction for some time to come.
A strictly biblical worldview doesn’t play in those circles anymore. Now, it’s about relationship-building, self-help, social action.
This is precisely why The Gospel Coalition and Together 4 the Gospel stood by C.J. Mahaney for months and months after the lawsuits against Sovereign Grace Ministries were filed by numerous plaintiffs until the fallout became so great they had to figure out a way to remove him from the T4G Conference 2014 and still save face for everyone involved. This is why Mahaney was able to flee his own church and go directly to Mark Devers’ church without either of them following any of the Biblical
instructions mandates they have both taught and required of their own church members for years.
It is about relationship building and covering for your friends when things go south.
It is about marketing and taking care of your brand.
It’s about controlling the message.
It is about hiring a Chief Sales and Marketing Officer (Executive Director level) to control the message on every level:
As the overall leader, this individual is focused on incorporating the desires of the team into a vision that is implemented across all areas. The Chief Sales and Marketing Officer will not only have primary oversight of all client services roles such as account management, sales, and the customer experience; but will also give strategic oversight to all of the marketing, media relations, creative, event management, promotion, interactive web and electronic services, music, publishing products, and all campaigns and programs at Mars Hill.
From the list of duties, this is the one that probably sums it up best:
Ensures that church products and services are aligned with client needs and demands
And if this new guy doesn’t meet Mark Driscoll’s expectations, he’ll end up on the pile of dead bodies behind the church bus:
“Here’s what I’ve learned. You cast vision for your mission, and if people don’t sign up, you move on. You move on. There are people that are gonna die in the wilderness, and there are people that are gonna take the hill. That’s just how it is. Too many guys waste too much time trying to move stiff necked, stubborn, obstinate people. I am all about blessed subtraction. There is a pile of dead bodies behind the Mars Hill bus (chuckle), and by God’s grace, it’ll be a mountain by the time we’re done…. You either get on the bus, or you get run over by the bus. Those are the options.”
Moving Toward the Model
Even my own church’s denomination has been regularly publishing questionable articles in our denominational magazine over the past few years, much to the consternation of the members. It is a well-known and oft repeated fact that many denominational members don’t even open the magazine but throw it in the trash because of the content. An increasing number of members and former members are becoming vocal that it is the effort of a few in power to shift the denomination to make it more acceptable to more mainstream denominations. Articles such as Tomorrow’s Theology and Where Do We Draw the Line? (scroll down) are alarming to the majority within the denomination. Assurances that the editors are just trying to promote conversation are anything but reassuring. After reading Fletcher’s article, it really seems much more like people are trying to control the message and the agenda in the denomination. It’s really not that hard to believe when one looks around at the landscape of Evangelicalism today.
Another way we can see the rise of the Evangelical Industrial Complex is the rise of heavy authoritarianism in churches. Prominent pastors are promoting such ideas and it is trickling down into the local churches.
For example, consider the excessively detailed membership covenant at Mars Hill. People who sign this covenant really put themselves at the mercy of the leadership. So much of this is open to interpretation and the interpreting will ALL be done by the leadership, not the member. Signing the covenant basically takes away your ability to interpret Scripture for yourself. I would not sign such a covenant and I would discourage others from signing it as well. Would you really trust yourself to men who consider it proper leadership to throw the dead bodies behind the bus? Do you want to be one of the dead bodies? You’ll be fine as long as you question nothing. Would you really want to put yourself in a situation where your conscience would be overridden by the beliefs of the elders?
The rise of heavy authoritarianism should alarm every Christian reading this. As Wade Burleson pointed out in his excellent sermon, Only Servants and No Masters, the church of Jesus Christ is not supposed to be about exercising authority over others. Yet churches have started making the authority of elders over the membership one of the central tenets of their church doctrines (scroll down). According to churches who are a part of the 9 Marks movement, you cannot leave a church unless they tell you it is okay to leave.
What Does the Future Hold for Us?
Fletcher points out in his article that the Evangelical church will continue to drift left. I understand what he is saying, but I don’t agree. I think segments of the church will continue to move both left and right. Churches drifting to the left will leave sound doctrine behind for what they will call the sake of cultural relevancy. Churches making a hard turn to the right will become more authoritarian and controlling of the membership. (There’s no drifting in this segment – it is purposeful and methodical.)
Frankly, I’m not willing to raise my daughter in either place which leaves me and my husband in a bit of a conundrum. Abandon sound doctrine or put ourselves under the control of those who believe they have the God-given authority to control my life to the point they think they can stop me from resigning my membership at a specific church? I’m not surrendering my freedom in Christ for either one. The truth has set me free. Truth and freedom. Both are essential for those who have been saved by Christ. And I’ve been through too many bloody spiritual battles and walked too far with God at this point in my life to give up the truths that set me free for the sake of “being a member” of a church. I AM a member of a church. I’m a member of the body of Christ which is the Church. I will not forsake the assembling with others, but I think more and more people like myself are going to be asking how the assembling can look different and allow those set free by Christ to continue in their freedom.