Thinking Out Loud

March 8, 2012

A Message to Elder Evangelical Statesmen: Retire Graciously

I’m not sure the mystery writer known as Bene Diction has connected the dots on the last three (almost) consecutive posts that ran on his blog on March 6th and 7th. To me the common theme is inescapable.

First, we have John Piper make pronouncements as to the message behind the run of tornadoes in the U.S. heartland that left dozens dead and thousands homeless. This is nothing new. Piper is required to have a take on everything. It’s in his job description. Just as sure as the morning DJ on the local radio station will fill time between commercials pontificating on the events of the day prior, so also does JP feel compelled to weigh in on everything from soup to nuts.  Bene D links to Chaplain Mike at Internet Monk, who in one of his most heated posts ever, spares no words to express his disdain for Piper’s analysis:

After directly attributing these devastating, death-dealing storms to the sovereign, all-controlling God, Piper comments on what he might be trying to teach us. Despite his own warning — “We are not God’s counselors. Nor can we fathom all his judgments. That was the lesson of Job. Let us beware, therefore, of reading the hand of providence with too much certainty or specificity.” — Piper goes on to read three lessons in the storms:

  • Like Job, we should just submit and say, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
  • We should heed Jesus’ words in Luke 13:4-5 and take every storm as a divine warning to repent.
  • We should not think that God’s people themselves are exempt from such judgments.

This is a pastor’s message in the immediate aftermath of a terrible disaster.

How comforting. How helpful. How sympathetic. How sensitive. How pastoral.

Not.

But then, a day later, Bene D. reports on the firing of three family members from the Crystal Cathedral/Hour of Power; a media ministry conglomerate now just a shadow of its former self. Lesser people would have waved a white flag at this point, but apparently the church and its television broadcast are soldiering on.  Bene links to the Orange County Register:

…On Sunday, Sheila Schuller Coleman is expected to give the sermon.

Meanwhile, the Hour of Power program, which once reached millions of viewers across the world, will replay previous episodes for the next few weeks while leaders “determine a new direction for the show.”

“Organizational changes affecting ministry leaders are never easy to make, especially when it involves individuals who have devoted their lives to this ministry and have served with great distinction,” John Charles, president of the Crystal Cathedral Ministries, said in a statement. “This was a very difficult decision the Crystal Cathedral Ministries board of directors prayerfully deemed was necessary in order to make a change in direction for the ‘Hour of Power’ and reverse recent declining donations and viewership.”

Five other individuals were expected to lose their jobs in the reorganization.

“Because of privacy concerns, we won’t identify them,” the spokesman wrote in an e-mail.

This is the latest shake-up for the troubled ministry. Last month, Schuller Coleman was removed as the chief executive officer and president of the Ministries and replaced by Charles, who had previously held different positions with the Cathedral.

Then, on the same day, Bene D. reports the apology (sort of) from end-of-the-world date-setter Harold Camping, with the spin emphasis on the people who delved into Bible prophecy as a result of his flawed prophetic calendar. For this, he links to the Family Radio ministry website via Strang News:

Yes, we humbly acknowledge we were wrong about the timing; yet though we were wrong God is still using the May 21 warning in a very mighty way. In the months following May 21 the Bible has, in some ways, come out from under the shadows and is now being discussed by all kinds of people who never before paid any attention to the Bible.

Do you see the connection? All that’s missing is Fred Phelps and the guy who was going to burn the Qur’an, whose name we have thankfully forgotten.  

Ministry organizations and individuals who have contributed greatly to the spiritual life of many have a sell-by date, and it’s time to disappear graciously and start writing memoirs. Memoirs that can be edited by others, as opposed to media statements and blog posts which appear all too quickly.

I say this with empathy. Having already reached an age where I have been sidelined from certain activities — worship leading is apparently now a young man’s game — I know that being silenced is not easy to take. But in the case of the men and women at the center of these three stories, it’s necessary.

Time does not permit me the luxury of fleshing out this topic as fully as I would like, but perhaps some of you can continue in the meta. Meanwhile, I want to add one extra story.  James Alexander Langteaux is a former senior producer for The 700 Club, who is the author of the forthcoming (April) book, “Gay Conversations with God – Straight Talk on Fanatics, Fags and the God who Loves Us All.  In an interview with Phil Shepherd at Huffington Post, he’s asked how he thinks his former boss, Pat Robertson will react when he comes out of the closet in a major way:

“…Well, after the uproar that resulted from Pat’s comments of dementia being grounds for abandonment in a marriage union, I’m not sure that really matters much…”

In other words, in Langteaux’s eyes, Robertson has already lost his voice.

Joining the dots in Bene Diction’s stories, John Piper, the Crystal Cathedral and Family Radio have lost their voices, too. 

Just as today’s younger communicators need to earn the right to be heard, the elder statesmen of the Christian church need to see that the ‘wisdom of age’ is not a respect automatically granted. Rather, it needs to be proven on a regular basis by statements that continually reflect that the person in question is wise.

In the end, the only expiry dates on credibility in ministry life are the ones we create for ourselves.

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6 Comments »

  1. You’ll be happy to know John Piper is planning to retire. Church elders are working on a plan. I’m happy that all his teaching material is online…
    http://www.desiringgod.org/

    http://hopeingod.org/news-events/bethlehem-blogs/bethlehem-updates-blog/call-prayer-succession-search-team-update-timelin

    Comment by Brian — March 8, 2012 @ 9:57 am

  2. The cases you quote are – thankfully – extreme, but I’m afraid all too common on a smaller scale. I know one pastor who has been mightily used in the past but is now a ‘grumpy old man’ who shouldn’t continue to work with children.
    I am nearing 76 but I am thankful there are still many areas of ministry open to older folk. In these days a ‘grandpa’ or ‘grandma’ type of person is extremely respected and admired by most children and popular with them. These may not be able to run around with the kids, but they offer a security and “ear” that is hard to find and make excellent teachers, especially on a one-to-one basis or in a small group setting.

    Comment by meetingintheclouds — March 8, 2012 @ 5:50 pm

  3. Piper may be planning to retire, but I don’t think he is “done” the way Crystal Cathedral is done. I bet we’ll see him on a recurring basis at Desiring God Ministries/blog.

    Comment by Clark Bunch — March 8, 2012 @ 8:15 pm

  4. And then we have this from today’s Washington Post:

    RICHMOND, Va. — Religious broadcaster Pat Robertson says marijuana should be legalized and treated like alcohol because the government’s war on drugs has failed.

    The outspoken evangelical Christian and host of “The 700 Club” on the Virginia Beach-based Christian Broadcasting Network he founded said the war on drugs is costing taxpayers billions of dollars. He said people should not be sent to prison for marijuana possession.

    The 81-year-old first became a self-proclaimed “hero of the hippie culture” in 2010 when he called for ending mandatory prison sentences for marijuana possession convictions.

    Full story: http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/pat-robertson-marijuana-should-be-treated-like-alcohol-says-war-on-drugs-has-failed/2012/03/08/gIQARikHzR_story.html?tid=pm_national_pop

    Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — March 8, 2012 @ 9:39 pm

  5. I am sometimes disappointed with John Pipers proclamations. But that being said, many of his teachings are so inspired and he has often given me exactly the right words to wrap around something profound. Could it be pride that causes him to think he needs to comment on “everything from soup to nuts”? Sadly, as with many secular celebrities, he may have fallen prey to the high words of praise from his admiring followers.

    As the apostle Paul says, we must “die daily”. There is a reason for that!

    Comment by Cynthia Almudevar — March 8, 2012 @ 10:57 pm

  6. It blows my mind that the Crystal Cathedral ministry went into bankruptcy, and not just in the legal sense either. I think it’s a horrible example that a ministry and it’s leaders are not able to manage any better than the secular government in the country it resides in. Regarding CC as well as individuals like John Piper and Pat Robertson, they all have become dull tools in the hand of our Lord, and the only remaining option is to discard the rusty old things, and make room for the brilliant and sharp ones.

    Comment by Joe — March 9, 2012 @ 12:41 pm


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