Thinking Out Loud

April 24, 2014

Of Fancy Homes in Hidden Places

front_gate

Lately, a lot of attention has been turned to the housing that certain pastors and church leaders enjoy and are building. In an internet world, with Google Earth and Google Street View tracking every square inch on earth, there are very few secrets.

If you believe that Christians inhabit a world where there is neither “male nor female; this ethnic group nor that ethnic group; or rich nor poor;” get ready to have that ideal shattered. The divisions between rich and poor exist, and some of your favorite writers or televangelists live in places that, were you able to get past the gate somehow, the security force would be tailing you within seconds.

And the sign said long haired freaky people need not apply
So I tucked my hair up under my hat and I went in to ask him why
He said you look like a fine upstanding young man, I think you’ll do
So I took off my hat I said imagine that, huh, me working for you

Several years ago we did a story — and ran the same pictures and the song lyrics — when a Saddleback campus was planted in the middle of a gated community in Laguna Hills. On one level, just another unreached people group, I suppose. On another level, rather awkward.

And the sign said anybody caught trespassing would be shot on sight
So I jumped on the fence and yelled at the house, Hey! what gives you the right
To put up a fence to keep me out or to keep mother nature in
If God was here, he’d tell you to your face, man you’re some kinda sinner

To be fair, (a) this was a community of 18,000; an unreached people group you might say, and (b) southern California invented the whole gated community thing; they exist there on every block the way Waffle House or Cracker Barrel exists in the southeast. Still, there was something unsettling about this, if only because (a) if it’s been done before, it’s certainly been low key and (b) it’s hard for anything connected with Saddleback to be low key.

When we tried to track this particular campus this week, we couldn’t locate it. But we’re well aware of the people that make up the Evangelical star system who live in similar neighborhoods.

And the sign said everybody’s welcome to come in, kneel down and pray
But when they passed around the plate at the end of it all, I didn’t have a penny to pay,
So I got me a pen and a paper and I made up my own little sign
I said thank you Lord for thinking about me, I’m alive and doing fine

Do major Christian leaders need a “retreat” from their parishioners, the press, and the public at large? Certainly Jesus tried to break away from the crowds at time, seeking some rest and renewal, but the texts also tell us the crowds followed him. And far from a gated community, we’re told he was completely itinerant, “having no place to lay his head;” and sometimes camping out on the fold-out couch in the homes of his followers.

veggie-gated-communityThe Gated Community
Is where we’ll always be
Our smiles are white
Cause we’re inside
In comfy custody
And when you come to visit
You can stand outside and see..
What a smiling bunch we are
In our gated unity!

The question is, “How much money is too much?” “When does a house become excessive?” It’s sad when it reaches the point where someone has started a Twitter account from the viewpoint of a pastor’s grand estate.

Oh! The Gated Community

Is where we like to be

Our clothes are never dirty

And the lawns are always green

And when you come to visit

You can stand outside and see

What a tidy bunch we are

In our gated unity!

I guess my biggest concern is that everything we do should be without a hint of suspicion.  I often think about Proverbs 16:2, which says (he paraphrased) that everything we do can be rationalized one way or another, but God is busy checking out our motivation. (And also reminded that no one is to judge the servant of another.)

The Gated Community
Is where we’ll always be
Our smiles are white
Cause we’re inside
In comfy custody
And when you come to visit
You can stand outside and see..
What a smiling bunch we are
In our gated unity!

So what are your thoughts? If you have an issue with this, what’s the problem? If you’re at peace with this, why do you think it’s got so many others steaming?

Lyrics from “Signs” by the Five Man Electrical Band (lyrics from the band’s home page) and from “The Gated Community” from Veggie Tales’ Sherluck Holmes and the Golden Ruler (from Veggie Tales lyrics site.) See sites for full lyrics with choruses not printed here. Pictured gated community in Atlanta, GA

August 15, 2013

Is the Part of Christianity That is Rapidly Growing Actually Christianity?

Much has been written about the decline in church attendance in Western Europe and North America, but at the same time we often hear reports about the growth of Christianity in South America and Africa. I think we really need to ask ourselves however if the ‘thing’ that is growing in those places related to the Christian faith as most readers here understand it. In fact, many Christians in those continents are embracing the prosperity doctrine.

Prosperity preaching has many forms, but the two most known examples are Joyce Meyer and Joel Osteen. The sheer size of their respective ministries (Joyce on media and Joel in his megachurch) means that for many Christians, they constitute mainstream Christianity. Rick Warren, Andy Stanley and Bill Hybels all pastor megachurches, so it seems easy to include Joel Osteen as though they are all in the same category. But they aren’t. It’s easy to compare Joyce Meyer to other authors on the shelves at Christian bookstores like Philip Yancey or Max Lucado but she is clearly in a class by herself.

One test is compatibility. If you’re moving from Chicago to Atlanta to Orange County, it’s easy to transfer from one of the aforementioned churches to another, but at Joel Osteen’s Church you’d get an entirely different vibe. Similarly, if readers of Craig Groeschel or Kyle Idleman picked up one of Joyce’s books they would sense they were moving into different territory.

But earlier this month, a U.S. pastor decided to connect the dots more fully for his congregation:

I have been preaching for 20 years.  Yesterday I did something that I have never done before in a sermon.  I publicly called out false teachers and named them by name.  I said,

If you listen to Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer, if you take what they teach seriously, it will not be good for you.  It will be detrimental to your long-term growth as a follower of Jesus.

He then goes through a list of doctrines taught by Joel and Joyce and carefully examines their doctrines. It’s a longer post requiring your time and attention, but i believe Rick Henderson has done his homework.

You can read the whole piece — and the 1,050 comments received to date, by clicking here.

One of the challenges of running articles like this is that you attract all kinds of people whose comments are based entirely on a loyalty to the Bible teacher, pastor or author in question. Whether or not they read the piece in question is hard to determine. They feel it is their spiritual duty to rush to the defense of their shepherd.

I know this from personal experience with articles about Joyce Meyer and James MacDonald.  In the world at large, people can look at six tenets of a person’s personal beliefs and say, “I agree with 1, 3, 4, and 6, but not number 2 or 5.” In the Christian world, there is no grace granted to those who respect a person’s ministry in several areas, but disagree with a couple of others.  Attacks are consider personal even when there is no such intention.

I once told someone I was writing a critique of a newly-released book, and they were quite upset that I had chosen to criticize it. No, sorry. A critique is not necessarily a criticism. Critical thinking is not necessarily criticism. And both are about concepts and ideas, not about individuals.

So I applaud Rick Henderson for his willingness to do the hard thing, and actually do the research necessary to prove his point.

If the prosperity doctrine is responsible for the huge migration of South Americans away from the Roman Catholic Church to the Charismatic Protestant Church, then I wonder if some of them would have been better served to have stayed where they are. In fact maybe more than just some.

Rick Henderson writes:

The Prosperity Gospel is much like all other religions in that it uses faith, it uses doing good things to leverage material blessings from God.  Essentially, use God to get things from God…

…This is not the Gospel.  This is a false Gospel.  Joel teaches that we open ourselves to God to get more from God.  He teaches that we use our words to speak into existence a better reality.  This straight from the Word of Faith Movement.  This is not what is taught throughout the New Testament.  Consider what the Apostle Paul wrote.  And remember that he wrote this while in prison.

Philippians 4:10-13 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

August 7, 2010

Televangelists are the New Rock Stars

Taken from above the stage area around 6:30. By the 7:00 PM start time, most of the empty seats you see were filled.

The Toronto Raptors and Toronto Maple Leafs may not score high in the statistical records of basketball and hockey respectively, but the teams make money and the ticket prices are astronomical, if you can find a ticket at all.    So having never seen the inside of the just-under 20,000-seat Air Canada Centre, we decided our only chance to see the facility was to crash the Joyce Meyer crusade that has taken place there over the past three days.

Actually, our other goal was to see Darlene Zschech lead worship, since the chances of our ever seeing Hillsong are about as remote as getting tickets to a Leafs or Raptors game.   (Which, as a guy who helped launch “Jesus Music” in Canada in the ’70s and ’80s, and who could once walk into any Christian concert anywhere without a ticket, shows how far my one-time status has fallen.)

A “pre show” video introduced us to an upcoming women’s conference in St. Louis, a promo for a youth curriculum Joyce has developed based on her Love Revolution book that must have had the budget for a Disney music video, and a video biography of Joyce and husband David.   Instructions for audience decorum were then delivered by two mock airline stewards.   Cute.  Then came the t-shirt giveaway with shirts fired from the stage.  It would be interesting to know how many of those shirts will be on the backs of the recipients a few weeks from now.    Maybe.   Especially given that 70-75% of the audience was female.

The auditorium continued to fill.   The number of arena staff on duty (probably at least 400) gave a clue as to the incredible cost of staging a crusade like this.   Several times my wife mentioned her amazement that this was a free admission evening.  Of course, lineups for teaching tapes, books, Bibles and videos (and mugs) in the lobby were long, and sales were brisk.   And at each entry point into the seating area there were the ubiquitous white buckets and stacks of offering envelopes.

Then the worship began.

Darlene Z. was joined by a 10-piece band.   It was loud.   Very loud.   Not too loud for me, but loud for the demographic we perceived to be in attendance.   Especially in a country that is much more conservative in worship.   The sound — such as we’ve seen take place on the recent Hillsong album, A Beautiful Exchange — more resembled the youth band Hillsong United than anything the regular Hillsong albums have taught us to expect.

There was a rush en masse of younger people into what my wife terms “the mosh pit,” and the resultant video mix of band and audience shots on the giant screen certainly resembled a United concert. I’ll bet a few seniors in the audience will never again complain about the worship band in their local church.

Four songs in and then, as the band continued playing, Joyce Meyer walked out on the stage.   A reverential hush came over the audience.   The reverence one has for a rock star.   The quiet that comes when someone is about to make a significant pronouncement.  Joyce prayed for the audience and then the band finished the fourth song.

Mission accomplished, we sprinted for the exit.   I told the volunteer usher he could give our seats to those still arriving.   “You’re not coming back?”  He seemed shocked.   “No we’re not;” I replied.  I’m not sure why anybody would want those seats however.   My neck was already sore from turning sideways to see the stage, and our view of either Jumbotron was complete obstructed.   This section of arena seating seemed to lend itself to a kind of detachment from what was taking place below.

If there were about 17,000 people there — I think my guess is accurate — I hope the other 16,998 enjoyed the rest of the night.

It’s just not our scene.

January 30, 2010

Who Exactly Is Teaching The Women in Your Church?

Other bloggers can talk all they want about John Piper, Scot McKnight, Tim Keller, Francis Chan,  etc., but I work in a Christian bookstore and in that environment, only one name mattered this week: Beth Moore.    Her So Long Insecurity: You’ve Been a Bad Friend To Us (Tyndale, 2010) is out in hardcover at $24.99 US this month and has captured the top spot on a couple of the Spring Arbor overnight Top 100 charts this week.

Before going further, I have to ask:  What’s with the United States and all their hardcover releases?   I thought y’all were in the middle of an economic downturn?

Okay, the question is rhetorical.   When it comes to Beth Moore, money is no object.   Almost all her book titles have released in hardcover, a situation she shares with her slightly more charismatic friend, Joyce Meyer.   Neither one of these women have any problem sucking money out of the pockets of their fans.

In fairness though, while Meyer may not be able to control everything her publisher does with her hardcovers, she apparently does give away many of her teaching DVDs and CDs to ministry organization.

With Moore, the commercialism is more overt.   When Moore isn’t writing general book titles for publishers such as Tyndale, she’s producing another small group Bible study for Lifeway.    I gotta be honest here, I have a hard time even typing Lifeway into a sentence, and I just about retch saying it out loud.

Lifeway is the most ingenious money sucking device ever invented by Baptists, and trust me, they’ve invented several.    My anger knows no bounds in this, but fortunately it’s righteous anger, so I can rationalize it in large amounts.

Here’s how the scam works:   Lifeway, a producer of dated Sunday School curriculum decided long ago that there was far more money in delineating its non-dated adult small group material as curriculum also, and sells it to distributors at what is called a short-discount.    Your favorite Christian bookstore or online vendor is simply not making a lot of money on it.   So who is?

Often, such as in the case of church choral and orchestral product, or certain esoteric Bible translation materials, the discount is shortened to keep the price affordable.    But with many of Moore’s DVD teaching sets retailing at $250 US, that simply isn’t the case here.

Years ago, Serendipity House held back products from distribution — selling them only through their own system — to cover development costs.   That’s not the case here, either.   The retail prices of the study guides — almost always $19 US and coyly termed “member books” — usually cost participants twice the price of any other DVD-related participant guides and more than cover any possible development costs.

But the price is minor when you factor in the volume.   Moore and Lifeway together are selling thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands of these things.   The Lifeway anchor store we visited in Nashville had a staff member assigned solely to this one aisle of product, and when he went to lunch someone else covered for him.   The appetite of Christian women’s groups for Beth Moore knows no bounds;  not denominationally and not geographically.    James MacDonald, who won’t let the wives of any of his staff members do anything other than be stay at home housewives, included her on his Downpour tour.    She’s ubiquitous; able to boldly go where no woman has gone before and command fees that no one has ever charged before.

And what qualifies this person who is teaching our mothers, daughters, wives, sisters and girlfriends?

She has a degree in political science.

Okay, let’s be fair,  she also has an honorary doctorate in humanities from Howard Payne University (no I haven’t heard of it, either) a Baptist (surprise) university located in Brownwood, Texas (surprise) whose basketball team won a national championship in 1957.   According to Wikipedia she went to a Biblical doctrine class (whoo hoo) and then started a women’s Bible study that grew to over 2,000.    But when it comes to earned education, their report stops with this:

She has a degree in political science.

Joyce Meyer?   She claims an earned degree from the non-accredited Life Christian University, and also has an honorary degree from ORU.   She doesn’t have $250 DVD teaching series, nor do her various publishers and DVD creators stiff Christian bookstores with a short discount.   And I’m willing to give her points for growing up in adversity and having attended the school of hard knocks.

But the private jet always comes up in conversation.   You gotta be careful here, however, since the counter argument is always to look at the places she travels in a year and then compare the cost (and time) involved in commercial flights.     I’m willing to let her have the thing.

I’m not so willing to concede on the luxury homes or the lifestyle that goes with them, regardless of how much money she gives away.   There are casinos which payout 94% of all they take in.   That’s nice.   It’s the 6% that bothers me.  Check out this estate plan:

Here’s the extended photo caption for this picture by Robert Cohen of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “Joyce Meyer Ministries bought these 5 homes for Meyer and her family. The Ministry pays all expenses, including landscaping and lawn care, property taxes and rehab work. Meyer, her husband and each of their four married children live in the homes, free of charge.”

  • (1) Principal Residence of David and Joyce Meyer
    Bought: April 27th, 1999
    Purchase Price: About $795,000
    Square Footage: 10,000
    Cost of Improvements: $1.1 Million
    Features: 6 Bedrooms, 5 Bathrooms, Gold Putting Green, Swimming pool, 8 Car Heated and Cooled Garage, Guest House with 2 more bedrooms, Gazebo.
  • (2) Residence of: Daughter, Sandra McCollom and her husband Steve
    Bought: February 12, 2002
    Purchase Price: $400,000
    Square Footage: About 5,000
    Cost of Improvements: About $250,000
    Features: 4 Bedrooms, 3 full and 2 half Bathrooms, All-Seasons room, Prayer Room, Media Center and a Home Office.
  • (3)Residence of: Son, David Meyer and his wife Joy Meyer.
    Bought: June 18, 2001Purchase Price: $725,000
    Square Footage: 4,000
    Cost of Improvements: Unknown
    Features: 2 Story Colonial, 4 Bedrooms, 2 1/2 Bathrooms, 2 Garages and a Utility Shed
  • (4) Residence of: Daughter, Laura Holtzmann and her husband Doug
    Bought: March 7, 2001
    Purchase Price: $350,000
    Square Footage: 2,358
    Cost of Improvements: $3,000
    Features: 3 Bedrooms, 2 Bathrooms with a Fireplace.
  • (5) Residence of: Son, Dan Meyer and his wife Charity
    Bought: Mar 13, 2000
    Purchase Price: About 200,000
    Square Footage: About 2,000
    Cost of Improvements: $33,000
    Features: Brick Ranch With Full Finished Basement
  • [Read more here] (Last updated 1.11.09)

    Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.   Here’s some alternatives for you to consider:  Donna Partow, Luci Swindoll, Elizabeth George, Thelma Wells, Lysa TerKeurst, Liz Curtis Higgs, Shaunti Feldhahn, Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Stasi Eldredge, Lisa Bevere, Stormie Omartian, Jill Briscoe, and the list goes on and on.  (DVD and/or workbooks are available for study material for the majority of these authors; all at lower cost than the aforementioned Ms. Moore.)

    In conclusion, Moore and Meyer are teachers that lead and inspire the women in many, many churches; and many women either dream or consciously want to emulate Meyer or Moore.   In Moore’s case, a denomination holding solidly to the premise that women should not pastor (see link below) has no problem ceding the responsibility for much teaching to a woman whose only earned degree is in political science.   In Meyer’s case, it’s often both men and women who enjoy her teaching, while she herself enjoys a personal life of excess.

    Related article in this blog:  Lifeway Reveals Its Total Hypocrisy – 09/28/08

    UPDATE: April 4, 2011 — After more than a year of taking a lot of heat for this particular blog post, I’ve decided to close comments.  I appreciate the replies to this article, which is the closest thing I’ve ever done to anything investigative, but I really don’t have a vendetta here, and I carry both Joyce’s and Beth’s products in the two bookstores I do buying for.

    I’ve defended my reasons for running this and leaving it up in various responses to the comments. Please read them. I’ve tried to make it clear my goal was not to wound or hurt anyone.  Still, some writers have made it their goal to judge me for posting this. I’m sorry we don’t know each other better.

    I think the replies, 37 as of now, show the variety of opinions people have on this issue. Also, I need to suggest that for some, the “wrongness” or “excess” of any preacher’s housing, if any, will diminish as the U.S. climbs out of recession.

    I’d also invite you to read a follow up piece that appeared here several months later.

    Finally, I would want to remind you that a great many people found this because they were indeed searching for pictures of Joyce’s house.  I really don’t know why. And I also want to reiterate that the main issue concerning Beth had to do with the politics by which her products are sold.

    For the record, I am in favor of women as elders, women in ministry and women as pastors. But I would like to think there was a solid theological education underpinning that role. However again, I would also like to say that education isn’t everything, and that the main criteria noted with the disciples in Acts was that they were seen to have “spent time with Jesus.”


    The Silver is the New Black Theme. Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.