Thinking Out Loud

February 25, 2019

“Harvest Could Never Happen At Our Church”

 

Harvest Bible Chapel Elgin Campus

It’s easy to sit back and self-righteously congratulate ourselves on not attending a megachurch with a megalomaniacal pastor. If your weekly attendance runs 200, or 400 weekly and your pastor is a grandfatherly type trying to build God’s Kingdom and not a personal empire, it’s somewhat comforting to be able to relax and say, ‘That could never happen here.’

Harvest Bible Chapel – Elgin campus

But I would argue that on closer observation it can, and possibly does.

In the last six months, we’ve seen people at various levels of leadership at Harvest defend the institution and its pastor or both. While at least one former Harvest elder has stepped forward and apologized, there are no doubt others who will want to defend its decision-making processes, past and present.

I would suggest that this practice of putting spin on things is alive and well in many of our congregations. People get hurt because leaders have some agenda probably contrary to God’s, but are able to make it seem somehow correct and appropriate for the situation at hand.

A few days ago I re-ran something that Ruth wrote in which a church which is always telling people to know and employ their spiritual gifts pulled her aside and told her that this somehow didn’t apply to her and gave her a cease-and-desist order because she dared to demonstrate pastoral compassion in the face of a situation facing a particular family that a new pastor could not have articulated.

Years later, she asked if she could have a reprise of her former worship leadership role, not regularly, but just for a single Sunday; as an opportunity for healing all round. The elder she met with concocted the most foolish of all reasons for saying no, simply because otherwise he had no grounds for so doing. “We don’t have guest worship leaders.” Again, I gave opportunity for her to explain how this was both insulting to her and the congregation.

In my mind, it was a case of spiritual abuse; an example of an elder putting spin on a situation.

And guess what? Not three weeks later, they had a guest worship leader; a recording artist whose commercial success gave him a pass on their unofficial rule. In a postscript to her article, I wrote,

“At the center of this was one particular individual who is otherwise greatly admired and respected by the people of that church. In hindsight what he did at that meeting at night constituted spiritual abuse, not to mention certain aspects where we now know he was lying through his teeth. He continues in a leadership role that leaves me totally mystified.”

In her case, the woundedness was overshadowed by ministry opportunities elsewhere. The Bible states that a person’s gift will make a way for them. Just this weekend, I saw those gifts affirmed in her life on a level which is unprecedented. But the Harvest situation reminded me of the lengths that some in leadership will go to in order to fulfill a role they believe God gave them to keep things orderly. That reminded me of another article I wrote where I asked the questions below.

1. How long does a person attend your church before they are considered for service?

2. When someone who was a former member of your church returns, does their past experience count for anything?

3. Is someone who has only been part of a church for a short time truly fit to reprimand, discipline or judge someone whose history with that church goes back several decades?

4. Are the elders in your church really Biblically qualified to be called “elder,” or were they chosen by some other standard?

5. What about Church leaders who will look you right in the eye and lie through their teeth? Is that ever justified?

6. Is the elders’ board of a church even truly where the heart of ministry is taking place? Or even in touch with the real ministry happening?

7. Do people in your church get hurt or wounded or abused?

8. Can a church leader be doing “the Lord’s work” and at the same time be about “the Devil’s business?”

9. Why do we keep coming back?

10. Is it possible that it’s just time to step aside and let another generation have their turn?

Remember, I wrote this in a small-town context and long before we had the colossal present-day failures involving churches pastored by Perry Noble, Tullian Tchividijan, Mark Driscoll or James MacDonald. But the presence of spin is identical in both, until you reach the point where you just can’t keep pretending.

Unfortunately my wife never got to see such vindication in terms of that church, but was able to find it elsewhere.

 

January 17, 2019

Our Summer Church-Visit Holidays: The Pattern

We wanted to hear Rob Bell in person. The first time we travelled to Grand Rapids he was away, but we went back again to have the complete experience. Not long after, Rob was gone from Mars Hill Bible Church over his view of hell, among other things.

I had some history visiting Willow Creek to hear Bill Hybels, but my wife had not. We went several times to South Barrington to hear him. Last year, in the wake of #MeToo, Hybels was no longer at Willow nor were the people he had chosen as successors.

I had been captivated listening to James MacDonald’s preaching on radio while driving to work every morning. The first time we drove there we didn’t know that Elgin was just a new Harvest Bible Chapel campus so James wasn’t there. The second time we drove to Rolling Meadows and he was at Elgin. So technically, I’ve never heard him in person. This week he took — or was placed on — an indefinite leave of absence over issues involving money and control.

The moral of the story is we need to stop visiting churches…

…Actually, the moral of the story is something my father taught me several decades ago: Don’t invest your confidence or admiration in an individual preacher; they will invariably let you down at some point. The megachurches are always the biggest blips on our radar and many of them got there due to the charisma of a key personality.

Many of these Bible teachers are great communicators with a style that local church pastors may try to emulate though not always successfully. Often however, the character strength by which they are able to get up and speak to thousands of people each weekend also masks a character weakness in terms of how they handle that power and responsibility…

…There are a couple of churches I would still like to visit to hear the lead pastors speak in person, instead of on a small window of my computer screen. In the wake of all that’s transpired, I’m thinking it might be best not to. 


Sidebar: Both Hybels and MacDonald ministered in the area of greater Chicagoland called the ‘Nortwest Suburbs.’ I wonder what the impact is there on both Christians and non-Christians alike in the wake of watching the fallout from leadership crises at two of the largest churches in the area. I can imagine doubters and skeptics saying, ‘See; I told you it was all a sham.’

While these two churches will continue to serve their congregations, no doubt some disillusioned people will take a step away from church, at least for a season. It may also be the case the smaller, local churches are left to pick up former members at Harvest and Willow who want to escape the megachurch environment.

The people — and pastors — in this part of Chicago really need our prayers.

March 18, 2014

Your Critics are Your Friends

celebrity-jeopardy Driscoll Noble Furtick

The above picture is taken from an article by Matthew Marino at the blog, The Gospel Side, titled Celebrity Jeopardy, Pastors Edition. In it he said one thing that for me really nailed it:

Last summer, in a post entitled “When did evangelicals get popes?” I pointed out the ironic similarities between celebrity video-venue preachers and the papacy that Protestantism rose in protest against. Extending the irony has been Pope Francis’ humility this year in contrast to the growing list of celebrity pastor abuses…

I encourage you to read all of it.

Like Matthew, I got comments — by email, Twitter and on the blog — that my emphasis on this topic and of Driscoll in particular was skewing too negative. But I think that there’s a time and a place to raise awareness of issues and thereby hold leaders accountable.

And if Warren Throckmorton’s blog post yesterday is accurate, maybe now is the time to back off:

…As it turns out, the publisher, Harper Collins Christian, has now corrected the section in question by quoting and footnoting the section of Ryken’s book I identified. Nearly all of the problems I identified have been addressed…

More to the point, there’s been an indication of true repentance as posted at Christianity Today yesterday in an article titled Mark Driscoll Retracts Bestseller Status, Resets Life.

…In the lengthy letter via Mars Hill’s online network, The City, Driscoll reflects on what he has gotten right and wrong over the past 17 years, which have seen the church he founded grow beyond his expectations to an estimated 13,000 people worshiping weekly in 15 locations in five states. Many praised the statement on Twitter for its humility, while many others said it still left their concerns unresolved…

[The full letter was leaked on Reddit.]

In Proverbs 27 we read,

Faithful are the wounds of a friend;
profuse are the kisses of an enemy.  (ESV)

If I am critical of the prominent writers and pastors who have been the subject of recent brought-on-by-themselves controversies, I am doing so as an insider, as someone who wants to see the scandals off the front page of the Christian websites and blogs. So we bring things into the open hopefully for a short season in order to see a turnaround and as a preventative that things don’t get worse.

Several years ago I wrote a paraphrase of II Tim 3:16, the verse that talks about scripture being useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. While I am NOT drawing a parallel between a blog and God’s holy word, in the paraphrase I noted that scripture:

  • shows us the path God would have us walk
  • highlights when and where we’ve gotten off the path
  • points the way back to the path
  • gives us the advice we need to keep from wandering off the path in future

Now mapping that back to the verse in Proverbs; this is the kind of thing I hope that we would do for and with one another. “As iron sharpens iron…”  The goal should be that we would raise the standard of integrity, point out when and where we leave that path, find the way to get back on track, and put safeguards in to place that stop us from wandering.

Furthermore, I would want someone to do that for me.

March 7, 2014

Scandal Tracking: Prominent Christian Authors

Some of you know that for the last [oh my, has it been that long?] years I have done the buying for a chain of Christian bookstores that has now been reduced to a single location. Cutbacks in the industry necessitate very careful buying and frankly, I don’t need a lot of excuses to cut back on any given author’s quantity commitments, or even skip a title altogether.

So all the recent discussion that is taking up a lot of space on Christian news pages and in the Christian blogosphere certainly tempers my buying for these writers, and saves me some money in the process. Maybe I should thank them.

Anyway, if you’ve not been keeping up with some of the latest ones, here the current top five — Pat Robertson and Jack VanImpe are assumed — and if you can think of others I’ll add them.  And we’ll give Joyce Meyer a pass on the private jet for today; maybe it is more efficient than booking commercial flights.

Mark Driscoll

  • allegations (proven) of widespread plagiarism over several years involving many titles and three different publishers
  • allegation that he manipulated the system by which books appear on the New York Times bestseller list for the title Real Marriage
  • suggestions that church funds were used to facilitate the NYT list placement
  • question of ethics over distributing copies of a book on the grounds outside the Strange Fire conference (may or may not have been escorted off the grounds by security staff, depending on version of story)
  • requires church leadership to sign non-disclosure agreements preventing any discussion of church policies or revelation of insider information
  • various questions about church discipline and shunning and dis-fellowship of members who voice dissent
  • various concerns about ultra-conservative views on the role of women, to the point where spouses of staff members may not work outside the home

James MacDonald

  • allegations of various types of financial improprieties and secrecy concerning compensation and benefits and/or concerns over lavish lifestyle, resulting in many staff and leadership departures and the creation of a watchdog blog containing a variety of other revelations concerning the authoritarian style of church government
  • linked to at least one gambling venture with Jerry Jenkins (see below)

Jerry Jenkins

  • concerns over Jenkins’ “hobby” as a “recreational gambler” in Las Vegas and timing/relationship of relaxed standards for Moody Bible Institute faculty and staff (but not students) for which Jenkins is board chair

John McArthur

  • concern that the Strange Fire book and conference has now polarized the Pentecostal/Charismatic community and non-Pentecostals; that his rant goes too far and is dividing Evangelicals

Steven Furtick

  • concern over $1.75M home he is building and statements that the home is paid for from book royalties
  • allegations that he used the same New York Times Bestseller sales strategy as Mark Driscoll to plant his new title, Crash the Chatterbox on the list. (Driscoll and Furtick are friends.)
  • possible implication of involvement of church funds in so doing
  • concerns that strategic placement of volunteers throughout the Elevation Church auditoriums manipulate the response to baptism altar calls
  • questions as to whether Furtick’s contemporary and creative preaching style may leave new Christians confused as to the fundamental application of popular scriptures and themes

It should also be noted that several of the megachurch pastors have a ‘council of reference’ that includes other megachurch pastors, and it is these, not the local church boards or directorates, that advise on salary issues. Many of these pastors are also compensated for appearing at each others’ conferences; the whole conference subject being an issue for another discussion entirely.

November 20, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Times of Testing

If your work week runs Monday to Friday, by noon on Wednesday you’re ‘over the hump,’ but the Baptist in me still blushes when someone says, “Happy Hump Day!”  With that, I think we’d better quickly move on to the links which you’ll find at Out of Ur.

The Wednesday Link List is written by Paul Wilkinson who blogs the rest of the week at Thinking Out Loud and Christianity 201.  Professional stunt blogger. Do not attempt at home. Offer not valid in Wisconsin or Hawaii.

Sister Mary Clara Vocation Doll

June 12, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Texting While Driving - Reverend Fun

Copyright © 2011 The Zondervan Corporation

Wednesday List Lynx -- two, actually

Wednesday List Lynx — two, actually

Time for another round of Christian blog and news links for the whole family. In the past we would often begin and end here with cartoons, but the whole question of fair use gets muddy sometimes, especially when humor meets illustration. I’ve studied the permissions statements of some of these and can’t reconcile what I read with what seems to be ubiquitous online. So we decided to run one, since it’s been awhile. Click the image to visit Reverend Run’s site.

I Once Was Lost Golf Ball Don’t forget to get your link suggestions in by 6:00 PM, Mondays, EST; and as always, for breaking links, you can follow me on Twitter. Look for @PaulW1lk1nson (change the letter i to a number 1).

April 2, 2013

James MacDonald Preaches about Money on Easter Sunday

James MacDonald - Easter Sunday 2013A reader posted a comment to an October blog post here about debt issues at Harvest Bible Chapel.  She claimed that instead of the standard Easter sermon, James MacDonald spoke about money and fiances. Huh? What the finance was he thinking?

At first, I didn’t want to believe what she wrote. But as I write this on Monday night, I’m listening to the Easter Sunday sermon at the main campus of Harvest Bible Chapel. I can see myself having brought a coworker or neighbor to the service, and I am squirming more and more with each of the 46-minutes.

Okay, so he spins the story of Judas to fit. Even that would be an offbeat theme for Easter Sunday morning.  I’m not sure how long it’s going to be online, but if you can, watch the it at this link even if you only see the first ten minutes. (Sermon notes .pdf was at this one.) Anyway, I’ll let my reader tell it:

I’d attended an Easter service at Harvest Bible Chapel in Rolling Meadows yesterday and am so disgusted and disillusioned with Pastor James I will never attend Harvest again.  Instead of celebrating the Risen Christ on Easter, he started a new series on MONEY, stating that, for those who think he can’t start a new series on Easter about money, “WATCH ME!!” The man’s arrogance knows no bounds.

I’ve attended Harvest on and off for ten years or so and have found many things that I don’t like or agree with over that time, but this was the final straw. I even brought a friend with me, and there were surely many other guests as well, all there to listen to his latest pontifications about MONEY, on Easter, no less! No communion, no gospel, no Jesus per se. There was some “apology” about his having taught about money at Harvest for 25 years but now he’s come to find out what he’s taught was wrong and asked for grace; my first thought was how am I to know that what he is going to teach NOW is correct?! Oh, that’s right, he put up pictures of Francis Chan, Dave Ramsey and other Christians wise about money and, since he is important and well known enough to have had one-on-one conversations with them and others of their ilk, apparently now is well versed in being a good steward.

How is it that the MacDonalds are “wealthy” when Jesus didn’t even have a place to lay his head? How is it that he speaks of wonderful vacations while asking for our tithes and offerings and I haven’t been able to afford a vacation in years?

I received a phone call tonight from a friend who used to attend there … saying that she had found out Pastor James talked about tithing…on EASTER!…and that she was also told of how desperate the financial situation at Harvest really is. Perhaps this is why Pastor James felt it necessary to talk about money on such a sacred day. All it took was a Google search to find out how bad the situation is. And to think he stood up there shaming me and others about our credit card debt…on Easter, no less. Did God put this on his heart to discuss on the day we celebrate His Son as our Risen Savior?! Did the elders approve this?!

Best of luck with your megachurch, Pastor, but my soul is not being fed while you’re too busy expanding your own kingdom.

..And to think I get upset if one of the worship pieces isn’t totally on the Easter theme.  A serious lapse in judgment, don’t you think?


Update 4/4/13

Basically what you’re seeing in the comments section is four possible responses:

  • Supportive (objectively) — People who feel J. MacD. was within his rights to preach this topic on Easter Sunday because it was a legitimate message even for “Holy Week.”
  • Supportive (subjectively) — People who rally around J.MacD. as their pastor or shepherd and want to defend him.
  • Opposed (subjectively) — People who choose to criticize J. MacD. on whatever grounds or based on whatever leadership criteria, or choose to examine this particular topic in light of other information about James and/or HBC.
  • Opposed (objectively) — People who — regardless of whether or not they liked the message — feel the topic was inappropriate for Easter Sunday.

It was the two objective types of comment we were hoping to have heard from here.

October 26, 2012

Harvest Bible Chapel Debt Crisis: The Real Elephant In The Room?

I’ve had three people send me the link to a website that purports to show that James MacDonald, Harvest Bible Chapel and Walk in The Word are deeply in debt in a situation similar to that which brought down the Crystal Cathedral; a site titled, The Elephant’s Debt after MacDonald’s two Elephant Room video conferences. However, a quick scan of Alltop blogs and search engine blog searches would seem to indicate not all bloggers are taking the bait on this one.

Perhaps people don’t find MacDonald all that interesting. I found that out with the Crystal Cathedral story; search engines sent everybody here because the dominant generation of Christian bloggers didn’t have Robert Schuller on their radar. Perhaps MacDonald’s influence is even more regional.

Furthermore, I often wonder what motivates people to put up this type of exposé websites. The documentation is thorough; they definitely did their homework. And they do address the question. And I’m all for encouraging churches and ministry organizations to operate frugally and within their means; not like some giant corporation. To be sure, financial stewardship matters to God; it’s a virtue He regards highly. And when any church goes down, it tends to take a lot of innocent people down with it; trusting people; people of weaker faith.

Although I grew up in Toronto’s Peoples Church when it was Canada’s only megachurch — before the term existed — the first U.S. megachurch I connected with was Chuck Smith’s Calvary Chapel in Santa Ana, California. Spending time there on five different occasions and getting to know some of their people, it was apparent that Chuck Smith was all for spending money when the money was already there. There is no greater joy than for a new facility or expansion to open completely paid for.

What a sex scandal cannot do to destroy a church, a financial crisis can. (No accident this subject comes a day after a book review dealing with the spiritual warfare we fight against unseen forces.)

Today’s pastors are in a rush to build bigger and better. To go multi-site. To add new media. To host conferences. We’ve been corrupted by the way the world does things and how success is measured; and I didn’t use the word “we’ve” there by accident. Certainly, if this road is full of pitfalls, it is important to put up a giant “danger sign” and warn others traveling the same road.

But I wish that authors Scott Bryant and Ryan Mahoney had ended The Elephant’s Debt website with a call to prayer, because that’s what needed here more than anything.

Here again is the link to The Elephant’s Debt. Each page ends with a link to successive pages. You be the judge on this one.

And here is what one reader sent as a possible response that was recently posted by the elders board of Harvest Bible Chapel.

Isaiah 30 (NLT) verse 21 is the theme verse for Walk in the Word.

19 O people of Zion, who live in Jerusalem,
you will weep no more.
He will be gracious if you ask for help.
He will surely respond to the sound of your cries.
20 Though the Lord gave you adversity for food
and suffering for drink,
he will still be with you to teach you.
You will see your teacher with your own eyes.
21 Your own ears will hear him.
Right behind you a voice will say,
“This is the way you should go,”
whether to the right or to the left.
22 Then you will destroy all your silver idols
and your precious gold images.
You will throw them out like filthy rags,
saying to them, “Good riddance!”


UPDATE: Be sure to read the comments section for more…

October 24, 2012

Wednesday Link List

Insert your own introduction here.

  • Another Christian leader is brought down by a sex scandal. Not to be flippant, but we could probably do a weekly link list just on stories like this one.
  • Or this one.
  • Rob Bell is doing a January conference in LA for 50 pastors to spend two 12-hour days learning to improve their writing craft. (With a break for surfing.) (No, not internet surfing.) If that’s you, find out more about CraftLab.
  • I like this piece about making a faith-identification with people in the broader community, and then deciding if you and they want to get into a faith discussion.
  • In England they count as deaths, and more than a quarter of all deaths there are due to abortions.
  • In another link to The Christian post, a megachurch pastor questions the hype when his fellow megachurch pastors describe every Sunday as “super” or “biggest” or “best.”  Actually the one he used was “megamonster.” He thinks the hype is unsustainable.
  • The New Zealand Herald thinks Christianity is losing its world dominance, but one blogger doesn’t think we should accept that conclusion.
  • A reporter for the LA Times — who is looking to gauge success solely from the Billboard charts —  seems to think that Christian rock music is making a comeback.
  • An American currently living in Canada finds her present location gives here a fresh perspective on U.S. election issues.
  • So author Janette Oke wrote eight “Love Comes Softly” books, but when they got made into DVDs they added two prequels. 8 + 2 = 10, right? So when you buy the 10-disc box set why is there an 11th empty slot in the packaging? Answer: It’s for this one.
  • Here’s a new church video clip on the subject of insecurity. (Reminder, you have to buy these; they aren’t expensive; don’t stream them live during your service.)
  • Earlier in the summer,  James MacDonald & Co. boarded a bus for the 40-city Vertical Church tour. Here’s a video recap.
  • Memorized any Bible verses lately? A Canadian author once put this list together of 50 verses you should know by heart.
  • Drew Marshall had Bob Smietana as a guest this week. The Tennessee writer is an expert on snake-handling churches, but because newspapers are now denying access to their files, we can’t read his landmark article. Here’s a summary. as well as a version written originally for USAToday.
  • You’re trying to participate in an outdoor mass in Poland, but it’s so crowded the only place to stand is at the door of a sex shop.  Personally, I hate when that happens.
  • And while we’re on that subject, a hotel in Europe has replaced the Gideon Bibles with copies of 50 Shades of Gray. Author Shannon Ethridge takes a look at sexual fantasies in The Fantasy Fallacy. reviewed here.

April 13, 2012

James MacDonald’s Holiness Test

In fairness, this is not meant to cover the entire range of what it means to be holy; rather, this was just one part of one of several points on Tuesday’s broadcast of Walk in the Word.  But the questions are worthy of your consideration:

  1. When was the last time you made a crude joke or laughed at one? 
  2. When was the last time you sat through a sexual scene on television, probably between unmarried people, without turning it off, maybe completely undisturbed? 
  3. [Guys, especially] Do your eyes look over someone attractive in a way that would make them uncomfortable if they knew or if they noticed? 
  4. Are there dirty words in your vocabulary which link you to the world and not to Christ? 
  5. Do you read books that tell stories of immorality and rationalize your enjoyment of them? 
  6. Do you go places where the sexual atmosphere is thick and not feel deeply troubled? 
  7. Are you even now, maybe this past week, struggling with an attraction or a relationship with a person not your spouse, or if you’re single, someone who’s not a Christian? 
  8. Do people sense the freedom to be off-color around you?  Do they have the impression that you will tolerate it? 
  9. How do your convictions about appropriate entertainment differ from someone you know who doesn’t know Christ? 
  10. What do you do that you would not do if Jesus Christ were visually present with you?
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