Thinking Out Loud

March 24, 2018

Bill Hybels, John Ortberg: Why This Scandal Strikes Close to Home

John Ortberg (left) and Bill Hybels (right) – surprising combatants in a war of accusations.

Over the years, when a noted Christian leader has been accused or charged with any type of impropriety, it has usually taken place at a distance from what I would consider my circle. Typically these stories concern:

  • a Catholic priest
  • a member of the Reformed/New Calvinist community
  • a Pentecostal/Charismatic fringe church
  • a smaller African-American church
  • a story taking place overseas

This time it’s personal.

Bill Hybels was the subject of a Chicago Tribune story this week which rocked my world. (The term being used is sexual misconduct.) Part of the reason this hits closer to home is that he’s one of a select list of pastors whose sermons I listen to weekly. I’ve been onboard with Willow since a friend gave me a cassette entitled “Philosophy of Ministry” back in the early 1980s. I’ve championed the concept of seeker-friendly churches (most churches are seeker-hostile) and applauded them when they realized in 2007 that the spiritual needs of seekers had changed and that on their current course they were not producing long-term disciples. I’ve attended services at Willow; my wife attended a conference at the Northwest Chicago campus.

But John Ortberg, who is bringing the charges against Hybels is also on that list of pastors whose teaching has influenced me and I continue to enjoy. I tracked with Ortberg when he was on staff at Willow and have followed his sermons at Menlo Park Presbyterian. I’ve read and reviewed his books. When I started a church plant in my town, for six weeks we did the videos for If You Want to Walk on Water You Have to Get Out of the Boat.

I have had great respect for both men…

…As I’ve written before, my father was involved with Charles Templeton before and during the time when Templeton abandoned the faith (paving the way for Billy Graham, who once said he was only continuing the mandate which Templeton started and never finished.) This has taught me one very important principle:

In times like this we need to keep our eyes on Christ, not people.

We need to focus on Jesus, not Christian leaders or Christian institutions.

We need to not be surprised when stories circulate (a type of  ‘wars and rumors of war’ if you think about it) and continue to make Christ our focus.

For now, that’s all I have to say about this story. We’ll see how it plays out over the next days and weeks.  


Other coverage: See Christianity Today.


Update: A Chicago Daily Herald report on the 2-hour congregational meeting which took place Friday night at Willow. And the Chicago Tribune itself, where this week’s bombshell was dropped, also sent a reporter to the congregational meeting.

Advertisements

April 22, 2017

“We Know Where You Live”

front_gate

Thanks to the internet there are no secrets anymore. A few years ago I briefly turned my attention to the housing that certain pastors and church leaders enjoy and were building. With Google Earth and Google Street View tracking every square inch of the planet, major Christian authors and church leaders have difficulty concealing their personal residences.

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.

I’m not sure what happened to that campus, 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 started a Twitter account from the viewpoint of a pastor’s grand estate which even two months ago was being updated.

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

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

January 10, 2014

Friendly Advice to Megachurch Pastors: Take the Show on the Road

Greg Laurie Crusade Evangelism

For the last few days, I’ve been enjoying AHA, a forthcoming book by Kyle Idleman1. Reading it reminds me of his unique style that I first discovered in the H20 series, and then in Not a Fan. I’d be willing to travel to Southeast Church just to see him preach in person, but I’d be more thrilled if Kyle could make it to a city near our hometown sometime, so more of our friends could experience his ministry in person.

And that’s when it hit me.

So…

I have a message for Kyle Idleman
I have a message for Perry Noble
I have a message for Andy Stanley
I have a message for Steven Furtick
I have a message for J.D. Greear
I have a message for Jeff Manion
I have a message for Pete Wilson 2

…and anyone else who wants to join the list:

Take the show on the road.

Seriously. We have the example of Billy Graham, but we also have the practical logistics available from Greg Laurie3, who is one of the few megachurch pastors who also does crusade-style evangelism.

Preaching a sermon series is something that we as Evangelicals have mastered. Rethinking a single message might mean some fine tuning. Adjusting for an audience that isn’t as intimately familiar with you might require some local research.

But this thing is so doable. Think about it:

(a) Preaching to crowds? No brainer.
(b) Your books and online presence assures that you are known beyond your own community.
(c) Your reputation guarantees the ability to find local churches to partner with you or your church on local logistics and finances.
(d) You already block out a number of weeks for conference speaking; this is a horse of a different color, a crusade-style meeting (or meetings) which won’t take you away from your home church any more than you have already allotted for and will reach a demographic which doesn’t do conferences.

Some people4 have done this already, either as individual dates or as a road trip.

As someone who enjoys celebrating the next generation of authors, pastors and teachers, I offer this challenge because deep in my heart, I want to be able to mention your ministry and resources and then be able to add, “Coming soon to an auditorium near you.”


1 A full review will appear here closer to the March release date
2 Pete already does Promise Keepers, which involves a similar communication style to what I’m proposing
3 http://www.harvest.org/crusades/general-information/home.html
4 James MacDonald, for example

October 25, 2013

Forgive Me While I Get Disillusioned

I’m running out of pastors, authors and ministries I can wholeheartedly endorse.

Whether it’s James MacDonald’s weekend antics at John MacArthur’s conference, or MacArthur’s tirade against Pentecostalism itself; I find myself having trouble finding a team to back.

The latest to come under the microscope is Charlotte, North Carolina’s Steven Furtick, author of Sun Stand Still and Greater, and pastor of Elevation Church. Both books have been reviewed here favorably, and I have many times linked to Elevation sermon podcasts. I enjoyed the books. I enjoy his preaching style. Dare I say, I’ve learned a lot from his ministry.

Steven Furtick House

But the local NBC News affiliate in Charlotte is concerned about the house the Furticks are building as well as the inaccessibility about how it’s being paid for, or Furtick’s salary.  You can watch that report by clicking here.

Steven Furtick Board of Overseers

And while the salary information is not forthcoming, there is also a concern about who sets that salary: In contrast to (founding denomination) Southern Baptist Convention policy, none of the board are from the church or even live in the immediate area, nor are they elected by members of the Elevate congregation. You can watch that report by clicking this link.

The board of Elevation consists entirely of pastors from other megachurches.

While this isn’t a “watchdog” blog, I respect these two writers who strive to hold church leaders accountable, in particular The Wartburg Watch. You can read their pieces — don’t miss the reader comments — at this link, this link, and this appeal to people to stop giving to rich pastors.

The WCNC-TV story also has raised the broader issue of megachurch pastor compensation, as seen in this item, which appeared yesterday, about Perry Noble, who is also listed above as a board member of Elevation.

…Thinking Out Loud exists partly to celebrate the good that is taking place in various corners of the (capital C) Church. But as I stated at the outset, I’m growing rapidly disillusioned with the very ministries I so much want to endorse.

At Disciple Dojo, there’s a great piece which summarizes both sides of the issue.  But in conclusion, the writer calls this week’s events “a tempest in a teapot” which I feel understates what could be the unraveling of Steven Furtick’s ministry.

And then, just to make it more interesting, blog readers there are asked to make a $10 monthly contribution.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.