Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Deceit and Tragedy of the Wrong Attribution of Success or a Wrong View of Success in Church Leadership, part four

Part One   Part Two   Part Three

In the first part of this series, I asked you to join me in a thought experiment about a church that "doesn't make it" and about one that does "make it," but never gets very big.  We considered typical explanations for this lack of success.  At the end of the first and then all the way through the second installments, we criticized those explanations.  Except for a small part of the third of them, that men might not be gifted for the office, did I agree with them.  They are not legitimate evaluations.  They aren't biblical and don't enable or offer an accurate assessment or judgment.  At the beginning of part three, I explained what motivated me to write this series and then started in on a right or scriptural criteria for success in church leadership.

To evidence his superiority to false teachers, Paul revealed his standard for success in 2 Corinthians 11.  You would know first that someone was a servant of Christ by whether he suffered or not.  This is what Jesus had prophesied for His church leaders in Matthew 10 and John 15, among other places.  In Luke 20, He ended his public teaching by telling a story about how his servants had suffered.

Men love light rather than darkness.  In the last days, men will be lovers of pleasure and lovers of themselves.  We live in a society where one would be deemed successful for avoiding suffering and expanding comfort and convenience.  Today's person is happier if you tolerate or accept what he does.

Paul suffered because he shined light into darkness.  He called on men to deny themselves.  He was very often intolerant.  All of that brought suffering.  The paradox of biblical success is that men would judge that to be failure.

When I've been asked what it takes to preach well, I say, first, courage.  Why?  Men won't like what the Bible teaches.  You'll come to a passage that clashes with the audience and will you tell them what it says?  Men often alter the interpretation and application to fit their audience.  When you do that, you can avoid suffering through toleration.

Through the years doctrines and practices have changed because of the reaction to those beliefs and practices.  Men reformulate what the Bible says to make men feel more comfortable.  While hastening apostasy, this action can popularize a church and church leaders.

John MacArthur is a gifted preacher and communicator.   He's obviously hard working.  However, I have heard many preachers who are equal to or better than him, who pastor much smaller churches.  Is he a bigger success than them?  Or is he even a success?  Is it possible that his church should have been much smaller if he had not tolerated and accepted what they shouldn't have?

There are five or six biblical issues that combined will guarantee that your church will be small today.  They will bring you ridicule, disdain, scorn, and rejection.  They repulse darkness.  That list of issues is growing.  Is the person who stands on those issues, who keeps the biblical position, and in doing so, stays small, less of a success, or even a failure?   Or does his willingness to keep standing and stay small, when he could be big, easily much bigger, actually mean that he is a success?  Is the big church and the popular church leader the true failure and the one truly lacking in success?

Success relates to what God thinks about us, what He knows about us.  A lot of people might see someone as a success, who to God is less of a success or even a failure.  He might be and probably is causing a lot of problems.  He's popular, but he's really leading men astray and hastening apostasy.  I believe this is the truth.  Men who lead these small churches in the truth need to keep going and keep believing God.  Success is a matter of faith.

Men don't see suffering as a sign of success.  Paul said it was.  For instance, if you go to the tax forms for last year for Grace to You radio, you'll see that John MacArthur made over $400,000 from the part time he spends on that radio program.  Obviously John MacArthur is Grace to You.  People listen to him all over the world.  Would Grace to You exist without all the compromise of John MacArthur?  I contend "no."  Phil Johnson, the executive director, made about $220,000.  I doubt this is their sole income.  It isn't including the books, the church, the special speaking, etc.  I know that if this was a secular company, they could or would be making much more.  I know that.  But how does that happen in "Christian service"? [See comment below, the fifth comment, to give some context here, still making the same point.]

I don't begrudge men money made for work they've done.  If someone in my church gets a better job or has a business that thrives and makes big money, I'm happy for them.  Of course, those are jobs.  They are money making endeavors.  How is it that someone could become so popular in this country that he could make big money by being a preacher?  I don't see that occurring without compromise today, and it is true.  When you can make so much money from preaching, there is a trap there that is extremely seductive.  Can you really have the best selling non-fiction hardbook of all time, like Rick Warren, and be faithful to the Word of God?  I don't believe it.  You are tolerating darkness.  You are diminishing the light for the sake of some kind of worldly success.  As a Christian, especially in this environment, if you are popular, then you are doing something wrong.

Even when someone like John MacArthur takes a right position, like premillennialism or believer's baptism, he doesn't separate over the contradictions to those truths.  That enables him to keep a big coalition and not offend those he would need to keep.  There is much, much more than that with him.  He preaches against Strange Fire and then fellowships with Strange Fire.  He rocks the boat for sure with the Charismatics.  But that doesn't mean his people have to give up their alcohol, their pop music, their skimpy dress, or their movies.  They can comfortably live about just like the world and still be a Christian.  There isn't much difference between their light and the darkness.

When the Jesus Movement was exploding, John MacArthur wasn't doing enough to offend them.  The Maranatha music and their new versions of the Bible and their long hair and casual dress -- none of those would be a deal breaker at Grace Community Church.  I'm not saying that MacArthur is just like the world.  He isn't.  He takes some strong stands.  He's probably the strongest person ever on the Larry King panel.  But how does someone get to the Larry King panel without being some kind of worldly success today?  He doesn't.  It's the same with Billy Graham.  How can someone continually get into the White House with president after president?  He just wouldn't if he was saying what he should be saying.

I was watching Mark Driscoll interview several Seattle Seahawks, who claim to be Christians, including their quarterback.  Driscoll started by asking, "Who is Jesus?"  The first guy, I think a defensive lineman, said, "Jesus is everything."  He's everything.  What is the Lord's Day?  Does anyone think about the Lord's Day?  The Super Bowl is on the what?  Lord's Day.  If Jesus is everything, do you play your game on the Lord's Day?  What about the half time show with all of godless paganism and "wardrobe malfunction"?  This was a no brainer for someone even 100 years ago, who would say that "Jesus is everything." I hope these men are saved.  I'm glad they would even mention Jesus.  Are people going to believe the Jesus of the Bible because of their testimony?  I hope so, but is this a success?  How would a follow up question from a preacher have been accepted:  "So why do you have a profession that takes up the Lord's Day with your profession?"  Instead, a professing preacher promotes these men who do this.  Who is a success?  The man who could have had a professional football career, but gave it up for the Lord's Day, or the man who took that profession?  Who is exalted by Mark Driscoll?  

More to Come


Joshua said...

"There are five or six biblical issues that combined will guarantee that your church will be small today. They will bring you ridicule, disdain, scorn, and rejection. They repulse darkness. That list of issues is growing."

This is why I'm fascinated to see the outcome of the vilification of stands against homosexuality in our society.

Soon it won't matter how much else you've compromised, society isn't going to accept you consenting with the Scriptures that homosexuality is sinful. You're going to end out on the loony bench with the KKK, white supremacists and IB's if you do.

For a long time now evangelicals have been claiming that it isn't faithless compromise to keep making these concessions to worldly culture. They haven't had to make the sacrifice and they've profited from it immensely. This issue will force them to either repudiate the Scriptures or suffer greatly.

My hope is that large amounts of them will go without the camp and endure the shame, but my suspicion is that few will.

Kent Brandenburg said...

It's true, Joshua.

Watchman said...

In the midst of a long and very interesting essay on the interplay between culture and religion, Daniel Greenfield, who is an Orthodox Jew wrote this:

"The liberalizing fallacy has been that each generation could make concessions to modernism by discarding some things that "no modern person takes seriously anyway" while assuming that the next generation would want to keep the things that they kept, instead of throwing away more things to adapt to a modernity that was continually becoming more hostile to traditional religious values.

Eventually throwing things away became Liberal Judaism. And that Judaism became the nothingness it sought to be. The liberal impulse made that Judaism into liberalism, its synagogues into community activist groups and its theology into social justice. Its Rabbis excelled at the language of moral seriousness; but like all Western liberal clergy they had nothing to be morally serious about."

Substitute different religious wording as needed and you have a pretty apt description of modern day fundamental and evangelical life.

Kent Brandenburg said...


Excellent quote, and I believe this is exactly what's happening. If one points it out, he's a bigot, a heretic, a flaming fundamentalist, a hatemonger, an idiot -- whatever could possibly work.

Now and then, it dawns on them that they are destroying their source of employment, but usually too late.

Kent Brandenburg said...


I just read this comment by Phil Johnson, and I think it should be read in light of what is in this post:


You might have to cut and paste that to see.

It says that John MacArthur doesn't make 400,000 a year. That doesn't refute the point though, that being, how someone can stay so popular.

I think that, if they are going to make this figure public for the world to see, it should come with some explanation. Of course, something that is worth 400,000 is still worth 400,000, but it isn't what he makes, and Phil says he didn't take anything for 30 years of work at GTY. That might not explain the whole picture though either.

However, I rejoice in what I'm reading about the lifestyle of John MacArthur as it relates to money, especially since he could have so much more. And again, with that being said, how could so much money be coming in today? The point of the post is the overall compromise. Just salary alone for Phil Johnson is over 200,000. I'm not against someone making money. No way. But in Christian service, if you tell and practice the truth according to God's Word, you don't get that big. You don't.

I'm going to write something above to make note of this comment in light of Phil's comment at SI.