What happens when the crowd gets involved?
Several years ago I read a book by Frank Peretti titled, The Visitation. Quite honestly it challenged my thinking in a way that still resonates. Every writer hopes that someone will agree with their perspective or accept the possibility that their viewpoint may be correct and I must say that Peretti caught me in his crosshairs.
I won’t reveal the entire plot of the book but will simply address a few of the points that Peretti makes. People are simple to control when it comes to a group and people desire to be controlled. It should go without saying that I strongly recommend Peretti’s book for no other reason than it challenges you to think. Peretti is willing to take a stance in an area that is increasingly becoming a sparking point in churches across America – the hyper-glorification of pastors.
I know, I know, I am one. I bring Peretti’s book to the forefront due to the simple fact that over 5 years ago I was forced to think about this truth by reading a book of fiction before I saw some of its truths become a reality in my life. If you will do a simple search of the name, Ergun Caner, you will shortly be able to see some of the very things that began to challenge me personally. If you will spend an hour or two reading what is available about Ergun Michael Caner, or, Ergun Mehmet Caner, as he prefers to call himself when he is in full-blown Islam mode, then you will probably have your fill. Somehow I got caught up reading about the Caner saga as it began to unfold in the world of internet blogs. I don’t remember what first clued me in but I remember thinking that the entire process was crazy.
Caner lied. He has been defended by so many prominent people that they hope the regular old peons like you and I don’t see through their smoke, but the truth is really that simple. I could bore you here with the details but this post isn’t about him. Rather this post is about our desire to fit into a group and an unspoken desire to be controlled.
Peretti’s protagonist is a young man named, Brandon Nichols. Nichols had a difficult childhood that was further compounded by a very controlled time in a mega church in California which was led by a charismatic controlling pastor, who lived as if he was bigger than God himself. After reading about Nichols experience I have been specifically interested in a pastor’s use of their persuasion and ability to bring a group of people into agreement with them. As a pastor I hesitate to seek group agreement as it may be mine own manipulation that brings someone to a point that they don’t fully agree with or it may simply be the small thing that we refer to as peer pressure.
These things have been in the forefront of my mind over the last several weeks for various reasons and after yesterday’s debacle at Dollar’s Castle I wanted to say something. (my links are broken) http://www.foxnews.com/us/2012/06/10/creflo-dollar-denies-punching-choking-daughter/ The folks at Creflo Dollar’s church gave their pastor a standing ovation, after he was arrested for allegedly punching and choking his daughter. AND, AND, AND, before you say that Dollar isn’t a true pastor – please don’t. Not because you may or may not be correct but because in every case that I have ever read of or been told about personally the reaction at this church was not unique. I don’t know what really happened with Mr. Dollar’s family but I do know that pastor who has been accused as he has been does not need his congregation to applaud him.
The hyper-glorification of a pastor goes into full swing when the crowd responds to his statements and gives him a ringing endorsement. I am quite sure that many people left the church that morning with some doubt in their mind, but more than likely they were one of the thousands standing and cheering just moments before. We must learn to respond as directed by the Holy Spirit and not in some emotionally-induced state that leads to irresponsible actions. As a pastor, who has enough personal struggles, I don’t need the people that sit in front of me thinking that I am in any way their better, or morally superior, yet this is exactly what these actions show us. Unfortunately there are many who are hoping for this sort of response to “quench” any flames of dissent. In short, it works.
The second issue that struck home with me in Peretti’s book is the seeming desire that people have to be controlled. I know that many may want to disagree with me here but seriously think about this for a moment. When the water-softener salesman comes by we usually laugh nervously about all of the supposed impurities that he shows us are in our water. We then rationalize that surely our city or county wouldn’t allow truly harmful stuff through and we refuse to think about it. Now I’m not saying that we should all rush out and buy water softeners, but I am saying that we should resist the tendency to simply believe what is easiest to believe.
In the world of hyper-glorified pastors it is uncomfortable to believe that they may have committed a true and egregious wrong. Why? Is it because of them or is it because of us? I submit that we don’t want them to fail because in too many cases they are easier to follow than it is to follow the Holy Spirit.
Please don’t misunderstand what I am saying here. I am not saying that pastors should not be above reproach and should not seek to lead their people. I am speaking against a leading, or a level of participation, that over time supplants the individuals personal relationship with God. Years ago, I remember my dad having a book on his desk entitled, God told me to tell you. I think dad had it as a joke, and I never read it, but the picture showed an angry-looking pastor pointing his finger out from the cover.
What I am stumbling around in saying here is that it is simply easier to process what a pastor says in a 30 minute (ok, ok, 45) sermon and take steps to do, or don’t do, those things than it is to live a fleshed-out, Gospel-filled, Spirit-directed life. One, simply requires action coupled with willingness while the other requires a moment by moment willingness to allow God to speak to you individually through his Holy Spirit. Quick note; the Holy Spirit will never, NEVER, contradict the Word of God. In fact, yesterday I heard a pastor state that he believed we could understand that it was the Spirit of God working in us when we we’re prompted to do something that goes AGAINST our natural instincts. He was using this as an example in how God’s Spirit prompts us to minister to others.
In closing I would just say a few things. I’m a pastor. I am as susceptible to sin as anyone else. When I came to the church that I pastor now I was asked several times in the beginning; “Pastor, what is your vision for the church?” Honestly, I was taken aback. Later, I was angry. Now I am working.
I was taken aback that they felt that I would have a clearer and distinct vision from God than they did. I became angry because I saw this as an attempt to foster on to me the entire responsibility of the church. I am working because now I understand that a man’s true vision to live for God doesn’t come from a pastor, a book, or even a set plan but rather a true vision is one in which the Spirit of God molds and shapes a man into the image of Christ.
So the next time you hear of a pastor failing don’t jump to defend him. Pray for him. Don’t get caught up in the emotion of who he has been to you, remember he struggles just as you do and look to the one who never fails and is the Friend that sticks closer than a brother.