Religious Meltdown

The news feeds abound these days of how the recent financial meltdown is impacting churches and ministries. I caught The Hour of Power recently and Schuller seemed even more desperate than usual when he pleaded for money. I also have been reading about how other ministries like Focus on the Family and Oral Roberts University have been forced to enact large staff layoffs.

So I was intrigued when I read Lee Grady's article titled Preparing for a Charismatic Meltdown. In his article he reported on three churches:

In Tampa, Florida, Without Walls International Church is facing foreclosure. The megachurch, which once attracted 23,000 worshipers and was heralded as one of the nation’s fastest-growing congregations, shrunk drastically after co-pastors Randy and Paula White announced in 2007 that they were divorcing. On Nov. 4 their bank filed foreclosure proceedings and demanded immediate repayment of a $12 million loan on the property.

In Duluth, Georgia—northeast of Atlanta—sheriff’s deputies arrived at Global Destiny Ministries and ordered Bishop Thomas Weeks II to leave the property. According to documents filed in state court, Weeks—who divorced popular preacher Juanita Bynum in June—owed more than $511,000 in back rent to the building’s owners. He was escorted out of the building on Nov. 14 while a church service was in progress.

In another part of the Atlanta area, leaders of the Cathedral at Chapel Hill announced that their church is officially for sale. The massive Gothic building—which at one time housed one of the nation’s most celebrated charismatic churches, with a membership of 10,000—has slipped into disrepair after lurid sex scandals triggered a mass exodus. The church’s founder, Bishop Earl Paulk, has turned the 6,000-seat church (valued at $24.5 million) over to his son, Donnie Earl, who in recent years has abandoned orthodox Christian doctrines and embraced universalism.
I found this statement to be one of the most interesting sentences in the article:

"The wrecking ball of heaven is swinging. It has come to demolish any work that has not been built on the integrity of His Word."
This graphic image presents a somewhat black and white image of God and the way that He interacts with His people. Unfortunately, IMO, it is not all that simple. Firstly, just because God allows religious leaders to make unwise financial decisions that lead to bankruptcy does not mean that He is the cause for the failure (i.e. demolishing) of those ministries.. God should not be blamed with some sort of wrecking ball imagery.

A second and very important element of these breakdowns is the unhealthy focus on very charismatic ministers. When these folks failed (through divorce or in some other way) or when the ministers changed (as was the case with Schuller and his son) things went downhill fast.

Recently I received an email message that contained two letters from very prominent Charismatic leaders that preached gloom and doom for America because their candidate was not elected president. One of their letters began this way:

"I feel certain that many in my stream of the Church want a statement from me concerning Tuesday's presidential election."
Did you catch the self-importance in that statement? It is further evidence of this unhealthy focus we have on ministers.. charismatic or otherwise. Maybe the wrecking ball is set in motion by these unhealthy focuses?

Most importantly, I think that, while God is not the author of these meltdowns, these crises offer many of us an opportunity to reflect on the stewardship of our own lives and how we handle the resources that we are entrusted with.. including where our charitable donations go.

I think that many of us have set that financial wrecking ball in motion by the ways that we live and spend. The financial crisis of these days is affecting everyone.. but I think that only the wise will come out of it wiser.. everyone else will remain in a financial stupor.

18 comments:

  1. Wow on the self-importance thing. How would the author not realize how self-important that sounds?

    I must say, some of the leaders I once admired have left me annoyed and aggravated in recent years. Billy Graham was always the exception, and many of these leaders should take note of the humility the Graham always displayed.

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  2. Good thoughts. I totally agree. Add how we invest to how we live and spend. Let's all be wise and return our thoughts and hopes to the one from whom all blessings flow.

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  3. I just don't get the whole celebrity christian thing. maybe it's just my Aussie "tall-poppy-syndrome", but I like humility in leadership. And i'd like to think that, when ministries grow large, leaders know the difference between building the Kingdom of God, and consolidating the9r own empires. But I'm not convinced they do ..

    But also, even good ministries have their time, moment and season.

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  4. Bob ~~ what a needed and timely post. I so agree with your analogy and comments.

    God is blamed for so many "man made choices" and you spoke to that in an excellent manner.

    Sorry, I've missed several posts...hopefully I will get through some busy family times, and back to visiting every day!

    LOL:Wanda

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  5. Love it Bob. I am very put off by what I see as excess in church. We had our own downturn in our church as we bought on loan and paid a price. And when our Church was too focussed on professional minisitry, I think that leaves you open to an exodus when some leader leaves. Church, as an organization must be built on the body and not a leader.
    There is a local church that has a bronze statue in the front of its pastor. That is as good as a stop sign to me. I wonder how this financial crisis is affecting this mall with a congregation.

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  6. Thanks all for the feedback.

    The last comment reminded me of how personal this stuff can be.. I have been involved in the meltdown of three of the last four churches that I have been a part of.. all melted down when pastors were removed from leadership.

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  7. You notice that in the new testament that when paul is writing his letters, he addresses them to the church and not to a senior "pastor"

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  8. A timely reminded indeed .. thankyou.

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  9. Found it interesting that Focus on the Family spent over a half million to pass prop 8 in California and just announced that they are laying off 20% of their staff.

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  10. Man! So much is going on right now in every arena of life. I have taken great comfort in the words of Jesus in Matthew 28, "ALL authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me."

    I pray for healing within those churches, and for the knowledge, that we can trust in the promises of God.

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  11. "Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God." -Gamaliel
    (Acts 5:38, 39)

    All of the op-eds and pundits in the world cannot stop a genuine move of God. Everything else is subject to the universal laws of corruption.

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  12. Not sure which move of God you are speaking to Ken but I certainly agree with Gamaliel.. of course even a genuine move of God gets messy :)

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  13. Psalm 127
    1 Unless the LORD builds the house,
    its builders labor in vain.
    Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.


    Did God build these church buildings or did man? We know the answer, don't we?

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  14. I like your statement that "God should not be blamed with some sort of wrecking ball imagery."

    I think what this really demonstrates is that any movement, or doctrine, or leader should be tested against the word of God. If we try to use prosperity to show God's approval, and/or poverty to show God's disapproval we are really only putting our trust in capitalism.

    The church is not promised prosperity in this life time. In fact the Bible says we will be persecuted for having faith. I don't think you can then say any group that is persecuted must be of God either. That would be just as ridiculous.

    This is why I believe that the only measure must always and only be comparison with Word of God!

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  15. Bob,
    Moves of God are almost ALWAYS messy ... the church is organic, and organic things wound and bleed. But they also adapt and prosper when they are infused with the Holy Spirit. Like the examples in your post,the dead stuff is eventually sloughed off. But the church of the kingdom will continue to transform and prevail.

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  16. Thanks again for leaving such great comments.

    @crownring - sometimes God builds a house but man makes unwise improvements :)

    @Heather Ann - I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts on how the church can "practically" be compared to God's word.

    @Ken - I agree about moves of God being messy.. might change your last sentence to say "continue to be transformed".

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  17. That is a good question, Kansas Bob. I'm know it isn't as easy as my comment seemed to suggest.

    The Bible says: "Test everything. Hold on to the the good. Avoid every kind of evil." 1 Thessalonians 5:21,22
    It sounds simple enough, but I'm sure most everyone knows that people can read the same Bible and come away with different interpretations.

    In my humble opinion, God understands that we have differing points of view and that He knows and loves sincere, honest people who hold many differing beliefs. But I also believe that we each bear the resposablity to read the Word ourselves, and not just rely on the interpretation of a pastor, friend, parent, spouse, or any other human being. And we ALL (even pastors and leadaers) need to remember that we ourselves are fallable human beings and be open to correction when a fellow human comes to us with a correction that is based on the Word of God.

    We also need to always remember to read the Word as a whole, and keep verses in context. There are verses that can be missinterpreted if taken alone.

    Of course we do not always have time to spend hours in Bible study over evey issue, but I belive an easy rule of thumb is to compare a teaching or understanding with "the fruit of the Spirit [which] is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Galatians 5:22

    "Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity." Colossians 3:12-14

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  18. Thanks Heather Ann. If I am hearing you right.. you are saying that the way we compare a church to the bible is by what the church teaches.. I like that.

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