… and our attraction to following aggressive leaders.
There’s a podcast blowing up among church circles called The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, and if you haven’t listened yet, please come out from under that rock, my Friend.
Usually I find it wise to keep a lot of opinions about controversial issues to myself unless I think that sharing my opinion could be helpful, and that rule counts double online. So, please know my intentions and my disclaimers and my background before you read further:
I want you to know why this is an important message to hear.
I believe many of the lessons learned the hard way can be beneficial for all of us so that we don’t repeat them.
I am guilty of riding this train.
I’m ashamed and mortified that I once wished my church-planter pastor husband would lead and preach just like Mark Driscoll. Cue all the dead emojis. I’m blessed and grateful that the church I am a part of, where my husband is the co-leader and they are both humble men of integrity, is a place where there is a network of accountability and where we don’t value “growth” at all costs. We believe in serving our community and in shining Jesus’s light of hope to our city, but we are far from perfect, so please don’t assume I’m saying that.
I can admit that though Driscoll was found to be and continues to be a perpetrator of spiritual abuse without genuine repentance, he was also the founder of a movement that reached souls with the Gospel message of Jesus and saw transformed lives by what I believe has been the power of the Holy Spirit, and I don’t pretend to understand why God does things like that.
I think there is an underlying problem with WHAT WE DESIRE IN A LEADER, not just with some of these problematic leaders.
I don’t think I have all of the answers, and I’m looking forward to listening to the rest of the episodes (supposed to be 6 more for a total of 12) in order to find more questions to ask and hopefully more lessons to learn.
I believe in BALANCE and NUANCE. No one in this situation or any is completely evil, and while we can look back on abuse and misuse of power, that doesn’t mean God was not at work, or that good things didn’t happen at Mars Hill. I believe the podcast does a great job of keeping this truth in tension. My opinion about the bottom line: sometimes the ends (salvations, and especially “church growth”) do NOT justify any and every means, especially when those means include corruption, abuse, and misuse of spiritual power. Especially because those salvations can sometimes end up in a soul abortion, and that church growth can subsequently end up in a complete collapse of the church and people walking away from God for good. Those are often the ends in the end, and therefore do not justify any means.
There are so many themes we could cover, and I want to do more posts about this podcast as more episodes are released, as well as on the subject matter of church leadership and toxic evangelicalism in the future, but for today I’m going to stick to two main things on my heart that I think are worth sharing with you, Reader. The first is what I believe to be self-evident, and I’ll be brief. The second is something I’m not hearing directly, but that I’ve been thinking for the past few years.
FIRST: Church leaders need to be careful that their charisma does not take them to platforms with influence so wide that the foundation of their character, experience, network of accountability, and education cannot support.
Mark Driscoll, the lead pastor of Mars Hill for almost 20 years (1996-2014) committed many atrocities of what I would define as aggression, misogyny, bullying, generalized spiritual abuse, as well as abuse of power. There were others around him who not only gave him a pass in these areas, but platformed him BECAUSE he was this way. He was not educated in any accredited seminary, as far as I know, and was a self-ordained pastor “so that he could do weddings and funerals.” He was building a movement and speaking at church leadership conferences after just one (1) single year as a church planter under his trendy, studded grunge belt. He had not developed the character traits of humility, integrity, or diplomacy required to lead the large and diverse organization he led. These are my conclusions, based on listening to him back in the mid 2000’s, reading some of his books and blogs written about him, and listening to the long-form journalism from Christianity Today in the podcast. If you have a different conclusion after similar research, I’d like to hear it. If you haven’t yet done these things, I’d encourage you to do so because there is a lot we can learn about leadership, character, and platform that will help us do better as God’s kids who do life together.
SECOND: The problem was/is not only with these charismatic, narcissistic, powerful leaders, but in WHAT WE AS FOLLOWERS DESIRE in a leader.
How was it that an entire church network of over 15,000 people and millions of online followers (including myself for a time) followed such a leader for so long, despite these obvious character flaws? I don’t think it is exclusively due to poor leadership, but misguided followership, which is not sufficiently taught, emphasized, or guided in our culture. I’ve been saying for years that our western culture places far too much emphasis on developing powerful leaders, and not enough emphasis on the importance of developing effective followers. In America, everyone is trying to be an influencer and a leader, gain followers, but no one values followership or teamwork more than just as a number on the top of their social media account. I could write a book on good followership, and maybe someday I will, but for now the warning is this: We are drawn to follow and prop up a bully because we falsely believe he can protect us from our (often imaginary) fears, and we put up with it when he turns that domineering charisma on us, which results in abuse.
Now, before you think I’m victim blaming here, look at my face. I don’t think anyone that Mark abused is to blame for the situation, but I do think we ALL need to take a hard look at the kinds of leaders we are attracted to and why. Because if we are to turn things around and avoid some of these casualties, especially in the Church, I really think it will require some introspection about what we’re attracted to, what we’re drawn to, and what we are craving. Some people think this leadership style or personality is a “virtue of strength,” but it is NOT the strength I see demonstrated by Jesus or His Father. I think it’s for this similar attraction that women choose abusers to marry and stay with them far longer than they should. I think it’s this same attraction that made millions of Christians vote for a man who bragged about sexually assaulting women on tape and who graced the cover of magazines that worship sex or money, not Jesus. And I think this attraction is causing men and women alike to flock to this brash, aggressive, narcissistic bully personality in droves, only to realize that the person they hoped would protect them from a false enemy is now turning that aggression around on them. The fact that all red flags are being ignored is in itself the red flag.
The fact that all red flags are being ignored is in itself the red flag.
Please, Friends. Choose more wisely who you follow. Hop off that bandwagon before you get caught in a web with no easy exit.
We saw the failure of willful blindness on the part of the Mars Hill staff and lay leadership. Whether in the moment or in retrospect, they realized that instead of elevating God or meeting the needs of the members or even the needs of the community at large, most everything they did revolved around promoting and benefitting Driscoll alone, and propping him up became synonymous with the mission of church growth. Which rings familiar with something I heard our former president say in that whatever was good for him was good for the nation, and to protect his reputation was equal to protecting the United States. He also claimed “I alone can fix it” after describing all that he saw wrong with America. My warning here, Friends: It is dangerous FOR YOURSELF to put any person in the place where only God should be. Not only will they fall off that pedestal that YOU have placed them on, but they will tear you down painfully in the process of their fall. If you find yourself attracted to this kind of leader, beware! It is not the leadership Jesus modeled and it is not the place any person should hold in your heart or mind.
I want to leave you with a careful warning from a rarely-read passage in the Bible. In the book of Zechariah, the minor prophet recounts the days when God’s people returned from a disciplinary season of exile in a country called Babylon, where they were enslaved, killed, and abused at the hands of people who were known to be brutal aggressors. As they set up a humble leader named Zerubbabel, who was entitled to a royal authority but took the title of governor instead of king, God spoke this important clue for their hopeful and good future:
“It is not by force nor by strength, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.”
– Zechariah 4:6
How about you? Have you listened to the podcast yet? If so, what are your reactions and thoughts? Why do you think people continue to follow people (men?) with this kind of personality? What do you think the Bible has to say about it? If not, why not? I’d love to hear more from you!
Hey, Friend. Thanks for voting on my social media stories. This post won by a slim margin over “Lies the Church Tells about Women” so, we’ll do this one this week and aim to publish that one soon.
A few disclaimers: First, this is by no means an exhaustive list. Let this be the first of many posts like this. These are just the ones I’ve thought of this week. Ha! Second, I’m not doing this for attention. I’m doing this for my sanity and hopefully yours too. ‘Cuz mental health is good, and stuff. Third, I trust you not to weaponize this against me or anyone else. If something shocks you and you need more information, please send me a message or an email. I implore you not use this as fuel for gossip. That’s not what God’s kids do. Or decent people, for that matter. I trust you, Dear Reader.
I’m scared to say these things for a variety of reasons. Some of them are confessions, and confession is always scary. Some of them are fears of people’s reactions if they knew. And some of them stem from a fear I have to be known. Because if you know me, you can hurt me. And if you don’t somehow you can’t. Or at least that’s how my logic goes.
I’m shaking with fear as I say these things, so let us begin, in no particular order, rhyme, or reason …
Christians who are familiar with me probably (no, probably isn’t right, I know they do) criticize me behind my back because of my ideas about politics. And it hurts my feelings.
I want to be an “influencer” on social media, but I’m horrible at it, and because the algorithms and trends are always changing and I hate asking people to constantly lookatme lookatme lookatme, I don’t think I have it in me to acquire this skill which seems so necessary in this era.
The first time I heard the audible voice of God was as a middle-schooler after binging and purging so I could make my wrist as small as Shannon’s, and He said clear as a bell, “This is NOT what I have for you.”
Jesus would be a feminist if He walked on the earth today. No, not the man-bashing bra-burning type, but the gender equality type.
I was molested as a teenager and I forgave my abuser, because he apologized and because I wanted to be free of it.
Somewhere in my past, I hold a handful of months of self-harm, and a handful of scars to go with them. As it turns out, blood talks when words fail.
I know what it feels like to be tempted to drive into a telephone pole and to step too close to the edge of the cliff, and that is one scary monster to run from.
I struggle with low libido, and I don’t know why. I’ve tried many things, and it has nothing to do with my wonderful husband. (Please do not send suggestions, I’m far too shy about this to have a discussion.)
I do not drink alcohol for a few personal reasons, but I do like the taste of beer and wine.
For someone who has always worked from home, I’m not very good at keeping a home, but I wish I was.
I often worry that I’m running out of time to teach my kids the library of treasures I hope they’ll know.
I’m quite opinionated and inwardly judgmental, but I can’t bear it when others are doing the same to me. Yes, I am a raging hypocrite.
I want to be fit and have a beautifully decorated home, but not nearly as much as you do. Or seem to.
I have family members headed for hell and I don’t call them nearly as often as I could.
I want to change the world, but sometimes I just want people to say that they like me or my work.
I’m 42 years old and we’ve been in ministry for over 20 years, and I still don’t know how to keep my feelings from getting hurt when someone leaves our church.
For every disappointment on earth, I’m expecting Jesus to make it up to me in heaven, and I really do think about heaven every day.
Now, you might be wondering why I’m outing myself and saying the scary things. And that’s fair.
Number one, I think the best way to overcome the burden of fear is to face it head-on, and I also have a hunch that, like much of what I write about, I’m not exactly alone. And that maybe if I write the scary truth that you relate to, you won’t feel alone in your own fear. Because being alone in our scary truth leads to feeling more fear and often depression or at least discouragement. No bueno.
Number two, we’re in a season of change. The globe has pandemic adaptation fatigue (and, yes, I am trademarking that diagnosis; if you use it, please quote me, *wink*), and it’s almost New Years, and 2020 has taught us all at least something about ourselves that has produced a change in character and/or perspective. I’m going out on a limb, but I’ll guess that not a single one of us is the same as we were this time last year. One change I’m committed to making is that I want to be a fearless truth-teller. And I can’t be that if I’m holding back these many secrets. It’s not fair to either of us, Reader.
So, there you have it. I’ll invite gentle comments below and I’ll delete rude, insensitive, or inappropriate ones. I’ll also shamelessly beg for these kinds of responses: “me too” , “you’re not alone” , and “this one resonates” …
I called my mom yesterday to check in. We’ve been texting but I wanted to hear her voice and have a longer conversation because, well, everyone still needs her mom. Even when you’re 41. And maybe she needed me. But probably not as much. (Call your mom if she’s still on this earth, friends. That’s a message that will never be wrong. It’s the little things.)
She catches me up on her life – back a few days from a trip to Phoenix for some sun and some friends. And who would have known that the world would change while she was away? It was stressful to fly home because of the fear of germs, but she’s brave and was armed with alcohol wipes and essential oils, and most of the people were nice. The only ones who were not kind were those who looked at her wiping as if she was being ridiculous, but the waitress was sweet at the gate where she had some lunch and a glass of wine. “I like your style, Girl! I did already disinfect that table, honey, but you go ahead and wipe it down again. You do you, and I’ll be here when you’re finished.” That was comforting. But why? Why would it be COMFORTING just that someone waited patiently while she was wiping her table off in a public place? I do that all of the time when I go out – not just during a pandemic. But yes, that kind and patient waitress was comforting because she didn’t look at my mom like she was ridiculous. It’s the little things.
On the first leg of her flight her meditation had been feeling the “sphere of protection” and she had visions of swirls of the Holy Spirit around her in protection like a bubble or an egg as she tells me. She goes on and on to explain this to me, and of course I believe her. God is always with us, and I’m comforted. It’s the little things.
And as she’s trusting God, she’s also wiping everything down with her alcohol wipes. “Believing God for protection and ALSO doing my part.” And the lady in the security line was so rude–hurrying people along, being harsh and impatient. “You can move up now. Go in that line. Move along, let’s go, let’s go!” Even though there weren’t THAT many people even in line.
(As she tells me about the rude TSA lady, the defensive hairs on the back of my neck are standing up and “I will cut you if you bully my mom” rises up in my mouth, but my mom can hold her own, with the Holy Spirit. She’s tiny but fierce, and don’t cross her.)
But my mom needed some extra time to wipe off the things she needed to touch and had touched, so she looked back at the lady in determination. Suddenly something over her shoulder swooshed and the lady stepped back in shock and was silenced. My mom kept moving at her own careful pace, surrounded in her Holy Spirit egg. It’s the little things.
And then she fills me in about how she’s coping with work. Or should I say with losing work. She’s a hairdresser and an artist and the governors just told hair salons (among other businesses) to close in order to prevent the spread of the disease. She knew it was coming, and logically sees that it is right. We’re trying to stop a plague, here, people. Some clients had already graciously cancelled, but every cancellation represents another bill that might go unpaid, so it’s stressful, even while logical. Unemployment insurance isn’t guaranteed for the self-employed, gig-worker, or contract worker. I get it, and I’m there too.
The cancellations pile up, followed by the bills and who isn’t counting?
Though she knows it’s the right thing to do, it’s also hard, so she finishes her last day of seeing clients and some are NOT very gracious. One guy rolls his eyes when she wipes off his credit card. Another guy rants about how people are going too far and this is just going to blow over soon and she fights not to roll her own eyes behind his back while she’s snipping. (Be nice and watch what you say to your hairdresser, people. What’s to say they won’t stab you in the neck and hide your body in the tanning bed? Nothing.)
And at the end of that, she’s got to get the necessities from the store so she can hunker down, and she heads to Trader Joe’s. She’s picking up the things she needs, mindful that she can’t afford unlimited supplies and food, but she does need a good amount to last, and also mindful that cancelled hair appointments the day before mean less in the grocery budget. (Grocery shopping is my most stressful chore for this reason. We need enough, but is there enough money to pay for the enough food? Gives me anxiety just thinking about it.)
So, she’s paying at the register and I can picture her handing over the money. Money that’s gotta last because who knows when it’s coming again? And the guy at the register smiles and asks, “How are you today?” His smile is genuine. His words are not just a greeting. She ventures an honest answer. “Well, I’m not really doing very well.” And he stops. Looks at her. Sees her. There are people behind her, but he’s not concerned. He’s not rushed. She’s the only one he’s thinking about right now. “Oh no, why not?”
And my mom LOSES IT.
All that pent up anxiety and stress and trying to do her part to wipe everything and wash her hands and close the barber shop and get ready for social distancing comes spilling out of her eyes and spilling out of her mouth. To this complete stranger in the Trader Joe’s. He’s maybe 20 years old and he just listens to her kindly. Nothing more, nothing less. (I’m crying as she talks into the phone, brushing the tears away fast and straining to listen over my sniveling.)
She probably got her change and thanked him quickly for listening before driving her cart to the car to load, and she may not see him again soon, or ever.
She thinks he was an angel. For caring enough to ask, and listening enough to care. I’m slowing down here, and you should too.
S l o w y o u r e y e s t o r e a d t h i s c a r e f u l l y.
It’s the little things, my friends. You are the angel someone needs today.
When this is over, we’re going to know things we didn’t know before. Living through a pandemic is going to teach us things we didn’t understand before. They seem like little things, but they are HUGE:
Patience is kind.
Clear communication is a gift.
Cleaning up before and after yourself is an act of goodness for the health of others.
Meditation breeds sanity.
Tolerance is loving.
Smiles are like medicine.
Seeing someone, really seeing them is valuing them.
Asking if people are okay, and caring what they say is meaningful.
And listening is honoring. A true treasure, given in a time of need. We all need to be heard.
When this is over, we are going to know how to slow down, how to step out of the traffic and truly care for others. When this is over a hug from a friend is really going to mean something special, and a handshake is really going to be a gift. A kiss on the cheek is really going to be a treasure. And caring about others is really going to be a priority.
It’s the little things, my Friend. The little things.
Drop a comment: what little things are you feeling, seeing, learning in all of this?
Many laws do NOT belong to Christ, but one that surely must be followed is the law of loving someone so much that you’re willing to carry their burdens.
Sometimes we’re looking for righteousness and it’s right in front of us. Sitting across the table. Sleeping in the room down the hall. Sitting in the cubicle next to ours. The opportunity to bear the burdens of these each others is so close you can touch it. And when you carry these heavy weights: the sadness, the stress, the grief, the pain, the hurt — you fulfill Jesus’s law. You keep His rule — the rule of Love.
“Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.” – Galatians 6:2
Are you searching for some way that you can honor God? Do you long to return the extravagant love He pours so freely on you? Open your eyes to the person closest to you with the heaviest burden, walk alongside her in the journey, and carry some of that load for her.
The law of Christ is the law of loving one another. Go and fulfill it today.