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26 June 2008

Appreciation Into Idolatry

I was hunting for some miscellaneous "worship team" resources yesterday and came across one church fellowship's website. I noticed that the worship leader's name was inserted at a number of places around the site, and the stray thought hit me, "Wow, this guy has an ego." And then I chided myself for assuming anything like that, because I know nothing about the guy other than he apparently likes to be in charge of things and write music, which is all fine.

So I visited his blog. He was actually very down-to-earth and focused on following Christ and leading the Church in worship, and if his writing is anything like his heart, he doesn't have much of an ego problem at all. He sounded a lot like me. (Bada-boom! That was a joke, all...)

I read further and noted that the comments at one of his posts were from members at his church fellowship. They said things like, "I appreciate the way you mix styles of music," "Your faithfulness is a testimony," "Your team of musicians regularly leads us into the presence of the Lord," "We're blessed to have you," and things like that. Without splitting hairs, these things are good. I'm sure that every lead worshipper would love to hear things like that said of him or her.

However, being able to look at another fellowship from the outside-in reminded me that this -- focusing on how well someone performs their ministry duties or serves God and His people -- is a dangerously easy way to develop a cult of personality, and it made me wonder the extent to which this may have developed at my own church without any of us there really realizing it. I've heard it said that the most effective lie is based on the truth -- this is the same type of situation; Satan grabs the good things and twists them to sow seeds of things like idolatry.

"It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow. The one who plants and the one who waters work together with the same purpose. And both will be rewarded for their own hard work. For we are both God’s workers. And you are God’s field. You are God’s building." (1 Corinthians 3:7-9, NLT)

As a church leader, I speak from the heart when I say that a church fellowship isn't about its leaders. A group of believers should not be built around, or because of, the personality of a person, their style of Bible teaching, their musical skill (or style), genuine heart, or any other good thing.

Should it?

If it's been built up that way, how can it be fixed? Ask the leaders to start doing a really crummy job at everything?


Leroy said...

I guess I need to quit name-dropping..."I know Dean". :)

I think it's ok to have people say..."I go to that church because the singing and preaching make it easy for me to focus on worshiping God".

But if they say..."I go to that church because of the singer and preacher", that's a setup for disappointment.

How do I mean? Because when we put faith in men, we get let down.

Jan said...

I think leaders must remain humble and real, but it will still happen anyway to some extent. Why? Because God does use those leaders for a purpose in other's lives. It makes people grateful (well some of them) and helps them connect to God. Perhaps others just want this guy to know that.

Leaders are at the apex of the spiritual battle, and as we see from the life of biblical leaders, they are called by God for some specific purpose. It can be easy to - from the outside looking in - to not view them as real people, but only as spiritual warriors.

I think the biggest thing leaders can do is to be real with their congregation about their lives.

Preston N said...


Recently I have been reading a wonderful book that addresses this issue,entitled "Pagan Christianity", by George Barna and Frank Viola. I won't go into detail about the book but in one of its Chapters it addresses this very issue of the "cult of personality" within the church. Barna argues that much of the church hierarchy is unbiblical and comes mainly from Roman-Greek Paganism.

Barna's point (and one that I agree with) is that the very way church is structured creates the problem of "cult of personality"in of itself. He goes on to say that when you have one central person as a the "leader" of the church, it is merely human nature for people to gravitate to such individuals and thus create this whole issue. I do find it ironic though that both you and Jan (who are worship leaders) identify this as a problem, but yet don't seem to realize that its the very way the church is organized that causes this problem to begin with. It's as if you have simply identified the symptom and not the cause of the problem.

I realize my words will probably be considered "heresy" or something along the lines of "Hey..your way out line here", but the reality is the church was never intended to have a central "leader" other than Jesus Christ. Instead we have a body that essentially has two or three heads - this is simply a mutation and is not healthy. The Book of Hebrews tells us that that we are to be a "holy nation" and that followers of Christ will be a "priest unto themselves", that the need for a "High Priest" is no longer required as each of us now have the Holy Spirit within us to teach us the "Truth". But yet is this what we really see in our churches?? Instead we see a system that says "truth" must be disseminated from a few "select" individuals who are more "holy" or "gifted" than the laity. As a friend of mine once told me "Not much has changed in over 2,000 years other than our "priest" today wear different robes".

I find Jan's comment most interesting as she said
"....(leaders) are the apex of spiritual battles"?. Really? I thought we all have the same Holy Spirit and that we are all able to be on equal spiritual footing as long as our hearts are open and we love God? The issue here is the church does not need "leaders" but rather as Paul was - a teacher and instructor of the Gospel. Note that Paul never once took up residence at one particular church but rather came, instructed and left the organic church body to build and grow within itself. Paul was constantly aware that Jesus was the only head and only "leader" the New Testament church ever needed.

Again, I realize my comments will seem very untraditional, but again we need look at just where are these so called traditions are coming from and what are their true roots.

Jan said...

Preston, I believe (and have observed) that Satan does indeed target people whose downfall will affect many people. This would apply to those who serve as leaders in churches. That has nothing to do with being spiritually superior at all. As a leader I don't feel I am more holy and certainly no more gifted than anyone else and I willingly share leadership. Your words are very hurtful to me. In fact, I don't think anything else keeps me as humble as serving as a minister. I take God's calling and the resulting responsibility very seriously and serve in the local church with a great deal of reverence for what God has led me to do. I love the Bride of Christ.

Leadership is a scriptural gift, described in Romans 12:8. For that reason I believe God places leaders in positions to further His Kingdom.

While I obviously know that the church is imperfect and is full of imperfect people, I think those ministers that give their lives to work 80 hours a week for little money and alot of headaches deserve respect and yes, our thanks. That is a scriptural principle as well.

I would urge you to just try to believe the best about people, including pastors. I can only speak for myself but I don't think I am better than anyone else. My calling may be different but I'm just a very average woman seeking to know, serve and obey God as He has led me and to help others do the same.

We need your prayers, not judgment as we serve in leadership. Believe me, it's not something I asked for. It is something God called me to do.

A little more understanding please....

Dean Lusk said...

I hope to avoid anything that feels like a "team-up," because Jan and I both obviously disagree with some of your commentary, Preston. However, I probably agree with it more than you may guess -- you've left a lot of latitude in there.

"...its the very way the church is organized that causes this problem to begin with. It's as if you have simply identified the symptom and not the cause of the problem."

A conclusion like the one in the second sentence above can't be drawn without establishing that the premise in the first sentence is correct, and I disagree with the premise.

"we see a system that says 'truth' must be disseminated from a few 'select' individuals who are more 'holy' or 'gifted' than the laity."

It's not necessarily "the system" that is at issue. It's the misuse of authority and the leadership allowing the laity to think this way that is at the core of the problem.

"As a friend of mine once told me 'Not much has changed in over 2,000 years other than our 'priest' today wear different robes.'"

That's profound (and ominous). Is the person who said it someone you'd consider to be a leader at your fellowship?

Not everyone is called to be an evangelist. I'm pretty sure you weren't implying that in your comment...? If there were no Biblical overseers in local church fellowships, there would be no spiritually-growing local church fellowships; possibly no local church fellowships at all.

I think it's tough to summarize a whole book (like the Barna book) in a blog post or a comment. :)

Preston N said...


First let me clarify that I am by no means promoting a form of "Christian Anarchy" here. I clearly realize there is a biblical need for leaders, elders, teachers and evangelist within the body of Christ. So to answer your question Dean - yes we have leaders within our home church - but the big difference here is we have multiple leaders and not a singular leader whereby all or most of the church responsibilities fall on, nor do we have some unhealthy expectations of our leaders, nor do we spend our tithes on a payroll or brick and mortar building - but yes we do have leaders.

What I do disagree with is a system whereby everything falls on one person or a select few within the church. A system that yields very unhealthy and unbiblical behavior.

For example, take the comment Jan made:

I think those ministers that give their lives to work 80 hours a week for little money and alot of headaches deserve respect and yes, our thanks. That is a scriptural principle as well.

Why is it that an 80 hr work week for a "pastor" is considered acceptable, but if I would do this week after week, neglecting my family I get labeled a workaholic? Why would I ever praise or thank such behavior that is clearly unhealthy and so damaging to a person and their family - just because this person is a "pastor"?? Yet, see how we make certain exceptions for the "pastor"? The current system sets very unhealthy and unbiblical expectations of pastors and statistics clearly support this. A recent George Barna survey shows:

- 1,500 pastors leave the church each month due to ethics violations, burnout or contention within the church.
- 80% of Pastors and eighty-four percent of their spouses feel unqualified and discouraged in their role.
- 50% of pastors are so discouraged that they would leave the church if they could, but have no other way of making a living.
- 80% of pastor spouses surveyed felt their spouse is overworked.
- 80% of wives feel left out and unappreciated by the fellow church members.
- 80% of pastor spouses wish their spouse would choose another profession.
- 80% of pastor wives feel pressured to do things and be something they are really not.
- 80% of pastors felt their families had been negatively impacted by the church
- 33% consider the ministry to be an outright hazard to their families

Are these the statistics of a system that is healthy? Why is it these statistics seem acceptable for a pastoral job, but yet if these applied to the secular world, people would clearly condemn an employer for such harsh working conditions? Is this a double standard??

Jan - Leadership is indeed a biblical principle, but the bible never states that a "pastor" is to be the sole leader of a group of fellow believers. I also never said that you were more holy or gifted than others, but that the current system promotes this concept.

Jesus came to do away with the brick and mortar temples, not reestablished them. Instead we see shortly after Pentecost a new church beginning to be formed, a church that needed no "new temple" but rather only the fellowship of fellow believers in homes or out on the streets or even the Jewish synagogues (as areas of possible recruiting others into the faith). An organic organization where there is but one leader and that is Christ Jesus! I would implore both you and Dean to search the roots of why we worship the way we do as I think much of the results will alarm you. The Barna book is presently one of the most hated books in evangelical Christianity as it exposes many of the myths and misconceptions that we have come to accept and believe as the truth. I believe many within the church hate this book because they feel it might require them to change and it may jeopardize their position of power and influence.

Finally, please let me say my comments are not to be misconstrued as being judgmental on a personal level here. But rather I am merely putting forth that the current church system is neither biblical or historical (at least for the first 3 centuries of the early church).

Jan said...

Preston, your comments sounded personal so that might be something to make clear next time. Thank you for clarifying.

As a minister. I work about 65 - 70 hours a week. I do that with 65 volunteers that work under me, many of whom lead areas of ministry. I have a big job and can't seem to finish in less time, although I'd like to. (And I'm NOT the Senior Pastor) And you are right, working that many hours can be unhealthy. What I need is help - more assistance, more time off, etc. What our pastors need is help and time off and understanding. I agree with you - too much is expected. (not necessarily allowed, but expected)Personally, some of my problem would be solved if I just had an assistant. I hand off task after task, but it's a big job. I think you will find that this is why most pastors work long hours, not because they are workaholics per se. I think that is an important clarification to make.

I believe we - at this time - have multiple leaders that handle many different areas of ministry. We share teaching. We make decisions as a group of leaders. Certainly not one of us makes decisions for us all. I don't even make decisions about worship ministry without consulting other leaders within that group. We love our families and are trying to live in a healthy manner - thus my sabbatical. I know that several of us practice sabbath. (It might not be on Sat or Sun but we have one)

Surely you know that I not only KNOW the stats, I've LIVED them. They are stunning. Remember who you're talking to. Believe me, I don't think most pastors want to work like this, but help is hard to find at times, emergencies happen and not when it's convenient, and we do long to spend personal time with those at our church.

I hesitate to say this, but as I say it please know that I do so with great gentleness - there is so much that goes on behind the scenes of church ministry. If someone has never been involved in that it would be hard to know what all happens - you don't see the prayers, the group leadership dynamics, the striving to hand off leadership and equip others to lead in their areas of giftedness. Without experiencing it you certainly cannot know how emotionally draining it can be. Many things are handled week to week - we deal with our regular jobs and then we deal with difficulties, problems on a regular basis. In the midst of this we need encouragement and love, not condemnation.

I think we can improve - in fact we will have to if we want to retain people in ministry. But I feel like your judgment is somewhat skewed, that perhaps you're looking at only from one angle. I heard in your comments that you blame pastors for this - calling it a personality cult is pretty harsh and condemning sounding. I agree some are probably proud of working long hours, being indispensable, etc. But most of the pastors I know are desperate for help and long to hand more off. If the system is broken - and I would agree it needs help at the very least, it cannot be changed overnight. We, as ministers, need help. It takes time, patience, a loving attitude and caring for people in the midst of it.

Be careful that in judging a system, you don't become judgmental of those who are just trying to do what God called them to do. Pray for us, love the church, care about those pastors that are literally giving their lives, offer to help, show them love. As ministers, we deal with difficult emotional issues all the time. It is quite simply the nature of the job. We are touched when people come along side us and help us and love us and remember we are real people just like everyone else.

Jan said...

Pres - obviously you and I have two polar opposite personalities as well, which may be part of why we approach this issue from different angles. I think our spiritual gifts are different as well, so that might add to the difference in our views as well.

Preston N said...


First let me clarify again that I am not blaming anyone in particular here – I am blaming the way church is currently structured. It still seems from your response that you think I am blaming a particular position (such as the pastor) but I’m not. It is the current church system I take issue with.

As to your last response, if I didn’t know any better Jan it seems your agreeing with me and then in the same breathe defending the system that seems to be contributing to you being overworked and overwhelmed?

I still disagree that by simply adding “assistants” or more people will “fix” the problem. Again, this will do little to change the fix the problem, but may actually compound it. Again, the problem here is we have a system that says all teaching, all spiritual matters or major decisions must come from a select few. It is this type of church structure that I think is neither biblical nor spiritual – and more importantly I believe hinders the working of the Holy Spirit. Let me give you an example:

When was the last time your church allowed someone other than the pastor to preach from the pulpit that was NOT degreed from a seminary or was not ordained? For example, if an elder came to you and this person was a pillar in the church and they came to the pastor and said I have been led by the Holy Spirit to preach a particular message for the next 4 weeks, most churches would frown on this idea. Mainly because this person is neither degreed from a theological seminary or “ordained” by a particular group or assembly. For me there is such an air of elitism in the current church model that is neither biblical nor Christ like. Just where does it say in scripture that only one central person in the church is required to preach and teach? Just where does it say in the bible “Thou shalt have a degree from a seminary to teach or preach saith the Lord?”. The pulpit literally becomes a “Bully Pulpit” that says only a “select” few people are allowed to preach or teach.

Ordination is another unbiblical requirement that has been derived by men to again bring lines of division within the church. I challenge you or anyone else to show me where the bible endorses or requires “ordination” of its leaders? The truth is, ordination has a lurid past and if you take up the challenge to see why this was ever incorporated into the church history it would shame many who have the title. The truth is the church places more emphasizes on a “title” set forth by man, than allowing its members to grow and mature in the Word of God.

Personally, I think it should be the job of every “pastor” to put himself out of a job. It should be the role and function of every pastor to bring up people to the same degree of knowledge he has or better yet, even more so. But yet do we ever see this occur in the church?? Why? Why is it that no one in the church ever surpasses the degree of spiritual wisdom or knowledge of the “pastor”? Wouldn’t it seem logical that this would be the duty and objective of every pastor to get his congregants to a greater if not equal level of knowledge that he has. Isn’t it odd how colleges and other secular learning institutions do this, but yet the church fails miserably in this area? Funny how if you want to surpass the pastors level of spiritual knowledge or spiritual depth you must go to a seminary and NOT a church!!?? Where in the world is this ever stated in scripture!? The sad truth is if the 12 apostles showed up at most churches these days and asked to preach NONE of them would be currently qualified as none of them would have degrees from seminary or none of them would be “ordained” by some group or institution. This is a sad truth and one that should bring us to the reality of just how far off track the church has gotten.

Personally, after much searching I have come to discover that the current state of the church does nothing to promote true spiritual growth, but rather prevents it. I realize for many this seems like a bold statement, but given the examples I put forth it seems that the current church model is divisive and limits people from growing in God’s wisdom and truth. The church is comprised of those who are “in the know” versus and the laity – who will never be able to quite reach the piety of the select few who have supposedly been “called” by God. The current church model essentially says that any move of God in regards to instruction or preaching must come through one singular person or a select few. Again, where is this stuff ever found in Scripture? Instead what I have come to discover is that the 1st century church was a collective organism that required no singular leader or teacher to call down the wisdom from heaven. But rather it was an organic body of believers who were of a common purpose and being collectively led by the Holy Spirit. Indeed as I have said before there were most definitely leaders – but not a singular leader. There was never one person who was the conduit between God and man or one who had more “wisdom” or truth than anyone else.

This is just another reason why I am now home churching, for me it is the way church was supposed to be done. As a result, I have seen myself grow in God’s wisdom that has yielded more love for Him day after day. It is as if I have finally found my oasis after being in a dry desert for many years. Again, please do not take my comments here as personal as my point of contention is not with anyone on a personal level, but rather the church system currently in place.

Jan said...

Preston, While I agree with you about some issues and problems, I disagree about some of the assumptions and conclusions. We just see things differently.

Dean Lusk said...

I loved this comment: "I think it should be the job of every 'pastor' to put himself out of a job." That's what I'm shooting for. Of course, since not everyone can play music for people to use to express their adoration to their Creator, I'd probably get to keep mine. :-)

Just as you've found that your walk with Christ has been strengthened as a direct result of leaving the organized Church (and I don't fault your decision), I've found that my walk with Christ has been strengthened from within the organized Church, and one result has been that I have visibly seen God begin to work mightily and in fresh, new ways in the lives of many people around me.

I'd like to leave it all with that, since I feel the comments are getting a little accusatory, even though that's genuinely not been the intention. I do greatly appreciate the input!

Preston N said...


Let me first say it was never my intent for my comments to come off accusatory. Please realize I completely believe people who attend the traditional church can be led by the Holy Spirit and are living lives pleasing of God. I am not advocating either a "we're better than you are" mentality here.

Most of my comments are corporate in nature and not addressing on an individual level. This issue is very close to my heart and sometimes my passion can come off as accusatory - again another dilemma of writing versus speaking. Thanks for allowing me to air my thoughts on this subject and for allow an interesting dialog on this subject.

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