Courageous Calvinism and Paleoconservatism

John Calvin

I attend a conservative, biblically-based, doctrinally sound (based upon received and tested tradition) Presbyterian church. Many of my Baptist friends might assume that there can be no such thing as an authentic Christian Presbyterian church. In the Baptist tradition, there was a time, in the late 1960s, when liberal elements expunged Reformed and Calvinist aspects. Some of this was restored in the conservative resurgence in the SBC in the late 1970s and 80s, but most Baptists are not fully aware of their Reformed and Calvinistic roots. It is understandable not to see the possibility that a conservative branch of Reformed cousins exists in at least one of the Presbyterian denominations. It does exist, honest; but I digress.

Does Calvinism hold more memories than promises? I suggest it is not a mere memory. Reactionary Calvinism, based upon the traditions and the truths from which those traditions derive is the key to solving our religious decline in the culture and to address our difficulty in defining what authentic conservatism ought to look like in the public square. The megachurch will not do it, dead Christianity will not, hopes placed in feckless and foundationless political parties will not. A return to the traditional principles and courageousness of our Calvinist roots might – God willing.

Jarod Longshore recently opined, “[a] cowardly Calvinist is an illogical thing. I don’t say that it is a thing that does not exist. Sadly, regrettably, shockingly, it does exist. But it shouldn’t.” Read his entire post.

We need a renewal of a sparse, sincere rebellion – against sin, against the compromise of the glory of God, against the status quo, against the ‘wisdom’ of the world and against the absurdity that is all around us. Confident, courageous and certain that the Word of God is our life, guide, and answer to the needs of this world. Our difficulties in the culture and our fecklessness in politics are the results of many things; true. However, if there is any hope to fix it we need to consider the words of Paul, as he departed the Ephesian elders:

18 And when they came to him, he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; 20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, 21 testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. 22 And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. 24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. 25 And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. 26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, 27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. 28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. 32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

Acts 20 (ESV)

Robert Godfrey spoke to this issue at the Reformed Bible College. Highlights from the talk in the video below include: Christianity no longer has the influence on the culture it once had; however, Christianity is not in decline; God is at work in the world; Americans are often fixed within; Catholicism abandoned tradition; Evangelicalism no better off. American needs a return to Courageous Calvinism.

  • Confident
  • Christ-centered
  • Comprehensive
  • Coherent
  • Caring

What does this have to do with paleoconservative, or traditional conservatism – that thing way on the fringe that sees the Republican party and mainstream ‘conservatives’ as useful idiots in the progressive agenda? Everything!

I think CJay Engel suggested recently in an article I cannot locate that at every step of the progressive advance, mainstream conservatives have been just a step behind, building nice roads and structures to support what the progressives have done. What we have come to know as ‘conservatism’ in America, the talking heads, the pundits, the massive organizations and think tanks; all of these are tragically flawed. None of them look back and ask real questions about what went wrong, what policies and programs have been adopted, no matter how long ago, that are damaging to culture, tradition, and families that we might actually fight to repeal. Their fight has been about the day to day, small things, rudderless and foundationless notions. They continually lose because they abandoned the foundations of conservatism.

If we are to save America, and perhaps this is not within God’s plan, we have but a duty to try, it will never happen with the current leadership, ideas, and programs of Conservative., Inc. There is little left of what was, nothing much left of the good. What are we conserving? Look about, it has almost all been burnt down.

In these times, our calling is to become courageous. Protestant Christianity was a permanent thing of American culture, we simply do not exist as Americans without that influence. Reformed Protestantism was the foundation of that Christianity.

It is perhaps time to stop calling ourselves conservatives, there is little left to conserve, and instead become courageous, radical reformists and reactionaries against the staus quo. We need to stop fighting the ridiculous daily battles of red/blue politics and stand and say “all of this, all of these programs, ideas, trends, policies and this direction is wrong, we want to restore was was good and true of tradition.” We need to stop entertaining the notion of further compromise, in our denominations (looking at you SBC with your current fight over complementarianism) and in the public square. As Godfrey says above, Confident, Christ-centered, Comprehensive, Coherent, Caring; Courageous.

Only God knows if this is a fight we are supposed to win, but just as Paul knew certain death awaited him as he departed Ephesus, he did his duty, he spoke the truth, all else was in God’s hands and plan.

I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God. Amen. -Luther

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Connect with Barry on Twitter, @onlyBarryLClark. Wondering who I am? See here.

How Locke and Hobbes Were Wrong: State of Nature

Much of modern political theory is a result of or a reaction to the theories of Locke and Hobbes and their individual views of both the state of nature and of the social contract. Although both men differed in their views of each of those topics, they share a commonality in that they missed key elements. Theirs was an idealist view of how community and government came into being. In their idealism, they missed key elements of reality.

In broad strokes, each envisioned a pre-government world where man either lived mostly in peace, following natural law (Locke) or in a constant state of war of all against all (Hobbes). Man eventually decided it was in his best interest to come together, in community, and to surrender rights to some form of government. Hobbes would say all rights were surrendered, locker argued only some. Hobbes would argue that man did this out of fear of his neighbor, Locke essentially that man saw this as the best way to preserve his rights to his property and prosperity. Hobbes was more Platonic in his view, Locke more Aristotelean. Both, Hobbes to a greater extent, abandoned key elements of philosophical thought going back to the Greeks. Both proposed something new and radical; idealist.

However, both abandoned a realist view of history, anthropology, and sociology in their theories of ‘man in nature”. Man has never existed in nature as an individual, alone with no authority, no structure, and just his senses and desires.

If one is inclined toward an evolutionary view of history and the rise of man, looking back we would find the first human-like creatures with intelligence and some form of capacity for reason were not so different from the primates that evolution would tell us these humanoids descended from. That is to say, they were social creatures built around family groups. The individuals in those groups were born into a social hierarchy and authority structure. The same sort of structure that existed for eons before, in that individual’s ancestors that were not humanoids at all but rather apes.

No individual ape ever contracted with other apes to form a group for protection, biology provided the template for the social order; the family. There was no instance of a Lockean state of nature with apes ‘monkeying’ around, eating bananas from their private property trees, such radical individualist would have been killed and never allowed the chance to procreate. There was never a case of all apes individually at war with all other apes in the Hobbesian view. Each ape was born into a social order, a social order that went back in one form or another as far as their mammalian ancestors existed. It developed over time, being traditional, it was learned, it was also inherited. It was never contracted. When the first humanoids arrived in the evolutionary story, they brought with them these traditions and learned behaviors and biological facts; the family group.

If one is inclined toward a literal interpretation of the Genesis story, again we find no instance where an individual man was without a structure and some authority over him. God created Adam and served as his sovereign. God created a mate for Adam, creating the family and gave Adam headship over the family. The entire Old Testament from Genesis to Kings is centered on the family group and tribes that derive from extended family. Never in the Biblical story did either a Hobbesian or Lockean state of nature exist.

It never existed in an evolutionary recount nor a Biblical view, Locke and Hobbes were working in the realm of idealism, not realism. Yet, their entire theories begin with the premise that the social contract exists because man previously lived in a state of nature. Somebody, somewhere, in their view, came together to contract for something better, to form community and then an authority to rule over that community. The fact is, humans have always had the foundational building block of community, the family, and authority that naturally resides in a parent over a child. Social order has existed throughout most of human history because of convention, tradition, and power derived from biologically inspired sociological facts – greybeards were stronger and wiser than youngsters and taught them the way. Families formed the core, family leaders became tribal leaders, and later kings – no social contract.

In the American story, our rights, laws, and traditions came from Britain. A nation that developed a constitution from what began as a simple monarchy. In the 1600’s ours was a British system, in the 1700s also, when the Constitution was ratified, we were still recipients of these British traditions. Ours was a combination of centuries of convention, tradition, subtle modifications and progressions. We were not founded, we were framed.

The implications of these errors are not insignificant. All of classical liberalism, all of the political theories that derive from that and have emerged to oppose it are based on or opposed to the fundamental errors that both Hobbes and Locke made. Thus, democracy, republicanism, and socialism all have inherent flaws. They either promote the idea of the individual or the community above that of the foundational building block of society for eons – the family. They downplay the importance of tradition, accidents of history, and received knowledge.

In the US, many of the framers of the Constitution understood the difference. The anti-federalist did not see a founding but rather a continuation of British traditions and ancient liberties. They understood the notion of sovereignty and knew full well that the British sovereign had relinquished sovereignty not to the Continental Congress but to thirteen free and independent states individually. They thus understood that the will of the people might only be expressed through their states in congress assembled.

The Federalist, had a pretty different idea, they used many of the words of Locke, but upon analysis, they were much more Hobbesian and Neoplatonic in their view. They feared a lack of control, they feared checks and balances – they wanted centralization, a Hobbsean Leviathan that operated under the rule of law, but a could also define and redefine what that law meant and what the limits of its own power were at will. The Federalists did not see America as a continuation of British traditions and ancient liberties – established through convention and sometimes accidents of history. They say themselves as founders of a nation based upon idealistic notions.

Their hubris combined with the error of Hobbes and Locke at the base of their thinking is what has brought America to this stage of absurdity.

Existential Risks and Biotechnology

Apparently, Twitter just banned Zero Hedge for proposing a Coronavirus theory similar to what Josh Clark talks about in episode # six of his podcast The End of the World – gain of function biotechnology laboratory research.

I wall say it, it is too early in the news cycle to be taken seriously, I may be termed a conspiracy guy. But based upon legitimate open-source info, this smells like an engineered phenomenon, an accident, but man-made.

The internet is abuzz with all sorts of false information about Coronavirus, perhaps from official and fringe sources alike. Zero Hedge certainly qualifies as an outlet on the fringe. Whether than makes the always wrong, I cannot say. Josh Clark is certainly not always correct in his treatment of the issue in his podcast linked below – but he raises curious facts.

See below why you ought to listen
The End Of The World with Josh Clark

I admit that is a pretty catchy title. So catchy that when my wife and I were on a road trip a few weeks back she voted a hard ‘no’ when I suggested we listen to it. However, it is perhaps not what she assumed it to be. Josh begins with the question, if there are billions of stars and millions and millions of planets in the universe, statistically, many of them should have produced life and some of that intelligent life. If the scientific answer regarding the formation and timeline of the universe is correct, we simply should already be aware of other life.

Unless life is so unique it exists only here (God? or some scientific reason that makes life statistically improbable?) I could personally accept that God made life unique, but let’s stick in the realm of how a scientist might answer this apparent problem or paradox in their theories.

Josh does a good job of explaining the paradox

Science might attempt to answer this paradox by stating 1) life is hard to form, or, 2) life is easy to develop but also easy to eliminate, or, 3) life is easy to develop, but intelligent life is difficult to sustain.

Item number one would place Earth in some improbable cosmological lottery, if life is so hard to form that it has only formed here, among all the possible other options, it makes us a statistical anomaly (or designed by God).

If life is easy to develop but also easy to eliminate through various disasters, then why are we here and still do not see anyone else? Why did we and nobody else, out of millions and millions of possibilities, make it? This would mean, again, Earth and humanity are winners of a cosmological lottery (or God).

If number three is correct, this assumes there was nothing particularly improbable about us getting to this stage of history and development, yet we look around and do not see anyone else. Why? Josh describes the answer as the great filter, a set of problems that intelligent life would have to navigate to exist much past us and our level of development.

Just look around as some of the technology that we are only beginning to play with, even though we only dimly understand it; AI, biotechnology, physics experiments at the quantum level, etc. Passing the great filter, in this sense, is a civilization learning to both create and control AI without creating the terminator. To master bioengineered food, drugs, and germs without accidentally releasing an extinction-level pandemic. And finally to master physics at the quantum level without blowing up the world. All of those dangers are perhaps low probability, but at the extreme, they are highly dangerous, as they potentially end civilization.

The great filter then is this set of challenges a civilization has to solve as they become just smart enough to play with the ‘fire’ but not yet wise enough to fully understand it.

More on the Great Filter

So what does this have to do with coronavirus? As Josh points out biotech laboratories are all over the world. Several years ago many of these labs began gain of function research. Essentially this is the process of speeding up the development of viruses by stimulating the artificial selection of some of the most horrendous traits. This can result in a much more lethal, more contagious and more resilient virus. Many scientists view this as a way to get ahead of bad germs so that we might be able to fight them if they appear in the wild.

Of course, Josh also points out that the numerous ‘high containment’ labs around the world have a pretty poor history of containing the bad stuff inside. He suggests the great filter might consist of one of these Franken-viruses escaping from a lab and decimating the population.

Two points are interesting, the sheer number of these labs around the world doing this sort of research and the number of mistakes that have been documented to occur.

Zero Hedge was banned from Twitter because of an article they posted, suggesting that Coronovirus originated in just such a lab in Wuhan China. They listed the lab and the lead scientist from that lab. We will perhaps never know if this is exactly what occurred but based upon the track record of such labs and the sort of gain of function research routinely going on; it is possible. Worth discussing for those with a dog in the fight.

Coronavirus certainly does not seem to present an existential risk to mankind. Not in its present form. It does not seem lethal enough and it does not spread fast enough. It could perhaps end up being bad, or it might burn itself out. But it does not seem to be a civilization killer.

What is interesting about this whole situation is just how slow the world has reacted. Last Friday when the State Department announced real travel restrictions, the doctors they brought out said essentially, ‘at first we did not know infected individuals could be asymptomatic and infectious, now we do”. We are now three or four weeks into the outbreak, and nations are just now taking anything close to real action. If this were the sort of virus that could end, or severely depopulate mankind, we would be far too late in reacting.

If the great filter is a real thing, if biotech labs are as inept at maintaining containment as Josh points out, then we seem rather unprepared when a serious virus escapes one day.

Public policy guys need to consult somebody (philosophers and theologians) to help guide scientists in these efforts. Big money throwing cash at mad scientist without wise people thinking past stage one is dangerous.

Final Words on the Megachurch

I have written at length about the megachurch movement and why I am convinced it is so dangerous to authentic, organized Christianity. I have thrown about the word communitarianism as a pejorative. I have spoken of the importance of the community over the individual in what might be considered a very classical liberal way. So what gives?

Perhaps if you have read much of my writing you have noticed that I call myself a paleoconservative. Surely you must say, if I truly am such, I realize full-well that the Straussian neoconservatives and the progressive liberals alike would likely make the same arguments. They argue that the United States was founded on liberal principles, deep Lockean principles that recognized natural rights.

Of course, I know such claims are at best complex and at worst utterly false. The United States was founded on conservative principles, and the US Constitution was perhaps only a compromise between a Hobbesian and Lockean view. The states and their constitutions, the entities that really mattered in 1788-89, were definitely conservative instruments. Rights were viewed not as natural but derived from British tradition. In honest truth, no man in nature has the right to anything he cannot defend. We know this is true but like the philosophical position that this may not be true. But I digress, what does this have to do with the megachurch you say.

I do not hold that the individual is supreme, that the natural moral law and reason alone can suffice to inform a man of what is right. As a true conservative, in the philosophical sense of the word, I know full well that the experience of the ages and tradition combined with received knowledge are the main ways that men come to know truth.

This then is the crux of what might appear divergent views within my own mind on the subject of the megachurch movement. I argue that their communalism diminishes the individual, and the authority structure they set up is potentially dangerous. It is not a traditional authority they prescribe but one of their own design. Yet, I am a man that believes that it was the local communal Reformed Protestant nature of America through most of its history that defined us. It was, from the perspective of many, a very illiberal history and circumstance, but it worked well. In short, I agree with communitarianism, just not the sort that Drucker and his ideology invented.

My main argument against the megachurch movement was that it was built upon bad ideology deriving from bad philosophy. And, perhaps most dangerously, they are built upon the premise that they must be relevant, they have to offer something the people want, in order to get them in the door. It is this reliance upon relevance, combined bad ideology that makes this movement so dangerous to organized Christianity.  The megachurch movement and its churches will fail because the culture will drive them eventually. I am opposed to submitting or seeing others submit to community and authority built upon such a base.

But these churches identified some real problems and attempted to solve them. They used, and sometimes, misused, techniques straight out of America’s conservative tradition to get after the problem. The various Protestant denominations in the US in the late 1980s were dying or dead, stale, stuffy, feckless beasts. The pastors, boards of directors and initial groups of elders that founded what would become megachurches were predominantly generation X folks, they had sat in those stuffy pews, saw exactly how ineffective those churches were and wanted something different. Many of these churches got their start in the mid-late 1990s, this was just off the heels of the failure of the Moral Majority and the exposure of many televangelist. It was a pretty bad time in Christianity.

Peter Drucker offered a model to Bob Bufford and the Leadership Council.  Early generation megachurches based mostly upon strong pastor personalities, such as Rick Warren’s Saddleback provided examples and lesson-learned. The Leadership Network supplied the template, and the disgruntled, dissatisfied upstart GEN Xers took it and built churches, everywhere.  

They identified a problem, applied methodology and systems to the problem and created solutions. It is hard to argue with that. Except for the foundation, Drucker’s ideology, and his stated intent. His was a vision to fundamentally change society, through building community in churches. The problem with utopian ideas is just that, history generally has something to say about the frailty of man’s ability to reason out complex social issues with brilliant solutions – generally the best of such ideas fail the worst, sometimes with catastrophic results.

History has taught us that the best way to move forward and solve complex problems is by relying upon the experience of the ages, to fall back on tradition, to fix what is broken rather than create something new, shiny and brilliant. The innovators of my generation, GEN X, that abandoned traditional career paths and forged ahead to build Amazon, Google, Facebook, and our digital world would disagree with that statement, as too would those folks that built started those future megachurches in the 1990s. But there is a difference in building an online shopping mall and digital warehouse and redefining how to ‘do church”.

Success is something that is hard to argue with, yet success does not make a thing optimal or even correct. Do we yet know the cost of Amazon on society and our way of life?  If someday the only real purchasing option is online will that be better? We do not know. We do know that sort of innovation was transformative and abandoned tradition rather than refurbish old practices? Is the social media revolution truly good for mankind?  I suspect not in total, but it is too soon to say. The point is, yes, those innovations have thus far succeeded, but at what cost? And, again, technological innovation is not on the same level as changing the church just because you can.

What will be the cost to the success of the megachurch movement? What happens if it fails, now that so many formerly dying churches have been drained?

As a Christian, Protestant, conservative, I applaud the efforts by the megachurch folks to bring back community. I wrote about this very need in Retrenchment: Christian Defense of Permanent Things. For the same reasons, I am opposed to the idea of building a new and shiny thing, particularly for something as important as faith, theology and religion – Christianity itself. The ‘community’ of a megachurch is too big for accountability – too big to be called community. The group is beyond one’s circle of influence and of concern. The pastor and the staff are too far removed to be knowable. How can you keep accountability of a man that teaches you the word if his congregation is so large that you most can never break bread with him, and few can do it regularly enough in a personal way to actually know him?

What should that entrepreneurial generation Xers have done in the mid-to-late 1990s? If I think the megachurch movement has gone all wrong what should have been done? I agree with them, all the major denominations had serious flaws and error. There was no real possibility of working inside of them to effect change, not in the short-term, not to change the whole thing.

They should have done the only thing a right-reasoned conservative can do when faced with such a circumstance; retrench and double-down.  Buying into what Drucker was selling, the Rick Warren-like model, was wrong and they should have recognized it from the start. That they did not perhaps speaks to motivation, but I cannot see into their hearts.

By retrenchment and doubling down I mean, in seeing the problem that existed in the church, they should have focused on the local church. If they saw it as dead an irrelevant, make it alive, while remaining true to what came before. If they wanted to build community, they should have begun in the local church. You do not have to move an entire denomination overnight to change the world, you do it the proven conservative and rational way, in small steps at home with people you know. The solution in 1990,1995 or 2000, when these megachurches got their start, was not that complicated.

Yet, that is not the path the leaders and founders of these churches chose. They picked a model that allowed them glory from building something bright and shiny. It was hubris, arrogance and pride that told those 20-something-year-old idealists that they knew better than the centuries of doctrine, procedure, and creeds that proceeded them. A bold statement, but I stand beside it. A lot of harm can come from relying upon oneself to try to do good.

If you want to know why I have written so vigorously about the megachurch, yes it is about what I have seen, things that are easily discernable as fruit from the movement. However, it is also something else. Look to the founding, look to Drucker’s own words concerning his intentions with The Leadership Network. Ask yourself about the thought processes of the young men that started these churches 25 or so years ago – why did they choose the Drucker model instead of putting their heads down and getting to work on the local church? 

I suspect their egos wanted to build something.

First principles, Clarice. Simplicity. Read Marcus Aurelius. Of each particular thing, ask what is it in itself? What is its nature? What does he do, this man you seek?

This is all I will say on this issue.

See Also

Sex Abuse in the Megachurch

I have made the extraordinary claim that the megachurch movement is dangerous, so where is my proof?  I have talked about the origins of the bad ideology of the men that founded the organization that has helped almost every single megachurch form. I have talked about the dangers of manipulation and control and of a lack of accountability but what of proofs?  I suggest that the frequency, brazenness, severity and egregious nature of sexual assaults and pedophilia in the megachurch is not run of the mill evil, it exists inside an organization that creates power differences and enables this behavior, by default, not design.

First to the inevitable counter-arguments:

  1. ‘mega’ means big, more people, and people are fallible, so of course, these things should happen more often in mega-churches.
  2. This happens in ‘other’ megachurches, not mine, we have good people
  3. This gets more publicity because it happens in a mega-church

To point #1, I agree, however, the stories below point to something different, not just the statistical variation of events that ought to be expected. Point #2 is naive, many parents that trusted their children to leaders that were later abused thought the same thing. Point #3 is perhaps true, I cannot argue against it, I only have the stories we can see and those are ugly.

I think that these cases of abuse in the megachurch are different precisely because the megachurch is different.  It is based upon communitarianism, it has a language of control, it is designed to create obedience and submission of the individual to the collective and to the leaders of the collective. That sort of combination has proven to almost always be dangerous, throughout history. We could list the examples, but you already know this to be true.  Since history has proven the danger, we can reasonably conclude that there is also a danger in the megachurch.

As I was researching and preparing to begin this series of articles, I watched a lot of megachurch sermons online.  One subject I saw pop up across several churches was sermons on parental authority.  Often these sermons represented parental authority as a pyramid, with more authority over say toddlers, relaxing over time toward the teenage years.  Oddly enough, in the megachurch model, this is precisely the time when the church, through small-groups and small-group leaders begin to exert greater authority. Who one dates, where one wants to go to college, who one calls friends - all are subject to ‘conversations in community’.  These conversations are mechanisms of control.  If the teenager resists and goes their own way in these choices, they are said to have a ‘heart problem’ - another form of control, one that borders on serious error at that, for only God can know what is in another’s heart (Jeremiah 17:9-10, Acts 1:24, 1 Samuel 16:7 and many others)

‘Parent wounds’ is another subject that comes up. Sometimes in sermons in various megachurches that you can find online but more specifically in the context of small-group sessions.  Here tweens and teenagers are encouraged to talk about how their parents have hurt them or disappointed them. I have been told stories of some that simply believe they have nothing to tell being pressured over several sessions to come up with something. This is another form of control and manipulation, all with the outward appearance of helping heal wounds.  It reinforces that authority has passed from the parent to the community - the community and the leaders can help, they can be trusted.

What does this have to do with sexual abuse? Almost everything. Many of the examples of recent abuse occurred between adult pastors and leaders and children and teenagers between 11 and 18 years old. Right about the time the community was telling them that these youngsters have a different authority they need to trust and listen to.

Look, I am not suggesting that this goes on in every megachurch nor that every pastor or leader is out to prey on the vulnerable. I am saying that it does not make a lot of sense to hand one’s children over to a group that will tell your kids to trust the community and its leaders more than any other thing in their lives.  It is dangerous to place a child in an environment where they talk about ‘wounds’, real or imagined, in one on one counseling sessions with a new authority figure.

Psychologists and counselors have known for years the danger of displaced emotions in vulnerable patients and a pastor friend of mine told me horrible stories that lead him to never counsel women alone.  People are weak in such situations, vulnerable and act out or accept things they normally would not. The communitarian nature of the megachurch exacerbates this danger.

So what sort of abuse have we seen? (Search Google for Megachurch Sex Abuse to see a much more complete list)

And the list goes on…

I find the NewSpring cases interesting because I know some people that have attended there as I know the history of the church, after four incidents in three years, NewSpring Church denies responsibility. When I have returned to Powdersville to visit, the NewSpring campus is still full. This despite their former pastor and his board using church money to ensure his book made the New York Times bestseller list, him attempting to rewrite the 10 commandments and finally him having to resign for alcohol abuse.

Continued attendance is a case of cognitive dissonance.  The organization is flawed, far beyond the individual people that acted poorly. The organization selected them, gave them access and accepted them. Changing leadership cannot fix deep foundational flaws. Yet, this is the sort of naivety that persist in many megachurches - blind trust because it is fun, exciting and everyone seems so good.

NewSpring, Willow Creek and Village are unique only because they are mega-megachurches and their pastors figured prominently in the movement. The error of Perry Noble was easier to spot because more people were looking. How many smaller megachurches out there, organizations that were built on the same model from the same organization, have similar problems? Problems not highlighted by high-profile discernment ministry guys keeping an eye on what is going on?

Dangerous? Yes, too much control, too much loyalty to the group, not enough accountability.

See Also:

 

Why I Write About the Megachurch

Or, Why I was Right About the Megachurch

I have never joined a megachurch. I have attended a couple several times. I have eight family members that have joined one. Of those eight only one still attends. Of the seven that left, three attended long enough to make their departure ‘interesting’ – more on that below.

First – perhaps see my definition of the megachurch movement so we are clear on what I am talking about. (Here is my problem with the megachurch movement if you want to get right to the point.)

My personal experience consists of attending regularly, but never joining, a large Baptist church in the 90s. It was what I define as a phase two megachurch, it was still Baptist and it required a pastor with a strong and attractive personality to grow large. Even though it was an early stage megachurch, I could not buy-in and join it, it was off to me. They had gone in deep for the Purpose Driven dribble. (my ever-comical nephew termed this place the Repentagon because of the shape of the large building they constructed)

the 2000s

I attended the megachurch that most of my family joined when I was home on leave from the Army. It was in those visits and in observing and conversing with my family that had joined that I began to have deep suspicions. Lastly, in an effort to find a church in the town I retired to my wife and I visited the local megachurch a few times – until the parking lot incident that made my suspicions click in my head. That is my experience.

Now

I attend a small, quiet church – that is my style, but that is not why I write against the megachurch movement.

Why

Why do I write about the megachurch? I saw first hand the experiences of my eight family members, how it affected their relationships with others and their sense of self and self-esteem. I had a shouting match one evening with one of them that screamed literal heresy at me, something they had come to hold as truth from the megachurch. I have seen the leaders of both the churches my family attended (and attends in one case) manipulate family dynamics, create divisions (parent wounds*) and use the power of position the church provides for personal benefit.

*Focusing on parent wounds creates divisions in families and demonstrates that the small-group, church, and the leaders are capable of helping where parents have failed – trust your leaders! It is a tool to exert control over kids. One particularly egregious, and perhaps nefarious megachurch pastor used parent wounds to attack preachers with dead Christian mentors, subtle deeds not creeds attack (another megachurch tendency).

First Impression

Basically, it all smelled wrong to me the first time I walked in, but a lot of my family was there so I was open-minded; but I researched, questioned and observed. I watched their sermons online from afar, looked at what was going on in other megachurches and observed the changes in my family. Each time one of them left, I debriefed them extensively. The story they all told after leaving was vastly different than the narrative they portrayed while there.

Around 2011 or 2012 I sat with a friend of mine, an Army Chaplain and a Baptist pastor and asked him if I should be concerned with what I was seeing. I love my brother, I mean him no harm in this but he was absolutely wrong in his response to me. He suggested that the Christian church goes through a great change every 500 years and this seeker-sensitive megachurch stuff was alright. I did not know at the time, perhaps he did not know, that 500-year idea came from a heretic named Phyllis Tickle and the Emergent Church. Brother if you are reading this you were wrong, perhaps you were deceived like so many others have been.

Deception indeed.

And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray.

Mathew 24

It is not my contention that all of the megachurches are evil and all pastors heretics. I do not argue that organized, denominational Christianity was not in a mess of its own making before this phenomenon began. I would not argue that the old way got things right.

I do contend, not just because I have witnessed it in some folks I love, but because I have looked around at the facts enough to now state as fact that the megachurch is more dangerous than any boring old baptist church from the 1980s ever could have or would have been. One was filled with apathy, the other perhaps increasing levels of apostasy.

Mine is not an argument about worship style nor music. I prefer one style but that is not my argument.

My argument is not about a conspiracy to take over the church. Not in the sense of an organized effort that reaches down into each and every megachurch. It is true there is a definite line from bad philosophy, to bad ideology, to people like Peter Drucker and the creation of a methodology that could be replicated franchise-style in the creation of megachurches**. However, because one can trace the bad ideas to their source is not the same as an organized conspiracy, do not confuse my argument for the former.

Conspiracies are not necessary, evil exists, and evil has been able to coordinate and combine its efforts. Deception is the primary weapon of evil. I am convinced the megachurch model Peter Drucker codified and has been replicated across America is dangerous, far more dangerous than the apathy it was created to replace.

Wondering who the heck Peter Drucker is and why he matters to this argument? Look here or better yet here, Resistance is Futile.

If you argue that my observation, my dataset is too limited and all independent megachurches are different and ‘independent’. I would ask you this. How did all those independent churches just spontaneously generate in the late 1990s and 2000s and yet have so much in common if they do not share some core methodology and techniques for formation? They claim to be relevant, different and cool, but there are some stunning similarities.

Their ‘starting out’ story is a little less original and less authentic than is oft-repeated.

And, certainly, not all have slipped into outright apostasy or heresy, but some big names among them certainly have and that is undeniable. Those big names came from the same methodological mold as the others, all from Druker’s model. All churches have some error, and megachurches should be no different – but; Sovereign Grace Church, Bethel, Perry Noble, Mark Driscoll, Steven Furtick and more than I care to name (all tied to the Leadership Network) seem to add evidence that pastors with too much control and not enough accountability are dangerous.

Surrendering to the community is dangerous. Reviving a rebranded form of shepherding (something recognized as apostasy years ago) is dangerous. Focusing on the emotion of religion instead of a deep understanding of theology is dangerous. Forcing loyalty through oaths, (membership covenants) that say you will follow the leaders of the Church and not speak out against the vision of the leaders is dangerous. Placing ‘service’ at the level of Justification, as a part of salvation, is a revival of the works heresy, a variation of Pelagianism – instead of, well Grace alone. Preaching from a weak translation of the Bible that is best used as a supplemental study guide. Preachers that work themselves into every sermon, because, relevant. Topically preaching ‘relevant’ stuff. The introduction of strange, and biblically absent words into all conversations (intentional, relational, authentic, etc.) – all dangerous and troubling.

All the phase three megachurches out there may not have slipped as far into heresy as Bethel, but they all do the things I just described.

Megachurch

The Shunning

I mentioned above that of my seven family members that left a megachurch, three had attended long enough to be invested deeply. When they left I observed a strange sort of fear and shame. For instance, they became physically and observably scared when in the presence, even if just in the same restaurant, with a member of the church. I discuss all of that in more detail in my associated posts, however, this realization and observation was enough to make me know that some of the other things I suspected were correct from the start.

My Assessment

When I combine the social control and manipulation techniques I have observed, with the heresy I have observed (justification by works, instead by Grace alone) and combine that with the publically available facts that lay out the map of the ideas that gave birth to this whole thing – my initial suspicions ten or so years ago make a lot of sense.

Something is rotten in Denmark!

See Also

Finally, if you are interested in how the philosophers that Drucker read came about their absurd ideas, look here The Rise of Absurdity in Western Philosophical and Political Views, follow a bad idea upstream long enough and you discover its source.

** I want to be super clear that I am not implying, nor do I believe most of the folks that have used the “Drucker Megachurch Franchise” template had ill intentions. Most of the folks that started these churches were GEN Xers, and we GEN Xers grew into adulthood with a lot of distrust of the things that were around us. Those of us that grew up in church saw a stale, ineffective church. We knew the Sunday talk and the weekly walk of many people.

I grew up in a very typical place that describes that. I was raised in Powedersville, near Greenville SC. As typical of the Southern Baptist Bible belt as you can get. I saw all the things that likely frustrated those that followed the Drucker plan.

I also do not believe the folks working in these churches as underling leaders have ill intentions, or at least they did not start out that way. There is however something corrupting when you place an ordinary man in a position of extreme power over others, young impressionable folks, and give him a soap-box to repeat the myth of himself that develops from that power. I have witnessed such people abuse their power in subtle ways.

These people did not mean evil, not all of them do overt evil and there are good things that derive from these churches. Most have zero understanding of the flawed philosophy that this movement came from and many of the underling leaders and junior pastors are not even formally trained in theology to equip them to recognize error.

On the whole, it was all a mistake, it has morphed into something very dangerous and it is, in my observed opinion, the single greatest existential threat to organized Christianity in America.

When you think of visiting one of these places, keep looking, find a Bible-believing place without all the communitarian trappings, apostasy and error.

_______________________________________

Follow me on Twitter if you want to learn more about this subject or to tell me I am wrong @onlyBarryLClark or take a gander at the tag for all post related to the Megachurch

The Megachurch Defined

I recently have been laying out some of the history, philosophy and personalities that are central to or played a key role in giving birth to the megachurch movement. I think it is appropriate to define the term ‘megachurch’ so that there is not any confusion in my use of the word. After all, if someone is going to claim and provide evidence that there is a problem with something, that person should be, in megachurch newspeak, get ‘real clear, and be intentional and authentic’ in the word usage.

Some might say, well Jesus started the first megachurch of course when he preached the Sermon on the Mount. They had the first-century version of the coffee shop in the lobby even with loaves of bread and fish. Of course, that was a sermon, not a congregation nor a church. It dispersed after the event.

Some will say there have been big churches before, even in the 1800s there were examples of some US churches with thousands of congregants. This is true. Those were anomalies and certainly not part of a movement. They happened in some places for independent reasons. When I speak of the megachurch I am not talking about things that have occurred seldom and independently because of that church’s unique set of circumstances.

What Do I Mean by Megachurch?

My definition of the megachurch movement is churches formed and organized upon the corporate business-model way of ‘doing church’ espoused by Peter Drucker beginning in the 1990s and promulgated by The Leadership Network and others.

Deniers

Members of megachurches and underling leaders in such churches will likely and invariably deny that any of this definition could be true – they have never heard of Peter Drucker after all. Besides, their church is independent! Nevermind that they share very similar techniques and styles to all the other ‘independent’ megachurches and they all started ‘spontaneously generating’ around the same time. There is nothing to deny. Christianity Today, Forbes and several national newspapers ran articles throughout the 1990s and 2000s talking about Drucker and his work with megachurches, megachurch pastors and The Leadership Network. The Leadership Network, an organization that every megachurch senior pastor has had interaction with claims proudly that they would not exist without Drucker. There is nothing to deny, it is public record.

The megachurch movement has gone through three phases:

Organic, Cult of Personality Phase

Robert Schuller and his Crystal Cathedral, certainly a mega-church in terms of size, was more of an inspiration for rather than part of the megachurch movement. Schuller grew his congregation by offering sermons that his audience wanted, therapeutic, self-help theology in a cool new format, drive up to the church, at the start. Schuller was not the sole inspiration, but he is representative of the examples in the early 199os. These generated questions in the minds of men like Rick Warren and Peter Drucker and brought them together. As I laid out in The Problem with the Megachurch, Drucker had a vision for creating communities of communities as a way to solve societal and economic programs and by the 1990s he had turned his focus to churches as a means to achieve this.

Drucker, often called the father of modern management, undoubtedly realized two facts related to the examples of Bakker, Swaggert, Schuller, and others. First, much of their success was based upon individual charisma and personality. Second, they gave their audience what they wanted – in the first case emotion, in the second validation – bu no matter the product served, it was what people wanted to buy. Those were the elements of the mega-church examples Drucker wanted to emulate. He needed a methodology and techniques that eliminated the need for the personality factor.

Drucker’s 1984 novel The Last of All Possible Worlds And, The Temptation to Do Good finds a young man conversing with his priest about his decision to enter business with his father instead of the church. The priest is left to wonder if management techniques might not be exactly what the church needs.

His books The New Realities: in Government and Politics, in Economics and Business, in Society and World View (1989) followed by Managing the Nonprofit Organization: Practices and Principles (1990) set the initial parameters for how he saw nonprofits and specifically churches changing society.

In 1984, Bob Buford, Fred Smith, Jr. and Gayle Carpenter started Leadership Network as a way of trying to help the newly emerging wave of pastors who were breaking worship attendance barriers of 1,000 and sometimes 2,000 or more. During his business years, Buford had spent countless hours talking with and seeking guidance from Peter Drucker, the father of modern management, and he now tapped into Drucker’s guidance for how best to frame Leadership Network. He later remarked that Leadership Network would not be the same—in fact, might not exist at all—were it not for Peter Drucker. (Buford later developed that 23-year mentoring relationship into a book, Drucker and Me.)

Leadership Network started in 1984 with a budget of $5,000, and held its first forum with 55 churches that had attendance of 800 and higher. By 2017 the organization was annually serving more than 400 larger churches through in-person events which included more than 1,500 leaders. Online conferences reached upwards of 25,000, and Leadership Network Advance subscriptions exceeded 50,000. (LN)

Before Bob Buford and Fred Smith Jr. co-founded Leadership Network, Buford consulted Drucker for advice. As a testimony to Drucker’s profound influence on Leadership Network, Buford has observed, “Peter Drucker is the ‘intellectual father’ of most all that guides my approach to philanthropy. I’ve long since ceased trying to determine what thoughts are mine and which come from Peter.”

In 1997, Atlantic Monthly magazine editor Jack Beatty interviewed Buford for two hours for a book titled, The World According to Peter Drucker. The entire volume contained only six words from Buford: “He’s the brains, I’m the legs.”

Leadership Network would not be the same–in fact, might not exist at all -were it not for Peter Drucker – their words (LN)

Baptist Model Phase

Rick Warren was an early disciple and partner of Petter Drucker. His Purpose Driven Church in 1995 introduced terminology, in proto-form, that became megachurch newspeak. The entire SBC was adversely affected by Warren, in ways some only began to realize at the SBC convention in 2019. SBC churches, large and small became to some degree megachurch minded, Sunday school classes followed various 40-day programs. Some churches grew and literally became ‘mega’, others just served to place mega ideas in future megachurch congregants.

Many of the Baptist megachurches began dumping the word Baptist from their name. Many Baptist pastors participated in and participate in Leadership Network activities. However, in the final analysis, the megachurch model within the framework of the Baptist denomination still requires a strong pastoral personality. Baptists still vote on elders and deacons. In order to execute Druker’s Leadership Principle in a Baptist church, the pastor has to be a strong, dynamic and attractive personality.

Hipster Phase

A good methodology is replicable across a spectrum of problems, independent of the people involved. Drucker’s vision for an improved society consisting of communities of communities could not heavily rely on strong personalities to repeat. The Leadership Network, by capturing successful lessons-learned, tactics and techniques and making resources available to aspiring megachurches and megachurch pastors created such a methodology.

No longer is a strong central personality required. The ‘cumbersome’ barriers to ‘doing church’ such as voting on elders and the board are eliminated in the new model. A decently charismatic leader, supporting by a closely selected board and an ethos throughout the organization to follow the leadership plan will do just fine.

In the third phase of the megachurch, an operation can be started from scratch, using the template and the methodology developed by Druckerite organizations – using methods that are proven to work. Just like a franchise.

Many megachurches, now with thousands of members, began with a small core, a core that is still often heavily represented on the small hand-selected board. The methodology does not require a rock-star senior pastor, it only requires a guy that is capable enough to act like one. Many claim to not even have a senior pastor, just a self-selecting board of elders and a ‘main pastor’. It does not require a board of world-changers and innovators, just a few folks smart enough to implement a proven methodology. It is basically a turn-key franchise. You only need a little bit of money to start it, for the mailing list. A couple of people with adequate social intelligence and personal appeal to build some momentum and access to the template. It only requires a few leaders that can be ‘cool and authentic’ by following a plan and copying others – ironic. It also requires a lot of followers that buy into the cool act and fail to see that their independent, unique, authentic megachurch is really a lot like all the others.

In short, the megachurch movement is very much a franchise.

See Also

** I want to be super clear that I am not implying, nor do I believe most of the folks that have used the “Drucker Megachurch Franchise” template had ill intentions. Most of the folks that started these churches were GEN Xers, and we GEN Xers grew into adulthood with a lot of distrust of the things that were around us. Those of us that grew up in church saw a stale, ineffective church. We knew the Sunday talk and the weekly walk of many people.

I grew up in a very typical place that describes that. I was raised in Powedersville, near Greenville SC. As typical of the Southern Baptist Bible belt as you can get. I saw all the things that likely frustrated those that followed the Drucker plan.

I also do not believe the folks working in these churches as underling leaders have ill intentions, or at least they did not start out that way. There is however something corrupting when you place an ordinary man in a position of extreme power over others, young impressionable folks, and give him a soap-box to repeat the myth of himself that develops from that power. I have witnessed such people, abuse their power in subtle ways.

These people did not mean evil, not all of them do overt evil and there are good things that derive from these churches. Most have zero understanding of the flawed philosophy that this movement came from and many of the underling leaders are not even formally trained in theology to recognize error.

On the whole, it was all a mistake, it has morphed into something very dangerous and it is, in my observed opinion, the single greatest existential threat to organized Christianity in America.

When you think of visiting one of these places, keep looking, find a Bible-believing place without all the communitarian trappings, apostasy and error.

_______________________________________

Follow me on Twitter if you want to learn more about this subject or to tell me I am wrong @onlyBarryLClark or take a gander at the tag for all post related to the Megachurch

The Megachurch Explained

Chris Rosebrough turned me on to some understanding of something I knew to be wrong for several years, yet I was unable to put it into a coherent argument. I have observed numerous troubling things, read troubling things but the nature of the problem illuded me. My recent post on The Problem with the Megachurch began with his presentation below. It first manifested in The Rise of Absurdity in Western Philosophical and Political Views.

Watch his presentation! (Follow along PowerPoint here)

See More

** I want to be super clear that I am not implying, nor do I believe most of the folks that have used the “Drucker Megachurch Franchise” template had ill intentions. Most of the folks that started these churches were GEN Xers, and we GEN Xers grew into adulthood with a lot of distrust of the things that were around us. Those of us that grew up in church saw a stale, ineffective church. We knew the Sunday talk and the weekly walk of many people.

I grew up in a very typical place that describes that. I was raised in Powedersville, near Greenville SC. As typical of the Southern Baptist Bible belt as you can get. I saw all the things that likely frustrated those that followed the Drucker plan.

I also do not believe the folks working in these churches as underling leaders have ill intentions, or at least they did not start out that way. There is however something corrupting when you place an ordinary man in a position of extreme power over others, young impressionable folks, and give him a soap-box to repeat the myth of himself that develops from that power. I have witnessed such people, abuse their power in subtle ways.

These people did not mean evil, not all of them do overt evil and there are good things that derive from these churches. Most have zero understanding of the flawed philosophy that this movement came from and many of the underling leaders are not even formally trained in theology to recognize error.

On the whole, it was all a mistake, it has morphed into something very dangerous and it is, in my observed opinion, the single greatest existential threat to organized Christianity in America.

When you think of visiting one of these places, keep looking, find a Bible-believing place without all the communitarian trappings, apostasy and error.

_______________________________________

Follow me on Twitter if you want to learn more about this subject or to tell me I am wrong @onlyBarryLClark or take a gander at the tag for all post related to the Megachurch

The Problem With the Megachurch

(Easier to read PDF version here)

I have, intermittently and occasionally, made references, usually as half-serious jabs, about the seeker-sensitive megachurch movement. It is, however, not a simple joke. There are many absurd aspects to the entire movement, and oftentimes one can only but laugh at absurdity.  That notwithstanding, this is all dangerous.

First a caveat. I will not suggest that the megachurch movement all by itself is the thing that will destroy organized Christianity in the US. The Protestant denominations were doing a fine job of that themselves.  The Presbyterians and the Methodist succumbed to liberal theology and social gospel a long time ago, recent splits within the Presbyterian church and the inevitable Methodist split notwithstanding. The Baptist recovered solid theology in the conservative reformation of the 70s and 80s but error began to slip back in with pop authors and strange 40-day programs. Attendance in all of those churches was falling, by the 1990s they seemed to be dying, stale and irrelevant.

I am not here to argue that the old way is The Way because it was the old way.  I understand how the American church and worship styles changed in the major Awakenings. I may personally prefer liturgy, solemnity old hymns and order but that is just personal.  My argument against the megachurch movement is not based upon the style of worship I prefer.

Summary (very short version):  The big brain (Peter Drucker) behind the megachurch movement was a man that grew up in Austria exposed to thinkers and philosophers of or influenced by a the branch of philosophy that gave the world nihilism, fascism, communism, nihilism, and socialism.  In his own writing, he expressed his belief that mankind needed a new way, that both communism and capitalism were insufficient. His concept to achieve this was communities of communities, lead by a leader and who lead leaders, all following a plan. He believed the community was more important than the individual. He believed essentially that fascism went wrong when it failed to account for the spiritual.

After attempting to implement his plan in American industry through ‘plant communities’ he focused his efforts on the churches.  Drucker was key in the formation and growth of the dominant organization that helps megachurches grow and provides templates and plans to megachurch pastors.

At the heart of all of this is the notion that the individual is less important than the community, that leaders must be followed, that the community must be served.

Fascist you say?

The ‘F’ word is a bit overused in our common dialogue.  It often is just a word applied to anyone else that tells someone they cannot do what they want or perhaps an insult applied to a conservative on Twitter.  It is overused, and that is a shame, because The Third Way, fascism is a real ideology.  People will argue that Drucker wrote a critique of the Nazis in 1936 before leaving Austria and that his website states he was neither a fascist nor a Nazi.  I would agree that Drucker thought both the Italian Fascist and German Nazis got it all wrong and that because of the stigma attached to the word Drucker would never claim or want to be labeled as a Fascist.  This, however, does not change the fact that his ideas, particularly about the leader model, the individual, and community and societal order were close to fascist thinking.  He grew up in a connected home, his father had as dinner guest the same intellectuals that the fascist looked to. He read the same foundational philosophers and agreed with their thoughts. Drucker was certainly of the same intellectual cloth as the original fascist thinkers. That this is a true statement no more makes him a Nazi or aligns him with what the Germans and Italians did to the ideology than to claim that Bernie Sanders, a socialist, should be directly associated with Stalin’s purges.  To point out the ideological foundation of Drucker’s thought as he conceived of the megachurch method is simply to honestly assess the source of the ideas.

Perhaps Drucker, seeing flaws in capitalism and communism and the flaws in how fascism was implemented in Europe, while still holding to the core ideas that formed fascism, sought a Fourth Way.  An improved and rebranded fascism that included the spiritual.  His very words hint at that without using the ‘F’ word.

Proof in the Pudding

Since we overuse fascism, and we have become so skeptical of ideas and information that contradicts what we have come to believe as knowledge, I suggest the following. Look directly at how the megachurches behave and are organized.  Despite the independence of them all, they are fascinatingly similar in several areas. They are similar because they share the techniques and methods passed along by The Leadership Network, the organization Drucker so influenced.

Leader Driven:  Drucker called these ‘pastoral churches’, he argued that the main pastor should be more of a leader than a minister.  He called this the Leadership Principle, but it has much in common with the fuhrer principle from Germany - a central leader that casts the vision and layers of subordinate leaders that manage, execute and get the people to act. As ‘independent’ churches most megachurches are ultimately accountable to only themselves - in practical application, this means the senior pastor and his small specially selected and appointed board.

There is much less transparency in the megachurch than most traditional denominations.  The congregation does not vote on big issues or on the leadership.  Accounting and finances are generally presented in much less detail.  Many megachurch members have never met their senior pastor, he is certainly not a minister to them.

The leader principle extends all the way to the personal (relational in MC speak) level from senior pastor to satellite pastors to community pastors and finally small-group leaders.

It sounds like solid organizational design and nothing more you say. I mean, after all, Drucker was called the ‘father of modern management” you would expect such in an organization he helped shape, no harm there, right?  Maybe.

Community: The small-group forms the basis of the organization.  All major decisions of the individual should be taken to the small-group.  Megachurches teach that it is a sin of pride to take on major decisions outside of community. The small-group is the central feature of the megachurch, not the individual.  All movement, progress, and momentum begins in the small-group.  People share their dark secrets and confession to their small-group, items that are often used as subtle tools of control when necessary. Participation in the small-group is a foundational requirement.

Community is above family in the megachurch, the family is subordinate to the community just as the individual. That is unless you are in the inner circle. The children’s and teenager’s small-groups feature youngster ‘leaders’ leading kids through discussions of ‘parent wounds’, demonstrating that the group has answers and help where the family fails.  Husbands and wives are not immune to meddling in their marital business.

Those that leave the megachurch seldom say anything publicly that is bad about their former church, and many exhibit an irrational level of fear and anxiety when they come into contact with their former leaders. There is a degree of social control present that is difficult to articulate, but easy to observe when you look.

Service: In the megachurch service, oftentimes service done for the church itself, not for directly for those outside, comes near to a doctrinal position.  I have heard megachurch people claim in anger than an old grandma that lived a faithful Christian life could not be a Christian because she does not ‘serve’.  This phenomenon is close to, if it has not already become, heresy.

Oaths:  One does not simply join a megachurch, you sign a contract, a membership covenant.  All of them contain variations of the following (just two sections from a random contract):

Unity

Guard my tongue from destructive criticism and gossip, submit to the discipline of the church elders and appointed leaders, and work for the good of all members.

Participation

Regularly participate in the life of […] Church by attending weekly worship services, engage in biblical community, and serve those within and outside the church.

Members sign this, and sometimes the church requires members to sign again at random intervals, for reasons.  On the face of it these seem like commonsensical items.  Preachers have admonished congregants for gossiping for years. Of course, a person ought to participate.  However, the meanings of this covenant, as evidenced by how the megachurch interprets their meanings are very different than innocent words.

  • Don’t agree with a plan or a program?  Shut up or get disciplined for not working in community to follow God’s plan.
  • Refuse to date the right person, make the ‘right’ life choices or live in community, then you agree to face discipline from folks you did not elect.
  • Refuse to ‘serve’, in community?  See above, you agree to face discipline.

NewSpeak:  Megachurches have almost universally adopted terms that are routinely peppered into almost every sentence and conversation.  ‘Intentional’, ‘relational’, ‘authentic’ and others. These terms, what folks schooled in megachurch theology would claim are extracted Biblical concepts, because the words certainly do not exist in any accurate translation of the Bible. Most megachurch members can explain these terms much more fluently than theological concepts. This is all very disturbing and perhaps dangerous. It seems a form of language control. At the very least it demonstrates the theological weakness of the megachurch teaching method. At worst, it is a form of language conformity.

Finally,

The Parking Lot:  If you are unconvinced with the subtle ties to fascism in the megachurch go visit one and attempt to just willy-nilly go park where you want. You will find a group of men, those too old to ‘serve’ inside anymore lined up to tell you exactly where to go and park from the moment you turn off the public road.  Yes, I get it, the mega in megachurch means a lot of people.  Sure, this seems efficient, got it.  Hitler made the trains run on time too - I do not want to take the analogy too far, but fascism is designed for efficiency and compliance. There is more to the parking lot than even the parking lot guys understand.

The Bottom-line.  I am not saying megachurch pastors are evil, or have bad intent, not on the whole.  I am not suggesting their small board meetings are conducted in dark rooms with nefarious intentions.  I am suggesting that at the root of the ideology and methodology there exists the elements of bad philosophy, bad philosophy that has in other cases gone very wrong.  Group-think, language conformity, oaths, control, lack of transparency combined with shallow topic theology is not Biblical Christianity.

The megachurch was born of Continental philosophical anti-rationalism. In the megachurch this translates into:

  • Anti-Doctrinalism (theologically shallow)
  • Deeds NOT Creeds (service sneaks in here as a form of Justification)
  • Head knowledge vs. Heart Knowledge (emotion based, feeling it instead of knowing it; entertainment)
  • Unity of the Faith Community (community over the individual and families)

 

Drukerism and the Megachurch

The Rise of Absurdity in Western Philosophical and Political Views

Peter Drucker, essentially the key founder of the megachurch movement, grew up exposed to the great thinkers of the German school (Continental Philosophy) during his youth in Austria.  In his own writing, he expressed a view that community was more important than the individual (Neoplatonism) and an affinity for Schopenhauer and Kierkegaard. He expressed ideas about the failures of capitalism and communism and suggested a third way, in words that echoed that of Italian Fascist Giovanni Gentile. The creation of a new “noneconomic society” was Drucker’s lifelong project. His life’s work was focused on finding a way to build community structures, focused on the common good that could change society. Part of his plan was based upon the leadership principle, taken from the German model of the fuhrer principle, one leader cast the vision and subordinate leaders ensure the community executes it. Essentially Drucker found both capitalism and socialism to be flawed, they could not solve poverty. He thought Fascism had gone wrong because it ignored the spiritual. He believed a noneconomic system built upon communities within communities accountable to a leader who was accountable to a leader was the answer, an improved version of Fascism.

Drucker tried to implement his ideas in industry in America.  He is perhaps most famous for being the creator of modern management.  He found that factories were insufficient to implement his community of communities plan as people simply moved too often.

In 1990 he wrote Managing the Nonprofit Organization: Practices and Principles and changed his focus from business to nonprofits, specifically churches and more specifically what he called pastoral churches. In a Forbes interview in the 90’s, he said, "The community … needs a community center. … I'm not talking religion now, I'm talking society. There is no other institution in the American community that could be the center." he told Forbes that pastoral megachurches are "surely the most important social phenomenon in American society in the last thirty years." Drucker advised “you must change the primary role of pastor from minister to leader”, harkening back to the leadership (fuhrer) principle. (Rosebrough)

The Leadership Network, an organization that claims to mentor thousands of pastors and hundreds of churches states on their website, “Leadership Network would not be the same–in fact, might not exist at all - were it not for Peter Drucker”. (Network, 2005) A quick search of their site, conference attendees and participants demonstrates it is difficult to find any randomly selected megachurch pastor that has not participated in some way. (Steinfels, 2005) The corporate, business model of ‘doing church’ was created by Peter Drucker, because he saw it as a way to implement his vision.

The next time your megachurch pastor or one of his underlings relays the story of how it all started with just a handful in someone’s house or a bar, remember Drucker.  A few of them probably did start it, and maybe they met in a bar or a house, but it was much more like a board meeting than a very small church hoping to grow to thousands in a few years.  That little groups read Drucker, participated in The Leadership Network, did market research and bought a mailing list.  It was a lot less authentic, much more programmatic and planned than the organic story people recall so fondly.

So, what of these churches that the Drukerites have helped build, what are they really all about.  Firstly, they are anti-rational, emotional rather than reasoned.  Heart-knowledge over head-knowledge. Deeds over creeds. There is no messy theology or doctrine to scare you away or confuse, two thousand years of Christian thought and writing out the window. Secondly, but perhaps most importantly, it is about the collective, not you.  Everything is done in community, decisions, confession, service, discipline. Everything follows the plan, the plan from the guy on the big screen you probably have never met.

Community, service to the community, a leadership plan and everyone on board with the plan. For many it begins in the parking lot during a visit, there are people there to tell you exactly where to park - getting people on board with the plan early in the experience.  If you join you will be assigned to a small group, so will your kids. The small group is where small furhers help ensure the plan and the community are taken care of.  Your small group is, of course, a member of a larger community, the satellite campus, with another underling leader.  You see your main leader on the large screen but he never minsters to anyone, most never meet him.  To join, you were probably required to sign a membership covenant, one that says you will submit to disciple and follow the leaders.  Major life choices must be brought to the community.  Your children will be pulled away from you as they are forced to talk about ‘parent wound’ in their small group to their leader that is barely past being a kid themselves.  The family is an impediment to the collective, it will be praised and talked about but in reality, it is subordinate. You may come to believe that service to the community somehow relates to your salvation. You will notice that everyone speaks in code, peppering sentences with authentic, intentional and relational, and of course community. Basically, once you join you become part of the collective and give up being part of yourself.

If you leave the church, you will be shamed and ostracized. Most that leave never say anything bad publicly about the church or their experience. The community still has a hold and still instills fear of shunning on them.

None of that meshes very well with authentic, orthodox, genuine Christianity and that is because it does not.  Very little of what megachurches focus most of their efforts on is biblical Christianity.  This is not to say that many Christians do not attend these churches, nor that the leaders did not have good intentions when they started out. However, power corrupts, and the power from a community focused on the community, with leaders accountable to nobody is pretty intoxicating.  In the last few years some notable megachurch leaders have fallen, and some entire churches of thousands have collapsed overnight.

In some few cases, megachurches have slipped into outright and atrocious heresy. The December 2019 Bethel, raise Olive from the dead tragedy comes to mind.  Oddly enough, even after outright heresy and apostasy like that groups like The Gospel Coalition, the 9s, 9Mark and the Leadership Network fail to disavow them.  Every megachurch still associated with the Drukerites is guilty by association with that tragic heresy related to that little dead girl and her family.

Megachurches in Drukerite model are the fastest-growing segment of Christianity in America.  The leaders of these churches are accountable to nobody but their small hand-picked boards.  Nobody is there to ensure they maintain any sort of orthodoxy in doctrine or theology - they have dispensed with all that just as the Postmoderns have gotten rid of all the parts of modernity and history that confound them.

Drucker thought a better, more spiritual version of fascism, with communities of communities, was the future for mankind and he worked to see that through, churches, megachurches were his vehicle.  One does not have to be around one of these operations long, not with your eyes open, looking past the fog machine and disco lights, to see authoritarian behavior. Reason tells anyone that walks in that something is not right - they keep you by suspending reason and playing to emotion.

Left unchecked, particularly considering the collapse of all the other protestant denominations, it is not hard to see, absent divine intervention, how within ten years there will be much Christianity left in any of these churches if they can hold out 10 years, without accountability and built upon bad ideology, there is no way they can survive 20.

See Chris Rosebrough presentation (follow along PowerPoint here)

 

Network, L. (n.d.). Drucker’s Impact On Leadership Network. Retrieved from https://leadnet.org/druckers-impact-on-leadership-network/

Rosebrough, C. (n.d.). Resistance is Futile. Retrieved from http://004f597.netsolhost.com/fftf/ResistanceisFutile.pdf

Steinfels, P. (2005). A Man’s Spiritual Journey From Kierkegaard to General Motors. New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/19/us/a-mans-spiritual-journey-from-kierkegaard-to-general-motors.html

Look at Me

I have been conducting a bit of research, watching a lot of mega-church pastor’s sermons, and I have noticed a trend that the Babylon Bee nailed recently in a satirical story of a preacher that placed himself in the middle of a sermon about election.

Churchgoers were impressed by Vickery’s theological illustration and his general ability to always make himself look good in his messages.

“Some Sundays, I’ll admit, I have no idea how he’s going to end up making himself look great, cool, popular, important, or heroic. Especially with this one—I was thinking, ‘How is Pastor Chuck going to make himself the man in a message on election?’ I mean, it’s election,” said church member Becky Lenhardt, adding that despite her doubts, somehow he was able to pull it off.

“I can’t wait until next Sunday to see how he’ll become the hero of a sermon on creation,” she added.

I have come to the conclusion, after watching dozens of videos from various mega-church pastors, that this is pretty much par for the course. I suspect they would be incapable of preaching a funeral or a wedding without performing the verbal equivalent of photo-bombing.

This sort of behavior is closely related to the story of the worship leader that took 16 hours to explain to his congregation why he selected a particular song for that morning and what it meant to him. Me, me, look at me.

Satire is a pretty good way of addressing the absurd and getting after a reality that makes no sense. I thought I was alone in this observation of crass interposition but apparently not.