The Game is Rigged – Christian Leadership and Worship of the Almighty Dollar

Anyone who’s read the Old Testament knows the stories of Israel rejecting God while putting on a show of godliness. God didn’t like it:

I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me.

Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them.

Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. (Amos 5:21-23.)

What gives? Why wouldn’t God go along with it?

It was all a sham.

They weren’t worshiping God with all their hearts, not even with a largish portion of their hearts. Here’s where their hearts were really focused:

There are those who hate the one who upholds justice in court and detest the one who tells the truth. (Amos 5:10)

There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes and deprive the poor of justice in the courts. (Amos 5:12.)

Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings forty years in the wilderness, people of Israel? You have lifted up Sakkuth your king and Kaiwan your idols, your star-gods.  (Amos 5:25-26.)

God told his people to love him and love others. They weren’t doing either, but instead chased after other gods and oppressed the poor and defenseless.

Still a Problem

There are people in God’s New Covenant community who still oppress others in pursuit of something or someone other than God, and real people are getting hurt, as both Jonathan Merritt and Warren Throckmorton have reported.

It’s not restricted to one tragic instance, of course. As Aimee Byrd, Carl Trueman and Todd Pruitt pointed out in their recent podcast:

Trueman – Money twists everything… The secret of great leadership is not to surround yourself with yes men. But when you’re bringing in the big bucks you will tend to find that you are surrounded by yes men because they are enjoying the money, the kudos, the credit that you bring to them or to their publishing company or whatever; and they will not hold you accountable in the way that you should be. …

Pruitt – Someone who is above accountability is very dangerous. …

Byrd – Does anyone care?

That’s the point: does anyone care? The knee-jerk reaction for humans is often to circle the wagons and shoot back at those who have noticed leadership failings. Put the focus on the accuser; don’t focus on the substance of the problems; and whatever you do, deflect the focus off the one who may really be in need of correction.

It’s not right, and it hurts the body of Christ. This post at Spiritual Sounding Board and its comments are filled with people recounting how they’ve been beaten and bullied by fellow Christians. These are not isolated instances, but systemic problems in the church.

Rules Are For Peasants

It’s not a matter of whether a leader sinned and needs to repent and seek forgiveness by those who are wronged. That part is true, of course. But the real problem is that Byrd, Trueman and Pruitt got it right: big time Christian celebrities are not held accountable because the system they operate in has grown to protect them from accountability for those sins.

The game is rigged in their favor.

This means that for some in Christian leadership, the rules they promote are only for the little people. These rules show up in the books they write with copyright claims on the front page, the sermons posted on their websites with strict limitations, and explicit judgments about the sin of plagiarism as a disqualification from the teaching ministry:

Do not speak anyone else’s messages. Doing so amounts to plagiarism, unless you get permission. Worse, it subverts God’s work in and through you. … If you use the work of others, you are not a teacher, and you should quit your job and go do anything but speak.

Mark Driscoll
Vintage Church
(Crossway Books 2008, p. 105)

Jesus had strong words for people who preached one thing but willfully did another:

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. (Matthew 23:27-28.)

Those who oppose the modern Pharisee, on the other hand, have hope even though they may be small and insignificant in the eyes of their oppressors:

You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. (1 John 4:4.)

For those who suffer at the hands of the Pharisees, I pray that these dear children of God are strengthened in the knowledge that their Savior has saved them even in the midst of this oppression.

***

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20 Responses to The Game is Rigged – Christian Leadership and Worship of the Almighty Dollar

  1. Jeannie says:

    You make some great points here, Tim. I noted especially the sentence: ” big time Christian celebrities are not held accountable because the system they operate in has grown to protect them from accountability for those sins.” My small group has been studying the book of Luke, and I’m so struck by Jesus’ absolute resistance to the cult of celebrity. Simple, personal acts of compassion and mercy trumped the big show EVERY TIME. Jesus knew how susceptible we are to temptation whether by money or power or popularity or whatever and He showed a different way.

  2. Opa Bear says:

    Tim,

    This is completely spot-on: “Let’s see what you do when the Good Book gets in the way of your bank book.” If anybody asks why the church is mocked, scorned and reviled, it’s surely not because of its holiness. Shenanigans like those you mention only tell the world we’re as messed up as it is, so why come to us for any answers? Considering how this concern is showing up in all sorts of places, it looks to me as though God is out to cleanse and purify his church. It’s high time and has to be done, but the process is going to be necessarily neither pretty nor pleasant.

    • Tim says:

      Good points, Opa.

      One thing about scandals among God’s people is that God always works through it to bring people back to himself. It might be the scandals of the Israelites; those resulted in the exile, but it was at bottom planned by God to remind people who he is. It might be Paul’s (Saul’s) persecution of God’s people; God struck him blind in order to give him a clear view of Jesus Christ.

      This present set of problems will result in God’s glory as well; he works things out that way always.

  3. Anne Vyn says:

    This post really cuts to the heart of my own concerns for the Church and its leaders. The Biography of Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxis exposes a similar problem as the one you have described here, Tim.
    Bonhoeffer was growing more and more frustrated with German pastors who would not stand up against Hitler’s agenda. The primary reason most of them were afraid to do so was because they didn’t want to lose their jobs or the income provided by the corrupt government. How many pastors and leaders today are afraid to “rock the boat” and stand up for truth simply because they don’t want to lose their pastorate or the denominational pensions that they have worked so hard for?
    Jesus said, “You cannot serve God and money”. Yet I wonder if the church today is guilty of trying to serve 2 masters instead of giving FULL allegiance to an Audience of ONE.

    • Tim says:

      There are certainly aspects of the church that have difficulty with dissension, and I think it is due in part to a money issue and in part to an accountability issue. It’s hard for people in authority to let go of that long enough to allow others to hold them accountable. When you couple that with the money involved in the publishing industry, it’s ripe for hurtful situations.

    • Opa Bear says:

      Yes, Anne, you are very right, and that is a considerable part of why the Germans lost faith in the church.

  4. michellevl says:

    Reposting. Good work, Tim.

  5. As they say in the South, that’ll preach. That’ll preach. Good word, my friend.

  6. Aimee Byrd says:

    I think one very important factor that has been pushed in the background with these mega parachurch ministries, book deals, and conferences is the local church. That is where pastors should faithfully serve and be held accountable. The role of the elder is crucial. And as much as the elders should support the spiritual well-being of their pastor and their congregation, this responsibility should ensure that they don not merely become “yes men.”

    • Tim says:

      I was wondering last week about the conference mindset, Aimee. How come we don’t see conferences advertised with a line-up of speakers drawn from small churches in backwater towns that no one has ever heard of? That’s where so many people gather in fellowship, and the Body of Christ might be well-served to learn who those faithful servants do the work of the kingdom there.

      • Aimee Byrd says:

        And, how many of these big name pastors who speak at the mega-conferences would show up to a small church with a tiny budget to speak?

        • Tim says:

          Wouldn’t it be great if the mega churches had a budget for sending their pastors to the small churches to learn from them?

  7. Sarah Beals says:

    You know how I feel about this whole situation, Tim. Sigh. I think God’s been good to me to surround me with pastors and teachers who are humble. True Story: My FIL, who is also my pastor, called me bright and early one morning to apologize to me for his “tone of voice” in describing another local man who was not a member or our church. He had rolled his eyes and said an off cuff remark like, “Who does he think he is?” Apparently, God convicted him during the night that his heart was prideful to say that, and realized he was judging him unfairly and he called me right away the next morning. THOSE are the kinds of men I deal with thankfully, by God’s grace. My childhood pastor was the same way. Very quick to apologize. Seems like these guys just want to get away with what they can, which seems to me, and lack of understanding of the gospel of grace that they preach. Sorry for the novella. :)

    • Tim says:

      Feel free to write a novella any time, Sarah. A ready apology is so much easier than the alternatives, but people still work to avoid them. Oh well.

  8. goatmeal says:

    The more money and stuff a pastor surrounds himself with, the less likely I am to trust him.

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