I’ve been away from blogging for a little longer than I intended. More on that in a later post.
I originally mindmapped this post in the spring with plans to make it part of the Celebrity Driven Church series (which has multiple mindmaps but no prose as yet).
My decision to sit down and finally write this was triggered by a recent post from my blog world friend, JR Briggs. The post was about his response to the image on the right – you can see a much larger version of it at his blog. He wrote this,
I absolutely love this image.
It reminds me of the role of the leader, the visionary, the church planter, the pioneer, the entrepreneur, the kingdom fire-starer, the person with an apostolic wiring.
Visionaries do the hard work of going ahead, going before and creating paths that no one else has thought about or dared to travel . (Emphasis in original)
I asked, in the comments, whether he was being ironic. No response. So. I’m assuming he wasn’t.
The image he professes to love leaves me cold. It’s an image that fits with America’s love of the mythic super-hero. The one who saves the damsel in distress and by extension the world.
This is the myth of the rugged individual and it is one, I’d suggest, that has done more damage to the church in the west than we care to realize.
As I was lamenting JR’s post, an email from Leadership Network arrived in my InBox talking about the latest study by Thuma & Bird on Mega Churches. This bulleted point from the email reinforced the American Church Leader myth:
— The leader at the helm makes all the difference.
Seventy-nine percent say the church’s most dramatic growth occurred during tenure of current senior pastor.
“ As I read that report all I could think was, “well, of course, most of that data is self-identified. I wonder if the surveyors did any kind of independent quantification of those markers?” That’s what you think when you’ve grown up with a statistician for a dad ;)”
And as I read the report, I was reminded of the saying popularized by Mark Twain, “There are lies, damned lies and statistics.” And yes, I have used that one here a time or two before.
However, the original trigger for this post was Darrin Patrick’s book, Church Planter. Note the image from the front cover. The mythic pattern persists. Darrin, a leader in the Acts29 network promotes the prophet, priest and king model of church leader.
Kings develop strategies for bringing the vision and mission of Christ-centered living to fruition. They tend to ask the question How? They function like executives of the church because they spend a great deal of time and energy building and executing plans to sustain and grow a healthy church. Church Planter (Darrin Patrick) Highlight Loc. 1464–71 (Kindle)
I don’t quote Darrin approvingly. In fact, I heard this same kind of language in my charismatic mega church days and witnessed (first hand and otherwise) the kind of damage done by this warped belief to both the “kingly leader” and his subjects. (Jesus’ powerful statements on servant leadership in Matthew 20 and Mark 10 are strangely missing from Darrin’s book. ) Darrin writes a lot about the need for and qualifications of elders – but then focuses on the single person church planter/senior pastor (with hopefully a wife supporting him.)
The full title of his book is Church Planter — The Man, The Message, The Mission.
The Man and thus my concern with those who buy this message and buy the myth that they are singlehandedly called to plant God’s next great church in whatever neighbourhood.
Believing they are called to be, in J.R.’s words, visionaries (who go) ahead, going before and creating paths that no one else has thought about or dared to travel. No wonder so many of them fail.
This is far different from the Matthew and Mark passages mentioned above, as well as the equipping and sending that Jesus does in Luke 10. A hint, he sent them out in twos “into the harvest” with no resources other than prayer. The single “harvester” on the front cover of Darrin’s book runs counter to what Jesus teaches in this passage. How odd.
The American church (along with its global acolytes) has bought the myth of the rugged individual as conqueror and builder, represented well by the iconic Marlboro Man a character created by Ad Agency, Leo Burnett. It’s a fabulous marketing image… for selling toxic substances.
A final aside: A horrible irony is that two of the men who portrayed the Marlboro Man died of cancer from consuming what their images had been promoting.