Archives For Leadership

The tagline for this website is “the issue isn’t leadership, it’s discipleship”. It’s the result of a video that Imbi and I shot with Chris Wright 14 months ago. This was shortly after he lead the Lausanne Conference in Cape Town, South Africa.

I believe that video, embedded at the bottom of this post, is particularly appropriate in light of my previous post — Sex, The Missional Position. And even more appropriate, in light of Pastor Mark’s recent interview with a British journalist for the UK magazine Christianity, noted on the British website, Christian Today.

Mark is quoted as saying,

“Let’s just say this: right now, name for me the one young, good Bible teacher that is known across Great Britain. You don’t have one – that’s the problem. There are a bunch of cowards who aren’t telling the truth.” [emphasis added]

And refers to many British church leaders as guys in dresses preaching to grandmas”.

Those quotes lit up the Twitterverse and blogoshere — primarily in the UK — demanding that Mark be accountable for his words. Jason Clark, a church leader and blogger I respect, said this,

“I have to infer that either my bible teaching friends are too old, or are just a bunch of ‘cowards’. Part of me just sighs and thinks move on and ignore this, don’t give air time to what seems such crass pusillanimity.”

Krish Kandia, who Jason refers to, says this,

“The church does need people who are able to speak bluntly, I am sure the apostle Paul knew how to be blunt and direct. But there is no doubt he knew about humility, partnership, working together despite not being on the same page on every detail.”

Eddie Arthur, a missionary and Bible translator with Wycliffe Bible translators UK responds,

“Mark Driscoll did a good job of identifying some of the symptoms of the British church, but sadly, he failed completely to diagnose the disease. This isn’t a surprise, identifying what is going on in another culture, is really difficult. Even someone with a good deal more cultural sensitivity and understanding than Driscoll would struggle to do so. This is why missionaries need to invest a huge amount of time an effort in studying culture and gaining an understanding of what is really going on, before they open their mouths.”

Might I suggest the biggest issue here is actually that Mark Driscoll is a leader who has never been properly discipled — again referencing what Chris Wright says in the video below. Mark’s understanding of the church is based on the North American model of big leaders with even bigger platforms. To him that’s the only sign of the Spirit working. It’s a model where strong male leaders solidify their control of the church as they believe they are the only ones with the god-given vision.

As I note in this blog post on sheep and shepherds, Mars Hill once had a large elders board until Mark decided to solidify control with a triumvirate of two others and himself. When two of the previous large group of elders complained, Mark quotes a UFC fighter suggesting he ‘break their nose(s)’. Not the sign of either a well-disciplined or well-discipled leader. And in Mark’s version of leadership, people who challenge him at Mars Hill “are sinning through questioning”.

With his latest friendly-fire attack, this time on the UK church, Mark has had to go into defensive mode once again. Actually I’m wrong. He goes into offensive mode.

Rather than apologize for having said what he said, Mark decides that it would be better to attack the interviewer while claiming that he has been “taken out of context“. Mark needs to establish his bona fides by talking about how he and his dear wife are both graduates of Washington State University’s communications program.

Mark knows how media communications works. He accuses this Christian media organization of simply trying to increase advertising revenue by creating controversy through selectively editing what he and Grace said.

What chutzpah!

This from a man who constantly appears to court controversy at every turn. All the better to get more butts in seats listening to him live or via satellite. His communications degree has served him well. His theology degree, not so much.

Mark whinges,

“As is often the case, to stoke the fires of controversy, thereby increasing readership, which generates advertising revenue, a few quotes of mine have been taken completely out of context and sent into the Twittersphere.”

One might imagine how much easier this all might have gone had Mark simply said, ‘Yes you’re right I screwed up. I spoke without thinking. I’m an opinionated kind of guy and I need to learn to control my tongue.‘ But that’s not going to happen, now is it. In fact, Mark’s defense begins to sound like what one might hear from someone suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

He states that the interview was, “in my opinion, the most disrespectful, adversarial, and subjective.” Justin Brierley responds to this by saying, “I beg to differ, but you can be the judge when the full article is released and the audio goes up.” (See Justin’s Twitter feed for links.)

And the editor of Christianity magazine, Ruth Dickinson, says this,

“Justin’s interview with Mark Driscoll was robust and fair, and I utterly reject the claim that it was adversarial, disrespectful or subjective. We took great care to ensure that his quotes were in context, and gave him the opportunity to talk about his new book, as well as his life and theology.”

Mark operates as a power unto himself. He gets away with saying the things he says or writing the things he writes because it appears that no one in his immediate or extended circles are truly willing to take him to task. It’s too often left to those of us ‘living in (our) mother’s basements, writing in (our) pajamas’ to ask him to live up to the qualifications of being a leader in the church.

As he claims to be a charismatic Christian who hears from the Holy Spirit on a regular basis, Mark needs to be reminded that the only sign of the infilling and empowerment of the Holy Spirit is the fruit of the Spirit — love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (And yes I realize, that “snark” is not on this list and who am I to call out anyone else on the fruit of the Spirit. So noted.)

Let me leave the last words in this post to my blogging friend and Wesleyan pastor, Dave Faulkner,

“…what sticks in my throat is the way I see the word ‘Pastor’ in front of his name all the time. It’s Pastor Mark this, it’s, and so on. What exactly is pastoral about this behaviour? We all slip. I do. But Driscoll has been called out as a bully before, and his elders have taken him to task. I think it’s time for a repeat. And a look at why this kind of behaviour keeps recurring.

UPDATE 2: Read my post written after listening to the full interview that prompted this post. 

UPDATE: Wenatchee the Hatchet weighed in on this yesterday. You should read his post and put him in your RSS reader.

I read Walter Isaacson’s Steve Job’s bio when it first came out. As much as I found it to be rather hagiographic, there was much I enjoyed in the reading.


One of the first thoughts that struck me was the hope that it would not be read by many church leaders. Jobs was both brilliant and a petulant, spoiled, narcissistic child. One of the two women he loved the most (the other was his wife), thought he was NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder.) (Page 266)

This article in the Atlantic expresses my concern far better than I can, Be A Jerk: The Worst Business Lesson from the Steve Jobs Biography, (Note that some may find the use by the author, Tom McNichol, of Bob Sutton’s technical term for bad leaders offensive for which I’m truly sorry… or not.)

You can be a genius and an asshole, but the two aren’t necessarily causally linked. In fact, there’s a strong body of evidence to suggest that there are plenty of assholes who aren’t geniuses at anything other than … being assholes.

But such subtleties may be lost on CEOs, middle managers and wannabe masters of the universe who are currently devouring the Steve Jobs biography and thinking to themselves: “See! Steve Jobs was an asshole and he was one of the most successful businessmen on the planet. Maybe if I become an even bigger asshole I’ll be successful like Steve.”

This sort of flawed thinking – call it asshole logic – isn’t something that’s necessarily endorsed by Jobs’s biographer.

“(Jobs) was not the world’s greatest manager,” Walter Isaacson said in a recent interview with 60 Minutes. “In fact, he could have been one of the world’s worst managers.”

But asshole logic, not surprisingly, tends to ignore facts that don’t sanction one’s own assholery.

Read the entire Atlantic Article, and when it comes to the church please be careful who you recommend Jobs’ biography too. We have more than our fair share of “Bob Sutton’s technical term for bad leader” leaders.

Jesus and the Marlboro Man

kinnon —  November 27, 2011 — 21 Comments

I’ve been away from blogging for a little longer than I intended. More on that in a later post.

Marlboro man as Pastor

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.

It’s all about that one man at the top, now isn’t it. (The document tells us that these leaders are, on average, 51 and male.) As my friend Sonja said in an email exchange,

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.

TheChurchPlanter book coversmaller

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.

In light of my previous posts on the on-going Sovereign Grace Ministries calamity, allow me to reference this earlier writing of mine on leadership “authority.” These thoughts are from a discussion of Hebrews 13:17

Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.

Too many “leaders” see authority as a position attained via title. They translate the word as “the power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience”. It’s a power word – submit or else.

Mark Driscoll in a January 2009 NYT article title, Who Would Jesus Smack Down, was famously quoted as saying that people who dared challenge his authority were “sinning through questioning” – this during the church process of consolidating the power in the church to “Driscoll and his closest aides“. It would appear that MD would translate authority as the right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience – “break(ing) their nose(s)” if necessary.

But authority can, and in my not humble but accurate opinion, should be translated as the power to influence or persuade others because of one’s recognized knowledge about something and experience practicing it with a high level of efficacy. (Note that this is a Kinnon translation based on a number of others.)

Unfortunately it is both via experience and research that I can write that the church seemingly overflows with narcissistic leaders who live to exert power and control. (Follow Alice down the rabbit hole that is the People Formerly Known as discussion if you’d like to do your own research.) It matters little what cheering section of the theological pool these people are in – they are in it for the power. Let me reinforce this: because I use a Driscoll example does not mean that I believe his particular section of the theological pool has any higher percentage of narcissists than the mainline, emerging, RC, EO or the 90,000 variations of the evangelical church. (One of the positions people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder – extreme narcissists – are attracted to is church leadership. It is one of the best places to practice irrational authority unchallenged – as these leaders convince you they are on a mission from God. If you learn best via pictures – this might help.)

GuyMegaphoneOnChair Perhaps it is a knee-jerk reaction then, when I read or hear church leaders insist on authority – and use terms like discipline rather than discipleship. Who speak of themselves as shepherds and their followers as sheep. (Though technically, biblically correct – too often this is twisted into stupid, smelly sheep being owned by their respective “shepherds” as this attests. I should note that Pastor is the Latinate translation of shepherd.)

But Matthew 20:25-28 is still the true test of Christian leadership. You are a leader with authority if you serve, rather than are served and value your position as last rather than first amongst the sheep – of which you are one.

Authority is earned. Respect is given – rather than demanded.

Alternate post titles:

Making Celebrity-Driven Church Omelettes – You Know You Gotta Break Some Eggs.

What Edmund Burke may have said about evil.

The man behind the curtain 02

Welcome back to the Wizard of Odds where we are doing our very best to protect you from any evil witches.


Whatever you do.

Don’t look behind the curtain!


YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH!” as Jack Nicholson’s character, Colonel Jessep screams in A Few Good Men.

‘After all, what is the truth? Really?’

‘How dare you ask that question!’

‘As a leader in the North American Church – it’s whatever I tell you it is. And if you don’t believe me, it’s because you are a disobedient, unrepentant, unsubmissive trouble-maker in danger of me casting you out into utter darkness where you truly belong. If you read the Scriptures properly, you’d know God has give me that POWER over you!’

To quote Shakespeare’s King Lear, “O, that way madness lies, let me shun that, no more of that.”

If I’m being far too obtuse I apologize. This is a continuation of my previous post – C.J. and Semper Reformanda or… Not So Much. Perhaps I should have titled this post, C.J, his friends and Semper Mendacis. (You can figure it out.)

If you remember back two days, you will recall that two of C.J. Mahaney’s T4G friends, Al Mohler and Ligon Duncan immediately (if not sooner, according to the writers at The Wartburg Watch) jumped to C.J.’s defense. Effectively saying, (as I wrote previously) ‘Nothing to look at here. Move Along. Everything’s under control

My theo-pub buddy, Dan Gouge (who attends a Toronto PCA church led by another good friend), says this at the team blog, City of God,

Al Mohler and Ligon Duncan have both stood up for Mahaney and, in essence, insist that his critics shut up and that everyone else move along.

What’s remarkable about this is that there seems to be a reflex here that is shockingly similar to the one that kicked in at the Vatican when the child sex-abuse scandals started to leak into the media. (Note: Let’s be clear, I’m not saying that C.J. Mahaney is the equivalent of a sex offender.) The hierarchy circled the wagons and went about blaming everyone else while trying to protect itself. Neither T4G nor SGM is a hierarchy like Rome, but there is an undeniable star system at the top of today’s Reformed church world with a handful of powerful men who dominate conferences and bestseller lists, and it appears that they have taken to looking after their interests – the interests of the powerful – at the expense of all those whom they claim as followers. [emphasis added]

Of the far too many stories (at SGM Refuge & SGM Survivors, alone) that bring Mahaney’s leadership and SGM polity into question – Brent Detwiler’s story of Mahaney’s apparent blackmail of PDI/SGM co-founder Larry Tomczak is perhaps the most telling. City of God blogger, Keith Brooks asked me this question in the comments of the previous post,

Blackmail is a serious allegation! Is there hard proof of this or is this hearsay? Given the wikileaks nature of this, if it’s true, there should be hard evidence, no?

In my response to Keith, I pointed him to SGMWikileaks document 3beginning at page 131 which Brent Detwiler titled, “The Blackmail of Larry Tomczak.” I specifically pointed him to pages 139 through 149. (I also suggested he read this and this.)

No whistleblower

In rather sickening irony but consistent with their “shoot the messenger” policy as SGM is a ‘no-Whistelblowers zone’, the SGM board accuses Detwiler of “public slander.”

Brent Detwiler’s distribution of written accusations against C.J. Mahaney to all Sovereign Grace pastors constitutes the public slander of Mahaney’s reputation.

Just a note, SGM board guys, if it’s written it’s libel, not slander. And there are far too many voices who suggest that Detwiler learned this on the very platform from which you pontificate.

One of the reasons the first working title of this post was, “If you want to make an omelette, you need to break a few eggs” – a quote attributed to both Lenin and Robespierre – is the blanket approval of Mahaney by Mohler and Duncan. In spite of the pain caused to ‘the little people’.

Mohler, Duncan et al are effectively communicating that the ends justified the means. ‘Yes, there are hurting people – but that’s just what happens when you build something big for God. You need strong, authoritative leadership to do that, you know.’

This news article more than suggests that Mohler told the reporter that he has read all of the SGMWikileaks material (portions of which I’ve pointed to above), and the writer than quotes him saying,

“There is nothing disqualifying in terms of anything that is disclosed in this,” said Mohler, who regularly speaks on programs along with Mahaney. “It’s just evidence we knew all along, that C.J. is human but a deeply committed Christian and a visionary Christian leader.”

Really!? Is Church Leadership Blackmail 201, a course your seminary teaches, Dr. Mohler? So the “Blackmail of Larry Tomczak” if proven to be true, will not disqualify Mahaney from his “visionary” leadership. Ridiculous!

As I said in response to another comment, “I know not what this be, but it be not Christianity.”

My dear friend, and Missional Instigator buddy, Brad Sargent said this in the comments on the previous post,

Two relevant quotes from *Dune: The Butlerian Jihad* by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson go to the heart of the mental and emotional issues here. First, “Assumptions are a transparent grid through which we view the universe, sometimes deluding ourselves that the grid is that universe.” (For instance, relying on a theology about Jesus is not equivalent to relying on Jesus, even if we think the thought suffices.) And, “Fanaticism is always a sign of repressed doubt.” (These systems don’t allow for even the appearance of personal weakness or of relative knowledge about absolute truth.)

Sadly, we ALWAYS get these kinds of SGM situations when we treat theology and people like machines, and we always will. It’s in the deepest DNA of their system, and the rotten fruit shows what was in the roots. Not all Reformed epistemologies are this harsh relationally or near-gnostic in terms of intellectualism – – and they, too, bear fruit according to what DNA is in the seeds they plant. [emphasis added]

People have and will continue to ask me, “Why do you concern yourself with this, Bill?” Allow me a quick further moment to respond.

I am convinced that one of the biggest problems with the church in North America is it’s Celebrity-Driven culture. And this is not exclusive to the Reformed. From the conservative to the progressive ends of the Church, we have created a culture of “follow your favourite apostle, and no, you don’t need to think for yourself.”

We are the people in 1 Samuel 8, choosing to follow whichever particular little church king captivates us. The end result is often what this passage of scripture states,

“This is the way the kind of king you’re talking about operates. He’ll take your sons and make soldiers of them—chariotry, cavalry, infantry, regimented in battalions and squadrons. He’ll put some to forced labor on his farms, plowing and harvesting, and others to making either weapons of war or chariots in which he can ride in luxury. He’ll put your daughters to work as beauticians and waitresses and cooks. He’ll conscript your best fields, vineyards, and orchards and hand them over to his special friends. He’ll tax your harvests and vintage to support his extensive bureaucracy. Your prize workers and best animals he’ll take for his own use. He’ll lay a tax on your flocks and you’ll end up no better than slaves. The day will come when you will cry in desperation because of this king you so much want for yourselves. But don’t expect God to answer.”

And finally, if you’ve made it thus far, the quote attributed to Edmund Burke, “All it takes for evil to triumph is for good (people) to do nothing,” motivates me. Too many people are content to plug their ears, cover their eyes & mouths while ignoring this kind of evil being perpetrated within the Body of Christ.

And I confess that I am stunned by the relative silence on this from the blog world that screamed incessantly about Rob Bell’s Hell.

Semper Reformanda – or more exactly in the latin, Ecclesia semper reformanda est – which is basically, the church must always be reforming.


One of the stars in the present Reformed universe is C.J. Mahaney. He is a favourite speaker at Together for the Gospelone of the four founding friends of this Reformed movement.

T4G is convinced that the gospel of Jesus Christ has been misrepresented, misunderstood, and marginalized in many Churches and among those who proclaim the name of Christ.”


It appears that Mahaney has both misunderstood & misrepresented the Gospel in his own network of churches while marginalizing or discarding any who dared questioned his motives, methods & ministry.

Allow me to explain.

A number of years ago I began to read SGM Refuge – a blog I was turned on to by Michael Newnham and the community at Phoenix Preacher. (And I had discovered PP through the truly inimitable iMonk, Michael Spencer.) What I found at SGM Refuge (and later, SGM Survivors) were hard stories of hyper-controlling leadership, devastating coverups and a particularly effective ministry of  “shooting the messengers.”

There is not enough space nor time to go into great detail – you can do your own reading at the provided links. Suffice to say that it would appear that a legion of wounded SGMers are in recovery from what they’ve suffered at the hands of this “ministry” led by C.J. Mahaney, their lead apostle. And this while Mahaney has trod the conference stage of the Reformed universe – as one of their “humble” super-apostles to be emulated.

But, even though some want to deny or question the seriousness of the charges, apparently CJ’s sins have found him out.

Phoenix Preacher quotes Mahaney from his blog:

Over the last few years some former pastors and leaders in Sovereign Grace have made charges against me and informed me about offenses they have with me as well as other leaders in Sovereign Grace. These charges are serious and they have been very grieving to read. These charges are not related to any immorality or financial impropriety, but this doesn’t minimize their serious nature, which include various expressions of pride, unentreatability, deceit, sinful judgment, and hypocrisy.”

As PP states, it seems that what finally motivated CJ to respond – after ignoring the hundreds of thousands of painful words written at SGMR and SGMS and the countless meetings of SGM pastors with wounded people – was what has been called the SGMWikiLeaks from former SGM senior leader, Brent Detwiler. Reading it is like entering a world where the walls are all funhouse mirrors – everything is distorted – SGM polity in particular.

Again from PP,

600 + pages of emails and documentation from another one of the co-founders of the movement detailing the palace intrigue, politics, and even blackmail that kept humble C.J. and his cohorts in power while disposing of those who crossed them.

That massive document is not just an indictment of Mahaney, but of the whole leadership structure of Sovereign Grace Ministries and it appears that they are all complicit either by commission or ommission in creating yet another culture of leadership impunity. [emphasis added]

Read that again – “and even blackmail…” It would seem that Mahaney forced out his original co-founder Larry Tomczak who was not happy with then PDI’s move to Calvinism. It is suggested Mahaney did this by threatening to reveal counselling secrets about Tomczak’s son.

If anything needs semper reformanda, it would be Sovereign Grace Ministries. And one should question any leadership from someone who may have been willing to blackmail in order to get his own way. But you won’t hear that concern expressed from Mahaney’s T4G buddies.

Ligon Duncan dismisses those who have suffered directly from the leadership of Mahaney and his hand-picked team. And, of course, none of the rest of us have any right to comment. (Except for C.J.’s buddies.)


I would… encourage you to ignore the assaults of wounded people on attack websites and blogs, and that you discount the opinings of those who have no real knowledge of these matters or relation to SGM or authority to comment upon them, and that you refrain from assuming that you (or they) are in a position to render judgment on these things.

One might reasonably ask Duncan whether he has spoken to any of the folk who have been wounded by SGM. But. Obviously he doesn’t need to. He’s one of the T4G Celebs working with CJ – “ C.J. knows of my complete love and respect for him.” One wouldn’t want to confuse the facts with friendship.

Al Mohler has also stepped up to the plate for CJ in this Courier-Journal news item, which Duncan approvingly links to. (Note that the good folk at The Wartburg Watch have shown how Mahaney and his SGM church are significant donors to the seminary where Mohler is president.)

“I always have had only the highest estimation of C.J. Mahaney as a man and a minister,” Mohler said in an interview — his first public comments on the situation involving Mahaney, one of his fellow leaders in the Reformed, neo-Calvinist movement. “That continues absolutely unchanged. There is nothing in this current situation which would leave me to have even the slightest pause of confidence in him.”

“I assume he would retain every position in leadership,” Mohler said. “I expect he should be very quickly returned to leadership of Sovereign Grace.“ [emphasis added]

Nothing to look at here. Move along. Everything’s under control.

And this from the people who seem to live to sit in judgment on their non-reformed brothers and sisters.

But. Those are the people, they would tell you, who have “misrepresented” and “misunderstood” “the Gospel of Christ” “in many Churches and among those who proclaim the name of Christ.

Unlike their dear brother, C.J., of course.


There are those like Ligon Duncan who will say that I and others have no right to comment on these matters. They are wrong. The public ministry of Mahaney is held up by the new Reformed as an example to be emulated by young male leaders. (In the T4G world – women can never be church leaders.) If it was reasonable to expect Dever, Duncan and Mohler to actually concern themselves with the charges against Mahaney and respond appropriately – I would not have bothered to spend the time writing this. But Mohler and Duncan’s cavalier response to the many hundreds if not thousands who have been damaged by Mahaney’s leadership suggests this won’t happen – in fact, these wounded will no doubt be blamed for the troubles in Mahaney’s ministry. If only they’d submitted properly none of this would have happened.

Another story in the Celebrity-Driven Church.

James MacDonald responded in the comment section to the 2nd of my two posts on his hyperbolic Congregational Government is from Satan post. I trust he won't mind me copying it here and responding to it below:

You seem like a pretty funny guy and I like that. You also seem pretty comfortable with overstatement etc. to make your points, I like that too. Yes I can be bombastic at times, does that make me the kettle or the pot? 🙂 My son pointed out your blog to me, Apparently he left a comment and has been following you with appreciation for some time – blog and twitter.

My post had nothing to do with WBC and we surely do trust the Lord in the outcome. There was much division in the church but hardly a word against Harvest's willingness to help when invited. Though we have six campuses only one is a former church that joined with us. We frequently have churches coming to us in their struggle to survive, direct them elsewhere and move on. We have never approached one ourselves, ever. 5000+ churches in North America close every year. I was in a meeting last week with a number of pastors in Chicago trying to discern how best to deal with this crisis in our own city. How do you believe this best handled?

I grew up in a congregational church in London Ontario and my first two churches were congregational. My convictions against that model are not new or recently inflamed. We are working with another church right now on the same issue and learning how best to serve their need while allowing them freedom under whatever system of government they use to determine their own future.

I appreciate celebrity bloggers, I realize you did not gain your level of influence without a lot of hard work and that your passion was probably content related with the greater influence you have coming as an unintended byproduct. I hope you steward your influence well and use it always for the benefit of Christ's great kingdom. Please pray the same for me,

James MacDonald

PS feel free to email me if you want to talk more – maybe God in His sovereignty wants me to have an Arminian friend


Thank you for taking the time to respond here in the midst of what, I'm sure, is an always busy schedule. I've followed your blog for a number of years, cheered with you when you successfully battled cancer, enjoyed a number of your posts – and had my blood pressure raised by others. No doubt as fellow Canadians, our sense of humour (note the correct spelling, eh!) is similar. I'd be the kettle to your pot.

I take you at your word that your post had nothing to do with WBC. Note that I have struck through that text on the previous post and added a link to this one.

Oddly enough, as the former elder of a once thriving / church-planting Baptist church that sits 60 feet from my loft – where now less than four dozen folk attend on an average weekend – I don't disagree with your opinion regarding the congregational model of church governance. But I do believe, in both our cases, it is opinion based on our experiences – rather than a church polity designed by the Enemy or with no support in the Scriptures. (Note that I affirm episcopal governance with the caveat that real discipleship is taking place in that church environment.)

I also stand behind what I said at the end of the first post,

In my never humble opinion, the bottom line problem with the church in the West is not church governance. As I have pontificated here ad nauseum, the problem is discipleship and the lack thereof in the church.

The Great Commission is to “go and make disciples.” It isn’t to build big churches or large platforms for big egos. Nor is it to command and control the congregation for the “sake of the church.” Disciples are made in direct personal relationship with the discipler. If the church was creating actual disciples I wonder whether we would need to worry about church governance.

To answer your question about 5,000 churches closing, I'd point you at my post, More Disciples, Fewer Leaders, Please, where I quote your fellow Chicago import, Scot McKnight. McKnight is responding to a question about what leadership books he'd recommend. He says this,

…I want to put my idea on the line and see where it leads us. We have one leader, and his name is Jesus. I want to bang this home with a quotation from Jesus from Matthew 23, where he seems to be staring at the glow of leadership in the eyes of his disciples, and he does nothing short of deconstructing the glow:

But you are not to be called “Rabbi,” for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth “father,” for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

Instead of seeing myself as a leader, I see myself as a follower. Instead of plotting how to lead, I plot how to follow Jesus with others. Instead of seeing myself at the helm of some boat—and mine is small compared to many others—I see myself in the boat, with Jesus at the helm.

Again, in my never humble opinion, the crisis in the church is not leadership; it's discipleship and that is the reason those churches are closing. Watch this video from Chris Wright who says it far better than I ever will – he's being interviewed by my wife and business partner, Imbi Medri:

Later in the More Disciples post, I quote Scot again,

…leadership too often places the pastor or some person in the front and having others be guided (and following) that person, and that, I dare say, distorts the entire gospel. Jesus was willing to say that his followers didn’t have a rabbi of their own, didn’t have a human father in a position of ultimate authority, and they didn’t have an instructor who was their teacher. They had one rabbi and one instructor, and his name was Jesus, and he was Messiah. They had one father, and he was Creator of all. They were to see themselves as brothers, not leaders. That’s straight from the lips of Jesus. [Emphasis Added]

The Celebrity-Driven Church may build big buildings filled with smiling people but as Willow's Reveal study showed, it appears not to build disciples. I'll unpack this more in my upcoming series on the C-DC. My words from the quoted post on disciple making,

How did Jesus make disciples – he lived with them for three years, through thick and thin, through their thick headedness and their moments of great clarity, through their closeness and their rejection of him. He didn't set up a training school for leaders, or preach from an elevated pulpit or bring in Roman business and political leaders to advise his disciples how to lead.

Jesus lived in the midst of his disciples and the impact of that still resonates. Globally.

In closing, a couple of my Calvinist buddies (and I have many who put up with me) thought your "celebrity blogger" line was rather amusing. I confess that it reminded me of Brian McLaren when he called me a "Master Blogger" in response to my critique of his New Kind of Christianity. His was a little more double entendre than yours.

But trust me, as my 20 year old daughter, Kaili said to her mother when she read your comment, "Dad's not a celebrity? He has fewer than 700 500 followers on Twitter." We will all be hearing more about and from that girl. Assuming I don't ground her forever for her impertinence. 🙂 (And I do have under 700, Kai!)

We have a friend who we often refer to as the Forrest Gump of Christianity. Not because he's slow, he isn't remotely. But because he knows the strangest and widest assortment of people on the planet.

When we first met him, we were at a church conference in Dallas. Almost twenty years ago. Our new friend had just moved to the U.S., after having played an active role in the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. He was almost flat broke, as I remember. Yet, the next day he was off to have lunch with Hilary Clinton. (I don't often talk about my one degree of separation from the Secretary of State. GRIN) Later this friend would be the executive producer on the two Live Worship projects Imbi & I did for Maranatha! Music.

But it isn't MdP I want to introduce you to. It's one of his closest friends. Someone who has had a profound impact on me since we first met in 1996. And even though this man happens to be one of South Africa's finest drummers, that impact is not percussive. (My kids are groaning at that horrid pun.)

Lloyd and Vic1

Lloyd has been a professional drummer (which he continues to be), a pastor/church leader and the sales manager for a Harley dealership in Jo'burg – after he left "professional pastoring". He's also a gifted thinker/writer and a new blogger worth reading.

His blog is called, The Faithful Skeptic and I love it's tag line, "exhausted from trying always to be right, I have opted towards just trying to be honest."

Oh. His full name is Lloyd Martin – married to the equally gifted Libbi – they are the parents of three fabulous kids.

Let me point you at Lloyd's rather important post, "I Wonder Why?". It fits well with my upcoming series, The Celebrity-Driven Church.

In the church we spend great amounts of money, many other resources and lots of personal energy trying to gather as many as possible to come to us and then to secure their ongoing attendance.  We have ‘membership classes’, ‘orientation groups’, ‘enrollment’ and ‘data capture’ forms that we get people to fill in and return, we initiate ministry, function, or activity groups of all types and try get as many as possible involved in doing things in and for the local church.  Yet the way I read the bible it seems clear to me that Jesus never did any of these things.  He tended to keep moving and mostly seemed to discourage people from following him physically rather than enticing them to join his entourage.  Instead of going to where it was obvious that more people would be he did the opposite.  When expected to zig, he seemed to zag.

I wonder why?

Please read the entire post and comment there. And you might also want to add him to your blog reader. (I highly recommend Reeder as the best way on a Mac to read RSS feeds, by the way.)

(Note that the picture was taken by Imbi, in poor lighting conditions from a great distance back in 2004. And Vic provides us with a one degree of separation to Nelson Mandela – who is far cooler than Hils.)

The Devil’s Advocate

kinnon —  June 12, 2011 — 22 Comments

Question Mark 04

I question.

It’s one of those things that many people wish I just wouldn’t do.

“Bill, just leave well enough alone.”

“Don’t stir the pot.”

“What gives you the right to ask questions?” — they question.

Yesterday, in my definitely imitable style, I questioned James MacDonald and his “Congregational Government is From Satan” hyperbolic blog post. And I got some answers I wasn’t expecting. From that post’s comments:

Joe — “You need to know that James wrote that whole rant as a response to recently not getting something he wanted.”
Me — “Hmmm. Intriguing. Do tell
Joe — “Simply he wanted a certain church. They voted TWICE against it and now he is mad. Thus the comments on how voting is unbiblical and congregational government”

And then later that evening,
Luke MacDonald — ”…Harvest was approached by 5 elders from a church in decline and asked for help. The elders wanted to merge and form an extension campus (whatever anyones thoughts may be on this).

The elders and 72% of the church voted to merge falling shy of the 75% required for such a move. The elders then decided to take another few months and try to vote again. This time I believe the vote was 73%.

that is the basics of the story…

I wasn’t expecting any of this. I’m not a particular fan of Brother James' church leadership style, though I don’t have any particular axe to grind with him. I found his “Satan post” to be typical of his rather bombastic style and it prompted my response.

However, the comments thread suggests that the Satan Congregation post may well have been a petulant response on Brother James’ part to not gaining control of another church for his Harvest Bible denomination. (Does Harvest have an M&A Department I wonder?)

After Joe’s 2nd comment, I decided to do a little Google wandering. The church whose eldership appears to want to join the Harvest Bible Chapel denomination at this time is Winnetka Bible Church. See this post please.

WBC has a FAQ up about the HBC/WBC “merger”. I find the FAQ both revealing and disturbing.

16. Who will preach at the Winnetka location?
The six current campuses of HBC, worshiping across fifteen identical services, function as one church, with one Elder Board, one overall budget and one Senior Pastor. Most weekends (40+ weekends every year), Pastor James MacDonald preaches live on the two largest campuses (Rolling Meadows and Elgin) with large screen video of that message (either streaming live or recorded on the same weekend) providing the sermon for all other campuses. Occasionally when Pastor James is on a break for study, rest, or outside ministry, HBC uses a combination of live or recorded messages by other HBC Pastors. Frequently, your own Campus Pastor will fill the pulpit in Pastor James’ absence.

23. Will Pastor James MacDonald be preaching in person at WBC?

As we explore the possibility of a merger, Pastor James MacDonald has been invited to preach live at WBC at our invitation, at least once and possibly twice in the next 4-5 weeks. In addition, Pastor Rick Donald will be a guest preacher on Sunday, February 27. Pastor Rick as been the Assistant Senior Pastor at Harvest for 22 years and the current plans have him becoming the Campus Pastor through the transition should this merger be successful.

I never realized that when the HBCD acquires a Chicago-area church, Brother James becomes the disembodied preacher.

And on the issue of how they would discern God's will for WBC

25. What are the Elders of WBC expecting of our membership in this process?
As in all matters of life and ministry, we expect the members of WBC to walk humbly with their God (James 4:6), as we together seek the Lord’s direction in this decision. Multiple opportunities for more information and discussion are coming in the next weeks – please participate in gathering information for an informed decision. In addition, each of the Elders is available to share their heart with you and answer questions you may have. In all of this, we will be a church family that honors the Lord. God’s Word warns against hasty and fleshly plans (Proverbs 21:31), so we need to seek Him in fervent prayer. God’s Word warns us of a real enemy who is a divisive liar (1 Peter 5:8-9; John 8:44). The Elders are determined that unity (Ephesians 4:1) and graciousness of speech (Ephesians 4:29) will characterize our public and private interaction during this process. Any speech which impugns someone’s character or calls their motives into question may result in the restriction of membership privileges in accordance with our bylaws. We are trusting God for a Christ-honoring process and a unified outcome and are excited to go forward together into whatever the Lord directs. [emphasis added]

Thus, A Couple of Questions:

First, assuming all of the above is accurate, as James MacDonald is a Calvinist, and God is sovereign – why would James be upset about a congregational vote not going his way? Twice? I thought James' affirmed that God is sovereign – from a Calvinist perspective, that is. (I'm Arminian in my theology, so my view of God's sovereignity is a little different.) If God wanted James et al to acquire WBC, wouldn't He have made it happen. Or do I still not understand Calvinists' view of God's Sovereignty? And isn't it remotely possible that God has other plans for WBC? Including simply shutting it down?

And secondly, if "biblical" is our criteria for assessment, just exactly how "biblical" is it to build a ministry around one man's preaching and have that one man appear via twinkling pixels before an enthralled (hopefully) audience on a Sunday morning.

To me this is simply another example of what might be called the Celebrity-Driven Church.

Over the course of the next few posts, I'd like to attempt to unpack this "satanic" aberration of church leadership. (And yes, "satanic" is hyperbole.)

Oh, and if the title concerns you, read this for its meaning.

UPDATE: Please read WTH's post on this James MacDonald story.

Let me just say, right up front, I’m pretty sure the Devil made me write this post. (In fact, he almost made me wright “right” for “write” just to discredit me further. So. All spelling and sintax errors are the devil’s fault.)

William Blake once beautifully asked,

And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic mills?

But no rich poetic metaphor from our brother, James MacDonald.

No. For him, simple hyperbolic prose, “Congregational Government is from Satan.”

He advances his argument under the sub-headings, “Congregational Meetings are Forums for Division,” “Voting Is Not Biblical,” “Eldership Is Sometimes Unpopular,” “Congregationalism Crushes Pastors,” and “Priesthood Not Eldership of All Believers.”

And, of course, what “biblical” argument for authoritarian leadership structure would be complete without a quick prooftext shout-out to Hebrews 13:17 – Obey your leaders and submit to them…

Searching his blog, it appears that Brother James is not quick to exegete Mark 10/Matthew 20 – no doubt that whole “servant leadership” thing is so social gospelish.

I have neither the time, nor the inclination to take apart what appears to be a largely proof-texted eisegetical argument on James’ part but perhaps an “…is from Satansynchroblog might be in order.

Let me suggest some possible titles – all biblically prooftext provable,
The American Megachurch is from Satan.
The Executive/Business Pastor Position is from Satan.
Celebrity Church Leaders are from Satan. is from Satan

I’m sure you can come up with more.

In my never humble opinion, the bottom line problem with the church in the West is not church governance. As I have pontificated here ad nauseum, the problem is discipleship and the lack thereof in the church.

The Great Commission is to “go and make disciples.” It isn’t to build big churches or large platforms for big egos. Nor is it to command and control the congregation for the “sake of the church.” Disciples are made in direct personal relationship with the discipler. If the church was creating actual disciples I wonder whether we would need to worry about church governance.

And. Just for the record. In my late middle age, I would have to say that, assuming real discipleship, I'm most comfortable with an episcopacy.

UPDATE: Please read what is effectively Part 2 of this post, The Devil's Advocate.

UPDATE 2 : Please read WTH's post on this James MacDonald story.


For further reading of my thoughts on some of what's covered here, you might like (or intensely dislike):
Jesus & MegaChurch Pastors, A Few Questions
Why Aren't Big Name Christian Leaders Decreasing
Confronting Idols & Making Discples (video with Chris Wright) 
More Disciples, Fewer Leaders, Please
More Disciples, Fewer Volunteers, Please
Leaders Lead, Disciples Disciple