The advent of the Evangelical Industrial Complex and its ugly younger sibling, Celebrity Pastor Syndrome, has forced evangelicals to ponder why they’re so attracted to the concept of global ministry success and the undeniable giftedness of certain personalities who occupy the stage come Sunday morning.
But why do we allow ourselves to emulate such individuals when many of the same strata fail to live up to the gospel they preach? And once their duplicitous lifestyles come to light we move mountains and earth in their defense because it’s impossible to conceive that our beloved spiritual leaders could have committed such egregious sins.
Could it be that we’re equating giftedness with fruitfulness?
We can go down the list to bring these cases into light: shady transactions paid with church donations; owning massage parlors with ayurvedic roots; pyramid schemes to defraud ministry donors; extra-marital affairs with transvestites at shoddy motels; jetsetter ministry empires built on the gullibility of vulnerable churchgoers; prophetic utterances that never come true; predating on married women for nudes and the possibility of future trysts and then forcing them into non-disclosure agreements to prevent news of this from coming to light; willful alliance with conspiracy groups, insurrectionists, and nationalist terrorist cells; and bullying, gaslighting and an alleged attempt to hire a contract killer to take out a former church member.
Just to name, or perhaps, not name a few.
But these were great pastors, bible teachers, and responsible expositors of the word! You say, to which I say, yes, they were, at some point.
But these were worship leaders, professional instrumentalists of the highest order! Yes, again, at some point.
But these were youth leaders, camp organizers, Sunday school teachers, audiovisual technicians whose service and ministries are indispensable! Yes, of course, some of the best, even, at some point.
But, Mr. Theory, these were such gifted individuals who demonstrated such proximity to Christ!
At some point but their fruits were rotten.
The Problem of Giftedness
But here’s the thing. We’re often perplexed when we hear of scandals involving our ever beloved spiritual leaders because the embarrassing headline from the tabloid does not match the leader we watched, read about, listened to, and were mentored by week after week for years.
In fact, we automatically assume that whatever accusation, be it of sexual assault, rumors of abuse of power, hearsay of alleged fraud are all incompatible with our idea of said leaders because their ability to produce such a wealth of Christian emotion and thought are out of this world.
We equate their ministerial output with their spiritual health.
Their giftedness, their talents, and their success are of such magnitude that for such individuals to falter is inconceivable!
How foolish of us.
I have a problem with giftedness because it assumes that performance is the equivalent of spiritual holiness.
What we fail to understand, perhaps because cognitive dissonance chimes in and we’re too afraid of coming to the realization that we’ve followed a farce for years is that anyone is capable of expressing oscar award-winning performances from the stage and in front of clergy for the sake of power, fame, and adoration but still be spiritually sick.
Mary DeMuth, conversational author of the go-to book for abuse in the church, We Too: How the Church Can Respond Redemptively to the Sexual Abuse Crisis (book review) responds ever so literately to this conundrum this way:
“I think with gifted leaders in particular we have to be very cautious about assigning fruits to gifts so when someone is gifted we assign the fruits of the spirit to that person automatically. We connect them. And we just assume that they have love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. And so that’s why it’s so hard when one falls and we think, ‘Well they were so gifted and we were thinking actually they were full of fruit.’ But giftedness and fruitfulness are two different things. And you can be an exceptionally charismatic person who leads people to Christ and then behind closed doors is ruining people’s lives.”
The Serenity of Fruitfulness
We can take delight in the fruitfulness of one’s ministry and life because their fruit will either lead us toward Jesus.
You see, when a leader is but a performer, an actor, a mask for us to applaud from our seats, their entire ministry will revolve around them, their success, their image which is conveniently plastered on the front of their building, and ultimately, once they falter, the ministry will descend into the black hole of social misery with them.
But leadership worth following will continually point us toward the person of Christ by its fruits.
As DeMuth pointed out earlier, that person is living in congruent peace with the Holy Spirit of God, expressing and exuding love toward all men, even when love is difficult to give. That person is joyous independent of their circumstance, unperturbed by shifting seasons in politics and their relegated nuisances. This person walks in peace, reflecting the nature of Christ, without expressing a desire for fights, dissension, contention, and tension for want of confusion. Their level of patience is so high that they will gladly walk the extra mile, hand over the tunic and cloak, hand over more water and food than was asked. Their heart is kind, their stride in life is gentle and lowly, like that of Christ. Their heart is filled with goodness, not bitterness, and their life is one of faithfulness. They’re not after love trysts, affairs, shady dealings, and risk. They’re undeniably self-controlled in speech and in action. Monoliths of their own conduct and emotional health, unbending to the ever-changing world around them that begs them to behave with frivolity and volatility in the face of pressure.
Fruitfulness demonstrates transparency, vulnerability, humility, and succession.
Gifted leaders hold on to power and prestige whereas the fruitful individual will move like water, like the wind in the hand of the Spirit, not bound by or attached to a seat of power and prominence for the sake of earthly ministerial longevity.
A gifted leader when confronted with his abusive tactics, his grooming techniques, his predatory behavior, his bully complex, his defrauding of the brethren, his affairs, he will go to lengths to protect his image, his industry, his wealth, and tarnish the life of anyone who dares critique his ministry and he will dismiss his accusers as if their accusations are being launched against God himself.
A fruitful leader will access his emotions, his actions, his words, his intent to see if these are out of sink with the word of God. He will seek out advice and restitution. He will seek out to pay back, at times more than was taken, more than that which was asked of him to pay. He will apologize and not gaslight. He will present his wrong without excusing it as simply the result of exhaustion and stress. He is subject to disciplinary action, sabbaticals, and even open to termination should the board of elders determine that his actions have disqualified him from that role.
Fruitful leaders continually demonstrate the simplicity of Christ’s gospel whereas gifted leaders simply demonstrate the value of their gifts and talents.
Before clicking that follow, like, subscribe, and share button you must understand that the person whose platform you are disseminating must be a person who exhibits and follows through with the fruitfulness of the Spirit of God.
It would be disastrous to promote anyone else.
And understand that performance, likability, charisma, and influence can produce movements and ministries that reach millions worldwide but these things tend to lead our focus away from Christ and more toward the individual.
We can become easily enmeshed with this culture of celebrity status, bright lights, fog machines, noise, great music, hyped messages, and relevant topics that surround men and women who portray an image of spiritual health but fail to demonstrate wholesome fruits in their personal lives.
Take time to vet your list of spiritual leaders.
Find the ones who have an industrial complex problem where their entire ministry is branded on them and not Christ. Root those out. You can go without.
Then, find local or smaller ministry leaders and communities that are actively living out the conduct and liveliness of a spiritually transformed life and one of healthy spiritual, physical, emotional, and theological fruitfulness.
One is tattered, straining for influence and attention, while the other seeks humility, transformation, and Christ.
Gifted leaders make you more dependent upon them for ministerial success. Once they leave their position of influence you find the ministry has come to a halt and your spiritual growth has all but withered.
Fruitful leaders make you more dependent upon Christ and their absence does not impede a ministry nor your sanctification.
Don’t get it twisted, fruitfulness in leadership is attractive and worth wanting, worth pursuing, worth emulating and imitating because it is reflective of the person of Christ.
So seek these things in your leaders: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.
Allow the Spirit of God to work these traits into your life.
Check your heart, also, to see if you have been seeking giftedness over fruitfulness.
You may find that in seeking the former you have allowed yourself to be judged, praised, elevated, celebrated, and maintained by your counterparts and this is a deadly cyclical pursuit.
Burnout is only down the road. Addiction to power and influence will be indomitable. An inability to control the lust and desires of the flesh, ever-present. A constant focus on Godly things and events without time and intent spent with God. An endless pursuit of new ideas to keep the masses entertained will plague your ministry until its imminent collapse. Over spiritualizing everything will get you into theological, philosophical, and psychological trouble. Depression will consume you. Loneliness will follow you into your group sessions. Paranoia will have a front seat in your mind. Anger and rage will be your only means of resolving trivial ministerial and familial problems. You will be a prisoner of the flesh and constantly fighting an uphill battle until you turn to drugs for sedation, sex for gratification, gaslighting for intimidating your critics, and escape and denialism once your flawed giftedness-centered ministry and lifestyle come to light.
Turn from this.
Ask God to seek your heart. To seek your mind. Your generational patterns. What your family has done to you. What you’re doing to yours.
Check and see if what you seek, who you follow, and what you promote is reflective of the biblical Christ or if it is but a dim and dreary shadow of our savior poorly illustrated by gifted leaders.
Being fruitful as a result of knowing Christ is of infinitely greater worth than any gift or talent we can offer in this life. Greater than any gifted leader we could ever follow or ever be.
“Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.”