Monday, August 4, 2014

August 3rd - I LOVE YOU! Christians Protest and RockStar Pastors Loose Their Luster!

Photo posted by Seattle Times
So proud of the Christians who protested quietly outside their former church today calling for their former pastor Mark Driscoll to resign because of bullying behavior and shunning members who raise questions or disagree.  Like one of my favorite bloggers said the other day on "Mark Driscoll is learning that you can only be an asshole for so long, before it finally catches up to you." 

Photo of Video by Komo News
Click HERE for the link to the article in the Seattle Times today which is also where I got the above photo of our brave and proactive friends who are hopefully setting an example for a new trend in speaking out - taking their concerns beyond the internet to the streets, thank you thank you!  Click HERE to watch a video at and hear what some of them have to say.

Freeatlast emailed me this story posted on USA Today earlier today.  I'm so excited to see something like this in print so I had to copy and paste it here!  Click link below to the story in case you would like to read the article from their site.  Oh, and in the copied version below, my comments are highlighted in red but the orange highlights are USA Today links to other stories.

Rock star' pastors lose luster  

Are they selling gospel or themselves? Internet helps to scrutinize behavior.

It's not easy being a celebrity pastor these days with that pesky Internet around. 

Consider the struggles of Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle. Faced with mounting accusations circulating online — plagiarism, misusing church funds to prop book sales, silencing anyone in his church with the temerity to question him — Driscoll has urged his followers to stay off the Web. "It's all shenanigans anyway," he explains(Of course it is - and we all know Driscoll himself wouldn't be up to any shenanigans)

Steven Furtick, (the same guy in the story in the post previous to this one here on Detox) a megachurch pastor in North Carolina, and Dave Ramsey, (tell me it isn't so - i sorta liked that guy) an evangelical finance guru, have been taking hits, too, as have the wheeler-dealers on the Preachers of L.A. reality show. This, against a backdrop of culture shifts creating strong headwinds against the leader-and-follower model typified by today's Christian superstars.

What are a megapastor and his followers to do? Remembering the biblical admonitions against idolatry would be a good start. (Never thought we'd see the day that a news publication like USA Today would link to Bible Gateway!)

Some media outlets have dubbed Driscoll a "rock star" among pastors. He is hip, brash, very interested in sex (TOO interested IMO) and, for a reverend, unusually irreverent. He doesn't throw televisions out of hotel windows in the manner of bad-boy rock musicians. But he comes close in the rhetorical sense, tossing out insults about gay people, women and his theological rivals.

Ongoing enterprise
Also true to his rock-star status, Driscoll enjoys massive popularity. His Mars Hill Church (including its 15 franchised satellite locations) attracts nearly 15,000 weekly. (But for the Grace of God go I) Driscoll's podcast has 250,000 regular listeners worldwide, and his 2012 book, Real Marriage, topped a New York Times best-seller list.(Could be the same audience who read 50 shades of gray)

Ah, that chart-topping book. Driscoll has admitted to using more than $200,000 in church funds to hire a consultant to game the system, boost sales and add that magical reference — No. 1 best-selling author — to his glittering résumé. (At least we now know how it's done so Judah Smith reaching best seller status isn't so irksome after all!)  This questionable allocation of church money is indicative of a wider problem that rankles those in Driscoll's growing flock of critics: the lack of transparency around Driscoll and church funds.(ya think?)

His salary? Unknown. Who controls church funds? Good luck finding that out. And because of the non-disclosure agreements that Mars Hill pastors and staff members must sign to receive severance pay when they depart, little is known about who holds Driscoll accountable on money or any other issue.
One of the problems with celebrity pastors is that it's very difficult to draw a line between advancing the gospel and advancing the preacher. When a famous pastor grows his audience and fame, doesn't this mean that more people are hearing his saving message about Christ?

Well, yes.(Ya but who are they really coming to? and think of all the therapy they will need when they finally leave his church)

But as revealed by the long history of church authority and its periodic abuse, the dynamic also gives the preacher on the pedestal a too-easy justification for seemingly everything he wants to do. You don't want to be against God's will, do you?

Scrutiny shared online (I love this part - this is for us! The balance of power is changing!)
Now, however, there's a wild card that older-school religious celebrities did not have to contend with. Thanks to the Internet, any disgruntled current or former follower can write a scathing blog post, add nasty comments to reader forums or, as the creator of @FakeDriscoll does, voice a spoof Twitter account in the target's name. This can take a toll — as demonstrated by Driscoll's church, which has had to lay off staff due to declining attendance and giving.

Because of the Internet, "the audience is now at least as much of a celebrity as the pastor, if not more," says Jim Henderson, a Christian author and producer in the Seattle area who is convinced that the era of the celebrity pastor as spiritual paragon is waning. Henderson produces a live show called Where's God When ... featuring a very different kind of "celebrity" Christian — William Paul Young, author of the megaselling faith-themed novel The Shack.Young is, seemingly, everything the megapastors are not: small of stature and ego, quietly reflective, and open about his painful journey and struggles (including his being a sex-abuse victim).

Henderson might be right about this being the beginning of the end for celebrity megapastors. Until that process runs its course, however, fans of the Driscolls, Furticks and the rest have a big question to ask themselves. Who, ultimately, are they following? Jesus? Or their pastor?

Tom Krattenmaker is a Portland-based writer specializing in religion in public life and a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors. His latest book is The Evangelicals You Don't Know.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Mega House for Mega Church Pastor - Parsonage Allowances Questioned

Good friend, Free At Last, came across a story called "The House of Steven" which tells us about a pastor of a huge multi-site church in Charlotte, NC, who built  a 16,000 foot parsonage for himself and his family.  In the video you will see a compilation of six reports on Pastor Steven Furtick and Elevation Church, produced by WCNC-TV, NBC Charlotte and its I-Team.  The stories were aired in October and November of 2013. (Click here for those of you who may not see it above on your phone.)

As the story unfolds we begin to see Furtick may be abusing a tax exemption provided for clergy defined by Tom Ranier (here) on his blog as "a housing allowance law passed by Congress in 1954.  Subject to certain guidelines, ministers are able to declare a portion of their ministry income as a housing allowance that is not subject to federal income tax."   This was originally established for ministers and small churches who needed the help.   But like many of the lead pastors of mega churches in America today who, by living like kings and celebrities, Furtick's story is calling more attention to the fact that the housing allowance even exists.  Even though he says he is paying for the $1.6 million dollar house from his book sales, we can assume he can still take advantage of the housing allowance law, writing the entire property off on his federal income tax.

The underlying concern of this story is it hints to us that this very well could be the beginning of the end of special privileges for churches and ministries.  Already there was a lawsuit filed in 2013 by Madison-based Freedom From Religion Foundation where a U.S. district judge ruled unconstitutional "a law that lets clergy members avoid paying income taxes on compensation that is designated part of a housing allowance." (You can read that story here).  And in the above video another organization is suing the IRS in a similar way as you will see.

The more notorious these lead pastors of multi-site money-maker churches become, it will unfortunately effect the livelihood of the smaller churches whose pastors are less concerned about the numbers than they are the individual.  Hopefully the Lord will watch over them and take care of their every need as they continue to live a life of sacrifice and surrender before Him.

More about ministries avoiding tax scrutiny in the links provided in an earlier post on DeTox here.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

NPR Investigates How TV Preachers Avoid Tax Scrutiny

Just want to link to this story that we heard on NPR yesterday and today.  You can either read it or listen to it in 2 parts. 
Part 1 is Can a Television Network Be A Church? The IRS Says Yes  Part 2 is Onscreen But Out of Sight TV Preachers Avoid Tax Scrutiny.

Even though it points to the tele-evangelists who are raking in the money and not paying taxes on it, it reminds us of what is going on in the last 2 churches we attended as well as megachurches across the US - there is just no accountability for how the pastors are spending the money.  More on this in the next few days but just at least want to give the links to the stories while I had them handy. 

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Bible Study

Jesus on the Emmaus Road
I'm in a weekly Bible study not associated with any particular church, although it's held at a church and strongly advises participation in a local church.  It's been around for 50 years or so.  Each year the course covers a different book, or books depending on the study.  Rather than a topical study, we examine each book, chapter by chapter through a 4-step approach: 
Answer daily lesson questions on your own.                                                                                                Discuss your insights in a conversation with members of your discussion group.
Listen to a lecture that explains the passage, key principles from the lesson and the relevance of the Bible's truth to today's world.
Read lesson notes that further elaborate on the passage.

Both the notes and the lecture will often various interpretations of a scripture or a doctrine if it's commonly discussed. 

This is my 2nd year.  My friend had attended 2 or 3 prior years, desperate for spiritual input, a few years after leaving the former church and she was getting so much out of it, I finally had to try it for myself!  Last year was the study of Genesis and this year the book of Matthew.  How appropriate for someone like me who feels like a first grader again (after realizing what we had been taught for years may be 'slightly' off.  Cough) to start with the first books of the Old and New Testament.  Anyway, I'm loving this consistency of opening my Bible (and Bible Gateway App) in the morning, looking up scripture, aswering study questions after a few days of reading study notes and praying about whatever the Holy Spirit highlights for me that day.  As any student of scripture would know, you do so at your own risk because it eventually shines a light on your heart in ways you don't usually see coming.  Sigh. I mean, Clap! 

I feel really good about this expository type of approach to the Bible.  After years of not taking responsibility for my own spirituality, it's like finding water in a dry and weary land.  Too bad churches wouldn't use this method for weekly corporate services, but then again, maybe some do.  In my limited yet lengthly experience, the pastor has opted for a topical approach more often than not.  Not saying topical study is wrong - I love following a word like faith or fear through the Bible using a Strong's Concordance and jotting down the verses that will help me later.  We even have a Naves Topical Bible sitting in our bookcase.  But when the pastor-preacher-teacher chooses a topical presentation over expository methods most of the time, doesn't it give more opportunity to promote his or her interpretation of scripture which can easily lead to manipulation or personal agenda? 

In lecture style teaching with no audience participation or accountability, we the listeners take in what's given, often without question, because it's easier than doing the work of follow-through.  Just listening makes it so easy for us to go on our merry way till we come to sit and listen again, entertainment style, next week.  Don't we realize we are thus giving one man, or woman, the power to spoon-feed his thoughts and beliefs to us?  If we were to have a question, or beg to differ, how would that scenario play out?  How well would it go if we were to go up to the pastor at the end of the service, or write him an email during the week, and say I think you may be off the mark here? 

All that to say, this in-depth study of the word in a non-denominational setting has been slowly restoring me to spiritual health, if I ever was spiritually healthy in the first place.  In taking my spiritual temperature at this juncture, I can see how the Word is at least bringing me back to life spiritually.  I'm still prone to steer clear of organized church which is so socially unexceptable in the Christian Community across the board these days.  And yes, I am tempted to put my hands over my ears so I won't run out screaming when the teacher in the main session at Bible Study plugs the local church and how important it is .  If she only knew what a trigger that is for some of us.  And hey, if a church exists that didn't threaten to TAKE ME OVER hook, line and sinker with its own agenda-vision-projects and meetings, I might be open to participating once again in an organized community.  But for now, I'm loving the freedom of my 2 sweet friends and I studying together each week (with a little lunch follow-up after), relearning the heart and soul of the God we've chosen to follow; and that is Community enough for me right now.