Creative LeadershipEngaging Culture

Four Conversations we need to have in 2008

As 2008 comes closer, I want to throw out a few statements that I’d like you to be thinking about. I want to write about each of them more fully in the near future, but let me toss out a few controversial topics and see if you agree that each one is something we need to confront:

1. The Prosperity Gospel is done.
Whatever you think from a theological point of view, it’s time to put the prosperity gospel to bed. I doubt if a single doctrine has caused so much confusion or created so many stumbling blocks for evangelism to the culture. There is no Biblical injunction about being rich or poor, if your motives are right and your priorities are straight. Get over it. Just follow Christ. Is there anything wrong with being rich? Not if your head and heart are in the right place. Is there any shame in being poor? Absolutely not. Some of the greatest men and women of God were poor and it had no impact on their right relationship with God. So rich or poor, we can all serve God wherever we are on the financial spectrum. The problem here is that teaching the prosperity gospel is a good fundraising technique. Tie it into planting a financial seed and you get a much better response. So as long as some churches and ministries are focused more on fundraising than mission, I’m afraid it will continue to hang around.
And the truth is – I’m not interested in arguing whether there is merit to the teaching. I just think it’s become such a stumbling block to the culture – particularly with those who have abused it – that it’s time to drop it and focus on what’s really important in our faith.

2. The luxury life of TV evangelists is over.
Talk about stumbling blocks to the culture. There is more criticism leveled at luxury cars, mansions, jets, and other accoutrements of TV evangelist’s rich living than anything else. The interesting thing I’m finding is that 90% of the unrelenting desire to be rich comes from the first generation of media ministers. When it comes to today’s younger pastors and ministry leaders, I find that most live very modestly. Could it be that first generation leaders grew up poor and were determined to show the world they were successful? Many of them also lived in a society that encouraged pastors to be poorly paid. And could it be the second generation leaders grew up in a better lifestyle, and it doesn’t matter so much to them?
Whatever it is, I think we’ll see less and less excessive luxury among serious Christian leaders in the future.

3. Fundraising is undergoing a dramatic change.
This is true both with secular non-profits and religious organizations. Maybe this is part of the thinking of #2 above, but for the last generation, when people gave they wanted to be noticed. That’s why your local medical center, library, or university dorm is named after somebody. Ministries found it out by having to give donors a “gift.” Why do you think “seed faith” was invented? Having people realize they could get blessed with a miracle made it more easy to give.
But now we have a generation that gives because it’s the right thing to do. We have yet to get a final tally, but early on, I’m finding that many givers today don’t need to have their name engraved on a brick, or get a trinket in return. Hopefully, that means “Jesus Junk” will decline.
The challenge is to find the right route to motivating people to support worthy causes. I’m not against fundraising at all, and the truth is, I’m frustrated that more Christians don’t do a better and more consistent job of giving. But the fundraising landscape is changing for sure, and it will be interesting to find the answers.

4. We’re seeing a dramatic shift from first a generation leadership style (confrontation) to a second generation leadership style (engagement).
Think about the first generation of Christian media leaders – D. James Kennedy, Jerry Falwell, Donald Wildmon, and others. By and large these were good men who were confronted with the incredible changes happening in the sixties. Their first reaction? Confrontation. It was a logical choice given the timing and background of their ministries. The changes they saw early in their ministries was a shock, and they reacted in logically expected ways.
But today, a new generation has grown up living with the changes that started decades ago. They’ve grown up in an environment of more violent and sexually explicit entertainment, hostility toward religious faith, crumbling morality, disintegrating families, and more, and they’ve had more experience navigating that strange world. As a result, when a movie like “The Da Vinci Code” was released, the first generation leaders were more prone to criticize or boycott, and the second generation leaders were more prone to use it as a platform for sharing their faith.

I’ll be writing in more detail on each of these, but start thinking now about your response, and let’s see where the conversation goes…..


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  1. Phil,

    Certainly you've got some hotbutton items here and good for you in tackling them.

    1.  The Prosperity Gospel is done.

     I wish it were so, but while it may take a step or two back there's a few things that come to mind.  Old heresies never really die, they just come back dressed up differently.  The Prosperity Gospel is pretty much just good old-fashioned greed dressed up tp be more palatable for those whose appetites exceed their means.  It is the opposite of contentment.  It is the moving of God from the throne with the good old American Dream put in its place.  We have nothing on the Israelites at the receiving of the 10 commandments in that regard.

    Maybe the last round of publicity will finally push some chuches to begin calling it what it is, heresy, and that is good.  The current form may change as the media hoists the latest crop up on their own petard.  Rest assured though, in my opinion, the form will change but there will never be a lack of people who will be willing to tell people what they want to hear and as long as it represents a path to fulfilling their own lusts, it will be with us until Jesus returns.

    2.  The luxury lives of Televangelists are over:

    Maybe.  With more scrutiny there will be more caution.  I worked with ministry fincnaces for a good part of my career.  Even in the local Church there was no shortage of ministers willing to stretch every loophole and benefit to hide income.  Gold Toilets, 2000 square foot closets, cars owned by the ministery and not the minister, travel perks, housing allowances.  I've watched local church ministers stand before their congregation and cite their salary and then simply be quiet as people react with indignation that their minister isn't getting a living wage while I've known that every other expense in their lives is directly paid by the ministry and their wage is simply only the portion they couldn't hide in some manner.  Most ministers serve in small churches and do indeed just barely get buy or do other work.  There are honest people in higher ministry too, a majority I would say, but all it takes are a few little nudges to begin justifying things, appeals to ego, appeals to greed, appeals to fear, a sense of entitlement because of past suffering etc.  Everyone has their own button to be pushed.  Organizational structure that forces accountibility and eliminates secrecy is the cure.  A wise leader seeks that and makes it happen.

    3.  Giving patterns are changing and will.  Along with this trend will be better informed givers who will shy away from organizations with little accountibility.  It'll be slow, but it is happeing.

    4.  The evangelical community went underground after the 1920's scopes trial only to come forth with a vengence in the 1970's feeling their power and wanting to make that influence felt. 

    The lessons are only now being learned and I think we're beginning to see the difference between influence and power.  Changed society without changed hearts has little eternal value.  How that works out we'll see.

    I look forward to your dealing with these issues.  Glad to see you're willing to tackle some tough ones in this manner.


  2. Re point 4, I see that shift in the ministry, but on a more personal note, I see that in my family as well. From Harry Potter to The Golden Compass, I see today’s media as a chance to answer questions raised, whereas some in my family see this as an invitation to picket and boycott.

    Good article.

  3. Right on, Phil.

    Thanks for stepping up, lighting the fires,
    blazing the trails.  We may get this thing
    turned around yet….
    Have you read UNCHRISTIAN yet?
    These issues are addressed in 
    similar ways.  We dug ourselves quite
    a hole.  Time to start digging out with
    humility, transparency, authenticity.
  4. Phil, perhaps you could clarify – ‘We need to confront.’ Who is we? I’m not sure Christians in the media, or Christians making Christian media should be sorting out any of these things.

    What might be interesting however, is exploring these topics in the media – be that for mainstream or the church.

  5. It may have been my misread, but the tone I took from your entry was that these were issues that needed to be sorted out by Christian media people as opposed to church leadership.

    I’d love however, to see a program that documents the history of televangelists from all angles, or look at how the new generation of church leaders are engaging society and culture. Both would make for fascinating TV.

    I’m sure this isn’t a new comment to the blog, but leave the preachin to the preachers and make some TV programs that generate some debate and maybe some soul searching…heaven forbid we produce ones that tell a story!

  6. It's not either/or. Those of us in the media as well as pastors and church leaders need to be doing exactly what you're talking about.  Thanks for the comment.

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