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, the Emperor Has No Clothes mentality is at play here in regards to prosperity, luxury, fundraising. Your points & discussion topics make incredible sense. BUT most of these ministries are filled with YES managers who are either too scared, jaded or self-serving (or all 3) to tell the Emperor the real truth. Without accountability and oversight, who's going to tell Paula White the jet doesn't make sense either economically or perception-wise? Who's going to tell John Hagee his $1 mill+ salary as pastor of a church will bring questions by the secular media? Who'll tell Joyce Meyer that stocking her leadership with her kids and building them houses on the family compound looks bad? Who'll tell Paul Crouch that having a 19 passenger jet will look suspicious to the outside world? Who will tell Rick Godwin that having a $500K church slush fund for personal/speaking travel is wrong? NOBODY!!!!! Anybody who brings so much as a peep will be FIRED! Because they believe NO ONE should tell the Prophet NO! And there are a slew of leperous fundraising consultants out there who long ago lost both their way and their souls who are surperb at inventing fundraising crises made to manipulate donors, raise bucks and pay the bills.

    So… the IRS can tell Paula, Creflo, Ken & Gloria, Joyce, et al. So can a Senator or a Congressional committee. They will freefall into scandal as others before them. They'll either circle the wagons (confront) or be contrite (engage), all part of your Topic 4. But far too many will miss, Phil, your call to both clean up their act while also living out the gospel of Jesus with integrity and transparency. As to issues of Theology? Way more than one can contribute with space available.

  5. Oh, wait, I'm on a roll and forgot. Who'll tell Benny to stop staying in $5K a night hotel suites (one was in a castle)? Who'll tell Morris to sell his vast acres of prime San Diego real estate? Who'll tell Pat not to do business with corrupt dictator partners involved in West African gold mining? Point is, if you're gonna build a kingdom, why not build GOD'S instead of YOURS.

  6. #1…Isn't Joel Osteen a prosperity preacher?..did anyone see that interview on Larry King live where he was repeated asked by Larry and callers whether Jesus was the only way to heaven and he wouldn't not acknowledge that truth? Instead he seemed to imply that hindus and others may have other ways to heaven. A troubling interview (can find it on Godtube) on national TV by what I'm assuming is a prosperity preacher!

  7. Phil,

    I hope you're being prophetic about the prosperity gospel and lavish lifestyles of TV evangelists. I sincerely hope those things come to pass. I'm all in with you (and Craig Detweiler and others) help turn this thing around.

    As someone who self-identifies with the emerging church movement (and Emergent Village specifically), I think there's actually a good bit of common ground here around the "heresy" of the propserity gospel that we can share with other evangelicals who might be equally critical of the emerging church itself. I would hope that together those streams might be able to speak up more loudly than the voices that've been exporting the prosperity gospel around the world, where it has now taken root in Africa and South America, especially. There is much work to be done on this, and we need to do it together.

    I also think you're right about changes in giving patterns and leadership styles. Those things are more easily trackable, and those are positive changes, IMO. 

    Let's keep talking!

    Steve K.

  8. Ok out of order but here are some of my takes / opinions.

    4. We’re seeing a dramatic shift from first a generation leadership style (confrontation) to a second generation leadership style (engagement). 

    I certainly hope that we can keep a balance through this, or engagement will just be the "prosperity gospel" imbalance of tomorrow.  We REQUIRE a confrontational aspect in our churches to keep focus, to establish morality, to demand that we be not hearers only but doers of the Word.  But guess what the balance is?  Being a doer of the Word, means that we WILL go into the world and preach the Gospel, we will minister to the broken hearted, and we will ENGAGE the world for Christ.

    Balance.  We must be engaging, but we cannot take the blood that our Savior shed for granted.  We must also recognize sin as sin and confront it in truth and love.  Different people respond better to different styles.  Individual churches will reach more people if they have diverse leadership that can be heard by all types.  But lets not forget something here – it does not have to be one way or the other.  Jesus was balanced in his teachings.  He was engaging when he would tell parables, and when he would ask questions that provoked thought.  But he was also VERY straightforward and often told people to "sin not" – often after he had healed them or ministered to them in one way or another.  He was engaging AND confrontational.

    Without a balance on this particular topic, we are certainly headed for a place closer to where Pearson is – little to no sound doctrine – a lot of discussion without leading souls to Christ.  and eventually a meaningless theology.


  9. #3 Fundraising undergoing dramatic change

    I am not so sure about this one, I think it ebs and flows.  There are times that I know that I am to give to an individual because God has laid it on my heart.  But since that desire is not from me, I don't want credit for it.  God put the person on my heart.  God put the money in my pocket.  God will replace that money if I am giving in my own need (sometimes it has been clear to me – an amount to give  – yet I have know idea how I am going to pay my bills after giving it).  This is the element of seed faith that has value.  If you will hear God's voice regarding your money, He will multiply your warehouse.  (Not to be confused with "If you give to my ministry God will bless you abundantly").  Sorry about the bunny trail… But in these situations, I normally do not feel comfortable with taking credit for it.  So I will use cash, and often ask a pastor or friend to deliver the gift anonymously.  This is not generational and I don't think it is a trend.  This is something that I learned from my parents, and also saw in others in my past. 

    In other words, the real seed faith principle here is that I can give freely when I know that God is impressing on me to give.  I can do this, because even though it is scary, if I step out in faith and don't hold my money in fear, I can rest assured that if I am listening to God, He will take care of my needs.  If my cup runs over, then He knows that I will bless others – because I am not giving with the mindset to get rich or to be noticed.

    When it comes to giving to the church – well…  I don't think that this should be something to boast about but I don't think it has to be done totally anonymously either.  I write a check for my tithe, I write a check for missions (or one check with instruction to split to different funds in the memo line).  Not only does this make things easier for me, but it is easier for the church, aids with a level of accountability for the church, and it also provides me with a tax benefit.  I don't feel it is public and I beleive that treasurers or others that count offerings should remain discreet about who is giving what.  Therefore I believe that it does remain private.

    BUT – enough about me and all of my humility in how I give – LOL  – see here is another example of when an alias could come in handy – I can share this without taking credit personally.

    "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."

    Phil, this is where I think that TEACHING and not preaching is the answer.  This is where illustrations similar to what I gave above, and good Biblical examples, need to be TAUGHT from the pulpit of our local churches.  I also think that to ensure that hearts are open to hear this, it should NOT accompany a major fundraising effort like building a new sanctuary, building a new children's center, upgrading our Media equipment, etc.  Too many times, ministers start to follow a vision that God has given them (and I say this with sincerity) and when they find out that the church's budget will not cover it, they decide they need to start a fundrasing effort.  If the first effort fails, then they do a teaching or even get preachy about it – and either at the end of the service, or the next Sunday, guess what?  We are starting a new fund raising drive.  This may have some level of success… but you know what?  The fund raising efforts would be MUCH more powerful, if an un-associated Biblical foundation of tithes and offerings was laid and re-inforced from time to time without an emminent fundraiser.

  10. Human nature and sin nature says go out and get all you can. Christianity calls for sacrifice to others. Human nature says become the most celebrated person (celebrity), Christianity says the last will come first. Human nature says you need people who serve your needs, Christianity says serve others. Human nature says eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we die, Christianity says this very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself? Luke 12:20-21 Translation……forgetting about God and your relationship with Him is not a good thing to do!

    Why is it that so many Christian leaders have taken steps into lavish luxury living. It has really become a stereotypical caricature, a preacher asking for money living a crazy self centered life? The damage done by this image to the secular world is gigantic. Are they all so interested in money and power that they have forgotten their calling? Why do they take donations by telling viewers they will be rich and then use the money themselves, buy luxury toys and build mini kingdoms. Surely this is not what God wants. Where is the servant who takes in the money and directly turns it over to those who need it? Where is the television evangelist that lives in a regular suburban home….without any additional homes in Aspen, or the beach…..drives a 5 year old minivan…..and vacations in the local regional theme park? I would much prefer to give money to this ministry instead of one where those asking for donations are living a life that could only be featured on Lifestyles of the rich and famous. Why would I want my donation going to a person who has 4 homes, 8 vehicles, a private plane and a exclusive art collection……what did he do to earn the money?

    Can a television minister live a regular life and give away all the millions to the people and ministries that really need it? Can people give because it is the right thing to do not because they think they will make millions so they too can buy all the toys? Is giving to get, really giving? Needless to say there are scriptures that do talk about blessings from giving but have these scriptures sometimes been used in a manipulative way? I certainly believe that God honors giving and that He wants to bless us but how has it all gotten out of hand?

    Human nature/sin nature is definitely what we all battle. If you were given 10 million dollars to your ministry to do with as you wanted would you first buy your second house, your SUV, your boat for the lake…….or would you give the majority of the money to help others? How much is enough! Shouldn't a ministry based on donations have a self imposed limitation on salaries to individuals in the organization? If I gave money to the Red Cross and found out the main director was pocketing millions and living an extravagant lifestyle I would never give again. When you give money to a ministry do you really want the director buying million dollar homes in several locations around the world?

    Recently Phil shared some information on ministries that have created a fund raising science to get the most donations from those on the mailing list. If you mail the donation letter on just the right day you can make more money. There are many other strategies to increase giving but are they forthright, is this integrity?… you really want to give because some marketing person is using a strategy to pull your strings….shouldn't those on the mailing list be treated with prayer instead of secular attempts to get them to give? Isn't it apparent there is something very wrong, some donation based organizations are preying instead of praying…..wouldn't you say?


    1. Accountability to the body of Christ is the cornerstone! Sin nature will always take you to where you don't want to go or where you don't think you will ever go. Money and power unregulated will always get you in big trouble spiritually. You need people of wisdom surrounding you….praying for you…..and saying no to you. If no one ever says no to you have the wrong team!

    2. Commitment to the Lord. Make your decisions before you ever get to these temptations. Write them down…..there's an act of faith….(I will not buy that house in Aspen when 30 million dollars comes through the ministry)

    3. Remember what God has called you to do! Never forget….don't get ten years down the line and realize you made a major mistake. You will make mistakes but evaluate them earlier not when major damage is done.

    4. Ask yourself the hard questions and have others constantly ask you even tougher questions. Is this ministry about you? You think we need a ministry jet? Don't you think three houses are excessive?

    5. Limit salaries and perks. Donations to ministries are given for something way beyond allowing the figurehead of the ministry to live a luxurious life. People give because they want to give to the Lord. If this money is abused…..and many ministries are abusing donations today…..then the cause of Christ is harmed and in turn the body of Christ is harmed too.

    Money earned by creating excellent products in a company is completely different then money received by donations to a ministry. If your goal is to live the life of a multimillionaire go out and earn it through the sale of products not through donations. Send the donations directly to where they belong and keep them out of your pocketbook.

    The public relations damages to our Christian message are huge as self gets in the way of what God has asked us to do. Human nature takes it's toll on Christians. We will fail and fall because we are human…that includes everyone of us….don't think it won't happen to you. We need the Lord and others to help us stay on the right road. I pray that those Christians that are in highly visible areas in our world will stay true to their calling and exemplify who Jesus is. Those that fall need to be loved and forgiven.

    In the meantime lets help one another stay out of trouble….we are a family….don't be afraid to step in and share your feelings about what God is telling you is the right way to deal with donations in the ministry.

  11. 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.

  12. 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!

  13. 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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