Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Who Needs Persecution When We Can Easily Implode Without It?

You may choose your weapon: a machine gun or a bazooka. You can also choose your foe: A gargantuan and angry grizzly bear or a swarm of killer bees, both feel threatened by you. What choice do you make?

Even though the fierce bear may be terrifying in appearance and a single bee may seem small and insignificant (sans allergies), a swarm of bees is something you cannot take out with such weapons. The choice should be an easy one. [Note: no animals were hurt or injured in the writing of this blog post. This is only an analogy to make a point about vulnerability. I do not need any comments from animal rights groups because I would never shoot a bear with either a bazooka or an automatic weapon, and if I shot a swarm of bees with either I would not likely hurt or injure a single bee]

There are two contrasting movements in the US church. One is preparing the church and the other is setting her up for a huge crash. The micro church movement, like the Chinese churches mentioned in a previous post, is preparation. The mega church movement, like the Russian Church (also mentioned), is painting a huge target on the church.

You may be tempted to think I am one of those fringe conspiracy theorists, and who knows, maybe I am. But I do not think persecution is so far off. What would it take? Not much. I believe the pieces are already on the board and being pushed into play. Truthfully, however, I think most churches can be taken out before any persecution ever occurs.

The church in the West is far more vulnerable than most care to admit. With the rapid rise of the mega church we have been watching the church become more centralized and dependent. In fact with the closure of so many smaller churches and their people being assimilated into the larger ones, we have actually concentrated all our people, resources and ideas into a few large targets rather than many smaller independent ones. We have also seen that the church is more dependent upon a single charismatic leader. Take him/her out (or compromise this person) and the whole church suffers greatly.

The mega church is far more fragile than it appears because it is expensive to run and dependent upon a large collection. This is not usually discussed but recently became public when a single weekend collection from the largest church in America (Lakewood Church in Houston) was stolen and the amount of the theft indicated that the church takes in upwards of $32 million dollars annually. That is a lot of cash and raises loads of legitimate questions. Another mega church pastor is in hot water for using church funds to manipulate the NY Times bestseller list so that his book can be claimed as a bestseller. Another is being scrutinized for having an excessive mansion built for him and his family. The pastor of the world’s largest evangelical church in the world barely got out of serving time in prison for being party to embezzling 12 million dollars, so I would say that our dependence upon mammon and a single leader is a serious vulnerability. These are only stories coming out in the last six months. We do not need persecution to take us out of play, we seem to fall victim to simple temptation and dependence upon our consumerism. If we cannot resist simple temptations than persecution is really not even needed.

The mega church in America appears to be successful, well financed and solid. It is not. We are beginning to see how weak it is as certain mega church leaders are being taken out. Robert Schuller was removed and the Crystal Cathedral is all but gone and the hour of power has passed to the past and is now a blip in history. David Yongi Cho is in prison and the church in Seoul will finally have to admit what it has kept secret for a long time…it is not as large as it once was and is unable to draw young people. Chuck Smith passed away and we will see how well Calvary Chapel does in his absence. Will Mars Hill survive the current exposure of troubles that Mark Driscoll is swimming in? How do you replace Rick Warren or Bill Hybels in the churches they founded?

The problem is not these leaders, but the Christian celebrity culture that created them and is dependent upon them. You might say that the Christian culture is set up to fail.

That is why some of us have been hard at work planting seeds of change and preparation. We must learn from the past. Will we be more like the Russian church that had all its assets centralized into an easy target or like the Chinese church, which was decentralized and not dependent upon buildings, budgets and big shots? Right now the answer is both. There is a little time left and our churches can take steps to be better prepared, but there is not as much time as we once thought.


Unknown said...

David Barrett & Todd Johnson have told us for years that the annual amount of fraud & embezzlement in churches and ministries exceeds the amount given annually to missions. Lord have mercy.

Neil Cole said...

Wow, do you have a link for us to read that?

DrMark said...

I think it is this:

I haven't read the latest report, but I can remember reading earlier reports and there the amount of fraud & embezzlement was around 90 million dollars a day.

Lum said...

Neil how would you suggest these mega/mega pastors move forward so that they can replace themselves so to speak. What would be a good plan over the next 15-20 years so that the church can move forward. How does something of that magnitude makes the necessary moves for the future health of the church???

Unknown said...

I think this is right on, Neil.

I've been really encouraged with the model that some mega-churches have been adopting. One particular is Woodland Hills where Greg Boyd pastors. In a recent post he wrote about their Anabaptist affiliation, he mentioned that while WH does still have a Sunday service, they are more concerned with members meeting in homes throughout the week rather than the service. It also seems like they're becoming more of a network of house churches rather than just employing the typical small group program. If members have to choose between coming t the service or meeting in a home or smaller group throughout the week, it seems they point them to the smaller group.

Perhaps more mega-churches need to take note of what they and others are doing to equip the saints and employ real community.

Teena Stewart said...

I'm tracking with you. Great article.

Neil Cole said...

Thanks for all the comments friends, this is an important subject. I want to mention that I am not really judging whether these mega churches are good or bad, I'm simply stating that the model is more vulnerable to the enemy with temptation, ego, and ultimately persecution. I don't really think that is something anyone can argue against. Granted, some mega churches are truly good and making a difference. And some are actually taking steps to be better prepared in the spiritual battle. I like what you are saying about Woodland Hills. I would also point out New Song Church which was centralized in Irvine CA but now has churches all over the world and So CA as a great example of not only being better prepared (defense)but of transforming the domains of society (offense). Check out Xenos (Columbus OH) is also a mega church that is prepared better than others.

Neil Cole said...

In like spirit, there are many house churches that are not prepared and just as easily institutionalized and not something that we should want to multiply. It isn't the model that is important, but some models are better at multiplying and enduring than others. Whatever your model of church, think on these things and start to prepare.

Neil Cole said...

To prepare I would suggest that you start to emphasize smaller groups that have life and interaction and which enable ordinary Christians to do the work. I would start to de-emphasize the celebrity pastor syndrome in every way possible. I would release works outside of the parameters and brand of the church. I would focus on obedience over simple knowledge. I would make disciple-making the main thing. I would get out of the building and into the community. Those are a few ideas. For more check out our book Church Transfusion.

Anonymous said...

Neil, why has there been such strong emphasis on this subject. What happen cause the urgency as of late?

Neil Cole said...

As I mentioned in the first post on this subject, this is not a new thought of is the way I have felt for 20 years. We have seen our work as merely preparing for what is to come.

In my next post I will actually map out a possible, even plausible, scenario that can take out a majority of churches without even using real persecution. We are that vulnerable.

Tom Marshall said...

1 Peter 2:5 really is a restatement of Jesus', "Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men" (NIV) based upon Putnam and Harrington's (head, heart, and hands).

I agree with your comments Neil. We have to get out in the community and make some new friends. I'm finding fulfillment in developing new relationships with those who do not know Jesus personally.

Monte Palmer said...

I hold the leaders of these mega- money pits fully accountable for allowing attendees to elevate them to their current status. As leaders they are responsible for the paparazzi effect in the current charasmatic frenzy called church. If they followed the example we see in the bible of how NT leaders are servants & selfless we wouldn't have the these circus ring leaders running amuck. Please forgive my reserved speech, I felt the need to make it PG instead of really sharing how I genuinely feel about this topic.

Anonymous said...

Totally agree with your article, Neil. Only issue I have is the accuracy of reporting regarding David Yonggi Cho. He is not in prison as reported. His son, Hee-jun Cho was the one immediately incarcerated.

The presiding judge over the trial actually cited Cho's contribution to Korean society. And that the mega church pastor was not the instigator of the crime. If I read correctly, his jail time was suspended or delayed by 5 years. Apparently, his main involvement in the crime was signing the paperwork without reading them. Reportedly too trusting of his elders and his son.

It is also recognized that Yonggi Cho lives a very simple lifestyle giving away most of the money he has made through his ministry. I just don't feel that he should be lumped in with the rest.

As for his church not being as large as reported, I spoke with a Korean pastor not associated with his ministry who reported that Cho has in the past sent out his associate pastors to plant new congregations accompanied with 10,000 members to start with as a core. That might explain the difference in the numbers.

Neil Cole said...

Thanks for the update re. Cho. My news was not as up to date, but the idea is still valid I think.

Lee said...

Right on the money... (pun intended)
I have read Primal Fire and I agree with much of it but disagree on some parts. I think alot of these megachurch buildings will one day make great federal buildings when the feds take them over.

Anonymous said...

I work in a major city in Central Asia (can't say where in print). Part of my work is to help the whole apostolic community there (local and expat, from every stripe of denomination or agency) to think about what we're really after and how we need to be going about it. With ISIS afoot and Russia bullying former Soviet states, I'm starting a conversation with them that goes, "Imagine it all goes sideways and we all get booted out or imprisoned in 3 years. Is the church here living in anti-fragile enough structures to thrive in our absence, and is she positioned to be able to actually disciple her nation? And if not (and where not), what can we do to get her ready, on a 3 year timeline." Two structures that I am convinced we need to reclaim in order to thrive in caustic environments is household-church (not just small meeting of arbitrarily related people, but families plus others together) and city-church (across denomination, model and ethnicity). Without these structures lived into well, it will be hard to heal cities and disciple nations.
Another way the dominoes could fall for the currently-structured American church is if Russia can get a few more countries to agree to trade for oil in currencies other than the dollar. When that happens, the American economy will take a big dive AND fuel will be crazy expensive. Who's gonna drive to the Sunday big show, then? And who's gonna pay for it?
We crazy few out here in unstable and unpredictable places have been seeing this coming for some time, both here and for the States. It's good to hear recognizable voices talking about it in the West, as well. Thanks, Neil.