In the book, The Insanity of God, Nik Ripken tells the stories of his travels among churches all over the world who face persecution because of their allegiance to King Jesus. In China, Nik met with a gathering of pastors in secret and heard their stories of prison. In the telling, Nik shares an amazing insight from one of the Chinese pastors, he said, “Do you know what prison is for us? It is how we get our theological education. Prison in China is for us like seminary is for training church leaders in your country.”
Nik goes on to mention two younger Chinese pastors at the gathering who really impressed Nik. When he mentioned these young men to some of the other pastors, the response was tempered. Basically, the older pastors said, and I am paraphrasing here, “These young men look good and show a lot of promise, but they haven’t been to prison yet. Let’s wait and see how they do after they have been tested.”
If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities.Luke 16:10 New Living Translation
In scripture we see the principle laid out in Luke 16:10. A church leader must prove themselves faithful before being given greater responsibility. We see this also in 1 Timothy 3. An elder in a church must not be a new to the faith lest he become proud. A deacon must be tested first before serving as a deacon.
Now compare this to the modern American church’s obsession with young celebrity pastors. We like to elevate and platform people with charisma, those who can wow an audience with their story telling or personal presence on a stage. This is especially so when the pastor is able to lead a church in a dense population area like a major city. This seems like a winning formula for a large mega-church.
I am not against mega-churches, but let’s be honest here. It is easier to build a megachurch in a growing metropolitan area than it is in Smallville, USA. Not to say it is impossible, but sometimes demographics are very favorable.
So these young, charismatic pastors ride the wave of their personality and demographics to a larger platform. Now we give them book deals and conference invites to tell all the rest of us about the secret sauce of their organization.
However, sometimes their platform outgrows their character. Either the demands of ministry pushes character formation to the back-burner, or the pride of success blinds them to their character defects. However, eventually the cracks break through to the surface. Yet, because their platform is so large, the visibility of their failures is so large as well. See the podcast, The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, for a case study.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I am well aware of my own shortcomings. In fact, I used to dream of having the kind of platform that other guys have. However, with the benefit of hindsight, I praise God that my great moral crisis happened in relative obscurity. My addiction and recovery were not the stuff of blogs and twitter discussion. Had God given me the platform I desired at a young age, things would have gone poorly for me.
What if instead of platforming young charismatic pastors, we mentored them and tested them and gave them a chance to grow in Christlikeness? What if instead of buying into the world’s celebrity and youth culture, we looked for older men and women who have run the race well, who have struggled and gone through the fire, but have come out the other side more like Jesus.