‘Every man for himself’ is at the heart of American Christian ministry. Now that is a dirty little secret that not many would admit to but I can say with all confidence that it is exactly the truth. When it is all said and done, most of us are nothing but religious corporations who depend more on fickle public approval trends than real politicians do.
I heard a preacher say recently that all of what we perceive of as “ministry success” boils down to the fact that people love a winner and despise a loser. When crowds are coming and smiles abound, everyone wants to be near you. But when that tide appears to change, people jump off board so fast it will make your head spin.
Like many of our American politicians who are really nothing but poll whores and puppets, changing their stances depending on which way they feel best preserves them, so both ministers and members alike throw their approval behind whatever will enhance and not harm them.
Look back at the last 30 years of ministry here in the US and let me throw out some names to you; Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, Larry Lea, Mike Warnke. All of those men were “top” names at one time in the church. And every one of them had the tide of public opinion turn on them. When it did, we turned on them as well. We got rid of their books and records, threw out their teachings and denied that we ever knew them at all.
I can not really imagine what that felt like for these men. One minute, they were surrounded by people who supported them and loved the ministry that God had them doing. The next moment, they looked around and found no one there anymore. They had gone from being celebrated by the church to virtual religious pariahs, social outcasts, in the blink of an eye. And man, did we ever take notice of their fate as ministers of the Gospel. In the span of a few short years of public witch trials, the most terrifying thing that we could think of was no longer standing before the judgment seat of Christ; it was sharing the fate of those that had stood before the judgment seat of Primetime Live or professional heresy hunters and been declared guilty.
So to prevent sharing their fate, we as ministers began to court the public and keep our nose as clean as possible. We stopped rocking the boat and just said what people wanted to hear. We became slaves to what people thought about us and by playing the game properly, we began to see mega-churches spring up all over. The recipe you are to use is fairly simple: Just repeat the following over and over until you are as big as you want to be- God has a plan for just you, God wants you to prosper financially, positive self-image is God’s ideal for you, you can have all that you want and God will help you, once you are saved you are always saved. Avoid the negative, focus on the positive and people will come to hear you. And if people are coming, it must be God.
There is just one problem with that- it isn’t true.
The bible says that “They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them.”1 John 4:5. Of course people are coming to hear them; they are speaking the language of the world. They are motivational speakers that give the added benefit of promising eternal life and divine favor in exchange for your approval. I can’t imagine people not wanting to come and hear that sort of thing to be honest. If I offered a thousand dollars to whoever answered an altar call, would I be shocked to see the altar full? What if I charged a thousand for the honor of answering the call, what would happen then?
And so we live in an age of preachers for hire, Balaams’ crisscrossing the globe teaching whatever the people want them to teach. And in exchange, we remain on the safe side of the bema of public opinion and can continue to make our living doing what we love. We placate ourselves by thinking that at least they are getting some truth when they come to hear us; at least they are getting some Jesus. But a little religion won’t save you and there is no resurrection for you at all without going through the death of the cross.
This mercenary thinking has trickled down to every area of the Christian life. As an Evangelist, when things are going well, people want nothing more than to have their name attached to yours. Once that pendulum swings, they want nothing more than to not have their name attached to yours. When there is a buzz about you, they all want to cozy up and bask in it with you. But when hard times come, they all deny they ever knew you at all.
I have sat astonished myself as I watched this little dance unfold time and time again in my own life. When I get discovered (which happens all of the time) then I am celebrated and the ministry applauded as being cutting edge and the “next big thing”. But when I struggle and the enemy comes in to attack, I look around and discover I am more like Uriah the Hittite than David. Because when I stepped up to fight and the battle was joined- I looked around and everyone else had stepped back until they saw for sure which way the outcome was going to go.
If I win and gain the victory they will all clap and pretend that they were there all along as they sing songs of my bravery in the face of the enemy. If it goes badly, they never knew me at all. If it goes really badly and they could be hurt by their association with me, then it was God who judged me.
I am sure that some of you thought exactly that when you read the names of those ministers earlier. Jim Bakker was a crook and God exposed him, Jimmy Swaggart was a judgmental pervert and God exposed him, Larry Lea was a greedy liar and God exposed him, Mike Warnke lied about his testimony and God exposed him.
So what are you guilty of that God needs to expose? A recent study found that upwards of 70% of Pastors view online pornography at least once a week. Is that you, speaking to the sheep on Sunday morning and masturbating to online porn on Saturday night? Or are you simply a liar, a glutton or a self righteous religious bigot? Or maybe you haven’t prayed in a month or cracked your bible in 2 months and yet you get up there and like a Pharisee you show your white washed exterior while inside you are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.
The real issue is not that those men fell; it is what we did as it happened. I believe that we really lost something important with Larry Lea, he got hit in a massive smear campaign and we gave him no chance to explain, we just wrote him off. Mike Warnke was honestly repentant but in the church the restoration is never as public as the fall. We have set a pattern into motion here in America that we should be horribly ashamed of. We are Peter, denying the Lord when it looked like he could be harmed by Jesus’ “fall”. We don’t know them, we were never with them, don’t judge us by them. So those who need support never get it because we are constantly prepared to ignore that they exist or stick a knife in them if we have to.
Oh God have mercy on all when we finally hear the rooster crow and see ourselves for what we really are- mercenaries without honor, in it only for ourselves, in Jesus’ name.
Personally I think the whole affair stinks to high heaven. I get very weary of the game, to be quite honest. I have to watch my back more around Christians than I ever did in the world. In the world, I had friends and I had enemies. My friends loved me for my good points and overlooked my faults. Just because I was shown to have issues did not disqualify me from being their friend. But in the church it does. I can’t think of anything more hypocritical than people judging others for this fault or that fault while harboring a thousand faults that just haven’t been exposed yet. It is truly pathetic in every sense of the word.
Because we are not here to be politicians, we are here to be an army. But if any army in the world acted like we do they would be overrun by the enemy. The very fact that we are not overrun tells me that not only are we not any threat at all, we are more than likely the Keystone Cops of the Spirit world, more entertaining in our folly than actually a serious force to be reckoned with.
So how do we deal with this pattern that we have all set in motion? Is there any way out of this cycle that we are all caught in?
We must begin right where we live with one word: love. We must love one another enough to help when help is needed. We must honor what others are doing for the Lord and throw in our lot with them to help see it come about and forget about what the court of public opinion will say if they fail. We must honor our relationships with one another no matter what happens and make the decision to never leave a man behind. Above all, we must start to place ourselves in other’s people place and ask ourselves what we would need if it were us in their place.
And don’t even utter the word revival until you are prepared to do all of those things. Because when that word is spoken and steps are taken in that direction- the enemy will take notice and the fight will start. If we are the type to play Peter and deny others when they get into trouble, the enemy will pick us apart one by one until none are left standing any longer. I have seen it played out a hundred times, the mercenary spirit that comes into the church when the real attacks start and scatters everyone involved to the four winds because we are simply too weak, too selfish and too petty to just hold the line as the enemy charges.
When the enemy comes in, we get most concerned about ourselves. And it is with the banner “MY FUTURE” flying proudly above our heads that we break ranks and leave our fellow soldiers to hold the line alone. And what kind of army is that?
Before we utter revival maybe we should take a moment and listen for the rooster’s crow before we say we are ready for a move of God.