Archive for June, 2013

Public Relations or History?

Steve Whigham has written a piece entitled “Could this Be the Beginning of the End of Christian Fundamentalism?” which got posted at SharperIron. Is this PR or a serious piece? The author acknowledges in his bio that he served in the admin of NIU, but he fails to inform his readers that he was a central player in the market re-positioning of NIU, something that really is pertinent given the point of view he expresses in the article.

My inclination is to think it is a PR piece because:
(1) It makes the incredible argument that the conflict at NIU possibly portends the end of Christian fundamentalism–this could only be the viewpoint of someone buried deeply within a very narrow segment of Christian fundamentalism with an agenda. I’ve argued this point before, so I’ll not do it here, but (a) there is no single fundamentalism at this point in the game and (b) the amount of people who fit Steve’s description is a very small portion of the pie. The fact is that Steve seems not to know much about fundamentalism apart from his experiences at BJU and NIU, and since this is huge thing in that orbit, it must be the end of the the whole solar system. It does not make me happy to say it, but the tempest over NIU has been inside a teapot.

(2) The history of fundamentalism is very carelessly laid out and clearly done so in order to substantiate the author’s point. Let me be less careful in saying that–he retells history conveniently in support of his point. The story of fundamentalism and evangelicalism has been very well-covered, so those who have read the history should be able to spot this quite easily. If you haven’t read any real histories of the movements, please don’t take this as one. This was advocate history.

(3) To paint the conflict over NIU as being about music is a tactical move which stigmatizes the critics while attempting to make this seem like only one issue is at play. But it distorts the truth to say that the whole debate hinges on music. Is it a part? Yes. Major part? Possibly. But even that answer is too simplistic. Is it the music itself or the alleged misrepresentations about what was happening musically? Is it the Big Daddy Weave concert or the alleged misrepresentations about the concert? (I’m using the word alleged here because I don’t care to litigate the point as much as acknowledge it.)

I’ll quickly concede that for some people music seems to be the only issue that matters, but that is only one segment of those who are not happy about the changes at NIU. I’ll also concede that there is a real tactical advantage gained by NIU’s defenders if they can make it seem like the sole reason people are unhappy with NIU is music. That’s what Steve is doing here. It works great for PR to use this tactic, but it is not accurate and it is very unproductive over the long-term.

I’ve tried hard to stay out of the fights about NIU because I’ve found them very unhelpful and quite frustrating. I have very strong views on it all, but, in large part, I think the ground has been polluted by attitudes and arguments which often seem like the opposing parties aren’t after truth, they are after defending their own point of view. Most of it has ranged from worthless to ugly. I guess the part I agree with Whigham on is that the future doesn’t look bright if we practice discernment, engage in debate, and make leadership decisions the way this whole NIU debacle has been handled.

And I mean that regarding both sides of it. Let’s not be blind to our own problems simply because we think we are on the right side of the debate.

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Following is a stewardship too

I spent the last two weeks teaching a leadership class for our seminary’s summer school program. It was challenging and encouraging to spend four hours a day looking at this subject with men involved in and preparing for vocational ministry in the church. My last post came from notes I was preparing which addressed the topic of transparency and accountability in leadership. I would like to follow up on that, in part because I think more needs to be said and, from reading some of the responses to what I wrote, it seems that I need to be more clear!

Let me restate my main point: leaders are obligated to lead within the boundaries established by the organization itself. I suppose there might be a case where an organization’s only governing guideline is do whatever the guy in charge says, but I don’t know of any churches or parachurch entities which formally say that. All of the ones I know have some kind of governance arrangement. Integrity demands that the leaders honor those boundaries, not circumvent them.

I left room for differing interpretations about how to honor them. I left room for changing them with integrity. What I said did not in any way rule out change; it attempted to articulate what could not be changed by the leader apart from the will of the led. And those who are being led should be able to make free, informed choices, not coerced or uninformed choices.

One of the sad realities of congregational life in a sin-cursed world is that some people will misuse something like I’ve written to further their own agenda. Their interest in what I wrote has very little to do with the concept and a lot more to do with party politics. The Scriptures are absolutely clear that God’s plan for the church is to have godly and gifted men direct its affairs (cf. 1 Timothy 3:4-5, 5:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:12; Hebrews 13:17). To deny this is to deny what God has plainly said.

Nothing in my previous post contradicts the clear biblical teaching about pastoral leadership. Within a context of congregational church government, God’s plan is for elders to serve as overseers over God’s flock (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2). My post addressed the possible danger to the congregation when the properly appointed leaders do not lead transparently and with integrity. It was not against leadership; it was against bad leadership.

Biblically, texts like Hebrews 13:17 teach that following leaders is a stewardship responsibility too. Obey and submit are pretty strong words. Since the context is the spiritual care of God’s people, I believe it is proper to say that the kind of obedience and submission God’s people owe to their shepherds is: (1) spiritual in nature (“watch for your souls” and (2) biblically defined (cf. “spoke to you the Word of God” v. 7). When it comes to congregational life, it would seem that the disposition of the members should be toward following, not fighting with their leaders. If the leaders are violating God’s Word or breaking trust with the church’s governing documents, then God has told us how to handle it (1 Timothy 5:19-21). Sadly, my observation is that most church fights are not about disobeying God’s Word.

Just to be clear, let me illustrate the kind of problem I wrote about in the previous blog post so people don’t misapply it. An example for church life would be a pastor who knows he has enough money in the bank to survive chasing off the people who disagree with him, so he launches the church in a new direction in spite of the majority’s disapproval of it. An educational example would be an administrator hiring faculty and staff who do not agree with the doctrinal statements of the organization in spite of his obligation to work within that boundary.

Here is an example of what I wasn’t talking about. I was not talking about a pastor who leads the congregation properly through the process of making changes to its constitution. I was not talking about pastors exercising proper authority with regard to the spiritual care of the congregation (which includes its unity and oversight of its ministries).

God calls leaders to lead with integrity. He also calls members of the assembly to follow its properly appointed leaders. Both sides of the equation should do so knowing that the church is the Lord’s and to Him each will give an account.


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