Monday, January 30, 2012

Exchanging the Pastor for the Rancher, the Gospel for the Vision and the Savior for the Founder

I have had this post in the back of my head for almost two years. I held back on posting this because I just wasn't sure I wanted to post another entry on the issues I have with Victory Outreach. So i tucked it away for a time when I would not be labeled a "hater". Recently, however, I discovered Chris Roseborough's Fighting for the Faith podcast, and because of this program I have discovered that the issues that I have with Victory Outreach are not limited to them, but are legion in the the "seeker sensitive" churches throughout the nation. So I want to take some time and look at these so-called "vision driven" churches and their negative impact on the body of Christ in general.

On Fighting for the Faith, Roseborough, plays sermons from pastors...well, he calls them fuhrers...of these seeker sensitive churches. The reason he calls them fuhrers, is not to be shocking, but to describe what these men really are, leaders who beat and fleece the sheep, rather than loving shepherds who care and tend to the flock that God has given him. Let's look at the leadership first.

Ranchers as Opposed to Shepherds

I have heard a number of sermons from these "seeker sensitive" leaders, and it really has stood out in my mind, and caused me to remember a number of statements my old pastor who covets a "megachurch" (a church of 1,000 or more attendees). A number of these leaders seem to hold the members of their churches in disdain. I have heard them speak about how they hate attending functions with church members. They don't take time to do visitation, in-home or hospital. This is where the term "rancher" comes in. You see a rancher is busy overseeing all the business of the ranch. The individual cowboys are the ones that are charged with the everyday care of the flock. The rancher has the big picture, or vision, in mind and is just too busy to tend to the needs of the ordinary members.

Is this the way the church is to be handled according to Scripture? The answer is an unequivocal, "No!" Let's look at how the resurrected Jesus charged the soon-to-be Apostle Peter in John's gospel:
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you
love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to
him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Hesaid to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He
said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he
said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything;
you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when
you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are
old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not
want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after
saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” (John 2115-19, English Standard Version)
"Feed my lambs." "Tend my sheep." "Feed my sheep." These are commands that require individual, everyday and personal attention. This is the work of a shepherd. No where in Scripture is there an office of "rancher". Why? Because the pastor, the shepherd, is to be involved in the life of sheep under his care. By extension the people are to see the life of the pastor, and be able to speak into his life as well.

Secondly, I do believer that their is a rancher in this analogy. The rancher, however is not the local church pastor, but rather Jesus Himself. The sheep are His, and pastors are the lone shepherd charged with caring for the sheep that belong to Jesus. Jesus bought His sheep with his own precious blood (Acts 20:28). He has given these sheep to men whom He gifted in order to feed and care for them (Ephesians 4:1-16). Sadly, too many pastors are deluding themselves into thinking that they are the ranchers instead of the lowly shepherd.

The Vision Replaces the Gospel

What is also interesting about these "seeker-sensitive" churches is their abandonment of the Gospel for the vision of the rancher. Let me illustrate,Steven Furtick's Elevation Church has 12 points that he calls "The Code" of the church. In it he lists the things that are important to him, and it is even more interesting that his "Code" has no scriptural citations as backing. Second example, Victory Outreach is an inner-city church ministry that is based on "The Vision" that God allegedly gave Sonny Argonzoni, the founder of this Word-Faith/Pentecostal church movement. The vision is based on a narcissistic reading of Isaiah 45:2-3, in which Mr Argonzoni believes applies to him and the people he reaches (drug addicts, prostitutes, gang members and their families). As an aside, and I hate to bring this up, but this passage does not apply to Victory Outreach or any other modern church movement. No, this passage applies to Cyrus the Great, the Persian emperor to whom God gave the Babylonian empire.

Further, I do not think that any church needs to steal promises from Old Testament people, especially a ministry that ministers to the bottom end of society. Did not Jesus model this in His ministry on earth? Who did Jesus go after? I do not see any reason why a church would need a "vision" from the Old Testament when there is abundant evidence supporting outreach to the social outcast.

Nowhere in the scriptures are Christians charged to promote subjective "visions", but rather to preach the Gospel! The Great Commission is not about promoting the subjective vision of a founding pastor, but rather to promote the saving work of Jesus Christ on a cross outside the ancient city of Jerusalem and His resurrection three days later!

I believe that there is a vision for the church. It is a vision that its founder had, and that is that all types of people from all over the world will hear the Gospel, repent of their sins, and believe in the work of Jesus Christ.

No Understanding of Law and Gospel

The other thing you see in "vision" driven churches is a lack of differentiating between law and Gospel. They will claim that they are not legalistic. Nearly all of these churches have a slavish devotion to tithing, prayer and fasting. For instance, nearly all "vision" driven churches insist that the member "honor God with their finances". This always entails tithing. Tithing is the practice of giving ten percent of your income to the church. It is also a practice that is NOT required of the Christian (for more on this please read my series on Tithing).

There is a sort of cooperation between the member and God that is taught. If you, the member, does X, Y and Z, then God is obligated to do A, B, and C. This is law. It is teaching that your works do something to move God into your favor. The Bible teaches that God is already on our side, and nothing we can do would ever move God. The leaders (pastors) of these "vision" driven churches simply do not understand that anything you do to please God is law.

I wish to take some time to make something clear. I am not talking about fruit that indicates a changed life, i.e., obedience. A Christian that is truly saved will pray, give and fast, but their motivation will be love for their Savior, not as an act of propitiation. 

No Balance Between Evangelism and Disicipleship

A number of these "vision" driven churches are overly focused on evangelism. Many of them have a slogan such as the one at Elevation Church. It says, "We need your chair." In other words, they need your chair because they are too focused on evangelizing and getting people into the church, rather than making disciples. The pastor of the "vision" driven church is not interested in taking the members of his "ranch" down deep. No, instead he focuses on a pragmatic gospel. A gospel in which the members or the pastor is read into every scripture, rather than expositing the true gospel of Jesus, His cross, and His resurrection!

I can't tell you how many times I heard my old pastor preach about the miracles he supposedly performed 30 years ago. I can't tell you how many times he taught that "damaged emotions" were the causes of sin in the life of the believer. That if we only prayed, fasted and read the bible enough that those activities heal the damaged emotions, and by logical extension attain a sinless life (this was never explicitly taught, but the implication is there).

Sadly, all this does is heap law on the hearer. Grace is nowhere to be found in those messages. This is a problem indicative of the "vision" driven churches that have popped up all over the country. These pastors are not preaching the biblical gospel, but rather "therapeutic moralistic deism". In other words, a sermon consists of a scripture (ripped from its context) and three points to apply to your life to make your life better. Even worse, there is a deism that is taught in these churches. God is far off, until you need him to perform a miracle in your life. In fact, he is so far off, that he won't responded to the prayers Jesus taught in the gospels, but instead we need to pray "audacious" prayers, "sun stand still" prayers, or "circle maker" prayers.

Many of these churches have an unbalanced view of finances. In my old church, the offering was a 30 minute ordeal that entailed a 20 to 25 minute guilt trip from scripture (sometimes in context, but most times ripped out of context) with five to 10 minutes for receiving the offering. There is an overemphasis on tithing, but I have already addressed this above. The ultimate problem, especially in my old church is that while the members were focused on wealth and health, the members are in spiritual poverty and sickness.

Exchanging the Savior for the Founder

Lastly, there is an adulation of the founding pastor that borders on idolatry. Let me give you an example, in my old church you would here this prior to a person giving their testimony, "I want to thank God and Pastor S. (the founder of the movement) for my salvation." Really? The founding pastor was responsible for your salvation? Are we to thank God for the pastor, because if not for him God was somehow helpless to reach the inner-cities of the nation and world. Thanking a pastor for your salvation is like thanking the flotation device instead of the person who threw it to you, as you were drowning!

Because of the overemphasis on the founder, the preaching is skewed towards his personal bias. The members never get a well-rounded diet of spiritual food, but are instead continually forced to eat the pastor's favorite topics, which is usually the "vision" God gave him.

Another reason that this sort of "vision" driven pastor is dangerous is that by claiming that he has a "vision" from God, he is now above correction. Who, in their right mind, is going to correct a man who got a "vision" from God? I believe that one of the reasons for a "vision" driven church is to quash legitimate criticism of the founder or pastor. This vision can be used as a hedge to keep the founder/pastor free from correction that is not based on personality but on scripture. All and all, "visionary" leadership can be a dangerous thing.

The Remedy for "Vision" is the Mission

Jesus, prior to ascension to heaven did not give a "vision", rather he gave a mission. That mission is to go all over the earth and make disciples and to teach these people to obey all the things Jesus commanded (Matthew 28:19-20). We are not to focus on one particular type of person, but we are commanded to go to all kinds of people. This was something that the early church in Jerusalem forgot right away. So God had to move them on in their understanding that the gospel was not just for the Jew, but for the Samaritan, and for the Gentiles (good news for us)! In each case, it appears that God had to move circumstances so that this early church would move along to these people groups. Further, the figurative capital of Christianity also changed locations in the early days. Early on, the capital of Christianity was Jerusalem. This was in keeping with Christianity's early influence. However, in Acts 9 we see the center of Christianity moving away from Jerusalem and landing in Damascus.

We are to be on mission, and not on vision. A vision is subjective, the mission is objective and our focus. A vision is a gateway to law and legalism. The mission is the way we rehearse the gospel to ourselves as we preach to those who are not saved. We go not vision cast into our lives, but rather we need to be reminded of what the gospel is all about, namely the forgiveness of sin! We do not need old tired stories of what the pastor did 30 years ago, but to rehearse the works of Jesus and how they were used to preach the gospel in the lives of the people he healed.

If you are a part of a "vision" driven church that has as one of its values, "We need your chair." Then be all means oblige that church, and leave. Find a church that is mission-centered. I church that is focused not only on making converts, but also making disciples. 

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