“I was a lawyer for ten years – a short time, but it molded me into who I am. My clients were little people fighting big corporations, so it was a natural thing to not only represent the little guy but also to pull for him – it’s the American way.” John Grisham
The subject post has been on my mind for a few months. I have tried to find an easy answer to my question but have yet to see it, so I’m asking for your help. In the title, I used the word “Third Estate which can be defined as:
A group of individuals considered to be subjects of a person in charge
Other synonyms are also descriptive:
riff-raff, plebeians, the proletariat, the great unwashed, and the commons.
In many of today’s celebrity-based churches, there is a split between leadership and the plebs. These celebrities do not need to be famous, only held up by the local church members. These guys are elevated because they are presented to all as having superior knowledge and a mysterious calling by God with which the proletariat is not graced. I do believe some receive a special call. Still, I have a hard time believing that all of these pastor leaders have it.
This exalted position is so ingrained in their psyche that these leaders can inadvertently reveal their true feelings. In one of my posts about Chapel Hill Bible Church, I mentioned an incident in my adult Sunday School class. The new pastor, who would go on to be fired, described the supposed role differentiation between the pastors and the membership. He held his hands out side by side. As he said that both positions are equal, he inadvertently put the hand representing the membership at a lower level than the pastors. I turned to my husband and said, “We’re screwed.” Oddly enough, even though my comment was “tongue in cheek,” it would prove more accurate than I could imagine. Shortly afterward, we got out of Dodge. Some left behind would allegedly be victims of a pastor who acted as a king.
I spotted a problem with this pastor because I had been writing about abuse in the broader evangelical church since 2009 and have been reading about the issues for three decades. I am not a pastor and have not received that particular call to be a pastor. In the eyes of some, I am just one of the great unwashed. Yet, members of the riff-raff class are the ones who called “Foul” when there was trouble in pulpit paradise.
These musings started when I listened to The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill podcasts. Did you know that there are 22 episodes? I found this episode helpful. At the beginning is a segment featuring Joe Rogan. Rogan and his guest were shown this linked picture of Lentz. As you will hear, they immediately saw the problem. Yet they were not part of the evangelical set and certainly had no pastoral ambitions. However, Joe Rogan is well known, so he will attract the attention of the New Calvinists from time to time.
To whom does church leadership listen?
Their knee-jerk answer is: the pastors listen to the elders. That is a problem in many churches. The elders are explicitly chosen to be “yes men” for the pastor. Authoritarian pastors are pretty adept at selecting elders who agree with them. In my former SBC church, the senior pastor said to me:
I have been here for 28 years and the elders have only diagreed with me twice.
Good night! Only two times in 28 years! There was something wrong, and I would discover the problems with how they handled the sex abuse of teens. This reminds me of an old saying in Boston that goes something like this: The Cabots and Lodges were wealthy leaders of Boston Society in early 1900s.
In Boston, the home of baked beans and scrod,
The Cabots talk to the Lodges and the Lodges talk only to God.
The elders are the Cabots, and the pastors are the Lodges. The elders in many churches are “prominent” members of the community. How many of them have an elder who is a postal clerk or a construction worker? The elder position has turned into a Christian version of the Rotary Club. Only the very well-healed are allowed.
Even worse, many pastors only talk to men since women in some of these churches cannot be elders. So they never hear from what is usually 60% of the congregation.
What about the average Joe/Joelle member?
Now I’m getting around to what I want to say. Does the average person have a say? Do church leaders pay attention to the giftings of the proletariat? In 2009, I wrote about Mark Driscoll coming to the University of North Carolina to speak to students in a Christian group. We heard from one student who said that he allegedly talked about anal sex during a Q+A. As soon as I heard about the question being asked and Driscoll answering them in his usual shock-jock way, I knew we had a problem. Yet Driscoll was admired by church leaders all over the planet.
From that moment on, I watched Driscoll. I kept asking why this guy was being followed by many well-known Christians, such as John Piper, and seminary students who began to imitate his disturbing preaching style. Danny Akin endorsed Driscoll’s controversial book, Real Marriage. The Gospel Coalition featured some posts by him or about him. Here is one by Justin Taylor interviewing Mark Driscoll.
I was one of the nobodies actively exposing the problems with Mark Driscoll. Julie Anne Smith at Spiritual Sounding Board wrote about him. Rachel held Evans wrote this post in 2011. Mark Driscoll is a bully. Stand up to him.
Godly men stick up for people, not make fun of them.
Godly men honor women, not belittle them.
Godly men love their gay and lesbian neighbors, not ridicule them.
Godly men celebrate femininity, not trash it.
Godly men own their sexuality, not flaunt it.
Godly men pursue peace, not dismiss it.
Godly men rise above violence, not glorify it.
Godly men build up the Church, not embarrass it.
Godly men imitate Christ—who praised the gentle and the peacemakers, who stood up for the exploited and abused, who showed compassion for the downtrodden, who valued women, and who loved his enemies to the point of death.
If this Facebook status were Pastor Mark Driscoll’s first offense, it might not warrant a strong response.But Mark has developed a pattern of immaturity and unkindness that has remained largely unchecked by his church. In evangelical circles, he’s like the kid from high school who makes crude jokes at every opportunity, uses the words “gay” and “queer” to describe the things he most detests, encourages his friends to subject the unpopular kids to ridicule, and belittles the guys who aren’t “macho” or “manly” enough to be in his club.
Here is one video of Driscoll enjoying the pile of dead bodies under the bus. Listen and ask yourself if this is a man you would follow.
Rob Smith, with whom I had a great lunch at Cracker Barrel, wrote Giving Mark Driscoll a platform props up his abuse.
Dan Kellogg, from Gold Creek Community Church, said that he had done his homework on Driscoll before he invited him to speak at his church recently. I am not sure what homework he did, but Dan Kellogg contacted none of the abused ex-members or pastors. Driscoll spoke of how he is learning to forgive those who hurt him. He did not speak of the hundreds of families hurt by his abuse.
Robert Morris, who gave Driscoll his first public appearance where Driscoll skillfully made the audience feel sorry for him, said that he knows the “behind the scenes story“,yet failed to speak to any of his accusers or those shunned by Driscoll’s abusive church.
Ray Johnston, of Bayside Church, gave Driscoll a platform where he was able to again repeat the lie that he moved from one house to another because of fear – the second to the last move being simply across the street from his previous home.
Average blogs like this one received many comments from average people who complained about Driscoll’s abusive behavior. Oddly, it was the New Calvinist pastors and seminary students who stood up for him and began to imitate his bullying style. Even today, we still see the effects Driscoll had on future pastors. Those up-and-coming pastors were given the go-ahead by the seminary leaders and TGC, who supported Driscoll until it got so bad they couldn’t.
The little people knew and were speaking out on blogs, Reddit and Facebook.
In my opinion, this is one point that The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill overlooked. The average people, especially those abused by Driscoll or one of his acolytes, spoke up and got the ball rolling. The small blogs, some of which no longer exist, spoke out against Driscoll. Yet the little people were ignored by the fabulous New Calvinists who found a way to theologize a reason to support Driscoll and to back those who adopted a Driscoll-like style. They were not paying attention to the very people they were being called to serve.
My question: Why do the local church or church movements point to the celebrity pastors, the fancy elders’ boards, or the institution boards made up of prominent people as the ones with God’s unique calling? I contend God is calling the riff-raff to illuminate the problems the celebrity crowd ignores. Do these leaders truly recognize God’s movement in ALL of his people? Yet this week, I featured an email from an elder who was put out with me when I wrote about the problems at Chapel Hill Bible Church. The plebs are to shut up and give money so the real leaders can carry on.
I don’t know, but I think many catch my drift. Can you help me? Do you believe that today’s church culture actively ignores the movement of God in the great unwashed? I think the celebrity crowd overlooks the average person, hurting the local church and the broader church movements. These leaders miss out on God’s leading in the majority of church members.
I guess my best example is from this blog. I called for Paige Patterson’s resignation in 2009, and all I heard from my betters were chortles as they gleefully skipped off to dedicate Paige Patterson Hall at SEBTS. Think of it: all the seminary leaders and local and national church celebrities were present. They knew about the infamous recording of Patterson telling a woman to go home to be abused. Yet it took them a decade to get rid of him. They eventually had to spend money to get his name removed. They would not listen to the little people. The question is, “Why not?” And if one person says I needed to present my case more “winsomely,” I will say they wouldn’t have listened to me no matter how I said it. They will not listen to anyone not part of their closed club.
It’s time to reconsider how some church leaders view their members. Do they hear them? Maybe the question is, “Do they want to hear them?”