Thursday, September 29, 2011

Bell Giving Himself to the World

Unless you have you head in the sand, you have heard of the controversy about Mars Hill (Grandville, MI) pastor Rob Bell and his most recent book.  It seems that the good pastor has set his sights higher than this congregation in Michigan and is giving himself to the whole world.

On Thursday (Sept. 22), up-and-coming pastor Rob Bell announced he's leaving Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Mich. in December. Bell's best-selling book, "Love Wins," raised more than a few eyebrows with the premise that hell doesn't include eternal torment. Now he's moving on.

"Our founding pastor, Rob Bell, has decided to leave Mars Hill in order to devote his full energy to sharing the message of God's love with a broader audience," the church said in a statement.

My point in this is that he is not the first to figure out that his books sell, that books make money, and that he needs to be free from the constraints of the local church in order to capitalize upon his books and speaking tour.  We have a host of popular pastors who are even more popular authors -- for whom the ministry is either a sideline or a stepping stone to bigger and better things.  Who expects that Hybels, Warren, Osteen, Lucado or Bell spent all that much time in pastoral duties, anyway.  They are there as figureheads, faces of a larger "ministry," and presences in the pulpit.  There comes a time, however, when the local congregation can get in the way of their expanding career possibilities.  Maybe a fellow like Osteen cannot trade his center stage TV moments away yet but perhaps the time will come when even this cannot contain his enlarged personality and presence.  For Bell, that time came and went and the congregation had to go.  Not that the congregation is entirely sad.  Even a new age, non-denominational, emergent church needs a real leader whose presence is there day to day and whose mind is on the church and its people.  Bell simply got to the point where he had to choose and he chose to give himself to the wider audience and leave behind the constraints of a local congregation.

I note that it did not take long for his peers in the mega pastor publishing industry to second guess his decision.  Within hours of the Mars Hill announcement, best-selling author and Saddleback Church Pastor Rick Warren was on Twitter, saying pastors who leave churches have less impact and no base for credibility.  Another commented that this was not the train wreck Warren envisioned (but this came from a representative of a literary agency that represents megachurch pastors -- did you get that? -- a literary agency that represents megachurch pastors!)  Perhaps it is my own sour grapes that I do not even have a dog who worships me much less a publicity manager or literary agent to hawk my wares.  Then again, even Methodism founder John Wesley gave up a settled pulpit to be an itinerant preacher.

In today's world, book tours and online virtual relationships are not enough to sustain a pastor's moral authority. Ya think?!?!  It all reminds me of a conversation with a professional church worker who complained that he was like Rodney Dangerfield -- nobody gave him any respect.  My answer was that respect is not a given -- it is earned.  Pastors have long since left behind the days when authority came with the collar alone.  It is pastoral presence at the sick bed, in the funeral home, counseling and hearing confession, preaching and teaching, presiding at the Sacraments, listening to long phone calls late at night, and sitting with people in their pain when nary a word is spoken...  Authority comes with the office and the office is not some theoretical entity but the practical place where the means of grace touch the lives of God's people through the flesh and blood instrument of the Pastor.


Anonymous said...

Max Lucado is a cut above the Osteens
Hybels, Warrens. of the celebrity
circuit. Max simply put his sermons
into books and they sold because
they reached an audience hungry for
God's Word. Obviously, Lucado is not
a Lutheran theologian but he does
help people see Christ as the Way,
the Truth and the Life.

Anonymous said...

Great comment my sentiments exactly regarding Max Lacado. His books have been a blessing in my life and I would guess have supported many on their journey in Christ.He stands apart from the group mentioned.

Anonymous said...

Osteen, Warren, and Hybels write
self-help books which fail to focus
on Christ. Osteen is a "Health and
Wealth" false prophet. Warren takes
no salary as pastor and lives off the
royalties from his books. Hybels
has tried to promote "friendship
evangelism" in his books but leaves
no room for the means of grace as
Lutherans understand Word and Sacrament.

Lurker said...

Max Lucado may be a great author -- certainly a more orthodox Christian than the others -- but the point here is that the time he spends writing, promoting, interviewing, etc. means that he is primarily a pulpit presence and not the person who acts as pastor to the people of the church where he serves. This is true in many if not most larger congregations but most of them do not have the demanding outside schedules that these popular authors do.