I may come back to this topic eventually, or something similar, but I want to wrap it up and move on for now.
I think my major takeaway from these reflections is that despite efforts in American Christianity to distinguish its institutions from culture in order to speak to culture, there is a rather rabid syncretism occurring at the most innate levels. To be sure, there are many great, wonderful and humble Christian leaders in the U.S. and around the world. My observations are about the rise of mega Christian brands of some magnitude, and the mass of people who are following their example without a second thought. Religious leaders have the dangerous task serving the broken without playing on the brokenness for personal gain. What stands out to me about Gary Vaynerchuck and his ilk is that in a great number of ways I have seen him serve people in more selfless and constructive ways with more honesty and self awareness then many Christian leadership circles that I have participated in or been close to.
I could have easily written a series of posts about what Christian leaders could or should be learning from the likes of Gary about leadership in any number of ways. But that would only serve to prop up the syncretism that I view as damaging. There are certainly helpful lessons to learn, the same way Moses learned from Jethro about practical leadership issues. However, there is something more fundamental at play in the current of Christian leadership, and that is the massive difference between being a caring, thoughtful, pastoral version of some other vocation, and being a Pastor. I know the lines can blur, but popular Evangelical leadership culture has adopted modern leadership and self-branding tactics wholesale. To say everything there is to say about this confluence of issues would be humanly impossible, and to say all I have to say about it would require book length treatises; maybe one day. I know there are debates over the very definitions of these words in the church context. What exactly is a pastor? What is leadership? Whatever the answer, it cannot be ignored that with the decline of a unified Christendom there has been a colossal rise in tribal empires of large local churches and ministries building followings and competing for followers, dollars and influence of all kinds. Some achieve this with more grace than others, but when their leaders fall, the full weight of the cult of personality is felt, and the weight of Christian celebrity takes it’s toll. There is such an increase of such situations that there are regular articles in major Christian news sources telling new stories of such events. Somehow, all around, there are still attempts to achieve similar reach the fallen once had, just to do it better. There is a significant lack of wisdom regarding the fact that just because the leaders with the largest ministries get more speaking and writing gigs that doesn’t represent the sanctioning of God on what they are doing, nor a demonstration of their practices being the best.
In conclusion, my hope for myself and others, is that we can exercise some very sobering discernment about exactly what our goals are, and what they should be. If we are entrepreneurs who want to help people while building our business, let us never tire, and may that help spread far and wide. May we be the most pastoral entrepreneurs the world has ever seen, and may many be blessed and come to know Christ. But let’s never deny the fact that we are directly benefiting from it too, with a tactic that can only be considered philanthropic marketing. If we be Pastors though, the stakes are too high, and the dangers too great, to ever peddle the Gospel or the ministry for gain. Testimonies are not organic marketing, baptisms are not fertile ground for social media virality, church growth milestones are not metrics to share with investors for the next round of funding, and sermons are not strategic content production for podcasting. I know we are surrounded by cheap access to tools built to spread information, and we want our very special message to spread. But we should be careful that the gospel of Christ is not obstructed with our particular brand. We have a teacher, granting access to any that will follow him. We are disciples of this rabbi, followers who simply help others follow him like us. If we are not careful we will just be another Christian leader who has fallen victim to the blindness of pride as it takes on one of its many sinister manifestations.
But even if we are careful, and we secure a great personal following by mixing the Gospel of Christ with our particular brand of insight and wisdom, we should ask ourselves if we are disciples or just another drop in a growing sea of postmodern rabbis.