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Covenants, Contracts, Community…part deux

July 1, 2015

(part 1 can be read here)

The recent events of attempted cover up of child sexual abuse and the subsequent abuse of the former wife of the perpetrator at The Village Church (I was abused by them, not as severely because I refused to sign the church contract, but that’s another story) is a chilling example of how more churches are seeking the next big celebrity pastor and sacrificing basic, biblical principals for the sacred cow of church growth (see here if you need to catch up).

In order to attract these celebrities, they must agree to establish the pastor as some kind of master elder who is the “first among equals” which, interpreted, means he rules like a king. Of course, there is nothing in scripture that supports this model, but this is exactly how they operate. The examples are almost too many to mention, but I can mention 3: 1. Mars Hill: Driscoll established his small, hand picked group of elders who were over the regular elders and they ruled supreme. The results speak for themselves. 2. Shortly after Mars Hill adopted this model, TVC adopted the same model of the small, hand picked group of super elders that control the other elders. Think about this: Matt Chandler has no formal seminary training (he almost flunked out of “Bible College” and started seminary twice and quit) and became the “master elder” at 28 years old. That alone should send shivers up your spine. We’re seeing the same pattern of abuse that was seen at Mars Hill, Chandler is just a little more subtle, or maybe a little more deceptive. 3. They continually claim that signing a membership covenant is “biblical” but then can offer no credible defense of this claim and when they attempt to offer any scriptural justification, they redefine the nature of a covenant to suit their purpose of domination and control, and most the churches in this area (DFW) are adopting similar models, including a church where we considered attending.

Yes, these behaviors are not isolated to a few churches or just Acts 29 churches. They are rampant among churches of all stripes. I know this because it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to find a church that doesn’t follow this model. I even had a new pastor of a local church (The Church at the Cross, Grapevine, TX) confirm this idea of the “master elder” over coffee. I was exploring other churches that were closer to us and I had sent an email to the elder board of this other church to ask them some basic questions (or at least what I though should have been basic for an elder board) and they told me that they didn’t understand most of the questions that I asked (big red flag!). I emailed the new pastor and he agreed to meet and answer any questions. When we sat down in the local coffee shop, he asked me why we were looking for a new church since I had mentioned that we had been attending TVC. I told him it was a longer drive than we preferred and we were looking for something closer. He then told me that he and Matt Chandler were good friends and that when Matt learned that he was coming to pastor a local church in the area, Matt responded that this was great because now people wouldn’t have to drive so far to attend a good church (I think I shuddered here at the arrogance of both men). The last few questions I asked him helped me mark his church off my list:

1. Do you plan on establishing the requirement to sign a “membership covenant” to join the church? Answer: yes, eventually, but after we have a time of teaching and education to bring people along (this is not an exact quote, but summarizes the answer).

2. Most church covenants have requirements that seem like legalism to me, such as the requirement to give at least 10% to the local church, which I believe clearly violates all New Testament instruction on giving, such as giving freely, without compulsion, led by the Spirit and giving discreetly or in secret. What’s your response to this? Answer: it’s the obligation of every church member to support their local church first, otherwise, how would the local church survive? I answered: by faith – if it’s God’s work, God will sustain it according to His will; he had no response for this answer. I had several follow up questions to this one: me – You’re going to buy a house in the area, right (very affluent area)? A: yes;  me – my wife works at vwxyz private school and she mentioned that you & your family were visiting last week, are you planning on sending your kids to private school? A: yes; me – if I were attending your church and I happened to get a request from one of the faith missionaries that I support, risking their lives every day for the sake of the Gospel, and that request states that the wife needs surgery to save her life and they need extra money to fly the family to the states to get this done (this is not a hypothetical, it happened), here is the thought process that will go through my head:  I will look at the multi-million dollar church properties, the millions of dollars worth of luxury cars in the parking lot, the nice, custom house where the pastor resides, the world class education his kids are getting at the private christian school, and think – hmmmm, this church can afford it if I divert my “tithe” for a few months to this emergency need. Is my thinking wrong? A: yes – you should give what you can to the missionary, over and above your tithe to the local church, otherwise, people would always find a reason to not give consistently. At this point, I reminded him of my answer to his question above: God will sustain His work (faith).

3. Since you plan on having members sign a “covenant” establishing a list of requirements for membership beyond a profession of faith in Christ alone, how will the church leadership know whether people are living up to this “covenant” and, using the instance of giving again, how will you know if someone isn’t giving 10% and what will you do if their giving declines or stops, especially in the light of the instruction given by Jesus that our giving is to be in secret? A: Well, in this day and age of electronic giving and the need for statements for IRS purposes, their giving really isn’t in secret, so that’s not really a consideration. We wouldn’t be able to know the exact percentage a person is giving, but if their giving drops off significantly, we would send them a letter, inquiring if they had lost their job, or had some financial need that caused their giving to decline. (I think I said something like “really?” and sat looking at him in stunned silence while a chill ran up my spine)

4. I was concerned by the elder’s lack of theological understanding and lack knowledge with regards to current trends in the church. Does this concern or bother you? A – not really, I will be evaluating them over time and if there are any that are lacking, they can be brought along or we can slowly make changes as men naturally stop serving on the board over time.

and last, but not least,

5. How do you view your role in relation to the other elders and the elder board? A – I would view my role as first among equals. I asked him to explain. A – I view the pastor as the leader of the whole church, who is given the vision by God, sets that vision and equips the other elders to help implement that vision.

I’m sad to report that when I last checked the website, they have indeed established the membership covenant as a requirement for fellowship (a year later). I also noticed that they have hired a huge staff. When we visited, there were maybe 3 or 4 staff members and I counted more than a dozen currently. I used to think that the sad thing about this was the fact that the pastor is a truly gifted expositor of the the scriptures and it’s a shame he functions in such an unscriptural manner, but I think that’s falling right into the trap of holding up these celebrity pastors as some kind of king. The truly sad aspect of this is that these people do seem to worship these pastors and flock like lambs to the slaughter, looking for the latest big thing.

From → Culture, Ministry

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